Posts Tagged ‘bill of rights’

This week I have a book signing at a local book store.  It is the first time I have worked a book signing and I’m looking forward to it.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-SEVEN

 “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery.  Today is a gift and that is why they call it the present.”

 Mike Ditka

 Over the next few weeks things returned to normal, at least as defined under the Chinese occupation.  Unfortunately the mosquitoes were thriving under the Chinese rule.  Benefitting from abandoned water features and hot tubs scattered throughout town, the new habitat was adding millions to their numbers and making life miserable.

The garden was providing fresh greens and raspberries and Kate and Dustin’s relationship was blooming right along with the new crops.  They gladly volunteered for the garden chores because it usually meant time they could spend alone together.

The work on Thomas’s cabin was also progressing nicely.  They’d stripped the Crank house of siding, two by sixes, windows, doors, hardware and some of the cabinets.  All that was left to complete the Jefferson’s cabin was the roof and needing experienced hands for the job, they garnered the help of Gary West.

With Gary busy framing the roof, Cliffson drove the pickup they’d inherited from Hank to a local hardware store in hopes of finding someone to trade with.  He knew the big box stores were obvious targets and would long ago have been ransacked.  No reason for their managers to stick around and risk their necks for something they didn’t own.  It would be the little guy who’d invested his life in a business that would fight to protect what he had.

When Cliffson arrived at the downtown store he found the windows smashed. Not a surprise really, but once inside he found obvious signs of a gun fight, but the place was not as torn up as it could have been.  Still, it made him sad.  Many of the shelves stood empty, the cash register had long ago departed from the counter and all the hunting gear and clothing was gone except for a lone child’s jacket hanging on the rack.   Making his way toward the back of the store, Cliffson’s hopes of finding the owner dimmed and he hoped the ol’ boy was still alive.

In the back of the store where the roofing materials were kept, he realized that although a lot of stuff was gone, no one had been particularly interested in roofing.  Cliffson found tar paper, shingles, roofing nails and one last tube of caulking, which he didn’t need but thought would be good to have.

After backing the truck up to a broken window at the front of the store, Cliffson was headed back inside for the last few items when he heard the characteristic sound of a shotgun shell being chambered.

“Get your hands up and turn around.”

Cliffson did as he was told and upon turning around, found an elderly man dressed in overalls, shotgun held waist high.  He tried to tell the man he’d done business there many times before and asked if the man recognized him.   Maybe it was the shock of all that had happened but the man said no and refused to lower the gun.

Cliffson attempted to convince him he had come prepared to pay, but the man would have none of it.  Finally allowed to reach in his pocket, Cliffson showed him the silver he’d brought.  After seeing the silver rounds being offered for payment, they quickly came to a deal.  The fellow was so excited about getting the silver he ran to find a couple roofing hammers and threw them in as part of the agreement.

“I apologize for pulling the gun on you Cliffson, but after everything we’ve been through I just couldn’t believe anyone would be willing to pay for what they were taking.”

“It’s all right, I probably would have done the same, but let me ask you something.”

“Shoot”

“It’s still wrong to steal.  Right?”

“Right.”

“And we’re both still Americans?”

“Certainly.” The fellow nodded.

“Well, then the way I see it, if we’re gonna somehow get through this and get our country back, we can’t be at each other’s throats.”

“I’m with ya.  Gonna have to stand together.”

“By the way, I didn’t catch your name.”  Cliffson asked.

“Sam, Sam Keller.  The men shook hands and when they looked each other in the eye Cliffson knew this was a man he could trust.

“I live just across the street at the top of that two story brick building.  My little store don’t have much in the way of tools right now, but if you need something, please come back and I’ll see what I can do for ya.”

“I certainly will Sam.  Now how are you set for supplies, I mean how have you gotten by all this time?”  Cliffson asked.

“Been here most my life.  I’ve got friends and we’ve been planning for something like this for quite some time.  Wasn’t hard to see it comin’ if you was payin’ attention, ya know.  Course the city folk never saw it comin’; poor suckers, all wrapped up in their meaningless fluff, with not a clue about where the basics of life come from.”

“You mean how those grocery store shelves don’t just poop out that fresh loaf of bread each morning?”  Cliffson added.

Sam chuckled.  “Yep, no different than electricity comin’ from the wall, or gas coming from a pump at the station.”

“Don’t get me started, Sam.  We could go on and on.  It’s just good to know we’re in agreement.”

Cliffson wrote down his address for Sam and told him to come by if he ever needed something.

“Cliffson, you’re a good man and I don’t say that lightly.  This old world hasn’t had a place for good men for some time and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Pleasure’s been all mine, Sam.”

“Thank you, friend.   It’s good to know there’s someone else I can count on.  The Chinese won’t be around forever and I reckon on being here long after their gone.  Gonna be a lot of rebuilding then and that’s when my little business will get back on its feet.  You be sure and come back.”

“I certainly will.  Be careful now and remember, if you ever need anything you know where to find me.”

It felt good to make an honest transaction—one without government interference—just one man making an arm’s length transaction with another.  It gave him hope these values still remained, even if it was from a couple of old salts the previous world would have readily discarded.

With the transaction complete Cliffson drove away.  The experience left him feeling good—a feeling that took him back to a time when America was a rural nation and self-reliance was the norm—a world where your word had better be as good as gold and a hand shake sealed the deal.  These values built the nation he had come to love; unfortunately, they’d become nearly as meaningless in the modern world as lying was the norm. Course the modern day world aint really around no more, is it?  he mused.

Over the next few days the Jefferson’s modest house was finished.  Diminutive and simple, it would do the job.  The wooden floors in the living space and entry way were furnished with warm rugs, a small wood stove and a table and chairs, including a rocking chair.   The tiny kitchen was in back on the right.  Without electricity or running water there was little need for it to be full-sized.  The bedroom was on the left side. A door in the back opened to a pit toilet pushed out the back wall of the bedroom.

Windows were strategically placed so Thomas could have a clear, 360 degree view of the property surrounding the cabin and the first four feet of the reinforced walls were filled with sand for protection in a gun fight.  It wasn’t anything like their old home, but it was just as cozy as their cabin in the woods and the Jefferson’s were thrilled to have it.

The Crank’s old house was salvaged for everything it had to offer and then burned to the ground to clear the field of fire.  Without siding, the fire was not as big as expected until the building came down.  Once the flames took to the shingles the place burned like a pitchy log in a mountain of tires.  The thick smoke rolled into the sky on angry orange and black clouds billowing like an oil gusher.

Cliffson was enjoying a sandwich and watching it all from his yard.  A train, likely loaded with timber, rumbled in the distance.  He wrestled with mixed emotions about the Cranks and the events leading up to burning their house, but was most thankful no one had been hurt when his family was attacked.  It was the first time in many weeks he could relax a bit and it felt good to put it all behind him.  The fire was the perfect exclamation point and he was enjoying a simple moment of tranquility.

Without warning four trucks roared into Cliffson’s driveway and disgorged at least 20 well armed men, dressed in fatigues similar to the U.S. military.  Before he could stand two men had weapons in his face, forcing him back into the chair.  Then he heard yelling coming from inside the house and tried to stand but was shoved back down.  A moment later, Jean, the Jeffersons, and Kate were marched from the house at gun point and forced to sit on the grass next to Cliffson.  Dustin and Monk were soon marched back from the burning Crank house at gun point.

After being gathered together on the lawn, a bear of a man ambled through the group of soldiers to face Cliffson.  He was dressed in fatigues like the rest of them and wore a .45 pistol on his hip.  Cliffson rose to face him and the two men sized each other up for moment before speaking.

“Cliffson, I presume?” the soldier asked.

“Who’s asking?”

A smile spread across the big man’s face before he spoke.  “I would have expected no less from you.  On the outside you appear soft, helping those around you with water and picking up strays like the Jefferson’s.  But there’s a reason you’ve lasted this long.  You’re alert and you don’t take any crap from anyone, not even that Chinese Commander.”

“And just how do you know all this?’  Cliffson glanced at Monk, but got no response.

“We’ve been watching the riffraff sort itself out for some time.  Quite honestly we didn’t expect you to survive.”  The big man chuckled.

“Why’s that?”

“Too many assets and not enough fire power.  You’d already be dead if Thomas hadn’t been lucky enough to overhear the conversation in the Crank’s driveway that night.  You need our help.”

Cliffson’s eyebrow rose.  “Somehow I’m not feelin’ the love.”

The man nodded to someone Cliffson assumed was second in command, who ordered the group to move back to the vehicles.

“We didn’t come to harm you.  Our show of force was meant to demonstrate what we can do and convince you to accept the deal we are about to offer.”

Cliffson squared his shoulders and looked the man dead in the eye.  “I’m not feeling like I have the option to decline.  Convince me otherwise and maybe we can talk.”

“Quite honestly, you don’t have that option.  We just took down your house and all of you would be dead if we wanted it that way, but that’s not how we operate.  I hope that fact alone persuades you to work with us.  We operate on the basis of principle, many of the same principles I’m sure you believe in Cliffson.”

“What B.S. Those days are gone.  Everyone’s just out for themselves.”

“That’s not true.  May I have a seat so we can talk?”  The commander asked.

Cliffson hesitated, then nodded to Jean, “Would you mind getting that chair from the back porch, hun.”

Yes, Herr Commandant, Jean thought to herself.

Jean hurried back with the chair and presented it to the man-bear.  “Thank you, mam.”  As the over-size man settled into the chair, Cliffson was thinking he’d never fit.  The fella was simply huge.

“Cliffson, my name is Gunner.  I’m the commander of a group of about 60 men, most of whom have military experience.  Our offer is simple.  You have things we need, fresh fruit, garden veggies, fresh eggs and water to name a few.  We offer you protection in exchange for a portion of what you produce.”

“Protection?”  Cliffson said flatly. “Protection from whom, you?”

“Come on Cliffson, there’s no need to play games.  Even you know the smaller groups are rapidly disappearing.  Soon, only the stronger gangs and organized forces will remain.  There’s simply no way you can protect yourself from them without our help, yet you hold assets that literally everyone is willing to kill for.”

“And just how will you go about protecting us?”

Gunner smiled, as if he was about to play his strong suit.  “Two ways.  First, we have an established network throughout this community that keeps us informed of the various groups’ activities.  It’s how we knew about you and Hank.”

“Go on.”

“Secondly, we’ll set you and Monk up with solar powered radios so you can contact us at any time in the event you need help.  We’ll also help make your place more defensible and will station men across the street in the cul-de-sac.  Afterall, if you agree to share what you have, we wouldn’t want to see those resources lost to someone else.”

“And I’m just supposed to trust you because you’re such a sweetheart of a guy?”

“No, you trust me because you need me and I’ve demonstrated that I can back up my word.”  Gunner extended his hand.

“Not so fast.”  Cliffson forced the issue.  “This whole thing has a bad feel to it.  I want to see your base of operations.”  Now Monk was nodding his head.

“Sorry, can’t do that.  To begin with we’re spread out, and secondly we don’t share the location of our headquarters with anyone.”

“Well I guess we don’t have a deal then.”

Gunner rose to his full height and stuck out his chest.  Cliffson noted the massive shoulders.  The man was a mountain of power.

“Cliffson, I admire your spunk, but it’s a fine line between bravery and foolishness.  Tell you what I’ll do and maybe this will convince you.  There are three local groups who are organized and well armed.  Our intelligence tells us they’re well aware of your little place here. It’s only a matter of time before they come and take you down.

We’re in negotiations with one of those groups and there’s an agreement to cooperate at least to the extent of not attacking one another, with hopes of coordinating our efforts in the future.  One word from us and they’ll leave you alone.  The other two groups are made up of animals the likes of which you don’t ever want to meet.  They’d think nothing of ripping you and this place apart to get what they want.  You need to think of your women Cliffson.”

That was a low blow, but it struck home.

“I’m going to give you the location of both gang’s base of operations.  You do your own scouting and see if I’m not telling the truth.  I’ll be back in two days and we’ll talk again.”

Gunner tipped his hat to the ladies and marched back to his truck where the rest of his troops were waiting.

Cliffson turned to Monk.  “What do you think?

“Makes sense on the surface, but I don’t rightly know how I can trust someone I’ve never met before today.”  Monk removed his ball cap and scratched the pale moon on top of his head before continuing.  “I don’t question what he says about protection.  It’s been a concern of my own.  The day is gonna come when we have to face one of these groups and we just don’t have the fire power.”

Cliffson shoved his hands deep into his pockets and shrugged.  “Best we can do is check out the places he told us about I guess.”


Monk and Cliffson spent the next two evenings scouting the gangs’ bases.   The first night was quiet and after four hours of hiding in a hedge of prickly shrubs they’d spotted just two look-outs—that is until the fight broke out.  About one in the morning the front door of the house flew open and two men flung each other out the door onto the ground.

Soon a group of fifteen highly intoxicated men gathered round to cheer for their favorite.   The fight continued and the group grew louder and louder until one man stepped from the house and strode to the middle of the group.  Without hesitation he raised a sawed off shotgun, fired it twice and both fighters lay dead.  The gunman grumbled some kind of command and the group broke up.

On the second night Monk and Cliffson had no more than settled into watch from behind the remains of a broken down wooden fence, when two pickup trucks roared to a stop in front of the house.  About twenty men poured from the run down dwelling to greet the men in the trucks and threw open the doors of the king cabs to grab their cargo.  Screams and shrieks for help rent the still night air.  Three young women were thrown over the men’s shoulders and carried into the house amidst riotous shouts of laughter from the surrounding men.

The scene left Monk and Cliffson shaken, but there was little they could do.  Well, yes there was.  They could make sure it didn’t happen to their women.


Like clockwork, Gunner and his lieutenant showed up the next day at the strike of noon.  He was fully aware of the previous night’s events and just nodded when Monk and Cliffson began to tell him about it.

“So do we have a deal, Cliffson?”  Gunner stood with his arms folded across his chest exuding full confidence.

Cliffson looked down at the ground searching amongst the rocks in the gravel for a solution he’d not yet found.  He knew he had no choice but still didn’t like it.

“You know we do Gunner,” he said begrudgingly, “but that doesn’t mean you can take advantage of us.”

“You’ll find we are honorable men Cliffson.  Well, mostly.”  He laughed.  “I want this to be a long term arrangement.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent working out the details of their agreement.  After much discussion and a little frustration when both sides laid out their demands, an understanding was reached.  Gunner’s men would get all the water they needed as long as they weren’t trying to fill a tanker truck or something similar.  They would also receive 25 percent of the garden produce, fresh fruit, eggs and honey.  Gunner had asked for a third, but knowing that no good negotiator starts out asking for what he wants to end up with, Cliffson had refused.

In return, Gunner would station ten men in two of the vacant houses at the end of the cul-de-sac across from Cliffson’s house.  Cliffson had to admit that was comforting.  The rest of the homes that remained standing were empty now, except for Randy and Linda on the corner.

It had been a tense couple of days and Cliffson was relieved when the two men finally shook hands in agreement and Gunner left, promising his men would be moved in the next day.  It seemed too good to be true and Cliffson remained suspicious.  He and Monk agreed they wouldn’t let their guard down.

Please check out Truth’s Blood at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Only $2.99 for an ebook.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-THREE

 “Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter to the other… “

 Apache Wedding Blessing

“Will you tell me a story, Monk?  Cliffson joked and then looked away.

Monk only grunted and pulled another metal fragment from Cliffson’s arm.  “What, little Johnny needs a story while the doc patches him up?”

“Just hoping to learn a little more about you, Monk.  Ever done this before?”

Monk scoffed, not taking kindly to the comment and his steely gaze said so.  Then he changed the subject.  “Why don’t we learn a little more about Mr. Jefferson instead?  He can tell us how he came to be at the back of your house while I put you back together.”

Thomas began their story and Monk continued removing fragments and cleaning the wounds in Cliffson’s arm.  It was clear the Jefferson’s had been through a lot, but more than that, Cliffson felt indebted to Thomas for taking out the man who had shot him.  Though Thomas offered little in the way of useful skills, Cliffson thought he had an idea that might work.

“Mary, how’s your arm doing?”  Cliffson asked.

“The painkillers have helped, and I’m sure Monk did his best to patch me up, but it’s still quite sore.  I’m very grateful to you all, but I must ask another favor.”

“You and Thomas are welcome to stay with me tonight,” Monk interrupted.  Thomas began to thank him but Monk cut him off.  “We have much to talk about but it’s getting late.  I’m sure Cliffson here could use some warm milk and a bed time story.”

Cliffson shook his head.  “Soon as your done torturing me that’s exactly where I’m headed.”

“Well that ought to do it.  Might not be the prettiest thing, but the girls will love the scars.”  He winked at Jean.  “Now listen to me.  You were lucky the bullet hit the gun instead of you.  Count your lucky stars it was just fragments we’re dealing with and not the bullet itself.  I’ve cleaned it the best I could, but I’m concerned about infection.  You need to keep an eye on it, and keep it in that sling so you don’t pull the stitches out.”

“All right, Doc,”  Cliffson grinned at Monk.  “Take an aspirin and send you fifty bucks.  Right?”

Monk looked up from his bag of tools.  “Jean, you want to put little Cliffy to bed now, he’s getting kind of cranky.”


The following morning was dark and overcast and the resulting gloom infused heart and soul alike.  The daily fight for their lives had become a reality.

Monk and Dustin gathered up the bodies and Cliffson helped when he could.  Disfigured by Dustin’s shotgun blasts, the bodies left behind dark stains and chunks of flesh on the grass.  It made for a gruesome and repulsive task, but one that had to be done.

Cliffson watched Monk and Dustin dig a shallow grave in the field behind the Lang’s house.  When the last body was laid in the hole, “Hank the Crank” showed up.

“Which one of you assholes shot my house up last night?”  Crank yelled.

Cliffson drew his Glock, but Monk moved in between them.  “Go home Hank.  There’s trouble enough without you stirring things up,” Monk ordered.

“Someone shot my house up last night, wounding me in the process and I aim to find out who the hell it was!  You think my arms in a sling for nothing,” he roared.  “Now I find you people burying these folks.  I’ve caught you red-handed and I’m going to the authorities.”

“You mean your Chinese buddy, you traitor,”  Monk sneered.

Hank swung a meaty fist at Monk with his good arm but missed and in a flash Dustin was on him, pinning him to the ground.   “That’s enough,”  Dustin yelled.  “For all we know you were part of the group that attacked us last night when you were shot.”

Dustin grabbed Hank’s legs and pulled him to the grave.  Monk grabbed his good arm and they rolled him in on top of the dead men.

“You want to join them?”  Dustin yelled.

Lying on his belly, Hank was having trouble getting his good arm under him so he could push himself up.  He was whimpering and beginning to swear when Dustin put his foot on the back of Hank’s neck, forcing him face to face with one of the dead men.

“Any more trouble and you’ll join them.  Are we clear?” Dustin shouted.

Hank cried yes and Dustin let him up.  “Now get out of here.”

Hank walked away shouting obscenities and threatening them all.

While they shoveled dirt over the dead men an ominous sky released its rain and Monk turned to Dustin.

“Were you just saying that, or did you really see him last night?”

“Oh, you mean about being part of the attack last night?’  Dustin asked.

Monk nodded.

“I just made it up, why?”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything because my eye sight ain’t so good in the dark, but I coulda sworn I saw him last night in the back of that pickup, pulling cover for the other four guys.  If’n my gun hadn’t a jammed when the fighting started I’d a killed him.”

“Geez, do you really think…..”  Cliffson stopped himself.  They all looked at each and agreed that yes, Hank would.

It was raining harder now and the three men turned to go.

On his way back to the house Cliffson thought of Welfare and how much he missed the dog.  He hoped that somehow the dog was still alive.

In the garage he found a towel and a pair of pants Jean had laid out for him next to a bucket of water so Cliffson could clean his feet.  She always thinks of me, he thought, as he washed the mud away with his good arm.  He was sitting down to pull on his pants when Monk and Dustin dashed outside with two 80 gallon food grade drums to collect water from the downspouts.

After returning to the garage, Cliffson hugged his son.  Holding him at arm’s length for a moment he couldn’t help but notice the strongly toned muscles in his son’s young body.

“You gonna be all right, Dustin?”  Cliffson asked.

“Dad I’m fine.  You’re the one I’m worried about.”

It was quiet for moment as neither man spoke.

“I’m sorry Dustin, so sorry this had to happen to you.”

“It’s all right Dad.”

“No, it’s not really.  I’m glad you’re man enough to do what’s required of you, but it shouldn’t be required of any man.  We need to be helping, not killing.”

“It changes you doesn’t it,” Dustin said quietly.

“Yes, it does, son.  It hardens you in a wicked way.”

“And Dad.”

“What son?”

“We are helping.”

Monk nodded and smiled knowingly.  He knew they’d be all right and even more prepared for what was to come.


It continued raining all day.  Monk joined with the Lang family to discuss the possibility of the Jeffersons joining them and the potential repercussions.  They also made their daily call to check in with the Wests.  Maybe it was the weather interfering with the radios, but after numerous attempts they couldn’t raise them and were beginning to grow concerned.

Late in the afternoon a decision regarding the Jeffersons was reached and Dustin was sent to bring them back from Monk’s house.  Upon arriving at the front door, Cliffson shook each of their hands and directed them to take a seat on the couch.

“Please sit down folks.  I know you’re anxious to learn what we’ve decided, so let me get right to the point.  Your request to remain here with us is a difficult one.  Our resources are limited and we’ve carefully weighed the added burden of supporting another family, against the skills you have to offer.  Quite honestly we’re unsure that the cost of allowing you to stay is worth any service you can…”

Thomas jumped to his feet.  “It’s because were black isn’t it?  You won’t take us in because we’re black!”

“Thomas, stop it,”  Mary demanded.

“Aw Mary, I’ve known it from the time we got here, that little military midget sitting over there has had it in for us.  Ain’t that right pirate man!”  Thomas glared across the room at Monk.

The air in the room seemed to dissapate and grew as cold and silent as a stone frozen in a winter pond.  Cliffson stood and took two steps toward Thomas.  The men were nearly the same height and with faces inches apart, each man’s steely eyed look impaled the other.  Tension crackled in blue bolts between them.  Thomas stood with fists balled at his sides. Cliffson stared unflinching.  Monk was poised to intervene and for a long moment neither man moved.

Then, in an enormous effort to control his anger, Cliffson gathered himself and tersely addressed Thomas through clenched teet,.  “If I was not an honest and fair man, you would already be out the door for making an accusation like that.  If you knew me, if you knew Monk, you’d know how wrong you are.”

Relaxing just a bit he continued.  “You will begin by apologizing to my good friend Monk,” and then grasping Thomas’s shoulder with is good hand, Cliffson continued,  “and as long as you remain in this house, you’ll do well to remember there is no white, black, or any other color to be found here.  People are just people.”

Thomas was bewildered.  “You’re allowing us to stay?”

Not quite smiling Cliffson added, “Yes, that is our decision, you and your wife are welcome here, though you nearly just changed our minds.  There are, of course, some conditions you must agree to, but we believe you’ll find them acceptable.”

Tears came to Thomas’s eyes and he shook Cliffson’s hand.

“I am so sorry for what I said.  Monk, please accept my apologies, I promise to make it up to you.”

Monk stuck out his hand, “Its already forgotten Thomas.”

The remainder of the afternoon was spent getting to know one another and discussing the conditions under which the Jefferson’s could stay.  Monk volunteered training to help them overcome their admitted lack of experience with firearms.  In return the Jefferson’s would be fed and housed, and as soon as possible, a small cabin would be built for them on the south end of the Lang’s property.  While it rained and stormed outside, the chill wind couldn’t dampen the warmth of a budding new friendship.

It was getting dark and Jean was bringing out some additional candles when the radio began to chirp.

A look of horror spread around the room as its meaning began to register.  If they were ever unable to speak, but were in need of help, the radio was to be keyed repeatedly.  The radio squawked a few more times and then fell silent.  The Wests were in trouble.

Move on .org, in their continuing efforts to foster hatred towards conservatives, has begun a petition to arrest the House Republican leadership “for the crime of seditious conspiracy against the United States of America.”  Folks, this is how Hitler came to power, by having his political opposition arrested.  No, I don’t believe this is going to amount to anything – right now.  But the fact that this is even being put out there should be of serious concern to all of you.  Please read my article that comes after this posting of Chapter Twenty of Truth’s Blood.

CHAPTER   TWENTY

 “The real cost of the state is the prosperity we do not see, the jobs that don’t exist, the technologies to which we do not have access, the businesses that do not come into existence, and the bright future that is stolen from us. The state has looted us just as surely as a robber who enters our home at night and steals all that we love.”

 Frederic Bastiat

When Jean woke up, Cliffson was not in bed, but he often rose early and she didn’t think much of it.  After wrapping in her bathrobe she found Cliffson in the garage, pumping up tires on one of their bicycles.  “Morning, hun.”  Cliffson smiled.   “Was thinking we could bicycle over to see the Wests today.  I’m going to help Gary install the hand pump on his well.”

Jean agreed and later that afternoon they made the short trip to the West’s house.  When they arrived, Cliffson found Gary already at work on the well.

Monk was visiting too and asked Cliffson how he was doing today.

“I’m good—got it all out of my system—but something inside me broke yesterday Monk.”

“Damn sure enough did Cliffson!   Never knew you had that kind of fight in you.”  Monk smacked a fist into his palm.  “You flat put Hank’s lights out!”

“I ain’t no fighter Monk, he just pushed me too far.”

“Well, remind me not to be around next time someone pushes you too far Cliffson.  Not bad for an old man.”

“I wouldn’t be too impressed.  I’m sixty-two years old, Monk, and you know full well what age does to a person.  I’m not the man I was once.”

“Sadly, none of us are,” Monk agreed.

A faraway look had come over Monk’s face.  Cliffson had seen it before.  Where did Monk’s mind go at times like this and what aching memory was being kindled?  Someday I’m gonna find out,  Cliffson thought.

“Time for me to go mates.  Catch you on the flip side.”  Monk gathered up his bike and headed down Gary’s long country driveway.

Cliffson elbowed Gary.  “Want to see something funny.  Take a look.”

Monk was headed down the driveway on a bike much too small for him.   His knees were nearly in his chest, his bald spot gleamed in the sun, a shotgun was slung across the back of his blue shirt and the handle bars rode up high like those on a chopper motorcycle.  Gary and Cliffson were laughing so hard they fell into the hay bales holding their guts.  It felt good to laugh a real, honest, belly laugh.

After regaining their composure, the men went back to work on the well.  The balmy afternoon sun soon had the two of them working in t-shirts.  Gary’s well was not very deep and the pvc installation went smoothly.  The new well head adaptor came next, and then it was straightforward work installing the hand pump.

While cleaning up after testing the well, Gary mentioned some concerning news Monk had shared.

“Monk said the Chinese need their troops for the camps where the young men are being held and have pulled their soldiers from the passes.”

“Ummm, not good—means we’re going to have company soon.”

“You’re right, Cliffson.  Treat you to a beer before we share the news with our wives.”

Dirty and a little tired, but feeling good about having the well work finished, the two men walked to the house to take a break.  Gary pulled a couple beers from the fridge and Cliffson laughed.

Gary glanced up through raised eyebrows.  “What are you laughing at?”

“It’s just funny how you still keep your beer in the fridge.”

Through a sly grin Gary agreed, “I guess it is.  But you know, if the power ever comes back on I’m going to have the first cold beer around.”

“And I’ll be the first at your door, old buddy.”

“I don’t doubt that Cliffson, and you’ll be more than welcome.  I just hope we both live long enough to see that day.”

Gary cracked open the two bottles of beers.  “Here’s to the day we have cold beer again.”  It was a simple pleasure that had suddenly become a monumental treat.  With trucking at a standstill, they both knew a plain old bottle of beer was rapidly becoming an extravagant celebration.  Of course the beer was warm, but they clinked bottles anyway in a toast to completing the installation of both hand pumps.

Relaxing together in the late afternoon shade on Gary’s back deck, Cliffson commented about the beer.  “Treats like this are gonna become mighty rare my friend.”  He tipped his bottle up for another sip.

“Yep,” Gary replied.  “We’ll have to make our own.  You’ve got supplies don’t you?”

“Sure do.” Cliffson grinned.  “But it’s gonna be a much bigger job to make without power.  Still, I’ve laid in supplies just the same—enough for a half dozen five gallon batches.  Jean takes the used grains and makes bread out of them too.  Mighty tasty.”

“Sounds like a meal to me,”  Gary said.  “Oatmeal stout and beer bread.”

Barb and Jean stepped out onto the porch during the conversation and shook their heads at the two.  “Gonna have to keep an eye on you guys,”  Barb said.  “About the time you’re needed to protect the women and children from the Zombies at the gates we’ll find the two of you down in some cellar wrapped around a keg of beer,”  she chided.

Cliffson raised his bottle.  “Here’s to you Barb.”  They all shared a laugh and the two couples took time to share a quiet moment together.

Long shadows were stretching across the lawn and busy bees worked the flowers on the crabapple tree next to the deck.  Peppie, the West’s Springer, was splashing about in an irrigation ditch and a meadowlark sounded from the field behind the house.  The balmy air soothed and the four friends relaxed together while watching the little brown job’s, as Cliffson referred to them and “dickie” birds feeding at Gary’s bird feeder.  The tranquil moment came as a pleasant relief from the recent trials and the conversation quieted momentarily.

It was Gary who broke the silence.  “As a kid, did you ever imagine in your wildest dreams it would ever come to this?  It’s just all so crazy I can hardly get my mind around it.”

“I know,”  Cliffson answered.  “Each day I wake up and wonder if this is real.  In a way I have to convince myself all over again that it’s actually happening.”

“No one ever takes history serious,”  Gary added.  “But if you look at the things our nation has been doing”……….his voice trailed off………….. “well, I guess that only makes it more understandable, not anymore believable.”

Cliffson put his arms behind his head and leaned back in his chair.  “History gives us plenty of examples though.  And the crazy thing is, the elites don’t seem to get it, even though they’re ultimately the ones who flee, are killed or imprisoned.”

“Sociopaths never do,”  Gary said.   “Even a quick review of history reveals hundreds of stories about fiat currencies and run away government.  Man is just not capable of ruling himself.  Like Thomas Jefferson said, “Sometimes it is said that a man cannot be trusted with the government of himself.  Can he, therefore, be trusted with the government of others?”

“Ooohh, very scholarly of you Gary,”  Cliffson teased.  Ever hear of a guy named Prentis?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

“Very interesting man.  He talks about how great civilizations have risen from every corner of the globe—Spain, Britain, France, Egypt, India, China, and the Roman Empire.  Each rose to great stature, became powerful and then withered and decayed.  The cycle always repeats, which is exactly what makes it so hard to believe,”  Cliffson said.  “The evidence is clear and plainly presented, yet the same mistakes are repeated time and again.

“Now you can add the U.S. to that list,”  Gary noted.

Barb interrupted,  “Ok, so now that we’ve solved the world’s problems, what are we going to do about our own?”

“Party pooper Barb,”  Cliffson kidded.

“Yep.  We’d better enjoy this moment while we can.  I’m thinking it could be a while before we have time to do this again,”  Gary said.

“I think there’s something you aren’t telling us,”  Jean said.

Cliffson and Gary shared glancing looks before Gary continued.

“Monk stopped by while we were working on the pump. Through the “hams”, he heard the Chinese are removing their road blocks.  It won’t be long before the survivors fleeing Portland and Salem begin to show up.”

“Really?”  Barb asked.

“He says the Chinese have secured the ports and the infrastructure they want and there’s no longer any reason to blockade the cities,”  Gary said.

“So what’s our timeframe?”  Jean asked.

“Probably just a day or two,”  Cliffson said.

“The Chinese need their troops at the labor camps,”  Gary said.  “Monk thinks they’ve already pulled their troops from the passes and people will begin showing up almost immediately.”

“He told us something else that was very interesting and it’s one more reason they needed to pull their troops.  Apparently there are groups of armed citizens using guerrilla tactics to attack supply dumps, derail trains and ambush troops,”  Cliffson said.  “They attack at night, hit quickly and then melt away before an organized counter-attack can be formed.”

“Where’s this happening?”  Jean asked.

“Monk told us they controlled a section of highway 97 near LaPine for awhile.  The rest of it seems to be happening in and around Grants Pass, John Day and even some reports from Eddyville,”  Gary said.

Jean and Cliffson looked at each other and laughed.  “Guess we should have expected Eddyville to be on the list,”  Jean hooted.

Gary looked puzzled.  “Eddyville?”

Jean sang out, “Da da da, dum dum.  Remember the movie Deliverence?”

Gary groaned.

“Well, it’s great to hear, but I’m amazed anyone is fighting back after the murders, hangings and executions,”  Cliffson said.  I sure hope none of those guys ever get caught.”

“They’d probably be skinned alive,”  Gary said.

“Well I applaud their courage and maybe someday we’ll get our chance to help out,”  Cliffson said.

“Back to our world guys,”  Barb reminded.  “We’ve got a lot to do before those fleeing the cities show up on our side of the mountains and frankly I’m scared.”

“We’ll be all right Barb,”  Gary said.  “We just need to be smart about it.”

“Speaking of smart,”  Cliffson said.  “Isn’t it about time to listen for Monk’s radio check?  It’s about six o’clock, he should be calling soon, so let’s turn those things on.”

The men got out two sets of walkie-talkies.  Monk had a unit from each pair to see if he could connect with the West’s place from in town.  It was only a mile as the crow flies but there were a number of juniper trees between Monk’s place and the West’s.

Soon the radio cracked with Monk’s voice.  “Sounds pretty good,”  Gary said.  “How bout the other unit?”  There was a pause before the other radio sounded with Monk’s greeting and they knew one more issue was resolved.

Barb and Jean went inside to prepare a meal complete with fresh bread and fruit salad.  The Langs left soon after dinner to make it home by dark.  When they walked in, an excited Dustin and Kate met them at the door.  Monk had invited them over for dinner and a chance to learn more about the operation of his ham radio.  Dustin filled them in.

“Dad, the east coast is a disaster—it’s one giant war zone.  The dead aren’t buried, sewage is everywhere; disease is rampant and fires burn uncontrolled.  At least half the people in the big cities are already dead.  But that still leaves millions alive and each time the Chinese remove road blocks, the people pour out in waves.”

It was one last crushing blow strategically planned by the Chinese occupiers.  Citizens with fuel led the way, but like a ripple on a pond, those on foot followed in wave after wave.  As the people moved west from the east coast the Chinese would pull roadblocks from other cities causing the waves of people fleeing one city to crash upon those fleeing other cities.  The New York wave smashed into Pittsburg and Cleveland.  Detroit crashed into Chicago; St. Louis into Kansas City, and so on.

The effect was complete.  Those who had managed to survive the cities were now being slaughtered on the highways as wave after wave of terrified people collided with one another.  The highways were crammed with decaying bodies, abandoned vehicles and fly infested air.

The rural areas near the cities and major highways were being overrun.  Farms were swarmed over and families killed or run off.  Like a cloud of locusts, the hoard moved on devouring everything in its path.  Only after hundreds of miles did it begin to thin out.  Out of fuel, water and short on food, those who made it to the country were forced to stop.  The people of concrete and steel found themselves in the middle of forests, farms and dirt.  Lacking the skills needed to survive, it wouldn’t be long before the ugly specter took to feeding on itself.

The news left everyone on edge.  It was only a matter of time before waves of desperate people poured over the mountains into central Oregon.  The fuse had been lit and the west coast would soon detonate.  Though the ruthlessness of it appalled him, Cliffson had to admit the Chinese strategy was brilliant.

“At least we know Zach will be safe,”  Cliffson said to Jean.


Thomas rose with the first light of day and was greeted by a heavy dew and clingy chill.  He grunted a good morning to Roger, who handed him a hot cup of coffee and looked to the east for a rising sun that had yet to crest the mountain peaks.  The new day refreshed his fears and his concern for Mary took on new proportions when he began to contemplate the day’s arduous hike over the mountain.

Soon the others were up and attempting to work out the kinks from a night spent on the ground.  The group munched on apples and granola while Roger briefed everyone on the day’s plans.


As planned, Gary rolled in first thing in the morning in an old faded ‘69 Ford pickup.

Monk soon joined them.  “Gotta love those old rigs,”  He said admiringly.

“I never could part with this old beast.  It’s easy to work on and EMP’s won’t affect it.  I do miss my other truck but this old girl will get the job done.”  Gary let down the tailgate.  The three men had a lot of work ahead of them and were soon hard at it filling sandbags from the load Gary had purchased the day before.

It took them most of the morning, but eventually the sand was bagged and the three men split up the spoils.  The plan was to sandbag areas near windows and create other safe zones within their homes for protection in a gunfight.

The radios had fresh batteries and if someone got in trouble, they were to call the others for help.  Cliffson hoped it wouldn’t come to that but Monk said it was likely just a matter of time.


A weary Thomas wondered how a human being could cover the amount of ground Roger was asking them to hike.  Fortunately Mary seemed a little stronger after a night’s rest and the group eventually crested the mountains, though the trip was not without incident.

People had taken serious falls where the icy snowpack covered steep terrain.  They were getting banged up and one pack with food and water had been lost down the mountain.  But the part that frightened Thomas the most were the voices he’d heard on numerous occasions throughout the day.  Fearing it could be the band of murderers from the previous night, everyone remained motivated to keep moving.

Their descent of the east side of the mountains was treacherous, but not as difficult as the climb up the west side.  At the end of the day Thomas was sore and worn out.   Mary collapsed in her sleeping bag as soon as they stopped.  Thomas wondered how she’d made it.  She didn’t seem well and he hoped a night’s rest would rejuvenate her strength again.

Roger organized a guard schedule and took the first watch.  The trail they’d been following showed clear signs of use and he feared they could be set upon at any time.

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.”

CHAPTER   SEVENTEEN

 “It is not true that the function of law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents or our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any other person.

 Frederic Bastiat

A lazy curl of smoke was rising from the cabin’s metal chimney when Thomas stepped outside to take a seat on the front porch steps.  He was admiring white diamonds of dew glistening on the clover near the bottom of the steps and enjoying the aroma of his coffee mingled with the evergreen scented air.  A few feet away a grey squirrel chattered a warning from its fir tree perch when the deer returning from the nearby creek approached.  Though the moment was sweet, Thomas knew it couldn’t last and longed for the return of his old way of life.

Mary had settled down a bit after the two of them took stock of their provisions.  There was a small selection of canned goods in addition to the items Thomas had brought and the cabin was supplied with water from the creek, but half a tank of propane for cooking wasn’t going to last long.

They’d escaped the immediate danger, but it was clear they couldn’t stay for an extended period of time and Thomas didn’t know what else to do.  He was not a skilled outdoorsman and was reluctant to leave the perceived safety of the cabin.  Lost in thought, he was startled when Mary joined him on the steps, then he slipped his arm around her shoulders and offered to share his coffee.

“How are you this morning?” he asked.

“I’m fine.  I slept all right and feel better today.”  Her bleary eyed look told him otherwise.  “But I just can’t quit thinking of Davis and all that’s happened to us.  It happened so fast.”

Thomas had little to say.  There was nothing he could say.  They were entirely unprepared for the situation they found themselves in.  Then Mary saw the .22 rifle next to him.

“What are you doing with that?”  He followed her eyes and decided to lighten things up a bit.  In his best cowboy accent he replied, “Well, you see here mam, this here’s a .22 rifle and I was just a fixin’ to round us up a meal.  See that there squirrel in yonder tree, well it shore would make a right nice stew now, don’t you think?”

She couldn’t help but smile and gave him a hug, but her look told him that answer wouldn’t suffice.

Thomas clasped his hands and looked down for moment before speaking.  He didn’t want to alarm her.  Then picking up one of the boots he’d left on the steps the night before, he began digging rocks out of the sole with his pocket knife and turned to face her.

“Honey, I know you don’t like guns and I don’t care much for them myself, but Davis was comfortable shooting this thing.  It’s the only reason we have it.  He always kept it here at the cabin and last night I found it in the spare bedroom.  I don’t want you to be alarmed but it’s the only protection we’ve got.”

As much as she hated guns, Mary was forced to re-assess her position.  Living in the city was one thing, what was happening to them now was another entirely.   Deep inside, Mary was proud of her husband.  She knew he was completely out of his element, yet here he was, willing to do what he could to protect her.

“All right honey, but please be careful.”

The day passed quietly until mid afternoon when the sky darkened and peals of thunder rumbled down from the mountains to the east.  When a heavy rain began to fall Thomas dashed out back to bring in more fire wood stored under an old tarp.  Returning to the cabin with his arms full of wood he heard Mary scream.  Thomas dropped the firewood and rushed inside.

Perfectly outlined in the front doorway was a tall black man with a rifle in his hand.  Three or four more people stood behind him.  Each carried a weapon and wore wide brimmed hats atop raingear and leather boots.

Thomas pulled Mary behind him before stepping across the room and approaching the group.  “What is it you want?”

“Pardon us sir, for frightening your wife.   We’ve been hiking all day and have no place to take shelter from the rain.  If you’d be kind enough to let us stay until the storm passes we would be most grateful.”

Thomas turned to Mary and the fear in her eyes told him no.  He was about to say something when her expression changed and a new strength seemed to take hold of her.  Under the drooping, rain soaked brim of a dark hat, Mary had seen the face of a woman.  Thinking of all she had just been through, Mary knew she couldn’t leave her out in the storm.

“Thomas, please ask them to come in.”

Thomas turned back to the group and abruptly felt foolish for leaving them standing outside in the rain.  “Please come in.  There’s a place to hang your wet things on the wall here and more room over there beside the wood stove.”

“Thank you.  Thank you so much sir.  My name’s Roger.”  Roger’s calloused hand engulfed Thomas supple palm and the two men shook hands.  “This is my wife Joan and my son Jeff.  And these are two neighbors, Marty and Susan.”

“We can’t thank you enough,”  Marty said.

“Yes.  We’re so very thankful,”  Susan added with emphasis.

“Where are you coming from?”  Thomas asked.

“Salem.  It’s a nightmare and we were fortunate to escape.  The roads are jammed and there’s fighting everywhere.  Much of the city’s on fire and armed gangs control the streets.  We had no time for gas and drove until our car died last night.  We’ve been walking ever since.”

“We left yesterday too.”  Thomas stoked the fire in an effort to help their rain drenched company shake off the chill and shared their own horrific story of escaping town.

Mary and Joan immediately took to one another and moved to the kitchen to prepare a meal of canned beans and peaches.  At the dinner table each of them shared what news and information they could and the strangers grew more comfortable with one another.

“You’re welcome to stay with us,”  Thomas offered.

“I appreciate your offer, but I’m afraid we’ve got to be moving along at first light,”  Roger replied.  “And you’d be wise to do the same.”

It was the very issue Thomas had been struggling with.  It seemed safe here and they had nowhere else to go.  “Why keep moving?  Where would you go?”

Roger looked up after finishing dinner with a large spoonful of peaches, white teeth gleaming against his dark skin.

“Folks, it’s like this.  The city’s a waste land.  There’s nothing to go back to and we’re on the leading edge of a vast wave of people attempting to flee over the mountains.  If we stay here we’ll eventually be caught up in a fight against a group larger and better armed than we are.  Even if we don’t, there aren’t enough supplies to last through the summer, let alone the winter.  Our only real chance lies in the rural country east of the mountains.”

The room fell silent after Rogers’s declaration and Thomas didn’t know what to say.  When the silence grew uncomfortable, Roger spoke again.

“You folks are welcome to join us if you like, but you’ll need to bring your own food and supplies.  We leave at day break and we don’t wait for anyone.”

“I just don’t know, Roger.  It seems safe enough here and what about the road block in the mountain pass?”  Thomas asked.

“I’ve hiked these woods all my life and know trails that will keep us away from most people, including the Chinese, if necessary.  Thomas, I’m not going to try to convince you.  This isn’t going to be an easy trip and you need to do what you think is best for you and your wife.  Tough decisions are being forced on all of us.  We’ve made ours and it’s up to you to make yours.  We appreciate the food and shelter you’ve provided tonight and thank you again for not turning us away.”

Roger got up from the table and walked to the front door, dropping his tableware in the garbage on the way.

Thomas followed him.  “Let Mary and I talk it over and I’ll let you know.”

“Certainly.”

Later on, after a long discussion that lasted well into the evening, it was decided they would join with Roger’s group and leave in the morning.  Mary wanted to stay, but Thomas had begun to see leaving as their only hope.  They didn’t have the supplies required for an extended stay at the cabin and Roger knew his way over the mountains.  It was an opportunity they couldn’t turn down.  Mary clung to the hope things would get better and after a short stay at the cabin they’d be able to return home.  Thomas reminded her if things got better they could return home no matter which side of the mountains they were on.  He knew she felt like she was leaving Davis behind.

They spent the evening packing a small travel bag and one old backpack they found in the closet where Davis kept a few things.  Thomas also chose to bring their .22 rifle.


Like a slow moving cold front a weighty gloom settled over the Lang household.  Despair over the loss of Zach and the widow Smith served up a sour bowl of reality.  Cliffson felt the seeds of anger awakening inside him when he rose early the next morning to help Monk remove Rose’s body from the fence.

The scene at the fence was grisly and the two men struggled with their emotions while cutting Rose loose.  After gently wrapping her in a sheet, the men carried the body to Monk’s house.  The frail little woman weighed hardly a thing and both men found themselves in tears over what had been done to her.

Monk knew a local pastor and both men went to meet with him.  It took a while to make the arrangements, but with the aid of Monk’s pastor they finally secured use of the Catholic Church a few blocks away, with proper compensation of course.  The widow Smith was not a Catholic and Monk said she’d never let him off the hook for doing such a thing, but the church was close by and would have to do.

The bigger question of where to bury her was resolved by the Wests.  Without local authorities to interfere, the West’s offer of a final resting place on their twenty acres was the perfect answer.

Monk fell quiet during their walk back from the church.  Cliffson knew he was chewing on a weighty matter and allowed the silence to prevail for awhile longer before asking,  “What’s going on Monk, you know you can shoot straight with me.”

Monk glanced at Cliffson before returning his gaze to the ground.  “How is it I can kill someone and feel less remorse than I do right now?”  The words tumbled out and Cliffson let him go on.  “Does it make me a bad person Cliffson?  In my own way I loved Rose.  Now she’s gone—happens to everyone I get close to.”

“Monk I have a feeling this gets into that part of your past you’ve been unwilling to share.”

Monk heaved a heavy sigh.  “Yes my friend, you’d be right about that, but now’s not the time.”

“Well then don’t be so hard on yourself.  None of us are perfect.  Kinda what makes God’s grace so special isn’t it?”  Cliffson rest his hand on Monk’s shoulder.

“Of course you’re right, but I feel like a piece of me’s been taken away with Rose.”

“I miss her too, Monk, but I know your relationship with her was special.  Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

The two walked on in silence until they turned the corner and saw the house.  A flatbed truck was parked out front and Dustin was assisting two other men in removing the bodies.

“What’s going on, Dust?”  Cliffson asked.

“A mass grave is being prepared in a field north of here.  These men are collecting the bodies.”

“Thanks for helping Dustin, but you don’t need to deal with this.  Head on inside if you like.”  After helping them load the last few bodies, Monk and Cliffson thanked the men and went inside to wash up.

Later in the afternoon the Wests came by and the group’s discussion from the previous day resumed.   Gary surprised Jean with some fresh hamburger.

“Where in the world did you come up with that?”

“The neighbors are still running a generator to power their freezer.  We did a little trading.”  Gary smiled.

Jean prepared the patties and then stepped outside to barbeque the hamburgers. She was having a hard time thinking about anything other than her son and the barbeque allowed her to get away from everyone for awhile.

“Jean, I know how you’re feeling.”  Monk had slipped away from the group to visit with her outside.  “I can’t say don’t worry, because I know you will anyway, but no one’s forgotten about Zach.”

“I know Monk.  It’s just that I’m having trouble even getting through the day.  What will they do with him?”

“I think he’ll be all right for a while.”

Jean’s puzzled look asked him to continue.

“I believe he’ll be used for labor, along with the other young men they’ve rounded up.  It’s our job to stay alive long enough to find a way to rescue him.”  Monk put a hand on her shoulder.  “Cliffson hasn’t said much because he doesn’t want to get your hopes up, but we’ve talked.  Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, we’ll get our chance to bring him home.”

Jean reached for his hand and turned from the barbeque to face him.  “Thank you Monk.  I hope you know how much we appreciate you.”

“Ah missy, ‘tis I that is thankful for you and Cliffson.”  Monk winked and squeezed her hand.

Back in the kitchen the group’s discussion shifted from immediate needs to the requirements for long term survival and it was clear Dustin and Kate were a little slower to see the big picture.  The young couple still clung to the hope things would return to normal, despite the fact the power had gone off and remained off.  Cell communication was out, as was the internet, and it was beginning to look as if it would be permanent.  As Monk put it, “nerds” no longer ruled.

“You really don’t think things are gonna stay this way do you?”  Kate asked.

“I’m afraid they will Kate, this is”…

“But my parents need to know I’m all right,”  Kate interrupted Cliffson.   “I was hoping to find a car and drive down to see them.”

“I think you know that’s not safe Kate.  I’m sorry, but the best we can do is hope for the phones to come back on line.”  It hurt Cliffson to say it because he could see the pool of tears forming in her eyes.

Dustin held her close and glanced over Kate’s shoulder to Cliffson while recalling the discussion they’d had assessing the odds of Kate’s parents being alive.  Based on Monk’s “ham” reports, Los Angeles, where Kate’s parents lived, would be unrecognizable.  Not wanting to upset Kate, Dustin had kept it to himself.

The nation’s young people had never known a world void of electronic gadgetry and found themselves entirely out of their element.  Unable to plug into the web’s social network, no TV, no phone and no music in their earplugs, they were lost.  Untested in a world beginning to resemble the forties and fifties, the same world their parents had grown up in, many wondered how their parents had made it.

Still, Cliffson gave Dustin and Kate credit for not being afraid to get their hands dirty and was proud of them for embracing the changes the best they could.   An afternoon spent with the West’s making cheese had opened the door to a world unknown to them and the two thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Cliffson got a kick out of the story Gary told him about them not being quite as enthusiastic when asked if they wanted to shovel manure from the stalls.

The group’s discussion continued.  Stores of food were in place and the city was still supplying water a few hours each day, though they knew that was only going to last as long as the fuel for its generators.

The greater problem was the end of deliveries of food and fuel.  Truck drivers feared being mobbed or hi-jacked and weren’t willing to risk their lives to be paid in a worthless currency.  It wouldn’t be long before the unprepared began to starve.  Then the Zombies would finally wake up to the fact meat doesn’t grow in the meat department and the grocery store shelves don’t just poop out a fresh loaf of bread each morning.

“Time for a break guys.” Jean and Monk returned with the burgers and the group sat down to eat.

Cliffson took a bite and regarded Monk for a long moment.  “With the power out, I’m thinking we should dig some root cellars.  What do you think Monk?”

“I think it would be wise.  The Chinese seem to be settling in to stay for awhile.  Power could be out a long time.”

“The ‘Greenies’ should be happy,” Gary said.  “No more threat of global warming, but wait until they see the impact of folks living off the land.”

Dustin gave him a dirty look.  “I still don’t get turning off the power and locking people into the cities.”

Monk looked to Cliffson whose mouth was full and nodded his head for Monk to continue.  “Outside of the vital infrastructure needed for their own purposes, the Chinese aren’t going to provide services to anyone.  You see Dustin, the Chinese knew that by shutting off the power the cities would self-destruct.  There’d be no need to support the people or send in troops to occupy America’s cities, thus saving them untold expenses, supplies and the potential loss of soldiers.  The few people who survive will be at the mercy of dog packs, disease and the whims of nature. Not to mention one another.”

Dustin was shaking his head.  “Seems kinda harsh,” he mumbled.

“Don’t forget son, our nation defaulted on its loans,”  Cliffson said.  “In some ways it could actually be worse.”

“Your Dad’s right Dustin.”  Monk picked up where he’d left off.  “All of this has been very well coordinated.  Before the cities burned, the Chinese moved in and took away the young men.  Any resistance was met with fierce reprisal.  In Vietnam, the Viet Cong used to round up the first five men they found in a village and shoot them.  It always ensured complete cooperation.  Fear controls people better than any army can, and I think you understand that very well after what you witnessed upon returning to Redmond.”

Cliffson picked up the conversation when Monk bit into his burger.  “The other half of their plan’s pretty straightforward.  The U.S. is going to be used as one gigantic mine.  We believe the Chinese will extract food and resources until they’ve recouped an amount equal in value to that which the U.S. defaulted on, plus an additional amount to cover their costs.”

“You really believe that?  They could be here for years.”  Dustin’s burger had come with a side dish of reality.

Monk rejoined the conversation.  “The “hams” have confirmed Chinese activity in and around all major resource locations across the nation.  It’s no surprise really.”

“Tell him the rest,”  Cliffson said.

“Invading armies have always enslaved the citizens of conquered nations and taken their resources.  The Romans did it, the Indians did it, Hitler did it and Asians have always done it.  The young men from local communities are being used as a labor force to produce crops, harvest timber and work the mines and oil fields.  These are the only U.S. citizens that will be provided for.  It’s really nothing new.  So long as their extraction process is not interfered with, the locals can all go to hell as far as the Chinese are concerned.  America is about to be mined, gutted and thrown on history’s trash heap.  Just like its currency.”

Monk stood and headed back to the kitchen.  “And with that, I’ll step down from my soap box, but I have to admit, their plan has worked brilliantly.”

The looks on Kate and Dustin’s faces were palpable.  Privately Monk and Cliffson had agreed to let the youngsters slowly figure things out on their own, but the day’s meeting had fairly well dumped the entire load on them.

When Kate realized what had likely happened to her parents, she excused herself left the room in tears.  Dustin let her go long enough to ask another question.  “So Zach will be fed and kept alive?”

“Yes Dustin, that seems likely, but it also means you could be taken at any time.”  Cliffson felt bad for him.  The news wasn’t getting any better.  “You’ll need to keep your head down for a while son.”

Gary spoke up after Dustin left the room.  “So you think there’s a chance our kids were also taken by the Chinese?”

“Most definitely,”  Monk said, returning from the kitchen.  “I know it’s tough for you and Barb not knowing, but I would say the odds favor them being in Chinese labor camps.”

After being quiet for much of the day Barb seemed to come to life a bit.  “At least there’s still hope.”

“We can’t ever give up hope, Barb.  Not for your kids, for Zach, or for ourselves.”  Cliffson’s look was distant, but his words were sincere.

“Monk, what do you suppose happened to the president?”  Gary asked.  “He hasn’t been seen or heard from since the appearance he made at the beginning of the occupation.”

“Executed possibly, but I’m willing to bet he cut some kind of a deal.”

Cliffson leaned in to rejoin the conversation.  “What kind of deal?”

“I’m thinking he turned over military secrets in exchange for his safe exile to another country,” Monk stated.

“Siberia maybe?”  Gary hoped. “That sucker!”

“I hear ya Gary.  Who can respect the people in charge of leading you down a road of destruction?”  Monk said.

“Real leadership died with the birth of political correctness guys,”  Cliffson added in disgust.

“How do you figure?”  Barb asked.

“By definition a leader exhibits strong individualism.  It’s how they’re distinguished from the crowd.  Strong individuals are the direct opposite of political correctness because political correctness attempts to make everyone the same.  It doesn’t allow a person to stand out.  A strong leader violates these principles and is soon rejected for being hateful, bigoted, homophobe and anything else you can make up. You know the list.”

“I agree,”  Monk interjected.  “Political correctness and leadership are mutually exclusive concepts, yet people wonder where all the leaders have gone.  They don’t realize they’ve rejected the real leaders.”

“Unfortunately dictators fit the political correct model perfectly,”  Cliffson groaned.

“Sorry to interrupt, but we need to get back on task everyone.”  Jean had taken a seat in the living room with pen and paper.  “Our immediate concern is what happens when the Chinese remove their blockades in the mountain passes.”

Monk agreed.  “I expect a wave of people to come crashing over us like a giant tsunami.  They’ll be hungry and desperate, and not afraid to kill if that’s what they think is necessary.”

“Even the Zombies will begin waking up then,”  Cliffson added.

“You’re right Cliffson, things are going to get ugly long before a new day comes dressed in a pretty spring dress.”  Monk searched each face with a solitary eye knowing that coupled with his screwed up face he could always bring a chuckle.

His look had the desired effect and everyone lightened up a bit.  On that note the group decided to call it a night and headed outside to see off the Wests.

There are times when the night sky is beyond words.  Radiant stars gleam against a dark velvet background, making the sky feel close enough to touch and impossibly distant in the same instant.  This was the sky that greeted Cliffson and the rest of the group, as each of them headed home for the evening.

I hope this finds you well and looking forward to another chapter of my book.  Have a good week folks.

CHAPTER  SIXTEEN

 “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.”

 Otto von Bismarck

 The stress of the day’s events had taken their toll on Thomas.  Somehow he’d managed to find a way out of town and was just now turning onto the dirt road that would take them the last few miles to the cabin.  The calm of the forest was a soothing balm for his frayed nerves, but did little to quiet the roar of his thoughts and he couldn’t get the image of the head staring back at him from atop the Rover’s hood, out of his mind.  Thankfully, Mary was still asleep.  He reached over to grasp her hand and hoped a good night’s rest would help.

His first sight of the cabin brought a flood of emotions.  It looked the same as it had when the family was there for a week the previous summer, but had an empty and forlorn air to it now.  Thomas couldn’t help but think of the time spent here with his son and the memory stabbed at his conscience.

After helping Mary inside and stowing the supplies, Thomas used the remaining light to have a look around.  Finding nothing out of place he took a seat on the front porch steps and listened to the pines whispering in the breeze.

I need to take stock of our supplies.  Lynching’s?  I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  What could have happened to Davis?  Poor Mary.  How did it come to this?  His mind struggled to take it all in.

There was the decision to leave the Mercedes outside instead of storing it in the garage.  He would never have done that before—and the decision to drive through the crowd, running people over if necessary.  It seemed as though there was a part of him rising up inside he’d never met before. Until now he wouldn’t have believed he was capable of running over someone.  I’m a civilized college professor who teaches tolerance and acceptance.  I don’t conduct myself in the same way as the unwashed masses.  Am I being forced to change?  No, a man always has a choice.  So what is this other side of me I’ve never seen before?


At the front door Cliffson kissed Jean good bye.  Then turning to Zach, put a hand on each shoulder and held him at arm’s length.

“Zach.  Sorry to leave the moment you get home, but I need you to keep an eye on the place and keep your mom safe while I’m gone.”

“I will Dad.”

“Watch yourself when you go outside.  Be prepared for anything.  People are short of food, fuel and money and will do anything to get them.  And the people that made it over the mountains before the passes were closed may begin showing up soon too, so keep a weapon with you at all times,” Cliffson said.

“We’ll be fine. You can trust me Dad,”  Zach said.  “Just bring Dustin home safe.”

“We will. I just hate leaving you and your mother here alone.”  Cliffson hugged his son and turned back to Jean.  “I wish we could have gotten away a little quicker, but we should be home late tomorrow.  It’s gonna be all right.”  He gave her another hug and turned to go.

Monk was waiting in the driveway with his late model Ford pickup.  He’d just returned from Gary’s to fill the tanks with diesel.  Cliffson put his bag in the back and climbed in the cab.

“Monk, I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you or Gary for this,”  Cliffson said.

“Hey, what do you think friends are for?”

“I know, I know,” Cliffson said as they backed out of the driveway.  “But it’s asking a lot and you could be putting your life in danger.”

Monk took a slurp of coffee.  “Times are changing mate.  Ain’t no one gonna be lounging in no easy chair anymore.”

It was becoming more dangerous to be out at night so when the road topped Juniper Butte, the men were relieved to see few headlights stabbing at the dark.  Monk fired up his CD player with Black Oak Arkansas’ “Jim Dandy to the Rescue,” and with a smile turned to Cliffson, whose own look caused Monk to reach back and turn it off.

With that, Monk pulled out his cell phone and teased Cliffson.  “I know you gave your boy my phone number so ya better be figurin’ out how to use that thing.”

“Some relic from the downfall of our society?”  Cliffson replied snidely.

“No, that would be paper money,”  Monk parried.

“How do you turn it on?”

“Green button, right in the middle.”

Cliffson was shining a small flashlight on the phone.  “All right, I found it.”

“You heard anything more about what’s happening on the west side of the mountains?”  Cliffson snapped the phone shut and leaned back in his seat.  “Those poor people; it sounds like civil war over there from the little I’ve heard.”

“Yes sirree Bob.  The crush of people attempting to flee the city collided against the mountains like a massive tidal wave and then fell back on the waves that followed.” Monk smacked his hands together.  “Lot of folks ain’t gonna be around to greet tomorrow’s rising sun.”

A gloomy spirit was plaguing Cliffson’s thoughts.  “With the cities going up in flames or torn up by mobs, there’s not going to be much left of the world we knew Monk.”

“I’m afraid you’re right about that.  You know how lucky your son was to escape?” Monk asked.

“That’s not something I’ve wanted to think about.  And I still don’t understand the Chinese motives for doing it.”  Cliffson shook his head.

“You’re asking me to think Chinese and I don’t even speak it,”  Monk chuckled.

Cliffson eyed him closely.  “Those folks want their money and I don’t blame them for that, but I can’t get my head around what they’re up to.  You think we’re going to see more incidents like what happened in Bend?”

“You mean the executions?” Monk asked.

“Yep.”

“People are getting desperate, but the Chinese don’t care and won’t tolerate anyone stealing their food and supplies.”

“Not the time to be leaving Jean and Zach home alone.  I don’t like it Monk.”

Monk nodded in agreement.  “But right now your other son needs help, Cliffson, and that’s just what we’re going to do.”

The two and a half hour trip through the rural farm and rangeland of north central Oregon was uneventful.  Cliffson settled back and dozed on and off, while wondering if he was up for what lay ahead of them.  He’d never done anything like this and questioned how he would react.  A person likes to think he can do what’s required of him when the time comes, he thought, but how can you really know?

Monk was piloting the truck across the Columbia River Bridge at Biggs, when a drunk stumbled into the middle of the road and confronted them with a pistol.  The shots missed and Monk slammed the pedal to the floor, directing the turbo charged truck straight at the man.  For a moment the drunk was frozen in his tracks and Cliffson was sure Monk would run him over, but at the last minute the guy fell to his side and Monk veered just enough to avoid him.

On the other side of the bridge Cliffson was just getting his breath back.  “You could have killed him Monk.”

“Settle down Cliffson.  You don’t seem to grasp how things have changed and if you want to see that son of yours home safely you’d better start figuring that out.”

“But would you really have run him down?”

“Cliffson, he shot at us with the intent to kill, and yes, I would have run over him given no other choice.”

Monk’s calm demeanor annoyed Cliffson.  How did he adjust, or adapt, so quickly?

On the other side of the river the focus quickly turned to Dustin and again Cliffson questioned if he had the requisite courage for the job.  His 40 cal. Glock and .223 rifle weren’t as comforting as he thought they’d be.  Monk had also fallen quiet, but Cliffson knew that for him there would be no questioning and the silence was nothing more than Monk clearing his mind of everything but the job at hand.  It wouldn’t be long now.

When they passed mile post 23, Cliffson felt his hands get sweaty and began to fidget in his seat.  Near mile post 24 a pair of eyes stared out at him from the brush.  It was only a deer but it keyed him up all the same.

Monk sat in the glow of the dashboard lights and seemed quite at ease, though he remained quiet.  When they passed mile post 26 he looked at Cliffson and winked.  “It’ll be all right big guy.  Take a few breaths to settle your nerves and just follow me when we get there.”

Mile post 27 came and went.  Cliffson looked over at Monk who kept on driving.  A little further and Monk pulled the truck off the road and doused the lights.  After retrieving their gear from the back of the truck, the two men climbed the roadside bank and began walking back towards the gravel pit while Monk explained he wasn’t going to stop there without knowing what might be waiting for them.  A shallow moon provided just enough moonlight to allow them to see where they were going.

Cliffson watched his breath rise up in the cool night air.  He was breathing harder than he should be.  The smell of burnt rubber and metal from Dustin’s burned out car assaulted his senses and he knew the gravel pit was nearby.  Looking down from the edge of the pit they could see the outline of the van but saw no sign of human activity and continued around the rim, searching for the trail Dustin had told them about.

Sagebrush obscured the rarely used trail.  In the dark the men missed it and had to backtrack to find it.  A cold trickle of sweat was seeping down Cliffson’s neck.  Where was Dustin?  Their attempts to contact his cell phone had gone unanswered.

It was slow going and Cliffson was wondering how much further when Monk brought them to a halt at the edge of a rim where the trail dropped into a slight valley.

“Where could Dustin be?” Cliffson whispered.

“Obviously he’s not here to meet us so we’re gonna have to assume something’s happened.”

Cliffson shuddered.  “I have to get my son back, Monk, let’s go.”

“Now hold on, we can’t be goin’ off half cocked.  Let’s watch this cabin for a moment.”

Cliffson was dying inside, but he knew Monk was right.  They took seats at the canyon’s edge and watched the cabin disappear in the dark whenever a cloud passed in front of the thin moon and then reappear afterwards.

“We need to draw them out and separate em.”  Monk spoke softly, as if talking to himself and Cliffson knew he was preparing to go.

They descended the trail slowly, stopping to listen from time to time.  The cabin remained dark and the only sound Cliffson could hear was the blood pounding in his head.

Fifty yards from the cabin they separated.  Cliffson swung wide, to cover the left side of the cabin.  Monk belly crawled to a position near the front door and burrowed into the ground behind low sagebrush.

Nerves shook Cliffson’s hands like a strung out stranger and tall sagebrush scratched at his face as he padded over sandy soil and crept near the cabin.

There was no sign of activity from within the cabin and when the night grew still Cliffson knew it was his turn to act.  His thundering heart threatened to leap from his chest when he ran to the left corner the cabin.  From there he could view the front door and along the wall to his left, leading to the back of the cabin.  After pausing for a moment to collect himself, he stepped away from the side of the building and heaved a heavy stone at the front door.

The crash it made splintered the night and he swiftly dashed back to the corner of the cabin, banging against it hard in the dark.   Cliffson heard the clump of boots moving inside.  Then a lantern came on in the front of the cabin and the front door opened a crack.  Come on, Cliffson thought, you need to step outside.

Seeing no one, the little guy stepped out onto the porch, perfectly silhouetted by the yellow light from inside the cabin.  He held a pistol and a flashlight clamped between both hands, and swept them back and forth, stabbing into the dark.

Cliffson stepped behind the corner of the building to avoid being seen.  A few seconds later he heard the crack of Monk’s crossbow.  The pistol and flashlight fell to the ground, followed by a bubbly, gurgling wheeze.  The little guy grasped at his neck, twisting and turning before pitching forward into the dirt.

Moving from behind the corner of the building to approach the front door, Cliffson was nearly knocked to the ground when the thin wall of the cabin exploded in front of him.  He dove for the dirt and a second shot exploded immediately above him.  Then another shotgun blast tore through the wall slightly ahead of him.  So much for drawing both men outside.  Yet another blast tore through the wall and Cliffson burrowed into the ground.  Enough!

Moments later the big man came out the front door holding Dustin for a shield in front of him and a shotgun in his right hand.

“Step out where I can see you before I take his head off,” he bellowed.  Cliffson knew once he exposed himself he was likely dead.  Where was Monk?

“I’m counting to three.  If you don’t show yourself by then college boy gets it”,  he snarled.

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

“I’m right here.”  The calmness of his own voice surprised Cliffson.

“Throw down your gun and step out where I can see you.”

Cliffson shuffled little by little to his right, buying as much time as possible.  With his hands raised he stepped into the yellow light cascading from the cabin.

“Drop the gun,” the big man demanded.

“Let my son go, and I’ll do as you ask.”

“Like hell!  You’re in no position to bargain.”  His throaty growl rattled the wood sided cabin.

“Let my son go.”

“How touching.  Daddy’s come for college boy.  What do you think sonny, you’ve seen what I’m capable of, think the old man’s up to it?”

Dustin remained silent.

“All right chickenshit,”  Cliffson bellowed and threw his gun to the ground.  “Drop your gun.  Just you and me fat man.”

The valley shook with the big man’s laughter.

“Sounds like fun, but first I take care of your little boy.”  He raised the shotgun and Cliffson’s voice filled the valley.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”

Dustin fell away from the big man who unexpectedly dropped his gun and clutched at his right knee.  Sticking out from the back of it was another of Monk’s arrows.  Then Dustin was on him with a sweeping soccer kick to the groin.  For a moment nothing happened as the big man stiffened, before grabbing his heritage with one hand and landing a massive blow with the other that sent Dustin sprawling.

Cliffson landed a round house right, square on the big man’s nose—like dad had always said—it staggered the man but he still didn’t go down.  Instead, the big man grinned a wicked smile and reached behind his back to withdraw a massive, curved knife.  The blade gleamed even in the cabins tallow light.

Cliffson jumped back, then heard a dull ring and saw the big man fall to his knees before sprawling on his face at Cliffson’s feet.  A smiling Monk appeared in the doorway, iron skillet in hand.

Dustin was back on his feet, unsteady as they were, moving towards the door.  His left eye was already swollen shut and blood was leaking from his nose.  He moved past Monk to lead them both inside.  Cliffson grabbed the blade from the big man’s meaty palm and followed.

Dustin led them over creaking wood floors to a damp and musty smelling back room.  Judging by the holes in the wall, Cliffson knew this was the room the shots had been fired from.

A candle dimly smoldered in the corner next to a wooden chair where the girl was tied.  Her eyes flew to the knife Cliffson was carrying and she struggled to free herself.  Dustin knelt beside her and tried to explain she was safe but she shrieked against the gag in her mouth and fought all the more.

Then Dustin reached for her shoulders and held her firmly. “You remember me—from the diner—and then on the road?  My name’s Dustin.”

A sudden look of recognition swept across her face and Dustin removed the gag from her mouth.  “Please get me out of here, get me out of here now,” she cried.

Dustin used the knife to cut the rope that bound her to the chair.  When he stood and gave the knife back to Cliffson, the girl buried her face in his neck.  She was tall and her long raven hair cascade across his face and shoulders.  Hesitantly, he put his arms around her while sobs of relief broke free and racked her body.

When the tears subsided Dustin let go and stepped to the side.  She immediately moved back against him, snaking an arm around his waist and rest her head on his shoulder.  Then, wiping away tears and replaced strands of stray hair, a small, almost embarrassed smile broke across her face.  “Hi.  My name’s Kate,” she sniffed.  “Sorry, sorry for the scene, it’s just…”

“It’s all right,” Cliffson said. “You’re safe now.”

Kate looked up at Dustin.  “I can’t believe you came back.”  She buried her head in his chest again and he squeezed her just a little with the arm he held around her waist.  “I’d lost hope of anyone coming to help me.”  The tears came again.

“But I didn’t really do anything,” Dustin said.  “I followed you here but they caught me.  I was tied up and gagged out there in the other room and didn’t get free until that monster took me outside.  Dad and Monk did everything.”

“Are you hurt anywhere, did they….” She interrupted Cliffson, “No they never touched me.  The little guy wanted to, but the big man wouldn’t let him, saying something about getting more money for clean merchandise.  They were headed for California and I think they intended to sell me to someone in the sex trade industry.”  She broke into tears again and turned to the shelter of Dustin’s arms.

“Well, who’s ready to get out of this place?”  Everyone turned to look at Monk and then broke out in laughter.  Monk was standing in the doorway, still holding the iron skillet.

“Gonna make us some breakfast, Gunnhildr?” Cliffson asked, and that brought even greater peals of laughter, allowing the tension of the moment to melt away.

Dustin looked at Kate. “Are you ready to go?”

“I’ve been ready from the moment you walked in here,” she said.  The only person in the room to miss the twinkle in her eye was Dustin.

Monk led the way out but abruptly stopped at the front door.  The big man was gone.

“He can’t have gone far,”  Cliffson said.

Monk immediately took to the trail. “Let’s go.”

They moved as quickly as they dared, but like a wounded bear, feared the big man could be lying in wait.  After gaining the rim at the edge of the valley Monk’s flashlight began picking up signs the big man had used the trail.  He was dragging his wounded leg and digging a noticeable ditch in the dirt with his boot.  Occasionally they found spots of blood.

Holding up his hand, Monk stopped.  “Hear that?” Everyone listened.

“I thought I heard a car door slam.”

Well, we know it ain’t Dustin’s.  Cliffson’s thought.

Sounds of the Volkswagen coming to life resonated in the dark and the group gave chase.  By the time they got to the road the van was gone, though the echo of its retreating engine came back from the forest.

Still, Dustin and Kate were safe and for the moment that was all that mattered.  Monk led the way to his pickup and the rest of the group followed.

Dustin got in back of the king cab and slid to the side giving Kate plenty of room, but she slid close and put her head on his shoulder.

Cliffson climbed into the passenger seat and looked up at Monk just in time to see him wink that crazy one eyed wink.

“So Monk, why didn’t you take the guy out?”  Cliffson asked after they were underway.

“There was no back door and I could only see part of him through the window.  I had to stand on a rickety old chair to take my shot through the window.”  Monk reached for a thermos of bad coffee in preparation for the drive home.

“Old buddy, you amaze me sometimes.”  Cliffson smiled.

“Wasn’t that hard a shot.”

Cliffson chuckled.  “That wasn’t what I was thinking.  Picturing an old boy like you climbing through that window brings quite a sight to mind.”

“You best be glad I could old man,”  Monk quipped.

The sun was burning the wrapper off a new day when they approached the Columbia River.  Looking in his rear view mirror Monk saw Kate and Dustin snuggled together, both fast asleep.  Crossing over the bridge Monk woke them up. “Anyone back there hungry?”

Kate mumbled something about coffee and burrowed a little deeper into Dustin’s chest, but Dustin was hungry. “Biscuits and gravy, right old man?”

Cliffson turned to have a look at him.  “And maybe a rib eye steak for that eye of yours.  Didn’t anyone teach you to duck?”

“No,” Dustin responded. “I was only taught to hit the guy in the nose.”

Cliffson chuckled. “But that wasn’t his nose you hit, was it?”

Monk pulled into the parking lot of an empty truck stop hoping the diner would be open.  Everyone climbed out and made their way to the front door which Dustin found unlocked.

It was dark inside and Cliffson rang the silver bell on the counter while the others took seats at a table in the corner where they could monitor the parking lot and front door at the same time.

A short little man with black hair in a greasy crew cut appeared from the back room.  “Can I help you folks?”

“You sure can.  Menu’s and lots of coffee for starters, oh, and some ice in a plastic bag if you have it please,”  Cliffson replied.

“Be right with you.  My waitress hasn’t shown up just yet so please be patient.”

“No problem,”  Cliffson said.

The café lights came on and Cliffson asked how the man had power.

“The Chinese and some of their truckers come through here real regular.  They promise to supply me with fuel for my generators as long as I remain open.”

Cliffson thought that sounded kind of strange, but did anything make sense these days?  He walked back along a blue counter lined with stools covered in red vinyl to join the others.  After rejoining the group Monk asked, “What’s up with your leg mate?  When you were standing at the counter I could see a stain on the back of your thigh, you all right?”

“Um hm.  I think I caught a pellet or two when those shotgun blasts came through the wall, but I’m all right.”

“Danged if you ain’t the most buggered up sumbitch I ever did know.” Monk kidded.

Cliffson smiled.  “I’ll be fine, I got my son back and that’s all that matters.”

The biscuits and gravy were good enough, and once the waitress showed up, the coffee flowed freely.  Kate had a waffle and shared some bacon with Dustin while he filled them in about escaping from Seattle.  Kate explained how the two men had grabbed her at a gas station in Seattle when the entire city was in a crazy rush to leave.

Then it dawned on Cliffson he hadn’t called Jean so he asked Dustin to call and surprise her.

Kate mentioned she’d also like to call her parents in Los Angeles.

Dustin punched up the number in his cell phone, but there was no connection.  He tried again and got the same result.  Worried glances were exchanged around the table and they quickly paid their bill and got a new bag of ice for Dustin’s black eye.  Upon leaving the diner, two truck drivers walked in the door talking about how they were glad they had CB’s because the entire cell system was down.

A sour feeling filled Cliffson’s gut and it wasn’t the biscuits and gravy talking.  It was the same feeling of dread he’d gotten when Dustin called to ask for help.

They quickly loaded up and headed toward home.  Dustin sat behind Cliffson and Kate snuggled against him, applying ice to his swollen eye.  Monk happened to notice that in addition to the ice, a few gentle kisses were also being applied to Dustin’s eye and forehead for the benefit of their great healing value.  Dustin didn’t seem to mind.

Monk brought the truck up to speed.  Knowing Cliffson was worried about his family, Monk pushed their speed up to a steady 80 miles per hour.  Then he poured some more coffee and settled in for the ride home.

The trip home was uneventful, until the group arrived in Redmond.  Monk reached over to wake Cliffson who rubbed his eyes, unsure of what he was seeing.  No words were spoken as the horrific scene played out before them.

The streets were empty and the hushed air of a morgue lay heavy on the town.  Ragged bodies hung from street lights at nearly every intersection.  Strips of tattered clothing twisting in a light breeze, suggested a fight.  Everywhere the glassy, bulging eyes of the dead watched their passage—some with two eyes and some with one, the missing one having been carved away by the gathering ravens.   There were also bodies dangling from each side of the bridge over the dry canyon and blue lipped heads, spiked atop of each lamp post, maintaining a constant watch with dead flat eyes.

Tension poured from Cliffson’s grip on the door handle and flooded the cab of the truck.

Monk was speeding towards Cliffson’s house when Kate awoke and shrieked at the sight of what had just come into view.  More bodies, this time hanging limply from the fence in front of the Lang’s property.

Cliffson sprang from the truck and ran to the house.  The door was unlocked and he charged inside, but no one was home.  After searching the house Monk approached him and held out a note.  It was from Jean.  “I am at the West’s.  Please hurry.”

Monk drove them north, through the neighborhood, before taking a dirt road short cut to the West’s.  Along the way they passed two other fences with bodies tied to them.  Kate hid her face in Dustin’s chest.

“The bastards” Monk whispered.

“Monk?” Cliffson asked.  The question hung in the air like bad gas while Monk struggled with his answer.

“During World War II, the Japanese captured a number of Australian soldiers on one of the Pacific islands.   The prisoners were taken out to the beach, tied to palm trees and used for live bayonet practice.”

Cliffson groaned.

Monk flew up the West’s long gravel driveway so fast even “Rocky” the black bull looked startled.  Cliffson jumped from the truck before it could roll to a stop and raced for the front door, arriving just as it opened.

Gary greeted him with a forlorn look just before Jean rushed into his arms.   She was trying to be strong but the tears poured from her eyes and he barely understood her when she mumbled, “They’ve taken Zach.”

It was an unexpected sucker punch and Cliffson reached for the nearest chair.   Jean rushed to hug Dustin.  Then the entire group settled in the living room to bring one another up to speed.  Gary further darkened the somber mood when he revealed they had not heard from either of their own kids.  It was beginning to look as if they hadn’t made it across the mountains.

“Shortly after the mountain passes were closed, the Chinese swept through town rounding up all the young men.  It had to have happened right after Cliffson and Monk left town,”  Gary explained.  Those who resisted were either shot or hung.”

“You can control far more people with fear than you can with any army,”  Monk added.  “But why were some bayoneted?”

“No one knows for sure, but a lot of it happened near places where people resisted and Chinese soldiers were killed.   People were rounded up to be used as examples I guess,”   Gary replied.  “It’s why you see women, children and old men out there.  No one is to feel safe.”

Cliffson looked to Jean and shuddered at the thought of the bodies hanging on his fence at home.  “How did you escape?”

“It all happened so fast.  They grabbed Zach the moment he opened the door.  I tried to fight them but the men threw me down and held me at gun point.”  Jean couldn’t hold back the tears and had to stop. The rest of the group waited patiently until she could continue.

“There was a lot of shooting somewhere to the north and the soldiers rushed out to join the fight.  When they left, I ran out the back door and released Welfare from his cable.  He ran to the truck where they were loading Zach.  I heard him yelp before one of the men came after me.  I ran for the field, but they must have called him back because he turned around and left to join the fight to the north.  At first I hid in the barn, but that seemed too obvious, so I moved to a more concealed place behind one of the rock walls.”

Cliffson looked up.  “But the bodies?  When did that happen?”

Jean continued,  “After the fighting was over I saw small groups of soldiers going house to house taking people away at gun point.    I don’t know if they had orders to collect a certain number of people or not, but it seemed that way.  The prisoners were marched to the fence and tied up.  Cliffson, one of the people they killed was the widow Rose.

“When they left, I snuck back to the house and wrote the note you found.  I didn’t feel safe staying there, so I went back to the pasture and did my best to stay out of sight until I got to the Wests.  It was dark and I don’t think anyone saw me.”

“Smart girl,” Cliffson said.  “You never saw Welfare again?”

“I looked for him in the driveway after the truck left but he wasn’t there.  I think they took him with them.”

Gary mentioned he’d heard they were looking for Monk.  “The Chinese only went to houses in town and haven’t come out here yet.  Since you weren’t supposed to leave the county you can tell them you were staying with us.”

“I appreciate that.”

Barb fixed a light meal and the group considered what to do next.  Monk finally spoke up.

“Look folks, we’ve been through hell the last couple days.  This can wait until tomorrow.  Let’s get some rest and meet at the Lang’s tomorrow afternoon.  Right now I just want to get some sleep.”

Everyone agreed and soon Monk was driving them home.   The bodies hanging from the fence renewed everyone’s nightmare.  When they got out of the truck, Cliffson shook Monk’s hand and thanked him for going to rescue Dustin.  Both agreed to meet early in the morning and deal with the bodies.

The government is still closed down today.  Yes, I am smiling, as I remember what Thomas Jefferson said – the real one, not the one in the story.

“The government that governs best, governs least,” said Thomas Jefferson. He
was right. The less “governing” you do, the less you are lying,
cheating, stealing and murdering people. The less you are using force to get
what you want.

CHAPTER  FIFTEEN

 “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

 Ben Franklin

“In recent years, spurious substitutes have been palmed off on the American people for these basic virtues of free men: government aid for self-reliance; collectivism for individual initiative; a partly socialized economy for personal responsibility; soothing propaganda for vigilance; public subsidies for thrift; subservience for pride in citizenship; paternalism for courage; materialism for religious faith.”

 H.W. Prentis, Jr. 1948

 “Drive safe,” Chris said.

“I will.  It can’t be any worse than yesterday and thanks again for the gas.”

Chris’s mom hugged her son.  “Least we could do for you Dustin.  We’re just thankful to have Chris home safe with us.”

The sight of the family standing together in the driveway waving good-bye fueled Dustin’s desire to get home.

The cool night air had not yet left the valley floor and the warm air from the car’s heater felt good on his feet.  Still haunted by yesterday’s events, Dustin thought the morning sun looked as magnificent as he had ever seen it.  Its joyful light helped to ease his mind and lift his spirits.  It was also good to be back on the road and headed home.

The freeway at Ellensburg was nearly empty—then Dustin remembered the passes were closed and he wasn’t likely to see much traffic.  Anxious to get home and with no one around, he stepped on the gas and left yesterday far behind.

After turning south on Highway 82 the freeway remained uninhabited and he pulled out his phone to check in with his folks.  Jean and Cliffson were glad to know he was on his way but warned him to be on the lookout for trouble.

Speaking with his parents relaxed him and after digging through his music collection, Dustin found a Ben Harper CD, cranked it up, and let the road unwind behind him.  The open hills rolled by, silver guard rails flashed and he found his mind in places it had never been.  Places that hadn’t even existed until yesterday.  The highway wasn’t a highway at all, but a steel blue ribbon cutting through a pastel sky, taking him through time, to a place unknown; a place with no cities, no electricity and lime green vans.

The CD advanced to the next track and Ben Harper began singing “Fight For Your Mind.”  Dustin thumbed the player back a few tracts to “Burn One Down” and cruised on.

Near Toppenish, Dustin turned off the freeway and continued south on Highway 97.  The road climbed through national forest to Satus Pass where low hanging clouds dripped with moisture.  On the other side, his descent took him through a thinning forest, mixed with rangeland where the highway exited the mountains and entered a narrow and twisting canyon.  Dustin slowed for the corners, crossed a low slung bridge over Cozy Creek and put the canyon behind him.  Now the road straightened and he was just beginning to make out the shape of a car in the distance.

It was stopped on the right hand shoulder of the road and tilted at an awkward angle where the ditch dropped steeply into the creek.  Then an unseen hand reached for Dustin’s neck from the back seat and the jolt of alarm froze him in place.  It was the lime green van.  He told himself it couldn’t be, but the bumper sticker said otherwise, and he recognized the girl standing beside it waving her arms.

His brain had already sent an electrical impulse to floor the gas pedal, but his heart cut it off half way and Dustin pulled over to the side of the road.   The girl swaggered over and suggestively leaned through passenger side window.

“Hey, I’ve had a breakdown and…and…it’s you, from the diner.”  Then she whispered, “Get out of here, it’s a trap.  Go now.”

Dustin hesitated only a moment before hitting the gas, spinning his tires and tossing gravel at the two men climbed up from the ditch.  He was racing away to safety when the image of the girls pleading eyes began to stare back at him through the glass of the windshield.

Dustin smashed his fist against the dashboard.  She saved me.  I can’t just run away to the safety of my own family knowing this girl’s in trouble.  I have to do something.

The road continued for another half a mile before bending around a hill and out of site of the van.  At mile post 27 Dustin parked his car in a gravel pit on the left side of the road, grabbed his jacket and cell phone and jogged across the highway to the creek.

Three well spaced boulders allowed him to jump the creek and enter the dense willow and elderberry foliage on the other side.  There he found a game trail and followed the creek back to the edge of an opening forty yards from the van.  What am I going to do now?  The two men were hiding near the creek waiting to spring their trap.

It may have only been ten minutes, or maybe it was an hour, but he’d been squatting in the brush long enough for his legs to begin to cramp.  Dustin was about to move up the hill and deeper into the timber to get away from the creek when he heard the sound of squealing brakes from an approaching car.

The girl played her part just as she’d done before and the man inside the car leaned over to engage her in conversation.  Immediately the two men charged the car.  The little man pulled the girl aside and the other man shoved his shotgun through the window.

The girl’s screams and report of the gunshot filled Dustin with rage.  He was tired of feeling scared and helpless.

The big man rifled through the car, removed the dead man’s wallet and a laptop computer before pushing the car off the road and into the creek.  Then he joined the others in the van and drove off in the direction of the gravel pit.

Dustin knelt in the brush unwilling to move.  He already knew what he’d find in the car and refused to look.  Unsure of what to do next he sat at the edge of the stream, numbly staring at a limb bobbing in its current.  When the water took on a red tint he burst from his hiding place and ran back towards his car.

After crossing the creek and climbing the bank to the road, Dustin stomped his feet on the pavement in frustration and to remove the mud from his shoes.  I should have done something to help her before they got away.

Then the sound of a car door slamming in the gravel pit seized his attention and Dustin froze.  In the middle of the road he was exposed with nowhere to hide.  The approaching sound of boots crunching on gravel chased him back across the creek to hide in the brush on the other side.

Peering through a clump of willows Dustin watched as the big man appeared at the top of the bank, where he stood stock still, listening carefully.  Upstream a covey of quail burst from the creek and flew into the forest.  The man raised his shotgun and fired into the area until his gun was empty.  Again he waited and listened, then turned to walk back across the road.  Dustin shuddered.  He’ll kill me first chance he gets.

When things grew quiet Dustin crept back across the creek and climbed the bank.  Daring to peek above the crest in the road, Dustin raised his head enough to look towards his car.  He couldn’t see it, but the sounds of men swearing and rummaging through the vehicle were clear.

The damp creek side and cool evening air were bringing on a chill, but he didn’t dare move any closer.  Unexpectedly, a loud whoosh filled the air and black smoke began rising from the gravel pit.  Then the thud of heavy boots returning to the road forced him to rush back across the creek and hide again.  The boots continued their march across the pavement and soon the big man was standing at the top of the bank again.

“We have you now college boy.  That’s your car going up in smoke over there.  You’re stuck here in the wilderness and we’ll find you soon enough.   Sweet dreams college boy.”

The man’s laugh rolled down the drainage and rumbled through Dustin’s ears to reverberate in the forest behind him.  Dustin was sure the man had looked right at him, but he walked away instead and Dustin took stock of his situation.

He had no car, the sun was setting and he was not looking forward to a night alone in the forest.  His options were limited at best, but given a second chance, he was not going to abandon the girl this time.  He waited by the creek until the cool evening breeze forced him to move.  At least he’d taken his jacket with him.

Remaining on the side of the creek away from the highway, Dustin climbed the bank and moved uphill into the forest.  Now he could see across the road and began to look for a vantage point from which to watch the group.  The flames were still leaping from his car when he reached a high point and sat down behind an enormous ponderosa pine.  It was beginning to get dark, but the orange light from his burning car allowed him to see the lime green van and the silhouettes of three people there.

Dustin breathed deep and tried to calm the tremors jolting throughout his frame.   He still had no idea what he was going to do, when he saw the three people leave the van and disappeared over a low hill in the back of the gravel pit.

Unarmed, his options were limited, but he had to do something.  His mind wrestled with itself.  This is stupid Dustin.  You could get yourself killed.  No harm in following to see what opportunity might present itself.  Yeah, right.  Unarmed you’re gonna whip that gorilla and save the girl.  In your dreams, Dustin, in your dreams.  But I‘ve got to do something, even if I don’t know what that something is right now.

Finally deciding he could use the growing cover of darkness to conceal himself, he set off to follow them.  After crossing the creek, he skirted the gravel pit to the left, to remain on higher ground.  The forest thinned on this side of the road and he began moving through a mixture of rangeland grasses, sagebrush and a few scattered pines.

From atop a low rise, Dustin looked across a stretch of rangeland and tried to decide which direction he should take.  It was nearly dark now and the moon was of little help.  Then a flickering beam from the group’s flashlight caught Dustin’s attention and exposed their location.  He slithered across the open rangeland and stopped behind a dead pine tree with a broken top.  Now he could clearly see the bobbing yellow light that was leading the threesome back into the hills.

Following at a safe distance, Dustin soon found himself watching the group disappear into a shallow valley.  He moved away from the trail the group was following and crept to the edge of the canyon rim to peer below.  From his vantage point he watched the flashlight stop momentarily at the front of a building before disappearing inside.  Soon lanterns were lit and egg yolk colored light spilled from two small windows and a crack under the door.

Now what?  I’ve found their hideout—he laughed to himself at the thought of calling it a hideout—but what can I do?   Moving back from the edge of the rim he sat down next to a round boulder and pulled out his cell phone.   Knowing the local authorities had been required to assist in closing the mountain passes, he knew calling 911 would be of no help and decided to call home.  His parents would be worried anyway because he should have been there by now.

“Dad.”

“Dustin where are you?” His father’s anxious voice didn’t do much to calm his tingling nerves.

“I’m ok, but I need your help.  My car’s been torched and I’m stranded.”

“What?  What happened?” Cliffson replied.

“I don’t have time to explain.  I’m north of Goldendale.”  Then he paused, remembering the mile marker he’d seen—“At mile post 27 is a gravel pit.  You’ll see my burned out car there.  Go to the back of the pit and follow a trail for half a mile or so and you’ll find an old cabin.”

“A cabin?  Dustin what are…”

“Dad listen, two men have kidnapped a girl and are keeping her there.  I not only need a ride, but I need some help,”  Dustin pleaded.

“All right, all right.  Lay low until we get there.  I’ll grab Monk and we’ll be there as soon as we can.  I love you Dust, please be careful and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,”  Cliffson told him.

Dustin knew it was meant to reassure him because it was kind of an inside joke they shared.

“Ok dad, I’ll be right here.  And dad, they have a shotgun and a pistol with them.  Please hurry.”

After hanging up, Dustin leaned back against the boulder and looked into the sky.  The stars blinked back from a black emptiness that gazed into eternity and he suddenly felt very alone.