by Catfish Russ
part 1 of 2
Wayne was grilling out by the pool when the guns sounded. Caroline was walking a Pyrex dish with barbecue basted chicken and rabbit. Chicken from the freezer underground, and rabbits from, well, from Mount Charleston via 12 gauge. She froze and looked up the hill at a bank of pine trees behind the house. Emily, now 3, put her finger in her mouth and looked up also.
“Boom,” she said.
“Yeah, honey; boom,” he said.
“It’s that close now?” Caroline’s eyes were big as moons.
“It’s further than you think. That’s artillery. One-five-fives.”
“What does that mean?”
“Those guns are about twenty miles away. Honey, bring me the meat, please.”
She took a few steps and handed him the dish. “It’s right on us now, isn’t it?”
“Don’t panic honey. Try to keep your head. We have a plan. This is our last cook-out, OK?... Right?”
Caroline started to cry.
Wayne put down the grill tools and hugged her tight and talked to her in a low growl. “You know we have a plan, right?”
“Tomorrow we get up at 4 a.m., and we ride North to Reno. Then we head to Sandpoint and then into the mountains. We have a back road. We have gas and food, and a car built for this. Right?”
She nodded. Sniffed.
“OK, Pooh Bear. Now how about you open a bottle of Cabernet, please.”
“OK.” She turned, patted Emmy, and went inside, trying to hide her tears.
“I know honey. You see, we’re leaving, and she likes this place.”
“Boom,” Emily said.
He thought, At least she is smart and so don’t try and lie to her. Not that any of this mattered. He stared into the coals. Standing over a barbecue just made him feel good. Something familiar. Something that Dad did, and it was great because everything he did at the grill he was appreciated for. He was happy. They were happy.
Keep repeating that to yourself, because you’re two days away from Canada. A few days away from the end of the war. From the end of everything, actually.
“Yes, Emmy, the boom-booms made Mommy upset.”
On cue. Boom, boom, boom. The echoes were throaty and deeply felt. Wayne threw the chicken on hot coals, Matchlights, no lighter needed. Good. Because there were no more lighters available. Something about the propane supply to the lighter factories was blown and is still burning and so Zippos are making a comeback and so is lighter fluid.
Charcoals. The last bag, a splurge he shouldn’t have done, but at this point, why save it? He was grilling out in his backyard, by a pool that still ran on his generator.
He slathered on more sauce and watched the steam of wet chicken fat and white-hot coals pour into the air over his house in his abandoned neighborhood. The rabbit he would stew up in a pot he put over the coals after the chicken was done.
He took a few minutes and cut up some potatoes and the last white onion he had ever seen and some carrots out of their own garden and threw them in. The slow cooking method had made a big comeback of late. Why waste the heat?
He heard the swish of MLRS volleys and the muted thumps of heavy explosives tearing up the earth somewhere north of his Las Vegas home. It sounded like a heavy exchange, and he knew Caroline was in the bathroom crying her eyes out.
Cry, honey, he thought. Cry. He wasn’t far behind her.
“Daddy, that noise.”
“Emmy, those are the bad people and they’re fighting. They’re very far away. Look, your sippy cup. Go get it.”
She stumbled over to the step and sat down and sipped on her drink.
The artillery was also from Mount Charleston. The NPA — Nevada People’s Army — was marching east from Mount Charleston and hopefully hooking up with a huge force unknown to the Christian Soldiers and with the U.S. Army that was now occupying the Strip.
Of course Wayne knew about the silent force of 11,000 men, on foot, from the Bloods and Crips Alliance in Los Angeles. The BCA was an all Black and Hispanic infantry fighting force, known for their deceptive insurgency methods and the fact that they had never been defeated. Wayne knew all of this because he wasn’t just a member of the NPA, he had planned this attack.
The NPA left from Blue Diamond six hours ago and moved unafraid of the threat of satellite surveillance. Months earlier, the Chinese had exploded an orbital polluter in the path of the milsats that reconnoitered this area of the world. GPS was working, but the U.S. Army satellite networks were down in this area, at least for a few more days.
The BCA would enter the refugee camp that used to be Henderson. There, they would dress as aid workers and take the food shipment trucks and fill them with NPA regulars and enter the Strip. There, they would attack manned outposts and lob mortars into Nellis Air Base, essentially curtailing close air support. The force moving to engage the Mt Charleston force would have no air advantage.
The BCA had invented time-delayed munitions that looked like potted plants and outdoor ashtrays and could be placed inside a room with an open window. Or near a locker room that housed pilots. It was an easy way to shut down a runway.
Elements of the U.S. Army were headed north on I-95, ready to cut off the force coming in from Mt. Charleston. That was probably what they were hearing: an artillery exchange between the NPA. A distraction, actually, so they will put whatever is left of their Recon assets on the Mt. Charleston force and not the BCA.
Wayne turned the chicken, slathered on more sauce and noticed Emily was inside with mom, setting the table. Why go to all this trouble? he thought. Why?
Because you had to hope they might be wrong.
But as night fell, there was proof they were not wrong. There it was, bright and white and riding a sparkling halo. The Shard. The rock from the Oort Cloud, due to strike the Pacific Ocean in five days.
The idiots fighting for control of the country could see no reason to cease hostilities despite certain death. Why take your suicide pill and die easily when you can be cut in half or burned alive by an air strike?
He piled the smoking chicken back into the Pyrex dish and put it on the table overlooking the backyard. “I’m going to stew the rabbits so we can take them with us up north.”
Caroline had reappeared at the sliding glass door to the patio. “OK. Hey, I’m sorry,” she said.
“Don’t you dare apologize. Hey, it’s not the end of the world... Wait a minute; yeah, it is.”
The guns went silent. He could hear sporadic automatic weapons fire, so he closed the grill over the pot of rabbit and carrots and potatoes and kale. He poured in his last handful of salt.
Imagine. Salt is now scarce in North America. Perhaps high blood pressure will go down, he thought. There. Something good to come out of this. A little positive thinking.
They ate silently, the chicken, the potato salad.
Afterwards, he packed the leftovers in Tupperware, put them in the coolers and packed them in the truck. He had stuffed breads made from a bakery on the last day of Whole Foods on Charleston Avenue. He had bought ten loaves for $10,000. He stuffed them in their ziplock bags into the bottom of a small bag where he could reach the bread while he was driving.
Overnight, heavy guns sounded sporadically and the Shard lit up the sky.
In the morning, he saw the rabbit stew was done, and cooled down enough to store away. He took a taste, poured a little pepper over it and packed it away too.
When the Hummer was loaded, he checked the natural gas tanks, the diesel engine, and the hybrid gas engine. The battery itself, fully charged would take the car 200 miles. They had about 800 to go.
In a tow truck he carried more fuel and water. This Hummer was modified to look like a Civil Support Vehicle, so he rarely had trouble; and didn’t expect any, given the end being so near, or so many thought.
In the dark, he checked for everything else. He went into the bedroom and reached under the bed and withdrew his Interarms PepperBox, a small handgun that could fire eight individual rounds, or all the rounds at once. He loaded .22 mags into the chambers and stuffed an extra box of rounds in his backpack. He hid the gun in his jacket pocket. You never know.
Finally he drained the gas out of the house generator and stored it on top of the truck.
They pulled out of the house and wound their way out of their neighborhood onto route 215. The houses were empty, doors open, a few kids, sharkers, were squatting houses outside the gate, which was open. He could hear a party in one of the abandoned pools behind a brick wall.
On the way out they had a scare when a pack of kids tried to stop them. Wayne saw one kid pull a gun as he loped alongside the window. Wayne gunned it. They fired a shot or two, one bounced off the bulletproof glass of the back window, inches below the gas tank, and Caroline and Emily screamed. A half hour later, both were asleep and the three of them were on their way.
Copyright © 2007 by Catfish Russ