The first chapter of a book I'm working on. "Should I start from the front, or the back?" I asked myself. Pondering the mechanics for a moment, I made up my mind. I rolled the corpse over, face down, pulled my bowie from it's sheath on my belt, put the point between two cervical vertebra and proceeded to remove the head from the body. "What in the Hell are you DOING!" Frank yelled at me. "I'm cutting the head off this corpse, as you can plainly see" "What the fuck for, have you lost your mind?!" "He doesn't need it anymore, and I do. Instead of standing there gawping, why don't you go cut me a pole about eight feet long. Go ahead and sharpen it on both ends while you're at it." "You know I've got your back, but this is just damned sick." Frank said as he pushed his slung M4 behind his back and melted into the bush to retrieve a pole. If you've never done it before, taking a human head off isn't that easy. The tricky part is dealing with the spine. That's why I started there. Once you have that separated, the rest is smooth sailing. Luckily, one of Frank's three shots had blown this fellow's liver apart, resulting in most of his blood draining from that wound, making it a bit less messy for me to deal with the carotid and jugulars. I had the head detached and sitting upright on the ground about the time Frank emerged from the bush with a inch and a half diameter Ginnip sapling. "Perfect" I said. "So you want to tell me what you have in mind?" "We're gonna put this head on the pole and put it up at the end of the road" I answered. "Pour encourage d'autres", I responded to his next, unanswered question. "You think it'll do any good?" "This poor bastard came here, onto our property, looking to take what we've had the foresight, and the wherewithal, to put aside for situations just like we are facing now. There's not a doubt in my mind that he would have used that Glock that he had stuck in his waistband, if we'd given him a chance. He might be the first, but he damn sure won't be the last to try and take what's ours. I'm hoping that his head on a pike will give others' pause, and encourage them to seek easier pickings. The downside, and yes, there is a downside, is that we are announcing our presence here, and the fact that we are armed. There's always trade offs, and in this case, I think the strategic application of 'Horror' outweighs the tactical error of letting people know we are here. They'll figure it out sooner or later. Hell, this one did." "Now help me get this coconut stuck on this stick...." So how did I get to the place where I'm decapitating corpses? It's been a long time coming and many things have gone into my decision. And all the decisions I will be making from here on out. It's a new 'normal' and I'd better adapt quickly or I'm not going to survive. As Darwin said, it's not the strongest or the smartest that survives, but the one most adaptable to change. Seems I'm one flexible fellow. In books and movies there's that initial conflict between the bad guy and the hero? And the hero, being a 'good guy' bypasses the opportunity to solve everyone's problem by taking out the villain right then and there, because that wouldn't be 'right' or 'moral'. Everyone knows that at the end of Act Three the protagonist will finally deal with the antagonist, but only after he has had plenty of time to cause harm and mayhem to others. How moral is that? One of my teachers told me, "if a tree is leaning over your house, do you wait for it to fall and crush your house before you cut it down?" As soon as you understand someone's intention to harm you, you need to take immediate action and not wait for the harm you know is inevitable. It's a tough decision to make, when I've spent my entire life practicing being helpful to people and 'doing no harm'. But it's a new reality, now, the thin veneer of civilization has been ripped off, exposing the ugliness beneath. Adjust and adapt quickly because I won't get many chances to get it wrong. Getting it wrong has greater consequences now, than it did just a short while ago. This stream of thought finished about the same time that I completed the gruesome task of putting up my Unwelcome sign. I picked up my M4, put my head and right arm through the 2 point sling, tapped the mag, did a chamber check, and hit the forward assist with a couple of love taps. Wiping the sweat off my face with my shemaugh I bit down on the valve of my Camelbak tube and sucked in some water, happy to find that it was still quite cold. Frank, seeing that I was ready, without a word stepped off into the bush. I paused a beat, took a calming breath and slowly followed him. Sight lines in the bush are very short so you need to move very slowly, silently, and really tune into your surroundings. The critters had settled down and were back to making their usual noises, after having their morning shattered by the 3 quick shots from Frank's rifle. Hearing and smell are just as important as sight when you are navigating the bush. You need to open up your awareness and become part of the ecosystem. If you don't, you'll end up with your head on a stick. Every 50 paces or so, I'd stop, turn, and watch/listen/smell or back trail. The wind was in my face. Good for knowing if someone was following us, but bad if we hoped to get a shot at animal. Maintaining good hygene was an order of magnitude more difficult nowadays. Many people just didn't bother. Staying clean is one of the reasons we live longer, or use to, at any rate. There's the obvious reasons related to disease, and the less obvious, that your smell can give away your presence to game animals and enemies. Make the effort. I turned back around and had only taken a couple of steps when I noticed Frank stop and squat down, looking at the ground. He caught my eye, pointed at the ground and resumed walking. I moved up and stopped where he had and looked. A small pile of little black/brown pellets indicated that a deer or goat had passed her recently. I'm sure he'd winded us, so we'd never get a shot at him, but it was good to know that he was around. We'll get him another time. We came up to edge of the clearing, me still trailing back a dozen paces. Frank took off his hat, scrubbed his hair with his left hand and replaced the hat. That innocuous gesture let Leia in the observation post know that everything was copacetic. If Frank had done anything else, not given the sign, or even something as subtle as using his right hand to scrub his scalp, whoever was on watch would have known there was a problem, and hit the switch to alert the rest of the group. After his quick pause to adjust his hat, Frank set off again, making sure to not acknowledge Leia in the OP as he walked past, in case anyone was watching him. Another 100 yards and the house was visible behind the knoll that concealed it from view from the rest what used to be my neighborhood. Suddenly two dobermans, a rust and red bitch and a black and tan male ran at us full speed. They ran right past Frank and went for me. They ran circles around me, play fighting with each other, their normal ritual to let me know that they were happy that daddy was home. I stopped, unlocked my knees, and waited for the unbounded show of joy to subside. They knew better than to jump up, but a 90 pound dog bouncing into your locked knee is a good way to get hurt. Just one more indication that life was different now. A banged up knee a few months ago would have meant going to the doctor, some tests, some pain meds, maybe physical therapy, or if the injury was bad, surgery. Not now. There's no such thing as a simple injury anymore. My wife, Sadie heard the dogs roughhousing from inside the house and greeted me at the door. "Sweetie!" she exclaimed while she gave me a big hug. "How did the sweep go?" she asked. Frank and I entered the house, racked our M4s, shrugged out of our day packs, took off our load bearing gear and put them on on the stands we each had for our equipment, staged near the door where we could get to them quickly. Our pistols and knives stayed on, though. We never took off our handguns. The whole point of sidearms is having a weapon that you can Always have Near to Hand. Rolling my shoulders, glad to be relieved of their burden, I reached up and massaged my neck while I answered Sadie's question. "The sweep went relatively well, but we did have a run in with some looters. Frank had my back, so it wasn't an issue." "What happened? So those were your gun shots we heard?" Gunshots were heard often enough to not be note worthy unless they were close by. "Yeah, we lit up a couple of looters." The three of us sat down on the deck, overlooking the Atlantic ocean a couple of hundred yards away, the Trade Winds quickly drying our sweaty tee shirts, despite the 80% humidity. I reached down next to me, opened the mini fridge, pulled out a icy cold can of Coke for me, tossed a Greenie to Frank and handed one to my wife. Taking a deep drink of that sugary ambrosia, I continued. "We started the patrol from the east this time to mix it up. I took point to start. We eyeballed the Johansen place as we passed. Everything looked fine there. Emma was pulling weeds, while her two sons were making a couple of new raised beds from 2x12s they scavenged from their neighbor's house. Looks like they're going to have about 8 of those beds when they're done. We slipped by without them knowing we were there and kept moving east another couple hundred yards until we hit the gut. We moved up the gut until we were almost up to the main road. That's when I heard the voices. A couple of men talking. We stopped, took a knee, and took in information. Looking back I caught Frank's eye. I cupped an ear, pointed to my eyes, then pointed at him, and then pointed in a semi circle behind him." "Like he needs to tell me my job." Frank interjected with a grin. I ignored the jab and continued with the report. After listening and looking for a minute or so, I looked at Frank again who shook his head in the negative. I nodded in reply, motioned for him to circle and flank, and then rose to a crouch, and slowly moved closer to the voices. Moving just a few yards I was finally able to catch a glimpse of them between the foliage. I could also hear what they were saying. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" said the one furthest from me. "I'm telling you, this neighborhood is far enough out that no one has hit it yet. There'll be some food for certain and women too. We do it just like before. I find a place to hide near the door, you knock and stand back, and when they come out to talk to you, I'll shoot them in the back, they'll never know what hit them. It worked good the last two times, didn't it?" "Yeah, but, I've got a bad feeling about it" "You didn't have a bad feeling about that last chick we found, did you? She lasted longer than the one bef" BOOMBOOMBOOM! Three shots rang out from my right, about 10 yards out. The looter, interrupted, paused, looked down at his chest, pulled his now bloody hand away from the area of his liver, and folded up, dropping in an untidy pile. I brought my M4 up, flipping the safety off, and put the red dot from my Aimpoint T-1 on the back of the rapidly retreating form of the second looter. I let off 3 quick shots, but by then I couldn't see him any longer. I went to flat stock with the M4, side stepped, went kneeling, and did a 360 scan. I rose to a crouch and repeated the scan, and then stood and repeated the process. With the thick foliage, you can see different things at different distances from different heights. Check them all. I pulled a spare mag out of my Olangapo carrier, did a tac load, swapping it for the partial in the rifle. Tap and tug to make sure it's seated, the partial went into the cargo pocket on my left leg. Chamber check, tap the forward assist, and closed the dust cover. As I finish up Frank has moved up to me, rifle in flat stock while he scans behind me. "That was cold, dude" I told him. "What was?" "You just dumped that guy with out so much as a how'd ya do" "What was there to talk about? They needed killing. What was I supposed to wait for?" "I'm just messing with you dude. You did the right thing. Fair fights are for fairy tales. As you said, they needed killing" "did you get the second one?"Frank asked me. I'm not sure. He moved quick!" "You gonna check or am I" "I'll do it, you cover. Your vision is better than mine." We moved to the pile of flesh and bones that until recently had been a looter and rapist, a Taker. He was very obviously expired. I checked him over and found a Glock 22 in his waist band, sans holster. He had a wad of cash in one pocket, a bag of weed in another. I pocketed both. I'm not sure the money will ever have any value again, but the weed certainly has it's uses. And if nothing else, the cash can be used as TP. I pulled the Glock 22 from the corpse's waist, pulled the mag and checked the chamber. I put the round from the chamber into the mag, which was dutch loaded with a variety of FMJ and hollowpoints. Pointing the empty gun in a safe direction, I pulled the trigger and held it back. Shaking the pistol near my ear, I could hear the striker moving back and forth freely. I put the mag back in, leaving the chamber empty. Waving Frank over, I put the Glock in his backpack, not willing to trust it until I've had a chance to give it a thorough going over. I turned my attention to looking for the second Taker. Moving over to where I last saw him, I squatted down and looked around. After a few seconds of me looking without seeing anything, Frank said "At your 2 o'clock, about 3 feet out, on that Cashia leaf." I told you he has good eyes. There, right where he said, was a bright red dollop of blood. About half a teaspoon's worth. "Looks like you tagged him" Frank said. "Yup. Let's see if there is a blood trail to follow." I let Frank take the lead, while I provided cover. We moved slow at first, finding drops of blood every few yards. After a hundred yards or so,Frank stopped and waited until he had my attention, then pointed up ahead. There, at the base of a Turpentine tree was the body of the second Taker, lying face up. The flies landing on his unblinking eyes let us know that he was no longer with us. "Guess you did get a piece of him" "Are you surprised?" I grinned at him. "Well, you are getting up there in years" I gave him the universal symbol to let him know that he was Number 1 in my book, and then started going through his things. More cash, more weed, and another Glock. This one a model 19. As I pulled it from him, my hopes soared. It had an extended barrel with threads on it. I went through the same process with it that I had on the previous pistol, then tossed it to Frank. "You willing to bet whether he has the can to go with that?" I asked "Only one way to find out" he replied. Going through the Taker's pockets, I came up empty. I cut the straps of his cheap backpack and pulled it out from under him. I opened the main compartment and started pulling items out. First was 3 pairs of girls' panties. Sick bastard, probably trophies. Next was 2 bottles of rum. One full, one half full. We'd hang on to those. A dirty pair of jeans had been wrapped around them to keep them safe. In the bottom of the pack was two boxes of 9mm, which is always gratefully received. But my hopes were falling. No can. "What about that side pocket?" Frank asked. I took a breath and unzipped it. There was a red bandana in there. Wrapped around something. Something about eight inches long and a bit over an inch in diameter. "Jackpot! Yes! This is a game changer, dude. With all the preps we've done, the one thing I regretted not being able to get was a suppressor, but it just wasn't feasible" "That'll come in handy, no doubt" Frank said. "seeing as you're the one that shot him, I guess it's yours". "I suppose that's right, but I'll put it to the best use. If that means someone else needs it, so be it." Back on the porch, Frank picked up the thread of the story. "The next part really takes the cake. Your husband is one cold dude. Do you want to tell her, or shall I?" "Go ahead, dude, my throat's dry. You can tell Sadie about the Unwelcome Sign"