Posts Tagged ‘suspsense’

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

 Apache Wedding Blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want to join them?”  Dustin yelled.

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

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

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

Hank walked away shouting obscenities and threatening them all.

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

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

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

Monk nodded.

“I just made it up, why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was quiet for moment as neither man spoke.

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

“It’s all right Dad.”

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

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

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

“And Dad.”

“What son?”

“We are helping.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Thomas, stop it,”  Mary demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

 H.L. Mencken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just want to lie down Thomas.”

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

“Please don’t go far.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Too late, old man.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monk elbowed Cliffson.  “Watch yourself.”

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


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

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

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

The man hesitated.

“Drop it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A subdued yes came from the crowd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We ran out yesterday morning.”

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

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

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

Looking ashamed they said nothing and quietly stood aside.

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

“Gracias, gracias.”

“You’re welcome,” Jean said.

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

“Who said that?”  Cliffson yelled.

No one said a word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But Monk, it endangers my family.”

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

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

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

Jean was silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will Monk,” she said.

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

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

“Good night, Jean.”

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


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

 Frederic Bastiat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sadly, none of us are,” Monk agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can’t say that I have.”

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

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

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

“Party pooper Barb,”  Cliffson kidded.

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

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

Cliffson and Gary shared glancing looks before Gary continued.

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

“Really?”  Barb asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s this happening?”  Jean asked.

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

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

Gary looked puzzled.  “Eddyville?”

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

Gary groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 “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.”


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

 Frederic Bastiat

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

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

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

“How are you this morning?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right honey, but please be careful.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Thomas, please ask them to come in.”

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

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

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

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

“Where are you coming from?”  Thomas asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean’s puzzled look asked him to continue.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m afraid they will Kate, this is”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell him the rest,”  Cliffson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you figure?”  Barb asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


 “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.


“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.

So does this story stir up any thoughts?  It should.  Wondering what people think.  Would enjoy hearing some comments.  Cheers!


 “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

 Ronald Reagan

There are times when a person is weighed down with an inescapable sense of dread—something that reaches beyond facts and reason, even when all lying before you appears serene.  There is another sense, more than a feeling or intuition, directly connected with your inner being.  It’s undeniable, but yet, it’s nothing that can be shared because there is no proof, no tangible evidence with which to make your case.

Cliffson struggled with these thoughts as he went about his chores.  The scent of hyacinth was in the air and before long the fruit trees would be in full bloom.  The hawks, ravens and sparrows were busy building nests and breeding.   It all had the rhythm and feel of an archetypal spring.  Sure, the nation had been attacked, but it had been attacked before and recovered.  So why did it feel like there was an eight hundred pound gorilla about to land on his back?

Lost in his thoughts, Cliffson wandered into the garden.  Meekly standing in the frail morning sunshine, sipping his coffee and pondering the recent events, he saw Monk headed his way.  He wasn’t sure why, but Monk’s presence always had a calming effect on him.

Welfare rose to greet him but Cliffson made him stay.  “Good morning, Monk.”

“Howdy, neighbor.  Thinking about planting your garden?”

“We’ve already got some spinach and lettuce in,”  Cliffson said.  “But I’m thinking it’s about time to get started on the next few things.”

“I see Jean’s garlic is already off to the races.  Suppose I could get a lesson from her? Mine’s not doing so well.”

“You know she’d be glad to help.”

“So what’s the latest, Monk?  You have that look on your face,” Cliffson grinned slyly from one turned up corner of his mouth.

“Well, like I said last night, there was some strange talk going on among the “hams” but after listening in this morning, it all seems pretty clear.”

“And that is?”

Monk squatted down to examine the garlic.  “It’s sounding like our navy has been put out of order.”

“What?  How’s that possible, there’s been nothing on the tube?”

“Well for one thing, they don’t want people getting alarmed so it’s not something they’re likely to acknowledge, but ham operators on the east coast and in Hawaii are reporting our ships are dead in the water.  Others are reporting our ships overseas have been put out of action.  One way or the other, nearly all U.S. naval activity has come to a stop.”

“The ships are just sitting there, with no shots were fired?”  Cliffson raised an eyebrow.

“No shots, none.  They believe it was done with EMP’s, electromagnetic impulse devices,”  Monk explained.

“I knew that technology was getting close, but I didn’t think anyone had it operational yet.  Why do they think that’s what was used?”  Cliffson asked.

Because it’s not just the ships.  Electronics are fried throughout the general area where the ships are dead.  Most of the local ham operators cannot be contacted,”  Monk said.

Cliffson eyed Monk. “Chinese?”

“Looks like it to me.  Possibly came in with submarines, surfaced at night, fired the weapons and left.  We’ve known for years their subs shadow our fleets everywhere they go.”  Monk was scratching Welfare’s ears and the dog was groaning with pleasure.

“Can’t say I’m surprised.  Our nation has pretty much flipped them off and they don’t take lightly to losing face.  We could be looking at war, Monk.”

Monk’s face grew serious and he looked down at the ground.  “You know Cliffson, I’ve spent a lot of time in that part of the world and you’re exactly right.  You don’t publicly embarrass the Chinese without paying a price.  Our president’s a child playing on the world’s stage and has little understanding of this.  There’s going to be hell to pay one way or the other.”

The two men continued visiting, allowing the peacefulness of the garden to envelope them.  When Monk left, Cliffson headed back to the house and found Jean was just hanging up the phone.

“The Wests called and said the president is going to speak at two PM.  They’ve invited us over to watch it with them.”

“Whew, that sounds good, I could use a little moral support.”

“Hun, why the big sigh?  Whatever it is we’ll work it out,” soothed Jean.

She was his rock and her words always steadied him.  He squared his shoulders and turned to go.

“It’s all good.  I need to feel like I’m doing something useful, so I’m going into town to fill our propane tanks.”

“All right, but don’t make us late for the Wests.”

Cliffson gave her a peck on the cheek and swatted her butt before heading out the door.  Jean smiled to herself.  She knew whatever came their way he would be there for her.  He always had been and this would be no different, no matter how tough things got.  It was a comforting thought and it gave her strength.

May weather in central Oregon was often unpredictable, but today the air was sweet and supple, the exact opposite of how the people on the street looked.  Driving the mile or so to the nearest gas station, Cliffson noted the dramatic change.  Eyes sunk deep in faces creased with fear, people cowered under stooped shoulders and hurried walks.  Furtive glances betrayed the trepidation and mistrust harbored inside.  The transformation was surreal and it left Cliffson picturing a dark cobblestone alley in old England.

He pulled into the gas station where he routinely purchased propane and was relieved to find just one car there, a black Toyota Camry.


The passenger side of the windshield exploded, stunning Cliffson and embedding glass in the side of his face and neck.  Throwing open the door to get on the ground, he mostly fell out of the car.  The sound of footsteps rushing to the lone car and a voice yelling, “Hurry, hurry, hurry,” followed.  Shock and dark confusion flooded his mind.

Tires squealed, the car tore away, and all was silent.

Cliffson sat up and leaned against the car to collect himself.   Blood was running everywhere.  Glad I had my glasses on.

Sir, sir, are you all right?”

Cliffson looked in the direction of the voice but couldn’t see through the blood in his eyes.  “I think, I’m ok,” he said in a slow, shaky voice.  “You know how face cuts bleed.”

“We need to get you to a doctor,” the voice said.

Using his shirt to wipe his face and stem the flow of blood, Cliffson looked up to see who the voice belonged to.  “Looks like you’re the one who needs to see the doc, that’s a nasty gash on your forehead,” he said to the young man standing over him.

“Those clowns surprised me.  When I turned around one of them struck me with the butt of his shotgun, then grabbed the money from the till and took off.  You were just driving up when they bolted out the door.  They were yelling all sorts of crazy stuff about no government and being able to do anything they wanted.  Here, let me help you up. My name’s Steve.”

Two police cars and an ambulance screeched into the station.  Medics examined both men and Steve was sent to the hospital for stitches.  An examination of Cliffson revealed numerous small cuts, but nothing serious.  Still, the medics wanted to take him in, but he refused.

Cliffson glared at the officer. “No, I didn’t get a license plate number.  They nearly took my head off,” he gestured, but then, realizing he was yelling, Cliffson backed off.  After taking a statement and obtaining contact information, Cliffson convinced the officers he was able to make the short drive home.

Jean would be upset and he didn’t want the attention, so he entered the house quietly, hoping to avoid her.  The kitchen smelled of Jean’s cooking, but the house was quiet and Cliffson managed to tiptoe into the guest bath without being detected.  He was soaking a cloth in warm water when he heard a gasp behind him.

“Honey are you all right, what happened?”

“Ummm, I’ll tell you, but first, get some tweezers please; I think I have some glass in my face.”

Jean was every bit as meticulous as he knew she would be and worked through each wound, cleansing and treating them with hydrogen peroxide.  Cliffson teased her about enjoying the pain she was causing and immediately felt the sting of tweezers digging deeper.

“Ok, ok, I get your point.”  He grimaced.

By the time she was done Jean had removed nearly a dozen small shards of glass and one pellet from his face and neck.  The cuts were small but numerous, and his face was red and swollen on one side.  When she was done Jean held him at arm’s length and winced at how bad it looked.

“Too bad it’s not Halloween.  You’d be ready for anything.”  She hugged him and he thanked her for cleaning him up before taking a damp cloth and lying down on the couch.  Jean went to call the Wests and to let them know they wouldn’t be coming over.

Cliffson listened to the phone conversation taking place in the other room and though her voice was calm he could hear the strain in Jean’s words.  When she came back into the room Cliffson got up and gave her a hug.  A golden stream of sunlight pooled on the living room floor where Cliffson stood looking down into the deep sea of Jeans emerald green eyes.

“I’m ok Hun, everything’s all right,” he said softly.

“Cliffson, I’m scared.  All our leaders are gone and look what’s already happening.”

The rock of his life was shaken.  He had rarely seen Jean this way and did his best to comfort her.  He kissed her on the forehead and wiped the tears away before leading her to the couch.  “Hermead?”  It was the name of the tasty Oatmeal Stout Cliffson home brewed and he knew she loved it.

“Yes, I could really use one, but I should be serving you,” she offered.

“I told you, I’ll be fine.”

“You might also get some for the Wests,” she called out.  “I invited them over.  They’ll be here any minute.”

Cliffson was in the garage filling glasses from the cooler’s tap when the door bell rang.  Back in the kitchen he handed a glass of beer to Gary.

“Wow,” Gary exclaimed, looking over Cliffson’s red and swollen face. “You were lucky.  Must be sore as hell!”

“Its sore enough, but I’ll take that to the alternative.  I’m sure Jean told you the story.  Crazy, huh?”

“Only gonna get worse I’m afraid.  We’ve talked about these things Cliffson, nothing we haven’t been expecting.”

“I know, but I can’t believe it’s actually happening.  Turn the TV on and see if the president has some good news for a change.”

Gary just rolled his eyes.

The afternoon sun cast its glare on the screen and dust motes danced in the air while the four of them waited for the president to speak.

“My countrymen, my friends and my American family, I am speaking to you tonight from the temporary White House in Bismarck North Dakota.  My heart is heavy with the news I must share with you this afternoon.  I’m sure by now you’ve seen the pictures of what was once Washington D.C.  Our capital is gone and with the exception of me and a couple of congressmen who were away ill, our nation’s elected officials were all killed in the blast.  Excuse me please.”  He choked on the words and turned away to wipe his eyes before continuing.  “We are doing everything we can to assist those people suffering the effects of the bombing and will continue to do so.”

His voice was shaky and not at all comforting like Cliffson had hoped for.

“Now, I must share with you some additional news that is both difficult and troubling.   Please listen closely.  You must understand the seriousness of what I am about to say.  Our nation is unable to pay the debt we owe to the Chinese government—a debt of more than four trillion dollars.  To reduce our nation’s expenses and make it possible to repay what we owe, the following measures will take effect immediately.”

A list appeared on the screen and the president continued.

“Social security, Medicare, welfare payments, food stamps, unemployment, housing subsidies, federal pensions and other programs will be cut 75 percent, instead of the previously announced 50 percent.  The Medicaid program will be terminated as will all federal support for public schools.”

Gary whistled through his teeth.

“Our military is spread around the globe across 155 nations.   Orders have gone out to bring all troops home.”

“Has to kill him to say that,” Gary smirked.

“The Fed will cease all money printing activities and all subsidies, regardless of industry, will be terminated.”

“In a moment the Chinese President himself will speak to you.  I have pledged our complete and full cooperation to him and ask for your support in doing the same. After he has spoken, I’m sure you will understand the significance of doing so.  I now introduce to you President Dong Ju-long.”

A look of disbelief spread over the faces of everyone in the room while waiting for the chubby Ju-long to take the podium.  Soon his pock marked face filled the screen, but it was his unabashed disdain for anything American that would be remembered most.

“I will not mince words with you American dogs,” Ju-long spat.  “America owe China moe than four trillion dolla and you are going to pay.”  Anger chewed into his contorted face and deepened the lines in his forehead.

“You arrogant, foolish Americans!”  He stomped.  “You did not see fit to control your own borders even while your military was spread all over the world fighting other people’s wars.  This is grave mistake.  In one night, we smuggle many nuclear bombs into your country and one is now concealed near each and every American.”

His face was now completely red and he began to shake while pounding on the podium.

“Tomorrow, you will immediately begin turning in your gold and silva to collection stations being set up in your communities.  You awe given one week to do this!  Ju-long paused to take a breath and his face filled the screen when the camera zoomed in.

Smashing his fist on the podium for emphasis after each spoken word Ju-long continued. I…leave…you…with…warning.  Is very costly to occupy your nation with large military force and we will not do so!”

Worked up to a full snarling rage, he completed his statement.

“If not receive full cooperation, we annihilate all of you.”  Ju-long spit the words from his mouth and turned sharply on his heels, shaking his fist at the president before storming from the stage.

Cliffson looked to each person in the room. Jean was slumped in her chair, a look of disbelief turning to one of dismay.  Barb sat on the edge of the sofa, eyes wide in shock and hands covering her mouth.  Cliffson saw Gary’s expression change from a look of “what the hell”, to one of stubborn determination.

“Well he aint takn’ my gold and silver, the bastard.  I think he’s bluffin’.  No way he has that many nukes here,” Gary declared.

“I agree,” said Cliffson, “and while we don’t have much I’m sure not turning any of our gold and silver over to him either.”

Gary moved to the kitchen and stood at the counter drumming his fingers. “This is just between those of us in this room.  I know I just said I wouldn’t turn anything in, but maybe it would be wiser to act like we are cooperating and not draw attention to ourselves.  I suggest we go to one of their stations tomorrow and make sure we’re seen turning over some metal.  It’s up to each of us to decide how much that will be, but look at it as buying insurance.”

“I like that idea,” Cliffson said.  “Do you want to meet here first?”  Maybe we could drop our car off on the way so I can get the windshield fixed.”

“That would be fine and you probably didn’t get your propane tanks filled today did you Cliffson?”

“No, I sure didn’t.”

“Then let’s take care of that too,” Gary offered.  “I’ve got an empty one I want to fill also.”

The doorbell rang and Jean went to answer it.

“Come on in Monk,” they all chimed, happy to see a friendly face.

Monk stepped inside and immediately spotted Cliffson’s swollen face.  “What in tarnation happened to you?”

Cliffson gave a brief rundown of the events at the gas station.

Monk shook his head.  “You were lucky my friend.  I’m glad it wasn’t worse.”

Cliffson was anxious to change subjects.  “What’d you make of all that tonight?”

“I reckon daylight’s a burnin’ and we need to finish with getting prepared for what’s a comin’.  The good book talks about these things, so I think the best way to begin is with some prayer,” Monk said as he pulled a small bible from his shirt pocket.

“What’d you do Monk, just come down from the mountain?” Cliffson chuckled, trying to lighten things up a bit.

“No no, never said anything about having any kind of special wisdom, that’s all in here,” he said, tapping on his bible.

After beginning with prayer, they discussed plans for gathering the last of the supplies they needed. The group reaffirmed their commitment to come to one another’s aid, share resources, shelter, and ideas.  Cliffson suggested they might find another couple or two that would join with them, but no one could think of anyone who could be trusted.

Monk liked Gary’s idea about making sure they were seen turning in some metal of some sort and decided to join them.  Then Gary asked Monk what he thought about the threat of a nuclear bomb being in every city.

“Well, I’ll tells ya, I’m not sure how much of it I believes myself.  A few months ago there was lot of talk among the “hams” about a midnight run on the border.  Some of the ham operators down in Arizona picked up on a massive run across the border the same night all those border stations were attacked.  Later on, the “hams” in Texas confirmed the story when a couple of the “mules” were caught and spilled the beans.  Here’s the long and the short of it.”

“Thousands of illegals were paid one thousand dollars apiece to attempt to cross the border in a coordinated effort to overwhelm our own law enforcement.  But the illegals were nothing more than decoys to create confusion.  China supplied arms to Mexico’s two largest drug cartels and paid them a significant amount of gold to attack the border patrol stations in an enormous diversion.”

“As the story goes, it wasn’t difficult to draw our limited forces into the trap.  The Chinese simply sat back and waited for the border patrol to react.  Once they were busy with the attacks on our border stations and the thousands of “mules” crossing simultaneously from Texas to California, they knew exactly where the border was unguarded by monitoring the border patrols’ own radio communications.  With our poorly armed and staffed border patrol completely overwhelmed, the Chinese flew their nukes in undetected.”

“Fascinating story Monk, but do you really think it could work?” Gary asked.

“I do Gary.  I’ve had experience down there.  That border is nearly two thousand miles long and there ain’t no way we have enough people there to guard it.  Course that’s on purpose you know. The part I struggle with believing is the nukes.  Obviously they got one in, how many more, I just don’t know.  The Chinese are crafty and I wouldn’t put it past them, but I still would like to believe it couldn’t be done without our national security knowing something about it.  I think I need a little more proof.”

The Jeffersons were in a state of shock.  The fact that D.C. really had been nuked hit them like a ton of bricks.  Stunned and unsure what to do, Thomas had even cancelled his Saturday golf game.  Like most citizens, they were used to getting their directions from Washington.  With no word from the president, they didn’t know what to do and spent their day wringing hands and worrying.

Davis had had enough.  “Dad, I’ve got to get out for awhile.  You and Mom gonna be all right?”

“We’ll be fine son. Where are you going?”

“I’ve made arrangements for a workout with the coach at O.S.U., so I’m headed down there for a while.”

“All right son, see you in a while.”

After Davis left, Thomas moved to his study to be alone.  He regretted the argument he’d had with his son the previous evening.  Davis was a good kid who was working hard to make a life of his own.  Thomas reminded himself they wouldn’t always see things the same way and he needed to give his son room to form his own opinions.