Authors: Noah Mann
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Post-Apocalyptic, #survivalist, #prepper, #survival, #Preparation, #bug out, #post apocalypse, #apocalypse
Four days. For a drive that would normally take one, if haste was the plan. Still, I thought he was being optimistic.
“Okay.” I gestured toward the RV. “Wait with your family. I’ll be right back.”
He nodded a thanks, without knowing what help I would offer, and headed back toward the RV. I made my way up the driveway, equally at a loss. What would I do? Beyond what I
I reached my house and went to the barn, unlocking it and swinging the door wide. Inside the aging structure I’d assembled a metal outdoor shed years ago, some place to securely store tools and supplies I left while immersed in sixty hour workweeks down in Missoula. Now it held not axes and shovels and chainsaws, but cases of MREs, my backup
supply to augment what I kept in the house. I took six cases, a hundred and twenty individual meals, and loaded them onto the back of my ATV parked a few feet away. I hopped on sat with the engine off as I thought. As I questioned myself.
Was I really going to do this? Send my friend and his family on their way with enough food to last a week or so?
Neil had told me that. Was I going to embrace that to the detriment of a friend I could help? And his family?
I fired up the ATV. Its engine struggled for a moment, then reached a familiar rhythm. The gas, even with stabilizers, wasn’t degrading yet, but it would. Fuel didn’t have an indefinite shelf life. Even the diesel stored in the trailer tank, which every week ran automatically through the filter system I’d pieced together, wouldn’t last forever. Eventually enough moisture would collect in it, too much for the slowly wearing filter to process, and then any use of the generator, or my truck, would come to an end. Just as everything else would.
Even my friend and his family.
I rode out of the barn and down the driveway, stopping at the chain, Marco waiting there, his wife and son in the cab of the RV, looking out. She smiled at me, that kind of expression that offered thanks and fear at the same instant.
“Thank you, man,” Marco said, seeing the boxes on the back of the ATV. He stepped over the chain as I climbed off the four-wheeler. “I’ll never be able to pay you back.”
“Listen,” I said, hesitating for an instant, though I’d already made the decision.
I looked to the faces beyond the windshield, then to Marco. My friend.
“Stay,” I told him. “I’ve got room, enough food to keep all of us going for a year if we’re careful. That’s not counting what we can add by hunting. Even scavenging if it comes to that.”
My friend stared at me, smiling as tears threatened. Gratitude at my offer. My gesture of humanity. Then he smiled and shook his head.
“We can’t. Anthony needs doctors. They say there are doctors in Arizona.”
Then I remembered. The boy, barely past kindergarten, was already facing a life of medical procedures for a heart condition. Medicine had kept the affliction in check, but surgery was the only way to deal with it in the long run. And that would never happen here.
I also worried that it would never happen where they were heading.
“Marco, what if there’s nothing there? What if you get there and whatever FEMA was planning is just overwhelmed? Their track record isn’t the best in major disasters, and this is way beyond some hurricane or earthquake. This is biblical. How can they handle thousands, maybe millions of people who all need every basic need provided? Not to mention what you need for Anthony?”
He listened to what I said, then nodded, that sheen on his eyes thickening. Tears threatening.
“It’s the only hope there is,” Marco said. “If we stay here he dies. His medicine is almost gone as it is. Every pharmacy has been looted. Hospitals are abandoned. I have to believe that there’s help down south. I have to.”
And that was it. I knew he was right. Just as Neil could not abandon his father to seek survival with me, Marco could not turn his back on the chance of keeping his son alive. No father could. I could have told him of the terrible reports I’d seen from Denver several weeks back, implying that routes to the south were likely to be beyond dangerous. But nothing I could say would convince him, so I didn’t try.
I helped him load the cases of MREs and said a final goodbye. A very final goodbye, I feared. With me guiding him, Marco backed the RV down the cramped gravel driveway and onto the road, swinging it around and heading south.
single car sped past as I worked where my driveway spilled onto the road, heading south with some haste, ignoring the sight of me, standing on the dirt shoulder, pick axe in hand. It was either a skittish Canadian, or one of the few holdouts up near Eureka who’d given up hope of any government help reaching this far north as winter bore down. Possibly they were aiming for Arizona, as Marco was. He’d left the day before, hoping that the promised assistance was real. That the flyers drifting from the sky were akin to messages from heaven. True offers of salvation.
I believed in hope. But not fairy tales. Many of the people moving south would, likely soon, turn tail and head back for familiar ground—if the FEMA promises that were supposed to exist in Arizona were as hollow as I feared they would turn out to be. The people who’d aimed themselves at that spot on the map, clinging to hope, might find nothing different than what they’d left. Hunger. Maybe starvation. They’d be desperate. If they did travel this road on any return trip, if
did, I wanted them to move right past the spot where I stood, with no hint that any access to my property had ever been here.
For six hours that’s what I’d worked at, hauling tools from my truck parked out of sight up the driveway, tearing up the graded connection between driveway and road, pick axe chipping into the first twenty yards of the narrow path. I chopped holes in the cold ground and rolled jagged mini-boulders into them. What deadfall that had already accumulated as fall ticked toward its end I spread about. As darkness spilled like black water over the eastern peaks I set my chainsaw to screaming, blade cutting into old trees to either side of the mangled driveway, felling a full dozen of the fifty footers so they lay across the hidden way. In the spring they would begin to rot. By next fall there would be no discernable hint that a driveway had been here, just a tangle of fallen pines and weathered rocks to match the scenery along the miles of roadway north and south of my refuge.
This did not mean, though, that I was locking myself in. Prior to erasing the obvious connection between my refuge and whatever would survive of civilization, I’d widened an old hiking path that ran from behind my barn along the base of the hill and followed the stream to the road. With careful driving, and maintenance of the makeshift driveway, I could leave and reenter my refuge some three hundred yards down the road, emerging from the trees like a lumbering bison might.
Finished, I loaded the last of the tools into my pickup and reached for the driver’s door, ready to climb in. But I didn’t. I stopped. Sensing something. Out there. In the woods.
I came around the front of my truck and let my right hand rest atop the pistol on my hip as I stood there. Listening. Looking.
The last wisps of daylight drizzled through the canopy, cutting the din hardly at all. It was a world of shadows out there between the ranks of trees marching up the slope. I wished at that moment that I’d brought along my AR topped with a night vision scope. But all I had with me were my senses. And my wits. The former were telling me there was nothing visible or audible out there. The latter, though, was offering a different interpretation. A gut feeling that I was being watched.
By what, I had no idea.
I reached to the small holder on my belt exactly opposite my weapon’s holster, withdrawing the flashlight secured within. Bringing it up I clicked it on and sprayed two-hundred lumens into the woods, sweeping the harsh white beam slowly left, then right, tracking it back and forth up the slope beyond, as if following some imagined switchback trail. It revealed nothing.
That didn’t mean I was alone.
The beam went dark with another click of the switch. I finally climbed into my truck and drove slowly up what remained of my driveway, glancing out the side windows, and to the rearview, continuously, unable to shake the feeling that I had company.
* * *
he sensation stayed with me through the evening.
I wandered through the house, taking care of chores. Sweeping. Wiping down the bathroom sink. Dusting. But still I felt it, that someone had been out there, watching. And that they still were.
Each time, before leaving a room, I’d close the door for a moment, stopping light from the great room from filtering in down the hall. I’d stand near the window and look out into the dark woods, letting my eyes adjust, small details resolving, movement registering.
Animals. Branches shifting in the wind. That’s all I saw from all four sides of the house. Relative emptiness spilling from the forest. I was alone.
But I didn’t feel that way.
I needed to do something, I realized. Not now in the dark, but in the morning. I couldn’t finish it then, but I could begin. Days it would take, most likely, but at least I’d anticipated having to consider such an endeavor, and had, on one of my shopping sprees prior to the Red Signal, secured all the equipment necessary to alleviate my concern of being observed.
When the sun rose, I would set about turning the tables on whoever was out there.
t took three days.
I was exhausted, and sore, and thoroughly satisfied with my ability to turn a few thousand feet of wire and some robust electronics into a high-tech version of a bells tied to a trip wire.
In my great room, mounted to the wall to the left of the hearth, was what I began to think of as Intruder Central, a panel of warning lights connected to two roughly concentric rings of sensors surrounding my refuge. Placed at two-hundred and three-hundred feet from my front door, the layers of motion and thermal sensors would, if my planning and execution was correct, give me advance notice of anyone approaching. Or anything. That would take some fine tuning, so that scurrying critters did not set the amber and red lights to blinking every five minutes.
That wasn’t my only concern with the system. There was the power consideration. Juicing up dozens and dozens of sensors over nearly a mile of wire was going to tax the already stringent energy budget I’d made for myself. My solution was to energize the sensors only fifty percent of the time, ten minutes on and ten off, in a random pattern that would leave a good portion of the perimeter covered at any one time. In addition to that, only the thermal sensors would be active after dark, these easily adjustable to ignore anything but the heat signature of a man or larger.
Secured in trees and strategically buried in shallow holes dug in the earth, the electronic eyes and ears would let me know just how real my feeling of being watched was.
* * *
didn’t have to wait long. Eighteen hours, in fact. The day after the system was complete, as the clock ticked toward midnight, an amber light began flashing, indicating a heat sensor to the north was picking up something.
The electronic beeping that announced the possible intrusion in concert with the light would have woken me had I been asleep. But I wasn’t. I’d turned on the television for a few minutes, just to see if the Denver station was still lost in static. It was, and as I was turning the television off, the sharp chirping sounded. I stood and stared at the panel.
Until another sensor tripped. This one connected to the inner ring. Whatever was out there was coming my way.
I quickly grabbed my AR topped with the night vision scope and doused the lights in the house. Just a flicker from the fire dying in the hearth struggled to light the great room as I moved to the front door and stepped out onto the east-facing porch. Whatever was approaching was off to my left. I came off the porch and crept slowly along the front of the house, stopping at the corner so that the whole expanse of the north side was visible, along with the dark woods beyond. Taking a knee I steadied my AR and began to scan the landscape, the artificial illumination provide by the optics piercing the night that hung thick between the trees. And nothing more.
Ether my system had gone haywire, or whatever had tripped it was hanging back, watching, waiting, alerted to my presence. Perhaps the front door had slapped shut a bit too loud behind me. Or the light of the dying fire might have silhouetted me just enough. If either were true, it would likely behoove me to stop referring to the presence in the woods as a ‘what’, and fully embrace that it was a ‘who’. And if they were alerted to me, I damn sure wanted them to know at this point that I was just as much in the know as to their presence.
“Your best move would be to leave!”
I shouted the warning and waited. Maybe not for any reply, but for some sound of retreat. A hurried scramble through the woods.
But I heard nothing. I saw nothing.
“I know you’re out there. You are on my land. I’m prepared to defend it.”
For an instant I considered firing off a single shot to punctuate my seriousness. The realization that doing so might bring return fire left that idea dying before execution. I kept scanning the woods as I stilled myself, not moving from the spot for ten full minutes. Finally I backed away from the corner of the house and returned inside, closing the door, every action measured, staying as quiet as I could as I returned to Intruder Central.
Every warning light was now dark.
I knew I could not be the only one in these woods. Other properties dotted the forested landscape from Whitefish to the Canadian border. But in all my time visiting my refuge, when wariness and security were thoughts far from my mind, and presumably others’, I’d come across just two or three people while out fishing the streams, or stalking deer. But never while lounging on the porch. No person had wandered past on a day hike. Without being alone, I’d always felt alone.