I think the quote at the beginning of this chapter is very fitting for what has happened between congress and the white house this week.

CHAPTER  NINETEEN

 “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.  It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.  The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

 C.S. Lewis

 The following day, Cliffson and Monk were off to acquire the materials needed to install hand pumps on their wells.  Gary escorted Jean and Barb to various locations around town in an effort to round up the last of any remaining supplies.

On their way to town, Monk took note of the grim atmosphere. “Notice the downtrodden look on everyone’s face Cliffson?  People are frightened.”

“They certainly are, but you have to wonder why it took Chinese oppression to wake them up.  Our own government’s heavy hand was just as brutal.”

Cliffson turned into the parking lot where the owner greeted them with a frown and a shotgun.

“Can’t be too careful these days. Now, what can I do for you fellas.”

In the end, the guy had everything on their list, but insisted they pay triple for one of the hand pumps since it was already reserved for someone else.  The owner was only willing to part with it because the man it was reserved for had not shown up to get it.

“He may no longer be around to pick it up, but he’s sure enough gonna be pissed if he does come by and finds it gone, so I gotta make it worth my trouble.”

Not only were they being charged three times the price, but the owner was requiring them to pay for the entire purchase in gold to swing the deal.  In the end, they figured water would become an invaluable resource and opted to close the deal.  Their next stop was the hardware store.

“What do you suppose is going on here?”  Cliffson wondered as he pulled into the lot.

“I don’t know, but let’s watch each other’s backs,”  Monk said.

A small but raucous crowd was gathered just inside the front door and it soon became apparent what the issue was.  A few individuals at the front of the crowd were threatening the proprietor for refusing to accept payment in paper money.

Motioning with his hands, the owner was attempting to settle people down when Monk and Cliffson walked in.

“Like I said, your paper money’s not worth anything, but I’ll be more than happy to do business with you in exchange for silver or pre ‘65 coins.”

“But the government says this is legal tender and you have to accept it.”  A thick man of about fifty was leading the confrontation.

“And what government is that, the one that bankrupt us all?  Why don’t you go talk to them about buying the things you need?”

“Listen you son-of-a–bitch, I’m leaving here with this equipment whether you take the money or not.”  The man slammed a handful of notes on the counter and turned to go.  The distinctive sound of a shotgun chambering a shell stopped him in his tracks.

“Put those things down and get the hell out of my store.”  The owner yelled.

“You put it down,” a second man shouted and drew down on the owner.

No one moved and the tension was about to blow the roof off the place when Monk’s voice cut through the hard edged air.

“Now let’s all just take a breath here mates.”  Monk’s pistol was leveled at the second man’s head from about three feet away.  “My friend and I would really like to see a peaceful resolution to this here debacle.”  Monk nodded towards Cliffson on the other side of the room who was covering the crowd with his own pistol.

“It ain’t right,”  the first man said.

“Well sir, I tells ya what ain’t right.  Comin’ into this man’s store and stealing his property, now that’s what ain’t right.”  Monk’s voice was calm, but Cliffson knew the dark look in the pirate man’s eye meant he was all business.

“But the government…”

“The government, yes.  If you were fool enough to depend on them, then you deserve what you got.  Now set that stuff down and drag your carcass out of here.”  Monk waved his pistol in the direction of the door.

The first man looked to the second.  “Jacob, put your gun down and let’s get out of here.”

Monk kept a close eye on the second man before moving to the checkout counter.  “And the rest of you too.  If’n you ain’t got silver for tradin’, you got no business here.”

After dispersing the crowd, Monk turned to the store owner.  “Everything all right now?”

“Geez, I don’t know how to thank you guys?”  He breathed a sigh of relief.  “Never thought I’d see the day.”

“The Zombies are beginning to wake up to reality.”  Monk extended his hand.  “The name’s Monk and this here’s Cliffson.”

“Good to meet you.  My name’s Jake.  Monk you took me completely by surprise.  I saw the eye patch and thought for sure you were part of em, so naturally I was surprised when you pulled your gun on the others.  I stopped taking paper money weeks ago.  They might as well be offering to pay with yesterday’s newspaper,” he scoffed.

Cliffson banged a bag of junk silver on the counter for effect.  “Well then, let’s do some trading.”  He smiled.

After purchasing the hardware and picking up a load of sand, the men headed to the Lang’s home.  Gary and Cliffson went to work installing the pump and Gary reported they’d been turned away at one of the grocery stores when a group of young men held it up.

“We watched them load pickups with food, water and some medical supplies, but also flat screen TV’s, computers and video games.  People still cling to the old ways in a belief they’re going to return.”

“It’s a different world now,” Monk said.  “And it ain’t a gonna be changin’ back any time soon.”

On the bright side, Gary’s group had come up with a number of items to supplement their supplies, including some walkie-talkies.  Coffee was clearly going to be hard to get and would be useful in bartering.  One major item on their list remained; a portable solar generator they could use to charge batteries.  Gary thought he might know someone who knew someone who might have one.  There’s going to be a lot of that, Cliffson thought.

The pump work was progressing nicely when Monk took notice of the neighbors watching from the sidewalk in front of the house.  “I see your friends ‘the Cranks’ and a few others are gathering in the street to see what you’re up to.”

Cliffson looked up at the crowd and growled.  “Don’t get me started Monk.  You know how our neighbors have treated us.  Not a single one of them has offered the least in condolences about the loss of our son.”

Monk walked over and put his hand on Cliffson’s shoulder.  “We’ll find out where your son is, Cliffson, and we’ll get him.  As for the trash collecting in the street, well you just pay them no mind.”

“Monk, you know I don’t want to fight with them.  I’d just as soon get along, but those are evil people. Am I wrong not wanting to share?”

He was interrupted when Hank Crank walked his swagger to the back of the yard where they were working.  Hank was sporting his typical shit eating grin.  “Cliffson I think it’s time we buried the hatchet and put an end to this nonsense between us.”  He approached Cliffson with his hand extended.

The offer was as phony as a U.S. dollar and the fury that welled up in Cliffson burst throughout his chest like fireworks on the fourth of July.  Here stood the man who’d had him arrested and jailed on false accusations.

With fists clenched and limbs shot through with adrenalin he stiffly approached Hank.  Monk moved to step between them, but Cliffson shot him a scorching glance and Monk stepped aside.  The adrenalin roared like surf breaking over his body and his rage was finally unleashed.

“I just lost my son!”  His low snarl was barely audible as he faced Hank from just a couple feet away.  “You’re here for just one thing you selfish pig.  Thank – you – for – your – concern – Hank.”

Hank was shorter, but larger than Cliffson and grabbed him by the front of the shirt.  Cliffson barely noticed.

“You don’t seem to understand the kind of pull I have Cliffson.”  Each mans eyes shot daggers at the other.  “The city will soon run out of fuel for their generators and I’m going to need water from your well.  You can give it to me peacefully or I can simply take it from you.  Now what’s it going to be?”

Cliffson’s hands flew to the front of Hank’s shirt.  Taking hold with both fists to pull Hank’s face in close he roared, “You want to be friends Hank?”

His snarling response caught Hank off guard.  Cliffson jerked Hank forward at the same moment he brought his head down, smashing it into Hank’s nose.  Hank’s hands flew to his face, releasing Cliffson’s shirt as Cliffson’s right leg swept deep into Hank’s groin.  The moment Hank doubled over, Cliffson’s full fury was released in a thundering right hand to the side of Hanks ample cheek.  Hank went down and didn’t move.

Then Cliffson stalked over to the group of neighbors watching from the fence in front of his house and launched into a spittle laced tirade.

“My wife and I have attempted to befriend each and every one of you.  We’ve shared the fruit from our trees, vegetables from our garden and eggs from our hen house with each of you.  It was never enough.  Your malicious lies and gossip have carved our backs.   Yet here you are, in your hour of need.  Well you can all go to hell!  Now leave us alone and go back to your petty, self-absorbed lives.   And so help me……….”

Cliffson was grabbed from behind.  He spun on Monk who had to duck a right handed swing before getting a hold of Cliffson.

Then Gary stepped in.  “Easy now big guy.  Time to back off.  Come on back here and settle down a bit.”

Jean and Barb had rushed out of the house at the sound of the yelling and when Cliffson embraced his wife he felt the rage drain away.  Jean took his hand and they walked to the back of the property to sit alone in the shade of an old pine tree.  In the background, Cliffson heard Monk sending everyone home.


The climb seemed unending and by the time Roger found the trailhead everyone was exhausted.  Thomas and Mary wanted to stop for the day but after a short rest, Roger pushed them on.  “We’ve got to keep moving and stay ahead of the people behind us.”

Travel was easier on the trail but after about six miles, Roger took them off trail into the brush.  Great,  thought Thomas.  As if we haven’t had enough already.

But Roger only took them cross country for a quarter mile before reaching a small clearing.  “We’ll camp here,” he said.  “Keep your voices down and no fires.”

For the first time they got a good look at the equipment damaged in the gunfight.  One tent was damaged beyond repair.  Jeff’s sleeping bag had taken the brunt of another gun blast and Roger set about finding a way to patch it together.

Thomas wrapped Mary in a sleeping bag before setting up the tent. She was weak and beginning to get chilled.   Neither of them felt like eating and turned down the dried fruit Roger passed around.  While Joan prepared rice on a small backpack stove, Thomas dressed Mary’s wounds with new bandages and gave her more painkillers.  Two pellets had torn through Mary’s upper arm leaving one shallow gash and a deeper, uglier wound Thomas was growing concerned about.  Both wounds continued to bleed, though slower than before.

Dinner required the last of their water and Roger was preparing a small backpack with the group’s empty water bottles.  Reluctantly he agreed to allow his son to investigate a lake about half a mile away.  With just enough light to find his way, Jeff took the pack and headed into a murky forest.

Mary was fast asleep inside the musty smelling tent.  Thomas lay beside her, listening to her soft breathing and straining to hear every little noise outside.  The fears he buried deep in his sub-conscience during the day, blossomed to life in the dark.  Sore from the days hike and concerned for his wife, Thomas was feeling exposed and vulnerable.  Mary was in no condition to travel and he wondered how long they could continue.  Wrestling with his fears, Thomas nearly wet himself when the sounds of gunfire shattered the night.


Jean was in bed asleep when Cliffson left the house, still wound up over the day’s events.  It was cool, but not uncomfortably so, and a slight breeze picked at his hair.   With the exception of an occasional candle burning in the window of a home, the night was pitch-black.

Sounds of his boots echoing on the center line pavement made up the entirety of his world and he allowed it to consume him.  It was the perfect hiding place from the weighty concerns his tortured mind was struggling with.

Oblivious to the world around him, he began to hear the baying hounds of hell bearing down.  Then they were on him, tearing at his soul, mocking him, shredding strength and will—and he embraced it.

Instead of protecting his family, he’d let his son down.  Instead of stability, life felt out of control.  Now he was fighting with his neighbors just when they all needed to pull together.  Down he flew, through increasing levels of torment.  From unquenchable darkness came the demons of his failures and their weight crushed his spirit.

Cliffson woke up on the wooden front porch of the old farm house where they’d rescued Bobby.  When he opened his eyes he saw nothing but blackness and shuddered to think he was still in the depths of his own personal hell.  Bit by bit, he began to make out a single star twinkling in and out of a silvery cloud.

You’ve observed everything, he thought.  Casually gazing upon the merciless suffering taking place, you’re distant and cold. Untouchable, no hand reaches out to harm you.  No threat can steal away your peace.  You have a quiet but immense power it would seem.  You live forever, move through the seasons with ease and will steadfastly return to this very place in the sky exactly one year from now.  How is it you are allowed this peace, this rock steady existence and I am not?

With the morning came new courage and he needed to get home or Jean would be worried.  He hadn’t asked for this, but as his pappy always told him, you play the hand you’ve been dealt.  Cliffson would see his family through this event or die trying.  That in itself was a new thought and he wondered if the calm it brought was what people felt when they knew they were going to die.   He’d lived a good life, and as unfair as it was to have things end this way, he would do everything in his power to see his sons through to the other side, whatever that was.  One way or the other, and that meant rescuing Zach.


Thomas pulled Mary close after joining the rest of the group outside their tents.  Huddled together, wrapped in their sleeping bags, they listened to gunfire coming from the direction of the lake.  Before taking his rifle and moving to the edge of camp, Roger told them he did not believe his son was involved.

“Those are rifles and shotguns we’re hearing.  Jeff only took his pistol.”

One last, lone gunshot signaled the end of the firefight and the forest fell quiet.  Shaken, Mary clung to Thomas and he felt her hot tears against his neck.

Everyone bunched together in the dark, listening for what might follow.  The waiting seemed endless and the group grew concerned something had happened to Jeff.  Roger was preparing to leave when a loud thump and moan crashed in the brush.

“Jeff is that you?” Roger called out.

Through another groan they heard a hissed, “Yes”.

Roger rushed into the dark to find his son, breaking his own rule against using flashlights.

Jeff was lying on the ground, blood streaming down his face.

“What happened?  Are you all right?”

“I’m ok Dad.  Help me get this pack off my back.”  Jeff groaned again.

Roger pulled the pack off Jeff’s back and helped him to his feet.  Jeff put his hand to his head and the blood ran through his fingers.

“So what happened?  What was all the shooting about?”  Rogers’s calm demeanor had clearly been shaken.

Joan began wiping the blood away with the sleeve of her shirt, causing Jeff to wince.

“I tripped on a root and fell,” he said.  “With the weight of all that water on my back I landed hard and hit my head on a rock.”

Knowing he hadn’t been shot brought a collective sigh of relief.

“But what happened at the lake?” Roger insisted.

“Roger,”  Joan threatened.  “Let’s get him back to camp first.”  After wiping away more blood, Joan led Jeff to a stump where she could clean and bandage his forehead and Jeff continued with his story.

“I got to the lake just before dark and followed a trail worn along the shoreline a short distance before finding a place where the ground jutted out into the lake.  It was covered with brush and I knew I’d be safe hiding there, so I found a comfortable spot and settled in to listen before getting our water.  After my ears adjusted, I began hearing bits of whispered conversation—turns out there’s a camp at the far end of the lake.  There were no lights or fire and it was obvious they were attempting to remain concealed.

Jeff flinched when Joan applied antiseptic to the wound.

“I was nearly done filtering water into the bottles when I heard a group of people approaching on the other side of the lake.  They had flashlights and were making no effort to be quiet—like it was some kind of party or something.  They also had no idea there were people camped at the far end of the lake.”

Jeff paused for a moment while Joan applied a bandage to his forehead.

“Then I heard footsteps approaching from the direction of the other camp.  I froze, knowing I was well concealed in the brush and watched two men steal past, not ten feet from where I was hiding.  I figured it was time to go and began stowing the gear.”

Jeff’s hands were trembling and he paused for a drink of water before continuing.  “I was listening, waiting for the right moment to leave when all hell broke loose.  Flashlights burst through the trees and the men from the first camp charged in, shooting anything that moved.  The people never knew what hit them.

One couple, attempting to run away, was shot down by the same two men who’d snuck past me at the lake and positioned themselves to cover the backside of the camp.  When it was all over the attackers began rummaging through the gear and found a man who was still alive.  I heard him pleading for his life, but one man just walked up and shot him.  Shot him in cold blood.  I left right after that.”

“How many people are in the group?”  Roger asked.

“At least six, maybe seven,” Jeff replied.

Roger sighed.  “Got to give them a wide berth tomorrow.”

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