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A NEW WORLD:

CHAOS

A Novel by John O’Brien

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This book is dedicated to my wonderful children, William and Heather. 

Author’s Notice

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The New World series is a fictional work. While some of the locations in the series describe actual locations, this is intended only to lend an authentic theme. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Picking Up the Kids

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I step outside sliding my Beretta 9mm into the speed draw holster at my side and carrying my 12 gauge pump shotgun. To the animals around, it is just another day. The doves and blue jay that are sitting on the feeder, eyeballing the seeds scattered on the ground, along with several crows sitting on the various branches of the tall fir and cedar trees, take flight at my approach. One crow, taking up station on the tallest branch of a tree where the driveway meets the road, calls out its warning. A squirrel sits on the rock wall picking up sunflower seeds, holds them between its hands, and watches me.

“What’s up little bro?” I ask walking down the gravel drive towards my Jeep.

The sound of gravel crunching under my hiking boots adds to the surrealness of the day and the events of the past few days. I am still having a hard time coming to grips with the situation and the speed of it all. However, anxiety and worry over the kids overrides any stray thoughts or ability to focus on anything else. Even the blue sky overhead and the sun shining on the trees, the sun casting its light on the tops and sending rays of light through gaps in the branches, fails to bring its usual inner calmness and peace within. No, today was not going to be taking the top down on the Jeep, driving around with Iron Maiden blaring, and enjoying this beautiful day.

Walking up to the Jeep, I open the tailgate and slide the shotgun into the cargo area with the business end to the rear. I verify the duct tape is still there before doing a walk around checking tires, hood latches and such. This would be the wrong time to get stranded on the road for some stupid reason. The hood latches receive special attention. My memory momentarily floats back to the New Year’s party at a friend’s house; a night of drinking, fireworks, and good times with friends followed by some couch time. Then there was the drive home in the morning. Several miles down the road, my windshield was suddenly filled with a wonderful and close-up view of my hood. The bang alone was enough to drain my adrenal glands for a month. I didn’t want second helpings if I could at all avoid it — especially now.

Satisfied that everything is checked as well as it could be, I climb in setting the Beretta next to me, verifying once again that a full clip awaits me should I need it and crank my baby up. Fuel reads half a tank. Good enough for what I have to do now but make a mental note to stock gas cans and siphoning equipment. Backing up and starting down the road, I pick up my cell to see the magical bars and service. I have no idea how long this will last but thankful it is at least working now. I then call Robert back.

“Hey, Dad,” my son whispers on the other end.

“Are you still down in the basement with Brianna and Nicole?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Ok, stay there and don’t make any noise whatsoever. Is your phone on vibrate?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, and both Nic’s and Bri’s phone are now turned off?”

“Yes.”

“Any changes since we talked?” I ask, thankful I am still able to talk with them, that they are ok for now, and, most importantly, still alive.

“I heard someone walking around upstairs again and banging on the basement door just a couple of minutes ago. It’s all quiet now,” he says still whispering but I can hear the worry in his voice.

I have had the privilege of being this boy’s dad for all of his seventeen years of life and know him well. I also know that Bri, sitting beside him, though scared, will keep her head. Always thinking, that one was. In all of her fifteen years, I have yet to see the gears in her head slow down or not be working. And Nic there comforting her, keeping her own fears internal, worrying more about making sure Bri was okay than herself. They are all so precious to me and I love them like no other. They mean the world to me.

“I’m on my way. Don’t move or make any noise. Don’t talk to each other. Become a black hole in the basement there. No lights and make sure the light from your phone doesn’t show. You’ll most likely hear noise when I get there but you’re not to move or call out or come upstairs until I call for you. You got it?” I say wishing I was there now.

“Okay, Dad.”

“Tell the girls I’m on the way and not to worry.”

“Okay.”

“I’m going to go now to save our juice. I’ll be there shortly. I love you Robert! Tell Nic and Bri I love them.”

“I love you too, Dad!” Then the click and dead silence of the phone disconnecting.

Driving down the country road, I realize it does not seem all that different. There are not many cars traveling here even during normal times. The day seems like any other except for the anxiety inside and the impatience of wanting to be at their house now. The sun is shining, sparkling off the water across the green field to my left. This is a small inlet that eventually makes its way to Puget Sound and the tide is in. Two does graze by the side of the road ahead of me, raising their heads to look in my direction before leaping into the trees at my approach.

I reach the Highway and it is here that things do indeed seem out of the ordinary. There’s not a car moving on the road. There are some cars to be seen; a couple are angled off the road and some sit in the grassy median between the north and southbound lanes, but not a thing is moving. It is an eerie setting with the gray lanes stretching away to both sides like some futuristic, post-apocalyptic scene.

 Looking north, to my right, the peaks of the Olympic Mountains, majestic in the distance with snow still residing on their tops, bask in the sun pouring down on them. They continue on with their existence as if it were any other day. The trees alongside the highway tell the same story; nature continues its everyday course just as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. I feel very small at this particular moment in time.

The only things moving are a few columns of dark smoke drifting above the trees in the distance towards town but it doesn’t seem like anything large is on fire. I find myself wishing I had more firepower but that worry is for later. As are many other aspects. First and foremost are the kids.

Turning northbound, I head towards them. The roads are amazingly clear. Not like the zombie apocalypse books I have been reading where all the roads were clogged with ‘impossible to bypass’ jams. I guess with the sickness, everyone has gone home. After all, where else would you go when you have the flu? I guess some were wanting to be elsewhere or trying to get there when they were overcome or too weak to travel further and thus the cars I see along the way. There are some shadows inside the cars as I pass by, indicating that possibly people are inside. Cresting a hill, a body lays face down in the grass by the side of the road. The once white, summer dress appears dirty or stained.

Ten minutes later, I turn off the highway onto the ramp leading to the north end of town, taking a right at the end of the ramp, and glance over to the Wal-Mart to my left. Barely a car in the lot. Besides the lack of cars on the highway, this is the biggest change I have witnessed yet and adds to the overall weirdness of the day. Normally, that lot would be full. It didn’t matter what time of day I ventured this way or the few times I actually went to Wal-Mart, the lot was ALWAYS full. I always wondered who these people were that crowded the store at all times of the day. Didn’t they work?  I would always think to myself.

Ahead is an intersection with a blinking red traffic light which I pass without pause, I mean, who is going to pull me over now? The blinking light tells me the electricity is still working whether by an alternate emergency method or not. I’ll figure that out later.  I do know the local power is provided by hydroelectric means from a plant a few miles up the road but whether the plant is still operating is anyone’s guess. The Fred Meyer to my right is the same. It is like everyone has just been removed from earth and left only the monuments to technology and capitalism behind. The only living thing in sight is the occasional bird flying overhead or sitting on power lines. The eerie feeling I’ve had since pulling onto the highway grows and becomes more surreal.

“Ok, time to focus,” I half say to myself.

The high school next to the Wal-Mart passes by and I glance at my 9mm for reassurance. There are 3 mags in my pockets aside from the one loaded. 14 rounds at my immediate beck and call with a further 42 on back up. I always load my mags one round shy in order not to lose spring compression. In my opinion, it would totally suck to have a round not chamber due to a lack of force, especially just when you would have truly enjoyed having that round available. Besides the Remington 870 in the back, a folding blade rests in my front pocket and my boot knife is in place.  I can use either with a fair degree of skill but I prefer to have the distance variable on the uphill side; the more, the merrier.

My anxiety both increases and decreases at the same time as I draw closer to the house where my kids are. Action time is coming and I am almost there. I am one who wants to get things done rather than have anything linger or wait. My memory pulls me back to the physical fitness runs in the Air Force. There was always a lot of milling around and taking time, stalling before the actual start. I would think, Come on! Let’s just get this started and over with! 

A couple of turns later, I pull in front of the house which is similar to all of the others in the neighborhood. Most are two-story structures with the occasional single-story thrown in. There are really three basic designs with the only major difference being the color. Tan here, a darker brown there and several in various shades of blue. It is a small neighborhood built around an oval, track-shaped road with only fifty or so houses in the entire community. Built on the edge of town, it is surrounded on all sides by trees; their tips showing above the house roofs. The high voltage power lines, across the street to the east, pass close by. The usual humming of electricity running through them is gone.

Shutting down the Jeep, I leave the keys on the seat. Yeah, like I am worried about someone taking it. I want the keys there instead of on me in case the kids are able to get out, and, well, I don’t. Robert has driven the Jeep a few times and could manage to get it somewhere without involving trees or having a parked car intervene with his progress. I feel the warmth of the sun on my back as I holster my 9 mil and grab the duct tape from the back of the Jeep along with two flashlights. One of them is a silver monster with a bell-shaped light compartment. The other is a nice little LED I picked up from GI Joes a few years back. Well, it was GI Joes before it became just Joes and before it became nothing. The flashlight is almost perfectly cylindrical which makes for an effective attachment for the shotgun so I attach it to the barrel not feeling a bit shy about my liberal use of duct tape. The idea is to keep the light aligned with the barrel and not venture off on its own should I bump into something or from the recoil if I need to send the massed pellets outward.

Grabbing the 870, I load the magazine putting one in the chamber giving me five shots and head to the front of the Jeep. I have little intel on the house or on whatever these things have become. The front of the house has a large window built of smaller panes. A porch runs in front of the house and around the corner to the right where the front door is. All of this is overhung by the upstairs where two facing windows shine darkly back at me. My guess is the front contains a living room downstairs. Most houses like this have a kitchen opening to the right with a central hallway running through the middle to a bathroom in the back or rooms off the hall. Stairs are most likely somewhere close to the living room with bedrooms upstairs. The windows upstairs facing me are most likely bedrooms with either one or two more in the back with a bathroom. The basement door should be downstairs close to the kitchen or possibly in the back; most likely under the stairs leading upstairs.

As to what happened to the people who fell ill but didn’t die, well, I know even less about that. I don’t truly know what their capabilities are or how they might be transformed. All I know from reading news articles online and such is that they are extremely aggressive in nature and attack on sight. There were those reports of them attacking and killing others, some of those reports even mentioning cannibalism. Everything has happened so fast. Another thing mentioned is an aversion to light. No ideas as to why were ventured. I guess there just hadn’t been enough time for anyone to have figured out these aspects.

What was known was that some sort of genetic mutation had occurred on a DNA level. Some articles ventured that higher cognitive abilities or self-awareness aspects had been burned away, perhaps from the onset of the high fevers or from the genetic changes. All of this is unknown; at least to me. I have some guesses, but that is all they are, guesses.

The light aversion might be from a sensitivity of the eyes, ultraviolet light, solar radiation, just a general aversion to birds chirping or the color green. All that was reported is that not one of these transformed things has ever been seen in daylight. All I really know is that one of them is possibly in the house with my kids and I am going to get them out.

It is amazing how thoughts fly lightning fast through the mind. I allow myself a few seconds of these meandering thoughts and push away from the Jeep. I want to just rush in and grab the kids but I have to take the time to do this right or I will do more harm than good. It has been a while since I had done something like this and never with the stakes so high. I just hope I am still as good as I once was.

Okay, entry. The two car garage to left the house is a no go. There are several cars in the driveway which alludes to the possibility that the garage is being used as storage which means clutter. The additional possibility that there is a garage door opener makes opening the doors from the outside a difficult option. My options are therefore the front door, the back door, the front window, or one of the upstairs windows.

I know from years with my ex that the doors are most likely barricaded in some aspect leaving either the upstairs or front window. Not wanting to scale up to the roof; age seems to made me a touch lazier plus, if I have to make a quick exit, that would mean I would have to jump from the roof leaving my knees either a permanent fixture on the lawn or shooting across the street to blast through one of the windows of the house across the street. I like my knees where they are so that leaves the front window.

Tucking the large flashlight at the small of my back and cradling my shotgun i, I start across the lawn. I climb the porch staying away from the window and approach it from the wall so as not to cast a shadow across the window. With my back to the wall, I listen for any sound. Nothing. Absolute dead silence. Even the birds seem to have left this zone of tension. Drapes are pulled across the windows so I can’t see far into the room. Keeping my ears open, I ease down to the corner of the window and slowly move to see if I can catch a glimpse of the inside through a crack in the curtains. No luck.

It looks like I am going to have to break the panes, pull the curtains down, and enter via the window. This is certainly not like times past when I always had the tools to do whatever was needed and didn’t have to break through a window like I was in some Chuck Norris flick. In the movies, the heroes are dressed up with more tools, weapons and supposed training than they knew what to do with yet they would all eventually crash through a window on the end of a rope. Really!!! Are you for real!?

I try the doors first. You never know and so ease around the porch to the front door keeping my foot falls light. Balls of my feet; slowly increasing my weight with step, testing for creaky boards. No window on this side so I don’t have to worry about being seen from the inside. Upon reaching the front door, I stay against the wall and try the door handle. Yep, locked. I leave the porch and walk around to the back door making sure to keep under the windows while keeping an eye on the neighbor houses just to make sure I am not in for any surprises. My head is a constant, slow swivel. Reaching the corner of the house, I kneel surveilling the back yard looking for movement or any indication that I am not alone and feel slightly foolish for playing commando here in someone’s yard. But the kids said someone was in the house and I keep that and the recent events clear in my mind.

Looking along the back side of the house, a small, basement window is set into the foundation at ground level. Robert was right; there is no way they could fit through that. Crouched there, I ponder whether I should peer in to let them know I am here or if this would cause them make noise either from startle, excitement, or hope. As much as I dearly ache to see them, even with a quick glimpse through a small window, I don’t want to jeopardize their situation any more than it is.

Rising, I ease along the back of the house checking my shadow so as not to cast a shadow across the window. I sidle up to the back door and test the knob. Locked with curtains across. I peek in the window corner. Nothing. At least here though, I am able to see below the curtains and it is pitch black inside. A thin ray of light hits the floor through the small opening but that is it. Back to plan A.

As I turn to leave the back door, I hear a faint scuffling sound and a very low growl. It is so low that I am not even sure I heard it but in the absolute silence of the world around me, it rings like a bell inside my head. So, if there is anything inside, it seems to be on the ground floor. At least for now. I follow my path back to the front porch.

Before climbing back the porch, slowly and silently, I remove the shotgun shell from the chamber. I am going to have to break in the window panes and supporting slats with the butt of the shotgun. Not the best idea with a loaded gun, safety on or not. The business end will be pointed in entirely the wrong direction. Chamber open and ready for a shell yes, actual shell no.

Silently, I walk back to the wall beside the front window. “Ok, well, I guess the stealth and silent approach isn’t going to work here. It’s going to get a bit noisy from here on out,” I breathe to myself. I was hoping to be able to find a stealthy way in and get the kids out without whatever is in there knowing but as I guessed and dreaded, that is just not going to happen.

Break out one entire side of the panes, — Det cord would be especially handy right now but I seem to be fresh out — reverse the shotgun slamming home a shell, use the tip of the barrel of the shotgun to lift the curtain rods off or force them down on this end bringing light into the room, crouch away from the window on the porch covering the room, and see what I see. That is the entirety of plan A. I again think about playing ‘climb on the roof and check every window’ for a stealthier entry point but am also fairly certain that whatever is in there, if anything, already knows I am here. Plus, my knees again cast their vote for Plan A and seem to have the majority vote in this instance. I also have to keep care initially not to let the barrel poke inside after drawing the curtains down so that it can’t be grabbed from inside.

Adrenaline has me pretty keyed up. That is good for reflexes, but if it is not kept under a semblance of control, it can lead to mistakes. My Arrid XXXtra Dry is getting a workout trying to keep pace.

A deep breath, another one, and I feel my nerves settle into place. I step in front of the window with the butt aimed upward at the first cross intersection of slats on the side, hoping to take out several sections of slats both to the side and upward. These are generally only glued together so I figure three good shots, with each shot focused on the two slat intersections above the previous ones, should cave the entire side of the window in. Game on .

Steeling myself back, I thrust forward and up with my arm and shoulders. The forward momentum of my shifting weight is focused entirely on the intersection of the two slats. A flash of a second before the butt meets my aim point, I shift my head down with my chin in my chest to protect my eyes and vulnerable parts of my neck from flying glass and wood. I feel the contact first with my forearms, then shoulders, and continue to drive forward. Go through the point of impact , I remind myself.

The sheer volume of noise from the glass and slats breaking is enormous. Especially considering the silence I was engulfed with. It sounds like a glass bomb went off. Pulling back quickly, I refocus instantly on my next aim point and thrust forward in the same manner. The momentary glimpse I catch of the window, besides focusing on my next target, is of broken glass and slats either missing or turned up and in. Some of the glass is still falling, catching various prisms of light. More noise comes from the second blow but not as loud as the first. Finishing with the third blow, I step back momentarily, bring the pump action forward chambering a shell and fully expecting a tidal wave of action. Nothing. The window is completely demolished on the right and silence once again dominates the scene.

A warm breeze picks up, reminiscent of those lazy summer days. The days when a breeze would carry the sounds and smells of summer; the sound of lawnmowers lazily chugging along leaving the sweet smell of cut grass; the smell of BBQ’s wafting from backyards; the sounds of kids playing; the ringing of a bike’s bell or the music of an ice cream truck as it makes its way through the neighborhood. Outside of the city, the breeze would bring the smell of trees, a feeling of peace, and the simple joy of just being outside in the sun. A part of my mind realizes those days of peace, joy, and warmth was not that long ago, but this breeze, although carrying the feeling of summer, also carries a slight, sharp, pungent odor along with it. Almost too faint to notice, but it’s there nonetheless. It stirs the curtains slightly but not enough to allow a view within other than to let me know that darkness reigns inside.

I glance around momentarily to see if my festivities have drawn any attention. The only thing I see is a dog standing in the street a short distance away looking in my direction. Not directly at me towards me. Must be a neighborhood dog . Although hard to tell, it appears to be some sort of German Sheppard/Lab mix. That is another thing to think about down the road. The pets are most likely going to migrate to their wilder, more feral side as they integrate themselves back into the survival-based food chain. Another fleeting thought passes through wondering how, and if, they will be affected by what is going on? Will their DNA be susceptible to the change or will they have immunity?  Apparently satisfying itself that all is right in the world around it, the dog continues across the street and disappears between two houses as I refocus on the window and task ahead.

Rising, I step back toward the now open window. I am focused on any sound that might emanate from within and tense for anything that might erupt. My muscles are loose but the adrenaline is wrapped around me. With the light tan curtains still wafting slightly in the breeze, I raise the barrel of the shotgun to the curtain rod and give it a good push to lift it off its bracket. The rod and curtains lift up slightly and I feel the release of pressure against the barrel as the rod lifts and the curtains begin their fall to the ground. I step back into a semi-crouch to begin the final step of the Plan A entry — to see what I can see.

The curtains land on the right side at an angle downward as the rod is still attached to the left bracket and light floods into the once darkened room. As it does, the silence is broken by a loud, high pitched shriek.

“Holy shit!” I exclaim. The hair on my arms stands straight up and my neck hair comes to attention.

I cannot immediately even think about what it sounds like except that it is bloody loud. A large, startled cat is the only thing that comes to mind within that flash of an instant. It also has a growl-like quality. The shriek is accompanied by the sound of footsteps moving at high speed — um, called running I believe. A flash of movement from my right to left vanishes past my line of sight. The movement didn’t seem to be to my immediate front and leaves the impression that it was further back in the room.

I switch on the flashlight to get a better picture but can’t see what moved so hurriedly in the room just moments before. The light confirms my earlier assumption that this is the living room. Still holding the shotgun, I lean to the side to see all that I can around the angled, hanging curtains. The curtain rod is caught on what appears to be a console-style TV against the front window. I was wondering why the curtains didn’t fall all of the way down like they should have and still had a significant angle to them. The front door is to my right with some sort of contraption blocking it. However, the lighting is not good enough to identify what it is. Two couches sit facing each other and are piled high with clothes. One couch is a little in front of the door and the other against the wall to my left. Where in the world would you sit , I think and glance at the coffee table covered with glasses, plates, and what appear to be various magazines. Next to a lazy boy recliner, sitting in the far corner, stairs climb upwards to an intermediate landing before continuing up to the right.

To the right and across from me, a hallway stretches towards the back of the house with a kitchen opening up to the right. I don’t know how far the hallway extends from my angle as the light can’t penetrate that far. Back to the living room, there doesn’t appear to be any place where something as large as the shadow I glimpsed previously could be hiding. I can, however, hear what appears to be a faint panting coming from the direction of the stairs. I am actually beginning to wonder if perhaps there isn’t a mountain lion in there.

I use the end of the barrel to remove the last bits of glass from the bottom of the window and hanging above. This noise creates a stirring and sound of something shifting gives me the impression that whatever is inside has gone upstairs or is possibly at the top of the stairs. I step into the room beside the TV to the sound of glass crunching beneath my boots. I lay my shotgun on the TV with the light on and angled toward the stairs as I want to keep that part illuminated full time. I slide my 9 mil out and pull the slide back slightly verifying a round is chambered. Given the confines of the house, I prefer to have my Beretta at hand for speed of movement.

I withdraw the larger flashlight and flick it on, flashing the light around the room to verify once again that the room is clear. I yank the rest of the curtains down allowing more light to flood into the room. The panting is a little louder now that I am inside and I can locate it better. It’s definitely coming from upstairs.

With the light from the shotgun focused on the stairs, I shine the flashlight I’m holding to the contraption by the door. A smile briefly crosses my face. Boards are wedged under the knob with more boards against those, everything terminating against the back of the couch. Something an architectural engineer might be proud of. Not so much from the aesthetics of it, but more from the structural stability. I was right not to try the front door. I would still be there working on it. Even if I used the shotgun to blow off the hinges, I am pretty sure that door would still be standing. In fact, I am sure that it could withstand the best that a cruise missile has to off


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er.

I step to my right and crouch by the couch to get a better picture down the hallway. The light penetrates most of the way to the back of the house. I told you it was a monster. One of these 6 D cell battery jobs. If I missed with the Beretta and something was able to get close to me, I could probably melt its retinas with this light. It would also substitute as a bat should I find a pick-up game of ball. Nothing is moving nor can I see anything down the hall except a door ajar at the end of the hallway, but I can’t see inside whatever it leads to. There is a door to the left side of the hallway across from the kitchen which I assume leads to the basement. I get the impression that another door is about half way down the hall on the left. Perhaps a bathroom? 

I move at a crouch around the couch, keeping between it and the wall towards the front door, making sure to keep as far from the stairs as possible. My head again on a slow swivel with my light and gun following; barrel always in line with the eyes. At the front door, with my attention between the stairs and the hall, I try the light switches readying myself for an increase in light. A faint ‘snic’ as the switches fall into position is the only response, along with the realization that normal electricity is not flowing, at least not to here.

I look at the mechanical engineering marvel and determine basically where to start taking it apart. At least I see which board to remove first. Setting the flashlight on the back of the couch, I balance it so that it casts its light down the hall. The stairs are still lit, although less brilliantly, from the shotgun light on the TV. I glance down long enough to get a grip on the board, and then my focus is back up and on the house. I tug and the board comes free. Setting the board down, I find the next one and in less than a minute, the door is free from its bonds.

I release the multiple dead bolt locks from the door and open it so that it sits ajar, making sure it is not blocking any line of sight nor impeding any movement. The stairs are almost at a right angle to me and almost out of my line of sight. The panting from the stairs has not changed and I am not all that interested in finding out exactly what is causing it. Well, actually, I am but the kids come first. And, the ‘ol “be careful what you wish for” adage. My thinking is that, with whatever is here and seeing it’s upstairs, I should be able to get the kids out without having to engage it. A part of me thinks I should but the light from the windows is seemingly keeping it at bay and where it is. I like that idea equally well and just want to get the kids out safely.

I step towards what I think is the basement door dislodging one of the boards from where I set it.  It skitters across the wood floor. Damn, I must have lost my touch . That would have never happened before. 

The sound of the board moving triggers something. Another cat-like shriek from upstairs reverberates through the house followed by shuffling and growls coming from the top of the stairs. Something big is moving around up there. Based on the sounds and apparent size of whatever is up there, I have an idea of what it could be. The panting and growling and movement continue. Sure hasn’t improved your disposition much .

I focus on the bottom of the stairs where they empty into the living room, ready for anything that may sweep into the room, setting my sights slightly to the left of where they would enter into the room. Pointing straight at the entry point will miss whatever target emerges. Instead, I point to the approximate position to where it will be if it enters into the room. “Sure wish I hadn’t kicked that board,” I mutter.

Nothing emerges. I want to go to what I think is the basement door but if I do, I will lose visual with the stairs and I don’t really want that to happen. I move back by the front door, set the light once again on the back of the couch, and take out the cell phone from my back pocket. Still bars and service. Very cool!  I press the green ‘send’ button twice and “Dialing Robert” appears.

“Dad? Was that you?” He answers in a whisper.

“Yeah,” I whisper back, “I’m inside. Is the basement door the one by the kitchen?”

“Yeah.”

“Ok. You and the girls come up the stairs as quiet as you can, and I mean quiet. Open the door slowly. I’ll be almost right in front of you. Don’t just run out. Wait for me to wave you out. Then all of you come out and head right out the front door.”

“Ok, Dad. We’re moving now. Shouldn’t we stay on the line until we get to the door?”

“Good idea,” I breathe back to him.

I hear sound coming from the basement door as the knob is slowly turned. The door creaks as it is pushed out a crack. There, through the crack in the door, I see my son’s eyes peeking out. He looks around taking in his surroundings to the extent he can see them. His eyes lock on mine. The sounds of movement and panting increases from upstairs but are changed to some degree. I swear footsteps are coming down the stairs only to stop and run back up. Whatever is there emits a growl each time it stops. There is an almost physical feeling of agitation in the air. I almost want it to come all of the way down the stairs just to end this tension one way or the other.

Looking over to Robert, I wave him over. He opens the door; the hinges once again protesting their movement. The growling increases and the panting seems even louder making me want to look behind me as it feels like this thing is right next to me. I hang up the phone and grab the flashlight. Robert steps into the kitchen with Nic and Bri right behind him. The sounds of feet running up and down the stairs increase. The rise in agitation is obvious.

Swinging the front door wide open, I yell firmly, “Out! Out now!” Whispering is moot at this point. Without pause, they run right behind me and out the front door. As they pass by, I tell them, “Get to the Jeep!”

I back out of the room onto the front porch stowing the flashlight and take another look around to ensure we are alone. We appear to be. It seems safe enough for now but I wonder how long that will last. I am thinking we have just been moved down the food chain a notch and entering the survival-based food chain ourselves.

I walk to the front window to retrieve the shotgun. The sounds of agitation still reach out to my ears but I don’t see anything. I turn and walk down the porch stairs holstering my handgun. Batteries , I think turning off the flashlight attached to the shotgun. That and so much more to think about in the very near future. Food, water, safety, Lynn, future .

With a heavy sigh, I walk over to my kids standing at the front of the Jeep, hand Robert the shotgun, and give them all the biggest hugs I have ever given. And that is saying something because I have given some pretty big hugs before. “I love you all so much,” I say into their ears. Well, not quite like that. Nic and Bri are both coming on par with me for height, and, well, to say anything into Robert’s ear, I have to tilt my head up.

“I love you too, Dad,” they all reply.

We step back from each other; Bri is there in her plaid blue flannel jam bottoms and an Abercrombie t-shirt. Her fine, golden hair hangs down close to the middle of her back and her blue eyes stare back at me. She doesn’t have to tilt her head far back as this year has given her quite the growth spurt. She has reached the five foot mark recently.

Nicole’s thick, dark hair hangs down to her shoulder and her plain green jams accentuate her hazel eyes. Robert holds the shotgun and is wearing blue jeans with his black Navy JROTC sweatshirt. His close-cropped hair has turned a darker shade of blond over the years but his eyes retain that same blue intensity. The thought crosses my mind, as it sometimes does, of how neither Bri nor Robert has my dark hair or my hazel eyes. Ok, perhaps my hair is not so dark anymore. The years have replaced some of the black with gray. I like to keep my hair short and the barber I go to has a peculiar knack of only cutting the dark hairs. I have heard the word distinguished used but I am sure it is only them being courteous.

Nic has her flips on but Robert and Bri are barefoot. I consider going back in to gather some of their clothes from the pile I saw on the couch but I have some at my house and we can gather other clothes for them later. Right now, I want to head back, try to wrap my mind around what has happened, and start putting a plan together for the future.

“Okay guys, into the Jeep,” I tell them. They all climb in with Nic and Bri in the back and Robert in front. Robert has the barrel of the shotgun pointed toward the floor between his feet. Good job . My hand shakes from post adrenaline as I put the Jeep in gear.

We start the drive back home, retracing my previous route. There is only the wind as it whips against the soft top of the Jeep and our minds are all working through the situation in which we find ourselves. Kind of numb and working furiously at the same time. In my peripheral, I see Robert looking around us at the total lack of people.  Through the rear view, I see Bri doing the same thing while Nic is staring at her hands folded in her lap.

“Dad?”  Bri says from the back.

“Yes, hon,” I say wondering what question is coming and worried about it at the same time. I am not sure where her mind has ventured but her question should ascertain that for me. Like I said, her mind is always working. So does Nicole’s and Robert’s but they are more silent and contemplative.

“Was that Mom? I mean, in the house? Making that noise?”

Sighing heavily, I answer, “I don’t know, sweetheart.”

I pretty much know the answer given the fact that the front door was sealed and locked from the inside but I don’t know for sure. One of the windows upstairs did seem to have been broken, but honestly, my answer came more from a dad-protective place. Robert gives me a sideways glance from the passenger seat but says nothing.

“Do you think she’ll be okay? I mean, will she get better do you think?” Her questions say that she already knows the possibility of who it was.

“I don’t know, hon. I just don’t know.”

“Should we go back and see if we can help her?”

“No, Bri, I’m not sure what we could do.”

A tear forms in her eye. She turns to the window once more as the tear slowly trails down her cheek. Silence once more descends as I drive along the mostly empty highway. My thought turns to Lynn hoping she is okay. I don’t think even the sands of Kuwait would be spared from the kind of pandemic we are looking at. I mean, the military ensures that its members get the vaccines first and, if memory serves me right, requires flu vaccines for everyone, so this must have erupted everywhere.

We both enjoy zombie books and the genre in general. Well, she actually introduced me to it but I became taken with it. We would cover scenarios, stories, and ‘how-to’s’ in case such an event happened. Not seriously thinking anything would actually happen, just an amusement between us with what we would do. We were more interested in applying our survival skills than seriously thinking it could happen. We had both had to apply survival skills a lot in our military careers so that was a natural progression for us to take. We had an agreement in our stories that I would fly to pick her up. Now, I feel unsure as to what to do. What if she is okay and waiting? Should I follow through with what we talked about even though it was more play acting than reality?  My heart is sick with worry as I truly love this woman.

I stare out of the windshield at the sun shining on the trees, grass, and houses as we pass. Should I do what we agreed even though we were only telling a story?  Is she is okay? Should I just focus on creating a safe environment here for my kids?  I haven’t had any contact with Lynn for the past two days. She hasn’t been online and no phone calls either. I called and left a message but have not heard anything back. No great revelation comes. No light bulb suddenly flares in my mind. With the kids looking out of the windows, the trees just continue to pass, unaware of our situation and without a care to my quandary.

Both thoughts and questions continue to rattle back and forth. The movie drive-in passes by on our left with “CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE” on the sign board. Oh, the fun times the kids and I had there on summer nights. Bri always wanting to watch from the back of the pickup and me wanting to be inside because I couldn’t hear the speakers very well. Her falling asleep during the second movie and me having to wake her when we arrived back home. Both her and Nic just appreciating our being together; loving the moment more than the event. Or the times where it was just Robert and I. Popcorn, drinks, and a multitude of snacks from the service station nearby. “300” on the screen in front and us proclaiming this was the best movie ever. Those times are over now and this is just one of the many changes that have occurred in this new world we find ourselves in.

Turning off the highway towards home, my heart is light, because my kids are safely with me, but heavy with thoughts of Lynn. My stomach is in knots when a decision clicks into place. I have to find her. I have to go to Kuwait. The guilt and shame of not trying would be too much. I love Lynn and can’t, no won’t, do anything less. My decision is made, as if there were truly any other. My thoughts turn to the when and how.

A Trip to the Store

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Pulling into the driveway, I turn off the engine, and we climb out of the Jeep. Carrying the shotgun, Robert gingerly steps across the gravel and walks toward my little cottage. Nic and Bri are right behind. Normally, my little Bri would be making a little noise about walking on the gravel barefoot, but neither an utterance nor word comes out.

“No, we are going into Mom’s house,” I tell Robert and he switches direction in mid-stride to the front porch.

The front door opens and Mom steps out onto the porch. “Thank goodness you are alright,” she says in a sigh-like voice and comes forward to give them all hugs.

We walk into the house, a little darker now than when I left but the window shades are open giving a little light. “I see the power has gone out,” I mention as I walk through the kitchen that opens from the entry way.

“Happened right after you left.”

The kitchen opens into a sitting room ahead with a mostly glass door that lets in quite a bit of light and leads to a small deck outside. Her computer desk sits against a half wall to the left and ceiling-high bookcases fill the right wall. Turning left out of the kitchen, the living room is illuminated by only two windows set into the far wall along the right and is therefore a little dark. A wood stove sits in an alcove in the middle of the wall between the windows. Her white couch sits against the half wall and two reclining chairs rest on the other side of her large, Persian-style rug.

“Set the shotgun there,” I tell Robert pointing to the corner of the desk. “I’ll be right back.”

I head out to the cottage sitting in a small copse of cedar and firs where I am staying to get some clothes and shoes for the kids. A single room with my bed, two couches, a large screen TV for movies and the Xbox, a small kitchen, two closets and a small bathroom with a shower. It’s small but it suits me and I like it. The sound of the birds chirping away in the trees fills the air around me but I pay little attention to them as my mind goes through various aspects of the venture I am about to set in motion. Items I will need to take; food, water, warm clothes, weapons, and first aid. The absence of weather reports, maps I will need, going on the assumption of no navigational aids, my route, the hope that GPS still works, what will I face, contact, fuel stops, oh, and yeah, the fact that I will have to learn to fly a different aircraft. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a checklist and manuals on board .

I gather what I need. Jeans for Bri, and shirt, jacket, socks, and the specially-ordered converse shoes I gave her for Christmas. The same for Nic. Socks and the boots I bought for Robert for our hiking trips up the creek to the falls. We can still do that I guess , I think briefly piling their stuff in my arms. Or maybe not . I have no idea what the future may hold or what the world around me looks like. Outside, the early afternoon sun greets me as if nothing has changed.

Coming back into Mom’s house, I hand the various articles to Robert, Nicole, and Brianna. Bri takes her clothes and disappears into the bathroom, Nic into one of the bedrooms.

“Thanks,” Robert says and leans forward, stretches the thick, white socks over his feet and puts on his boots.

I walk into the laundry room by the front door. Mom has cases of bottled water stacked there. We live in the country and loss of power is no stranger so she stockpiles water. I pull several bottles out and head back, hand them out, and plop into the other chair beside Robert. Nic and Bri come out. I hand them water and they sit next to Mom on the couch.

Silence fills the room as we are all wrapped in our own thoughts. I have a vague idea of my route, plan, and items I need. My quandary is about the kids. Half of me wants to bring them; have them in sight and therefore safe; not wanting to leave them. The other half says to leave them here and not bring them into an unknown and potentially dangerous situation. Not only the danger of what awaits out in the world, but of the unknown aspects of my now-planned flight. Fuel, engine malfunctions, my not being familiar with the type of aircraft I plan to take, weather, all of these things and those I am sure I am not thinking of.

My basic plan runs along these lines. I will need an aircraft capable of long-range flight meaning some form of transport aircraft. My preference is military as that is the type I am used to, has the radio gear I will most likely need when I get there, is a little more reliably maintained, and has cargo capacity in case I want or need it. Plus, being geared for combat scenarios, they are a little more structurally sound and have better short and soft field takeoff and landing capabilities. The only drawback is their need for JP-4 fuel which then requires the need for military fields for refueling. Normal civilian turbine-powered aircraft can use Jet-A fuel which can be found at any airfield.

The thought of using a long-range business jet crosses my mind. They have a longer range than military transports, are faster, and have a higher ceiling meaning I can climb over weather should the need arise. Why am I not taking one?  I ask yet again before the unknown elements come back into mind. I may not have the luxury of a long runway and may have to set down in some unimproved area. Much better to have the flexibility and capabilities that military transports afford .

Back to the basic plan. McChord AFB is primarily a transport base flying the C-17’s. I am not exactly sure of the range but I believe it to be around 3,000 nautical miles. That should be sufficient for what I need. Head over to the east coast and land at a military base to refuel. From there to the Azores for another refueling stop. I may not be able to make the jump from there all of the way to the desert as that would be pushing the range. Possibly a stop in Italy.  That will depend on the range from the charts I hope to find. Make my calls on guard — the emergency frequency — along the way to see if anyone is still about and then call about 100 miles out from Kuwait.

No, this was not all thought out in the scant moments of the drive back to the house nor from the walk from my place back to mom’s. In our scenario talks, Lynn and I had covered a lot of these aspects about linking up. I would be calling on guard and our positions relayed. She mentioned she needed to find a radio specialist to have along. One assumption we had was that she would not be in a base but on the move. I told her I needed some firm ground to land but not a lot of it. We actually covered wingtip clearances, the need for level ground clear of obstructions and such. Thus, my desire for the military transport capabilities.

There are several assumptions I have to work with and, without them being true, they could throw a serious flaw in my planning. The first is that the military is no longer a viable force nor hunkered down in their bases. They are not just going to let me cruise on in and borrow one of their aircraft. I am pretty sure they would frown mightily over that. One other is, whatever transformations these things have gone through, that they do not like the light. This was somewhat and only vaguely verified when I was getting the kids. I am pretty sure that whatever was in there would have had no qualms about coming down and introducing itself if it were not for the light. If this is indeed true, then that will give me time and space to refuel although I will have to plan the legs of the flight in order to land and refuel in the daylight. I won’t be able to fly all of the way over in one day or in one continuous series as we will have to rest some. I mean, I think it is almost 8,000 miles there. That is close to sixteen hours of flying assuming an airspeed of 500 knots. So, I figure two days of flying to get there. During our discussions, we mentioned three or four days to get there so she would have to hold out for at least that long.

“I got a text from Michelle,” Robert says breaking the silence of the room.

“What?” I ask, my mind coming back to the present and look over at Robert. “When?”

“This morning before you arrived,” he responds leaning forward with his head down. All eyes in the room focus on him.

“Where is she?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“Didn’t you ask her?”

“I didn’t text her back.”

Confused, I ask him why not. He raises his head and looks over at me. “Because my phone makes noise when I press the buttons regardless of what my phone is set on.”

Michelle and Robert have only recently become an item. His first real girlfriend. He has had several dates before but nothing like this and I can tell he is truly worried about her. “Well, what about trying now?”

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. There are several moments of alternating between texting and reading. Apparently, she is still around or he is texting himself.

“Well?” I inquire. “This day and time is already suspenseful and tense enough without you adding to it. Is she ok? Where is she?”

“She’s at home.”

“Where exactly is home?” My mind floats over the next twenty three questions I want to ask and things I want to know.

“Olympia. By CapitalHigh School. Over by where you used to live.”

“Is anyone else there with her? Her parents? Where are they?” Bringing the number of questions on my mind down to twenty two. Yes, that was only one question.

“I don’t know,” he says turning his attention back to his cell, fingers speedily working their way across the buttons.

“Robert,” I say to get his attention. Yeah, that didn’t work. His mind is focused on the next letters in his text. “Robert!” I say a little louder. He looks over at me in mid text. “Ask her if she can talk and just call her.”

His fingers start hammering out yet again on the keys. I look over at the girls and Mom. Bri has rested her head against my mom’s shoulder with mom’s arm around her. Nicole is sitting with her hands in her lap watching Robert. I can tell Michelle’s response by Robert’s action as he stands up and starts to walk over to the kitchen area punching buttons and bringing his phone to his ear. Some things must just be genetically coded. He likes privacy when talking on the phone just like me. It doesn’t matter who it happens to be, both he and I will walk away to be alone to talk on the phone. Not really sure why, it just is.

He walks over to the back door looking out of the windows. I see his lips moving as he starts speaking into the phone. No words reach my ears but that is not uncommon. My hearing has declined from years of jet engine noise in the Air Force. We wore ear plugs while in the jet, but not on the ramp and, at any one time, there were many aircraft with their engines either starting up or already running. The cumulative effect has been an overall hearing loss. Others refer to it as selective hearing but I beg to differ otherwise.

I walk over to Robert and stop a few feet behind. “What is she saying?” I ask trying to get my number of questions down into at least the single digits.

“She’s alone in the house,” he replies covering the microphone end with his hand.

“Where are her parents?”

“She doesn’t know.”

“Okay. Tell here we’ll be there within the hour to pick her up.”

A flash of relief passes through his eyes as he relays this back to her. I can tell he is about to end the conversation and hang up. “Wait,” I say.

“Tell her to gather up some changes of clothes, some warm stuff like coats and sweatshirts, shoes, a sleeping bag if she has one, and whatever toiletries she thinks she needs. Oh, and tell her we’ll call just prior to getting there.”

He relays this before closing the cell phone and heads toward the back door. I know he thinks we are leaving right then and now to get Michelle.

“Wait one,” I say. “I want to talk about something first.” A quick look of annoyance and frustration crosses his features as he turns to look at me. Another genetic aspect I guess.

Robert walks back to his chair and sits down, leaning over with his elbows on his knees. I sit beside him in a similar fashion. I look over at Nic, Bri and mom, water bottle in my hand, and tell them, “I’m going to get Lynn. Or at least try.”

Through my peripheral, I see Robert raise an eyebrow and look sideways at me. “I’m going with,” he says like there is no other possibility. “Isn’t she in Kuwait though?”

“Yeah, she is. We’ll have to fly over.”

“Dad,” Bri says, the first sounds uttered by her since asking about her mom, “you can’t go without me.”

“Nor me,” Nic chimes in.

I realize they don’t know where their mom is, where the rest of their family is, with the exclusion of my mom, nor their friends. I am the only one left to them. It is at this moment I understand and see that my kids are coming with me.

“Mom?” I ask with the rest of the question left unsaid.

“I think I’m staying here,” she responds understanding the unasked question and not attempting to talk me out of my decision nor reason that the kids should stay as well. She fully understands this is something I have to do and that I want my kids with me.

“I can’t very well leave you here alone.”

“I am not without my own resources and abilities,” she responds back.

“Okay, we’re leaving in the morning and may be gone for up to ten days. I’m not sure we will be able to maintain contact. Robert, let’s go get Michelle.”

Robert heads toward the door again. I start to follow him but turn quickly back to mom and the girls on the couch, “You should probably grab blankets and nails while we’re gone. We should think about covering up the windows at the very least. Maybe bring those pallets up from the shed so we can put some form of barricade up on the windows.”

“You two go. We’ll dig some things up around here,” Mom says giving both Nic and Bri reassuring hugs.

Robert picks the shotgun up and continues toward the door. I pick up the Beretta, holster it, and follow him out.

Outside, on a day where we would normally be gearing up for a hike along the river or on our mountain bikes tearing up and exploring some new trail, I instead tell Robert to put the shotgun in the Jeep and then meet to me back here. He looks at me in askance but heads to do it anyway. I walk around to the side of the front porch, really just a small deck, pick up one of the hoses coiled there and cut off three sections of hose approximately five feet long laying them on the ground beside me. Robert finishes and is back beside me by the time I have finished.

“Go down to the lower shed. There should be two or three metal gas canisters in there. The tall ones. Bring those back up here. Oh, and that big, long-necked funnel on the shelf,” I tell him.

As he heads to the shed, I walk over to my place. Beside my bed, I have two TAC-II Gerber knives. These are double-edged knives with serrations and 6 ½ inch blades. I grab both of them and head back out. Robert is lugging two metal five gallon gas cans and funnel up the path from the shed and we meet by the hoses.

“Are they empty?” I ask, handing him one of the knives.

He lifts first one, and then the other shaking them. I hear liquid sloshing around in both. Picking one up, I walk toward the road as Robert picks up the other and follows. Whatever is in there may be old or have condensation so I do not trust the content of the cans. Unscrewing the cap, I dump mine on the gravel road. Robert does the same. I do not feel overly guilty ab


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out this as I have the feeling mankind’s carbon footprint is now going to be drastically reduced.

Securing the equipment in the back of the Jeep, we start her up, back out of the drive, and head down the road. “Don’t worry,” I tell him once we get up to speed, “we’ll get her and she’ll be just fine.”

“I know,” he says reaching over to the radio and starts going through the stations. Good idea , I think to myself. After going through all of the stations twice, he leans back into his seat. Nothing. “Try the AM,” I suggest. Again, there is nothing but static.

We make it to the highway with both of us looking out of the windows drifting in our own thoughts. I still have not seen a single living person other than us. Nothing moving but wildlife — I notice I have now put the dog I saw earlier into this category. The roads are still empty and the only thing moving is the sun as it wends its way westward toward the hills. The hills are bald in many places due to the logging in the area. Well, that’s a bonus , I think to myself, at least we’ll have the trees back . Not that I will likely live long enough to see it fully forested again but the thought is reassuring nonetheless.

A gas station sits to our left at the corner of our road and the highway with only a white, newer model Ford F-150 parked in the lot. Newer model means locking gas caps but I pull into the gas station hoping the keys are nearby. Well, hoping the keys are there and not attached to some transformed, crazed owner. We park about ten yards from the pickup and don’t see anything inside. I look at the gas station front and see nothing there except dark windows staring back.

“Okay, let’s get out but keep your eyes peeled,” I say as Robert reaches for the door handle. “Is that thing safetied?” I nod toward the shotgun. He looks at the button on the trigger guard and nods.

We meet in front of the Jeep. “I’m going to go check the truck. You stay here, keep an eye out around us and keep me covered. Get my attention if you see anything moving and be ready to get back into the Jeep quickly,” I tell him taking my gun out of the holster.

“Do you want me to come with you and cover you?”

“No, just stay here. You have my back.”

“Okay, Dad.”

I slide the safety off and check for a round in the chamber as I approach the truck in a semi-crouching, sidling walk, angling to the cab from the rear. I can’t see anyone inside but I don’t want to be surprised by a suddenly opening door slamming into me. About ten feet from the driver’s door, I glance around, checking the gas station store and the drive-up coffee stand in the corner of the lot. This county probably has more of these drive-up coffee stands per capita than anywhere else in the world. Reaching the door, I stand next to it but away from its range of motion. Rising, I peek in the window.

I wasn’t expecting to see anything so the vision that catches my eye sends a small adrenaline shot through my body. Inside, a man is slumped sideways on the front seat with his legs resting on the driver’s side floorboard. The one eye I can see stares blankly at the dash in front and there is a wet mass of something on the seat and floorboard in front of his head. I know what this is from the couple of years I spent as a firefighter/EMT following the military. The adrenaline junkie part of me had not left by then. Those years also taught me that death is never pretty.

“See anything?” I call out to Robert.

“No,” he calls back.

It is a king cab, extra cab, extended cab or whatever they are calling it nowadays. My eyes venture to the back seat. Nothing. Well, at least, nobody is there. A Styrofoam coffee cup on its side and an empty candy bar wrapper are all I see from this vantage point. I look to the steering column and see a patch of leather dangling on the far side.

“No way!” I breathe quietly. I step back, reach for the handle, and pull open the door.

The stench pours out of the door like a physical presence. It is overpowering and I swear the light of the day grows dim.

“Whoa Nelly!” I say waving a hand in front of my face and hold my breath as I stumble backwards a step. Okay, more like two or three steps.

He hasn’t had enough time to decompose much; the smell is a lovely combination of feces, vomit, and who knows what else. Regaining some semblance of composure, I make mental note to self: Have Vaseline handy . That was one thing I disliked when in the fire department or riding along with the ambulance; the call of someone who had died in their sleep or, quite commonly, on the toilet. I didn’t mind death or bodies, have worked many gruesome and messy scenes without being affected, and witnessed and been a part of countless others in the military but it was the smell of bowels letting go that bothered me the most. Vaseline under the nose helps some with the smell.

Holding my breath, I walk back up to the truck and pull the keys out of the ignition. I think of pulling the guy out or at least rolling down the window. That way, if we need to use the truck, it won’t smell so bad. But clarity once again comes. If we need a pickup down the road, there are plenty of new ones available, so I just close the door. The sound of the door shutting is unnaturally loud in the stillness. There is indeed a gas key on the key ring and I open up the fuel tank.

Back at the Jeep, I grab the siphoning gear. “Bring that other one over to the truck,” I tell Robert. He grabs the can out of the back and follows. “Do you know how to siphon?”

“Not really.”

“Okay, watch,” I tell him putting the hose into the fuel inlet hole. “Slide the hose in all of the way but don’t force it once you meet resistance. You want it close to or at the bottom of the tank.”

I slide the hose in until it comes to a stop. “Now notice how I put the hose in so the arc of the hose is arched up. That’s for two reasons. If it was arced the other way, the hose would merely slide along the bottom with the top of the hose then possibly rising above the fuel level,” I say looking up at him.

“And the second,” he asks.

“Kneel down here with me.” I point to the tank. “Now listen.” I move the hose up and down slightly. “Do you hear the noise of the hose sliding against the inside of the tank?” He nods. “That lets you know you are actually in the tank. Some later models have anti-siphon screens on the inlet tube to prevent you from putting a hose into the actual tank. If you arced the hose the other way, it would be harder to tell, or hear the hose in the tank.”

“Now, here comes the fun part.” A friend many, many years ago would cup his hands around the inlet and blow into the hose forcing an overpressure inside the tank. Once he took his mouth away from the hose, the added pressure would start the gas flowing in the hose. I, for whatever reason, could never make this work. Not that I ran around siphoning.

Glancing around quickly to make sure we were still alone, I put my hand on the hose just past the highest part of the hose on my side. “Here, put your hand on the hose next to mine. You want to feel for a decrease in temp as the gas flows by your hand. The idea is to drink as little gas as possible. The ideal being zero. Once you feel the gas pass by your hand, quickly put the end of the hose into the can and then let gravity do its thing.”

Opening the gas can, I create suction on the hose, feel the gas pass by my hand, and quick-jam the hose into the gas can. I hear it pouring into the can, and, yay, no drinking of the gas. Ideal conditions achieved. Filling both gas cans, we carry them to the Jeep. With me holding the funnel, Robert pours the gas in from both cans. Whatever ideal conditions were achieved during the siphoning process is quickly lost putting the gas in.

“Try putting some in the Jeep,” I say after like the fourth time my hand becomes soaked.

“I’m trying.”

“Well, try harder. Maybe we aren’t going about this the right way. Try not getting a bit of it in the funnel. Maybe that’ll work better.”

He gives me a big grin, the first in a while. We have always joked around like this and a sense of normalcy settles in on us with a warm glow. Our relationship has always been close, I mean very tight, and we both get a sense that perhaps things will be alright as long as we have this between us.

He gives as good as he takes. I can remember playing a co-op game on our 360. We were in the middle of a battle against the aliens on Halo 3. Greatly outnumbered but holding our own, he comments, “You are a really good shot.” I got ready to thank him when he continues on, “I mean every single shot you fired hit me.” Yes, my gamer tag in Halo should have been ‘friendly fire.’

We finally manage to get the fuel in the Jeep, well, at least some of it, secure the cans and put everything back in. I make mental note to secure a larger funnel and walk back to the white F-150 to put the cap back on, set the keys next to the cap, and close the fuel door. Robert has retrieved the shotgun from the front seat of the Jeep and is surveilling the area. Good , I didn’t even have to tell him .

“Okay, ready?” I ask.

“Yep,” he answers and climbs in.

The fuel gauge reads a little over ¾ of a tank. Good deal . That should be good enough for today, tomorrow, and to get back. I pull out of the gas station, up to the stop sign on the highway, look left, right, and left again — yes, old habits, only, they aren’t really that old — before pulling across the northbound lanes and turn. Southbound toward Olympia.

I drive by the casino on our right after about a mile down the road. I think it may make a safe place but realize there are far too many entry ways and it would be difficult to secure. I mentally strike it off my list of secure places in the event we need one. With the casino sliding past, Robert asks, “What kind of plane are we taking?”

I fully expected him to be concentrating on picking up Michelle but he is already ahead of that now that we were on the way. He always surprises me with his thinking abilities and inner toughness. That same fortitude I noticed when he hadn’t texted Michelle back that night. Now, that would have been tough and must have gnawed at him. He is also one to keep his head about him.

“I’m thinking about a C-17 from McChord if there isn’t anyone there,” I answer back.

“Do you know how to fly one?”

“Um, sure,” I answer back with a shrug.

“Why not a C-130 like you used to fly?”

“Too slow. And besides, they don’t have any up there anymore that I know of. Traded those out some time ago. I think the ranges are about the same in any case.”

“Wouldn’t you want one you were more comfortable with though?” Robert asks knowing you can’t just arbitrarily fly any aircraft you choose because you know how to fly. He was close to getting his Private Pilot license and would have completed that this summer. His grand master plan was to head off to the Air Force Academy and go fly fighters. He is fully capable of doing just that.

“Well, yes, but it’ll take us twice as long, and, like I said, there aren’t any there anyway. It’s going to be a bitch enough with all of the refueling stops along the way, I don’t want to poke around at it too,” I say looking over at him. “I’m not saying there won’t be a steep learning curve needed,” I add after seeing a guarded look cross his face. “And, I will need you to be my co-pilot.”

I see flash of fire and excitement course through his eyes. To the extent that I am thankful there isn’t anything flammable in the immediate vicinity. Oh wait, there is the gas on my hand although evaporated , I think as I mentally tuck my hand under me.

“Okay, grab that note pad”, I say nodding toward the tablet sitting in the glove box in front of him with a pen attached. “We need to make a list of what we need to bring with us tomorrow.”

He grabbed the paper and prepared to write. We think of items and potentialities as we drive to Olympia. When we finish, this is what we have:

Water — from gas station — 1 bottle person per day — 40 min

Food — canned (from gas station)

           Bread — if it is still good

           Jam and peanut butter

           Plastic silverware

Can opener

Flight suits *I have about 10 of them with rank and patches

Flight jackets * I have one summer and one winter jacket

Sleeping bags — 4

Clothes

           Changes

           Gloves

           Warm coats

           Sweat shirts

Toiletries

           Toothbrush

           Toothpaste

Flashlights

Batteries — D and AA

Battery operated cell phone charger — in Jeep

Toilet paper — 5 rolls

First aid — in aircraft

Sunglasses

Tool box

Towels and washcloth’s — 4

Rope — 100’ in shed

Charts, maps, approach plates — worldwide — base ops or wing scheduling desk

Knee boards — in briefcase

Flight computer — in briefcase

Paper tablet — writing on one

Felt pens — red, black, and blue

Binoculars

Weapons — shotgun, Beretta, knives, ammo

I pull off the exit ramp just as we finish our list. This list is going to put a serious dent in the available space we have in the Jeep. Especially with four people. I am assuming Michelle is going with us. I think about using the truck at the gas station but we may manage with the Jeep. This has been a long day. It feels like a week has passed since getting the kids just this morning.

“Okay, tell me where I need to go Robert.”

“Just go up by Capital, it’s only a couple of blocks away from the school,” he answers putting the tablet with the list on it back in the glove compartment and pulls out his phone.

After several seconds, he says, “We’re just pulling off the highway and almost there.” He listens says, “Okay,” after getting what I can only assume is a reply and closes his phone.

“She’s waiting outside for us,” he says turning to me.

I had expected a little traffic or to see someone at least but we are met with the same severe lack of movement as we drive through the west side of Olympia. There are very few cars on the road, meaning off the road on the side or in parking lots. At the stoplight about to turn left, a Safeway to our right gives the same message as did the Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer earlier. No one is here. The stoplight ahead blinks red, the only indication that mankind was here not so long ago.

I turn left and a high school baseball field appears to our right. To the left, the new strip mall is vacant. Well, almost; I see two cars sitting in the lot. It’s a little warm inside , I think as the sun gleams through my driver side window. On any other day, I would take down the Jeep top for a nice, summer day in the sun. Not knowing what to expect, that is just not going to happen today.

“Well?” I ask as the baseball field slides past us.

“Turn right here and then a left in front of the school,” he nods toward the street we are approaching.

A cat wanders out of the trees and dashes across the street vanishing between two houses as we approach the high school. The normal things you would see as far as animals go thrown in with the total lack of people just makes everything all that much more eerie. A painted rock appears on the right by some trees. This is the high school rock the seniors paint as the school year progressed; changing colors throughout the year. I remember that rock well. Not that I attended here but I used to live fairly close.

One night, a girlfriend of mine decided, along with her friend, that it would be a good idea to paint the rock. Oh, I might add there was a little alcohol involved with that decision. As was seemingly usual, I was tasked to go along. There was my girlfriend, her friend, several Mike’s hard lemonades, a can of spray paint, and me. Every time a car would come by, they would whisper-scream ‘a car’ and scramble back into trees and bushes. I would just stand there and watch them do their ninja impressions. I mean, we were just painting a rock; hardly something that was going to get us anything like solitary confinement or pounding rocks with hammers.

With the addition of more drinks, the whisper-screams became less of a whisper and more of a scream and the scrambles into the trees would get a little further from the road. Oh, did I mention there was a large, steep hill. Well, it was inevitable. Like an apple hanging from a tree, it was only a matter of time before the apple let go and fell to the ground. Then, the apple let go. One of the many ‘a car’ notifications and subsequent ninja moves was followed by a screech which was itself followed milliseconds later by a second one. I turned to look as both of their flawless ninja impressions transitioned into that of an avalanche; both literally going head over heels and tumbling down the hill. That was when I learned that laughing heartily, until tears streamed down my face, at two women who had just scraped a hillside free of shrubbery with multiple parts of their bodies was not conducive to one’s health; note taken.

I turn left in front of the school and see a blond girl sitting by the curb about a block and a half away. I have never met Michelle but have seen her a couple of times when dropping Robert off. She is sitting on a military-style duffle bag with a suitcase sitting beside her. We pull up next to the curb. She brushes off her jeans and picks up her duffle. Robert jumps out as soon as we stop and walks to her as I scan the neighborhood.

Just your normal middle-class neighborhood; houses built close together, small front yards, concrete driveways leading up to double car garages. Not that there is absolutely anything wrong with that, just that the contractors building these neighborhoods only build three or four different varieties and use paint colors to provide the variety. The road we are on ends a half block up in a “T” intersection; houses at the end and across the intersection continue to the right and left in the same styles. All of the windows stare back emptily. Some of them have the drapes pulled across the windows and others have curtains drawn back revealing only darkness behind.

I continue to watch the neighborhood looking for any movement as Robert gives Michelle a quick hug, grabs her suitcase, and both of them head to the back throwing her gear into the rear seat. My thoughts once again turn to how much room we are going to have versus how much we are going to need. The truck, or any truck, is sounding like a better idea for packing our gear and driving up to McChord tomorrow. The thought that crosses my mind for seemingly the hundredth time is that I would love to find and raid an armory at either McChord or at FortLewis. I feel though that time is of the essence and there won’t be time to play hide and seek with an armory.

I step out as they finish with the gear and walk back to them. “Hi Michelle, I’m Jack,” I say and she sticks out her hand. I shake it and continue, “Sorry to meet you for the first time under these circumstances and doubly sorry to ask you this, but do you know if your parents have any weapons?”

She looks up at me with blue eyes; a shade darker than either Robert’s or Bri’s. Damn, does everyone surviving have blond hair and blue eyes?  I think as my thoughts drift to Lynn.

“Yes, my dad had, or has guns in his closet.”

“Do you think we could get them?” I ask bringing myself back to focus on the now and feeling a little embarrassed about asking.

“I can run in and get them,” she says.

“Is there anyone or anything in the house that was with you?”

“Not that I saw or heard and I’ve been in there since yesterday morning,” she answers starting toward the front door.

“Robert, go with her.”

Better to put Robert into a controlled scenario knowing that, at some point, he is going to need confidence and experience in various situations and I am going to have to get past the protective mode. Michelle has been here for some time and is unharmed so it seems like an ideal situation to start. He has been with me for many years so he knows some things, but well, I don’t know what I would do if I lost him, especially if it was through something I caused or allowed. Same for Nic and Bri. And hoping Lynn was truly okay.

Michelle stops her door-bound trek on the green grass of her lawn waiting for Robert. He trots around to the passenger side to pick up the shotgun and then heads toward Michelle.

“Robert,” I call over to him. An almost disguised sigh escapes him before he turns and comes over.

“There’s probably nothing in there but it’s going to be fairly dark so make sure you know where Michelle is at all times, especially if you see movement and are thinking about firing. Your best bet if you do see or sense anything is for the two of you to back out of there. Stay with her but cover your six and any doors you come across. There’s no need to open any doors that are already shut and check the rooms. The doors opening will be your early warning system. No risks. In and out. You got it!?” I tell him is a low voice so Michelle can’t hear.

I know he wants to look good in front of her, I mean, he’s seventeen, but wanting to look good or act the hero can make one take foolish risks or make mistakes. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do but this is different.

“Okay,” he says.

This could possibly turn into one of the longest minutes of my life and it’s eating me up. I watch them enter the house leaving the front door open only to immediately see movement in the front window to the right of the now open front door. The drapes are moving in the window. This brings back memories of this morning inside their own house. Oh fuck! I should have gone in! I’ve made a huge mistake!  I think as I rush toward the front door. I step onto the lawn and, before I realize I am moving, my 9 mil materializes in my hand.

The drapes pull to the side. I skid to a stop as I realize I am now looking at Robert standing in the window pulling the curtains to the side. He looks over at me and smiles knowing full well what I was just doing. I shake my now hung head slowly, turn, and walk back to the Jeep, holstering my gun once again. Any more adrenaline pumped into my system today and I will either launch free of earth’s gravitational pull or just fall down face forward. Back at the Jeep, I turn back to the house in time to see Robert finishing with the other side of the curtains. I need to perhaps give him a little more credit , a little voice in my head tells me as I continue to alternate my attention between the neighborhood houses and Michelle’s.

I start to think they are perhaps building a gun from raw materials when Michelle appears in the doorway carrying several objects in her hands followed by Robert carrying several more. She has what appear to be two handguns, one a revolver, the other a semi-automatic, and several boxes of ammunition.

“This is all I could find,” she says handing the pistols to me.

Both handguns are holstered and have trigger locks on them. I must have frowned somewhat looking at them because she sets the boxes of ammo on the front seat and reaches into her front pocket, pulling out a couple of keys on circular, wire key ring.

“Looking for these,” she says smiling at me. “My dad keeps them in his sock drawer.”

A sense of humor and an apparent good head on her shoulders. My favorable impression meters climbs substantially. I remove the handguns from their holsters and set them on the seat with the boxes of ammo. A shadow appears across the seat and an arm appears in my vision as Robert sets two more boxes on the seat. I pick up the semi-automatic and fit the first key to the lock. Of course, it isn’t the one I need. The second key fits in and a slight twist later, I remove the trigger guard. It is a nice Colt Commander .45. I remove the magazine and glance on the side to find it’s filled to its capacity. I set the magazine on the seat in front of me. Shadows fill the seat as Michelle and Robert each observe over my shoulders.

I crack the chamber of the .45 to find it empty and work the slide several times. Smooth action. It seems to be very well taken care of. Inserting the mag back in, I chamber a round and flick on the safety. I pop the mag back out and press down on the rounds still remaining. The spring still seems in good shape. Inserting the mag, I release the safety and ease the hammer down into its second safety position. I set the gun back on the seat pick up the other handgun. It is a very nice Smith & Wesson six shot .38 revolver. I see from the butt end that it is loaded. I take a key to remove the trigger guard.

“Damn,” I mutter going 0 for 2 on the keys.

Removing the trigger guard on the second try yet again, I flip the cylinder to the side, and dump the ammo in my hand. All rounds look in decent shape. I flick the cylinder back into place and dry fire a couple of times. Yes, I know, you shouldn’t dry fire. Nice, it is double action and is smooth. Replacing the rounds, I set it in the seat.

There are 4 boxes of ammunition on the seat and I open each one. One contains full 50 round box of .45 ACP 230 grain ammo and another has eight rounds missing. Okay , I think to myself, not bad . I would have preferred 200 grain but for close quarters 230 grain is nice to have. Especially if you need to go through walls. Besides, I am quite sure there is plenty of 200 grain lying about for the picking. The same is true for the .38 ammunition boxes with the exception that the used box only has six rounds missing. The .38 ammo boxes are also fifty round boxes and 125 grain. I notice the .38 loads are standard loads so the kick should be substantially less. Our firepower has basically doubled.

“Do you know how to use these or shoot, Michelle?” I ask setting the last box back on the seat and turn around.

“My dad took me to the range a few times but I’ve only fired the .38.”

I turn slightly reaching back to the seat, pluck up the .38 and slide it into the holster. “Okay, this is yours for now I guess,” handing it to her.

She takes the gun, looks down to her right and then her left, apparently searching for some place to put it. She shrugs, lifts the back of the red t-shirt she is wearing, and slides the holster into her waistband. Looking over at Robert, I holster the .45 and hand it to him. He unfastens his belt and draws it through the loops looking a little sheepish. Picking up the gun, he fastens it to his belt and reverses the process.

“Okay, let’s go,” I say. Robert starts around the Jeep and Michelle stands uncertain. “Other side is easier,” anticipating that she isn’t sure which side to get in on.

I am putting the ammo boxes in the center console when I hear the rear gate door open. “What are you doing?” I ask looking over the seats to the rear.

“Putting the shotgun in back,” he replies. Yep, definitely going to have to give him more credit , I think.

Robert shuts the back and walks to the passenger side. He reaches inside and lifts the seat forward. I am curious as to what he will do next. Without hesitation, he climbs into the back pulling the seat back once he is there. Good, I raised him right . Michelle then climbs in, closes the door, and buckles herself in.

With all of us buckled in and Michelle’s bags situated to make room for Robert, we leave. When we arrived, I contemplated leaving the Jeep running to enable a quick exit but wanted to be able to hear any noises. Nothing except the occasional sound of a bird greeted us during our entire stay.

“Time check,” I say looking in the rear view at Robert.

“Ten to two,” he responds.

I don’t wear a watch except when I am running so I am forever asking Robert. I usually use my phone for the time but am going to have to rectify that very soon. As a matter of fact, I might as well do it now. There is this one watch I have wanted for quite a while but didn’t want to spend the money. Plus, it has a very useful aspect to it that comes to mind right now. It has a flight calculator on it. I wore a similar one many years ago in the Air Force and found it to be a great tool many times when flying. It even helped save my bacon once. And I had a lot of bacon to save back then.

I was an instructor pilot and we were flying to Colorado Springs. Just a bunch of other instructors who were in my class and doing this as kind of a reunion flight and get together. The plan was to fly there, get skis and passes from MWR, cars from the motor pool, and go skiing up at Breckenridge. Our current wing DO (Director of Operations) was in my class and therefore along with us. It was actually his idea to do this so we had no trouble getting the aircraft and didn’t foresee any problems with the motor pool upon arrival. It was nice having a full bird colonel along with us. There were ten aircraft in total so we divided up into (2) four-ship formations and (1) two ship. I was only one of two Americans; the rest were German pilots. I think I was the lowest ranking as well.

So, off we went, stopping at Amarillo, Texas for gas before heading on. I was the lead for our 4-ship at that point. It was a gorgeous day and we landed at Colorado Springs with


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out incident. The skiing was great as well except for the time I found myself on a double black diamond slope. Yeah, that was the last time I let the Germans ‘guide’ me up a lift. They just powered down the slope: the term slope being a relative term. I am pretty sure skiing is most effective if there is some sort of slope involved. This ‘slope’ looked like it actually angled back in towards the mountain in places and the moguls looked like Volkswagens were parked under the snow and glued to the side of the mountain.

The German’s just tipped their skis over and performed some sort of ballet through the moguls and down the slope. I couldn’t very well cry mommy and slide down on my ass so I tipped my skis down as well. That was a freaking nightmare. I arrived at the bottom checking myself over because I was pretty sure I had lost an arm, a leg, both kidneys, and expected my intestines to be trailing behind me along with most of my gear.

Our DO pulled up next to me. “You ski pretty well for an American,” he said and off he went.

I looked quizzically after him. I didn’t know if he was joking or what because I must have looked like a one-legged goat doing an interpretive dance while falling down a cliff. I remember only touching snow like three times as I ricocheted my way down and looked up at the slope expecting to see a yellow trail marking my route down. “That’ll never happen again,” I remember telling myself as I pushed off to catch up.

Well, that was Saturday and we met at base ops Sunday morning for the trip home. It was overcast with clouds around the mid altitudes. So, a little weather on the way home, no big deal . I received the weather brief for my flight. Another pilot was the designated lead for this leg back to Amarillo. The weather wasn’t great with moderate to severe icing conditions enroute. We were flying trainers at the time so we didn’t have any de-icing or anti-ice capabilities. Oh, and icing sucks if you can’t get rid of it in some form or another. I thought about cancelling the flight but the weather reports for the next couple of days were even worse and the DO wanted to get home. I at least talked him into breaking the flights into 2-ship formations. That provides a little more flexibility.

I was with the original flight lead and the other two formed their own flight. I was not all that fond of our lead and remember him telling me in the crew bus, “Now, I’ll show you the way to truly lead a flight,” making me even fonder of him.

Well, off we went. We were the third 2-ship off the ground and were separated by 15 minute departure times. He asked for clearance and leveled us off at 11,000 feet which was below the cloud deck. Okay, that makes good sense but we burned fuel at a higher rate down that low. Plus, after leveling off, he kept the throttles up. I was snugged up into fingertip but glanced at my rpm to find we were still around 95%; burning fuel like crazy for no reason I could fathom.

The clouds and icing forced us to ask for and receive clearance down to 9,000 feet a short time later. I had the approach charts for Amarillo out and dialed in a secondary frequency for Amarillo approach. The weather was not forecast to be the greatest there either. Normally, we would have fuel to destination, to an alternate, and 45 minutes after reaching the alternate. We had this on leaving but our current fuel burn and altitude took our reserve down considerably. I would switch between our enroute center freq and the approach freq to determine what was going on there. We still had enough fuel to get to our destination, but it was even odds getting anywhere else. I heard a buddy in another flight flying into Amarillo notify approach that he was initial approach fix inbound. A short time later he called final approach fix. Approach came on asking him if he saw the airfield. Apparently the ceiling was pretty low there. The final approach fix is close to the missed approach point — the last point at which you either see the airfield and land or put the throttles up and go around for another try or head somewhere else. “Negative,” he replied back to them.

Oh, this sucks , I thought. I then heard him say, “Missed approach.” Approach came back asking him if he would like another approach. “Negative approach, Cider 34 is diverting.”

I missed his clearance switching back to our freq but knew where he was heading. Then that wonderful radio call, “Amarillo approach on guard, Amarillo is now closed.” Yay for us , I thought. And here Mr. “I’ll show you how to lead a flight” has brought us way low on fuel .

I could see scrambling in the aircraft next to me. After a moment of this, he looked over at me and gave me the hand signal to take the lead. “You have got to be fucking kidding me!!!” I said into my mask without transmitting. Not only had he gotten us into a mess but now expected me to get us out of it. My disgust meter pegged against the upper stop into the red zone.

I took and verified the lead, focusing on where we were. This led to a scrambling on my part. Part of me wanted to separate him off to get his own clearance and fend for himself but that was only a thought. Breaking him off would save fuel on both of our parts but it was obvious his clue bag was empty. I looked at the fuel gauge and damn near had a heart attack. Holy shit!  We were damn low. I pulled the throttles back to a more moderate cruise setting after signaling the upcoming change to him. I looked at the clouds right over my head brushing against the top of the canopy. We had flown through some clouds enroute and ice immediately started forming up on our wings. I notified center that we were diverting to Altus and requested a vector direct. “Roger, Otter 39 flight, turn left heading 130.”

I keyed the mic button on the throttle and responded back, “Otter 39 flight, left 130.”

Looking again to the cloud base I could reach out and touch, I knew we had no choice but to climb. We were flat going to run out of gas before reaching Altus if we didn’t and the higher altitude would give us a better fuel rate and increased performance lengthening our range. But there was the icing to think about. Well, a certainty versus a possibility. “DenverCenter, Otter 39 flight requesting flight level 250 (pronounced two five zero).”

The reply came back, “Otter 39 flight, standby, expect flight level 250 in ten minutes.”

Well, that wasn’t going to work , I thought. “DenverCenter, Otter 39 flight declaring a fuel precautionary at this time and requesting flight level 250.”

The military is different from the civilian world in that we could declare a precautionary without having to go to a full-blown emergency. This notifies our control facilities that we were in a situation that wasn’t quite an emergency but could result in one.

“Otter 39 flight, Denver Center, copy precautionary. Climb and maintain flight level 250.”

Yes, we were just bumped up on the priority list. I looked over at the aircraft tucked against my wing and gave the throttle up signal getting a nod back. Moving the throttles up into mil power, I raised the nose. We immediately went into IFR conditions meaning we had only the instruments to guide us as we lost visual reference. Ice immediately gathered on our wings. Not only does this decrease aircraft performance, but interrupts the airflow. Enough disruption and the aircraft ceases its ability to produce lift and turns from a high performance fun machine into a brick.

As we climbed higher, I kept expecting and wanting to break out on top of this. By flight level 180, I realized this may not happen and was questioning my decision. Ice coated the leading edge of our wings but we were still flying. This, incidentally, is a good thing. At flight level 210, the clouds began getting thinner and I could see the sun shrouded in mist above me. The ice stopped increasing and I fully expected to break out on top soon. But as we continued to climb, the sun only became a brighter disk in the sky, however, visibility increased. I leveled out at flight level 250 — that is really 25,000 feet but we use flight level designations beginning at 18,000 feet.

The visibility wasn’t too bad so I sent my wingman to chase. This is basically a loose formation where the wingman flies about a 1,000 feet behind and to the left or right of the lead aircraft. This position lends to a flexible position where I could maneuver easier and the wingman wasn’t constantly adjusting the throttles giving a better fuel consumption rate. I looked at the fuel gauge again. Not good!  I dialed in the navigation aid at Altus (TACAN) and looked at the DME (Distance measuring equipment. This tells how far from the nav aid you are). Once I locked on, I saw the DME which will also give you your ground speed. Looking at that and at my airspeed indicator, I realized we were also battling a 40 knot headwind. “Aw fuck, of course! Why not?” I said into my mask.

I was actually beginning to get a bit nervous and worried at this point. Peeling my glove back, I used the flight calculator on my watch, setting the ground speed on the distance. I then looked at the fuel flow rate which gave me the fuel required. I compared that number with what I had on my gauge. Uh oh . Those numbers were damn near the same. Totally not good . That was to just fly to the airfield and didn’t include the fuel required to fly an approach which would most likely be required there. I had one ace up my sleeve and that what was called and enroute descent. That is a fuel saving request where you start your descent into the airfield from a farther distance out. This allows a shallower descent path allowing gravity to work on your behalf for a longer period of time. Normally about 100 miles out. Still, it did not save that much fuel.

I continued to calculate the fuel. The fuel required and fuel onboard differential kept shrinking. I had serious thoughts that I would have to bail out; to the point of going through the controlled bailout checklist. The thought of bailing out didn’t exactly please me. It would be a long silk ride down through some very cold clouds. There was also the chance that the chute could freeze up with ice and cease being a parachute and more like a large piece of cardboard. Plus, there was the inquiry that would follow. See, the Air Force severely frowns on planting their aircraft into the earth. I knew I could probably skate on this one but still, not a pleasant thought. I liked my companion even more now!

The fuel differential finally became a negative one. I should have declared an emergency much earlier on but I always hesitated on doing that. “DenverCenter, Otter 39 flight, declaring a fuel emergency at this time,” giving out particulars with regards to position, fuel remaining and intentions, “request enroute descent into Altus for the PAR runway 35.” (Precision Approach Radar. An approach option for military aircraft whereby the controller guides the aircraft in with very precise headings and altitude corrections).

“Otter 39 flight, DenverCenter, copy emergency. Turn left heading 125, descend and maintain 15,000 at your discretion.”

About 100 miles out, having furiously checked and rechecked calculations, I signaled my wingman back into fingertip formation, completed our approach to field checks, and we started down towards Altus. During my numerous fuel checks, I would also inquire as to my wingman’s fuel. We were about on par with him being a touch lower.

I called Denver Center as we began our descent. We were handed over to Fort Worth Approach and received vectors and clearance for the approach. I was still constantly looking at the fuel gauge and calculations. We had gained a measure of fuel savings on the descent and, after switching to approach, they gave us short vectors to the airfield. The cloud ceiling was considerably higher here and when we broke out, approach asked us if we had the airfield in sight. I answered in the affirmative and we were given instructions to circle to land runway 17 which basically gives us the freedom to maneuver to and align ourselves with the runway.

We touched down in formation and taxied to base ops. My fuel gauge read zero; I mean absolute zero while taxiing. I was pretty hot and furious and stormed over to base ops to give Mr. Know It All a pretty big piece of my mind after shutting down. As I walked in, the DO walked in behind me. I think he felt the mood and swept his arms wide and said, “My friends, at least we all made it.” That put a pretty good perspective check on me and settled my mood considerably. He was pretty good with stuff like that and it made an impression on me. Always keep things in perspective.

Pulling my mind back to the present, I make a U-turn and retrace our route. We ride back mostly lost in our own thoughts after Robert shares our plans for tomorrow. Michelle seems to take it in stride only mentioning she doesn’t have a sleeping bag with her. “We have some extras,” I tell her. Those being only words I say as we drive through town and back down the highway towards home still thinking about the watch, maybe later.

On the drive back, I am lost in my thoughts about various aspects of the planned flight out; gathering some supplies on the way back and putting another to-do list together. I think about asking Michelle where she thinks her parents might be or what happened to them. I also want to ask Robert what happened that he, Nic, and Bri ended up in the basement but the time doesn’t feel right. I feel they all have to sort things out in their own minds before reliving those experiences.

“We should probably gather up some supplies for tomorrow,” I say as we turn off the highway by the gas station with the white F-150 still in the lot.

I pull into the gas station and park in the same location as before with the Jeep running. I pull out the duct tape sliding the tube onto my left arm like a bracelet.

“That’s just like the .45 I used to have,” I say nodding toward the gun at Robert’s side. We used to go off into the woods periodically to target practice so he knows how to shoot, “Remember, it has a lot of kick so make sure you refocus the sights on your target before squeezing off the next round. It may be a semi-automatic but that doesn’t mean rapid fire.” He merely looks at the gun and nods.

“Let’s take a walk around,” I say grabbing my gun and walk towards the store. Both of them do the same and follow.

The store itself is your standard stop-and-rob gas station store built with cement blocks. The cream-colored building has double entry glass doors with a door-sized window to either side. It also has two additional large glass pane windows, one on the facing corner to the left of the doors and another just around the left corner that looks into the checker stand. Both Robert and I know the interior well from the many, many times we have stopped there for soda or the occasional Subway pizzas or sandwiches.

Just inside the front doors, the double register check stand sits to the left with a counter to the right holding automated coffee and other drink machines. This then opens up into the main store. Refrigeration sections line the walls to the rear and right of the store with the Subway station situated against the front right. The middle of the store is comprised of several food and sundry shelves with the aisles angled toward the front door. To the right, between the Subway station and the refrigeration unit to the right, I remember a door leading to the outside with the kitchen part of Subway just before this exit door. A bathroom is located on the left between the check stand and rear refrigerated section with a hallway extending to the rear of the building. I assume there is an entry into the refrigeration unit, a stock area and such, and a rear door.

Outside, to the rear of the building, I see the beginnings of a chain link fence with wood slats in the links common to dumpster areas. We head in that direction checking the surrounding area out. The warm summer breeze gently stirs against my red Jeep t-shirt and jeans; my shadow extending slightly to my left across the pavement. I see two other shadows behind mine as Robert and Michelle tail behind. We round the corner to the rear of the store remaining alert to anything that might be there. A green dumpster shows through the reddish brown slats in the fence verifying my previous assumption. I want to check out every place to make sure. Minimizing surprises is a good philosophy to live by.

The gate has a lock but is hanging open. The gate itself swings outward and to the left. I see through the slats but can’t see everything inside clearly. I gather Robert and Michelle around me.

“Robert, you take the gate from the right, remove the lock, lift the latch, and swing the gate open stepping back to the right as you open it. This will minimize the possibility that the gate will swing open into you. At no time are you to step in front of the opening unless I tell you. I’ll cover the gate from the front a few feet back. Once the gate is open, you step a few feet back my direction and to the left.”

“Michelle,” I say, “You cover the area around us.”

They nod and Robert moves in a wide circle approaching the gate from the right. I set up in a kneeling stance a few feet in front of the gate. My guess is nothing will present itself due to the lock being on the gate, but you never know. Once at the gate, Robert grasps the lock and looks back at me. I glance back at Michelle. She has her back to me and is looking around the area with her pistol out. I must admit I am quite impressed with Robert’s exceptional choice for a girlfriend.

I give Robert a nod. He removes the lock and drops it to the ground as he lifts the latch. Swinging, the gate open to his left, with the metallic rattling sound common to all chain link fences, he steps back away from the gate bringing his own gun up. I’m greeted by the sight of a dumpster hidden in the shadow of the store. Nothing moves except for the gate slowly swinging closed apparently not being quite level. I approach the gate noticing the left lift door on the dumpster is open to the sky with the right one closed. A couple of smaller cardboard boxes lie open on the ground at the foot of the dumpster.

“Cover me,” I say at the entrance. He moves up behind as I edge toward the open end of the dumpster. A quick move up to my toes bringing my gun to bear toward the dumpster opening reveals nothing immediately apparent other than it being half full of miscellaneous paper wrappings, cans, boxes, and the standard things one would expect in a garbage bin. I feel kind of foolish for tactically assaulting a dumpster. However, if that dumpster were to spring up as some transformer and attack us, we would have had it covered. More so, I wanted to use this to teach tactical operations and this was a safe way to do it.

Proceeding out of the enclosure, I shut the gate behind me. “Michelle,” I call out and she quickly joins us.

We continue around the enclosure along the back of the store. In the middle of the rear wall is a gray, steel door that opens outward. Against the other rear corner is an enclosure similar to the one we just exited. The difference is a small aluminum tube jutting out from the top. I was hoping to see something like this. I guess I never paid very close attention to the surroundings before as I don’t remember seeing this. But then again, I don’t remember not seeing it either. I rather expected something like it though. Out here in the country, there are frequent power failures during storms and winter months with some failures lasting several days. Stores would keep small generators handy in order to keep the refrigeration units going in the event of such failures. This one would likely be attached to those and the emergency lighting. It might even be connected to the gas pumps. Something to think about in the future.

“Same as before?” Robert asks.

I nod and tell Michelle she has the door and the surrounding area. She stations herself in front of the door about twenty feet away and the assault on the generator begins. We go through the same motions and find it is in fact a generator and is clear. Emergency generators are usually set to automatically engage, triggered by the loss of normal electrical power. Some have a manual starter switch for maintenance check purposes. I press the green ‘on’ switch. Nothing happens. The fuel tank with the green ‘diesel only’ placard sits on the front and to the bottom and, as I tap the tank lightly working my way down. A hollow sound follows all of the way down to the bottom. I test the fuel level with a small, square pole sitting to the side of the generator to find the stick reveals only a dark, wet line about a quarter of an inch deep. Empty. I seriously doubt there is enough residual diesel fuel in the hose lines at the pump to power it up. If we want to ever use this generator and the gas pumps, we’ll have to drain diesel fuel from some vehicle at a later point. There’s too much to be done today with the light remaining for us to search for one now.

Exiting and closing the gate, I walk to the steel door. There’s no latch, just a handle and a key slot above it. I give the door a light pull, not wanting to open it, just to test if it is locked or not. It doesn’t move.

We head around the building to the far side. The paved area extends fifty feet completely around the store allowing people to drive away by completing a complete circle back to the entrance. A tree-lined hill, really more of small ridge, abuts the pavement to the rear and leads up to a shellfish plant on the other side of the trees.

Only two things greet us on this far side; an outside door similar to the rear door, and a darker blue four-door Honda parked nearby. With gun in hand, I approach from the front to get a better look into the interior, angling up to the front corner of the car and peer inside. Nothing out of the ordinary and, more importantly, no one inside. I slide around to the passenger side keeping slightly away from the car to find there aren’t any keys in the ignition. Moving closer, I try the front door. Locked. I test all of the remaining doors only to find the car is completely locked up. No keys on the seat or floorboard. This tells me that whoever was driving the car either was picked up in another vehicle, walked out of here, or is still around. Maybe more than one if there were passengers.

I test the steel door in a similar manner as at the back and find it is also locked. We retrace our steps around the building as I don’t want to walk in front of the store just yet. If there is someone here and alive, they most likely know we are here already but I don’t want to publicly announce the fact.

“There’s the possibility of at least one person around,” I say as we turn the corner to the rear.

“How do you know that?” Robert asks.

“The car is locked with no one in it,” I say and relate exactly what I think that means. He nods thoughtfully.

“Looks like we’re going in through the front door,” I say once we are back at the Jeep. “We’ll do a visual check through the side window and then see whether the front door is locked. If it is, then I’ll tape the front door,” I hold my left wrist with the duct tape bracelet up slightly, “and break the glass.”

“Once inside, both of you will be right inside the door. Michelle, you’ll have the door itself. Robert, you cover toward the back of the store. I’ll go right to check the aisles and the Subway station. If it’s clear, I’ll head back. I’ll then check the back and the refrigeration units. While I’m doing that, Robert, you’ll switch to covering the right,” I say outlining a quick plan. “If something happens, our best bet is to just get out. If it does come down to where we have to shoot, make doubly sure you’re not firing towards each other. Make sure you have a clear shot. And,” I say with emphasis, “I mean a very clear shot. Any questions?”

“How do we tell if they’re alive or one of those, well, things if someone happens to be in there?” Robert asks.

“I’ll call out once we are inside. If no one responds, then we’ll assume that anything is hostile,” I say after thinking about it momentarily. “Always know where everyone is.”

“Any more questions,” I ask looking from one to the other. They shake their heads.

“Robert, get the flashlight off the shotgun. You’ll be using that,” I say reaching to pick up my monster flashlight.

Robert returns and I see from the tape still on the light that he chose to cut it off rather than unwrap it. Okay!?  I think.

I walk towards the wall a little ways from the window waving them behind. Against the wall, I edge up to the window and peek in the corner. There’s something blocking my view from the inside and I have to rise up until I can see in. The light streaming inside through the door in front reveals the first cash register on the front counter, along with several drawers, and the drink machines by the front door on the other side of the entrance aisle. I’m not able to see all of the way to the floor. Crouching under the window, I proceed to the other side of the window and peek in the opposite corner again having to rise up slightly. I see the interior aisles, or at least where they should be. The light from the windows and door doesn’t penetrate very far in due to the building being angled away from the sun but there’s nothing moving that I can see. The rear of the building and the Subway side remain blocked.

I put my flashlight against the window with my hand between it and my eyes to cut some of the glare and play it around the interior. I see end displays with candy and donuts and can only glimpse items peeking out on the shelves themselves. The aisles look to be clear and the light reflects back off the glass cases of the refrigeration units in back. I move to the first window situated just around the corner. From this vantage point, I see more of the front counter and some of the floor. Again though, it is more of the same. I glance back around to Michelle and Robert to find them crouching behind.

Ducking under the window again, although I’m not quite sure why after the light display inside, I move to the front door and peek inside. Again, the natural lighting only extends a few feet inside before fading off into shadows and darkness. I play the light in towards the rear of the store again but it doesn’t penetrate all of the way back and only stillness prevails. I think about driving the Jeep to the front and using the headlights to give us more light inside but I don’t think I can get it angled correctly between the pumps and the door.

I reach up to the handle on the front door and give it a slight pull. Very cool , I think as the door opens. No demonstration of breaking taped windows today apparently. But my thoughts also drift to the locked car parked on the side. Locked car plus unlocked store possibly equals someone inside.

I turn back to my shadows and motion them forward. They don’t have to come far as they are beneath the front window right behind. I tell them what I saw and my thoughts. “If I tell you to leave, you both leave through this door immediately. No questions, no huh’s, no ‘let me see what’s going on’, you just leave immediately. You got it,” I whisper to them.

“Yes, Dad,” Robert whispers with a nod.

“Yes, Mr. Walker,” whispers Michelle.

“Just make that Jack from here on out. I’m rather used to it and more or less respond to that,” I whisper back to her.

A concrete cigarette butt stands next to the door across from me with a garbage can on the other side. I notice a concrete block at the foot of the butt stand, nod to myself, and reach across the door dragging the block over.

“As I open the door and go in, Robert, you grab it and move in behind me. As you move in, Michelle, you grab the door behind him and block it open with this. Robert, you stop about five feet inside focusing on the rear of the store, I’m going in and around to the right. Michelle, you have the door,” I whisper reiterating the plan and push the concrete block out of the way of the door and our path.

They both nod. Crouching by the front door, I swing it open and enter, low and quick, stopping about five feet inside. I look quickly around, my light playing around the interior as Robert settles in beside me. I hear the scraping of the block behind me as I search out the interior. Again, my light still doesn’t shine all of the way to the back but I can see a very faint line of light close to the ground in back that must be coming from the back door. The first aisle looks clear. I lean over the counter clearing the floor behind the registers. I kneel by Robert who is shining his light around the interior.

“That’s your area,” I say pointing to the back of the store with my light. “Stay right here until I return. I’ll be to the right,” I add. He adjusts his light and focuses on the rear of the store. It isn’t penetrating as far as mine did.

“Okay,” he whispers back.

“Is anyone here?” I call out, my voice seeming to echo around the interior. “Come out slowly if there is.”

Silence. “Okay then,” I whisper slowly walking low to the end of the drink counter and focus my light down the second aisle. Nothing but the front end of peanut cans, bags of cookies, and potato chip bags shine back at me. I peek around the corner and see th


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e side door along with the Subway kitchen area entrance. All clear. The third aisle in front of the cooler section to the right is blocked from my view but I notice a musty odor permeating the air.

There is a sharp corner to the right a couple feet in front of me that leads to the Subway counter itself. I edge up to the corner keeping my light alternating between the aisle, the side door, and the Subway counter as more and more of it slowly appears. At the corner, I now play my light across the whole counter. It looks alien here in the darkened building, so different from the place I so often came to. I angle toward the counter focusing my light on the area behind and on the last aisle. I still can’t see too far inside the refrigeration units because of the glare.

Looking to the rear of the Subway, I see that the various cheeses, meats, and vegetables are strewn on the floor and counter; some squished beyond recognition. Adding to the mess, bread pans and loaves are scattered about. The once spotless plastic shield is covered in dried spots and bits of cheese. I play the light on the floor once again and the hair on the back of my neck stands straight up. There is a partial footprint in some of the cheese.

I turn my light quickly to the back of the store. Nothing. I move further in order to see the entire third aisle. Nothing. I turn to the kitchen entrance. There is no door there but only an opening. I focus on the floor near the entrance. There, faintly on the linoleum, I barely make out greasy footprints; a partial one here; a full one there. These could have been made any time, but with the footprint in the cheese, I don’t think it was that long ago. Unless, this was ransacked before . But why not take the items from the shelves and only mess with the Subway items .

I shine my light around the interior once again. Everything seems in perfect order. I have the feeling like something is here but just out of sight or reach. Like when trying to remember a song or name; it’s there and you know it but you just can’t quite bring it to mind. I trace out the prints with my light. They are very faint but head up the third aisle a few feet before disappearing altogether. I inch over to the kitchen entrance keeping as much distance from it as possible. The kitchen reveals itself to my light as I draw closer. I get into a position so that I can see the entirety of the kitchen, my gun held out and ready. But there is nothing but more food littering the floor.

“I’m opening the side door,” I call out reaching for the door wanting to let a more light in if possible.

I close my left eye and squint with the right as I push open the door not wanting to be blinded by the light nor lose what night vision I had acquired. Light floods into the small area and I feel the sun cascade down. It feels good, the sun in some way filling me back up. The fact I feel this way about being outside leads me to think there is something quite abnormal about being inside the store. Perhaps it’s just the tension and weirdness of the past few days , I think yet another aspect within reminds me that the subconscious will pick out clues that the conscious doesn’t and relate them to the mind in the form of vague feelings; intuition. I do know a small amount of tension leaves knowing there is another way out. Another concrete block sits to the right of the door and I maneuver it to hold the door open before heading back in.

“Coming back your way,” I say and walk to the front near Robert clearing the aisles again as I go. Still nothing; for which I am grateful.

“Okay, we still need to check out the back and the coolers. Shift up by the corner there and cover the right,” I say to Robert nodding to end of the drink counter.

I glance back to Michelle at the door, “I’m heading into the back. You doing okay?”

“Yes, Mr. Walker.”

“That’s Jack, remember.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I give up,” I mutter and orient to the rear of the store.

Creeping past the register counter, I approach the bathroom door on the left switching my light between the area in back and the store interior. I give the handle a twist, push the door inward, and immediately flash the light inside expecting something or someone to be hiding there. It’s a standard store bathroom with a toilet, sink, and wall-mounted paper towel dispenser and no one seems to be using it at the moment.

From this position, I can see the far wall of the back room. The flashlight has a pretty intense beam so there is little radiant light splashing around the room; just a circle of light where the light shines. From this vantage point, I see the back door and part of the back wall with the room opening up on both sides.  Shelves are filled with cardboard boxes, cans, and such with more on the floor next to them. My current angle prevents me from seeing the room entirely although I see the door of the cooler. With trepidation, I venture slowly up the small hallway leading to the back room. The light reflects off the cooler doors so I cannot see what is behind them. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the small line of light at the bottom of the back door darken momentarily as something flashes between me and the door.

“Oh shit!” I half breathe to myself.

“Get out! Get out now!” I yell bringing the light and my gun around as the sound of footsteps quickly heading my way explodes into my consciousness. My light seems to take forever to sweep around whereas, in truth, it is only milliseconds. A loud shriek pierces the once silent room and I see something large flying in the air toward me, caught in the light as my flashlight finally comes around.

I fire and shift to the right attempting to dodge the thing coming at me, the action coming instinctively. My round must have hit as I notice its trajectory alter in mid-air before slamming into my chest and left shoulder. The impact spins me around and drops me to my knees. It knocks the flashlight from my hand and I hear it hit the floor with a metallic thunk; thankfully not breaking and the light still shines. I feel like I have been hit by a truck and put my hand out to catch myself from falling completely over. I begin to rise and glance up only to be met with the sight of something large once again hurtling toward me; temporal distortion causes everything to appear as if in slow motion.

I make it to my knees but can’t get the gun up in time I do manage to bring my left arm up in front of me before the impact hits me square on; blanketing me. The impact is so hard that I become airborne momentarily before slamming down on my back and skid along the linoleum with this thing on top of me. Looking beyond my feet, I see Robert and Michelle silhouetted against the light from the front door.

“Get the fuck out of here!” I yell while attempting to twist out from under whatever it is on top of me.

The flashlight, somewhere on the floor, casts a pale light around revealing the outline of a human form on top straddling me. My left arm is being twisted and shaken violently around as this thing has taken hold of my forearm with its teeth. Shock must be preventing me from actually feeling its teeth ravage my arm let alone the damage it must be doing. A dank, musty odor assaults my nose; a mixture of body odor, wet dog, and breath that hasn’t been introduced to toothpaste in some time. The weight and violence of the tugging on my arm brings the now growling thing down close to my face.

I tilt my face slightly to the side and notice the flashlight has come to rest against the wall and facing it. With this feeble light helping me see, I raise my right hand with the gun and lock the muscles of my left arm. I need to slow down the twisting and shaking movements so I don’t actually shoot my own arm. I bring the gun closer, putting the barrel against the head of the snarling and growling thing and pull the trigger. The muffled gunshot is followed a millisecond later by a wet sound on the floor beside me. There is a second explosive-like sound and then the full weight of the thing settles on top of me. Something wet and warm trickles down the side of my face and neck. Gunpowder and burning hair are now mixed in with the musty body odor along with the iron-like smell of blood. There is another smell in the air. It is hard to describe but is associated with death. Not decomposition or anything like that, just the smell of death. If cold and nothingness had a smell, it would be similar.

I push against its shoulder, rolling it over and slide out from under it. Crawling to the flashlight, I shine it around, the light shaking slightly because of the adrenaline still coursing through my body. Breathing heavily, I check the back hallway and then focus the light ahead.

The body is lying on its back against a shelf, staring with bulging, lifeless eyes at the ceiling. The exit wound just above the right ear stares back at me. The once shoulder length, blond hair is matted with blood and gore on the side; a flap of skin and hair hangs down with blood leaking out, forming a slowly widening pool on the floor beside. A trickle of blood runs from the nostril and over the cheek. In the light, I see this was once a woman but the skin appears to be a pale, mottled gray with darker veins showing through the skin on the cheek as if the skin were translucent.

Continuing to pan my light, I see her right arm extends out from a red, flowered, short-sleeve blouse over tan slacks. Blood covers the shoulder of the blouse, causing it to stick to the skin. The first three fingers twitch spasmodically and I notice the same pale, mottled skin with dark veins running down her arm. I place my fingers on her wrist. No pulse. As I rise, my light shines on the shelf above her which is now covered with the spray of blood and chunks of bone, hair and brain. There is also a spray of white, foamy liquid mixed in and slowly running down part of the shelf. Curious.  Raising my flashlight, I notice that a can of shaving cream has exploded, apparently being hit with the round or part of the round exiting her cranium.

I look back toward the front and see only the sun shining through the front door and windows. The door is still open and blocked by the concrete block. No sign of Robert or Michelle. Good . I’m afraid to check my arm as I don’t feel any pain or injury and flex my fingers while holding the flashlight. They appear to be working fine, however, with my arm having been twisted and gnawed like that, I should feel something wrong. I turn the light on me only to be both fairly amused and relieved.

That thing, I guess I can’t really call it a woman, had latched onto the roll of duct tape around my wrist. The tape itself has bite marks and is shredded in places. I am amazed and thank the spirits for their protection. I feel over the rest of my body, and, except for a sore shoulder where I was first hit and my hip where I hit the ground, I seem to be doing well.

I turn toward the back room and edge once more to the hallway, slipping on the now wet floor and edge into the back room against the cooler wall, exposing more and more of the room with my light. I am only greeted by more shelves and cardboard boxes on the ground. Inside the room is a nook with a desk and chair against the far wall of the opening to the right; a monitor and various sheets of paper littering the desk. I open the back door and notice yet another concrete block on the inside by the door. Blocking the door open, the light now penetrates most of the room. I walk to the cooler door and pull it open, ready. With the adrenaline fading, I now just want to get what we need and be gone.

Shining my light inside, I see cases of various items stacked against the rear walls. The cooler makes a right at the end. Grabbing a case of beer, I set it against the cooler door propping it open and head toward the corner with my light leading the way. Oh my god, there’s not going to be anymore beer!?  A quick glance with my light reveals only more boxes so I head out of the cooler and walk out the back door.

Walking around to where the Jeep is parked, I replace the two rounds I fired. There isn’t any sign of Robert or Michelle. I walk towards the front and finally see both of them a slight distance away from the front door by the pumps, aiming at the front door; the tension in them screams outward like physical waves. I am rather glad I didn’t come out that way.

“Expecting something?” I call out standing a short distance away.

The startled way they jump and turn in my direction makes me glad I didn’t follow through with my thought of walking up behind them and asking what they were looking at. Wouldn’t do at all to go through what I had only to be nicked by one of them. Plus, considering what they have both been through today, it just wouldn’t have been a very cool thing to do. Amused me perhaps, but in light of everything, maybe not really that funny.

They walk over with their eyes opening wide as they get closer. “Are you okay?” Roberts asks staring at my head.

“Yeah, I think so,” I say walking to the side mirror of the Jeep to look.

There are streaks of blood drying along the left side of my face and neck with small chunks of other miscellaneous matter in my hair. I walk to the back of the Jeep where I keep several rags. Soaking one with some of the bottled water I keep close by, I wipe the gore from my face.

“Better?” I ask walking back to the front. They both nod.

“The store appears clear now so let’s get some supplies. I’m going to see if I can find the keys to the Honda. If I can find them, then let’s load that up with the supplies. Concentrate on getting canned food and water. You two get the supplies and load the car. I’ll keep an eye out. I wouldn’t highly recommend going up the aisle between the bathroom and the first shelf.

“Oh, and next time I say get out, do so! When I tell you to do something, do it immediately!” I tell them as we start toward the front door.

“What happened?” Robert asks and I give a very brief and non-detailed answer, showing them the duct tape on my arm, as we walk to the front.

The darkness within is a lighter shade of gray due to the doors being propped open allowing us to see in greater detail. I walk over to the corpse still lying on the ground. The fingers have stopped their twitching and I reach down patting the front pockets checking for keys, noticing the slacks have a hole with a large, dark stain surrounding it on the left side at about the mid-thigh. This must be where my first round hit. I feel a lump in the right front pocket and, reaching in, pull out a set of keys. A small amount of change falls out and a quarter rolls along the ground. My eyes follow it as it makes a complete circle around me, falling over only when it hits the pool of blood on my other side and disappears beneath the dark liquid. In the back room, I find a couple of green aprons and cover up the corpse as best I can.

Jangling the keys, I walk out of the side door to see if they are indeed for the car outside. Inserting them into the driver’s door, the lock pops open and the dome light comes on. Good, the battery is still good . I wonder what drove the woman inside to come to the store. She must have been ill. I’m guessing she came for supplies or some sort, and transformed while within the store. At least I hope that’s the case and these things can’t drive . Unlocking the rest of the car, I open the trunk then start it. The fuel gauge shows just under ¾ of a tank. Alrighty then , I think shutting down the car.  Back inside, I tell Robert and Michelle we are good to go on the car. Passing the keys to Robert, I tell him, “You’re driving.”

The two of them pack the car with all of the canned goods, water, aspirin and other meds, beef jerky, nuts, plastic silverware, plates, cups, batteries, and other miscellaneous food items. There are several cases of both water and canned food in the stock room. The single items go into empty cardboard boxes we find in back. I grab several six-packs of Blue moon and hand them to Robert. “What’s this for?” He asks smiling.

“Never mind. Just make room for them,” I answer smiling back. “I have one other thing to take care of. You two wait outside.”

I walk over to the corpse and start dragging it by the heels to the back door and outside. We may need to use this store in the future and I don’t want to leave the body inside to decompose. The body leaves a wet trail behind for the first few feet like a mop that has been soaked in a dark liquid; the hair having soaked up part of the liquid pool lying around it. Hauling it outside into the shade, I head toward the trees on the hill. With the arms dragging above its head like it is reaching for the door and reluctant to leave, I see the body better in the light of the day. The skin does have a translucent aspect and is light gray in color. The paleness does not seem to be totally from a lack of blood. Darker splotches blemish the grayish skin tone with the surface veins clearly visible and of the same darkish gray.

Leaving the shade of the store, the sunshine, streaming down from its afternoon westering position, illuminates the body. The exposed skin changes from a gray translucence into a reddish color. Because I am walking backwards with my hands pulling on the ankles, I see this transformation clearly.

Stopping in the sunlight, I set the ankles down and kneel by the left side. Peeling up the blouse sleeve a little, I see the skin there is still the translucent gray but quickly changes to the red color once it is exposed the rays of the sun. Hmmmm, interesting . It almost looks like a sunburn . The skin is cool and dry to the touch. I reach my hand up the bottom hem of the pants to the skin there and find it is also cool but clammy as opposed to dry. Picking up the heels once again, I drag the body into the trees, leaving a faint trail of hair, skin, and blood behind as the body scrapes against the pavement, and leave it lying inside the tree line.

The car pulls around the corner of the store and Robert parks by the Jeep. He sits behind the wheel with the window rolled down and with Michelle in the passenger seat. The light gray interior of the car and back seats are filled with assorted boxes. It is so strange to see him driving without me sitting beside him.

“We need to get whatever gas is left in the truck,” I say grabbing the gas cans and hose from the back. “You get the gas. I’m going to see if some of those keys are for the store and lock it up. We may need it again and locking it up will keep others out. At the very least, we’ll be able to tell if someone is in or has been in because they’ll have to break in,” I say holding my hands out for the keys.

Robert hands the keys through the window. He grabs the siphoning gear from the Jeep and heads over to the truck as I head over to the rear and side of the store closing the fire doors along the way. I am having a bad key day as it seems to be the last key I try works every time. Luckily though, there are keys that do work, even the front door.

Approaching the cars, I see Robert has finished and is walking my direction spitting on the ground every couple of steps. I see we still have a little ways to go on the siphoning techniques . He has managed to fill one can and part of the other before the truck ran dry.

“Time check,” I ask replacing the tanks, hose, and now almost worthless duct tape into the back end of the Jeep.

“Ten after three,” Robert tells me.

“Let’s head home then.”

On the drive home, with the fir trees passing by on both sides, soaking up the afternoon sun, and the blue Honda in my rear view mirror, I think about the events at the store. How could I have done things differently or better? Should I have just left when I thought there might be someone in there and no one answered? Should I have allowed Robert and Michelle in? How many of these things are there? What happened to everyone else?  No answers readily come to mind other than using this experience for the future. I start thinking about these “things”, I can’t think of any other way to put it. My mind ponders over what I have learned from the encounters putting everything into an almost list-like compartment in my mind.

1. They are obviously extremely violent nature.

2. They seem to have a cunning aspect as “it” didn’t attack immediately but waited for an advantage. I’m not sure of their cognitive ability as the food that was scattered inside was seemingly solely limited to what was in the open. The rest of the foodstuff on the shelves was untouched. I’m not sure whether “it” can use doors to go in or out. In both encounters, speech seemed limited to growls and shrieks.

3. They seem extremely agile and strong, at least this one was. Pain also did not seem to affect it as it should as it was able to turn around and attack again so quickly even with a round in its leg.

4. The reports and assumption of shying away from light seems accurate judging from the way they both hid in the darkness and the reaction of the skin to sunlight, however, I’m not sure how or in what way light affects them. One thing does seem sure, light from a flashlight doesn’t seem to affect them in the same manner as the sun or I would have noticed the redness appear when I shined the light on the exposed skin of the corpse. My assumption is night may not affect them at all so they can operate freely then.

5. The best course of action appears to be avoidance and not drawing attention due to my limited understanding and knowledge.

I pull up to the driveway and back in wanting the Jeep parked in such a way as to make a quick exit if needed. Leaving the keys under the seat, I notice Robert park in a similar manner and walk over.

“We’ll leave the water and stuff here. Leave the keys on the seat. I’ll bring a case of canned food in. Robert, take Michelle, get the generator from the shed and put it over there,” I say pointing to the side of the house by the front door. “Oh, and make sure you bring the spool of cable that’s next to it.”

Walking up to the front door with my arms wrapped around a case of chili, I notice four pallets lying on the ground at the foot of the small deck in front. Setting the case down to open the door, I look up and see the sun is about to touch the tops of the trees but there is still time before it heads down behind the hills lying between here and the coast. There’s a few hours of daylight left but there are a lot of things to do and time seems short. Walking through the now open front door, I step into a house darker than when I left and the sound of hammering coming from the living room area.

“Hey there,” I say loudly setting the case on the kitchen counter.

“Come on in,” I hear Mom say as the hammering stops.

“You’ve been busy,” I say rounding the corner of the kitchen. Blankets cover the windows and doors. The only light in the house comes from lit candles placed throughout the rooms.

Mom is standing on a step stool by the far window with a hammer in one hand and holding up a corner of a blanket across the window with her other. “How did it go?” She asks turning back to the task at hand.

“We picked up Michelle, some water, and some food.” Mom nods and the pounding resumes as she hammers in the last nail.

“Robert and Michelle are getting the generator and I’ll wire it up here shortly,” I say also relating the events since we left, including my assumptions and thoughts about what we are looking at.

“Are you okay, Dad?” Nic asks coming over to give me a hug.

“I’m fine, babe,” I say turning toward the sound of the screen door shutting in front.

“Done,” Robert says emerging from the kitchen with Michelle close behind.

“Get the list out of the Jeep and you four gather the items and put them in the Jeep and car where there’s room. Leave the front seat of the Jeep open,” I tell them after Robert introduces Michelle. “And no arguing,” I say over my shoulder heading back outside. This has become a ritualistic saying with all of us knowing that peace will last perhaps three minutes at best.

The next two hours are spent gathering the items necessary for the trip, wiring the generator into the house fuse box to the main fuse, breaking up the pallets, and nailing them across the windows and doors leaving only the front and side door clear. This will not stop anyone or anything determined to get in but will slow them down and give us warning. With the generator, we will have running water and electricity. That’s the nice thing about having a well. After a dinner of chili and a few cookies from our loot, we settle back into the living room.

There is a load of wood brought in from outside but the wood stove remains unlit. Robert sits in one chair, Michelle in the other. Mom, Nic, and Bri are on the couch. I take a seat on the floor against the wall. A few bottles of water are against the inside wall and the sleeping bags we will be taking with us come tomorrow are scattered in the room.

“We’ll have to turn off the generator in a little while. Our objective is to not to attract any attention through noise, smells, light, or movement tonight. Therefore, no fire or light, including candles, after the sun goes down. If you have to use the bathroom, wait until morning to flush. No running water. We need to make ourselves like a deep, dark hole,” I say looking around the room at each of them. “I want to be off early tomorrow morning but we should keep a watch tonight. Robert, you take the first watch and I’ll take the second. Wake me at 0200.”

Robert is a night owl and I have a tendency to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep so this schedule should work out. I still don’t have a watch. Need to rectify that tomorrow.

“If something does happen tonight, we’ll form a semi-circle against the inside wall,” I say nodding to where the water currently sits. “I have toward the kitchen and back door, Michelle, the two windows, and Robert, the side door and hallway. Mom, Nic, and Bri, you stay behind us and down.”

Mom gets off the couch and disappears down the hall to the back bedrooms. “I can help,” she says reappearing with a six shot .32 revolver.

“Alrighty then. You back up the person who seems to need the most help. If things get too messy and we can, we’ll try for the Jeep and the Honda. I’ll lead, Robert in the rear. Michelle and Mom to either side, Nic and Bri in the middle. Mom, Michelle, Nic and Robert in the Honda, Bri, you’re with me. We’ll all move to the blue car and then Bri and I will head for the Jeep. The keys to the blue car are on the seat. If we can’t do both cars, the keys to the Jeep are under the driver’s side seat. Just pile in as best as you can from the passenger side door and we’ll sort it out down the road.”

I grab some duct tape and string from the laundry room and empty tin cans from dinner and the recycling bin. Rinsing eight cans clean to get rid of food smells so the raccoons don’t rummage through and displace them, I head outside and place pieces of gravel from the driveway in the cans. I measure lengths of string that will stretch across the stairs leading up to the front, rear, and side decks. Two sets of stairs in front, and one each in the back and side. Cutting the string with my folding blade, I tape the string to the cans and set the cans on the railings with the string across the stairs. The string is about torso high and, should something or someone approach the doors, we should have some warning. Throwing the tape in the Jeep to replace the shredded one, I make a circuit around the house checking every window and door to make sure they are locked up tight, and then head back inside.

The rest of the evening is spent rehashing our list to see if we have everything, the day’s events, speculations about what happened, making sure Mom has enough supplies, trying to talk her into coming with us to no avail, and our planned flight.

The sun sinks behind the hills bringing on that summer twilight, the orange hue showing behind and above the hills fading to a darker blue on the opposite horizon as I head out to turn the generator off. The summer day temperature is falling to that warm, summer evening making me think of late BBQ’s and friends; sitting outside feeling full, drinking beer, and watching the stars slowly appear in the night sky; that feeling of contentment and peace. A melancholy feeling settles inside thinking those days are now gone. No more. The world moves on and doesn’t seem to care. I look up at the sky overhead and think about Lynn looking up at the same sky, hoping she is and is okay. “I’m on my way, hon,” I breathe into the deepening twilight sky.

I Hate Flu Shots

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In almost total darkness, we unroll our sleeping bags on the living room floor that is lit only by our flashlights. Mom has plenty of flashlights so we each have one that we will keep by our side. Mom is getting the couch ready for her with the remaining blankets from the spare bedrooms. The flashlights play around the room like the light flashing off a disco ball on the walls in slow mo


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tion. Moving, coming to rest, and moving again. Bri and Nicole climb into their sleeping bags like they are part of a synchronized swim team. Michelle appears to be having trouble undoing one of the strings on her bag so Robert crawls over to help before sitting once again against the inside wall. I climb into mine after laying my gun on the floor by my side. It’s a lot harder climbing into a sleeping bag with your shoes still on. We are all sleeping with our clothes on with a flashlight handy. My light is the last one shining as I settle myself in. I switch it off and stare upward into the darkness that is now the room. My mind goes over the day’s events before drifting off to replay the beginning…….

Cape Town, South Africa — Health officials expressed concern about a new flu virus that has infected more than 1,000 people in Cape Town. The concern stems from the fact that so many have fallen ill in a short period of time.

“This situation has been developing quickly,” said acting WHO director Dr. Tom Alderson. “This is something we are worried about. This could quickly escalate into epidemic proportions.”

A team of World Health Organization doctors and staff are preparing to depart to the South African resort town after many reported coughs, fever, sore throat, aches and pains. Dr. Wilhelm Schoff comments that…..

Oh my God! Why do the media have to be such drama queens? Everything has to be such world-ending news. Perhaps in order to keep the masses looking one direction and having to look out for themselves; part of the ‘keep the masses in order doctrine,’ I thought looking through the headline news while waiting for my sweetheart to come online from the Middle East. We talk most every night and morning waiting for her deployment back to the states.

Cape Town, South Africa — The World Health Organization has issued an alert for South Africa for what is now being dubbed as the ‘Cape Town flu.’ Medical teams from WHO are reporting more than 2,500 deaths from this new flu virus and an estimated 30,000 cases most of which are in the Western Cape Province in which Cape Town sits.

“The majority of cases are occurring in adults between 25 and 44 years of age,” reports Dr. Wilhelm Schoff, the leading WHO official responding to this crisis. This new strain of flu has resisted most antiviral drugs.”

Most of the reported deaths are occurring amongst the elderly, young children, and the malnutritioned. “I can say with 100 percent confidence that a pandemic of this new flu strain will spread,” Dr. Schoff continues to report.

Reports of outbreaks are being reported in Johannesburg and in the capital of Pretoria. Schools in the Western Cape Province have been closed……

Wow! First there was the Hong Kong flu virus that was supposed to reduce human existence, then the Avian flu, and the Swine flu not that long ago. Although it seems like a lot of cases, we have been here before. But that is also what happens when we hand anti-viral drugs out like they’re candy. More drug resistant viruses come into play.

Atlanta, Georgia — The Center for Disease Control today issued a travel warning for all of South Africa…. outbreaks of the Cape Town flu virus have been reported in Amsterdam, Paris, and London.

Pretoria, South Africa — The South Africa government issued a notice that all government services will be operating in an emergency capacity. The statement issued by the government in Pretoria included, “Only those services necessary for the essentials of government operations will be functional. All public schools will remain closed until this epidemic passes.”

Yeah, like I was planning on going to South Africa to begin with. I really don’t know why I continue to read this. It only enhances the reason why I stopped watching and reading the news in the first place. It seems like the same old news; just insert new name and place in the old news and call it new, I thought downing the rest of my coffee and getting ready to start my day. I had just finished talking with Lynn and was getting ready to head out to run some errands before dialing into clients’ servers and doing my daily work. I had the kids that evening and was looking forward to seeing them. I had a new movie for us to watch. The thought of what to do for dinner crossed my mind as I grabbed my keys and headed out of the door.

Geneva, Switzerland — The death toll directly related to the Cape Town flu has risen to over 5,000 in South Africa reports the World Health Organization in a statement issued today. “The number of confirmed cases has climbed to over 50,000 and is really now beyond our capabilities to contain,” Dr. Wilhelm Schoff said in a press interview. “Our resources to combat this virus are stretched to the limit.”

Atlanta, Georgia — The CDC has expanded it’s travel warning to include European travel. “With over 10,000 reported cases of Cape Town flu within Western Europe, we feel it is necessary to expand our scope,” reported Dr. Wendy Johnson from within the CDC. “We are continuing to focus our efforts on finding a vaccine and anti-viral drugs to combat this new deadly flu pandemic. It is only a matter of time before cases are reported within the border of the United States.”

You know, it really does seem like these outbreaks and epidemics are becoming part of normal life. It seems they are much closer together in epidemic proportions as opposed to the once usual twenty year epidemics. Maybe it is just a matter of time before one becomes a deadly force that sweeps over the world. I always thought that the more we messed with stuff and pressed deeper into unexplored areas of the world, the more deadly the viruses would become. And, the more we use and depend on anti-viral drugs, the less we will actually be able to combat those deadly strains.

DEATH TOLL CLIMBS

Washington DC — The death toll from the Cape Town flu continues to climb. In an unconfirmed report, the estimated death toll from this deadly virus has reached 20,000. The number of cases has climbed to an estimated 250,000 worldwide with cases being reported in almost every major country. The first cases have now been reported in Los Angeles and New York.

The House and Senate are meeting to pass emergency legislation authorizing funds for vaccine research. The expectations are……..

Atlanta, Georgia — The CDC has confirmed reports of the first cases of Cape Town flu within the United States. “We have eight confirmed cases within Los Angeles and ten within New York,” reports Dr. Wendy Johnson of the CDC. “We expect this number to rise over the next few days and weeks.”

The CDC reports the symptoms to look for with the Cape Town virus are nausea, headache, sore throat, and fever. “What really makes this one different is the extremely high fever associated with the Cape Town flu,” said Dr. Johnson. “We have reported temperatures reaching 104 degrees which puts us into a danger zone. If you have any of these symptoms, please report them to your nearest medical facility at the first sign.”

I really have to stop reading this stuff, I thought noticing Lynn had come online. We talk about it some but are both under the impression that there is a fair share of media hype involved. Yes, we both think the numbers are pretty high and it is perhaps fairly dangerous if your immune system is not up to par. She even told me there are a few people in her unit and other surrounding units that are getting sick. She has even had to pull extra shifts to cover those sick. More of an annoyance than any fear.

Washington DC — Both the House and Senate passed an emergency funding bill authorizing vaccine research for the deadly Cape Town virus that has truly reached pandemic proportions. The bill authorizes government health officials to use every means at their disposal to find a remedy to this threat.

Federal government health organizations have formed a coalition with 7 major worldwide pharmaceutical corporations to combine efforts in order to…….

Oh boy! Here we go!

Washington DC — Federal health officials issued a statement today that, with the combined efforts of the world’s major pharmaceutical corporations and government experts, that a viable vaccine has been discovered to combat the Cape Town flu virus.

“With over 100,000 confirmed deaths worldwide, and, with an estimation of that many deaths within the United States alone, this couldn’t come soon enough,” said Senator Jesse McCaffery in a statement issued by his office.

FDA approval of this vaccine within days is expected as this vaccine is expedited through the approval process…… the military will be the first to receive this vaccine with it becoming available to the general public as soon as 24 hours later. Special clinics and locations are now set up in locations around the world and are now only awaiting the FDA approval and arrival of the vaccine. A list of facilities can be found in your area at https://……….

I am not taking this when it comes around, I think reading the story in a fit of boredom. I have not had a flu shot, well, since the Air Force and I don’t plan on taking this one. The flu shots I have had generally made me sicker than the actual flu itself so, no flu shot for me.

These are the last thoughts I have before succumbing to sleep. I find myself lying in a boat on the water, drifting slowly in the lake. The boat rocks gently as I stare up at the blue sky above. The sun shines on my face, its warmth caressing me. The boat is not rocking in a constant motion but more in sporadic waves. A rocking, then nothing, then another after a moment. I stare into the blue sky to see an eagle soaring above me. I hear its screech as it rides the winds. It wheels and circles back around dropping lower until its shadow is large across me, blotting out the sun as it passes between it and me. Calling out as it passes by.

“Dad,” it calls out. “Dad.” What the fuck , I think starting to sit up in the boat. I open my eyes to Robert gently shaking my shoulder and his flashlight staring straight into my eyes. “Dad,” he softly whispers once more.

“Yeah, I’m up,” I reply back.

“It’s two,” he says removing the light from my eyes.

“Okay. Anything going on?” I whisper taking a moment to adjust to waking up. The radiant light from his flashlight illuminates the room slightly showing lumps on the floor around me like tiny hills.

“No. It’s been completely quiet.”

“Okay, I’m good. Get some sleep,” I tell him climbing out of my sleeping bag, grabbing my own flashlight, and sliding my Beretta into my holster. I inch along the floor on my butt to the wall, dragging my sleeping bag with, and drape the bag over my legs. It is a little chilly in the room after the warmth of being in the bag.

Robert climbs into his bag and his light goes off. Everything is completely dark and I am not even sure I have my eyes open. I blink to make sure and things slowly become a lighter shade of darkness. The soft breathing of everyone sleeping come to my ears in the darkness. Robert moves in the gray darkness, adjusts the bag and drifts off. I remember the times when it was just him and I on our weekends and we would talk the night away about some story or another once the lights were out. We would probably be doing just that right now, talking about the day’s events, if it weren’t for the exhaustion that those events brought about. My mind drifts to Lynn, hoping she is truly okay, wanting to be there now, to what the future may hold, to the peacefulness of the dream, and once again to the beginning of all of this…..

Washington DC — The Food and Drug Administration reports approval of the Cape Town flu vaccine. In a statement issued by the administration, the armed forces will be receiving the first vaccinations within the next 24 to 48 hours. Vaccinations will be available to the general public within 48 hours. Local flu shot locations can be found at https://…….

“This is a worldwide effort and vaccinations will be delivered to all world countries at the same time it becomes available to the general public here in the United States,” reported a spokeswoman for the FDA.

With the death tolls reported to reach over 200,000 and over one million confirmed cases worldwide, the lines at flu shot locations are expected to be long as fear of the virus spreads. “We have produced enough vaccine to inoculate approximately 75% of the world population with more being produced daily,” The FDA reports. “This is due to the world governments and major pharmaceutical corporations focusing their efforts the production of the Cape Town vaccine.

I am so not going to ‘get my flu shot’ nor stand in line to do so. I don’t usually find myself in groups of people so I am not overly worried about getting the flu. I avoided all of the other ones to date and was sure I will not be getting this one either. More than likely, this will become old news once the vaccine has been distributed. I talked to Lynn that night, asking if she knew when she was getting hers. She mentioned they were required to get theirs within 48 hours of deliverance, the first of which were expected to be the next morning. She also mentioned there were an increasing number of people going to sick call, to the point she had to fill in double shifts and no longer had her usual day off. ‘Well, that sucks,’ I told her at the time. ‘That means we won’t have our usual long skype session.’

“Are you going to get yours right off?” I asked.

“I won’t have time tomorrow but will have to find time within the next couple of days.”

Washington DC — The Pentagon reported that the first soldiers received the Cape Town vaccine yesterday as the first vaccines were administered to the general public today. While the death toll and reported cases continues to climb,……..

In my talk with Lynn that night, she mentioned there were a lot of people who were reporting into sick call. This was annoying her because her unit was getting ready to deploy back to the states. The people who needed to be there and help with the deployment were not showing up and it was becoming a huge cluster fuck.

Washington DC — The Pentagon today denied reports that service members were reporting into sick call in vast numbers. It also denied rumors that armed forces personnel have died as a result of either the Cape Town flu virus or the associated vaccine.

“We do not release details of deaths until the next of kin have been notified,” a spokesman for the Pentagon said in an issued statement. “We can neither confirm nor deny reports at this time.”

In my nightly talk with Lynn, I mentioned the article. She gave that look she always gives when she can’t talk about something. “I can only say that things are a little crazy around here right now,” she mentioned looking back over her shoulder.

“Did you get your shot yet?” I asked.

“No, but I am supposed to get it tomorrow. We were given an extra 24 hours to get it done as the waiting lines are huge. Did you get yours yet?”

“Hell no,” I told her. “I don’t plan on it either.”

“Well, you’re a big boy now and can make your own decisions.”

“I love you!” I told her. “I can’t wait until you are back home.”

“I love you too!” And that was the last I have heard from her.

Washington DC — Rumors continue to circulate today about large numbers of deaths within the armed forces supposedly associated with the Cape Town flu vaccine. Other reports indicate violent attacks upon armed forces personnel by unknown assailants. In one report being circulated by various news sites, these personnel are being attacked by other service members.

A news blackout has been enforced by the armed forces from all bases. The Pentagon has refused to comment……..

Wow! What the hell! I tried to see if Lynn was online. Nothing. I tried her phone and sent a message via email. I even tried her army email address. I never use that one but I was a bit worried. So far, nothing back.

A noise outside intrudes on my wondering thoughts. A shriek very similar to those I heard in my encounters with whatever these things are or have become. This one sounds far away; almost like the coyote howls I would hear on some nights. Lonely yet calling their message to others. Another one answers out in the distance of the night. I sit against the wall thinking about waking the others. I will if I hear them get any closer,  I think listening for more sounds. Only the continued soft breathing intrudes upon the night. After a bit, my mind heads back……

New York, NY — Hospitals have been swamped today with people reporting into emergency rooms citywide. Sore throats, headaches, and high fevers are being reported similar to those symptoms associated with the Cape Town flu. Sirens have been a constant sound within the city as emergency personnel respond to the numerous calls. City officials report that emergency resources have been stretched past the limit of being able to respond to any emergency in a timely fashion.

Numerous deaths in the thousands have been reported within the city of New York alone. Other major cities across the United States and other countries are reporting similar stories. The death toll could possibly reach in the millions by the end of the day according to reports being received.

Los Angeles, California — Fear has spread across this city as the reports of deaths and sicknesses continue to mount. Many businesses and government offices have shut down due to very few people showing up for work. Hospitals and clinics have been filled up since early this morning from people showing up with high fevers and flu-like symptoms. Most people are being sent home as emergency services are unable to cope with the sheer volume of the sick. This is a trend being seen nationwide.

Attacks and riots have been reported within the city and in many of the outlining areas. The governor has called in the National Guard to restore order to the cities but response has been limited so far.

Reports of people attacking others continue to mount with many deaths from these attacks reported.

Atlanta, Georgia — The CDC has issued a joint statement with the FDA today recalling all of the Cape Town flu vaccines. All clinics and flu shot locations have been instructed to cease the administration of the vaccine.

Washington DC — The Pentagon is continuing its media blackout and remains quiet refusing any comment. Rumors continue to circulate through the capital that the armed forces have established quarantine areas within its bases. Many rumors mention violent attacks by armed forces personnel.

Schools and public service buildings have closed across the country until further notice. Many businesses…….

I called the kids to see if they were alright. They said they were doing fine but I could tell they seemed a bit worried by all that was going on. I don’t have TV service and haven’t in a few years so they were probably getting quite inundated with reports. They told me even Shelton here has had reports of deaths and attacks but that was only hearsay. “Okay,” I said. “Don’t go anywhere if you can help it. I’ll see you this weekend.”

Amsterdam, Netherlands — Reports coming out of the Netherlands capital city tonight are staggering. Government and emergency services seemed to have come to a standstill.

“The infrastructure has collapsed,” commented one citizen standing in front of his home with his wife and two children standing beside him. “Riots and fires are burning out of control in some places. There has apparently been a number of attacks by others and even reports of cannibalism,” he mentioned shepherding his family back into their home.

“I can confirm the reports of attacks on others,” one emergency worker commented while helping another worker lift a stretcher into the back of an ambulance. “Many of the people we are now responding to have bite marks taking gouges out of their flesh and report these attacks are being made by other people.”

Deaths in the hundreds of thousands have been reported in the city. Government sources……..

Washington DC — The Pentagon, after maintaining silence for the past 48 hours, has issued a statement today stating that it had established quarantines in many of its bases but that the quarantine has been breached. It admitted that it has lost contact with a majority of bases worldwide.

Atlanta, Georgia — In a statement issued today, the CDC indicates that the Cape Town flu vaccine has apparently interacted with human DNA on a base level. These base level changes seem to invoke a violent reaction in those that have not succumbed to the vaccine. Preliminary figures indicate that the mortality rate from those that have received the vaccine at around 75 percent with a margin of plus or minus 5 %. The wide margin is due to the small amount of confirmed data currently present. Reports seem to indicate that approximately 1 percent of the population has a natural immunity.

“The interesting thing we are seeing in this data is that the natural immunity seems to be familial,” Dr. Roberta Kline said speaking from her desk inside the CDC. “That is, we are seeing that immunity bestow within family groups. We just don’t have enough data to fully support this but the preliminary figures seem to indicate this. Another interesting thing that is coming from our data is that the ones who are mutating due to the vaccine seem to have an aversion to light. Again, our data is limited and needs further study.”

Seaside, Oregon — Fear has spread through this small Oregon coastal community as the number of attack and death reports continues to mount across the nation.

“I have seen people attacking others in the middle of the night,” says one Seaside resident. “There only seems to be the dead, the sick, or those attacking around.”

“They don’t look right,” chimes in another resident, “and they attack everything in sight.”

It is at this point that a little notice appeared at the bottom right of my laptop. ‘Network Connection Lost’ it said on my network connection icon. I looked up at the router on top of my big screen TV to see most of the lights have gone dark. The link light was still blinking at me but the receive and send lights were dark. Damn! No Internet! That totally, totally sucks , I think as my phone rang. It was Robert on the line.

“Hey, bud,” I said after pressing the send button.

“Hey, Dad,” he whispered back.

“Are you okay?”

“There’s someone or something in the house,” he said. “I have Brianna and Nicole down in the basement with me. We can hear something moving around upstairs. I have the basement door shut.”

“Can you get out of the basement? I mean through a window or something?”

“No. The windows are too small.”

“Okay, keep very quiet and put your cell on vibrate. Tell Bri and Nicole to turn theirs off if they have them with. I’ll be there shortly.”

“Okay, Dad,” He said and hung up.

I grabbed my weapons, my keys, and walked to Mom’s house. After telling her that the kids called and I was going to pick them up, I stepped outside, sliding my Beretta 9mm into the speed draw holster at my side and carrying my 12 gauge pump shotgun.

Mowing the Yard

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The sound of a dog barking outside startles me out of my reverie. The barking is frantic and sounds as if it is coming from the driveway in front of the house. I am not sure what time it is but it feels like I have only been awake for a short time. But then again, reveries like that will do funny things to time. I pick up my gun and scoot over to the darkened lump that I think is Robert Cupping my hand over the end of my flashlight, I turn it on. I barely make out Robert’s face lying there with the bag pulled up to his chin. I set the light between my legs as I kneel over him and gently cup my hand over his mouth. He instantly comes awake and gives his head a twist trying to shake free.

“Ssshhh,” I whisper in the dark. “It’s dad. I think there might be something outside,” I whisper as he comes awake and I remove my hand from his mouth. “Quietly wake the others and watch your light. Cup your hand over the end.”

I hear him slide out of his bag and move over to the other mounds on the floor silhouetted by the faint light escaping from his flashlight. I move over and wake Mom. A light stabs into the darkened room.

“Lights out!” I whisper sharply and the light disappears, darkening the room once again. I hear the rustling movement of sleeping bags being moved as the girls slide out of their cozy beds.

“Against the wall like we talked about,” I say softly to everyone amidst the sound of the dog barking outside.

The barking has taken on the continuous aspect of when a dog has spotted something and is doing the territorial thing; sort of that alpha dog thing. Over the frantic barking comes a shriek. Like a threatening scream. I want to head over to a window or the front door peephole to see what is going on but feel this is one of those times to become a black hole, only without any of the gravitational affect.

The frantic nature of the barking is now replaced by silence outside. One additional bark sounds out followed by more silence. Now two barks and silence. A high pitched shriek once again interrupts the silence but with a different tone. If I can put a tone on it, it seems like a surprised and pained sound. A solid, loud thumps hammers the side of the house, hard enough to be felt, followed a split second later by the sharp, short yelp that a dog emits when in pain. I hear Bri emit a soft moan of sympathy. She has always loved animals and is, well, was, wanting to become a veterinarian. The yelps are now coming in a continuous series. Five, six, seven, and then total silence once again descends upon us in the darkened room.

I look around at everyone through the dim light emitting between my fingers from the flashlight. Robert has his gun out and is on his knees pointing at the back hallway. Michelle is facing the windows set in the outside wall on the other side of the room. Mom is behind me with her pistol pointed at the floor between us and the back door. Bri and Nicole sit against the wall surrounded by us; their knees drawn up to their chest with one arm around each other. They look like bookends. It is amazing how they seem to do this without thinking. Their habits are so similar.  I have a theory that many habits and motions may be DNA based. I guess it could be mimicry from them being around each other so much but I don’t think so.

We sit in silence for what seems like an hour but in all actuality is only a matter of about fifteen minutes when I hear the rattle of cans coming from the front of the house. The noise goes on and on, like someone playing Yahtzee with a tin shaker and metal dice. One set of the cans on the front porch has been knocked off, and, somewhat amusingly, may be tangled up with whatever is out there. That would be nice if the cans have in fact become a more permanent part of it. That way, we will perhaps know where one is at least; sort of like a cow with a bell around its neck. I swear I hear a muffled growl and the cans stop banging around.

“Everyone keep absolutely quiet no matter what happens outside. If something gets in, then different story, but until then, quiet,” I say as silence once more dominates the world around us.

BANG! The sound at the front door startles me and does a kick start to my heart as adrenaline starts flowing through my system. Another bang as something large slams into the front screen door. A shriek sounds amidst the sound of glass breaking and falling to the ground.

“Flashlights on but stand them with the ends on the floor,” I whisper glancing to the darkened shapes around me. “If anything gets in the front door and there are too many, we are out the side door. Robert you lead to the door and I’ll cover the rear. Once outside, we’ll switch and I’ll take the lead. Everyone else as we talked about.”

We are illuminated in momentary strobes as lights come on but the dimness returns. Quick enough that night vision is not drastically affected. More sounds of glass breaking come from the screen door followed by a grinding, metallic twisting sound. The aluminum of the screen door screams in protest as though it is being bent in ways it was not designed to.

“Don’t concentrate on the sound in front but focus on listening for sounds in your coverage area,” I whisper not taking my eyes from the kitchen entrance.

I can’t see the kitchen from this angle so the first visual sign I will have of anything will be when it enters the room some twenty feet away. This is where I keep my gun aimed. I’m on my knees holding my gun with one hand wrapped around the shaft of the flashlight on the ground next to me, ready to bring it up if necessary. More of the metallic, twisting sound echoes inside and then a loud pop. I am gues


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sing either the screen door latch or hinge has popped off. I hear Bri sniffle and Nicole whisper to her, “It’s going to be alright Bri. I’m here.”

A loud, thundering boom comes from the front door. I don’t hear the wood give way so I think the door is still holding. I should have put something across the door,  I think as another booming thud sounds. I wanted to leave two routes open to leave from in case we needed but I never thought anything would be slamming into the doors with a semi. I feel my heart beat faster as it keeps my adrenaline flow up. My gun is still pointed at the kitchen entrance. My hand is steady but my mind is shaking as I think about my kids being here. I also feel myself bracing for another impact but only the deadened sound of silence prevails. The afterimage of the thuds still ring in my mind. The silence worries me almost as much as or more than the banging.

Another shriek reverberates through the night. This one seems to come from a little distance away. If I have to hazard a guess, I would say from a neighbor’s house or a little further. Another scream erupts from the same area.  It sounds more human and of someone experiencing total fear. Oh my god , I think, there’s someone still alive . Another scream shatters the night but is overshadowed by an ear-piercing shriek from just outside. Tin cans rattle once again. The last sound of the night is another shriek but far off into the night. I hear no more screams or shouts.

“Everyone wait here,” I say and edge to the kitchen entrance with my cupped light and gun. At the corner, I peek around low and let a little beam of light escape from between my fingers toward the front door to see it is still shut tight in the frame. I creep silently toward it, steeling myself in case another sudden thud comes. Damn I have to go to the bathroom , I think edging up to the door to look through the peephole. If something bangs against the door right now, I may just let loose .

Looking out of the peephole, I see only the clear, starlit night. It is amazing just how much light reaches the earth and lights it up from stars millions of light years away. Many of them probably no longer in existence but their light still comes to rest on us. Mind boggling sometimes. The end of the gravel driveway and small rock wall across from me are lit up by these far away stars. I see a corner of the screen leaning outward to the right. Nothing is moving. I pull the door slightly, testing its integrity. There is only a little give. I thank whoever it was in the night that screamed, drawing that thing away from us, and send my prayers their way asking the spirits to help them as they did us.

I walk back to the group. “Is everything okay, Dad?” Nicole asks from the shadows.

“Yeah, babe, I think so. For now at least.”

I head into the bathroom to relieve my bladder brought on by my over-worked glandular system making a mental note to flush come morning. We drag our sleeping bags to where we were sitting, draw them over our legs for warmth, turn out our lights, and wait.

An hour passes before everyone settles back into their bags to try to get some sleep while I keep watch. Judging from the rustling of the bags, not much rest is actually getting done. I am exhausted from the day and night and want to drift off. Luckily, my mind is still keyed up and going a mile a minute, so I don’t quite head off into dreamland. The only indication that morning has arrived is the sound of birds greeting the dawn outside.

I walk to the back door peeling the blanket back a bit to ensure that the day has indeed come to us. The light of the coming dawn shows through the crack between the blanket and the door’s window. “Up and at ‘em,” I call out but am met only with groans and the motion of teens rolling over in their bags. Well, apparently they did drift off at some point .

“Come on everyone, get up, we have a busy day,” I call out heading outside to start the generator.

I am greeted by the morning sun ; just rising over the mountains to the east and peeking its way through the trees. The world spins around as it has in the past and will continue to do so regardless of what happens to the life inhabiting this rock flying through space. The day is beginning to warm up. The screen door hangs outward and to the side, held on only by the bottom hinge. Broken glass lies on the deck in front. I look at the jamb and find it has come marginally loose but held up amazingly well considering how hard the front door had been hit. The cans lay twisted on the deck with the strings still attached.

After heading back in to check that everyone is up, I tell them to roll up their bags before heading over to my place to gather my stuff together. Arriving at the front door, I take out my gun and throw the door open. Light reaches inside through the door turning the darkness into a lighter gray. No movement. I reach in to the right of the door and flick on the lights. It is only a large single room so I can see at once if there is anything inside. It is just as I left it the day prior. I switch into a flight suit and gather clothes, toiletries, and such putting them into my olive drab duffle bag, heading back to Mom’s house once I have finished. I also put my abalone shell, cedar, wooden matches, and my black and red paint into a red bag to take along.

“What’s that for? Cool factor?” Robert asks as I walk back in referring to my flight suit.

“Nah, lots of convenient pockets, and, if there are any military personnel left, I may be able to bluff my way through.”

“Can I wear one?”

“No. Although we may be able to pass you off, the chances are slim. Not with them both having the same name tag. Besides, I only have one flight cap.”

We grab a quick breakfast and throw our gear into the vehicles. I grab a ladder from outside and bring it in to provide an access to the attic for Mom to use as a last bastion of refuge. I also store some candles, food, water, matches, flashlight, and batteries so she will have items already there in case she has to move fast. She is still adamant about staying.

“If you have to use that, bring the ladder up after you and shut the access hatch. You may be able to get down during the day but be very careful about that as it’ll be dark inside the house at all times. You may have to stay up there for a few days. Don’t forget to bring your gun and ammo if you have any more,” I tell her standing at the foot of the ladder. “We’ll be back in a few days. You can set the cans up on the deck steps each night to give you some warning.”

The water has had a chance to heat up by this point so we all bathe. With the last of the gear loaded, and feeling a little refreshed, we head to the vehicles. Robert and Michelle will be in the Honda; Nicole, with Bri on her lap, will ride with me in the Jeep. Robert, Nicole, and Bri all give Mom a hug before I step up to give her one. “I love you Mom,” I tell her with our arms wrapped around each other. “I am so thankful for you. You be careful.”

“I love you too!” She says and I leave her embrace with tears welling up in my eyes.

 “Stay right behind me,” I tell Robert as he opens the driver’s door. “If you need to stop or pull over, flash your lights or pull up beside me and let me know.”

“Okay, Dad.”

“If I pull over, pull over with me but keep a little distance. I’ll wave you closer if I need to. I’m planning on stopping at Kennedy Creek for a little bit and then the Fred Meyer in Tumwater before we head up north.”

He gives me an odd look and a nod before picking up the keys and climbing into the car. The sun hasn’t yet cleared the top of the trees as we pull out of the driveway and begin our journey. I look into the rearview mirror and see Mom waving to us from her position on the front porch. We turn out of the driveway and she disappears from sight. I feel an immense sadness fill my heart. “Be safe,” I say under my breath.

We head down the road and onto the highway. I glance over at the gas station as we pass. Everything still looks as it did yesterday; the white truck still parked as it was before. The roads are quiet. Passing by the casino once again, I notice oddly that there are significantly more cars parked there than there were at any of the stores or any other places we have been. Funny , I think shaking my head, how people would still flock there despite all that was going on. Perhaps a little indication about human nature .

Further down the road, I make the turn toward Kennedy creek. We have spent a lot of time here in the past, whether hiking up the creek, mountain biking in the hills and woods, or just climbing around. We park the vehicles and climb out.

“Are we going to your place?” Nicole asks stretching her legs.

“Yeah, babe.”

“Can I go with you?” She asks.

“Sure, hon, I would love to have you with.”

“Are you guys coming with?” I address the rest of our little group. “Or do you want to wait here?”

“How long will you be?” Robert asks.

“Not long. Under an hour.”

“I’ll stay here with Michelle,” Robert pipes up.

“No offense, Dad, but I really don’t want to walk that far,” Bri comments.

“Okay guys. Watch out for others and honk the horns if you see anything,” I say as Nicole and I begin to head up the dirt road.

We all have our own special place in these hills. For Robert and me, we have our mountain which we have dubbed Mt.Robdad. We have spent the better part of summer days riding our mountain bikes up there; prowling around the ridge lines and exploring various trails. It takes us around two hours of hard riding to get up there. We also hike the creek for miles under the hot sun. Sometimes I’ve taken Bri to the creek down a little lower on hot summer days. There are several pools there where we play in the water all day long. But Nicole, I take her to my special place in the woods.

We hike up the road, mostly in silence, enjoying each other’s company even in our present circumstance. This place has always been a place of peace and harmony for me. We turn off the road after a bit and start up through the trees. The land slopes upward into the firs and cedars blanketing the area and we climb up to where an old cedar stump sits on a hill. The stump stands taller than me and is about six feet across. The scar of an old lightning strike is sliced into it with bits of still scorched wood and bark lying about its ancient roots. This is where I gather the charcoal for my black paint. Beyond is a little clearing, between sharply rising hills, ending against a cliff. A very small creek flows through the middle originating from beneath the cliff at the far end. I found this place long ago. It is a place where the spirits live, showing themselves from time to time.

“I love coming here with you, Dad,” Nicole says as we place our phones, money, knives, guns, and anything along those lines at the base of the stump. “It’s so peaceful here.”

“I love you here with me, hon,” I say reaching my arm around her shoulder and giving her a quick hug.

I pull out my abalone shell, cedar, and matches. Putting the cedar in the shell and lighting it, we smudge ourselves before stepping past the stump and out into the clearing. The sun beyond the cliff wall has not reached the bottom of this small valley but casts streaks of light as it glows through the trees growing at the top of the cliff. Walking across the spongy ground, I lean down to the small creek splashing my face and hands. We climb and take a seat on the ground a little ways up the hill. This is a place where I come to settle my mind and contemplate. Nicole comes with me when I do. I sit and let the place fill me. Squirrels run up and down the trees chasing each other and who knows what else as Nic sits there by my side, taking in the place herself. Sometimes clear answers will come to me here and sometimes it is just a spiritual filling up.

As the sun’s rays touch the small valley floor, I reach over and pat Nic’s knee a couple of times, “Ready, hon?”

“Yeah, Dad,” she says looking up at me with a smile.

We walk out of the valley, gather up our stuff, and head back to our vehicles. On our stroll back, I think about this whole area and how we have all enjoyed exploring here, wondering if we will still be able to in the future or whether all of this and our time here will just be memories.

Back at the vehicles, we take our places once again and drive away, leaving the trees to go their way and perhaps reflect on our passage. Hitting the highway, we turn right to continue our journey to the beach. If all of this had to go down, why couldn’t it have happened in another month? Then, Lynn would have already been home. Everything for a reason I guess , I think glancing into the rearview to see Robert driving along behind.

Reaching the Interstate, I turn southbound heading toward the next exit which will take us to Fred Meyer. The flight computer and watch will come in handy. While that is a mostly true statement, I also know it is a little bit of a rationale. Part of it is that it is a nice watch, I want it, and it is just sitting there.

The lanes of the Interstate stretch out ahead and behind. There are a couple of on the shoulders of the road but for the most part, it is as empty as any other road we have seen. A semi is pulled off just prior to the exit with triangle hazard reflector sitting along the road behind it. Passing by it, I take the exit ramp. I had expected the exit ramps this close to town to be partially blocked or at least have a few more cars on them but it is completely clear. Coming to the intersection at the top of the ramp, I notice the traffic lights are dark. Either the emergency power that was operating yesterday has now failed or just in this part of town. Proceeding across the street, with Robert behind, we pull into the parking lot.

I stop just before and in front of the first doors in the shadow of the building. There are no cars in the parking lot and the front glass doors stare back at us with darkness inside. I leave the Jeep running as I step outside and walk to the back gathering everyone else.

“The jewelry store is just inside these doors to the right so we won’t have to go in very far,” I say nodding in the direction of the doors. “It opens up in front and to the left as well. I want Robert and Michelle inside but just at the doors. Nic and Bri, you stay here with the cars.”

I gather the flashlights we brought with us. “Robert, you cover to the left with your light and Michelle, you cover ahead. I’ll be going in and to the right,” I tell them passing out the lights. “We don’t need anything here so we leave if there is anything inside. Call out if you see anything.”

Before closing the rear door, I take the new duct tape and slide it around my left wrist once more thinking, this would have been a great ad for duct tape. Bite protection . I actually plan on using it to tape and smash in the glass in the jewelry counter.

“Robert, go start your car and leave it running,” I tell him as I slowly move toward the front door.

There are two sets of double doors with glass panels set in between. Looking inside the glass panel to the right, I see that the radiant light from outside stretches a fair ways inside. Clothing racks to the left and fruit stands ahead. Looking to the right, I see the security fence to the jewelry store is still open. Thank god , I think flicking on my light. Pressing the light against the glass in the same manner as I did at the gas station, I move the light around the inside. A Starbucks counter comes into view as does a deli counter stretching into the darkness next to it. I play the light around the area but discern no movement within.

“Test the doors,” I tell Robert as I continue to run my light around the inside.

I see one of the doors open slightly in my peripheral. “They’re unlocked,” he says.

“Okay,” I say pushing myself away from the glass panel glad for 24 hour stores. Pushing the door open with my shoulder, I step inside followed by Robert and then Michelle. “You two hold these doors open.”

Glancing back outside, I see Nic and Bri leaning against the Jeep. “Robert, you have that area there,” I whisper sweeping an arc with my light to the left. “Michelle, you have that one,” lighting another arc in front. I step ahead and to the right as their beams sweep thjeir designated areas.

It’s a little darker in the jewelry portion of the store due to the angle it sits with not much radiant light from outside. The same goes for the rest of the store. An inky blackness swallows up the areas where my light doesn’t reach. I edge up to the jewelry entrance and peek around the corner with the flashlight extended out. A slow check of the inside reveals nothing but the glass cases of rings, bracelets, and watches. Inside, I lean over the first counter to my right shining the light along the aisle behind the counter. Nothing. Moving to the far glass case, I do the same. Nothing. Checking back out into the store proper, I flash my light down the aisle stretching away. Nothing.

I set the light on the glass in front of me with the light playing out into the store, covering the area as best as I can while ripping off several lengths of duct tape. I cover a section of glass with the tape to prevent glass flying and it cuts down on the noise. I pull out my knife and smack down on the glass with the butt hearing the glass crack below the tape. I hit it again and the glass gives. I tap a few more time to clear away the glass around the edges and lift the tape peeling the broken glass with it. Reaching in, I grab the watch sticking it in my pocket for later as a loud CRACK-BOOM fills the inside of the store.

I grab the flashlight and spin around toward the front entrance, going to my knee and bringing my gun to bear. My light stabs out toward the entrance. I am just in time to see a strobe-like light flash and another gunshot sounds rolls through the interior. I don’t see Robert or Michelle as the wall to the jewelry store blocks my view of the front doors. I see both of their lights are flashing over the clothes section where Robert was covering. “What is it?” I call out.

“I saw something moving over by the clothes racks,” Robert calls back. “I think there were a couple of them.”

“I’m coming out,” I say and walk to the entrance, panning my light once around my area and then focusing it over to where theirs are flashing.

My light catches something lying on the ground under and next to a section of clothes racks. I can’t really make out what it is but it does resemble a shoulder or something similar.

“Anyone there?” I call out circling around to the right to get a clearer look.

No answer. I continue to circle around. “Did you hit anything?” I ask panning my light to check out the area to my side and behind me.

I look over to Robert and Michelle who are holding the front doors open with their bodies with their lights and guns pointed into the area I am circling toward.

“I think so but I’m not sure,” Robert answers.

“Michelle, cover the area behind me to your right,” I say and see her switch her positions. Her light momentarily flashes over me as it transitions behind me.

I approach whatever is lying on the ground. It is definitely a shoulder with pale skin but not the pale gray skin of the things I saw yesterday. The body is wearing some kind of light halter top. I also see what appears to be another body on the ground next to the first one. The head must be at an awkward angle as I can’t see it or any hair. And, if they were hit, where’s the blood?  A sudden flash of understanding goes off in my head; the light bulb comes on shining brightly. I chuckle and then my flashlight wavers as this turns into a full blown laugh.

“What?” Robert asks confusedly. “What?”

“And the score after a round one is Robert — 2, Mannequins — 0,” I call back noticing they were actually pretty nice shots from that distance with a .45. It looks like he hit the mannequin closest to me in the neck, turning it into dust and launching the head somewhere off into the darkness. I don’t venture closer to the other one to find out where he hit.

“”You’re kidding!” He calls over. “But I saw it move.”

“Trick of the darkness.”

I start back toward them and catch a trickle of movement out of the corner of my eye. I drop to my knee once again, focusing my light toward where I caught the flash of movement. My light focuses on the end of a row of shelves and such where underwear and socks hang on display.

“What the hell!?” I whisper trying to focus my eyes sharper.

Yes, I talk to myself quite a bit. I swear I am looking at part of a hand poking out slightly from the end of the shelf about twenty five feet away. I am at an almost right angle to the shelf unit so I can’t see down the aisle much. Really not at all. It looks like the pale fingers of a hand poking out in an almost sprinters start position. Fingertips on the ground; fingers rigid and palm raised. A thought crosses that perhaps Robert’s second round hit the arm and the hand flew over there. Possible perhaps. But what moved then? 

I start to rise from my knee to a crouching position when I see the hand move back slightly into the aisle. Not much, just an inch or two. Okay, I’m outta here , I think rising the rest of the way and back toward the front doors.

“There’s something back there,” I mention as arriving at the doors. “I think you maybe did see something. Nice job.”

“What is it?” Michelle asks as we step out into the shadow of the building and let the front doors swing shut.

“I don’t know and I’m not all that keen on finding out.”

“Time check?” I ask as we step towards Nicole and Bri. “Oh, wait. I don’t need to ask that anymore,” I say reaching into my pocket and pull out my new watch.

I see the hands move as it automatically synchs up. As long as the satellites stay in place, we will have auto time. I don’t how long we’ll have the use of satellites but I don’t think it will be for much longer. Satellite orbits decay fairly quickly if they don’t get their boosts to help them stay in orbit. Even if those boosts are set automatically, they will eventually run out of fuel, fall back towards Earth, and burn up in the atmosphere. I set the watch for Greenwich Time on the digital display and the analog time for Pacific. The watch hands wind to 07:27. Time to head north.

We head out of the parking lot and catch the Interstate northbound. We have about a thirty minute drive north to McChord providing the roads stay clear and all goes well. The sun continues its climb across the cloudless summer sky. A sky devoid of any human activity. As motionless as the roads below. I have only witnessed such a sky devoid of any contrails once before and that was on a fateful September day years ago. It is amazing just how much sensory input we notice yet on a more subconscious level. A certain piece here and another there; forming a picture of our reality at any given moment. We know what should be there and our mind automatically forms it. We know birds should be flying around but we don’t really see them. But take a piece out and we notice. Our subconscious notifies our conscious that it needs to be aware of something. And then there is the part that filters out things so bizarre that it just automatically drops them. We have to train our minds to bring those filtered aspects back in.

A couple of miles into our northbound journey, I notice cars lining up in the right hand lane. At first there were no cars and then suddenly, a traffic jam of cars all in the right lane. I slow and pull over into the right middle lane with the Interstate being four lanes wide at this point. I look into the rearview and see Robert mimicking my lane change. We proceed a little further and soon the middle right lane begins filling with abandoned cars. There are some with their doors open but not in one of them do I actually see anyone. I move over to the far left lane. We are separated from the southbound lanes by a concrete divider and there is only the random car off the road or on the shoulder in those lanes. This is a puzzling but we continue north, hoping the road does not become completely blocked.

The abandoned cars now begin to fill the lane next to us as we drive further north. It appears like they were trying to edge into the far right lanes, like you find at rush hour when a lane becomes blocked ahead and vehicles have to merge into one less lane. I slow way down. Again, I don’t see anyone; alive or otherwise. I imagine if the Christian rapture were to ever happen, then this is what it would look like. No, I take that back. There are far too many people gone.

We proceed along this strange procession until, up ahead, I see the traffic jam has continued up the ramp of the next exit. Cars are completely blocking all lanes of the ramp and I see the jam continuing across the overpass. Again, the light bulb brings clarity to the fog of the unknown. This is the exit to the hospital. Okay, note to self: the hospital areas and roads leading to it will most likely be blocked. I imagine all the roads leading to the hospital are blocked like this. The on ramp to the southbound lanes remains clear. Funny how we tend to be such cattle at times . Why didn’t they think to just use the other lanes? Well, that is a Monday quarterback-type of question. I might have done the same thing .

Passing by the off ramp, I notice a couple of bodies on the sides of road leading upward. I guess people just got tired of waiting and tried to walk to the hospital. That’s why I don’t see anyone in the cars . I also see cars now backed up in the southbound lanes leading to the hospital off ramp. The road clears on our side and I accelerate. I start hoping the off ramps to McChord and FortLewis aren’t like this; or worse. I am not so keen on having to walk to the flight line with all of our gear. And yes, I am aware these two installations had recently merged. It is just that I still think of them by their former names. Just past the exits, five dogs stand on a grassy slope next to the road. Their heads turn slowly as one as we pass slowly by. Our heads turn just like theirs as we watch them. Once past them, I look into the rearview and see them trot toward the long line of cars.

About ten miles further north, the main FortLewis exit appears. There is no traffic in or out of this gate. Traffic barricades are in the road out front and the gate is shut. There is no movement whatsoever at the entrance gate. The first visible buildings of Fort Lewis appear on the right behind a barbed wire topped, chain link fence as we drive a little further north; a few office type buildings and then family housing units. I have passed by many times and have yet to see anyone moving about the area so seeing no one there is not all that strange.

There are a few more cars pulled off the road as we progress further north. We pass by an overturned semi in the south lanes that appears to have slid off the road. It seems so strange that we haven’t seen a soul. I mean, there should have been someone about. Even with the supposed CDC odds of immunity. But nothing greets our journey but the grass, trees, blue sky, and empty, gray lanes. The off ramp to another Fort Lewis exit is as clear as the first. I can’t see the gate from the road but imagine it would look the same — closed. I am not sure, but this also may be the entrance for MadiganHospital as well. Apparently the Army was a little better, or more persuasive, at turning people away. Perhaps something to do with the quarantine I read about.

A blue sign stating “McChord AFB Next Exit” stands by the side of the road ahead of us. I slow and move over to the right lane. Robert, behind me, does the same. I really want to take the exit further up by the mall but I know there is a hospital at that exit and I don’t want to be blocked. Pulling over to the side of the Interstate, I turn off the Jeep and exit. Nicole and Bri, taking this as a clue, get out as well and walk to the back of the Jeep. Robert and Michelle, seeing me get out and apparently deciding I want them to do the same, get out and meet me.

“The gate is off the next exit to the right,” I tell them. “I don’t know what to expect so I’m going to go up there alone in the Jeep. If I’m not back within thirty minutes, assume something happened. You four get in the car as best as you can and get back to Grandma’s house. Understood!”

“Dad? Maybe we shouldn’t do this,” pipes up Nicole.

“It’ll all be okay, hon.”

“Can’t we just go with you?” Bri asks

“No, babe. I really don’t know what to expect so want to scout this one alone. Okay, any questions?”

“What about if we just go to the top of the ramp and watch from there?” Robert chimes in.

“Okay, fine! You can drive to the top but stop a little before you get there. Then you can walk to the intersection. But for god’s sake, don’t go all of the way into the intersection and make yourself totally visible,” I say in exasperation, feeling my hair go a shade grayer.

Stepping back into the Jeep, I crank it up and turn right at the top of the ramp where I am immediately met with a closed gate. Well, I didn’t make it very far . I get out and step up to


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the gate. It is a chain link gate topped with barbed wire and operated by a motor driving a chain which then propels the gate open and closed. The motor is located at the base of the fence by where the gate withdraws.

With the sun staring me in the eyes, I look up the road through the gate. The roads bends slightly to the right with trees alongside, hiding the security point. There are no sounds except for the occasional chittering of small animals as they scurry amongst the bushes and the sound of a light breeze as it blows across the tops of the trees. I make out what appears to be a body in the middle of the road where it bends. Are they under a ‘shoot on sight order’? Is there still anyone there at the checkpoint? 

I grab a section of the gate fencing and pull as I ponder my approach. I am not too keen to take a round just for showing up at the party. Let’s see, how best to not get shot?  I think pulling harder on the gate. The gate doesn’t move in its tracks more than a couple inches so I head to the gate end keeping an eye up the road. Grabbing hold of the aluminum post on the gate end, I pull to the side attempting to open the gate. Other than moving a few inches, it holds firm. I put my foot to the end fence post and strain once again. The fence holds firm initially but then, with a jarring clank, it opens about four inches. The gearing teeth on the motor or chain gave slightly. Another try but apparently, the gate, anticipating this move, holds firm once again. Heading back to the Jeep, I glance back down the road towards the ramp to see the four of them looking at me with hands to forehead shielding their eyes.

Grabbing my wire cutters and a couple of screwdrivers out of my tool box, I walk back to the mule-headed gate. I snip the wires holding the chain link to the post along the side as far as I can reach up and a few along the bottom. Enough so that I can peel the fencing back and slip through. Taking a look around me, I walk over to the gate motor. I unfasten the housing around the chain driving the gate and take the chain off the gear wheel with the screwdrivers similar to the way you take a tire off a bike. The gate moves freely back as I pull it toward me. Okay, we don’t have to walk. Well, from here at least .

I debate walking up to the bend in the road but decide to drive for a couple of reasons. Driving will give me a certain amount of protection in case I am fired on plus it will give anyone at the checkpoint notice that someone is coming, giving them time to think rather than react as they might if I just materialized on the road. There is another factor — If humans are at the gate, they know anyone driving is as well. I am quite sure these “things” aren’t just driving around in the middle of the day and so, hopefully, it will give notice to anyone there that I am quite human. I can’t label whatever these “things” are. To me, there is human, these “things”, and the dead.

I pull the gate the rest of the way open, walk back to the Jeep, and put away the tools. Climbing back in, I start slowly up the road keeping to the middle. As I drive forward, more of the road that was hidden by the bend appears and I see bodies lying both on the road and alongside it. Warily, I drive to the bend and stop before reaching the first body. The road continues to a set of checkpoints similar to double-sized toll booths that are connected together by a single, overhead roof; the inbound lanes split into several ones; each to a booth. The traffic barricades are down in the lanes. One lane curves off to the right to a visitor center with a small parking lot in front. There is an exit lane passing by the security point but it is blocked by a Humvee. I see the silhouettes of more Humvees parked behind the booths.

A few bodies lie on the ground; from here all of the way up to the checkpoint and scattered throughout the area. I look for any sign of movement but see nothing but the tip of the trees bending in the breeze. With the engine running, I step out slowly and take another step or two away from the Jeep with my arms raised fully expecting a call from a bullhorn, a warning shot, something. Nothing. Keeping my arms up, I step next to the first body noticing several bullet wounds in the chest, abdomen, and legs. The skin has turned that reddish color. Putting my arms down, I survey the area for a few moments before heading back to the Jeep.

Climbing in, I drive slowly toward the checkpoint weaving slightly to avoid the bodies, each one with a sunburned look. All of them have bullet wounds of some sort; some whole, others with a limb or face or most of a head missing. I can feel my stomach clinch as I approach. Parking about twenty feet from the booths, I notice a black boot sticking out of one of the booth doors with the toes pointed skyward. My vision past the checkpoint is blocked by the Humvees parked lengthwise across the road. I step out into the shadow of the booths cast by a sun still low in the sky and notice just a hint of an odor in the air; like the beginning of milk souring.

Still not knowing what to expect or if there are any security personnel about, I leave my gun holstered. An armed person with a weapon ready will bring about a supersonic, steel-core bee quicker than one without a weapon in hand. I haven’t been stung to this point and am looking to keep it that way. Edging slowly in a circular fashion up to the booth with the boot sticking out, I notice shell casings on the ground around the booth and behind it. Reaching the open door and stepping up to the opening, my heart jumps up a notch at the same time as a twist of nausea grips my stomach.

Lying before me, stretched across the booth, is what must have been one of the base security personnel. It is absolutely unidentifiable as to what gender it once was. The pants and left shirt sleeve are completely shredded revealing devastation beneath. The skin and most tissue have been removed from the arms, legs, and face leaving behind only bits of tissue, tendons, and dried blood still clinging to the bone. Dried blood lays everywhere with shell casings littering the floor. The right arm, from the elbow down, lies close to the body with the still intact portion of the sleeve surrounding it; the hand still gripping a Beretta 9mm pistol with the slide back and locked open signaling an empty chamber and magazine. The right leg is completely missing from the knee down. The only intact portion of uniform is a combat vest still attached to the torso and the boot pointing skyward at my feet. Small bits of intestines and organs poke out between the pelvic bones.

What a mess , I think and notice the stock and lower half of an M-4 poking out from under a small desk. Hmmm, that will come in handy as will the combat vest but removing the vest won’t be pretty .

I step away from the door, duck under the barricade, and edge to the rear of the booth toward the Humvees. The ground behind the booths is covered with shell casings to the point where there isn’t really much pavement to be seen below them. Four Humvees have been parked front to back across the lanes with driver sides toward me and open and machine guns on top angled skyward. I walk to the front of one and look further into the base. The scene before me transfixes in my mind.

The ground is littered with bodies. Bodies are piled upon each other forming walls and mounds in places right up to the Humvees themselves. Some lie singly between mounds, the bodies decreasing in number the farther away I look. Holy shit; there are easily over a hundred of them. Maybe hundreds. I guess I know where that smell is coming from,  I think looking around for any sign of movement or any form of mankind. Nothing greets me but a multitude of crows hopping on the ground amongst the bodies.

I walk along the line of Humvees, looking inside each one. More shell casings lie thick on the floors of each one with dried blood spattered throughout; reminiscent of the security booth. I do a quick check inside each to see if the mounted guns have any ammo left. No luck. I do find an ammo can sitting in the driver side floorboard of the second Humvee. Opening it up, I see it is about half full of 5.56mm rounds. I pull it out and follow along the line. Coming to the last Humvee, I reach into the driver’s compartment, and turn the start switch to the right. A moment later, the orange light comes on letting me know the glow plugs are warm. Very nice, the battery still works . I jump in, set the ammo can in the floor next to me, and turn the starter switch over. The engine cranks over and comes to life after a few revolutions. Way cool.  Looking at the gauges, everything seems to be working fine and plenty of fuel. I close the door and do that wonderful three-point turn a few times until I can steer clear of the other vehicles. I drive the Humvee up over the curb and grass, park beside the Jeep and shut it down. I look and listen to see if my antics have drawn any attention. One more thing to do , I think sighing heavily and not looking forward to it.

I walk back to the booth and step inside trying my best to ignore the carnage within. I reach down, grab the black, plastic M-4 stock, and pull it to me. The bolt is back. I remove the magazine and find it empty as suspected. I slide the magazine back in and bend down to the separated arm and hand to pick up the pistol but the hand doesn’t want to let go just yet. I am able to pry the forefinger out of the trigger guard. I then look to the combat vest still secured to the body and see a couple of magazines poking out of their compartments. I take the carbine and pistol out and look on the ground beside the Humvees. Ah, there we go , I think strolling over to them. Several empty magazines lie on the ground by the front wheels. I should have noticed that before .

Gathering everything up, I walk to the front and set everything in the passenger side of the Humvee. Oh crap, I have to get back to the kids , I think closing the passenger door. Otherwise, I may find they have actually driven back to the house . Looking at my watch, I see 0820. I have been here about twenty minutes. Time to get back and then finish up here. I drive the Jeep back to the gate and see them standing on the side of the road as I round the bend. I wanted to bring the Humvee just to see the expressions on their faces but I could also see them jumping in the car and taking off thinking security forces were approaching. That would be great fun; chasing them all of the way back to the house and starting the trek over.

“There’s no one manning the gates,” I tell them after arriving back. “I parked a Humvee at the gate and we can transfer the stuff from the car into it and drive that instead.”

“Do I get to drive it?” Robert asks with a not too well concealed grin.

“No, I’ll drive it and you take the Jeep,” I answer as he hangs his head in mock disappointment. Well, he pretends the mock part but I know he really does want to drive it.

“Let’s head up as before. Watch the road, there are some bodies lying on it but you can maneuver around them.”

We get back into our vehicles and proceed through the gate slowly park where I had before. “Dad, there’s other ones we can drive,” Robert says nodding over to the parked Humvees.

“What!? And leave my Jeep just sitting here. I don’t think so,” I reply and take a step toward the booths.

“But,” he starts but stops immediately as my head whips around toward him, not completing the rest of his sentence. “Okay, Dad.”

“You guys unload the stuff in the Honda into the back of the Humvee. I’ll be right back.”

Back at the booth with the corpse lying in it, I step inside. I don’t really want to go through with this and consider leaving the vest there, but it will come in handy. If this were a fighter base or I had time to find the security detachment building, I could easily find another, but you take what you can get. I bend down by the side of the body and keep my eyes focused on the vest as much as possible. This is not going to be easy to get off just by pulling the arms through so I take my folding blade out and snap it open. The upper arms are being held onto the shoulder by tendons, the muscle structure, and skin in back. I pull the left socket bone away and slice my knife through the tissue setting the arm bones away from the body. I do the same to the right side with my stomach doing flips. I undo the front clasps and lay the right vest front out on the floor, grab hold of the left side, and pull. The body rolls over to the right as I lift and pull. The head stays in place for most of the way and then starts following the body before bending backward with the back of the head almost touching the back. The body flips over and the vest comes free, the head flips forward and comes to a rest looking over the left shoulder. I scramble out and upend my breakfast behind the booth.

“Alright, fuck it,” I address the group coming back around to the front. All heads turn from loading the last of the gear. “Robert, go get the Humvee on the right. If you can manage to get it over here without hitting a building, running over any of us, or hitting any wildlife, you can drive it to the flight line.”

“Yeah!” Robert says with his eyes lighting up and he starts fast walking over to get it.

“Wait,” I say before he gets very far. “Come here. I’ll show you how to start it.” I see some confusion in his eyes trying to judge whether I am joking or not. “It’s a diesel and they start differently.”

Throwing the vest onto the passenger seat, I show him the start switch and light, explaining to him that diesels don’t have spark plugs but glow plugs and they need to heat up. “The orange light here tells you when the plug is warm and you can crank it,” I tell him finishing with the mini diesel lesson.

He walks behind the booths and disappears. I hear an engine crank up a short time later and see the rear of the Humvee emerge from behind the checkpoint as he backs up slowly. He then turns down the lane to the visitor center, through the parking lot, and catches the lanes back by the bend in the road to where we are. I sigh heavily, part of it from that he didn’t hit anything, part of it knowing that my Jeep and I will soon part company, and another from thinking that some things are just ingrained in our mind. We are going to have to all start thinking outside some of the civilization we are apparently now leaving behind.

“You could have just driven over the curb there,” I say upon his return from his extended scenic road trip and nod to where I had driven over it earlier.

“Oh. Yeah, I guess I could have.”

I can tell there is a bit of glee in his eyes that he had just driven, and was going to drive, a Humvee. Some pride and some chest puffiness as well. I see he wants Michelle to be impressed.

We finish loading the gear. I drive the Jeep to the visitor center and park it in an empty parking spot. No, I didn’t go over any curbs. This is my Jeep after all. I make sure I have my cell phone, the battery powered charger for it, and look around to see if we have everything. Ugh , I think, the kids left the tool box here so I grab it out of the back. Setting the tool box on the ground, I climb back in for a moment.

“See you later my friend,” I say softly patting the top of the dash. “I’ll be back.”

Climbing out, I grab the toolbox and put the keys in my zippered sleeve pocket. With the sun starting to warm the air, I start back to the checkpoint.

Back at the Humvees, I grab the 5.56mm magazines. “Here, you can help me load these,” I say handing each of them a magazine. Unloading the ammo can, I set it on the ground. “29 to a magazine and here’s how you do it.” They gather around and we load up the 8 magazines I found.

“Ok, let’s move out. We have a lot to do and the day is moving on. I doubt we’ll be able to get out of here today. Bri, I want…”

“Why aren’t we leaving today?” Robert interrupts.

“A couple of reasons. First, we need to plan our legs around flying and arriving during the day if at all possible. That way, we can fuel up when we get to our destination. Secondly, I want the flight to be during the day in case we have a problem and have to land. I’m not certain any airport lighting or nav aids are working so I need to be able to find the airport and land in daylight. Plus, we have to flight plan yet and I have to learn the new aircraft so I’ll have to go through the manuals and checklists, if we can find them, and take it up for a spin to get used to flying it,” I explain.

“Now, if Robert is done interrupting, Bri and Nic, you are with me. Robert and Michelle, you take the second Humvee. Follow a little behind. If we meet anyone and have to stop, you park a short distance away. Be ready to turn around and get the hell out of here if anything goes wrong. Ready?”

They all nod and we board the Humvees. Nicole is in front with me and Bri is in the back seat. We start up and head around the checkpoint. Passing by the other parked Humvees, I do my best to maneuver through the piles of bodies but unable to avoid all them, we ride over some like driving over a speed bump; only, these speed bumps have a little give to them. The bodies eventually decrease in number the farther away from the checkpoint we get until I can maneuver without running over any more “speed bumps.”

I continue driving slowly further into the base and toward the morning sun with Robert about twenty five yards behind. We pass by a golf course to our left and buildings begin to appear on either side of us. I am constantly looking around for any sign of life but am only met by the occasional bird crossing the road ahead of us or riding the air currents above us. It’s like driving through a ghost town. There are no cars on the streets or people walking the sidewalks. No one is standing outside a building taking a smoke break or running errands. The building windows stare back as if in a surrealistic dream. I take a left onto another major road knowing the flight line lies to the north end of the base. Buildings continue along the road with their large brown signs outside denoting what unit or service they housed. A three story building appears to our left, set back from the road with a large parking lot and open fields surrounding it. The signpost outside reads “McChordAFBHospital.”

I pull to a stop at the road entrance staring at the structure. There are several cars in the parking lot, more than I have seen at any of the buildings. That’s to be expected though and keeps with the general trend I noticed on the way up and the assumptions I made.

“What are you doing, Dad?” Bri asks from the back seat.

“Thinking.”

I want to go inside and check things out for a couple of reasons. The first is there are medical supplies we could use in there and the second is that I figure if anyone has some idea of what happened or some information on these things, it would be a military hospital. There must be some sort of report floating around there,  I think with only the idling motor keeping my thoughts company. I would guess with the hospital administrator . Maybe even some information on bases overseas although it may only be reports from other Air Force bases and units. I am really only interested in Army units though and truly only one in particular. But any information on what we are dealing with would be beneficial. I sit contemplating the risks and time involved versus information. The seconds on my watch tick slowly by as thoughts and plans streak through my mind. Finally deciding, I put the Humvee into drive and turn left into the hospital and look in the rearview to see Robert following.

Pulling around to the emergency entrance on the south side, I park a short distance from the doors. The first four rows of parking places are filled with cars and trucks as was the parking lot of the main entrance. Not as packed as the civilian hospitals, no traffic jams, but still busier than any of the other buildings. An ambulance is parked under the covered drop off by the entrance doors with its back doors open. I get out and head around to the back watching Robert and Michelle exit their vehicle and hear the doors shut from the other side of mine indicating Nicole and Bri have exited as well.

“What are we doing here?” Robert asks.

“Medical supplies and hopefully some info on what we’re dealing with,” I answer pulling the combat vest out, the dried blood almost blending in with the camouflage. Putting the vest on, I adjust the straps for a more comfortable fit. I slip magazines into pouches as Robert asks, “So, what’s our plan?”

“You all stay here. I’m going in alone.”

The amount of cars in the lots indicates that there are a few people inside; either alive, dead, or one of those transformed things. I don’t want to have to worry about them in a larger building like this.

“I’m not going in far and I won’t be long,” I say.

Finishing with the magazines, I duct tape the cylindrical flashlight to the left side of the M-4 as near to barrel alignment as I can and make a mental note that the center of the light is a couple of inches off to the left of where any bullet will strike. I test the light to assure myself of its brightness and put the tape roll on my left wrist again. Sliding a magazine into the lower receiver, I flip the bolt release and thumb the selector to ‘safe.’ I glance at my watch and note the time.

“Okay. It’s 09:10. If I’m not back by 10:00, head back to Grandma’s. Don’t come in after me. If someone does come by or you see someone, try to hide as best as you can but do not, under any circumstances, draw any weapons. If they see you, do what they say and tell them the truth. Don’t go making anything up. If you tell them I’m inside, they’ll wait here until I come out so we won’t be separated. Questions?”

“What about if we just cover the doors like we did at Freddie’s?” Robert asks.

“No, I have this one. You just stay here and don’t go exploring.”

I pass the rear of the ambulance to the emergency entrance room doors. The back end of the ambulance is empty with the stretcher missing and there are a couple small pools of dried blood on the floor. I’ll grab the med supplies out of here as well , I think to myself turning once again to the doors.

The main doors are double glass doors that slide open automatically with a glass, push-open door flanking each side. Approaching from the right side, I see that quite a bit of ambient light reaches inside illuminating a black and white checkered linoleum floor. I kneel by the red brick wall and peek through the right hand door. It appears the room opens up to both the left and the right with a hallway leading off into the darkness directly across the room from me. A large nurses’ station counter abuts the back wall to the left of the hallway entrance and is dimly lit by the light. The left and right walls are shrouded in darkness.

I reach over to the pull bar on the right door and give a pull. The door gives a fraction of an inch before stopping with a metallic thud. Okay , I try pushing. Same thing — locked. I sidle over to the pneumatic doors keeping my eyeballs on the interior. I don’t expect them to automatically open, and they don’t, but I try pulling them apart. They don’t budge. I try the left door but it only gives the same response as the one on the right. Righty-O then. Another tape job coming up .

I am a little worried as I have snuck onto a military base, taken a couple of their vehicles and weapons, and am about to break into a building. If I do run into anyone on base, they are going to be slightly displeased. And, with what I am sure is a martial law status going on, that displeasure could sting. Wait until I take one of their airplanes. They are going to positively love that! 

Leaning my gun against the brick wall, I peel off strips of duct tape and tape the lower pane of the glass door on the right. Taking out my knife, I bash the handle end against the glass. My knife rebounds without any resounding crack or shattering of glass. Another bash gives the same response. Damn, this has always worked before , I think giving one more smack. “Okay you son of a bitch! Be that way!” I mutter as I turn and walk back to the ambulance.

Climbing into the back, I lift the bench seat lining the right compartment wall. Inside are folded blankets and small pillows. I grab three of the blankets and a pillow, close the lids, and walk back to the titanium door that has cleverly disguised itself as glass.

I fold two of the thin blankets slipping a pillow between them. I put the pillow sandwich against the glass and hold it there with my shoulder. I take my Beretta out and drape the other folded blanket over it and my hand. Putting the draped pistol against the blankets on the door, I remove my shoulder and fire. The shot sounds loud but is muffled substantially by the blankets. There is no rebounding echo off the buildings around so I know the shot couldn’t have been heard from very far away. I chip away the rest of the glass starting at the bullet hole until the entire pane comes clear.

Grabbing my M-4, I turn on the flashlight and pan it around the room. The light comes to rest on several bodies lying on the floor. From this low angle, I can’t really see much of the room, but of what I can see, nothing moves. I crawl into the room and stand up at the entrance. The smell immediately hits. It smells exactly like the inside of the truck I opened yesterday; blood, vomit, and feces. It’s like a solid cloud permeating the room, gagging me. Taking short, shallow breaths, I shine the light around the room. Molded plastic chairs line every wall except where the nurses’ station is. Double wooden, swinging doors are set into the far right wall. The hallway across the room and in front of me stretches away past the limit of my light tapering off into unrelieved blackness.

The bodies scattered across the waiting area and are in the same state as the corpse in the guard post. They have been stripped of most of the skin and tissue with only small strips of tendon and muscle still clinging to the bone. Most still have their hair attached to the top of their heads. Pieces of entrails stretch away from some of the bodies and the floor is covered with dried blood. I have seen many, many things in my life; badly burned bodies, disembowelments, bodies of villagers killed, mutilated and stacked like cordwood, bodies thrown from speeding vehicles; but never anything like this. The darkened room, with only my light illuminating the ruin as it pans its way around the room, coupled with the overwhelming stench, is enough for me. I scramble my way out of the door and lean against the brick wall outside, letting the nausea subside.

It won’t be long before the flies and disease crop up from so many bodies . Most of the diseases, plague, cholera, and typhoid in particular, will become rampant in the most populated areas. I am not so keen on going back in there. I just won’t shine my light on the bodies and head over to the nurses’ station , I think reaching down and taking the pillow case off the pillow. Folding the pillow case into a triangle, I tie it around my face covering my nose and mouth; not so much as a precaution for disease, but more so for the smell.

Crawling back in, I keep the light and M-4 pointed at the ground straight ahead. Approaching the counter, I notice bloody footprints leading down the hall. Not just one or a couple, but lots of them. Too many to count and they form a trail. I suppose they could have been from hospital workers here before or during this tragedy, but with my experience from the gas station and the footprints there, I am going to assume there are a few of those things in here. My thumb subconsciously slides the selector to ‘burst.’

Stepping behind the counter, my light catches a multitude of charts and papers lining the desk. Some charts lie open and others are just stacked on top of each other with individual papers scattered in every way. I shine my light on the charts hoping for a folder that would give me information on what I am looking for but they only have individual names on them. Keeping my ears open, I check out the various papers on the desk. One is a memo detailing the immediate cessation of the Cape Town flu vaccinations, another outlining a quarantine area and ordering those with flu symptoms to report there or medical staff observing these symptoms in others, to call security. I search through files and desk drawers but come up empty on anything related to CDC or military findings. So, that leaves the medical services commander or hospital administrator.

Near the phone in middle of the desk is a hospital telephone directory. On the top page is the commander’s name, Col. Sarah Jensen, ext. 2856, room 350. Of course it would be on the third floor , I think setting it down and looking at hospital diagrams taped to the top of the counter. Using my folding blade, I liberate the diagrams from the counter, each diagram depicting a floor of the hospital. I notice the commander’s office two floors above me on the complete opposite side of the hospital. Wow! Two for two. A third strike and I’m outta here , I think stepping from behi


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nd the counter and into the hallway.

Heading quietly down the hall, I come to an elevator and a steel stairway door to my right. The bloody footprints continue down the hallway fading and disappearing altogether a short distance away. I shine my light at a doorway across the hall from the elevator and see a black engraved sign on the wall that reads ‘Dispensary.’ The door is a half door in which the upper half can be opened separate from the bottom half with a small counter separating the two halves. And, the top half is open. Aha, my luck seems to be changing , my thought bubble hanging out there in hope.

I edge across, alternating my light between the dispensary opening and the hallway. Reaching the door, I pan my light around the small interior of the room. Bottle-filled shelves line the walls with three smaller bottle-filled shelves in the middle of the room creating small aisles between them. A small, open doorway opens in the middle of the left wall.

Entering the room, I quickly clear the small aisles inside and swing back to the open doorway. It is a small storage room and is empty with the exception of several open cardboard boxes filling the wall space to the left. Bringing the empty boxes into the dispensary room, I fill them with various bottles. Now, I am no Pharmacist by any stretch so I start with the ones I do know. Various antibiotics and pain killers start the transfer from shelf to box followed by most everything else I can pack into them. Time to sort later , I think filling box after box. There is a Pharmaceutical book on the counter so that goes with. Can’t Google stuff anymore so we’ll need this . After the boxes are filled, I bring them to the front doors making several trips, making sure to keep an ear and eye alert for any sound or movement.

I head back into the hallway and the metal fire door leading to the stairwell. Yes, I plan to go further inside than what I told the kids. I pull slightly on the handle and the door swings open. Opening the door, I shine the light inside while holding the door open with my foot. A flight of concrete stairs leads upward to a landing with another flight of stairs leading off in the opposite direction to the next floor. I step into the stairwell noticing only a folded wheelchair next to the wall in the alcove next to the stairs as the door slowly closes behind me. Focusing my light on the stairs and landing above me, I step onto the first stair. The stairwell is completely dark except where my flashlight radiates a small circumference of light. Away from the light, an oppressive darkness prevails and presses in on me. No emergency exit lights. No light of any kind.

I proceed up the stairs counting them as I go and focusing my light and carbine as far up the next flight as my vision permits. My stomach is clenched tight with a tingling sensation as my system continues to pump adrenaline through my bloodstream. No matter how many times I have done this in the past, it is always the same feeling. Hyper-alert. Time slowing. My heart beats strong in my ears, to the point where it seems that it can be heard externally. With a team around, this feeling was minimized to a certain extent, but when solo, the feeling intensifies. You can get used to the feeling but not the circumstances. Keep focused and keep moving .

Approaching the second floor, two metal fire doors exit from the landing to either side. With my back to the wall, I continue up to the third floor landing. Two additional fire doors exit here. Crouching by the left door, I ease it open with my shoulder, and enter into an inky black hallway. To my left, towards the emergency room parking lot, the hallway goes a short distance before turning left to another hallway. A single door sits closed in the wall at the juncture with a small amount of light leaking from under it; a natural light most likely from windows facing the parking lot.

To my right, the hallway extends into darkness and with several closed doors set into the walls. The stairway door closes behind me with a soft thud. I check to see if it opens, find that it does, and so I am not stranded having to find another way down. The hospital diagram shows the administrator’s office lies down the hallway to my right at the other end of the building. I edge down the darkened hallway panning my light from left to right. The third door on the right is open.

As I approach the opened doorway, I see it is actually a set of double doors and begin to hear a faint panting sound. Much like a room full of dogs on a hot day or after a day of chasing sticks but heard from a long distance. This sound fills my ears at the same time as my light zooms into the room. There, I see the end of a folding table on its side jutting slightly out into the doorway with several orange plastic chairs lying upended and scattered throughout the room. And, against the far wall, huddled together on the floor, lie fifteen to twenty bodies, their skin pale and blotchy. It is from this huddled mass that the panting sounds emit.

The one closest to the door, and hence me, opens its eyes, staring at me through the light. Rising with lightning speed to its knees, its mouth opens and lets out an ear-blasting shriek of alarm. I pull the trigger and the gunshots join in this sudden escalation of noise, the flash of my rounds giving a quick strobe-like quality to the room and hallway, affecting my vision only slightly. The burst of rounds stitch across its body from the chest upwards, hurling it back into the huddled mass; its scream changes in mid-shriek; from alarm to pain to nothing.

The smell of gunpowder wafts in the hallway as time stands still for a moment. The only sound that of the empty cartridges bouncing metallically on the floor. The stillness ends with an explosion of activity and noise as the things all seem to rise instantly and as one, the shrieks from them deafening as they charge for the door. Two more bursts lift the two in front off their feet and into those behind as the others streak for the door. I am going to have to reload before I can take them all down therefore allowing them to pour into the darkened hallway. With this in mind, I start backing down the hallway toward the stairway focusing on the room’s entrance and thumbing the fire selector to ‘semi.’

The first one appears at the door. My round enters its head just beside the left eye, rocking its head backwards. The back and side of its head explodes outward, coating the doorjamb with blood and bits of bone and gray matter. It falls forward to the ground onto its chest and face, its momentum carrying it forward further into the hallway. A second one appears, leaping with a shriek over the body falling in front. Another strobe of light and popping sound of a round leaving the chamber fills the hall. The body is thrown sideways in mid-leap from the round slamming into the side of its chest, cutting the shriek off mid-way. Hitting the floor, it skids across the linoleum, coming to rest against the hallway wall.

Three more enter into the hallway at an almost full run, turning toward me as they exit. Three more rounds fly from my barrel, sending them all to the ground; the one on the right flies backward with its feet over its head, slamming head first into the floor with a meaty smack. By the time the last one has fallen to the ground, five more have poured into the hall and launch themselves toward me. I continue backing toward the stair door with the smell of cordite strong in the air. I fire once at the one closest, bringing its forward momentum to a sudden halt. It just stands there as if its body doesn’t believe it has just been shot in the sternum. Unable to continue forward, it slumps toward its final resting place. A movement brings the next one in line with my barrel as a loud, metallic crash erupts close behind me.

I’m so outta here , I think turning to bolt towards the fire door that stands between me and the stairs. Racing to the door, my light catches the aftermath of the metallic crash. An upended aluminum cart lies on its side at the hallway juncture. Shards of glass on the floor glitters faintly in the light. A beaker rolls in slow circles amidst small metallic shapes scattered about. Three more of the things have rounded the corner running in my direction, the one on the right shrieking loudly. I hear footsteps pounding behind me mixing with those that have now entered the hallway in front of me with more sounding from the hallway around the corner.

I reach the steel fire door at a run, throwing it open and race through it on the fly with those things right on my heels. I can almost feel the warmth from their bodies on my back and hear their breathing seemingly inches away. Launching down the stairs, I keep my light focused on the stairs themselves. This would be the absolute wrong time to trip or stumble. Rounding the corner of the landing and using my hand on the railing to help my turn, one of them enters into my cone of light just ahead on the stairs, having apparently jumped over the railing from the flight of stairs behind me. Too close to bring my M-4 to bear for a shot from the hip, I duck my shoulder and head and slam into its chest knocking it backwards. It flies off the stairs and lands almost to the bottom, close to the second floor landing, hitting the stair with the small of its back, sling-shotting its head backwards to smack into the concrete landing with a sharp, meaty crack. Blood spurts outward from where its head was introduced to the concrete and it slides backward into the concrete brick wall with another, slightly smaller, wet, crack, coming to rest face up. Blood immediately begins pooling outward around its head.

The impact slows my momentum. I feel the brush of a hand against my left shoulder as my feet continue their flight down the stairs, the thing reaching over the stair railing directly beside me. Leaping off the second stair from the landing and over the prone body, I turn quickly in mid-leap facing both the next flight down and the flight I just traversed, thumbing the selector to ‘burst.’ My light flashes to the stairs coming down, my direction reversed. The stairs are completely filled with an ashen gray horde barreling toward me, a few scant feet away.

Just before my feet come into contact with the landing, three rounds exit my M-4 at the nearest one sending it backward into its companions as the steel-core rounds pound into its chest and neck, spraying blood outward. I feel a few warm splashes hit my cheek and forehead. Flashes bounce off the concrete brick walls as my feet contact the landing and gunshots echo loudly in the stairwell, overwhelming the growling emitting from the horde. My second burst slams into the next ghoulish thing setting foot on the bottom stair, spinning it to the right and into the arms of the one behind, gaining me another foot of separation. I launch forward, tearing off down the stairs toward the first floor.

I hit the magazine release button before reaching the third stair down. The magazine clatters down the stairs, its sound of metal bouncing on the concrete mixing with the growling right on my heels. Clearing the bottom of the upward flight of stairs, I grab the hand rail and vault over to the final flight, concentrating on landing square on a stair.  Hitting a stair edge could cause a trip, stumble, or twisted ankle and that is something I can’t afford right now. Several shrieks fill the enclosed space as I land with bent knees and race to the fire door. Reaching into my vest pocket, I withdraw a fresh mag and slam it into the receiver. I hit the door at a dead run, slamming into it with my shoulder and spin through the opening. Planting my foot, I shift my momentum toward the emergency room lobby and exit. The first of the many things streaks out of the still opening door before I have taken my second step.

The lobby opens just ahead with the glare of the light outside pouring through the glass doors. I feel something swipe across my back and am jerked backwards slightly, the back of my flight suit in the grasp of a hand for a split second before being released. Fucking A! These things are faster than I am. This may not end well , I think focusing every bit of energy into my legs.

I sweep into the dim grayness of the emergency room lobby, the light growing brighter the closer to the exit I get. Almost across the lobby and to the doors, I slide to my knees, do a 180 across the linoleum, and face back toward the hallway as I slide to a stop bringing the M-4 to my shoulder. The roar of seemingly a thousand shrieks fills the room. The ghostly outlines of gray faces mill agitatedly at the edge of the radiating light. I fire a burst into the milling crowd, concentrating on one face that is thrust toward me, its mouth open and emitting a loud, shrieking roar, and watch its head explode as it falls backward into the darkness beyond.

“Motherfuckers!!! Come and get some you assholes!” I yell back into the gloom. Adrenaline-rushed fear seems to refocus itself towards anger in me once a situation has stabilized to a certain extent.

I rise to my feet and step toward the darkened hallway, firing another burst into one of the dimly outlined bodies only to watch it too launch backward into the darkness. More popping sounds combine with the roar of the crowd beyond as I continue stepping toward them squeezing off bursts. The gunpowder smell once again fills the air, mixing with and then overwhelming the previous stench. My barrel makes slight alterations in the air as I focus on one target after another, cartridges clinking as they bounce across the tiled floor. I reach the halfway point in the lobby and a single, unified shriek sounds out. The ghostly faces disappear seemingly as one. The only sounds are growls and pounding footsteps as they run away down the hallway, diminishing in volume as the darkness swallows them up.

I stop and reload, contemplating chasing after them as my heart pounds from the adrenaline and chase. Sanity prevails, in the darkness and with their number, the advantage is theirs. With a heavy sigh, I stoop to pick up the empty magazine as silence returns to the room. “Well, I’m not going to get any info here,” I mutter crawling out of the door and into the mid-morning light with the aftermath still roaring in my ears.

Stepping out from the entrance shadows, I walk over to the Humvees. The kids stand huddled near the front of the first Humvee, watching my approach. “What the hell was all of that? Did you find anything?” Robert asks.

“Yeah, I found something alright,” I answer.

“What happened, Dad? Are you okay?” Nic asks noticing the splotches of blood on my face.

“Yeah, babe. It’s not mine,” I say wiping my face with my sleeve.

“There sure are enough of those things in there,” I continue realizing I have to pee like crazy as my heart slows to normal and the adrenaline levels decrease.

Taking care of business behind a Humvee, I reload the empty magazine, depleting the remaining ammo in the can, and stick the now full mag back into the vest pocket. “What happened in there?” Robert asks as I finish up and rejoin them.

“Never mind. Let’s head to the flight line. Same thing as before,” I say removing the vest and set it inside.

In the Humvees once again, we turn around and head north after exiting the hospital lot. The tails of C-17s stick up from the buildings as we close in on the flight line and I am still amazed that we haven’t seen a single other soul. I know we can’t be the last ones . Thoughts of Lynn pass through my mind as we take several turns and enter onto the ramp proper. Some of the roads cross taxiways and I drive along them looking at the control tower, fully expecting to see a red or green light flash from the top. The dark, tinted windows stare blankly back.

I pull out onto the ramp looking at the seven C-17s parked there. This is certainly going to be interesting , I think looking at the behemoths squatting silently on the concrete in front of what I guess to be the wing operations building. We park and exit the Humvees, walking further out on the ramp toward the C17’s, my mind wondering which one we should to take.

My gaze travels along the ramp to the north. “No way!” I breathe loudly. There, sitting off by itself, like an outcast and lonely kid on a playground, a familiar shape is parked on the transient ramp. The familiar hump above the wing with its four huge four-bladed props.

“What?” Robert asks in response.

I merely point toward the aircraft sitting to the north of us and his head swivels in that direction. “Is that a 130?” He asks knowing full well that it is.

“Yep. And, you see that hump. That tells me it’s an HC-130.”

“Isn’t that what you flew? Are we going to take that instead?” He asks.

“It’ll add to our time enroute, but yes, let’s go check it out.”

We walk back to the vehicles and drive north along the ramp, coming to a stop by the nose of the C-130; the red flags from the various pins and engine covers sway in the breeze. We jump out and I look toward the base operations building adjacent to the ramp by us. Surely there is someone around here, but only the gentle summer morning embraces us. I walk around the aircraft, looking for any leaks or signs that it is not airworthy. A ground power unit sits by the left nose of the aircraft with its lines hooked up. External tanks are attached to both wings.

Finishing with a quick perusal, I walk to the crew entrance door. Opening it, the door swings slowly downward. Above me, immediately inside the entrance, the small galley sits and a step or two inside, stairs lead up to the cockpit. To the right, the cargo compartment opens up; a bulkhead separates the cockpit from the cargo compartment. The cargo compartment is dimly lit by light streaming in from two windows, each one set into the fuselage on either side.

Stepping off the stairs and walking to the rear of the 130, I lower the rear ramp. The sound of the motors inside stops when the ramp lowers itself to the asphalt with a clunk. I peer inside. There, taking up most of the cargo area, are large fuel tanks with a small aisle on the left leading to the front. A catwalk leads up over the inside tanks. Only a little cargo space is left in the rear. Other than the fuel tanks, the cargo interior is empty.

“Wait here,” I say stepping up on the ramp.

Ready for any action, I walk inside and up the aisle. Next to the bulkhead and over a window, a cot lies against the right fuselage. An olive drab helmet bag lies on top. Several red nylon troop seats are folded up against the left fuselage. I continue forward and up the cockpit steps. Helmet bags lie on the four seats within along with the various consoles filling the interior. The memories jostle around inside my head as I reach over and turn the DC power switch to battery and the AC to internal. Needles flicker on the various instruments and I hear the instrument gyros spinning up. Looking up on the fuel panel, all gauges on the main and aux fuel panels have swung over to the right indicating full. Stepping over to the fuselage tank panel, I see both tanks register full. Very cool , I think flipping the switches back off. Opening the helmet bags, I find a helmet and night vision goggles nestled within each one. In the side pockets, I find kneeboards, checklists, grease pens, and marking pens. Very cool indeed! 

I walk back outside. “Are we taking this one?” Robert asks as we all gather around by the ramp.

“Yeah, this one looks operational so I think so. I’ll have to take it up to make sure and acquaint myself with it again.”

“Are we going with?” Nicole asks.

“I don’t know as yet. Let’s get the stuff loaded out of the vehicles and I’ll think on it.”

I am in a bit of a quandary. It has been a while since I took one of these babies aloft so really don’t want them onboard for a familiarization flight, but I also don’t want them on the ground if someone does show up while I’m airborne and off gallivanting in one of their airplanes without even asking permission first.

We load the gear out of the Humvees and into the cargo space, stacking it as best as we can. I rummage through the crew chief’s space finding several tie downs and lash the equipment down, leaving out the sleeping bags and some water. Finishing with the offloading and parking the Humvees over by the base ops building, we meet by the ground power unit at the front of the 130. A set of headphones sits on the handle with a long cord coiled up next to it.

“This is a start cart. Michelle and Nic, you’ll be outside here during the start. Nic, you’ll have the headset and when I tell you to disconnect, you pull the cart and headset cords out, wrap them up, close the latch, and then wheel it around the ramp to the back and push it in if you can. If not, Robert or I will come back after the start up.” I tell them and show them how to operate the cart.

“I guess this means we are coming with then huh,” Bri says.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I say not completely realizing I had made a decision.

“What about the props, they are pretty close?” Michelle asks eyeing the giant propellers close by; each one extending outward thirteen feet.

“Not to worry, I’ll be starting the other side first. Both of you come inside the cargo area when you get the cart to the back and one of you come into the cockpit to let me know you are clear of the outside area.”

“Robert and Bri, you’re with me,” I say and walk around the aircraft pulling the pins, intake covers, and chocks before climbing up inside and into the cockpit, shutting the front door behind me.

“Robert, you are in the co seat and Bri, you sit here in the flight engineer seat. Bri, I want you to study the fuel panel here for a bit and get acquainted with it, that’s going to be your job,” I tell her pointing to the panel mounted in the center above.

The panel itself is pretty self-explanatory with the valve switches aligning with lines marking fuel pathways. The switch either blocks the flow or aligns with it. Much like a maze puzzle. The electrical panel by it is in much the same manner.

“Robert, you’ll have the gear, flaps, and, if we need it, the radios. The gear is easy, up or down. You know three green means down with the handle down. I will call ‘gear up’ or ‘gear down’. The flaps here are in ten percent increments so I will call out a percentage or ‘flaps up’ or ‘full flaps.’” I show them both how to operate the radio panels at their stations.

“Okay, Bri,” I say leaning back to her station. “It’s pretty self-explanatory,” and continue to show her how the system and switches work. “Make sure you turn the pump on and the switch allowing fuel to feed from the tank you are switching to before closing the switch from the tank you are switching from or you’ll get the chance to see just how quick I can go through an engine restart.” We practice switching tank feeds until she has several flawless changes including the fuselage tanks which is located on a different panel.

I show them how to buckle in and slide into my seat. We slip on the helmets and plug into the radio consoles. Bri’s is a bit loose but stays on for the most part without sliding completely over her eyes. Hearing the power cart start up outside, I reach up and switch the AC switches to external power and the DC to battery. The cockpit starts coming alive, the gyros spinning up as I complete the preflight and before starting engine checklists talking to Robert and Bri about what I’m doing.

“Nic, can you hear me?” I say through the mic.

“I hear you, Dad,” she responds.

“Okay, we’re ready to start. Once I get the first engine online, I’ll have you disconnect and then you two push the cart to the back. Make sure you don’t go past the ramp to the right side.”

“Okay, Dad.”

“Everything clear on the right?” I ask Robert. He leans forward and looks out of the right windows. “It’s clear,” he answers.

“Bri, make sure the engines are feeding out of the main tanks.”

“They are, Dad,” she responds back. I peek back up over my shoulder. All crossfeed switches are closed and the boost pumps are on.

“Good job Bri.”

“Number three turning,” I say moving the prop control lever to run, reach up to the #3 engine start button — the inboard one on the right — and depress the button.

Out of my line of sight, the propeller begins to turn; the only indication is a rise in the instrument readings. The fuel flow gauge immediately rises. By the time the RPM reaches 25 percent, the turbine inlet temp gauge begins to increase showing that ignition has occurred. I release the start button at 60 percent and monitor the gauges. The aircraft vibrates as if alive as the engine comes up to speed and a dull, deep, throaty roar is heard throughout the aircraft and only slightly minimized by the helmets. I bring the engine generators online and switch the electrical system to the internal power.

“Okay, Nic. Disconnect. See you inside.”

“Okay, Da…” I guess she was in a rush to disconnect as the last part didn’t come through. I look down through the windows and see Nicole and Michelle pulling the cords loose from the aircraft and disappear as they push the cart beyond my field of vision. I start engine number 4 in the same manner.

“Robert, go back and help them with the cart and secure it in the back.”

“Okay,” he says disconnecting from the seat and heads into the back.

“All done,” Robert says reappearing after several minutes with Nicole and Michelle in tow.

“Nic, hon, Michelle, good job. Take the Nav seat there and Michelle can take the pull-down seat beside it. Robert, show them how to put on their helmets, buckle in, and plug into the radio.”

With everyone in their seats, I tell Robert where the ramp controls are and we close the cargo ramp before I start the remaining two engines on the left.

“Alrighty then. I haven’t blown us up yet,” I say finishing up with the before taxi checklist and advance the throttles to start us moving. I also show Robert how to taxi with the taxi wheel rather than the rudders. Looking at the windsock, I taxi to the north runway completing the various checks along the way.

Verifying flaps at fifty percent, I maneuver out onto the runway. This part is easy , I think lining up with the center line. It’s the getting down part that gets tricky . I run the throttles smoothly up to max ensuring I don’t over torque and the 130 starts down the runway. The muted throaty roar of the engines permeates the interior, memories of how much I loved rolling down the runway washes over and through me. Easing back on the control wheel with a hand on the throttles, the nose wheel lifts off the ground followed by the main gear a short time later. The VVI –Vertical Velocity Indicator — jumps up; we are airborne. What an awesome feeling!!! The events that have transpired are momentarily swept away as we leave the earthly bonds. That is one thing I loved about flying, once the wheels are up, all worries leave and a peace settles inside.

“Gear up,” I call over the mic.

Robert reaches over to the gear handle and yanks it upward as I turn off the landing lights. A loud rumble courses through the aircraft as the gear are drawn upward.

“Flaps up,” I say almost immediately as the airspeed increases.

He reaches over and moves the flap lever up. I reset the trim as the aircraft becomes heavier, wanting to settle back with the change in configuration. We climb up to 5,000 feet turning over Puget Sound in the cloudless, blue sky.

“Everyone alright?” I ask looking back and getting thumbs up from everyone. “You can unbuckle and look around if you want.”

Nic and Michelle move over to the windows, staring out from behind the pilot seats. Bri stays in her seat being able to see the blue water of the Puget Sound sliding along beneath us from her position. The Olympic Mountains rise majestically in the distance ahead. A quick glance behind through the windows and across the wing on my side shows Mount Rainier overlooking Tacoma and the Cascade Range.

“Okay Bri, lets switch to the external tanks now,” I say looking back inside to monitor her moves. She does perfectly, turning on the external boost pumps and opening the valves before switching off the main boost pumps.

I spend about thirty minutes flying around getting used to the feel of the aircraft once again, letting Robert fly for a bit; his excitement and enthusiasm radiates. We switch to the main tanks before heading back.

“Everyone buckle back up,” I say banking back toward the field. “We’re going to see if I can remember how to land this elephant.”

Completing the checklists, I start my descent. Approaching the airfield, Robert blasts out, “Holy shit!”

“What?” I say in response, everyone sitting up a little straighter.

“I think I see a car driving below us.”

“Where?”

“In the mall parking lot.”

I bank the aircraft around so the parking lot is on my side and look down. Sure enough, there is a red car driving in the lot. It comes to a stop and a door opens as I continue to circle around. Someone gets out and gazes up at us, their hand up shielding their eyes. I continue circling as I write a note on the tablet on my knee. ‘McChord. You’ll see us parked on north end. Meet us there,’ it says.

“Robert, go back into the cargo a


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rea storage and see if you can find something fairly heavy. Michelle, go get two toilet paper rolls, rope, and the duct tape and bring them up here please.”

They unbuckle and head into the back as I circle around the mall, keeping the car and person in sight. They wave as I circle around. A few minutes later, Robert and Michelle return; Robert with a large wrench he found somewhere and Michelle with the items I asked for. I wrap the note inside another sheet of paper and duct tape it to the wrench. I cut off a section of rope and put it through the two rolls of toilet paper, tying both ends to the wrench and taping it in place. I flip the parachute door air deflectors to the open position after slowing the aircraft down and trimming it up.

“Robert, can you keep us here while I head into the back?” I ask. His head swivels over to me with his eyes opening wide and eyebrows raised with the rest of our little group mimicking the look.

“I think so,” he responds back.

“Dad, are you sure this is a good idea?” Bri asks behind me.

“Shut up Bri!” Robert answers instead.

“Easy,” I say.

“Okay, you have the aircraft,” and transfer control to him. I sit there for a bit watching to make sure he does okay. “I’m going into the back and toss this out of the door. Robert, when I say that I’m ready, I want you to tell me when we’re coming to the north end of the lot.”

“Okay, Dad.”

I unbuckle and take my contraption to the rear parachute door unraveling a large part of the toilet paper rolls and bunching them up. “Can you hear me?” I say plugging into the intercom system and attaching the safety line at the left door.

“I hear you,” I hear through the helmet speakers.

I swing the door open and am greeted by the rush and roar of the wind outside, protected from the blast by the shield doors extending out into the slipstream. The ground looms outside and I have an unrestricted view of the roads, buildings, and greenery below. The angle of bank is altering and the nose rising and descending.

“Easy there buckaroo,” I say into the microphone. “Small, easy corrections. Tell me when we are approaching the north end.” The aircraft stabilizes to a degree.

I can see where we are but want a verbal verification of my visual. The lot appears in my frame of reference as we circle again and I see the red car in the middle of the mostly empty lot. “Coming up on the north end,” Robert says.

“Okay,” I respond and toss the wrench, complete with the bunched up toilet paper rolls, out of the door. The slipstream immediately carries the contraption back and out of sight. Peeking my head out of the door into the chilled air, I see the toilet paper unfurl creating a white streamer as the wrench plunges toward earth. I hope it doesn’t land on any building roofs , I think seeing the wrench head toward the north end of the parking lot. Or hit them in the head. That would really suck .

I watch the wrench plummet and strike the roof of one of the few cars in the parking lot at its most northern end. The car roof caves in and glass explodes outward. “Ouch,” I say softly, cringing slightly.

“What!?” Robert’s question comes through the earphones.

“Um, nothing,” I say as I close the doorand make my way back to the cockpit. Buckling in and taking control, I continue our descent to the airfield, arriving on a downwind leg.

“Gear down,” I call at mid-field. The rumble of the gear is both heard and felt in the cockpit. Approaching the turn to base, I call for ten percent flaps. On base leg, I call for fifty percent flaps and continue descending to final. “Full flaps,” I say after rolling out on final and aligning with the centerline, pushing forward on the wheel and trimming to compensate for the increase in lift and drag. Aiming at the threshold, I make small adjustments with the throttle to keep the indicator glued to the final approach airspeed. Coming up to the threshold, I start the nose up and the throttles back until they hit the flight idle detent. I feel the main gear touch rocking the aircraft slightly. Still got it , I think lowering the nose to the runway. I always had a knack for landing the 130. “Flaps fifty percent,” I say applying power once again doing a touch and go. We do a few more landings before I pull the throttle into reverse thrust on the final one, taxi back to the ramp and shut down.

“We need to gather charts and flight plan,” I say. We are standing on the ramp again having left our helmets and gear inside the aircraft. “The base ops building here should have everything we need. Robert, see that truck over there,” I say pointing to a fuel truck parked by the building.

“Yeah.”

“Go get it and pull it up behind the right wing. Your goal is to not hit the aircraft. I’m going into the building to get what we need.”

I pull the M-4 and vest from our gear in the cargo area and walk to the building. Robert walks alongside until he heads over to the fuel truck. A “Welcome to McChord AFB” sign is posted above the double glass doors leading into the building. With the vest secured, I test the doors leading in, finding them both unlocked. Hmmmm, that’s odd , thinking that all of the buildings would have been locked like the hospital. The light from the door shows a hallway extending deeper into the building with doors opening off at various intervals before disappearing into total darkness. A sign above the door to the immediate left indicates that it is the base weather shop.

Perfect,  I think stepping into the hallway. With my light on, I edge carefully up to the wooden door remembering my wonderful and fun-filled adventure from the hospital. Looking in through the large, glass panel set into the upper portion, I see an open area with chairs and coffee tables. Across from this resting area is a large counter spanning the length of the room with darkened television monitors hanging from the ceiling. This is obviously where pilots get their weather briefings. A room opens up to the right of the open area with a large table sitting in the middle. The entire room and area are lit fairly well from the light streaming in from the many windows. The door is unlocked and I step inside.

A very musty smell greets my entry. Not quite the same musty smell as at the hospital, this is more from disuse than anything else. The room opening to the right contains various charts and is meant as a flight planning area. Just past this room, between it and the counter, a small hallway heads to the right. Stepping across the room and peering down the hallway, I see that the light doesn’t reach all of the way to the end. A couple of doors open to the right and one to the left. The one to the left apparently the entry into the weather shop and the ones on the right with ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ posted on them. Pretty obvious what they are. 

Back into the flight planning area, there are two very large maps of the world on the back wall. The first one is a depiction of the VFR charts covering the various areas of the world and the other has the various IFR charts. I grab a pencil and jot down the ones I will need. Looking over the charts, I also note the approach charts needed. Slots in the walls are filled with individual charts and approach books along annotations denoting which ones lie within. In the past, it always seemed to take a small fork lift to bring them all but that was usually handled by the nav. Most squadrons had everything in large carry cases regionalized. Hopefully they have some here as well , I think, not really wanting to head into more buildings but these charts are crucial. I hear Robert start the fuel truck outside and drive away; the sound diminishing until it vanishes altogether.

With my light on, I creep down the hall. Adrenaline is already making its appearance again. My light shows the hallway ending in a door at the end with no light showing out from underneath. Drawing close to the thin, wooden door and with complete silence around me, I put my ear up against it. I hear a faint panting coming from within along with a now familiar shuffling-like noise. The shuffling sound stops and I flick the M-4 to burst mode. With my ear to the door, the shuffling changes to a sniffing sound.

A loud bang resounds as whatever is inside slams against the door, rocking my head off the door and ringing my ears. Fuck this!!!  I think, recoiling backward and bringing my gun to bear. I fire a burst into the door noticing the rounds penetrate completely through. I fire two more bursts making sure the last burst centers on the door latch. I kick the door just beside the knob. The door flies inward before instantly rebounding back shut. I kick again and this time, the door flies all of the way open. My light picks up a creature staggering backward into the room. I fire a burst into the staggering thing propelling it even further backward, launching it off its feet to slam into steel shelves set against the walls. It slumps to the ground, sitting there momentarily before slumping sideways to the ground.

I quickly pan the rest of the room only to see another one launch at me from the back corner. Another quick burst into its chest and this one slides to the ground at my feet. A dark liquid begins gathering on the floor beneath; the flight suit it is wearing is shredded in the back and stained with fresh blood. My light flashes throughout the room but is now only met by cases sitting on the steel shelving around the room and the two bodies crumpled on the floor. Motherfuck this is getting old ! I am getting really tired of this and it’s only been one day . Obviously populated areas are not the place to be .

With the smell of spent rounds strong in the air, I eject the magazine and replace it with a fresh one. I step into the room looking at the cases on the shelves. Markings on them indicate various regions. Now, that is a welcome sight , I think grabbing several cases and carrying them outside. I deposit the ones I need on the ramp, walk back into the lobby, grab some of the comfortable chairs, and drag them out onto the ramp. Lastly, I grab the large, round coffee table out and add it to the arrangement

Walking over to the 130, I find everyone gathered around the parked fuel truck. My watch reads 10:57 as I glance down at it. “Michelle and Nic, grab some packaged food from inside and meet us over in front of base ops,” I say above the sound of the running truck beside us.

I walk over to the fuselage and open the refueling point. After unwinding the fuel hose and connecting it to the aircraft, I put the truck into its PTO position and open the fuel lever, flipping the switches to the tanks at various intervals and fill them.

“Drive this back and meet us at the building,” I tell Robert after refueling. Bri and I walk to the outdoor seating area I have created. “I love you, sweetheart,” I tell her wrapping my right arm around her and giving her a hug. “I love you too, Dad,” she responds leaning into me.

Back in front of base ops, I take off the vest and set it beside a chair, sitting down as Robert, Michelle, and Nic arrive. “My guess is that we won’t be able to take off today, so we’ll flight plan, input the coordinates in the nav system, and hunker down in the aircraft for the night.”

Michelle and Nicole put packages of food on the table and we all dig in. I pull some of charts out and lay them on the table as I eat, marking routes and jotting down coordinates to input into the onboard navigation system. The only time I get up is to retrieve some rubber bands and sticky note markers so I can later quickly find various pages and approach charts.

The planned route takes us first to Naval Air Station Brunswick in Maine. The Coast Guard flies HC-130’s out of there so I know there should be plenty of fuel available. The route takes us basically along the US/Canadian border on a route of 075 degrees out of McChord. The first leg is about 2,500 miles and should take us a little over 6 ½ hours without any wind either helping or hindering us. From Brunswick, our next stop is the Azores, a flight of almost 2,400 miles and a little over 6 hours with a bearing of 085 degrees. Then the dicey hop from the Azores to Kuwait. That leg is about 4,200 miles leaving very little margin for error as our max range is about 5,000 miles. That will be the doozy taking almost 11 ½ hours to complete on a route of 075 degrees.

On our first two legs, we will lose three hours due to the time difference. The sun sets around 2030 so we will need to be off the ground by 1100 in order to make it there in daylight hours. Our last leg will cost us four hours so we need to be off from the Azores by 0500. Calculating the flight times and fuel, jotting down the coordinates, arranging the approach charts, marking the maps and putting them together has taken a little over an hour. Finishing the flight planning, I take the charts up to the cockpit, laying the ones for the first leg on the nav table and stowing the remaining bags under it. I sit and contemplate the options; leave now and try a night landing with night vision goggles thereby gaining a day but at substantially higher risk, or wait until morning.

I walk out of the aircraft and hear a noise that I have not heard in days; the sound of a vehicle and its noise shatters the stillness we have become accustomed to. It sounds as if it is coming from farther in the base. I look over at the kids and see they have all turned to look in the sound’s direction; Robert and Michelle stand alert and tense. The sound is nearing. I pick up the pace and trot over to our nice outdoor patio where I have left the M-4 sitting by my chair. I pick it up as a red car pulls out onto the ramp. It stops for a moment and then turns towards us, slowly approaching our position.

Stopping about thirty feet away, a man in his mid-twenties steps out, dressed in jeans and a blue Old Navy t-shirt. White tennis shoes poke out from the bottom of his jeans. Turning toward us, he is holding something and smiling from under his short, wavy brown hair.

“Lose something?” He calls, waving the wrench we threw overboard and walks over.

Setting the M-4 back down, I smile and take the wrench offered in his hand. “Yeah, we kinda dropped something back there,” I say nodding in the direction of the mall. “Much obliged to you for bringing it back.”

“You made a pretty big dent on that BMW. It’s pretty much scrap metal now. Impressive though,” he says smiling back.

“Did you hit a car with that?” Robert asks putting the current dialog and my previous ‘ouch’ comment together.

“Um, yeah, kinda,” I answer.

“I’m Jack,” I say reaching with my hand toward the young man.

“Andrew,” he says, shaking mine in return.

“Have you seen anyone else around?” I ask after introducing everyone else.

“I saw a couple of cars heading down my street yesterday and a few people in some windows but no one as yet today. Heard lots of those things screaming and hollering last night.”

“So, what’s your story Andrew?”

“Well, I’m a biology student up at ‘UW.’ At least I was until this whole thing started. I’ve been holed up in my apartment for the most part but ventured out to see if I could get some supplies then I saw you guys and your note, and, well, here I am. Are you in the Air Force?” He asks looking my flight suit up and down.

“Um, yeah sure, I guess so. Well, I was some time ago. My girlfriend is over in Kuwait and we’re heading over there to pick her up. You’re welcome to join us if you like.”

“Well, I’m actually going to head over to Spokane to look for my parents. But thanks anyway. It’s just good to know that there are actually others around.”

“We’ll be back in about six days. Why don’t we just check in here around noon a week from now and we’ll hook up then.”

“Sounds good. I wish you luck then,” he says holding his hand out again.

“And to you Andrew,” I say shaking his hand goodbye. He gets back into his red Acura and retraces his route; the sound of his car diminishes in the distance until the sound of silence embraces us once again.

“Okay guys, I’ve been thinking, yeah, I know, a dangerous thing, but I’ve decided we should start as soon as possible.”

“What about wanting daylight for landing?” Nic asks.

“Well, if it’s clear and we can find the airport, which should be simple enough with GPS, then we’ll hopefully pick up the runway with the landing lights clearly enough. If not, then we always have night vision available but that’s the iffier solution. These things seem fairly rampant and a day could make all of the difference.”

“What about the chairs and stuff?” Bri asks standing up with the others.

“Just leave ‘em. I don’t think there’s anyone around to mind.”

“Michelle, you’ve been awfully quiet. Feel free to speak your mind if you have any thoughts or input.” I say as we arrive at the aircraft.

“Okay, um, Jack. Will we need the cart from the back?” She responds.

“No, we’ll make this start on battery.”

Closing the crew door behind us, we step in and buckle up in the same seats. I turn the electrical systems to battery and let everything warm up. The aircraft has two navigation systems. One is operated by equipment located on the center console and at the nav station receiving their input from the various ground navigation systems throughout the world. The other is a separate GPS/inertial navigation system getting its information from satellites. It’s a complicated system with many very nice features, such as the ability to input any coordinates and create an instrument approach anywhere. It’s this system I plan to use as the ground nav systems will most likely be inoperative. With the system warmed up, I test it and ensure the coordinates shown are identical to the ones stenciled on the ground by our parking place. The next twenty minutes are spent inputting our route coordinates and setting up approaches to mimic the instrument approaches at the various fields we will be landing at, showing everyone the basic functionality.

Starting the aircraft up, we taxi to the runway and take off into the early afternoon sky. “Okay, it’s 1300 so we should expect to arrive around 2230 East Coast Time,” I say turning the aircraft on an easterly heading of 075 degrees then reach up to set the pressurization system. “Let me know if you have any problems with your ears.”

We climb with the sun overhead, the mostly forested hills of the Cascades float below. Mount Rainier slides by to the south of us, its snowy peak still reaching up above the horizon. At 16,000 feet, I raise the nose slightly and retrim the aircraft to 160 knots from the 180 knots we were climbing out at; the steady roar of the engines reverberates throughout. There is not a car moving on the few roads and highways that thread their way through the high, desert plains of eastern Washington below us, growing smaller as we continue our climb.

“Set altimeters to 29.92,” I say as we pass through flight level 180 and reach ahead to make the setting, watching Robert do the same with his altimeter.

We level off at flight level 250 and let the aircraft accelerate to 250 knots before powering back to maintain that cruise airspeed. “Robert, look on the nav system. It should give a ground speed readout on the front screen,” I say looking back to check on the pressurization system and ensure I have indeed stabilized at the 10,000 foot setting previously inputted.

“396 knots,” he replies back. Nice , I think, we have a tailwind . If that continues, it should shave about thirty minutes off our time. I am worried about our long leg from the Azores to Kuwait and any headwinds we might encounter there. We can’t afford to have much of one due to the distances involved.

“Bri, let’s switch to the external tanks,” I say looking over my shoulder as the ground continues to slide beneath us.

The props keep turning giving a strong indication that she switched everything correctly. I set the autopilot and reflect a moment on the days past and what to expect in the days coming. Eventually, without any manufacturing, everything mechanical will fail. Fuel will eventually dry up, autos will break, anything with a moving part will cease without any way to manufacture and replace the parts. We will begin a fast or slow decline back into the medieval stages or beyond. Any energy source will depend upon some type of heat production which probably means coal, and, without any way to transport that from the coal producing regions, that will mean limited ways to manufacture anything. There is solar or wind power to consider but those also rely on parts that eventually fail and need replacing. Mankind and civilization as we know it has reached it pinnacle.

My mind tracks along this theme wondering if this has happened before. Has mankind flourished in the past only to be brought down again to re-establish itself from scratch? Did we miss something in the growing up process that brought this about? Do we continually miss something? The civilizations before leaving only small markers of their existence, whether by physical markers or by legend or myth.  It seems we grew up with intelligence only, leaving the wisdom of our actions behind. Blinding ourselves or ignoring the ramifications. Certainly the indications were there, but in our selfish ways and thinking only of our own time, we ignore them and continue on as before, hoping others would rectify our mistakes. Yes, our time has reached its pinnacle during this evolution. We will crawl and scratch our way back, hopefully doing it right this next time. Respecting and being a part of nature rather than over-controlling it. Living in harmony with it rather than trying to bring it to heel, for, nature seems to take care of itself when pushed over a boundary. We need to live in synchronicity and have a synergy with the world rather than a destructive and over-controlling one.

The drone of the engines pushing us through the sky slowly seeps back into my consciousness as the tall peaks and mountain chain of the great continental divide appears on the horizon. The dry, barren, rocky hills of what was once northern Idaho crosses under our nose and wings, sliding behind us as we push our way eastward.

“Otter 39 on UHF guard for anyone receiving,” I call, switching the UHF radio to guard and listening in between calls. I switch over to the VHF radio, “Otter 39 on VHF guard.” Although silence is the only greeting to our calls, I continue to make radio calls on both frequencies every thirty minutes.

The only exceptions to the blue sky around us are a few lonely high clouds to the south. The air is completely smooth as we drone ever more eastward. I spend some of our time showing everyone the various aircraft systems and letting them take turns flying from the right seat. Approaching the Rockies, we pick up a little turbulence from the westerly winds sweeping up and over them. Not much, but enough to bounce us around a little. Just as the last of the Rocky Mountains pass under our wing and we begin crossing over the high plains of Colorado, I make my usual thirty minute radio call on UHF. This time however, a static-filled response crackles in our headset, “Ot….. Che….. res…. on thr…… co…….”

“Calling on UHF, say again. You are weak and garbled.” I transmit.

“…ine…. enne…. col… ngs…. rep…..” The static interferes with the message to the extent that I can’t come close to making out what they are saying. It’s like playing audio ‘Wheel of Fortune’. Being on UHF, it is most likely military in origin and I am itching to hear and talk with them. I call for the next twenty minutes, even turning south in order to close the distance but am met by silence. The turn to the south assumed that the radio call was American in nature and, with us cutting the US/Canadian border — or what used to be the US and Canada, the caller would almost assuredly have to be to the south. I look at the coordinates on the nav system and mark the map with a small circle and put ‘UHF contact’ with the time and altitude and turn back eastward to intersect our route.

Much of the flight is spent stretching our legs, switching tanks, developing systems knowledge, and taking turns flying. Although some conversation is spent on speculation of the past events and the future, most of the time is spent wrapped up and absorbed in our own thoughts. The only change is the land below as it transitions from mountainous areas to the flatter plains and hills of Montana and then North Dakota. The occasional smudge of smoke billows skyward from fires to the south of us. Some are small with light brown smoke but several others are large and the smoke is dark and oily; the nature and size of the plume indicates the possibility that some large refinery or city is burning.

As we drone on across the northern part of the country, I spot the tops of a line of cumulus clouds on the horizon directly on our route ahead, stretching far to the left and right. This , I think, is the problem of flying distances without any weather forecasting . I was really hoping to avoid weather of any kind but it is hard to navigate the distances we are without encountering some.

“Are those going to be a problem?” Robert asks as the dark clouds loom larger in our windscreen.

“I’m hoping not,” I reply back with some trepidation.

With the autopilot engaged, I unbuckle and walk over to the nav station where Michelle and Nicole are sitting. Reaching across Nicole, I turn on the radar to warm it up. The radar has both weather radar and forward looking infra-red capabilities. With the radar warmed up and on, I step over to Robert, “This is a repeater scope,” I say pointing at the round dial by his right knee. “The grand master plan is to maneuver around anything red on that scope so you give me the number of degrees to turn left or right. The red will be the thunderstorm cells. As we turn, you’ll see the objects on the radar move in relation to our line of flight. The idea is to maneuver around those cells having the red objects either left or right of center. We’ll thread our way through as best as we can. Keep us going generally eastward though.”

Sitting back in my seat, I look ahead to get a visual indication of where the major thunderheads are and mark them in my head to maintain situational awareness. This is a pretty big squall line and, looking both north and south, it is apparent we would have to travel several hundred miles off our route in order to divert around it; if we could at all. I hate thunderstorms and have an immense appreciation and respect for them. In jets, we could just pop above them for the most part and maneuver around the highest buildups. My memory flashes to one anxious moment when I was caught in one over Texas in a T-38….

A large squall line had marched across most of northeastern Texas cutting off our route home. Traffic control was overwhelmed due to the large number of weather diverts going on and we were being vectored all over the place in order to sequence us into the divert base. Well, I was given a vector to the northwest which would take me directly into the squall line. I requested an easterly heading letting the controllers know the heading they gave me was into the weather and that my preference was to avoid being immersed in a paint shaker. They came back that they didn’t show any weather along my vectored flight path. I told them I was staring right at some and that heading would merge me with it. I think their care factor was pretty low at that point as they repeated that they didn’t show any in that area and repeated the heading. Huh, I must be imaging things then , I thought and turned northwest figuring that continued requests might be met with an even worse heading. I was at 10,000 feet and was enveloped in clouds immediately. The turbulence wasn’t too bad initially but being small and relatively light, I was bounced around a bit. Then, the sky turned dark; I mean black dark. At the same time, it felt like a giant hand had punched the jet. It wasn’t just rough turbulence; it was like being repeatedly slammed into the ground by my ankles. I was all over the sky. The altimeter went anywhere from 16,000 to 6,000. Approach control came on at one point, “Otter 57, we show you several thousand feet off your altitude, maintain one zero thousand.”

Want to know what my thought bubble said at the time — Fuck you!!! You are the ones who sent me into this god-awful mess!  What actually came out was, “Otter 57, unable.” They then came back and said, “Otter 57, you are cleared maneuvering airspace from six to one six thousand.” Yeah, right, Maneuver! Are you kidding me! If I only could . My ability to ‘maneuver’ had ceased long ago and the aircraft had lost any functional aspect of the term ‘flying’ and became more like a high speed puppet; pulled this way and pushed that. Oh yeah, did I mention it was raining. I mean, raining inside the cockpit. It was raining so hard, it was coming into the cockpit through the canopy seal, dripping, no, pouring onto my lap and side consoles. Yay me!

After a three hour battle — okay, more like five or ten minutes — and aging twenty years, I was finally given an easterly vector and eventually flew out of the cell. After landing, I crawled out of the cockpit furious. Seems


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that happened a time or two. One of my buds that had just parked next to me came over and asked me what happened. I was absolutely soaked. “Never mind,” I told him.

“I mean with that,” he said pointing at my jet. I looked back and my heart froze. Every bit of paint from all of the leading edges of the aircraft was gone leaving only the gleaming metal showing. The rain had been so intense that it had stripped the paint off. Yes, I respect thunderstorms!

Other stories flash around in my head, such as the one where my wingman was struck by lightning, but the line of thunderstorms is looming large ahead so I focus on the coming penetration. In the 130, we will maneuver through them as best as we could. I know the aircraft can take just about anything but I hate them nonetheless. After all, the weather chasers would fly 130’s through hurricanes into the eye to get telemetry data so I knew the aircraft could take it. I wouldn’t want to be one of those pilots though and there was one thing I could never understand about them; how they could fit their balls inside the cockpit.

As the sun sinks below the horizon behind us, the Great Lakes appear ahead on our route and slightly south of it; the line of thunderstorms is rising to incredible heights above them. Large cumulus clouds rise above our altitude with even larger, imbedded cells within. Lightning strikes downward against the earth’s surface in a continuous light show. Flashes of light show within and between the clouds; their strobes, in almost continuous intervals, highlight the rising mass.

“Everyone buckle in tight,” I say slowing the aircraft down to 180 knots. “Robert, give me a heading around that monster,” I say pointing directly ahead.

We have turned on the instrument and outside lights and I dimmed my instrument lighting enough to read them clearly. I look over at the NDB — non-directional beacon — and see the needle swing left and right. Another lesson learned from thunderstorms, the beacon needle will point to lightning. One night, I threaded my way under a squall line at low level and at night using the NDB and my mark-one eyeball to show the imbedded cells. That was another time I had to have the seat cushion removed via a surgical procedure.

“Come left thirty degrees,” he replies as I bank the aircraft and we enter the outlying clouds; the sudden turbulence within the billowing clouds bounces us and welcomes us to their domain.

Rolling out, I notice the NDB needle is now swinging to the right with occasional trips to other parts of the compass row. The outside of the aircraft is dark with the exception of flashes of light off to our right. With each flash of light, the outside environment is shown to us like a Polaroid; the propellers caught in mid revolution and the rain frozen in time, each drop stark still yet giving the indication of movement. I turn on the wing lights and check for icing. None. Good .

We are being bounced around inside, feeling an updraft for a moment only to be dropped downward, the downward motion stopping with an abrupt slam before we are propelled upward once again. My hands are in constant motion making adjustments to the control wheel countering the constant changes in the aircraft’s attitude. It’s very much like riding a high speed roller coaster except the corners, hills, and valleys are squared instead of rounded. I look at the NDB again and see the needle fluctuating between our immediate right and dead ahead. I glance over at Robert and see him silhouetted by the instrument lights, his widened eyes staring outside.

“Robert, the radar!”

He shakes his head and looks down to the scope. “Um, turn right here shortly. There’s a red cell to our right and one ahead. I see some more on the edges of the screen around us,” he says refocusing on his task.

“Okay, let me know when we have enough clearance to cut between the one on the right and the one ahead.”

“Okay.”

A minute or two passes before he says, “Turn right 60 degrees.”

“60 degrees! Are you sure about that?” I ask thinking that will take us too close to the one on the right.

“Yeah, the two are pretty close to each another but there’s yellow in between.”

Oh great, here we go , I think banking to the new heading. The bank is hard to control as the 130 is being tossed about. I try to anticipate the forces and apply corrections. That is one thing having a few hours of flying time will give you and knowing your aircraft, the ability to tell, almost in advance, what the aircraft is going to do and applying a correction before or just as it happens, negating the opposing force.

I roll out on our new heading and the aircraft is suddenly caught in the grips of the storms. Our initial turbulence nothing compared to the beating we take now. I am barely able to hold our altitude to within a few thousand feet. I pull the throttles back and attempt a descent to a lower altitude keeping the airspeed as close to 180 knots as possible thinking I should have done this prior.

“What are you doing?” Robert asks shakily.

“Descending so a large updraft won’t launch us above our service ceiling. That would be bad.”

I hear a scream, actually a couple of small screams, through the headset as the bottom drops out from under the 130; the kind of drop that tickles the stomach for a seemingly endless period of time. The monstrous drop is followed by a bone-jarring crunch as our descent slams to a stop.

“Well, that’s one way to do it,” I say applying power and leveling off as best I can.

We have just lost 5,000 feet in a single moment. A mile drop. This plane certainly was built well , I think, thanking the engineers who designed it and amazed the wings are still attached. I am pretty sure, for one split second, that my hips and shoulders became as one; compressing my torso into the size of a dime.

“Come left 45 degrees,” Robert says, threading us around another one. “There’s a little more distance between this one and the one we’re passing.”

Rolling out, I see the NDB needle twitches are mostly off our left wing now with a few to the upper right quadrant. The turbulence, although mighty, has decreased a bit from the roller coaster ride from hell to more like being in a paint shaker. We momentarily fly into open airspace; clouds built up all around and two, very impressive monolithic towers, one to the left of us and one to our right front. These monstrosities are lit by flashes within. We gaze up at them in complete awe before we are immersed in the clouds once again.

Threading our way around three additional large, red cells and feeling like we have been bashed against the side of a cliff repeatedly, we are suddenly launched into clear weather. One moment we were enclosed in the clouds, shaking to bits, and the next, thrown out of the system, emerging on the other side. The turbulence slows and then stops altogether, the drone of the engines filling the sudden silence, the 130 shakes it off and continues its harmony with the skies as if nothing happened.

“Fuck me,” I say breathlessly, pushing the throttles up to accelerate back to cruise airspeed. We had only been in the thunderstorms for about thirty minutes but it seemed like an eternity. I am coated in sweat and am pretty sure I will need to visit a proctologist to remove the seat cushion. “Good job everyone.”

I glance out the windows to the wing on my side looking for damage. Looking back over the wing, the storm continues to flash mightily as if angered we got away. The moon is out and reflects on the cloud tops with the thunderstorm anvils reaching out towards us.

“Check the wings on your side for any damage Robert,” I say after verifying that everything looks fine on mine.

As he glances out and behind him, I look up to the pressurization gauge. It still reads 10,000 feet and steady. Good. No leaks so the fuselage looks to be intact .

“All good over here,” Robert says and I turn off the wing lights.

Once we intersect our course, I set the autopilot. “I’m going in back for a look around,” I say unbuckling from the seat.

“Dad, I have to go to the bathroom,” Bri says.

“Me too,” says Nicole.

“Okay, you two come with me.”

They unbuckle and we head into the back. I turn on the interior cargo light and inspect the inside after showing them the toilet. All appears normal with the exception that some of our supplies have been tossed loose. While Bri is in the screen-enclosed toilet, Nic and I gather the stuff we can see and put them back as best as we can.

“Dad.”

“Yeah, hon,” I say stooping over to pick up a water bottle that has rolled loose and looking up to her.

“Thanks.”

“For what, hon?” I ask standing up with said water bottle in hand.

“I was terrified and thought we were…. Well, just thanks. I am really glad you’re my dad.”

You know, I live to just hear that line. That makes my whole life justifiable to hear that and my eyes well up with tears. “Hon, I’m the lucky and fortunate one to have been able to be your dad.”

She steps over and wraps her arms around me, burying her head in my shoulder. I fold my arms around her and feel her shake as she releases the emotion of the storm passage and the events of the past few days. That is my Nic, in all of my life with her, it is a rarity to see her cry and that is usually only a silent sob and the shedding of a couple of tears. I hear the curtain swing back, “What’re you guys doing?” Bri lightly asks stepping out.

Nicole steps back and I release my arms from around her. “Nothing, babe. Just picking some of this stuff up,” I say as Nicole starts for the bathroom.

“Are you okay, Nic?” Bri asks, half turning to follow her as Nic passes by her.

“I’m fine, Bri,” responds Nic turning her head toward Bri but continuing to the toilet and pulling the curtain closed.

“Help me with the rest of this please, Bri,” I say.

She turns back toward me and starts fishing loose items off the floor with an occasional glance toward the curtains and Nic. Those two have always been close.

With Nic finished and the loose items stowed, at least as many as we could find and gather, we head back to the cockpit, settling in our seats for the final hour and a half to our stop. I attach the night vision goggles to my helmet and brief Robert on what to do if we have to resort to a night vision approach. Basically, he is to read out the airspeed and altitude on the radar altimeter. The radar altimeter gives a reading on feet above the ground when we are within 2,000 feet. The altimeters are basically worthless down low as we don’t know what the local altimeter setting is. I will be looking out front for the runway with my instrument lights turned down. Night vision goggles aren’t the best for depth perception so it is important for Robert to call out the instrument readings so I can assimilate what I see with what he tells me to better present a three dimensional picture, although my hope is to be able to just use the landing lights and the GPS.

Having called many times on the radio and only receiving the one garbled and scratchy reply, I make one more call before beginning a long descent into Brunswick NAS, hoping to raise someone there. I call on UHF guard three times but as most every time before, am only met by continued silence. Switching to VHF, I try there, “Otter 39 on VHF Guard for anyone that can read me.”

“Otter 39, this is Gulfstream Four Juliet Golf on guard. How do you read?” I stare at the radio almost disbelieving what I just heard. We all look at each other in astonishment.

“Gulfstream Four Juliet Golf, read you loud and clear. What’s your position?”

“We’re about 100 miles west of Charlotte at flight level 350. Over.”

“Where are you out of and where are you heading? Over,” I say still incredulous about talking to someone.

“We left Florida a short time ago and are heading up by Columbus, Ohio.”

“Watch out for a line of thunderstorms up that way. The line is basically over the Chicago area extending several hundred miles Northwest and Southeast from there. You might be okay in the Columbus area though.”

“Copy that. I don’t have anything on radar yet but will be looking out for them. Thanks for the tip. What’s your location?”

“Roger that Four Juliet Golf. We’re an HC-130 a little over 330 miles west of Portland, Maine at flight level 200. We plan to bunk there for the night before refueling and continuing to Kuwait in the morning.”

“Copy. Where in Kuwait if you don’t mind my asking? I have a sister stationed there.”

No freakin’ way , it couldn’t possibly be,  I think. Lynn had, or has I guess, a brother who was a pilot flying out of Ohio. “Four Juliet Golf, your sister wouldn’t happen to be named Lynn would it?”

“Um, Otter Three Niner, that’s affirmative.”

“You wouldn’t by chance happen to be Craig would you?” I ask completely amazed and a little befuddled by this seeming happenstance.

“Okay, this is weird and perhaps a rather strange coincidence. I’m going to hazard a guess that you are Jack.”

“Yeah, Craig, I am. This is an amazing coincidence and I’m glad we met up. I’ll tell Lynn when I see her.”

“Have you heard from her lately?” Craig’s question comes into my earphones.

“Not in the past couple of days. How about you?”

“About the same,” he replies back.

“You mentioned we, who else do you have on board?” I ask leaving the hope that she is still okay open.

“Mom and two feline friends. Do you know how hard it is to buckle two cats up?”

“About as hard as trying to herd them I guess,” I say chuckling. “You’re welcome to follow us into Brunswick Naval Air Station. I can give you the coordinates if you like. I’ll leave the lights on for ya.”

“Love to, Jack, but I have to check on my other sis and dad. What’s your plan after?”

I tell him about out plan to return to McChord in a few days and we continue to talk for a bit back and forth, at one point Mom getting on the radio, “You find my girl and bring her back Jack.”

“Will do, ma’am,” I reply.

We didn’t want to get off the radio after having made contact, however, each of our duties calls and we agree to meet back at McChord in five days.

“Good luck to you Craig. I wish you and Mom the best.”

“To you as well, Jack. Tell my sis hi.”

“Roger that. See you in five.” And as quick as he came, he was gone.

It is quite the miracle we came together like that. Like the bubbling realm of possibilities in my mind and the quantum world came together to form a piece of reality. The realm of possibilities are endless and don’t surface into to the realm of reality until observed in some fashion; whether through direct observation or through a conscious or sub-conscious factor. Was meeting Craig like that, and the fact that he happened to be Lynn’s brother a direct manifestation of my mind and sub-conscious want?  I drift into thoughts of the quantum world and energy until my brain bleeds. I shake my head bringing myself out of my reverie and into the current reality.

Beginning our descent, I switch our primary route to Robert’s nav instrument and the approach I designed to mine after accomplishing our checks. The moon looms large in the sky above, casting a ghostly, silver blue light on the landscape below. Nowhere does the light of man show and only the drone and vibrations of the engines keep us company.

Having descended a little out over the Atlantic, I turn back to the west, centering the localizer needle, flying toward the naval air station. Three miles from final approach fix, where we will start down toward the runway, with our flaps at 50 percent, I call for the gear. The deep rumble vibrates the aircraft and then comes to a stop as three green lights are illuminated by the gear handle. The horizontal needle on the instrument starts its downward trek toward the middle. I pull the throttles back and flick on the landing lights as the needle centers with the vertical needle already centered. It looks much like a crosshair and that’s the way we want it.

The moon disappears behind the clouds from the far away storm as they trek slowly eastward and the moon continues on its westward journey, leaving the land and sky around only very dimly lit by the stars above. Too dark to see any buildings or runway. I can only hope we are on the right path, that I have set up the right coordinates, and that the GPS is still accurate.

Continuing down the glide path, Robert calls out the airspeed and altitude on the radar altimeter for practice should we need to use the night vision equipment.  My eyes alternate between the nav readings, the airspeed, altimeter, and outside hoping to pick up the runway soon.

“500 feet,” he calls out through the microphone. I can feel the tension from the girls. Well, I can feel it from me as well. I have been a long time out of the aircraft and here I am flying a night, GPS only approach to a foreign airfield that has no lights. What could be more relaxing?

“300 feet.”

Suddenly, the lights pick up the threshold of a runway with the white threshold markings, then more of the runway and its surroundings illuminate as we draw closer. “I have a visual,” I call out transitioning to a total visual approach. “We’re going to do a low fly-by to check out the runway.” For all I know, there are wrecked aircraft all over it or deer deciding the runway is a good place to gather and I have already had enough surprises for one day.

About 100 feet off the ground, I push the power up leaving the gear down so we can have the lights. We lumber down the runway for the length of it. I try to get a visual on the wind sock but it is lost in the darkness when I realize forgot to have Robert check the nav system for wind direction and speed. Well, it’s not like I have a choice on which runway to land on. I can’t exactly circle around to an unlit runway. I mean, I could but it is just like any other dark patch of land below us and winding up on an exact final would be a matter of luck.

We climb away after seeing the runway clear and clean up the aircraft, turning once more towards the markers I set in the nav and align with the runway again, this time with the intention of landing. I pick up the runway at about the same point as the last time with our gear down and call for full flaps. Robert checks on the wind and it shows that we have a very slight tailwind. Nothing to worry about. This time, rather than powering up, I pull the throttle and control wheel slowly back, flaring over the threshold. I wouldn’t so much call what we did scant seconds later a landing but more of an arrival. Thump! Welcome to Brunswick! Night landings can do that but at least the wheels stay on the ground and the wings are still attached. Lowering the nose, I pull the throttles over the detent and apply reverse thrust. The aircraft leans forward and our airspeed diminishes.

“Holy shit!” Both Robert and I say at the same time as there is suddenly someone standing in the glare of the lights. I mean, just standing right on the runway and just to the left of our path. Idiot , I think pushing on the brakes. We still have a bit of momentum and they can overheat in a hurry causing the tires and gear to disintegrate. There’s no way I’m going to stop in time, and, as quick as they appeared, they are lost below the windows and down the left side. The aircraft lurches slightly to the left and, very quickly, so quick as to almost be non-existent, a vibration and buzz saw noise comes through the cockpit. I quickly correct the direction and take the throttles out of reverse, applying brakes to bring us to a taxi speed.

“Was that what I think was?” Michelle asks from her seat.

“Yeah, I think so,” Robert responds.

“Should we go see if they are alright?” Nicole asks.

“I’m not sure that’s going do any good Nicole,” Robert says still incredulous.

“Besides, we’re not going out at night. I’m pretty sure that was one of those things because no sane person would be standing in the middle of a runway with a plane landing,” I add.

I exit off the at the end of the runway and turn the aircraft around so we are facing the runway. I would just park on the runway ready to take off again but there is the off chance that someone could come in and try to land. The runway wouldn’t be the best place to be if that were to happen as they won’t see us until too late. Shutting down but shunting the electrical power to battery and setting the parking brake, we head to the cargo area. Drawing curtains across the cockpit, I also put covers over the cargo compartment windows. The covers are for blackout operations and allow lighting within the cargo area without emitting any outside. With the cargo compartment lights on, I check the doors and have everyone else ready the sleeping bags and get some food out. There are three cots available within.

“Bri, Nicole, you have the two middle cots between the tanks,” I say pointing. “Michelle, you have the one over the window.”

They take out their bags, unfurling them on the cots with Robert unrolling his under Michelle’s location. Smiling inside, I unroll mine in the aisle by the front door. We find some small pillows in the storage compartments and heat up some canned food after arranging our beds and hunker down for some dinner. We are all exhausted so eat mostly in silence with little small talk.

“We’ll get some rest and head out of here in the morning,” I say as we finish dinner. “Flashlights by your bed in case you need to get up in the night. I’ll take the first watch.”

With everyone in their bags, I head up to the cockpit and flip the electrical system off plunging the aircraft into darkness. My path illuminated by flashlight, I head over to my bag and climb inside, laying the M-4 and pistol by my side and switching off the light. We all say our goodnights in the darkness.

I am just about to lay my head down and keep watch from inside my bag when a loud thump reverberates through the aircraft. Nicole gives a small yelp. “What was that?” Robert asks sitting up in the darkness. A shriek sounds outside.

“I guess that answers your question,” I say climbing out of my bag and grabbing my weapons.

Another thump as something slams into the side from outside, this one close behind me by the front crew door. It is followed by another close to the rear of the aircraft on the other side. Several shrieks sound out in the night and I hear growling outside, muted by the metallic skin of the fuselage. The thumps against the fuselage increase with the shrieks and growling growing in intensity and numbers. Apparently more are arriving outside the aircraft.

“Don’t worry guys and be absolutely quiet,” I whisper loud enough for everyone to hear just as two simultaneous thumps echo inside from opposite sides of the 130. “This thing took the beating the thunderstorms gave it so we are quite safe here. And, unless they know how to manipulate the doors, they can’t get inside.”

The slams and shrieks become a constant with the muted growls filling any void in-between. Exhaustion fills us but we are unable to sleep with the noise outside coupled with the tension that so many things prowling around brings.

“Okay!! Enough of this crap!” I say after three solid hours of this constant barrage on our senses. “This has got to stop!”

“What are you going to do?” Robert asks as I turn on my flashlight and start toward the curtains at the bottom of the cockpit stairs.

“End this shit,” I say drawing the curtains back enough to slip inside and up the stairs.

I sit, buckle in, and put my helmet on. Robert slides into his seat and buckles in. “Are we taking off?” He says after plugging into the intercom.

“No,” I reply switching on the battery and ensuring the fuel control panel is set correctly.

With the helmet on, the thumps and shrieks are muted even further; the thumps more felt than heard and the constant growling muted altogether. If the helmets muted everything altogether, perhaps we could just put them on and enjoy some quiet, but well, that’s just not the case. I don’t know how many are gathered outside trying to bash their way in, but from the sound of it, there are quite a few.

“Are we just going to move then? Won’t they just follow us?” Robert asks as I attach the NVG’s to my helmet and rotate them over my eyes.

“We’re going to move alright and I hope they do follow us.”

I glance out my side window. The runway and surrounding area is bathed in a greenish glow. Depth perception is a little off but details are not. I see at least fifty gathered on my side and in front; some just milling around but others running at the aircraft only to disappear below my line of sight, the only indication that their run continues is a solid thump against the aircraft. My line of sight cannot see much past our inboard engine toward the fuselage but I imagine it is the same all around us.

“There are about fifty over here. How’s your side?” I ask looking over at Robert to see he has put his NVG’s on.

“About the same I think,” he answers as the girls step into the cockpit and buckle into their seats.

“Are we leaving?” Bri asks once she attaches her comm cord.

“Nope.”

“What are we going to do then?” She asks only to be interrupted by Robert. “How are we going to start the engines with those things around them?”

“We just are,” I answer back as four sets of eyes turn toward me and I raise my NVG’s.

“I’m not even going to ask if it’s clear right,” I say moving the throttle lever to run and reach up to the number three engine start button.

Robert looks back in but keeps sneaking quick glances outside, both curious and appalled at the potential of what will happen when the engines start. I push the button and hear the turbine start spinning up and see the gauges on number three rise.

“Oh sick!” Robert says but he continues glancing outside.

I feel a couple of thumps as the props spin up to speed and the engine stabilizes smoothly at idle. I run up the engine a little and begin the start on number 4. I feel thumps along my side of the aircraft and some on Robert’s but they are distinctly lacking on the right rear. The hurricane force winds generated by the engines and giant props prevent anything from being able to exist behind.

“They’ve moved away from the engines but are bunched up below me,” Robert says.

I start the remaining engines and the drone drowns out all but the slams against the front. With everything stabilized, I flick on the landing and taxi lights flooding the area in front in light. The crowd around the aircraft comes into full view, their mottled skin showing up brightly. They are clothed in a variety of manners; some in flight suits, others in fatigues and other uniforms, and still others in civilian clothing; shorts, jeans, t-shirts, button up shirts; some shredded, some whole. The intensity of the lights causes them to appear as if in black and white with little color being reflected back to our eyes. They are milling about anxiously with only the occasional one slamming into the side but all give the blur of the props room. In the lights, more are running toward our front and sides from around the wind edges.

I release the parking brake, move the throttles up and the aircraft starts rolling forward. “Are you going to do what I think you’re going to do?” Robert asks staring at the immense crowd outside.

“Yup,” I reply pushing the throttles forward. The engines respond to my request and the 130 begins to pick up speed, the nose of the aircraft forcing the things outside to part to one side or the other. “I wouldn’t look as it’s not going to be pretty.”

A change in the pitch and drone of the engines occurs as we head down the taxiway and onto the runway accompanied by a series of soft slaps against the sides of the fuselage behind us. The things outside closest to us try to back away from our advance but are slowed by those behind them. Some try to get away to the side only to be caught by the outside engines. In the middle of the runway, I start turning the aircraft around, the light we cast turns with us and illuminates the outside by degrees, picking up the things outside coming back at us, first in singles as we turn, and then in groups as we complete our 180 degree turn. The lights clearly show our previous path. Small and large clumps of shredded clothing and bloodied body parts are strewn on the taxiway with a clearly defined path down the middle.

Some are now coming toward us from in front with more from the sides as we start down the taxiway to where we were parked just moments ago. Some of those in front scatter to the sides and away at our approach but a few keep coming blinded by the intensity of our lights. There are a couple additional buzz saw-like sounds and meaty slaps against the sides as we turn left and proceed down the main taxiway paralleling the runway. The main ramp area opens to our right and I swing out onto it, doing yet another 180 degree turn at midfield. I bring the throttles back and step on the brakes bringing us to a stop. The lights pick out an immense horde of things running after us down the taxiway and in the grass between the taxiway and runway.

“They’re persistent, I’ll give ‘em that,” I say watching them close.

I push the throttles up holding onto the brakes, the nose bows


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downward compressing the nose gear strut, waiting to be released. “Won’t this damage the props?” Robert asks as we all look at the well-lit group hurtling towards us.

“Should be okay. Those are thirteen foot props turning at over 1,000 rpm. Rocks and such will put nicks in them but I doubt they’ll even notice flesh and bones.”

“Dad, do we have to do this?” Bri asks.

“Hon, we don’t have the fuel to fly our next leg nor do we have enough to just fly around all night. Plus, they’re just pissing me off. Sorry, sweetheart.”

Here we sit, stopped on the taxiway, the deep, steady, strong drone of the engines, the propellers turning at high speed, lights blazing out into the darkness, and the approaching horde steadily closing the distance, drawn by whatever it is in their heads that leads them to this chase.

When the mass is about 75 yards ahead, I release the brakes, the nose launching upward as the aircraft is finally released from its blocks. We start down the taxiway, picking up speed as we near the horde, our closure rate increasing as we add our speed to it. We close to within a few yards and the ones in front of us start separating from our path to the sides. And then, just like that, they sweep behind us, the outboard engines catching a couple of them as we pass them by.

I taxi to the end of the ramp and taxiway, turning around once again, “Okay, let’s try that a little differently,” I say bringing us to a stop.

Once again, the horde has turned around and is pursuing us. This time, I wait until they are only 50 yards ahead before releasing the brakes. We surge ahead and draw closer to them. They separate in the same manner and I turn to the right with them, maneuvering to bring the nearest edge of them close down our right side. Our lights ahead show the ramp clear of obstacles other than the running horde. Our engines plow through them, raw, meaty slaps against the fuselage barely heard over the roar of the turning props. Slap…. Slap, slap… slap, slap, slap, slap… slap… slap… slap, slap.

“Oh my god,” Nic whispers sickly and with horror through the headset as the lights shining ahead on the right turns a pale pink.

My anger at them turns to a sickness deep inside that rests in the pit of my stomach. I gain a little distance and turn the aircraft around. “You’re kidding,” Robert says as we stop for the third time and see the mass, although diminished, has turned around and are after us yet again.

“Dad, can we just get out of here?” Bri asks.

“I wish we could, babe,” I answer back. “I am really sorry, hon.”

I hear a heavyish sigh over the helmet speakers; I think from Michelle.

“If this is too much for anyone, just head into the back. You can stuff bits of clothing in your helmet to drown out the sounds and you don’t have to watch. Hell, I might even join you,” I say watching the diminished horde draw closer, most of them directly in front of us but a few scattered groups and single ones off to the side, looking almost like a flanking maneuver.

“I’m okay,” Bri says behind me.

“Me too,” says Nic.

“I’m doing alright,” Robert answers.

“I’m fine,” Michelle speaks out.

“Well hell, I’m not. This is disgusting as hell,” I say.

There is a simultaneous “yeah” from everyone.

When they are again about 50 yards away, I release the brakes and the aircraft leaps toward them. I stay to the right side of the taxi way with the ramp to my left as the horde and we begin another joust. They separate as before and I head toward the left group trying to take them down the left side this time. Rather than angle outward, they then turn a direct 90 degrees away from us attempting to get far away from our path, the ones off to the sides turn towards us, attempting to run around behind us. We catch fewer of them. Slap…slap,slap..slap….slap,slap,slap..slap.

We draw to the end once more turning around. Our lights illuminate the ramp and taxiway showing the asphalt littered with scraps and chunks of clothing, body parts, and pieces of flesh and bone. An absolutely disgusting sight that makes me want to flick the lights off but I need them. The things hovering at a distance, milling about, and some lean towards us with their mouths open, obviously emitting those loud shrieks. The only sound coming to us is the continuous droning of engines and heavy breathing in our helmet speakers.

“What the hell is that!?” I say into the microphone.

“What?” Michelle asks.

“Listen,” I say and then hear another faint thump; more felt than heard. “There, that.”

“It sounds like it’s coming from behind us,” Robert says turning around.

There must have been a group of them that waited while the rest of them ran towards us knowing we would turn around and stop here.

“Well, they’re apparently not overly dumb,” I say as we feel and hear more thumps from the rear of the 130. They are apparently coming in directly behind us avoiding the wind from the propellers. Luckily, we are in a secure aircraft but I note their quick change in tactics each time and do not like the ramifications.

I release the brakes and head toward the crowd a ways down the tarmac, taxiing over the mass of body parts and clothing. The milling about of the horde ceases as they become completely still, all focused towards us and our ever closing lights. They then, almost as one, turn and run, most of them heading towards the buildings sitting on the edge of the ramp, the others directly away from us. I head across the ramp in an attempt to cut off the ones running towards the buildings.

“Daaad, they’re running away,” Bri says over the intercom. “Please don’t.”

“Honey, we can’t feel sorry for them. Ever!” I say but turn the aircraft away nonetheless slowing our taxi speed.

I head on the taxiway to the end and close to the edge of the runway, just as we parked before except at the other end of the runway. I will want to inspect the aircraft in the morning but have no intention of doing that in the mess we created at the other end. I shut down the aircraft and we settle in once again for the night. It takes us a while to get to sleep after the events of the evening with vivid images still floating through our minds but we eventually drift off one by one and are not bothered for the rest of the night.

To the Beach

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I awaken to the sound of soft snores echoing throughout the cargo interior. Teens, they can sleep the whole day away. Of course, I can as well and remember the days when noon was a normal wake up time for me in the summer months. I lay quietly thinking, nestled in my bag on the deck of the pitch black cargo bay with my head resting on the small, white pillow, not knowing how in the world we are going to be able to stay alive with these things absolutely everywhere. There is no reasoning with them or calling a time out. There can be little to no mistakes on my part. I can’t let my emotions overcome common sense.

Those little snores remind me that I have to be more responsible and adept at analyzing situations; the choices I make mean more and have greater ramifications. I have been fairly proficient at making good spot choices in various situations in the past and so I can’t be second guessing, but on the same hand, those choices have to be the right ones. We would most likely have been just fine last night, if not a little more tired, if I had just left things alone. However, we are all still alive and, like a landing, any one you can walk away from is a good one.

My quandary is like that of any parent; how to keep your children protected yet still let them learn to make good choices. We are in a new world order and some of the lessons they learned growing up to this point may not apply. Normally there is a gradual integration of ideas and lessons but this is not the case now. There are different lessons to be learned; survival skills of a different order. I have a lot I can teach them and hopefully I can do so in a somewhat controlled environment. I am not going to be able to do everything for them forever. Ugh! This is making my brain hurt. Enough early morning philosophizing. One day at a time , I think, unzipping my bag and crawling out.

I open the curtain to the cockpit and find it illuminated by the early morning light streaming in the windows. I step into the cockpit windows and look out. The eastern horizon is the pale blue of a just risen sun transitioning to a darker blue as the eye travels westward across the cloudless sky. The shadows of the trees lining the air station cast long shadows across the green fields surrounding the runway. Looking out the windows to the other side, the two gray runways ahead of us and the paralleling taxiway behind us stretch away westward. The ramp opens up off the taxiway with several tan buildings abutting against it. Several P-3 Orions are parked on a ramp angling off the main ramp, looking a lot like a C-130 but with low wings and the engines mounted upside down. There’s not a thing moving anywhere that I can see. The indications of last night remain scattered on the main ramp and taxiway; colored bits of clothing littered around but are tiny from this distance. In the early morning light, several crows hop around the strewn body parts.

I climb out of the cockpit and open the front door, light streaming in as it lowers to the ground. Cool morning air replaces the warmth of the interior, cooling my cheeks as it passes by; the smell of a fresh summer day rides the currents. I peek out of the door gazing at the motionless, monstrous propellers, their blades feathered with the edges facing forward, as if completely unaware and not caring what they faced the night prior or the carnage they were involved in.

Stepping down the stairs to the asphalt taxiway, I look along the side of the aircraft. It is there that the evidence reveals itself.  On the fuselage, directly in line with the propellers, a thick line of dark red runs vertically down the aircraft with streaks reaching back toward the rear; the darkened streaks dripping down like paint that was put on too thickly. The darkened color is close to the same hue as the olive drab of the 130 and almost blends in. With the sun now fully above the horizon to the east, I do a walk around of the aircraft to check for damage. With the exception of the new paint job, the aircraft looks in good shape. Unless these things figure out how to open the doors, the 130 offers a good mobile sanctuary. The light of the sun begins to warm the air and the sight and sound of birds flying around the distant trees, on whatever errand calls, makes last night and the events of the past few days seem surreal

I finish my walk around to find Robert standing by the bottom of the stairs. “Quite an interesting past few days eh?” I say stepping up next to him as we both gaze across the fields to the north.

“Yeah, no kidding,” he says turning his gaze along the side of the aircraft.

“Wow!” He comments as his eyes reach the darkened streaks.

“Yeah,” I say in response.

“The girls up yet?” I ask after a moment of once again studying the dried blood pasted along the side.

“They were getting up as I left. Are we taking off soon?”

“As soon as we refuel,” I say looking over at the ramp. “Let’s start ‘er up and taxi over while the girls are getting up.”

“Okay, Dad,” Robert says and starts up the stairs.

We settle into our seats and begin our checks. I reach up to set the electrical panel. “Ah crap. Really!” I say noticing a low reading from the batteries.

“What?” Robert asks.

“Low batteries for some reason. We’ll use the cart but we’ll need to figure out why the batteries are low. Let’s go hook up the cart,” I say as we head into the cargo bay.

“Morning, Dad,” Nic says sitting up in her sleeping bag.

“Morning, babe.”

“What are you guys doing?”

“Getting the start cart out. Something’s up with the batteries.”

“Need any help?” She asks climbing out of her bag.

“Sure, hon.”

“Morning,” Michelle says as she climbs out of her bag, descends the small ladder and joins us as we walk to the back.

“Good morning,” we all say in return.

We look like we just woke up from an all-night frat party. Well, I do at any rate. Michelle walks up to Robert and they both give each other a small good morning kiss. Okay, now this has to be one of the oddest moments I have lived through. Seeing your son kiss a girl for the first time. It is just, well, startling. I have always tried to keep up with their growth and treat them accordingly, but it is moments like this that make me realize they are more grown up than I realize, another big step in my acknowledgement of his being a man. My legs actually grow a little weak and I stumble over my own feet.

“You okay, Dad?” Nic asks me, looking up at me with a huge smile painted across her face and a twinkle in her hazel eyes.

“Um, yeah, just fine,” I respond as she continues smiling up at me.

“Bri, we’ll be outside,” I call out.

“Okay, Dad,” a sleepy voice answers on the other side of the fuel tank.

We lower the cargo ramp and wheel the cart into position. “Okay Nic and Michelle, do your stuff,” I say and they unroll the connector cables and attach the cart.

Robert and I walk in through the crew door pulling it closed behind us and head back into the cockpit. I switch the power over to external and, after confirming that Nic is online, start up the right two engines — numbers 3 and 4. Switching to internal power, the electrical instruments read fine. Switching the DC to battery, the reading drops significantly.

“We’ll give them a charge taxiing back to the ramp,” I say switching them back.

Robert unbuckles and heads back to help get the cart onboard and secured while I start the remaining engines. We really only have to start the outboard ones for taxiing but it gives me something to do while they are stowing the cart. I make radio calls on UHF and VHF guard frequencies but silence is my only response as Bri joins me and buckles into her seat.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” I say hearing the click of her plugging in and finishing up with my checks.

“Good morning, Dad.”

Moments later, Robert, Michelle, and Nic walk in and settle in and we taxi over to the ramp by the P-3s. I leave the engines running checking on the battery readings. The readings haven’t changed. I leave them running for another twenty minutes with still no indicated change.

“Crap! We may have to change the batteries out with one of the P-3s,” I say beginning the engine shutdown procedure.

“Do we need to?” Nic asks. “It seems to be running fine.”

“Yeah, we need them. I’m not going to head over the pond with bad batteries. At least, I’m hoping it’s the batteries.”

“Have you ever changed batteries before?” Robert asks.

“Nope.”

“Do you know how?” He asks.

“Nope,” I say with the engines winding down.

We shut the aircraft down and search for tools in the storage compartments bringing them to the nose of the aircraft. The one thing I do know is where the batteries are stored in the nose and so, using the onboard tools and a large stepladder we found stored inside, I remove the hatch and look inside. Hooray, first try , I think looking at the batteries sitting on a shelf just inside the aircraft. Looking them over with a flashlight, I notice one of them has a crack in the side.

“The thunderstorm must have bounced them around a little,” I say showing everyone the damaged battery.

“Robert, take Michelle, grab that fuel truck over there and meet us over at that P-3,” I say pointing to the Orion parked closest to us.

“Okay.”

“Do you two have your weapons?” I say as they begin their trek over to the truck.

“Yep,” he replies over his shoulder.

“Let’s gather this stuff up,” I say to Bri and Nic indicating the tools on the ground.

The sun climbs higher into the blue sky, warming the air further as we start across the ramp towards the other parked aircraft, our hands full with tools, and the ladder. The M-4 is slung over my shoulder and I keep an eye out for movement. Off to our right and behind us, on the edge of the gray ramp, lay the remains of last night, scattered about and looking like someone just dumped their trash.

We arrive at the P-3 at about the same time that Robert and Michelle pull up. An easterly breeze has sprung up. This is once again the type of day where we would normally be outside getting the Jeep or bikes ready for a day in the sun, listening to the first lawnmowers crank up and the smell of fresh cut grass, to be followed by throwing some burgers on the BBQ. The wafting breeze carries the morning smell of the trees and plants.

“Dad, I’m hungry,” Nic says as we drop our tools and ladder by the front of the P-3.

“Me too,” Robert says.

“What? I fed you yesterday,” I say. “I feed you once and now you expect it every day. Is that the way it’s going to be?”

They all smile as this is an old one between us. “Okay then, let’s finish this up and then we’ll grab a bite.”

It takes a while to find the batteries as I don’t know this aircraft. However, several panel removals later, I find their super-secret location and manage to remove one. It takes both Robert and I to actually lift it out of the aircraft. “Have Michelle help you take this one over and set it in the truck,” I say after we finish with the first one and start in on another.

“How many are we going to take? I thought only one was broken,” Robert asks seeing me reach in again.

“We’re going to take them all, just in case.”

The last one is finally removed and loaded onto the truck. “Meet us over at the aircraft,” I say to Robert, putting the hatches back on and we all start our journey back across the ramp. The sun has now climbed almost directly overhead.

“You guys go get something to eat,” I say once we are all back at the 130. “I’m going to start working on the bad one.”

“You aren’t hungry?” Bri asks.

“No, babe.”

“I suppose that means you aren’t fixing anything,” Robert says with an exaggerated sigh.

“You are perfectly able to fix your own food.”

“I know, I’m just kidding,” he says back.

“Oh, and the pantry won’t be available so you’ll have to use the packaged food.”

The day presses on. They eat and we get the new battery in place and hooked up. We should’ve been a few hours in the air already , I think reattaching the panel. I head up to the cockpit and check the battery reading. The indicator jumps up to normal. Thank god .

“Okay, let’s get it fueled up,” I say as we stow the tools and ladder away. I look at my watch, “It’s almost 1500. Let’s try to be off the ground within the hour. Looks like we’ll have another night approach and landing.”

I am a little more worried about this one as our airfield is in the middle of the Atlantic with very few options available should something go wrong or we end up not being able to find it. We do have enough fuel to make the coast of Portugal or Spain so that might be a second option. However, if we lose the GPS or it is a little off, we could end up searching endlessly and only find water. The only thing I truly don’t like is not being able to see the weather visually from a distance as you can during the day. I don’t want to have another evening like last night.

Fueled up and with the cart and extra batteries stowed away, we take off with the afternoon sun wending its way over the blue sky behind us. Climbing out on an easterly heading, the coast of Maine fades away beneath us, eventually becoming a dark smear on the horizon. The sparkling blue of the Atlantic spreads out around us in all directions. The skies above us are clear with only a few scattered clouds high above as we level off at flight level 250. Far to the south, only the very tips of cumulus clouds appear, covering much of the southern skies, obviously part of a very large storm system. Ahead of us though, the skies remain clear. The only interruption of our flight is our intermittent calls on guard frequencies and the switching of fuel tanks. I keep an eye on the electrical system but everything seems to be operating smoothly.

I let everyone take turns on the controls from the right seat, only getting out of mine to stretch and get the blood flow back into my legs. I venture to the cargo compartment once to change flight suits as my current one is starting to offend not only me, but I am sure those around. The others eventually venture to do the same. We drone ever eastward with nothing but the blue of the ocean below and the skies above to keep us company. The blue skies above change to a deeper blue as the sun sinks to the horizon behind, transitioning in the east to a dark blue, merging with the ocean below.

We continue on into the dark, dialing up the interior lights to watch our instruments by and have dinner in the cockpit, the food having been heated in the pantry with Michelle graciously doing the honors. We replace water bottle after water bottle at our sides as the dry altitude air sucks moisture from our bodies. Outside, we are flying in a dark void with only the stars shining brightly above us; the only indication of our movement is the mileage on our nav instruments slowly counting downward as we drone ever closer to our destination.

About 250 miles out from Lajes Field, I pull the throttles back and start a gradual descent. “Okay guys, if there is anyone left there, it’s the same as we talked about before. As far as you know, I’m on a mission to pick up some soldiers in Kuwait. I picked you up and we headed out. Don’t lie about anything other than the mission you believe I’m on. And let me do the talking.” I’m really going to have to come up with a good reason why I have brought kids along on a military mission. I mean, you can’t just plop your family on a military aircraft and head off any time you want. That would be very much frowned upon.  I rack my brains trying to come up with something but nothing plausible emerges. I guess I’ll just wing it if I have to .

“Okay, Dad. Do you think there will be anyone there?” Bri asks with a twinge of both excitement and worry in her voice.

“I’m not sure, hon.”

“What about me?” Michelle chimes in. “Am I supposed to be yours as well?”

“Hmmm, haven’t thought about that one. I think we’ll need to keep it as real as possible so our stories match up and are believable so you’re Robert’s friend that we picked up on the way.”

Descending through 10,000 feet, I set up the instrument approach on my nav while maintaining the enroute plot on Robert’s. The stars still glitter above us and the weather looks clear. The nav system shows the wind out of the south at about twenty knots so I set up the approach I designed for runway 15.

A little over 15 minutes out, I switch over to the UHF guard. “Lajes approach, this is Otter 39 on UHF guard.”

To my absolute astonishment, I get the following reply back, “Otter 39, Lajes approach on guard. Contact Lajes approach on xxx.xx,” Uh oh , I think. Someone’s home and there’s going to have to be some quick explaining. Can I hide the kids? No, that might even be worse if they were found. Surely they know the situation and will understand. I’m going to go with that for now. 

“Otter 39 roger. Lajes approach on xxx.xx.”

I switch the radio. “There’s someone there?” Bri asks.

“Apparently so,” I answer and key the mic.

“Lajes approach, Otter 39, an HC-130 100 miles west descending through one zero thousand. Request vectors for the straight in for the ILS runway one five.”

“Otter 39, Lajes approach copy. Squawk 0271 and ident. Altimeter three zero one four, landing runway one five.”

I set up the code in the IFF and flick the ident button. This will create a momentary larger blip on their radar screen allowing for a positive identification.

“Otter 39, Lajes approach, radar contact. Turn left heading 070 degrees, descend and maintain seven thousand. This will be vectors for the straight in ILS one five. State departure point and destination.”

“Lajes, copy that. Otter 39 passing through niner thousand for seven. Left to 070. Departed Lewis McChord. Destination classified.”

I am still astonished and my mind is working overtime thinking about what kind of reception we are going to get and setting up for the approach. Although civilian aircraft do refuel here, I am in a military aircraft landing at a military field. And, oh yeah, I kinda borrowed this aircraft. My worry meter is climbing steadily.

Approach control gives us vectors to the instrument approach and we set up for landing. Passing the final approach fix, configured for landing, with the runway lights ahead of us and the lights from the base to the side, we are told to contact the tower.

“Lajes tower, Otter 39 on final for runway one five with the gear,” I say after switching to the tower frequency.

“Otter 39, Lajes tower, cleared to land runway one five.”

We touch down, reverse thrust, and slow to taxi speed. “Otter 39, Lajes tower. Taxi to the end of the runway onto the taxiway and shut down. Contact ground on xxx.xx leaving the runway for further instructions.”

“Otter 39 copies.”

Taxiing to the end of the runway, I pull off onto the taxiway and stop the aircraft contacting ground on the assigned frequency. “Ground, Otter 39 clear of the active.”

“Otter 39, ground, roger. Shut down there. Security will meet you. Remain on this frequency. State souls on board.”

“Ground, Otter 39 copy. Five souls on board. Shutting down and remaining on freq.”

Going through the shutdown procedure, I pull the prop levers back and the props begin their long, winding journey down. To our right, through the windscreen, multiple vehicles are approaching on the taxiway with blue lights flashing. “Otter 39, ground. Open your crew door and ramp.”

“Ground, Otter 39 roger,” I say and direct Robert into the back to open the door and ramp.

The security vehicles pull up, stopping a short distance away in a semi-circle around the nose of the aircraft. With the sky lighting in the east, signaling the coming dawn, security personnel scramble out of their vehicles; several taking positions behind the hoods and three stepping up by the crew door.

“Otter 39, exit out of the crew door one at a time keeping your hands in sight and unarmed.”

“Otter 39 roger.”

We leave our weapons on the seats with our helmets and head to the now open crew door. Spotlights illuminate the entirety of the aircraft, blinding me as I walk down the door stairs, setting my flight cap on my head. I barely make out three security personnel standing off to one side, silhouetted by the blinding lights. The kids follow me out and down, exiting one at a time. I stop at the bottom and am met by an Air Force Tech Sergeant. “This is your crew, sir!?” He asks in an incredulous manner, stopping in front of me and saluting.

“It is, Sergeant,” I say returning the salute.

“Anyone else on board, sir?” He asks.

“No, Sergeant Watkins,” I reply back noticing his name tag. “This is it.”

He turns and grabs the mic at his right shoulder, “Cressman, take bravo and secure the aircraft.”

Sergeant Watkins then turns back to me. “Sir, I was instructed to bring you to Colonel Wilson. Actually, I was instructed to bring the entire crew, but given the circumstances here, I will escort you and allow, um, them, to remain here.”

“Very well, Sergeant, lead the way.”

Sergeant Watkins turns to a senior airmen standing to the right and behind. “Calloway, notify the tower, base ops, and the Colonel’s office of our situation. Tell the Colonel’s office we are bringing a Captain Walker to him and then meet me back here.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” Airman Calloway says and trots over to one of the vehicles.

“Sir, I heard you came out of McChord,” Watkins says as we await Calloway’s return.

“Yeah, two days ago,” I reply.

“How is it back there, sir?”

“Not good,” I answer and he just shakes his head.

“How is it here?” I ask

“I am not sure I’m at liberty to say, sir,” he answers as a security member pokes his head out of the door above us.

“Sergeant Watkins,” the young airman calls out. Watkins turns toward the airman and the airman continues, “The aircraft is all clear. Some weapons in the cockpit and cargo bay which we secured.”

“Okay Jones,” Watkins replies back. “Bring the rest of bravo out and sit with these kids here.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” Jones says and disappears back into the cargo bay.

“Yours, sir?” Watkins asks nodding toward the kids standing at the bottom of the ramp, their heads all turned towards us.

“Most of ‘em,” I reply and he merely nods.

Calloway returns a short time later. “Sergeant, I’ll be expecting our weapons back once we return,” I say as Calloway draws up.

“Yes, sir. This way if you please, sir,” Watkins says extending his arm in a sweeping motion, inviting me towards the nearest vehicle.

I climb into the back of the vehicle as Calloway climbs into the driver’s seat with Watkins hopping into the passenger


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seat. The other airman climbs in the back seat as well and we head down the ramp with the morning sun just poking above the horizon. We drive in silence across the ramp and onto the base roads. Calloway repeatedly looks back at me through the rearview and the airman beside me gives me side-long glances. Sergeant Watkins is focused straight ahead through the windshield.

We arrive at a building a few minutes later, pulling directly up to the sidewalk leading to the front doors, bypassing the surrounding parking lot. “Sir?” Sergeant Watkins says looking back over his shoulder at me.

I step out of the vehicle and walk around in front of it to the sidewalk. Watkins walks ahead of me to the front door with Calloway and the other airman behind me at each shoulder. I remove my cap, sliding it in my right calf pocket. We head inside and up a flight of stairs a short distance down the entrance hall.

“It’s so strange to be in a building with the lights on,” I say as we reach a landing.

“What’s that, sir?” Watkins asks half turning his head around.

“Just that every other building we’ve been in lately has been completely dark. No power or lights. It’s just nice to be in a building that’s lit.”

“There’s no power back in the states?” Calloway asks just behind and to the left of me.

“Calloway, that will be enough!” Watkins states tersely.

“Not that I could see,” I say answering Calloway’s question.

We proceed into a hallway on the second floor and arrive at a wooden door with a translucent glass panel set into the upper half. Entering within, the room opens into a reception area covered with light gray carpeting and wood paneling. A large dark, wooden desk sits in the middle of the room with chairs against the wall to our left fronted by a coffee table. The walls have prints of the base and aircraft on them with the usual chain of command photos on one wall. Two wooden doors with the same translucent glass panes set into their upper halves open off the room and we head over to the one on the left. Written on the glass panel in black lettering is ‘Colonel Frank Wilson’ with ‘Vice Commander’ in print below it.

Sergeant Watkins raps once on the glass panel and we hear “Enter,” from within.

Watkins swings the door open and I walk in with him close on my heels. He stops, steps against the wall inside the door, and comes to attention. The room has the same carpeting and paneled walls as the waiting room. Aircraft pictures line the walls with bookcases below them. Another desk, similar to the one outside, is by a large window to the right facing us.

Colonel Wilson, I am assuming, is the man sitting behind his desk. He is dressed in a light blue, short sleeve Air Force uniform, his close cropped graying hair is illuminated by the morning sunlight streaming through the window. Rows of decorations line the left chest of his uniform shirt but I notice the lack of wings above them. I approach to within three feet of the desk and come to attention.

“Captain Walker reporting, sir,” I say saluting, focusing my eyes about a foot over his head.

“Captain Walker. Am I to gather that you departed from Lewis-McChord?” He asks returning the salute.

“Yes, sir.”

“And your mission?”

“I am under orders to pick up some Army personnel in Kuwait and return them to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, sir.”

“I see. And under whose orders are those?” Colonel Wilson asks, his eyes drilling into mine as I continue to stand at attention.

“General Billings, sir,” I reply.

Wilson then opens a booklet on his desk and flips through it, his finger tracing down one of the pages.

“Very well, Captain,” he says after his finger stops its tracing, apparently finding what he is looking for.

See, thankfully, I noticed the pictures on the wall at McChord. All military building have pictures of the Chain of Command from the President on down including the joint base commander.

He opens another booklet and starts flipping through. Stopping on one particular page, he looks up. “Captain, how do you explain how you were selected for this mission? The 17th is not based at Lewis-McChord.”

“Sir, my crew and I were on a refueling stop, heading back to base when all of this went down. I was one of the only pilots, well, still available,” I respond.

“And your crew, Captain?”

“Gone, sir.”

“And General Billings sent you on this mission himself!?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Security reports blood along the side of your aircraft. Care to comment on that, Captain!”

“It was a rather interesting time getting here, sir,” I respond.

“Then I am to assume that the blood is from the infected ones?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Son, what about your rather strange new crew members?”

My eyes drop momentarily, meeting his, before snapping back up to the imaginary point over his head. “Those are my kids, sir.”

“Am I to understand this correctly, Captain!? That you smuggled your kids onboard a military aircraft on a military mission!” He asks leaning toward me, his left hand grasping the edge of his desk in front of him, jutting his chin forward, as he slams his right hand down on the desk top.

“Yes, sir.”

It is one of those moments when time seems to completely come to a halt and the abyss opens up before you, seeming to lasting forever. Colonel Wilson then sighs heavily and leans into his chair.

“Sergeant Watkins, that will be all. Please wait outside,” Wilson says looking over at the Sergeant.

“Yes, sir,” Sergeant Watkins says, salutes and then exits the room, closing the door behind him.

“At ease, Captain,” he says once the door clicks shut.

“I have kids too and would’ve done the same in your circumstance. How is it at McChord? We haven’t had any contact with anyone for the past two days,” he asks as I come to parade rest, folding my arms behind me.

“Not good, sir. I’m not sure there will be anyone left there soon. The quarantine broke there and these things were running everywhere at night. I’m not sure what the plans were but was only given these orders.”

“Sir, if I may speak?”

He merely nods and I ask, “How are things here?”

He laces his fingers behind his head, leaning back further. “We’re holding our own for the moment. But we’ll have to make a decision soon as we aren’t getting supplies anymore.”

“Sir, do you have any information on what these things are about? Anything?”

“No, son, I don’t. We don’t have anything at all nor have we heard anything.”

“How are you keeping them subdued or under control if I may ask? How are you keeping your containment and quarantine when no one else seems to be able to?”

Colonel Wilson merely stares at me.

“Oh, I see,” I say after a moment, understanding what the silence and stare alludes to.

That is why he doesn’t have any information on the things. There aren’t any of them here; well, not any anymore; alive that is. The silence and stare alludes to the fact that they are shooting those with any of the flu symptoms. Maybe that’s the right way to go,  I think knowing that I’m quite certain I don’t want to meet the general who issued those orders or this little joyride of ours across the world will come to a quick and decisive end.

“Do you have any information on the rest of the states?” He asks.

“Sir, we didn’t see anything on our transit. I did pick up a garbled radio transmission as we came east of the Rockies up by the Canadian border and one civilian aircraft heading into the Columbus, Ohio area but that’s it. I imagine there have to be others though,” I say leaving out the contact with Andrew. Too many questions could arise about that one.

“Well, if things get bad here, we’re going to take one of the KC-10 birds out of here to the states. The problem is, we don’t have a pilot certified in one,” he says sighing. “I was thinking about using yours, or your crew, but you have a mission to fulfill.”

“Sir, we could arrange for a pickup after I return the troops back. At the very least, I could bring some supplies. I plan on stopping here on my return leg.”

“That might work, Captain,” Colonel Wilson says leaning back up in his chair.

“Captain Walker, I can authorize your fuel but you’ll have to depart immediately after. I cannot overrule General Billings’ order, but General Collins might and he’ll be arriving in a couple of hours. Maybe earlier if he heard your aircraft arrive. You might want to be gone then. That will be all, Captain.”

“Yes, sir. And thank you, sir,” I say coming to attention and salute.

“Sergeant Watkins,” Wilson hollers in the direction of the door and returns my salute.

“Sir!” Watkins responds, opens the door and salutes.

“Sergeant Watkins, escort Captain Walker to his aircraft and see it’s refueled. He’ll be departing within the hour,” Colonel Wilson orders Watkins.

“Yes, sir,” Sergeant Watkins says. “Shall I notify the general, sir?”

“That won’t be necessary, Sergeant,” Wilson responds.

“Yes, sir,” Watkins says after a pause, accentuating the underlying subtleties involved with the decision and order.

Sergeant Watkins and I start out of the door to Colonel Wilson’s office when Wilson calls to us, “Captain Walker.”

I half turn back towards him, “Yes, sir.”

“Godspeed and good luck, son.”

“Thank you, sir. And to you as well.” The image of him sitting behind his desk in the rays of the morning sun is forever imprinted on my mind

Calloway and the other airman are waiting outside the door as the Sergeant and I exit. They take up their previous stations behind me. “Calloway, Foster, at ease. The Captain has been cleared,” Watkins says. I hear the distinct click of fire select levers being flipped to what I hope is to ‘safe’ as we head down the stairs and out to the vehicle.

During the drive back to the flightline, I think about my conversation with Colonel Wilson. He seems a strict yet fair man and it certainly does seem he has stuck his neck out for us. I imagine General Collins is not going to be pleased in the least when he finds out that Wilson let us go. Colonel Wilson could have kept us here to take care of his own personnel but let us go on with our ‘mission’ to save others. I believe in his mind, he could have saved his own at the expense of others, but did what he felt was the right thing to do in spite of the potential consequences with Collins. A good man , I think feeling guilty about continuing on as I don’t even know if Lynn is alive or not and here are living beings. But that guilt is minimal compared to my need to keep my commitment to Lynn. I will be returning here in a couple of days and do what I can to help them.

“Colonel Wilson is a good man, sir,” Sergeant Watkins says as if reading my mind.

“He is at that, Sergeant,” I say responding from the front passenger seat this time.

We return to the flightline and I see our aircraft sitting in its original position as the morning rays of the sun strike it. Several security vehicles still surround the front in a semi-circle yet I also see a fuel truck heading along the taxiway towards it. Behind me, I hear Sergeant Watkins speaking into his mic, “Alpha, you are cleared off. Bravo, remain in place and bring the weapons to my vehicle when we arrive. And clear room for the fuel truck to get through.”

“Alpha copy. Bravo copy,” I hear the responses come through his radio.

We arrive, stopping by the open aircraft crew door, just on the heels of the fuel truck as it pulls alongside our 130 and begins to attach the fuel line. The kids are seated at the foot of the door with two security guards standing nearby facing them while several other security personnel head into several of the vehicles parked around the aircraft. Two security personnel stand at the rear of the aircraft by the open ramp. Two soldiers walk up to Sergeant Watkins as I exit out.

“Bravo, stand down and head to your vehicles,” Watkins says over his radio as we head over to where Robert, Michelle, Nic, and Bri are sitting.

“Bravo copies.”

“You two, stay with me,” I hear him say behind me.

By the time we reach the door, the security surrounding the kids have turned and left to their vehicles, along with the two from the rear of the aircraft. The kids stand as the guards leave.

“Sir, I believe these are yours,” Watkins says handing us our weapons with the sound of vehicles starting up and leaving in the background.

“Thank you, Sergeant,” I say taking them from the two MP’s at his side. I hand the .45 back to Robert and the .38 to Michelle, taking the two Berettas and the M-4. “I wish you the best of luck.”

“And to you, sir,” he says saluting.

I return his salute and the three of them turn back toward their vehicles and head down the taxiway in Alpha’s wake. The sound of the fuel truck drowns out any other noise from the flightline and base.

“I take it from the fact that the truck is giving us gas and they gave us our weapons back that everything went well,” Robert says as we head up the stairs.

“Yeah, it went fine. I’ll fill you in on the details later. Right now, we have to head out after we are refueled,” I say as we head down the aisle to the rear of the cargo compartment and close the ramp.

“By heading out, you mean we are flying out now?” Robert has to shout above the noise of the closing ramp and fuel truck just outside.

“Yes, now go get strapped in and ready to leave,” I shout back.

The ramp closes, shutting out a majority of the noise outside, and I walk up the aisle a little behind everyone else. They head up the cockpit stairs and I head outside into the early morning sun to do a walk around. A strong northerly breeze has sprung up bringing a chill to the day. With the wind whipping against my flight suit, I walk around the aircraft checking for any damage or anything out of the ordinary and continue past the fuel truck just as they are finishing and reeling their hose in. I make sure the fuel hatch is latched and secured as the truck drives away leaving just the sound of the wind in my ears and flapping against my clothes. With a final glance at the base and surrounding area, I close the crew door, head back to the cockpit.

Turning the power on, I check the batteries assuring they are still fine, and turn on the radios once the checks are complete.

“Lajes ground, Otter 39 starting engines.”

“Otter 39, ground, roger.”

We start up the engines and get ready to taxi. “Lajes ground, Otter 39 taxi.”

“Otter 39, ground, taxi to runway 15, altimeter three zero one four.”

“Otter 39, three zero one four.”

We taxi along parallel to the runway and, once we arrive at the runway, contact the tower for takeoff.

“Otter 39, Lajes tower, you are cleared for takeoff. Maintain runway heading and contact departure on xxx.xx passing three thousand.”

Pushing the throttles up, the engines respond with their deep, throaty roar and we accelerate down the runway lifting off into a blue sky dotted here and there with high, white clouds. Cleaning up the aircraft and passing through three thousand feet, we contact departure and are cleared to flight level 250 and direct. “See you on our return, Lajes,” I say in reply.

“Good luck to you, Otter 39.”

We are about 150 miles out when the radio comes alive again. “Otter 39, Lajes departure, over.”

I look at the radio suspiciously wondering whether to answer. I look over at Robert and he is looking at me out from under his helmet. He merely shrugs. I press the talk button, “Lajes departure, Otter 39, over.”

“Otter 39, you are instructed to return to Lajes.” I knew I shouldn’t have answered.

“Lajes, you are coming in broken and garbled, over,” I say responding to their ‘request.’

A pause ensues.

“Captain Walker, this is General Collins and I am ordering you to return to Lajes.”

“General, I apologize but I am unable to comply as I have standing orders to complete my mission.”

“Captain! Dammit, I am countermanding those orders and you will turn that god-damned airplane around!” Note to self, do NOT answer the radio once we are away from any air field that is still under control. I am already calculating a different route home.

I look around the cockpit; four sets of eyes are alternating between the radio and me. “General, sir, I have a direct order from General Billings and your orders are contrary to the completion of my mission.” I am thinking it is fortunate there are not any pilots remaining there or we would soon have the pleasant company of a flight of F-15’s or F-18’s parked alongside of us.

There is another pause. “Captain Walker. I am then ordering you to return here for refueling once your pickup is complete.”

“Yes, sir. I anticipate a return in approximately 48 hours. And general, sir, good luck to you.”

A much longer pause. “Good luck to you as well, Captain. I hope you get those soldiers out. Lajes out!”

A dark line appears off the nose on the horizon where the blue sky meets the blue of the Atlantic; the coast of Portugal. Our route will take us over central Spain and out over the Mediterranean Sea, skirting the toe of Italy. I would rather have just flown up the central Med and avoid country overflights but our distance and range dictate as direct a route as possible. I expect to be intercepted if there is any military capable of flight left on this side of the ocean. I continue making calls on guard but hear nothing but the continued silence as we make our way through the daylight and into night as the sun sets behind us in a fiery display.

On into the night we fly, taking turns napping and monitoring the flight. Our external tanks long ago emptied, we are on our last few hours of flight with the fuel remaining onboard. About 200 miles out from Kuwait, I start a gradual descent with the bright stars and quarter moon lighting our way. The ground below us is dark with the exception of a few fires in the distance at various points, some just showing an orange glow as the smoke conceals the extent of the fire below. It has been this way since the sun descended, darkening the world above and below as it wends its way around to get ready for its rise and another day.

I feel wary about transiting through this area. I mean, after all, this is a war zone. If there are any fighters still around and capable, odds dictate this is the place they would most likely be. However, there is no reply to my calls on guard or lights suddenly showing up on our wingtips. Nor do we suddenly blow up. About fifty miles out, I see a very faint glow on the horizon ahead of us. I am unsure whether it is just a glow from another fire or actual lights. Continuing my descent, running through my checks, and setting up the nav, I make a call on guard, “This is Otter 39 on UHF guard. Anyone read?”

Playing in the Sandbox

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Sergeant First Class Lynn Connell hangs up the phone attached to her computer ever so thankful to have it. That and the Internet service provided here in Kuwait allows her to maintain contact with her boyfriend back in the states; their twice daily calls and contact eases the deployment to a large degree. During the times the Internet was down, time seemed to drag on for an eternity when she was off work. It’s not like she could just waltz down for some beer and darts so it was reading and the Internet. God a beer would go down good,  she thinks shutting off her laptop and getting ready for yet another day in the desert.

Today just has the feel of one of those days, well, every day here is one of those days but this one just feels different. Packing up, she opens the steel barracks door and steps out into the blazing morning sun, the temperature already beginning its climb to another scorching day. Sand! I hate sand!  She thinks adjusting her polarized sunglasses, her digital camo uniform instantly warm from the sun. Not much longer to go. 

Looking over the top of the barracks building as she starts walking over for breakfast, she sees an aircraft descending into the small field located on the camp, silhouetted against the light blue sky. As the aircraft descends below the tan building, she ponders her day. I have to get my shot today , she thinks to herself, the sand stirring up beneath her boots with each step. Perhaps after lunch or after work on my way to the gym . Most of the personnel in her office received them yesterday and, with military personnel having only 48 hours to get one, this is the last day to get it.

Arriving at the dining facility after walking down the sand-covered avenues between the various buildings; Sergeant Connell removes her cap and steps through the wooden door and into the cooler interior. The first thing she notices is the distinct emptiness. Groovy , she thinks heading to the chow line. No lines. It sure seems a lot bigger in here without the usual crowd . Not caring why it is mostly empty, she grabs her usual omelet and notices the usual cook who makes her big omelets is not here.

“Where’s Private Sampson?” She asks as an omelet is placed on her plate and tray.

“Sick call,” the soldier behind the counter and clear plastic separator answers.

Gathering her food, Lynn glances out over the expanse and selects one of the many empty tables after grabbing a paper to read. Hacking away at the omelet with her plastic Spork, she catches up on the headlines. The first few pages note the numerous sicknesses and escalating death rate from the Cape Town flu. Another article reminds military personnel to get their vaccination by the end of the deadline. There are articles detailing the enlisted, NCO, and officer of the month along with an inside view of the tactical operations center she is associated with. The Master Sergeant list is also published and her name is listed along with the other promotees.

“Not bad, two months in a row,” she says under her breath, remembering her picture in the paper last month as NCO of the month.

Finishing her meal, Lynn steps back out into the morning sun and sand and walks through the climbing heat to work. The only thing different about this day from the previous three hundred and some odd days is the amount of soldiers walking about, or lack thereof. While not a crowd, there are usually a fair number of soldiers about on various errands, but today, there are very few to be seen. Lynn sees a couple here and there hurrying about some business or another, well, hurrying being relevant as the intensity of the sun and heat prevents too much of that. Walking into her building, actually a large tent structure, she notices this absence of people trend continuing.

Many desks are situated in neat columns and rows in a large open space to one side of the building and she heads over to her desk. Many of the desks remain unoccupied. She settles in and fires up her computer starting her day. With the screen coming to life and logging in, Lynn opens up her email. Nothing much greets her except a brigade-wide reminder to get flu shots. A few others are reminders of meetings and odds and ends to take care. As she opens up her third email, her commander, Captain Braser, walks into the open area and heads immediately for Lynn’s desk. Lynn stands up at attention as Captain Braser approaches.

“Sergeant Connell, I’m going to need you to cover until 2100. There’ve been a number of sick calls this morning,” Braser says.

“Yes, ma’am,” Lynn replies and Captain Braser then turns and walk away.

There goes the gym , Lynn thinks sitting once again. I really hate this place . Well, maybe it will make the day go faster. I hope Jack is still up when I get back . She attempts to log onto her personal email account to send him an email telling him she’ll be working late but gets a notice stipulating that the site has been temporarily blocked and to contact her system administrator. She tries sending a message from her work email but it comes back as undeliverable. Great , she thinks and dives back into work, checking with those under her command to make sure that they will be getting or have received their flu shots along with a myriad of other tasks.

Just before noon, an email comes in extending the time to get the Cape Town flu shots for an additional 24 hours. Good, I’ll just get it tomorrow , she thinks relieved in some way. Lynn spends the rest of the day and her shift handling inquiries, sorting through messes that a redeployment can bring about, and ensuring those under her are doing their jobs. Shutting down her workstation at 2100, she retraces her route back to the dining facility for dinner and then to the barracks. She fires up her laptop hoping Jack is still on but can’t get connected to the internet. Yep, it’s definitely been one of those days , she thinks shutting it back down and settling back on her bunk with her book. I hope it’s up in the morning .

The sun has yet to make its daily appearance but the eastern sky has started to lighten as Lynn wakes up early the next morning and heads over to the gym. The night chill still hangs in the air as she sleepily makes her way amongst the darkened buildings under the outside lights on the building entrances and along the avenues. I need 6 miles today , Lynn mumbles thinking about the marathon she is planning when she returns to the states and the missed run yesterday. Stepping up on the treadmill, she thinks about how nice it will be to sleep in when she gets back, and to see Jack. And drive my Jeep , she thinks, watching the first mile pass by.

With six miles and a shower under her belt, Lynn is once again back at the barracks and frustrated that the Internet is still down. With nothing much to do in the barracks, she decides to head into work early. Finished dressing, she heads back out into the desert as the sun crests the eastern horizon over the gulf just a few miles away. With another omelet filling her up, she walks into work noticing again the lack of personnel around. It’s early yet though , she thinks logging onto her workstation. The several enlisted and NCO’s that are in the room with her are clustered around a desk close by shooting the shit. Close enough that she can overhear some of their conversation as she starts through her email.

“Did you hear that Sergeant Vosel was attacked by Private Edwich last night?” One voice from the group says.

“I heard he killed him,” a second voice says.

“I’ve heard of several attacks over in zone two and that some of the medics were attacked,” says yet a third voice.

“I have a friend over in an MP squad that says they had to round up several people who were just running around attacking others at random. I don’t know if I believe it or not, he’s full of shit sometimes,” one of the voices speaks out.

“And what’s up with all of these sick calls?” The first voice asks. “I don’t want to cover yet again.”

“I’ve actually heard some of those on sick call have died.”

The conversation doesn’t exactly stop but the volume dies to the point where Lynn can only hear an occasional murmur and wonders if she is going to have to cover another shift. Not that it matters much really now, there’s not much else to do with the Internet down,  she thinks concentrating and focusing once again on the redeployment.

After responding to a few more messages and making sure everyone is doing what they should be doing and where they should be, Lynn stands up, stretches, and heads outside for a break. There has been no sign of Captain Braser and she is quite thankful for that. The assault of heat greets her as she steps into the bright mid-morning sun. Lynn sees her friend standing by the corner of the building having a smoke and walks over.

“Sergeant Connell,” he says and nods, inhaling on the cigarette between his fingers, as Lynn steps up in front of him. Dressed in the same digital uniform with Sergeant First Class Stripes on the front and standing a good six inches taller than her, she has to tilt her head up slightly to look him in the eyes.

“Sergeant Drescoll,” she says, noticing the bags under his slightly bloodshot brown eyes. “Stay up late?” She asks.

“Yeah. Had to cover an additional shift last night,” Drescoll says taking the cigarette from his mouth and exhaling; the smoke drifting away from the two of them.

“Me too. It looks like more of the same tonight although I haven’t seen the Captain yet.”

“God, I hope not. I’m exhausted from last night and just want to sleep,” Sergeant Drescoll says in response. “I heard rumors over at the office of some attacks last night. I mean, our own people attacking each other.”

“I just heard the same thing inside,” Lynn says glancing back toward the building entrance.

“I also heard they’re going to start quarantining those who report to sick call with the flu. I hope that’s not the case; there are enough out as it is.” Lynn merely nods at this wondering how long they’re going to be short staffed and how far behind this is going to put the redeployment.

“You know,” Dresc


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oll says stubbing out his smoke, “I also heard there are a lot of people dying from this shit.”

“Well, that’s already in the news,” Lynn replies remembering the news articles she read and commented on with Jack.

“No! I mean from the vaccinations,” Sergeant Drescoll says with emphasis. “You get yours yet?”

“No, I was planning to get it after lunch or work.”

“Hmm, I’d wait as long as I could if I were you. Well, back to the grind,” he says crushing his cigarette butt in the ash can and starts off across the sandy strip towards his building.

“See ya later,” Lynn says, heading back to her building.

With her hand on the door handle, its heat radiating into her palm, she hears a shout from behind her. Turning to look over her shoulder, she sees Sergeant Drescoll standing mid-way between buildings looking at her.

“What?” She says shouting back.

“Lunch?” He calls back.

“Sure,” Lynn answers opening the door and steps into the darker and cooler building, wondering if there is anything to what Drescoll said.

The same rumor from two different sources, but rumors were rumors and she has tried to stay away from the rumor mill during her fourteen-year career; thus far being mostly successful. Even so, Drescoll worked in Intel and so may have more of a clue than others. And, he wasn’t one to pass on rumors or talk just for the sake of hearing himself. Shrugging it off but keeping it in some small part of her mind, she settles into her desk to finish some paperwork before lunch. The others inside have also settled into their seats working on their assigned tasks.

Finishing up her lunch with Sergeant Drescoll, Lynn and he step out from the dining facility with the sun hammering down; the heat instantly bakes them and causes a sheen of sweat to quickly appear on their foreheads. A squeal over the loudspeaker mounted on a pole close by them greets them as well indicaing a coming announcement. “Attention all personnel. The Cape Town Flu vaccinations are temporarily suspended at this time. Repeat. All Cape Town flu vaccinations are suspended at this time.”

“I guess that takes care of that,” Lynn says after the echo of the blasting loudspeaker silences.

“Guess so,” Drescoll says. “Glad I waited.”

“Me too,” Lynn responds and they part company, each heading back towards their respective areas.

On her way, Lynn wonders again at the validity of the rumors. The military loves their shots so wouldn’t cancel a vaccination unless there was something very wrong. What if people were actually getting sicker from the shot? How long until people are back? I sure hope this doesn’t delay my return home , she thinks arriving back at the office. Oh my god, I hope Jack didn’t get one. What am I thinking? Of course he didn’t. He wouldn’t even go to the doctor for his knee. 

Back at her desk, there is an email from brigade stating that the flu vaccinations are suspended verifying the loudspeaker announcement. With the other personnel out sick, there is actually quite a bit to do and the day passes by quickly. There has been no sign of Captain Braser and most of the others in the office left at 1600. At 1700, Lynn logs off her workstation and heads out of the now almost empty building. An odd feeling settles over her, this building has never been this empty , she thinks heading out into the late afternoon after making sure there is coverage through the night for the operations center.

The suffocating heat still permeates the outdoors but is cooling somewhat as Lynn finishes her dinner and heads back to the barracks. I hope the internet is up , she thinks approaching the door to her convex barracks. Only a couple of weeks and I am outta here . Opening the rear door to the barracks, the coolness of the interior rushes out, chilling her and causing goose bumps to run up her arm. The large interior is broken up by bunk beds with wall lockers breaking the area up into smaller, more private cubicles.

Her “roommate’s” bunk is just inside the door to the left sharing the private space with her own against the left hand corner. Her roommate is lying on the lower bunk. Just as the door begins to close, the loudspeaker squeals once again. Knowing retreat has already sounded, Lynn turns to hold the door open and listens, “Attention all personnel. Anyone experiencing flu symptoms are to report immediately to zone 2. Repeat. Anyone experiencing flu symptoms are ordered to report to zone 2. If you notice anyone with flu symptoms, you are to notify security immediately. That is all.”

Wow! This is getting serious , Lynn thinks heading to her corner and grabbing her laptop out of her footlocker. Finding that there is still not an internet connection and suspecting it is purposely being blocked, she reaches for her book as a chill runs up her spine accompanied by a sad and lonely feeling. Tomorrow is her day off and this was supposed to be one of the times that she and Jack could talk longer. I hope he’s okay , she thinks settling onto her lower bunk and opening her book. She reads until the lights go out at 2000 and falls asleep in her fatigues with her boots by the side of her bunk.

A groaning sound awakens her in the middle of the night. It sounds as if it is coming from the bunk next to her; her roommate’s bunk. Groggily, Lynn opens her eyes to a mostly dark barracks lit only by the exit lights at either end of the building. Accustomed to the various sounds of people sleeping in close proximity, she rolls over and closes her eyes attempting to get back to sleep. The moaning sound penetrates her sleepy mind once again. I can’t wait to get out of this place and have some privacy , she thinks, the sleepiness slowly vanishing. Not wanting to get up but remembering the loudspeaker announcement, she shucks off her blanket and sits up, rubbing the sleepiness from her eyes.

Swinging her legs over and setting her feet on the cool concrete floor, she reaches overhead grabbing her flashlight. Flicking the light on but cupped in her hand, letting only a little light shine through her fingers, she stands up and quietly walks over to where her roommate is.

“Are you okay?” She asks, letting a small ray of light illuminate her roommate’s face.

Although there’s only a small amount of light, Lynn clearly sees her roommate lying in the bunk with her blanket pulled up to her chin, her fingers gripping the blanket edges as if it might fly away. Only her face peeks out from under it. The sight of her roommate’s face sends a chill crawling, well, not crawling but racing up Lynn’s spine. Peeking up from her sweat-soaked pillow, her roommate’s eyes squint against the light; they are swollen and her face is ashen. Beads of sweat form on her forehead and run down her temples and cheeks. Drool has formed at the corner of her mouth, ready to join its compadres on the journey down her face.

“I’m fine,” her roommate half breathes and moans attempting normal speech.

“You have to go to zone 2. I’ll help you,” Lynn says reaching a hand out to her.

“I said I’m fine,” her roommate says shrinking further back into the pillow.

Lynn stands, walks back to her bunk, sits on the edge, and slips her boots on by the light of the flashlight placed next to her on the bed. Lacing up her boots and donning her fatigue top, she picks up her light and, shielding it once more, passes by her roommate’s bunk and heads to the back door.

“Where are you going?” A whisper calls out from the bunk.

“Out,” she responds and opens the back door into the night.

Her plan is to locate an MP on the way to her office, or, failing that, call from there. Not wanting to walk all of the way to the security shop or a gate, this will be the quickest way to notify security that her roommate is exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Plus, there is the fact of not wanting to be in a close proximity to someone with a reported highly contagious sickness. Stepping out into the chill of the night air and into the circle of light cast by the light over the doorway, she starts off toward her work building and is swallowed up immediately by the dark. The stars overhead cast a clear brilliance that only the desert can bring; the ground around is lit only at intervals by rings of light cast by the camp lights with the areas in between an inky black.

Strolling from one ring of lights to another, she rounds the corner of one building and starts up a central avenue lit at intervals by the pole-mounted lights. Not taking three steps along the sandy avenue, a shriek shatters the stillness, coming from far away only to be followed a second later by a second one from the same area. Coming to a stop, Lynn listens and unconsciously moves closer to the side of the avenue by a building. The chatter of rifle fire erupts from the general area of where the shrieks occurred. What the fuck is going on?  Lynn thinks suddenly aware she is unarmed and wishing for her M-16. Are we under attack? Where’s the alarm? 

Another shriek sounds out from across the camp followed by a much louder one close by. Damn, that sounded like it came from just up ahead , she thinks starting cautiously up the avenue again. What the hell is that?  Up ahead, two figures emerge out onto the avenue a few buildings ahead and begin running in her direction, passing in and out of the circles of light. With the reminder that gunshots were fired and people may be rather trigger happy, she shrinks back out of the circle of light she was standing in. With an ear-piercing shriek, the two up ahead alter their course and race directly at her. Crap, they saw me , she thinks looking off to the sides and around her for some place to head just in case.

A building away, with the fatigue-clad figures racing toward her, another figure emerges into the area, skidding to a halt.

“Hey, you two! Where are you going?” The new figure calls out at the two running ones just ahead of him. The two figures adjust their course in mid-stride, angling now toward the newcomer. Standing in the shadows, Lynn watches the scene unfold.

The two running figures show no signs of slowing up as they quickly close their distance. “Hey, what are yo….?” He calls out but doesn’t finish as, with a combined shriek, the two plow into him, one launching into the air.

The soldier standing there only has time enough to raise his hands before he is catapulted backwards, his feet leave the ground, and he slams onto his back with the two on top. Dust billows out behind him from the impact with the ground. A struggle ensues, with more dust rising into the air around them, but it is short-lived. With a scream, a human one this time, the lone figure under the two attackers becomes still. On their knees, leaning over the stricken soldier, the two begin tearing into him with their teeth, gnashing like dogs and tearing chunks of flesh off. One raises his head shrieking into the night sky, blood painting its lower face.

Lynn’s initial reaction is to run to the soldier’s aid but it is over so quick that she never makes two steps in his direction. Another shriek sounds out of the darkness amongst the barracks close behind her. Okay, that’s enough for me , Lynn thinks and heads off across the road, using the shadows for concealment.

Settling between buildings and feeling somewhat protected in the dark, Lynn hunches down against one of the buildings. What the fuck was that and what the hell is going on here?  She thinks remembering the rumors floating through her office and from her friend. That could have been me and I would have been oblivious until it was too late.  More thoughts come at lightning speed, filling her mind as time progresses slowly in the physical world; who to trust and how to figure who to trust. Is this an isolated event?  In seeming answer, the sounds of more shrieks and gunfire off in the distance reach her in the darkness, along with the closer sounds from the avenue in front of growling and the wet sounds of flesh being rendered and eaten.

Well, I can’t stay here, that’s for sure . She thinks rising slowly to her feet. Calling security from the phone still sounds like a good idea although for different reasons now. Stay quiet and in the dark and trust no one. Finding a weapon might not be a bad idea. 

Lynn turns toward the back of the building and silently creeps along it, the sounds out front grow dimmer as she nears the back corner. Another smaller avenue appears in front of her running between this row of buildings and another one across the way. With only smaller circles of light appearing by entrance doors, the light here is not as prevalent as out front so the center of this smaller avenue is almost completely dark. Kneeling by the corner, Lynn sees the back of the operations center a short distance down the row of buildings she is currently on. She heads out into the middle of the avenue; giving her the darkest route to the operations center but knowing she won’t be able to see whatever those things were that attacked the soldier out front; her ears vigilant for any sounds close by. What am I thinking? Those were soldiers and I am thinking of them as things , she thinks stepping lightly along the sand path. No, those weren’t soldiers. At least not rational ones . No one rational attacks another and eats them .

Keeping to the dark with only the sounds of distant shots, shrieks, and the occasional generator running to keep her company, she arrives at the operations center building. Pausing at a darkened corner of the building, she listens for anything close by. Lights illuminate several of the windows along the side. Well, someone was here after I left , she thinks pondering her best approach at the door lit by a light above. I could break the light I suppose , her suddenly becoming very reluctant to enter into any light.

Looking at the windows along the side of the building, she realizes they are too high to look in, or to climb in for that matter. I’ll just try the door quickly , Lynn thinks rising from her crouched position. Sliding along the back of the building, she approaches the demarcation of light and shadow, listening once again for sounds. Taking a deep breath, she steps into the light and walks briskly to the door. Grasping the handle, she pulls it towards her; the steel door gives a little before stopping with a metallic clunk, indicating it is locked from within. She is just about to turn and head back into the shadows when a voice calls from within, “Who’s there?”

“Sergeant Connell,” Lynn whispers loudly, not wanting her voice to carry.

“Who?” The voice within asks again.

“Just open the fucking door!” She says firmly and louder this time.

There is a short pause the door swings outward. She darts through as soon as there is enough of an opening. “With a response like that, there’s only one person it could be,” a Specialist says once she is in and the door closes behind her with a metallic click.

The door opens into the large room where her desk is located, lit by only a half section of light overhead. Four other soldiers are in the room clustered together around the middle, their eyes wide and heads pivoting in every direction. She knows the Specialist behind her from her previous position in the operations center but doesn’t recognize anyone else.

“Specialist Taylor, is there anyone else here?” She asks of the Specialist who opened the door for her as she steps up to the group in the middle.

“No, Sergeant,” he answers.

“Anyone have any idea of what’s going on?” She asks looking at each one.

“I think they’re killing people out there,” one Private says looking back over her shoulder towards the front of the building.

“Easy soldier. We don’t know that,” Lynn says feeling a little more relaxed in the familiar environment of her office and being in command.

Picking up the handset from a phone from the metal desk in front of her, Lynn dials the number for the security shop. She lets it ring for a few times before returning the handset to its cradle. She then tries the gate but no one answers. Several more calls to other locations reveals the same. Turning to Taylor, she asks, “Has anyone tried calling in?”

“No, Sergeant,” he responds. “It’s the same with other bases as well. No one’s home.”

“Is the front door locked?”

“Yes, Sergeant Connell,” another Specialist answers as a shriek sounds outside the front of the building. All heads turn that direction.

“Anyone bring a weapon?” Lynn asks. Their heads swing back toward her and they all give them a shake. “Great! Specialist Taylor, take someone with you and gather all of the emergency flashlights. And don’t make any noise.”

Nodding to the other Specialist and another Private, Lynn says, “You two, I saw lights on through the windows outside. Go turn them off and make sure the windows are locked. I want this building secure.”

They both give a “Yes, Sergeant” and head off. Lynn sits at the desk and ponders over this bizarre day, thoughts and ideas run a blitzkrieg through her head. She tries the security shop again but gets no response as a volley of gunfire sounds faintly outside.

“Sounds like that’s coming from zone 2,” she says softly.

“I think so, Sergeant,” the Private remaining with her says.

“Okay, I’m not sure what’s going on here but we’re treating this as an attack and going on lockdown. No one goes in or out of the TOC unless they identify themselves and show their ID. Clear!” Lynn says once the two groups returned having completed their assignments.

“Yes, Sergeant,” they respond in unison.

“Private, you man the phones,” Lynn orders one of the Privates, “Specialist, you get on the phone and try to raise anyone starting with the security shop.” Both respond with a “Yes, Sergeant” and seat themselves at adjoining desks.

She turns to the other three to give them assignments when a terrific knocking sounds at the door at the front of the building. The Specialist pauses in mid-dial and all eyes turn towards the sound.

“Specialist Taylor, you’re with me. The rest of you stay alert,” she says starting toward the front door and the pounding.

She walks to the locked, steel door, arriving just as the pounding resumes on the door. She stands in front of it with Taylor off to one side. “Identify yourself,” she calls.

“Sergeant Connell? It’s Drescoll,” a voice responds from the other side of the door. “Hurry, they’re right on my ass.”

Lynn bumps her hip against the latch bar running horizontally across the door cracking it slightly but keeping her hand on the bar ready to close it again quickly.

“I need to see your ID,” she says once the crack appears and a thin stream of light pours in from the lights outside.

However, as soon as the door cracks open, she loses her grip on the door, the door flies open as Drescoll pulls on it and darts into the entrance, running past Lynn and into Taylor knocking both of them off balance.

“Close it, hurry, close it!” Drescoll says breathlessly as soon as he is inside.

Lynn grabs the door and begins to pull it closed, the picture outside imprints itself in her mind like a snapshot. The wide sandy avenue, the tan, convex buildings across the way with their entrances lit by lights over the doors spreading circles of light on the ground, the avenue itself lit by pole-mounted lights. The faint sound of generators reach her ears and the sight of approximately ten people running directly for her from across the way freezes in her mind, each member of the group in a different part of their stride.

The picture is cut off by the closing door and disappears entirely with a click. There was a pause as the door was closing during which she contemplated holding it open for them, but given what she has seen and the fact that she issued a lockdown order, they need to ID everyone coming into the operations center. Followed closely by the sound of the door shutting comes several loud shrieks from those running toward it, as if frustrated, along with the sound of many feet striking the ground which grows rapidly louder by the second.

“Holy shit that was close. Thanks,” Drescoll says between gasps of breath and bent over in the semi-darkness of the entrance with his hands on his knees.

A loud thud sounds as something slams against the door in front of them startling the three of them as Drescoll finishes his sentence. Something else slams against the door right on the heels of the first.

“Identify yourself,” Lynn calls out to the other side of the door only to be met by a loud shriek and another large something banging against the door.

“Or don’t,” she says more quietly.

“I think they just did,” Drescoll says just as quietly having caught his breath and standing back upright.

“Specialist Taylor, stay here but don’t open the door and stay quiet. I’m going to send one of the Privates up with you.” Lynn says turning from the door and starting back to the open area with Drescoll on her heels.

“Private, go up with Specialist Taylor at the front door and keep watch,” she says once she returns to the central open room.

Turning to Drescoll who is leaning against one of the desks, Lynn asks, “So, what the hell was that about?”

“Fuck, I don’t know exactly,” Drescoll answers getting a rather faraway look in his eyes. “I was in the Intel shop when about twenty people suddenly stormed into the building. They immediately began attacking everyone there, jumping on them and literally tearing them apart. I tried to help but they were overwhelming and it became apparent very quickly there wasn’t anything I could do. Everyone in the shop was down and just that quickly. I headed out the back but some of them apparently saw me and chased me all of the way here.”

The faraway look vanishes and he focuses on Lynn, staring intensely into her eyes. “They were our own people Lynn,” Drescoll adds, his shock apparent by the use of her first name.

Releasing his gaze and staring at the floor, he goes on, “I recognized some of them. Only, they weren’t really the same. They were just, well, crazed and out of control. All they did was shriek and howl as they tore everyone apart. And, they were pale and blotchy. Christ, it was a mess in there. Thanks again for opening the door,” he finishes looking at her once again with the slamming and shrieks almost continuous outside.

“No worries,” Lynn says and looks at the others in the room. They are alternating their wide-eyed stares between her and Drescoll. “Continue your calling,” she says to the Specialist and he turns back to the phone in front of him, the mesmerization broken.

“Okay, we’re going to continue to man the TOC and try to get contact. Any questions?”

The Privates and Specialist answer with a “No, Sergeant.”

Lynn turns to Sergeant Drescoll, “I want to get a look outside. Do you mind waiting here and overseeing this for a bit?” She asks, waving her left arm in a circular motion to indicate the room.

“Not a prob,” Drescoll responds.

Lynn walks to where Taylor and the Private are standing by the front door. The shrieks have grown less frequent in nature but the sounds and reverberations of something slamming hard into the building are no longer confined to the door. There are things slamming against the building walls as well. Between the howls and pounding sounds, there is now a continuous growling that seeps into the building from outside. The sporadic gunfire heard in the distance earlier is now either non-existent or overshadowed by the closer sounds.

“I’m heading in the office for a look outside. Have you heard anything different than, well, this?” She asks indicating the obvious noises with a nod of her head, barely visible in the gray darkness.

“No, Sergeant,” Taylor responds and Lynn heads into the office on her right.

In the office, the window stands at about eye level looking out to the front of the building. She steps up to the window and gazes out over the wide avenue. The building is raised from the ground so eye level to her is a ways off the ground outside. Looking left and right, the avenue is clear with the exception of about twenty people crowded in front of the TOC. The crowd consists mostly of fatigue-clad soldiers but mixed in are people in shorts and t-shirts. A couple of them are darker skinned and dressed in jeans and button-down short-sleeve shirts. They are mostly milling about but definitely focused on the building she is in. A few of them take short runs at the building and slam into the sides or up the steps outside and into the front door with their shoulders. Some attempt to run and jump at the other window on the other side of the door but the window and its small ledge seem too high for them to reach.

As she continues to gaze out at the crowd, she notices one detail prevalent in all of them by the light streaming down on them, and that is the paleness of their skin. It seems to be pale gray with both small and large darker gray blotches. Several appear to have blood painted on their faces and hands. Some of their clothing is soaked in what appears to be either dried or drying blood. A very large chill crawls up her spine and a sense of surrealness steels over her. Oh my fucking god, are those freakin’ zombies?  She thinks shaking her head not believing entirely what she is seeing outside. No, can’t be.  A flash of memory passes through her mind as she recalls the many zombie discussions she and Jack had in the past. Talking about what they would do in the event of a zombie invasion and discussing the various zombie books they had read.

The trip down memory lane is broken when one of the crowd notices her in the window and shrieks out. She looks down at the figure hunched toward her with its mouth open. The others pause in whatever activity they were at and focus on her, running towards her window. The one who discovered her runs at her, launches itself up, and slams into the side of the building. She notes all of them have focused on her and that a distraction could possibly work in the event they need to hastily exit. The shrieks and pounding increase in intensity with their having discovered someone inside. Lynn backs away from the window and out of the office.

“You holler if anyone or anything breaches the front of the building. Watch out for the windows,” she says passing by Taylor and the Private once more.

“Will do, Sergeant,” Taylor responds.

In the open area once again, she signals Sergeant Drescoll to her rather than joining the small group. She relates everything she saw, although not her thoughts. Their voices don’t carry past their position.

“What the fuck is going on?” He asks after hearing her report.

“I have no idea,” she replies back. “We need to keep away from the windows and maintain silence though. We’ll just hole up here and see what the morning brings. In the meantime, we’ll stay on the phones.”

Drescoll nods in agreement. “What about the lights?”

“We’ll turn on a couple to indicate to anyone outside, well, the ones that haven’t gone crazy, that the TOC is manned.” He nods and Lynn steps over to the others in the room informing them of her plans. Next, she heads to the front to notify Taylor and the Private.

The remainder of the evening is spent with little change in their situation. There is no response from any of the calls outbound and none of the lines ring with anyone calling in. The sounds outside become more sporadic with the exception of the constant muted growling. The only change occurs a little after 0200 when the occasional pounding and growling begins occurring along the side of the building under the windows from where their inside lights are emitting outside. After turning the lights completely out, submersing them in almost total darkness, the sounds along the side eventually transition to the back door. With everyone keyed up and facing a very confusing situation, there is no sleep to be had.

Little is said during the rest of the night. Lynn ponders whether this is an isolated incident but the fact that they cannot raise anyone either inside the camp, or any of the other bases in country, leads her to believe this may be on a much larger scale. Calls to other bases within the states or Europe also go unanswered. Could this be happening world-wide?  She thinks staring out through the window from her position near the center of the room at the star-speckled sky. I hope Jack is okay  and her heart both tightens and warms at the thought of him.

With the coming dawn, the sky not yet lighting with the false dawn but promising it is near, something happens that draws everyone’s attention. Or really, it is more like the lack of something happening that draws their attention. The sounds outside suddenly, and without warning, cease. Complete silence ensues. In the dark gray of the building, Lynn walks into the front office once again and slowly peers out of the side of the window, careful not to draw any attention. The buildings, avenue and lights remain the same but there is no one to be seen. To the east, she can barely make out the sky beginning to light up. The one thing that does draw her attention is a form on the ground under one


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of the lights far down the avenue to her left. That must be the guy who was attacked by those first two , she thinks and withdraws from the window.

“You two with me,” she says to Taylor and the Private as she passes by them on exiting the office and proceeds back to the other group members.

Drawing the group together in the center of the room, she notifies them of the situation out front. “When it gets fully light, you two will continue to man the TOC,” she says pointing to the Specialist and one of the Privates. “The rest of us will draw weapons and head over to the security shop. I’m not sure what happened so we need to stay together and alert. This facility will remain on lockdown and you ID anyone trying to come in. No ID, no entrance. Any questions?”

Drescoll shakes his head and the others respond with, “No, Sergeant Connell.”

The sun crests the horizon transitioning from night to day. The transition in the desert comes quickly. One moment night holds sway, and the next, the land stands bathed in daylight. After checking through the office window once more and verifying that nothing is moving outside, Lynn opens the front door and steps out into the morning light, squinting against the sudden change in brightness. The chill of the night quickly turning into the heat of the day but moderately comfortable at the moment. With Sergeant Drescoll and Specialist Taylor off each shoulder and slightly behind her, and the two Privates behind them, she starts off through the sand towards the armory to draw their weapons.

On the way, they pass by the form in the avenue. It is indeed a soldier, or rather, what once was one. Its field cap lies on the ground by its head. I say ‘its’ because the gender is unidentifiable. The tissue on the face is completely removed leaving only the facial bone structure staring up at the blue sky lighting up with the rising sun. The uniform is shredded and almost completely removed from the body. The only piece remaining is the belt and small section of the pants just below it. That piece and the shreds of uniform lying on the ground around are covered in dried blood. The rest of the body appears to have been almost completely eaten with the bones only holding small bits of tendons and flesh. Blood is soaked into the sand around the body which is churned up denoting a frenzy of activity. One lung and chunks of internal organs are the only things remaining within the torso and chest cavity.

One of the Privates leans over and throws up the little in his stomach, dry heaving once everything has been expelled but unable to stop. Lynn looks over at Taylor and he walks to the Private and guides him a little ways down to the avenue removing him from the proximity. As he is doing this, Lynn reaches down and removes one of the dog tags, sticking one in her pocket and leaving one with the body.

“Okay, let’s move on,” she says straightening.

The only sounds in the area are of generator motors running in the distance with some closer. The usual morning activity of people heading off on various assignments and errands are non-existent. A little further away from the TOC and the body of the soldier in the road, a figure steps out from a building ahead and into the roadway. The small group freezes into place, ready for anything that may come. Stopping in the road, the figure ahead looks anxiously to the left and right before sighting the group. Appearing startled by the sight of her group of five, the figure walks warily toward them, tensed and ready to run. Lynn turns her head over her shoulder and tells everyone to remain in place.

As the figure draws near, Lynn observes the wariness and tension from the fatigue-clad soldier. “Identify yourself,” Lynn calls out once the soldier closes in to where they can hear without her broadcasting their location. The tension visibly leaves the soldier as she replies back, “Corporal Horace.”

“You’re the first ones I’ve seen today, Sergeant,” Horace replies as she steps up to the group.

She then relates her story of the night prior detailing how she headed out to the latrine in the middle of the night and was chased repeatedly until taking refuge in one of the buildings for the night. She was over by zone 2 and listened all night to the shrieks, howls, and apparent running gunfights with the sounds of the gunfire dying around 0200. Watching from the windows of her building, she saw several other soldiers attacked and taken down,

Heading over to the camp armory, the group encounters more bodies of soldiers and civilian contractors laying in the sand in various positions but looking like the first body they encountered to some degree or another; bones stripped mostly to the skin.

“What in the world could or would do this?” Taylor asks quietly as they pass two more bodies lying in the warming desert sun, not really expecting an answer.

As with the first soldier she encountered, Lynn removes a dog tag from each one adding them to the growing number in her pocket.

“I don’t know but we’re going to have to assume the camp has been overrun at this point,” Lynn replies noting the very distinct lack of people or the noises normally associated with a large group of people assembled in one place.

Stepping around the corner of a building and onto the roadway leading to the armory, Lynn sees a larger group standing in the roadway in front of the armory a short ways ahead. She signals the others with her to hold up, not knowing if the group ahead is friendly or not, and draws to a stop with the rest of the group behind her.

“I think we should head between the buildings here,” she says pointing back in the direction they came and a pathway leading between them, “until we can get closer and find out their disposition.”

Retracing their steps, still unseen by the larger group, they turn left and walk down the pathway, keeping the buildings between them and the other group. As they draw closer, the sound of voices begins to penetrate the mostly silent area. They squat behind the building directly across from where the others have gathered.

“What do you think, Sergeant Connell?” Drescoll asks quietly as they all gather in a circle.

“I don’t recall hearing any of those affected ones speaking and they’re not attacking each other, so I think we’re going to have to assume they’re okay,” she says squatting in the shadow of the building. “I’ll go out and make contact. The rest of you stay here. Sergeant Drescoll, keep an eye on what happens. If it goes bad, get out of here. If we become separated, the rally point will be the TOC. Everyone clear?”

“You got it,” Drescoll responds. The rest of the small group gathered around her answer with a quiet “Yes, Sergeant.”

Lynn stands up and brushes some not-so-imaginary sand from her fatigues, more from an anticipatory action and readying herself to step into an unknown, and steps around the corner heading towards the front of the building, watching the group ahead for any reaction. There are about twenty soldiers gathered in front of the armory in a semi-circular fashion centering their attention on another solider. For the most part, their backs are to her and her approach.

Lynn walks out from the shadow of the building and into the bright morning sun beating down upon this barren part of the world. Stopping momentarily to let her eyes adjust, she sees one of the soldiers closer to the central figure as he turns in her direction and notices her. He immediately turns back toward the central figure and starts speaking, pointing in her direction, the exact words not quite reaching her ears.

All eyes turn on her as one, the open end of the semi-circle reorienting so that it is now facing her. “Approach and identify yourself,” the central figure states.

“Sergeant Connell,” Lynn responds feeling relieved as some of the tension inside her releases.

She walks toward the group. As she approaches, she notices that the group is a mix of enlisted personnel and NCO’s. She recognizes the short, slightly overweight central figure as Major Bannerman. Walking across the roadway, she steps up to him and salutes.

“I have another small group with me, sir,” she says as Major Bannerman returns her salute and she motions them out.

As her small group walks out from their location and into the roadway, Major Bannerman says, “We were just going to draw weapons and gear and head over to the TOC.”

“I just came from there, sir. We haven’t been able to make contact with anyone else on base nor with anyone on the outside. We haven’t encountered anyone else this morning with the exception of Corporal Horace here. Lots of bodies though.”

“We haven’t either ,Sergeant. We’ll form a temporary unit comprising of those with us until we can get in contact and help arrives. Sergeant Connell, you’re now my First Sergeant. Let’s arm up and head over to the TOC,” Bannerman says.

“Yes, sir,” Lynn responds. “Sergeant Drescoll, draw your weapon, then take seven with you who can drive and bring eight Humvees back here. The rest of you will draw your weapons and start bringing ammo out, stacking it in front.”

The handles on the double steel doors leading into the large tan armory building are warm to the touch as Lynn pulls the left door open. Cool air from the dimmed interior rushes out and brushes against her. The concrete floor of the small entrance room is lit only by the light streaming in from the now open door. Stepping into the room, Lynn looks to the right wall and, finding the light switch, flicks the bank of lights to the on position. The fluorescent lights hanging from the false ceiling of the convex building come to life, flickering momentarily before flooding the room. To the immediate left and right of the entrance, offices show through glass panels set into the walls with their doors open. A short distance on the other side of the room, another small room sits behind a wire enclosure with another set of double steel doors leading into the back of the building next to it.

“Private, check those doors,” Lynn says pointing at the other steel doors as others come into the room. “I’ll see if I can find the checkout sheet.”

Stepping to a door leading into the caged area, Lynn tests the door, surprisingly finding it unlocked and opens it. “The doors are locked, Sergeant Connell,” the Private says, checking the doors leading into the armory proper as Lynn steps into the caged room.

Rummaging through the small area, she finds several sets of keys. Pocketing those, she then finds a clipboard and several sheets of paper. Standing close to the wire and addressing the group within the entrance room, she says, “Okay, listen up everyone. When you draw your weapon and gear, I want your name, unit, serial number, and the serial number of your weapon on the first sheet. When we start bringing the ammo out, I want quantity and type on the second sheet. We’ll enter in groups of five. Is that clear?”

A chorus of “Yes, First Sergeant” resounds in the room. With clipboard in hand, Lynn moves towards the steel doors leading into the armory proper. Testing various keys, she eventually finds the right one and unlocks the doors. Swinging them outward and bracing them open, she looks inside. The large room appears to run the remaining length of the building but is shrouded in darkness, lit only to a depth of about the first fifteen feet from the doors. A bank of light switches sits against the wall to her left.

“You five in with me,” she says to the first five behind her and reaches over to the switches, flicking them upward.

The sound of relays closing echo in the room from front to back. The lights come on in a sequential fashion, ‘chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk,’ spreading light into the room in stages as banks of large, hanging lights come on inside the warehouse.

A loud shriek sounds to her immediate right. Whipping her head in that direction, she is in time to witness something large slam into one of the soldiers who accompanied her into the room. The soldier is knocked from his feet with a cry of surprise, lands on the concrete floor and slides to a stop just a few feet in front of her. Another figure in fatigues is on top already clawing and biting into him. A wet ripping sound echoes across the vast interior, followed by the soldier’s screams. Small droplets of blood splatter against the gray concrete floor beside the pile of two writhing bodies. The four soldiers stand just inside the armory doors, paralyzed as the one that was swept from their midst continues to be ravaged on the concrete floor at their feet.

However, without hesitation, Lynn drops the clipboard and launches herself at the soldier on top. Landing on its back, she wraps her right arm around its throat and continues her roll to the right, finishing on her back with the other on top in a choke hold. The thing on top of her snarls and writhes in an attempt to break her hold. Lynn wraps her legs around the others legs in order to subdue the creature thrashing on top of her.

“Calm down soldier!” She yells into its ear and tightens her grip around its throat.

Time both slows down and speeds up as the thing on top of her continues to thrash. The central thought of subduing the soldier on top of her permeates her mind, but another small thought enters and she is thankful for the daily workouts in the gym as the thing on top latches onto her right arm around its throat and pulls attempting to break her grip. Damn he’s strong , she thinks as she feels her choke hold weaken. She brings her left hand up to her right arm to add strength to her grip and feels the hold tighten up once again. The being on top of her whips its head wildly about but the adrenaline coursing through her adds strength and the thrashing becomes less and less until it stops completely, becoming a dead weight on her chest.

Lynn releases her grip and rolls the creature off and to the left. She rolls to her knees and reaches over to the limp form now lying face down on the floor beside her, checking quickly for a pulse. Finding one, she then scans around the armory interior before crawling over to the injured soldier who is now sitting up with his left hand to his cheek. Streams of blood run between his fingers and down onto his fatigue shirt.

“You four, make sure he stays subdued. Let me know the instant he starts coming around,” she says pointing to the unconscious form on the ground and startling the four out of their trance.

“Here, let me see that,” she says to the bleeding soldier.

As he withdraws his hand, she sees a chunk of flesh has been taken out of his left cheek and is bleeding freely as facial wounds will. Lynn removes her fatigue shirt and t-shirt underneath pressing the t-shirt against his wound.

“Hold that tight,” she says and replaces her fatigue top.

The Corporal turns his head, looking into her eyes, his eyes still wide with fear and adrenaline. “Thanks, Sergeant,” he says pressing his hand to the t-shirt, holding it in place.

“No worries, Corporal,” she replies and looks to the door, noticing heads poking into the room.

“Go find me some speed tape,” she says to a group gathered at the entrance peeking in, and the heads disappear.

Lynn then sits with a heavy sigh and looks over the lit interior more closely. Racks of weapons line the middle interior and walls.  There are also crates stacked at intervals throughout the room. There is no sign of movement and she glances back at the three enlisted men and one woman around the unconscious form on the floor. One of the men is holding the form’s arms at its back while another sits on its legs. Standing, Lynn takes a couple of steps over to assess.

“Roll him onto his back,” she says wanting to get a look at him.

Releasing his hold on the arms, one of the soldiers rolls it face up. There is almost a unified gasp as the attacker is shown in the bright lights. Its skin is a pale ashen gray, mottled by darker gray patches both large and small with a patch of bright red blood splashed on the lips and skin around the mouth. Thinking she has killed the soldier, Lynn reaches out once again to check for a pulse. The skin feels clammy and cool to the touch, almost like it should be wet. Her fingers come up dry though as she verifies a rapid pulse from its neck.

“What happened to him?” One of the Privates asks gazing down with wide eyes and raised eyebrows at the still form.

“I don’t know,” she says thinking it must have something to do with the vaccinations or the flu itself. Perhaps that’s why they stopped the vaccinations , she thinks to herself.

She hears steps behind her and turns her head over her shoulder to see another soldier approach with a roll of duct tape in his hand. “Found some, First Sergeant,” he says and hands it to her.

Rolling the thing on its back once more, they bind its hands and ankles. “Get him outside,” she says as they finish up.

“Clear a path!” She yells to the group at the entrance and the entrance room beyond.

Lynn follows behind as they carry the body, two grabbing under the arms and another at the feet. She can hear several muted gasps as others see the body for the first time. They carry it outside.

“Set him there,” she says pointing to a spot of deeper sand just away from the building. “And find something to shade him with.”

Emerging from the shadow of the building, with the entire group in tow, they set the still unconscious body on the sand. “What happened in there, Sergeant Connell?” Major Bannerman asks once they are outside into the bright sun and fierce heat.

The question falls on seemingly deaf ears as Lynn and the rest are staring at the figure and the immediate transformation it seems to be going through. The exposed skin of the face begins to redden, becoming like an instant sunburn. The thing’s eyes pop open widely and it begins to howl and shriek, thrashing wildly, its back arching up as though in extreme pain. The skin’s redness darkens even further, to the point where it seems like it should be smoking. The ear-piercing shrieks continue almost non-stop, all of this happening within seconds.

“Get it inside!” Lynn yells above the shrieks and takes a step towards it to help.

Before her second step, the wild arching subsides and it falls limply to the ground as the shrieking abruptly ends. She rapidly goes to her knees beside the limp form checking for a pulse but finds none. The skin is extremely warm and dry to her touch.

“He’s dead,” she says, looking back over her shoulder at the group and Major Bannerman.

Standing, Lynn then answers Bannerman’s question and relates the events inside, giving more of an overview than a detailed description. “Sir, may I speak?” She asks after finishing her description. Major Bannerman then leads her a little ways away from the group.

“Sir, I think we may be dealing with some kind of reaction to either the vaccination or the flu itself. It appears that whatever it is makes them hostile attacking others. And whatever transformation it is apparently makes them quite sensitive to light. Or outside light at least,” she says pulling several facts together. Those being that they seem to be active at night and that they found this one in a darkened room along with its reaction to the outside light. “I think we should deal with them as hostiles until we know better.”

“Good idea, Sergeant,” Bannerman says, “We’ll draw weapons and hole up in the TOC until help arrives.”

“Sir, I’m not sure help is coming if this is associated with the vaccinations. The whole world was inoculated or at least exposed to the virus. And, I tried calling almost everyone back at Lewis along with several other installations. No one answered.”

“What’s your suggestion then, Sergeant Connell? How are we going to get out of here?”

“I would suggest we arm up, gather water and rations and hole up in the tower at the airfield. It will have telephones along with radios to contact any aircraft still flying. Plus, it’s easily defendable. We have plenty of food and water here if things are truly a worst case scenario,” Lynn replies to his questions. “If we can hold out here for perhaps five days and no help arrives, then we can load up vehicles with rations, fuel, and ammo and evaluate the best route and destination.”

“Very good, Sergeant. That sounds good to me,” Bannerman says and turns back towards the group.

The very first thoughts of the surrealness of the situation begin to form in Lynn’s mind. This may be similar to the very situations Jack, her, and a few others discussed as wild, ‘what if’ scenarios. What would they do if a zombie invasion happened? Is this really something global?  She thinks. I hope Jack is okay. Will he actually come pick me up as they discussed? Too weird to think about but the tower is a logical place to go in any case. 

Back at the group, who is mostly staring at the limp body lying in the sand, Major Bannerman addresses the group and details the plan they came up with.

“What about leaving now, sir?” A voice sounds from somewhere in the group.

“It’s a deathtrap here, sir,” another sounds out.

“I think the best idea is to stay here until we get more info,” Bannerman says and turns to Lynn. “Sergeant Connell, see to the weapon dispersal.”

“Yes, sir. You four, with me,” Lynn says pointing out four enlisted, “We’re going to clear the armory and then same plan as before.”

After making sure the injured soldier is treated, Lynn and the four soldiers enter back into the armory. She gathers them at the doors leading into the actual armory. “Wedge formation. We’ll draw weapons at the first rack and then proceed to clear the room. Heads on a swivel. No firing if your line of sight isn’t clear; use the butt of your weapon,” Lynn says and details positions for the others; two in front with two on the sides putting herself in the middle to help out on either side. “Everything clear?”

“Yes, Sergeant,” they answer and proceed inside.

The weapons inside stand in mute silence. The detail detects no movement as they move warily to the first rack of M-16’s leaning in their racks; tense and with heads moving constantly. They draw weapons and, although expecting something, no sounds or attacks greet them on their journey through the room. All is silent. They clear the room and proceed back to the door.

Lynn tells three of them to accompany each of the five that come in to get their weapon and one to remain with her at the doors. She shoulders her weapon and picks the clipboard back up. The unit then gathers their weapons in groups of five as Lynn keeps their annotations accurate. Once all weapons are drawn, she details Drescoll to get the Humvees and other soldiers to carry ammo crates outside.

“Sir, I suggest we stop at the TOC and police up the intel. We can then break into groups to police up other intel, gather rations and medical supplies, and other personal gear in the barracks,” Lynn says after crates of ammunition, NVG’s, and extra weapons are loaded into the vehicles once Sergeant Drescoll returns with them.

“Okay, Sergeant, see to it,” Bannerman responds.

Gathering the group around her, Lynn gives vehicle assignments, order of travel, and instructions to meet at the TOC, “And be sure to look out for stragglers. We still don’t know what we’re dealing with here. Report on the radio any sign of movement with location and numbers,” she adds and everyone disperses to their assigned vehicles.

They arrive at the TOC without further incident. Exiting her vehicle, Lynn directs four Humvees to block the wide, sandy avenue in front and stand guard, locating two in each direction down the road facing outward several buildings down. She then allocates a detail of soldiers led by Sergeant Drescoll and two Humvees to locate and gather water and food, setting their return for two hours hence. Major Bannerman opts to leave with the detail party leaving Lynn in charge of the TOC operations. The two detail Humvees head out leaving a trail of dust in the still air behind them, the sound of their engines fading as they head away from the TOC.

Meeting up again with the Specialist and Private she left at the TOC, Lynn assigns them and two additional soldiers to head inside and gather up the intel. She then details Specialist Taylor, a communications specialist, to stay in one of the Humvees parked in front of the TOC to monitor the radios and keep in contact with the detail party. She also tells the remaining soldiers to stand watch around the TOC before heading down to the road to one of the Humvee pairs to check on them.

Arriving at the Humvees with the heat of the day truly building up, she checks on them and talks with for a few moments. Looking back toward the TOC, she notices several of the soldiers grouped around one of the Humvees and, oddly, Specialist Taylor standing away from the Humvee and his assignment with another small group. Looking further up the road, she also notices that the two Humvees that were guarding the other end are nowhere in sight.

What the fuck , she thinks turning back to the soldiers she is standing next to. “You know anything about what’s going on?” Lynn asks the group staring down the road with her, putting a quick picture together and suspecting the worst.

“No, Sergeant,” they reply in intervals without taking their eyes from the road; their responses coming from behind her. Lynn strides back towards the TOC.

About half way there, she sees the one group pile into one of the Humvees and hears it start up. Her stride becomes a run as the doors to the Humvee close. Lynn arrives in front of the TOC with sweat dripping down her forehead, just as the Humvee begins to pull away.

“Soldier, stop that Humvee now!!!” She yells directing her order to the driver and skidding to a halt.

The driver, now only yards away and with his elbow resting on the window frame of the door, sticks his head out of the window and looks back at her. “Sorry, Sergeant,” he says and pulls his head back in as the Humvee picks up speed.

The three remaining soldiers, including Specialist Taylor, come up to her and kneel in the sandy road next to her, bringing their M-16’s to their shoulders and sight down on the Humvee, now rapidly growing smaller and the dust partially obscuring it.

Lynn reaches her palm out to the top of the weapon next to her and pushes the muzzle downward.

“Stand down,” she says and the remaining muzzles lower as the soldiers rise to their feet.

“Sorry, Sergeant Connell,” Taylor says as the Humvee ahead makes a left turn and disappears from view, “there wasn’t much we could do.”

“No worries,” she says still staring after the departed Humvee, “I suspected some would want to go but didn’t think they would do it this way.”

“Everyone okay?” Lynn asks turning to look at the soldiers around her.

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“What about those inside?” She asks.

“They’re still in there,” Taylor responds and then proceeds to relate the details.

He had been half sitting in the driver seat when he noticed the two Humvees down the road drive off. Just as he climbed out of the Humvee, one of the soldiers came up behind him and told him they weren’t staying here but leaving with the other group, asking him if he wanted to go. When he told them he was staying and that they were, in effect, conducting a mutiny, he was rather forcefully ‘asked’ to join the other two; the ‘asking’ being made by way of a drawn Beretta and him being on the wrong end.

Turning back toward the two Humvees she left guarding the other end of the avenue and seeing they were still there, she tells Taylor, “Get on the radio and have them report back here.”

Taylor seats himself back in the remaining Humvee and the other two return a short time later. The soldiers inside accomplish their mission and stand outside just as the vehicles arrive, coating Lynn and the small group in a small cloud of dust as they pull to a stop.

Lynn gathers the group around her, “Okay, is there anyone here who also feels the need to leave?” She asks sternly with her hands on her hips and looking at each one in turn.

As she locks eyes with each soldier, they answer with a “No, Sergeant.”

“Very well. If you hear of any rumors or word of such, you’re to let me know immediately. Understood!”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

She then reassigns a single Humvee at each of the previous locations and gets on the radio informing Major Bannerman of the situation. “Very well, Sergeant Connell, we’ll be returning shortly,” Bannerman responds.

It’s at this time that she notices one of the soldiers that departed was the one that had been bitten in the armory. She lets out a heavy sigh of disappointment and turns to await the arrival of the foraging party.

The detail party returns a short time later loaded with water and food. Lynn brings Bannerman up to speed with the events and their situation. “Sir, I recommend we break into single Humvee groups to gather our personal ready packs and meet back here in ninety minutes before heading out to the tower. We’ll need to recon the tower and set up before dark,” she finishes looking at the blazing sun pass it zenith and heads into the afternoon.

“Very well, Sergeant Connell. Make the assignments.”

Lynn breaks the groups into four separate groups with, Bannerman, Drescoll, Taylor, and herself leading them. “Stay


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as a team and gather your items one person at a time,” she instructs them. They synch their watches, load into their respective vehicles, and head out to the various barrack facilities.

“What about our armor, Sergeant Connell?” Taylor asks.

“Bring them just in case but it’s not necessary to don them right now.”

With Corporal Horace and two other Privates in her group, Lynn parks the Humvee in front of her barracks. She steps out of her vehicle and scans the area after grabbing her M-16 and several magazines from inside, sticking the extra ammo in the cargo pockets of her fatigues. The occasional birds usually heard or seen around the camp seem to be taking a break from the heat that has now climbed to over the 100 degree mark. Nothing disturbs the still heat of the day. Even the muted sound of generators running near the TOC are silent giving a possible indication to Lynn that the power in this area has been disrupted by either mechanical failure or they may have simply run out of fuel. The closing of the Humvee doors sounds unnaturally clear and loud; even the sound of their boots hitting the ground is crisp and disturbs the quiet more than it should.

“We’re going to move through here and clear the barracks cubicle by cubicle from front to back. There may be survivors holding up within. I’m going to give a shout upon entry and, if no one responds, then we’ll assume anything moving is hostile,” Lynn says gathering her small group around her. “Corporal Horace, you and Private Manning take the right side. Private Turnbull, you’re with me. Side by side down the central corridor. Any questions.”

“No, Sergeant,” they respond above the clicking sound of their weapon’s selector switches transferring from ‘safe’ to ‘burst.’

Lynn steps up to the long and narrow convex building door; the steel building and door radiating the absorbed heat. Standing to the left of the door against the building with Turnbull behind her and the other team of two off to one side in front of the door; Horace kneels in the sand and Manning stands beside her looking over her shoulder, Lynn reaches out to the door’s handle.

Looking back over her shoulder at Horace, she says, “You’re right, I’m left. Manning and Turnbull, you have the corridor to the right and left respectively.”

She then gives Horace a nod which the Corporal returns, and, after each soldier verifies that their flashlights they picked up from the TOC and Humvees are on, Lynn swings the door open, darts in turning instantly to her left, sinking to her knees to the immediate inside left of the door and bringing her weapon to her shoulder, her light shining in her assigned area. Corporal Horace darts in immediately on Lynn’s heels accomplishing the same to the right. Manning and Turnbull follow in setting up five feet further inside focusing down the concrete corridor.

The light streaming through the closing door illuminates the barracks in a thin stream along the corridor for about fifteen feet before dimming into blackness. The thin stream narrows in width as the door begins to swing shut on its own behind them. The light from their flashlights shine about a third of the way into the barracks, picking up rows of tan lockers along the corridor, separating the open space into smaller enclosed cubicles. The only other light in the building comes from the far end exit light above the far end door casting very little light around it.

The light from Lynn’s flashlight shines into the first cubicle to the left revealing closed locker doors and two made bunks placed end to end against the front wall with footlockers neatly set against the foot of each bunk. No movement greets any of the team and the only sound is the soft rustle of the clothing as they adjust their bodies. The door behind them closes with a loud click and a soft booming noise, echoing throughout the large enclosed space, shutting off the outside light and bathing the team in the soft glow of the exit light set into the wall above them. The beams of their flashlights cast searchingly into the darkness of the building.

“It’s all clear here, Sergeant Connell,” Private Turnbull says.

“Here too,” both Horace and Manning say only a second later.

“Anyone here,” Lynn calls out into the darkness as she reaches up to the light switch just above her head.

She flicks the bank of switches into the upward position just as several shrieks scream in close intervals out of the darkness. The interior lights remain off, indicative of a lack of power to the barracks. The echo of the screams make it difficult to ascertain their exact location but they seem to be coming from further back in the building and from the side cubicles in various locations.

“Assume they’re hostile. Fire at will but hold these positions,” Lynn says to her team as she orients herself down the corridor, still on her knees.

Immediately upon situating herself into her new position behind and slightly to the left of Private Turnbull, three figures burst out into the wide hallway from the cubicles on the left and four from the right. They immediately turn toward the team breaking into a run directly at them. More enter into the light cast by their lights from the far end of the building right on the heels of the first ones. The sound of Lynn’s M-16 barks loudly into the diminishing echoes of the shrieks as three rounds leave the barrel of her weapon and streak towards the closest figure, the first round catching it square in the sternum. Her second round hits in the neck causing an explosion of bright red blood that spreads in all directions. A millisecond later, the third round hits the creature’s pale gray face just above the tip of its nose and emerges from the back of the skull, bathing the creatures just behind it in blood and gore as its head explodes backwards. The force and solid thud of the three rounds impacting immediately stops the forward momentum of its upward body as the legs continue to take one more step resulting in the figure being knocked backward and the legs flying into the air in front. The body hits the concrete floor with a loud crack.

Before the strobe-like flashes of Lynn’s first shots vanish, more flash throughout the immediate area as the rest of her team opens fire on the rapidly swelling group running toward them. Bodies are flung in all directions as the corridor is filled with steel and the tinkling of shells hitting the floor as rounds are expended from the chambers of four weapons firing into the mass of bodies. Time slows.

Lynn calls out, “Reloading,” as she ejects the now empty magazine from her M-16. The magazine hits the ground beside her with a ringing metallic sound as she grabs for another from her cargo pocket. Two clicks sound as she inserts a fresh magazine firmly into the lower receiver and triggers the bolt release. She quickly adds additional rounds into the air in front of them.

Although they are dropping bodies left and right, the figures are getting closer by the second due to their number and closeness in which they started pouring into the corridor. A cacophony of noise fills the barracks from a mixture of shrieks, growls, and gunfire. The additional sounds of cartridges hitting the floor and solid smacks of rounds finding their targets fills the air as the surrounding area is lit by a constant flashing of weapons being fired. Although thinned substantially from the accurate fire, the creatures close the distance to within a few feet of the kneeling team.

Time suddenly accelerates as one creature leaps into the air with a shriek and slams into Private Turnbull, launching him backward toward Lynn. He lands beside her on his back with the creature on top. Lynn rams the butt of her M-16 into the side of the creature’s head knocking it off Turnbull onto the ground on the other side. She quickly reverses her weapon and fires into its chest point blank. Blood flowers from its chest from three neat holes close together in the middle of its chest as Private Turnbull quickly rises back to his knees.

Another creature simultaneously slams into Private Manning launching him in a similar fashion next to Corporal Horace. Warm liquid sprays outward and bathes the left side of Horace’s face as the creature bites into Manning, ripping a large chunk of meat from the side of his neck. His piercing scream fills the air. Horace puts the muzzle of her M-16 against the creatures head and fires. The head disintegrates and the thing falls heavily to the floor. She turns back to face the hall only to find it empty.

The sudden lack of sound is almost deafening compared to the amount of noise that permeated the interior only moments before. The only exception is the quick, shallow, panting breath from the three still on their knees and the moaning from Manning immediately beside Horace. The smell of gunpowder hangs in the air. Lynn scans the surrounding area but sees only a multitude of bodies covering the entirety of her immediate front to the limit of the shifting light from their flashlights.

Lynn looks over at Private Manning and is immediately at his side. Blood spurts from the gouge in his neck covering the floor around him and splashes on her fatigue pants. His entire neck, side of his face, and fatigues covering his shoulder are bathed in bright red blood. She drops her light and covers his wound with her hand in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Blood leaks out beneath her hand and through her fingers. Private Manning looks up widely at her and their eyes lock; his eyes are full of pain and a fear that his last moments are drawing near.

“It’s okay, Private. We stopped ‘em thanks to you,” she says keeping eye contact with him.

A slight smile crosses his ruined face as his body stiffens with a tremor and the life leaves his eyes; dimming them and glazing over. The blood that flowed beneath her hand stops and she reaches up to close his eyes.

Lynn looks up from her kneeling position towards Horace and Turnbull noticing Turnbull holding his left forearm. “Are you injured?” She asks.

“It bit me but it’s only superficial. I’ll be fine thanks to you, Sergeant,” he says looking at her with a smile of gratitude.

He lifts his hand from the wound and shows her. A bite mark that has penetrated the skin shows but the wound is not gouged out. Lynn gives a nod, turns her attention to Horace and says, “Get the med kit from the wall and dress that up.”

“Yes, Sergeant Connell,” Horace responds walking over to retrieve the med kit.

Taking bandages and tape from the inside, Horace wraps Turnbull’s arm. Private Turnbull then pulls his sleeve back down over the bandage. All three check their ammo, insert their last fresh magazine into their receivers, and gather up their empty mags, putting them into their pockets.

“What about Private Manning?” Horace asks as she pulls the flap over her pocket.

“We’ll clear the rest of the barracks, pick up my gear, and pick him up on the way out. I’ll lead in the middle. Corporal Horace, you are behind me on the right, Private Turnbull, behind me on the left. Same plan as before. Clear each cubicle on the way to the back,” Lynn says answering. “If we’re attacked, fall back side by side to the door. We don’t have enough ammo for a sustained assault like the last one.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” they respond and quickly take their stations moving toward the rear of the building.

Bodies litter the corridor with barely any of the concrete floor showing underneath. They step over and between the bodies as they make their way back. The beating of her own heart sounds loudly in Lynn’s ears. The only other sounds are the breathing of the others and the soft step of their boots on the floor. Cubicles are cleared one by one but nothing rushes out to greet them as they head toward Lynn’s cubicle in the rear of the building.

Just before rounding the corner leading to her cubicle, Lynn picks up a faint rustling sound coming from within. Both Horace and Turnbull pick it up as well. Three lights and barrels move in unison, focusing on the opening. The bunk where Lynn’s sick roommate was the night before is empty. The bunk is unmade and blankets are rumpled on top of it. There is another shuffling sound from deeper within the small enclosure. She motions for the other two to remain in place and cover her while she side steps across the corridor opposite the opening keeping her light and weapon trained on the cubicle entrance. Crouched low, Lynn leans to her left bringing the entire cubicle into view.

She immediately picks up the cause of the sounds as her light catches on a figure against the back of the cubicle. In a flash, Lynn recognizes it as that of her roommate, who is turned away from her against the far metal wall. As soon as her light hits upon her roommate, the figure turns around quickly and, with a snarl and shriek, the gray blotchy figure launches toward Lynn. The building interior is once again lit with triple strobes and the sound of gunfire as Lynn depresses the trigger of her M-16, sending three projectiles out into the space between them. The three rounds converge upon the figure’s chest launching her backward and slamming her against the wall with a ringing thud. Her now ex-roommate topples to the side and, after knocking against the wall locker, slips slowly to the floor.

With the return of silence to the interior, Lynn retrieves her ready pack from her bunk and they head back to the front of the building with more dog tags added to the ones gathered in her almost full pocket. Shouldering their weapons, Horace and Turnbull pick up the body of Private Manning and they step out into the heat and light. The transition from the cooler and darker interior causes them to blink and an immediate sheen of sweat coats their skin. They set Manning’s body into the rear of the Humvee and, after replacing their depleted magazines from the ammo in the Humvee, they make their way to Horace’s barracks and then to Manning’s, encountering none of the creatures within either of them. Finished with gathering their ready packs, they return to the TOC.

They are the last detail back and meet up with the rest of the group. Each detail quickly shares their very similar stories. In all, they lost three soldiers and have two additional wounded counting the loss of Manning and Turnbull’s injury. However, they found six other very frightened and exhausted soldiers within the various barracks. Mounting the vehicles once again, the group heads over to the Intel shop gathering up and destroying the sensitive documents within. While there, they also try contacting other units within and outside of the camp with no success. Finishing, they then head across the camp to the small airstrip and control tower.

Driving out from between buildings lining the ramp serving the airstrip, they see the control tower off to one side adjacent to the ramp. The light gray concrete ramp is empty of aircraft but several ground carts and fuel trucks are parked neatly in front of one of the buildings. Several other Humvees are parked in various locations in front of other buildings. Bringing the small convoy to a halt on the ramp, Lynn gets out of her vehicle and studies the control tower.

It is a small portable tower; a cross between a smaller control tower and a glass enclosed RV hybrid. There is an outside metal walkway encircling it and it bristles with antennae pointing skyward from on top. It is mounted on top of five concrete-filled cargo containers with metal stairs running up the side to the top and the entrance. The stairs are similar to external fire escapes with the bottom portion able to be raised about ten feet off the ground. The entire structure is enclosed by a chain link fence in close approximation to the tower with razor wire encircling the top.

Lynn salutes Major Bannerman as he steps up. With the heat rising in waves off the concrete ramp, he returns her salute and looks toward the tower with her. “I think this will make an ideal defensible structure, sir,” she says. “We can hold out here for a number of days if needed and will make a logical destination for any arriving force. We’ll need to clear it first though.”

“Take whomever you need and clear it, Sergeant.”

Given the small nature of the tower, Lynn selects Horace and Turnbull as part of her team having already been in action with them and knowing their reliability under fire. She also selects Sergeant Drescoll to go with her. She details another group to provide security around the structure outside of the fenced area and the remaining soldiers to remain in place at their current location as a reaction team. With instructions in place, her team and the security detail load onto vehicles and drive slowly over to the tower line abreast. Stopping just outside the fence enclosing the tower, Lynn and the rest dismount. The security detail takes station around the fence and Lynn, along with her team, approach the gate leading inside.

The chain link gate is unlocked so she pushes the gate open and proceeds to the stairs which are currently in their down position making the upward entrance easier.

“I’ll lead up with Private Turnbull behind me. Sergeant Drescoll and Corporal Horace, follow behind. Once at the top, we’ll break into two groups. I’ll go left on the walkway, Drescoll, take Corporal Horace and go right. We’ll recon the inside from the windows meeting up on the backside. If it’s clear, we’ll head through the door and clear it from the inside. Anyone have any questions?” She asks completing her instructions.

They all shake their heads and, with their barrels aimed upward covering their ascent, head up the stairs. Each flight of stairs rise upward to a point level with the top of each container to a small landing at which the next flight begins. On the first landing, a small winch housing a cable is attached to the first flight leading to it allowing it to be raised and lowered. The sound of their steps on the metal stairs is drowned out by the sound of a generator on the ground behind the tower.

Leaving the stairs in their lowered position, Lynn and her team proceed upward. With the heat index now rising above 110 degrees, they are bathed in sweat by the time they reach the top. The low humidity and high heat work with each other to claim the moisture from their bodies; the heat making them sweat and the low humidity wicking it away almost as soon as it appears leaving them feeling dry and parched.

At the top of the stairs, the metal grating and barred railings of the outside walkway leads off the left and right around the tower. The windows of the tower angle outward and are tinted making it difficult to see directly in from their position. They break into their respective groups and proceed up to and around the tower. Lynn peeks in the windows to her immediate front, cupping one hand to allow better vision within. The front interior facing the runway is filled with consoles running around the front and sides of the main tower room. To the rear, a small hallway opens off from the main room and seems to lead to the back of the tower. Doors open up to the outside walkway on both sides of the control room close to the rear of the room. There is no movement or signs of anyone inside other than Drescoll peering in the window opposite her. Continuing around the tower, windows open up into two rooms at the rear of the facility; one is an office and the other sleeping quarters housing two bunks.

“I don’t see anyone inside,” she says meeting up with Drescoll at the rear of the small tower.

“Me either,” he says in return.

“Let’s head in both doors and do a quick check down the hallway.”

Drescoll nods and they both retrace their steps to the entrance doors. Peeking in the small window set in the door and with one hand on the handle, she checks the door assuring herself that it is unlocked before looking over at Drescoll peering in the door on the other side. Giving him a nod, they both open their doors and quickly step into the coolness of the room. The light from the outside illuminates the entire room but in a dimmed fashion due to the tinted windows. The control panels are lit with both steady and flashing lights and a panel against the rear wall houses a radar scope, its lighter green line rotating around the scope. The fact that the radar and lights are working gives the indication that the generator outside provides power to the tower. The closing of the outside doors shuts off the sound of the generator running outside.

They step into the hallway leading to the back. The hallway extends all of the way to the rear of the tower with four doors leading off it; two to each side. They check each door and find a small latrine behind the first door to the right. The first one on the left leads to a small storage area with the two at the rear leading to the office and sleeping quarters. Back in the main control room, Lynn sees a pull-down ladder leading to a trap door set in the ceiling. She pulls the steps down and proceeds up them to the trap door. Turning the handle on the trap door, she opens it and hot sunlight pours through the opening. She climbs out onto the roof.

The flat roof is covered with large and small antennae towards the front along with the rotating arm of the radar. From her vantage point, she sees almost the entire encampment with its lines of tan convex buildings in neat, orderly rows. Main avenues divide the groups of buildings and lead to the various zones of the camp. Far off in a corner of the camp, she can make out a section of storage containers piled on top of each other and vehicles are scattered throughout. In some places, she sees what appear to be very small shapes of bodies lying on the avenues and small alleys between buildings.

An ocean of sand stretches outside of the camp in each direction, merging with the horizon in all directions. Other than the occasional bird flitting here and there and the group standing around the Humvees on the ramp, there is not a thing moving. The only sound disturbing the surreal quietness around her is the generator running some fifty feet below her and out of sight against the containers.

Lynn leaves the roof and steps into the room once again, closing the trap door behind her. “We’ll have to locate someone up there at all times in shifts to monitor the area and look for survivors during the day and for security at night,” she says looking at Drescoll.

He nods and looks around the control room. “It’s going to be a bit crowded in here.”

“Yeah, not much we can do about that,” she says stepping out of the room and onto to the walkway signaling the group, standing on the ramp watching her activities, over.

With the rest of the group gathered about the control room with standing room only and barely enough room to fit them all, Lynn addresses Major Bannerman. “Sir, we’ll have to set up in shifts with a small security team for night that will sleep during the day. By day, we’ll monitor the surrounding area and scavenge for any weapons, ammo, food, water, medical or other supplies we may need. During the day, the night security team can sleep on the bunks. At night, we’ll have to stretch out as best as we can on the floors. We’ll give it five days and rethink our strategy should no one show up.”

“Sounds good, Sergeant Connell. I’ll leave the details to you,” Bannerman says.

Lynn then leads Specialist Taylor to the main console. “Can you work these and teach others how to do it?” She asks.

“Piece of cake, Sergeant,” answers Taylor.

“How many soldiers do you need to man the radios 24/7?”

“Well, considering we won’t have a lot of communication to handle, I think two others for three shifts of eight hours should suffice.”

“Okay, pick two and teach them what they need to know,” Lynn says stepping over to the side of the control room and looking out of the windows to the single strip of gray asphalt serving as the camp’s runway.

Gazing down at it, she thinks both wistfully and longingly, I hope you are doing okay Jack and I hope you come . The odds of both seem very remote to her at the moment; I mean, they talked about events such as this but only really as a means to fill the time and for fun. Would he really jump in an aircraft and fly half of the way around the world to pick me up? And, that is assuming he is still alive, and if he is, will he just gather up his kids and call it good?  Suddenly, home and the hope of getting out of here seems very, very remote. With a heavy sigh, she turns back toward the group and begins making assignments.

Assignments are made to bring the weapons and supplies into the tower from the Humvees and to scavenge diesel for the generator. The supplies are placed in the office along with the extra weapons and ammunition. After the diesel is brought and off-loaded, the Humvees are parked close to the fence facing away but not close enough to be used to vault over the fence. The gate is then locked and the stairs raised as the sun descends toward the flat, sandy horizon; becoming to a giant ball of fire as it sinks closer to the horizon. The decision is made to leave the generator on in order to keep the radios alive. Although its noise may be an attractor, it has been running continuously for some time and therefore is not something significantly out of the ordinary.

The last vestige of the sun disappears below the horizon, signifying the end of another day. The soldiers within the tower prepare quick meals and settle in for the evening. Darkness comes quickly as it is wont to do in the desert and Lynn climbs out onto the roof with the night watch. She posts two guards on top with one more inside alongside the night radio operator. Settling down on her belly near the edge of the roof, she gazes out over the encampment. The street lights along the major avenues and roadways shine down on the emptiness casting their circular patterns of light on the sandy ground below. In a few buildings, lights shine in the darkness creating the image of a small city in a seeming normalcy of night. Here and there, rectangular patches of darkness show where the small generators powering those areas have either failed or are depleted of their fuel.

The ramp itself is lit by large banks of lights around the perimeter illuminating most of the ramp but leaving some areas near the middle in darkness. Looking towards the runway, Lynn sees the white lights of the runway stretch away to the left and right terminating in red lights toward each end. The blue lights of the single parallel taxiway, coupled with the runway lights, create an image reminding her of Christmas. Focusing back toward the camp, she sees an occasional flash as small groups of figures dash beneath the street lights. Off into the distance on the far side of the camp and close to the barracks, several shrieks rise into the air above the encampment faintly reaching Lynn’s ears.

Lynn brings the binoculars from the tower to her eyes and focuses on one group of figures as they dart through the lights. They are running close together in a pack-like formation seemingly intent on something. What that intent could be is unknown to her. She notices that each group she spies in her magnified view seems to run from place to place. In none does she notice any individual walking as they transit. The only exception to this is when they seem to stop to investigate something, whether that is a door or building or something lying in the road. When investigating something, they still seem to maintain a pack-like stance with none venturing off but each one conducting its own individual action within the pack.

With one group she is watching, they appear to be investigating a building door, seeming to mill about. One of the creatures looks suddenly to its left and she sees its mouth open up; the shriek it emits reaches her ears a second or two after. The entire group breaks into an immediate run in the direction indicated by the one who emitted the shriek. It comes to Lynn that the shriek could be their form of communication and seems to indicate a discovery in some fashion or another. She makes one other interesting discovery and that is the other groups seem to respond to the shriek as well. The shriek seems to inform others and they react as if it is a calling as well; much like wolves or coyotes will in the night with the discovery of food.

She scans around and finds the area around her seemingly vacant for the present moment. Bringing the binoculars skyward, she attempts to find any moving points of light to indicate aircraft in the vicinity but is only met with the bright diamonds of stars twinkling back. Handing the binoculars to the soldier lying next to her, she scans the fence perimeter with her mark one eyeballs. The fence and the ground directly below her are well lit from lights shining downward from positions about half way up the tower. This way, the area can be lit without affecting the vision of the controllers.

“Wake me if you see anything unusual or if any of the creatures ventures close. I’ll be at the bottom of the trap door stairs,” she says rising.

“Yes, Sergeant,” the Private responds as Lynn reaches to grab her weapon and descends down the stairs into the control room to settle into her sleeping bag.

She stands alone on a small hill with sand stretching endlessly around her and turns around confused as to how she arrived there or what she is supposed to be doing. Her mind tells her that she is supposed to accomplish some important err


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and but can’t remember what it is. A panicky feeling comes upon her as she feels something bad will happen if she can’t remember what it is or the errand goes undone. A hint of movement out of the corner of her eye to the right causes her to look in that direction.

About twenty feet away, a turtle slowly makes its way across the sand, pulling itself along with great effort. What in the fuck is a turtle doing in the middle of the desert?  She thinks as her vision zooms in close and she can see in the turtle’s eye that it is not in great pain nor worried about its situation but is merely doing its thing. No destination or plan; just one step after another. It has accepted its lot in life and is just doing it with no thought to anything else. A gust of wind suddenly whips by shaking her.

She looks away from the turtle and in the direction the wind came from. Where before there was an endless blue sky, there is now a towering mass of clouds billowing upward. The clouds are building quickly, far quicker than anything she had ever seen before and turning the cloud mass into a dark, greenish gray color. The gusts continue to radiate outward from the mass, each one shaking her and rocking her backward on her heels.

The storm continues to build and creates a gigantic wave of sand that begins rushing towards her. Lightning stabs out from the clouds striking the ground in all directions. The wave closes in quickly, gaining momentum with gusts that continue to rock her. They carry a new sound along with the booming crash of thunder as if the thunder is speaking words. With each lightning bolt the words come to her; ‘Sergeant;’ lightning flash, ‘Sergeant’; lightning flash……

Feeling panicked, her eyes spring open to see the face of the Private on guard hovering close to hers lit by the cupped flashlight in his hand. “Sergeant,” he says rocking her shoulder slightly with his other hand.

“I’m awake, Private. What is it?” Lynn asks sitting up and rubs the sleep from her eyes. She looks at her watch and notices it is 0330. Two hours until sunrise .

“You asked me to wake you if any of the creatures came close. There are several of them milling around outside the fence.”

“Did they notice you?” Lynn asks grabbing for her weapon lying on the ground next to her.

“I don’t think so.”

“Okay, let’s take a look. Absolute silence,” Lynn says rising and stepping on the first rung of the roof stairs.

On the roof, Lynn settles down on her belly and crawls slowly to the roof’s edge. Peering down onto the ramp, she sees five of the creatures close to the fence milling aimlessly. A couple of them seem interested in the Humvees parked a short distance away; looking in the windows. One even climbs onto the hood of one and seems to want to pull the windshield open using the windshield wipers. Two of them closest to the fence occasionally put their noses in the air.

“Are they sniffing?” The Private asks in a quiet whisper next to her.

Lynn turns slowly toward him and puts her finger to her lips. The Private nods. She looks back down at them and, to her; it does seem like they are sniffing at the air around them. Every minute or so, one will seem to catch a scent of something and hold a sniffing stance with a greater intensity as if trying to identify some scent or retrieve something that momentarily came to it. With a suddenness that is startling with its quickness and intensity, given the apparent aimless milling a moment before, one sniffing creature turns its head sharply in their direction and gazes intently up at them.

Lynn knows they are in the darkness above and the glaring lights shining down on the creature have to be blinding it as to their location, but it is staring very intently and directly at them. Its body turns to orient it in their direction without ever moving its gaze from them one iota. Lynn senses more than hears, given the sound of the generator, growls emitting from the creature only fifty feet below. The growling attracts the attention of the others and they wander over to it and look upwards. Suddenly, all five of them stiffen and begin to emit loud, rumbling growls of their own and stare directly at the two of them perched high on the roof above.

“Go wake Sergeant Drescoll,” Lynn tells the Private, “Go quietly and slowly. Fill the Sergeant in and then the both of you come here.”

“What about the major?”

“Forget him! Do as I ask!” Lynn says quietly but with authority.

Without a sound, the Private slides backwards away from the edge. Lynn hears his footsteps ring lightly on the stairs as he descends but keeps her focus on the creatures as they continue to have a stare off. The situation and coolness of the night air sends a shiver along her body. The light goes off in her head; the cool air is sinking bringing their scent along with it. These things can hunt and detect by scent!? 

She edges away from the roof edge losing sight of the creatures. As she edges away, she turns her head toward the remaining soldier on the roof and whispers loud enough for him to hear, “Private, off the roof NOW!”

In the darkness, she hears a rustling and sees his shadow move from his position facing the runway to the trap door. She descends quietly down the stairs after he has stepped off, shuts the trap door, and meets Sergeant Drescoll and the other Private at the bottom. She relates her discovery and sighting to all of them in whispered tones.

A shriek rises from outside and the small group steps over the sleeping bodies toward the window facing the creatures outside. Several of those sleeping sit up quickly as the shriek penetrates their various dreams. Looking out of the window, Lynn sees that the creatures are now attempting to scale the wire fence.

Without taking her eyes from outside, she says, “Sergeant Drescoll, wake the others.”

She watches as the group of five creatures climbs the chain link fence and become entangled in the razor wire running along the top. From her position, she sees blood immediately spurt in a multitude of locations from the figures. All of them howl and shriek from the intrusion and decimation of their bodies but they continue on; all of them eventually fall to the perimeter inside in heaps. They do not move from where they have fallen but they have taken the razor wire in that section of fence down with them.

The soldiers within the tower have all awakened either from the sounds outside or by Drescoll and crowd the interior of the control room attracted by the shrieking.  Other creatures head in their direction in the night under the lights.

Lynn turns from the window and addresses the group, “Five have knocked the razor wire down and others are heading this way. Everyone out on the walkway. Four to a side with two facing the runway and two facing towards camp. Sergeant Drescoll and I will be on the roof directing. You two,” Lynn says pointing at a Private and a Corporal nearby, “cover the flight of stairs.”

She then turns to Major Bannerman, “If that is alright with you, sir.”

“Carry on, Sergeant,” he responds with a nod.

“Guns only. No grenades unless I say different. We don’t’ want to blow the fence down. Now move,” she says as her and Drescoll start for the steps leading up to the roof amid the sound of soldiers shuffling to and out of the door. The sound of magazines being inserted into weapons, clicks of safeties being switched off, and the ringing clatter of boots on the metal walkway momentarily fills the top of the tower.

Helmets line the walkway just below her feet as Lynn stands on the roof looking out to the ramp below. Looking down over the tops of the helmets, she sees several creatures emerge out of the darkness in the middle of the ramp and into the light spilling from the tower. The things, which had been on the run, come to a stop once they step into the light. Some peer around them both into the shadows from which they emerged and around the tower base itself. Others peer into the bright lights streaming down; blinded by the intensity. Lynn knows the creatures are unable to see the soldiers and her on the roof and walkway due to them having to look through the lights. She kneels and whispers to the soldiers to hold their fire until she initiates or calls for it.

Looking back over her shoulder, she whispers to Drescoll, “You take control of the front and other side; I’ll take the ramp side and rear.” She senses more than sees Drescoll nod.

Looking down at the soldiers just below her, she sees them all standing by the railing with their weapons at their shoulders aiming downward at the creatures. The two at the head of the stairs kneel with the barrels of their M-16’s sighted down the stairs. More of the creatures emerge out of the darkness and into the light. Looking back into the encampment, she sees other groups run through the circles of light heading in their direction. Turning her eyes back towards the things on the ramp below her, she notices several of them with their noses in the air. She can imagine the sniffing sounds and perhaps growling noises they are most likely making but the drone of the generator is overriding any other sound. The sound of the occasional soldier below her shifting positions is the only other noise rising to her in the chill early morning air.

Stillness settles over the environment as time comes to a standstill. The creatures stand still and test the air with soldiers staring back down at them with their weapons at the ready. Both groups are dressed in a similar fashion; the only difference being the color and shade of their skin and the creature’s fatigues darkened from blood. More than thirty have gathered below with more showing up with each passing moment. Lynn notices one of the creatures below tense, turn its head directly in their direction, and stares upward. The other creatures stop their milling apparently picking up on the same thing that made this one tense up. The one staring at them suddenly opens its mouth wide and a shriek intrudes over the generator. It charges toward the fence with the others following suit, shrieking as they come.

“Open fire!” Lynn yells before the creature has taken its second step.

The sound of M-16’s opening up along the walkway and sending their deadly load into the mass splits the night, overriding the sound of the shrieks and generator emanating from below. Lynn sights down her M-16 just as the first sounds erupt from below her, the red dot centering on the chest of the creature who first charged their way. She squeezes the trigger adding her own steel to the other rounds drilling into the charging mass. Blood blossoms and sprays outward from the creature as her rounds impact directly into its center mass and it drops rudely to the ramp.

Bodies drop repeatedly to the concrete as more rounds find their marks but the creatures rapidly gain the fence due to their vast numbers. They immediately begin scaling the chain links and, like the others before them, become entangled in the remaining razor wire. They fall to the ground inside the perimeter, dragging the razor wire with them.

The fence looks as if it has sparklers attached to it as many of the rounds being fired come into contact with it as Lynn and the soldiers fire into the creatures scaling the metal links. Many of the things circle around the fence and the sound of gunfire erupts from behind her as Drecoll’s group takes them under fire.

The air is filled with a myriad of sounds; the barking of M-16’s, the clink of magazines hitting the walkway as weapons are reloaded; the pinking sound of shells bouncing on the metal grating; the occasional shriek that rises above the din; the yells of Lynn and Drescoll as they direct fire; and, when sounds fade just for a split moment in time, the ringing sound of the chain link fence being scaled. The air is thick with the smell of gunpowder and the flash of weapons as the rounds leave the barrel. Bodies pile up on along the fence but the sheer numbers force entry into the perimeter; the weight of the creatures on the fence bends it over in places.

The walkway and stairs prevents an angle to the ground directly below on the ramp side so the soldiers continue to direct their fire into those still coming into the light and on the fence.

“They’re inside the perimeter!” Lynn turns and yells to Drescoll.

He turns towards her from his kneeling position on the edge of the other side of the roof, “Here too!”

“We don’t have an angle on them below from here because of the stairs,” she replies back.

“We can hit them fine from here.”

That’s good news , Lynn thinks as she turns back to the ramp side observing that they only seem to have one blind spot; the spot directly below the stairs and ladder. If they manage to somehow find a way to navigate those ten feet to the first stair level, they will not know they are coming until they round the last level and emerge on the landing directly below them or hear them coming up the metal stairs. Creatures continue to emerge into the lights circling the tower in unrelenting groups and waves.

“Down to my last mag,” one of the soldiers calls out below her.

Lynn immediately details one of the soldiers manning the stairs to grab ammo from the crates stacked in the office below. He returns a short time later and positions it behind the group on the walkway. The gunfire on the ramp side ceases momentarily as soldiers grab a resupply of magazines. She then details the same soldier to carry some of the ammo to Drescoll’s side. Weary and deafened from the continuous noise, Lynn notices the sky to the east lighten, portending the coming dawn. As if a switch was thrown, the multitudes of creatures stop emerging into the light and the ones that were inside the perimeter and shielded from the stairs, run out into the still darkened ramp, chased by rounds with a few dropping before finding the safety of the dark.

“Cease fire!” Lynn calls as the last one is swallowed by the darkness. Sergeant Drescoll echoes her command to the group on his side.

The silence that ensues is deafening in its quietness. Even the continued sound of the running generator is not heard through the ringing in everyone’s ears and the smell of almost two hours of continuous gunfire hangs thick in the still morning air. With her legs stiff and knees popping from the time spent kneeling on the metal roof, Lynn stands and reaches around to the small of her back, stretching to work out the kinks.

“Police up whatever magazines you can find and meet inside,” she directs the soldiers below her.

They wearily begin to scoop up the many empty magazines on a walkway littered with shell casings. Lynn continues standing above them and notices how truly cold the night air is as she starts coming down from the flow of adrenaline. With one last look at the bodies covering the ramp and the sky continuing to lighten in the east, she starts down the stairs behind Drescoll and the other soldiers begin their slow, shuffle-like steps into the control room.

Details about what needs to be done in the coming day; fix the fence and gather additional ammo being among them, fills Lynn’s mind as everyone gathers in the control room. “It’s becoming fairly obvious that whatever changes have occurred with these, um, creatures only allows them to operate at night or in the dark. We’ll therefore only travel during the day and only in groups of four or more. Buildings will be treated as hostile environments and avoided as much as possible. If we need to go in, it will be completely cleared before gathering whatever is needed. If that is fine with you, sir?” She asks turning to Major Bannerman.

“Good plan, Sergeant Connell.”

“It’s 0525. We’ll stand down and rest until 0830 and then I’ll assign details. Besides the radio watch, we’ll stand two on watch in one hour shifts until 0830. Now get some rest,” Lynn says after assigning guards and shift schedules.

She opts to take one of the first shifts setting up on the roof covering the ramp and camp sides while a Corporal covers the runway and far side. Sitting with her legs swinging over the side of the roof, she looks out over her area with part of her mind while another part sorts through the multitude of thoughts that race through.

She holds onto the thought that Jack will come even as a logical part of her mind tells her the chances of that happening are marginal at best. She needs to ensure the safety and survivability of the group in her charge here. The camp will do for the short-term but if no one comes, they will need to move on for any chance of surviving in the long-term. That means a continuous supply of food, water, and shelter. To that end, it will mean a long, arduous journey; most likely to some land surrounding The Med and that more likely on the European side. For the first time, she thinks she may not see America again or that, if they are not picked up, it will be a long time coming. I’ll give it four more days before we start planning an alternate route , she thinks looking over to the western horizon with the sun rising in the east. A quick thought of Jack enters, Please be okay and come get us , before the short-term needs of the group preside.

The hour passes and she lays down on the floor of the control room, after passing the next shift to another Private, falling asleep almost before her head touches the floor only to be awakened after seemingly minutes. Waking the rest of the group, she details a squad of four to commandeer additional ammo, some to repair the fence as best as possible, and others to cart the bodies to an open area of the camp. With that detail, she assigns a heavy equipment operator to dig out a grave site to bury the bodies after collecting all of the dog tags she can. Her sense is that these were all once soldiers causing her to give them as close to a decent and military burial as possible.

Once the bodies have been interred, she gathers the entire group together in the early afternoon sun and heat to pay their last respects. The fence is resurrected as much as possible with a fresh lining of razor wire both on top and on the ground below. Ammunition is gathered and resupplied to the tower. The generator is filled with diesel. After the burial ceremony, Lynn has the group rest until the early evening anticipating a replay of the night before.

During the day, Private Turnbull came down with a fever. Lynn inspected the wound on his arm to find that the immediate area around the wound had become the same pale shade of gray of the creatures with a surrounding bright redness of infection. The fever became worse as the day progressed and by nightfall, Private Turnbull was dead.

The next two days and nights are replays of the first ones; resupplying, resting and burying the dead during the day and fighting off the attacks at night. Is this live or Memorex ? Lynn thinks during the third night. The creatures show up under the light in gradual numbers and overwhelm the fences; only to be halted and not being able to gain entrance to the stairs by the coming of dawn. How many can there be?  The question passes through her tired mind as the rising sun chases off the last attack. The radios however remain silent as had any answering of telephone calls to the outside world.

The fourth day dawns as had the previous mornings. The sun rises in the east signaling yet another heat-infested day filled with the tedium of staying alive for yet another day. Lynn gathers her mind and thoughts towards vacating the area for a more survivable, long-term solution. The thoughts of their need to conduct a long, arduous journey and what they will need to accomplish this fills the majority of her day. Tomorrow she will begin to enact their withdrawal of the area and to create the criteria of their new destination. Tomorrow I will worry about that , she thinks as the sun begins its descent into the western horizon. Where are you Jack? 

With the thought of the last night in camp, Lynn stays with the guard detail posted for the first shift and watches the gathering of the first creatures around the tower. The difference between this and other nights is the quickness of the gathering. The fence perimeter is quickly overwhelmed with many of the creatures gathering at the base of the tower on the ramp side. Some complacency, due to the tiredness of the troops, follows a seemingly repeat of the previous evenings; doing enough to exact damage and a depletion of the creatures without them being able to gain entrance.

Within the deafening din filling her ears, Lynn picks up a faint noise of hammering metallic sounds from below her. She looks down to the soldiers below on the walkway trying to fix the sound to the spent rounds falling and the magazines impacting the walkway but the sounds seem out of sequence with what she sees.

A flash of light fills her head, “They’re on the stairs!” She yells to the soldiers manning both the walkway and covering the stairs.

Leaning over the edge as far as she dares, Lynn sees creatures scaling the outside of the stairs and shadows of others rapidly ascending the stairs. They have somehow reached that elusive final ten feet.

“Drescoll, I need two of yours over here!” Lynn shouts to her companion on the roof.

“On the way!” He shouts back.

“Direct your fire on those climbing up!” She yells to the soldiers beneath her. They lean over the railing to aim their fire directly downward.

Bodies fall off the staircase structure as rounds impact their shoulders and heads but the vast numbers on the stairs and the inability to fire directly on those ascending allows the horde to mass ever upward; slowly but surely pressing toward the small group defending the tower. Thoughts penetrate Lynn’s mind that perhaps she will not have to worry about any future, arduous adventure. I will not fail!  The thought lends a force to her willpower and the volume of firepower directed on the ever advancing horde; the soldiers apparently sensing this thought direct an even more focused attempt to repel the invaders.

“Sergeant Connell! Sergeant Connell!” A voice sounds repeatedly behind her; having to be repeated due to her intense concentration on the creatures driving ever upward. She turns her head and notices Major Bannerman behind sticking his head through the open hatch to the control room behind her.

“Yes, sir,” she responds between trigger pulls.

“There’s someone on the radio!” He tells her.

Not fully grasping the gravity nor import of the meaning, she looks back at him in askance. Realizing that she has not comprehended what he is saying, Bannerman adds, “Sergeant Connell, there’s someone calling in on the radio with a call sign of Otter39?”

A dawning comprehension reaches into her eyes and soul. “Sergeant Drescoll! Cover the stairs. I’ll be in the control room on the radios.”

Sergeant Drescoll stands from his kneeling position and repositions himself at the other edge as Lynn descends the stairs to hear, “This is Otter 39 on UHF guard. Anyone read?”

Lynn sees Specialist Taylor raise the mic to his mouth and respond, “Otter 39, this is Arifjan, read you loud and clear, over.”

“Arifjan, this Otter 39. We are an inbound HC-130. State status.”

Major Bannerman takes the mic from Taylor and says, “Otter 39. This is Major Bannerman. State your position and intentions.”


* * *

I look over at Robert with one raised eyebrow and a ‘what the fuck’ expression. He looks over and shrugs; our tiredness from the extended trek showing. “Um, Bannerman, we’re now approximately forty miles west and I guess I intend to pick you up. State souls.”

There is a long pause with no response from Arifjan. I see the lights of a seemingly small city stretching off our nose as we continue our descent. “Arifjan, Otter 39. Confirm lights are on.”

“Otter 39, um, Arifjan. Roger. Lights are on.”

“Roger that Arifjan. There wouldn’t happen to be a Sergeant Connell with you would there?”

Complete silence ensues on both ends of the radio. On my side, it is awaiting a final word and verdict. On Lynn’s side, there is a sense of unrealness as all eyes turn and center on Lynn.

“Do you know who this is?” Bannerman asks with his eyes wide in bewilderment.

“I may, sir,” Lynn responds amidst the crackle of gunfire outside.

“Talk to him then,” Bannerman says.

Lynn takes the mic, “Otter 39, this is Arifjan,” she says with her voice cracking slightly.

I hear the response over the radio with sense of incredibility. I look over at Robert, Nic, Bri, and Michelle. They continue to look at me with a measure of unbelief; that we are talking to someone, that there is, in fact, someone at our destination, and that it may actually be Lynn.

“Oh my god! Lynn?” I say over the radio.

“Jack?” Lynn responds.

Descending close to the airport, I see the runway lighting offset from the light emitting from the camp itself in a seemingly small town aspect; streetlights set in small rectangular patterns with smaller lights set in amongst these lights.

“Yeah, babe. What’s your situation?” I ask worried over the sound of gunfire on the radio responses.

“Standby,” Lynn responds and walks over to the door and outside peering over the walkway railing.

She sees creatures climbing unrelentingly on the side of the stairway leading upward. Bodies line the landing just below her position as the soldiers she placed there are firing down on those who have managed to reach the landing. A horde of creatures line the perimeter awaiting room on the stairs; the things completely encompass the stairway structure. She looks to the soldiers firing on the walkway to see their wide eyes as they fire downward on the ever encroaching mass. Their eyes depict an emotion that their life here is only a matter of time but determining to exact what they can.

Walking back inside, she calmly walks to the radio, and picks up the mic, “Jack, it doesn’t look good. We’re in the tower. They’re scaling the tower and their overrunning the top is only a matter of time.”

“Roger that. Hold on as best as you can. I’ll be there in five.” I say in response.

I set up an overhead assault pattern minimizing my time in the air and descend rapidly to the airfield; the runway lights are 1,000 feet below as I bank the aircraft over into a steep, left hand descending pattern. Rolling out on final, I glance over to the tower on my left at the far side of the ramp. Light flows from the tower out onto the ramp and is filled with flashes of gunfire from all vantages on the tower top. Give me just a few more minutes , I think rolling out of the turn and descending toward the green lights at the runway threshold with the white runway lights stretching away before me.

The strobe-like flashes echo off to the side of my vision as my landing lights pick up the threshold markings and they flash underneath. The first 500 foot markings stream by my window as I draw the power back and start my flare; the nose rising in response to my control inputs. The drone of the engines diminishes yet we remain airborne as the aircraft continues its instinct to remain aloft. Gravity overcomes the wants of the aircraft with a chirp and the aircraft settles as it transitions from a creature of the sky to one of the earth.

With the flashes of weapons still being fired in the distance to the left, I pull the prop levers back into reverse thrust. The aircraft responds with a reluctant, nose down attitude. Coming to the first taxiway onto the ramp, I come on the radio and say, “Lynn, standby. On my way. Pull your people in when I say and ready your people to exit ten at a time.”

“Roger that,” Lynn says and relays the info to Drescoll on the roof above her.

Pulling off the runway at high speed onto the taxiway at about midfield with the landing and taxi lights on, I see a multitude of creatures on the ramp and around the tower; many of them scaling the stair superstructure and close to the top. Bodies fall from the stairs only to be replaced by a multitude of others. I continue across the ramp slowing down slightly; a plan already coming to mind.

“Lynn, I’m going to clear your path for moments at a time, be ready for my signal.”

“Jack, we’ll be ready,” Lynn replies.

I drive the 130 directly at the tower with the kids all looking in askance as to what I am planning. The heads of the creatures turn in my direction, pausing in their assault of the tower to stare at the new intrusion into their environment. Whipping across the ramp, I pull close to the tower and turn a 180 in place coming to a stop.

“Robert, I’m going to the back and ready the ramp. I’ll plug into the intercom in back. When I signal, hold the brakes and rev up to full power. Hold onto those brakes tightly. Nic, you’re with me.”

Unplugging and unstrapping, I head to the rear along the aisle. Reaching the back, I plug into the intercom to hear Robert’s heavy breathing. “Robert, how do you read?” I ask.

“I hear you,” he says in slightly exhilarated voice.

“Lowering the ramp,” I say.

The ramp descends revealing the ramp outside by slow increments. As it reaches the tarmac, I see the horde of creatures encompassing the tower and the strobe flashes from the top as the soldiers attempt to fend them off.

“Okay, Robert, tell the tower to


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pull in and prepare their first ten.”

As the soldiers all rush into the tower I tell Robert, “Power up now.”

I hear the engines begin their throaty roar as they are brought up to max. The thrust powers the wind to hurricane force levels to the rear. At first, it just propels the creatures on the outside and railings forward and then it lifts them from their feet. As the power increases, they are thrust away from and over the fence beyond. Many of them become pinned against the far chain link fence as the wind from the propellers pushes them to and then almost through it. The stair structure is swept clean of the creatures.

“Tell them to go now!” I shout into the intercom to Robert.

I see several soldiers in fatigues emerge from the tower and tell Robert to bring the throttle back to half. The soldiers fight their way down the stairs against the wind and drop the final ten feet to the ground. The wind whips their fatigues as they come to rest against the containers supporting the tower.

“Power back now Robert.”

The vibration of the aircraft decreases as Roberts draws the power back. I see the soldiers recover and begin running toward the aircraft. As far as the extension cord of the intercom allows, I walk down the ramp to cover the soldiers’ extraction, covering the sides as they head over the now downed fence, across the small distance of the ramp, and up into the aircraft. As they pass by, I grab four and point them to cover the sides of the aircraft; two to each side of the ramp and advise them not to step out from behind the aircraft.

I then tell Robert, “Power up again and tell them to ready the next ten.”

The wind and vibrations increase as the engines increase their thrust and wind velocity to the rear; the wind catches the creatures just recovering from the last hurricane force and throws them against the fence once again. Those not caught in the fence are blown into the desert beyond.

I call on the intercom over the sound of the engines, “Tell them to send the next ten and power back to half.”

As the next ten soldiers make their way down the stairs, I see the ones placed on the edges of the ramp open up. A quick glance and, in the glare of the landing lights, I see several creatures on the pavement at the wingtips. Bringing my own M-4 up, I sight and fire single bursts but without effect toward the creatures attempting to close. The rounds of the other soldiers are also not having any telling effect.

Sidling to the soldiers by the ramps, I yell into each their ears, “The engine thrust is causing your rounds to be blown to the rear. Compensate but don’t hit the engines.”

They all look at me and then center on their sights once again. “Robert, ask them how many more,” I call.

“They said 6 more,” he responds several moments later

“Okay, tell them to get ready.”

After telling Robert to power back, the ten drop to the ground, scramble over the fence, cross the intervening space and race up the ramp past me into the aircraft. I look over to see Nic on the opposite side of the ramp motioning with her hands; urging the soldiers up the ramp and into the aircraft.

“Okay, bud, once more. Throttle up.”

I feel and hear the engines as they increase their thrust. The creatures are still pinned against the fence on the far side of the tower and the ones circling the wings are being blown backward as they venture behind the giant props, their bodies skip and bounce across the ramp like rag dolls. Some drop to the ramp as a few rounds find their marks through the hurricane winds; their bodies skipping along with the rest of them.

Once the ramp is clear of bodies, I jump on the intercom and direct Robert to tell the remaining soldiers in the tower to exit. I see them exit the doors above and race down the metal fire stairs. As they near the ground, I tell Robert to cut back on the throttles to allow them to make it to the aircraft. As the engines wind rapidly down, the creatures on the fence fall to the ground and scramble to their feet in a disoriented state.

The remaining soldiers drop the final ten feet one after the other and run across the ramp toward the safety of the aircraft. Another streak of luck , I think watching them race across the ramp. Rounds reach out from the soldiers’ weapons stationed on the edges of the ramp impacting into the disoriented creatures as the last of the soldiers run to safety. As the last of them pounds up the ramp, I call out above the din for the soldiers guarding to scramble up, raising the ramp as they reach the interior.

“Keep it steady bud, I’ll be right up,” I tell Robert before unhooking from the intercom.

Coiling the cord extension up as the ramp closes completely, I look around at the soldiers in the rear of the aircraft and lining the aisle along the left side, most of them are leaning forward with their hands on their knees panting from the close call and run across the ramp. I stop by the supplies lashed to the cargo deck to reach in and extract an item from the boxes, sliding it into the leg pocket of my flight suit. I spot Lynn standing near the now closed ramp.

“Sergeant Connell, a word with you in private,” I say catching her eye.

A voice sounds from almost directly behind me, “Captain. Check with me first before calling out one of my soldiers!”

I turn my head over my shoulder to see a soldier standing there with a subdued rank of major velcroed to the front of his fatigues. “And who are you?” I say in return.

“Major Bannerman and you will address me with respect, Captain. So it is sir or Major to you,” Bannerman answers.

“Well, Bannerman, I just flew half way across the world to pick your ass up out of a fire and apparently in the nick of time from what I saw,” I say turning completely around to face him.

“I am the ranking officer here so that places me in charge of this outfit, Captain,” he says placing his hands on his rather round hips and glares at me with a challenge.

The soldiers around who can hear our conversation are all finding very interesting things on the ground in front of them to look at but their ears are glued to the words being exchanged. Nic looks at me with an amused smile knowing how this conversation is going to go and what’s coming next but curious as to how it is going to be received.

“Not on this aircraft it doesn’t. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more pressing business to take care of,” I say turning back towards Lynn.

I notice Nic’s smile and there are small smiles played across the faces of some of the soldiers who continue to find their interest directed at anything but this development. I hear Bannerman start to say something but falls silent as I turn and walk over to Lynn.

Standing before her, I reach out and we hug each other tightly. “I’m so glad you are okay. I love you,” we both say in each other’s ears.

Releasing our hug after a long moment, I reach into my leg pocket and hand her a bottle of beer. “I promised to have one of these for you when I picked you up,” I say as she takes the beer with a smile. “Enjoy it. I have to go up and see if I can remember how to do that pilot stuff. Have everyone strap in as best as they can, babe.”

“It’s so wonderful to see you, hon,” I add taking a step backward. “I’m so happy that you’re safe.”

“It’s so, so good to see you, babe,” Lynn answers in return.

I head back up into the cockpit and strap in. I see a lot of creatures running around in front of the aircraft lit by the landing lights. “Are we going run through them like at Brunswick?” Robert asks once I plug into the intercom.

“No. I’m too exhausted. Let’s just get airborne, fuel up here in the morning and plan our flight back,” I say wearily, not looking forward to flying for a couple more hours after the fourteen plus hour flight here.

I bump the throttles forward and the aircraft responds by rolling across the ramp; the creatures in front of us part as we make our way to the runway. The 130 transitions once again to a creature of the sky as our wheels lift off the asphalt, leaving those earthbound to the earth. I level off at 3,000 feet and set up an orbital path three miles from the camp on the nav system and engage the autopilot. The camp lights come into our windshield with each turn back towards the encampment, looking like a small, peaceful city at night. My thought is be close to the airport in case our fuel supply runs low and to hopefully draw some of the creatures out our way and trap them with the dawn coming just a couple hours away.

We bore holes in the sky until the horizon lightens announcing the next scheduled appearance of the sun. With its tip poking above the horizon, I turn back towards the runway and land. We taxi up to the base of the tower looking at the ruined fence and the bodies scattered around. I shut down and head back to the cargo compartment to lower the ramp. Lynn walks up as the ramp lowers letting the pale light of the coming day inside.

“We’ll gather what food, water, medical supplies, weapons, and ammo we can,” she says.

“Sounds good. We’ll refuel and then I’ll need a few hours of rest. I have to plan our return legs and should be ready around noon,” I say as we give each other a big hug and kiss. “I’m sure glad we actually talked about this rendezvous before. Weird that we actually had to use it huh?”

“No kidding,” she says in reply.

Robert and I refuel the aircraft from several fuel trucks parked along the ramp as Nic and Bri wheel the ground power unit from out of the cargo compartment. Lynn and the soldiers fill up a lot of the available cargo space with crates and boxes of weapons and supplies. After a rest, there is some time to give Robert, Nicole, Michelle, and Brianna an indoctrination to the M-16; letting them fire a few rounds across the ramp until they are mildly comfortable with it. As Lynn gives them a session with the weapons, I plan our return trip. There is one difference in our return path and that being to a runway located just outside Atlanta.

“Why are we going there?” Robert asks, having finished with his lesson with Lynn. He is looking over my shoulder at the maps spread on the small table in the cargo compartment. Lynn, after shouldering her M-16, is looking over my other shoulder. “Why not just reverse our legs out of here?”

“The CDC lies there and, if there is any info on what we are dealing with, it will be there,” I say looking first at Robert and then Lynn.

They both nod. After a rest, I input the return legs and various approaches into the flight navigation computer and seal up the aircraft for our return journey. We lift off into the heat of the early afternoon, the engines droning as we climb into the light blue sky with the sound of our aircraft diminishing and then fading from those ears left within the confines of the encampment.


###

About the Author

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John is a former Air Force fighter instructor pilot who transitioned to Special Operations for the latter part of his career gathering his campaign ribbon for Desert Storm. Immediately following his military service, he became a firefighter/EMT with a local fire department. Along with becoming a firefighter, he began a career in the Information Technology industry starting two large casinos in Washington as the Information Technology Manager and becoming the Network Manager for the Washington State Legislature, the Northwest Information Technology Manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Network Systems Manager for Hollywood Video. Currently, John is self-employed with his own Information Technology consulting company, consulting and managing various businesses with their information technology needs. He also volunteers for a local youth center managing their computer lab.

As a former marathon runner, John lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and can now be found kayaking out in the waters of Puget Sound, mountain biking in the Capital Forest, hiking in the Olympic Peninsula, or pedaling his road bike along the many scenic roads.


Connect with me online

Web site: https://anewworldseries.com

Facebook: https://facebook.com/JohnWBObrien

Twitter: https://twitter.com/A_NewWorld

Also by John O’Brien

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A New World Series

A NEW WORLD: CHAOS

A NEW WORLD: RETURN

A NEW WORLD: SANCTUARY

Copyright

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Copyright © 2010 John O’Brien

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in review, without permission in writing from the author.

Cover art by: SM Reine

https://smreine.deviantart.com/


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