Over The Edge – A Vignette
Alistair Sinclair caught his daughter deftly when she leaped at him from the edge of the pool. Easing her down into the warm water, Alistair smiled at her delighted laughter. Only five, Rebecca had absolute trust in her father.
And why shouldn’t she. Alistair was a highly successful executive, devoted husband, and loving father. He couldn’t do enough for his family. A sudden frown crossed his face, but was gone quickly. Alistair didn’t want Rebecca to see it. Nor ever know the reason why. He’d see to that. But that tickle of worry that brought the frown so quickly hidden didn’t go away.
The frown came back late that evening, long after Rebecca had been put to bed, tucked in, and kissed goodnight. While Rebecca hadn’t seen that first frown, Juliette, Alistair’s wife of six years, saw this one. “What’s the matter, Sweetheart? Frowns do not suit you.”
Alistair forced a smile onto his face. “Nothing, my dear. Nothing at all for you to worry about.”
That was good enough for Juliette. She had the simple faith of a young woman married to a much older man. A successful man. A man that took her out of a horrid life and made her a lady. And gave her anything she asked for.
When he went into the office the following Monday, the cheerful good-mornings, a donut and a cup of coffee, had him in a good mood. For a while. Then all three of his foremen and the office manager asked to meet with him.
He didn’t frown during the short meeting. At the end of it, he told the two men and two women, “I’ll think about this. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.” When they were gone and the door to his office closed, the frown was back.
Most of those working for him, according to the foremen and his office manager, wanted a schedule change to four ten-hour days. The rising cost of commuting, with fuel prices being the biggest factor, was the stated reason.
Alistair had noticed the price of gasoline going up, but had paid it little mind. He always used his American Express card to fill up, and the prices never really registered on him. Even when he reviewed the American Express bill each month, the charges for gasoline didn’t seem all that far out of line with his, and Juliette’s, spending habits.
Deciding to call corporate Human Relations about the requests, he picked up and dialed the telephone himself, after looking up the number. “Hello. George?” Alistair asked when George Higgens answered.
Alistair noted the weariness in George’s voice when he answered. “If this is about the packet, there’s nothing I can do about it. It came down from above.”
“Packet? What packet, George? What are you talking about?”
“You don’t have the packet yet? Well, nuts! Okay. You’ll be getting, should already have, a packet outlining the downsizing we’re in the process of doing.”
“Downsizing?” Alistair felt a chill go down his back.
“Read the packet,” George said again. He then hung up, stunning Alistair. He and George had joined the company about the same time and remained close. This simply wasn’t like George.
Slowly Alistair hung up the telephone and leaned back in his chair. Suddenly he got up and went to the reception area to ask about the packet from corporate headquarters. The FedEx woman was there, delivering. Alistair hung back, suddenly not wanting anyone on staff to know he was anxious about anything.
He plastered a smile on his face and went over to the coffee pot, instead of asking about the recent delivery.
“Oh, here is a letter package from HQ, Mr. Sinclair,” Julie, the receptionist said. “Wow! Marked personal and urgent.” She handed the large envelope to Alistair when he walked over, without any coffee.
Trying to act unconcerned, Alistair took the envelope and went back to his office. He almost locked the door, but decided that would be a dead giveaway that something was up. Alistair opened the envelope and began to read.
Alistair re-read the entire thing after going through it once, and then read several sections a third time. His stomach was a cold pit. Downsizing probably wasn’t an accurate word to describe what the corporation was planning.
Though he wasn’t hungry, far from it, Alistair went out at his usual time. He wanted time away from the office to think. It didn’t help. When he went back to the office, he called the office manager in and went over what had to be done to let go a fourth of his employees.
Jillian was shocked. “But sir! These people! They all have families! They’re barely making it now. If they lose the job here… Isn’t there any other way?”
Alistair almost showed her the packet for Corporate. But something told him not to. It wasn’t Jillian’s place to question the Corporate decisions he quickly decided. Harshly… Actually, very harshly, for Alistair, he reminded her that the matter was confidential at the moment. He wanted her to do the final checks herself, as the payroll clerk was one of those he had to lay off.
After that day, going to work was no longer such a pleasure for Alistair. Especially a month later when he called to talk to George and found out George was no longer with the corporation. To top it off, that very same day he got the notice that his pay was being cut. Significantly. And if he wanted to keep his job, production had better pick up, despite the circumstances.
Alistair had to pull money from his retirement savings to pay the mortgage for the house, the retirement property he was buying, and the payments on their three vehicles, the boat, and the motorhome when he paid the bills that month.
A few days after that, Alistair sat down to have a Sunday breakfast with Juliette and Rebecca. He was startled to hear Rebecca say, “Mommy. I don’t like this cereal. Why can’t I have the one I like?”
It was when he started to look at Juliette that he noticed there were only two strips of bacon on his plate, and none on Juliette’s. “Juliette?” he asked.
She started to cry and ran from the room. “Don’t worry, Honey,” Alistair told Rebecca. “You’ll have your regular cereal tomorrow. Just be a good girl and eat this just for today. Okay?”
That was simple enough, Alistair thought. Hopefully it would be the same with Juliette. It wasn’t. When he found her in the living room, sitting on one of the expensive antique chairs, her head in her hands, she was crying even harder.
“Sweetheart? What is it? What has you so upset?”
She looked up, and Alistair waited patiently for her to compose herself. He knelt down by the chair and took one of her hands in his. It was ice cold.
Finally, looking down at her lap, Juliette said, “I’ve tried so hard, Alistair! Really I have! But things are so expensive now! I didn’t have enough money left in the household budget, and they wouldn’t take the card, and I had to leave things at the checkout, and I had only got cheaper things… Oh, Alistair! It was so embarrassing.”
Alistair took her into his arms and held her too him. “Don’t you worry, Darling. I’ll get the card thing straightened out. In the meantime I’ll put more money in the household account, and up the amount. You’ll never have to be embarrassed like that again. I promise.”
Later that day Alistair went through his financial accounts with a fine-tooth comb. He was shocked. Both of his platinum credit cards, one ostensibly with no limit, had put his accounts on hold until the balances were paid down.
He did an online bank transfer, moving more money from his retirement account to the household account, and the regular checking account. Between making the earlier payments from the retirement account, and now these transfers, Alistair felt yet another chill go down his back. He was going to have to do it every month. His reduced salary was simply no longer enough to cover all his monthly debts. Even after stopping the 401(k) contribution he was significantly short.
Without telling Juliette, Alistair put the Cadillac SUV, the boat, and the motorhome all up for sale. It was a week before he got even one offer. That was on the boat, and the caller was only willing to pay half of what Alistair was asking. Angry at the insult, Alistair slammed the telephone receiver down.
Three months later, he wound up taking even less than that first offer for the boat. At least he got three-quarters of his initial asking price for the motorhome and the SUV. Juliette cried as the new owners came and picked up the boat, motorhome, and SUV within hours of each other on a Saturday. Though they had used them very little, they were some of the things she’d dreamed of when a little girl.
It still wasn’t enough to keep up with the other bills. Every month Alistair had to draw from the retirement fund, as the prices of the things Alistair insisted Juliette continue to buy skyrocketed. Alistair put up the retirement property for sale.
The business wasn’t doing well. People were buying few luxury goods and that meant the parts that went into them were no longer required at the same rate. The four day week Alistair employees had wanted came to pass, but not four tens. Everyone was reduced to four eights. Two months later wages were cut ten percent across the board. That included another reduction for Alistair.
He began to lose his second best employees, his very best having got the axe the first layoff, since they were the highest paid. As he tried to replace employees no longer willing to work for what the corporation was paying, all Alistair could find were desperate people willing to work for next to nothing, just to have a job. And while they were desperate, they weren’t skilled. Quality began to suffer and Alistair was called onto the carpet in a video conference.
He took it like a sheep. He didn’t even try to defend himself. After the harangue was over, Alistair simply walked away and didn’t look back. The sale of Juliette’s sports car paid the mortgage one month. Alistair put the house on the market and began looking for something much smaller and more economical. He even signed up for temp work.
After one partial payment and then two straight missed payments, Alistair and his small family were evicted. He had enough money to move them into a by-the-week residential motel.
Then came the war talk as Alistair eked out a living working for McDonalds as a burger flipper. Alistair had quit paying any attention to the news. It was too depressing. So the announcement that the nation was going on alert came as quite a surprise to him.
When he got home after his late shift, Juliette was waiting up for him. She was terrified. The paper was on the old, scarred, table in what passed as the kitchen in the old motel room. It was open to the pages that showed how to build an expedient fallout shelter.
“Oh, Alistair! What do we do if they bomb us with nuclear bombs? In the good house, we had the basement. What are we going to do if war starts?”
Alistair didn’t have an answer. He took Juliette in his arms and held her until she fell asleep. He carried her to the bed in the lone bedroom, careful not to wake Rebecca in her makeshift bed on one side of the room.
It was a long time before Alistair fell asleep. And it was a troubled sleep, at that. Things were even worse the next morning. The large invasion fleet China had been building began to move. Not toward Taiwan, as expected, but toward Australia.
While Alistair stayed at home and slept, Juliette took Rebecca and went to the store. Alistair had just come out of the shower when there was a knock on the door of the apartment.
“Must have forgotten her keys,” Alistair muttered as he walked over to open the door, with just a towel around his waist.
It wasn’t Juliette. It was two uniformed police officers. One asked, “Are you Alistair Sinclair?”
When Alistair nodded, already feeling a little faint, the second officer said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Sinclair. We have some bad news…”
For the first time in his life, Alistair fainted. He came too on the ragged sofa and took the glass of water one of the officers handed him. “Do you have someone that can come and stay with you for a little while,” she asked.
Alistair shook his head. “Tell me. Tell me what happened.”
“Your car, the one your wife and child were in, was carjacked at gun point. From the eyewitness reports we have, your wife tried to drive away. The carjackers opened fire with handguns and both your wife and child were shot and died at the scene.”
Alistair was trembling. “Sir, perhaps you should get dressed and let us take you down to the emergency room…”
“Can’t afford it,” Alistair said softly. “Can’t afford anything. How am I going to pay for the funeral?”
“I’m sorry, Sir. We can’t help you there. Are you sure you don’t want to…”
“Get out! Just get out and leave me to my misery!”
The two officers looked at one another and then made a silent exit, leaving Alistair to his grief.
A week later Alistair walked to the McDonalds where he worked. The Cadillac had been repossessed while in the impound yard pending the final outcome of the investigation. He still had the ticket issued to him for not having insurance on the car at the time of the carjacking.
He received condolences from his much younger co-workers when he clocked in. One, more than a bit insensitive, said, “Cheer up, Pops. Things have to get better now. Can’t get any worse, huh?”
Alistair didn’t hit the guy, but it was close. He finally muttered, “Sure. Things have to get better.”
The Chinese response to the US moving four carrier groups toward Australia as the Chinese fleet neared their planned invasion point, came at ten minutes after two in the morning. Ten minutes after Alistair got off shift and was slowly walking home, without even enough in his pocket to take a bus.
The HEMP devices detonated high over the four quadrants of the US blacked out almost the entire country in an instant. Alistair found himself standing in the darkness, with just a few automobile headlights illuminating the area. Most of the vehicles were stationary, though Alistair saw one old pickup, used as a lawn and garden service truck, swerve around the stalled cars and speed off, going Alistair didn’t have a clue where.
He suddenly had a flash of memory, of Juliette, something he kept trying to suppress. This one was of her looking at the plans in the newspaper of expedient shelters for basements. Alistair stiffened suddenly, seeing a vagrant riding a bicycle, a tiny red LED light flashing at the rear of the large pack balanced on the carrier over the rear wheel.
Alistair didn’t hesitate. He ran at the man, shoved the bicycle over. Man and pack both went flying. Picking up the bicycle, Alistair gave it a push, swung his leg over and took off pedaling, the vagrant screaming obscenities at him.
He knew just where he was going. Besides the instructions for expedient shelters in basements, there had been a list of reasonably good shelter areas around town at the end of the story. Of course, Alistair didn’t know it, but that list had cost two reporters and an editor their jobs. Those with the shelter areas had not appreciated being put in the limelight.
Alistair wasn’t the only person that had read that section on the story, despite it being on a page well back in the paper. But he was one of the very first people to show up at city hall. “Didn’t you bring anything at all with you?” the harried looking woman standing at the entrance of the city hall, flanked by two police officer.
“I just got off work when it happened,” Alistair explained. “I haven’t been home.” Alistair was careful not to add that he didn’t have anything much at the residential motel to bring, anyway, except a blanket. He ate his only two meals of the day at the McDonalds where he worked.
“I’m a good worker,” Alistair said, hating the begging tone he used. What did he have to live for, anyway? He almost turned around to leave when the woman asked, “You have any managerial experience?”
Alistair stopped the turn before he really started it. “Yes. Extensive. You have something that needs done?”
“I do. Someone to help me keep track of the swarms of people that we expect to show up. Like you. Only a bit later.”
“I can work any paper or computer managerial system still in common use.” It wasn’t a lie, but Alistair knew it was stretching the true a little.
“Well… You’re here. And if you show me you can use a spreadsheet, and I can read your handwriting, you can stay.”
Alistair didn’t breathe the sigh of relief he felt like. He was actually a whiz using both paper and computer spreadsheets. And his penmanship was beyond reproach.
The woman led Alistair into the building, to a simple desk. “Here is what I have at the moment. Take the information as we let people come in.”
Alistair looked down at the large green pages of a ledger book. There were a dozen names listed, with addresses and various other information, including the time they arrived at the shelter. He noted the far right column. Radiation exposure before entry.
“Okay. Sit down and put your data in,” the woman said, and then looked over at another police officer standing nearby. “Scan him.”
The officer used what Alistair discovered later was a radiation survey meter. It was silent and the officer said, “Clean.”
“Mark it,” the woman said. She handed Alistair a pen looking device. “Pin that on your shirt. Now, anyone that doesn’t want to cooperate, doesn’t get in. No exceptions. I don’t expect you to enforce it. That’s what the three officers are here for. Just let one of them know if someone is giving you a problem.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Alistair found himself saying to the woman. She was at least fifteen years younger than he, but she exuded authority. The way he once had. She hurried back outside and Alistair filled in his information.
He looked at the pen like device and the officer with the survey meter said, “It’s a dosimeter. Shows accumulated dosage. Just in case you’re exposed by fallout on some of the people coming in.”
Alistair shrugged. So be it. He looked back down at the ledger taking careful note of the various column headings so he could ask the questions needed to get the information. His eyes widened slightly when he saw the columns for guns, drugs, and alcohol.
There were several large trash totes lined up outside, three for guns, one for ammunition, one for alcohol, and a cardboard box for the prescriptions. Police officers checked everyone and made sure they complied with the restrictions on entry. Much like the guns, ammunition, alcohol, and drugs that were collected, the peoples’ pets, including service animals, were collected outside and taken away by animal control officers.
It wasn’t very long before Alistair had his first ‘client’ of the night. It went smooth as butter and Alistair felt good. That was the last time he had a good feeling.
People were angry to have had their possessions taken. Alistair tried to tell them that he was recording all the information so they could be returned at a later date.
Alistair lost count of the number of times he was yelled at, screamed at, cried at, and even lunged at. All he had to do was give a little signal to the officers standing nearby and they handled the situation from there.
At four in the morning, the radiation scan on someone produced a reading. Just a minor amount, but the family was hustled off to be decontaminated. It became the norm. Every person that came in had been exposed to fallout.
There were quiet, but earnest discussions, just out of Alistair’s earshot at seven in the morning. What Alistair did hear were the murmurings of a large crowd outside the door. He simply stayed at his desk as the totes were brought in and a line of police took their place at the entry doors of the City Hall.
“You… What’s your name?” asked the same woman that had put him on the desk.
“Alistair Sinclair,” Alistair said. He was fearful for a minute that she was going to tell him to go join the others outside.
Instead, she motioned to him to follow her and said, “Bring the ledger. It’s time to close the doors.
“But…” Alistair said, looking at the front doors.
The woman gave him a hard look. “You coming. Or staying here to die?”
“I’m coming. What’s your name, by the way?” he said as he trotted to join her.
“Sharon Stone. And any jokes will get you thrown out.”
It took Alistair a confused minute to connect the woman’s name to the famous actress. He wasn’t about to make any jokes. Any of them would have been cruel to this Sharon Stone. Alistair followed Sharon down two flights of steps and then through a door guarded by two more police officers.
Alistair didn’t really know one gun from the other, but the ones the two police officers were holding looked very dangerous. The man and woman, in full riot gear, looked like they were willing to use them.
There was a milling mob inside the shelter area. Alistair saw several people trying to get people organized, with little success. He jumped suddenly when a gun went off almost right at his ear. The sound brought silence after it.
Sharon began to give orders in a clear, controlled voice. With the help of the shelter stewards the mob turned into a crowd intent on not getting thrown out of the shelter, and getting the best place to sleep.
Alistair stayed close to Sharon. She went through a door that opened from the basement utilities room into a small office. She sat down at the desk it contained and asked Alistair to dictate the information from the ledger so she could input it into the computer.
“You look tired, Sharon. Are you sure you don’t want me to do this? I’m quite good at data entry.”
He could see the hesitation, but he also saw how tired she was, and the strain she was trying to hide.”
“Very well. You can enter it. But if I find any mistakes, you are so out of here.”
Alistair nodded and switched places with her. She took the sofa and he sat behind the desk, propped up the journal, and started typing. The staccato sound he produced on the keyboard did nothing to keep Sharon from falling asleep on the sofa.
A small smile curling his lips, Alistair continued to type, taking the same care he would handling radioactive material. He was not going to get thrown out of the shelter. He had discovered he had a very strong desire to live, after all.
Alistair made sure he made himself useful to Sharon, continuing his duties as official fact recorder of the shelter, as he shadowed her on her rounds through the shelter space. He wrote down whatever she thought important. People with special needs, unruly occupants, babies born, deaths, and on and on and on.
He made sure she ate and drank her ration of food and water. That there were workable lights in the office. He saw the hesitation in her eyes when he finally got some sleep. On the sofa in her small office. But she didn’t tell him to leave and Alistair made the room his own, with Sharon just a tenant using the desk and files.
Being the official recorder of meetings, he was privy to the smallest detail of what was happening in the shelter. For no good reason he could think of, he took special note of the handful of people ejected from the shelter for causing trouble.
Alistair was careful not to overstep his bounds, other than using the office for his private sleeping quarters, nor ask for special favors. He was in a position to abuse the authority vested in him, but he refused the temptations to get a larger ration of food, or an extra bottle of water.
He’d been a very good manager for the company he’d worked for before he walked away. He was a better manager of people by the time the shelter stay was over. He volunteered for the first expedition outside the shelter, when the radiological defense officer announced in that morning’s staff meeting that it was safe to go out, if precautions were taken.
Alistair went as historian and radio operator, but was issued the same equipment that the others were. That included a gun belt, holster, pistol, and four spare magazines. He’d never handled a gun in his life before, but faked his way through the process of showing he knew what he was doing by imitating those around him.
He nearly lost his lunch into the respirator he wore at the sight of all the bodies they found everywhere they went. There were people out in the streets, in business buildings, in private residences, and when they ventured into the wooded areas outside of town, they found them there, too.
Many had died violently. Others, from their final pose, peacefully. There were hundreds of pets and wild animals dead, too. But many had lasted long enough, without other food available, to savage many of the dead bodies.
Like the others that did the early work, Alistair hardened his heart to the tragedy, though the sight of a dead little girl brought him to his knees, and tears to his eyes.
Finally people were allowed to leave the shelter to cope on their own. Actually, in many cases, they were forced to leave as the stocks of food and water that had been salvaged in the early expeditions to extend the stay time in the shelter ran out, too. And the day finally came that Alistair was told he would have to leave.
Sharon at least looked apologetic about the dismissal, but made it clear there was no appeal. Only five of the people that ran the shelter would stay there to liaise with county, state, and federal officials when they were finally able to get to the city. The few reports they’d received during the shelter stay indicated that they were getting off easy, compared to many places. Those places would get the most help, and get it first. Alistair left with that piece of information, with many other bits and pieces that he’d accumulated.
Something else he left the shelter with, without getting permission for, was the equipment he’d been issued when he went outside. Including the pistol and spare ammunition. And though he thought long and hard about it, and backed out time after time, Alistair finally took a week’s worth of food and water to see him through until he could decide how he was going to make a life for himself. That was in addition to the three days rations everyone got when they left the shelter.
Despite not expecting anyone to actually check, he made the appropriate notations in the food and water accounts to cover the items he took. With a pack made from a pair of discarded work pants too worn out to wear that one of the other shelter occupants gave him and showed him how to make, Alistair stepped outside the city hall and walked off into a new world, with a new attitude slowly developing.
He’d decided, before he left, where he’d go. To the house that had been repossessed. “The mortgage company isn’t likely to do it again,” he said to himself as he walked up the walkway. He’d kept a set of keys and tried the front door key. It still worked.
He dropped the pack he was carrying, and with pistol in hand, worked his way through the house. There’d been reports of squatters taking up residence in repossessed homes before the war. After the attack, the early scavengers found out quickly that there was little or nothing to salvage in those homes.
Satisfied that the house hadn’t been disturbed since his eviction, Alistair sat down rather heavily on the steps up to the second floor and once again tried to decide what he was going to do.
He’d heard of a few people that had survived on their own that were looking for laborers to work on their small farms that had provided them with the means to survive. He knew the approximate location and decided he’d give it a shot. He’d lost any excess weight he’d been carrying during the shelter stay and though he knew he’d be sore, Alistair decided he’d get one of the laborers jobs.
He stashed his small parcel of food in the basement in a small hidden compartment created when the fireplace supports were poured in the basement. Alistair took off the gun belt, rolled it up around the magazine pouches and holster and put it in his makeshift back pack with the two bottles of water that it contained. The pistol he slid into the waistband of his pants in the middle of his back
The leg of the pack over his shoulder hung just low enough to hide the grip, but was loose enough to allow Alistair to bring it into action fairly quickly. He just didn’t want to be an open target for someone wanting a gun. Listening to the people in the shelter, he’d learned the importance of having one.
Cautious of others, Alistair hung back when he came up on people traveling on foot in the same direction as him. But, when they saw him, the two men and the woman stopped and waited for him to come up.
They all had guns, but were giving no indications they were hostile. “You going out to the Davies farm for work?” the woman asked immediately.
Alistair nodded and adjusted his stride to theirs. “Might have a little trouble getting on,” one of the men said. They hadn’t introduced themselves, so Alistair didn’t either.
“Why’s that?” Alistair asked, a bit annoyed at the other man’s rather condescending tone.
“Look, at you. Dress slacks and shoes. Not even a real back pack. Old Lady Davies wants people used to hard work. Not lightweights that will cost more than they make her.”
“I think I can handle a little manual labor,” Alistair said.
“Maybe so,” replied the man. “But I don’t think we want to be associated with you. Might rub off on us.” He lengthened his stride and pulled away from Alistair, the other two following suit.
Alistair slowed his stride. If they didn’t want to associate with him, it was their loss. “I’ll probably wind up owning that farm before it’s over, you turkeys!” Alistair yelled, rather half heartedly. He stopped to take a leak at the edge of the road. The three were out of sight around a bend in the road, where it entered a forested section when he finished and started walking again. He’d gone only a few steps when he heard screams, yells, and the sound of gunfire.
Alistair ran forward, but his innate caution slowed him down and guided him into the woods. He moved quietly forward, checking the road from time to time between the branches of a tree.
He felt a bit sick at what he saw. There was one man standing over the corpses of the three people Alistair had talked to a few minutes previously. Another man was on one knee going through their belongings. From the looks of the two young men, they were local gang bangers. How they had survived, Alistair didn’t have a clue.
Carefully Alistair pulled the pistol from his waistband. His hand was shaking as he sighted it on the two men, but he didn’t fire, afraid he’d miss and they wouldn’t. He stayed where he was until the two men went back into the woods and disappeared.
Alistair finally went back out onto the road and walked toward the three bodies. There wasn’t anything he could do for them, so he walked past, giving the bodies a wide berth. He made it to the ranch in another hour and was stopped at a gate across the road manned by a boy probably no more than fifteen.
He seemed awfully confident for one his age, doing what he was doing. Alistair noticed the boy look over to the edge of the woods nearby and give a little nod. There was someone in the woods backing up the teen. Alistair handled himself carefully.
“I’m looking for work,” Alistair told the teen. “I heard that the owner of this farm was looking for laborers.”
“Got all we need right now,” said the boy.
“What about a management position? I’m a good…”
The teen laughed, and Alistair found himself furious. His hand edged toward the pistol in the small of his back.
“I wouldn’t, guy,” came a soft voice from the woods. “Make yourself scarce and don’t come back. You aren’t welcome.”
Still furious, and not understanding why, Alistair spun on a heel and stalked back up the road.
For three days Alistair tried to find something to do that others would pay for with food. About the only thing people wanted, that had the food Alistair wanted, were experienced soldiers. The area was fraught with bandits stealing and killing almost at will.
When Alistair offered to stand a guard rotation, and he was asked about his experience he was turned down at three different places. With only two days worth of food left, Alistair once again turned to thievery, as he had when he took the bicycle from the vagrant the night of the attack, and when he’d taken more than the allotted food when he left the shelter.
Shaking as if he had palsy, Alistair sneaked up the campsite of a group he’d run into several times the last few days. He’d watched the camp for three nights in a row. One particular man that pulled the midnight to four watch tended to fall asleep while on guard.
Alistair waited until he was sure the man was fast asleep and then edged forward. The camp was somewhat haphazardly laid out. Alistair’s goal was the tote that held much of the group’s food supply. It was a twenty-four gallon Rubbermaid Action Packer tote.
Moving as quietly as he could, Alistair made it to the tote and picked it up. It wasn’t as heavy as he expected. Which meant less food, but made the tote easier to carry. He eased out of the camp and then ran awkwardly further away to the spot he had picked out to spend the rest of the night.
He shivered slightly in the cooler than normal night air. But he just hunched down into the light jacket he’d found in one of the houses near his. He managed to doze, but was awakened by a light rain that started just before sunrise. Alistair picked up the tote and began walking through the woods, towards the city.
No more than a few steps into the trip home with the food, Alistair heard yelling behind him. The theft had been discovered. He picked up his pace. At least as much as he could carrying the tote.
Suddenly he heard shots behind him and dropped to the ground, thinking the shots were aimed at him. But the shots continued for several seconds and nothing happened to Alistair. Finally the shots stopped for a moment, there came several screams, and then three more shots sounded.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Alistair stashed the tote in a spot he was sure he could find, and covered it with leaves that were already falling from the trees. He worked his way back to the camp, being as cautious as ever.
He found another massacre. Alistair recognized the same two gang bangers that had killed the three people on the road. They were with three more of the same ilk, if Alistair was any judge.
All five were ransacking the camp, piling up the things they wanted to take. Alistair held his position and watched. After the gang left, all carrying heavy packs, Alistair waited for an hour before he entered the camp. The gang had left many things behind that Alistair thought would be useful. Ignoring the carnage, Alistair picked through what was left of the camp. He took what he wanted and hurriedly left the site, a backpack on his back, filled with what he’d found.
He went back to where he’d stashed the Action Packer tote, and picked it up. It was a long hard trek back to the house. It took longer than it would have, but Alistair didn’t want to be seen with the tote. He hid every time he heard people approaching. Fortunately there weren’t many of them.
It was with mixed reactions that Alistair opened the tote in the basement of his house and surveyed the contents. There was more food than he’d thought, but it was mostly dried rice and beans, with only a few of the canned goods he was expecting. Still, it was food, and now, with what he’d scavenged, he had a reasonable way to cook. That gave him several more options.
He stayed close to the house for a couple of days, and then went prowling again. More out of a sense of curiosity than any logical reason, Alistair found himself looking for the gang bangers. Twice more he benefited by their actions as they attacked one small caravan just before dark a week after the last attack. And then, three days after that one, they hit a small farm off the beaten path. Alistair gleaned more equipment and supplies after the gang left both times.
But he got careless. He was sneaking up to their camp one night between raids, to see if he could find out where their next target was. He was unsure if he could get close enough to hear and not be detected.
He couldn’t. It came as a total surprise to feel the pressure on the back of his head and the harsh words, “Man, you move I put a hole in your head!”
Alistair raised his hands, then walked toward the open area of the camp where a fire was burning.
“Gotta know what he know before I plug him.” With a hard shove from behind by Spike, Alistair stumbled forward and fell to the ground, barely avoiding falling into the fire. He rolled over and sat up. He scooted back against a log and waited for the shot that would end his life.
“What you sneaking around out there for, white boy? Spying on me and my boys?”
Alistair, the things he’d done flashing before his eyes didn’t care suddenly. “Sure was, homey.”
“Watch your mouth,” said one of the other gang members.
“What for? You’ll just kill me anyway. Like the others.”
There were looks of alarm on several of the men’s faces. “What others?” asked Spike
Alistair told what he’d seen. There were several other guns pointed at him now. But many of the gang were turning and looking around, fearful looks on their faces.
“There isn’t anyone else out there,” Alistair said. “You can relax.”
“I think we’d better pack up and change locations one of the younger of the gang members said.
“If there aren’t a bunch of stinking cops out there, why were you spying on us?” Spike asked.
“Wanted to know your next kill,” Alistair said. “I’ve been picking up what you left behind. If I was smart, I’d just join up with you.”
They all laughed. “Yeah,” said one. “Whitey wants to be in da gang.”
The more Alistair thought about the idea, the better he liked it. “Look. I can go places and do things people won’t let you near. I can get information.”
“So, homey…” The others all laughed, “Just what have you done bad? Kill anyone? Gotta whack someone to join this gang.”
One of the younger members that hadn’t said anything chimed in with, “You gotta get you a GoLock, too. We all use GoLocks.” The man, barely out of his teens held up his Glock 17 to illustrate.
“Shut up, Clarence,” Spike said. And then, turning back to Alistair asked, “Well? You whacked anybody?”
Alistair shook his head. “I guess not… Though probably a couple people have died because of things I’ve done. That first night I took a vagrants bicycle to get to the city hall. I’m sure he died.”
Again all the members of the gang laughed. “He’s a bike jacker!”
Spike laughed hardest of all. “Bicycles don’t count, homey. Gotta jack a Caddy, or Mercedes, or Hummer. And kill someone doing it. You got the stones, man? We could use a vehicle. One of them Hummers that runs. You want in, you got to do it. You’re right about one thing. We can’t get close to some things.”
“Yeah, man. Do it like Spike and Rolly there did. Whacked a woman and a baby.” The man frowned. “But they didn’t get the Caddy.”
“Shut up, Slick!” Spike said. “I told you that witch nearly ran me over. Couldn’t get the car, but I sure iced her. Tha’s a fac’”
Alistair’s blood had gone cold. He was sitting here with the two men that had murdered his wife and darling daughter. No one noted the intensity in his face and voice when he asked, “How’d you do it?”
Rolly jumped up. “Man, it was wild!” He pulled out the Glock, another Model 17, and went into his gangsta stance. “Pumped five bullets into the back seat. Shut that screaming noise bag up. Never heard a whitey baby scream so loud.”
Alistair swallowed the bile rising in his throat. “Could you show me?”
“Sure, man! Like this.” Standing, Rolly stood on tiptoes, the Glock held sideways, well above his head, the barrel pointed downward slightly. “Man, you got to get it up there. You know. Punch down when you shoot.”
Rolly illustrated. “Pow, Pow, Pow” he said, punching the Glock downward on each “Pow.” “Makes the bullet go faster and harder. You just hold it, the recoil slows the bullet down.”
“Unhuh,” Alistair said. “Can I try?” He knew he was going to die right there, but that was all right.
“Spike?” Rolly asked.
“Sure, Rolly. Just give your gun to homey here and let him try.” Alistair and probably one of the other men knew Spike was being facetious.
Rolly didn’t. He handed Alistair the Glock. “GoLock, hunh?” Alistair asked.
Rolly nodded and Alistair pointed the gun at his head in a normal grip and pulled the trigger twice. He immediately turned the gun on Spike. “That was my wife and baby!” he screamed and pumped two rounds into Spike before whirling on the other three men.
They were all scrambling for their weapons, but cold as ice and methodical as a robot, Alistair double tapped each of the men in turn. Only two managed to get their ‘GoLocks’ out, but neither had time to use it. Alistair still had a few rounds in the Glock 17 he held. He put the barrel to Spike’s head and put another bullet in it, and then did the same for Rolly. He wanted to be sure they were dead. He didn’t much care if the others were. But he shrugged and put a bullet in each of their heads, too.
Dropping the gun, Alistair suddenly dropped to his knees and fell forward, his head on the ground. He began to cry, great, wracking sobs shaking his body. The early morning light brought him out of his pose. Looking around, he grimaced. “At least you are avenged, my lovelies,” Alistair said, looking skyward.
Taking his time, Alistair stripped the camp of everything useful. Most of it he cached in the woods nearby. The largest pack he loaded down with food and about half of the gangs weapons and ammunition. He went back home and laid low for three days.
The fourth day he went out and mostly listened at the trading center near the city hall. There was nothing being said about the gangs’ bodies being found. Emboldened, Alistair went back to the area and retrieved one of the three caches he’d made. He recovered the other two in successive nights.
He had food for a month, and plenty of other supplies and equipment. For another month he lived easily. But as he found out more and more about one particular group whose members seemed to have all the luxuries of old, Alistair began to feel disadvantaged.
Preppers. Survivalists. Whatever they called themselves, had prepared before the attack with long term solutions to life’s daily needs. They had electricity from generators and photo-voltaic systems with big battery banks. Huge garden plots and greenhouses. Barns with chickens, pigs, and cows. Cows that provided milk as well as meat, the way the chickens produced both eggs and meat. Vehicles that ran on homemade biodiesel.
Why shouldn’t he have those things? He would have had something similar, he rationalized, had society not taken those things away from him. Just like society had taken Rebecca and Juliette. Well, there was nothing he could do to bring them back, though he had avenged them. But society owed him. Owed him big. And he decided that day that he was going to collect on that debt. That night he pulled his first raid.
He’d chanced upon a small family doing some trading at the trading center while he was there, checking to see if anyone was mentioning the missing gang. He followed them that afternoon and settled himself until darkness fell. He decided that the gangsta group had erred in killing everyone they robbed. Eventually they would have run out of victims. Alistair told himself he would only kill if necessary.
One of the weapons the gangstas had in their possession was a Glock 18 9mmP with an integral suppressor. He wondered sometimes where they might have acquired it and a dozen of the 33-round extended magazines. It didn’t really matter, as long as he had it. It took care of the family’s dog almost silently, and then the goat that he was after. The pistol in hand, just in case, Alistair left the area with the goat draped across his shoulders.
He would be the first to admit he butchered the butcher job he did on the goat. But he managed to get enough useable meat to hang in the living room of the house. It would keep for several days, as cold as it was. He waited a few days to let the furor wind down over the robbery before he hit another place. And then another two weeks later.
Alistair could feel people closing in on him, so he broadened his range of operations. Taking a good bike with a trailer made things easier. He stripped it down and repainted it and the trailer, and then put it back together.
And then, paralleling his meeting of the gangstas, Alistair discovered two men and a woman casing the same farm he was. He almost just shot them from ambush, but decided to find out what he could, first.
“Easy, now,” Alistair said from ten feet behind the trio. All three whirled around, hands going to their guns, but Alistair’s steady hand with the Glock 18 in it stilled their actions. Worried looks on their faces, the three waited for what would happen next.
“What do you think about hitting this place?” Alistair asked, right out of the blue.
The obvious leader looked surprised, but quickly realized the fact that Alistair wasn’t from the farm they were watching and out to stop them. Alistair was just like them. Casing the place to rob it.
“Won’t be easy. Three dogs,” the man said. “Reason we haven’t already hit the place.”
“I can take care of the dogs.” Alistair hefted the suppressed pistol. “What would be the take?”
“Everything,” the man said. “I want this place.”
“You mean just kill everyone?” Alistair asked.
The man nodded. “You squeamish?”
“No,” Alistair said. He pulled the trigger of the Glock 18 and put three rounds of 9mmP FMJ into the man’s chest.
“I don’t like to be questioned,” Alistair continued, the Glock now pointed between the other two. “You work for me now,” he said.
The man and the woman, after quick looks at the dead man, looked back at Alistair and nodded. The man spoke his first words since Alistair showed up. “I’m Adam Ridge, and this is my girl, Annie.”
“Well, Adam and Annie, am I going to have trouble with you over him?” Alistair nodded toward the body.
“No. He was a slug,” Annie said. “Always trying to get into my pants when Adam wasn’t looking.”
“Yeah,” Adam said. “He was just plain mean. We fell in with him by accident.”
“Sure,” Alistair said. “Okay. Here’s how it goes. I want to case the place another day and figure out a plan to hit it. You two go back where you’re camping, and meet me here tomorrow at the same time. You don’t show up, friendly like, and I’ll come hunting you.”
“We’ll be here,” Adam said. The two moved quietly off as Alistair watched. He waited a long time before taking out the expensive binoculars he recovered during one of his raids and began surveying the small complex of buildings on the large farm.
The more he watched, the more he understood why the dead man had planned on killing everyone and taking over the farm. It had all the amenities that Alistair wanted himself. But there would be major repercussions if the family just disappeared and new owners took over. Alistair began to work on another option.
The next day, when Adam and Annie showed up, Alistair, watching the tiny clearing where the body lay, decided the two had accepted the idea of working with him. He stepped out, the Glock 18 ready. “Okay,” he said. “I know what we’re going to do.”
It took several reiterations before the two understood what Alistair was planning. Alistair held his temper and explained one more time. “Okay,” Adam said. “I’ve got it.”
“You better,” Alistair replied. “You screw up and I’ll kill you.”
“We’ll be okay,” Annie said. “It’s a good plan. I never would have thought of it.”
“Yeah. Why am I not surprised?” Alistair muttered under his breath.
Alistair led the two back to his old house and let them set up in one of the bedrooms. Alistair, anticipating the acquisition of much of the farm’s technology, began making plans on how he wanted to set up the house to take advantage of them. He had the plan set by the time the three set off two mornings later, headed back to the farm, ready to take it over and strip it bare of everything Alistair wanted.
When they reached the little clearing in the forest where they’d done their recce, Alistair, Adam, and Annie watched the farm for a few minutes to make sure there had been no changes in routine. There weren’t.
Moving back to the road, the three walked up the driveway, hailing the house from some distance.
“What do you want?” came a shout from inside the house.
“Want to do some trading!” Alistair shouted back. “Heard you had meat to trade.”
“What are you trading? Don’t look like you have anything with you we would want.”
Alistair was getting a little impatient. “Let us come up and we’ll discuss it.”
“Okay, but don’t try anything. We’ve got you covered.”
Alistair was sure they were bluffing. He’d watched the place for hours at a time and had not seen any signs of outside guards.
The three of them walked the rest of the way up to the porch of the house. If Alistair was correct, it was the farmer himself that stood in the open door into the house.
“This is going to be easier than I thought,” Alistair whispered to the others. Two more steps and he shouted, “Now!” and pulled the Glock 18 from under his coat. Adam and Annie likewise began to draw their weapons. Once they had the drop on the farmer, it would be easy to convince the rest of those on the farm to give up.
Alistair died never knowing what hit him, or from where the powerful bullet came. Adam and Annie had a few seconds before they died from their wounds. A few minutes later, after leaving the hayloft in the barn and going through the tunnel connecting the barn with the house, Bradford Kane came out onto the porch and helped the rest strip and then carry the remains of Alistair, Adam, and Annie out to a long slit trench and dump them in.
Someone would cover the bodies later. Just as they had the other eight bodies already buried in the trench. Bradford went back into the house, and then through the tunnel again, to his perch in the hayloft to watch for the next unsuspecting lowlifes that might try to take the farm.
He thought he might just keep that Glock 18 and its magazines. The rest of the gear the would be attackers had on them when they died would go on the auction block at the next trade fair. Bradford wondered for a moment about the three people he’d just killed. “Wonder what brought them to this place to die?” But the thought was a fleeting one. Didn’t really matter. They were dead and life on the farm would go on.
Jerry D. Young
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