Saturday, February 18, 2017

"I AM NO MAN" - Ending


Part V - Ending

[WARNING - Offensive language and violence]

The Marauders awoke before dawn and moved toward the arroyo. They moved in a practiced Diamond formation, a Point Man, Flankers, and a Rear Guard. Once in the arroyo, the formation went to crap, hindered by thick brush and a tangle of dead trees. It didn't matter; within an hour they realized their quarry had given them the slip and moved out sometime during the night. Another half an hour of tracking and the Scout had established where the Crow had exited the arroyo and a direction, which led them to the Highway. He grunted, then spoke, mostly to himself. "South again. Well, he's consistent..." They started out, moving fast to make time.

About mid-morning, The Crow had stopped to rest. He had made 10 or 15 miles....? He couldn't be sure how far...and was utterly played out. Taking care to not leave a clear track, he had left the road and wandered out into the chaparral. There he found a depression and spread his tarp and blanket and rolled up in them. He was almost immediately asleep. He woke with a start. Judging by the dim glow of the sun, he estimated he had slept a couple of hours, maybe even 3 or 4. He rolled his bedroll, tied it to his pack and then spent another 15 minutes glassing the area and slowly working his way to the road.  Judging it safe, he left cover and re-commenced his march south. Periodically he would move into the brush, take a knee and glass the area thoroughly, but he saw no signs he was being followed. Still, he knew...felt it more than anything...that they were back there, somewhere, coming for him. He made a few miles more and then picked a hide for the evening. With the marauders so close, he decided on a cold camp. He ate the last of his jerked venison and washed it down with a few swallows of water, of which there was precious little left. In spite of it, he was still hungry, dehydrated, and exhausted.

For the first time, he began to doubt he would succeed making it to the redoubt.

4 miles away, the marauders were encamped, equally exhausted, starved, and dehydrated...even more so than The Crow. Fatso had recovered from his bout with diarrhea, but he was substantially weakened. Rodriguez and The Nazi had started to whine and begun to hint they wanted to quit and return to the crew. The Scout reminded them this job was ordered by Brock...and no one went against Brock and lived to tell it.  They closed their mouths, remembering some of their comrades that had "crossed the line" and paid with their lives.

The following morning, The Crow broke camp and had barely traveled 2 miles when he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He'd learned long ago to respect the sensation, and immediately moved into cover. He focused his field glasses and almost immediately picked up the marauders coming up, perhaps a mile behind him, picking their way along the Highway. He watched them closely and evaluated them. The obese man was walking poorly, obviously weak, perhaps even ill. The other three men moved better, but were clearly tired. The Scout had his shotgun, the fat man an AR, and the other 2 men scoped hunting rifles. They would be on him very soon and he didn't like the odds. He needed an advantage. Looking to his left, he studied the craggy ridge to the east of the highway. Maybe 4 miles away, it appeared perhaps 1300'-1500' elevation, and fissured and strewn with boulders. "Just maybe...", he thought. The Crow started moving in a low crouch through the chaparral toward the ridge. He had perhaps covered a mile toward the ridge when he heard a round go past his head, followed by a distant report. They were on him and had the range. The Crow proned out, pulling a large stone over to him to use as an improvised rest. He looked through the scope, but saw nothing. A few minutes later he caught some movement, maybe a quarter mile out. He adjusted for 400 yards and focused on what was nothing more than a hazy shadow in the sagebrush. He exhaled and slowly squeezed the trigger. The shot broke and he didn't even wait to see if there was an effect...he just rolled off to the side and low crawled to another position.

The NAZI screamed as the bullet tore through his left upper arm. "MOTHERFUCKER, I'M HIT!!!!" he screamed, dropping his rifle and grabbing his shoulder. Blood streamed through his fingers. Rodriguez pulled a dirty bandanna from his pocket and pressed it against The Nazi's shoulder in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood. The Nazi blacked out and fell over backwards. The Scout and Rodriguez dragged him back into a low spot in the brush and examined the wound. It was a flesh wound, the bullet having gone through the fleshy part of the arm. They dressed the Nazi's left shoulder as best they could. It was 20 minutes before he came around, and light was failing fast, so they opted to just make camp and call it a day. The Scout was starting to have his own doubts as to the value of this mission. Simple revenge seemed a stupid reason to expend so much time and effort, especially for a piece of shit such as had been Denver. Brock had never communicated it, but The Scout was pretty sure that Brock harbored no particular love, and certainly no respect, for his shithead brother.

In the meantime, The Crow was wasting no time implementing his plan. Darkness was his friend, and he took a bearing and continued his movement toward the ridge. Sometime in the early morning hours he arrived and made a cold camp in some rocks to await daylight. After napping for an hour or so, it began to become light, and he studied the ridge. Not seeing what he was looking for he continued southerly along the base of the ridge, until he finally found what he was looking for; a long, narrow vertical channel leading towards the top of the ridge. It was lined with huge boulders and paved with loose scree. Near the top was a group of boulders that formed a natural redoubt. Difficult to approach, it would be the perfect defensive position. One of 3 things could happen: He could put up a good fight and dissuade them and they abandon the pursuit; they would foolishly assault the position and he might be able to kill a couple of them; they could succeed and wound or kill him. It was all up for grabs, but he had no other alternatives with them breathing so closely down his neck. He found a couple of sticks to use as trekking poles and began the horrific task of picking his way up the escarpment. It was steep and several times he slipped and slid, more than anything else due to weakness induced by the lack of calories and hydration. This pursuit had pushed him beyond his reserves, and he knew it. He rested frequently, but it did little good. Fighting headspins, he pushed on up the slope. 

The marauders had awoke and The Nazi was spoiling for a fight, livid he'd been winged by The Crow. "I want that motherfucker BAD!" he growled, and rattled off all the ways he planned to mutilate and torture The Crow when he caught him. The Scout led off, picked up the track and began tracking The Crow. By a little after noon they arrived at the spot where The Crow had went up the escarpment. The Scout examined it closely, and immediately saw the folly of pursuing, but said nothing. Rodriguez did too, and said as much, but before they could enter into discussion or crafting a plan, The Nazi had splintered off and begun working his way up. The Scout shook his head, but followed. With The Nazi on point, he could take the first round and maybe they could fix The Crow's position and take him out.

The Crow had reached the redoubt, and it was as he had hoped. Large boulders bunched in a close group that allowed a fighting position with a commanding field of fire. Better still, behind the boulders was a smooth, sheer 30' face that was unassailable; he needn't watch his back. But it was cold...Damned cold. He looked skyward. Dim sunlight filtered through the perpetual swirling ash and dust trapped in the upper atmosphere. The wind shifted and prowled around the rocks like an angry predator searching for prey. High above in the redoubt. he adjusted the shemagh covering his face and peered through the telescopic sight. Four straight days now he'd retreated from this gang of marauders that had been tracking and harassing him. He was tired, cold, and hungry, and absolutely spent, but that would have to wait. The opportunity he'd been waiting for had finally arrived. Some 200 yards below, the group had foolishly entered into the narrow, steep, rocky draw, and were picking their way up, intent on blood. It was the perfect kill zone; barely wide enough in places for one man to negotiate and boulders on either side too large to scramble over. The loose scree was making it especially difficult, and they were slipping and losing their footing as he had.  There was no cover, no concealment...and no chance...somebody was going to die. 

They drew into range and  a grim Wolfish smile spread across his face. They were entering a section which was especially narrow, blocked at the back by two close boulders. He saw his opportunity and  adjusted the focus on the scope. He would now begin the slaughter of his tormentors. As usual, Fatso was bringing up the rear, and was just attempting to squeeze through the crack when The Crow's .308 reached out to greet him. The Crow had started with the rearmost man, sighting on the septum and sailing a 175 grain hollow-point into his brain stem. His body crumpled, completely wedged and effectively blocking the other men from escaping back down the draw. The Nazi had seen the muzzle in the rocks above and sighted on the position. His round ricocheted off the rocks, splintering The Crow's face with sharp shards of granite, but having no appreciable effect. The Scout was focused up on the rocks as well, and was startled when he heard Rodriguez cry out an alarm behind him. Looking back, he saw Rodriguez desperately trying to drag Fatso's corpse from the crack, but he was stuck good. The Scout went to his aid and together they pulled and lifted to free the fat man, but it was to no avail.

Next came the men struggling to move the body aside....The Crow sighted on the back of Rodriguez' head and turned it into a sack of pulpy mush as the soft point did it's lethal job. He collapsed at fatso's feet. The wall was building. The Scout cast his shotgun aside and gathered up Rodriguez' scoped rifle. Pressing into a gap between two boulders, he joined The Nazi in returning fire on The Crow's position. A shard of granite lanced The Crows' cheek. Blood flowed, but he ignored it and stayed focused on the task. The Nazi was less fortunate in seeking cover and The Crow popped him in the leg. He fell from his place of concealment and The Crow finished him with a head shot. The final man was in sheer panic mode by now, scrambling up the rocks, desperately trying to seek better  cover, but there was none to be had. The Crow decided to make this one personal and the M700 bucked as he sailed a round into the man's upper chest. The Scout felt the burning, white-hot sensation as the round tunneled through his chest and lungs and exited his back. For a moment, he thought he could keep fighting and worked the bolt, but then he felt himself growing weak and confused as his lungs began to hemorrhage and fill with blood. The rifle grew heavy, too heavy to hold and slipped from his hands. He sank slowly, unable to stand, and slid his back down the rocks to a sitting position. He looked skywards but was unable to focus or see clearly. 

Satisfied the threat had been removed, The Crow topped off his rifle's magazine and then worked his way down to the kill zone. He paused behind a boulder and evaluated the Scout before advancing further. Wounded people sometimes came back, and it was never wise to approach them too quickly, if at all. He slung his rifle and drew the Smith & Wesson and covered the Scout as he advanced on the lung-shot marauder. Bright blood was gurgling from his mouth as he breathed his precious last few agonal breaths on the gray earth. Without turning his head, his eyes turned in jerky movements to view the man, but it was hard to see, and all he could discern was a black clad figure approaching toward him.  He tried to speak but could not form words. Spitting blood, he gasped, "" Kneeling next to The Scout, The Crow pushed him over onto the ground. He drew the BUCK knife from it's sheath and, without responding in the least, finished his deadly business and thrust it through the marauder's eye socket. It crunched against bone as it broke through the rear of the eye orbit and sank into the brain cavity. The Scout went slack and his lungs emptied their last pitiful breath. Looking at the lifeless form, it had only one dead eye staring fixedly at the sky. The Crow remembered a line from the classic novel, THE ODYSSEY. He bent low and whispered into The Scout's ear. "I am No Man..."

The Crow sat down on the rocks and looked out across the desert floor. It had been a long journey to get here. He rested for a few moments, then searched the body's for anything useful. He recovered a few cartridges, but no food or water was to be had...they were completely out of any sustenance. He unlooped the shotgun pistol from Rodriguez' next, checked it over, and then placed it over his own. Looking south, he could just make out what he thought to be the skyline of Phoenix very far in the hazy distance, and he wondered what awaited him there. He rested his rifle against the rocks, stood and returned to the redoubt gather his gear. God he was tired. His legs were weak and shook. Utterly exhausted, he placed the pack on his back, groaning as the weight settled into place. he was so thirsty and his mind cloudy. As he turned to go, he placed his weight on a rock which shifted and gave way.  He tumbled over the sheer drop at the rear of the redoubt. It felt like it was a long fall, though it probably was only 1, maybe 2 seconds. His legs landed first, and thus were driven up into the hip sockets. The crunch was audible as his pelvic bone fractured and he collapsed onto the stony ground. The pain was excruciating and he blacked out.

It was dark when he awoke. He was shivering, and he knew he was hypothermic and in shock. He could only guess that blood was pooling in his abdomen, the result of internal hemorrhage. He tried to raise himself to sit up so he could breath more easily, but could not. Pain like lightning shot through his body with even the slightest movement. He was done, and he knew it. The only question was how would this end? He slid his hand down to his right hip and felt for his revolver. It was there, and he popped the snap and released the retaining strap. He rested the pistol on his chest and thought on it. Maybe if the pain became unbearable, but his preference was to let nature take it's course...

After about an hour, he felt the pain lift and a numbness filling his body. His vision became blurry and his respiration slower and shallower. He had no feeling in his extremities, and even if he wanted to, he could no move his hands to manipulate the revolver. Random thoughts and images began to fire off in his brain, recent events and events long past passed through his thoughts; memories of his wife and daughter among them. He smiled thinking of them. His eyelids became heavy with sleep. He opened his mouth and gasped, shook his head slightly, and tried to fight it off, but it became overwhelming and he drifted off, and then went still. His eyes remained open, fixed on the blackness devoid of a moon or even stars. Just blackness, stirred by the unceasing wind.

In the streets of Phoenix, the wind blew tumbleweeds and bits of trash about. It was empty and silent, save for the wind that blew through the streets. Except for an occasional rat scampering in a gutter, it was completely devoid of life.

T H E   E N D

Copyright © Manny Silva, 2017. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Thursday, February 9, 2017



Part IV

[WARNING - Offensive language and violence]

The Crow awoke with a start in the culvert. He was dreaming and had broken a sweat. The Crow had been having a dream about the dead girl he'd found. He'd dreamt he was sitting before a campfire when the girl appeared before him. She was alive and looked scared. Her mouth was moving frantically, but no words came out. She turned slightly and pointed over her shoulder behind her, motioning toward something. He saw himself stand and take a step toward her, but she retreated, continuing to point behind her, shouting in silent alarm, then fading into darkness. The Crow sat up and rubbed his face and looked around, reassuring himself it was in fact just a dream. He drank a few swallows of water. There was nothing to eat, so he just ignored the hunger pangs, packed up his kit, holstered up his revolver, and headed out.

The Scout, Fatso, Rodriguez, and The Nazi had picked up The Crow's tracks and were making good time. Earlier in the day, they had stopped to gather water from a spring when they heard a group approaching. With practiced speed, they moved to cover, spreading out and forming a quick L-shaped ambush. A few moments later the group appeared. It was a group of travelers; 3 men, 2 women, and a pre-teen boy. The men had the only weapons, a bolt-action rifle and an old single barrel shotgun. The Scout and The Nazi were the best shots and would begin this dance. As the group came opposite them, they targeted the men and opened fire, killing one man outright and severely wounding the second. The women and the boy broken into a run and ran right into a salvo of lead from Fatso and Rodriguez. In a matter of seconds, the group was wiped out. The marauders left their cover. The surviving wounded man was writhing in pain, laying in a puddle of his own blood. The Nazi stood over him smiling like a Jackal, then raised his foot and viciously stomped the man's throat, finishing him. Rodriguez inspected one of the women and shook his head, "Man, this Mujer was fine! What a waste! I'd have shown her a thing!" 

The marauders then searched the groups packs, removing some battered cans of outdated food, some old ammunition, and their weapons. Upon closer examination, they discovered the rifle had a broken firing pin and was non-functional, and cast it aside. Rodriguez kept the shotgun, which appeared operable. Later that evening next to the campfire, he would use a file from his pack and cut the shotgun's barrel down to a length of about 6", then cut down the buttstock to fashion a shotgun pistol. Finished with their grim work, they moved off, leaving their victims where they fell.

The Crow was weak and tired. He'd had precious little to eat, except for a few edible weeds he'd found in a field. He felt his waist and realized he was starving and desperately needed substantial food and especially fat. His prayers were about to be a price. Late in the afternoon dimness he spotted a small herd of Mule Deer on a slope some distance away. They were smallish and, like all other life, clearly underfed, but it was meat. He estimated the range at a little over 300 yards. The Crow piled rocks to form a rest and then proned out. He doped the wind and adjusted the focus ring. Selecting a doe, he let his breath out slowly and, as the crosshairs settled behind her foreleg, gently squeezed the trigger. The shot broke and the round flew true. A second later, the doe convulsed, ran a couple of steps on wobbly legs, and collapsed. The last light left the sky and The Crow began the arduous hike up the slope to retrieve the doe.

Several miles away, the marauders heard the shot in the distance. The Scout cocked his head and raised a finger for silence. They stood silently, listening for a follow-up shot, but heard nothing. Rodriguez turned and faced southeast and pointed. The Nazi nodded agreement. "Yea, def south. Think that's our boy?" The Scout shrugged. "It's possible. Not that far....couple of miles maybe. We'll get an early start." He grinned, Whoever it is, they'll be making our acquaintance tomorrow. " They made their warming fire in a cleft of rocks. the boulders radiated the heat back at them and it felt good. Rodriguez sat, working on his shotgun pistol by the firelight while the others slept. He tied cordage to the grip and hung it from his neck, adjusting the height so the grip hung even with his navel. He stood and practiced scooping the weapon up with either hand and bringing it to bear on a target. Satisfied, he laid down on a mattress of dried brush and covered himself with a threadbare blanket.

The Crow sat next to the fire and watched the venison roasting on a stick shoved into the ground. He sliced a chunk off and popped it in his mouth. He ate slowly, allowing his stomach to adjust to the introduction of substantial food after going hungry so long. He had gathered sticks and built a rack well above the fire, then sliced thin strips of venison and hung them on the field-expedient smoker. He held his hand at rack height. It was warm, but not so much that he need remove his hand, and judged it about right. To this he would add small bits of wood whenever he awoke during the night. By morning he should have a decent amount of jerked meat to get him by for a few days. As he ate, he reflected on the dream he'd awoken from that morning. It had haunted him all day. He didn't know why, but he had an uneasy feeling. Several times during the day, he had stopped and taken cover and watched his back trail. Maybe he was just spooky after killing the marauder. Even if they concluded the woman was not responsible, he couldn't imagine they'd bother to hunt him; caolries were to hard to come by to burn carelessly and besides, life was too cheap to care! With a full belly and warm fire, he drifted off to sleep. Sometime later in the morning, the girl again appeared in his dreams,  approaching his campfire, silently shouting unknown words and again pointing over her shoulder at something behind her... He awoke at one point and saw a pack of Coyote's pacing back and forth, just outside the light of his campfire, attracted by the smell of food. He waved his revolver at them and then decided against risking a shot that might warn someone in the area of his presence.

Morning arrived with it's typical dim light and frigid winds. The marauders had set out before light and stumbled their way across the Arizona desert. Later around mid-morning, they came across The Crow's campfire. Greedily, they gathered up the charred remnants of Venison and devoured them as only starving men can. Fatso sliced off chunks of raw uncooked meat that had been gnawed on by Coyote's after the Crow had broke camp. Satiated, they moved off and began actively tracking The Crow. By noon, they got their first glimpse of him as they crested a ridge. There, in the distance below them on the desert floor, they saw him walking South-Southeast along the old Highway 93. They estimated him at about 3/4 mile from them...too far to make a they kept in pursuit. In the meantime, ever watchful, The Crow had spotted the four figures coming down the ridge, basically following the same track he'd taken. He knew immediately they were tracking him and that they meant to kill him. This was confirmed when he used his riflescope to glass his pursuers and recognized The Scout. "Son of a ....!", he thought to himself, amazed they'd come after him, and turned and ran into a wooded wash below the Highway. At that moment, dust kicked up a few feet away and a second later he heard the dull boom of a high-powered rifle in the distance. He dove for cover, realizing a round had narrowly missed his head, passing just over his right shoulder.

"SHIT, I MISSED! FUCK!!!", shouted "The Nazi". He stood and worked the bolt on a battered Winchester Model 70 and kicked a spent .30-06 cartridge case onto the ground as they watched The Crow disappear into an arroyo. "You said you could make that shot, cabron!" The Nazi shrugged, "Yeah, well big fucking deal. There's four of us and we'll have him soon enough."  The Scout spat and shook his head,. "Yeah, and now he knows we're on to him." "Fuck it! Lets get a move on", The Nazi retorted. They gathered their weapons and kit and turned to wait on Fatso, who had been hurling his guts up in the brush. All morning he'd been switch-hitting between vomit and diarrhea, as he had become food poisoned from the raw deer meat he'd consumed. He stank and his pants reekd of feces.  "Are you about ready there Ace?", asked The Scout. Fatso stood up on wobbly legs. "Yeah. Yeah I think so." "Well, you fuckin' stink like shit so stay back there, got it?"The group turned and started down the slope, keeping a close eye on the arroyo in case The Crow tried to ambush them, but nothing happened and they grew confident they had him on the run. It wouldn't be long now. The light was beginning to fade so they moved into some rocks to use as cover for the night.

As darkness fell, a heavy rain started to fall. The Crow knelt and opened his pack. He withdrew a camouflaged poncho, and pulled it over himself, then climbed up out of the arroyo, lest he risk getting swept by a flash flood. He moved into a stand of dead Seep Willow along the rim and found  a depression he could hole up in. There would be no sleep tonight. He couldn't risk it. It was pitch black and you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Movement was impossible. He felt in his pack and withdrew his Zip-Loc bag and pulled out a piece of jerked venison and chewed on it. Before leaving camp he'd salted the meat as a means of preserving it. He pondered the situation, and knew the odds were not good. He was being pursued by 4 determined predators across a terrain with sketchy cover. This was going to be a test of endurance and cunning. He needed to draw them into a trap from which they would have no avenue of escape. Then he made a decision. Reaching into his pack, he removed a small tactical flashlight. Batteries were impossible to find, and he had been conserving this ultra-valuable asset for just this occasion. From a tin in his pack, removed a small luminous compass. It was a cheapie, but functional. He took a bearing and moved out. Soon he located the Highway and started making time. He would put distance between them tonight.

It was going to be a long night march....


Friday, February 3, 2017

"I AM NO MAN" - Part III


Part III

[WARNING - Offensive language and violence]

The Crow lay frozen in place and watched the Scout as he moved closer
, again using his peripheral vision to observe the man. His mind raced trying to decide how to deal with this new threat. He glanced quickly at the horizon and did a quick assessment. The last few rays of pitiful twilight were just a minute or two away, and then it would be pitch black darkness. "Now, if he'd just cooperate..." The Scout paused every few yards to check his back trail...he was relaxed, but alert. The Crow picked up a stone and pitched it towards the road when the Scout had his back turned. It made a small sound as it landed in the dry grass and brush, just audible enough to draw the Scout's attention. He froze and scanned the area where the sound came from. The whole area was a tangle of waist high dead brush and dry grasses, but thick. The Scout brought the shotgun up to a high ready and started moving that direction. Finding nothing he relaxed, then started back to camp before it became completely dark and he would be unable to find his way back to camp. So much for a fire, thought the would be a cold camp that night.

The crow had rolled up in his tarp and blanket, but sleep was impossible. The marauders camp on the other side of the hill was in full party mode; drunken shouts, loud talking and laughter, and an occasional scream from a female hostage. It went on late into the night. Sometime in the early morning hours exhaustion overcame him and the Crow began to doze. It didn't last. He was awoken by movement and voices again nearing his camp. Gaining consciousness, he worked to decipher what he was hearing. A gruff male voice, cries, and pleading from a woman's voice, an occasional appeared one of the marauders had peeled off from their camp and had brought one of the women hostages with him. They stopped a short distance away and, judging from the sounds, the male was sexually assaulting the woman. She cried and begged him to stop, but that wasn't in the cards. Then the woman broke free and that's when the whole thing went to shit. The woman ran blindly in the darkness and with the marauder in pursuit, ran right into the Crow's hide, tripping over his prone body. "YOU FUCKIN' BITCH! "I'LL BEAT YOUR ---." He never got to finish the phrase. The Crow had fixed his position in the darkness by the second word and threw his full weight against him, simultaneously guiding his knife, a worn but razor-sharp BUCK "Special" first into the man's throat, severing his ability to scream then up under the ribs into the heart cavity, and finally thrusting repeatedly into his groin as he went down over and over until he went still.  

The female hostage didn't bother to thank him. She was long gone. She didn't know how or who, and she did not care. All she knew was she wanted to be as far away as possible by sunrise and was doing her level best to make distance. The Crow sat and got control of his breathing, thought for a few moments, then got moving.  He rolled up his camp and made ready to move off. He searched the man and removed his belt knife, an old kitchen knife, and buried it in the marauder's groin. He was hopeful that the rest of the marauder's would conclude the woman had acquired the man's knife and killed him to escape, but wasn't overly optimistic. By sunup he'd made 5 miles, but never saw hide nor hair of the woman, nor did he wish to. 

The Marauder camp had just started to come to life when the Scout returned. He made his way to the leader, who was nursing a severe hangover after a night of heavily drinking rot gut swill. "Bad news Brock. Denver's dead."  Brock hacked up some bile and spat it at a child lying nearby. "GIMME SOME WATER YOU LITTLE BITCH!" he roared. The child scampered off to find a canteen. "What happened?" "Well, Denver dragged that blond whore off for some fun, and somebody cut him bad. Throat was slashed, stabbed in the lungs, and groin. Many times by the look of it." Through his headache, Brock raised an eyebrow and cast a sideways glance, "Somebody?" The Scout nodded. "Wasn't no woman. Denver was tore up bad by someone what knew the drill. And I found sign of someone bedding down in the brush under a tree. Just one man. They put Denver's dull old knife in him. Tried to make it look like the woman did it." The child returned with a canteen and gingerly held it out to Brock who jerked it away. Brock rubbed his temples, then drew on the canteen, rinsed his mouth and spat. He didn't really give a fuck about Denver; frankly he was a pain in the ass, always wanting pussy. Hell, he'd been a pain even when they were kids. He never had liked his kid brother, but it vexed him someone had killed a member of his crew and helped the woman escape. That called for payback. Brock glanced around the camp, then looked back at the Scout. "Can you track them?" The Scout looked down and thoughtfully stirred the dirt with his toe for a moment. "Yea, I can track them."  Brock nodded. "Okay. Take Rodriguez, Fatso, and the Nazi and track them down. I want them alive. Hear me?" The Scout raised his head, looked around and avoided eye contact with Brock. "You got it" he replied, then turned and walked over to the group and tagged the trio. They gathered their weapons and headed out.

Late the following day, the Scout and his team returned and met the marauder crew as they were continuing their march south. The marauder called Fatso was half-dragging a badly beaten woman at the end of a tether. Rodriguez and The Nazi brought up the rear, checking their backtrail from time to time. The woman's hands were once again bound, and her face was swollen and discolored from a severe  pummeling. He shoved her to the ground, where she just collapsed with exhaustion. Brock walked over, looked her over and shook his head, then gave the woman a swift and brutal kick. A loud crunch indicated ribs had shattered. He looked at the Scout and cocked his head. "We caught her hiding in the brush about 10 miles from here. She told us Denver had tried to bang her, and she ran. She said a man surprised Denver and killed him. She couldn't see him in the dark and they never spoke. She just ran off. She caught sight of a man the following day, moving south. Said he wore black clothes and she thinks he was the one. We beat the fuck out of her, but that was all she knew. She ain't lying."  Brock turned to walk away. "Find him...finish it. And get rid of her...she's no good for anything now." "The Scout nodded then motioned The Nazi, who dragged the woman off into the brush, strangled her and left her where she lie. He laughed as he did the job.  

The Crow had covered about 20 miles and reasoned it was safe to find a place to rest and eat something. He'd managed to harvest a Turkey Vulture with a throwing stick and had been plucking it as he walked. Just off the road he had found a big flood culvert and had decided to hole up there for the night. He gathered squaw wood and set about making a fire, then gutted and cleaned the bird, cutting the head off and discarding it, lest he pick up a parasite. He roasted it very well before eating it, then rolled up in his blanket. Earlier that day he had crossed into Arizona and knew he was now nearing his destination. Rumor had placed the New Republic in Phoenix. He had heard that it was being formed by Patriots who had pledged to restore and follow Constitutional Law as the founders had intended, and he was hopeful he could find some way to contribute and help reestablish a real community...anything would be better than living this lonely hard life, day after day. As he drifted off to sleep, he could not know that he was about to face a life and death struggle.

The following morning, The Scout, Fatso, Rodriguez, and The Nazi filled their canteens, loaded their shoulder bags with ammunition and some meager rations, took up their weapons and started out. Thunder sounded in the distance and lightning flashed. A freezing rain began to fall.

Death was in the air. 


Thursday, February 2, 2017

"I AM NO MAN" - Part II


Part II

The Crow awoke. He lay still and listened and assessed his surroundings. The smell of musky smoke from his warming fire....wind gusts rattling the steel roll up door....then silence. He had taught himself to awake and lie still, pretending to be asleep, all the while using his senses to first determine whether his immediate proximity appeared safe. Given the dust and ash choking the upper atmosphere and blocking the sunlight, every day was cold and dreary, and people very rarely bathed anymore. What was the point? It's not like you would be going to dinner at a public restaurant or something. Thus, it was entirely practical to use one's sense of smell to detect the presence of another human in the vicinity. And of course, listening and taking heed of any suspicious or unnatural noise was invaluable to one's survival. Satisfied he opened his eyes, scanned, and then slowly sat up. He wiped his eyes and scratched his head. Lice probably. Vermin were a given in the new world. You just learned to accept it. His stomach began to growl almost immediately, but he was out of food and so he ignored it. He sat and pondered what to do. He was tired and every day was an effort to simply survive.

He'd been on the move for a year had been about 2 years since the collapse of 2018.

It had started when the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had finally "gone over the edge" in response to a U.N. Security Council veto by the U.S. of a food relief program to assist famine stricken DPRK. North Korea had then launched multiple Uranium warhead intermediate missiles against targets in South Korea, wiping it from the earth. Simultaneously, they'd sent up three ICBM's, destroying Tokyo, exploding one high in the atmosphere over the west coast of the United States, and using a third to level the Los Angeles basin The U.S. had responded immediately with an all-out retaliatory nuclear strike, destroying Pyongyang and several other strategic targets. China protested the retaliatory strike, but wisely decided to stay out of the fray. No matter, the damage was done. The power grid of the entire western U.S. was disabled, and power generation, food production and distribution collapsed touching off rioting. Martial Law was declared, but the military and police were soon overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the problem and desertion within their ranks. At the same time, ash and dust from the nuclear strikes had clouded the upper atmosphere, cooling the earth, and ultimately causing crop failures. It wasn't a "Planet Killer", but enough of a nuclear winter to make life very hard. The house of cards that was the fragile, inter-dependent world economy began to unravel, and soon industry was at a standstill in the major nations and the food riots and unrest cascaded around the globe. Within a year, 75% of the world's population had died from famine and disease. Only the ruthless survived, preying on the weak.

A former resident of the Pacific Northwest, The Crow had sheltered in place for the first year. He'd buried his father who had died from heart disease/lack of medical care, his wife who had been killed in a gunfight with marauders, and a small daughter who had died of Pneumonia. Initially, he been grief-stricken and had attempted to end his life. Climbing a ladder. he'd fashioned a noose and tied it off to a tree limb in his yard, but the limb had broken under his weight. Upon closer inspection he found the limb was rotted inside and couldn't possibly have supported him. He laughed at the irony of it...that he couldn't even end his own life. In a way, it snapped him back into reality and, having nothing to hold him, he'd loaded his firearms, a .308 Remington 700 and a milsurp .38 revolver, placed a few belongings in a backpack and took to the road. He'd been slowly moving toward the southwest, having heard rumors of a reconstituted "Republic of America" being formed there, hopeful for a new start...or die trying.

 Slowly he got to his feet, drank some water, and gathered his belongings. He hadn't taken more than a few steps when his bowel started in and he knew he was going to be sick and dropped his kit in a hurry. Ten minutes later he stepped out of the back door on wobbly legs and started off once again. As he passed through the town, he watched for anything useful as he scanned for threats to his safety. It was pointless to search buildings and cars; they long been plundered and stripped. Occasionally one could find a discarded piece of clothing to layer for warmth. Shoes were very rare, and usually were only found on the feet of dead men, and then so badly worn as to be useless. The Crow slipped into a alley and used his rifle scope to study the street ahead. On a sidewalk next to a building were skeletal remains of some person that had perished. People had long stopped burying the dead, not being able to spare their few precious calories on the effort. He paused to check the skel's pockets but only found a few coins, which he case aside. Money was worthless.

Just outside of the town, he was moving in cover alongside a stream, filling his canteen and gathering Watercress when he noticed an object in the bushes. Moving closer, he saw that it was a backpack attached to a skeleton. He'd long since ceased to be squeamish about such things, and waded through the brush until he reached the skel. The pack was wet and moldy and worms were crawling on it. He opened the flap and looked inside. It appeared to be filled with clothing, now rotten with mold. He pulled it out and cast it aside. Next came a rotted box of crackers.  At the bottom his hand closed around a can. The label was long gone and he had no idea what it contained. Squeezing the can, it appeared to still have integrity, so he shoved it in a coat pocket for later inspection.

Back on the road, there were signs of the passing of the marauders he'd seen the previous day...shoeprints and tracks from their cart could be seen in mud "track traps" here and there. Later, at an old Community Park overgrown with weeds, he found their cold campfire and other signs they'd made their camp there the previous night. And something else...a dead girl. She looked to be 12 or so, just a few years older than his own daughter. The Crow vaguely remembered seeing a girl that age helping pull the cart through town. She lay on her back with open eyes, fixed on the sky. Her hair was dirty, matted and tangled. Her clothes, a pink knit sweater with an embroidered cat and blue jeans, were torn and dirty. She had bruises on her face and hands. Her neck was broken, and it was obvious she'd been murdered, probably for some menial reason, such as stealing food. She looked like a broken, discarded doll, and he wondered whose baby this was and what her life had been like prior to the Collapse. He gathered her up and placed her inside an old car. At least the animals wouldn't get to her.

By now he was completely spent and desperately needed sustenance. He gathered twigs and bits of wood and reconstituted the marauders camp fire and cooked the Watercress he'd gathered. It was rich in vitamins and warmed him. Curious, he pulled the can from his pocket and used an old rusty B.S.A. pocketknife to open it. It was canned Pears. Not a favorite, but beggars can't be choosy, as his father always said. He dipped a finger and tasted it. It was certainly well past it's expiration date by a couple of years, but seemed safe to consume. The juice was sweet and reminded him of better days, long past, when food had been abundant. He took his time, savoring the treat which would soon be gone. He sat for awhile in the cool air and looked up at the dim sky. The sun was nothing more than a glowing spot somewhere above. He looked over at the car containing the dead girl and thought how lucky she was to be free from this nightmare. He shook it off and boiled more water, which he transferred to his canteen, kicked out the fire, and moved off.

A few miles further on he decided to make camp and settled under a big Oak tree next to a foothill just off the side of the road. The grass was very high and would conceal him from view. He had spread a tarp and was just about to start a fire when he heard shouts and loud laughter erupt looking about, he saw the glow of a campfire and smoke rising from the opposite side of the hill. At that moment he heard movement in the grass and lay motionless. Just a few yards away, the Scout that had stopped at the hut the previous day was patrolling the area, maintaining a secure perimeter for the camp, and was headed straight for the Crow's campsite.


"I am No Man..." - Part I


A Story of Survival after The Collapse


"....High in a rock redoubt. he adjusted the shemagh covering his face and peered through the telescopic sight. Four straight days now he'd retreated from the gang of marauders that had been tracking and harassing him.. He was tired, cold, and hungry, but that would have to wait. The opportunity he'd been waiting for had finally arrived..."

It had been a miserably cold day. The walk had been long and the wind had howled all day, which only served to make the occasional rain shower all the more miserable. He'd avoided the center of the weed-choked, cracked roadways, choosing instead to move in the dead space along the roadside where cover or concealment was available. On those occasions the rain became heavy he moved into whatever cover was available nearby and waited for the squall to pass before moving on. This latest shower drove him into a small wooden storage hut behind an old abandoned gas station. The door was gone, so he moved to the rear, unslung and leaned his rifle against the wall, and huddled in the darkness. It was cluttered with rubbish and smelled of moldy rotten wood, but served adequately for the moment's purpose. The planks in back were loose and he'd no doubt he could kick them out if a hasty escape was necessary. That's just how life was nowadays...planning your moves and always having a back door, "Just in case". Before entering the hut he'd taken a knee and carefully scanned the area, just to make sure he was not under observation. Cupping his hands behind his ears, or what was left of his right ear, he opened his mouth and slowly revolved, listening carefully in all directions for any voices or noises indicating someone was moving in the area. Satisfied it was safe to do so, he entered the hut.

The rain drummed steadily on the old sheet metal roof, and he fished in his pocket and withdrew a worn plastic ZIP-LOC bag containing a few pieces of dried meat. He pulled a piece out and chewed on it. Jackrabbit jerky was not particularly flavorful, but it satisfied the cravings of his hunger pangs...for a little while anyway. That was the other thing...every day was filled with hunger. Sometimes he remembered his childhood; Thanksgiving at his Grandmother's home and the family gathered around the table for a sumptuous meal. Food was so plentiful then...we'd had it so good...but now it was all gone. He'd just push those memories out of his mind..he knew he'd never see food like that again and it was just too painful to think on. He pulled the blue worn revolver, an old U.S. Air Force-issued Model 15 Smith & Wesson from his hip holster and laid it in his lap..."Just in case".

He didn't have a name anymore; that is, he had one, but who used them? Names didn't matter anymore....nobody cared to know you anyways, and anyone who may have ever known you was gone so what could a name matter? To some however, he was known as "The Crow", a name assigned because of his tattered black raincoat, dark, deep-set eyes, hooked nose and thatch of black hair, which gave a resemblance to the bird. Since the collapse, Crows were one of the few forms of wildlife to survive, being much to clever to be trapped and consumed as so many other species that were now gone, driven into extinction by the starving hordes. He himself was a survivor, and so the name had meaning. Every once in a while, word circulated about a marauder who had screwed with "The Crow" and whose head was now mounted on a stake along some desolate Highway as a warning to any who would follow or who preyed upon other travelers.

The rain subsided and he made ready to move on when he heard a soft metal clink. He froze and slowly wrapped his hand around the butt of his revolver and slowly slunk back into the dark corner, pulling his shemagh over his face and hood down low; only his eyes were visible. After several minutes a man in dirty, stained camo clothing and a ski mask appeared in the doorway of the hut. He was "Slicing the pie" with an old pump shotgun, obviously clearing the hut. Peering into the darkness, he could not see the black-clad Crow sitting in the back corner in the litter, leaned his shotgun against the wall, unfastened his fly and relieved himself. He then stepped into the hut's doorway and kept watch, scanning the area for a few moments then moving off to check the gas station structure. The Crow looked elsewhere, watching the man with his peripheral vision so the man would not feel his gaze upon him, what the Marine Corps had called "Mountain Gaze". He noted a slung shoulder bag and a blanket roll, and realized this was a Scout...there would be others coming.  Several minutes went by. Satisfied the area was clear, the Scout reached into his side bag and withdrew a strip of flagging tape and tied it around a bent street sign pole and then moved off at a trot down the road.

The Crow pondered whether he should move and decided it safer to remain in place; any group with a Scout was dangerous and contact should be avoided at all costs, and so he pulled a few bits of litter over himself to add to his concealment. About an hour later he heard the shuffling and associated noises of a large group approaching. They came into view and passed before his location...a dozen or so armed men flanking two carts being pulled by several dirty, ragged, and clearly starved women and young girls. The women displayed bruises and their wrists were bound. Two young boys, perhaps 10 or 12, carried rifles and displayed their own bruises, not doubt being forced to join the group of marauders and enslaving any females they could capture. They moved on, but still the Crow sat and watched and, as expected, just a few minutes later a rear guard element of two marauders appeared, just to make sure no one had fallen in behind the group. After about a half an hour of careful listening for sounds, the Crow slowly stood, allowing time for his cramped muscles to unwind and his circulation to restore, holstered up the revolver and took up his rifle. He slowly made his way to the front of the hut and carefully scanned the street and surroundings, then Fish-hooked out the door and straight into the wet brush behind the hut. He paused to scan the area again. Deeming it safe, he began his trek again, careful not to walk up on the marauders who were moving in the same direction as he.

After about an hour of walking, a town came into view, or at least what remained of it, and as darkness was approaching he decided to find a place to shelter up for the night. Scanning the buildings, it was apparent the town was abandoned, most of the structures burned and broken glass windows. The Crow spotted a cinder block structure, which was intact, save for the partially collapsed steel roll-up door. It apparently once housed a muffler and tire alignment shop. He took his time, circling and studying it for signs of inhabitation. It appeared  uninhabited, but still needed to be cleared if it was to be used for the night. Locating a back door, he listened then removed an old Solar-Dynamo flashlight from his pocket, drew his revolver and forced the door. He went in quickly, and as there was only the work bay and a small office, cleared the building in just a few minutes. Save for his own, the lack of shoe prints in the dust on the floor confirmed no recent human activity.

The front door to  the office was missing, so he leaned the office desk over the opening. Anyone entering via the steel door would make noise scrambling over it. Finally, he stacked pipe stock against the back door. Were anyone to enter it would fall and make an alarm. He found some cardboard and made a pallet in a corner of the shop, and pulled an empty tool chest close. Gathering broken wood scraps for a warming fire, the metal tool chest would help conceal the fire and reflect the heat back toward him. From his backpack he produced a fire steel and a WALLE-HAWK, a kind of credit card survival tool made in the 1970's. It had belonged to his Dad, who had carried it his own wallet since the 1970's. He gathered some newspaper scraps from a rubbished pile, shredded them and then used the WALLE-HAWK to strike the ferro rod and ignite the newspaper tinder. Soon he had a small warming fire. He gathered wet cardboard from outside and arranged it to hang from a tool chest drawer over the fire and hopefully absorb some of the smoke. Pouring water into a steel canteen cup, he added Jerked meat and some edible plant greens and soon had a hot soup, albeit meager, then laid down to sleep, placing his rifle between his legs, muzzle pointed out and away from him. He drifted off to sleep, but there would be no dreams. There wasn't anything to dream of anymore.