Posts Tagged ‘self-publishing’

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

CHAPTER  TWENTY-SEVEN

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

 Mike Ditka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get your hands up and turn around.”

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

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

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

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

“Shoot”

“It’s still wrong to steal.  Right?”

“Right.”

“And we’re both still Americans?”

“Certainly.” The fellow nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pleasure’s been all mine, Sam.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cliffson, I presume?” the soldier asked.

“Who’s asking?”

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

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

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

“Why’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Herr Commandant, Jean thought to herself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was a low blow, but it struck home.

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

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

Cliffson turned to Monk.  “What do you think?

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER  TWENTY-TWO

  “Wherever Law ends, Tyranny begins.”

 John Locke, 1690

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

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

What’s happened to Roger and the group?

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

How much more can Mary take?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Still thirsty,” she answered.

“Then let’s get off of this bridge.”

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

“Looks like a shootout Bob.”

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

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

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

“Same here.”

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

“Don’t see nothin’.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Just thinking.”

“Spit it out Thomas.”

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

“Thomas!”

Mary spit while Thomas stifled his laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Cliffson remained silent.

“Speak up, Mr. Lee.”

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

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

“Who told you that?” asked Cliffson.

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

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

“You, not on level, Mr. Lee.”

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

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

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

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

Cliffson held his stare.

“You see Mr. Crank standing over there?”

Cliffson glanced a look.  “Yes.”

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

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

“He is useful to me.”

“He is a traitor,” Cliffson glared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You saw that?”  Cliffson asked.

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

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

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

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

“No doubt,”  Cliffson answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Take care Monk.”


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

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“Ready.”  But her voice was not convincing.

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

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

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

“But sir, my wife…..”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Barbaraaaa!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Mary nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thomas, I need to lie down.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dustin, you all right?”

“I’m fine Dad, but these two aren’t.”

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

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

“We need to find them,”  Cliffson spat.

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

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

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


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

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

“Honey, you’re shaking like a leaf.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean like a bullet.”

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

“Ok,” she said.

Thomas stood and helped Mary to her feet.

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

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

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

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

“No, no it wasn’t me.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Cliffson, you got shot?”  Monk asked.

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

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

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

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

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

I think the quote at the beginning of this chapter is very fitting for what has happened between congress and the white house this week.

CHAPTER  NINETEEN

 “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.  It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.  The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

 C.S. Lewis

 The following day, Cliffson and Monk were off to acquire the materials needed to install hand pumps on their wells.  Gary escorted Jean and Barb to various locations around town in an effort to round up the last of any remaining supplies.

On their way to town, Monk took note of the grim atmosphere. “Notice the downtrodden look on everyone’s face Cliffson?  People are frightened.”

“They certainly are, but you have to wonder why it took Chinese oppression to wake them up.  Our own government’s heavy hand was just as brutal.”

Cliffson turned into the parking lot where the owner greeted them with a frown and a shotgun.

“Can’t be too careful these days. Now, what can I do for you fellas.”

In the end, the guy had everything on their list, but insisted they pay triple for one of the hand pumps since it was already reserved for someone else.  The owner was only willing to part with it because the man it was reserved for had not shown up to get it.

“He may no longer be around to pick it up, but he’s sure enough gonna be pissed if he does come by and finds it gone, so I gotta make it worth my trouble.”

Not only were they being charged three times the price, but the owner was requiring them to pay for the entire purchase in gold to swing the deal.  In the end, they figured water would become an invaluable resource and opted to close the deal.  Their next stop was the hardware store.

“What do you suppose is going on here?”  Cliffson wondered as he pulled into the lot.

“I don’t know, but let’s watch each other’s backs,”  Monk said.

A small but raucous crowd was gathered just inside the front door and it soon became apparent what the issue was.  A few individuals at the front of the crowd were threatening the proprietor for refusing to accept payment in paper money.

Motioning with his hands, the owner was attempting to settle people down when Monk and Cliffson walked in.

“Like I said, your paper money’s not worth anything, but I’ll be more than happy to do business with you in exchange for silver or pre ‘65 coins.”

“But the government says this is legal tender and you have to accept it.”  A thick man of about fifty was leading the confrontation.

“And what government is that, the one that bankrupt us all?  Why don’t you go talk to them about buying the things you need?”

“Listen you son-of-a–bitch, I’m leaving here with this equipment whether you take the money or not.”  The man slammed a handful of notes on the counter and turned to go.  The distinctive sound of a shotgun chambering a shell stopped him in his tracks.

“Put those things down and get the hell out of my store.”  The owner yelled.

“You put it down,” a second man shouted and drew down on the owner.

No one moved and the tension was about to blow the roof off the place when Monk’s voice cut through the hard edged air.

“Now let’s all just take a breath here mates.”  Monk’s pistol was leveled at the second man’s head from about three feet away.  “My friend and I would really like to see a peaceful resolution to this here debacle.”  Monk nodded towards Cliffson on the other side of the room who was covering the crowd with his own pistol.

“It ain’t right,”  the first man said.

“Well sir, I tells ya what ain’t right.  Comin’ into this man’s store and stealing his property, now that’s what ain’t right.”  Monk’s voice was calm, but Cliffson knew the dark look in the pirate man’s eye meant he was all business.

“But the government…”

“The government, yes.  If you were fool enough to depend on them, then you deserve what you got.  Now set that stuff down and drag your carcass out of here.”  Monk waved his pistol in the direction of the door.

The first man looked to the second.  “Jacob, put your gun down and let’s get out of here.”

Monk kept a close eye on the second man before moving to the checkout counter.  “And the rest of you too.  If’n you ain’t got silver for tradin’, you got no business here.”

After dispersing the crowd, Monk turned to the store owner.  “Everything all right now?”

“Geez, I don’t know how to thank you guys?”  He breathed a sigh of relief.  “Never thought I’d see the day.”

“The Zombies are beginning to wake up to reality.”  Monk extended his hand.  “The name’s Monk and this here’s Cliffson.”

“Good to meet you.  My name’s Jake.  Monk you took me completely by surprise.  I saw the eye patch and thought for sure you were part of em, so naturally I was surprised when you pulled your gun on the others.  I stopped taking paper money weeks ago.  They might as well be offering to pay with yesterday’s newspaper,” he scoffed.

Cliffson banged a bag of junk silver on the counter for effect.  “Well then, let’s do some trading.”  He smiled.

After purchasing the hardware and picking up a load of sand, the men headed to the Lang’s home.  Gary and Cliffson went to work installing the pump and Gary reported they’d been turned away at one of the grocery stores when a group of young men held it up.

“We watched them load pickups with food, water and some medical supplies, but also flat screen TV’s, computers and video games.  People still cling to the old ways in a belief they’re going to return.”

“It’s a different world now,” Monk said.  “And it ain’t a gonna be changin’ back any time soon.”

On the bright side, Gary’s group had come up with a number of items to supplement their supplies, including some walkie-talkies.  Coffee was clearly going to be hard to get and would be useful in bartering.  One major item on their list remained; a portable solar generator they could use to charge batteries.  Gary thought he might know someone who knew someone who might have one.  There’s going to be a lot of that, Cliffson thought.

The pump work was progressing nicely when Monk took notice of the neighbors watching from the sidewalk in front of the house.  “I see your friends ‘the Cranks’ and a few others are gathering in the street to see what you’re up to.”

Cliffson looked up at the crowd and growled.  “Don’t get me started Monk.  You know how our neighbors have treated us.  Not a single one of them has offered the least in condolences about the loss of our son.”

Monk walked over and put his hand on Cliffson’s shoulder.  “We’ll find out where your son is, Cliffson, and we’ll get him.  As for the trash collecting in the street, well you just pay them no mind.”

“Monk, you know I don’t want to fight with them.  I’d just as soon get along, but those are evil people. Am I wrong not wanting to share?”

He was interrupted when Hank Crank walked his swagger to the back of the yard where they were working.  Hank was sporting his typical shit eating grin.  “Cliffson I think it’s time we buried the hatchet and put an end to this nonsense between us.”  He approached Cliffson with his hand extended.

The offer was as phony as a U.S. dollar and the fury that welled up in Cliffson burst throughout his chest like fireworks on the fourth of July.  Here stood the man who’d had him arrested and jailed on false accusations.

With fists clenched and limbs shot through with adrenalin he stiffly approached Hank.  Monk moved to step between them, but Cliffson shot him a scorching glance and Monk stepped aside.  The adrenalin roared like surf breaking over his body and his rage was finally unleashed.

“I just lost my son!”  His low snarl was barely audible as he faced Hank from just a couple feet away.  “You’re here for just one thing you selfish pig.  Thank – you – for – your – concern – Hank.”

Hank was shorter, but larger than Cliffson and grabbed him by the front of the shirt.  Cliffson barely noticed.

“You don’t seem to understand the kind of pull I have Cliffson.”  Each mans eyes shot daggers at the other.  “The city will soon run out of fuel for their generators and I’m going to need water from your well.  You can give it to me peacefully or I can simply take it from you.  Now what’s it going to be?”

Cliffson’s hands flew to the front of Hank’s shirt.  Taking hold with both fists to pull Hank’s face in close he roared, “You want to be friends Hank?”

His snarling response caught Hank off guard.  Cliffson jerked Hank forward at the same moment he brought his head down, smashing it into Hank’s nose.  Hank’s hands flew to his face, releasing Cliffson’s shirt as Cliffson’s right leg swept deep into Hank’s groin.  The moment Hank doubled over, Cliffson’s full fury was released in a thundering right hand to the side of Hanks ample cheek.  Hank went down and didn’t move.

Then Cliffson stalked over to the group of neighbors watching from the fence in front of his house and launched into a spittle laced tirade.

“My wife and I have attempted to befriend each and every one of you.  We’ve shared the fruit from our trees, vegetables from our garden and eggs from our hen house with each of you.  It was never enough.  Your malicious lies and gossip have carved our backs.   Yet here you are, in your hour of need.  Well you can all go to hell!  Now leave us alone and go back to your petty, self-absorbed lives.   And so help me……….”

Cliffson was grabbed from behind.  He spun on Monk who had to duck a right handed swing before getting a hold of Cliffson.

Then Gary stepped in.  “Easy now big guy.  Time to back off.  Come on back here and settle down a bit.”

Jean and Barb had rushed out of the house at the sound of the yelling and when Cliffson embraced his wife he felt the rage drain away.  Jean took his hand and they walked to the back of the property to sit alone in the shade of an old pine tree.  In the background, Cliffson heard Monk sending everyone home.


The climb seemed unending and by the time Roger found the trailhead everyone was exhausted.  Thomas and Mary wanted to stop for the day but after a short rest, Roger pushed them on.  “We’ve got to keep moving and stay ahead of the people behind us.”

Travel was easier on the trail but after about six miles, Roger took them off trail into the brush.  Great,  thought Thomas.  As if we haven’t had enough already.

But Roger only took them cross country for a quarter mile before reaching a small clearing.  “We’ll camp here,” he said.  “Keep your voices down and no fires.”

For the first time they got a good look at the equipment damaged in the gunfight.  One tent was damaged beyond repair.  Jeff’s sleeping bag had taken the brunt of another gun blast and Roger set about finding a way to patch it together.

Thomas wrapped Mary in a sleeping bag before setting up the tent. She was weak and beginning to get chilled.   Neither of them felt like eating and turned down the dried fruit Roger passed around.  While Joan prepared rice on a small backpack stove, Thomas dressed Mary’s wounds with new bandages and gave her more painkillers.  Two pellets had torn through Mary’s upper arm leaving one shallow gash and a deeper, uglier wound Thomas was growing concerned about.  Both wounds continued to bleed, though slower than before.

Dinner required the last of their water and Roger was preparing a small backpack with the group’s empty water bottles.  Reluctantly he agreed to allow his son to investigate a lake about half a mile away.  With just enough light to find his way, Jeff took the pack and headed into a murky forest.

Mary was fast asleep inside the musty smelling tent.  Thomas lay beside her, listening to her soft breathing and straining to hear every little noise outside.  The fears he buried deep in his sub-conscience during the day, blossomed to life in the dark.  Sore from the days hike and concerned for his wife, Thomas was feeling exposed and vulnerable.  Mary was in no condition to travel and he wondered how long they could continue.  Wrestling with his fears, Thomas nearly wet himself when the sounds of gunfire shattered the night.


Jean was in bed asleep when Cliffson left the house, still wound up over the day’s events.  It was cool, but not uncomfortably so, and a slight breeze picked at his hair.   With the exception of an occasional candle burning in the window of a home, the night was pitch-black.

Sounds of his boots echoing on the center line pavement made up the entirety of his world and he allowed it to consume him.  It was the perfect hiding place from the weighty concerns his tortured mind was struggling with.

Oblivious to the world around him, he began to hear the baying hounds of hell bearing down.  Then they were on him, tearing at his soul, mocking him, shredding strength and will—and he embraced it.

Instead of protecting his family, he’d let his son down.  Instead of stability, life felt out of control.  Now he was fighting with his neighbors just when they all needed to pull together.  Down he flew, through increasing levels of torment.  From unquenchable darkness came the demons of his failures and their weight crushed his spirit.

Cliffson woke up on the wooden front porch of the old farm house where they’d rescued Bobby.  When he opened his eyes he saw nothing but blackness and shuddered to think he was still in the depths of his own personal hell.  Bit by bit, he began to make out a single star twinkling in and out of a silvery cloud.

You’ve observed everything, he thought.  Casually gazing upon the merciless suffering taking place, you’re distant and cold. Untouchable, no hand reaches out to harm you.  No threat can steal away your peace.  You have a quiet but immense power it would seem.  You live forever, move through the seasons with ease and will steadfastly return to this very place in the sky exactly one year from now.  How is it you are allowed this peace, this rock steady existence and I am not?

With the morning came new courage and he needed to get home or Jean would be worried.  He hadn’t asked for this, but as his pappy always told him, you play the hand you’ve been dealt.  Cliffson would see his family through this event or die trying.  That in itself was a new thought and he wondered if the calm it brought was what people felt when they knew they were going to die.   He’d lived a good life, and as unfair as it was to have things end this way, he would do everything in his power to see his sons through to the other side, whatever that was.  One way or the other, and that meant rescuing Zach.


Thomas pulled Mary close after joining the rest of the group outside their tents.  Huddled together, wrapped in their sleeping bags, they listened to gunfire coming from the direction of the lake.  Before taking his rifle and moving to the edge of camp, Roger told them he did not believe his son was involved.

“Those are rifles and shotguns we’re hearing.  Jeff only took his pistol.”

One last, lone gunshot signaled the end of the firefight and the forest fell quiet.  Shaken, Mary clung to Thomas and he felt her hot tears against his neck.

Everyone bunched together in the dark, listening for what might follow.  The waiting seemed endless and the group grew concerned something had happened to Jeff.  Roger was preparing to leave when a loud thump and moan crashed in the brush.

“Jeff is that you?” Roger called out.

Through another groan they heard a hissed, “Yes”.

Roger rushed into the dark to find his son, breaking his own rule against using flashlights.

Jeff was lying on the ground, blood streaming down his face.

“What happened?  Are you all right?”

“I’m ok Dad.  Help me get this pack off my back.”  Jeff groaned again.

Roger pulled the pack off Jeff’s back and helped him to his feet.  Jeff put his hand to his head and the blood ran through his fingers.

“So what happened?  What was all the shooting about?”  Rogers’s calm demeanor had clearly been shaken.

Joan began wiping the blood away with the sleeve of her shirt, causing Jeff to wince.

“I tripped on a root and fell,” he said.  “With the weight of all that water on my back I landed hard and hit my head on a rock.”

Knowing he hadn’t been shot brought a collective sigh of relief.

“But what happened at the lake?” Roger insisted.

“Roger,”  Joan threatened.  “Let’s get him back to camp first.”  After wiping away more blood, Joan led Jeff to a stump where she could clean and bandage his forehead and Jeff continued with his story.

“I got to the lake just before dark and followed a trail worn along the shoreline a short distance before finding a place where the ground jutted out into the lake.  It was covered with brush and I knew I’d be safe hiding there, so I found a comfortable spot and settled in to listen before getting our water.  After my ears adjusted, I began hearing bits of whispered conversation—turns out there’s a camp at the far end of the lake.  There were no lights or fire and it was obvious they were attempting to remain concealed.

Jeff flinched when Joan applied antiseptic to the wound.

“I was nearly done filtering water into the bottles when I heard a group of people approaching on the other side of the lake.  They had flashlights and were making no effort to be quiet—like it was some kind of party or something.  They also had no idea there were people camped at the far end of the lake.”

Jeff paused for a moment while Joan applied a bandage to his forehead.

“Then I heard footsteps approaching from the direction of the other camp.  I froze, knowing I was well concealed in the brush and watched two men steal past, not ten feet from where I was hiding.  I figured it was time to go and began stowing the gear.”

Jeff’s hands were trembling and he paused for a drink of water before continuing.  “I was listening, waiting for the right moment to leave when all hell broke loose.  Flashlights burst through the trees and the men from the first camp charged in, shooting anything that moved.  The people never knew what hit them.

One couple, attempting to run away, was shot down by the same two men who’d snuck past me at the lake and positioned themselves to cover the backside of the camp.  When it was all over the attackers began rummaging through the gear and found a man who was still alive.  I heard him pleading for his life, but one man just walked up and shot him.  Shot him in cold blood.  I left right after that.”

“How many people are in the group?”  Roger asked.

“At least six, maybe seven,” Jeff replied.

Roger sighed.  “Got to give them a wide berth tomorrow.”

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.

CHAPTER  ELEVEN

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

 Ayn Rand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monk choked back a laugh.

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

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

“No sense of humor,” Cliffson choked.

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s Lang, Cliffson Lang.”

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

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

“This is all you have?” Chen asked.

“All of it,” Cliffson groaned.

“You lie.”

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

“What is your address?”

“1726 Maple Street.”

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

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

“Nor me you,” said Cliffson.

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

“You all right, Cliffson?” Gary asked.

“I’ll be fine.”

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

“It was kinda funny wasn’t it, Monk?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why’s that?” Monk asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get behind the trees,” Monk yelled.

Cliffson grabbed the boy and pulled him behind the tree.

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

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

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

The man turned and stumbled toward his black Toyota.

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

I hope you’ve been reading along and if you enjoy the story please share it with your friends.

CHAPTER FOUR

“Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting of their own free will.”

Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister

 “The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God.”

 Psalm 9:17

A brilliant spring sun was out and so were the witless, faddish people always there to chase the latest trend—each of them as brain dead as the next, Cliffson thought.  He was returning from the store with his youngest son Zach after purchasing an inner tube to repair the tire on their wheelbarrow.

Zach had been laid off from his job in Boise and was thankful to be able to return to a job he’d once held at a local greenhouse where Jean worked as a bookkeeper.  Though the Fed’s voodoo numbers put unemployment at 9.9 percent, real unemployment was nearing thirty percent and jobs were tough to come by.  As much as Cliffson was sorry to see his son lose his job, he had to admit he enjoyed having him around the house.

The mid May weather was improving nicely and the two of them detoured through the garden to look for newly sprouted pumpkins, before beginning repairs on the wheelbarrow. Raising pumpkins was something they’d done together since Zach was a little boy.  In the fall they would collect wheelbarrows full of them, make a fire in the fire pit and “gut” the pumpkins to collect the seeds. That little boy was now a strikingly handsome young man.  At six foot four, his trim son stood out in a crowd and his dark hair and complexion was an instant draw for many young women.

Cliffson relished the time he had to spend with his son.  For a little while he would escape his concerns over the condition of the nation and take his time repairing the wheelbarrow.


On the other side of the mountains Thomas Jefferson was storing camping gear in the garage and listening to the radio.  School was out and his family had just returned from a weeklong stay at their private cabin in the Cascade Mountains.

The talk show host warned about what the president’s policies were doing to the nation and how badly people were hurting as a result.  Thomas rarely listened to these programs and figured his son must have changed the channel.

“……..our economy is in a shambles, micromanaged by those who have never had a real job, but incredibly the Zombies remain in denial.  People, how can you still cling to these government promises? It’s time to wake up people. Now is the time to act.”

Reporters writing negative stories about the current administration often turned up missing and it was evident no story critical of the administration would be found in any newspaper in America.  Censorship of the press was nearing completion.

Davis walked back into the garage to help his Dad finish putting the gear away.

The broadcaster continued. “Like all democracies falling into tyranny, one of the first things a government does is control the press.  I recall how you people lashed out when the president outlawed a common bumper sticker, telling us it was “mean spirited” and “wasn’t helping the nation come together, but we…”

“Amen brotha’,” Davis cheered.

Thomas looked up from the fishing gear he was working on to say something to his son and then thought better of it.  Politics had become a serious battleground between the two of them but today was not the day for it.  Thomas couldn’t help wondering why people got so worked up over the loss of a few minor freedoms and remained largely unconcerned.  The government will work it out, he reasoned.

Besides, they’d just finished going through the pile of mail that accumulated while away on vacation and it included five new scholarship offers.  Two from smaller schools and one from Oregon State, but it was the other two offers that left them dancing about the room.  Both Texas and LSU had offered Davis full ride baseball scholarships.  Thomas was not about to dampen the excitement with an argument over politics.

At the age of eighteen the weight of a full ride scholarship may not have been entirely appreciated by the young Davis, but it wasn’t missed by his father.  He thrilled at the potential for his son to have a professional baseball career.  Certainly there were no guarantees of making it to the Pro’s, but everything was on the right track.

“Son,” Thomas said, “let’s go find that new car we’ve been talking about getting you for college.”  Davis began laughing and Thomas grew a puzzled face.

“Dad, it’s just so much all at once, but sure, let’s go, just don’t get upset if you find me laughing out loud when we test drive them.  I’m way out on cloud nine right now.”

Five hours later Mary watched them drive up in a brand new, black BMW convertible.  It was a great day for them and now she was going to make her husband take them all out for dinner to celebrate.

Are you a writer?  If so you probably know this struggle.  So many times life just gets in the way and doesn’t leave you much time for writing.  Then when the day comes you have the time, your mind is not in the mood and no matter how you try, it simply wont cooperate.

My wife and I have a huge garden, fruit trees, chickens and honeybees.  I call it my victory garden – a victory over Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO’s.  Everything we do is organic and all seed is heirloom.  This time of year when the bounty rolls in and our labor is rewarded there seems to be little time for writing.  To further absorb what little time I have left I’ve begun a memoir, a new writing experience encouraged by my oldest son.  Then there’s the offer to write articles for a magazine.  That could be interesting.  I will keep you posted as this develops.

Tomorrow another chapter of Truths Blood.  Today a picture of the garden and a link to my other blog.

Have a great day everyone!

http://organictruths.wordpress.com/

 

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