Book One - Reality Bites
Chapter 8 - Silent Game Getter
"It is not the critic who counts; but the man in the arena; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." American President Theodore Roosevelt
Eric and Mark just stood there, looking around. The scene before them stunned them into absolute silence. It was straight out of any zombie movie they had ever seen. Nothing in life had ever prepared them for something like this. Movies are a fantasy of someone’s imagination, not reality. They exchanged a shocked look. Finally, they were able to take a breath. Many a night they had sat up, discussing what the end of the world would be like.
They tried very hard to be reasonable and practical about their expectations of what it could be. They both had come to the conclusion that they would have plenty of time to get to the retreat. People would not react as fast as they would. People would not understand what the event, whatever it was, meant. With everyone being confused about whatever had happened, they figured they would be able to get safely away before the realization of the situation became apparent. At the first sign of trouble, they would head straight there. They would get the retreat secured and that would be that.
And now here they were, days later, looking at the zombie movie scene. They both thought of what they had been through to get to this point. All the things that had happened and all the horrible things that they had seen went through their minds like a slide show. The future looked mighty dim. They were still a long way from the retreat. Mark hadn’t said anything to Eric, but he was really worried about their ammo situation. After their very first firefight, they were down by twenty-five. He had one hundred and three bullets left for the 30-30, and Eric had sixty-seven shotgun shells left for his 12 gauge.
They were going to have to avoid people and shootouts as much as possible. Not that they were looking for any situations like that, but now it was a top priority to avoid them at all costs. Well, not at the cost of their lives, but just about anything else. If they ran out of ammo, they would be dead meat, literally, no question about it. This scene proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt. There were some people walking around in a daze. A lot of them were just staring straight ahead. Most didn’t even notice Mark and Eric at all. They just looked right through them. It was down right creepy. No one spoke. They just stared at nothing. It was like these people were dolls or mannequins or something not alive. It sent a chill up their spines. Bonfires and cars were burning. Up ahead, they could hear some yelling and screaming by a large bonfire.
They stayed about five paces apart. They staggered apart to make themselves harder targets to hit. They were disciplined and had practiced this many times. They stayed in the shadows as much as possible, trying to avoid getting to close to anyone. No telling how people would react when they encountered them. They had already witnessed many scenes straight from hell. This was a very uncertain world now.
Eric was in the lead when he stopped abruptly and looked at the overpass ahead. His spidey senses were tingling. He smiled, thinking of a moment in the Spiderman movie. What he felt was kind of like that. He had learned years ago to listen to his senses, but he had learned to pay special attention to this kind of a danger tingle. He moved over to the ditch and used hand signals to Mark to indicate what he was doing. When Mark reached him, they both bent down, looking all around.
Mark asked, “What’s up?”
“Not sure. But something doesn’t feel right.” Eric looked around for a minute. “We
should cut out into the field and go up on the hill over there, then cross the road. This side doesn’t have enough cover for us.”
“All I can see is the bonfire there with punks hanging out, being stupid. They’re just punks acting like they have the situation under control.”
“We can’t afford to fight too many battles,” Eric said. “We can’t keep getting lucky. It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Mark nodded his head in agreement. They made their way about a hundred yards from the highway out into the field. They started slowly towards the hill. They paused when they reached it, straining their ears to hear any sounds that they could. They strained their eyes, trying to see anything that represented danger of any kind. When they reached the top, they stopped and did the same thing again. There had to be something that gave Eric a sense of danger. Nothing. There was nothing unusual at all.
One at a time they crossed the road. Like a well-oiled machine, each man knew what to do. The point man ran across the road first, while the remaining man covered him. Once the point man had taken cover, he was ready to provide fire support for the remaining man to come across the road. They made it across without a problem. They stayed low and headed out into the field. When they had gone about a quarter mile, they swung back to the highway. Mark sighed, thinking, It is going to take forever to get to the retreat if we have to keep doing things like this. But he reminded himself it was better than walking into a trap. They had seen the evidence of others that had. It had been pretty bad. They walked in the darkness, trying to get as far as possible before the sun started to rise. The darkness was their cover, concealing them from curious eyes. The real problem was the bad guys used the darkness as cover, too.
Sunrise was near. They stopped to find a safe concealed place to hole up during the daylight hours. They walked about a quarter of a mile from the highway into the shrubs and low bushes, looking for just the right spot. They found it. They both would fit comfortably. It had a place they could climb into and be concealed from prying eyes. One thing they had decided when they made their plans to walk to the retreat was that they would make sure to get enough rest so they could stay alert and not have tired, sluggish minds and bodies for their trek. They had to be able to think quickly on their feet. Each night brought more and more situations that needed fast thinking, stealth movements, and reactions. Even though it was going to make it a very long trip with each of them sleeping a good five to six hours a day, it would be worth it if they could reach there in relativity good physical shape. Their only real concern was food. They weren’t carrying enough to make it up there.
They quickly made camp. As the sun got higher in the sky, they made a small fire. A fire was harder to detect when the sun was brighter. The brush also helped conceal it. Besides, there were so many fires burning everywhere, no one would pay attention to one more. They made oatmeal and coffee. Mark put the rest of the leftover coffee into a thermos for the rest of the day. It was Eric’s turn to sleep first while Mark was the guard. Mark got comfortable against a large shrub and Eric settled down to sleep. He reached into his backpack and took out his journal. He was writing everything down that happened so he had a detailed account of events. He wanted the future generations to know what this situation really was like. Mark felt they had a right to know exactly what it was like out here now. He wanted them to understand the chaos, the confusion, and helplessness that everyone felt when they realized no help was coming. We were all on our own now. It was up to each and every one of us to make this a livable, workable situation or a living hell. He realized that the old sayings of only the strong survive or that it was the survival of the fittest were not quite right after all. It was the smart ones that had good equipment and could think fast on their feet that were going to survive. At least, it seemed that way to him after going through so many bad situations already, and the trek to the retreat was just beginning.
After five days of travel they were getting concerned about their food supplies. Reducing their portions to half rations would make the food last longer, but leave them vulnerable. That was something they had to avoid at all costs. Every day more and more dangerous situations developed. The bad guys were banding together to form large gangs that could afford to be bolder. It was a game of playing king of the hill, only more deadly. The losers didn’t survive for long. Like rabid dogs, the pack would turn on the weak. They had seen this up close and personal. The loser of one of those takeovers almost ran into them while they were hiding in the bushes. Mark and Eric’s hearts leaped up into their throats and the adrenaline was pumping through their veins so loud they could feel it. When the bad guys finally tackled the loser, they were close enough to reach out and touch. They dragged him away. It was a horrible sight to see. The thing that was hard to grasp was the savage way they seemed to enjoy it. It was plain to see that every single one of them got off on it, too. In many ways it was like watching a movie or playing a video game. Mark and Eric decided they would take out as many of these psychos as possible if they could. They didn’t deserve to live. They forfeited that right as soon as they started killing with such gleefulness and malicious aforethought. They weren’t killing to defend themselves or property, they killed because it gave them a thrill. That realization sent a primal chill down their spines.
They had settled in a concealed place for the day and Eric was on first watch this time. He was thinking about their food situation and decided they needed to find some place farther away from the road to hole up in for a couple of days so they could hunt some meat. It couldn’t be helped that they were going to get way behind schedule to do it. They needed food. He would discuss this with Mark when he awoke. Eric was leaning against the branch of a pretty large shrub contemplating the food situation when he heard a twig snap. He looked over at Mark. He was still asleep and hadn’t heard it. He looked all around their concealed spo,t trying to see what was out there. He had a clear view of three sides. The brush behind them was really thick and he didn’t think anything could come at them from that way. He could feel that something was out there. He held the shotgun in his lap so it would be ready if he needed it.
He strained his ears to hear any little sound. Then he heard what sounded like two steps, then silence. He looked around frantically to see what or who was sneaking up to them. His breath panted in and out in his desperate attempt to see. Finally, he realized that the sound was coming from behind him. There were two more footsteps. Someone was out there for sure. He waited for a clue to alert him to this person’s intentions. He could hear nothing. What the heck? This person really knows how to come in real slow and quiet-like. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up. This was someone smart and dangerous. He brought the shotgun up higher. Steady steps headed right for them. He slowly turned his head so as not to alert anyone to his presence. He finally turned far enough around to be able to see in the direction the footsteps were coming from. Peering around the bush, he spotted what had been stalking them. It was a doe sneaking along a trail in the ditch below them. He smiled, relieved that it hadn’t been a person coming after them for their stuff.
He raised the shotgun up took aim at the deer. He clicked the safety off as quietly as he could. It made a small click, just loud enough to spook the doe. The last he saw of her was her white tail flashing as she ran out of sight at warp speed. Oh well, at least I tried, he thought. He sighed. It would not be good to make that much noise and alert anyone in the area that they were there, anyway. It was better to keep a low profile. He felt bad about spooking the deer and missing a chance to get more food. They really needed to think about some way to stock up before their situation turned critical. He thought about that for a while. How do you get food and not make noise that alerts others of your presence? How can it be done so you don’t spook the deer, too?
It finally hit him right between the eyes and he softly smacked himself. How could I be so stupid to forget? Oh yeah, I know how to get that deer. He quickly pulled his pack over and pulled out his Emergency Snare Kit. He opened it up and took out one of the camlock snares. They could be used as an Emergency Deer Snare. He quietly snuck down the trail to a narrowed area. That was the best spot. He quickly set the snare up and placed a large stick slanted up above the snare. That would ensure that the next deer would duck their head down under the stick and walk right into the snare. The deer wouldn’t see the snare because it blended right into the surroundings. Hopefully, they would have fresh meat to eat tonight. He quickly made his way back up to their camp to await the results of his efforts. He had been gone a total of two minutes. Why take the chance of giving away their position to others if he didn’t have to? The snare would work silently and effectively to take down that deer. No one in the area would even know anything about it.
He was thankful he had run across that “Buckshot” guy. He knew what he was talking about. Every time Mark or he had researched survival stuff, they kept coming across references to him. They started reading his articles. It taught them both a lot about getting food quietly and with equipment that would work for them 24/7. This method was silent and he didn’t waste valuable calories while doing it.
About an hour later he was sitting in his lookout spot enjoying the sun when he heard a lot of thrashing around. He looked over towards where it was coming from; he could see a deer caught in the snare. The deer was twisting around and its legs gave out. There were a couple of more kicks, and then it lay still. By the time he got over to it, the deer was lying still with the snare around its neck. It was dead. Oh my God, he thought. He had no idea snares were so effective. They were more effective than hunting. That had just been proven to him. He was so very thankful he had learned this life saving skill. He had watched Buckshot’s Survival Snaring DVD and learned how to set the snare properly. The deer did exactly what he said it would do. He smiled and his heart filled with relief. The food crisis was over. The deer should last them until they reached the retreat.
He walked back up to their camp. He shook Mark’s shoulder. Mark sat up real fast, looking around.
“Relax,” Eric said. “I woke you up so you could help me drag a deer back here. Our food crisis is over. We’ll be eating real food. We’re having fresh venison steaks today.” He smiled hugely at Mark.
Mark blinked at him a few times trying to make sense of what Eric had said. “How did you get a deer? I didn’t hear any shots. I wasn’t that deep asleep. I would have heard if there were any shots.” All of a sudden Mark’s brain went into high gear. He tried to get out of the sleeping bag too quickly and all he did was tangle himself up in it and the zipper got stuck. He looked frantically at Eric. “Eric, we agreed not to make any noise when the other one was asleep. We have to move right now. Someone will be coming to investigate the shots you fired. How far away were you?”
Eric was busy pouring Mark a cup of coffee from the thermos. He turned to him and said, “I told you to relax. I did it silently. No one heard a thing.” Eric handed Mark the cup of coffee.
Mark took it and gulped down a big swallow. Mark was totally confused now. How did Eric kill a deer silently? Did he jump on the back of a deer and slit it’s throat or something? Like you see in the movies? How in the hell did he do that? No way, he thought. He looked hard at Eric and tried to figure out how he could possibly take that deer silently and not have blood all over him. Finally he asked, “How in the world did you take it silently? This I have to hear.” Eric explained all that he did. Mark looked at Eric incredibly and said, “No shit? It really works just like the DVD said?
“Yup, exactly like it said.”
Mark finally got himself out of the sleeping bag. They went down the trail to the deer. Mark gutted it. They dragged the deer about a hundred yards away from their camp. They put a slit in the tendon of the back legs of the deer. They lifted it up and tied each leg to a large branch to hold the deer up off the ground. They skinned it together. They decided to eat the heart and liver first to celebrate. Mark told Eric, “Good job. Now we’ll have enough food to make it to the retreat.”
“We have to stay here an extra day to dry the meat to preserve it for the trip,” Eric said.
“You mean after we stuff ourselves full a few times, don’t you?” Mark replied with a laugh.
Eric joined him in a quiet laugh and said, “Most definitely, that is what I meant.” After being on the road for over a week they were ready for some fresh food and rest.
Mark busied himself with making a small fire to cook up the heart and liver. Eric started making a woodland smoker to dry the meat with. He had learned how in Buckshot’s Wilderness Survival DVD Volume 3. He made a teepee-style smoker with branches about six feet around and about six feet tall. He then covered the outside with long grass he cut with his knife, along with leaves and weeds. He interwove branches that circled the teepee from bottom to the top. He started cutting long thin strips of meat and hanging them on branches of the teepee. He had to be careful of the fire he made to dry the meat with. He wanted a little fire that smoked a lot.
Man, these are going to be real tasty, too, he thought. His stomach growled from the smell of the cooking meat and Mark laughed and said, “Food will be done in a few minutes.”
Eric’s mouth watered just at the thought and smell of the fresh meat cooking. When Mark said the food was done, he covered the meat with a garbage bag to keep the flies off. He washed up in the river that was a few hundred yards away.
Eric sat down and Mark handed him a plate piled with half the liver and heart on top of rice. They both ate quickly. As they ate, they both sat silently with their thoughts of relief that they had more food. There was plenty of rice and oatmeal left, but they’d run out of just about everything else. Now they would have venison to go with it. They were going to make it. They were confident about the trip now. They dried the meat all that day and the next. When darkness started to fall on the second day, they were packed up and ready to hit the road. There was nothing like eating real well and getting plenty of sleep to freshen your outlook on life. They approached their trek north with a bit more of a spring in their steps.
It was a little over a week since the lights went out. The thin veneer of civilization was gone. By now everyone had realized and understood that the world had radically changed forever. There was no authority, no one in charge of things. There were no rescues or anyone left to come to the rescue. No relief from the horror that each new day brought. There was no word from the government. Even if there had been a way for the government to give help to the people, they would first have to go in and establish order.
How would they get to the cities to do that? That was on the minds of almost everyone. They hadn’t even been able to do so when the cities had been rioting and this, this was a thousand times worse. Everyone everywhere was on their own to survive in any way they could. There were no laws nor were there any rules to guide people through the things they faced each day. This world that they lived in now was a crazy dangerous place. It was like the mask of humanity had been torn off and a rotten evilness underneath had been exposed into the air, affecting everyone everywhere. Mark and Eric found out later that night just how crazy and radically different and evil this world was compared to the one they had lived in before. They were approaching another overpass on the highway. They followed the same plan as before. They moved off the main road about one hundred fifty to two hundred yards farther out from the highway. It was way safer this way to get by them. They had seen people up on them just shooting for no reason. This world they lived in now was a very strange and alien place indeed.
The bonfire by this particular overpass was a very large. They were all standing outside of a mobile home a little way down from the overpass. They could see about twenty to twenty-five in the reflected light from the fire on their faces. They were all men of mixed ethnicities. There were a few black men, some white, some Asian and Hispanic men. They were drinking and passing bottles of liquor and shooting toward the road. They were yelling and screaming and having one hell of a party. They all wore a green patch on their jackets. They couldn’t quite see what was on the patch, just that it was green and that they all had the same kind sewn on their jackets. They must be a gang or something. Mark and Eric wanted to avoid them. They started to creep even farther out from the road. They didn’t want to be hit by a stray bullet.
As they were slowly and quietly making their way farther away, they heard a few women start screaming in terror. Mark and Eric stopped and exchanged a look. Mark said, “It sounds like they are torturing the women.” Eric nodded his head in agreement. Mark whispered, “We should go take a look.”
“Yes, we should. Maybe we can help them.” Both of them remembered what had happened to Pam. They started making their way out onto the overpass quietly, staying in the shadows. They reached the side and looked down on a horrible scene. There were six women of various ethnicities tied up to the front of a car. They were all strung together like a chain gang. They were mostly naked, their clothes hanging in tatters. They were dirty and several were bleeding from various cuts and wounds. When they saw the condition the women were in, it hardened their souls and gave them the fortitude to help.
One guy was near the women with a knife in one hand. His other hand had a bandana wrapped around it. He was cutting the face of one of the women and laughing. He told them, “I told you not to bite me. I told you I would cut you into little pieces and feed them to the fish in the river if you did it again. Now are you going to be polite and not bite me anymore?” He laughed again evilly. Some of the other women were crying and screaming. He reached over with the hand that held the knife and slapped a woman, saying, “Shut up, bitch.” He left a bloody trail across her face. He said to the women, laughing, “Be nice to me, bitches. Remember you can and will be replaced. There are plenty more where you came from.”
Two other guys came stumbling over, grabbed two of the women and untied them. They wrapped leashes around their necks. They were smiling drunkenly as they dragged the screaming women along the ground towards the mobile home. Mark and Eric exchanged a disgusted look.
They backed away slowly. When they had gone a good distance, they stopped behind a truck and bent down. Eric whispered to Mark, “There must have been a lot of food stored in that mobile home for the thugs to stay here.”
“They could have carried some with them when they left the city. But I don’t think so. They aren’t the type. These kinds of men just take what they want.”
“I agree. But we have to help those women,” said Eric.
“Yes, we will. We have to come up with fool proof plan.” They remained in thought for a few minutes.
“The two of us can’t take on thirty guys. We’ll have to wait until the party winds down and most of them pass out. I’ll sneak down and cut the ropes on the women and lead them up ahead. We’ll sneak out into the field. You stay up here and cover me with your rifle,” Eric said.
“Okay, sounds like a good plan. Just remember not to get yourself killed trying to save them. If it comes down to saving them or yourself, please pick yourself. I won’t be able to make it to the retreat alone.”
Eric smiled at Mark. “Well, at least I know where your priorities lie. I can’t die so you can make it to the retreat.”
Mark smiled back. “Yeah, and don’t you forget it, either.” They settled down to wait for the party to die down and the men to start passing out. They did their best not to think of what was happening to the women in the meantime.
As they waited, Mark thought about his poor man’s night sight on his rifle. He had bought glow in the dark red paint to put on his front sight and green for his back ramp. In the moonlight, he could make the shots if the figure was in the open and not in shadows. He should have spent the money on a real night vision scope when the world was still together. Well, it was too late now.
Eric had made his way slowly down into the ditch earlier. He had waited until it was time. It had been an hour since things had settled down. All the women were back in front of the car, tied up. It was 4:00 am. He was about fifty feet from the girls. Eric made his move. Staying low to the ground, he slowly crawled his way over to the women. The sound of his clothes scraping across the pavement seemed very loud to him. It surprised him that the sound didn’t alert the women that he was there. The women were huddled together for warmth and they were dozing. He approached the one on the end closest to him. He reached up and put his hand over her mouth and whispered in her ear, “Shhh, I am here to let you all go. Quietly wake up the other women. Make no noise. We don’t want to wake those men up or draw attention to what we are doing. I’m going to remove my hand now and cut the ropes that bind you. We’ll make our way out to the field up ahead. Do you understand me?” The woman nodded her head. Eric released her and started cutting the ropes.
The woman nudged the woman that was beside her and whispered, “Some guy’s behind me cutting my ropes. He said he’s going to let us go. Tell the others quietly.” She could feel Eric cutting the ropes that connected her to the others. The third one down nudged the next woman and that woman jerked and screamed out, “Leave me alone.” Eric dived flat on the ground. They all heard someone in the distance yell for the women to shut up.
Eric lay there gripping the shotgun, ready for anything. He waited for a few more moments, listening for approaching footsteps. None came. He carefully cut the ropes from the women. He whispered to all of them, “Come with me if you want to live. But don’t make a sound.” They started to make their way across the pavement to the ditch when one of the women spotted a guy sleeping in a sleeping bag on the hood of a car not far from where the women had been tied up. She freaked out and grabbed a good-sized rock, and running back to the sleeping man, she screamed, “I’m going to kill you!” She brought the rock down on his head over and over again.
Eric quickly jumped up and told the others to run into the field, then make their way to the top of the hill. He jumped over a fence and lay down to give the women covering fire.
The camp woke up real quick. A guy ran to the woman who was beating the sleeping guy’s brains out with a rock and grabbed her by the hair and yanked her down. A 30-30 shot rang out and the man fell to the ground. All of a sudden the camp was alive with the men running around screaming and yelling all over the place. Wild shots were firing everywhere. The traumatized woman that had attacked the sleeping guy was scrambling around like a deranged animal and ran straight up to another guy to bash his head in with her bloody rock. The guy fired at almost point blank range. She stopped, slowly fell to the side, and dropped down to the ground. The 30-30 fired again and Eric heard a grunt of pain. A few of these guys were so drunk or disoriented that they were firing on their own guys. It was time for Eric to make his escape. It was past time to get out of Dodge. This Wild West show was over.
He couldn’t believe it. None of them had seen the other women getting away. There were no shots fired in their direction. He stopped at the bottom of the hill to listen for any pursuit. He heard a lot of shots, but couldn’t tell who was shooting at whom. The darkness bred confusion. He headed up the hill towards the women.
Mark, up on the overpass, watched as Eric stealthily made his way over to the women. After a minute he heard one yell something. He couldn’t quite make out what she had said. He held his breath thinking for sure they were all going to wake up and start shooting. He couldn’t see Eric. Then he saw Eric’s head pop up, as he started moving down the line, cutting the ropes. Nothing moved. They took off across the pavement. He had just thought, “It can’t be this easy,” when one of the women bent down and grabbed a rock, yelled something he couldn’t make out and attacked a guy sleeping on the hood of a car. Then all hell broke loose. There were guys running around all over the place shooting, yelling and screaming in a matter of moments. A guy grabbed the woman who was beating the sleeping guy’s head in by her hair. Mark aimed and fired. The man dropped to the ground. The crazy woman ran back towards the guys instead of taking off to be free. She attacked another guy with the rock and he shot her almost at point blank range in the chest.
Mark couldn’t shoot because she had been in the way. As soon as she dropped, Marked shot the guy. He fell straight over. He saw the other women and Eric heading for the hill. It was time to leave this party. He swung around his gun arm holding on to the rifle and turned to leave when he felt his rifle jump in his hand. He instinctively gripped it tighter. It had almost been ripped out of his hand. He thought, What the hell was that? There wasn’t time to look. He just took off, going as quickly as he could, but staying in the shadows. He wanted to go down and see if any of those guys were following Eric and the women.
Eric reached the women up on the hill. He said, “We have to keep going. They will come looking for us. Follow me. We have to get off the road and into the woods up there.” He pointed towards north. “It is your decision to come with me or not.” He took off walking real fast. The women looked at each other and then started to follow Eric. When they had gone about a half mile, Eric stopped. He turned around and saw that all of them had followed him. He said, “You can rest now. We’ll wait here for my partner.” They all dropped to the ground like a puppet whose strings were released. He walked around, checking the area out.
When he got back, they were all lying down except one. She was sitting up against a tree. He walked over to her. She didn’t look up or anything. Eric’s heart lurched in his chest. Had she been hit with a bullet he hadn’t seen come their way? Was she dead? He reached down to feel for a pulse on her neck. She grabbed his hand and threw it away and screeched, “Don’t touch me. Don’t ever touch me again.” Eric was so startled that he had jumped back when she grabbed his hand. She looked at him with fire in her eyes.
Eric backed up even more. He thought, Oh wow. Is she going to go crazy like that other woman had and try to kill me? Then he thought of what she had been through and realized she probably didn’t want any man to get near her. He understood as best he could. He opened the backpack and took out the clothes and laid them on the ground, a medical kit, a bag of dried venison, two blankets, and at last, he set down his canteen at her feet. “Can you please give some to the other women?” he asked her. She stared at him for a few minutes not moving.
Eric could see she was thinking real hard. She picked up the canteen with shaking hands opened it and sipped a little water. Eric could see that her lips were bleeding. He wondered how long she had been without water. She then took a little longer drink. She reached down and grabbed a pair of socks. She took one and poured some water on it and crawled around and used it to wet the lips of the other women. They were whimpering for more. She lifted their heads and gave them a little water. She had to fight with them to keep hold of the canteen, because they were trying to drink all the water. Eric felt sick to his stomach at how these women had been treated. He snapped out of his daze and told her, “I have to go find my partner. He should have been here by now.” He turned and walked away.
She said real quiet like, “Are you coming back or are you going to leave us out here by ourselves?”
Eric stopped for a moment. “I’ll be back as soon as I find my partner. I would not leave you out here alone in the condition you’re in by choice. I guess the question is more like, do you want me and my partner to come back and help you?”
She looked steadily at him as if she was judging his words. “I can’t care for these women on my own.”
“Then I’ll be back to help you,” Eric said. She nodded and turned to pick up the bag of jerky. Eric headed back the way they came.
Mark had been taking his time, sneaking around, seeing if any of the scumbags were around. The last he saw of them they were shooting at shadows. He couldn’t help but laugh. Some were yelling that they got one and then they would run up and it would be one of their own guys. He deduced that they had trained themselves to always wear their patches so they could see who to shoot and who not to shoot. Most were running around without their jackets on, so that meant they didn’t have their patches on. He was slowly making his way up to the hill. He would stop every couple of steps and listen to see if any were coming his way.
So far, none were following them. He stopped to listen and heard a faint sound. He waited to see what it was. After a couple of minutes, he didn’t hear anything else. He decided it was probably a rabbit or something. Just as he was going to take a step he heard a sound again. He waited. He looked around and could see someone slowly making their way towards him. It couldn’t be one of those scumbags. Besides, they were traveling the wrong way. He watched this person came closer. Damn, they were good. They went a few steps and stopped to listen, too. As this person got closer he finally realized it was Eric. He could tell by the way he walked and carried himself. He stepped out of the dark so Eric would be able to see him. Eric whipped around to him, aiming the shotgun. He saw it was Mark and lowered the gun.
When Eric reached him he said, “What took you so long?”
Mark said, “I was making sure none of those scumbags followed you and the women.”
“Well, did they follow us?”
Mark smiled. “No. They were too busy shooting each other to worry about you. They were totally confused about who or what was attacking them. They never even noticed that you took off with the women.”
“Good. Let’s get back to the women. They are in pretty bad shape.”
“How is the one with the cut face?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t think they’re going to let us get near them to look at the cut.”
“Why not? We saved them didn’t we?”
“It is going to be a lot more complicated than that, I think,” said Eric. “They were brutalized and raped. They’re not going to trust us because we are men. I was thinking about this on my way to find you.”
Mark grunted, “Oh that is going to be just great. How in the hell are we supposed to help them if they won’t let us near them?”
“This is a delicate situation, Mark. We don’t want to make it any worse than it is. One of them talked to me, sort of. I got too close and she almost took my hand off. But I left her caring for the others. We need to get back and get them moving before those bozos realize we took the women and decide to look for us.”
“Right.” They headed back up the hill.
Mark showed Eric his rifle. Eric said, “What happened?”
“One of those assholes shot the stock. The bullet was aimed at me and the stock got in the way. It saved my life.”
Eric was amazed. “I thought that crap only happens in the movies?”
“So did I.”
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, it will keep,” Mark said. “Nothing serious.”
They reached the spot where the women were. They were all sitting up and chewing on the dried meat. Some were gorging themselves. Eric and Mark looked at each other in amazement. They had never seen women eat so fast. They looked back and then Eric stepped over and grabbed the rest of the dried meat. As soon as he stepped closer, the women screeched and crawled backwards to get away from him. He stepped away. He sat down, thinking maybe he would look less threatening that way. He spoke softly so he wouldn’t startle them again. “Calm down. We won’t hurt any of you.” He noticed that several wounds and cuts had been covered with bandages. He was glad for that. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I was just getting the dried meat so you wouldn’t eat anymore of it.” They looked upset at this statement. He and Mark exchanged a look. Eric sighed. “That didn’t come out quite the way I meant. If you eat too much too soon, it will make you sick and give you really bad stomach cramps. I was just trying to help you not to over-eat at first. Do you understand what I meant? I didn’t mean to scare you.” They looked at each other and then one by one they nodded their heads.
Mark bent down next to Eric and said, “We have to go. They’ll come looking for us.” The women started to whimper at that news and some started to cry. Mark looked at Eric as if to say, What did I say that upset them?
Eric closed his eyes and said, “Ladies, help yourselves to the clothes that are on the ground.” Some of them were trying to hold what was left of their clothes together to cover themselves. They were all shaking. Eric didn’t know if it was because they were cold or if it was from nerves or what. He slowly scooted over and grabbed the two blankets. The two that hardly had any clothes on looked really cold. He threw each of them a blanket down by their feet. The two women snatched them up so fast it was almost a blur. They helped each other to open them and put them around their shoulders. Eric and Mark exchanged another look. It was real hard not to feel sorry for these abused women.
Eric said, “I know you’re not really up to this, but we have to leave here. Those scumbags may come looking for us. We have to get farther away from them before you can really rest.” Eric stood up and took off his coat. He placed it on the ground and said, “One of you are welcome to wear this. Walking will keep me warm.”
Mark stood up and took off his coat, too. He placed it on the ground. He looked at the women and said, “One of you can wear my coat, too. I don’t really need it.”
“Ladies choose quickly who will wear what. We have to leave.” Eric turned around and motioned for Mark to do the same. He didn’t know what to do, but figured they would not want them watching their every move.
He heard whispering and some rustling of fabric. They waited for it to quiet down before they turned back around. When they did, all the clothes were off the ground and on various ladies. They were wearing the coats, too. “We have to leave. Do any of you need me to carry you? Or help you to walk?” They all looked at each other, then back at him and Mark, and they shook their heads no.
Eric and Mark looked at each other and Mark said, “I’ll lead and you bring up the rear, okay?” Eric agreed. Mark started walking away from the road. He was heading at an angle, trying to find the easiest places to walk for these women. They all followed. The women started to stumble when they only had gone about a half-mile. Mark stopped. He said, “Sit down over here.” He pointed to a place that had a lot of bushes growing together. He took a drink from his canteen and then capped it and set it on the ground by the women. They each took a drink. When it got to Eric, it was almost empty. He got a couple of sips and that was it. They let the women sit for fifteen minutes, then Mark said, “We have to go again.” The women helped each other up and took off after Mark. Eric trailed behind.
They had gone about another quarter mile when the women started slowing down. Mark stopped and found a place for the ladies to rest. He indicated where to sit. They all sort of flopped down. Eric thought, They aren’t going to be able to go much farther. They looked all done in. “Rest,” Mark said. “I’ll be right back.” He took the canteens and walked off. Mark remembered from the map that there was a stream over here somewhere. He hoped he could find it quickly because they had to find somewhere to bed everyone down for the day.
Morning was going to be here real soon. He almost walked right into the stream. He filled the canteens up and added some germicidal drops to sterilize it. He walked back to the place where everyone was waiting for him. He passed them a canteen and they all drank deeply. He handed the other one to Eric. Eric took a long drink. It had been a long night and it wasn’t over yet. Mark said, “I know you all are exhausted. We have to go only a little farther, and then we should be far enough away to find some place to bed down for the day. Does anyone need any help?” They all shook their heads no. They stood up and Mark led them out again.
He was looking for the perfect spot to be safe for the day. The sun was starting to rise. At least it made it a littler easier to see what was what. But it also made them stand out like sore thumbs, too. He saw a spot up ahead that looked like it could be good for all of them. He walked over and peered around. Eric looked around, too. They looked at each other and grinned. It was a perfect spot.
It was a large stand of bushes and shrubs all around with a little hollow in the middle. There was another little hollow part a few steps away from the first one. Mark opened up the sleeping bags and zipped them together to make a really long blanket. He put a tarp on the ground and laid the sleeping bag on top of it. There wasn’t anything left to make a pillow out of, so this was going to have to be good enough. He turned to the ladies and said, “You all can sleep here for the day. We will move out again when it is night.” They looked at him and then at the bed he had made for them and then one asked, “Where will you sleep?” Mark showed them the other little open spot and said, “Eric and I will take turns sleeping there. One of us will be awake at all times to keep watch for anyone coming near us. It’s not safe out here now.” They all fell down on the makeshift bed and were soon asleep.
Eric and Mark stood there, looking at the ladies sleeping. They looked at each other with real concern in their eyes. Mark asked Eric, “How are we going to get us all to the retreat now?”
Grid Down: Book One Reality Bites
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