Read Bugging Out Online

Authors: Noah Mann

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Post-Apocalyptic, #survivalist, #prepper, #survival, #Preparation, #bug out, #post apocalypse, #apocalypse

Bugging Out (10 page)

Until now.

But the intruder had heeded the warnings I’d shouted into the night. They were gone. Or gone from where my sensors could monitor their presence.

Gone, though, might only be a temporary situation. Evidence, from gut feelings to the repaired valve on my propane tank, abounded that they, or someone, had come before. I had to expect they would again.

Still, though, what motive they had for being near and not making themselves known eluded my understanding. A myriad of reasons were possible. Some quite unpleasant.

I lit the fire in the stove in my bedroom and settled in for the night. My AR rested close to my bed. Closer than the night before.


ive weeks after the Red Signal I woke to what I thought was fog swirling beyond my bedroom window. Wind had whipped all night, buffeting the house. I imagined the mist was dragged over the hills by the blow, but a moment’s thought on that as I stood next to the bed chased that possibility from the realm of reality. What was being dragged past my window, thick and grey, was coming from the east, opposite the usual prevailing winds. More than that, though, was what I saw stuck to the outside of the pane as I approached. Not just some dewy collection on the glass, but a thickening, pasty smear hued halfway between black and white. Something akin to ash. But I smelled no smoke.

I dressed and headed to the front door, slinging my AR as I stepped out into a world whose color had been washed away. Every tree I could make out through the grainy mist was slathered in the grey dust. My pickup was coated, its already silvery paint lost beneath the scummy grit.

It was the blight. The spawn of it. Death from the trees and growth already afflicted across the valley, spread now not by gentle breezes or on the feet of creatures that scurried on the earth of sailed above it, but by shifting winds, dragging the inevitable west. I wondered how long it would be before the trees that surrounded my refuge,
trees, were afflicted, turning to dried grey sentinels that would harbor no life. That would stand like gangly beasts with wasted limbs stretched out, naked, against the sky.

Soon, I feared. Soon the death that was across the valley, that was spread upon the earth, would settle upon my place.

The filmy cloud drifting from the sky swept over my exposed skin and clung to my clothes. I swatted at my shoulders to knock it away, but more found its way to me. Even into me, every breath fouled by it. It grated at my throat, and soon I was coughing and spitting gobs of mucus that came out looking like flecks of wet concrete. After just a few minutes I could take it no more and retreated, shedding my top layer of clothing just inside the front door. It piled atop the old wood floor, grey dust billowing.

“Dammit,” I swore mildly, the mess wafting all around me.

But my annoyance at the scene inside faded as I went to the window and looked through a patch on the glass not yet smudged by the detritus swirling in from the east. The world was wasting grey. And pieces of that world, this new world, had come in on me. I brought the fingertips of one hand to my nose and sampled the scent. There was none. The foul, fine grit was anonymous.


In a building panic, I swatted the remaining dust from my hands, then my arms, remnants clinging, a layer of the stuff seeming embedded in and on my skin. I shed the remainder of my clothes and ran, naked, to the bathroom, cranking the shower on to full, ignoring the icy blast jetting from the head. There’d been no time to turn the water heater on and let it come to a tolerable temperature, so what hit me as I jumped beneath the spray shocked me to the bone. I screamed out in actual pain as the near freezing water, drawn directly from the pond, was forced over my filthy body by the pump whose whirring motor was drowned out by my cry. I scrubbed and scraped and scratched, trying to rub the blight from my skin. It had worked its way into every wrinkle, every fold, every crevice. After ten minutes I turned the shower off and wrapped a towel around my shivering body. I had taken care of the outside.

But the acrid dust still grated within, in my throat, my lungs. I went to the sink and nearly jerked the cap from the bottle of mouthwash, pouring it straight into my mouth, gargling and spitting, again and again until the forced retching turned real and vomit spewed into the old porcelain bowl. Twice more the contents of my stomach spilled out before the spasms I’d brought on subsided.

Catching my breath, I straightened and looked at myself in the mirror above the sink. The whole of my body still shook from the cold, but I was clean. I’d gotten the scummy residue of the blight off of me, and, hopefully, out of me. I knew I’d panicked and reacted irrationally, with haste, and I couldn’t afford to behave that way. There’d been no indication before the Red Signal, from any sources, that the blight could affect a person directly. It was not poison. It was not an infectious agent to humans. Contact with it was, almost certainly, little more than an annoyance.

Still, I wanted it off of me and out of me.

I calmed and dried off, dressing in clean clothes and building the fire in the hearth to a raging blaze. As it warmed me I looked to the television and powered it up for a moment. Static still filled the screen, and I turned it quickly off, wanting no reminder right then that the world beyond my refuge was gone. Made mute.

Or, maybe, that was the best way to think of it. All that could have happened to the people ‘out there’ had already come to pass. The deed was done. What food there might have been in storage was gone for weeks now. Bodies had withered. Weakened masses would have succumbed to disease. For certain it was possible that large numbers were still hanging on, but what were they going through?

That was where my embrace of silence settled me. Their screams had been quieted, or soon would be, I told myself. Marco. His family. All at peace, or nearing that state of finality.

Neil among them.

This was the hardest to believe. Neil would have tended to his father, as he told me, but he would also had fought to survive. For the both of them. Scrounged to keep him and his loved one going. You could drop a thousand people in the middle of the ocean and Neil would be the last one treading water.

So it was hard to imagine him as gone. But it was also the best bit of mental magic I could play with. His suffering was over.

I began to wonder when mine would begin.


inter came with flurries in the dark and the muffled crack of distant rifle shots. Not a hunter out to supplement their larder, I was certain, the repeated volleys echoing from diverse origins indicating that not only was someone shooting—someone else was shooting back.

I slipped into my cold weather camo and grabbed my AR-15, tactical scope atop it. In no way was I planning on joining whatever fray was underway, but I did want a better vantage away from my house to zero in on the sound. Leaving through the front door after killing the lights within, I moved across the driveway, just a skim of snow crunching beneath my boots and dusting my pickup, the grey grit of the blight’s arrival three days ago washed away by rain the following morning. Rain that had chilled and crystallized in a blast or arctic air sweeping down from Canada.

As I slipped into the woods and began to skirt the low edge of the hill between my house and the road the volume of fire picked up. This was not just a simple exchange of shots—this was a firefight.

Reaching the edge of the hill I could just make out the road a hundred yards distant, ribbon of asphalt disappearing under the falling snow, just a hint of moonlight filtering through the thin storm above. But there was light, in small pulses, bursting beyond the hills this side of the road’s junction with the highway. Three miles to the south, it would appear, cracks following each series of flashes after a few seconds, sound of the fight catching up with what was visible. There were no houses in that exact spot. No buildings of any kind. Whitefish was further south, still. Yet out there some conflict had arisen, between parties unknown.

I needed to know who was out there. Who was engaged in the battle in my figurative backyard? Were they just bands of survivors skirmishing? Or some larger group? Military, perhaps? And, most important to me, were they moving this way?

Ten minutes it took me, traveling cautiously, planning every step, trying to avoid a stumbling mishap in the dark, until I finally reached the forward slope where the landscape opened in front of me. Where before there had been just flashes bulging beyond the crest of the hill, now there were sharp white flares, muzzles of weapons spitting fire. A dozen or more on the east, firing west, and less than half that to the west returning fire, the diminishing rate from the right indicating who was taking heavier casualties.

But who the hell were they? Either side?

Confident that I was concealed by both night and the forest, whose supple limbs and green foliage had begun to dry and droop, I advanced further, and faster, skirting the road heading south, close enough to be seen were anyone looking. None were, I was certain. Anyone who might be in the vicinity, a doubtful proposition at best, would be focused on the battle raging just to the south. Still, I wished I’d grabbed the AR fitted with the night vision scope, which would have given me a bit more ability for stand-off observation. As it was, I had to get closer if I wanted to discern the who and what of what was happening.


Without warning the fire shifted, less than half a mile south now, rounds from the battle splintering trees above and around me. I hit the dirt and rolled behind the stout trunk of a pine as the errant shots peppered the area. There was no chance that I was being targeted. My position was simply in the background as the firefight moved, the smaller force maneuvering for position, or attempting to flee.

I rolled carefully to peer past the tree and brought my AR to bear. Not to join the fray, but to use its optics for observation. The simple 4 power scope, with its illuminated reticle and wide field of vision didn’t bring much additional clarity. But it brought enough as the fire suddenly died.

Lights came on as I looked through my tactical scope. Distant beams sweeping the landscape. Small. Like handheld flashlights, or similar affixed to weapons. The narrow cones of brightness they spread revealed nothing about those who wielded them, but made clear why the fire had stopped.

Body after body was lit up. Members of the vanquished force, it had to be. Men, or women, crouched near each and stripped the fallen of weapons and supplies, then used long knives to cut across the throat of each. A silent
coup de grace
. No need to waste a bullet should one near death need to be dispatched. What I was witness to was quiet and quick. Intimately brutal. And telling.

Sides had been chosen in some conflict, I knew. Over what, I didn’t. Food, most likely, though, understanding the nature of man, that could have been secondary to many things. Land. Water. Power. Or simple control.

It was hardly a month since the Red Signal and already humanity was devolving into tribes. Or new tribes, I should say. We’d always separated ourselves, by border, race, religion. Even when we’d attempted to erase those divisions, ghosts of them remained. Finding old fault lines, or creating new ones, was well within our capacity.

For a while I lay still and observed, trying to glean as much information from what I could see. Gathering intelligence, I supposed it was, though whether I was collecting such on friend or foe I could not tell. I did know, though, that until I possessed some certainty as to the victors’ motives, I wanted to steer well clear of them.

After fifteen minutes of watching, the majority of their lights went dark, just a few remaining as they moved south, lost in the night as they traveled toward Whitefish. Whether that was their destination, or just a point on the map to be transited on their way to wherever they were going, I could only surmise. I was simply glad they were gone.

I rose and made my way back to my refuge. At the front door I paused, hearing something beyond. A familiar sound.


Quickly I entered and went straight for the alarm panel, expecting to see a flashing light matched to the audible warning. But there was none.

My pulse raced. I locked the front door and moved through the house, checking every window and door, pistol in hand, eyes tuned to the darkness within. To say I was unsettled was an understatement. The alarm signal cutting out just as I returned home meant one of two things, I knew. I had been tracked by my visitor as I returned from watching the firefight, and they had broken away just as I reached the house—or they did not break away, and they were inside my perimeter where the sensors would not detect them. Anywhere out to fifty yards from the house. From me.



hat had fallen the previous week hadn’t stuck, winter dragging its feet so that the minor accumulation of snow remained as nothing more than slushy puddles and shallow bogs of mud. But real winter would come, and before that white misery arrived I needed to do what I should have right after arriving. I’d purchased all that was necessary to do so in the weeks before the Red Signal, trucking the implements up alongside other supplies.

The ladder leaned against the north side of the barn, giving me access to the sketchy section of roof some twenty feet above the cold, hard earth. ‘Hard’ being the operative word. Falling from height here, almost any height, would lay a hurt on me that would certainly reap more than simple bruises. I needed to be careful.

But I also needed to get the spongy patch of roofing replaced. Already I’d braced the structure from within. Peeling back the flimsy shingles that covered the area and replacing them was all that remained to give my barn the ability to survive yet another winter. Beyond that, I could make no guarantees.

As I worked I would pause every ten or fifteen minutes and scan the dying woods that surrounded me. Dead, mostly now, the process complete. The blight had laid claim to the north of the state, it seemed. To the whole of the planet, I suspected. But I was not looking out upon the thinning grey landscape for appraisal purposes. I was looking for my visitor.

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