Red Dawn Log, Session One
Life is quiet and distinctly slow in Raeford. It has a diner, a bar, and not much else. The local highschool serves as the main social hub for this insular little slice of Americana. Football games, masterminded by Professor Innskeep, bring the community together to fight against a foreign, hated foe – the Fayetteville Haybalers. School dances and the annual Crab feed fill in the blanks of the offseason.
Dividing Fayetteville and Raeford is Fort Bragg, one of America’s many military bases. Those living around the base barely notice these days, but the base is constantly alive with activity. Helicopters buzzing about, paratroopers assaulting empty, pockmarked fields. Artillery blasts, a low rumble by the time the shockwaves reach town, by the hundreds every day.
This day started for Shelley and Harry Innskeep like any other. His bowl of unaltered oatmeal and black, strong coffee and her pancakes slathered in a slurry of butter and syrup. Harry always thought it was a terrible habit she picked up from her mother and while he would never say it, he knew that in twenty years all of that food would end up exactly where it ended up on her mother. Caked onto her huge, jiggling ass.
Soon they were in the car, as always, right on time. Harry insisted they leave at oh seven hundred, arriving exactly fifty five minutes early for school. Shelley stopped arguing long ago, but still made fun of him for speaking in military time and making sure to slip in how many ‘clicks’ away something was into every conversation.
The radio crackled with the news of a plane crash in DC. Neither paid much attention, probably some doctor crashing on landing or something. Odd that they shut down all the airports in the area, but maybe not really that odd.
Shelley liked spend her extra time before school sitting on a bench outside her English class. Her teacher was the youngest at the school, and she felt like she was making real headway into flirting her grade up a few notches. Every wink she passed him she was just that much closer to not having to open up a single book for the year. As first period came closer and closer and students began to trickle in, two students came walking in from street through the parking lot.
Tight, tight jeans. A black leather jacket with carefully arranged spikes coming off the right shoulder. Three piercings on the eyebrow and a few more on the opposite ear. Cody Jackson did his best to look like he came from somewhere other than the trailer park. He did his best to look like a someone you didn’t want to mess with. Trailing behind him was a mess of acne, sharp elbows, and barely enough self esteem roll out of bed and face the world. Like any juvenile delinquent worth his salt, Cody had himself a lackey, Sheldon Edlow.
Sheldon’s head hung low like his bangs, hoping people wouldn’t notice his eyes darting about. He masked his fear with a thin veneer of feigned apathy. It rarely worked. He trailed behind Cody, close enough so people would know that he was with him, but not so close that people would think he was with him.
If any of them were paying any attention to the world around them, they might have notice that Raeford’s heartbeat, the gentle rumble of artillery and America’s Armed Forces was absent this morning. What they would have done with this information, who knows, but perhaps they would’ve noticed.
First period came and went. Second period came and went. Third period came, and Mr. Innskeep tried to keep his cool, quieting his rambunctious class as it began. Sheldon took a seat by the window next to Cody in the far back of the classroom. Shelley knew the school in and out thanks to her father. She sauntered down the hallway as classes settled in, shooting a wink to Larry, the school’s jack of all trades.
His pants were older than any student in the building, stained and worn with a lifetime of honest work that he didn’t mind. His teeth had long since yellowed to a hue between tobacco and rot, but his toothy smile, while missing a few, had the warmth and genuine glow that could disarm every situation he’d ever needed to disarm. Larry hobbled past Shelley, smiling big and asking something to which he did not need the answer while he stole a few glances at her figure. Shelley knew, but she didn’t mind.
She pushed herself into the restroom, where she usually began third period, fussing over her makeup, keeping herself busy until she could make her leave unnoticed and head out to the track for what had become a daily liaison with one of the football players.
In class, Sheldon’s eyes drifted from the window back into reality, easing their way onto Innskeep’s mouth. It moved violently, the corners up his upper lip shaking ever so slightly when they hung on a word. He was jabbing at a Mexican projected up onto the wall. Zoot suit riots. Border policy. Illegal immigrants. The poor Mexican guy probably just wanted some work. Bits of spittle flew from Innskeep’s mouth into light as it traveled to the wall.
Sheldon shifted his attention back outside while Cody readied his attack. He’d been rolling up a small piece of glue, waiting for it to get that perfect tack needed to gum up the projector he was sitting next to. It would need to be a strategic strike, carried out at the right time. If properly executed, Cody was hoping that he’d be able to derail the rest of the class. With the projector sabotaged and Innskeep distracted, maybe a few questions to lead the discussion back towards the inane, they could get out of here without learning a single thing.
A flash of light, subtle, unassuming. Off in the distance, far enough out that Sheldon couldn’t really tell where it came from. Heat lightning. Maybe just his imagination. No one else seemed to notice. And there goes the projector. Sheldon really hated that Cody needed to antagonize this poor old man everyday. Someday, he’s going to push this old man one step to far and his poor heart will give out and they’ll go to jail for manslaughter. Innskeep turned a bit more red and made way back towards the projector, his elbows high up at his sides midstride, balled fists with patches of white at the knuckles.
He fidgeted with the projector for a beat, and just when he seemed ready to smash it against the wall, he gingerly set it back down on the empty desk where it had been and turned back for the front of the class.
Cody took his chance and dropped his rolled up weapon of civil disobedience into the guts of the projector, barely able to contain his satisfied grin. He slapped Sheldon with the back of his hand, thinking that he was paying attention, falsely assuming that Sheldon wanted or cared about anything but hiding behind Cody. Usually, Sheldon would at least pretend to be in on Cody’s misdeeds, but his attention was focused nowhere in this classroom at the moment.
Little green men drifted down, just like in the movies. Swaying left and right like a boat on the ocean. One of them came down right in the school field, about a hundred feet from the classroom. The little green man quickly got up and looked around, as if expecting something very different. Sheldon looked around the class. Innskeep was holding a paper airplane that had been thrown at him, pointing at the American flag hanging in the corner, screaming mercilessly. Cody was trying his best to keep a neutral facial expression, the corners of his mouth quivering and wanting desperately to burst out into laughter.
More little green men dropped into the field like sacks of potatoes thrown from a window. They all had the same routine, disconnecting their parachute, gathering their gear, fidgeting with their gun. Sheldon desperately wanted someone else to see, to spare him the attention he would receive by pointing this all out.
Their gear looked… Different. He noticed that they had AK-47s rather than M-16s. They looked a little too young to be in the military. Their fatigues looked normal, but their parachutes were a different color than he’d remembered when he would go out and watch the Airborne train. It didn’t look right. And they didn’t look like they were training. And they were paying a lot of attention to their guns. And pointing. And yelling. And they were scared. People aren’t scared when they’re training.
Larry came in to view, walking towards the men in the field. Sheldon could see that he was smiling, talking to them about something, and pointing back at the building. The soldiers were forming a line and pointing, yelling things to each other. One of them laid down a heavy gun, pulling a bipod out from under the muzzle. The muzzle came to life, spitting out bursts of yellow. The back of Larry’s shirt rippled and he crumpled onto the ground uneventfully.
Sheldon didn’t know it, but his mouth shot completely open. “Oh geez. Oh geez. Oh geez.” He came back to reality. Innskeep stopped yelling. The entire class joined Sheldon in staring out the window. And then soldiers all began shooting.
“Everyone, stay in your seats! Stay!” Innskeep ordered. Just as with everything else that came from his mouth, no one listened.
Desks toppled over as students fell to the floor, scrambling towards to the door. Innskeep disappeared under his desk. A window shattered and rounds thumped into the wall opposite it. Cody and Sheldon, keeping low, made their way to the door, making a line of sorts as students piled up, unable to exit cleanly.
Shots began to echo down the hall, coming from inside the building as students filled the hallways. Innskeep pushed Cody and Sheldon from behind, yelling at them to exit the classroom.
“Lets get the fuck out of here!” Cody screamed at Sheldon, his voice high pitched and decidedly not cool. Students flooded past them, running to the parking lot.
Innskeep stood in the middle of the hallway, “Everyone, run this way, to the parking lot.” He pointed down the hallway, students pushing past, frantically running and screaming in terror. Innskeep stood his ground, talking to everyone, even though not a soul listened. A soldier peeked out from around the corner, his weapon aimed down the corridor. He raised it up over everyone’s heads and fired off a couple rounds.
Shelley burst from the bathroom and found her father running to the parking lot. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled, nearly pulling her feet from the ground.
In the parking lot, Cody pulled open the door of a station wagon. With his legs hanging out of the car, he sat in the driver’s seat, leaning over. He ripped the plastic covering off the steering column and began pulling the wires behind the ignition apart. He tapped the exposed metal of two of the wires together and the engine roared to life, just as Sheldon pulled the driver side visor down. A keychain fell down on Cody’s lap. They look at each other and managed to smile.
“Just like the movies?” Cody laughed a bit, and exhaled deeply.
Cody climbed over to the passenger seat and Sheldon took his place behind the steering wheel. Innskeep and Shelley barreled down the steps from the school into the parking lot, shots echoing out of the building behind them. Shelley pulled open the rear door to the station wagon and her father pushed her all the way through to the other side. Sheldon slammed the gearshift into reverse, and soon they were out onto the road.
“Where are we going?” Shelley asked, staring out the window at all the little green men drifting down out of the sky.
“I don’t know? Lover’s Point?” Cody replied, unsure of himself.
Before anyone had time to come up with a better plan, Sheldon slowed the station wagon down to a crawl. “Oh geez. Ohhh geez.”
Three Jeeps, American looking, were parked off in the distance on the side of the road. Six, seven, maybe eight soldiers had their weapons laid on the vehicles, firing out into a clearing. The 50cal mounted on one of the Jeeps shook violently, spraying rounds and fire and spent shell casings.
“Gun it!” Innskeep yelled. Sheldon stabbed his right foot down into the floorboard.
Glass shattered, bullets thumped into the side of the car and whizzed out the other end. Those brave enough to peek their eyes out from under their arms saw a crowd of fatigued men out in the field, firing, advancing on the road. One of the men behind the Jeep stopped to look at the station wagon, his head jerked, and he fell to the ground.
“Oh geez.” Sheldon sat hunched on the hood, his arms wrapped around his knees.
Cody stood at the edge of Lover’s Point with Shelley and Innskeep, staring off into the distance. Fort Bragg lay in waste, pillars of smoke rising angrily from bits of glowing debris. The school appeared unharmed, but off into the distance, as far as could been, sporadic bits of smoke rose from the landscape.
“We’ll go to my brother’s hunting cabin. He has supplies, weapons, everything we need. We gotta get the hell outta here, kids.” Innskeep’s voice was different. The others hadn’t heard him talk like this. He wasn’t yelling, he wasn’t ordering, he was just talking, and he was concerned. Worried.
Cody looked around, “I need to stop by house. I have some uh, supplies that would be good for us to have.”
“What could you possibly need from that dingy trailer park?” Innskeep asked, unconvinced.
“Uh. I got… Some Doritos. And clothes,” Cody looked around, searching. “And all my LPs – like, all of my LPs are at my house.”
Innskeep sighed, and pointed out at Raeford, “We don’t have time, kid.” His attempt to control his temper failed.
“This is war, son! Have you ever tasted the cold embrace of death on the battlefield? We don’t have time to stop at your damn trailer park for any damn Doritos! We need supplies! Not chips! I fought in the Nam! I know war when I smell it! Do you want to spend the next twenty years of your life sitting in a tiger cage eating rice and listening to Charlie jabber on in his filthy gook-speak? Do you? Do you, kid? This is war!”
Cody wiped Harry’s spittle from his face while Sheldon pushed his bangs down further over his eyes, concealing the tears welling up and drifting down his pale, shaking cheeks. The party slowly filed back into the station wagon, Innskeep taking the driver’s seat. A plume of dust rose up from the station wagon, similar in shape to those rising up from the scenery around them. A different color, but just as foreboding.
Winding through trees, past meadows, and over creeks, it was if nothing had changed. The quiet countryside still unaware that everything had in fact changed. Innskeep paid little attention to the speed limit, carried back to his time in Vietnam. Eyes scanning the road for threats while he planned their next moves at the hunting cabin. Rifles. Need ammo. Horses, probably better that cars. Roads not safe. Need to stay off roads. Shelter, the bomb shelter. Canned food. Expired? Need water. Lots of water. More important than food. Need to get away. Roads not safe. First thing you need to control. Roads. Road blocks.
Just ahead, around a sharp turn, Innskeep spotted two cars arranged across both lanes, blocking any traffic that my try to pass. He slowed, hesitated for a beat, gritted his teeth and sunk the gas pedal as far as it could go, aiming straight at the point where both cars met in the middle of the road.
“Oh geez. Oh geez ohgeezohgee-”
The hood bent up in half. Glass shattered. Everyone flew forward. Cody, in the passenger seat, braced himself against the dash while Shelley and Cody flew forward up and halfway over into the front seats. Innskeep had just began to gain his wits back when the rearview mirror filled with the view of a large, green cargo truck coming in from the forest. Three men in fatigues piled out, AK-47s in hand at the ready.
By the time their boots hit the ground, Shelley and Cody were out of the wounded, bleeding wagon, climbing up and over the crumpled barricade of cars. One of the soldiers ran after them, while the other two split up and flanked the car, muzzles in the faces of Innskeep and Sheldon.
“Stohp! Stohp!” The soldier yelled in a heavy accent at Shelley and Cody, who turned halfway back but kept running. The words came out of his mouth like someone putting sounds together rather than someone speaking words. He fired a round high and to the left, hesitated, and then leveled his rifle at them. They stopped. The soldier motioned them to come back, and like the frightened children they were, they obeyed. They slowly climbed over the jumble of vehicles as the soldier took a few steps back, leaving space between them. The two behind shuffled their feet and looked to each other, clearly wondering what to do next.
They were young, very young. Their uniforms appeared no different than normal American fatigues, besides the overall lack of quality. They seemed to be the same size, fitting very baggy on one, very tight on another. They had no supplies whatsoever, just their rifles. One of the soldiers opened his mouth, as if he was about to say something.
Innskeep threw his door open into the soldier, throwing him off balance. Harry stood and lunged for the weapon, trying to wrangle it from his hands. The soldier across, covering Sheldon, raised his weapon and fired off a round at Innskeep. The bullet ripped in from his back and out through his right shoulder, straight through the clavicle. Bits of bone and blood sprayed into the eyes of the soldier he was wrestling with. The soldier loosened his grip on the rifle and fell back, groping at his face.
Summoning his courage, Sheldon reached out of the window and grabbed the strap hanging from the soldier’s rifle. He pulled at it, slamming the troop into the side of the car. He lost his footing and fell back, onto the ground, leaving the rifle hanging by it’s strap against the door. Panicked, Sheldon frantically pulled at the rifle and fired off a few rounds that kicked up leaves and dirt around the outside of the car, missing their mark.
Cody, taking advantage of the distraction launched himself at the soldier who’d fired the warning shot at him, throwing him off balance and ripping the rifle away from him. The soldier regained his balance and charged back, just in time for Cody to pull the trigger and spray his chest with rounds. The soldier, gargling and choking on blood, fell forward onto Cody, pulling him to the ground, clawing at him with his last bit of waning strength.
With all her might, Shelley lashed out, beating the dying boy with her purse as Cody pushed him off to the side and readied his aim at the soldier with Innskeep’s gore in his eyes. He stopped scrambling about and took a slow step backward with his hand out in front and up, palms open, pleading.
The other soldier, laying flat on his back, his eyes wide, slowly laid his arms out to his side. Both seemed ready to surrender, the fight was clearly over for them. Cody and Sheldon, without hesitation, filled their targets with enough rounds that it was a quick and likely painless death. A pair of synchronized gasps and death rattles, and then silence.
Innskeep stood, a sharp pain trickling into his consciousness. Blood began to soak his shirt, front and back. His right arm hung limp at his side, crippled and nearly useless. His left hand gripped an AK-47. He dropped it and fell back against the car. Everyone rushed to his side, asking questions, holding up fingers to be counted, gingerly pulling his tattered shirt apart to look at the wound.
Sheldon had taken a day class sponsored by the military last summer, a sort of wilderness survival course. He cut open some of the bloody shirt to expose more of the wound. Tearing at the inside of the car, he found an old towel, probably used to check the oil or clean the previous owner’s hands after some quick car maintenance. It used to be white, but now was black and grey and stiff with filth.
He smeared some of the blood off and stuffed a bit of the towel into the gaping wound on Innskeep’s chest. Sheldon ran off to the edge of the road and gathered some leaves and a stick. He returned and used the stick to jam the leaves into the entry wound on Harry’s back, and then compressed the wound together to see if it would hold.
Innskeep, his eyes wide with shock, moaned shuddered in agony.
“Oh geez.” Sheldon seemed unconvinced, but glanced around. “Looks great, no way it’ll get infected now.”
Shelley and Sheldon unsuccessfully searching the bodies, but found nothing of interest. Moving on to the truck, Shelley found a First Aid kit in the cab. She tended to her father while Sheldon maneuvered the beast around, pushing some of the cars out of the way with the help of Cody. The truck had once belonged to the US military, and now sported a large assortment of bullet holes and battle scars, from this fight and likely the fight that saw it fall into enemy hands.
Shelley replaced the towel and leaves with some gauze, smearing some Preparation H on them first. She gave her father some Immodium, and gently rubbed his back. “You’ll be ok dad.”
“Who the hell are these guys? What is going on?” Cody pulled at one of the bodies with his shoe.
“I mean… Could they be… I mean…”
“No way dude. Seriously?”
“Commies.” Everyone held their breath and looked to Harry. He stood tall, stiff. “It’s Ivan. Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Who the hell are they. Russians?”
“Ok pull up slow. Slow down.”
Two hunters, large, old, out of shape, stood in the road. Their rifles slung at their shoulders, they held their ground waving their hands. Cody leaned out the passenger side window, his rifle at the ready.
“Who the hell are you? Do you speak english?” His voice was shrill and demanding.
“Well shit son of course we do. The hell you pointing that thing at me for.” He pulled his hat down to his chest. “I’m Cleetus, this is Biff. We found this here soldier hanging from his chute here in the woods.” His drawl was thick, the end of every word hung from the tip of his tongue, pushed off by the beginning of the next.
“No sign of any Russians out here?”
“Russians? Boy what the hell are you talking about. Maybe you want to put your damn gun down?”
Cody lowered his rifle, and explained the school, the Russians who had ambushed them. Were they Russian? They had accents. Thick ones. He realized that he was sounding crazy. If not for the cargo truck, surely the hunters would have absolutely no reason to believe them.
“Well. Why don’t you give us a ride up to town so we can get this serviceman some medical attention. He doesn’t appear to be doing so good.”
“You have him here? Where?” Cody was back on alert, realizing that one of them was here.
The injured soldier laid on the side of the road, propped up against a tree. The hunters had a gear bag laying nearby with their supplies and the gear they found with the paratrooper. Shelley and Sheldon were able to bring him back into consciousness, his eyes rolling around, his head flopping left and right.
He started yelling in a foreign tongue. Drifting in and out. It was Russian. Definitely Russian. He was out of it, but he was not happy and he was speaking Russian. Cody stood, “See. Fucking Russians. Where did you-”
The crack of a rifle cut him off. The Russian’s head hung in front of him leaving a red, dripping circle of blood and gore where it had been resting against tree.
Sheldon turned his head down to the left, avoiding eye contact with everyone. Smoke drifted lazily out of the muzzle of his rifle.
“Well shit, boys.” Cleetus shifted his weight and shot a large gob of wet, brown spit out of his mouth onto the ground in front of the dead soldier.
Shelley grunted as she pulled herself into the cab. “Let’s go. The roads aren’t safe.”
“We have his gear in here.” Biff hoisted the gear bag. “You all mind giving us a lift up the road?”
Heads turned back towards the road. The whine of an engine. A motorcycle? An airplane. A small one. Buzzing straight up the road.
“The fuck?” Cody turned to face the aircraft. As it got closer, it was apparent there was some sort of tubing or attachment under the wings. Weapons? Missiles? Sheldon raised his rifle up, taking aim.
Smoke, or maybe mist, billowed from under the wings. It passed low over their heads, and just as it did Sheldon opened up, poking little black dots into the bottom of the cockpit and down along the fuselage. He grunted in disapproval as it continued on, its flightpath unchanged.
The mist drifted down onto the ground. It stuck to their clothing. Thick, sticky, odorless, with a bitter taste. Sheldon wiped it from his eyes, the sting bringing tears.
“Son of bitch.” Cleetus threw his hat to the ground. “Son of a bitch has been spraying us all morning.”
Off in the distance, the cropduster began to list to the left, banking harder and harder, lower and lower. It passed out of view. Cleetus hefted his gear bag into the back of the truck, Biff following suit.
Cody joined the hunters in the back of the truck with Innskeep, while Sheldon finished the drive up to the Innskeep cabin. The hunters redressed Harry’s wound, irrigating the wound and packing it with gauze and antibiotic ointment. They opened up the soldier’s gear bag, finding an empty canteen, some food, and two syringes filled with some sort of brownish yellow liquid.
They bounced around in silence, staring out the back of the truck.
“It’s got a lot more than it appears to, I’ll tell you that. And thank god it’s still here.”
Harry held his injured arm and led everyone from the truck up onto the porch. It was a small house built many years ago. A wide porch greeted the driveway and framed the smaller second story. Off to the side, a barn lay in disarray, its red paint long since faded and chipped. Horses roamed in an attached field, held in by an old wooden fence.
When they were driving, getting closer to the house, a long, thick, dark plume of black smoke rose from the mountainside, with another smaller plume rising up from down in the valley on the other side of the rode. Upon arrival they were happy to find that the smoke wasn’t the house burning down. Perhaps it was the cropduster smoldering?
Harry held open the front door as everyone slowly filed in. “Anyone need anything? Hungry?”
“I could go for a glass of water, I don’t feel so hot.” Biff wiped some sweat from his brow. His face had lost some color.
Harry walked to the kitchen talking up the long and boring history of the house. No one noticed when stopped suddenly.
“Are you American?” Harry bellowed from the kitchen.
Cody moved into view, his rifle drawn and ready. Two men in fatigues stood, M-16s pointed at Cody and Harry.
“We’re American. Friendlies.” The soldiers shifted uneasily, their weapons hanging from their shoulders, their hands in front of them.
Cody lifted his rifle higher, drawing his eye closer to the aiming reticle. “Who starred in Thriller?”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and lowered their weapons.
“The hell are you doing in my house?” Harry spoke slowly, calmly. The rest of the party came to the kitchen, furrowed brows, curious for the answer.
“We saw it and needed a place to take cover. We didn’t mean any harm.”
The other one continued. “We just got out of basic a few weeks ago. Stationed here at Fort Bragg. Last night they put us on alert, had us ready to be deployed at oh three hundred. Waited on the tarmac for hours. They shot us up full of this shit, some injection. After something stupid, what, five hours of sitting there with our thumbs up our asses they piled us all into Hueys. Twenty, thirty of them. No idea how many, so many I couldn’t county em all.” He looked to his partner.
“Yea I don’t know. A lot. It must’ve been everything they had in the area. I’m pretty sure they deployed every one of us who was active duty. Our orders were Charlotte. We were setting up a forward operating base, or joining one, up in Charlotte. Why? I have no idea.”
“We didn’t get very far, just about an hour’s hike from here. Three of our choppers were flying in formation. Engine failure. All of us. At the same time. Pilot managed to keep it level and put us down in a field. We made it out. It took us forever but we checked all three crash sites, we’re it. No one else got out alive.”
“Where did they deploy everyone else to?” Harry asked, still holding Biff’s water.
“Not a fucking clue, sir. No idea. People were saying something about Defcon 1, but we’re all still here so I don’t know. Something bad happened, something big, but I have no idea what it was. There were the shots though.” He motioned to the other soldier, as if they’d forgotten.
“Right right. The shots they gave us. They gave us extras, a bunch. Told us to give it out, and that they’d have more for us so use ‘em up. They made it seem real important. I have no idea what its for or what it does, but hey, we got it. You probably should too.”
“Well. God damn, son. Glad you made it.” Cleetus rolled up his sleeve. “Does it help with the flu? I feel like shit!” He laughed and flexed his arm, motioning to the soldiers. They pulled a small syringe out of their gear bag and stabbed it into his arm, depressing the plunger.
Sheldon, Cody, Shelley and Biff followed suit. The soldier approached Harry with a syringe, but Harry put a hand up. “Son, I don’t even know your name.”
“Wilson sir, Private Wilson.”
“Private Acevedo, people call me Ace.”
Harry stared through. Tired, hurting and suspicious. The boys, Ace and Wilson, could have been brothers. Tanned, short, lean and youthful. Their eyes were bright and aware.
“Son, do you have any idea what that shit is you’re pumping us full of?”
“Dad, come one. This is important, you need this.”
“Dad! For me. Do it for me.”
“Listen. I have nothing against these fine young men, but I will not. I will not allow the federal government, the same federal government that sprayed me with Agent Orange and left me to die in a tiger cage, eating rice, shitting myself and listening to Charlie and his god damn gook-speak all god damn day and night, I will not allow those pencil pushing number monkeys like McNamara to treat me like a gear in a machine and pump me up with some crazy mind controlling, liver rotting, federally funded goop.”
“It’s fine sir, you don’t need to-”
“God damn McNamara!”
“Dad… Dad. Let’s get you some rest, ok?” Shelley walked her red-faced father back to one of the bedrooms, her arm around his waist, her head on his shoulder.
Cleetus walked past Sheldon to refill his glass of water. Sheldon noticed that Cleetus’ skin was pale. Really pale. And pasty, like with a cold sweat. A thin rivulet of dark red blood trickled from his ear.
“You uh… your ear.” Cleetus looked back, and touched his finger to his ear. He rubbed the blood together.
“Huh. Well god damn.” He said to himself. Sheldon noticed his eyes were beginning to redden, they were almost bloodshot.
“Listen everyone, we’re sorry we broke into your house, we didn’t think anyone would be home. Is it ok if we stay here the night? We’re going to make for Charlotte early tomorrow, but we need to rest up.”
“Yea, yea. No problem. Do whatever.” Cody stood in the kitchen, staring down at the ground, deep in thought.
“For now, there seems to be two other crash sites, a big one further up the hill and a smaller one down near the road. Do you guys have any idea what they are?”
“We uh… Yea. I-”
“The small one is a cropduster or something. It sprayed us and then I shot- I killed the pilot. He crashed. It was me.” Sheldon painfully lifted his eyes up to Ace.
“Ok. Well… Probably shouldn’t have sprayed you I guess, right? What about the other one?”
“We don’t know, we just got here. We didn’t check the other site either.” Shelley leaned back against the counter, her arms folded across her chest.
“We’re going to head up to the larger crash site and check for survivors or supplies. It might just be one of ours.” Ace and Wilson gathered their rifles and paused to look back at the group. “Anyone care to join us?”
Cleetus and Biff slung their rifles over their shoulders. “Count us in.”
“I’m going to take care of my dad, but stay safe ok?” Shelley took a glass of water back to her father’s room.
Sheldon stared awkwardly down at the floor, fidgeting his foot into the tile. Cody laid down on the couch, “Nah, I’m tired guys. Let me know if you need any help or whatever.”
He was asleep before they’d left.
The sun hung low in the sky. Sheldon sat in the living room, looking out the window. It was gearing up to be a beautiful sunset.
Out of the forest came Ace and Wilson, with someone slung between their shoulders. Cleetus and Biff came up behind them, huffing and panting.
They burst through the front door, shattering Sheldon’s quiet and jarring Cody awake. The hunters were outside, leaning up against the porch, catching their breath and coughing.
“We found a survivor! It was an airliner. Don’t know how they made it but-” Ace hefted the survivor, a middle aged woman, onto the couch across from Cody. Her pantsuit was stained with blood, grease and filth. Blood had oozed out of her ears and mouth, her eyes dark red slits framed by dirty, pasty flesh. She moaned in agony and lolled her head back onto the couch, one of her arms lifting feebly towards Ace.
“Shelley! Shelley, is there a first aid kit or a med kit or something here? Shelley!” Wilson started back towards Harry’s room, Ace following. Cody heard her lead them upstairs, mentioning that she thought she might be able to find one.
Sheldon didn’t like it. This lady made him nervous. He slowly slid his hands around his AK-47, swallowing deeply, staring deep into her dark, ugly eyes. They were bleeding. Her eyes were bleeding. They jolted open and she locked her eyes to his. Her head shot up straight. She lunged for him.
Without thinking, without hesitating, Sheldon raised his rifle and held down the trigger, her chest filled with little red holes, a line of them up her neck and to the right side of her head. It exploded and she fell to the floor, twitching ever so slightly. Dark, sticky blood pooled beneath her.
Cody’s eyes shot from Sheldon to the woman and back. He reached over and took the rifle from Sheldon, his finger still holding the trigger down. Sheldon slowly lowered himself into a chair, stiff, his eyes wide open.
Shelley, Ace and Wilson came running from downstairs.
“She went for him. Like, attacked, or whatever.” Cody pointed at her. “She didn’t look right. She was bleeding.”
“Well yea, buddy, she just survived a plane crash.”
“This… This is not good, guys.” Shelley’s foot tapped at the floor nervously.
Wilson stood with his arms crossed. Worried. “Ok. We need to get out of here as soon as possible. We’re going to get some shut eye for three or so hours. Until sundown. You guys keep watch and we’re going to leave as soon as it gets dark, ok?” He grabbed Ace by the shoulder. “We need to leave.”
Cody’s eyes stayed fixed on the woman, his mouth agape. “Uh. Yea. Yea ok.”
Sheldon had helped Shelley drag the woman out to the porch and clean up as much of the mess as possible. A dark, brown stain was left on the wood where she’d died. Ace and Wilson were fast asleep in the upstairs bedroom. The sun was getting close to begin its magnificent descent, leaving their world in darkness.
The three stood in the kitchen, nervously whispering.
“What the fuck do we do?”
“We need to-”
“Sheldon you can’t just shoot everyone-”
Cleetus groaned, loudly. He and Biff had been sitting on the couch. Staring. Bleeding profusely from their ears, eyes, nose and mouth. Their rifles both leaned against the couch, within arms reach.
“Their guns. We need to get those guns.”
Cody pursed his lips and looked down. He filled a glass with water and walked over, handing it to Biff, smiling widely. “Here you go buddy!” Cody slipped his arm to the rifle, nearly getting his hands onto it. Biff’s eyes drifted from the rifle, up Cody’s arm and to his eyes. He grunted, and then made a sound not unlike the growl a dog lets loose when you touch his food. Low, slow, and menacing. Cody relented, his pained smile still stuck to his face.
“Boys, I got this one… Sheldon? Get my back hun.” She shot him a wink and walked, slow and silky smooth to Cleetus, sitting on his lap.
Cody whispered as loud as he could, “No! Shelley! Gross they’re infected! Don’t-” He pointed desperately and in vain.
“Sweet thing, you must be tired.” She leaned in close, breathing on Cleetus’ face. His eyes rolled back into his head. Sheldon slipped in behind, snatching up one of the rifles that leaned against the couch and slinging it up on his shoulder.
Biff growled loudly and grabbed Shelley’s breast with his hand, squeezing hard. “Ah, that’s enough honey, just-” Cleetus groped at her shirt, ripping her shoulder loose. Sheldon shot to his right and snatched up the other rifle just as Cleetus ripped off the rest of her shirt.
Shelley pulled herself free, her shirt hanging in tatters. Cleetus followed her up, met with a bullet to the head from Sheldon. His body, a mass of pale, white lifeless flesh dropped to the floor, blood sprayed on the wall behind him. Sheldon tossed the other hunting rifle to Cody.
Biff shot to his feet, punching Shelley in her soft, clean face and digging four deep, red trails across her chest. Red bits of spittle flew from his mouth, dotting her cheeks. Cody flung himself at Biff, thrusting the butt of his rifle into the air next to his head, missing its mark.
A final shot rang out, and Biff fell to the ground next to Cleetus. Sheldon loaded another round into the chamber of his rifle, and stared down and the two dead, bloody hunters.
In the distance, the faint murmur of a helicopter came in and out of earshot.
“This is getting bad, guys.”
Ace and Wilson barreled down the stairs.
“You guys… Again?”
“They… Attacked us. Just like, went crazy. I…” Shelley pulled her shirt up, tucking what was left of it into her bra. The distant thumping grew closer and stopped changing in pitch.
“The hell is…” Ace walked to the window, squinting with his mouth open. “What the hell is that?”
Everyone piled up to the windows to see a helicopter hovering over the cropduster crash site, down the mountainside near the main road. A large helicopter, ungainly, tan, hovered down above the road. Two ropes fell down to the ground. Two, four, six troops rappelled down.
“Fuck… God dammit…”
Two more troops down to the ground, and then finally another pair. The ropes dropped and the helicopter spun up and away.
“This is not good guys. The driveway is right down there.” Cody looked around nervously, grabbing at his new hunting rifle.
Groaning drifted through the house from Harry’s room. A lonely, sad, confused, and definitely angry growl. “My dad…” Shelley brought her hand to her face. She looked to Sheldon. She took his hand and pulled him back into the hallway. He looped his thumb under the rifle strap, squinted his eyes together and followed her back to her father’s room.
Harry lay in bed, sweating profusely. Blood stains dotted his pillow, both dull and brown and bright and red. His eyes were red, confused, darting around the room. It smelled like piss and fresh shit. Harry’s once tanned and leathery skin had turned white, pasty, greasy and altogether awful. Shelley had tied him to the bed posts. The flesh on his wrists was worn and shredded, in some places down to the bone. Harry pulled violently at the restraints. He was missing some fingernails.
Cody held Shelley, her head buried into his neck, his hands covering her ears.
A shot rang out.
Sheldon walked slowly back from the hallway into the kitchen. He opened his mouth to say something, anything. The throbbing of a helicopter suddenly became unbearably loud. Debris flew past the windows outside.
Cody and Sheldon ran out to the porch and crouched, raising their rifles. Ace and Wilson burst into the living room, shouting something unintelligible over the din of the rotor blades.
“You get the one on left,” Sheldon leaned into the scope, “on, three… one… two…”
A hulking, tan helicopter, the one that had just dropped troops below was hovering not more than a hundred feet in front of them. Two pilots looking straight at them, a third flight officer stood behind them, talking into a radio and pointing.
Two small little white dots formed on the cockpit glass, a spiderweb of cracks spreading out. Both pilots cracked their heads back in unison. The flight officer who had been standing behind them braced himself against a bulkhead as the craft lurched to the right, its nose lifting high. It managed a full revolution before drifting down below the tree line and erupting in a ball of flame and thick, black smoke.
“They saw us. They’re coming. Fuck they’re coming fuck they’re coming.” Cody ran into the house. “Guys! Guys we gotta get the fuck outta here!”
Sheldon slowly stood up, casually chambering another round in his rifle. “Oh geez.”
“I figure we got, what? Fifteen minutes? Twenty at the most? That’s not enough time.” Cody paced frantically in the kitchen.
“We need to ambush them. That’s what my dad would do.”
“We can set up on the roof, lure them in. Real close.” Ace and Wilson looked at each other, nodding, smiling.
“There are quite a few dead people here. We have bodies. Why don’t we set up the cargo truck in the driveway, pile all the bodies around it and then hide. They’ll think we’re dead.”
“No no… an ambush. We can’t risk them staying. They need to die. That’s exactly what my dad would do. We’ll wait for them to get nice and close. My dad has a little rocket thingie, one of the ones you put under your gun.”
“An M203?” Ace’s eyes lit up.
“You think I know? He used to polish it all the time. I don’t even know if it works. But it’s worth a shot. We’ll let them get as close as possible in the driveway, and then just open up on them from everywhere.”
“Alright, alright. Lets get a look at this grenade launcher. If it’s what I think it is Ace and I can give you guys a quick rundown of how they function… It’s pretty simple really.”
Two little green men slowly, ever so slowly made their way around the bend, coming up the driveway. One would walk a little ways and then crouch down on one knee. The other would slowly walk past him, eyes scanning ahead. Then he would take a knee, and the process would repeat.
“Wait for it…” Shelley murmured under her breath.
It took them an eternity, but finally the two men made it to the stairs leading up to the porch. They leaned in, looking up into the house. They spoke in hushed tones for a few seconds. One of them held up two fingers, and curled them in to his palm twice, looking down the dirt driveway.
Out from the forest came eight more men, split into two groups of four. One of them had a large backpack, squarish, metallic, with an antenna protruding up and folding back down. Another had what looked like water tanks on his back, a hose running to his large, oddly shaped rifle. A rifle with a pilot light on the end.
The rest were armed with AK-47s, but something looked different. These weren’t boys with guns in ill-fitting fatigues. They were soldiers. Muscular. They had utility belts, gear, grenades, scars, body armor, training. The first group of four formed up with the two at the base of the stairs, the second held back ten or so feet away, down towards the driveway.
“Close enough.” Thump.
It looked like a fat, oversized bullet. It flew slow, slow enough that you could see it flying through the air towards the porch. It hit one of the soldiers square in the chest, but before it could bounce, he disappeared. All of them did. No flames, no smoke. Just limbs, fatigues, limp bodies, utility belts, helmets, flying in all directions. The soldier closest to the stairs stayed together and was thrown up onto the deck.
The rest lay scattered about in pieces. Some slowly rolling back and forth, others coughing, none coherent.
The four remaining soldiers in the driveway raised their weapons and spun about, looking for the shooter.
Sheldon leaned in, and squeezed off a round. Aiming for the troop with the flamethrower, his shot flew true. It punctured the tank, erupting in an impressive, fiery mushroom cloud. Bright, burning liquid sprayed in all directions. The four of them rolled frantically on the ground, animalistic screams filling the air as their clothing melted to their flesh and their internal organs stewed under their crackling skin.
Cody broke cover, running for the porch, his rifle at the ready. The one remaining troop had unbuttoned his utility belt and threw it down the steps. As Cody came into view, the Russian tossed his weapon to him and started yelling.
“Fraze book. Fraze book!” He pointed intently at his utility belt.
Shelley and Sheldon joined Cody in staring at the helpless soldier. Ace and Wilson came down onto the deck.
“Well lookie here.”
Shelley pulled the utility belt around her waist, and dug into its pockets. Food of some sort, grenades, a map, a light, a little fire kit, more syringes, loaded and ready. And a phrase book.
“We are here to help, put down your weapons.”
“We mean no harm, we need borrow your vehicle.”
“We are sorry, we had no choice, he must died.”
“We mean no harm, we need borrow all food.”
“Please do not do that, or I must to shoot you.”
“We mean no harm, we need borrow your home.”
“Do you know where is nearest petroleum dispensary?”
“Hello my name is ______. I have (One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.) children.”
Ace took the book from her. “What the hell… This isn’t a hit and run… They think they’re staying, don’t they?” He looked down at the Russian with disdain. “Get Ivan to the barn.”
Shelley lifted the last of the supplies up onto the mule. They’d have enough horses for everyone, but just a mule as a pack animal. The saddle bags bulged with supplies. She knew it would never be enough, but it was a good start. And if they could make it back sometime soon, the bomb shelter in the basement, stocked by her father, would last them for years.
Weapons, ammunition, food, camping gear, it was a wonder this poor thing could even stand. The sun was just about finished, most of it had already dipped below the horizon.
“Guys, we gotta going!”
Ace and Wilson came out from the barn, rubbing their hands. The captured Russian hung in the barn behind them. Bloody, crumpled, defeated.
The barn and house disappeared into the forest behind them. The roar of a quickly approaching helicopter filled the air. They stopped, and in front of them a tan craft, fast, small, with countless sharp looking projectiles hanging from hardpoints on either side.
One of them dropped, erupted in a high pitched roar, and shot towards the house behind them. Another, and another, and final missile arced towards the house. Deafening explosions rocked the woods around them, lighting up the forest for a few brief seconds. The house was gone. Piles of smoldering rubble strewn about. The helicopter banked hard, flying down the driveway toward the road. It slowed a bit, coming back up to the house slowly.
“Lets get the hell out of here…”
The party, with their overburdened horses, slowly began their journey in the dark, deathly silent forest.