Authors: Noah Mann
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Post-Apocalyptic, #survivalist, #prepper, #survival, #Preparation, #bug out, #post apocalypse, #apocalypse
* * *
he radio in my pickup droned the same signal.
“Red... Red... Red...”
I scanned the stations, every single one up and down both AM and FM bands, but nothing was being broadcast but those three words. It was clear to me that not every broadcaster had conspired to spread the signal. Some larger entity had stepped in and seized the ability to do so, as they had with the cell phones, and the television stations. A behemoth. NSA, CIA, DoD, it could have been any of them. Or none. Perhaps some blacker than black government agency was making this possible. Had been conceived years earlier to be ready for just such an eventuality. Just such a need.
And people had thrown fits about some functionary reading their text messages. They should have looked deeper. Representatives should have demanded accountability. Journalists should have exposed the whole truth. People should have done their jobs.
Now the fruits of invasive secrecy were plain as day. To me, at least. They were being used so that the few might survive, at the expense of the many. Rather than being straight with the country as a whole, lies and misdirections had allowed the elite to see to their own preparations. For their own purposes. The ordinary American had no time to prepare—physically, emotionally, spiritually.
The moment had come and we were being failed by the very institutions founded to serve us.
“Red... Red... Red...”
I turned the radio down, but not off, wanting to know at the very first instant if something other than the signal was allowed to broadcast. Neil had said to pay attention. To be aware. Now that the first indications of the crises exploding had arrived, that advice seemed even more relevant. Information would have to get out, from some sources, for as long as possible. It was human nature to connect, to share. Even though I was going into this alone, I was still part of the whole. My place in the human race hadn’t left me, even if I was separating myself from it for a while.
Heading north, I left Missoula behind, a single Trooper racing south toward the city in his Highway Patrol cruiser passing me as the dimmed lights of the city at night faded in my rearview. I passed through Arlee, and by the spot of the checkpoint massacre, three small crosses hammered into the earth on the road’s shoulder, one snapped backward with purpose. Someone had made a statement at the makeshift memorial site. It wasn’t hard to imagine which lost soul that desecrated marker represented.
Traffic picked up as I cruised through Kalispell near five in the morning. More lights were on in residential neighborhoods than should have been at the hour. A police car was stopped mid-intersection, lone officer outside, halting cars as they came through, spending a few seconds conversing with each driver before letting them continue. I pulled up and rolled down my window as I came to a stop.
“Sir, good morning.”
“Officer,” I said, the low repetition of ‘
Red... Red... Red...
’ just audible from my radio.
“You already know that something’s up.”
I nodded. He glanced up and down the street. No cars but mine at the moment.
“Most people I’ve talked to don’t know,” he shared, then reached to the radio on his belt and dialed up the volume.
“Red... Red... Red...” the signal sounded, just as it was on the plain radio receiver in my pickup. Then transmissions from police dispatch filled a carved-out silence between the words, until they repeated again, some accommodation of official communications obviously made.
“Nothing good’s happening, officer,” I told him, and now he nodded. Some clear resignation about him.
“You headed north?”
“Yeah. Past Whitefish.”
He considered that for a moment. Another car neared, slowing to stop behind me. The officer gave its driver a quick wave and then focused on me again.
“That might be a dicey route,” he said. “That’s why I’m stopping people. A broadcast went to out Highway Patrol to shut down access north out of Whitefish.”
“The border’s already closed,” I said.
“Maybe not anymore. An hour ago a couple Blackhawks flew down from that way and unloaded a bunch of soldiers just outside of town. They hurried onto trucks and headed west.”
“They pulled the unit sealing the border?”
“That’s my guess. Probably why they’re stopping people at Whitefish with Highway Patrol. It’s a natural chokepoint.”
Orders were being given from on high. A plan was being set in motion. Troops were being pulled for other duties.
“Red... Red... Red...”
He turned his radio back down.
“I just wanted to give a heads up that you may hit some trouble up that way.”
“I appreciate the warning,” I said, and he stepped back. I pulled away, glancing to my rearview to see the officer leaning down, talking to the driver of the car that had pulled in behind me. At that moment I couldn’t help but marvel at the sight of a public servant behaving as though he knew who he really worked for.
* * *
orty minutes later I arrived in Whitefish and cruised through the waking town, sunrise hinted at by the bluish glow to the east. But there was another glow ahead, yellow lights blinking. Warning beacons atop barriers that were erected across the road, police cars behind them, officers milling about in the chill of the coming dawn, turning cars away. The way out of town was blocked.
I turned off to a side street and pulled in behind a row of shops that had once been rustic staples, but were now trendy outlets of whatever tourists were craving. I killed the engine and thought for a moment. Thought on the situation. Just as the officer in Kalispell had warned, the way north out of Whitefish was shut down. Yet, that was where I had to go.
A few blocks to the north were railroad tracks, and beyond that a road that followed the gentle curve of Whitefish Lake—for a short distance. Just shy of Dog Bay that road ended.
But the railroad tracks continued.
That was the way. I just had to hope the powers that be had thrown up just the one roadblock. But in case they hadn’t, I hopped from my truck and went to the rear, crouching at the bumper and gripping the license plate, pulling and twisting at the thin slab of metal. It would not break, but the screws that mounted it did give, slipping from their anchors. In a minute I had the only thing that outwardly identified my truck as belonging to me in hand. I tossed it in the back seat as I got in and fired up the engine, sitting for a moment, steeling myself for the run ahead as the truck idled. If an officer of the law did spot me evading the roadblock, there would be no license plate to lead them to me, and eventually to my property up the highway. Still, if they spotted me, would they chase me? And, if they chased me, would I run?
“Yes,” I said aloud, and shifted into drive, pulling back onto the side street, then back onto Lion Mountain Road, Route 93, the main route in and out of Whitefish. The way I had to go. Past the roadblock ahead.
I drove slowly toward it. The last of the cars preceding me turned around and headed back into town. Two State Troopers stood at the barricade, waiting for me. One held a patrol rifle, an AR-15 like the one on floor just to my right, low and ready. Ready for any trouble. For any situation.
Like the one I was about to present him with.
I gripped the steering wheel tight, prepared to swing it hard right. My foot eased from the brake to the accelerator, ready to mash it to the floor.
But I did neither. The roar from my left stopped me. I pressed the brake again and looked out the side window just as an old International Harvester Scout, its top cut away, rumbled past in the lane meant for oncoming traffic. Its four seats were filled, with two more passengers crammed into the small cargo space behind. All men. All carrying long guns.
The Scout stopped twenty yards short of the checkpoint, Troopers lining the barricade now at the sight of the mini armada, six men climbing from the vehicle. Four took positions behind it. One slipped right, threading the space between me and the car behind. The final man walked to the front of the Scout and stood there, cradling an AK-47, eyeing the Troopers as they began to scream orders at him and the others. More Troopers maneuvered for cover. The men behind the Scout spread out, covering the movement.
This would not be another Arlee, I realized. It would be worse. Much worse. And I was positioned perfectly to catch a fair amount of fire once it began. From the looks of the men who’d come to challenge the roadblock, fire would most certainly begin.
In an instant I made the decision, flooring it and swinging hard right, off the road, tearing through a low chain link fence and onto the browning greens of the golf course. I sped across the rolling landscape, following the cart path, threading between trees at the northern border of the course. Another chain link fence shredded as I punched through it and skidded across State Park Road, blue and red lights sweeping the intersection with Lakeshore Road to the east—another roadblock.
I had been right. The railroad tracks were the only way. And they were dead ahead. I steered straight and accelerated toward them.
y pickup bounced over the railroad tracks and slid on the gravel embankment beyond. Behind, for the first time since the signal, I heard gunshots. They cracked in the distance. Faint screams followed. Then the roar of engines, followed by more shots. Dozens. Then hundreds. Then the crunch of metal, speeding car meeting still object.
I steered north and followed along the embankment, tracks to my left on the rise, Dog Bay to my right, a tickle of morning reflected blue upon its rippling surface. The
of sirens filled the waning darkness, backup racing to the checkpoint, the worst having played out. Citizen or citizens down, maybe dead. Maybe officers of the law as well.
, I thought, though I feared it was worse than that.
They were blocking the main road. Blocking the back roads. And they were willing to kill to enforce that blockade. To me that seemed a bit beyond mere anarchy. And I wanted to avoid it as best I could, so I followed the embankment, keeping the raised rail bed between me and the parallel roads beyond. It shielded me from view, and before long the mayhem in Whitefish was behind me. I had made it.
Then I saw the lights.
Spokes of red and blue swept through the towering trees, coming from the far side of the tracks. I slowed and nosed my pickup into a clearing almost at the water’s edge, killing the engine. Through the open window I heard radio chatter, coming from the same point of origin as the lights. At distance it was difficult to grasp every morsel of the rapid communications, police units talking to dispatch, and vice versa, with interruptions from fire, National Guard, and a half-dozen other entities cramming the mutual aid frequency.
And, every so often, the frequency would be taken over, and three words would be broadcast, plain as day.
“Red... Red... Red...”
The chatter would then start again, until the next interruption. Still, though, I couldn’t understand the transmissions as far away as I was, so I eased from my pickup and quietly closed the driver’s door, just enough to kill the dome light. I could have taken my AR with me, but those were police on the other side of the rise. If they noticed me, I didn’t want to be seen as a threat. They were enough on edge as it was. The pistol concealed on my hip beneath my coat was all I was willing to chance.
I hoped there’d be no need to put it to use. Not here. Not against them.
Less than a minute of quiet walking along the tree line brought me to the side of the rise just opposite the police cars. The back and forth on the radio was clearer here. Talk about securing the airport. The arrival of the governor. Air Force plane waiting for him.
I imagined the governor of a state could be considered essential. A military aircraft tasked to whisk him off would seem to confirm that.
But he was in Helena, the state capital. I’d seen a news conference just that morning with his stoic face seeming worn, trying to assure the citizens of the state that all was being done in cooperation with the federal government to manage the situation. That was hundreds of miles away.
What the hell were police doing here, stopped on a back road?
“Red... Red... Red...”
I crept up the embankment toward the tracks, eyes peeking over the steel rails. Just beyond the opposite embankment I could see the two State Troopers, their cars angled across the road, blocking it, lights flashing to warn anyone approaching of the barricade.
“What’s your wife doing?” the younger Trooper asked his colleague.
The older man shrugged and shook his head. All about him was tight, like a wound spring.
“Haven’t been able to reach her.”
“Yeah,” the younger Trooper said, taking his cell phone in hand. It cast a familiar red glow up upon his face. “My Sherry’s gotta be freaking out.”
“She’s probably still asleep,” the older Trooper said. “By the time she wakes up this will all be sorted out.”
“Yeah,” the younger Trooper agreed, no belief at all in the word.
The hot white of headlights whipped around a turn and raced at the Troopers. The older man put a hand on his pistol and stepped in front of the cruiser barricade, holding a palm out to the approaching car. It stopped and a frantic man jumped out.
“Get back in your car, sir, and turn around!” the older Trooper commanded.
“I’ve got to get to Eureka!” the frantic man pleaded. “My mother’s in Eureka, and she’s sick!”
Eureka was just south of the Canadian border. A quick drive up the highway. But the older Trooper wasn’t going to budge.
“The road is closed, sir, now turn around and head south.”
The frantic man walked forward, past the front of his car, closing on the older Trooper.
“Back in your car!” the older Trooper shouted, drawing his pistol and taking aim at the frantic man.
I couldn’t believe it. I was going to witness it yet again. Another citizen getting gunned down for no more than doing what they had every right to do. Could I just lay there on the cold gravel slope behind the rails and watch this? And do nothing?