When facts and truth are no longer pursued or desired, as is the case in our nation now, Truth’s Blood is one possible outcome.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-TWO

  “Wherever Law ends, Tyranny begins.”

 John Locke, 1690

 Thomas slept like a rock for the first few hours before a nightmare about the attackers woke him.  Then all he could do was toss and turn in a bed of worry and lay there watching the stars complete their slow glide across the sky.

Brighter than diamonds, their brilliance enhanced by the clear mountain air, he had rarely seen them this way.  Thomas wondered what it was like “out there” away from all this.  Then his troubled mind would snap back to the present and the turmoil in his head would rage again.

What’s happened to Roger and the group?

What if I can’t find him, how do I find my way?

How much more can Mary take?

Where is the group that was looking for us?  How can I avoid them?

The thoughts in his head chased after one another in an endless Gordian knot and the stars offered little comfort.

Thomas rubbed his eyes.  It wasn’t light yet but he was thirsty and anxious about the day ahead.  He pulled what was left of their water from his pack and sipped, making sure to leave some for Mary, because that would be the end of it.  Mary had yet to stir and Thomas went about stowing everything but her sleeping bag.  As he sat on his pack chewing a mouthful of granola he tried to think of the things Roger had said about the map and the direction they would travel.

Thinking it would be light enough to head out by the time Mary was ready to go, he decided to wake her.  She was groggy and unwilling to leave the warmth of her sleeping bag but Thomas insisted.  Soon they were creeping back through the brush to find their way to the trail.

On the path Thomas felt his spirits rise.  If they could just catch up with Roger, most of his fears would be dispelled.  Mary’s arm throbbed, but the night’s rest had given her new strength and they were making fair time.

About a mile later, upon rounding a sharp bend in the trail, the forest stood back and Thomas faced a lush green meadow, dotted with red and yellow flowers.  Bear grass bloomed nearby, and though the place was alive with new growth, an unnatural silence made Thomas’ skin crawl and the dim light wasn’t helping.

Waiting at the edge of the meadow, he listened and watched intently.  Finally satisfied no one was about, Thomas led Mary into the clearing where more light cascaded through the trees and froze.  It couldn’t be.  Off the trail to his right were the bodies of Marty and Susan, Roger’s neighbors.  Mary let out a gasp and began to cry.  Thomas hushed her and pulled her aside into the brush.  Above them a raven cawed, but there was no other sound besides Mary’s weeping.

Gathering themselves together, Thomas moved back to the trail and eased his way across meadow.  On the far side they came upon the bodies of Joan and Roger lying behind a log.  Spent shell casings lay all around, glinting in the morning light.  Up ahead, where the forest closed back on the meadow, laid Jeff’s body.  It was obvious someone ambushed Jeff at point blank range.  Roger had fought back valiantly, but to no avail.  Apparently Marty and Susan were shot where they hid.

Mary sobbed into Thomas chest and he held her close while wondering what to do next.  Now we’re in over our heads.  I need to think.  There must be things I need to do.  Fear and confusion clouded his mind and the two of them remained frozen to the spot, holding one another and crying for their friends.  Then it hit Thomas—the map!  He let go of Mary and moved to Rogers’s side.  Roger always kept the map in the front pocket of his vest.  When he rolled the body onto its back Thomas saw half of Roger’s head had been shot away and instantly recoiled.

His gut, now as raw as his nerves, wanted to vomit and it took a moment to gather himself together.  Eventually he was able to pull the map from Roger’s vest and remove Roger’s boots.  The boots were too big for Thomas but Roger had told him there was a gold coin hidden in the sole of each boot.   Thomas cut open the boots and found the gold just as Roger had said.

A squirrel chattered a warning from high in a pine tree, startling Thomas and Mary into a dash for cover in a thicket of young pines just off the trail.  No one came, but Thomas struggled to control his frazzled nerves.  Resting in the trees awhile, he decided to examine the stained and tattered map.   Careful not to tear the worn folds, he laid it out on the ground in front of them. The route Roger planned to take to the city of Redmond was marked in red.  Then Thomas remembered the detour Roger had taken around the town of Sisters.  Was the trail they were on the one marked on the map?  They would have to figure that out as they went and it was time to go.

Thomas considered burying the bodies of his friends, but lacking tools to dig with, he had no choice but to leave them.  It was tragedy heaped upon tragedy.

He helped Mary to her feet and they returned to the trail.  A couple of miles later the forest turned to rangeland, leaving them exposed on open ground. Thomas did his best to keep them off the skyline and behind ridges, or at least in the sparse cover of juniper trees.  When they reached the rim of a deep dry canyon he knew they were on the route Roger had planned.

The dry trail zigzagged through tall sagebrush and scattered ponderosa pine on its descent to an ancient river bed at the bottom of the canyon, before beginning its climb up the east face.  The late day sun combined with the steep ascent to sharpen the edge of their growing thirst.   It was clear they would not reach town by nightfall and another night would mean twenty-four hours since their last water.  Thomas was getting desperate.

“When we get to the top of the ridge, I want to cross the highway.  According to the map there are some buildings over there,”  Thomas explained.  But when they arrived they found the ranch burned out and there was no water available.  Thomas decided they couldn’t stop and regardless of how slow their progress, they would hike to the river four miles away, even if it meant hiking through the night.

When nightfall arrived, Thomas estimated they still had about two miles to go.  The moon wasn’t full but shed enough light to help them find their way.  Slowing their progress were the numerous barbed wired fences that seemed to run everywhere.  Mary was growing weak, and when she collapsed crossing a fence Thomas called for a break.

Hours later, in the dead still of night they arrived at the river and stumbled down the canyon side to drink.  Thomas wanted to drink the entire river, which ran cold and clear and then remembered something he’d once heard about drinking too much.  He cautioned Mary not to drink so much at once.

Their thirst quenched for the moment, it was time to move again.  The highway lay to the south, about a quarter mile away and Thomas took them in that direction with the intent of crossing the bridge under the cover of darkness.

At the base of the bridge was a well worn path to the top and the two began the arduous climb.   The trail led them past the bridge footings, crested the top of the ridge and deposited them next to a burned out car at the corner of the bridge.

They were cautiously approaching the car when an overpowering stench enveloped them, clinging to their clothes and driving them away.  Thomas fought back his nausea and gagged.

Grabbing Mary by the hand he ran past the car to the other side of the road.  It wasn’t difficult to figure out what was in the car creating a pong only a skunk could love.

From the edge of the road they knelt to watch for signs of activity.  If they were caught out in the open on the bridge, they would have no chance.  Five minutes passed and no cars came.  Ten minutes passed and Thomas found himself wishing he’d already made the decision to go.  Fifteen minutes and all remained quiet.  Thomas decided it was safe to go.  Taking Mary’s hand, they moved out at an easy jog.

Immediately they encountered two more bodies.  “Just keep moving,” Thomas hissed.   Even in the darkness it was unnerving to be exposed atop the bridge with nowhere to hide.  Thomas picked up his pace, dragging Mary behind him.  The slap of their shoes on the pavement rang out in the night and announced their presence to whatever troll awaited them on the other side.

They hurried on.  The silhouette of the end of the bridge was coming into sight and as it did the outline of two dark forms took shape.  A pickup truck rested sideways on the left side of the bridge near the abutment and a car was on the right.  Thomas moved to the pickup and squatted down with Mary beside him.  He could feel bullet holes in the body of the pickup when he rested his hand against its side.  Gut shot.  He smiled at his own humor.

Mary was breathing hard and he let her rest for awhile before moving on.  “You ok?” He asked.

“Still thirsty,” she answered.

“Then let’s get off of this bridge.”

The moment he spoke, lights appeared at the top of the hill a quarter mile away.  Thomas grabbed Mary’s hand and the two of them scampered around the end of the bridge abutment, slipped down the sandy bank and under the bridge.  Drawing as close as they could to the underside of the bridge, Thomas and Mary waited.  Just keep on going, Thomas thought.  Just keep on going.  But the whir of tires on pavement signaled a slowing vehicle and soon the truck had stopped immediately above them.

“Looks like a shootout Bob.”

“Ya, let’s check each rig to see if anything was left behind.  You take that one.”

Mary and Thomas held their breath as flashlight beams danced in the dark and flashed against the canyon walls.

“Nothing here Jake, someone’s already been through this one.”

“Same here.”

The echo of boots crossing the bridge to the railing above Thomas filled the night.  Then flashlight beams explored the river bank below.  Mary and Thomas held their breath.

“Don’t see nothin’.”

“Me neither, let’s check the other side.”

The boots crossed the bridge again and soon flashlight beams were probing the river bank on the other side of the bridge.  Thomas breathed a sigh of relief when the lights were extinguished and the footsteps made their way back to the pickup.  Doors slammed shut, the truck roared to life and the sound of the engine echoed down the canyon.  Approaching the other end of the bridge the truck slowed for a moment, where Thomas estimated the dead bodies lay, before moving on.

Thomas reached over to hug Mary and waited until both of them were breathing easier.  They needed to find a place to hole up before it got light but decided to go back down to the river for another drink instead of using the water in their lone water bottle.

This time they drank deeply of the sweet cool water and Mary said she had to pee.  The river bank was steep and brush covered.  Unwilling to stumble around in the dark at the river’s edge, Mary squat right where she was.  Pulling her pants back up she heard Thomas chuckle.

“This is hardly a time to be making fun Thomas,” she hissed.  “What’s so dang funny?”

“Just thinking.”

“Spit it out Thomas.”

“Just wondering how many people upstream been doing the same thing.”

“Thomas!”

Mary spit while Thomas stifled his laughter.

With that they moved downstream about a quarter of a mile to put some distance between themselves and the bridge.  The canyon sides were steep and brushy, and nearly impossible to navigate in the dark.  Thomas estimated they still had a hundred feet or so to climb when he called a halt to their ascent.  Mary’s wound was bleeding again and both of them had small cuts and scratches from climbing through the brush.  They sat together on a large tree root growing from the side of the canyon to catch their breath and hoped no one had heard the noise they were making.

When the first rays of sunlight began painting the far side of the canyon in orange parfait, Thomas knew they had to move.  It seemed to take forever but they finally crested the top of the canyon and took cover under an aging juniper tree.  Thomas wanted to move further away from the river and the highway before stopping for the day.

Concealing their movements as best they could, they moved to a small grove of junipers that would give them cover from prying eyes, yet provide a view of the surrounding countryside so no one could approach without being seen.  Thomas helped Mary roll out a sleeping bag and told her he’d keep watch while she slept.  Though dead tired from the lack of sleep, Thomas was still keyed up and decided to study the map some more.

To his dismay, the trail marked on the map ended at the bridge.  He was on his own now.  Roger had thought it would be safer here, perhaps even an opportunity to make a new start, but it sure didn’t appear that way to Thomas.  Following the highway was out.  The best he could hope for would be to stay away from the main part of town and approach one of the small farms or failing that, maybe a residence on the edge of town.

Thomas contemplated what to do.  If I can just find a farmer, or even someone in town that’s willing to help us out for few days while we get our feet on the ground.   His mind retrieved a picture of the rainy night Roger had shown up at his cabin door, asking for shelter and he thought of how he now stood in the same shoes.  The thought nearly brought tears as he replayed what had happened to his friend.

You reap what you sow, someone is bound to help us,  Thomas hoped.


The next day the line for water at the Lang’s was even longer.  The forlorn faces were a canvas for bleak pictures done in charcoal black.  Cliffson and Jean helped with the water but it hurt to see how many of these people would soon be in need of much more than they could offer.  The sheeple were paying a stiff price for believing the government’s promises and Cliffson was reminded of a septic system service truck he had once seen with a bumper sticker that read—‘Caution, this truck filled with political promises.’

This day’s group of people was orderly and Cliffson felt comfortable allowing them to run the pump by themselves, so he left to attend to other chores.

About mid-day an army green military vehicle motored to a stop in the driveway and delivered Chen, the Chinese official Cliffson had verbally spared with when turning in his gold.  Cliffson was standing in the garden leaning on a hoe as the officer approached.   Just what I need, he thought and then positioned himself to make sure the sun was to his back so Chen would be forced to look into it.

“Ah ha, it is “Mr. Lee,” the officer smiled slyly.  “Did you move?  I see no longer you live on Maple Street like you say.”

Cliffson remained silent.

“Speak up, Mr. Lee.”

“I have nothing to say,” Cliffson said as he shifted ever so slightly so the sun would shine directly in the man’s face, forcing his beady little eyes into a squint.

“I understand you have well and water Mr. Lee.”

“Who told you that?” asked Cliffson.

“Never mind how I find out.  Is this true?”

“No, I have no water,” Cliffson answered.

“You, not on level, Mr. Lee.”

“You’re looking a little slanted yourself, sir.”  Cliffson smiled.

“Always the funny guy.  Maybe I send tanker here tomorrow and you fill it up.  What you think of that?”

“And maybe I’ll drop a big ol’ turd in after I fill it up.  What you think of that?”

“Enough! Mr. Lang.  You will do as you are told.”

Cliffson held his stare.

“You see Mr. Crank standing over there?”

Cliffson glanced a look.  “Yes.”

“You will fill his containers and provide him water like you are doing for everyone else.”

“And why would you care about him?” asked Cliffson.

“He is useful to me.”

“He is a traitor,” Cliffson glared.

“That may be, but this is no concern of mine.  Now you will do as you are told.”

In the best John Wayne voice he could muster Cliffson answered, “Ohh-kay cowboy, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

The officer glared at Cliffson before abruptly turning to leave.  Right on his heals came ‘Hank the Crank’ with two five gallon buckets and his typical shit eatin’ grin.

“Right kind of you to help us out neighbor.  Oh, and my back has been botherin’ me something terrible lately, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind working the pump and filling these two buckets for me would you?”

Cliffson’s eyes bored two black holes in Hank’s forehead.  “Stuff it Hank.”

“Now come on.  You heard what the man said.”

The two men walked back to the pump where Cliffson excused himself for cutting in line.  After filling the first bucket he picked it up to hand to Hank.  When Hank reached for the handle Cliffson let go and dropped the full bucket of water on the crown of Hank’s foot.  Hank howled and danced when the edge of the bucket bit deep.

“Oh!  Sorry neighbor, clumsy me.  My grip hasn’t been so good lately.  Maybe you’d like to fill your own buckets?  Your back seems much better now.”

“You’ll pay for this asshole.  Just you wait.”

Cliffson turned away and left Crank standing at the pump.  He was dismayed to see the long line of needy people awaited their turn at the well while the arrogant Crank threw his weight around.  The weeks without power, and now a week without water, were taking their toll.  It scared Cliffson to see how dependant these people had become on his well.

Upon returning to the garden Cliffson found Monk waiting for him there.

“Well hey Monk, how are you today?”  Finally, a friendly face, Cliffson thought.

“Oh I’m just fine, considerin’.  Thought I’d check in and see how things are after I seen the little “General” stop by for a chat.”

“Hmmmm, I tell ya Monk it’s all I can do to keep from throttlin’ that little turd when he starts ordering me around.”

“Keep your nose clean, Mate.  There’s bigger fish to fry.  And by the way, I thought you handled the situation with Crank quite well.”  Monks smile turned into a chuckle.

“You saw that?”  Cliffson asked.

“Well you know, coming from my house I walk right past the line at your well and when I seen you headed back to the pump with him in tow I just had to watch.  Got a right nice titter out of what you did and some of the people in line did too.”

“Speak of the devil,” Cliffson motioned with his head as Hank limped past with two buckets of water.

“Hey there Hank, aren’t you gonna thank me for the water?”  Cliffson chided.

Their fun was cut short by the slow passage of a black pickup truck.  Any vehicle on the road these days was unusual.  Most people were out of fuel or conserving the little they had.  “We’re being cased,”  Monk told Cliffson.  “They’re looking to see what defenses we have.”

“No doubt,”  Cliffson answered.

Then Monk passed along the latest he was hearing from the ham radio operators.  One thing they knew for sure; most of the west coast cities were now uninhabitable and gangs were fighting over anything that remained.  With the cities in ruins, the Chinese objective was accomplished.

Their discussion moved on to plans for defending themselves.  It was a tall order.  Clearly a large, organized group could take down a single family with ease.  In that case, they could only hope to have enough warning to escape to the field behind the house and make their way to the West’s.

“I should talk with Randy again.  I know he’s been resistant about setting up a defensive position in his yard so we can cover our homes Monk, but he’s benefitting from our water…”  Cliffson’s voice trailed off.

“Time’s right, Cliffson.  His place across the street is perfect and since we have no position there now, no one will be looking for it.  I think it would also be a good idea to post someone on each side of your property.  A position behind those car-sized boulders over there and another behind the rock wall around the garden.”

“Monk, I know I’ve said this before, but why does this fall to us?”  Cliffson asked.  “Others should be volunteering to help with security.”

“You’re right, old buddy, and I’m about to go visit a few of our neighbors to see about correctin’ that.”

Monk headed out to speak to some of their neighbors and Cliffson walked across the street to speak with Randy.

Hours later Cliffson was back at work in the garden.  His mind wandered off to places only it knew the way to when he lost himself in his work. The sky was a beautifully clear azure and the weather was getting warmer.  Almost like old times, he thought.

Admiring the lush new growth on his potatoes, Cliffson was pleased with how things were progressing.  It was at times like this he wondered how the world had ever reached this point.  Why couldn’t people be content working the soil and raising food or animals?   And why was it he was born to be alive at this point in history?  He imagined many of the Jews in Germany’s concentration camps must have wondered the same thing.  What purpose did it serve?

He was thinning out the carrot seedlings when Monk walked up.

“Garden’s looking mighty fine Cliffson.  Will ya look at all those Walla Wall sweets!”

Cliffson smiled, knowing how Monk enjoyed his onions, but especially Walla Walla sweets.

“You lookin’ to get in trouble Monk?”  Cliffson chided.  “Start coveting Jean’s onions and you’ll be steppin’ in the middle of a world a hurt.”

“The fists of death,” they both said at once.  It was Jean’s way of saying someone was about to get into trouble.

“So what did you find out from the neighbors?”  Cliffson asked.

“They don’t cotton to the idea of fightin’,” Monk said.

“Sheesh.  I guess when you’re willing to sacrifice your liberty for government handouts it all fits.  It’s the same people who couldn’t make the connection that the things they voted for were the very things that brought about their demise.”  Cliffson kicked at the dirt in frustration.  “Amazing isn’t it?   Remember all the people who thought they were gonna get free health care and rallied to support Obama, then later on got pissed off when the law forced them to buy health care?”

“Sure do.  Not sure just how they can be so thick.”

“Monk, we both know the answer to that.”

“Yep, I recon we do.  People got fat and happy living life on easy street with all that borrowed money and quit thinking about protecting their freedom.  It was all about living for the moment regardless of the future cost.  Bread and Circuses, the Romans called it.”

Cliffson agreed.  “And what about basic skills and trades people once took pride in, or even something as simple as canning and putting things by for winter?  I’m embarrassed about how little I know about it and people look to us and think we know it all.”

Monk chuckled.  “I don’t intend to sound mean, but from the looks of most of em’ a little poverty would do em’ some good.  Seriously Cliffson have you ever seen so many fat people?”

“No, but it’s sure been a barometer on the state of the nation and I think their minds are just as flabby.”

“Ain’t that a fact.  Monk worked his toothpick a moment and then changed the subject.

“So’d you talk to Randy about stationing someone in his yard?”

“Sure did.  He was reluctant at first, but he also saw the pickup go by this afternoon and after I pointed out what it meant he had to think twice about it.  Course it didn’t hurt when I hinted about his water being in jeopardy.”

Monk snickered.  “Why does it always come down to that?”

“Unfortunately it did, but shortly thereafter we got busy setting up those large pavers he had left over from building his patio.  Finished it off with some sandbags he had in the back of his pickup.  It’s a right nice shelter for holding barbarians at bay.”

“That will help a lot.”  Monk whistled.  “I need to git, but before I go, we’re all set to begin posting guards tonight, right?”

“Yep, as much as I don’t like it, we’re all set to go.   With groups taking down houses nearly every night, we don’t have much choice.  Especially since we know they’re already scouting us,”  Cliffson said.

“All right, I’ll see you later tonight.”

“Take care Monk.”


Thomas cat-napped while Mary slept.  Later they switched places and he was dead to the world before his head hit the ground.  It seemed like he’d just gone to sleep when Mary woke him and offered the water bottle.

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“Ready.”  But her voice was not convincing.

Thomas led the way along rock walls that remained from settlement days.  Once used as fences, they would now provide solid cover.  After crossing two pastures and a number of fences, Thomas brought them up to a well kept farm house.  This was his big moment and hoped the people would be inclined to help.  He would do his best to make a good impression.

Mary stayed back in the junipers and Thomas, full of anticipation, approached the house.  About thirty yards from the driveway he was thinking about how to introduce himself when the front door opened.  A short squat man wearing overalls and a green John Deer ball cap followed the long barrel of a shotgun out the door.

“We don’t want no trouble, so you just keep on moving and get off of my property.”

“But sir, my wife…..”

“I said move!” and he pointed the gun squarely at Thomas.

Thomas began backing up.  “All right, take it easy, I’m leaving.”

The man was still holding his gun on them when Thomas rejoined Mary.

“Let’s get out of here,”  Thomas said to Mary and led them back into the junipers.

They continued east over rocky rangeland alternating with irrigated pasture.  When they stopped to rest for a moment Thomas pointed ahead,  “Let’s get on top of the rise there and set our bearings before it gets dark.”

After a short hike they found themselves looking out on a number of farm houses a half mile or so further east.  They would try their luck there.  Sticking to the junipers for cover when they could, their route took them over irrigation ditches, green pasture and more fences.

The first house they came too had been raided and was partially burned.  The windows were broken and a burned out car moldered in the driveway.  They continued east.

The next house had not been burned but was otherwise in much the same condition.  The next home was another quarter mile away, adjacent to a paved county road.  With darkness approaching Thomas wanted to try one more place.

Approaching cautiously through the junipers, Thomas looked across the hay field and saw an older man on the working end of a shovel.  He wore rubber boots and was standing astride an irrigation ditch.  He did not appear to be armed. Instead of walking through the man’s field Thomas decided to circle around to the right, taking the higher, rocky ground towards the house.

They were approaching the house when the glow of headlights appeared in the driveway and a black pickup rolled to a stop in front of the country home.

Thomas grabbed Mary and ducked into a thicket of juniper while a number of men in black leather jackets got out of the truck and approached the front door of the house.  Finding it locked, the men began beating on the door in an attempt to break it down.

Thomas looked back to the field and saw the farmer run to a juniper and retrieve a rifle.  Steadying himself against a tree limb the farmer took his first shots, but he only managed to hit the window on the driver’s side of the pickup.

Then the farmer ran for cover behind a pile of rocks in the middle of the field.  Two men behind the pickup began to fire and Thomas could see mud and dirt kicking up all around the man.  Thomas wanted to help, but there was nothing he could do.

At the same time the farmer was taking cover behind the rock pile, the front door of the house gave way.  The two men at the door were greeted by shotgun blasts that nearly tore them in two.  Thomas was beginning to think the tide had turned when he heard the woman inside begin to scream.

One of the attackers had circled round to the back of the house and broken in.  Now he half carried, half marched the kicking, screaming woman out the front door and stood there with one arm around her throat and a pistol to her head.  Then he yelled to the farmer in the field.

“This woman kilt two of my friends and now she’s going to pay.”

The shot seemed to echo up and down the valley long after her body had hit the ground.  The farmer began firing and ran towards his wife.

“Barbaraaaa!”

He lasted longer than Thomas thought he might, but half way to the house his ammunition ran out.  No longer needing to take cover the three remaining men soon cut him down.  As he lay moaning in a fetal position the same brute that had shot his wife walked to where the farmer lay and put a bullet in his head.  And then another.

He was yelling something at the dead man but all Thomas got out of it was “son of a bitch” before the man returned to the house.  There Thomas heard him yelling at the rest of his gang, “Get whatever food you can find.  I’ll look for weapons and valuables.  Now hurry it up.”

From their place in the junipers the Jefferson’s watched the three men load the truck.  In front of the house, three bodies lay in a sickly pool of yellow light cast by the trucks headlights and Thomas reflected on how cheap life had become.  Soon the men returned with their last load and got in the truck to leave.  When the truck pulled forward to turn around, the bodies disappeared in the near dark, almost as if nothing had happened.

Turning around to head out the driveway, the trucks headlights swept across the Jefferson’s faces and rolled to a stop.  The men got out of the truck and began sweeping the area with flashlights.  Fear stabbed Thomas with a bolt of adrenalin. “Over here Ben,” one man yelled and the truck began to back up.  Thomas reached for his .22 rifle.

The driver backed the truck out of the driveway and into the field until it stopped in front of the grove of junipers where the Jefferson’s lay hidden.  With his flashlight in hand, one man climbed into the back of the truck while another man shone his flashlight on a large tank standing at the edge of the field.

Thomas began to breathe again.  It was a fuel tank.  The men were so close he could hear the nozzle being rammed into the tank and smell the heavy fumes of diesel.  From inside the cab Thomas heard “fill it up all the way, we got another run to make tonight.”

Thomas wanted to do something, but he was no match for heavily armed men and ground his teeth instead.  It seemed to take forever, but when the tank was filled the bandits drove off.

A dark silence fell over the farm and Mary’s soft lament floated across the field.  Thomas wrapped her in his arms and gently rocked back and forth.  He was drained and losing hope.  What do I do now?  We’ve gone from the frying pan into the fire.

An hour or more must have passed before Thomas decided they had to get moving.  He helped Mary to her feet and the two began walking in the direction of houses he’d seen at the edge of town.  There had to be someone there willing to help.


Monk took up residence in the new bunker across the street and Cliffson could just make out his silhouette in the starlit night.  Dustin was spending the night behind the car sized boulders near the pump house on the north side of the property.  Cliffson told him he didn’t need to be out there at all, but Dustin insisted.

All three were armed with shotguns and pistols.  Their plan called for Cliffson to challenge any intruder so the others would not have to expose themselves until it became necessary. To help with lighting they hung oil burning lanterns from wooden posts on each side of the Lang’s driveway.

Cliffson lay in his sleeping bag behind the garden’s rock wall, looking up at the stars.  I bet they know, he thought. They already know what’s going to happen tonight.

The hum of an electrified modern world no longer saturated the night and silence enveloped the neighborhood.  It reminded him of the nights he’d spent backpacking in the wilderness and those memories led him to the distant places of his youth, the country he had travelled and the things he’d seen and done.  Where did the time go and how had it all come down to this?

“Wake up mate, we’ve got company,” his talkie whispered.  Cliffson clicked the receiver to acknowledge and hoped Dustin was awake.


Thomas helped Mary to the tree lined driveway.  Illuminated with shallow starlight, they followed its length to the county road.  Mary sat down in the ditch and waited while Thomas watched and listened.  He didn’t expect traffic and the quiet darkness seemed safe, but his raw edged nerves were fraying on the edge of a daylong grate.  The pressure to find a safe place for Mary to rest filled him with desperation.

After determining it was safe to cross, Thomas took Mary’s hand and they hurried over the pavement to a barbed wire fence on the other side.  Thomas stepped on the bottom wire and raised the wire above it to create an opening for Mary to pass through and the old fence squawked like a wounded goose.  Fearful someone was now aware of their location, Thomas urged Mary to move on.

Houses on the far side of the field beckoned.  “You see those lights over there?”

Mary nodded.

“I promise to find help there.  You have to hang on.”  Thomas extended his hand,  “Let’s go.”

The possibility of help drew them across the forty acre hay field, but Mary was slowing with every step. The field had recently been mowed and the sweet smell of downed hay filled the night air.  Thomas couldn’t help but wonder if the field belonged to the couple he’d just seen murdered.

Half way across the pasture Mary had to stop and lay down.  Thomas scanned the far side of the field and thought he could make out the shape of a large shed.  He wanted to leave the openness of the pasture but Mary was already asleep in the cushioned warmth of fresh cut hay.

Thomas decided to search ahead while Mary got some rest and swiftly moved across the remaining portion of the field to a fence on the other side.  Following the barbed wire he soon found a metal gate and gently pushed it open.  The building he’d seen from a distance was an old equipment shed and it was just twenty yards from the gate.  It was time to get Mary.

Mary was sound asleep when he returned and he hated to wake her, but they could not sleep here and allow the morning sun to find them in the open field.  Thomas helped Mary to her feet and step by step, the two made their way to the gate near the shed where she paused to catch her breath.

Waiting there in the dark, Thomas could see two lanterns burning a short distance ahead and found them both inviting and frightening at the same time.  To his right was a burned out mobile home.  A few yards beyond it was a dirt road that accessed the mobile home from the county road.  Beyond the road was a wooden fence.   The six foot fence ran the entire length of each homes backyard, except one, the one with the two lanterns.

Thomas quickly considered his options.  To get into the residential area they would either have to climb the six foot fence, take the dirt road to the county highway, or try the home with the lanterns.  The choice seemed simple, but the burning lamps seemed out of place and were no longer inviting.

“Thomas, I need to lie down.”

“All right, let’s get inside the shed.”  Thomas picked Mary up and carried her to the far end of the building where he could keep an eye on the home with the lanterns.  The shed housed an old plow, some spare tires and a few bales of hay.  Thomas set Mary down to rest on the hay bales and sat down beside her, unsure what to do next.

After resting awhile, it was Mary who made the decision to go.  They drank the last of their water and left the pack behind, but Thomas did bring his rifle.

From the shed it was about thirty yards to a low rock wall where they could watch the house and decide if it was safe to approach.  They were just reaching the wall when a truck stopped on the county road to their right.  A door closed shut and the truck turned back for town.  Moments later Thomas thought he heard someone approaching along the dirt road.

Soon a shadowy figure took shape and Thomas watched the crouched form make its way directly towards them.  Frozen in the dark, attempting to become part of the rock, Mary and Thomas held their breath.

Just when it appeared the man would stumble right on top of them the dark figure stopped and knelt to lay its rifle across the top of the rock wall.  Thomas listened to the man’s breathing and hoped he couldn’t hear his own shallow breath.  The minutes passed and the Jefferson’s remained frozen in place, fearing the man would see them at any moment.

When an explosion of gunfire erupted in front of the house, Thomas realized they were caught in the middle of another ambush.


Cliffson rolled over and depressed the release on his semi-auto Benelli shotgun before peaking over the top of the rock wall.  The black pickup they’d seen days before was out of gear and quietly rolling to a stop in front of his house with its lights off. The lamps hanging from the posts on each side of the driveway outlined the truck and four individuals stepping from the cab.

Dressed in black, Cliffson thought they looked like ninja’s.  Then a fifth man got out of the cab on the far side of the truck and climbed into the back of the pickup bed to cover the first four men.

In his most authoritative voice Cliffson spoke out from the dark.  “Stop right there.”

An instant later, automatic weapons fire sent hot lead over his head, likely hitting the Crank house and forcing him down behind the rock wall.  Cliffson’s nerves welded his arms to the shotgun, and when the shooting paused, he rose up on one knee to shoot.  His first shot dropped one man to the ground and subsequent shots wounded a second who scrambled for cover behind the pickup while dragging one leg.

The other two men ran through the front yard and disappeared behind the far side of the house.  When they turned the corner Cliffson heard more gunshots and stood to fire on the man in the back of the pickup.   Then his gun exploded right out of his hands and he grabbed his arm before falling hard against the rock wall.

What the hell happened?  Where did that come from?   Gunfire erupted on Dustin’s side of the house.  In the same instant he heard Monk open up and the gunfire from the back of the pickup stopped.  Another bullet ricocheted off the rock beside him.  Someone’s shooting at me from behind!   Then more gunfire came from Dustin’s side of the house.

The driver of the truck sped off and Monk fired two more shots, shattering the rear window.  The wounded man who’d taken cover at the back of the pickup was caught on the fender and dragged away, his blood curdling screams trailing off in the deadly night air.  Cliffson barely heard it.  He was running for the other side of the house and yelling for Dustin.

“Dustin, you all right?”

“I’m fine Dad, but these two aren’t.”

Then Kate burst from the front door of the house and rushed to Dustin, startling Cliffson.  “Dammit, Kate!  Everybody stay down.  Someone was shooting at me from the field behind the house.”

“Bet they sent someone down that dirt road to get behind us,” Monk said.  “Should have thought of that.”

“We need to find them,”  Cliffson spat.

“I’ll go down to the county road and sneak over to the dirt access road behind the houses so no one can escape,” Monk said before jogging away.

“Dustin, I want you to go the opposite direction.  Hug the fence along Monk’s place and swing wide to the north end of the rock wall so we have him between you and Monk.  And keep your head down.”

“I’ll take the middle of the wall and approach from the back of the house.  Everyone else back inside!”  Cliffson winced, but his anger burned hotter than the pain.


When the man next to Thomas began to firing towards the house Thomas was overcome with rage.  He could not stand by and watch any longer.  Before he knew what he was doing he stood up and brought the butt of his rifle down on the man’s head with every ounce of strength he could muster, leaving the man in a heap on the ground.

Thomas retrieved the man’s rifle before slumping to the ground next to Mary.  Gunfire from in front of the house continued.

“Honey, you’re shaking like a leaf.”

“I…I think I killed him,”  Thomas squeaked.

“Take some deep breathes.  It’s ok,” Mary soothed.

Abruptly the gunfire stopped and the roar of an engine cracked the night.  Two more shots rang out and a terrifying scream faded into the distance.  Then all was silent.

“What do we do now?”  Thomas’ quaking voice was hard to understand and Mary was afraid he was going into shock.

“Sit tight,”  Mary answered.  “Try to get a hold of yourself.”

“Maybe we should go see if someone is hurt.”

“You?  We’re not going anywhere Thomas,”  Mary scolded.

“All right, ……….all right.  A few more minutes.”  Thomas tried to relax and calm his worked up nerves.

After a few more minutes of quiet Thomas wanted to go.  “I think it’s safe now Mary, I don’t hear anyone.  Let’s see if we can get some help for your arm, at least something for the pain.”

“You mean like a bullet.”

“Now Mary, they were just defending their home.  Come on, I think it’s gonna be all right.”

“Ok,” she said.

Thomas stood and helped Mary to her feet.

Instantly a voice yelled, “Get your hands up.”

Mary screamed and flashlights blinded them as a man grabbed Thomas’s arms from behind.

“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,”  Thomas grimaced.

“You’re the bastard who shot me aren’t you?”  Cliffson yelled into the man’s face.

“No, no it wasn’t me.”

“So who was it then?” Cliffson said through clenched teeth.

“It was him,” Thomas said and pointed at the man he’d clubbed.

Monk swung his flashlight over to a dark heap lying on the ground.   “Well I’ll be Cliffson, will you look at that.”  Monk rolled the man over and checked for a pulse.  “Stone cold dead mate.”

Cliffson took a seat on the rock wall to steady himself, then looked up at Thomas and growled,  “So what happened?”

Before Thomas could answer Dustin cut in,  “Dad, you’re bleeding, we need to get you back to the house.”

“Cliffson, you got shot?”  Monk asked.

“The gun blew up or something.  Not sure what it was.”

“Monk, can you bring these other two?”  Dustin asked.

“Sure enough.  Get your dad on back to the house.”

Dustin helped his father over the wall and the two of them returned to the house.

Monk turned to Thomas.  “All right you two, let’s go.”

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