Part 3 can be found HERE.
Joan took him to the back of the small motel where the laundry/pump house was. The inside was just what he expected; it was dark, with a musty smell – but overall it was clean. There was the water heater, a large water softener, a few commercial washing machines with matching driers, a few five-gallon water jugs, a half-dozen bags of salt for the softener, some more buckets like the ones found in his room, and various other cleaning or laundry supplies. The boy spied an especially interesting find on the top of the shelf in the back of the room; an old military rucksack frame.
“There’s the softener” Joan said after the Boy entered the room. You need to take out all the salt and water that’s in it, clean it up, and then fill it up. I’ll use it for water to flush the toilets – I want to save the potable water that is left in the heater. You can use the buckets to slop out the salt, one of those water cans and some bleach from the cleaning cart to finish up. After your done, I’ll show you where the pond is.”
“Sounds good, I’ll get started. One quick question, are you using that?” The Boy asked, pointing to the army frame.
“That old thing? There is not even a backpack attached to it – some mice found it and ate through most of it but my ex-husband didn’t want to throw it out. Of course I’m not using it – you want it?”
“It could come in handy, yea.”
“Well, if you do a good job, it’s yours.”
“Can I use it for the work? I can strap one of those water cans to it and increase the amount of water I can carry at once.”
Joan gave him a thumbs up as she walked out. “Go ahead, I’ll be at the front if you need me.”
The Boy started working. The water softener was only about half full and in about 45 minutes, using the buckets, he had the thing empty and reasonably clean. Being the sort to take pride in his work, and the motivator of his supplies being half price for a job well done, he spent another half hour doing some extra work. He mopped up the entire room, cleaning up more than just the drips and splatter made when emptying the softener. He cleaned and stacked all the buckets, then cleaned and put away any supplies he used in the task.
Joan came in with a glass of tea for him just as he was finishing up. “Wow, you do good work – I’m not going to come out with the extra money on this one, am I?”
He just smiled as he drank the tea when offered.
The Boy grabbed the rucksack frame down off the top shelf, and inspected it. Like Joan said, the backpack portion was missing, but thankfully the shoulder straps were in good condition, as was the frame itself. He lashed one of the water cans to the back, using some spare rope that Joan had.
He left behind any other buckets, but took his water-bearing backpack on the first trip out to the pond. He wanted to be able to pay attention to the way, as well as get a good feeling about his surroundings.
Joan chatted as she walked, mostly small talk about her ex-husband, the town or her hotel. The Boy noted she walked fairly slowly, and should be able to double her speed on the way out to the pond when he wouldn’t be encumbered with fifteen gallons – over a hundred and twenty pounds – of water. He was planning on using two buckets in addition to his pack.
The pond came into view in about five minutes of walking, and they were at it in two minutes after that.
The Boy filled up his backpack can, and they started back – the first of five more trips he made. The water softener ended up being almost eighty gallons total.
Joan could not find any fault in the work that was done, and thanked the Boy many times for his efforts. The Boy took his thanks, rounded up all the supplies negotiated, and crashed asleep on his bed five minutes after eating two boxes of individual-sized fruit loops cereal .
The Boy woke up just as the sun started shining through the blinds in his room. His body felt a strange ache and comfort all at once. The ache was from the hard work, and the comfort was from sleeping in a good bed.
He went through his gear, laying out everything onto the queen-sized bed into various little piles; shelter pile, food, water, clothing, cold weather, comfort, tools, and so on. He went outside with the shower curtain and the cans of spray paint. He had brown and black, he used these to create some semblance of a camouflage pattern on one side of the shower curtain – leaving the other side its natural cream color.
While it dried, he set about using the rucksack frame and route 66 memorabilia to rig up a new carrying system. With the water can back in the laundry room, he had plenty of room for this task.
After a few tries, filling it up, testing it, and repacking his backpack “system”, the Boy was happy with his results. Not only was the new pack more comfortable, and unlike the first design he had been using, he was much more sure that this was not going to break.
He washed up, grabbed his pack and went to breakfast.
Joan served him everything that was talked about the day before. The highlight of the meal was definitely the hot coffee. It brought about a sense of normalcy and just tasted dang good.
After breakfast, she tried to convince him to stay for a few days, offering food, a place to stay, a small salary, and the promise to drive him back to the big city once this blew over. He kindly neglected her offer, thanked her for her hospitality, and continued on his journey.
The Boy went for days without seeing another town, person, or incident. He walked allot, while he ate and slept little. He thought that civilization would start breaking down about this time, so he started going cross-country – no longer paralleling the road.
On the morning of the seventh day after the incident, the boy came to a large river. According to his maps, a small town was to the south. The Boy thought this was a good opportunity to take a pulse on what was going on, and there was a bridge that could be used if the coast was clear.
The town was virtually deserted. He watched it from the treeline for an hour or so, and there was little sign of anything going on. He circled around to the far side of the settlement, and watched that side for another hour – still nothing telling.
The Boy carefully went into the town, walking down side-streets in the general direction of the river. The closer and closer he got, the more the hairs on his neck were standing on end. Where were all the people? Did they all go to a refugee camp? Were they evacuated? Run off?
Not far from the river, the Boy went up to one of the houses. He could see the wood around the lock shattered, a large boot mark dirtied the otherwise clean, red, door. Just as he was going to bolt and run out to the safety of the tree line, he heard loud laughing coming from the area where the bridge should be, past the house. He went next to the house, and crawled through the bushes. Shortly, he was able to see the bridge. There was a road block of two cars, and over a dozen people armed with a variety of weapons – from civil-war black powder rifles to AK-47’s. The group holding these weapons looked like a mixture of lowlifes and petty criminals, even the two females looked like they had spent some time behind bars.
Closer to the Boy was a group of five men, talking to the people manning the roadblock. Instantly he knew the type of people the five came from, and those on the bridge should be allot more polite than they were apparently being. This group was all identically armed with short-barreled carbines from the AR family of weapons; with the exception of the man in the middle who carried a larger AR – possibly a .308 version AR10. All of the weapons were individualized with optics, rail systems, lasers and lights. None were overdone, just tailored to each shooter. All the men had war-belts, chest-rigs, or both to carry extra magazines, supplies, and sidearms.
Just the way they were standing should have clued in the low-lifes on the bridge. Only three were facing them, two were facing the rear, and they were all spread out. They did not look current military, no one had on a uniform, but they were definitely ex-military. If the Boy had to guess, Spec-ops or at the very least some form of combat arms who took their job very seriously.
These men were true hard-cases, not the wanna be’s that those on the bridge have encountered before in their lives. America keeps it’s killers in two places; prison and the forests training for the next war. The Boy almost felt bad for the criminals because they truly did not know the hornet’s nest they were kicking.
“Move your cars and step aside, we need to get through.” The man with the large AR said, his tone not confrontational, but more like a pleasant request.
One of the men on the bridge spoke up “Yea, we can move, but your going to have to pay a toll.” This caused the others to start laughing out loud as if he said the funniest thing in the world. “How about one of those fancy rifles?” More laughter.
“I’m not giving you my rifle, now please step aside.” Still calm, relaxed.
The thug seemed to get agitated, he probably was used to people doing what he said “yea, how about we take it from…”
“BUST ‘EM” the hard case yelled, interrupting the low-life mid-sentence. As he yelled, he and the others in the group shouldered their rifles and layed waste to the entire population on the bridge. The two men facing the rear spun a moment after everyone started shooting, adding their guns to the fight. It was over in seconds.
The five ran to the roadblock, shooting anyone still moving until they got past the cars. Two of the five started pulling security, one in each direction of the bridge. Two started throwing their opponents rifles over the edge and into the water below – the exception being one Vietnam era M16, which he kept. The last man, the one with the big rifle, started blowing on a whistle, two short bursts followed by two more.
A teen-ager, two boys that were about ten each, and three women came running up from one of the houses. The teen pushed a large garden cart, filled with rucksacks. Two of the three women carried a baby in their arms, and all except the babies had a backpack and rifle.
The men quickly grabbed their respective pack from the cart and the group started running across the bridge. It was less than a minute from the time the shooting started to when they were all across the river.
The second they were out of sight, the Boy ran from cover towards the bridge. He dumped his pack, and dove into the river. He scraped his hands on the rocky bottom, searching for anything man-made. The dark muddy water had no visibility, so he was probing blindly. At the last moment before his air ran out, he found what felt to be the barrel of a rifle.
Grabbing it, he spun, and kicked hard to the surface. He had no time to go diving for something else, what he found would have to do.
When he got to the shore, he discovered he found a Springfield Trapdoor rifle in .45-70. The Boy muttered “better that nothing”, ran up to get his bag and see if he could get some ammo for this thing.
He quickly found a huge man with a leather belt that had a large knife in a sheath and loops filled with .45-70 cartridges. The man had at least five bullet wounds, all the way from his pelvis to one just under his right cheek. Getting the belt undone with the mans wight and slickness from the blood was a task that took longer than he liked, especially once he started hearing yelling from the town.
He finally undid the belt, and ripped it from under the man. The Boy grabbed his rucksack and then ran across the bridge. When he was at the end, he could start to hear shooting coming from behind him.