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Day Twenty

by R. Scott McCoy

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommended three days of water and food. Of course, that number assumed a lot. It assumed for instance that help would come. The plans all assumed that people would need to hold out for only three days. That was their official worst-case scenario.

I didn’t put much stock in the competence of the government. I had seen them in action when I was in the service. I had planned for fifteen days of food and water for my family of four but never expected to use it. The big question, the gigantic million-dollar prize-winning question was, “what would we do when no one came to save us?”

Jessica, my beautiful wife Jess, held my arm at the door. Her eyes were a deep cappuccino brown. Past her, I saw two sets of younger eyes, so much like their mother’s. My little angels. Suzy was eight and Janine, Janie for short, was four. They both looked scared.

“Tom, don’t go. It’s not safe out there,” Jess said in a fierce whisper.

I had met Jess at an Army hospital the first time I was wounded. We got married a year later. That was almost eight years ago.

“We’re almost out of food, Jess. Stretched it as far as we could. I have to hunt while I’m still strong enough.”

“What if they come back while you’re gone?”

I caressed her face and forced a smile, “You have plenty of ammo and you know how to shoot. Don’t hesitate. And don’t shoot me, for God’s sake. Stay down in the basement and keep the door locked. I’ll be back, Jess.” I kissed her hard and tasted her tears, “Stay strong for the girls, Jess. They need to believe everything will be all right.”

She squeezed my arm and in a steady voice said, “See you in a couple hours. Good luck hunting.”

I blew them a kiss and stepped into the night.

* * *

Besides food, DHS suggested a flashlight, extra batteries, moist towelettes for sanitation, local maps, and a wrench to turn off utilities. Oh, and a can opener if our Ready Kit contained canned food. Mustn’t forget the can opener. No mention on the list of guns or bullets. I have both. Nothing extreme, I’m no survivalist. I have some hunting rifles, shotguns, a couple of pistols, and ammo for all of them, just enough to last through the tenth day after the power went out.

The power must have gone off everywhere because, at night, I used to be able to see the glow of the city in the distance. The first few days we ran the generator, but there was nothing on our satellite TV or radio. We drove around and talked to people, hoping for news. No one knew a damn thing. Not why, how, or how far away things had stopped working.

By the third night, people had looted all of the stores and hunkered down in their homes. By the seventh day, the people with guns started taking from their neighbors who didn’t have guns.

The first gang came in the middle of the night. Jess was on watch and woke me in time fight them off. The first few gangs that made their way through were disorganized. They learned fast to move on to easier prey.

I can’t imagine what it was like in the city or even in the first ring of suburbs. Out in the sticks where we are was bad enough. I suspect it just took us longer to fall apart. I also suspect there is no DHS anymore or anything else for that matter.

I headed through the back of my land toward the tree line. There was no moon to give me away, and I had learned a long time ago how to move unheard and unseen. Past my ten acres is a small clearing. Past that is another forty acres of woods and then a large field. I had left my long rifle at home. There would be no long shots in the dark. I took the .45-caliber, lever-action Winchester and my flashlight. There were no game wardens to issue fines for shining deer anymore, but it still felt wrong.

I sat in the clearing for an hour with no luck. I had to risk the field. I moved through the thick brush as quietly as possible. When I got to the edge of the field, I saw the faint outline of deer about a hundred yards out. Even at one hundred yards, I couldn’t miss, but I needed to get closer to make sure I got a kill shot. There would be no way to track a deer at night, especially with people out hunting other people.

One of their heads came up and I froze. I waited for what seemed an eternity. I could just make out the head going down again. I crawled into the field, inches at a time until I was fifty yards away.

I kept my left eye shut as I had been taught in sniper school, so I wouldn’t lose my night vision. I lined up my phosphorescent sites over the deer’s heart and squeezed the trigger. The flash and noise were like the end of the world in the silent night. I opened my left eye and looked to see where the deer went, but it hadn’t moved.

The word bait struck me almost as hard as the bullet that tore through my leg a second later. I saw the flash from less than forty yards to my right as a second bullet whizzed past my head. I stayed prone but rolled to face the two shooters. Two more flashes kicked dirt up into my face. I rolled twice to my right and lined up my sites. A tall shadow emerged from the ground.

“I got him, I got him!” said the man as he jogged toward me.

“Don’t just run up there, dammit, make sure. You got your light?”

“I know what I’m doing, Bill,” said the man who was now only about ten yards from where I lay bleeding.

“Screw you, Dave,” said Bill, “Pop said to make sure.”

Dave fumbled for a few seconds and a bright beam of light cut through the dark toward me. I shifted my aim left a few inches and shot Dave right in the chest. The slug knocked him back a foot and he hit the ground hard. His flashlight dropped to the ground and rolled to reveal Bill’s shocked face.

I worked the lever and jacked another round in to the chamber. I squeezed the trigger a second time and gave Bill a third eye before he could let off another shot. He fell forward hard and slid into his hole. I tried to stand up but the numbness was wearing off and my left leg protested. I crawled forward and turned off the flashlight before it attracted scavengers.

I reached the dead brothers and patted them down. Both had semi-automatic pistols but no rifles, which was the only reason I was still alive. The wound started to throb. It hurt worse than being suckered by a couple of rednecks. I was getting old and slow.

I took off Bill’s belt and made a new hole with my knife. I wrapped the belt around my leg, and cinched it tight. I put the guns and extra ammo along with what smelled like pork in my pack, stood up, ignoring my leg’s objections, and headed home.

I couldn’t see how much blood I was losing, but it felt like a lot. The brush pulled at my clothes and I fell down more than once before I got clear of the trees. I had gone too far east and ended up in my neighbor’s back yard. They’d headed out around day five.

I could just make out the shape of my roof in the distance and changed direction. My leg was on fire and the rest of me was starting to feel the chill of the early fall night. I started getting light-headed and looked down to watch my right leg take a step, then another. My left leg had decided it had had enough and I dragged it to the edge of where I used to mow before I tripped. I remember falling. I remember thinking I had failed and my family would starve. Then I dreamt of pizza.

* * *

Food, water and a can opener. DHS also recommended that each family put prescription medications, a first aid kit, and traveler’s checks in their Ready Kits. Not an emergency kit, oh no, this was a Ready Kit. I had never put the checks in the kit since I had more than quadrupled the recommended food. Turns out the checks would only have been good for TP, which we ran out of on day twelve.

DHS didn’t say anything about putting a nurse in the kit either, but I had one all the same. The first thing I saw was Jess’s face. It was daytime and she looked like she hadn’t slept in a week. Or bathed, or eaten, or done anything else but frown. She was beautiful.

I tried to speak and croaked out something that didn’t quite sound like “Water.” She raised a cup with a pink crazy straw to my mouth and I took a greedy sip. I tried for another but she pulled it away.

“Slow. Just sips. You understand?”

“I didn’t get shot in the head, Jess. Please give me more.”

“Dammit, Tom. I thought I’d lost you.” She set the cup down and hit me in the arm. Her face cracked as she started to sob. She buried herself into my chest and shook.

I held her and started to cry. Days of fear, frustration and anger flooded out as I kissed the top of her head and squeezed her as hard as I could.

* * *

I’d been out for three days. In that time, Jess had patched me up, taken care of our girls and killed a turkey and two rabbits. Janie told me how she had helped momma patch me up while her older sister Suzy rolled her eyes.

The morning after I’d been shot, Bill and Dave’s Pop must have found their bodies. He tracked my blood trail right up to our house. Besides old and slow, I was also getting stupid.

Jess wouldn’t give me any details. She said that she had persuaded him to tell her where their camp was and that he wouldn’t be bothering us again. She went to their place and found a lot of ammo. Ammo for guns they didn’t even have. Plenty of it in all calibers for rifles, shotguns and pistols.

I asked if she had found any more of the meat I had brought back. She got a funny look on her face, like she might be sick and just shook her head no. I decided it was best not to press her.

That night after we had tucked in the girls Jess said, “There is a new gang in the area. They look organized, but I counted only seven shooters.”

“Any women or children?” I asked.

“No, just men. All with rifles and pistols. They have a couple of ATV’s.”

“How close have they got?”

“Couple of houses down. They seem to have plenty of food, but two nights ago, they caught a woman. Looked like that lady who owned the horse barn from down the road.”

Jess turned to look out the window. She gripped the top of a chair so hard it creaked.

“Jess? What happened?”

“Bastards raped her. Raped her right in the middle of the road. They staked her down out there after they were done and just left her to die.”

I took her in my arms.

“I couldn’t risk going out to free her.”

“No you couldn’t. Besides, they might have been watching to see if anyone would come to help her. You couldn’t save her, Jess.”

“She’s dead now anyway. Looks like dogs got to her. I can still see her body through the binoculars.”

“I’ll take care of it tomorrow morning at first light.”

I went into the back room and opened my gun vault. My Colt Sauer .300 Weatherby Magnum was in the rack where I had left it. I took it out and popped the dust covers off the scope. I pulled out the box of shells for it. There were fourteen left from the box of twenty. If she were right about their numbers, it would be more than enough.

* * *

Before dawn, I eased outside and locked the door, leaving Jess and the girls to sleep. If I made it, they would be fine, if not, nothing could save them.

It took a long time to get to the top of the ridgeline that overlooked their camp. They looked organized, with a guard posted. It didn’t save them.

I rode back home an hour later on their ATV loaded down with gas cans and cases of dehydrated food. I had six bullets left.

Later that morning, Jess buried the woman out back. I offered to help but she insisted on doing it alone.

Our civilization didn’t end in a blaze of nuclear fire, or a plague, or a flood. It just seemed to collapse under its own weight without electricity to keep it moving. Was it an attack or just a massive failure? No one left seems to know or care.

With a little luck, we might have enough food to make it through winter. Then? Who knows? A few weeks ago, I had a job. On the weekends, I sat around and complained about how crappy my football team looked.

Tomorrow will be day twenty-one.

Copyright © 2008 by R. Scott McCoy

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