Author’s note: This is a repost from another site by request. I just reread it myself and with the exception of correcting typos I have made no changes to what was written in 2005. That was before Katrina, before the credit/mortgage collapse, and food riots in the news today. Its amazing how much the story could still fit today’s news. I hope you enjoy it and your comments + or - are welcome. Mike New York City. Some said it was from a terrorist attack at a fuel depot, others said it had started in a riot at a gas station when the price at the pump went over five dollars a gallon. Almost everyone agreed that the fire had at least contributed to the blackout. There were rumors that someone had sabotaged the Canadian nuclear reactor just over the border from Buffalo NY. Someone heard a report that hydro dams in the Midwest had been dynamited. There was even mention of an EMP. But whatever the contributing factors were, once the grid was down the firefighters lost their pumps there was no stopping the blaze. God only knows how many blocks burned. Fire crews in the west had already been battling wild fires. Their drought showed no sign of breaking while the Southeast continued to be drowned in floods. The first weeks were easy. With the power out, most business, schools and government offices shut down. Those with generators diverted power and fuel to hospitals and other essential services while it was available, but eventually even that stopped. The first few weeks most folks treated it as an unexpected holiday. After the initial rush to empty convenience stores there was little to do but wait. Eventually people began to run out of water, food, medicine, tobacco and beer. By the third week law enforcement was nearly non-existent. Without communications, the officers on the job could do little unless something happened while they were actually watching. Many urban areas erupted into violence. Some rural villages became near feudal states with roadblocks to keep refugees from the cities out while others helped anyone in need as best they could. In their little corner of Heaven, tucked outside of village limits on a mountainside, the Adams' weathered these events fairly well. They ate from the freezer for the first week, converting thawed meat and vegetables into home canned jars of stews and strips of jerky smoked over an outdoor fire. They had several months of most grocery staples - especially pasta, rice, and oatmeal (all of which had been inexpensive when they bought them and packed them to store almost indefinitely). When they ran out of powdered milk. Bob decided to go to one of the neighbors who kept goats and try to buy one. With the only fresh milk for 20 miles, Ike Emmons knew that his herd was a gold mine. He eventually agreed to let Bob take home a milking doe in exchange for a dozen traps, a five gallon can of gasoline, a 22 caliber rifle and 500 cartridges. A few months before, the nanny goat would have sold for $50 and the goods exchanged for her for more than $200. But it gave the Adams fresh milk again and Bob knew that his growing boy needed that. It was the 6 day after the power went out when Bob noticed hearing shots in the hills as people began poaching whatever they could to fill their tables. Bob stabled the goat in the chicken coop at night and tied the dog at the door. He also began to keep a loaded rifle within reach at all times, just in case. He drained the remaining gasoline from the vehicles and used it in the generator on Sunday evenings to refill their stored water, take hot showers and do the week’s laundry. The nearest neighbors joined in this ritual. Exchanging their gasoline for use of the pump, hot water heater, shower and clothes washer. While they washed their clothes and bathed, Bob’s boiler also heated his house with energy provided by their fuel. The families pooled what they had for Sunday dinners. The Adams served late garden produce and stew made from the meat and vegetables that had been in the freezer. Bob and Nancy did not feel the need to share the information that their basement pantry was still well stocked with #10 cans and six gallon pails of dehydrated food supplies. And they were not willing to roast any of their chickens yet. It was on day 8 that Nancy brought a gallon sized can of dry vegetable soup mix up to the kitchen. Bob raised an eyebrow in inquiry when he saw her carrying the big can up the stairs. “We have to rotate it anyway” Nancy said. Bob nodded. He knew that it was a smart move to begin mixing their storage food into their meal planning. They tried to use up six cans of the stored food every year. That let them cycle through 30 in the recommended five year storage period and replace one six can case annually. Opening the can “for rotation” allowed them to begin using their long term storage food without quite admitting that they had to draw on them as an emergency reserve. If the lights came back on, they were simply cycling through their stock to freshen their inventory. But if this was truly the beginning of the end of the world as they knew it, then it was a less frightening way to begin adjusting their diet from fresh and commercially packaged food to that stored for seeing them through a crisis. “If this is it” Bob said “we’ll need to really ramp up the garden next year.” Nancy nodded and came to hug her husband. It was a frightening possibility to consider that they might need to produce every ounce of food that they would consume for the rest of their lives. When Nancy began to make the soup, Bob went down to the cool, dim basement. Without electric lighting only the soft light filtering in through the small basement windows lit the poured concrete room which he always considered a bit of a sanctuary. There stacked beneath the stairs were the five cases of #10 cans. At a rough estimate of 10 meals per can in 30 cans, that would be 300 meals. Split among the three family members at three meals per day that would be 33 days food. There probably wasn’t quite that much in the cans. Bob had thought of the cans as a month’s supply of pancakes, soup, dried fruit, and bread mixes. If there was a little more there, then all the better. The next stack of boxes were MREs. The five cases of “meals ready to eat” military rations and their civilian counterparts contained 12 meals per case. The 60 meals, even at only two per day that would only last three people 10 days. Bob figured that these were his evacuation meals. If they ever had to leave home, these pre-cooked and ready to eat meals should carry them until they reached safety. 40 days of food sure wasn’t much compared to the coming five months of winter though. His gaze rested briefly on each shelf of the basement pantry. They probably had another month of commercially packaged groceries there. That gave him a bit of comfort, but not as much as the big plastic pails resting on a pallet in the corner. These had given peace of mind since well before the Y2K scare. In 1998 he had started his long term food storage plan by picking up three pails of rice and three pails of oatmeal. He figured that they would store just about forever. And with a combined weight of over 200 lbs that reserve of basic grains would let them fill their bellies with at least one solid meal per day for six months even if they would get mighty sick of oats and rice. If the lights didn’t come back on by Monday they’d better start having oatmeal for breakfast. They thought that surely by Election day all would be restored to normal. But the broadcasts they could find on the little dynamo radio told them that most of the country was in much the same state of affairs. Instead of announcing polling places, on election morning the President addressed the nation to say that elections would be postponed until the power could be restored and that each municipal area should prepare for winter to the best of their ability. In other words “Sorry, you’re on your own.” Sorry, Chapter 2: Bob’s diary: November 9th - If we are on our own, we’d best set about looking after ourselves in a serious way. I had been hoping that things would get back to normal before winter set in. But it is getting late for that. There is ice in the dogs’ water dishes outside. I’m so glad that I had most of the firewood cut before the gas ran out. Even using the generator for only a few hours on Sunday’s has used up the stored gas far too quickly for my comfort. What a waste of precious gasoline lawn mowers were! Sawing through the umpteenth piece of stove wood I vowed that if the lights ever come back on, I’ll never mow the lawn again. Within a minute the chainsaw sputtered out and that was the last tank full. We spent the rest of the day bringing wood into the basement to stay dry until we need it. The last of the potatoes, carrots and onions are already out of the garden and in the basement, packed in buckets of cool dry soil. I tried to collect the seeds but won’t know how successful I have been until spring. The potatoes at least will grow from the skins even if we have to eat all the tubers themselves. Jerusalem artichokes and tiger lily roots have proven edible, but they certainly aren’t potatoes. It gets dark so early now. But that gives us time to rest and appreciate a cup of tea and good books between supper and bed. We had chili and corn bread with fresh milk from the goat for supper with the last can of fruit cocktail for dessert tonight. We have begun having oatmeal for breakfast every other day. Nov. 10 - It snowed last night. It’ll melt today but it is cold enough now to preserve fresh meat. It’s time to start hunting in earnest. I felt strange leaving home to hunt. I may be gone all day and who knows what may happen while I’m away? Rob wants to hunt with me, so he can be looked after. But Nancy will stay home to protect the livestock and provisions. Who will protect her while I’m away? Of course she knows how to defend herself but I pray she won’t have to. After our usual breakfast of hot oatmeal, the boy and I took to the woods. He carried the 22, and I the 308 semi with a 20 rd magazine of soft points. The rules are different now. The deer trails low in the valley hadn’t been used, but the snow was a blessing. We hit a pair of tracks high on the hill and followed them as quietly as we could. Just as the tracking was becoming impossible because the snow was melting, a tail flagged out of the brush on our left. A pair of deer were rocketing downhill. I had already told the boy to shoot at anything he could positively identify as a deer for as long as he could see it. I followed my own advice and sent four shots at the one in the rear. Minutes later, we followed the blood trail to her. I swapped in a fresh magazine pocketing the partially empty one, closed the 308 on an empty chamber, then slung the rifle and began to dress the deer. Two 308 bullets and a single 22 caliber projectile had indeed broken the skin. The boy nearly burst with pride. The entrails (except heart and liver) were left behind. Heart and liver were bagged and brought home to be soaked blood free and batter fried for supper with a can of green beans on the side, and chocolate goat’s milk to celebrate the day. The rest of the deer was quartered and hung from the porch rafters to keep cool until needed. Nov. 11- Spent the day fleshing the deer hide and coating it in salt. Hopefully it will dry cure.” The cats have returned home to clean up any scraps the dogs left on the ground and are far too interested in the hanging quarters! Venison tenderloins with garlic and carrots for dinner, oh my! Nov. 12 – Cats have ruined the deer hide. The little buggers can climb better than I thought. I can’t blame them though. They are hungry. We don’t see chipmunks close to the house any more. The Emmons gladly accepted a venison haunch (front shoulder to knee). I asked whether they had any gasoline left, but they had already drained all their equipment. This will be the last weekend for laundry and hot baths until we find more gasoline. They shared a box of kids’ books that their daughter had out grown. They said that they found them while searching the attic for holiday candles. Cleaning out the hidden corners is a good idea. We’ll have to do that too. I know we have some candles packed away in the Christmas stuff. Light snow again. We had a hearty venison stew with barley instead of the usual soup for lunch, and pancakes for supper. Nov. 13 - Saturday – Scrambled eggs and venison steaks for breakfast instead of oatmeal. The hens are down to 2 eggs per week each. There’s no bugs left for them to forage and greens are getting scarce for them. The goat has worked her way through the garden weeds, and lawn edges. We have to move her tether a couple times of day so that she can browse. We spent the day at rest and reading. Can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of “Jacob’s trouble” written about in Revelations. I decided to sort through all books in the den. Everyone ended up with several to read or re-read. “What is this world coming to”, “Patriots”, and “Arctic Adventure” for me. I hope it’s going to be a warm winter. We are taking turns reading the Little House series out loud after supper. Its ironic how much we have in common with the 19th century these days. Buried among the books we found many papers that are of little value now, but can be used to kindle fires. I never thought I’d miss the weekly stack of newspapers to recycle! But it is harder to coax the fire to life in the morning without a ready supply of newspapers to ignite the kindling. Supper tonight was ribs, new potatoes, and carrots roasted in the stove coals wrapped in foil. What a cook! Nancy decided that we better wash and save the foil to be used again. Sunday, Nov. 14 – Last bath day. Fired up the generator, washing machine, boiler and pump. Hot showers, clean clothes, full water tanks (and every pot in the house), we keep the tub full after showers to flush with. Water is going to be a chore without this weekly refill from the pump. We have just a little gas left in the tank that we decided to save for Thanksgiving Day. The wet clothes dried quickly in the boiler warmed house even though it was below freezing outside all day. We just soaked up the heat and loved shedding the sweaters. Soon after we shut the generator off I heard several shots from down the valley. That is not uncommon, but these were far more than the average hunter/poacher. It sounded like full auto fire with a shotgun fired rapidly 4 or 5 times. Either a whole group of shooters was wiping out the flock of turkeys, or something else was going on. I've decided to keep the lamps unlit tonight, and plan to go out after dark to see if I can find out what happened. It might be nothing at all, but I can’t shake the feeling that someone is in serious trouble. I hope that the generator noise didn’t carry as far as the sound of those shots. Sorry - Chapter 3 Bob lay against the cold mud. His finger tips were numb, frost melted into his hair from the leaves brushing against him. The night wind sighed through the bare treetops. What was he doing here? How had it come to this? Life had been so stinking easy just a few months ago. There were no worries about whether your family would survive the night if you weren’t there to protect them. He had left the house locked up tight with a warm fire burning and the family armed and alert with the dogs inside. He had told them that he might not be back until after dawn. If he ran into trouble he wouldn’t go back to the house. Not to lead trouble home. Maybe to the cache site. Maybe just far away if someone were following him with hostile intent. He didn’t even know who might be in the house below. Now he realized that he should have organized a neighborhood watch and been patrolling the neighborhood for weeks. He barely knew who lived a mile away let alone whether they might have guests who were target practicing. That was the best explanation he had come up with while waiting for darkness to fall. One of the neighbors had probably bought a couple semi auto rifles for self defense in these increasingly uncertain times and test fired them in their back yard. If two or three family members had been firing at the same time, that would explain what had sounded like full auto fire. Maybe he was just being paranoid. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that somebody was in trouble. An hour after sunset he had put on his flectar camo, grease paint on his face and slipped into the trees. The shots had come from the direction of the homes between the village and his place. He worked his way to the back yard of his nearest neighbor. All seemed well at the Fleisher’s place. He actually saw either Gert or her daughter blow out a candle in an upstairs bedroom as they settled into bed. Bob slipped back into the woods and worked his way toward the goat farm following the fence line of their back pasture and approaching the house and barn from the rear. He paused roughly 300 yards away and listened for a moment. He couldn’t hear anything besides the gently blowing wind and an occasional leaf scuttling across its fallen fellows. He crouched low to take advantage of a small rise in his approach. And crawled the last five yards to keep his profile below the ridge top until he reached the top of the rise itself. By raising himself just enough to peer over the roots of the brush, he could see that there was a light burning in the house here too. He wondered if he should get closer. Six months ago he could have had a starlight scope delivered to his door for less than a week’s pay. About now, he’d have given a month’s salary for one. His rifle wore a 3-9X magnification scope. It did little for light gathering, but at high power it let him peer into the lighted room from 200 yards away like he was at the windowpane. He could see a man he didn’t know reading beside a kerosene lamp. Just because he had heard shots and didn’t recognize him didn’t mean the stranger was hostile. Bob just had to wait. The smell of cooking and something else he didn’t place right away drifted to him. Smoke poured from the chimney as long minutes passed. Another lamp was lit inside illuminating a room upstairs. There were several people moving around throwing shadows on the curtains. Occasional voices drifted through the walls but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. Suddenly Bob caught movement outside the house. A match flared and a cigarette glowed red in the shadows. He screwed his eye into the scope and looked hard into the darkness. He could just make out a dim figure leaning against the corner between house and porch. Suddenly the front door was flung open throwing lamplight and noise into the yard. He could see the fireplace blazing and men sitting at the table inside. Maybe they had come to buy goats like he had. Maybe they had traded rifles for them. A man stepped through the doorway zipping a woodland camo field jacket and let the spring slam the door closed again. He paused on the steps, and pulled on his gloves against the cold. He picked up a rifle that had been leaning against the wall just outside the front door. Holy Crap! how had he missed that? Bob saw a half dozen black carbines leaning against the wall to the right of the door. Who ever was inside, they felt secure. They also knew enough about weapons to avoid frosting and thawing their rifles every time they went in and out of the cold. The rifles were definitely in the AR15/M16 family. Bob didn’t know the technical differences but he knew that they weren’t cheap. Who the heck were these guys? - After slipping the rifle sling over his shoulder, Larry Polaski leaned over the rail and said something crude to the Karl Larson as he smoked in the shadows. They chuckled quietly before Larry stepped off the porch and walked down the driveway (away from Bob and toward the road). As the man reached the pavement, Bob saw another figure began to move in the trees on the far side of the road. Oh Man that was too close for comfort! Not only had Bob missed seeing the guard at the steps, he had no idea there was a man at the end of the driveway. The second sentry stood, passed a smock or poncho to the man from inside and exchanged a few words as they switched places. Taking a seat inside the tree line on the far side of the road Larry called out to the sentry he had relieved “Take in another piece. It’s almost gone.” Ken Anderson waved his reply and slung his AR15 carbine over his right shoulder as he crossed the yard. He waved to the smoking door guard and angled toward Bob and the barn. Bob felt like the sentry was coming right at him, but he was heading to the barn. As he opened the front door, several goats trotted away from the shed into the pastured woodland where Bob lay hiding. Once he was inside the barn Ken turned on a flashlight to find his way. In the woods Bob thought, “Whoever they are, they’re well supplied – they still have cigarettes and batteries.” The beam cut through the darkness inside the barn and sent rods of bright electric light into the darkness. The effect was like a disco ball as the moving light poured from dozens of holes in the walls as he moved inside. By shifting his position slightly, Bob could see through the pasture into what had been the dark interior of the barn just to the left of the house. Holding the light in his mouth Ken walked to a hanging hulk that showed glistening red and white in the light. He used a sheath knife to sever a front shoulder and leg from the goat carcass hanging from a rafter. It was already missing the back straps. That was the other smell that Bob couldn’t place at first. Mixed with the smell of the goat yard and billy musk was the smell of spilled blood and fresh offal. Ken carried the goat leg in his left hand by the foreleg, his carbine was slung over his shoulder and as he maneuvered to slip the knife back into its sheath, he looked down. The beam of the flashlight still in his mouth swept the barn floor illuminating a sight far more focused in the nine power scope than Bob wanted it to be. After the screen door banged shut on the house. Bob realized that it was a good thing that his rifle’s safety was on because his gloved finger was clenched tight against the trigger. His breath came back in insanely loud gulps that he could not control. He didn’t know how long he had been holding his breath or how long his eyes had been closed trying to shut out the horror of what darkness hid in the barn. In the instant that the light had swung over the floor of the shed he had seen what had become of the old couple who owned the farm. Ike and Hannah Emmons lay with open eyes staring into eternity and the backs of their heads blown wide open by the impact of bullets at close range. Sorry, Chapter 4: Ken dropped the goat leg in already crowded sink, soaking in the heat and light after spending three hours watching the dark frozen road. Why the h-ll did Munger make them stand guard anymore anyway? Nobody was going to mess with them. Nobody had in the last three towns and nobody was going to now. They were just too d-mn tough to screw with. At least they could hang out here for a week or so, stay warm and rest up. The old folks had plenty of food stashed and there was even fresh meat on the hoof. Spider said he even saw a teenage girl at the next place up the road when they were scouting and that was only a mile away. Of course, knowing Spider, that was probably BS anyway. But it was something nice to think about while he polished off the pan fried goat with rice and chilis. He was tired after sitting out in the cold. When he had finished his meal he made his way up the creaky stairs of the century old farm house. He considered stopping in to see Connie. But Badger was probably in there anyway, so he made his way to what had been the spare bedroom. The bed was already taken, but emptying the dresser on the floor made a passable mattress of clothes and he was asleep in minutes dreaming of a smiling cheerleader waiting up the road just for him. - Bob backed his way off the ridge and out of sight of both the house and barn. The smoking sentry had glanced in his direction a few times, but the goats were milling around in the darkness and that had provided enough cover noise for him to get out of the sight of both sentries. “What the h-ll to do?” Bob sat in the darkness clenching his rifle. He had been nervous creeping up on the house, but in his camo and paint with the 308 in hand he had thought himself badass enough to deal with anything he’d come up against. Now with two dead people, people he had KNOWN, now he wasn’t so sure about that. First, he had to get away from here. Then he could figure out what to do next. He knew he couldn’t take out all of the murderers. He didn’t even know how many of THEM there were. He’d nearly missed seeing both of the sentries. For all he knew there were more of them somewhere outside and he had no idea how many might be inside. He had seen three men outside and at least three inside. There had been six rifles by the door plus the two carried by the sentries. That meant at least eight men. Eight men who didn’t mind killing people. Even if he shot the sentries, he couldn’t get all of the men inside. They could go out the windows on the other side of the house and circle around him, or worse, look for him at the nearby homes including his own. He’d have to warn the Fleishers. Then he’d have to get his family out of danger. It took a long time to creep the first few hundred yards away from the farm. But as soon as he got on the far side of the hill, he began to run. - Inside the house, Bill “Badger” Munger looked up from the novel he had found on the bedside table. He relit his pipe with a butane lighter. The old guy had good taste in books. He pushed his toes closer to the fireplace. Too bad the old man had been stupid enough to go for the shotgun. The woman was too old for anything anyway, so they had just finished them both right there in the barn where they found them. Just closing the door kept them out of sight. And with the weather cold they wouldn’t begin to stink until after the Band had moved on. He hated that smell. Any time they came to a place with a body inside he’d send in the crew to clean it out while he posted guard outside himself. But this was a real good spot to rest up. His men had scouted the road ahead for a mile and there was only one other home in that whole distance. They could stay here until the food was gone. Then they could keep moving toward the coast to find a nice beach house that Connie would like and settle down. But then what would he do with this bunch of A-holes? He looked across the room at the kitchen table illuminated by a pair of kerosene lamps turned up high. The kitchen was piled high with dirty dishes and half eaten food. A half dozen men played poker and worked their way through the second bottle of whiskey they had found here. The rest of his crew was either on duty or upstairs already. Maybe he’d get lucky and they’d all kill each other. - Upstairs, Jimmy Ramone pushed open the master bedroom’s door. With a wicked grin he saw the most attractive member of the Band sprawled across the big queen sized bed pouring through the pile of cosmetics found in the house. Like the predator he was he purred “Helloooo.” devouring her with his eyes. Connie Moore was indifferent to the lanky black kid. “Get lost Spider.” He thought that everyone called him Spider because he was a second story man serving 10-20 when Badger had sprung him. She called him Spider because she thought of him as a bug who wanted to crawl all over her. She was right about that. Spider knew that she was Badger’s woman. She was off limits, but d-mn she was hot. How she still managed to look like a $500 whore without electricity was beyond him, but he knew he liked it. She had been working in a club the Band had rolled into right after the lights went out for good. She decided that the road looked better than rotting in a dead-end town (figuratively or literally). So she had hooked up with the Badger. “Hey, looky what he found.” Spider pulled a glittering necklace from his shirt pocket. Connie’s eyes showed new interest, she favored him with a smile and rolled on fresh lipstick. - Bob ran until the cold air hurt his lungs. With the rifle at port arms he decelerated across Fleisher’s frost whitened yard letting himself stop by banging the rifle’s buttstock against the door. Then knocking with his fist until his neighbor hollered down that he was on the way. Eric Fleisher was 54 years old, sported six colorful totoos, a full grey beard and an immense beer belly. He had been without work since his equipment had run out of diesel and he was none too happy to be routed out of bed in the middle of the night. He yanked open the door looking like evil Santa in his underwear carrying his daughter’s aluminum softball bat. “Eric, you gotta get your family out of here.” “What –?” “No time. 8, maybe 10 men killed the Emmons. They’re still there but I don’t know for how long.” “WHAT?” “I’m getting my family out of here. They could be on the move before the sun comes up.” “WHAT THE F-CK are you talking about?” Bob didn’t wait. He didn’t have time to argue or answer questions. In minutes he was back home calling from the yard so he didn’t get shot when he walked through the door. - After a moment, Eric Fleisher realized he was d-mn cold standing in his shorts with the front door wide open. He leaned the bat against the wall. He wasn’t sure what scared him most: that his next door neighbors had been murdered, or that he’d been point blank with a camouflaged, face painted man holding a gun before he realized what a dumb thing it had been to open the door. He sat down heavily in the hall chair. The world had gone to sh-t since he ran out of beer. At the top of the stairs Gert Fleisher felt her 16 year old daughter pull out of her embrace. Amanda looked at her mother. “Mom, we’ve got to go NOW!” Sorry, Chapter 5: Amanda Fleisher pulled away from her mother who started down the stairs. Back in her room Mandy relit the candle Bob had seen her blow out an hour earlier. She threw her suitcase on the bed and began to pile in clothes and shoes. She threw in two framed pictures from the wall, and her keepsake teddy bear. She chose a pair of sturdy black jump boots that had been in fashion the year before and layered up with ski pants and a sweater. By the time she bumped the thirty pound bag down the stairs, her father was dressed and coming back inside. He had retrieved a Smith & Wesson short barreled revolver dangling a trigger lock from his truck. Unable to find the key in the dark – he cut the cable with a pair of bolt cutters and loaded it from the half box of ammo that had ridden in the glove compartment. Gert Fleisher didn’t quite know what to do. She was shocked to see Bobby Adams show up in camouflage with his face painted like some Holloween GI Joe in the middle of the night. He always seemed like a nice kid. They had dinner with them just last week. He had brought them venison just a few days ago when she had sent home the books for his boy Robbie. But could they really believe him? She tried to talk to Eric as he pulled his father’s rifle out of the closet. Eric didn’t want to worry his wife needlessly. “Look, I don’t know if the kid knows what he was talking about or not” he told her. “Just go pack up food and clothes for a few days, while I go check it out.” He handed her the .44 Bulldog. “If anybody messes with you. Just pull the trigger.” Eric didn’t really hear what his girls said to him after that. His mind was busy working out a plan. Ike and Hannah Emmons had been good friends of his. The least he could do was go see if they were still alive. He pushed aside the bowling bag on the top closet shelf. The old green and white box of Remington ammo was still there. There were still 8 loaded cartridges alongside 12 empty cases. It would have to do. He worked the bolt back on the old Springfield trying to ignore the rust. His father had carried this rifle in WW2. The scope had been broken some how and although Eric had taken it off to have it fixed, he never had managed to get around to it. But the old 30-06 still had iron sights and he knew it would fire. He pulled on his jacket. “Be right back.” He kissed his daughter square on the forehead when she handed him his glasses at the door. He told her “Anything happens, you drag your butt to the Adams place. I love ya Kid.” Eric waited just long enough for his eyes to adjust to the night. His breath smoked out reminding him of the cigarettes he missed. As he stepped into the road he thumbed five of the ‘bullets’ into rifle’s magazine, pushed the top one down and slid a sixth into the chamber before he closed the bolt. He put one of the two remaining cartridges into each jacket pocket and threw the box of empties in the ditch. He paused a moment at the curve in the road half way to the Emmons’ place. Looking into the bright starry heavens he saw the big dipper tipped like it was half spilled. A half remembered Bible verse came to mind unbidden “He shall pour out his wrath.” Lumbering forward and shaking his beard he thought “I wonder if it means them or me?” He made sure the safety was pushed off and walked on. He could see the farm laid out before him. The kerosene lamps burned comfortingly in the kitchen windows. Everything must be fine. He walked toward the porch peering into the darkness. - Lounging by the side of the porch, Karl Larson was bored out of his mind. He had was on the sixth and last cigarette he was allowing himself tonight. That’s how he made it through sentry duty. Three hour shifts with 2 smokes per hour. That made it bearable. He was down to half a carton and not Marlboros at that. He had stood so many watches in the last couple months that he barely paid attention any more. So he could hardly believe it when some old dude walked right down the road toward him with a rifle pointed out front. He flicked the smoke away and clicked the selection switch from SAFE to 3 round burst. - Eric saw someone flick a lighted cigarette away from beside the porch. The smoker brought two hands to bear on his rifle and began to raise it. Eric’s rifle was already pointed out front. Oh F_ck that punk wasn’t Ike. Eric yanked the trigger without even trying to get the rifle to his shoulder. At this range he couldn’t miss. _ The first .223 bullet Larry Polaski fired from the tree line from just 10 yards to Eric’s right smashed through the bearded giant’s right shoulder blade and cut its way out of flesh an inch from his spine. The second punched through his right tricep, passed between two ribs, ripped a hole through both lungs and smashed through a rib on his left side pushing him sideways six inches. The last bullet of the three round burst passed through his right pectoral muscle and exited cleanly without touching bone. - Karl saw the muzzle flash from the old Springfield and felt rather than saw the BOOM. 165 grain bullet sold before he was born smashed through his right elbow, knocking a piece of bone the size of marble off the ulna. - The last thing Eric Fleisher saw was the previously unseen sentry standing up from where he had sat on the far side of the road and grinning, “ I saved you sorry Azz Karl!” Sorry, Chapter 6 - The sound of gunfire echoed away as the night crept in around the edges of Eric Fleisher’s vision while his lungs tried to suck air through the holes in his chest. Karl Larson’s carbine lay speckled with blood on the frozen ground at his feet. Blood pulsed through the fingers of his left hand as he tried to hold the pain in. He wasn’t sure if the arm would stay on if he let go of his elbow. He tried imagining what life would be like in this post-hospital world without the use of his right arm. He wondered how much of the precious antibiotics Badger would let him use if he got an infection. Pimple faced Larry Polaski came across the road grinning like a yellow bearded hyena. He’d watched the intruder come straight at the front door for the last 400 yards. He’d been waiting for Karl to challenge him. That was Karl’s job as door guard. Back when the radios worked Larry would have warned him of the approach. But as it was, Larry had really had to fight with himself whether to let the fat man bump off the smoking sentry before he dropped him. At the last instant he figured he’d better take him out or Badger would jump all over him for letting the old guy get by. One thing nobody wanted to do was p-ss off Badger. He’d learned that back when Munger had been wearing the corrections officer badge that earned him his nickname. Before Larry reached the still twitching body in the yard, Bill (Badger) Munger was in the door with his Glock trained on the corpse barking questions and orders. “What the h-ll happened? Mike cover the back! Nate get your ass out the door and watch the road!” Larry and Karl told their stories just as they had seen it unfold. Spider Ramone appeared with a carbine in hand and began to search the dead man’s pockets. “Sheet, I seen this guy up the road at the next place, yesterday.” Badger holstered the Glock on his hip, picked up the Springfield and jacked the fired case out of the chamber. “All right you cons. You’re lucky we all aren’t already dead. This guy might not be alone. Karl, pick up your f – ing rifle and get inside! You should have been paying attention. Larry, you let him get shot. You go patch him up.” Badger, leaned the 30-06 against the house, picked up his own SWAT issue carbine and slapped a magazine home. “Paul, go tell Mike and Nate to stay in the trees 200 yards out, guard the house and don’t shoot us on the way back in. Then you go sit on that curve in the road and kill anybody that comes this way.” - A mile up the road, Gertrude Fleisher heard the four shot barrage. The single bark of the larger rifle came clearly over the muffled burst of lesser reports. It was louder than the shots she had heard earlier in the day. “Oh My” she thought, “What if that big fool has killed someone?” She began to pace. Maybe it had been warning shots. It was over so fast, it couldn’t be a gun battle. If Eric were in any danger, he’d keep shooting. But there HAD been shooting. Even if no one was hurt, that meant that there was trouble. That meant that maybe Bobby Adams was right. She stopped in mid step realizing that the Emmons must REALLY be dead! “MANDY!” The girl came in wearing her coat and carrying their long haired cat Quincy. “Mandy, go next door and tell Mr. Adams that your father went to check on the Emmons and that someone has been shooting.” Mandy nodded and did as she was told. On the way out she dragged the heavy suitcase outside. She might not come home for quite awhile and wearing clothes from the neighbors really didn’t appeal to her. It didn’t take long before she realized it was too heavy to drag with her so she stashed it in the pool shed before she trotted down the driveway and up the hill. - Half a mile up the same hill, Bob and Nancy Adams exchanged a look when they heard the gunfire echo up the valley. Ten year old Rob’s eyes looked like saucers. They were already 600 yards away from the house and working cross slope up the dark forest clad mountain. Each carried a backpack which had waited by the door carrying three meals and a full change of clothes. Nancy carried a second bag of medical supplies. Bob carried a duffel holding a three man tent with its own collapsible fiberglass poles and another holding essential documents, water bottles, a filter, and more MREs. Nancy carried her own rifle. It was an SKS-M model with a thirty round magazine. Her backpack carried two more loaded magazines in easily accessed side pockets with Velcro closures. Rob carried his own 22 and a pocketful of ammo (more to make him feel safe than to actually be used for defense). None of them carried lights. “Keep going.” Bob ran ahead crunching through the fallen leaves, snapping twigs as they slapped his face and broke over his body until he had crested the next ridge. He dropped the tent, food and water there. A twenty yard wide shelf here allowed the family to be out of sight from below even with the tent set up. “If I can, I’ll be back after sunrise. You can watch the whole slope from here. Shoot anybody that comes over the ridge before sun up… and keep praying.” Nancy nodded and kissed him, unsure if she’d ever see him again. She trusted his judgment to evacuate the house. She wasn’t so sure about the wisdom of running toward a firefight. She watched him disappear into the forest shadows realizing that he had the easy job. She’d have to both calm the fears of the boy at her side and stay vigilant to protect him even if her husband never came home. - At the curve in the road Badger directed his team to split into flankers and circle the house. Spider told him that the house lay on the left side of the road, had a fairly big yard and no cover within 40 yards except the pool shed. The former SWAT officer was pleased with the way that the team responded to his signals. They maintained distance from each other and muzzle discipline as they took up positions at each door and a couple of the ground floor windows. Finding himself as the last officer on duty in the detention center after the sh-t hit the fan, Bill Munger had an epiphany. He could either walk cell to cell and shoot the cons he was responsible for, turn them loose, or forge them into his own version of the dirty dozen. He spent two days interviewing each potential member. Nobody had anything to lose. In the end, he had the two he was unsure of execute the two who openly defied him. That left him an even dozen men who he had taken on a swath of looting that would have made Black Beard blush. He had $25,000 in hundred and fifty dollar bills stitched into his body armor cover. He had a gorgeous woman at his whim, and did whatever he wanted to all day long. What more could he want? He figured he’d work his way to a warm southern climate and set up a kingdom in some little beach town. The band of cut throats had lost two men in the first week, but the rest had proven to be just what he was hoping for. They kept him well fed and providing enough loot to keep Connie happy. When the food ran out at the farm, they would keep working their way south over the winter. But first they had to take care of tonight’s business. - Ken and Spider took point on the right hand side. They were both thinking the same thing. “Whoever reached the girl first would get the first turn.” That was the rule. The downstairs was dark, but there was a candle burning in a bedroom window. - In the darkened house, Gert Fleisher had wrung her hands sore twisting her wedding ring and anniversary band. She had packed up what little food they had into a box on the dining room table like her husband had asked her to. But now she didn’t know whether to follow him or her daughter. - The team surrounded the house, waiting for Badger’s signal. He waited ten minutes by the Rolex on his wrist without seeing any sign of activity inside or out. Jimmy had observed this place for an hour the day before while the rest of the group had watched the farm. Watching the farm had paid off when the old couple had both gone into the shed at the same time to milk the goats. The group was able to close on them undiscovered. Munger was still impressed that the old guy had been able to empty the shotgun before he died. He signaled the team forward. Jimmy Ramone slung his carbine as soon as he reached the wall and went up the drain pipe like a monkey - a “Spider” Monkey. He was at the bedroom window almost before Kenny opened the back door. Gert heard the door open and ran toward the back of the house to meet her husband. Stepping inside Ken Anderson heard the approach of softly slippered feet and sidestepped behind the doorway to the dining room. When Gert Fleisher swept into the room, he slipped an arm around her bosom and pulled her close to him while maintaining his hold on the rifle’s pistol grip. The other hand clamped over the woman’s mouth stifling her cries. “Sh-t” thought Ken, “I got the old bag. Oh well, better than nothing.” The rest of the team flooded through the rooms sweeping the place from basement to attic in minutes. Spider found nothing but empty bedrooms upstairs. A white cat streaked from under the bed when he emptied the jewelry box on the second dresser. Quincy streaked between the stranger’s feet and into Mandy’s room looking for a place to hide. The leap from the chair to the bed upset the candle and it sputtered as it rolled over the synthetic shag carpet. In the dining room, Gert Fleisher lashed out, but did little damage as her attacker dragged her into the living room. She raked her nails over the man’s face causing him to reposition his grip. Now pinning her arms against her body to keep her from striking back, Ken lay his rifle across a chair and sat down on the couch dragging her onto his lap. Unable to strike out with her fists Gert tried to pull her arms tight against her body to wriggle loose. When she did, something hard and cold pressed against her arm. She realized that her husband was dead at the same time that she recalled his words “If anybody messes with you, just pull the trigger.” Her hand found it’s way into her robe pocket and into position on the heavy revolver. She couldn’t get her hand out of her pocket but the voice in her head said. “Just pull the trigger.” The roar was thunderous inside the small room. Trapped between the struggling bodies of the man and his victim, the bullet could not but find flesh. It hit the side panel in Ken Anderson’s vest. The .44 caliber slug shoved its way two inches deep through Kevlar, flesh, and bone. The vest held but smashed through the flesh on Ken’s ribs all the way to the bone. His fourth rib broke without the bullet ever getting through the vest. Kicking the woman away from him, the man tried to scramble away. Hurled to the floor, burned by the muzzle blast, deafened by the report, and with tears stinging her eyes, Gert pushed the barrel against her attacker and squeezed the trigger again. The roar seemed even louder but it did not surprise her this time. Ken screamed as the hollow point slug smashed his left hip, broke his pelvis, and ruptured his bowels. She squeezed again. From two feet away the third semi jacketed slug ripped from the dying man’s groin, through his stomach and into the inside of the vest’s back plate. Shocked at the sudden violent defense Stu Johnson clicked his carbine to full auto. Not willing to shoot into both tangled figures he ran forward, placed his carbine’s muzzle against the side of the woman’s head and pulled the trigger. Sorry, Chapter 7 (final chapter) Badger couldn’t believe it. They had cleared dozens of houses without even a scratch. He had been congratulating himself for the last half an hour on how effective making Karl the door guard had worked. Those cigarettes made him too obvious for sentry duty, but perfect as a decoy. He’d left his least reliable men out of this assignment and sent his best men in. But now he had one man wounded at the other house, and a dead man on the couch in front of him. He was down to just three effective men with him. It was time to get out before something else went wrong. He picked up the carbine. “Johnson, get that food off the table and …” Spider Ramone came out of the Fleisher’s bedroom and saw flames racing across the plush hallway carpet. He took the stairs 3 at a time. “Holy Sh-t Badger, the pace is on fire!” “Everybody out!” Badger led the way out the back door. _ On the mountain a half mile away, Nancy Adams heard the shots from inside the house and renewed her prayers over her rifle sights looking downhill. “Dear God, bring him safely home.” - Mandy Fleisher pounded on the door to the Adams’ log house, but no one was home. - Bob Adams heard the shots too. He was only 300 yards away and moving fast toward the house where he could see flames licking up the curtains in a bedroom window. He was too late. The strangers had killed the Emmons. Then they had killed the Fleishers. They were working their way house to house, and his place was next. Well not if he had anything to say about it! When he was at 175 yards he saw three men come out the back door. The first carried two rifles. The last carried a box. Going to one knee, Bob pressed the barrel of his weapon against the trunk of the closest tree and brought his scope to bear on the man in front who was moving at a fast walk across the yard. “Your will be done Holy God.” The first shot passed over Badger’s head. Seeing no effect, Bob took slow deliberate aim, held his breath and kept on target with eyes open. He placed his crosshairs between the lead man’s shoulder blades. BLAM. The man’s head erupted as the FMJ bullet took him through the back of the skull. The corpse hit the frozen ground chest first like so much dead fish still holding a rifle in each hand. The others seemed frozen. With a burning house behind and a dead man in front, they hesitated. BANG, BANG! The second man went down with a hit to the torso. The box carrier began to run. BANG, BANG! The third set of double taps sent the box carrier sprawling and spilled canned goods over the lawn. - Inside the burning house Ken Anderson came awake as Spider yanked Ken’s vest off. Jimmy knew that the Badger kept his cash in his vest. Maybe Kenny did too. It was worth a look. Hot blood and other fluids spilled out of the vest over his hands when Jimmy searched the pockets. He wrinkled his nose as he fished through bloody pockets to come up with Kenny’s wallet. Ken gulped air, feeling life run out through the bullet wound in his guts. “Spider” he gasped “Help me.” Jimmy stepped away from the dying man. He yanked off the dead woman’s diamond rings and picked up the forgotten .44 “Here’s your mother-F-ing help, Kenny.” - Outside Stu Johnson heard the revolver shot from inside. He looked at the dead man who had been his team leader. Ted Vasquez rolled on the ground nearby. Stu could see the bullet hole through Ted’s bicep in the growing light as the fire spread through the bedrooms and began to light up the yard. Rolling onto his back, Stu pointed his carbine toward the wooded hill and emptied the magazine on full auto. Ted picked himself up and clicked the rifle safety off backing toward the road but unable to find an enemy. _ Bob had 14 shots left in the twenty round magazine. He banged two toward the figures caught in the open and moved forward to the next big tree – ten yards forward and two to the left. He rolled around the edge of the tree trunk and pressed the barrel against the tree for a steadier aim, turning the scope up from 4 to 6X. Ted Vasquez was still backing away, now firing short busts blindly into the tree line. The bullets were shredding brush a hundred yards or more to Bob’s right. Stu Johnson got up and began to run. Both men had made it into the road. If they rounded the curve they’d be out of sight. Bob emptied his magazine. Both men went down again, but were still moving. One of them was screaming. Bob dropped the empty magazine and seated another running forward. From 100 yards he put three shots into each body including the one on the fire lit lawn. That’s when he saw the figure backlit against the flames inside the house. In the years to come he would sometimes wonder if he had accidentally shot Gert Fleisher. The first shot hit Spider Ramone in the center of mass and sent him reeling backward. Spider’s feet came down on Gert’s corpse and he fell heavily backward slamming his head against the floor with a sickening bounce. - 300 yards south of the Emmons place. Mike Unser and Nathan Zweits made a decision. They’d served time enough to the boss man. He had finally run into a sh-t storm and now he was on his own. They had been waiting for this. They nodded to each other and headed south without a look back. - At the curve in the road Paul Williams could not believe his ears. There had to have been 50 shots coming from around the corner in the last five minutes and at least half of them were not from a .223. Something was definitely wrong. The fat bearded dead guy on the lawn must have been an advanced scout for a large, well armed group. Sh-t what if the old guy really hadn’t even been alone as a scout? What if there were more of them between here and the house? Paul clicked the selector switch to full auto. He wasn’t about to take chances. He began to fall back toward the house in short rushes from cover to cover as flames began to light the sky over the tree tops. - Bob reloaded. The flames pouring out the second floor windows of the house illuminated everything within 150 yards. Nothing was moving. Well inside the tree line Bob worked his way around the yard and headed toward the Emmons’ farm. He was torn between a desire to hurry and fear of being spotted. He knew that he hadn’t got all of them. The moon was still rising. Could it still be before midnight? The stars showing through leaf cover were startlingly bright. He eased up to the ridge behind the goat shed remembering that his neighbors lay dead inside. This time he knew what the smell was. Something inside him turned cold and hard. Two men carrying rifles stood on the porch peering into the darkness. There were no lights on inside. - Larry and Paul had known each other since they were assigned the same cell eighteen months before. They were in fact very much alike and both thinking the same thing. They should high tale it out of there, but if Badger wasn’t dead he’d kick their asses for not doing what they were told. So they said nothing and peered into the darkness up the road toward where flames were clearly illuminating the night sky. Karl’s right elbow throbbed. He couldn’t hold a rifle, let alone use it effectively and he wasn’t under any orders to stay on sentry duty. Whatever was going on up the road, it wasn’t his problem. He told Connie that he thought she ought to pack up in case Badger came back with orders to clear out. She flipped him off with an elegantly slim finger and told him to get out of her room or she’d shoot him herself. He went downstairs and carefully lit one of the oil lamps to begin packing his own kit with his good arm. - From directly across the road, Bob looked into the house as the lamp was lit. At only 75 yards away the men on the open porch were easy targets even with the scope back on 3X. He could drop them before they could get inside. But the man lighting the lamp could drop out of sight as soon as the shooting started. Better take him out first. The first shot broke Karl’s right arm and the tumbling bullet went through his ribs sideways clipping two and sending shards of bone into his lungs before it came to rest inside the upper left chamber of his heart. The glass bottomed kerosene lamp hit the floor like a Molotov cocktail splattering lamp oil over everything within six feet of the stairs. Bob’s second shot at the falling figure was low, harmlessly hitting the bottom of the window frame. The third shot hit Paul Williams in the guts, smashing his vertebrae. Paul’s clenched fist sent a stream of jacketed projectiles through the living room windows in a long burst as he fell heavily against the side of the house. Bob’s fourth and fifth shots missed Larry Polaski as he crouched behind the ornamental railing. Larry yanked on his trigger trying to fire back at the muzzle flashes without realizing that his safety was still on. Bob’s sixth shot split the railing and sent splinters through the crouching man’s face and hands. The next spun him violently backward punching through the Kevlar vest, sternum and lungs. Bob double tapped both figuresjust to make sure. With nine bullets left in the magazine Bob saw a figure moving inside. Flames had begun take hold of the frame house. He thought he heard screaming but his ears were ringing from the shots he had fired. Someone was moving on the stairs inside, their way down was blocked by flames, but that was their bad luck. He emptied the rifle at the silhouette. - In the morning, Bob looked at the smoking ruin of the farm. Nothing had moved within the range of his vision as the entire house was consumed down to the foundation. From the rise 200 yards away he imagined that he could still feel heat coming off the red hot embers filling the basement almost to ground level. About midnight he had identified Eric Fleisher by the light of the burning farmhouse. That had prompted him to make a circuit of Fleisher’s place. He found it fully engulfed in flame. His own home looked dark and untouched. It was then he wished he had radios to let <st1lace w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Nancy</st1:City></st1lace> know that all was well. But it was too risky approaching the ridge in the dark. If she shot him it would have been his own fault. But now as the frozen dawn washed pink and bright over the dark horizon he hurried up the hill and into her arms. They approached their home together and after watching the house for a quarter hour, they had started across the yard only to see Mandy Fleisher emerge from her hiding place in the chicken coop. Eventually they would collect all her worldly possessions from her suitcase in the pool house and she would move in with them. But for now, it was enough to know that they had made it through the night – on their own.