Authors: Noah Mann
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Post-Apocalyptic, #survivalist, #prepper, #survival, #Preparation, #bug out, #post apocalypse, #apocalypse
I wanted to call out to my friend, but did not know how. In this other place, was I to just use my voice? Would he hear it?
The directive shook me from all consideration that I had transitioned to a place beyond this life. Those were actual words. Real words. Shouted at me. By...
No. It couldn’t be. I was imagining it. Maybe the words had not been real. Maybe they were just part of my fading consciousness. Because that couldn’t be...
“Neil?” I asked, as loud as I could. “Neil?”
The answer came. From Neil. But was it him? How could it be him? This was some sick hallucination, I began to think, married atop a reality crashing toward me. Someone out there wanted to kill me. Someone out there had breached my perimeter. It was not my friend. It was not Neil. My mind was playing tricks.
I fired off another round, screaming as I did.
“Fletch, stop it! It’s me!”
“It’s not Neil! It can’t be!”
I cycled the bolt again, but had exhausted the rounds in the internal magazine. It was empty. My mind seemed to ignore this point of certainty and I made some attempt to aim, rolling to line up my right eye behind the scope. The world beyond the glassy circle shifted like some funhouse mimic of what lay beyond.
“I’ll kill you!” I threatened, and silence followed. My finger rested on the trigger. Waiting through five seconds, then ten seconds of thick, anxious quiet.
“Fletch!” the voice called out finally, then added, “Life’s tough!”
The voice out there had said that. I heard it. With my ears. It was not conjured by my mind.
“You remember, Fletch! You have to remember!”
“Be tougher,” I mostly whispered to myself, then drew a great breath and shouted for all I was worth, right side of my face afire with pain. “Be tougher!” I pushed the rifle aside and grabbed at the porch railing above, trying to pull myself up, but only managing to get to my knees, hunched forward, like a worn warrior bent in prayer. “Neil!”
I tipped sideways, just above the steps, my head thudding off the cold wood, eyes fluttering open and closed, trying to seize upon the image of someone rushing toward me.
More than one someone.
“Neil...” I said, the word, the name, slipping out like some last gasp.
It was him. It was Neil. Somehow, in some impossible way, my friend was here. And he was not alone.
“Fletch,” he said almost softly as he reached me. “Shit.”
Neil slipped an arm under my neck and lifted my head from the cold wood of the porch, cradling me. Beyond him I saw two more shapes. Hovering above. People. Women. One older, one younger. Mother and daughter? Were they real? Was he?
“You’re alive?” I asked, and my friend nodded.
“So are you,” Neil said.
I chuckled lightly, then my eyes closed, and I drifted off, toward dreams or death I had no idea.
ou’re back,” Neil said as my eyes opened and found him standing over me.
I was in my bed, in my refuge, the iron stove hissing hot, snow falling beyond the window.
He eased himself to the edge of my bed and took my hand in his, squeezing hard to let me know I was really, actually alive.
“Plenty of time to hear my story,” he said.
It was the woman I’d seen with Neil as they came to me on the porch. I didn’t see the girl, the child, now, and I wondered if that part of my hazy encounter had been a dream.
“Fletch, this is Grace,” Neil said. “Grace, my friend Fletch. Eric. Eric Fletcher.”
“I’ll choose among your suggestions,” Grace said, and knelt next to the bed, putting a hand to my cheek, her gentle touch muted by something—bandaging. “You’re doing better, Eric.”
I reached up and felt that side of my face. The sloppy bandage job I’d done after being shot by Layton had been replaced by something that felt somewhat competently done.
“Grace is a nurse,” Neil told me. “She did the best she could with your ugly face.”
“It wasn’t too bad,” Grace told me as she lifted an edge of the gauze to examine the wound. “You had some infection setting in, but we caught that before it turned septic. I stitched up the entry and exit wounds. You lost a molar, but mostly you’re lucky that whoever shot you was off in their aim.”
“Layton,” I said, and Neil looked to Grace, both puzzling at the singular word I offered. “He shot me.”
Neil nodded, some anger clear now on his face.
“I assume you gave better than you got,” he said.
“Much,” I replied. “How long have I been...”
Pain sizzled across the right side of my jaw, cutting off my question.
“You were out for two days,” Neil told me. “Long enough for Grace to do her best work on you.”
I looked between them, and then to the doorway, the hall empty beyond.
“When you came, I thought I saw a girl.”
“My daughter,” Grace said. “Krista. She’s staring at the snow out the front window.”
The trickle of data about me, Neil, Grace, her daughter, set my head to spinning, some hint of that externally obvious. Neil smiled at me.
“Don’t sweat everything that’s happening,” he said. “We’ve gotta start getting food into you. Gotta get you stronger.”
“I’m low on food,” I managed to say.
“We came supplied,” Neil said.
I wondered what the story was with Neil and Grace. They seemed infinitely comfortable with each other, yet I hadn’t noticed even a slight expression of affection. No hand on his shoulder. No telling smile toward her. Maybe they had just met on the road, heading my way. Travelers of convenience. Or necessity. Safety in numbers.
“You’re going to get better,” Neil assured me. “You’ll be ready.”
“Ready?” I asked, my voice strained, hardly a dry whisper coming out. “For what?”
“To head west.”
The voice was small and perfect. Grace turned toward it, her body shifting so that I could see Krista standing in the doorway, looking right at me with bright, hopeful surety.
“That’s right,” Neil said, looking to Grace now. “Right?”
Her face tightened, the smile that remained seeming strained now.
“Right?” Neil sought confirmation again.
Grace nodded, more acceptance than concurrence in the gesture.
“What’s to the west?” I asked.
“Eagle One,” Krista said from the doorway.
Del had zeroed in on the signal he’d heard as coming from the west. I looked to Neil, the certainty about him pierced somewhat, if only by a degree. As if the journey that lay ahead was beyond necessary.
In fact, it turned out to be the only hope any of us had.
hope you enjoyed
. Please look for
, the next book in
The Bugging Out Series
, coming soon.
Follow Noah on
oah Mann lives in the West and has been involved in personal survival and disaster preparedness for more than two decades. He has extensive training in firearms, as well as urban and wilderness Search & Rescue operations, including tracking and the application of technology in victim searches.