Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse (14 page)

BOOK: Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse
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Chapter 3
4

T
he scene that greeted John was one of complete carnage. The bodies of friend and foe lay side by side, an image that reminded him of accounts from the Civil War. Soldiers had often described the dead being so thick they could walk from one end of a battlefield to the other without touching the ground.

There was enough space between each of the houses that the fires wouldn’t jump, but already three homes across
the street were reduced to smoldering ash. So was Al’s house.

Here and there
, sporadic gunfire broke the eerie silence, but the peak of the battle had passed. Now that Cain was gone, John rushed back to his own house so that it too wasn’t torched. The pod was designed to be fireproof, that wasn’t the problem. It was the oxygen getting cut off in the event of a fire that worried him most.

When he was nearly there,
dark figures ran toward the park on their way out of Willow Creek. They were carrying jugs of water and large sacks presumably stuffed with canned goods. He lowered himself onto one knee, peered through his Trijicon ACOG scope
and shot three of them dead. The last managed to dart behind cover before he could finish the job.

The street was in complete shambles. With
Cain dead and his thugs on the run, it appeared the people of Willow Creek had won, but at what cost? No one would know until dawn when they would begin to tally their losses.

•••

John slept slumped in a chair in his kitchen, the Kel-Tec KSG laid across his lap. He’d dragged the dented steel plate back into place and waited for the light to come. There’d been an eerie silence outside and John couldn’t help wonder which of his friends and neighbors had survived.

Finally, faint light began to trickle in through the now shattered front windows. John peered outside for any signs of Cain’s men. The prospect was doubtful
. He would have heard them looting and pillaging throughout the night but all he’d heard was deathly silence.

The sight
outside was sobering. Men and women with red bandanas mixed with Cain’s thugs were dead and scattered for as far as John could see. A few stunned figures had emerged from their homes, most of them bloody. They staggered among the dead, weeping. It really did look like a battlefield and when things were finally put right, John hoped there would be some sort of memorial here to the people who’d given up their lives for the right to live without fear of oppression.

John went down to the pod and got Diane and the kids. They were visibly frightened and
had stayed up throughout the night. Even buried underground, they’d still heard the battle going on topside. They were sure no one was left and John didn’t have the heart to tell them that they might be right.

“Oh, your ears,” Diane said when she saw the blood. “We heard the explosion and thought the house had been hit by an RPG.”

“You’re not too far from the truth,” he told her. “But my hearing’s already coming back.”

“Did we win at least
, Dad?” Gregory asked.

John ruffled his son’s h
air. “It looks that way, son, but we paid a heavy price.”

The concern on Diane
’s face intensified. Her worst fears had become a reality.

The idea of going upstairs and letting his kids see what lay out
side was gut-wrenching. No child should see that. But there was no way around it. They would need to find the survivors and salvage what they could. Cain and his men seemed to have been defeated, but who knew what other groups were out there waiting to take his place.

No words c
ould soften the blow, it was simply something they would have to experience.

He brought them upstairs and when he opened the front door they gasped. Tears streamed down Diane’s face. Her hands went to her quivering lips. “Oh God, John.
Oh God.”

A handful of others were outside now, checking on the bodies, engaged in the gruesome task of sorting the dead from the wounded. There weren’t many of the latter.

After that was done, John quickly organized the people he could find into search parties who went house to house, trying to find more survivors who’d hidden from the battle. In all, twenty people were left. Twenty residents of Willow Creek out of over a hundred.

The cost of victory was staggering. But it was only when they began counting the dead that two things became apparent.

The first was that Cain had lost nearly two hundred men.

The second was that Al and Missy were nowhere to be found.

Diane pointed to their house, which was now a heap of ashes. “That’s probably where they are.”

Emma
sobbed, burying her face in her mother’s arms. Not simply from the loss of their long-time neighbors. The enormity of the situation had finally hit home and the weight of it had been too much.

Bill Kelsaw, his head wrapped in a bandage, came up to John. “Hell on earth,” he said.

John nodded. What else could he say?

“What about Frank and Peter
?” John asked.

Bill’s eyes dropped. “I found them over there.” He pointed to the tree stand. “They put up one hell of a fight, that’s all I’ll say.”

John closed his eyes and said a silent prayer.

“I won’t be staying,” Bill said. “Not anymore. There’s nothing left. We beat them back, but we’ve got nothing left.”

He was right and Diane knew it too. They could stay here and spend precious time digging a pit to bury all the dead, or they could leave Willow Creek behind and head for the safety of the cabin.

John didn’t need to ask Diane what she thought, nor the kids. The answer was obvious.

Chapter 35

T
he family’s bug-out bags were already in the Blazer. That was something John had made sure of the very first day in case they needed to get out of Knoxville in a hurry.

The next hour was spent transferring other essential
s. The food stored in the pod, as well as the canned items Diane had prepared early on. First-aid supplies, weapons, ammo and water. Other items like the pressure canner, jerrycans with diesel and Coleman lanterns and batteries were also included. The list was a long one and it took some ingenuity to squeeze it all into Betsy. Course, after the EMP hit, the Ford F-150 had become little more than a giant paperweight. A pity really because it halved the amount they could bring with them.

As it was
, they were each leaving behind dozens of items of emotional significance. Photo albums were nice, but they could never take the place of a rifle or filtered water.

Once Betsy was packed, John went out and spoke with the other survivors. He made sure they had the food and water they needed. Bill Kelsaw said he would be heading to
Nashville to look for his sister, who he hadn’t spoken to since the collapse. Others had a similar plan. There was no point in staying on Willow Creek, not anymore. John was just glad he’d listened to his gut and stayed. Every armed man and woman had counted last night and without any one of them, the battle might have turned out differently. The worst-case scenario would have been Cain’s forces rolling in with little or no opposition. Then what would have become of those who remained? A terrifying thought indeed. Grim as it was, at least now they had a chance.

The sad truth was that most of the
survivors didn’t have a secret bug-out cabin in the hills they could escape to. But taking them all with him just wasn’t an option. With rationing, he and his family could survive on what was in the cabin, along with the supplies from the house, for over a year. Water would be the tricky part, but a stream nearby would act as a plentiful source. A source they would need to filter and purify.

Taking
another look at those assembled before him, John was struck by one other thing. Not a single member of the committee besides himself had survived. Al, Arnold, Curtis, Wendy and even Patty were all gone. Those who remained stood together and said a final prayer for the fallen and a few words for the future.

With some help from Bill and the others
they removed the dead from the street. This was where the Blazer would be coming through on its way out of Sequoyah Hills and running over his old friends was an indignity they didn’t deserve. It was bad enough they would be denied a proper burial.

After they’d finished that terrible job, Jo
hn and Bill stood for a minute, John wiping the sweat off his brow, Bill fanning his t-shirt to cool himself.

“How long you figure it’ll take you to reach that cabin of yours up
near Oneida?” Bill asked.

John
stared at him in shock, trying his best not to let his face betray how he was feeling. “What cabin, Bill?” He wasn’t one for playing games. The idea that their secret bug-out location wasn’t such a secret after all left him feeling numb.

“Oh, all right,
John, my mistake then.”

“Who told you I had a cabin?”

“Just a rumor, John. I think Curtis mentioned it to me. That you had a place up in the Appalachians stocked with food and water.”

Now John was getting angry. That cabin was the difference between life and death for his family and wasn’t something to be discussed among neighbors. More than that, John wanted to know how word of it had leaked out. Could Diane have said something to Patty
or someone else in her group?

“Didn’t
mean to upset you, John,” Bill said, pausing briefly before clapping him on the shoulder. “Your secret’s safe with me. Forget I even brought it up.”

John nodded,
feeling the sudden blinding need to speak to his wife and find the source of the leak.

•••

John and his family left an hour later. The trip itself was going to be dangerous. Betsy was a great, reliable truck that was up for the challenge, but she wasn’t armored. John had opted for speed and fuel economy rather than building himself a tank. Sure, a Brinks truck might have made the ultimate bug-out vehicle, but it didn’t hold a candle to Betsy in the fuel-efficiency category.

In Diane’s lap
sat a Beretta 9mm and the Kel-Tec KSG shotgun loaded with double-ought buck. Since he was driving, John carried his S&W. The AR was nearby however, snuggled between the console and Diane’s seat. If things got hairy, he could have it on target in seconds.

The truth was, John wasn’t expecting many ambushes once they hit the interstate. Most everyone was either on foot or using bikes
now. A truck barreling by would be a rare sight indeed.

Getting out of
Knoxville—that would be the dangerous part.

The highways in town were still cluttered with stalled cars.
As a result, the goal was to use the major boulevards and streets in order to hit the interstate on the outskirts of town. There John hoped it would prove less congested.

It had been a little over a week since the lights
had gone out and already the city looked completely different. Many of the houses had boards over the windows, others were burned out.

The fires he knew weren’t all from vandals and thugs. Millions of people all over
had likely turned to candles. After the first few days, some of them would have become careless and that was when fires started. Without any firefighters, buildings that went up in flames would have suffered the same fate as the ones on Willow Creek and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The memory of seeing Al’s house
with the bodies of him and his wife still inside, burnt to a crisp, was still fresh in John’s mind.

Sad
how long it took to build something worthwhile and how quickly all that hard work could be turned to ash. It was true for Willow Creek as much as it was true for the country as a whole.

Cumberland
Avenue led to an interstate on-ramp. They were far enough on the outskirts of Knoxville that John guessed the highway would be relatively clear. If their current location was any indication, then they would be fine. John had kept a hand on the pistol that was resting in the console’s cupholder, releasing it every so often when he needed both hands to navigate around a car blocking his path. Up to this point, however, he hadn’t seen a soul. Surely the noise of Betsy’s diesel engine was attracting attention, but if faces had popped out of doorways after they sped by, John hadn’t seen them.

The on
-ramp appeared on his right and John went up it. Just as he suspected, the traffic leaving the city was light, giving him plenty of room to bob and weave between the few stalled cars that were there.

The lanes in the opposite direction were another story entirely. Those were packed to the gills and many of th
e vehicles had open doors where drivers and passengers had simply decided to continue on foot. So far he hadn’t seen anyone in cars or along the highway’s shoulder. But it was only a question of time. He’d seen plenty of dead in his combat tours and plenty more over the last twenty-four hours. Soldier or not, the sight was never one you relished, not unless you were missing the important parts God gave you.

 

The Mack family continued their trek to the cabin, driving for another thirty minutes before they finally saw another soul. Two people actually, a man and a woman, walking along the interstate pushing a shopping cart packed with supplies covered by a blue tarp. Predictably, one of the cart’s front wheels was doing a merry jig, probably giving the man pushing the thing a terrible time.

As they approached, Diane lowered the window and
held the pistol against the outside of the passenger door. The point was to send them a clear message—we’re armed and ready to shoot, but not if you mind your own business. Gun-barrel diplomacy. Who knew that the way you held a gun could say so much?

The couple
stood still and watched as the Blazer approached, as though they were observing a mirage or something divine. The woman used her hand to block out the sun, low in the early-morning sky, squinting at the truck and its lucky occupants.

Diane nodded to them and they waved back. They seemed like nice enough people. John hoped they would stay safe.

Soon enough they came upon another group. This one consisted of five people, a real mishmash, making it difficult to tell if they were from the same family or had banded together to travel. Safety in numbers was surely the new law of the land.

“They’re all heading into the country,” Diane exclaimed.

“The legendary golden horde,” John murmured. “And right on time, too. Most of the preppers woulda left within a day or two. Normal folks expecting FEMA or the local government to swoop in and save the day would have waited much longer before running out of food and realizing they’d been wrong. When they slowly realized that no one was coming to save them, and with empty cupboards and bare shelves in the grocery store, what other options did they have?”

“They’re going where the food is.”

John shook his head. “They’re going where they
think
the food is. But these stragglers are going to be disappointed. The folks in the country will be struggling to manage their crops. They also rely on automated systems and vehicles, all of which don’t work anymore. They’ll be better off than the urban elites, no doubt about that. But it certainly won’t be the bountiful harvest these refugees are expecting.”

It wasn’t long before they came to an even larger group walking along the interstate’s shoulder. This time, hearing them
approach, a few began moving toward them, shaking their clasped hands together. It was a sight more common in the streets of India as beggars rushed to car windows in search of a handout.

“Tell them to back off,” John told her.

Diane raised the pistol, but didn’t fire. With her free hand she was motioning for the few rushing to cut them off to back away. John stepped on the pedal and accelerated past them.

“That could have turned ugly
,” Diane said. She hadn’t ever killed another human being. He’d always appreciated her compassion, but in the current climate he needed to know she could drop someone if the situation called for it. He told her as much.

She didn’t like the
comment since it questioned her commitment.

“I just need to know if push
comes to shove, you’d be willing to kill a man.”

“Or
a woman,” she added.

T
he point was true. He’d always assumed that if there was an aggressor it would be a man, a target he wouldn’t have as much difficulty dispatching. Proof of his resolve lay dead in the street of their old neighborhood and in combat zones around the world. He was trained for such things, she wasn’t. Sure, he’d taught her all the important skill sets, but making it over that final hump was another matter entirely. Right now that was the question mark.

“I’d do it,” Gregory said from the back seat.

“I know you would, son,” John answered.

Emma
didn’t say a word. She wasn’t interested in proving herself nearly as much as Gregory was. He was becoming more like his dad every day. The cleft in his chin, the strong jaw and cheekbones. His son was still at the age where he idolized his father.

Then in the distance, John caught sight of something which froze the blood in his veins. A huge mass of
refugees moving northwest. This was likely the vanguard of the golden horde. A city on the move, an exodus toward the perceived safety of the lush countryside. But these guys weren’t only on the shoulder. They were spread all over and John wasn’t entirely sure they’d be quick to move out of his way. If a crowd like this got angry, things could turn deadly in a heartbeat.

A few of them turned and pointed as the truck approach
ed. Maybe they thought it was FEMA coming to save them. If so, they were in for a nasty disappointment. John began to accelerate and honk the horn. A few began to move away, afraid of being run over.

But the bulk of them kept marching on.

“You’re gonna need to give them some encouragement, honey,” John said. “If anyone gets aggressive, shoot them.”

She swallowed hard, raised the pistol and fired three shots into the air. That got their attention and the crowd began to disperse
in a giant wave, some moving to the shoulder, others jumping the median and scattering onto the other side of the highway. A handful of John Wayne types were feeling stubborn. John lowered the window, aimed his pistol about six feet over their heads and laid off three more shots. Betsy charged forward, barely slowing down. At the very last minute they jumped out of the way. If those people thought their lives held such little value, John had no compunction about separating them from it.

They rocketed past the crowd
, which had parted for them like the Red Sea for Moses.

The size of this horde moving
northwest didn’t worry John too much. This was precisely why he’d selected a bug-out location that was away from the major highways and thoroughfares. That sort of thing was in nearly every prepper 101 guide. Everyone knew when the cities emptied, people fleeing the chaos and the danger would use the country’s main arteries as their primary routes of escape.

BOOK: Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse
6.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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