Posts Tagged ‘history’

I have just  begun book two.  Any thoughts or comments on the first book would be welcome.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-FOUR

 “By giving the government unlimited powers, the most arbitrary rule can be made legal; and in this way a democracy may set up the most complete despotism imaginable.”

 Friedrich von Hayek

 Monk immediately rushed home for his gear, but when Cliffson began putting his equipment together, Jean got upset.

“Your arm’s in a sling.  You can’t possibly go.”  Jean was adamant.

Cliffson tore off the sling and threw it to the floor.  “Not any longer.”

“Cliffson this is foolishness, you cannot go!”

“And I cannot stay.  These are our friends and they’re counting on us.”

Dustin turned to her. “Mom, it’ll be all right.  I’ll keep him out of trouble.”

“You’re going too? No!”  Jean slumped on the couch with her face in her hands.

Monk returned with his gear.  “What’s the matter with Jean?”

Cliffson sat down beside her.  “She’s doesn’t want us to go.”

Monk knelt in front of Jean.  “Look me in the eye.”  Cliffson would have laughed if it wasn’t so serious.  Monk continued.

“I’m promising you right here and now I’ll bring them back.  I give you my word Jean.”

“But it could be a trap and you don’t know how big this group is.”

“I’m not about to let them walk into any trap.  It’ll be all right.”

Monk stood and looked towards Cliffson.  “Time to go, mate.  Got your rain gear?”

Cliffson kissed Jean on the cheek and turned to Thomas.  “You may have been called to duty sooner than you anticipated Thomas, but I’m counting on you to guard the house while were gone.”

“I won’t let you down.”

“Jean will fix you up with weapons and don’t forget, she’s not a bad shot herself.”  Cliffson turned to go, then stopped in mid stride and turned back.  Taking Jean in his arms he looked into her emerald eyes.  “We’ll be alright.  I promise,” he whispered, and kissed her again before turning to leave.

The trio took up their gear and headed out the back door to the fields behind Cliffson’s house.  Driving would draw attention and Monk wanted the full benefit of surprise.  A fearful Jean stood in the doorway and watched them disappear over the rock wall into the rain darkened night.

The men stuck to a low swale that would take them through the fields to the West’s.  Cliffson feared the worst with each passing minute. Jogging when they could, they were slowed only by the numerous barb wire fences.  The darkness clung to them tightly against the howling wind and the rain struck like blunt darts, soaking their jean clad legs and wool caps.

The storm was in full raging crescendo when they crossed the county road and climbed the last fence to a horse pasture adjacent to the West’s property.

Juniper limbs dancing in the windy gusts, deflected shafts of lantern light radiating from the West’s house.  From the shelter of a massive blackberry bramble Monk led them through the pasture to lofty sagebrush growing against the fence at the back of the West’s property.  Next to invisible inside the gales rainy cloak, they watched the house from only sixty feet away.

Through the sliding glass door in back of the house, Gary could be seen tied to a chair next to a rectangular wooden table.  A man in a blue ball cap and an orange down vest stood over him with a pistol.  A second person stood at the other end of the table partially out of sight.  Barb appeared in the kitchen window to the left of the sliding door.

Then under the watchful eye of her captors, Barb stepped outside onto the patio and raised the lid to a propane barbeque positioned under a protective awning.  There she collected baked chicken and brought it back inside.

Soon the man in the ball cap stuck his head out the door and yelled into the dark,  “Johnny, dinner’s on.”  From their right, a third man appeared out of the dark and ran through the rain to the back door of the house.

Monk turned to Cliffson.  “Lookouts.  We need to know how many.  Stay here while I circle the property.”  Monk dropped back and disappeared into night before moving off to their right.  The lookout returned with his meal, pulled up his hood and ran for the protection of a shed scarcely visible in the dark.  Cliffson knew the shed stood adjacent to Barbs chicken coop.

With the next blast of wind driven fury Cliffson shivered and noted the drop in air temperature, though Dustin still seemed warm enough.  While the two of them huddled together in the storm awaiting Monks return, his thoughts turned to how this would all play out.  Cliffson knew Monk would be thorough and take his time.  Hopefully it also meant he would return with some kind of plan.

A short while later a dove cooed from their left and Cliffson knew Monk was returning.  Rain ran from a darkened cap and off his nose as he delivered his report.  In addition to the lookout posted in the shed near the chicken coop there were two additional sentries; one was sitting inside a lime green van watching the driveway and the other was south of the house, taking cover under the awning of an equipment shed.

“Here’s the deal.  They form a kind of triangle.  The first one we saw here at the chicken coop shed is in the middle, within line of site of the other two.”

“How come we can’t see the one to our left, Monk?”  Dustin asked.

“The junipers block your view from here.  Follow me.”  Monk led the way and the three of them moved south about ten yards.  “Look right about there,”  Monk pointed.  At first they didn’t see anything, then an orange dot glowed in the dark.  “That’s him right there, smoking a cigarette.  The guards have to be taken out before we can move inside and it’s gotta be done quietly.  Dustin, you’ve been practicing with the crossbow and I know you’re pretty good.  Can you hit the orange dot?”

“Would be better if I can get closer.”

“Follow this fence.  Just ahead it turns to the right.  Follow it until it turns back to the left and from there you will have a clear shot.

Cliffson, I’m going to circle around the other way and take out the guard in the van.  That leaves the guard near the chicken coop for you.”  Monk reached into his pocket and handed Cliffson something like piano wire.  “Remember, I said quietly.”  Cliffson grimaced but in the dark Monk didn’t see it.  “You need to get over the barbed wire fence and I’ll show you a place where the wire sags and you can step right over.”

Monk paused in thought for a moment.  “Dustin, give me five minutes to get in position, then shoot.  That’s when we all move.”  Cliffson nodded agreement.  “With the guards gone, I’ll move to the front door while the two of you go to the back.  From there we’re gonna have to play it by ear because we don’t know how many are inside.  Be ready to react to any distraction, or create one yourself if you can.”  Monk looked to each of them. “We can do this, now let’s go.”

An ear splitting scream tore the air with the force of a lightning strike and froze them in their tracks.  The sliding door had been thrown wide open and the man at the table was forcing Barb outside.  “Give me the combination to the safe.”  He demanded.  Barb ignored him and struggled even more.  Then holding her arm over the hot grill, he growled, “Last chance lady.”  Barb screamed an unholy scream of the damned, causing even the wind to catch its breath.

“Quickly now, let’s go.”  Monk moved out with Cliffson in tow.  Cliffson didn’t know how Monk found his way in the inky dark, but after about twenty yards he stopped at the sagging portion of fence.  Without saying a word, Monk squeezed Cliffson’s shoulder and moved on.

Cliffson knelt to size up the job that lay before him and didn’t like what he saw.  Upon crossing the fence he would be nearly in front of the lookout.  Tall vegetation a few steps away would allow him to circle around and come up from behind, but with only the rainy night for cover, he would be completely exposed immediately after crossing the fence.

After watching the man pull Barb back inside, he gathered his courage and moved to the fence.  It’s now or never.   Monk was right, his long legs allowed him to step over the fence without much trouble.  Placing his pistol in the pocket of his jacket to free his hands he cautiously stretched one leg over the fence.  Turning to swing the other leg over the fence his jacket snagged on a barb and yanked him to the ground.  The old fence wailed into the night like a boar hog at breeding time.

Dustin had found a comfortable, well braced position from which to take his shot.  The orange dot glowed and then disappeared.  He waited, knowing it would appear again and froze in position, locked on target.  It glowed again, but his aim was to the left, so he waited again.  Each time it glowed he had just one or two seconds to align his shot.

If he could just hold his position against the buffeting wind until the dot glowed again his shot would be true. Moments later the orange glow reappeared and he released the razor sharp bolt.  The orange dot gurgled and fell to the ground.  In the same instant a commotion arose to his right.

Cliffson yanked at the coat to free himself and then reached for his pistol.  Too late.

“Freeze.”  A rifle barrel jammed sharply into the middle of his back.

“Drop the gun.”

Cliffson obeyed.

“Inside.”  The gun barrel never left his back and the two men made their way to the back porch.

Cliffson opened the sliding door and stepped inside.  Gary glanced up through swollen eyes, but it was Barb’s gasps of pain coming from the kitchen floor that drew his attention.

“Well Johnny, what do we have here?”  It was a deep, guttural voice and it came from the man they had not been able to see from outside.

“Found him prowling around outside.  He was armed too.”

A bearded, giant of a man limped over and looked down at Cliffson.  A river of whiskey flowed from his breath when he spoke.

“I know you.”  The man bent, bringing his face within inches of Cliffson’s.   “You was part of that group who attacked me up in Washington.  Johnny, no way he’s alone. Go back outside and look for his friends.”

Then he turned back to Cliffson.  “What is it with you?” Anger contorted the man’s face, or was it the whiskey he’d just swallowed.

“Always showing up uninvited.  Do you know how much you cost me stealin that little girl away?  No of course you don’t.  Well never mind.  Nate, open that door.”

The man sitting at the table with Gary got up, opened the sliding door and returned to stand beside Cliffson.

“You and I are going for a walk,”  The big man ordered.

Gary began to protest through the gag in his mouth.  Nate turned around and slugged him.

“Stop it, you can’t do this,” Barb yelled from the kitchen.

“You think not little lady, well just you watch.  You have no idea what I’m capable of.”  The colossal man took another pull on his whiskey bottle and stuck the barrel of his sawed off shotgun against Cliffson’s chest.  “Move!”

Cliffson reacted instantly, driving his left hand hard up against the barrel, forcing it towards the ceiling.  The gun roared to life and Nate jumped to grab him from behind but not before Cliffson pulled the giants blade from his waist band.  Swiftly swinging the blade behind his back Cliffson drove it deep into Nate’s gut.  Then it was over.  The shotgun was wrenched from his hand and smashed into the back of his head.

Cliffson never heard the shots that laid the big man low.  Monk burst through the front door and fired as Dustin released his bolt through the open sliding door.  The big man’s head exploded when the leaden .45 bullet met the bolts razor tipped blade deep inside his skull.

When Cliffson came to he wasn’t sure where he was, but one thing he was sure of—the nine pound hammer beating incessantly on an anvil inside his head.  While attempting to focus his eyes, his ears took over and he began to recognize Monk’s voice, then Dustin’s.  Both were asking if he could hear them and if he was all right.

“Lime…….Green……..Van.” He whispered.

Monk laughed while Dustin stood there shaking his head.  “Dad you’re crazy.”

Gary helped him sit up.

Monk grabbed a towel to soak in the cool rain before applying it to Barb’s arm.

“Sure…. glad…. you guys… showed up.”  Cliffson struggled to get the words out.  “Thought I was a goner after snagging my coat on that fence.”

Monk explained how he was just getting into position when he heard the fence squeal.  Dustin said he heard it too and rushed back to see what was going on.  “I didn’t have to wait long before they sent that guy back out to look for us.  He didn’t get very far.”  Dustin raised his hands and pretended to shoot the crossbow.

Gary watched through two puffy black eyes.  He was going to hurt for some time to come, but Barb’s wound was the most serious and she was in a lot of pain.  While Monk searched for painkillers in the West’s bathroom, Gary suggested the group spend the night.  Needing to shake off the trauma, the suggestion was well received by all.

Then Cliffson remembered he’d better call Jean and Dustin brought him the radio.  Through a garbled conversation he managed to inform Jean everyone was all right but they were going to spend the night and he would see her in the morning.


The next day Gary’s eyes were nearly swollen shut, and the chain gang was still making little rocks out of big ones inside Cliffson’s head.  Monk offered to stay a few days while Barb recovered and Gary gladly accepted.

Monk dug a hole with Gary’s tractor and Dustin helped him drag the bodies into it.  When they searched the monster mans pockets Monk found the keys to the van.  “I seem to recall that you’re in need of a set of wheels Mr. Dustin.”  Monk’s wry smile lit up his good eye.

“Oh–ho Monk!  Have I got an idea,”  Dustin said.

“I’ve a feelin’ there’s mischief afoot?”  Monk replied.

“Just a little fun.  I’m sure you’ll get the full story later.  See you in a few days.”  Dustin turned to go.

“Son, come here.”  Dustin turned back to face Monk.   “A lot has been asked of you recently and yet each time you unflinchingly do what’s required.  I’m proud of you and I know your father is too.”  Monk reached out to take Dustin’s hand.

“Well thank you Monk,”  Dustin said in surprise.

“There’s more to it son.”  Monk put his arm around Dustin’s shoulder and they began to walk towards the house.  “I’m not sure if you understand what an important part you play in the survival of your family.  A lot more is going to be asked of you before this is over.  Times like this take their toll.  I want you to know I’m always here for you.  If you find these things haunting you, interfering with doing what needs to be done, then come talk to me.”

“I will Monk, and thank you.”

Monk slapped Dustin on the back.  “All right, I’ll see you in a few days.”

Dustin walked the rest of the way to the house thinking how good it felt to have Monk’s confidence.  He was unsure about what more might be required of him, but he’d think about that later.  Right now he was anxious to get home.

Cliffson met him at the front door and the two walked to the van while Dustin explained what he was up to.  Cliffson could only shake his head and then wished he hadn’t.

When they got in the van, Dustin found it creepy to think of all it represented, but Cliffson made an even more startling discovery.  In the back of the van was a 50 caliber rifle with a scope and cases of ammo.  Just what he needed for the plan he was formulating.

Dustin fired up the van and waved to Monk before heading out the long gravel drive.  Overnight the storm had abated and Dustin found the freshness of the new day exhilarating.   When they reached the pavement, he handed Cliffson one of the dark wool hats they had worn and asked him to put it on.  Cliffson grudgingly obliged.

With hats pulled down low Dustin guided the van home.  When he turned the corner and approached the Lang’s house he saw Kate in the garden, picking raspberries.  This would fit his plans even better.

Slamming the pedal to the floor, Dustin roared into the driveway, skidded across the lawn and stopped just short of the garden.  When Kate saw the lime green van racing towards her she screamed and ran for the house.  Dustin jumped from the van and ran to cut her off, catching up and grabbing her from behind just before she could reach the house.  Kate screamed, kicked her legs and beat on his back with both fists as he tossed her over his shoulder.

Cliffson could only sit and watch.  He knew there’d be a price to pay for this, but he couldn’t help chuckling to himself.  Finally, Dustin was laughing so hard he could no longer hold Kate up and collapsed to the ground.

Cliffson had known Jean to have a temper, but wasn’t sure he’d ever seen her as enraged as Kate was right now.  He couldn’t make out what she was saying, but the finger she pointed at Dustin and the look on her face told him all he needed to know.

Everyone was rushing from the house to see what the commotion was all about when Cliffson stepped from the van.  Then Kate’s anger turned to tears.  She leapt into Dustin’s arms and kissed his face.

“I was so worried.  How could you do this!  Are you all right?  Are you hurt anywhere?  I’ll never forgive you!”  The questions flew and she kissed him some more.

While Cliffson watched, Jean came along side of him for a hug and discovered a trail of blood trickling from the lump on the back of his head.

“Last night on the radio you told me everyone was all right.  Look at you.  You lied to me!”

Cliffson smiled and winked at his son, knowing they were both likely to be in the dog house for while.

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

CHAPTER  TWENTY-TWO

  “Wherever Law ends, Tyranny begins.”

 John Locke, 1690

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

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

What’s happened to Roger and the group?

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

How much more can Mary take?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Still thirsty,” she answered.

“Then let’s get off of this bridge.”

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

“Looks like a shootout Bob.”

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

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

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

“Same here.”

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

“Don’t see nothin’.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Just thinking.”

“Spit it out Thomas.”

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

“Thomas!”

Mary spit while Thomas stifled his laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Cliffson remained silent.

“Speak up, Mr. Lee.”

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

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

“Who told you that?” asked Cliffson.

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

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

“You, not on level, Mr. Lee.”

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

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

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

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

Cliffson held his stare.

“You see Mr. Crank standing over there?”

Cliffson glanced a look.  “Yes.”

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

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

“He is useful to me.”

“He is a traitor,” Cliffson glared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You saw that?”  Cliffson asked.

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

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

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

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

“No doubt,”  Cliffson answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Take care Monk.”


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

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“Ready.”  But her voice was not convincing.

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

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

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

“But sir, my wife…..”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Barbaraaaa!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Mary nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thomas, I need to lie down.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dustin, you all right?”

“I’m fine Dad, but these two aren’t.”

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

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

“We need to find them,”  Cliffson spat.

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

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

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


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

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

“Honey, you’re shaking like a leaf.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean like a bullet.”

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

“Ok,” she said.

Thomas stood and helped Mary to her feet.

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

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

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

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

“No, no it wasn’t me.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Cliffson, you got shot?”  Monk asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER  SIXTEEN

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

 Otto von Bismarck

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“I will Dad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you turn it on?”

“Green button, right in the middle.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean the executions?” Monk asked.

“Yep.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But would you really have run him down?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where could Dustin be?” Cliffson whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

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

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

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

“Drop the gun,” the big man demanded.

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

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

“Let my son go.”

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

Dustin remained silent.

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

The valley shook with the big man’s laughter.

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

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought I heard a car door slam.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wasn’t that hard a shot.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No problem,”  Cliffson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The bastards” Monk whispered.

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

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

Cliffson groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I appreciate that.”

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

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

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

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.