The girl woke to Rob gently shaking her.
“Sorry, your turn.”
She peeked out of her sleeping bag, the sun hurting her eyes. “Ok, I’m getting up. Were you able to get a hold of anyone on the radio?” she asked, pulling herself out of her slumber, slowly getting dressed and putting on her shoes. As she did, she noticed how much tread had been worn off; they were brand new when she started this adventure. She started offhandedly worrying about shoes in the future.
“No, not yet. We will try at dusk and dawn, that is the normal communication times. We don’t want to keep it on all day, it will drain batteries too much.
With a yawn and a long stretch, she nodded to his logic, and waived a hand toward his sleeping area. He gratefully nodded and set about to getting some rest. *
She grabbed her carbine and pistol, checking both to ensure they were in the loaded condition she left them. Satisfied, she walked out of the camps perimeter and did a survey of the area. Again, satisfied. She found a shaded area where she could do her morning business. A month ago, if you told her that she would have no problem carrying weapons, conducting patrols, setting up a camp, and going to the bathroom in the woods with just a baby wipe and hole – she would have called you crazy. Now, its not even a thought.
The day dragged on as her companions slept. An afternoon meal of trail mix broke up some of the monotony, but not for long. About the time she was going to wake Holly for her shift, she heard the low rumble of a powerful engine, coming somewhere along the road.*
She crept out to where she could see the pavement, but still be concealed by the shrubs and trees that grew in the area. She saw not one, but two well used pickup trucks driving down the old highway. Both had numerous men in the bed, each man heavily armed. Instead of swerving around each stopped vehicle as her group had done, these men stopped and stripped everything from them, including syphoning the gas into one of the big red*drums found in the back of one of the trucks.
She watched for a while and saw a family of two adults and a child up the highway from her start waiving down the trucks. The vehicles raced to them, and one of the drivers jumped out to talk to the family. Moments later, the driver pulled a handgun of some sort, and shot the father in the group. Screaming, the mother and child were tossed in the back of the truck. The father was brutally searched, and after taking what they could, the group took off.
The girl sat motionless. The time between the start of the event and now had hardened her, but no amount of solidification would prepare her for what she just witnessed.*
Moving as quickly as she could, she moved from shrub to shrub and tree to tree, closing the distance from her to the shot man. She stopped frequently and listened for the roar of the trucks returning, voices, or any other sign that the “men” were on their way back.*
She threw herself into the ditch opposite the father who was pumping blood onto the asphalt; it’s rich color staining the road like rust. Her ears were as open as they could be, her breath long but strained and her fingers digging into the wood of her carbine in fear.*
“Ehhhhhhhhhhh…” the man breathed, more his lungs expelling what air it could than any semblance of a word.
Her fear broke and she moved from the ditch, running to his side. He was shot on one side of his chest, a hefty hole in the front and a mess of mangled meat to the rear – both adding to the blood pool in the road in a rhythmic sync with his heart.*
She looked into his eyes, they were a cloudy green, but showed a response to her as he looked back. His body started spasming as he tried to speak “Fa… Fa… Family!”
She ripped off her shirt and stuffed it into the hole in his back as blood started flowing out of his mouth, painting his red goatee a truer shade.
As fast as the spasms started, they ended. She again looked into his eyes, this time, there was no response.
Tears filled her eyes and she bolted. Back into the ditch, back through the trees and shrubs, and back to her camp.*
Rob was strapping on his combat vest as she ran into the clearing. She kept running right into him, burying her sobbing face into the implements of war connected to him on his chest. Rob took a quick look at her; shirtless with just a bra on her torso, blood splattered all over and her hands covered in the drying liquid. He tossed her to the side, behind the log they were using as a bench as he picked up his rifle. He ran up to the Jeep and laid the M1a across the hood, pointed in the direction she had just came from.
Holly laid down next to the girl. “What’s going on, are you alright? Rob thought a gunshot woke him up, and after you couldn’t immediately be found he started going into war mode.”
Rob yelled over his shoulder “How many? How are they armed?”
“Stop” the girl struggled to get out.
“Stop? Stop what honey?” Holly asked, moving a blood-clumped section of hair out of the girl’s face.
“Rob, stop. They are not coming.”
Rob dropped his shoulders, relaxing a bit “What? You’re not being followed?”
The girl had captured enough of her breath to talk, “Yes, I’m not being followed.”
He picked his rifle up off the Jeep “So, what the hell happened?”
As best she could, she recounted the story – the entire time cleaning herself with baby wipes handed to her by Holly.
“Well, this changes things, but not much” Rob said after she was done.*
“What do you mean?” asked Holly.
“Well, we will still move at night – we can probably get to our spot by morning. We just have to be more careful and watch our trail.”
“Did you not hear what she said? There is a child and a woman in the hands of some sadists. We HAVE to help them!” Holly pleaded.
“Yea, I heard her, and yea if we could help without getting all of us killed I would consider it. But, no offense, even if I had two military buddies with me there is no way three takes on over a dozen for a rescue mission. There is primal things going on all over right now – we will help where we can, but live so we can help another day.”
“You’re a coward!”
“No, I’m a realist who is going back to bed. We will have a long night and must be rested.” Rob walked out of the conversation, and did exactly as he said.*
The girl cried herself to sleep, and Holly begrudgingly started her turn at watch.
Everyone was up as dusk settled into dark and loaded the Jeep in silence.
Holly was driving, Rob’s night vision hooked up to his head harness so she could use it hands free. The girl was up front, and Rob was in the back. All of the windows were down so they could listen to the night sounds, especially ones that didn’t belong.
After a few hours, Holly spotted a glow off the road “What’s that?”
“What’s what?” her passengers asked.
Realizing the NVG’s amplify light they may not be able to see, she stopped the truck and passed around the device. Just as it was handed to Rob a scream broke the natural sounds of the night.*
Rob didn’t have to put on the monocular “It’s them, it’s their campfire.”
Holly swallowed, and stared at Rob. He handed back the night vision, hung his head and whispered “drive.”
Holly took back the NVG’s and the girl just stared at Rob. All she could think about was the man on the road and his eyes. Damn him and his eyes, looking, pleading, not wanting to let go.
Another scream broke her from her thoughts.
Rob looked up at Holly, tears going down his face “drive damn you, drive before I get of this god-forsaken car and get us all killed.”
So she did.
They road in silence, each dealing with their emotions in their own way.
Rob had them pull over well before daylight to set up their final camp.
“We are very close, only about 40 miles driving to the spot, only 20 or so as the crow flys. I need to make sure that group is not following us, I need to advise our people that there may be problems, and to be alert. This will be our final camp, and then – hopefully – we can get some much needed rest.”*
After his little speech, Rob set up their radio, and made contact with the groups on-duty radio operator. He briefly gave them the pre-set code for when to expect them, and to be on alert for danger.
Just as two of the three were going to get ready to bed down, a set of familiar, strong engines were heard on the roadway. The whine of breaks, skidding of rubber and unintelligible yelling told the group they were about to have company.*
“Water and weapons only!” Rob yelled in a whisper, grabbing his vest and M1a. “Move!”
After a moment of shock, one girl grabbed a few bottles of water, the other a camelback, and each their respective weapons. Seconds after they heard the trucks, they were all running through the bush, following Rob.
Rob ran them hard, Holly was keeping up, but wincing the entire time due to her earlier injury. After a few minutes, they heard whoops, hollering and gunshots from where they left their Jeep. Irrelevant of this, they kept on running.*
After ten minutes, they slowed from almost a sprint to a jog, and twenty after that, down to a walk.*
“What…What…The hell…Was…That?” the girl stammered out between breathes.
Taking a moment, part listening for pursuers, part catching his own breath, Rob eventually replied; “not sure how they found us, either the radio signal and they pin pointed in, we left tracks on the side of the road, or they have spotters watching the road.”
“What about all our stuff?” asked Holly “how will we survive?”
“Well, I’m hoping they were only after us for our stuff and they are too busy fighting each other over the spoils to worry about finding us. As far as surviving, we will be fine, we just need to get to our group without any extra holes in us. We have water, and only a days hard travel to go – we can live without any food.” * *
They both looked at Rob, expecting him to continue talking.*
He looked at the sun, and started jogging towards it. Without any better ideas, they followed.*
The terrain was hard; they were gaining in elevation, as well as thickness of brush. The lightly scattered trees became more frequent and harder to negotiate. After an hour, the adrenaline was worn off and fatigue was hitting the trio as one would expect from being up all night and spending all morning in physical exertion. They continued on.
After the first hour, they stopped jogging. After the fifth, they stopped walking – instead, they just plodded along; dropping one foot in front of the other. They continued on.
They continued their slow movement for another hour when Rob called for a halt. “No sleeping, lets drink some water and compose ourselves. We have a long day ahead of us.” After a ten minute break, they started walking again. The girl felt like the walking dead, she wanted to close her eyes as she walked, use a rock a pillow, anything to get some relief.*
The elevation steadily rose. They hit an open, rocky area that held a mixture of boulders, trees, and other natural obstacles.
Movement was slow through this treacherous part of their journey; climbing rocks, finding ways around things, and being physically exhausted all played their part.
At some point, when the sun was to their backs, Rob dropped to the ground. “Son of a bitch!” he yelled as he did, grabbing his right leg, and dropping his rifle.
The girl ran to him – as she approached, she heard a sound that gives the creature she soon spotted it’s name; the iconic death rattle. It was slipping away through the rocks, escaping, but the damage already done.*
Rob had a bit of his pants torn, just above his boot. She could see blood and at least one deep puncture mark. * * **
Holly pushed past the girl, started squeezing on Rob’s calf, and in a most unladylike fashion started sucking on his wound. She kept at it, only stopping to spit out mouthfuls of blood and venom. She tore off some of his pant leg and used it to tie off his leg, just above the injury, cutting down on the blood flow.*
Rob was out; either from the venom, blood loss, the days exertion, or a combination of the three.
“You need to go get help, we can’t be far.” Holly said.
“What? No, we all go.”
“He is not going anywhere, and if we try to force him, he will probably die. I need to stay to make sure he does not go into shock, get attacked or get worse. Now, start heading east – if Rob is any indication on what they are like, they will find you long before you find them.”
Rob’s body started shivering, which was all the encouragement she needed.
She started running east, dodging rocks, moving as fast as she could.
It seemed like forever that she was moving. The sun started to set, her shadow growing each minute in front of her. When it was it’s longest, two bushes jumped out at her, each protruding a rifle.
“Halt!” one of the bushes yelled.
“I found you!” she yelled back.*
“Who are you, and what is your business here?” the other bush questioned, folding a hood with weaved in twigs back so that she could see this was in fact, a man.*
She dug a hand into her pocket – each man pointed their rifles at her as she did. “it’s ok, I’m with you.”
She followed their instructions and carefully pulled out the coin she showed Rob so long ago. “We need your help, Rob has been bitten by a snake, and is messed up pretty bad.”*
A third bush came out from behind a tree “boys, put your rifles down – girl, where is Rob at?”
She pointed over her shoulder.
The newest bush pulled a camouflaged tarp off an ATV “Boys, radio it in, I’m taking her to go get Rob – have doc get prepped for a patient.”
The ATV took them within a quarter mile of where Rob was at, in only a fraction of the time it took her to run the same distance. They both jumped off the vehicle, and went looking for their injured friend. * *
**** * *
Rob and Holly were quickly found, and Rob was placed on the ATV to be takin in. In the twilight light, he looked so pale that he almost looked like he was glowing. The girls were told to wait, the driver would be back soon to bring them into the retreat.*
True to his word, the man returned and took each of the females to safety.
For each it was a surreal experience. Holly was set up in Robs quarters for the night while he underwent medical treatment, and the girl was shown her living arrangements once it was determined who she (and her man) was.*
The retreat was a collection of Rv’s, cabins, green houses, sheds, and shipping containers nestled among the juniper and pine trees.*
When she was first shown where she was going to be living, she had mixed emotions. Part of her was grateful that she had a place, but part of her was disappointed with the pair of forty foot shipping containers that were proclaimed “hers”.
The two containers were twenty feet apart, with a brick patio between them. A metal awning spanned the distance, covering the patio as well as the boxes. To the rear of the patio, an outdoor fireplace and rock wall was set, enclosing the patio to the rear. Her disappointment was ebbing away, being replaced with shame at her negative feelings and appreciation for what she was given. The craftsmanship on the outdoor area was superb and quite functional. A collection of counters, tables and chairs completed what she started thinking of as her outdoor living and dining room.
All disappointment was shattered when she opened the first box. The interior had been completely upgraded, it looked like a long cozy cabin. The walls were covered in thin split logs and the floor a dark hardwood with many rugs. There was a bed, sitting area, and desk – all well spread out and comfortable. The roof had a few plastic domes that would bring in light, and a small wood stove was in the corner that would offer heat.*
She started crying, she was to live like a queen when so many other will be suffering – all because her man lover her so much.
The second box was much more mundane, but much more useful than the first. It had wall to wall shelving, completely stacked with gear, food, and supplies. The center of the container was filled floor to ceiling with like items.
As much as she wanted to just crash into her real bed, she wanted to check in on Rob even more.*
Asking around, she was pointed to the medical clinic. The “clinic” was a shipping container as well, but only a twenty footer. She knocked on the door that was framed into the side of the steel, and was quickly let inside.*
Once again, looks were deceiving; the interior was completely set up with a small office and operating/treatment area. Everything was clean, pristine, and organized. *Rob was laying down on the table in the center of the room, eyes closed but breathing steadily.*
Doc stood next to her as she looked down at Rob. “I owe him more than I can ever repay.” She was silent for a moment, fearful of what the answer would be to the next question she had to ask. “How is he doing?”
“He’ll live, but I’m not sure if he will lose his foot or not. I’m not as good a doctor as I’m a dentist, I had to cut away some of the flesh to clean it out. As long as I got it all, and infection doesn’t set in – he has a good shot.”*
“Thank you doctor, let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”
He agreed that he would, and told her that there is nothing that can be done for now.
She found her way back to her cabin, crawled into bed, and fell asleep knowing that her man was alive, and was coming home to her.