Castle Roland

Day of N

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 6

Posted: 30 Mar 15

Day of N

Kyle Aarons

Place   Latitude   Longitude
Prairie Dog State Park Kansas   39.804316   -99.954987
Farmhouse   39.702333   -100.331268
Missile launch site   39.989523   -101.379384
Benkelman Neb.   40.050811   -101.534958

Name  Age   Eye Color   Hair Color  Weapon(s)
Devin 12 Blue Black
Hunter 12 Grey Brown Shotgun
Angus (Gus) 12 Green Red .22
Gage 11 Blue Sandy .308
Zeki (Zeek) 11 Brown brown
Ramsey (Ram) 12 Brown sandy .22
Vernon (Vern) 11 blue blond musket

When it came time for Hunter to pull a watch shift, he set the single candle in an inside room so no light would show outside the farmhouse and broke out his journal again.

'Day of N' +2

Day of N… It sounds cheesy, I know, but it was the first thing that popped into my mind when I started writing this yesterday. N… My first thought was nuclear as in bombs, but it means more, nothing, as it what is left of my life. Then there are all the no's: No home, no mom, no dad, no dog, no brothers… lots more N.

'I am starting to see it also may mean something else, as in NOW, like what am I supposed to do now that there are so many N's. We have to start new… New… Interesting, hadn't thought about that N word, but maybe it is the way I need to look at this whole thing. It is all NEW. If I think of it all as New instead of No or Nothing maybe I can find a reason to continue to want to live. I mean, I have the others in my patrol, but other than Angus and, to a lesser extent, Devin they really aren't even good friends.'

The ground shook again casing a scribble across the page. Only a moment later, Zeki let out a terrified whimper. Hunter waited until things calmed down and stood. He walked out into the main room and glanced over, noting Gage had once again put a protective arm around the Turkish born boy. He gave Gage a quick nod and thumb up, before going back into the other room.

Hunter glared at the mark across half the page but suddenly realized he was glad it was there. It would show just how bad things had gotten. He picked the notebook back up and drew an arrow to the scribbled line.

'The line above was not a mistake, instead it was caused as the earth under me is showing how angry it is at us, all humans, for doing so much damage to this world. The earthquakes, tremors, whatever, have not stopped. There were some really big ones today and lots of small ones, I should have been killed by them, but I got lucky, we all did.

'Before I go much further I guess I should think things over a bit more careful (carefully?) Anyway, I guess lucky is a word I should hold off on; saying I am lucky at this point may not be true. We have to see if being alive is lucky or not, only time will tell. Even as I write this I wonder if my insides are being blasted away by electron microscope sized particles. Will my hair fall out and will I start puking as my guts turn to mush?

'Part of me says I should be crying in fear right now, but I'm not. Only Zeek, with his terror of earthquakes is showing real fear. None of the rest of us have even broken down yet. I wonder who will be the first. I sure hope it isn't me.'

Hunter paused as hail started slamming into the roof and the northwest side of the house. A few seconds later there were bright flashes of light that came through the shuttered windows and even briefly lit up the room he was in. The subsequent thunder was powerful enough to be felt.

His pen descended on the paper again as he heard the others wake up and start to talk.

'The earthquakes forced us out of the cellar and now it sounds like the storms want us to go right back down. Where is it safer, up here where a tornado can get us, or in a cellar where an earthquake can bury us alive? Are the earth and sky trying to finish off the humans who have done them so much damage? No wonder the ancient folk made them into gods and worshiped them. Right now I bet there are survivors all over this world who would happily sacrifice someone if it would make the powers of nature happy with us.

'Will this bring back people who do worship gods like Odin, Loki, Thor? I almost have to laugh because without the Marvel movies I would not even know most of these names… I guess I also know Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and Hercules, but those are from Percy Jackson books and movies. How silly can you get, huh?

'I am starting to ramble again, sorry. I really hope someone finds this at some point and I really don't want to make it so bad someone tosses it into a fire. After all, something must survive to tell what the first days after my so called Day of N was like.

'One thing I can tell you is it is cold. I can see my breath if I really look close enough. Mr. K says it may be a year with no summer, maybe even more. If it is, then what? Where do we get food if none is being grown? There are farms all the way around us, but if the crops in them die then what will we do? I guess we could hunt, but then I have to wonder what will be safe to eat and not. I sure would hate to think I made it through the worst of it only to eat a rabbit with enough radiation junk in it to kill me.

'Man, do I ever wish I could look up what is safe and isn't on the net, but I am sure the EMPs have destroyed it. I am starting to think we need to find a library, but then what? I never did pay much attention to how books were cataloged since all the true stuff I have ever read has been over a computer. The other problem is the best libraries are in big cities and there are none left. That means those of us left will have to go looking in small town libraries and do the best we can. Boy, whoever fired off the nukes sure screwed up everything. I kind of hope whoever did it lives and is stuck wondering what to do like the rest of us he didn't kill off.

'It is interesting to think how many skills we have as a bunch of kids in the youngest scout patrol in our troop, but it is also pretty scary, since all of us have some skills but none of us have even half of what we need to live more than a few weeks in this broken world we are left with. We really need each other to make this work. Only Mr. K. has enough to make it on his own, and I don't know what is going to happen when the pain pills run out. My guess is we are eventually going to have to go plunder… or is the word loot? Whatever it is, we will have to head out and get Mr. K. more medicine if we want him to live. Even then, I can tell by the way he says some stuff he does not expect to be around much longer.

'But we need him. Since I am the patrol leader I need to keep him alive for all our sake. Every day he is with us is more we learn, and if he is right about bad people being out there, and us needing to defend ourselves, then we need him to teach us how. I'm sure Gus could give an adult a good fight, but the rest of us, well I sure couldn't. I have a shotgun, but I don't really know if I could shoot someone or not. I guess I would if someone went after one of the others and I have thought about needing to pull the trigger to protect me as well but my gut gets this sinking feeling whenever I think about it.

'Dad is big on never pointing a gun at another living thing unless it is being hunted for food. Even as I write this I think I can feel his belt on my bare butt for pointing an unloaded gun at my brother once. I don't think dad believed me about it being an accident, but to him it really didn't matter. A gun was never to be pointed at another person ever. Can I do it? And if I do can I pull the trigger? I really don't know and sure hope I don't have to find out.

'Out of any of us, I am beginning to think Gage could point a gun at someone and pull the trigger, yet he is also so nice, and really seems to care about Zeek, in particular, and the rest of us as well. The more I think it over, if someone tried to hurt us, Gage would probably be the first to pull the trigger. Part of me hopes if it does happen he does it first, that way, even if I do end up killing, I will have someone in the know to talk it over with.

'This brings me back to Mr. K. I wonder if he has ever killed a person. He was in the army, but that does not mean he ever killed someone. Part of me says no, cause he is so nice, but the other part of me sees he carried a hidden rifle with him on what was supposed to be a scout trip, so maybe he has. Should I ask him?

'This thunder and hail are really bad. I am finding it hard to concentrate on this, but I need to write more, yet I don't know why. I sure feel sorry for anyone who is out in this latest storm. Those hail stones sound big enough to really hurt.

'There is one more thing I want to write about tonight. I wonder, should the calendar start over? I think it has to. Time before the bombs means nothing any more. I think we need to look at the time before and the time now as two separate times. The old days and the post boom days, the next cycle should start… Yet another good reason for me to call this writing the Day of N this is the NEXT cycle in human history. No one can argue such a thing, can they? This is a new and very dangerous world for all survivors after all.'

The storm become so bad Hunter closed the notebook and joined the others as they sought shelter in the junk room where they had found the inside pump and civil war stuff. It didn't help to have another tremor powerful enough to move some of the stuff around the room while knocking what was left on the shelves off.

On the other hand, once the storm subsided, he worked with Devin to tape a garden hose to the pump and run it into the bathroom where it could be used to refill the toilet or hung off the shower head so everyone could get a shower. Once the system had undergone a test run, Steven had the kids flush what was in the one bucket down the toilet in stages, then rinse it three times and flush it each time. Since the toilets, bathtub and sinks were all hooked to a septic system, this part of the house still worked. This, at least, gave them clean buckets to start over with, should they need to move back down stairs.

Steven then ordered all seven boys to take a shower. Zeki was the most difficult since he hadn't spoken an intelligent word since the big tremors hit, but with Gage and Devin's help he eventually got clean. Gage ended up having to wash the boy, while Devin held him up. The cold water seemed to pull him somewhat out of his stupor as he was able to dress himself after, but his eyes still remained a bit blank. One thing for sure, taking turns pumping the water was a serious workout and even Angus spent a few minutes rubbing his arms.

It didn't help matters in the slightest that every hour or so the ground shook, from a little to quite a bit, which only caused another panic attack out of Zeki and caused everyone to look over at the lines of glass jars with the food in them. After two more times of hearing the glass clank, as the jars bumped into each other, Hunter took Vernon upstairs, grabbed every towel, rag and cloth they could find and started wrapping up the jars, so if they did fall over and bump into each other, they wouldn't break.

Mid-morning brought another pretty powerful quake. It was bad enough to where things above shifted. With the sounds of things moving above him, Gage had enough and decided to go upstairs regardless of the risk. It took a few minutes to figure out what was above where everyone was set up. Once he did he pushed several heavier things well away from the group and after getting another quake and seeing things move around, he finally decide to push the heavy dressers over to the big hole in the floor and drop them. For this he got Vernon's help and did so only after the queen sized bed was moved out of the way.

With the wood from the broken dressers, the kids decided to board up the upper windows as well, since they wanted to keep the house as intact as possible and the rain would quickly start doing damage as it blew in.

Gage moved around to the next window and started to measure so Angus could cut pieces to fit it, his eyes caught site of something odd. With a frown he moved and squinted. Sure enough, it was there. He ran back down the steps, "Guys! You have to come see this before it starts raining heavy again!"

As everyone started to rush the steps, Steven loudly cleared his throat and held up his hand stopping everyone in their tracks. "Boys, stop! The last thing we need is for you all to go running up the steps and have them collapse. Now, what is it Gage?"

"A plane, a big one!"

"There is a plane flying?" Angus asked, "I don't hear nothin'."

"No!" Gage all but shouted at the top of his lungs, "It looks like it crashed, but you can see the tail sticking up! I think it's an army plane cause it has camouflage paint on it!"

With this information Steven raised an eyebrow. "OK, I need to see this too, but we take the steps one at a time except for whoever is going to help me."

Hunter nodded at Steven and moved to help the man up the steps. While he did this, the others quickly made their way up one at a time.

By the time Hunter got to the window with Mr. Korbal, the others were all milling around the two windows that faced the needed direction to see the plane. All were pointing to the southwest. Steven had to get help from Hunter just to push a couple of them out of the way so he could take a look.

The moment Steven saw it he took a deep breath. Gage was correct, it was a military aircraft. In fact, it was a large Air Force C-130 transport. Even though it was drizzling, the clouds were heavy and thick, and it was over a mile away, he could make out the back loading ramp was open and the back tail wing was broken off. Someone had survived the crash, but there was a real good chance some military gear could be scavenged. "Good perception skills, Gage…"

He chewed on his lip for a moment. "Hunter, go get my binoculars out of my pack!"

It took only a couple of minutes before he zoomed in on the wreck with the assistance of the powerful binoculars. As fate had it, it was the same set which had saved his life in combat more than a few times back in Afghanistan. The transport had indeed crashed. Its left wing was snapped clean off, but the fuselage looked remarkably intact. He focused in on the back, noting the open ramp was directly up from a steep ravine, but there was room to enter it.

Steven closed his eyes and clenched his fists as he thought over the pros and cons. The fact was there were far more cons than pros, but there was one huge pro to checking out the wreck. Chances were high there was a Geiger counter somewhere in the mess he was looking at. If there was, it could be the key to the seven boys surviving the coming months and maybe even years.

"Guys, get your guns! You have to check it out."

Hunter turned and looked in over at Mr. Korbal in near shock, "Now?"

Steven nodded while closing his eyes. "Chances are good no one has gotten to it yet because of the storms. The second the sky clears everyone within ten miles of here will see it and make a beeline for it. You all have to get there first!"

He then held up his hand, "Guys those doors being open may well mean someone survived and if they did, they still may be in there. Chances are they will shoot first and ask questions later, especially if they are hurt. Be damned careful, and just because someone is in a military uniform, doesn't mean you can trust them.

"I want you all to take your guns and empty packs. Your primary goal is to find a Geiger counter, everything else is secondary."

"The mud is going to slow us down and the rain will make everything heavier too." Angus warned. "We will have to take the long way around too, because I bet everything in the ditch below it is totally filled with water. That means we will have to take the road and hope the bridge over the creek is not gone."

"I'm game," Gage declared, "but the real problem is I wouldn't know a Geiger counter if it fell on top of me."

"I do," Hunter admitted, "part of my EMP research…"

"Good to know, but I want all but one of you to go." Steven ordered. "I need one of you to stay here and help me keep an eye on Zeek. I will also need whoever it is to stay up here with the hunting rifle in case someone comes after those who go out. I can't cover you all with my arm like this."

"Then Gage, you should stay." Hunter eyed the newest boy to the troop, "I know you want to go but you are the best with a rifle and have been the most helpful with Zeek." Hunter spoke up while eyeing the boy.

Ramsey shook his head. "There is no way I would make it and back with the mud and all. My asthma is already brewing with all this humidity. Besides, I may not like to shoot, but dad has made sure I can."

"I'll take the .22 then." Gage nodded with some relief since he really wanted to go check out the wreck. "I'll go get the .308."

Hunter shook his head, "You take the shotgun. I'll take the .22. You are the gun nut so you should have the big bang."

Gage felt his jaw drop open in astonishment but quickly recovered, "Yeah… Um, sure." Seeing the others nod in agreement made him feel pretty good. He may be the new-bee, or 'newb', as Angus kept calling him, but he was starting to see it was more for teasing him, than actually not wanting him in the group. It never occurred to him the attitudes of the others had changed a great deal over the past day or so because of the kindness and concern he had showed for Zeki, coupled with his knowledge of firearms and willingness to share it.

Steven glanced back and forth as the kids started to exchange weapons. After a few seconds of thought he held up both hands. "Guys, I want you to really think this over for a minute."

Gage frowned deeply as he glanced down at the shotgun in his hand then back to Steven. "Are we doing something wrong?"

Steven eyed Hunter then looked back to Gage, "The truth is, your thinking about who has what weapon is very well thought out. If this was a well-trained military unit I'd give you a pat on the back, but…" He paused, "Look, I don't want to give you all the wrong idea here, but when you first decided who was going to take what, you did so for a reason.

"Hunter, I know you hunt pheasant and know shotguns. Ram, I'm sure you can fire the .308, but let's be honest here. Gage is the only one who really looks comfortable with it. You are all correct, and even I said it; the best place for the only hunting rifle is covering you from up here. However, Ram's breathing is a problem and like it or not a .22 can still provide you all with some cover. Now, I am not going to stop you from doing it this way, but if you are going to survive long term you are all going to need to play to your strengths."

It took only a minute for heads to nod and for the boys to grab the weapons they had originally chosen. Angus was the only one to make a switch. "Ram, I bet my rifle is way more accurate than the collapsible and it has a small scope. Since you need range, and I don't, let's switch for now."

Seeing Mr. Korbal give his approval with a single nod, the boys switched and backpacks were emptied except for water bottles and a few spare rounds of ammunition.

The last thing Steven made sure happened, was he had Angus bring Zeki up with everyone else. This way both he and Ramsey could watch the traumatized youngster, while still keeping their eye on the group heading out to check the downed aircraft. Once everything was set, he cleared his throat as loudly as he could so he had the other five boy's total attention. "This is a survival mission, not a play and explore trip. Get what you can and get back here, but remember, the most important thing is a Geiger counter. The next things on the list would be food, weapons, ammo, and the like. Military gear is top notch so canteens, gas masks, batteries, and even radios would all be good ideas. Just don't overload yourselves. If it is secure then maybe you can go back again tomorrow.

"I also want you to brace yourselves for the very real possibility of seeing dead people. There is no question the aircraft went down hard and there is better than even chance some of the crew and or passengers were killed. Don't focus on them if you run across any."

Steven then held up his hand. "The last thing is just as important. There is a pretty good chance you may run across more than just guns. You may find grenades, missile launchers, and other very powerful and extremely dangerous ordinance. If you don't know what it is, do all of us a favor and leave it the hell alone."

As the kids opened the door to the farm house and made their way to the road so they could hopefully find a bridge to safely cross the overflowing stream, Ramsey called out from the upper window. "See if you can find a real pistol and some ammo for Mr. K. Also, if someone is following you, flash lights at me so I can see who is who. One long flash and two short ones will tell me you are the good guys. This rain is going to make it tough to pick you out from anyone else."

Hunter nodded his understanding and motioned to Angus, "Lead the way and if something bad happens get out of the way so Gage or me can shoot it."

Other than a couple of flashes of lighting overhead making them a bit nervous, the first part of the trip was easy enough. The road was paved, so mud was not a problem. The real concern was the road itself. All five could see where the quakes had made fresh cracks in the concrete. This made them wonder about how safe any bridge would be.

By the time they got to the bridge all of them eyed it with suspicion, while looking down at the raging water in what was normally a tiny creek.

Hunter moved a bit closer and looked under the bridge and glanced back. "The water is hitting the underside; I can't even see under it."

Angus held up his hand, "Let me go first." The others could tell by his hardened posture he was not asking. The moment he made it over, he motioned for the others. There was no hesitation and they all ran.

Hunter looked back at the bridge, then over to Angus, "I just hope it's there for us to get back to the farmhouse."

"If it isn't, then we will have to take the gravel road north until we find another bridge. But the longer we talk about it the better chance of it washing out on us."

The five boys picked up their pace as the bulk of the aircraft came into view up on a hillside to their north. Once again lightning rippled overhead and was quickly followed by thunder, but at least the rain stayed at a study drizzle so their vision was not cut down too much. Angus pointed up the road. "There is a driveway or something just up there. Should we bypass it and cut across the field here or use the drive to get closer?"

"I don't want to chance getting seen." Hunter stated after only a moment of thought. "Let's cut across here."

Angus moved over to the barbed wire fence and started to pull up ,so the others could go through, when they heard a female scream followed by a single gunshot. Both came from the direction of the drive.

"Get down!" Hunter shouted as he dove into the muck off to the north side of the road.

Behind him, Vernon and Devin did the same thing while Gage, who had stopped to take a leak, crouched down on the opposite side of the road.

Only a minute and a half passed before three figures appeared running down the road. Moments later, three others appeared and the sound of a vehicle starting up quickly followed. The three pursuers caught up with the three fleeing only twenty yards from where Hunter and his friends were lying. All five boys cringed as another gunshot was fired.

The three who were running stopped and the tallest one turned with a double barreled shotgun in his hand. When he spoke, it was a pretty young sounding voice. "Don't make me shoot you!"

A man laughed, "Boy, you even raise that at us and we'll drop you. Now put it down!"

The one with the shotgun motioned for the other two to continue to back up, "Just leave us alone!"

By this time Hunter could see the one armed with the shotgun was a teen, while the other two with him were girls. One was a teen, the other was pretty close to Hunter's age. He swallowed hard and gripped his own shotgun tightly. Next to him Angus whispered. "Now what are we supposed to do?"

Before Hunter could even come up with a solution, one of the others from the second group moved forward. The man casually unslung an assault rifle from over his shoulder and pointed it at the teen boy. The guy was wearing a military uniform and had lots of combat gear on, including a couple of hand grenades and a big combat knife on his belt. "Drop the gun, give us the girls, and we'll let you go, boy. Hell, me and my buddies may even let you go back and get the guy we just shot. I'm pretty sure I just winged him, so he may even make it."

The teen's hands shook badly causing the shotgun to wobble up and down, "No… you can't do this!"

"Hey, boy, get smart. We're going to get some one way or the other!" One of the others spoke and moved forward, dressed identically to the first man. "It's been a bad couple of days and we need a bit of entertainment. Now you can move out of the way and let us have them or we can shoot you, leave you bleeding on this side of the road, and we can take them. Either way we get the girls, so think it over."

The last man moved up. He was a bit older than the other two and had a couple of stripes on his collar. "Tell you what. You turn and walk away, and we'll let you keep the scatter gun and we'll even let you go get your old man before he bleeds to death."

Suddenly, a Humvee with a turret and machinegun turned out of the drive leading up to the farmhouse and pulled to a stop right next to the guy with the stripes on his collar. A man, his head wrapped in a thick bandage with blood on the right side, stuck his head up into the turret and looked down. He ignored the big machinegun, but did pull an M-16 and rested it on the frame of the turret. At the same time the passenger side window rolled down and a middle aged man with a cigar in his mouth stuck his head out. "What's the holdup Corporal?"

The man with the stripes turned and snorted, "Sorry Captain, but the boy is just being unreasonable."

The man identified as a captain rolled his eyes. "This is stupid. He's just a punk kid. Go grab the girls."

The lead man suddenly took a step forward and did an upward sweep with the butt of his rifle, knocking the shotgun upwards. Before the teen could recover, the butt of the weapon slammed into his face, broke his nose and knocked him to the ground.

Both girls screamed and rushed forward and clutched onto the kid.

The captain snorted, "Now, you two bitches can get your asses over here and join us, or I will order my men to shoot him!"

The man, who had just butt stroked the teen, quickly pulled the rifle up to his shoulder and pointed it at the downed boy. Even as he did this, he winked while making a rather lewd lick around his lips, while focusing most of his attention at the older girl.

Hunter had heard and seen enough, and it was pretty clear the others with him had as well. All four on the north side stood up quickly and leveled their rifles at the military men.

The guy pointing his rifle at the teen took a step back, "What the hell is this?"

Hunter glanced over where he knew Gage was and made a slight downward motion with his hand as he spoke. "Leave them alone."

The man inside the Humvee noticed all four kids wore scout uniform shirts and busted up laughing. "You have got to be kidding me! The kiddy patrol! You boys run back home to mommy now and let the men play with guns!"

"But you are the Army!" Angus snarled. "You are supposed to protect people."

The captain let out a humor filled grunt, "Kid, those days are gone. I was in it for the money and the early retirement, and no one's going to be paying me shit now. It's all gone!"

Angus kept his rifle leveled at the men, "So your word to defend the U.S. means nothing?"

"There is no U.S. of A. to defend any more kid." The captain spat out the window as he locked eyes with Angus. "Denver is a big hole in the ground and with it went the governor, my boss. The federal government went up in a huge fireball in Washington D.C. as well and we got confirmation the President's plane went down. There is no one left… It's every man for himself and those with the biggest guns are in charge, and I have way bigger guns than you all do!"

The one wearing the stripes looked over at the .22 in Angus' hands. He hit his chest and pointed at the rifle with a big grin on his face. "The cap's right. We even got body armor, kid!" He hit his chest a second time to emphasize the point. "This will stop way more than a .22 so pointing it at me is a total waste of time."

At about the same time the lead man, who had backed off a step, stared at Vernon, "I can't believe someone is pointing a flintlock at me. There ain't no way it will penetrate my body armor and even if you do shoot it, I'll be able to get off a full clip before you can even think of reloading it. Now I know the world has gone to shit, but this is stupid. Go away before some of us decide you may be almost as good in a sleeping bag as one of these whores." He gestured toward the two girls.

The young man in the turret shrugged and pointed in the Devin's direction, "As cold as it was last night, I'll take blue eyes there. It'd be better than nothing."

The third one who had come up on foot sent a nasty wink at Vernon, "Yeah, Cap, why not. Musket boy ain't half bad and I bet we could use the bulky one to help us get one of the other hummers working and load shit for us since we all got pretty banged up in the crash."

The man with the stripes could see the words were starting to make the four boys nervous, "Might not be a bad idea, Captain. If our guys like 'em then what do we care, even if it is just till we find some more female tail. Once we are done with them, we could probably use them for barter too. I bet we could get a week or two worth of food for a boy from some farmer who needs a laborer and or a bed partner."

The captain shrugged, "Sure, what the hell, take them. If they resist, beat them down and kill one or two. It'll be fewer mouths to feed."

The injured man in the turret pulled his rifle up to his shoulder and started to draw a bead on Devin. At the same time, the others started training their own weapons on the others.

A split second later, a single shot rang out from the opposite side of the road. The guy in the turret suddenly jerked as his head snapped violently to the side and grey matter sprayed all three men outside the Humvee.

As they turned to face the unexpected new threat, Vernon pulled up the musket at the man who had winked at him. The look had really given Vernon the creeps and he wanted to make sure the guy couldn't get to him. This fear of what the man might do to him allowed Vernon to push aside the moral values he had grown up with. He fired.

The large musket ball only had to travel a few of yards and it was big for a bullet. It hit the body armor and knocked the man flat onto his back. The force of the shot also caused the stunned man to drop his rifle, while knocking the breath out of him. The guy writhed in pain and smacked at his chest. He seriously doubted being shot with a doorknob would hurt more than what the stupid musket ball had just done to him.

Hunter fired next. His thought was to protect the teen and the two girls so he targeted the lead man. The shotgun blast shredded the guy's left hand while tearing the rifle out of his grip. He fell down screaming, blood spraying everywhere.

Angus found himself rather happy the one guy had pointed out the body armor or he would have certainly shot the guy in the chest, which would have done little to nothing. However, with foreknowledge of the armor, he simply lowered the small caliber rifle and pulled the trigger as fast as he could. A trio of the eight shots he fired penetrated into the guy with the stripes' boot and lower leg. As Angus hoped, the guy fell, dropping his rifle as his hands went to grab the bullet riddled foot.

Devin was last to shoot. But he finally raised his .22 rifle and fired as he saw the man identified as the captain pull a pistol and point it out the window of the Humvee. The shot missed, but caused the captain to pull his hand back in and duck down. The still unseen driver pulled forward, which allowed the one hit with the musket ball to crawl in on the driver's side, sheltered from the armed kids.

Before the driver could get moving again, Gage got up to one knee and fired again. This time, the captain let out a curse of pain and screamed, "Get us the hell out of here!"

Both Hunter and Vernon had to jump out of the way as the vehicle went right at them. The driver was clearly not in much of a caring mood, as he drove right over the one with the stripes and narrowly missed the man with the shredded hand.

Gage jumped up and put the scope to his eye. He waited until the rapidly departing vehicle stopped swerving before he fired yet another shot. Although the others didn't see any results, Gage pumped his fist in satisfaction.

Devin glanced over, shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. "D…d…did you g… ga…get one of them?"

"No." Gage shook his head but kept grinning, "But I put a shot into the side of their M-60, so with any luck they won't able to get up there and hose us down with it."

Angus moved up to the man with the mangled hand and kicked him in the side of the head with everything he could muster. Once again Angus' impressive build showed as the man's head snapped violently to the side and made a snapping sound while his eyes rolled up in his head. "Now what, Hunter?"

Hunter stood transfixed. His hands gripped the shotgun as he watched the blood continue to pump out of the wound while eyeing the weird angle of the man's clearly broken neck. Even though part of him knew he had done the right thing, the knowledge he had shot someone made him wonder if he could ever look his dad in the eye, or set foot in a church ever again. His thoughts were quickly shattered, however, as the younger girl ran up and nearly lept at him. Her arms encircled his slender frame as tears rolled down her cheeks, "Thank you!"

It took a moment, but once he realized the girl had gone so far as to kiss him, his slightly tanned features turned a bright red. Totally embarrassed, Hunter managed to pull an arm free and pointed at the teen. "Devin, see what you can do for him. Vern, check the guy they ran over, just in case."

Vernon moved up to the guy and quickly turned away. One look at the boy's face told the others there was no reason to go over and look.

Off to the side, Gage replaced the three spent rounds so he had a full load and rubbed his shoulder. "Man, this thing really has a kick when not braced on the ground!"

Angus took a deep breath and moved over to help Hunter pry the girl off. "We need to get out of here in case they have friends."

The teen girl shook her head. "There were only six of them who survived the crash… Um… you guys aren't the scouts who were on the bike trip are you?"

Vernon's eyes went wide, "How'd you know?"

The teen boy sat up as he held a wad of his own shirt up to his bloody nose and face. "About an hour before the bombs hit a red minivan came through Jennings looking for you all. We were working on moving stuff to our cellar when the guy stopped and asked if we had seen you all."

Angus glanced over at Hunter, "Sounds like your dad."

The teen boy blinked some tears out of his eyes, "Short muscular guy with glasses, had a young kid and a black dog with him."

Hunter felt his heart start pounding. He tried to say something, but found he couldn't as a few sobs came out.

While Gage moved up to put an arm around Hunter, Angus glanced over and nodded, "Was the kid blond?"

The teen girl shook her head, "Brown haired. Dad had me go to the gas station and let them fill up even though the credit card machine wasn't working and I gave the kid a soda. When he grinned, I noticed one of his front teeth was badly chipped."

"His brother, James." Angus stated while looking back at Hunter. "James decided to jump off the shed a couple of months ago and hit his mouth on the handle of the lawn mower. Since it was a baby tooth, and they should be coming out soon, they didn't bother getting it fixed."

Vernon moved up to the older boy and offered him his water bottle. As the boy took a long drink with a great deal of thanks in his eyes, Vernon took a break and asked the question all the kids from the scout patrol had been asking themselves. "So, do you know what happened to cause the world to go nuts?"

The boy reached out and grabbed his double barreled shotgun, put the butt of it on the ground and used it as leverage to help him stand. It was clear he had some vertigo as he wobbled. Had Vernon not moved up to help, the teen would have fallen right back down. The older boy took a second, then nodded his thanks to Vernon. "Only what the news was saying."

"We don't even know that." Devin admitted. "When we broke camp at eight and started the second leg of our trip to the lake there was nothing going on that we knew about."

"I think it stated about nine thirty or ten." The boy spoke as he spit out a broken out tooth and winced as he put his hand up to his mouth. "We'll tell you about it, if you help our dad."

Hunter wiped tears out of his eyes as he wondered what had happened to his dad, his dog and his youngest brother. He started to nod then looked over at the two bodies then pointed at their rifles. "Gage, are those any good?"

Gage picked up each M-16 and fired a couple of shots, but the third one, shot out of the man's hands by Hunter, jammed after only one shot. He then dug into the men's pouches and pulled out a total of eighteen thirty round magazines and looked them over. He held up two of the assault weapons, "These rifles are good and the other could give us some spare parts. Most of the clips are fine, but one pouch of three got run over and all these magazines look damaged. The rounds inside them may still be good though."

Hunter took another deep breath and wiped his eyes again, "Gus, Devin, grab them. They are way better than the .22s!"

Angus secured one of the assault rifles, but simply put it over his shoulder. He then replaced the spent rounds in the .22 and shook his head. "Gage, you are going to have to show me how in the blazes to use it before I shoot it. Until then, I'll stick with the .22."

Devin quickly followed suit, duplicating Angus by slinging the military weapon over his back.

Gage continued to pull equipment off the bodies, taking their combat knives, gas masks, canteens, a pistol, a couple of extra clips for the handgun, and all eight grenades. He then started pulling off the web gear that held it all.

Angus pointed to the explosives while watching Gage take the equipment with no signs of being bothered that he was handling dead and dying bodies. As troubling as this was, Angus also realized he was finding a great deal of respect for the new patrol member. Still, seeing Gage handle the grenades was more than a little terrifying. "Dude, Mr. K. said not to even touch anything like that!"

Gage glanced up with some annoyance in his eyes, "Would you prefer those jerks come back and get them, so they can throw them at us or others?"

Hunter shook his head and answered for Angus, "Take them, but put them in your pack and wrap them in something so there is no chance of them getting their pins pulled, or whatever sets them off."

Gage let out a single snort of amusement before pulling a military rain poncho out of one of the butt backs and wrapping the grenades in it then shoved it back in before he pulled the straps on the small pack tight. He them put it in the bottom of his empty backpack. He looked back and held up an unopened, and still shrink-wrapped, Wal-Mart hygiene kit. "Anyone want this? I had to take it out to make room for the grenades."

Vernon moved up while nodding. "I put my toothbrush and stuff in the back of the troop trailer."

"Same place my extra batteries are," Hunter grumbled.

Gage snickered as he tossed Hunter a military flashlight and a pack of eight D sized batteries. "I knew you'd want these, so I didn't bother asking."

Hunter gladly accepted the items and tucked them into his own empty pack before he glanced over the area one last time. He then looked down the road in the direction the Humvee had gone. There was no sight of it. He then nodded for the others to go on while he purposefully made a wide arc away from the two bodies.

While the group moved up the drive, the older boy started talking. "We really don't know too much. I was watching MTV when the screen suddenly went blue and an alert tone sounded. At the same time, the radio Nikki was listening to, as she worked on cookies for the church bake sale, also sounded an alert tone.

"A female voice came over both saying there had been a coup in Russia and China had given recognition to the new government, I guess the coup hadn't been as good as China thought or something, cause only a few minutes later another voice said there had been a nuclear exchange between Russia and China and everyone should seek shelter just in case it spread."

The teen girl took over, "Dad told us to start moving everything we could into the storm shelter as we continued to listen. The news just kept getting worse, though. It sounded like some countries started blaming China for siding with those who tried to overthrow Russia, so China fired some missiles at them. I know the reports said Cuba had been hit, as had Brazil, Japan, Korea, and Spain. It also sounded like Russia started shooting at countries that sided with China.

"Then it got real bad as news reports said India and Pakistan had fired at each other. After that, there were reports of more and more cities getting hit. By this time, phone lines were so flooded with people trying to contact loved ones, the entire system went down. The news people and emergency messages kept asking people to get off the phones, but it was no use."

Devin glanced over at Hunter, "So even if our folks tried to call us and warn us, they couldn't."

"The man in the minivan said they tried all your phones but just got busy signals," the younger girl squeaked out.

"So Dad went out to find us," Hunter gulped back a sob.

"Not just your dad," the older boy spoke again. "Your dad said all your parents had split up to look for you all, but he was running out of gas. Since the phones were down, we couldn't take a credit card payment, but Dad told me and Nikki to go open up the station and fill him up. We even gave him a pair of full five-gallon cans, since we figured most of the other gas stations would be closed. He pulled away promising to bring back some cash once everything calmed down…"

Hunter took a deep breath and looked over to Angus, "So all our parents may be out on the roads…"

"Quite a few of them are," the boy responded. "We were told to tell you to go to Sid's house if we saw you."

Vernon glanced skyward to hide his own tears. "Makes sense, Sid's folks wouldn't leave him and we all know where he lives… They also have a big basement…"

Hunter nodded in agreement but tried to stay focused on what had happened. "So why did we get attacked?"

The older girl shrugged. "Not sure. The last we heard was Washington DC had been hit, as had Philadelphia, and that we had responded. Then everything went dark."

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