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Chapter 48 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

“Gene?”

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

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

“Do what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

“Can I borrow you for a minute?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Brother Stephen,

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

Yours in Christ,

Michael.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“DOWN!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 45 -Belt Fed Revolution

I spent a pretty restless night in my quarters with nothing to do and too many thoughts running through my mind to permit sleep to come. I did drift off here and there, but would wake at every strange noise.

Whatever you could say about Michael and his people, they were certainly dedicated. I kept a watch on my watchers and other than seeing them be relieved by other guards there really wasn’t much slack in their routine.

I finally settled in at some point during the night sitting on my bed with my back against the wall just as the sky was beginning to lighten. I must have drifted off again because I found myself unsettled and confused by my surroundings when I heard my door opening.  I have always been lucky in that when I wake up I am instantly awake with no noticeable lag in my cognitive faculties; the door hadn’t opened far when I jumped up off the bed and planted my foot against the bottom, placing all my weight against the door.

Whoever was trying to enter my quarters yelped in pain as I forced the door closed on his foot.

“Ever heard of knocking?” I asked, lowering my center of gravity and leaning as fully into the door as I could. My uninvited guest pushed on the door  trying to withdraw his trapped foot while calling me some unseemly names. He managed to do all this without swearing which was impressive.

“Pete’s sake, SORRY!” He finally relented and stopped pushing against me “I was sent to wake you.We don’t knock here or lock doors. Michael says it’s against the rules of fellowship!”

I satisfied myself with a peek around the door frame and saw that the guard wasn’t holding a rifle so I eased the pressure off and let him withdraw his foot. “You might want to mention these ‘rules’ to new people. May save someone a broken foot . . . or worse.”

Part of me still wanted to cup-check the guy for opening my door without knocking. I stood aside and let him enter “Is there coffee?”

The guard shook his head and smiled apologetically. “No coffee here. Not allowed, sorry.” The guard, who according to his name tape was called Donnelly handed me a small ditty bag full of hygiene products and a towel “takes some getting used to, I know. I used to drink a pot of coffee with my morning coffee, y’know?” he laughed.

“Let me guess, gruel for breakfast? Bread and water for lunch?” I muttered as I pulled on a fresh pair of socks.

“No sir, not quite. Although I think this morning’s breakfast is oatmeal . . .”

I stared at Donnelly until he quit talking. “Where’s the head in this place?”

“Head? The . . . ?”

“Where is the bathroom? Look, if you’re going to be barging into my room it’s only fair that you make an attempt to know things so that when I ask questions answers are on deck, yes? Now, where is the head?”

“Uh, yeah. Yes, sir, follow me.” Donnelly was flustered but at least he knew the layout of the camp. We eventually made our way to the  head following a winding path through several tents which I would not remember to arrive at a fairly well equipped outdoor shower setup complete with a several composting type toilets.

Donnelly came to a version of parade rest as I pulled the curtain closed to handle my ablutions. I pulled the curtain aside slightly and saw Donnelly standing there staring disinterestedly out at the camp. “Uh, you’re dismissed?”

Donnelly turned his head slightly toward the sound of my voice “No sir. I’m to escort you and be and your aide-de-camp. You need something I’m your man.”

I grunted angrily “Fine. Go get me a cup of coffee. Do not return without one or you are fired.”

****

The Gods ruled in my favor. As I stepped out of the little shower area Donnelly  held out a cup of coffee, a wisp of steam rolling out of the mug. It was instant coffee but I drank it down with the same relish I would have a cup of Starbuck’s finest.

I had to consider what I was going to teach my students. I’m a damn good shot, but how do you explain a lifetime of doing to someone? I didn’t even know what kind of weapons we’d be using. I handed the empty cup back to Donnelly and strode off as though I knew where I was going. Donnelly sounded rather perturbed as he caught up to me.

“Uh, Sir? Um, the field is this way, but we–well, you– have to meet with Michael first?” Donnelly said trying to get me to break stride.

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Well, uh, I’m–I guess, I . . . ” he stammered

“What did I say, Donnelly? You must know things when I ask, otherwise one of us is going to look pretty dumb, when he’s standing alone and I have wandered off to find another cup of coffee. Now, are you asking me or telling me?”

“I’m, uh. . .  I’m informing you, sir. Michael told me to bring you over to him before you got started.” Donnelly stepped around to place himself in front of me. “Please, sir?” Donnelly held out an arm to redirect me toward my meeting.

I relented and let Donnelly lead me away.  As we walked I began to notice how the camp was laid out . The land appeared mostly flat but formed something of a natural bowl shape with the outer edge of the bowl being a little over a foot higher than the main concentration of buildings.  The living quarters were arranged close together yet a good distance away from Michael’s house, making me wonder if that was intentional. There weren’t any guard towers, but given the shape of the land high towers weren’t necessary.

There were a lot of things that could have been improved here in terms of security, but if the guards were even partially attentive getting out would be impossible, which left me with one option. I was going to have to bring someone in.

Michael was busy discussing some logistical matter with a man I’d not seen before but he stopped long enough to wave me to a seat.

“Stephen, I want you to see what you’ll be working with” he waved at a large square shape covered by a moving blanket “and discuss some further training with you. Tell me, brother, do you think you can train your fellows? Do you think you can make these men into an army?”

I was caught off guard by this. He may as well have asked me if I could run a successful space program. I needed to stall him on this. No way was I going to train an army for this light bulb and anyone in their right mind–by my estimation anyway– would be trying to train a guerrilla  force, not a conventional army. I didn’t intend to share that little nugget with him either.

The storm clouds gathering behind his eyes told me that hesitation was not the expected answer so I tap danced around the mine field a little to appease him. “It’s just kind of a lot to consider. I mean, do you have anyone else with military experience or am I supposed to do this on my own? I can handle things like PT and drill and the like, but I need a whole support structure . . .”

I let him to chew on that a little. My refusal to immediately give him a yes had forced an uncomfortable pause into the discussion. I hadn’t forgotten his threat to mark me either. If he tried though, he was likely to find out that I presented a much different challenge than a terrified woman who hadn’t even attempted to fight back.

Michael suddenly smiled, his little shark’s teeth gleaming dully in the early morning light. “That is how I know God has sent you to lead my Army, brother! He never just gives us what we need, he gives us a challenge, makes us  work for what we need!” Michael grabbed our hands attempting to pull me and the still unknown man to the floor “let us pray! Let us give our thanks to God!”

I resisted. It was a mistake. I knew it was a mistake but I could not do it. I covered as best I could by clutching my knee and grunting a little.

“Sorry, about that. If I get down, I may not be able to get back up again.” I let out a weak chuckle, but the look in his eyes let me know that I’d crossed a line.

Michael smiled slightly “Of course. That was thoughtless of me to forget your injury.” He stood and brushed off the knees of his pants. “No matter. Come see what I have for you!” The change in his voice wasn’t fooling me, he was pissed. Fortunately for me none of his guards were around so he could put me in my place.

Michael proceeded to the boxes and began to pull the moving blanket off. I saw one corner and immediately knew what awaited me and the torture that awaited those I was responsible for training.  The faded green wooden crates were so familiar to me I had a psychic flash of exactly what the rifles would look like down to the thick coat of cosmoline that would undoubtedly cover them.

I opened the crate and was greeted by the bane of the modern rifleman, the Mosin Nagant 91/30.  I nodded appreciatively and withdrew one of the rifles and worked the bolt. The action was smooth even with the peanut butter thick coat of cosmoline. I pulled the trigger and slid the bolt all the way out. The protective grease on this shipment had been forced into the barrels. I let out a heavy sigh.

“Well, this is good in a way. The first thing I’ll be teaching is rifle maintenance.” I looked inside to the bottom of the crate “Where’s the rest of it?”

Michael looked confused for a brief second “Oh, don’t you worry, brother. We’ll have ammunition out at the range for you.”

“Yeah, that’s great obviously. But I mean where’s the rest of the kit? The sling and bayonet?”

His face was totally crestfallen “The. . . bayonet?”

I nodded “These come with a whole kit usually. I mean we can do without most of it, but the bayonet and sling are almost as important as the ammunition.” I stood there smiling blandly at him waiting for him to lose it. The great thing about the M91/30 was that even without ammunition or a bayonet it made one Hel of a club. I stopped myself smiling as I envisioned the steel butt plate crushing Michael’s skull after I’d bashed him five or one hundred times for good measure.

The locus of Michael’s anger shifted. “John?! Where are the things I need for my rifles?!”

John. I shook my head. It always had to be some fuck up called John.

John backed water both verbally and physically, raising his hands to ward off being marked.  “This was all there was when I paid for them! I–I I’ll go back, right now and look? Most of the guns are gone but almost everything else was untouched after the townsfolk broke in!!!”

I decided to step in. It’s not that I felt any special attachment to people called John, but I really didn’t want to see this sadistic circus act get rolling.

“I can go with him. The Mosin’s bayonet sort of looks like a screwdriver. I doubt most people would realize it was a weapon.” I offered waiting to see if Michael was capable of backing down twice in one day.

Michael reached up swiftly grabbing John’s crotch and squeezing until he dropped to his knees. “You will take our brother and get everything left in this store. When you are done, report back to me immediately and we can discuss your inability to conduct a simple task.”

John’s face was a deep shade of red and a high keening noise was beginning to escape his pursed lips yet he managed to say “Yes, Michael!” before he was released, folding up in a fetal position with his hands between his legs.

Michael spun toward me so fast I almost raised the rifle  to deliver a butt-stroke to his head. “You will lead them. You will make me an army. You will do this or I will put the mark of Cain on you so all will know you for what you are!”

I wasn’t looking to have my beautiful self marked in any capacity. Michael was making it clear now that he had been pushed as far as he would allow for one day and I honestly wasn’t prepared to argue without having several rounds of 7.62x54r loaded in this rifle for the guards that would try to enforce his edicts.

I raised my hands to try and calm him. I leaned over and helped John to his feet and led him away from Michael’s reach and put myself between the two of them.

“Of course I’ll do as you ask. May we go and get the kits to complete the rifles?”

Michael instantly demurred, his tone and expression changed, looking as if I had hurt his feelings. “Certainly, brother! I can’t expect you to make the omelet if I don’t give you eggs, now can I? Go forth now, gather what is needful.” He smiled broadly “soon you shall bring us glory for his name!”

Chapter 39 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

I crawled under the tree and immediately passed out.

****

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 36 -Belt Fed Revolution

It was the worst of injustices. The buckshot had not only taken my windows, but my sound system. I could really go for some Judas Priest right now. Motherfuckers.

I was approaching the turn off to the MVDF when I saw the top of the ramps had been blocked off.  Trucks had been rolled into place and their tires flattened to make them almost immovable. Awesome. Looked like I was hoofing it. I slung my rifle and almost hit the pavement as I got out of the Jeep.

My knee buckled under my weight causing me to flail wildly to try to keep my balance. I managed to stand up by grabbing onto the mirror to take some pressure off my knee. I stood there for several minutes wincing and cursing, waiting for the pain to abate.

I hobbled off to the roadside and sat for several minutes flexing the muscles in my leg, hoping that I’d be able to get underway. I tried several times to walk, but with each step I’d nearly lose my balance as my knee refused to cooperate. I ended up taking the sling off my rifle so I could turn the bipod 180 degrees, locking the legs back toward the stock. This wasn’t exactly the most ergonomically pleasing arrangement, but it made a decent enough cane to help me make it past the trucks at the head of the off ramp.

After clearing the end of the truck I saw something that struck me as surreal. A  large oak pedestal table sat about fifty yards away from the off ramp , complete with chairs. I scanned the area as best I could and noted nothing else that struck me as odd.

I approached the table after a good deal of time passed, hobbling as quickly as it was possible and saw on top of the table a yellow legal pad inscribed with details about myself and my vehicle written on it. I pulled out one of the chairs and sat down, placing my rifle on the table.

I read through the information several times, though there was nothing unusual to be noted about how I was described. Subject is white, approximately 210 lbs, 6’2″ , blonde hair, blue eyes and will likely be sporting a long bushy beard. Expect subject to be driving a Jeep (possibly a Cherokee) or other vehicle recognizable as a technical or specifically well suited to off-road travel (like a Toyota PickUp)–  I scoffed. A Toyota? Not bloody likely!– A side note in a different had been scribbled in the margin. I smiled as I read it he likes revolvers! 

I continued to flip through the legal pad and came across a couple of similar references to other individuals, though these struck me more as the ‘operator’ type of individual by description. Apparently I wasn’t the only bait floating around on this little stretch of the Shit River.

I noted all the descriptions had names at the top of the page then immediately next to it a code name. Great stuff; Snake-eyes, Ace,Wolverine and one called Nightcap. At least they weren’t all comic-book characters. I scratched out my own name and wrote next in its place ‘The Gentleman Caller’. I scratched that out as it was too long a code name and replaced it with ‘Heathen’.

My knee was feeling a little better and I was considering getting underway again when movement caught my attention. I flipped open the  lens covers  and pointed the rifle in the direction of the movement. I took me only a second to find him, a gangly young kid wearing an Army dress uniform which he was buttoning up hurriedly. I maintained my sight picture on him as he turned and appeared to be searching the grass he’d just been in when I saw more movement. I chuckled and shut my lens caps as I saw the kid help a young woman to her feet and get squared away, brushing grass and debris off her back.

My welcoming committee had apparently sneaked off for a little afternoon delight. Hel, I couldn’t blame them: it’s not like there was a ton else to do. Part of me thought I should report the kid for quitting his post without being properly relieved, but I reminded myself I wasn’t part of their military for a reason.

The young couple was saying their goodbyes and taking their time about it. I gave a quick sharp whistle and both heads jerked around to see me sitting at the table. I gave them both a polite little wave and did my best to remain expressionless as the kid hoofed it over to the table, his paramour melting into the scenery, no doubt with a reddened face.

I watched him approach. He had the standard issue side arm and nothing more. Dwyer must have figured they had this place on lock to leave just this poorly armed kid out here. I looked around the area again. Plenty of good hides around here, but if there was a sniper hanging out somewhere he was well concealed and smart enough not to give himself away.

The kid made it to the table and snapped off a hurried salute. “Sorry, sir!”

I laughed “Knock that shit off and straighten your gig line.”

His face went beet red as he bent over to examine his gig line and give his zipper a tug. When he was squared away he looked at the legal pad in front of him and flipped through a couple of pages. I helped him out by setting one of my revolvers on the table and giving him a patient look.

“You’re Finn,sir?” the kid smiled and sat down.

“Minus the sir.” I nodded.

“You weren’t expected back so quickly. I have orders to have you escorted back to the camp. . . without delay.” He smiled sheepishly at me.

“Relax kid, I’m not here to break balls.” I looked over my shoulder “Any chance you can get that moved?” I said indicating the truck blocking my Jeep.

“No, sir. I have an alternate means of transportation though, just wait one while I call it in.” At that he produced a cell phone and hit one button and waited.  He sat the phone down and looked at me “transport will be here in a couple.”

A couple of minutes passed and the kid did his best to make small talk, all of which I ignored. I heard a sound that I first took for a chainsaw motor, but realized it must be a motorcycle as it got closer. I saw the bike, it’s headlight taped WWII style to reduce its signature. Sat on top was Starke, grinning as he approached the table.

Starke didn’t bother with a salute, just gave me ‘the nod’ and asked “You ready?”

“Only if you intend to walk back to base.”

He frowned slightly “Whaddya–”

I cut him off. “I don’t ride bitch. Give me the bike and hoof it back to your camp or go get a car. Your choice. I’ll be right here, waiting.”

I heard him mutter ‘asshole’ as he got off the bike. “Can you ride one of these things?”

I nodded “Since you were pulling on your pecker like you were the first one to ever discover the thing.”

Starke rolled his eyes. “Fine. You drive, I’ll ride bitch.”

“I feel anything poke me in the back and I am going to leave you on the side of the road with a tension pneumo, you read me?”

“Jackass!” he said as I mounted the little bike and kicked it to life.

Starke got on the bike behind me . I felt him give my shoulder a quick thump and I dropped it into gear and headed off to the camp.

It had only been a couple of days and I was already tired of playing messenger boy. I made my plan to get out of the camp tonight, even if I had to cut throats to do it.

Starke tried to say something else but I gunned the little two-stroke motor and drowned him out.

Chapter 34 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 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 15 -Belt Fed Revolution

The truck stop was about the same as we left it. My Jeep had remained intact and at first glance I didn’t see anything missing letting me breathe easier for a few minutes. I unslung the .338 and tried to hand it off to one of the truckers. “Well now, that’s fine Finn, and nice of you, but I can’t just let you give this up especially considering how you helped us out.” He told me to wait a second and took the rifle back to his rig. I turned to John and prepared to make my goodbyes.

“Well, ” was as far as I got before John cut me off. “Look, Finn–uh, I’m sort of S.O.L. here now that my truck is done . . .” he looked at me as if expecting I would know what to fill in here. I obliged with “Yeah?” Somewhat uncharacteristically for John he looked down at the ground, embarrassed as if he’d been caught stealing apples off the neighbors tree. “Well, I don’t have anything keeping me here and I was kind of hoping I could, you know . . .” I didn’t. Mentally I was trying to cut to the chase so I could see what he was after, but the closest thing I could figure is he was getting ready to pitch me a time-share in Florida. It had been a kind of long day. “Shit. Look man, I want to go to Canada, okay? I don’t have a truck anymore and I could use a ride!”  Ah, there’s the chase I told myself.

“John, it’s not that I’m against offering a hand in help, but . . .” I tried to think of a nice way to say ‘I’m done here’ but kept coming up blank. ” My Jeep is packed full. I really don’t have room for a passenger and, well. . .” John looked at me inquiringly “I’m kind of done here . . .” Even in my time as a social worker and all the hard luck stories I’d heard I’d never actually seen a grown man give me the puppy dog eyes. Damn it. I love dogs.

I was grateful to be interrupted by the trucker to whom I’d given the rifle coming back with a gift for me. He held out the little black rectangle along with a whip antenna and a 12v power cord. “This little CB won’t let you hear us on our sideband models, but you may at least be able to get some news from folks out there.”  I don’t really know what it means to feel happiness, but relief and gratitude seemed to be good substitutes that most people translated that way. “Thank you. I hope this won’t leave you short?” The trucker just laughed “Naw, man. You gave me that rifle so I can reach out and touch someone just as easily. Fair trade!” We both had a laugh at that and shook hands before parting company.

I had almost forgotten John was waiting for me. I turned around and saw the same heartsick look a dog gives when you scold it for chewing on the linoleum. “Fuck me runnin…yeah okay. Let me go see if I can move stuff around. But I’m not going to Canada. You can ride along with me as far as my gas holds out.” John dropped his salvaged belongings he had carried back from the truck and shook my hand pumping it vigorously. I was worried if he kept this up my arm might literally be ripped off and no way was he driving my Jeep. I took my hand back, somewhat forcefully. “You need to go talk to your buddies here and see if they have any gear they can spare you.  See if anyone’s got some shoes you can use” I lifted my pant leg to show my Cadillac’s, a pair of leather jump boots, my only other souvenir from my time in the Corps.  I pointed at John’s thin soled shoes that the other truckers seemed to favor as well. “We have to hoof it and those aren’t going to last for more than five miles.” John disappeared and I went to sort out the Jeep, shaking my head as I went.

***

I had finished sorting out the Jeep, mainly by pushing stuff over the back seat into the cargo area when John returned. He gave me a very detailed map of Michigan and for himself a few spare cans of food and a couple of bottles of water. No one had any shoes to spare for him.

I got in the Jeep and reached back to open the rear passenger door. John, puppy like stood at the front passenger door looking at me expectantly. I returned his look, waiting for him to get the not too thinly veiled hint. I pointed at the back door and told him to get in. “Why do I have to sit in the back?” he was whining.

“Because I keep the gear I need next to me so I can get at it in a hurry. And because if we meet any unfriendly types, I expect you to take my shotgun and send them off to meet their gods.” I was getting pissed. “Suck it up, Nancy. It’s this or get out and you take your chances here.” When it was clear I wasn’t going to give in, he shut the door and took my shotgun wedging it between his foot and the floorboard.

I let out the clutch on the Cherokee and swung around sticking my hand out the window to wave goodbye to the few truckers that came out to see us off. I didn’t really like the idea, but I got on I-196 to head north. I knew there was a big state park up that way, but it was far enough away that I hadn’t bothered to look at the map just yet. I figured at best if the roads stayed clear and I didn’t have to stop I could make about 200 miles with the gas I had on hand. I hoped that would be enough since I planned to get off the interstate as soon as possible and push my luck with state and county roads.

John caught a case of the ‘Chatty Cathy’s’ as I drove and began telling me his life story. For the most part I ignored him and kept scanning the road for signs of trouble. I was half listening to John, waiting for an interruption in the stream of verbal diarrhea that was flowing out of him when I noticed something he had kept repeating. “John?” He stopped and tilted his head at the sound of my voice. Guy had to be part beagle, I swear it. “You keep saying partner. Are you gay?” He laughed and slapped the back of my seat “You’re pretty quick there! I think I only said my ex-boyfriend’s name about 100 times!” I looked at him in the rear view “Given the fact I killed several men today and am still a free man, I don’t think I need to tell you things have changed.” His head tilted to the other side and I wished for a rolled up newspaper.

“Of all the things I could possibly spend time caring about, your sexual preference is near the bottom of that list, but I’m not everyone else. Get me?” He looked puzzled for a moment “What do you mean?” he asked.  “John, there are no more police as far as I can tell, no courts, no lawyers, nobody is going to come to your defense and make others treat you as an equal. Dig?” the puppy dog look was replaced with one of indignation. I stopped him before he could get on his verbal bike and start in on me “I don’t care. Who you screw is your business as far as I’m concerned. But also as far as I’m concerned who I kill is my business; I’m guessing there are a whole bunch of folks out there think the same now. Mommy isn’t going to come around and make everyone play nice. I’m not saying don’t be who you are, but maybe dim the light a little, yeah?” John sat back against the seat and stared out the window in silence. Apparently I had gotten through to him.

I took the map and began looking for a place to get off the interstate and find my way to a side road. I knew a fight was coming. Now, hopefully, John knew as well. People weren’t going to be “accepting” like they had been when they had the possibility of legal sanctions facing them. “John?” Silence. I pulled out my hammer from beneath my shirt. “You see this?” He looked at it and nodded. “This is Mjolnir, John. The hammer of Thor.” I pressed on. “I’m a Heathen, as in not Christian.” Huffily “And?” 

 “I don’t advertise it, John. I’m still going to be a Heathen and worship the gods and my ancestors, but I don’t go around telling people–usually– because they grew up with things being a certain way.” He nodded slightly so I continued “Remember how Jews and Muslims were treated here? Well, how do you think people are going to react to this? People want homogeneity. Everything needs to be the same or the thing that’s different needs to be removed. Last thing I want now is to get my ass burned at the stake or beheaded or whatever people are going to do to those who are different. There’s a fight coming. If there’s a fight, let’s win.”

I couldn’t tell if I had reached him. I put the hammer back under my shirt and John sat back and returned to staring out the window.

A short time later I heard him say mostly to himself “Let’s win.”

Chapter 11 -Belt Fed Revolution

There was the sound of my front door being bashed to splinters followed by the furtive steps of people rushing up the stairs into my bedroom, then shouting a series of instructions at me as my hands were bound behind my back.

I woke up with my heart beating a heavy rhythm. Being a sociopath means not having feelings as such, but there are a few that extend beyond emotions and tap into the hard-wired primal core of man. Fear and anger will reach out and touch me as easily as a sappy commercial will reach out and touch an ovulating woman.

“The fuck?” I asked into the darkness of my bedroom. What was I doing waiting here? I don’t want to go to prison. Especially with things out in the free world getting so dangerously close to total collapse.

My feet had begun moving even before I finished telling myself that prison was not where I wanted to be. I certainly wasn’t going to stand still and make myself an easy target.

My house was essentially empty save for the few pieces of furniture I hadn’t been able to get rid of, making my flight time that much more speedy. I grabbed the loose boxes of ammunition left in the house and tossed them into the Jeep along with the remainder of my food.

My heart was pounding now from the frantic exertion and fear of capture that my brain was insisting was imminent. As I carried another load to the Jeep I glanced at the clock. Just a bit after 1600. I steadied myself and closed my eyes trying to will my hearing to superhuman proportions. Save for my suddenly slowing heart rate I heard nothing. No sirens, no furtive movements out in the driveway, nothing other than bird song which had been growing ever louder.

I forced myself to calm down; I looked out at the curb where the two bodies remained wrapped in the tarp.  The police were not coming.

Even though I felt relatively safe now, I still continued to pack my things into the Jeep. I opened the cabinets for one last look to see if there was anything I hadn’t grabbed. Several small orange see-through bottles confronted me. My medications. There were several psychotropics of varying strength I had been taking for the majority of my adult life.  Fluoxetine, Thioridazine, Haloperidol and Alprazolam. I looked at the bottles for what seemed like an eternity before closing the cabinet doors.

I didn’t bother to close the door to the house as I left for the last time.

***

I took off in no particular hurry. I had done well enough to get out of the house with my skin intact I figured it was best not to attract more attention by driving like a mad man. I chuckled at my own joke. How else could I drive?

Interstate 94 wasn’t too far from my house and it seemed like as good a way as any to get out of dodge. I could count on both hands the number of vehicles I saw travelling on the interstate.I drove for several miles before I  saw a truck stop that looked like it would provide a decent place to hole up for a little bit. As I parked my Jeep among the other vehicles I noticed I wasn’t the only one that seemed to be enjoying a change in lifestyle. I saw a family of four crowded into a Honda Accord, complete with their belongings which included a large flat screen TV.

I guess I couldn’t fault them too much. I think everyone still thought things were going to get better.

I took a shot and pulled out my tablet hoping the truck stop had a Wi Fi connection I could tap into.  Luckily free Wi Fi was still available. I opened up the WRSA page and scanned through the news they had there. Apparently the government had unleashed a swarm of drones in hopes of controlling a crowd that was marching on the Federal Reserve. A picture on the “legitimate” news service I used showed the Eccles building in D.C. with a compliment of armed troops at the front of the building.

A picture of the crowd showed more than a few carrying what appeared to be rifles interspersed among the protest signs. A check of other blogs confirmed that people in the crowd had been firing on some of the low flying drones.

I checked the local news to see if I had been mentioned. I saw what was keeping the police tied up. Apparently a group of locals had lain siege to the county courthouse in an effort to overthrow the local government. A splinter group had broken off from them and taken out their frustrations on the local Internal revenue Service offices. I decided I was safe enough for now and stretched out in the Jeep to work on my plan.

The way I saw it I could use the Jeep as a base if I could find a place that looked secure enough to take up residence. I didn’t really relish the idea of trying to make a truck stop my home so living in the Jeep long-term was just out. I pulled a map of the state out from above the visor and began to study it.

My plan, such as it was, left a lot to be desired. Michigan has almost 100 state parks and one of them was about to be my new home. I tried to figure how much gas I would need to get the ones that looked like they would be good for foraging and hunting. Gods but this felt dumb. I paused for a moment to have that conversation we all have with ourselves about how serious we are in pursuit of less than wise decisions.

Apparently I was going through with it.

Sleepy Hollow State Park was going to be my new home.

Gods help me.

Chapter 9 -Belt Fed Revolution

Turns out Mr Fucknut was called Arthur. Emergency services seemed to have all gone out for a smoke break today. When a dispatcher finally stubbed out her last butt and returned to the phones, the fire department was sent to extinguish the remains of Arthur’s house. 

It took the fire department a while to get things sorted, but as they were winding up I managed to single out a likely looking gent so that I might gather some information. He stood watching the fire while having a smoke of his own. I made eye contact with him as I approached. His cigarette stopped halfway to his mouth before he nodded an acknowledgment of my presence.

I plastered my best “I mean you no harm” smile on my face as I approached Mr Smokey. “Hey there,” I searched my memory for a proper form of address for a firefighter and couldn’t find one “buddy.” 

 Mr Smokey matched my eloquence “Heya.” Pleasantries concluded I launched into the matter at hand.

“So what’s happening out there? There a big accident or something?”

“What? Accident where?”

I gestured to indicate the planet in general “I dunno. Out there. I’ve called 911 twice today and this is the first time I got any response.”

“Don’t read the paper much, do ya?” he said, lighting up another cigarette “local P.D. took a 60% budget cut. They’re down to 4 full-time officers and County ain’t much better. You need the police, you best hope the staties are close by.”

I chewed on that for a moment. As I was thinking about it, I noticed one of the firefighters slinging what looked like a M1 carbine over his shoulder. I looked at Mr Smokey and caught what appeared to be a .45 in a retention holster on his belt.

“What’s with the guns?”

Mr Smokey cocked his firefighter’s helmet back and looked at me under one raised brow. It was clear I was a simpleton and seeing this he took pity on me.

“No cops.” he hooked a thumb over his shoulder at the company packing up the truck “This here is all volunteers. We got homes here. Don’t want to see the town burned to cinders, so we gotta protect ourselves and each other.”

I thanked Mr Smokey for his efforts and wished him luck. I went back into the house desperate to find out what the situation was locally. I’d been so focused on the world falling apart I had somehow missed the fact that my neighborhood was in the same dire straights.

Over the next two weeks several more houses on my street belonging to soon to be foreclosed upon people mysteriously caught fire. The fire department didn’t show up for any of those. I was a bit perplexed by these people burning down their houses. It’s not like the sheriff was showing up to put them out all crying children and piles of clothes on the lawn.

I had to admit though, I was ok with my neighbors burning down their houses. I’m pretty sure it was increasing my property value to be one of the few houses left on the street. As it stood there were only four families left on my little tree-lined avenue. Naturally one of  the remaining families had to be the dopers that bought a house while the neighborhood was struggling to hold on to its lower middle class position.

With the exception of the dopers the street was pretty quiet. Before the budget cuts were enacted, I used to have to call the police at least once a week when they began putting on their own version of the Jerry Springer show out in the street. It’s not that I gave a shit about them beating on each other mind you, but they made it hard for me to sleep. People that say pot heads are mellow and don’t bother anybody? Those people are what I like to call full of shit.

 The owner of the house was actually an all-right kind of guy, though a bit of a hard luck case. Shortly after he bought his house, his wife died and he fell into a bottle. This lead to his son pretty much running free and his later involvement with some local narcotics enthusiasts.

 I was informed of all this by the two old biddies up the street, who thought I could do something about it since I was ‘the man from the state’. Somehow my little plastic ID badge with its state seal made me –by default– the neighborhood authority.

As the neighborhood authority I did my best to ignore everyone and try to live my own life. It had been over a month since I had lost my job and it didn’t look as though I was going to find a replacement soon. I took up old habits and did whatever odd jobs I could find to supplement my unemployment.

Unfortunately my unemployment wasn’t enough to cover the huge jump in my mortgage. This being the case I had to make a hard decision. I had signed a contract that said I would pay back the loan for my house and now I couldn’t. I had given my word and now I had to break it.

I called the Bank of the United States people and told them what the situation was. They were as helpful as the could be, but realistically since it was looking less and less likely I was going to find a job, I couldn’t honestly take them up on the offer to refinance.

 I was willing to overlook the fact that the bankers were as much to blame for this mess as I was for being unable to live up to my word. I made a deal with the bank to surrender my house. To be fair, the bank didn’t really want my house, but they were bound by the same contract I was. 

Over the next couple of weeks I sold off everything I could to the rosy-cheeked optimists from Craigslist. I also had a meeting with one of the BotUS people to arrange the date I would leave the house. I was given 6 months during which, if I managed to find a job they would cease the foreclosure and we could work out a new deal.

***

I spent the next few months making myself ready, even managing to drop a few pounds. Funny how eating fewer calories will do that. I had my weapons stored in places that I hoped would go unnoticed and in the process managed to make my Jeep into a decent enough living space. I loved my Jeep but I wasn’t really looking forward to it being my new house.

I was in bed trying to coax myself into sleep one night when I  noticed my security light was on. My paranoia drove all thoughts of sleep from my mind. I got up and peeked out the window over the back door looking down on to the driveway. I didn’t see anything at first glance and had almost convinced myself that a cat or one of the neighborhood rodents had set the light off.

I was about to try to go back to bed when I heard “Shh!”  someone was trying to silence others. I still couldn’t see anything, but I was positive now that someone was outside of my house. I wished for a moment that I hadn’t already buried my Kalashnikov.

As I stood and watched I noticed my Jeep move ever so slightly. I could see that there wasn’t anyone in the cabin, not that there was anything of value in the Jeep to steal; I didn’t even have a radio in there.

I couldn’t see what was going on, so I dressed hurriedly, throwing my .357 in its shoulder holster on as I went out the front door.  I made my way around the side of my house to the steps leading up to the back door near where the Jeep was parked. I saw feet and a gas can on the driver’s side.

I opened the side door on the garage and slipped inside. Once in I could see from the windows my pot head neighbor and two others trying to insert a hose into the fuel filler neck. Apparently these lightbulbs had never heard of an anti-siphoning valve.

The Jeep was parked far enough away from the garage that I decided to take a chance and slip back out the side door and over the stairs. I had my .357 in hand and was squeezing the rubber grip like it owed me money. The pot heads were thankfully a little too focused on the hose that kept stopping after a few inches to hear my approach. Actually now that I think on it, they weren’t focused too much on anything. Seems the last time they lit up wasn’t too far in the past and instead of trying to drain the gas they were now trying to stifle the giggles.

Hearing them giggling as they tried to steal from me just pissed me off even more. I abandoned all pretext of stealth and swung around the back of the Jeep and fired a shot into the chest of the neighbor kid. He fell flat on his back clutching the hole the hollow point had made as if that would keep the blood from flowing out.

I swung the .357 over to my next target when I noticed the “shoot me” holster he had strapped to his leg along with the big shiny Desert Eagle.

Mr Friendly had dropped by to borrow a cup of gasoline.

Chapter 8 -Belt Fed Revolution

The speedometer on my Cherokee tops out at 85. Right next to that there is a little skull and crossbones. I swear it came from the factory like that. For my Jeep, I was flying approaching 75 mph. After I’d gotten myself bandaged up it occurred to me that not only had I not seen police headed toward the gas station en mass, I had not heard so much as a siren.

My shotgun was across my legs as I hurried to unfold the stock as I drove. The police might be busy elsewhere, but I was free and I was going to make it plain to Mr.Friendly that I don’t so much as appreciate being ambushed or having my Jeep shot up.

Approaching the gas station from the angle I was travelling allowed me to see it from a fair distance. I pulled off to the side of the road and grabbed my monocular from my little everyday carry bag I kept in the glove compartment. I scanned the gas station. There weren’t any people visible. Even the bored looking cashier I had seen before appeared to have gone–and who could blame her–after the failed ambush.

I tossed the monocular onto the passenger’s seat and put the Jeep in gear. As I approached the embankment I’d leapt only moments before, I dropped the Cherokee back into four-wheel drive. This time I crawled over the embankment nice and slow. The lights were on in the gas station, but I couldn’t see anyone inside. I pulled right up to the door leaving only room enough for me to get out.

Inside the store I looked around for any signs of a fight and saw none. I tried to listen for movement or voices calling for help, but between the sounds of the coolers running and the various other machines idling away all I got was a kind of white noise.

Behind the counter there was a door that lead to a break/stock room. The door  had a small window in it, but the window had long ago been painted white to match the rest of the interior. I knocked on the door and waited for a response. I placed my ear to the door hoping to hear something, anything, so I could gauge whether or not to open fire or just try the handle.

I decided on the latter method and shouldered my shotgun as I eased the door open. A mostly naked pair lay on the floor, one male, one female. The male was missing a large portion of his head and had an equally impressive chunk torn out of his chest. What was left of the dead guy looked like the security guard I usually saw here. He had a small tattoo on the inside of his bicep that read “De Oppresso Liber” contained in the sigil of the Special Forces.

The girl was just unconscious which  I found that out when I gave her midsection a little kick and she replied with a soft “oof”. Oops. I turned and grabbed the phone next to the cash register and dialed 9-1-1. Four rings later a recording picked up and advised me that someone would be with me shortly. I lived in a town of about 12,000 people. The county itself only had about 170,000.

How could the police be that busy?

I held on the line for about 5 minutes when a sound behind me snapped me out of my reverie. The cashier was starting to come around. I folded up the stock of my shotgun and slung it over my shoulder and behind my back so the girl wouldn’t be alarmed. I held the phone out to her and waited for her confusion and screaming to subside. “I’ve called 9-1-1. I’m on hold. I’m going to go now though…are you ok?” Cashier girl didn’t respond with any words I knew, but she reached for the phone. “Can you speak?” I asked her “Hablo Ingles? Sprechen sie Englisch?”

She nodded and found a word I recognized. “Yeah…” her sobbing continued, reminiscent of a child who just got a spanking, but she took the phone and held onto it like I’d just tossed her a life-preserver.

I stood up and as I did my shotgun swung forward and I watched her recoil from it.I let the gun hang from its sling and held up my hands to show I hadn’t suddenly changed my mind and decided to kill her.

I walked around the counter and went to the doors, still straining my hearing listening for anything resembling the high-pitched wail of a siren. I gave it a couple of seconds before opening the doors and getting into the Jeep.

I was pulling away from the station heading back toward my house and had gone about a 1/4 mile when I finally heard a siren. I don’t know if it was headed for the gas station or not, but for the sake of whatever family the green beret had left behind, I hoped it was the police.

I got home only a couple of hours after I had left that morning. It felt like it had been an entire day. I decided that I’d stick to putting in resumes online for now. At least until the gash in my head closed up a bit. I collapsed into a chair in my mudroom and realized I was still holding onto my shotgun.

I figured another few minutes of wall gazing wouldn’t hurt anything so I did that. I sat there staring at the wall until eventually something cut through the white noise of my thoughts. Smoke. I smelled wood-smoke. I stood up and limped over to the door, my knee suddenly stiff, almost like it was made of stone.

Looking out through the curtains I saw my neighbors house across the street with thick black clouds roiling up from the backyard. In my opinion there is only one response that one should give when dealing with neighbors. The non-committal grunt. Sensing that wouldn’t really serve me in this situation, I grabbed my cell phone and headed outside, punching in 9-1-1 as I went.

Once again I got several rings and a computerized prompt to hold on the line. The neighbor that belonged to the house was standing out in the street with a beer in his hand watching the blaze. I couldn’t remember his name to save my life–I always thought of him as Fucknut and his wife Mrs.Fucknut–I called out to him “you all right?” Sometimes the social worker in me just can’t shut up. The old codger turned around and smiled at me “Oh, I’m just dandy” he said as he took a pull off his beer. “Bankers decided they was gonna take my house; well, they’re welcome to it” at this he cackled and turned back to watch the blaze.