Posts Tagged ‘kindle’

I particularly like this quote by Cliffson and also the “White Rabbit” scene.  Additionally, there is a scene in this chapter that is one of the most intense in the entire book.

CHAPTER  TWENTY-FIVE

 “True science has long since fled the nation, to be replaced by political science; that is, the counterfeit, contrived science conceived by politicians, for the deception of the masses and empowerment of political elites.”

 Cliffson

 With the regularity of a Monsoon rain the deadly raids continued.  At the close of each day, with the sun spreading a new water color painting in the western sky, gunfire would erupt, homes would burn and the screams of the helpless filled the night.  At times the fighting was far off and only the plumes of angry black clouds could be seen rising into the air.  Other times it was nearby and fires would illuminate the nighttime sky in oranges and reds.

Thomas was enjoying a tranquil evening until 3:00 a.m. when an attack on neighbors at the end of the cul-de-sac forced him to wake Cliffson with a call on his radio.  Cliffson jumped from bed, threw on some clothes and rushed to meet with Monk and Thomas on the front lawn.

Monk was adamant they not get drawn in.  “Not gonna risk our lives in that fight mates.  Those folks refused to join with us in preparing a coordinated a defense.  There’s nothing to be gained.”

It seemed so cold-blooded, but Cliffson knew Monk was right.  After taking up positions of cover in case the thugs moved their direction, they watched the neighbors flee their homes.  A few were gunned down in their own yards, but most escaped.

The next morning Monk and Cliffson made an inspection of the two homes and found them ransacked but intact.  One way or the other people were being thinned out and empty or burned out homes were beginning to outnumber those housing families.

Day after day, the level of violence grew and desperation mounted.  Most of the fighting was against small groups of starving, desperate people and the sight of starving children tugged at everyone’s hearts. Occasionally the Langs shared with families passing through, but it was impossible to help all of them.

During his nightly watch, it was Thomas’ custom to call out a warning for people to turn back.  But fewer and fewer people were heeding his call and more often than not, shot into the darkness where they thought his voice had come from.  When his concern for others nearly cost him his life Thomas’ entire demeanor changed.

It was the typical small group.  Four young men were prowling the neighborhood late at night hoping to catch an unsuspecting family asleep.  After ignoring his warning and pinning him down, Thomas was engaged in a fight for his life.  In the heat of the battle his gun jammed and he’d run out of ammunition for his pistol by the time Cliffson and Monk arrived at the last second to rescue him.

Thomas now knew what it was like to stare down the barrel of a rifle and await the slug.  In that moment something inside him snapped.  A translucent switch connecting a long dormant synapse was thrown and he was no longer the mild mannered anti-gun professor just trying to get along.  From that point forward, Thomas used the benefit of surprise to quickly dispatch groups of two or three. “It’s just how it is,”  he would say.   His only exception was for children.

When encountering larger groups, he would awaken Monk and Cliffson with his radio and then proceed to do whatever was required until help arrived.  Drawing the enemy’s attention meant Monk and Cliffson often went unnoticed, slipping out of their houses and into the dark to ambush unexpectedly from behind.  In a very short period of time Thomas had killed many men and he grew cold and more distant with each one.

Thomas quickly became a loyal and trusted member who was greatly respected. He was a good man and Cliffson had grown fond of him—thankful he had come their way.  Though the steady fighting and killing was draining the humanity out of all of them, Cliffson was particularly concerned for Thomas.  There was an icy hardness to the man and a steel glint in his eye that was unnerving.

Thomas knew he had changed in a way he’d never thought possible.   Some nights, while manning one of his secluded sentry posts, he would think about the person he had become and contrast himself with the professor he had once been. It seemed like a life time ago and it shocked him to realize he’d become the very person he once demeaned and called uncivilized.

For Thomas, this new reality was seen in the people who had their hands in the soil, striving to be free and self-reliant.  They were the ones who knew truth and understood life.  No longer did he see them as the poor unsophisticated souls needing to be educated in the enlightened ways of the “Ivory Tower” class.  These people didn’t need to be shown culture, they were the culture.

He saw things so differently now, but it was too late.  People who worked for a living had been outnumbered by those who voted for a living, and the end had come.  It shocked him to see how blind he’d been and he found himself thinking he should have paid more attention to the things his son had been trying to tell him.

His son.  The thought would bring a lump to his throat and his tears would glisten in the moon light while sitting alone at his post in the dark.  How was he doing?  Was he even still alive?  Oh, just to see him again.

The weeks passed, and the fighting continued.   Jean was forced to shoot two men holding Cliffson at gun point in the garden.  They’d knocked him to the ground and were yelling their demands when Jean braced herself in the frame of the garage door and shot them with her rifle.  The emotional toll was grinding and the constant state of alertness drained them all.

Cliffson still offered water to people in need, but there was no longer a line, and daily he noticed fewer people showing up.  It wasn’t hard to know what was happening to them and it saddened him to think of the slaughter taking place all around.

He hated it all.  Monk did too, but reminded Cliffson these were the same people who’d bought into the governments promises and brought all this down upon themselves in the first place.  “Besides,” Monk added, “It’s kill or be killed.  You really have no other choice.”

In time, the attacks diminished, but Monk believed they were now entering an even more dangerous period.  The unorganized unfortunates were quickly being eliminated.  Soon they would be faced with organized militias and well armed gangs looking to establish territories.  It would be a treacherous time for their little family.

“So Monk, I like your idea, but just where are we gonna find all the sand we need for this project?” Cliffson asked.  “We’ve pretty much used up what we could find to fortify our own homes.”

“Not sure yet matey.  Now just keep on a movin’, this wood ain’t a gettin’ no lighter ya know.”

Carrying lumber from a couple blocks away wasn’t a pleasant task for these sixty-somethings, but it had to be done and they were making the best of it.  To preserve fuel, the lumber was scavenged a few sticks at a time from nearby homes.

“At our ages Monk, we aren’t rolling joints, were rubbing them,”  Cliffson joked.

“You’re not just a whislin Dixie mate, but we’re getting there.  Then you can rest and curl up with your Surrealistic Pillow,”  Monk added.

“And the White Wabbit?” Cliffson asked.

Monk, “One pill makes you larger.”

Cliffson, “One pill makes you small.”

Both together, “And the one your mother gives you, don’t do anything all.”

Both were laughing out loud now.

Monk, “Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.”

Cliffson was nearly falling down he was laughing so hard, “You can’t sing Monk.”

“Neither can you, but get on with it if you know the words.”

Cliffson, “Know the words?  Course I know em, something burned them in my mind.”

Monk, “Yeah, I can just imagine.”

Cliffson, “so if you go, chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall,”

Monk, “tell ‘em a hookah smoking caterpillar, has given you the call.”

They were howling now. “Hookah smoking caterpillar always cracked me up.”  Monk choked out between laughs.

Laughing and singing their way back to the house, they finished the song together.  Standing in the driveway the two bellowed the last lines while everyone looked at them like they were crazy.

“And the White Knight is talking backwards,

And the Red Queen’s off with her head,

Remember, what the dormouse said,”

They dropped the lumber down and standing with their arms around one another finished the song in full throttle.

“Feed your head, Feed your head,

Monk, “One more time.”

“Feed your head.”

Finished, they bowed to a hearty applause.  Monk, hat in hand, bald spot gleaming in the sun, Cliffson in his straw hat and overalls.  It was the first real laugh the group had enjoyed in a while and it was a much needed tonic.

Then everyone made their way to the construction site of the Jefferson’s new cabin.  The foundation was constructed of cinder block on which the floor was just now being framed.  Monk’s plan was to fill the walls with sand, up to about four feet or so.  It would provide an extra measure of home defense.

After a few more trips for lumber they called it a day and retired inside for one of Jeans exceptional dinners.  The evening was quiet; an unsettling kind of quiet.  After completing a double check of the radios, Thomas took up his post and the rest of them turned in for the night.

Goosebumps ran the length of Thomas arms and it wasn’t the cool evening air.  A sixth sense told him something was up and he chose to position himself inside the post with the greatest concealment.

In front of him the quince and ninebark were tall and thick with leaves.  To his left, just a few feet away was a large landscape berm, rising up nearly five feet and covered with currents and lavender.  To his right a split rail fence bordered the Crank’s property.  Draped over much of the area was a huge weeping willow where Thomas was secreted inside.

He rarely gave much thought to being located next to the Crank’s driveway, for they were never out after dark, but tonight it would be key.

The sound of a car door woke Thomas from a half sleep.  Angry with himself for dozing off, he wondered what he’d missed.  After getting his bearings he began tuning in on a conversation taking place in the Crank’s driveway.

Adjusting his position to hear better, the conversation abruptly stopped.  Footsteps approached and Thomas froze.  In the darkness he knew he couldn’t be seen, but if they got suspicious and decided to look through the sweeping branches of the willow, he would certainly be found.  The two men stepped from the driveway and gravel crunched just feet from where Thomas hid.  He held his breath, but feared his pounding heart would give him away.

A sudden burst of red and orange sparks showered the ground, quickly followed by the rub of a heavy boot.  The smell of cigarette tobacco filled Thomas’ nostrils and the two men took up their conversation just a few feet away.

What he heard prickled the hair on the back of his neck.  A force was being organized to take down the Lang household, but he couldn’t warn the others without giving himself away.  Did he stand up and shoot the men in cold blood?  No.  He was not a cold-blooded killer, but he had to do something.  He thought about clicking the transmitter on his radio in a pre-arranged signal, but that would was likely to draw people out into the trap being set.  The wrong decision could get people killed.

Again the tension filled Thomas with the desire to explode upon the men and drop them dead.  No, be patient, he told himself.  Quietly he released the safety on his gun and prepared to charge the two unsuspecting men.

A moment later a white pickup rounded the corner and approached the driveway.  In the headlights of the pickup Thomas saw Hank Crank close the lid on a brief case full of money and hand it to the other man.

Thomas could see it wasn’t the worthless American currency and heard Hank promise some gold coins upon successful completion of the mission.  The two men shook hands and Hank slapped the man on the back before going back inside.

After the pickup pulled away, Thomas called a warning on his radio and rushed for the house.  Cliffson met him at the door.

“We don’t have much time.” Thomas exclaimed.  “Get everyone up and out of the house.”

“Thomas take a breath,” Cliffson told him.

“Ok, Ok.”

“Now what’s going on?”

“I overheard a conversation in the Crank’s driveway.  He’s paid a large group to attack the house with automatic weapons.  They’re going to create a diversion out in front before the main group attacks from the field behind.  You’ve got to get everyone out of the
house.”  Thomas was nearly yelling again.

“Damn.  Get Monk and set up in the bunker across the street.”  Cliffson ordered.  He then rushed to arm everyone and evacuate the house for the field behind.  Stepping out the back door he paused for a moment and glanced at the crossbow leaning against the wall.  He didn’t know how he would use it, but knew he should take it.

“Dad, you coming?”  It was Dustin.

“Be right there, Dust.”

Cliffson doused his lantern, slid the door closed and dashed for the field to join the others.

Initially they gathered in the equipment shed, but fearing they could be trapped inside, Cliffson moved them further away to the banks of a dry livestock pond.  From there the house, gravel drive accessing the shed and the low rock wall stretched out before them.

Mary was whimpering and Cliffson sternly hushed her.  He knew Jean was scared too, but she remained in control of herself.  Hell, they were all scared.

The clear, starlit night and fingernail moon shed a frail light, but it was enough to cast a dark outline.  The damp night air was beginning to chill when Cliffson shared his plan.  If the group was too large they wouldn’t show themselves and would remain hidden or retreat to the West’s house a mile away.

“But what about Thomas and Monk”?   Mary asked.

“Monk and I agreed sometime ago we are not to risk lives unnecessarily for the sake of his own.”  Cliffson whispered.

“But my husband is with him.”

“He’s in good hands Mary.  Monk will take care of him.”

Gravel popped and Cliffson looked up in time to see the lights being doused on a pickup turning off of the county road.  The dark silhouette of the truck rolled deliberately towards the shed and stopped to disgorge the men inside.  Cliffson thought there were seven of them, Dustin whispered eight.  A radio crackled, and the men moved to positions at the rock wall.  Cliffson keyed his own radio to alert Monk and all hell broke loose.

A second pickup roared to the front of the Lang’s home and two men in the back of the truck rained down automatic weapons fire on the Lang household.  A third man fired on the bunker containing Monk and Thomas.

Without rising up Thomas fired back with a rifle Monk had laid across on top of the bunker.  Monk told him he was firing high and to shoot lower.  When Thomas cut loose with the next few rounds Monk rose up and threw a Molotov cocktail towards the bed of the truck.  He missed, but the bottle broke against the door and the cab of the truck burst into flames.

Cliffson saw the flames and knew Monk had struck.  When the burning pickup sped off, the men in front of Cliffson climbed over the wall and rushed the house, leaving one man behind to guard the truck.  Cliffson could see from the muzzle flashes there were six of them.

Dustin startled him with a tap on the shoulder.

“Dad, I’m gonna take out the man at the truck with the crossbow.”

“No it’s too dangerous, you just stay………”, before he could finish Dustin cloaked himself in darkness and slid away on his belly.  The gunfire continued and the sound of shattering glass burst loose the anger burning deep in Cliffson’s gut.  Hank had set this up with the expectation of killing them all.

Abruptly the gunfire stopped and silence rushed to fill the vacuum.  Cliffson watched the men shining flashlights about the house.  Then in a hushed voice Dustin called for them.

Crouching low to the ground, the group hurried to join him.  Dustin was pointing to the guard lying in the grass with an arrow buried in his chest when Cliffson’s radio chirped.

“Cliffson, you all right?”  came Monk’s whispered voice.

“We’re fine, but there are six men in the house.  I plan on dispatching them when they leave.  Keep an eye on the front door.”

“Will do, now be careful.”

Cliffson moved everyone to the rock wall and told them to wait until the men came back outside.

“No one shoots until I do,” he ordered.

Taught nerves twitched the muscles in Cliffson’s right hand as he fingered the trigger of his shotgun.  Flashlights continued moving about the house and it seemed to take forever before one man finally stepped outside and to look about the yard.

“Let’s get out of here.”  Four men soon joined him.

“Where’s Jason?  Jason you asshole, get out here.”  The man stepped out of the house with a bottle in his hand.

“Bet that’s my rum,”  Cliffson muttered.

The men began marching towards the rock wall and the leader yelled for their man stationed at the pickup.

“Mac, fire up the truck and let’s go.”

The men took a few more steps before realizing something was wrong, but Cliffson was already over the rock wall and charging the group, firing his shotgun as he went.  Thinking his Dad must be crazy Dustin jumped the wall and chased after him.

Stunned and surprised, the men froze in their tracks when the darkness exploded around them.  It would be their last move.  Cliffson shot the first two men before they knew what hit them.  A third man was bringing his weapon to bear when Cliffson’s shotgun blast removed his face.  The remaining three men in the group barely had time to raise their weapons before Dustin cut them down with his mini-14.  Then he grabbed his father by the shoulder and spun him around.  “Are you crazy!”

“I just might be.”  Cliffson spun away, leaving his son in a pool of rage.

He approached the bodies on the ground and picked up one of the dead men’s flashlights.  Reaching behind his back Cliffson pulled a 40 cal. Glock from his waistband and shot each man in the head before storming to the house.  His fury exploded upon taking in the damage.  Glass was everywhere, and the walls were shot through in so many places he didn’t see how they could ever be repaired.  Tears welled up and burned a molten path down each cheek.

He stormed through the house and threw open the door to the garage. Searching with the flashlight he found the trunk he was looking for safely hidden in a corner of the garage. Throwing back the lid he pulled out a blanket and unrolled it on the floor.  About that time he heard Monk and Thomas greet the rest of the group before joining him in the garage.

“Slow down there matey and let me see whatcha got?” Monk soothed.

“Feel like dancing?”  Cliffson glared red eyed at the two Taser’s he held.

“Never cared much for dancing my friend, so what, may I ask, do you have in mind?”

“Thomas, you told me you overheard Hank’s conversation.  He ordered the attack and you witnessed the payment.  Am I right?”

“That is correct.”

“And you also heard that we were all to be killed, is this correct?”

“Yes sir, I heard those exact words,”  Thomas replied.

“Then as much as my soul has already been rent, I cannot in good conscience stand by and wait for this to happen again.  Hank’s intent to kill us is clear and I aim to put an end to this one way or the other.”

“Jean, I’d like you and the other women to open up the crawl space and then clean up some of the glass so we can safely walk through the house.  Dustin, reload my shotgun.  I want you to slip over the Crank’s fence and position yourself so you can cover Monk and me from the back door.”  Cliffson said.

“Dad, what are you going to do?”  Dustin asked.

“If Monk is willing, we’re going to go kick in the front door to the Crank house and have a little dance party.”

“I’m with ya mate,”  Monk responded.

“We’ll Taser them both and bring em back here.  Failing that, I am prepared to finish this once and for all.”  Cliffson patted his sidearm.  “Are we ready?”

They both answered in the affirmative.

“Then let’s get it done.”

Jean grabbed his arm.  “Honey, don’t do this.  Someone’s going to get hurt.”

“Damn right they are.  Now please get that crawl space opened and be ready for us when we get back.”  Cliffson pecked her on the cheek and the three men stepped out into the dark.

Dustin pulled himself over the fence while Monk and Cliffson provided cover.  On the other side he knelt down and listened while observing the house for movement.

“The house is dark, no candles no lanterns,”  Dustin whispered.

“All right Dust, we’re off then.  Be careful.”

Cliffson and Monk hurried to the front of the Crank’s house and without hesitation Monk effortlessly kicked in the front door.  He swept to the left and Cliffson followed to the right.  The sound of a shotgun chambering a shell rang out in the dark and both men froze.  A flashlight came on.  To their left sat Hank with his shotgun.  Mona stood beside him holding the flashlight and a pistol.

“I’ve been expecting you,”  Hank sneered.  “Don’t know how you were tipped off, but I guess that doesn’t matter much now.  I’d invite you to have a seat but I think our business here will soon be finished.”

Hank raised the shotgun and an explosion filled the room.  The sliding glass door exploded and glass flew through the building.  The Cranks went down and Monk and Cliffson dove for the floor.

Dustin stepped into the room and advanced towards the flashlight lying on the floor.  Hank was reaching for his shotgun when Cliffson drilled him with the Taser.  Hank danced.   Then Mona dove for the shotgun and Monk fired his Taser.  Mona danced.  It wasn’t the two-step and they weren’t really in time, but as Monk would comment later, “they both had some pretty fancy moves.”

Before Hank could recover, Cliffson put a foot on the back of his neck to hold him down.  “First question Hank.  Where can I find the rest of the men who attacked us tonight?”

“Go to hell.”

It was slurred but clear enough.  Cliffson stepped back and touched off the Taser one more time.  It wasn’t really break-dancing, but that Hank, he sure had the moves.

Mona shrieked at the site of Hank dancing again.  Dustin tore the sleeve off her shirt and gagged her.

Hank was coming around again and they pulled him to his feet.  “You haven’t answered my question yet Hank.”  Cliffson was in his face.

“You can’t make me talk.”

“I’m betting I can.”

Using the wires from the Taser they tied Hank and Mona’s hands behind their backs and marched them out of the house.  Cliffson sent Dustin to get the pickup the attackers had left behind in the field.

When they got back to the house Cliffson questioned Hank one more time.  He refused to cooperate and it was time to ratchet up the pressure.  After binding their feet and hands with duct tape, Cliffson forced both of them into the crawl space.

“Last chance.”

Hank glared.

“Have it your way.”

“Monk.”  Cliffson’s stare bore straight into his good eye.  “We need to dispose of the bodies laying out there in the yard, will you give me a hand?”

“Can’t it wait until morning?” Monk asked.

“No, I expect to have answers by morning.”

“Cliffson, I know what you’re thinking. You are one mean sonofabitch.”

“I am not being vengeful if that is what you’re thinking.”

“Then, just what do you call it mate.”

“Monk, if I was being vengeful, they’d already be dead.”

“Sure looks like revenge to me,” Monk answered.

Tersely Cliffson turned on Monk.  “Dammit Monk!  These people ordered the execution of my family.  We’d all be lying here dead if not for Thomas’ warning.  They give me no choice.  I have a plan and I need information.  They’re going to spend the rest of the night, or however long it might take, in close company with the men they sent to kill us.”  That ended the discussion.

Five of the seven bodies were then dragged into the house and dropped into the crawl space to sleep with the Cranks.  Mona was attempting to scream through her gag and only his last remaining shred of humanity kept Cliffson from enjoying the terror he saw in her eyes.

“Nighty night, assholes!”  Cliffson glowered and dropped the hatch on the crawl space.

With Thomas on watch, they worked through the night cleaning up and assessing the damage.  Every window in the house was shattered.  When the first rays of dawn penetrated the walls to send golden shafts of light dancing on the floor, Cliffson and Jean were overcome with grief.  Excusing themselves, the two weary souls stepped outside to the comfort of their garden.

“Where does one find the strength to keep pushing on?”  The adrenalin was fading and Cliffson faded with it.

“We’re just tired,”  Jean said.

“You’re probably right, but I feel so overwhelmed.”

“Honey, consider what we’ve just been through.  You were so brave last night,”  Jean said.

“Well……”

Raising a finger to his lips Jean continued.

“Hush,” she said sternly.  “You were also incredibly stupid and I’m angry with you.  Did you stop to think for a moment what would happen to the rest of us if you had gotten yourself killed?”

“I just…..”

Jean hushed him again.  “I don’t know what crazy place you went to last night, but it’s time you came back and joined the rest of us.”  She wasn’t done yet and he knew it.  “And you will promise me right here and now that you’ll never do anything like that again.”

More than three decades of marriage told Cliffson not to argue, but he had to be honest.  “I can’t promise you that.  There are certain things I have to do and there’s just so much a man can take.”

“Don’t give me that old man’s world crap now.”  Her trembling hands went to the corner of each eye to wipe away the tears.

Cliffson took her hands and knelt in front of her before gazing into the emerald green pools that had always captivated him.  “Hon, I promise to be careful, but I will not back away from what is required of me.  I know you understand that.  If you lose me, then it was meant to be, and be happy for me.  This world has long been a burden I’ve wanted to shed.  It’s no longer a place where men of integrity walk or are even valued.  You know our nation rejected honesty and uprightness long ago.  I don’t belong here.  There’s no place for me.”  Cliffson kissed her on the forehead and stood on creaky knees.

Jean was crying softly into her hands.  “I can’t do this alone.  I’ve lost my son and I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

Cliffson reached down and pulled her into his arms to whisper in her ear,  “I’m not planning on going anywhere until I get Zachary back.  That I promise.”

He released her and flashed a grin that made his blues eyes sparkle. “There’s a lot I need to tend to.  Stay here for awhile if you like.”

Jean watched her husband walk away.  The heels of his shoes were kicking up diamonds of early morning dew.  “Lord cover him and protect him please.”

Cliffson found Monk in the kitchen chewing on a crusty piece of bread.  Monk’s good eye grinned and Cliffson smiled back.

“Mornin’, Monk.”

“Mornin’,” he mumbled.

“Monk, I want you to know just how much I appreciate having you here.  Don’t know if I could deal with this without you.”

“Goin’ soft on me are ya.”  Monk winked.  Knowing it always cracked Cliffson up.

“Guess I am, guess I am.”  Cliffson’s voice trailed off.  “But I betcha that’s not what the Cranks will be thinking when we haul them out of that crawl space.”

“We goin’ dancing’?”  Monk said while eyeing the Taser in Cliffson’s right hand.

“I hope not Monk.  Hank’s not my type.”

“Ah, now that’s more like the Cliffson I know.  Let’s go see how they’re doing.”

Cliffson raised the hatch and shined his flashlight down on the Cranks.  Mona looked nearly comatose and the pleading look in Hank’s eyes made it clear they’d had enough.  When Cliffson asked if Hank would cooperate, Hank nodded.

Digging them out from under the bodies wasn’t an easy chore, but eventually the Cranks were moved to the living room and bound to wooden chairs.  Taser in hand Cliffson removed their gags and made it clear what would happen if they didn’t oblige him.  Both asked for water and were given full glasses.

The first question was for the location of the remaining group of men Hank had hired for the hit.  Hank reluctantly told them.  Then Cliffson asked where the Chinese stored their food and fuel.  Hank was plainly surprised at this request and hesitated, but when threatened with the Taser, hung his head and gave them the information.  When Cliffson insisted he had access to it, Hank was resolute he didn’t.

Cliffson refilled their glasses and continued.

“There’s only one way you get out of this alive.  If you do all I ask, you’ll be freed, if not, then it’s over for both of you.  Are we clear?”

Hank was getting surly again.  “You can’t do this.  You can’t get away with…”

“Shut up Hank.  I’m out of patience.”  Cliffson put his pistol against Hanks head.  “Full cooperation or it won’t be worth my time to bother with you.  ARE WE CLEAR?”  Both of them nodded.

“We’ll soon find out.”  Cliffson turned to Dustin.  “Have them dig a grave in the field near the barn.  If they so much as move the wrong way, shoot them and put them in it.   You can find shovels leaning against the shed.”

Cliffson began to untie the Cranks.  “When they’re done digging, bring them back here to haul those bodies out of the crawl space.”

Dustin racked a shell in his shotgun.  “You heard the man, let’s go.”

Kate joined Dustin and took up a shotgun of her own.

Cliffson couldn’t help thinking about the things Dustin and Kate had been through in the last few months.  The fear he’d always seen in Kate’s eyes had given way to a laser gaze that looked as if it could cut through a steal beam.  He almost felt bad for the Crank’s.  Well, not really.

With Dustin and Kate off to the field with the Cranks, Cliffson turned to Monk.  “Got any plans for today?”

Monk rolled his eye.  For some reason it always reminded Cliffson of Marty Feldman.

“What’re we doin’ matey?”

“Time to rifle the Crank’s house for anything we can use.”

“Now that sounds like fun,”  Monk said through a giant smile.

The rest of the morning was spent ransacking the Crank house.  In addition to their pickup with nearly a full tank of gas, they found tools and more gasoline stored in the garage.  To their amazement, they also found fresh fruit and vegetables in the kitchen, along with an assortment of cheese, milk, eggs and meat, confirming Cliffson’s suspicion they were being supplied by the Chinese.  Cliffson made a mental note to find out why.

Monk brought a wheel barrow from the backyard to haul the food home.  Jean and Mary, tired of cleaning the shot up house, thrilled at the treat of fresh food.  While the women ate lunch, Monk and Cliffson took plates of food out to Dustin and Kate.

When the Cranks realized their house had been raided they were furious.  Cliffson held up a bunch of grapes.  “Want some Hank?” he smiled.

“You have no right.”

“And neither did you.  Now I’m perfectly willing to share, but first I need a little more information.”

Hank looked up from the hole he was digging.  “And what would that be.”

“What is it you are doing for the Chinese that warrants the food they supply you with?”

“I provide them with information.”

“What kind of information?”

Hank looked down and mumbled, “Information about armed groups who could be a threat to them.”

“And how do you do that?”

“I’ve lived in Central Oregon all my life and made a lot of contacts.  They make a good network for keeping up on things.”

Cliffson fingered his pistol.  “You bring the Chinese down on your own countrymen!”

Hank just shrugged.  “Sometimes, but not always, you see, it can be dangerous trucking supplies through the countryside and the Chinese are obvious targets.  They’ve found more supplies get through if it looks like the truck is being run by an American.  Course they don’t always get through either and so I use my contacts to assist the Chinese in rounding up more drivers.  It’s just business.”

“You’re a sick man Hank,”  Cliffson spat.

Hank just looked away.

“Monk, let’s go.”

“Ahem.”

Cliffson looked down at Hank.

“What about the food?  You said if I answered your questions you’d feed us.”

“Finish the hole and there’ll be a plate of food waiting for you in the house when you come to get the first body.”

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

CHAPTER  TWENTY-THREE

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

 Apache Wedding Blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want to join them?”  Dustin yelled.

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

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

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

Hank walked away shouting obscenities and threatening them all.

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

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

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

Monk nodded.

“I just made it up, why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was quiet for moment as neither man spoke.

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

“It’s all right Dad.”

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

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

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

“And Dad.”

“What son?”

“We are helping.”

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


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

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

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

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

“Thomas, stop it,”  Mary demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER  TWENTY-TWO

  “Wherever Law ends, Tyranny begins.”

 John Locke, 1690

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

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

What’s happened to Roger and the group?

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

How much more can Mary take?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Still thirsty,” she answered.

“Then let’s get off of this bridge.”

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

“Looks like a shootout Bob.”

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

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

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

“Same here.”

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

“Don’t see nothin’.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Just thinking.”

“Spit it out Thomas.”

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

“Thomas!”

Mary spit while Thomas stifled his laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Cliffson remained silent.

“Speak up, Mr. Lee.”

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

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

“Who told you that?” asked Cliffson.

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

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

“You, not on level, Mr. Lee.”

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

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

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

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

Cliffson held his stare.

“You see Mr. Crank standing over there?”

Cliffson glanced a look.  “Yes.”

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

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

“He is useful to me.”

“He is a traitor,” Cliffson glared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You saw that?”  Cliffson asked.

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

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

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

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

“No doubt,”  Cliffson answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Take care Monk.”


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

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“Ready.”  But her voice was not convincing.

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

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

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

“But sir, my wife…..”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Barbaraaaa!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Mary nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thomas, I need to lie down.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dustin, you all right?”

“I’m fine Dad, but these two aren’t.”

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

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

“We need to find them,”  Cliffson spat.

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

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

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


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

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

“Honey, you’re shaking like a leaf.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean like a bullet.”

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

“Ok,” she said.

Thomas stood and helped Mary to her feet.

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

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

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

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

“No, no it wasn’t me.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Cliffson, you got shot?”  Monk asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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

CHAPTER   TWENTY

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

 Frederic Bastiat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sadly, none of us are,” Monk agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can’t say that I have.”

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

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

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

“Party pooper Barb,”  Cliffson kidded.

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

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

Cliffson and Gary shared glancing looks before Gary continued.

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

“Really?”  Barb asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s this happening?”  Jean asked.

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

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

Gary looked puzzled.  “Eddyville?”

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

Gary groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I 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.