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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.

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CHAPTER  TWENTY-THREE

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

 Apache Wedding Blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want to join them?”  Dustin yelled.

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

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

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

Hank walked away shouting obscenities and threatening them all.

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

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

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

Monk nodded.

“I just made it up, why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was quiet for moment as neither man spoke.

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

“It’s all right Dad.”

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

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

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

“And Dad.”

“What son?”

“We are helping.”

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


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

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

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

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

“Thomas, stop it,”  Mary demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER  TWENTY-ONE

 “The state, or, to make matters more concrete, the government, consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting “A” to satisfy “B”. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advanced auction on stolen goods.

 H.L. Mencken

 Early the next morning Roger praised the group for their progress and spread out the map to show them the route they would take.   Redmond was just two days hike away.  They’d be long days, but Roger insisted on staying abreast of the main body of refugees.  Once the masses fell upon the town, no one would be welcome.

When the group broke camp, Jeff took the lead and Roger dropped back to walk with the Jefferson’s.  He inquired about Mary and assured her there would be medical help in Redmond.

Maybe he was just relieved to have the difficult portion of the trail behind them, Thomas wasn’t sure, but Roger struck up a conversation that revealed a much friendlier side than he’d previously seen.

Thomas soon discovered a very warm and congenial soul beneath the man’s steel exterior and learned how broken Roger was over losing his own son.  The fact he’d not been there to protect his family when the Chinese came through their neighborhood to take away the young men was nearly more than he could bear.

The comment stopped Thomas in his tracts.  Unaware of the Chinese activities, he explained to Roger how his own son had disappeared.  Roger confirmed it was likely the Chinese held Davis as well and informed Thomas there was a labor camp just east of Salem. It was possible both of their sons were in the same camp.

This new revelation made Thomas ache for his son all the more and he asked Roger if he didn’t feel as if he was abandoning his own son by leaving the area.  Patiently, Roger explained his first obligation was to provide a safe place for his wife and remaining son.  Besides, he couldn’t rescue his son single handedly.  Once his family was out of harm’s way he hoped to organize a group and return to the labor camp to find his son.   Without hesitation Thomas agreed to join with Roger in a rescue attempt at the first opportunity.

When Roger left for the front of the group Thomas realized he’d gained a new respect for the man and wondered out loud to Mary how they’d been so fortunate to cross paths with him.

Late in the day, Roger led them south in a detour around the community of Sisters and the possibility of trouble.  Mary and Thomas had gradually fallen behind and when Roger returned to check on them Thomas assured him they would catch up.

“You go on ahead.  We’ll stay on the trail and follow your tracks,”  Thomas said.

“In a few more miles the forest turns to rangeland and I don’t want to camp out in the open,”  Roger said.  “So we’ll camp just ahead.  You sure you’ll be all right?”

“We’ll be fine.  Mary needs to rest a bit and then we’ll catch up.”

Roger hesitated, unsure about leaving them.  “All right, it’s not that far.  You folks be careful and I’ll have some hot coffee waiting for you when you get to camp.”  He clamped Thomas on the shoulder, as if to reassure him and set out down the trail.

“Thomas, I can’t go any further.  I didn’t want to say anything while Roger was here, but I’m exhausted.”  Tears blazed a trail through the dust on Mary’s face and Thomas realized she was reaching the end of her endurance.

“All right, let’s take a short rest.  The others will be worried if we don’t catch up.”

“I just want to lie down Thomas.”

“All right, you get some rest.  I’m gonna have a look around.

“Please don’t go far.”

Thomas was away for about ten minutes when he heard the sound of gunfire cut through the forest.  He rushed back to the trail and found Mary huddled under a pine tree trembling like a frightened puppy.

“It’s ok Mary.”  He sat down beside her in a bed of pine needles before realizing it might be safer if they moved off the trail.

“Honey, come with me.  We need to get off the path.”

Thomas took them up the trail a short distance to where the trees and brush grew thick.  There he turned off the trail and led Mary into a thicket of brush.  It was painful pushing through the brambles, but once inside he found a narrow game path and followed it for a few more yards.

Thomas pulled up and held a finger to his lips.  “I think I hear voices,”  he whispered while motioning for Mary to sit down.  Their position was well concealed but only a short distance from the path.

At first they didn’t hear anything and Thomas was thinking about moving further away from the trail when they heard the voices again, this time much closer.

“I told ya Clyde there were seven of em.  There’s got to be two more around here someplace.”

“Well I don’t see’s em’.  Maybe they split up?  We’ve already come quite a way from the rest of the group, how far could they be? A little further and I’m going back.”

Thomas listened for the dull thump of boots to fade away down the path.  Breathing a sigh of relief he looked at Mary and saw eyes as big as saucers.  It broke his heart to see her like this.   Completely out of her element, gunshot and broken hearted, she’d been such a trooper, but Thomas knew she couldn’t hold on much longer.

Pulling her close he whispered in her ear, “It’s gonna be all right.  They won’t find us here.  Lie still and they’ll be gone soon.”

It seemed to take forever, but twenty minutes or so later they heard the pounding of boots returning down the trail.  Mary tensed immediately and they both held their breath while the two men passed.

After waiting another fifteen or twenty minutes Thomas felt it was safe to push on.  It would be dark soon and they needed to find a place to spend the night.  The brush snapped as loud as fireworks, but they had no choice but to keep moving.  Crawling through a dense patch of bramble they found a small den where some animal, probably a deer, had been bedding down.  Sorry Bambi but your gonna need to find another place to sleep tonight, Thomas thought to himself and then immediately wondered if it might be a bear.

With brush all around and evergreen trees overhead, the space was just large enough to rollout their sleeping bags.   The sky would be their roof tonight and a plastic tarp would keep the dew off.   After munching on a handful of granola and sharing some water, Mary slid into her sleeping bag and fell asleep.

Thomas sat quietly, observing the night sky and listening for anyone who might have followed.  Through the limbs he could see the first few stars appear in a crystal clear sky.   All was quiet and it seemed they were safe.  Soon he too was curled up fast asleep.


Two days after the confrontation at Cliffson’s well, the city’s generators ran out of diesel.  The town was without power, water and communications.

Cliffson watched as neighbors from across the street loaded anything that could carry water into the back of two pickups and headed out to the nearest river, three miles away.  Their strained, anxious looks stared back at Cliffson as they left town.

That afternoon the first of the survivors began arriving from the other side of the mountains—those with fuel for their cars and trucks.  Monk and Cliffson rushed to a gunfight taking place a few blocks north of their homes, but they were too late to help.  The family was dead and the house bristled guards and the gleaming barrels of rifles.  The unwelcoming glare of the new owners kept Monk and Cliffson moving on and they soon returned home.

Later in the afternoon Cliffson was outside getting water from the well when he noticed the neighbors returning from their trip to the river.  It soon became apparent only one shot up pickup had returned and the group’s mournful cries greeted his ears long before he saw the bodies being removed from in back of the truck.  Accessing the river was clearly a dangerous proposition.

That evening the night sky glowed with the red and orange hues of  homes going up in flames.  Anticipation of even more invaders arriving from over the mountains honed a sharp edge to the despair settling over the town.

The next day, Cliffson was outside drawing water from the well when Monk rolled into the Lang’s driveway on his bike with a beautiful day and a toothy grin in tow.  He’d been visiting with a family up the street who were out of water.  After a short discussion with Cliffson, he left to get a two-wheeled yard cart and Cliffson began filling water bottles.

When Monk returned, they loaded the cart and began the eight block hike to Georgia’s house, the family in need.  Dustin trailed them by a block or so in case of trouble.

The rattling cart announced their presence to anyone within earshot and hungry eyes followed each and every step.  They were passing through a newer part of town, built out during the real estate bubble of the early 2000’s, but many homes were in need of paint, driveway faces were taking on the first cracks of age and weeds had taken over the yards.

Half way there, Monk gave Cliffson a break and took over pulling the cart just before turning east onto Poplar St. where Georgia’s family lived.  Immediately upon turning the corner two young men stepped out from behind a hedge with pistols drawn.

“Let go of the cart and move to the other side of the road.”  The young thug demanded.   Monk refused to move and stood there with one foot behind the other.

It was the signal to Dustin there was trouble and he quickly crossed the street to narrow the angle and hide from view.  Inching forward along a wooden fence, he crept toward the corner as Monk began pushing the cart again.

“Where you goin’ old man? I told you to stop,” the thug yelled.

Still moving slowly Monk tried to engage them in conversation.  “No reason we can’t share. Now why don’t you put those guns down so we can work something out.”

“No chance old man.  Set the cart down now, you mother……….”

Monk had had enough and stopped to face the young hooligan.  “I get it.  I’m supposed to be afraid of your profanity.  Makes you a tough guy right?  Well it ain’t nothin more than verbalized ignorance, bludgeon of the witless.  Are you really that stupid?”

“What’d you say?”  The oaf spit out another mouthful of expletives.

“Swearing only shows your ignorance and, believe me, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.”  The question mark on the young man’s face grew, so Monk continued.  “Appears that’s too big a word so let me interpret.   You’re a stupid fool.”  Monk smiled as he said it.

“Oh ya?  Well let’s see how stupid you think this is.”  The thug worked the slide on his pistol and pointed it at Monks head.  “Move over to the other side of the road.”

“I ain’t moving sonny.  There’s an old gal and some kids down the road that are out of water and I aim to take her some,”  Monk said.

“Johnny, don’t do it.  They said they’d share with us.”

“Shut up little brother.  I’m the one in charge here.  The old man’s lived long enough and besides, we deserve it more than some old woman.”

“You don’t deserve anything.  Once you understand what that really means, you’ll enjoy life a whole lot more.”  Monk began backing away.

“Too late, old man.”

“Put down your gun,”  Dustin’s voice boomed.  The young thug swung around and fired twice.  The shots hit the fence, one splintering the wood beside Dustin’s head.  Monk and Cliffson dove for the ground and Dustin fired once to put an end to the confrontation.

“Johnnnnyyyy.”  The younger thug dropped his gun and ran to his brother.

Cliffson got up from the pavement and cautiously approached his son.  “Dusty, it’s all right now.  Let me have the gun.”

Dustin was unmoving and appeared not to hear him.  He’d never shot anyone before and his glazed eyes told Cliffson he was in shock.

Cliffson gently continued, “Come on big guy.  You did what you had to do.  Now hand me the gun and everything will be all right.”  Dustin didn’t move and Cliffson spoke more softly.  Slowly life began to return to Dustin’s empty stare.

“You probably saved our lives Dustin, so don’t beat yourself up.  It’s gonna be all right.  Can you hand me the gun now?”

Dustin handed over the gun and Cliffson embraced his shaky son.

“Take the cart and head on down toward Georgia’s house,”  Cliffson ordered, wanting to get his son away from the scene and focused on something else.

Dustin took the cart, shifted his dazed look down the street and slowly walked away.

Monk was offering assistance to the thug mourning his brother when the kid jumped up and grabbed him around the throat.  “You killed my brother,” he yelled.  Just as quickly Cliffson drove the butt of Dustin’s rifle into the thug’s kidney and dropped him to the ground.

Monk looked a little surprised.  “You move pretty fast for an old man, mate.”

“I do what I have to do,”  Cliffson growled.  “Grab their guns and let’s get out of here.”

Leaving the brothers behind, Cliffson looked back to make sure no one followed.  The scene in the road etched itself on a single frame in his memory and would haunt him for weeks to come.  The empty paved street, vacant houses, weed filled lots, two lost young men and a huge pool of blood—so much blood—forming around the kid lying on the pavement.

The younger brother was lying with an arm over the body and a low wailing moan filling Cliffson’s ears.  It didn’t have to be this way,  he thought.  Young kids, thrown into a situation they’re entirely unprepared for.  It tore at him how unmerited it was.  Then he realized it was a scene likely playing out time after time as cities across America burned and the civilization within them collapsed.

They didn’t stay long after delivering the water.  Dustin was still in shock and Cliffson wanted to get him home as soon as possible. Georgia’s family was, of course, very grateful, but instead of feeling good about helping them, Cliffson was downcast.  During their visit it became clear there was simply no way the family was going to survive, and there was little he could do to prevent it.  The thought weighed on him heavily until he saw the horde gathering in front of his own house.

Jean and Kate were in the front yard facing a crowd on the verge of turning violent.  One man confronted Jean, yelling out his demands and whipping up the crowd who would respond with more shouting and raising water buckets high into the air.

Monk elbowed Cliffson.  “Watch yourself.”

The two of them approached the back of the noisy crowd largely unnoticed.   That’s when the man arguing with Jean threw her on the ground and the crowd began to advance.

BOOM!

Everyone froze at the sound of Cliffson’s gunshot and watched as he hurdled the pole fence and rushed to Jeans side.  Reaching down to help her up Cliffson heard the sound of a pistol being cocked and looked up to find the gun inches from his face.

“How gallant.  I sure hope she’s worth it because your either gonna turn your well over to us or eat this bullet.  Now what’s it gonna be old man?”   Second time I’ve been called that today and its beginning to piss me off,  Cliffson thought.

It was Monk’s Colt 45 Defender nestling against the base of the man’s skull that turned the tables.  “Drop the gun matey or you’ll never be thirsty again.”

The man hesitated.

“Drop it.”

The gun fell to the ground. Cliffson restrained himself from kicking the man in the groin for calling him old and bent over to retrieve the gun instead.

Then Monk turned to face the crowd.  “Now what in tarnation is going on here?  I don’t know this feller here, but I do know most the rest of ya.  Are you out of your pea pickin minds or something?”

One man in the crowd stepped forward.  “Monk, we’re sorry about the trouble here the other day, but we all need water.  Cliffson can’t just turn his back on us.”

“Well Bert, I don’t reckon he has, but you’re damn sure not gonna get any water by assaulting his wife.  Who is this butt head anyway?”

“He lives down the block.  Somehow he knows about the well, and when he saw you and Cliffson walk past his place with water for someone else, he got angry and came down here to do something about it.  I’m sorry Monk, but he got us all stirred up.  Most of us are out of water and people are getting desperate.  Cliffson can’t deny us.”

“Cliffson can do whatever he wants.  It’s his well, so let’s see what he has to say about this.”  Monk turned to Cliffson.

“We won’t turn you away, and I apologize for getting angry with you the other day.”  Cliffson’s response was quiet and resigned.  “I’ve made preparations to take care of my own family, not the entire neighborhood, but never the less, Jean and I will help in whatever way we can.  There’s just one exception.  Hank Crank will not be getting his water here and anyone caught giving water to him will also be cut off.”  That didn’t go over well.

“Who the hell are you to decide who gets water and who doesn’t?”  shouted one neighbor.

“Someone who saw what was coming and prepared for this very day while you were buying toys and living it up.  Someone who didn’t choose to rely on the governments lies.  Someone who saw our sociopathic government for what it was.  You people only heard what your itching ears wanted to hear and consequently you’re all unprepared.”  Cliffson resolve returned.  “Why don’t you go squeeze some water out of all those toys in your garage, Randy.”  The crowd grumbled and began to inch forward.  Monk worked the action on his pistol and squared to face them.

“Listen up,”  Cliffson said sternly.  “Like I said, Jean and I are happy to share our water.  We’re also willing to help in other ways if we can, but we’re not going to be bullied.  Your lack of preparation is not our emergency.  If I see anything like I’ve seen today, you’ll all be but cut off.  There’s plenty enough to deal with without fighting amongst ourselves.  The Cranks are a problem and that’s why they won’t be allowed on our property.  I’m only asking for your cooperation.  Are we in agreement?”

A subdued yes came from the crowd.

“Then bring your containers and let’s try to work together instead of being at one another’s throats”.  There were nods and a couple shouts of agreement as the crowd dispersed.

“Monk, thanks for your help.  You saved my butt,”  Cliffson said.  “Why don’t you hustle on home and get back here with your own containers so we can fill them up.”

Monk hurried home as fast as his stiff-legged gait would take him.  By the time he got back a line had already formed, but Cliffson filled Monk’s bottles first.

“Quite a change of heart you had from the other day matey, what happened?”  Monk handed Cliffson another container to fill.

“I was convicted.  It’s been on my heart since the moment it happened.  I’ve always been willing to help, but I let my resentment of the Cranks get in the way.”   Cliffson continued working the pump.  “The hard part is my family has to come first.  These people are completely unprepared and I can’t help them all.”

“I know you have a good heart mate, never doubted you’d do the right thing.  Now quit worrying about helping them all.  It’s their own fault for believing the government’s propaganda.”  Monk set his two containers of water aside and took up a position where he could keep an eye on things.

A crowd of weary people looking more like an image from the depression bread lines than modern America were gathering to wait their turn for water.  Dirty and unwashed, the rumpled assemblage lent a sour smell to the air.

After getting underway at the pump, Jean pointed out a couple families with five little children standing at the back of the line.  The kids were cranky and one hung limp in its mother’s arms.  Cliffson called the two Mexican families to the front of the line.

“Thank you Mr. Lang, our children are so thirsty,” one of the fathers said.

“How long have you been without water?”  Cliffson asked.

“We ran out yesterday morning.”

“Please come up front and let’s get some water for your children.”

A couple Cliffson knew from across the street was next in line.  When they began to complain Cliffson stared them down.

“You would deny these little children water?”  Cliffson asked.  “Look at them.”

Looking ashamed they said nothing and quietly stood aside.

While the families’ water bottles were being filled, Jean came out with a pitcher of fresh water for the children and placed a damp cloth on the littlest ones forehead.

“Gracias, gracias.”

“You’re welcome,” Jean said.

Soon their bottles were filled and the line began to move again.  As the two families were leaving someone in line mumbled loud enough for everyone to hear, “Mexicans are half the reason this country’s in so much trouble.”

“Who said that?”  Cliffson yelled.

No one said a word.

Cliffson stalked back along the line.  “Speak up or I’ll shut down the pump and you can all go home.”

One man took a small step forward.  They’d never met but Cliffson recognized him from a few blocks down and immediately got in his face.

“You just don’t get it do you?  There’s only one way any of us have a chance to see our way through this.  If we don’t work together then it’s over, our chances are nil.”  Cliffson shoved the man out of line.  “If you can’t rise above your petty issues then I invite you to leave right now.”

“All right, all right,” the man said and shuffled back in line.  “I’m sorry.”

The Langs gladly shared, even with those they’d never met.  Word about the well spread and people were at the pump until long after dark.  Late in the evening Cliffson was growing tired.  The last twenty-four hours had brought a lot to deal with and he found himself gazing up at the stars and reflecting on the day’s events.  There you are again, peacefully watching the chaos here, detached and unaffected.  Doesn’t seem to bother you much either.

It was near midnight when the last water jug was filled and Jean, Monk and Cliffson retired to the front porch.  Kate reported Dustin was finally asleep but still distraught over the shooting.

“Geez,”  Cliffson sighed.  “I got so busy with the well and keeping some kind of order I completely forgot about my own son.  Thanks, Kate, for caring for him.  Some father I am.  Damn!  Why’d this all have to fall to us?” Cliffson sat with his face in his hands.  “How is it others are so ignorant and couldn’t see what was coming?”

“Cliffson, I know you’re tired,” Monk said kindly.  “And you may not have signed up for this, but it’s what you’ve been called to do.”

“But Monk, it endangers my family.”

“We can’t just turn these people away.”  Jean gave Cliffson the look.

“Jean, I know what he’s thinking and it’s not what you imagine,”  Monk responded.

Jean looked back to Cliffson who was shaking his head.  “Word’s getting out that we have water.  It won’t be long before someone decides to arm themselves and come take it from us.  You experienced that first hand today.  I’m glad to help these people but the attention it’s brought is very dangerous.”

Jean was silent.

“It’s only a matter of time, and if not the water, then the food in the garden later this summer.  I wish we still had Welfare.”

Monk looked at Cliffson.  “We’re all tired and we don’t have to solve this tonight.  Get some sleep and we’ll talk about it some more tomorrow.”

“Sounds good to me.”  Cliffson rose to go inside.  Monk stood up at the same time and the crusty old coot put his arm around Cliffson’s shoulders.

“We’ll work it out. Remember, we got each other’s backs,” he said softly.  Cliffson was a little taken back by the sign of affection.  He’d always pictured Monk hard as nails and just as cold.

“Thank you Monk, I appreciate it.  See you in the morning.”

Cliffson went inside and Monk turned to Jean.  “You folks have been through a lot these past few days.  I’ve been there Jean and I know what it’s about.  Keep an eye on him for me will ya.  I’m sure he feels the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

“I will Monk,” she said.

“And Jean, you can’t do it alone either.  Promise you’ll come see me when you need help.”

In the darkness Monk may have missed her tired smile.  “I will Monk.  I will.  Good night and thanks for your help today.”

“Good night, Jean.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My best to all of you.

CHAPTER   SEVENTEEN

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

 Frederic Bastiat

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

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

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

“How are you this morning?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right honey, but please be careful.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Thomas, please ask them to come in.”

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

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

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

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

“Where are you coming from?”  Thomas asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Certainly.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean’s puzzled look asked him to continue.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m afraid they will Kate, this is”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell him the rest,”  Cliffson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you figure?”  Barb asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER  SIXTEEN

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

 Otto von Bismarck

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“I will Dad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you turn it on?”

“Green button, right in the middle.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean the executions?” Monk asked.

“Yep.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But would you really have run him down?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where could Dustin be?” Cliffson whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

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

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

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

“Drop the gun,” the big man demanded.

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

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

“Let my son go.”

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

Dustin remained silent.

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

The valley shook with the big man’s laughter.

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

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought I heard a car door slam.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wasn’t that hard a shot.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No problem,”  Cliffson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The bastards” Monk whispered.

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

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

Cliffson groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I appreciate that.”

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER  FIFTEEN

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

 Ben Franklin

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

 H.W. Prentis, Jr. 1948

 “Drive safe,” Chris said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad.”

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

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

“What?  What happened?” Cliffson replied.

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

“A cabin?  Dustin what are…”

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

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

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

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

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