Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse (9 page)

BOOK: Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse
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Chapter 20

E
vening came and with it gunfire. John was in the house with Diane and the kids when the sounds stopped them dead. They’d been preparing dinner using the Heartland Wood Cookstove, warming stew that had once been frozen, but that Diane had canned after the deep freeze lost power. The spoon was nearly in John’s mouth when he jumped up and headed for the front door.

He hadn’t heard the fog horn go off
, which meant the shots were either far away or Willow Creek had already been overrun. The S&W was always with him now, along with the AR-15. John peeked out the windows beside the front door before opening it.

Gregory was right behind him.

“Son, you can’t come with me. Stay here and keep an eye on your mother and sister, would you?”

The disappointment on Gregory’s face was tangible. He wanted nothing more than to follow his father into danger.

“Get the Ruger out of the pod downstairs. There’s a box of shells beside it.”

“Okay
, Dad.”

John raced across his lawn, catching frightened faces staring back at him from darkened houses. More loud gunfire
echoed as he reached the barricade near Pine Grove. Two recruits were there, one down low out of sight, the other peering out with the nightvision goggles John had equipped them with earlier.

“See anything?”
John asked.

“No
, sir. I heard screaming before. Sounded like a woman.”

“Oh
, God help them. Stay alert.”

“Will do.”

He made his way east, toward the tree stand. With some effort, John climbed the wooden ladder until he reached the platform. Frank was there, peering through the nightvision scope mounted on the rail of his Barrett M107.

“I’m guessing if you’d seen anyt
hing, you would have sounded the horn.”

“Damn right,” Frank said. “There’s some kind of battle going on. If you ask me it’s coming from a few streets over. Say Taliluna, although it could be as f
ar south as Cherokee Boulevard.”

John moved
to the south side of the tree stand and peered off in that direction. The stand itself wasn’t taller than Rose’s house and for good reason. They didn’t want to become a target for any crackerjack with a scoped rifle. The flip side was that it made seeing anything outside of Willow Creek Drive nearly impossible. More gunfire now and John caught flashes lighting up nearby houses.

“That’s definitely getting closer. Looks like
Glenfield Street.”

“You might be right. Think it’s got something to do with that black pickup we saw skulking around today?
” Frank asked.

John kept staring. “It might. Wouldn’t want to jump to any conclusions though. We need to be ready in case all this is an elaborate attempt to distract us from something else.”

“Like an attack?”

“Maybe. They’ve driven by and seen how we’re set up. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure on hitting us where we least expect it.”

“Through our backyards.”

“Exactly. If I was them, I’d hop a fence and take out the defenders f
rom behind. That’s why we need you to keep an eye out on our flanks as well. Let the people at the barricades worry about a frontal assault. I’ll send another deputy up to help out.” John started climbing down the ladder. “And keep that horn handy.”

“Hold up
, John,” Frank shouted after him. “I got something here you should see.”

John climbed back up
and followed the tip of Frank’s finger. The sight tightened his gut into knots at once. Something was on fire. Looked from here like a house. And without firemen to put it out, who knew how far it would spread. Now there was a new terrifying threat to keep them up at night.

The gunfire wasn’t stopping and neither was the shouting. It was low at first, but now it was getting louder. John wanted to block his ears. The cries. The sound reminded him of
Kosovo and the ethnic cleansing he’d seen there when his unit had been sent to secure the elections in that shattered country.

“Sounds like a slaughter,” Frank said. “Maybe we should go help.”

“Help who?”

“Not sure.”

“That’s the problem,” John said. “I know it’s hard to hear something like this, but charging in guns blazing when we don’t know what the situation is will usually lead to lots of innocent casualties. If you’re lucky you kill bad guys, but we’re just as likely to kill people on the wrong side.”

Frank grew quiet.

“Stay focused and keep an eye on that fire if you can, especially if it begins spreading this way.”

John climbed down and made his way to the second barricade by the park. The other recruits had since scrambled from their houses. The base of the tree stand was the assembly point if no other sign of danger was visible and Peter address
ed them there. It appeared he was ordering them to fan out and watch the perimeter.

Given the volume of fire John was hearing, he couldn’t help but wonder if they had enough deputies. Perhaps everyone should have a g
un and be trained how to use it? On the surface it sounded like a no-brainer, but it also created a whole other set of issues. You needed lots of bullets for a shooter to become proficient. Bullets they didn’t have. It also meant an increase in the chances of friendly fire. Lots of half-trained people running around with guns in the dark was an accident waiting to happen.

The two recruits manning the
eastern barricade looked scared to death. They hadn’t seen the elephant yet. That was the way soldiers during the Civil War had described facing battle for the first time. Those were the moments where you found out what the man next to you was really made of. Sometimes the biggest, meanest-looking guy with the craziest tattoos went all to pieces at the first sign of gunfire. More often than not, it was the unassuming, wiry guy on your left who kept his emotions in check and carried out his mission.

It was
difficult for anyone to trade a soft cushy life for a muddy trench. That wasn’t a surprise. For John, the biggest shock was that he’d stayed behind and jumped into the trench along with them.

Chapter 21

J
ohn came awake with a start. Weak light trailing in through his living-room windows said it was five, maybe six in the morning. If that were true, it meant he hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours. The gunshots had stopped not long before he’d gone to grab some much-needed shuteye, half expecting to be woken from a dead sleep by a blaring fog horn. The alarm hadn’t come.

The nerve
-wracking events from last night were still playing in John’s mind as he stepped into his boots and left the house. The second security detail was on shift. Frank must have also left to rest, since one of the recruits was up in the tree stand. John climbed the ladder and when he reached the top greeted the recruit. They were using a deer rifle. On the platform was Frank’s Barrett M107.

“He doesn’t want any of us using it,” the recruit said.

“Maybe that’s for the better. Takes some real training to use a beast like that.” John surveyed both barricades. “Anything to report since I left?”

“No
, sir. Those fires have died down.”

John went to the south end of the platform and scanned the area just past the line of roofs on Willow Creek.
Thin black smoke continued to rise, which meant the embers were still smoldering, but the worst of the fire was over. He guessed two, maybe three houses on Midland Street had completely burned to the ground. He would wait a few hours and make sure there wasn’t a resumption of gunfire before sending out a team of three recruits to investigate.

The recruit next to him called him over and pointed toward the Pine Grove barricade. At first all John saw was a man struggling with a large suitcase, walking in the middle of the street. He was heading north, ignoring the barricade as if he didn’t
see it.

“The man’s in shock,” John said. He’d seen civilians acting in a similar fashion after their neighborhoods were torn apart by
war.

“Where do you think he’s going?”

“The interstate,” John replied. “That’s my best guess.” The highways were likely still being used to enter or escape the city by people on foot or on bikes.

Then more stragglers began to emerge
and the fog horn sounded with a single, sharp blast. At first they came in pockets of ones and twos, then parents and children and before long groups of families. Some were pushing wheelbarrows filled with personal possessions. Others had shopping carts and anything else they could find to transport their few remaining valuables. John looked on in horror. The sight reminded him of French peasants fleeing Paris as the Nazis approached.

One group cut off from the rest and began heading for the barricade. That was
when John climbed down, double-timing it toward Pine Grove. The two recruits manning that checkpoint were speaking with them, but John was too far away to hear what was being said. He arrived a moment later.

“They want to come in,” the recruit said, a young girl in her early twenties.

Already more people from neighboring streets peeled away from Pine Grove and headed for the barricade.

“Please let us in. We’ve been hiding all n
ight. Our street’s covered in dead bodies.”

“Who attacked you?” John asked, trying not to let his emotions get the better of him.

A middle
-aged woman in torn jeans and a dirty sweatshirt had her hands on the sheet metal which formed the front of the barricade wall. “I have no idea, mister. They were shooting anyone who moved, kicking down doors. For all I know, they might have been the police.” She put her hands to her face. “It was horrible.”

Now other voices were joining hers. Men, women,
children crying. Soon there were dozens of people pressed up against the barricade, begging to get in.

“They’re gonna come back and kill us all,” one man said, tears streaming down his face as he tried boosting his young daughter over the wall. The sight was overwhelming.
At the same time, John had to keep his cool just in case this was some kind of diversionary tactic intended to distract them from the main assault force.

John turned back, locked eyes with the recruit in the tree stand and pointed
two fingers at his own eyes. He was sending him the message to keep an eye out and stay alert.

The
earlier fog horn blast had brought several residents of Willow Creek running from their homes, many of them wielding pistols, shotguns and in many cases kitchen knives, hammers and rakes. They looked like those angry mobs you saw on television back before all the sets in the country got knocked out. John intercepted them and with Peter’s help divided them into two groups. None had drilled with the recruits and so he would use them as auxiliaries to plug holes in the perimeter and keep the crowd back from the barricade. But what they needed most right now was an emergency committee meeting.

Chapter 22

T
hey met at Patty Long’s house again. Her dining room was large enough to accommodate everyone and it only seemed right to keep all the meetings at the same place.

John took a moment to explain the situation. Already, most assembled had listened to the sound of gunfire throughout most of the night. Most were probably thankful Willow Creek had been spared, but that led directly to the point John was about to make.

He stood with his palms flat on the table. “So far it appears our street is the only one that banded together and erected any kind of defensive posture. There’s a good chance that had something to do with us not getting attacked last night.”

“Do we have any idea who they are?” Curtis asked. As the one in charge of gathering information, he’d been ordered to stay put after going off without an escort. Al was also in the dog house for the same thing, although once the current crisis passed, they’d have the protection they needed to find out more about what was going on out there.

John nodded. “Armed gangs taking advantage of the breakdown in law and order. Hard to say at this point if they came together after the collapse or represent a criminal organization. Either way, they proved last night that they’re ruthless and willing to take a human life to get what they want.”

Susan Wheeler cleared her throat. “Do we even know what these bandits are after?”

John shook his head. “Right now, we have very little intel. Assume it’s the usual. They want what we have. That goes for food, water, weapons and maybe even people. They want to snatch as much money and valuables as they can so when the lights come back on they’ll be set for life. Again, I’m speculating. They may not have clued into the fact that it may be months or years before the country’s infrastructure will be back online.”

“And what about these refugees?
” Al said. “I saw them myself stacked against the barricade. Looks like those images of Saigon before the collapse. I’m assuming the main purpose of this meeting is to see how many we can take in.”

“How many?” Arnold Payne spat. He was in charge of food management and the very person John
had expected to raise the first objection. “I’ve started going over the data we collected and it isn’t looking good. Collectively, we don’t have enough food to last more than two weeks and that’s with rationing. We take these people in, we’ll be signing a death warrant for everyone on Willow Creek.”

Al was nodding in agreement. So too was Susan. Her team was in charge of providing fresh water. The greater their water needs
, the harder their jobs would be.

“More people might not be a terrible idea,” John told the group. “It means more hands to fetch water, more recruits for security.”

“More mouths to feed,” Arnold chanted.

“There may be ways to produce food,” John said.

“Does it involve eating squirrels?” Arnold offered with a heavy dose of sarcasm.

John shrugged the comment off. “Not a
t all. Each and every one of us has a lawn that isn’t doing a whole lot. If we strip away the grass, we can use that soil to grow crops. Potatoes, carrots, maybe even corn.”

Arnold
burst out laughing. “It’s not a bad idea, John, but who’s going to strip all that grass away?”

“And the water demands will go through the roof. My team is stretched just making sure we have clean drinking water.”

John sighed. “No one ever said a life without electricity was going to be easy. Sure, it’ll mean lots of work on everyone’s part, but how can we just turn them away like animals?”

“I agree with John,” Patty Long said. Her medical team had already set up a makeshift treatment center in her house. “I can’t imagine condemning people to die.”

“We aren’t condemning anyone,” Arnold shot back. “We aren’t the ones who shot up their street last night. The simple truth is, if we start taking in everyone who wants to get in now, where do we draw the line? You wanna talk about playing God, then all the more reason we can’t start picking people out of the crowd.”

As much as John hated to admit it,
Arnold was making a valid point. If they knew these were the only refugees who’d come knocking, the decision might be a manageable one. But who knew what the future would bring?

“I say
we take a vote,” Arnold said. “All in favor of turning the refugees away raise your hand.”

Arnold, Susan and Curtis raised their hands.
John and Patty were the only ones who voted no. Al was the solitary vote left and there was a guilty look in his eye as his hand rose and then stopped in mid-air. A third vote for no meant there would be a tie and perhaps room for more discussion. These were people’s lives they were debating after all, not what color shirt to wear or whether Bud Light was really less great-tasting.

Finally Al’s
hand went up and it was settled. Through every stage of his preps John had been comfortable with sacrificing the lives of others in order to save the ones he loved. But seeing it all play out for real, the pain and terror and misery, those decisions he’d thought would be simple were proving to be the most gut-wrenching of all.

BOOK: Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse
8.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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