Authors: Noah Mann
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Post-Apocalyptic, #survivalist, #prepper, #survival, #Preparation, #bug out, #post apocalypse, #apocalypse
“I have to get to her!”
The younger Trooper drew his weapon and joined his partner.
“Back to your car or we will shoot!” the older Trooper threatened. To his right his partner’s gaze shifted fast between him and the man defying them. There was a fear about the younger Trooper. A sense of incredulity, almost. As if he’d woken that day and stepped into some bizarre, twisted version of the life he’d known.
“Please,” the frantic driver begged.
The older Trooper’s finger slid onto the trigger.
, I thought, and reached beneath my coat to my holstered pistol. In another time not long before, the motion I made would have been inconceivable. Even the thoughts instantly filling my head were impossible to immediately accept as my own. I was thinking, with clarity and conviction, that there was no way I could let the police shoot the stranger. In no way could I simply be a silent witness. My fingers slid around the weapon and began easing it from its holster.
That is when it happened.
Beneath me, the compacted slope of gravel and stone shifted, my body moving with it, setting off a minor avalanche of rocks that clicked as they tumbled down the embankment.
“What was that?” the older Trooper asked, glancing toward the darkness that shrouded me.
“I don’t know,” the younger Trooper said, sidestepping my way.
I had to react, rolling fast down the embankment and scrambling to my feet.
The shout came from behind, the younger Trooper calling out to me as I disappeared into the trees. I dodged between the pines like opponents on the gridiron, pistol in hand, hoping desperately that I would not have to use it. I’d been ready to act to stop more violence upon an innocent, but direct conflict on my own, for my own skin, was what I wanted to avoid. Running to safety was how I had started this after the Red Signal, and that was how it needed to end, getting the hell out of harm’s way and to my refuge.
I reached my truck and started it up, holstering my weapon as a flashlight swept the landscape deep in the trees. The Trooper, the younger one, I imagined, had been dispatched by his partner to chase me down and bring me in.
That wasn’t going to happen.
Keeping my lights off I backed away from the trees and sped away, racing past the spot on the embankment where I’d given my position away. A glance in my rearview revealed the younger Trooper emerging from the trees at a dead run, then stopping when he saw me pulling away.
I raced along the tracks, woods shielding the lake to my right, driving as fast as the sometimes narrow trail I was blazing allowed. Miles further on I neared Lazy Bay and the road that dead-ended there. Several miles on, past remote houses and walls of forest thick enough to blot out the coming day, I finally reached Route 93 and headed north.
Barely a mile down the highway I saw the red and blue lights racing at me from behind. Just one cruiser. Catching up fast.
There was no point in trying to outrun my pursuer. My pickup was built for load, not speed. I was out of good options.
I slammed on the brakes and slid my pickup to a stop, its length skidding to block both lanes of the highway, dull metal guard rails to either side, creating a makeshift roadblock. The cruiser in pursuit screamed to a stop, tires smoking as they grabbed asphalt. By the time it sat motionless a dozen yards from my pickup I was out, AR-15 in hand, taking dead aim at the younger Trooper as he stepped fast from his cruiser and drew down on me from behind the open driver’s door.
“Put down your weapon!” he commanded me.
I made no move to comply.
“Now!” he shouted, using volume to exert authority.
“No,” I said.
I’m not sure what he expected me to do or say, but the simple word of defiance appeared to take him aback. He shifted in place, gaze sweeping the road to either side. Possibly to see if he’d fallen for some planned ambush. Or maybe he just wanted a way out of what was happening.
“What’s your name?” I asked past the triangle glowing in my AR’s illuminated sight.
He hesitated for a moment, fingers flexing around his pistol.
“No,” I told him. “Your name.”
“Jason,” he said, a slight catch in his words.
“Jason, listen to me. Something’s happening, something big, and people are scared. You’re scared. I’m sure as hell scared. But that doesn’t mean either of us has to do the wrong thing.”
“I’m just following—”
“Orders,” I said for him. “I know. Your partner back there probably told you to go corral my ass and drag it back to the roadblock. Right?”
He nodded sharply. Like a frightened child might confirm an innocent misdeed they’d been caught in.
“Him telling you that, or even higher-ups ordering these roadblocks, those things don’t make it right. None of it.” I knew what I had to say next. “And killing you wouldn’t be the right thing for me to do, either.”
I could see the color drain slightly from his already pale complexion.
“The smart thing for me to do, to have done, to make sure you didn’t know where I was going, would be to pump you full of bullets before you ever had the chance to get out of your cruiser. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. That would not be defending myself. That would be executing you. I’ve seen that done, and I don’t want to go there. I don’t even want to come close to that mental place where one person can do that to another. So let’s end this.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, truly at a loss.
“We walk away,” I told him. “You go back and report that you couldn’t locate me, and I go on my way, as I should have been able to do in the first place. The world is going to shit, Jason. You and I killing each other isn’t going to change that. It’s only going to put that stench on us for doing so.”
Behind him, the radio in his cruiser spat out “Red... Red... Red...”
“We’re both better than this, Jason,” I told him, and for a long moment in the half-light he stared at me, until finally the aim of his weapon dropped, muzzle pointed at the asphalt between us.
“What the hell is happening?” he asked, truly asked, almost a plea. Just some young kid, probably a year out of the academy. “Is this all because of the blight?”
“Yeah,” I said, and watched him holster his pistol, my AR coming down as the moment fully defused.
“What the hell do I do?”
“You could do your job,” I told him. “Or you could get with your family and try to make it through this.”
He thought on the suggestion for a moment, then nodded. It was a quiet gesture. A confirmation closer to surrender than determination. Whatever decision he’d made bringing no full measure of comfort.
“Go on, Jason,” I calmly urged him.
He slipped back into his cruiser and killed the pulsing red and blue lights atop the vehicle, staring at me through the windshield for a moment before backing through a three point turn and speeding south down the highway. When he was out of sight beyond a low rise in the road, I returned to my pickup and continued north. I saw no lights in my rearview the rest of the way. No sign of life at all.
I wondered if Trooper Jason Morris would be the last person I’d ever see.
turned off the road and drove maybe twenty yards up the driveway of my refuge and stopped, killing the engine and getting out, AR in hand as I waited. And listened. And watched.
No one had followed. No officers of the law had hung back, blacked out, trailing me covertly. Waiting for me to stop so they could pounce. I had made it. Jason had taken what I’d said to heart. He hadn’t radioed for reinforcements.
I was home.
From the back of my pickup I dragged a stout chain and looped it around a sturdy pine on one side of the driveway, then around a similar tree opposite it, securing both ends with heavy padlocks. The linked barrier was set about radiator high, and would, if not stop any unexpected arrivals, at least let them know that their presence was not entirely welcome. Finished, I climbed back into my pickup and drove the hundred yards or so to my house. Again I stood quiet once outside my vehicle, taking in my surroundings. My new surroundings.
My forever surroundings
, a small voice within suggested. Maybe warned.
It mattered not, I knew. The fact that I was here, alive, somewhat prepared. I slung my AR and took mental stock of what I’d accomplished already before arriving. Beyond the food and consumables I’d trucked up for storage, other practicalities had occupied me on the few trips I’d made up in the previous weeks.
In the barn, whose roof I’d mostly patched and siding I’d mended where needed, I’d installed a timed filter on the mobile tank filled with diesel, scheduled to run every day to mitigate the inevitable fouling of the fuel by moisture. How long that would keep the diesel viable I didn’t know. Six months? A year?
That pump, and my house, depended for power on the solar array I’d expanded. Mounted out back of my house, with a full southern exposure, what it produced from sunlight was fed into a bank of batteries that had taken over the back bedroom. That was now power central, with distribution panel, inverters, and a switch allowing me to change the whole thing over to generator power if need be. That beefy unit, which I’d positioned in an old, well ventilated shed on the west side of the house, was probably the weakest link in my attempt to maintain some creature comforts. It was fifteen years old, and had, through my own fault, been neglected in the many years it had sat here, virtually unused. It was working now after some maintenance. I hoped it still would if it came to needing it.
For heating, there was an abundant supply of wood just outside my door. I’d already laid in two full cords for the coming winter, and with either chainsaw or axe I could take down whatever more I needed, hauling sized logs on the back of the ATV I’d trailered up the past weekend. Critical areas, where the batteries and electronics were situated, and in the barn near the diesel filter system, had dedicated 12 volt space heaters. Not enough to make the space anything near habitable for any stretch of time, but plenty to ward off any threat of freezing during the coldest periods.
All the preparations I’d made, both mechanical and practical, would require near constant maintenance. Snow would need to be cleared from the solar panels as it accumulated. Filters would need to be cleaned. Battery connections would have to be checked for corrosion. Food would have to be planned, and rotated, and kept free of assault by vermin.
And still, I knew I wasn’t fully ready. I doubted anyone could be. Some things I was certain to forget, or be unaware of altogether. There would be failures. Breakdowns. Mistakes. If none of them killed me, I would consider myself lucky.
But I was here. Safe for the moment. With much to do. I made my way inside and lit a fire in the hearth of the great room, facing it from the old leather chair with a pad and pencil on my lap, ready to make my list for the first day of my new life. Tasks, large and small, to begin or complete. The myriad of necessary actions tumbled about in my head as I tipped it and let it loll toward the window, the day sweeping yellow over the trees and mountains beyond. Before I could stop myself my eyes began to flutter, then close, and I was dreaming. Visions filling the sleep as I fell into it, exhausted. Images and sounds of gunfire and blood and screams.
The new world.
ore than two years earlier, on a lark, Neil and I had decided to spend a cold Sunday in February watching the Super Bowl at my getaway. All it had taken then was dragging a satellite dish to the property, mounting it, connecting it to an older flat screen I was ready to do away with, and, with Neil performing a little electronic larceny, jacking the converter box so we could ‘borrow’ the signal for a bit. The dish had remained mounted to the roof since, neglected, weather and nesting birds wreaking havoc upon it, but after waking from the exhaustion-fueled sleep that had seized me, a few hours of attention on the receiver as the afternoon crept toward evening gave me a window to the world outside.
None of the major stations were coming in on the satellite. No CNN, no ABC, nothing. I guessed it was possible that they were already off the air, without staff, some trouble spreading quickly. More likely, though, was a simple reality unrelated to what had happened—our little satellite signal theft had been shut down. The signal once again scrambled.
One station did come in, though. From Denver. A local network affiliate that displayed nothing more than a solid red rectangle on screen. No different than what I’d seen on my television at home.
At my old home.
I left the television on, ignoring what drain it might have on my batteries, and went to the hearth, arranging logs and setting the kindling beneath ablaze. In ten minutes I had a fire licking at the hearth’s blackened interior. The old leather chair that faced it swallowed my still-tired body. To the left a side table filled the space between my chair and another, its emptiness stark and chilling.
Neil had sat there. With me. In front of a fire no different than the one that blazed before me now. We’d relaxed, tossed back beers, bullshitted after a day’s fishing. Now I sat alone.
An overwhelming need to reach out to my friend filled me, and I dug my cell phone from my pocket, the act futile before ever seeing the NO SIGNAL displayed on the top of its screen. I knew there’d be no service at my refuge. There never had been. A few miles north of Whitefish things got spotty. Back in the woods, behind hills that rolled toward the mountains, one might as well have been trying to reach out from a black hole. But the desire to connect with him was impossible to resist, and I stared at the phone for several minutes before realizing that the visual representation of the Red Signal still filled most of the screen. Even without reception. Somehow the warning had been downloaded, and, for lack of a better term, lived within the device now.
I turned me cell phone over and laid it face down on the side table, regarding it warily for a moment, then looking to the fire again as I said a quiet prayer for my friend.