Posts Tagged ‘economics’

I have purposely refrained from much political commentary on this blog because most folks are as tired of politics as I am, but after the circus that just took place in DC the last couple weeks I am compelled to bring your attention to a couple of things.  Rest assured, I will not be taking sides, or taking some kind of political stance.  I write this only out of concern for your own well being.

Right now one side is celebrating their “victory” and the other side is licking its wounds.  If your focus has been on “your side” winning then you have taken the bait, hook line and sinker, because in the end, all of us lost.  People who have focused on their side winning often fail to see what the government has done to us all, because for them, it’s only about their side.  In the end, all that Washington accomplished was to agree to continue printing fiat currency out of thin air to pay for things our nation can’t afford.  Is that really something to celebrate?

In fact hidden within the legislation that was signed by the President is a way to make sure the free for all spending habits of Washington can continue without Congressional approval.   Codified in HR 2775 (which President Obama signed into
law), the Treasury Department is authorized to SUSPEND the debt ceiling.  Of course it’s unconstitutional, but congress is making it a habit to tear pages out of the constitution and shirk their duties because it gets in the way of being re-elected.  As signed into law, the President now has the authority to waive the debt ceiling and this can only be overridden by a “resolution of disapproval” by Congress, something that the President could obviously still veto.  Even the slightest whiff of fiscal responsibility has now been removed from the realm of possibility in all U.S. budgetary matters.  There are no longer any brakes on the out of control locomotive that is our nations spending.  The checks and balances created by our Founders have been removed and it leaves no doubt that our currency will be seriously de-valued, impoverishing millions.  Still, Americans don’t seem to get it, but foreigners do.  The commentary out of China’s state media the other day was very clear: “It is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.”

From a historical standpoint it’s really nothing new .  All the great civilizations have taken this same road.  If that were not the case then gold and oil might still be priced in the denarius, the old Roman currency, but the Romans destroyed the denarius the same way we are destroying the dollar.  The Greeks followed up by doing the same thing and so did the British.  Apparently it’s our turn now and China stands in the wings ready to take over.

Few Americans understand or appreciate the privilege and the benefit of the dollar being the world’s reserve currency.  In India for example, when they want to buy oil or gold they must first convert their rupees into dollars.  This supports the dollar and since all other nations must do the same that demand for the dollar makes it stronger.  Economists toss a lot of numbers around, but the middle road seems to be about a fifty percent loss of value if the dollar were to lose its reserve currency status.   History suggests that devaluation would happen overnight and then it would be downhill from there.  As the nation’s credit rating fell and debts were defaulted on, it is speculated the dollar would end up retaining maybe only twenty percent of its value.  Many societies have seen devaluations much worse than that.

Along the way capital controls would be put in place by the government to prevent people from moving their money out of the country.  Restricting the free flow of capital across borders and trapping it inside the country, to be forcibly devalued is a time proven method of all countries experiencing bankruptcy.  Oh, and guess what just happened, beginning Nov. 17, Chase bank will begin doing exactly this.  Announced while everyone was celebrating the great achievement congress managed in raising the debt ceiling (in other words, in the hope few would notice) they will begin restricting cash withdrawals and ban business customers from sending international wire transfers.  This is how it begins folks.  It’s not make believe.  They are real signs history has proven are the marks of a nation approaching bankruptcy.

You know how it is said that history repeats but never in exactly the same way.  Well then, consider this next part of the equation.  In looking back from today’s perspective the majority of economists agree that the Great Depression was caused when the Federal Bank tightened (raised) interest rates thereby seriously damaging the economy.  Obviously the Fed is not raising interest rates today, but is another government action going to accomplish the same thing this time around?  The answer is yes, quite possibly.

The Affordable Care Act carries horrible economic consequences for working families and our nation’s businesses.  By the time it is fully implemented over the next few years I believe it is entirely possible the so called Affordable Care Act will fill the same role today as the Fed’s raising of interest rates did prior to the Great Depression.  At the very least your dollars will be devalued as millions more people are taken under the governments wings and trillions more dollars will have to be printed.

Do you realize when the debt ceiling is raised it is YOU who are devalued?  Every time we raise the debt ceiling, which can now be freely done without congressional approval, we print money out of thin air and this devalues the dollar.  In just the last ten years alone the dollar has been devalued by more than thirty percent.  It makes the items you purchase more expensive.  I used to think Americans would wake up to this and demand a change but I no longer see that happening because the majority of people do not understand basic currency fundamentals.

So you’re asking, what’s my point in all this?   Well don’t look to me to be the one telling you we need a revolution and that we should all take up arms.  A revolution will probably happen, but you won’t find me advocating violence, instead I encourage you to take up a shovel.  It takes a few years for fruit trees to get their roots down and really begin to produce.  It takes years of practice and experience to learn the nuisances of gardening and food preservation.  If raising more of your own food is something you have been thinking about, but putting off, it’s time to begin, the time is here.

Our nation is travelling a well worn path taken by innumerable societies before their economic collapse.  History demonstrates that ALL paper currencies come to an end.   So before you wake up one morning and find that you are locked out of your bank account and the dollar has been devalued fifty percent over night, (Argentina is a fairly recent example of this) picture yourself in that situation and consider how you would manage.  As a nation we cannot print money forever and when the day comes that the dollar is no longer wanted by anyone, what will you do?

You may consider my view of things outlandish, but history backs up every claim I have made here, so your argument is with history not with me.  Besides, I don’t have a dog in this fight and have chosen to write this piece for just one reason – you.  I care about you and others who are going to be hurt by the devaluation of our currency.  Can you eat that lawn you are growing?  Why not tear it out, produce some healthy food and learn how to store it.

I would be the last person to even guess at a time table when things will happen, but viewed from a historical standpoint, it’s likely to be only a few years before a significant event takes place that removes the dollar from the world stage and devalues it accordingly.  For your own sake I encourage you to get started now and take the first steps to grow some of your own food and by that I mean something more than salad greens.   It really could be the difference between feeding your family and going hungry.

My best to all of you.

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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.”

There will always be those who treat your work in a negative way.  When you write, you expose yourself in a way few will ever expose themselves.  Don’t let it deter you.  If writing is what you want to do, then go after it with gusto!  This is a long chapter.  Get comfortable and enjoy it as the pace of things picks up.

 

CHAPTER   FOURTEEN

“In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation.  The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.”

 Leon Trotsky

A frenzied mob rolled through the Valley University campus, smashing windows, turning over cars and setting fire to the library.  Thomas raced his Mercedes across university grounds, staying just ahead of the crowd and narrowly escaping the firebombs thrown at his car. He was deep into down town traffic before realizing the entire city was engulfed in flames and looting mobs.  The radio reported fires and rioting spreading along the entire west coast.

 Thomas was caught in standstill traffic when a ghastly scene unfolding at the intersection ahead stole his attention.  My God no, this can’t be happening.  His grip on the steering wheel tightened, as if to better grasp reality, but his mind struggled to comprehend the horror in front of him.

 A black man, dressed in a business suit was forced into the back of a pickup parked on the grass under a large oak tree.  His brief case had just been opened and the apparent leader of the group was throwing handfuls of money into the air for the surging mob to chase.  Thomas inched closer and the chant of the crowd filtered through the locked doors of his car.  Kill the rich.  Kill the rich.  Kill the rich.

 Next a rope was thrown over one of the oaks massive limbs and placed around the man’s neck.  The crowd chanted its approval.  Unwilling to believe what he was seeing, Thomas shook his head as if to dislodge a bad dream, but the apparition became more real with each passing second.

 Nervously working his way through the slowly moving traffic in hopes of slipping past the crowd, Thomas was nearly through the intersection when the pickup drove off.  The business man swung and struggled—the throng of people went mad with approval.

 Thomas looked away.  These kinds of things aren’t supposed to happen.  We have got to leave town—maybe up to our cabin.

 More and more people were taking to the streets and it seemed to take forever for Thomas to navigate traffic and the growing crowds, before arriving home.  The upscale neighborhood where he lived remained quiet, but Thomas was forced to detour around an ugly mob just a few blocks from home.

 The tires yelped at his hard stop in the driveway and Thomas sprinted across the lawn to his front door, but froze in his tracks just inside where Mary lay on the sofa crying. Gently wrapping his arms around his wife he held her and whispered, “Honey, we have to leave.  It’s not safe to stay in town.”

 “I can’t do this, I just can’t do this,” she kept repeating.  “We’ve lost our son and the world has gone crazy.”

 “I know sweetheart, but we can’t stay here,” he said soothingly.  “We need to go to the cabin.  Go get in the Land Rover while I throw a few things together.”

 She sat up and stared at him through blurry eyes.  “Leave our son!  You’re not taking me away from my son.”

 “I’m not taking you away from him.  We are not safe here.”

“NO, no I won’t go,” and she collapsed in tears.

 Thomas gathered her in his arms and carried her to the Land Rover.   His eyes caught on two red cans of gasoline in the corner of the garage and he quickly secured them to the back of the Rover.  Think Thomas think.  What will we need?  He dashed back inside and began filling two paper bags with canned goods.  The propane tank.

 Thomas tossed the canned goods into the back of the Rover and rushed to grab the tank from the barbeque.  Finally, he pulled two sleeping bags from a plastic storage bin and tossed them into the back seat.

 The garage door inched open and Thomas revved the engine in anticipation.  Then the door was up and he hit the gas, shooting out into the street.  That’s when he saw the Mercedes.  Oh to hell with it.  We need to get out of here.  But the thought stuck in his mind.  He was opening his door to get out and move the car inside when the approaching mob caught his attention.  It was the same group he’d seen earlier and they were less than a block away.

 The angry crowd blocked the road in both directions and was closing in.  Mary whimpered and curled up in her seat.  “Hang on Mary.  We aren’t letting these losers take us down.”

 Thomas slammed his door and mashed the gas pedal to the floor.  The Rover plummeted straight towards the crowd with Thomas on the horn.  At the last moment the crowd realized he was not going to stop and parted as if he was Moses honking at the Red Sea.  Stones and bats pelted the Rover and two windows cracked under the attack.

 The Rover was nearing the edge of the mob and Thomas was taking his first breath in what seemed like hours, when a human head landed on the hood and lodged against the windshield.  Blood splattered across the glass and Mary shrieked uncontrollably.  A strip of flesh flapped from the end of a stubby neck and Thomas shuddered at the vacant, glassy eyes peering into his soul.  Then a flow of blood emptied from the corner of its mouth and Thomas swore he’d seen the tongue move.  The head lingered a few moments longer before rolling off the hood to bounce along the pavement.

Keep your own head Thomas and find the safest routes with the least traffic.


 “Dustin, they’re nearly on us,”  Chris yelled.  Chris was turned around in the seat looking backward out the driveway and encouraging Dustin to step on it.  “Run them over if you have to, they’ll kill us.”

 Dustin floored the gas, the tires squealed sharply and the car was propelling into the surging crowd.  A loud crunch and scream broke through the roar of the mob attacking the car.

 “Go, go, go, go,” Chris yelled.

 The car was nearly surrounded by people beating on the windows and tearing at the door handles.  Dustin dropped the clutch and the car lurched forward to race down the street, backfiring once when he shifted gears.

 “Agghhhhh,  Ahhhhh,” Dustin screamed.  “I hit that guy.”

 “They gave you no choice.  You saw how they attacked the car.” Chris shouted.

 Dustin was still yelling.  “I hate it.  I hate it.”

 Thwack!

 A bullet smashed through the rear window and lodged in the car frame between the front and rear passenger windows, directly behind Chris’s head.  Chris was screaming, “drive, Dustin, drive!”

 Though they needed to get to Interstate 90, Dustin knew the freeways would be jammed with people attempting to flee the city.  Instead, he drove north, taking side streets when necessary to skirt congested areas.  In every direction they witnessed storefronts being smashed and buildings looted.  Other stores were set on fire, and looters shot other looters to steal what had just been stolen.

 Dustin took them north as fast as he could in an attempt to bypass the gridlock surely taking place on the freeways.  If only they could get north to Highway 2 they might have a chance to escape.  Though they would need to cross Interstate 5 at some point, Dustin was looking to get as far north as possible before attempting to do so.

 The men continued north and crossed the Boeing Freeway without incident.  Dodging traffic and angry knots of people they eventually made it to Evergreen Way and approached the city of Everett.  There they decided to take their chances on I-5 instead of going into town.

 Atop the overpass crossing I-5 Dustin slowed the car to look south towards Seattle.  About a quarter mile away two burning cars blocked the freeway, narrowing it to one lane.  Further south, a massive, oil slick of a cloud rose above the Seattle skyline.

 With traffic reduced to one lane, the freeway to the north was wide open.  Dustin sped down the entry ramp to I-5 and raced north to the junction with Highway 2 and Stevens Pass.


 Cliffson ran his hands over his face.  Prickly stubble reminded him it had been a while since his last shave.  The tension left him on edge and Jean was rubbing his shoulders, but there was nothing they could do but wait.

 “Cliffson, let’s go outside to the garden.  I’ll take the phone with us so we don’t miss any calls.”

 “Sounds good hun, the fresh air won’t hurt.”

 The carrots needed thinning and they each took a place at opposite ends of the row.  “Isn’t it strange how getting your hands in the soil has such a soothing effect?  Almost like grasping reality itself.  You feel that?”  Jean asked.

 “Sure do.  There’s something missing in a person’s life when they can’t get their hands in the soil. ”

 It was then Mrs. Crank sauntered up and leaned against the pole fence in front of the Lang’s property.  Standing there with hands on hips, her condescending attitude filled the air like a cheap perfume.

 “Hey there plowboy, playin’ in the dirt again?”

 Just digging your grave, Cliffson thought.  “Thinning carrots and weeding the beans is all.”  Cliffson tried to sound amicable.

 “I love green beans—I’ll have to come back by when they’re ripe.”  Cliffson pictured an evil tempest forming a dark cloud of spite over her head.

 “Why don’t you grow any of your own?” Cliffson asked.

 “Me?  Why would I want to do yard work?  We’ve got money, we don’t need to grub around in the dirt like you folks.  We just buy what we need and pay the illegal’s to keep our place looking nice.  And they’re grateful for the work too.”

 Cliffson was smiling now as he stood to straighten his back.  “I’m sure all that green will make a nice salad for you someday.”

 “Hmmph.” She turned her back and strutted across the street to a neighbor’s house.  The air freshened immediately.

 “Somehow wisdom has just never caught up with that woman,” Cliffson said.

 “And I don’t think is ever will.  What gall,”  Jean answered.  “She’ll be hungry someday and find out all that money isn’t as sweet as she thinks it is.”  Jean took up a watering bucket and began watering the tomatoes.

 “Did you see all the new raspberry shoots?” Cliffson asked.  “Doing their natural free born spring time thing.”

 “Yes, I did.  We need to pot some up to sell.”  Jean set down her watering bucket and walked to the nearest row of raspberries.

 “Without power we’ll have to put up a sign on the fence instead of advertising on the web.  Maybe we can do some trading.”

 “Got it covered hun, I’ll get a sign made,” Cliffson promised, while dusting the dirt from his knees.  “Maybe trade for some pre 1965 coins.”

 The raised brick flower bed stretching across the front of the garden was in full bloom and the couple stood together enjoying the sight of their bees exploring each blossom.  Cliffson suggested they walk over to the hives and watch for a bit.

 In the apiary the air was full of bees making their way in and out of the hives.  “When I had the hives apart last week they looked pretty good.  Each has good numbers, except for this hive here.”  Cliffson pointed to a hive on the end.  “But I think it’ll come around.”

 “Bringing in a lot of pollen, aren’t they?”  Jean enjoyed the bees nearly as much as Cliffson.

 “Certainly are.  Making a good nectar haul too.”  Cliffson smiled.  “Honey in the making.”

 Jean took Cliffson’s hand.  “Let’s go back inside.  Maybe Dustin will call soon.”

 Cliffson was in the garage removing his boots when the phone rang.

 “Dad, we barely made it out of town.  It’s crazy up here, but we made it and are on Highway 2 headed over Stevens Pass.”

 “Stevens Pass?” Cliffson wondered.

 “Yes, the only way we could get away and avoid the freeway traffic was to come north along Highway 99 until we thought it was safe to get on I-5.” Dustin replied.

 “Good thinking son.  Will you have enough gas?”

 “No, that’s the problem. We’ll have to find some somewhere.  My roommate Chris is with me and I’m taking him to his parents place near Ellensburg.   Chris thinks his dad might know a farmer who has fuel.”

 “All right, Dust, please be careful and you might check in with your brother when you can.  He is driving home from Boise right now.”

 “Sweet.  I’ll check in with him soon.”

 “Keep us posted.”  Cliffson hated to let him go.

 “I will.  Bye”

 The wait was going to be unbearable, but there was little to be done.  Jean suggested she could use his help with the laundry.  Oh boy, what fun,  he thought.    Instead…don’t I need to pick up dog poop, clean the chicken coop, make some soup, see Monk for the latest scoop, jump through a hoop, form a new group, sit on the stoop, make some goop…


 Dustin’s stomach was growling. “Chris I’m hungry, how ‘bout you?”

 “Yeah bro, haven’t had much today.  I sure could go for a bacon burger, double chocolate shake and some fries.”

 “You’re killing me man. How far to the next town?” Dustin asked.

“Looks like about seven miles to a place called Gold Bar.  Burgers are probably expensive there huh?”

 “Very funny.  Anything beyond that, or is Gold Bar our last chance to strike a claim for a meal?”

 Chris rolled his eyes at the joke and took a closer look at the map.

 “Well, there’s another spot called Index, but we’re getting pretty far into the mountains by then.  We’d better hope to hit a rich vein of bacon at Gold Bar.”

 “Stop it,” Dustin said, and they both laughed.

 Soon their little car was rolling into the tiny town of Gold Bar: population, 2,014.  The town was established as a prospector’s camp in 1889 and later became a base camp for construction of the Great Northern Railway.  Turning off of Highway 2, they saw the first of many aged and faded wooden signs attesting to the town’s history.

 A couple blocks into town Dustin spotted an old greasy spoon diner tucked in next to a boarded up gas station.  The rundown relic from the past had somehow managed to stay in business long after fast food became the rage.  The parking lot was empty except for an old, lime green, Volkswagen van.

 “Hey Dustin, get a load of this, see that bumper sticker?”  Chris said.

 “Ass, Gas or Grass, no one rides for free.” Dustin read aloud.  “My Dad’s told me about those.  It’s from the ‘70s.”

 “Trippin’ dude.  Now let’s go eat.”

 Chris led the way up a couple decaying cement steps stained with the remnants of a reminder they’d once blushed bright red, pulled open a creaky screen door, and headed for a booth with a red and white checkered table cloth on the left side of the room.  Chipped and worn tiles paved a floor that was probably once cream colored.  The air was heavy with the smell of fried food and salted with a double measure of cigarette smoke.  A couple of round tables in the middle of the room were home to napkin dispensers and salt and pepper shakers.  Booth seating along dingy windows on both sides of the room completed the ensemble.

 The kitchen was in back where a balding, pot bellied cook in a dingy wife-beater undershirt and an apron that looked as if you could have rung gravy from it, peered out from behind beady eyes.  He appeared nervous and ran his hands through the few greasy strands of dark hair that fell from the back of his head.   Gruffly he called for his waitress.

 “Betty, customers.”

 The back door slammed, Betty strolled in and pulled the last drag from her cigarette.  She wore white shoes, the kind you often see nurses wearing and looked to be about sixty years old, but her face wore a look that said she’d spent a hundred years on her feet.

 At their table her course smoker’s voice rose up through the gravel bed in her throat and asked, “What can I get you boys today?”

 “Get the cream pie,” boomed a voice from the other side of the room.

Seated in a booth along the opposite wall were two middle aged men and a young woman.

 “Keep your shirt on bubba, I’ll be right there,” the waitress said.

 The deep voice laughed for its own enjoyment, “Just having a little fun missy.”

 Chris and Dustin each ordered a burger and fries with a chocolate shake.  The waitress delivered the order to the cook and went to wait on the other booth.

 Chris leaned across the table and in a hushed voice asked, “You see the size of that guy?”

 Dustin chanced a look.  “He’s huge.  He takes up nearly the entire side of the booth.”

 “Dustin, don’t look now but you see that girl sitting with them?” Chris asked.

“No.”

“What do you mean? She’s sitting right there.”  Chris said

“You said not to look.”

“Come on Dustin, she’s trying to tell me something.”

“Oh Chris, you always think the girls are trying to tell you something, but what you think they’re saying is never what they mean.”

 “Shut up, Dustin.”

 “So I don’t see anything, she’s just sitting there Chris.”

 “Course she is now, the waitress left.  She was only doing it while the waitress had the attention of those two guys’.”

 “Well why don’t you go over and ask her to dance?  Here’s a quarter for the juke box.”

 “Stuff it Dustin, I’m serious.”

 The waitress brought their meals just as the woman and two men got up from the booth to leave.  The first guy was huge. Oily black hair hung in a pony tail down the back of a black leather jacket worn over a white t-shirt.  Old jeans and black leather boots completed the image of a biker.  With a voice of thunder rumbling down from the mountains he looked at Dustin and threatened, “What’re you lookin’ at college boy?”

 Dustin looked down at his food. “Nothing, sir.”

 “You best be keeping your eyes to yourself then,” growled the man-bear.

 The man put his hand on the young woman’s shoulder and ducked his head through the door on their way outside.  Following closely on their heels, the little man’s bravado goaded him to pull back his jacket to display the pistol he was carrying before the screen door slammed behind him.

 A momentary hush fell over the restaurant and even the building seemed to sigh in relief.

 When the waitress came over to asked if they needed anything else, Chris was very quiet.  “A glass of water please?” he gulped.

 “Sure thing.  What direction you boys headed?” she asked.

 “Same way they’re going, I think,” Dustin replied.

 “You boys be careful.  There’s trouble in that group,” the waitress said. “I’m afraid for that young woman.”

 “See Dustin, I told you she was trying to tell me something.  Did you see the sawed off shotgun the big guy was carrying inside his jacket?

 “No”, Dustin said,  “I was looking at the long gash across the guy’s cheek.”

 The waitress returned with water for Chris and handed Dustin a thermos of coffee.

 “Here’s some coffee for the road.   You fellas be careful.  There’s trouble a foot.”  Betty reached inside her faded blue apron for a pad with their bill and laid it on the table. Dustin couldn’t help but notice how her fingertips were stained tobacco yellow from the mountains of cigarette butts they’d caressed.

 While the young men finished their meal, the conversation turned to the trip ahead.  In the mountains there would be few side roads on which to circumvent roadblocks and they didn’t have enough gas for long detours.   Dustin slurped the last of his shake and the conversation fell quiet, each of them withdrawing into their own thoughts.

 “I wish we had a gun,” Dustin finally said.

 “You go on ahead big fella and I’ll follow ya,” Chris said in his best John Wayne voice.

 “I’m serious, Chris, we may need to defend ourselves.”

 They left money for their meals on the table plus a little extra for a tip and the coffee.  Betty pulled a pack of unfiltered Raleigh cigarettes from her shirt pocket and followed them outside.

 Dustin paused at the side of the car for a moment, breathing in the fresh mountain air and thinking ahead to the drive over the mountains.  He was listening to a blue jay chattering away in a pine tree at the edge of the parking lot when the rush of traffic on the highway imposed upon his thoughts.

 Betty waved good-bye from the front steps, cigarette in hand.  Tossing another pebble onto the gravel bed, Dustin mused.  He also wondered what would become of the waitress and the cook.  They were away from trouble for the moment, but for how long?  He hoped they would be all right.

 Those who could escape the firestorm in the city were headed east and Dustin waited at the intersection of Highway Two for his chance to join the traffic.  People were fleeing the city like hounds on a fox hunt—but these hounds didn’t know where they were going.


 Cliffson finished hanging out a pair of jeans to dry and was glad the chore was done.  It was a good time for a beer and he went into the garage to tap a couple glasses of Hermead.  It wouldn’t be cold, but he didn’t care.   He could already taste his homemade nectar.  Jean was in the garden and he walked out to join her.

 Handing her the glass of beer he said, “Radish for your thoughts.”

 She smiled and rested her head on his shoulder for moment.  “Just thinking of how we might expand the garden.”

 “Ha, I’m sure that’s all you’re thinking about.”

 “Not a good time to be sarcastic,” she said.  “I’m trying not to worry.”

 Changing the subject Cliffson said, “Your garlic is sure looking good.   Tomatoes are doing all right too!”

 “Things are coming along pretty well.  We should dig out those old carrots we carried through the winter and give them to the chickens.”  She knelt down to pull back the straw and extracted a carrot.  “Have you had one lately?”

 “Nah.  I imagine they’re getting a little rubbery by now.  They were sure nice to have this winter though.  It’s funny.  People don’t believe it when you tell them you can have fresh carrots all winter simply by covering them with straw.”

 “They’ve really been good and now the chickens will enjoy them too.  Have you noticed the peach tree lately?  It’s just full of fruit and we’re really going to need it.  Maybe we could sell some this year.”

 “Ummm, that brings something else to mind.”  Cliffson removed his hat and scratched his head.  “We could have a problem with people stealing from our garden this year.  Dang, I hate to even think about that.”

 Jean was working up a patch of ground for a second lettuce crop and looked up at him.  “We’ve got enough to deal with so I’m not gonna borrow trouble where it doesn’t exist.”  She stood and brushed off her hands.  “I’m thinking we could expand the garden out this way,” she gestured, “and grow a large crop of dried beans.”

 “That would work.”  Cliffson was admiring his potatoes.  “Have you noticed how well the spuds are doing?”

 “Liking all that chicken manure you worked in there, aren’t they?”

 “It’s the perfect way to recycle—run the manure through the potato plants and eat it as a spud.”  Cliffson grinned.  He knew she found it disgusting when he described it that way.

Jean changed the subject.  “I sure wish Zach would call.  I’d like to know where he is and if he’s doing all right.”

 “Depending on how quickly he got out of town, he should have crossed the state line and be in Oregon by now,”  Cliffson said.  Come on, let’s get the eggs and bring in a little firewood.”


 Zach found the freeway crowded and moving slowly but steadily.  The sharp edged tension was etched clearly in the faces of the drivers he met and the entire procession moved and felt like a funeral march through the lower echelons of hell.

 He eventually reached the Snake River Bridge and crossed into Oregon. There he took Highway 20 and headed east towards Vale.  Traffic thinned and the rural, sparsely populated country of eastern Oregon beckoned.

 For the first time since hitting the road, Zach allowed himself to relax a bit and kicked up his speed well past the 55 mph speed limit.  It felt so good to be out of the city.  He was free again and let the car unwind at whatever pace felt comfortable.   At twenty-four, he enjoyed living on his own and was reluctant to move back with his parents.  That was before the world got so crazy.  Now home looked safe and inviting, and he drove a little faster.


 Dustin followed the winding road into the conifer sheltered mountains.  Dense forest and overcast skies closed in on the little car as if it were traveling down the dark, oppressive maw of some monster.

Traffic was heavy but moving well enough and the two young men passed the time reviewing the events of the day and speculating on what might come next.

 “Dustin, let’s find a place to pee. Time to get rid of some coffee,” Chris said.

 “I hear you.  I wouldn’t mind a little break myself.  The sign back there said three miles to Nason Creek rest area.  Let’s stop there.”

 Soon the tick, tick, tick of the turn signal overtook the sound of tires on wet pavement and Dustin angled for the turnoff.  A light rain was falling and as the wipers cleared the windshield a lime green van appeared directly in front of them and pulled onto the highway.

 Chris jumped up in his seat.  “Dustin did you see that?”

 “Yes, but I couldn’t tell if it had the bumper sticker.”

 “It has to be the same van Dustin, there aren’t that many old lime green vans around.”

 “I’m just glad it’s gone.  I don’t want to run into those guys again.”  Dustin said while maneuvering the car into a parking spot.  “Chris doesn’t this seem a little strange?  There’s all that traffic on the highway but the rest area is empty except for that guy over there sitting in his car.”

 “I don’t know Dust, I just need to pee,” Chris said.

 They got out of the car and crossed the damp pavement to the rest room.  Dustin pulled open the dented rusty door and stopped dead in his tracks.  “Ohh geeeez!”

 “What?”

 But Dustin had already turned around to leave before the hamburger he had for lunch could cross his palate a second time.  Then Chris saw the crimson pool of blood flowing towards the door and joined Dustin in ridding himself of lunch.

 After retching the remains of their burgers, the two men moved behind the moss covered building to pee and calm shattered nerves.

 “Chris you
ok?”  Dustin dry-heaved again.  “We need to go back and look inside again, there might be someone hurt who needs our help.”

 “No way Dustin, I can’t do it.”

 “Then come stand by the door, I don’t want to go in there alone.”

 “All right buddy, I can do that much for you.”

 They walked back to the front of the building and immediately encountered the blood running out from under the door.

 “Ugh.”  Dustin opened the door and stuck his head inside, careful not to step in the growing puddle.  “Anyone in there?  Anyone need help?”  A lifeless echo rattled through the brick building.

 Dustin began to retch again and ducked back outside.  “Chris it’s horrible.  The gunshot nearly cut the guy in half.  Had to… been… a… shotgun,” he said between heaves.  “I need some water.  Chris, go ask that guy in the car over there if he saw anything.”

 “All right Dusty, the water’s in the back seat.  I’ll be right back.”

 Dustin weaved across the parking lot on wobbly legs and steadied himself for a moment at the side of his car while struggling with another gag.  Even the light rain was not helping to clear his head.  Then he heard a long low wail.

 “Nooooooooooooh!  Dustin get us out of here now.  NOW, right now!”

 Chris ran out of one of his shoes racing back to the car and threw himself inside.  Dustin was already backing up when Chris slammed the door shut.  They roared through the parking lot and flew out onto the highway, nearly broad-siding another car.  Neither of them heard the blaring horns nor saw the one finger salutes.

 “Dustin he was just sitting there—he looked so normal.  I thought maybe he didn’t hear me so I bent down close to look in the window.  His eyes were staring straight ahead, right through the windshield, but they were kinda glassy looking.  When I looked closer I saw he’d been shot in the head and there were pink pieces of brain blown all over the passenger side window.”

 Dustin hardly heard him.  His mind was numb and kept flashing images of the man on the floor of the rest room with his guts spilling out.

 “Dustin, wakeup,” Chris demanded.

 Dustin shook his head in disbelief before shifting his gaze to Chris.  “I feel like I woke up in another world today Chris. This is impossible.  It can’t be real.  It just can’t be real.”

 Climbing high up into the mountains, threatening skies darkened under a building storm until the gale finally loosed its fury and shook the little car with waves of rain filled gusts.  The wipers were working overtime to sweep away the rain, but they couldn’t sweep their minds clear of the bloody images.  The two rode in silence, lost in the day’s events, the rhythm of wipers and the drum of tires on a wet road.  Dustin ignored his ringing phone.

 When they passed through the town of Leavenworth, the men barely noticed and Dustin nearly missed the junction with Highway 97 before turning south towards home.  When the rain subsided, he pulled the car to the side of the road for a break at the top of Blewett Pass.

 “Will things ever be the same?” Dustin said more to himself than anyone else.  He was leaning against the back of the car staring into space.  It was the first words either of them had spoken in quite some time.

 “I don’t know Dustin.  How can they be if the cities are gone?”

 “Don’t say that. You don’t know they’re gone,” Dustin asserted.

 “But this morning before we bailed out of town the radio was talking about city after city being looted and burned.  There’s no water, no…”

 Both men froze.  The lime green van roared by, crested the top of the pass and began its descent down the other side of the mountain.


 “I can’t get a hold of him either Mom,”  Zach said.  “He’s not answering his phone.”

 Jean paced about the room.  “I’m so worried, we should have heard from him by now.”

 “I’ll let you know if I hear anything Mom.”

 “How are you doing on gas?”

 “I just went through Brothers.  Even with the car loaded up, it’s looking like I’ll have enough to get home, Zach said.

 “All right.  I love you and see you soon.”

 “Love you too Mom. Bye.”


 “Dustin, let’s wait a while.  I don’t want to follow them down the mountain.”

 “I’m good with that.”  Dustin walked over to a wild current bush to pee.  “How far is it to your folks place from here?”

“Probably twenty, twenty-five miles.  We’ll be there well before dark,” Chris said.

 Dustin returned to the car.  “Sweet. Now if I could just find something in here to eat.”

 “Anything in the trunk?”

 Dustin pulled keys from his pocket and opened the trunk.  “You know I never thought I’d feel like eating again after what I saw today, but I got a real pit in my stomach.  Hey, will you look at this.”  Dustin tossed a can of bacon cheese whip to Chris.  “Suppose it’s any good?”

 “That stuff never goes bad.” Chris tossed it back.  “But I can’t stand that crap, looks like latex paint.  Knock yourself out buddy.”

 Chris’s stomach remained unsettled and he turned away at the sound of the nozzle releasing cheese into Dustin’s mouth.  Dustin grinned and patted his tummy.  “Ummmm, good.  Wish I had some crackers.”

 Chris got back into the car.  “Time to go, I’m anxious to get home.”

 Dustin started the car and eased out onto the highway.  Chris turned the radio on and dialed in the station in Ellensburg.

 “This is the emergency alert system.  We are advising people in rural areas to lock their doors and windows and stay inside.  The exodus from major cities west of the Cascades has led to a wave of crime in outlying areas.  Chinese authorities have already moved to shut down all east bound traffic and stop the violence.”

 Chris watched Dustin rubbing his chin. “I can see your wheels turning Dustin, what are you thinking?”

 “It makes no sense.”

 “What doesn’t’ make sense?”

 Dustin tipped the can up to empty the last of the cheese whip into his mouth before continuing.  “The Chinese turn off the power and allow the cities to burn when the riots break out.  So why are they all of a sudden concerned about the rural folks?  It doesn’t add up.”

 Chris shrugged his shoulders.  “I don’t get it either Dust, but guess what?”

“What?”

“We were lucky.”

 Dustin looked puzzled and put the screwed up look on his face that always made Chris laugh.

 “We made it over the mountains before they closed off the passes,” Chris said.

 “Holy crap.  We could have been stuck over there in that horde of freaked out people.  Chills me to the bone.”  Dustin gripped the wheel a little tighter and said a quiet prayer.  “Stink.  I forgot to call my parents.  They’ll be worried.”

 The oppressive feel of the forest began to lift as the little car hummed along the blacktop, out of the mountains and into the rolling hills of a vast, open countryside, where sagebrush, scattered Ponderosa Pine, bitterbrush and bunchgrass replaced the woodlands.

 Chris was watching the mile markers on the shoulder of the road.  “All right, we’re getting close, just about a mile to the turn off.  We’ll be home soon and you should call your parents.”

 Dustin slumped back in his seat.  “Man, all of a sudden I feel beat.”

 “Me too,” Chris said.  “Turn off is right around the corner.”

 After rounding the corner Dustin saw a white house, nestled against low hills and turned up the long gravel drive.  There was a small red barn behind the house and bounding out from behind it was a huge black dog.  The Newfoundland was excited to see Chris and gave Dustin nearly as warm a welcome too.  It reminded Dustin of a dog he had as a kid.

 Chris’ parents were not far behind the dog.  After hugs and introductions, Dustin excused himself when Chris began telling them about what happened at the rest stop.

 The crickets were tuning up for a night’s performance when Dustin sat down in a lawn chair in the middle of the backyard and dialed home. A sullen, red sun cast the last of its rays through a blood red sky creating a chilling reminder of the day’s trials.  Dustin turned away and looked to the east where a dusky sky was forming on the horizon.

 “Hello.”

 “Sorry I didn’t call sooner Mom, but there were some issues.”  Dustin began to relate the day’s events.  “Yes, I’m ok now but still kinda shaken up.  I’m not sure if it’s all really hit me yet.  Glad to hear that Zach is home safe.”

 “I’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning and will call you once I’m on the road.”

 “Yes, Chris’s dad said he knows where I can get some gas.  I’ll fill up in the morning and come home through Yakima on 97.” 

“Love you guys too, and I promise to call you when I leave.”

Writing a book of any kind is one of the greatest challenges a person can undertake.  I learned a lot about that while writing this story – I hope you are enjoying it.

 CHAPTER   THIRTEEN

 “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.  It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

 William Pitt – House of Commons, 1783

 It became known as the Day of Tears and the following day, the sky cried too. The clouds and rain would be good for their garden crops, but it did little for Cliffson’s dark mood.  The destruction of San Diego and Dallas weighed heavy, but the reality of every major city in America containing a nuclear bomb was chilling.  Fear and confusion tag-teamed to rule his mind and he felt himself on the ropes.  It was unfamiliar territory and the match was moving into extra rounds.

Cliffson sat in his Adirondack chair on the front porch smoking a cigar and choking down a stiff bottle of reality.  He’d always enjoyed watching the storms from the shelter of his front porch and the rain freshened air was sweet, but today the tempest in his mind was greater than that in the skies and he found little enjoyment in the rain.

There was no longer any doubt his son in Seattle was in danger and likely his son in Boise Idaho as well, yet, when he called, they were reluctant to come home.  His pleading ignored, he settled for warning them to keep their gas tanks full in case they needed to leave town in a hurry and at least they’d agreed to do that.

His thoughts were interrupted when a small white car he did not recognize pulled into the driveway.  Cliffson stood and reached behind his back to rest a hand on the pistol he carried and watched a man and his son get out of the car.  With the dad’s arm resting over his son’s shoulders, they approached the house and soon Cliffson realized who it was.  The dams holding back all his fears broke and rivers poured from his eyes when the boy broke free and ran to Cliffson.  After a giant bear hug, he held the boy out at arm’s length to have a good look.

“I’m Alan,” the man said, extending his hand to Cliffson “and this is my son Bobby.  I want to thank you for what you did for him and for all of us.”

“No thanks are necessary, it’s enough just to see him alive and well.  My name is Cliffson. How are you doing, Bobby?”

“Better sir.  The doctors say there’s no permanent damage and I’ll soon be good as new, thanks to you and your friends.”

“Thank you Bobby, but we only did what was right.  Please come in. My wife would love to meet both of you.”

The four of them spent a congenial afternoon together and it was just what Cliffson needed.  The meeting left Cliffson in a much better mood and he slept as well that night as he had since the D.C. bombing.


The Jeffersons did not sleep at all.  Davis had not returned home and they’d spent many frantic hours driving through town looking for him.  Calls to the police were ineffective.  Thomas kept thinking over and over, the government should do something, they need to help us.

The next day was even worse.  Davis was supposed to catch his flight back to school but there was no trace of him.  It didn’t help matters the power was out.  Out of options, the Jeffersons were crushed and Mary cried for most the day.


The next morning a golden sun glinting on the dew covered grass greeted Cliffson through the kitchen window where he stood in his bathrobe, making coffee and watching the finches at the thistle feeder. There’s no yellow like the vibrant yellow found on a finch, he thought.

Welfare was sitting patiently at his feet reminding him he needed to go outside.   Cliffson carried his freshly made, steaming cup of coffee to the patio door and opened it for Welfare who made a dash for the field in back.  The new blades of green grass sparkled and the crisp air invited Cliffson outside.  Cupping the hot brew in his hands, he stepped onto the paver patio to drink in the rain cleansed air and gaze at the mountain tops gleaming in the sun.

Minutes later Welfare returned and sat beside him to gaze out at the snowcapped mountains.  Cliffson couldn’t help but wonder if the dog enjoyed the view as much as he did.  After drenching themselves in the brisk morning setting, the two went back inside.  The fire in the wood stove popped and Cliffson returned to the kitchen to cook some eggs.  It was then he noticed the clock on the stove was off.  He looked to the microwave and found it was off too.   For Pete’s sake…had to have just gone off.

Cliffson yelled down the hall.  “Jean, if you want to shower you had better do it soon, the power is off.  I’m going over to see Monk.”

Cliffson found Monk sitting at his workbench tinkering with an old motor in his perfectly ordered garage.  The shop had a faint smell of oil and contained the most eclectic collection of things one could imagine.  An old baseball wrapped in the palm of a glove sat on the top shelf of the wooden bench where Monk was working.  Above him a kite hung from the ceiling.  Old posters for Coke, Ford pickups and recruiting posters for the marines hung from the other walls.  Against one wall was a well organized collection of tools and engine parts.  A small collection of oil cans lined the top of another shelf.  There was camping gear, a chainsaw and, of course, Monk’s own ham radio.

The wood in the cheery little pot belly stove crackled a greeting when Cliffson walked in.  “Good morning, Monk.”

“Mornin’.”

“I always marvel over how neat and orderly your garage is.  I think I see a little military influence here.”  Cliffson smiled.

“Well, you’d be right about that.”  Monk reached for a rag to wipe his hands.

“So what’s the box there on your bench?  Don’t believe I’ve seen that before.”  Cliffson pointed.

“That’s an old ship’s radar screen,”  Monk replied.

Cliffson tilted his head in a sardonic smile. “Seen any subs lately?”

“You know boy, someday that tongue of yours is gonna get you in a lot of trouble.”

“Aye, captain.”  Cliffson saluted, bringing a smile from Monk.  “Jean says that all the time”

“So what are you up to this morning?”

“I came to see if your power’s out?” Cliffson asked.

Monk was chewing on a tooth pick he’d just taken from behind his ear.  “Yep.  S’out everywhere.”

“What do you mean, it’s out everywhere?”

“Heard it on my radio just a bit ago.

“Radio, I thought your power was out?”

“Just like the national radio stations have backup power, no self-respecting ham operator would be caught dead without a solar powered backup.  As I was a sayin’, they’ve shut the whole dang system down my friend.”

“I don’t get it, what’s that accomplish?” Cliffson wondered aloud.

“Don’t know, but I’m a fear’n big trouble is knockin’ on our door.”

“Yeah, like we don’t have trouble already,” Cliffson answered.

“Listen, the Chinese ain’t been here long.  We don’t know what their plans are.  You best batten down your hatches mate, there’s a storm, a real storm a brewin’,”  Monk warned.

Cliffson threw up his hands.  “But why turn off the power?  There’s just no practical reason for it.”

“You don’t have to understand it, you just need to see it for what it is.”  Monk said.

“All right, all right, you’re beginning to sound a little too much like Jean.”  Cliffson smiled.

“Jean’s a smart gal, you should listen.”

“I do.  Her insight’s invaluable and she keeps me grounded in the truth.”

“Ah yes, truth.  I can still recall such a concept.”  Monk knelt to stoke the fire with one more piece of wood.  “Seems it’s about been bled dry, don’t you think?”

“It, and other values.”  Cliffson sighed.

“Values like individual initiative and personal responsibility?”  Cliffson nodded and Monk continued.

“Thrift, faith, self-reliance…  I could go on.”

“They’ll be back someday, Monk.  Won’t be in our lifetimes, but they’ll be back.  I have to believe that.”

“I hope you’re right, my friend.  I hope you’re right.”

“You know Monk, I never think to ask this because you seem so self-sufficient, but you got everything you need?”

Monk walked to the wood stove and tossed in the greasy rag he’d used to clean his hands.  Then clasping Cliffson on the shoulder looked him square in the eye and cracked open the door the tiniest little bit to the man inside.

“Look, I’m fine and make no mistake, I appreciate your concern, but there’s going to be trouble beyond anything you’ve imagined.  I’ve been in enough situations in my life to know and I can feel it in my bones.  Now whatever it takes, you get your kids home so you can take care of your family.  I’ve never shared this with you before, but I lost my family once upon a lifetime and I don’t want to see it happen to you.”

Cliffson was a little taken back.  Monk had never shared even the slightest measure of his private world before.  Under that thick, coarse, bullet proof exterior was a warm, breathing human being with a real heart and concern for others.

Clasping Cliffson’s arm in both his hands Monk pulled a taut smile.  “The only thing I need from you is someone I can trust and count on when the chips are down, and maybe a little water from that well of yours if the juice don’t come back on.”

“You have my word Monk.  You know you can count on me.”

“I appreciate that.  Now don’t forget what I told you about your family.  It’s important you convince your sons to come home.”

“Thank you Monk, I’ll go call them right now.

Cliffson returned home and took a seat by the sliding door next to the patio.  Gazing at the mountains, he paused a moment to reflect on a lake where he had often gone backpacking with his sons, then completed dialing the first number.  The call wouldn’t go through and after numerous attempts he realized he’d have to try later.

Monk’s words still haunted “…make no mistake, there is going to be trouble…whatever it takes, you get your kids home so you can take care of your family.”


In the days that followed, Jean and Cliffson managed to get calls through to each of their sons.  Though Detroit had been gutted by fire and other major cities were under siege, leaving portions of them gutted, the Northwest remained deceptively quiet and their sons were unwilling to come home.

Five days later the power was still out.  For greater safety, Monk joined with the Wests and Langs on their trips to town.  The men armed themselves and provided “cover” while the women shopped for additional food and supplies.  With each trip they found less on the shelves, higher prices and a growing mob mentality simmering just below the surface.  Without power, gas stations could no longer pump fuel and the lifeline of semi-trucks supplying each store slowed to a trickle.

Jean believed they’d adjusted fairly well.  There was the wood stove for heat, plenty of food stored up and the city’s water remained on, though it didn’t seem to have as much pressure.  Without a refrigerator, perishables were more difficult to keep, but it was still cool enough to keep them outside.  Bathing and washing clothes were another matter.  It wouldn’t be long before that part of the power being off got very old.  Still, they knew they could make do.

Other families were not fairing as well.  The “Green” fad that swept the nation left people prepared to be politically correct and entirely unprepared to take care of themselves.

Naturally the Zombies wouldn’t be caught dead owning a wood stove.  Cliffson found humor in that thought. Other people just found wood stoves dirty and shunned them.  At least those folks were honest about it.  But either way, the nights were still cool in the high desert of Central Oregon and many found their homes to be quite cold.

Contemporary mankind depended on government assistance, fashionable conveniences, and society’s so-called safety net.  The original hunters and gatherers were better prepared to care for themselves than the typical American citizen.

Compounding the issue was the fact more Americans abused prescription drugs than all illegal drug users combined, and this guaranteed that many were not going to survive for long.

Cliffson wondered what would happen when the water ran out.  It was the last pebble holding the dam together before the flood waters broke—the fraying rope holding the blade of the guillotine over the head of civilization.

Monk and Cliffson looked in on the widow Smith nearly every day to make sure she was safe and had the supplies she needed.  Cliffson split wood, Monk installed some heavier locks on the doors, but most of all, they made time to visit.

Three weeks later the power remained off and Cliffson decided it was time to see Gary about borrowing his tractor to dig a root cellar.  The tractor needed some work and as the two men began making repairs the conversation turned to the rampant lawlessness.

“Gary, can you imagine what it’s like on the east coast?  They’ve been without power for more than a month.  No way they have water—food and fuel has to be impossible to find, or incredibly expensive.  It’s a keg of powder just waiting for a spark.”

Gary said he’d heard our own national guard was not allowed to secure the cities and the Chinese were content to stand by and watch.

“I don’t think we can picture what those cities are like Cliffson, but sure as shootin’ they’re as explosive as any nuke the Chinese might have.  Even here in Redmond break-ins’ are increasing.  Food’s in short supply and people are getting desperate.  I wouldn’t go anywhere unarmed.”

With that Cliffson pointed toward two fuel tanks resting atop metal stands at the back of Gary’s property. “You ever lock those up?”

“No, I’ve never had to, but I see your point.  I just had em’ filled too, so guess I’d better be getting some locks on em.”

Gary leaned back against the tractor tire and wiped the sweat from his brow.  “Cliffson, the major west coast cities probably ran out of water a week ago.  Things are getting explosive.  Both my kids are coming home soon and yours should be too.”

Cliffson smacked the rubber tire with his fist.  “Dang it Gary, I’ve tried.  They don’t want to leave their jobs, but without basic services neither of them is working anyway.  I’m worried they’ll wait too long and be unable to get out before all hell breaks loose.  I’ve got to call them again when I get home.”

“I can button this up myself.  You head on home and make your calls.”

“Thanks.  I’ll get back to you about the tractor later.”

But Gary hardly heard him.  Barb was yelling for them to come into the house and was turning up the volume on their solar powered radio when they walked through the patio door.  The newscaster was describing scenes of fierce riots breaking out all along the west coast.  Swarms of people had taken over San Francisco and Portland and Seattle were engulfed in flames.

“Damn Gary, it’s happening.  I’ve got to get home.  See you Barb.”

Cliffson raced home.  It was only a mile but it seemed like ten.  He first tried calling Dustin in Seattle but it was busy so he dialed Zach in Boise.

“Hello.”

“Zach, this is Dad. Is everything ok over there?”

“Dad, it’s crazy here, we’ve been without water for the last five or six days, but my roommates and I filled our bathtub so we’ve been getting by.  Now the people are marching downtown threatening to riot and tear the place up.”

Zach sounded shaken.  He was a smart kid, but only twenty-four and unsure what to do.  Cliffson pulled up a chair and attempted to calm himself down to think more clearly.  “Are the freeways clear?”

“As far as I know, but we haven’t been driving much to save on gas.”

Cliffson took a couple deep breaths.  “All right, listen to me carefully.  I doubt GPS is working so take your map with you.  If you come to any road blocks whatsoever, turn around.  Do not approach them.”

“Dad, that could be hard to do on the freeway.”

“Turn around and drive on the shoulder if you have to and go back to the last exit.   It’s that important son, they could be traps.”

“Ok, I’m leaving right now, soon as I get loaded up,” Zach said.

“And one more thing, check in once in a while so we don’t worry about you.

“I will, Dad.”

“Keep your wits about you and think things through if you need to take detours.  We’ll see you in a while.  I love you, son.”

“Love you too.  Bye dad.”

Jean was standing beside Cliffson with her hand on his shoulder and he reached up to take hold of it.  “He’ll be all right.  He knows that country well and has a map in case he needs to detour through some of the back country.

Jean forced her confident smile.  “Let’s try calling Dustin again.”

This time they got through after just one ring and Dustin answered in a terse voice.

“Dad, I can’t talk.  There’s a mob of people headed our way and they’re nearing the house.  I’ve got to go.”

“Dustin be smart and call us when you can.”

“What?  Ok, ok, I’ve got to go.” The phone went dead.

Jean and Cliffson shared pained looks.  There was nothing they could do.

Here is chapter twelve.  I hope you all had a great weekend and that the coming week treats you well.

CHAPTER   TWELVE

 “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.”

 Ralph Waldo Emerson

Barb and Jean heard the explosion from the Lang’s house.  Thinking someone might need help, they ran towards the black cloud of smoke rising up a few blocks away.  Upon their arrival they were shocked to discover Gary, Monk and Cliffson being handcuffed and taken to jail.

At the station, the police finally allowed them to see their husbands.  “I’m all right,” Gary told Barb through the bars of the jail cell, but Cliffson’s sure had a rough couple days.

“Cliffson, what happened?” Jean had that look.

“Nothing.  I’d rather not talk about it right now.”

“What?”

Gary leaned into the cell bars and spoke gently.  “Jean, he’s been roughed up and shot at twice in the last twenty four hours.  Let him go home and unwind a bit first.”

Just then the jailer came in and told them they were free to go, but Monk was being held on potential murder charges for the deaths of the two men stealing the truck.  The group stopped by Monk’s cell on the way out to encourage him and said they’d do all they could to get him released.

“Hang in there Monk.” Cliffson reached through the bars to squeeze Monk’s shoulder.

“I told ‘em I was only trying to shoot out the tires and that I don’t shoot so good with just one eye.”  Monk winked and it left Cliffson wondering if he really had intended to hit the propane tanks.

“Don’t worry about me,” Monk said.  “I’ll be outta here in no time. Keep your powder dry, mate.”

On the drive home Cliffson barely said a word.  “Let’s get together in the next day or two,” Gary said.  “Get yourself healed up.

At home Cliffson immediately headed for the bathroom, saying he was going to soak in the tub.

“All right honey, I’ll bring you a glass of Hermead,” Jean said.

“You’re a sweetheart, babe.”

Jean returned to the bathroom with the glass of beer, sat down on the counter and asked him tell her what had happened.  Cliffson related the entire story and when he was done she was angry.

“What did you think you were doing flipping the guard all that crap?  I can understand you stopping to help the kid but you can’t treat the Chinese that way no matter how you feel.   Think about how vulnerable I’d feel if something happened to you?”

“I’m sorry,” he admitted.  “It’s just my natural disdain for authority.  I didn’t conform to the last society and I’m not conforming to this one.  Couple that with holding me up for our gold, and I got angry.

“You need to adapt Cliffson; it’s the only way we’ll survive.”

He slid down lower in the tub. “Point taken.”

The next day Cliffson was stiff, sore and a little embarrassed.  I’ve got to be smarter about things, he thought.  I can’t be going off half-cocked.

“Jean, I’m going for a walk.”

“All right, I’ll go with you.”

“No, I want some time alone.  Don’t worry, I won’t be long.”

He headed south to Maple Street and turned east towards the church and the old farmhouse.  The air was fresh and crisp, just the way he liked it.  The sun only smoldered, but was enough to warm him.  Approaching the farmhouse, he could see the scorched soil and pavement where the truck exploded, but outside of some broken windows, the old house seemed to have avoided further damage.

Cliffson realized he hadn’t:  the things they’d done to that kid, the Chinese pilfering the nation and the bombing of the capital.  He struggled to process it all, still, he had to move forward and figure out how to protect his family and survive.

After crossing the intersection and walking a block to the north, he stopped momentarily in front of the massive new church.  Its powerful arches and gigantic steeple with the cross on top towered over the surroundings.   Seems like they could have helped a lot of people with all that money, he thought.  It’s only a building; couldn’t they meet in a little more humble setting?  Ah, what did it matter?  Was there really a God anyway and if so why did he allow all these terrible things to happen to people.  I’d help people if I had that kind of power.  Still, I’ll do what I can.  And with that thought in mind, he decided he’d better check in on the widow Smith.

Along the way he watched geese flying overhead in a lazy “V” formation and was reminded of all the ponds once scattered through the fields before the city grew and the developments overran them.

Those were the days—days of peace, days before his brother had died, days of hope for the future.  Death cheated people whether they were old and ready to go, like the widow Smith, or his brother who was in the prime of his life.  Death was right there to steal his brother away from his family, but left the weak and frail widow Smith to suffer alone year after year.

Approaching her little pink house he was feeling more refreshed; maybe it was the air, or maybe it was knowing how the widow Smith would love his company.

He knocked on the metal front door and a couple minutes later it was opened by a bent little wisp of a woman in a dark flowery dress.  Her eyes were alight under wiry gray curls and her smile beamed at the site of Cliffson.  Such warmth, he thought.  How does she do it?

“Oh my goodness, how are you Cliffson? It’s been ages.” She hugged him.  “Come in, come in please.”  Her high, nearly screechy voice always reminded him of his grandmother, Alsie.

The widow Smith was barely five feet tall and Cliffson always felt like such a giant around her.

“Rose, I’m good.  Just wanted to stop by and see how you’re doing.”

“Well, things have gotten a little spooky, haven’t they?  But don’t you fear Cliffson, God is with us and will see us through.”

He was reminded of what he’d just been thinking, standing in front of the church.  “I’m sure that’s true Rose, but I wanted you to know Monk and I will be watching out for you all the same.  So whatever you need, please be sure and let us know.”

“See Cliffson, God’s already answered my prayers, and I thank you and Monk for your care and concern.  You two are such wonderful young men.  I knew the Lord would provide.  Now how about some nice peppermint tea?”

How could he resist.  “Of course, Rose. Do you have any honey?”

Cliffson was feeling better about things by the time he left Rose’s house.  She had a way of lifting him up that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.  How strange, he thought, she was the one who was dependent and barely able to get around, totally at the mercy of whatever came her way, yet she didn’t seem all that concerned.

When he got home, he saw Gary’s car in the driveway, but got quite a surprise when he walked through the door and saw Monk leaning against the counter drinking a beer.

“Monk.” Cliffson shook his hand.  “Did Gary spring you or did you bribe a guard?”

“Neither matey, they let me go on good behavior.”  Everyone laughed.  “No charges were filed, but I had to agree not leave the county.  That wasn’t a problem.”

“Gosh that’s good news Monk, it makes my day.”


Over the next couple days, Jean and Cliffson planted corn and bean crops and worked to enlarge their garden.  Cool season crops of lettuce, spinach, peas and onions were already in the ground and doing well.  Jean’s garlic was nearly a foot tall.  The raspberries were putting up new shoots and Cliffson dug up some of them to give to Monk.  The fruit trees were in full bloom and filled with his honeybees.  It was encouraging to see they would have food to sell or trade, but what really excited him was the new life springing forth in every corner of his garden.

A week after the order was given to turn all gold and silver over to the Chinese, Monk visited the Langs to share some news.  His “ham” radio hobby was becoming quite the asset.

Monk found Cliffson and Gary out by the pump house.  “So how’s it comin’ fellas?  Those hand pumps really take me back.”

“I’ll bet they do.”  Gary winked and Cliffson chuckled.

“Careful there, girlies.  You aint exactly spring chickens yourselves.”  Monk quipped.

“We’re just taking inventory of what we’ll need,” Gary said.

“So what’s the latest news from the “hams” Monk?” Cliffson asked.

“Well, the word I’m getting is that a couple days after the Chinese nuked Washington, they began shutting down the power in all major cities along the east coast.  There’ve been reassurances the power will be coming back on, but it’s been five days and folks are getting restless.”

Monk rarely got excited, but he was definitely keyed up about sharing the next bit of news.  “I’m also hearing that in San Diego our own troops have made a coordinated attack on the Chinese and taken the city back.  And there are unconfirmed reports the military, in coordination with local militias, has been successful in taking back Dallas.”

“Finally, we’re fighting back,” Cliffson said.  “But why haven’t we heard more about it.”

“Chinese are controlling the news,” Monk said.  “In fact, they’re in control of everything; power grid, communications, refineries, rail lines, air traffic, all of it.  We only hear what they want us to hear.”

Gary whistled the sound of a falling bomb. “Remember the nuke threat?”

“I do, but apparently they haven’t used any, right Monk?” Cliffson asked.

“No word on that from the ham network, so I would say not.”

“Good.  Let’s go inside and finish up our list.”

Jean was turning on the TV when the three men walked in.

“Still got one of those old tube sets, Cliffson?  The ones that take forever to warm up.  You really should join the 21st century,”  Monk chided.

“Oh, you mean that period of time history will record when everyone was so self-absorbed with social-disease media there was no time for meaningful conversation or real relationships?  And no Monk, it might be old, but this ain’t no tube set.”

“Ha ha, well said, Cliffson.  You know we’re both on the same page.  Social disease media.”  Monk said, more to himself than anyone else.  “I like that one.”

Jean was flipping through the channels.  “There’s nothing on guys.  All the stations are off the air.”

“That’s a little spooky,”  Barb said.  “I wonder how long they’ve been off?”

“I’ll grab a radio.”  Cliffson raced out to the garage to find it.

Upon returning, he set the radio in the sun by the kitchen window and the sounds of the emergency alert system filled the room.  Knowing looks were exchanged as each of them acknowledged this couldn’t be good.  A few minutes later a Chinese announcer came on.

…Ladies and gentlemen, at 1:00 p.m. Pacific time you are directed to turn on your televisions for an important announcement.  It is very important you do not miss this message…

“That’s just a few minutes from now,”  Cliffson noted.  Then the message began to repeat.

Monk decided to hang around and Jean brought out sun tea while the group speculated about the upcoming announcement.

At 12:58 p.m. a test pattern came on the TV screen.

“That’s strange,”  Monk commented.  “Haven’t seen one of them since I was just a kid.”

Cliffson couldn’t resist.  “I’ll bet it takes you waaaaayyyy back huh Monk.”

Monk silently flipped him a single digit peace sign.

At exactly 1:00 p.m. the test pattern was removed and a Chinese official was seen taking the podium and adjusting the microphone.

“We are about to demonstrate we did not lie to you.  In three minutes you will witness the extermination of the two cities you call Dallas and San Diego.  We have aircraft at a safe distance ready to film the explosions.”

Cliffson moved to sit next to Jean.  The raw terror in the room was palpable.  He took Jeans hand and they watched together.  Barb sat next to Gary with her face in her hands.

“There are now two minutes until the blast and millions of people will die for their foolish actions.  Remember this warning if any of you would think of trying such foolishness again.  Next time we will destroy seven cities.

The room fell silent and shortly thereafter the announcer returned.  “There is now just one minute to say your goodbyes to your friends in Dallas and San Diego.”

An icy silence filled the room and Cliffson felt the grisly hand of death tighten its grip.  It was the longest minute of his life and at the end of it, San Diego was gone.  The cameras rolled on an angry mushroom cloud rising silently from what was once the city of San Diego.   Immediately the picture switched to Dallas where the scene was repeated.


For the Jeffersons the day had gone from bad to worse.  The destruction of San Diego and Dallas went beyond their comprehension.  The fact the Chinese were in control of the country was unimaginable, dreamlike, anything but real.

Now past midnight, Davis was not yet home and hadn’t called to leave any messages.  Calls to his cell phone went unanswered.  It wasn’t like him.  He was always good about keeping his parents in the loop.   Having not heard from him since he’d left for batting practice, Thomas decided to call the police.

“…but officer, he’s always let us know when he’s coming in late.”  Thomas complained.

“I’m sorry sir, but there is nothing we can do.  The Chinese are keeping us busy with their own plans.”

Thomas grew angry.  “Look, I’ve paid my taxes all these years and always supported you.  You have to help.”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

Thomas hung up.

CHAPTER  ELEVEN

When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing — when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors — when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you — when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self- sacrifice — you may know that your society is doomed.”

 Ayn Rand

 The following afternoon Monk and Gary met at the Lang’s house for their trip into town.  Monk joined Gary in his old Ford pickup and Cliffson drove his newly “air conditioned” Honda.

On the main road to town, Cliffson stopped at the four-way intersection of Maple and nineteenth.  On his right was an old abandoned farmhouse and kitty-corner to it was a huge new Catholic church.  It was here the city and the country came together; old farmhouse and potato fields on the right, the church and sub-divisions on the other three sides.

Waiting his turn at the intersection, Cliffson noticed a young boy, probably ten or eleven years old, sitting on the steps of the old farmhouse, his bicycle next to him.  Cliffson waved and the boy waved back.

He probably just needs to get away from some upset parents and have a little time to himself,  Cliffson thought.  Reminds me of when I used to ride out the country lane and past this place years ago before the city grew.

Crossing the bridge over the dry canyon “Drivin’ Wheel” came on the radio.  Cliffson loved the old rock group Foghat and turned it up.  It brought back memories of good times.  Minutes later he met up with Monk and Gary at City Center Auto Glass.

After making arrangements for a new windshield, Cliffson asked the owner if he’d heard anything about the Chinese “collection stations.”

The man spat, “Sons a bitches are set up in the post office parking lot.  Its highway robbery, that’s what it is.”

Cliffson thanked the man and joined Gary and Monk in their pickup.

On the way to fill the propane tanks they drove past the post office.  A couple of people were standing in line and a few more were milling around the “collection station”, which was nothing more than an armored truck.   About half a dozen men from the Chinese military formed a perimeter around the place and carried what looked to be AR-15s.

“Damn,” Monk said.  “AR-15s are U.S. military.  How you suppose they got their hands on them?”

“I’m thinking our own government provided them,” Cliffson answered.  “Part of that ‘full cooperation’ the president demanded.”

Gary drove them to a nearby gas station and after a short wait in line the men purchased the propane they needed.  With the full tanks loaded in the back of the pickup, Gary drove them back to the Post Office and parked in the far corner of the lot.  The three men sat for a moment before walking to the armored truck.

“I don’t like this one bit,” Monk snapped.  “It’s a blazin’ hold up, them sittin’ there with all them automatic weapons and us handing over our gold.”

“I don’t like it either Monk,”  Cliffson added.  “Let’s go get it over with.”

Dressed in dark, greenish brown, open neck coats with picked lapel, a peak hat and black boots, the Chinese guards watched them closely.   The three men joined a short line formed alongside the armored truck and waited their turn behind two other men.  One of the men turned and greeted Monk and Cliffson.  It was Tom Stevens, a local realtor.

After Tom and the other man ahead of them were done, Cliffson stepped to the open window on the passenger side of the truck.  When he reached in his pocket to pull out his coins, one of the guards stepped forward, pointing his weapon at Cliffson and shouting commands in Chinese.  Cliffson had no idea what he was saying and put his hands up in the air.  The official in the truck gave a command and the guard stepped back and lowered his gun.

“Little touchy don’t you think,” Cliffson said to the man in the truck.

“You, smawtass,” the official said in strongly accented English.  “I shoot you right now, no?”

“But then you wouldn’t know where the buried treasure is now would you,” Cliffson smiled.

The official glared at Cliffson before reaching through the window to grab the front of his shirt and yank him up against the truck.  “You are fool, misterrrrrr…?”

“Mr. Chin,” Cliffson finished the sentence.  “Hung Lo Chin.”

Monk choked back a laugh.

“You very funny Mr. Chin.   My name is Chen.  I think you make fun of me.  GUARDS,”  he yelled.

In an instant, guards appeared on each side of Cliffson, pinning his arms and striking a crushing blow to his ribs, buckling his knees.  The guards caught him under the armpits and held him up.

“No sense of humor,” Cliffson choked.

“Ah, but you wrong Mr. Chin, fun is just beginning.  How much fun you like to have?” The official in the truck put his pistol to Cliffson’s forehead.

“Ok, ok, my names really Jerry Lee, Jerwy Wee Woowis, the singer.”

The guard worked the action on his pistol and put it back against Cliffson’s forehead.

“All right, relax, we’re just having a little fun here, remember?”

“Let’s start by you telling me your real name… “Mr. Chin.”

“It’s Lang, Cliffson Lang.”

“Aha, now I see why you prefer name of Chin.” The guards all laughed.  “What have you brought for me today, Mr. Lang?”

Cliffson reached into his pocket to remove one gold coin and ten ounces of silver.

“This is all you have?” Chen asked.

“All of it,” Cliffson groaned.

“You lie.”

“It’s all I have.”  Cliffson shrugged.

“What is your address?”

“1726 Maple Street.”

Their eyes locked for a moment, Cliffson’s steel grey, Chen’s coal black.  The desire to kill one another arced between them in a blue bolt of electricity.

“Get out of my sight,” Chen said.  I not forget you, Mr………..Mr. “Chin.”

“Nor me you,” said Cliffson.

Holding his ribs, Cliffson slowly walked over to rest on the tailgate of the pickup while waiting for Monk and Gary.  A few minutes later they were back to see how he was doing.

“You all right, Cliffson?” Gary asked.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Ha-haa, Cliffson, I nearly peed my pants when you gave that guard your name.” Monk had clearly enjoyed the exchange.

“It was kinda funny wasn’t it, Monk?”

“And buried treasure Cliffson? What a hoot. You really pulled that guy’s chain.”

“Yeah, and you also paid a high price for that fun,” Gary said.

Casting a sideways look at Gary, Cliffson answered. “Yes, I did, and I’ll kill that little bastard if I ever get the chance.”

Gary was shocked.  It wasn’t the Cliffson he’d come to know.

“Bet that wasn’t your address you gave him either, was it?  You just make that up?” Monk asked.

“No, that’s the address of the old abandoned farmhouse on the corner across from the church, which, by the way, I want to have a look at when we go home.”

“Why’s that?” Monk asked.

“On the drive down here I saw a young boy sitting there and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was all right.  I’d like to check on him and see how he’s doing.”

“Come on then,” Gary said. “Let’s go home.”

Their route home took them through the dry canyon and the old “Spud Bowl”, where potatoes were once grown. These days, it was the site of a high school soccer field.  Cliffson found himself reflecting on simpler times and thinking back to his first summers away from home as a twelve and thirteen year old kid, working on a farm.

Those experiences grew me up, made me independent, possibly too independent, but all the same, it made a man out of me.  It’s where I learned the values of honesty, integrity and taking pride in my work.  Today, those concepts seem so foreign to most folks and I hate the hypocrisy I see in the people of our nation.  There was a special quality infused into people’s character that came from working the land and a frame of reference for understanding the realities of the world.  Urbanites simply don’t rub up against these truths, so they don’t appreciate how the issues faced by farmers are everyone’s issues.  Without this awareness they lack an understanding of the basic realities of life.

“Cliffson, you with us?”  Gary interrupted his thoughts.  “Is that the boy you were talking about?” Gary asked.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve got to help him,” Cliffson exclaimed.

Gary skidded to a stop in front of the house and all three men burst from the truck at a run.  West of the house was an old stand of poplar trees.  The boy was stripped to his undershorts and tied to one of the trees.  Cliffson could see the tears streaming down his face and he was bleeding from a wound in his leg and another in his arm.

Between sobs the boy tried to explain how three men had been shooting at him, attempting to see how close they could come without hitting him.  Monk cut the boy loose and took a quick look at the wounds.

“What the hell you doing to our boy?” Cliffson spun around in time to see a man in black leather pull a pistol from inside his jacket.

“Get behind the trees,” Monk yelled.

Cliffson grabbed the boy and pulled him behind the tree.

BOOM!          BOOM!     The bark splintered beside Cliffson’s head and the boy shook uncontrollably.

BOOM, Monk answered from Cliffson’s left.  The man in black grabbed his shoulder and nearly fell.

“Now git the hell outta here,” Monk yelled.

The man turned and stumbled toward his black Toyota.

Black Toyota.  The thought struck Cliffson like another shard of glass.  It was a black Toyota at the gas station yesterday.  Then he heard Gary’s truck start up.   Two more men had raced from the building and were attempting to steal it.   Gary had left the door open and the keys in the ignition when rushing to help the boy.  The crooks were in the process of turning the truck around when Cliffson heard Monk’s gun bark three more times before a massive explosion knocked him off his feet.  Pieces of truck were thrown high into the air and the black Toyota was turned over on its side.

A little late with the second edition this week, I was climbing the South Sister Mountain.  Here is chapter nine.

CHAPTER  NINE

 “If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.”

Buddhist Zen Master Sent-ts’an

 “Jean, that was an incredible dinner,” Gary said.

“It sure was,” chimed in Barb.

“She saves the good meals for company.” Cliffson winked.

The Langs and Wests had developed quite a close relationship over the years as each couple had come to realize how few people shared their traditional values of individual initiative, integrity, and self-reliance.

The Wests lived outside of town on 20 acres just a mile away from the Lang’s single acre on the west edge of town.  Both couples raised large gardens, kept bees, and shared many of the same hobbies.

Prior to the housing boom in the early 2000’s the Lang’s property was just outside of town.  Now the hay fields and poplar trees stretching out behind them were the only things left of the fields that once surrounded them.  Sub-division housing bordered them on the other three sides.

“I hate to ruin such a great meal with politics guys, but would you mind if I turned on the President’s speech?” asked Cliffson.

“The Liar in Chief?  The man’s delusional.  What would you want to watch him for?” Gary frowned.

“Agh”, you know what I think of him Gary, but considering the bankrupt state of our nation I want to know just what they plan on doing.  The government’s still printing more than a hundred billion dollars a month, even after defaulting on payments to Japan and some of the old European nations.  If they can’t get things worked out and default on the loans with China, it could mean war.  Even if we don’t default, China wants our payment in gold and you know we don’t have it.”

“You don’t really expect any answers from the fools in Washington do you?”  Gary asked rhetorically.  “They’re the same people who got us into this mess.  Besides, most folks don’t understand what’s happening to our country anyway. Others outright hate our nation—they look only at what our nation is today and not at the principles our country founded on.  The concepts of liberty and all men created equal have been buried under the rush for entitlements.”

Cliffson was thoughtfully chewing on a toothpick. “Sadly, that’s the bloody truth.  Economic growth is tied to freedom and our nation’s people have been willing to give up their freedom for a little so-called security.  Consequently, we don’t prosper.  It’s a pretty basic concept.  You can’t have one without the other.”

Gary laughed.  “So you don’t think the president suddenly had an epiphany and saw the light do you?”

“No, but he’s been meeting with Chinese diplomats all week and there’s a lot on the line.  Maybe the Chinese have enlightened him a bit.  There’s a lot of empty space in that man’s head.” Cliffson grinned and clicked on the TV.

“Speaking to you tonight from Kansas City, the President is just now coming to the podium,” the newsman announced.

“Good evening my fellow Americans.  I’ve come to the heartland of our great nation to speak to you tonight about the serious matters concerning all of us.  Congress is gathered back in Washington watching on the two new big screens we just had installed and I am told you can see both them and myself on your own screens at home.”

“Unfortunately,” Gary quipped.

“Now, I’m sure you’re aware of the nation’s struggles to pay its ever increasing debts. We’ve been meeting non-stop with diplomats from China for the last few weeks to discuss our loans and how to…….”

“Hey, what happened, the screen showing Congress just went blank?”  Cliffson changed channels.  “It’s like that on all of them, and now the President’s leaving the podium.”

“Well stink, some drunken boob probably knocked the camera over,” Gary chuckled.  “Is Ted Kennedy back among us?”

Cliffson looked surprised.  “Ooh, that’s kinda low even for you Gary”.

“I guess so but….”

“Folks, this is your local KBXF correspondent, and we have an unconfirmed report that,” the reporter stumbled over his words, “I can’t seem to…………I, ahhhh, folks I’m sorry, I can’t believe this is happening, but I repeat, an unconfirmed report that a nuclear device has been detonated in the nation’s capital.”

Cliffson leapt from his chair, “What!  Gary there could be more on the way.”

“Now hang on Cliffson, he said it was unconfirmed.”

In tears now, the news correspondent struggled to compose himself before explaining they would be back on the air with a statement from the President as soon as possible.

Barb’s voice rose in a shrill cry, “What do we do now?”

For a moment everyone remained frozen in the stunned silence, waiting for the next bomb to fall.  Abruptly the shriek of the tea pot on the stove jolted them back to reality.  That’s when Cliffson and Gary began rushing about and speaking so fast no one could understand what they were saying until Jean and Barb got them to slow down.

“We need to call our kids,” yelled Gary.

“And we should go to the store for food and fill our cars with gas,” Cliffson countered.

“Hold on fellas, let’s see if the President comes back on TV before we get too excited.”  Jean seemed almost calm and Cliffson thought again how thankful he was for the wisdom his wife possessed.

While the two couples waited for more news they cried, hugged, prayed together, shared their concerns, and discussed “what if” plans.  Late in the evening the worst was officially confirmed.  The damage was extensive.  The White House, Library of Congress and Supreme Court had been vaporized.  The Vice President and members of Congress were lost.  Washington D.C. was gone and there was still no word from the President.

The military was keeping everyone far from the edge of the blast zone and a steady stream of updates kept the public informed about the direction of the radiation cloud.  People were told to stay inside, but fortunately, most of the radiation was drifting out over the Atlantic.

Eventually it became clear the President would not be speaking and the Wests decided to head home.  Barb clung to Gary on their way to the car and Cliffson pulled Jean a little closer.  The couples were standing in the driveway saying goodbye when Monk approached from next door, his boots tapping out a familiar rhythm in the night air.

“Hello, Monk.” Cliffson noticed he was not wearing his hat and saw the bald spot on the top of his head gleaming in the moonlight.  It was why they called him Monk.

“Howdy, folks. We all doin’ all right?”

“Ok, I guess.  You hear anything over your ham radio that’s not being reported on the news?” Cliffson asked.

“Well, there’s a lot of talk about the Chinese being involved but nothing for sure.”

“What?  That makes no sense Monk.   Their diplomats have been here most the week working on a resolution to things,” Cliffson challenged.

“You mean just like the Japanese diplomats were doing right up until the time they attacked Pearl Harbor,” responded Monk.  “It’s a perfect cover.”

Shoving his hands deep into his pockets Cliffson sighed.  “Monk this just bends my mind.  I’m glad there weren’t any more bombs but I’m still feeling pretty vulnerable.  You’d think we’d have heard from the President by now.”

“Yes, you would, but like I said, there’s some strange rumors circulating among the ham operators.”

“What kind of rumors?” Gary asked.

“Let’s wait until morning, right now it’s all just talk.  Maybe tomorrow we’ll have some answers and a better picture of things.  Besides, we’ve all got plenty on our minds for one night.  I was just checking in to see how you all were doin’.”

“Monk’s right.  We should get some sleep tonight before we do anything,”  Gary said.  “Thanks for looking in on us Monk.  Good night.”

“Good night, folks.”

Walking back to the house Cliffson wasn’t sure if it was the cool spring air or the night’s events that gave him a chill.  He paused for a moment to gaze into the clear evening sky.  A silver slivered moon was faintly visible behind a supple white cloud and the stars sparkled against black velvet, just as they always had, as if nothing had happened.  How he wished it was so.


The Jeffersons were at home watching a game show called “Hold on to Your Seat” when the program was interrupted with news of the bombing.

“It’s a hoax,” Thomas blustered.  “No way has this happened.  Someone’s pulling a stunt.  People are pretty wound up over the condition of our country and it’d be very easy to take advantage and create a nationwide panic, then later poke fun at the people who were duped.  Remember the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast in 1938 by Orson Wells?  Well I’m not falling for it.”

“But honey, this was on national news,”  Mary pleaded.

Then Davis, who was home on spring break, exploded through the front door.  “I was just leaving Jason’s house when the news came on – D.C. has been nuked!  What are we going to do?”

“Now hold on there son.  We were just discussing how this is likely a hoax.”

Mary interrupted, “Your father was saying he thinks it is a hoax, but I don’t agree.”

Thomas defended his position.  “Look, we haven’t heard anything from the president.  If this were a national emergency surely he’d be speaking to us.”

“Or out playing golf.”

“That’s uncalled for, Davis,”  Thomas countered.  “Our president has given all of us hope in troubled times and single-handedly saved this nation from a second depression.”

Davis threw up his hands.  “Yeah, it’s just like the roaring 20’s out there isn’t it Dad.”

“Just what has gotten into you son?  Is this the kind of thing you’re learning at college?”

“Dad, it’s just that…” Mary cut him off.  “Listen to you two!  Now is not the time for this and I don’t want to hear any more.  For all we know we really have been attacked.”

Thomas put his arms around Mary and spoke softly.  “All right, all right, you make a good point and we’ll shelve this for now.  Surely tomorrow there will be some more news from the president.”  His steely look towards Davis assured there would be no snide remarks.