Authors: Noah Mann
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Post-Apocalyptic, #survivalist, #prepper, #survival, #Preparation, #bug out, #post apocalypse, #apocalypse
He set the empty cup on the table and gave an odd half smile.
“That’s just me,” Del said. “I figure we’ve gone a long time accommodating people in this world who let evil exist, even flourish, all around them, because they claim fear. But if you let fear rule you, you enable the one who dishes it out. That’s how evil grows. That’s how it spreads.”
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing?”
I related the famed quotation as a question. Del smiled and nodded.
“You’d wipe out a town to get Layton?” I asked, still unsure of how to reconcile the absolute of Del’s belief with the kind man I’d come to know.
“That town is Layton now,” Del said. “You saw those women turn on us, even after watching their man get taken away to get chopped up for steaks.”
“Like I said, they were afraid.”
Del leaned forward, planting his elbows on the table and laying a hard look on me. Maybe even harsh.
“Would you let him do what he’s doing if you lived in that town?”
“I’d probably be dead,” I said.
“For standing up to him?”
“That good men do nothing,” Del recited. “You’re a good man. That town is out of good men, or women.”
I took Del’s empty cup and put it in the sink. The scent of coffee still lingered in the air. All that would remain after its fleeting presence was memory. A memory forever linked with this conversation with my friend.
“I’m gonna head home,” Del said, standing and heading for the back door, his hand patting me gently on the back as he passed. “Thanks for sharing the last of your coffee.”
He took his rifle from next to the door and left. I watched him through the kitchen windows as he disappeared into the bare, colorless woods, reaching to trees as he passed, grabbing handholds to support his failing form.
* * *
was lost in a dream of a place I’d never been when pounding rocked me from sleep. Hazy mental images of green-blue water curling onto a white sand beach were scattered as my eyes snapped open and I reached for my rifle, covers flying off. For an instant I was terrified that the raiders had returned. Until a voice rose with the slamming of a fist against my back door.
“Turn on your TV,” he said as I let him in.
I did as he said. The static of the Denver station filled the screen.
“Try another station.”
“This was a bootleg setup,” I told him. “I was lucky to get that station out of the Rockies.”
“You think any subscriber protocols are still being enforced?”
He had a point. But there was still the Red Signal to muck up any broadcast.
Or so I thought.
I scanned through the satellite feed, getting only static, until I reached what should be CNN. No logo appeared on the static-free transmission, but, more importantly, neither was there any large red rectangle. Just some antiquated color bar test pattern showed on screen.
“The Red Signal...”
“It’s gone,” Del Said. “Radio frequencies are clear, too.”
I was surprised there was any signal coming from CNN. But, then, it might not even be from them. It could simply be a placeholder image the satellite was feeding to ground receivers like mine.
“Did you hear anything?”
He looked at me and nodded.
“You should probably hear it, too.”
* * *
followed Del along the trail to his house and into his radio room. The equipment was already on, speaker spewing static, until...
Come back if you are in the Kalispell or Whitefish area.
The transmission was near crystal clear. I looked to Del.
“I flipped the thing on, like I do a couple times a day, just to see if that idiotic signal was still broadcasting, but it wasn’t.” He sat at the only chair and reached toward one of the radios, adjusting a dial. “So I fished around seeing if I could pick up anything, and I heard this.”
Any survivors in the Kalispell or Whitefish areas, you must report in.
I looked to Del. He’d keyed in on the same thing.
“Must,” Del repeated. “How’s that for a friendly greeting?”
We listened to the silence for a moment.
“Three possibilities,” Del said. “No one’s listening. No one cares.”
“Or no one is left,” I finished for my friend.
Survivors, you are ordered to report in by authority of territorial executive Major James Layton. Report in now.
Del nodded and looked to me.
“He’s still at it. And he likes giving orders.”
“You inclined to follow that order?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“No. But I am inclined to find out more about this Major. A helluva lot more.”
“If you’re thinking of a return visit to Whitefish...”
My resistance to that possibility was plain. Del turned the radio off and stood.
“I’m thinking we bring the fight to them,” Del said, grinning. “Or them to the fight.”
Some idea was percolating in the man’s crafty brain.
“I say we issue an invitation,” Del said. “And welcome them with open arms.”
For the next hour we formulated a plan. Three days later we had everything in place and were ready to take decisive action.
el and I watched the cabin from a hill sixty yards away, concealed behind a knot of felled trees wedged over a sizeable boulder.
“I heard something last night,” Del said. “Something odd.”
I puzzled at his out-of-the-blue statement. He’d mentioned nothing of this on our two hours hiking to our present location. In fact, thinking on it, Del had been unusually quiet. I’d thought the lack of conversation was due to some serious reflection on the action we were about to take
“What did you hear?”
“I couldn’t sleep, so I turned on my radio. I’ve done that for years. Back before all this, I’d tune into some far off station and start up a conversation with a total stranger. Might talk for twenty, thirty minutes. Just jabbering. Now, I have to resist the urge to hit that transmit button.” He nodded, mostly to himself. “I really had to resist that last night.”
I’d thought Del might have been woken by a strange sound outside. An animal that had survived. Or intruders. It appeared, though, that what was troubling him came from somewhere distant. Somewhere unknown.
“So I just listened,” Del went on. “To static, mostly. Then I happened upon a station right at the end of its transmission. All I heard was ‘This is Eagle One, signing off.’”
“Signal was clear as day. There was some serious wattage behind that station.”
“Eagle One,” I said again. “Is that call sign anything special? I mean, you hear
and it sounds potentially official. Like some military or governmental thing. Even presidential.”
“Yeah,” Del said.
Del was as subdued as I’d ever seen him. This thing he’d heard really had its hooks in him. Why, I hadn’t a clue.
“It was just someone talking,” I reminded him.
“No,” he countered. “You don’t understand. The voice...it was a boy. It was a kid.”
That threw me for a moment. It was hardly likely that a child somewhere was unscathed by the blight. But a child surviving implied an adult had along with them. We knew there were people out there. People like us who had hung on. But, if Del had heard right, a child somewhere had access to a working radio with abundant power supplying it.
“Any idea how old?”
“Not that old,” Del said. “I used to talk to teenage hams all over the country, even the world. This was no teen.”
“Eagle One,” I said yet again, as if its repetition would somehow inform me as to its meaning.
“I’m going to listen in tonight around the same time,” Del said.
“Just listen, right?”
He hesitated. In the few days since the Red Signal ended, Del had heard a few distant stations calling out. All desperate. Most operated by people who’d happened upon a radio with some sort of working power source and were simply crying out like a child might at night, begging for help, pleading for food, supplies, protection. And he’d only allowed himself to listen. Hadn’t transmitted once.
But I could tell he was thinking about it.
“I could listen with you,” I said.
“Hold my hand?” Del asked, humoring me.
“Behind your back.”
He smiled, relaxing a bit. The both of us looked back to the cabin. We’d been watching it for an hour, just to ensure no one else was near. When we were satisfied we ducked behind the heft of the boulder and Del touched the loose end of the wire to the spare ATV battery we’d lugged over, energizing the circuit, the charge ripping through the remainder of the length and reaching the blasting caps. The caps, mini explosives themselves, detonated just milliseconds after Del sent the charge down the wire, their explosion setting off the three sticks of TNT bundled together in the crawlspace beneath the cabin.
In an instant the structure was obliterated. Lumber and tile and furniture and ductwork and everything else contained by the four walls was launched skyward and sprayed out, jagged lengths of splintered two-by-four impaling dead pines. Twisted shards of metal from the cabin’s stove and an old claw foot bathtub chopped through desiccated branches above, the pulverized wood turned to powder and chunky grit. Smoldering bits of wood and paneling arced hundreds of feet through the woods, sparking small fires that struggled to smolder on the storm dampened slopes. Debris from the blast spun and tumbled aloft until gravity pulled it earthward, showering the landscape, bits of the home that had been whole just seconds earlier thudding to earth around Del and me. We hugged the back of the sturdy rock until the air seemed clear of debris, then we leaned to look past the obstacle.
The buried foundation of the cabin poked from the earth, smoldering, licks of flame slowly devouring the thick timber supports, a long column of grey and white smoke filtering past the bare pines and drifting into the morning sky like a marker screaming
something happened here!
to anyone within fifty miles.
That was exactly what we were hoping for.
* * *
t took us fifteen minutes after the blast to prepare for what we hoped would happen next, then we split up. Del moved west about a hundred yards to a position where he could see the narrow lane that allowed access to the otherwise remote cabin. I remained behind the boulders, my suppressed AR ready.
We only had to wait an hour.
The lone pickup rolled to a stop just in front of the destroyed structure. Three men piled out of the cab, and three from the open bed, no machinegun mounted on this truck. They held their arms casually and laughed, admiring the destruction they believed their trap had caused. One made a comment about searching for chunks. Another reminded that Layton wanted something to display, nodoubt as a concrete warning to those who might seek shelter beyond the town.
I listened for just a moment before reaching for the battery. We’d run new wires after the initial explosion, and placed what we’d already prepared for the maximum intended effect. One of the wires was already connected. The other lay on the ground. I picked it up and ducked fully behind the boulders again and touched it to the battery terminal.
The explosion this time came not from below, but from above, three sticks of TNT, each lashed ten feet up on separate trees, the blast surrounding the rubbled cabin on three sides, pressure wave from each snapping the trees they were tied to and rushing outward, slamming into the unsuspecting patrol sent from Whitefish.
I popped up just as the concussion subsided, taking aim through my tactical scope. Three men appeared to be dead outright. Another was rolling on the ground and reaching for his rifle. He got a hand on it as a shot rang out, Del firing from up the road, his aim threading through the trees to take that man down with a round to the chest. Another man already had his weapon in hand and was shaking off the blast, raising it in the direction Del’s shot had come from. I placed the glowing triangle in my sight on the side man’s side and squeezed off two fast shots, only one impacting as he moved, driving in one side of his skull and exiting out the other in a chunky mist the color and texture of ripe watermelon. He crumpled into an unnatural heap, one arm bent at an impossible angle.
The last man had the most brains among his comrades and ignored the weapon that had been blasted from his grip. He scurried away from the house and was just getting to his feet to run for the road when I fired, my aim purposely low. The single shot found its mark in the back of his thigh and he fell, rolling toward the downslope beyond the demolished house.
The man had pulled himself to a sitting position, back against a tree. His sole weapon, an AR like mine but fitted with a hideously unreliable drum magazine, lay a dozen yards from him, far beyond any reconsideration of abandonment. He made hardly a move or sound at all as Del and I approached.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
The man looked up at us, both hands pressed hard against a wound on the front of his thigh. The wound I’d given him. Blood bubbled past his fingers.
“Your name,” I repeated.
Now the man glanced to his rifle. Del backed away and picked it up, heaving it down the slope beyond the trees before returning to his place with me. I shifted the aim of my AR until its suppressed muzzle was pointed at the man’s nose.
“Hank Coggins,” he finally replied.
I lowered my aim.
“Where are you from, Hank?”
He looked between us again, reality setting in. This was not chit chat—it was an interrogation. And he was a prisoner.
“You’re a long way from home,” Del said.
Hank winced, pain from his wound spiking. His face bore cuts from shrapnel tossed by the blast, and the left side of his coat was shredded, likely by the same. Beneath the tattered garment I could see more blood, a wide smear of it sliding down and over his hip, staining the tan work pants he wore.