“Lookie here little lady, you need to eat your greens so you grow big and strong” Elvis said, his Santa hat jiggling as he talked. “No one likes a weakling, especially now, you need to be able to take care of yourself.”
“hey, hey…” a rabbit quietly said, as it nudged against her shoulder.
She slowly opened her eyes, realized it was Rob shaking her, she was on the ground in the forest, and not at a used tire dealership in Miami with Elvis and a rabbit.*
“Man, you were out.” Rob said as she got herself out of her sleeping bag. “There wasn’t much going on as you slept, a group passed on the road, ex-military types if I had to guess. They were very quiet, spread out well, and moving at night; not many civvies’ would be doing that.”
“What time is it?” She asked, rubbing her face, trying to wake up.
“Not sure, my watch got fried. But I’m pretty sure it’s been half the night. All you need to do is be very quiet, stay in the shadows, don’t make any light, and make sure no one kills me in my sleep, ok?”*
“Got ya, kill you in your sleep, I can handle that,” she said with a smile. “I’ll be ok, I’ll stay up for as long as I can and then wake you to take over.”*
“Sounds like a plan. One more thing, here take this” he said, as he handed her a packaged item, about the size of a large pen. “If something happens where we have to fight, do what you can to defend me until i get up. Then, run into the forest, crack that chem light and put it in a tree near where you end up. It’s an IR light, so I’ll be able to find you with my night vision monocular.”
“Wait, you have night vision? Let me use it for my shift?”
“No, you really don’t need it, it will just kill your natural night vision and drain batteries. I may let you use it someday, but, no offense, you need more training and time before I let you.”
Not quite satisfied with his answer, but without any other choice, she relented and started her watch. It wasn’t really hard, just boring. She counted stars, listened to animal noises, and thought about what she had to do to get to the retreat. She was thankful she ran into Rob, knew that with him she has a much better chance for survival, but his way of doing things are so much harder. “Well, I can do things the easy way, or the right way,” she said to herself, trying to motivate her mind to do the things that will need doing.*
The night dragged on and she was clenching onto her carbine more and more with each strange noise in the wild. At the same time, she was fighting back the overwhelming desire for sleep. When she couldn’t take it anymore, she woke Rob.*
He got up, stretched, indicated he was good to go and that she should go back to sleep – which she gratefully accepted.
This time, she was awoken by the smell of hot tea, instead of a fictional rabbit.*
“Good to see you’re up, I hate to be a taskmaster, but you need to get yourself packed up as soon as you can so we can get moving. There have been more groups passing, and we need to stay ahead of as many as we can” he said, as he handed her a canteen cup half full of hot tea. “Drink this and get ready, we’ll eat breakfast on the trail.”
“Ok, let me get cleaned up, would you mind helping me pack up, I will be ready faster if you do?”*
“When I come back, if you still need it, I will. I’m going to rebury the revolver and ammo, we are good to go weapon wise, but that can change in a second. I will feel better knowing this is here if we drop, lose, break or get our other weapons confiscated.”
She yawned and nodded at the same time, motioning that he get going.*
She was much quicker than she thought she would be. Baby wipes substituted for a morning shower, and after a quick tooth brush meeting, she began packing her stuff. Everything was packed in a few minutes, she even had the time to empty her garbage bag mattress and strap it to the back of her bag.
While she waited for Rob, she lightly oiled her carbine, as well as her Glock. When she was clearing her pistol, she realized that she was four shots down because of her altercation on the bridge. As she was topping off the magazine from the box of SXT hollow points found in her bag, Rob walked back into the camp.
“Ready to roll?” He asked.
“Yep, why don’t you strap your backpack to the bike and we can take turns pushing it?”
Rob nodded, and after a little effort balancing everything out, they were on their way.*
Rob started out just like they did the previous day, he kept a good pace and conducted listening halts along the way. After an hour, they switched positions, and she led, tried to imitate what he did when he was in front of her, while Rob pushed the bike.*
She was finally able to get down some breakfast while leading; walking a bike loaded down with a few large backpacks was not the most optimum dining situation. As planned, she had a few lemony ration bars and washed them down with the remaining water in her second to last bottle. They decided to have the bars one meal a day to stretch out the freeze dried and other foods. Rob explained the possibility of appetite fatigue, (where the body will mentally will it so you cannot eat something, normally if forced to consume the same bland thing over a period of time) and this was a method to combat that possibility.
While munching along, they both heard some rapid gunfire somewhere in front of them in the distance. The two exchanged looks and continued on.
A little while after breakfast, she conducted her first listening halt; she took a knee, mimicked Robs hand gesture, and scanned the area. She had read somewhere that if you cancel out one of your senses, the others get stronger, so after her visual survey, she closed her eyes and concentrated her listening over the area in front of her. It worked. She picked up faint talking up ahead, not too far from their position.
She motioned to Rob and wrote in the dirt on the trail “voices” with an arrow in their direction.
*Rob nodded, walked their bike and gear behind a bush and rejoined her on the trail. He got right next to her ear and said “let’s get off the path and see if we can identify them.”
They moved amongst the trees, and up the hillside that was next to the trail they were on. Both moved slowly, watching where they placed each foot, careful not to make any noise. Suddenly Rob grabbed her and pulled her down to the ground, behind some roots. She let go a short squeak as one of the roots jammed into her tender side.*
Once again at her ear he said “I saw one of them, he is in the trees watching the road. He is only about 100 feet away.”*
They both shimmied up so they could see both the road and the man Rob already spotted, while minimizing the chance of being spotted. Down on the road they saw two men going through the belongings of three dead people, all recently shot. The man on the hillside looked to be an overwatch, protecting the ones below. It didn’t take a military tactician to figure out what happened; all the men were on the hill, ambushed the people below, and killed them for their belongings. She moved over to where she couldn’t see the carnage and barely withheld emptying her stomach.
Rob moved back to her “I didn’t think people would start raiding so soon. We need to eliminate this problem; they are in the way, and will only continue hurting people.”
Forcing back bile, she slowly nodded her head, knowing that he was right.
He continued “I’m going to move to where I can ambush them down on the road. I need you to move behind the guy on the hill. Once I start firing, he is going to react, that will be your chance to put him down, ok?”
Once again, she nodded. She was not sure she could shoot a person in the back, but was starting to understand how rules were beginning to change, and she needed to change with them.*** **** ***
He started moving down the hill, as she moved up it, and in short order, both were in position to take out the men. After a few minutes of her waiting, loud gunfire erupted from below and she could see the men get shredded by the heavy bullets of Rob’s Garand. She had no idea his rifle could fire so fast, almost as soon as it started and before she had time to react, she heard a sharp “twaaaaang” noise from down below – signifying Rob was out of ammo.
The man she was watching swiftly sat up from his position, putting his rifle to his shoulder, looking for a target. Deathly afraid, she said in a low voice “put down your rifle.” The man either did not hear her, or just ignored her, and continued to scan the trail. Louder this time, she repeated “I said, put down your rifle.”
He undoubtedly heard her this time, and swung his rifle back up towards her. Closing her eyes, she squeezed her M1’s trigger once. After a few moments, she opened her eyes, half expecting to be shot herself, or the man over her with his rifle pointed at her head. What she saw was worse than she thought it would be, the man was shot through the throat, and most likely with his spine severed. He was moving his eyes, staring at her, but his lower body was still, unable to read the messages his brain was trying to send.*
She ran down the hill as fast as she could, the man’s dying eyes following her.
The girl was blindly running when she startled Rob, who shouldered his Garand and pointed it at her as soon as she burst through the trees near the trail at the bottom of the hill.
He quickly aimed away from her. “Dammit! I almost shot you!” he started yelling. “Why the hell are you running down here on me like that? What are you thinking?”*
He suddenly looked concerned, “Are there more,*are they following you?” He took a knee and started scanning behind her.
She started throwing up uncontrollably, and Rob understood what was happening; he did the same thing when he had to kill his first combatant in Iraq. He let her be for about thirty seconds and started throwing the non-ventilated backpacks into a pile. Looking up at the girl, he said “I understand what you are going through right now, and you need some time, but we don’t have it. We need to get moving in exactly one minute, less if we can. Someone may have heard our fight, maybe these guys’ friends, maybe some authority figure. We need to move; go get the bike, I’ll take care of this.”*
Wiping her mouth, she nodded and went for their mechanical pack mule. She stopped for a quick swig of water to clear out the foul taste, retrieved the bike, and trotted back. She saw Rob shoving things he took off the dead bodies into a half filled blue daypack. He did not even seem to be looking at what he was doing, just stripping the dead men of anything valuable as quickly as he could. When she got to him, he took two of the backpacks, and slung them on the bike’s handlebars. He handed her a non bloody pack and indicated she put it on.*
Without a word, he stood up with three new rifles slung on his back, grabbed the handlebars and started running.
She kept up with him and they ran for a few quick minutes. He suddenly grunted, getting her attention and pulled off the trail into a secluded spot.
They stopped, breathing hard, each looking outward for threats. None materialized, and the two started relaxing as their bodies cut off the flow of adrenaline, fear, and other biological chemicals designed to make man – or woman – the ultimate survivor.*
Time continued to pass and the forest sounds were full of natural noises, and none unnatural.*
Rob said “let’s take a break here for a little bit and go through what we got. I think we should take anything that will assist in getting*to our retreat, create a charity bag, and bury anything that we could need in the future, but is either too heavy, extraneous, or incriminating to take right now. You keep watch, turn your mind off to what happened, we can deal with it later. The only thing you need to concern yourself with is the fact we need to live through this to feel about it later.”
She nodded and he began taking contents out of the bags, separating them into like piles. There was an ammo pile, a weapons pile, a water pile, a water procurement pile, a food pile, clothing, shelter, fire, broken or destroyed, and so on.
He took the backpack he had her carry, and after relieving it of it’s contents, he started filling it back up again. He called it the “charity” pack or the “bait bag”, depending on how it gets used. He put in something from almost every pile, excluding*weapons and ammo. The bag did get food, clothes, socks, water, and other goodies.
Rob looked at the rifles he grabbed, two of the three were basically useless. One, an older lever action, took a round through the stock, near the trigger well. It was good for replacement parts, but in their current situation it was just a dead weight liability. The other was an AR-15 patterned rifle, with a broken hand guard and a bent gas tube. He did not know if it was from a bullet, or a fall, but in either case he could not use it. He split the lower and upper receiver, and pulled the whole bolt assembly – being a good bit of spare parts.
The third rifle was a pump-action in 30 Remington that Rob first confused for a shotgun. The limited use and obscure ammo made this rifle a prime candidate for a cache – his Garand would live to fight another day.
He was able to procure two pistols; a 9mm Smith and Wesson Sigma that came with a bad reputation and a huge trigger pull. The second being a Taurus clone of a Beretta 92. Neither was particularly desirable, but could possibly be used in trade. The Sigma got cashed and the Taurus got taken. **
As he went through the piles, he put some of the items into his personal pack, and handed some things to her if she wanted them to do the same. He placed the remaining items that neither took into a heavy duty trash bag, hid it among some of the tangled roots of the oak tree they were using for shade, and covered it with dead leaves as best he could.
Marking the location on the map, the pair was ready to go. They both wanted to get as far away from the incident as possible, each for their own reasons; one a tactical decision, the other emotional.*
They continued on without incident for quite a while, taking turns pushing the bike and taking point. A few more days past, and they continued to eat up the miles when they saw a small town in the valley below them.*
A long time ago when the bug out route was established, this town was designated to be used as a gauge on how the rest of the world was fairing after coming out of the wild. It could be observed and passed, or observed and entered, depending on the situation. Being relatively off the beaten path, they should not be suffering the same impact as a larger area.*
The pair stopped and Rob pulled out some binoculars so he could observe the town. There were a few people milling about, all armed with rifles. There was a roadblock and a bypass setup at the edge of the town with multiple men manning it. There was a primitive camping area set up across from the roadblock, whose purpose became apparent when the first large group came up to the blockade. After halting the group, some words were exchanged, the party got in a circle as if discussing something. They split up, two of the members walked up to the townsmen and were let in, arms and all, while the remaining went to the camping area.*
During their observation, they learned quite a bit about the town. They would let in groups of two or less, but everyone had to go to the center of town where it looked like a trading area was set up in the park located there. They would let people come in armed, but expected everyone to be on their best behavior. They had some security that was not immediately obvious because a group of about fifteen men tried to breach the roadblock. The half dozen men manning the roadblock fought back, but unseen snipers made quick work of the assaulting force from unseen vantage points, with clear fields of fire to any piece of obvious cover. The perimeter of the town was protected by fences, sandbags, and debris between the houses, making it difficult for someone to sneak in.*
“We need information and supplies. Our water is running low, and our food could use some variety.” Rob said. The biggest problem they had was a natural spring that was on the route, designated to be a water point, ran dry at some point, and the two had to start rationing their water. If they did not get the back up bags from the first cache, as well as the few canteens from the ambush, they would probably be pretty thirsty by this point.
“I think you’re right, obviously the world is not back on track, but this is a semblance of civilization and order. Let’s go see what we can find out, and get from bartering,” she said.*
They walked down to the town, and up to the roadblock. When they were thirty or so meters out, a loud voice called “Halt! State your business.”
Rob replied “We wish to trade and get information about what has been happening over the past few days. We took refuge in the hills and have been out of touch for a little bit.”
“Do you have family or someone that can vouch for you in the town?”
“No sir, but I assure you we will not cause issues. We do have some trade goods, as well as someplace to go; we are not refugees looking for asylum.”*
The voice chuckled “bBy, you answered every issue that I may have. We will let you in, but there will be a toll.”
The hairs on Rob’s neck started standing up, whenever someone mentioned toll it could be something small, or downright thievery. He knew they were in no position to challenge whatever was requested, and because he mentioned trade goods there could be an interpretation that they were rich. Slowly, he said “What sort of toll.”
“Nothing huge, a real silver quarter, five centerfire or ten rimfire rounds each. If you don’t have any of that, something equivalent.”
Rob relaxed “Will you take cash?”
“No, sorry. Some of the merchants inside will, at crazy rates, but we need something that is going to have use or value for the long term.”
“Understood, I have five pre-65 dimes for the two of us. I am going to reach into my pocket to get it, ok?
“Yep, just don’t do anything fast. Or stupid for that matter.”
Rob paid the toll, and the two were let in without issue. He was surprised to see a Browning fifty caliber machine gun hidden amongst the sandbags and cars that made up the roadblock. He assumed it was not used in the witnessed defense because either rounds are limited, or they knew they could fight them off without it’s help.
“Walk up the main street here to the park. Do not take any side streets, stay after dark, or even think about setting up residence. If you have a problem with a merchant, figure it out; we may get involved, but chances are we will side with our townsfolk. Understood?” The man behind the voice instructed, as he collected the toll. His demeanor placed him as military, but was not in uniform.*
Rob nodded and led her into the town.