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 (2 page)

But experts had no sway over the effects already being felt. Food prices had skyrocketed. And not just things that grew in the ground or on trees. The steaks people loved to hear and smell sizzling on their grills had legs before slaughter, and wandered fields chewing on grasses that, in many countries, were now dead or dying. Beef, chicken, pork—all depended in some form on plant life to survive and thrive. In countries where the blight had struck, creatures, be they domesticated for food or wild for hunting, were dying.

Maybe, though, the worst byproduct of the blight was fear. Fear that was edging toward panic. Governments were shooting their own citizens out of dazzling skies, and individuals, too, were taking extreme measures. Farmers across the nation’s grain belt stood guard 24/7 to keep anyone from approaching their fields, despite leaked word that the primary way the blight’s infectious spores were transmitted was on the feet of birds. All it would take was a flock of geese sunning themselves in some dying field in Brazil and then winging north to Canada, stopping along the way to eat, rest, and spread the death before continuing on their migration.

“I don’t see a good ending to all this,” Marco said.

“Neither do I,” I said, the image of the crash’s fireball bright on the screen.

The phone on my desk buzzed. I snatched it up and stayed focused on the television. “Yeah?”

“There’s a man here to see you,” my assistant, Marjorie, said.

“Do I have an appointment I forgot?”


“Who is it?”

For just an instant she hesitated. “He didn’t say. I mean...he

I took the remote in hand and muted the TV. “Okay. Send him in.”

“That’s another odd thing,” Marjorie said. “He said for you to meet him out front. He didn’t want to wait inside.”

“Okay. I’ll be out in a minute.” I hung up and looked again to the TV screen, Marco shaking his head as the fireball rose against a darkening sky, lives ended in high-definition.

“Christ,” he said in a soft exclamation.

“Yeah,” was all I could say as I headed out.

*  *  *

on of a bitch...

That was my first reaction when I saw the man pacing on the sidewalk in front of my building. I gave it voice with a slight degree less coarseness.

“I’ll be damned.”

Neil Moore heard my voice and turned.

“How are you, Fletch?” he asked, choosing, as he had for the past two decades, the truncated nick over my given name. I doubted he’d ever spoken the words
Eric Fletcher
since I’d know him.

“I thought you were dead,” I said. It had been six months since I’d heard a peep from him. “Or worse.”

Neil snickered, the expression of humor light and tired, some effort seeming necessary to manage it. “What’s worse than dead?”

“I’d say D.C., but you’ve been there.”

It had been a point of joking contention between us, our friendship stretching back some twenty years to days charging tackling dummies at U.S. Grant High while Coach Macklin screamed at us. There we’d learned to hit hard, and to take a hit. We also learned how to play hard. And, most importantly, to work hard. Each of us had done just that, me skipping the books and frat parties to build a contracting business from the ground up, while Neil aced two degrees at college and bulled his way through department bureaucracy to a position of near-importance at the State Department.

“What are you doing back in Missoula?”

He thought for a moment, as if searching for the right answer. Or any answer at all. In the end he skipped replying altogether and posed his own question.

“You got a few minutes you can spare for me?”

It was an absurd question, I knew. I would always make time for Neil. Still, it was nearly as absurd that my friend would show up unannounced. A simple phone call prior to his arriving would have allowed plans to be made, as we had during past visits to the city we grew up in.

“You know I do,” I said, sensing something in the silence that followed. Something beyond hesitation. “Neil, is everything all right?”

“Remember the burger place where you spilled your shake on Mary?”

Mary Derek. I hadn’t thought of her in over a dozen years. Neil had been there, and had seen the apoplectic mess that Mary became when the cup of soupy vanilla tipped over on her lap. He knew the name of the Burger place—Astro Burgers—but didn’t say it. He was being cryptic. Intentionally, it seemed.

“Yeah,” I said. Behind me, gravel trucks rolled past on their way to a construction site.

Neil looked up the street in one direction, then the other, before fixing his gaze upon me. A wariness swirled about him. Something that wasn’t quite fear. But wasn’t far from it, either.

“Meet me there as soon as you can,” Neil said, then turned and walked quickly up the block, turning the corner without as much as glance back in my direction.

*  *  *

eil was waiting, sitting at one of the outside tables, ignoring the season, his jacket zipped to his neck. He stood when I stepped from my pickup truck in the adjacent parking lot and approached.

“I’m sorry about the evasiveness back there,” he said to me, then pulled me into a bro hug and thumped my back before easing away. “It really is good to see you.”

The statement felt truer than anything I’d heard him say. Ever.

“Yeah,” I told him, sharing the sentiment. “Neil, what’s going on?”

He sat at the table and I slid onto the bench across from him. He’d ordered a cup of coffee from the takeout window before I arrived and now wrapped his hands around it, staring at the wisp of steam swirling upward from the drink.

“I’m going to tell you something, Eric, and then I’m going to leave, and you’ll never see me again.”

It took me a second to process what he’d just said. To absorb the utter impossibility of the statement. My head cocked a bit to one side and I actually smiled, because this had to be some joke, or the prelude to one.

But it was not. Even before he uttered a single word of explanation, the air of solemnity hung thick around him. When he looked up from his coffee and met my gaze, there was dread in his eyes.

“Neil, what the hell...”

“You still keeping up that property north of Whitefish?”

“Yeah,” I confirmed to him. My two hundred acre slice of heaven. The serviceable house that sat on it now dated from the 1930s, but I had plans to demolish it and the barn and old outbuildings to put up my dream retreat. The place I would retire to and spend my best days.

“How far are you there from the main road? Not the highway, but that road splits off from it?”

I had to do some mental math, and recall the survey reports from ten years ago when I purchased the land. Possibly I should have wondered why he was asking such a thing. He was my friend, and something, whatever it was, had brought him here. Something had raised the importance of seemingly mundane facts for him.

“From Weiland Road there’s a gravel driveway about two hundred yards,” I told him. He’d been there before on several occasions, mostly to relax, fish in the pond on the property, and send some bullets downrange in the area I’d set aside for shooting. He’d still never joined me for a deer hunt, using the house there as our own private lodge, but I had hope that he still would. Someday.

He thought on what I’d told him and leaned over the table a bit, narrowing the distance between us. His gaze shifted left, then right, as if clearing the area before proceeding.

“Neil, you’re kinda spooking me,” I said. There was a hint of levity in my delivery. Some attempt to lighten, or brighten, his mood.

It didn’t work.

“You’ve been following this crop disaster in Europe?”

“It’s kinda hard to ignore,” I said, recounting for him what I’d witnessed near Arlee. The tentacles of the blight sweeping across Europe had reached our shores in ways more sinister than just higher priced steaks and vegetables. That was my opinion, at least.

“It’s going to get worse,” he said to me.

“I get that feeling, too. People will gladly submit for inspection by soldiers, but they cry bloody murder when the price of their porterhouse goes through the roof.”

“They haven’t seen anything yet,” Neil said, some gravity about him. A darkness like I’d never known him to exhibit. “None of us have.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You need to start paying attention, Fletch.”

“To what?”

“Watch everything you can. Read everything you can. What you’re hearing now is what they want you to hear. The governments over there, our government here, they’re saying the situation is being managed.” Neil eased back a bit and chuckled lightly, no humor in the expression at all. Just comical disdain. “Managed.”

What he’d said to me sounded more than vaguely like a warning. But a warning of what?

“Okay,” I told him. “I’ll keep tabs on it. But what does any of this have to do with my property?”

“How are you stocked there? Water, consumables, food? Not the perishable crap, but stable supplies. Things that will last. Things that will sustain you.”

I saw suddenly where he was going with this, and it reminded me why we’d meshed so easily back in our younger days. We thought alike in many respects. Appraised the world and the ways of its various institutions similarly. We trusted ourselves, and expected others to earn the same. Be they individuals, or those elected to lead.

“I started stocking up a while back,” I told him. “After that insanity up near Arlee, I knew things were going to hit a boiling point sooner or later.”

“Sooner,” Neil told me. “Sooner.”

I nodded. I’d suspected as much.

“I laid in enough for a few months, just in case,” I explained. “MREs, barrels for water. I made sure the batteries for the solar system were good to go. And I picked up ammo. Lots of ammo. If things get dicey, I’ll be able to ride it out up there.”

For a moment he said nothing. Gave no reaction. No nod of approval, or ‘
good thinking
’. He just looked at me, silent, as if he didn’t want to tell me what he knew he’d have to.

“You’re not ready.”

I let his observation hang for a moment between us, wondering how he could so openly state such a thing. Then, that which should have worried me became apparent—what did he know that made him offer such an appraisal?

“Neil, what the hell is going on?

“You need to think in terms of years, Fletch. Not months.”


He nodded. “Two or more.”

“Years?” I pressed him, struggling to grasp what he was suggesting, or the reason behind it. “

“At least.”

It had to be plain on my face, that I wasn’t fully processing what he was telling me.

“This isn’t some storm you’re going to just casually avoid by an extended stay at your getaway. Not just a few knuckleheads rioting until order is reestablished.”

“Okay. Then what the hell
coming? You seem to be tiptoeing around it, whatever it is you’re trying to share with me.”

This was the thing that worried me the most. We’d never been bullshitters, especially with each other. And we’d never pulled our punches, physically or otherwise. We knew each other could handle whatever needed to be done, or said.

“It’s all tumbling down,” he said, almost matter-of-factly.

“What do you mean ‘all’?”

His gaze swelled a bit. “All. Everything. Government, countries, economies, societies.”

It was my turn to lean forward. My stare narrowed down on my friend. The empty space around us outside the restaurant seemed suddenly claustrophobic. As if everyone inside was also leaning in for a listen.

“What do you know, Neil?”

“Six weeks ago I’m attached as a liaison from State to a team going down to Brazil.”

“What kind of team?”

He hesitated for just a moment as a car cruised slowly by, then turned at the nearby corner, disappearing around it.

“A joint mission from Department of Agriculture and USAMRIID.”

The glazed-over look I gave him at the acronym prompted some clarification.

“United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases.”

The expansion of the letter jumble into real world terms didn’t completely wipe the fog from my comprehension.

“Agriculture and Army disease specialists?”


“I was the go-between for them and the Brazilians.”


Maybe Neil was waiting for me to come to an understanding myself. To piece together what he’d shared. But I was still drawing a blank.

“It’s bad there, Fletch. Brazil has a huge agricultural industry, and the blight is spreading like wildfire.”

A sick warmth stirred in my gut. Word that the blight had crossed an ocean wasn’t new, though it took the involved governments weeks to admit as much after an equal amount of time issuing stern denials.

“Plant geneticists from Ag were there to verify the strain,” he said. “Same as Poland. No mutation. The thing is a monster.”

“All right. That explains one side of your team. Why the hell was the Army tagging along?”

“Because the blight is behaving like a disease,” Neil explained. “That’s what I picked up from the discussions they were having. I wasn’t supposed to know any of this, but... Fletch, it’s moving through vegetation like the plague rolling over a population.”

“Wait...are you saying this is like some weapon?”

He shook his head.

“No. No one knows, really. Nature is fully capable of screwing us over if conditions are right. And here it looks like conditions were just right for this to begin. First in Poland, and then all it took were a few spores from a contaminated crop to hitch a ride on a plane, or boat, and what was something isolated to Europe and Asia is now a continent hopper.”

“How widespread is it in Asia?” I pressed him.

“Russia, into China, Vietnam. Some of those places haven’t become part of the wider conversation yet, but they will be. Soon.”

I sat back, leaning away from the table. The gravity Neil had brought with him had now infected me. A realization rose as to the timing of this get together we were having.

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