Castle Roland

Day of N

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 21

Posted: 29 Sep 16

Day of N

Kyle Aarons

(Starts Day +15)

Hunter woke to a gentle shake from Gage. He blinked and glanced around seeing everyone else sound asleep. With a yawn he rubbed his eyes, "My watch, huh?"

Gage nodded, "You and Vernon are up."

"No problems?"

Gage gave a quick shrug. "I saw some headlights to the southeast about an hour ago, but whoever they were stopped well short of town. I thought they may be a diversion, but didn't see anyone with the night goggles we found in the packs. I even climbed up on the roof and scanned the area. No one came into town as best as I could tell, and certainly didn't come out this way, so I am wondering what they were doing."

Hunter let out a long breath, "Did Sheriff Will and the others from Jennings finally get clear?"

"Just before midnight, Sheriff Will even drove James' car and told me he would put it up on blocks in his shed, plus they took all the stuff I had collected." Luke answered as he came into the room. "Sheriff Will said all the drinks would be put somewhere safe for me and all my dad's guns and sports collectables would be safely stored too. They also all but emptied the grade school of books and stuff saying they were going to start a school." Luke shook his head in amazement, "Man, you all got lucky to find those people. They are all so nice. They even made us a whole lot of trail mix including lots of dried…"

"Apples." Gage and Hunter spoke at the same time knowing the answer.

Luke shrugged, clearly not knowing why the voices didn't sound terrible thrilled by the idea of trail mix with lots of dried apples. Instead of pursuing it, however, he handed over a small bundle wrapped in a large plastic baggy to Hunter, "No one would tell me who made 'em, but one of the guys handed me this. He said there were fresh baked cookies inside."

"Erma." Both Hunter and a still groggy Vernon spoke up at the same time.

Gage gave a slight snort, "Who else can bake on or in a wood burning stove?"

"Before this is all over, a lot of people, but it will take people like Erma to teach them." Hunter stated as he pulled on some jeans found in one of the houses. They were a bit short but in his waist size and all things considered comfortable. He stood, noticing he could just barely see his breath in the battery lantern light. "Another cold one night, huh?"

"The big temperature gauge you found is at forty-nine, but it is really humid again." Luke grumbled. "We had to have Ram sit up about an hour ago since he was wheezing, but he got it under control quick. Way quicker than I have ever seen him."

"You may not like Mr. K., Luke, but he has really worked with Ram to not have to rely on his inhaler, even before all this happened." Vernon responded as he quickly pulled on a sweatshirt which was clearly a size or two too big for him. "It was really hard on Ram at first, but over the past month and a half, it has become a matter of pride for him when he can get over an attack on his own."

"I still can't believe you all like him so much, but whatever." Luke frowned deeply as he started to unload the hunting rifle his dad had bought for him the prior deer season.

Vernon quickly moved over and put his hand on the rifle, "Keep it loaded unless you are cleaning it."


Gage turned sharply, "Dude, if something happens, an unloaded rifle isn't going to do any of us any good. Mr. Korbal drilled this into our heads over and over. Always carry your weapon, even if getting up to go to the bathroom and never leave it unloaded. We all keep an eye on each other to make sure we don't go anywhere without a firearm, preferable both a rifle and a pistol. Just put the rifle on safe and keep it close."

Luke clenched his left fist, "This goes against everything Dad taught me!"

"Me too," Vernon admitted, "but as Mr. K. kept pointing out, we can't take time to load guns if someone suddenly bursts through the door. Over the next couple of days we'll go through some of the drills Mr. K. taught us, and Gage can show you the overlapping fields of fire so we can fight without endangering each other."

Gage stretched and yawned, "Let's talk about this tomorrow morning. I'm wiped out and taking middle watch makes me grumpy the next day as is. Just make sure the safeties are on and chill, Luke. I'm hitting the sack."

Luke looked at his rifle and down to the bullet in his hand. Finally, after several seconds of internal debate he slid the round back into the chamber and put the rifle up against the wall right behind his head, lined up with all the other weapons the other kids had behind their own heads. As wrong as this felt, seeing everyone doing the exact same thing did make it a slight bit better. So did talking to the old sheriff who made it a point to check the rifle and made Luke show him he know how to properly clean, load, hold and safety the weapon. Finally the old man adjusted the shoulder strap so it was comfortable and could be quickly grabbed while carrying a backpack.

The firearms lesson didn't stop there, either. One of the other men found a nine millimeter Ruger P-85, with a shoulder holster in one of the buildings and worked with one of the other men to adjust it down to Luke's size, even reworking the leather some so it would fit better. The two men then showed him proper cleaning, loading, and how to draw the pistol. The three men then took him inside the school and used the hallway as a shooting range and had him fire a couple dozen rounds between the two guns. Fortunately the NRA classes took over from there, so within a couple of hours all three men were satisfied he could handle the firearms safely.

However, even as he slipped off the shoulder rigging and double-checked the pouches holding the pair of spare magazines, Luke had to force himself not to eject the magazine in the pistol and pull back on the slide to make sure there was not a bullet in the chamber. It took him an extra twenty minutes to finally let go of wanting to unload both weapons before he was finally able to fall asleep fully.

Hunter moved up the steps and took a reading from the Geiger counter. At eighty counts per minute, it didn't leave much of a safety margin so he made a mental note to check it several times over the course of his watch and then dug into his pack and found a small pocket sized notebook. Quickly he jotted down the time, location, and reading figuring it couldn't hurt to have a list of locations and readings. Maybe there would be a way to plot or chart the radiation as they went. This, he figured, would be especially important as they got closer to areas hit by bombs.

Vernon glanced over as he saw Hunter jotting down the information. "If you want to work on your diary, go for it. I'll keep an eye out and let you know if there are any problems."

Hunter almost argued it was a journal not a diary, but quickly realized there wasn't much of a difference. The biggest divergence between a diary and his journal was he really hoped his would be read by someone at some point. Hunter bet most people keeping a diary didn't have any such thoughts or desires.

With resigned sigh, he forced a smile, nodded over at Vernon, and pulled out the larger notebook.

Day of N +15

'We found Luke, one of our former patrol mates. But he is back with us so I am not sure if that really makes him a former patrol mate or what exactly, but for whoever reads this it really doesn't matter so I will move on.

We headed out of Jennings in a van Hank fixed for us. There is almost no one on the roads. We didn't see anyone at all while we were driving. It may be because we are moving closer to a bomb blast area, but I will get back to that. What is important is we have yet to find another large group of people, so it makes me wonder how many places have lots of people. It sounds like El Paso does, and other radio reports indicate there are groups out there, but we haven't found any big groups yet.

Of course we only went about eighteen miles, maybe twenty. We are in Selden Kansas now; well, just outside of it since we switched over to a farmhouse after getting Luke out of his place. Luke was alone, so he is like us, wondering who, if anyone, is alive from his family.

This is where I get kind of mixed up on what order to write things in, so sorry if this is the wrong order or jumbled. I'll do the best I can. After we found Luke he told us all sorts of stuff about what happened here in Selden. Kind of like Jennings, the town worked together, but a combination of things, including the water going bad, forced everyone to leave. Unlike Jennings, however, Selden got hit with major power surges which started lots of fires during and right after the bombs hit. At least one of the men from Jennings who knows about power coming off the poles said it was a series mass power surges.

Anyway, several buildings in town burned or at least had fires right from the start. The town was also hit with a major wind storm at some point, maybe even a small tornado. After the fires and the earthquakes, the wind storm did lots more damage. As it turns out one of the things damaged was the water tower. It was the water tower, not the ground water that poisoned the water. The problem is, when you look up, it seems OK.

It was actually Mr. Korbal who suggested the water tower as a problem after hearing about it over the radio. Since a nearby farmhouse on a well seemed to have good water, but Selden didn't, he just knew it was the water tower. Still, he had us check. A couple of the men who came down from Jennings used tools to unbolt the main pipe just down from the shutoff, then they cranked the shutoff so it was open again. All sorts of water poured out all over, but it kind of smelled bad and after a few minutes some dead birds, really bad smelling ones, started to come out. I bet there was like twenty, maybe more.

Mr. K. had me check them with the Geiger counter and they were hot, really radioactive. Mr. Korbal says he thinks there is a hole in the top of the tower someplace and the sick birds flew in looking for shelter and died. The dead bird bodies polluted the water and caused some kind of sickness. The doctor treating Mr. K. says she thinks it may even be Cholera, since all the symptoms Luke told us about and how fast it happened seemed to match. One way or the other, it gave us all a whole new reason to treat, filter, and boil water before we use it or drink it. This whole thing made Mr. Korbal and the doctor talk to several of us on the radio too. They just want to make sure we don't take water for granted anywhere, especially if we get close to large towns. I guess all the rain, the flooding could have caused sewage from city sewers and large septic fields to contaminate even ground water. So, from now on we are going to be way more careful. If it is coming from an exposed well head then we filter and boil it, period.

At least with the Selden's water tower's main pipe unbolted, it will not fill up again, and the people who used to live here painted all sorts of warnings about not using the water. We changed it to not using the tower, so hopefully no one will try to fix it. The men from Jennings took the bolts with them and tossed the big elbow they took off into a destroyed building so I don't think anyone will be able to fix it up anyway.

The other thing we found out is those stupid Army guys are still around, and pretty close to here. They also found more guys to join them along with more trucks. Luke warned us about them and they showed up, but never made it to town. Gage stopped them all by himself! He used the cover of a storm and only fired when the thunder hit to cover the sounds of his gunshots. He took out two and hit another of them Army guys before they even got to the edge town. One was the driver of this big Army truck, too, which forced them all to run away.

Angus and Vernon went out and got what was on the truck, which wasn't much. There were forty gallons of diesel gas and two big bullet boxes. One had the 5.56 bullets for our military rifles and the other had long belts of 7.62 bullets, which Gage was happy about since his rifle uses those and he showed us how the belts can be taken apart. Sometimes it really freaks me out to see how much he knows about guns and stuff, but we are so lucky to have him. I guess God really figured sending him to live in Colby was for the best.

Anyway, we were going to go back and drain the Army truck's gas tank after the storm, but when we got back outside, the truck was gone, so we think those jerks came back and took it once the storm got really bad. At least they didn't try to come back into town.

We used the working CB radio and called back to Jennings with what we found out, so Sheriff Will and several other men came down to Selden to help us get reorganized and protect us incase those Army guys came back again. Sheriff Will even drove Luke's brother's car back to Jennings for safe storage for him.

One thing we did find out was one of the guys Gage shot was in jail; at least he was before the bombs fell. He was in a prison outside of Norton. Sheriff Will knew the guy because the guy had robbed some farmhouses around Jennings before he was caught and Sheriff Will went to talk to him at the prison several months ago. The guy had also been in the Army Reserve according to Sheriff Will, but was tossed out (not the word Sheriff Will used, but I can't think of what he actually said). Whatever the proper words are, the guy was kicked out of the Army Reserve after he got caught selling some of the stolen stuff.

This makes us wonder about Norton all over again. We know it was hit, since the park was, but the jail isn't too far from town according to Sheriff Will, so if this guy survived, Sheriff Will figures a lot of other bad guys did too. Even weirder, the bullet cans and gas cans we took from the back of the truck were all marked with 'Norton NGA', which one of the other men from Jennings thinks means it came from the National Guard Armory in Norton. It would kind of explain the other Army trucks, but how did stuff from there survive? One thing is for sure, we don't want to be going back up to Norton again unless we have to. Way too much bad stuff up there!

We are going to try to get to Angus' house tomorrow. We know from Luke, Colby was hit and the town of Gem is… I think he used the word 'flattened'. We do know the rainstorm we got this afternoon came from the direction of Colby and the rain had some extra radiation in it. Not much, but enough to where we hung the clothing we were wearing up to dry and Mr. K. said we need to find clean water and try to wash them, then check them again. If they still show extra radiation he wants us to toss them.

At least we have extra clothing. Several people here died because of the fires, earthquakes, windstorm, and bad water. The rest left. So we were able to search houses where kids our age used to live since Luke knew them all. We all found stuff we can wear, but I am wearing stuff from a kid by the name of Henry, who ended up with one of the school teachers here. (More on Henry in a minute here) but what is important about his clothing is it fits me really well, other than I must be like two inches taller than him so all the pants are too short, but they work. At least I know I am wearing stuff belonging to a kid who is probably still alive. Most of the others aren't. I don't know if they have really thought about it much, though. It's still kind of creepy to think about.

Another really good thing is we found insulin, blood sugar testers, and strips for them in a couple of different houses. One of them had the wrong type of insulin, but Sheriff Will said he was sure the doctor would know how to adjust things so he could use it if necessary. With what he has plus the clinic and now the extra unused bottles, he is sure he has enough for five or six months. We are still going to look for more, though. Colby had a hospital, but it is probably gone, but we can look in abandoned houses, which is not something we thought about until now.

One thing we are wondering is about Colby. Since we know it was hit, we are all afraid to see what we will find as we get closer. On the other hand, if people like the prisoners from just outside of Norton lived then we are all hoping the same might have happened in Colby. I know I am still holding on to all kinds of hope, but the other half of me says I need to be ready for the worst. No one else has really said anything out loud, but I'm pretty sure most of them are thinking the same way I am.

Devin is mad, though. He really wants to go to Oberlin. Because of this, we will make Oberlin our next stop after we check Colby and Angus' farm. Part of me is looking forward to getting out of this area since the Army guys are here, so going north to Oberlin isn't a bad thing. The problem is part of me thinks the kid, Henry, who I don't know but am wearing his clothing, may be around here. We know from Luke, Henry went to live with a Mr. Ward, who was a school teacher here. We know, again from Luke, he is pretty sure he saw Henry as Mr. Ward went his own way after most everyone left Selden. Finally we know Mr. Ward hooked up with the Army jerks and came back looking for Luke and even left a note saying Luke could live, basically had to live, with Mr. Ward and Henry.

It doesn't take much of leap of faith to say those Army jerks have Henry. Since I am wearing his clothing, I kind of feel we should try to find and rescue him. To do nothing seems wrong and un-Christian because, if those jerks have him, it can't be good for Henry. The problem is, I don't really want to go looking for a fight and neither does anyone else… Maybe Gage does, but I don't think even he wants to take them on head on. Besides, if we did, then there is a chance we would hurt Henry in all the shooting, since there definitely would be shooting.

There is one other weird thing I keep thinking about when it comes to Henry, although I am pretty sure I am the only one thinking it, since I am wearing his clothing. When we went into Henry's house it didn't look touched, the windows were broken and there was lots of wind and weather damage, but all the belongings were there, all of them. The closet in Henry's room was full, as were his dresser and footlocker which had lots of toys and junk. It seems strange, as small as this town is, that Mr. Ward didn't stop by and grab a bunch of Henry's stuff.

Ram and Vern found a couple of really nice slingshots and even a pack of extra rubber tube bands for them in Henry's stuff and they took them. I guess it is no different than me taking his clothing, but this just seems like stealing. Man, I sure wish I could talk to a minister about this kind of thing. At some point we have to be doing wrong, but if it is in an abandoned home… I just want to make sure I am doing what God wants and not what I want. At the same time, I am sure he wants those of us who lived to continue to do so. This is all so messed up.

Speaking of abandoned homes, I really wanted to check out Mr. Ward's house to see what it was like. Unfortunately, it is way too close to southwest edge of town, like right on the edge, which is the same direction the Army guys came and went from. So by the time I thought about wanting to see it, the guys from Jennings were here and Sheriff Will told us to keep at least one block inside the town so a rifleman couldn't take a sniper shot at us. I know Sheriff Will is right, but maybe there are some answers inside Mr. Ward's house. Maybe I can convince Gage to spot for me as I take a look before we head out in the morning.'

Hunter reread what he wrote and nodded to himself. It looked and read way better than the first few entries and almost read like something he figured others would be interested in. He made a mental note to continue to improve and make it even better as he slid it back into his backpack, grabbed his rifle, clicked off the lantern, and exited the small inside room. He then moved over to Vernon who was gripping his rifle and peering out through the shuttered window, "You see something?"

Vernon gave a nod and pointed to the edge of Selden. "Keep watching right on the south edge of town, third house down."

Hunter gazed out the window for several minutes before a flashlight beam cut across the sky as someone came out of the building. The beam of light then disappeared behind the building as the owner moved out of line of sight. "Only one, or is there more?"

"I have only seen one." Vernon responded. "Whoever it is, is moving from building to building and doing so real slow."

"Might be searching for food or something." Hunter guessed aloud.

"Or trying to draw us out into a trap." Vernon grumbled. "I tried to use those night seeing goggles we found, but everything is all green and screwy, so I turned them off. At least there is decent moonlight and no real cloud cover tonight so we can see OK. Do you think we should get Gage up to take a look?"

Hunter considered the question for a few seconded before shaking his head, "No, let everyone sleep. We are almost a quarter of a mile from Selden and uphill here, so we will be able to see if anyone comes this way. Let them search in peace. Besides if it is some lone survivor, he will be jumpy enough. I'll go check the back side of the house just to make sure we are safe here. I don't want whoever is out there to be so much of a distraction we forget to cover every other directions."

Hunter then forced a smile and a chuckle, "Besides, walking around in this cool air will keep me awake."

"I'll keep an eye out on Mr. Flashlight, which will keep me awake, cause even thinking it might be one of those Army pukes scares the crud out of me."

Hunter let out a sigh of agreement as he moved around the perimeter of the house taking several seconds to look out of each window. An hour later he moved back over to Vernon just as the first hint of light could be seen on the horizon. "Anything more on Mr. Flashlight?"

"I lost track of him after he went into the half-burned out house with the leaning chimney. He could be anywhere in town at this point, but I fingered it was taking him about twenty minutes per house, so he can't be more than three buildings away from there by now." Vernon held up his wrist showing one of the dozen wind-up watches they had found in the town they were now looking at.

"At least we can all tell what time it is without bothering Zeki or having him hang his watch up on a nail somewhere."

"No joke there. Whoever thought the world would go back to a time where we need watches again? My cell phone has been my clock since Mom got me it when I turned ten!"

Hunter chuckled, "Me too. I think I tossed my watch into a box in my room somewhere like a week after Dad got me my cell phone, but I bet it died like our phones did since it was digital."

"Yeah, never really thought about electronic watches all dying like everything else did. I really want to find out who caused all this and kick them in the nuts."

"I think whoever started this should be tied up and every survivor ought to be able to do something to him." Gage stated as he came up the stairs. "So what's for breakfast?"

Hunter tossed Gage a full box of Nutri-Grain bars and pointed to a couple of jars of canned peaches on the kitchen table. "We saw movement in town, so we should go without cooking this morning."

Gage's shoulders sagged, "Didn't we find some other fruit?"

"Apples." Vernon responded with a snort.

"Aw, crap," Gage muttered, "I'm appled out. Fine, peaches it is."

This got a snicker out of Hunter, "Man, you really are grumpy when you take a middle watch. Why didn't you sleep in a bit longer?"

Gage looked up at the badly cracked and water damaged ceiling as he answered, "Because Angus started doing his 'snoring before he wakes up thing' and I was right next to him!"

This got some giggles out of both Vernon and Hunter which, in turn, caused Gage to rip the wrapper off one of the breakfast bars and take a huge bite of it.

Vernon couldn't help but giggle at the expression on Gage's face. "You could have just covered your ears for fifteen or twenty minutes, cause Angus will be up and moving soon."

"Once I'm up, I'm up. But this is the last time I am sleeping next to him!"

The three boys ate before going outside to the old pump well and drawing some water. They took turns standing guard and washing up. By the time they were done, the others were stirring.

Two full hours passed before everyone was fed, cleaned and organized. Angus and Luke then did a full inspection of the van they had tucked into the half collapsed barn next to the house. As the two boys joined the others, Luke looked back at the nearby town and chewed on his lip for a few seconds. "I just know this is the last time I will see the only place I ever lived."

Vernon, who had put aside all anger over Luke abandoning the troop, moved over to Luke's side, "Maybe one of these years the world will get put back together and we will end up with a big bar-b-que at your place."

This got a sad looking smile out of Luke who shrugged, "Not unless we find at least one of my family; I don't think I could ever have fun here without at least one of them… You know what is weird though?"

Devin cocked his head to the side, "I think everything has been kind of weird over the last two weeks. Which one of the hundreds of weirdnesses are you thinking about?"

"It's leaving here; this whole place reminds me of all the bad, all the death, all the… fear. I hate it all, I hate this place, but at the same time I don't want to forget any of fun times, the crazy things I did here. This is home and I hate it and love it all."

"At least you have photo albums up in Jennings." Ramsey sighed, "I got nothing other than the photos I had in my phone, but it's dead. I keep hoping we will find a computer with a micro card reader and the pictures are still there, but I bet they aren't."

Hunter nodded solemnly, "If anything in Colby survived, your house probably has the best chance since you lived on the edge of town."

"But I have to be able to get to it, even if it is still standing." Ramsey sighed, "I think it would be worse to be able to see my house still there and not be able to get to it because of radiation, than to find out it was destroyed…"

This caused several moments of silence as all the kids thought over Ramsey's words. Finally Gage spoke. "Guys, wondering if your homes are standing and if you can get to them isn't doing much good. We need to find out first, then we can figure out what to do afterwards."

Hunter glanced over realizing Gage had said 'your homes' and not our homes. "So you don't care about yours?"

"Not really." Gage responded without hesitation. "I wouldn't mind having a few things out of my house, like my wood carving set Ram's dad bought me."

Before anyone could speak up, Gage took a couple of steps back so he could look at all the others, "Look, I'm glad I am here with you all, but this ain't home for me. The only place I'm worried about, as far as I go, is my dad and his place. I don't want to make it sound like none of you matter, 'cause you do; but as far as me, I don't have a home here." He paused to look over at Ramsey, "Don't think I am saying I don't care, Ram. Your place is the closest thing I have to a home here. Your parents are awesome. Your whole family means way more to me than my mom does, and I want all you all's families to be OK.

"Just don't expect me to care much if my mom's place is standing or not. I don't and I won't care much one way or the other no matter how we find it, or if we can even get to it, OK?"

Vernon frowned deeply, "Do you really hate your mom as much as it seems?"

Gage's voice went cold as he spoke, "Pretty much. I care about her as much as she cares or cared about me; nothing more."

"You know, the whole reason I never invited you over was my dad didn't like the way you treated your mom." Hunter informed Gage.

This got a bit of a smirk out of Gage, "Dude, no insult intended, but I don't think I would have stayed at your house even if you had asked. Your family and the whole Church thing… well, let's just say I'm not convinced anyone or anything is out there. At least not some grand good guy, cause if there was, my life wouldn't be the shit it has been."

Gage then glanced over at Zeki, "Which is the same reason I never took you up on your offer to come spend the night. I don't care what religion you are and I sure don't look at you and think 'terrorist', but I have heard you and seen you do your prayer thing toward Mecca or whatever and I have zero interest; nor did I want it shoved down my throat. The whole 'God thing' makes no sense and worshiping something the way you and Hunter do… I want no part of it. The rest of you all go to church too, but Ram's dad figured out the first time I stayed over his place that church was not something I wanted any part of, so he pulled me aside, asked if I would go once, just to check it out and after the first time he let me sleep in while they all went."

"Except you didn't really sleep in. You cleaned up around the house and even mowed the lawn and junk while we went."

Gage snickered, "I kind of felt bad. If you had to get up and listen to some blowhard, then I figured I should do something too. Besides, mowing, cleaning up the garage, and stuff was good for you since the dust and grass smell was pretty much gone by the time you got back, so your asthma didn't act up as much."

"Dad figured that all out after the second or third time you did it, and was extremely thankful. Mom still had some problems, but after like four times of you staying home while we went to church and you doing stuff around the house while we were gone, she really started trusting you. She still felt you could do with more God in your life, but said you have a good heart."

Gage shook his head, "Look around, guys, how much God can there be? How would any all powerful being allow this to happen?"

Hunter started to say something but stopped himself. Instead he nodded in fake understanding as a determination settled in to point out just how much God's hand had played a part in all their lives over the past couple of weeks. But now was not the time and he knew it. Instead he moved onto an entirely different topic. "Hopefully we'll all find family around here then we can help you find your dad."

This got a genuine smile out of Gage as he saw several others nod at Hunter's comment. "I was going to ask if any of you would be willing to try to go east at some point."

"Absolutely, Gage." Angus jumped in without hesitation. "Not only do you deserve a shot at finding your dad, but I think we all really would like to meet him."

Vernon nodded vigorously, "I know I sure would. Without him and what he taught you, we'd be in a world of hurt or dead by now."

'Which is exactly why you were sent here by God, Gage.' Hunter thought to himself, while wanting to scream it. Instead he pulled up his assault rifle, "Speaking of your skills, Gage, would you mind covering me while I check out something before we head out?"

This distracted everyone from the conversation at hand as all the kids turned to look at Hunter. At the same time, Gage quickly pulled up his hunting rifle since it had a scope. "Sure, Hunter, what's the plan?"

Hunter made a gesture with his left hand, motioning toward the town of Selden. "Something has been bothering me since we heard about Henry and checked out his house and stuff. I really want to take a look inside Mr. Ward's place to see if there are any clues on where he went or whatever."

"Does it matter?" Devin demanded to know. "The jerk hooked up with those Colorado Guard losers! What more do you need to know?"

Seeing others start to nod, Hunter held up his hand. "Look, I don't know for sure what I am looking for. Things just don't add up right and this whole thing with Mr. Ward seems off. Besides, if we ever come across those Army jerks again and they have Henry, maybe we can save him or whatever. Since we know, or at least think we know Mr. Ward has or had Henry, and we know is or at least was in this area, knowing more about the guy can't hurt."

Angus moved up and patted Hunter on the shoulder, "You all realize it would take like three of us to equal Hunter's brain. So if he thinks this is important, I'd say we go with it. But we all should go and keep you covered and at least one of us should go into the house with you, Hunter."

Seeing the others agreeing with Angus, Hunter finally gave a single nod, "Let's take the van, then, but come in the back way, away from Colby since we are pretty sure those Army guys came and went from the southwest. Also we need to keep a close look-out once we get into town since Vern and I saw someone looking through buildings last night."

It took only minutes for Angus to maneuver the van behind one of the outermost structures in Selden, a small pump house for a nearby mostly flooded farm field. He also made it a point to pick a spot where he couldn't be easily blocked in if the National Guard guys showed up again and shut off the engine. As he started to open the door, Luke pointed to a newer van half a block into town. "The tire size on Mr. William's van is the same is this one and has the same six lug nut pattern. How many spares do you have?"

"Just the one on the back door, but we are kind of out of room…" Angus responded.

"We can strap them to the roof," Luke stated then grinned. "But you will have to get them up there!"

Angus thumped his chest and smiled widely, "Sounds like a good morning workout to me!" He glanced over at Hunter, "It wouldn't be a bad thing to have extra tires already on the rims, either."

Hunter snickered at Angus' reaction, "Go for it, but remember what Hank told us. The more we carry, the less miles per gallon we are going to get and if we get stuck in the mud with a heavy load, the winch he put on front won't be able to pull us out."

"Yeah, but we won't go far with a flat either." Luke countered.

Hunter shrugged, "Fine, but you'll need a guard. Ram, why don't you keep an eye out on Luke and Gus. Gage can watch the edge of town. Vern, cover me and Devin and Zeek, you two have the van. Just remember we did see someone poking around last night, but it could be a survivor looking for supplies, so don't get too jumpy."

Once he was sure everyone was OK with what he expected, Hunter glanced over to Luke who was getting the jack out of the back of the van. "So his house is right there?" Hunter eyed the large house with several nice outbuildings with skepticism.

"Yeah," Luke nodded, "everyone thinks he inherited a bunch of money before he came here. He bought the land and had it built by some fancy contractor out of Denver. Dad said Mr. Ward paid a whole lot of money for nothing, since he could have done the job just as good, if not better. I know Dad didn't like the way the backhoe driver worked either. He said the guy either didn't know how to pile dirt or he dug too deep. But once he saw the large shed was getting a basement, he kind of chalked up all the extra dirt to it. There is a swimming pool in the back too, so quite a bit of dirt had to come out for it. Still, the mounds they took out left Dad scratching his head."

Luke jerked his head in the direction of the estate. "With parent's permission and a signed waver, Mr. Ward lets kids use the pool during the summers, but we had to shower in the small shed just to the north beforehand. He even had a dozen lockers put in once he found out how popular it was going to be. I don't think anyone has ever been in the main house though. We have seen some guests come from out of town, but no one I know from Selden has ever been inside the main house.

"He has held some pretty nice parties for the town. We had a great one for New Years where he had some pro fireworks at midnight and outdoor heaters and the back garage was used for the food and stuff. The main house stayed off limits though."

"Professional fireworks?" Vernon whistled softly. "So he is like totally loaded! Must be nice." He paused and looked over at Devin, "Wouldn't happen to be a friend of your family, would he?"

Devin shook his head, totally missing the intended barb, "No, I've never heard of a Mr. Ward before. I'm sure Dad would have mentioned him otherwise…"

Ramsey made a coughing sound to hide his snickering at how clueless Devin was sometimes. Instead he shifted the conversation slightly. "I can't see him driving an old VW van when he owns such a huge spread."

Luke snickered, "He always was driving it, even though he has a big RV and a Land Rover too, but I don't see the RV. But maybe his wife took it. She was always going to Wichita or Grand Island for shopping and overnight trips and stuff, and at least once a month went to Kansas City or Denver for several days. She drives or drove a Cadillac SUV too. We don't think she works, either."

Luke let out a long breath, "Having a town swimming pool was kind of nice though."

"Must be nice," Devin grumbled. "I have been trying to get Dad to put in a swimming pool for a long time!"

No one said anything, but a few of them turned their backs and rolled their eyes at the comment.

Hunter started moving toward the house and let out a deep breath. As he got closer and could really see how nice everything was, he muttered, "Got to wonder why he moved out here and became a teacher if he is this rich."

Vernon was the only one to hear the comment since he was the one keeping guard for Hunter, "Nothing better to do with his time and gets all summer off. Not too bad of a gig, if you ask me."

"I guess," Hunter then paused and looked over to make sure he was out of earshot of Devin, "but come on, Vern. Can you see Devin working, really working, ever?"

"Not until this happened, no," Vernon snickered. "Even now, I bet he will try to find a way to slide through without really doing anything. At least he can talk and is a good organizer, cause he sure can't help in a fight."

"Yeah, but he is still one of us. I am more concerned with this Mr. Ward at the moment though." Hunter moved to the front door and tried the knob. It spun, but the deadbolt above it was locked. He frowned deeply, as conflicting morals collided with each other. Part of him wanted to do what he could for Henry, while the other part couldn't get past the fact the door was locked.

As Hunter moved around to the side of the house, noting all the windows had bars over them, Gage rolled his eyes and motioned for Vernon to keep watch on the roads coming into town. Gage moved over to the back of the van, grabbed Angus' 10-gauge shotgun and whistled loudly to warn everyone he was about to shoot.

Without even waiting for Hunter to move back around to the front door, Gage flipped off the safety, moved to the side of the door and fired a shot into the door from only a yard away. The shot blew the front of the deadbolt lock clean off and pealed back the fake wood finish revealing a marred, but fully intact metal door underneath. "Ok, then… I am really glad I didn't stand right in front of it!"

Hunter moved around, shot a glance at the door, then raised an eyebrow as he looked over at Gage, "Seriously? Can't you just let me walk around and see if there is another way in before you try to shoot the place up?"

"Good luck…" Gage tuned and rattled the doorknob, noting the door itself didn't even wiggle. He then kicked the door while grumbling, "This place is made so no one can get in! Take a look at the windows; they all have wire mesh running through them and none are broken! It's like the safety glass we have in the schools back in St. Louis. They also have thick shutters on the inside and all of them are closed. The storms, wind, hail, earthquakes and wind didn't even annoy this place!"

Hunter moved up and looked through the bars over the nearest window and frowned even more as he realized Gage was correct. After inspecting a couple more windows, and seeing the same thing. The bars were all deeply anchored into the building. If they opened it had to be from the inside somehow, but as best as Hunter could tell the bars were permanent fixtures.

As Hunter came back over to Gage he held up his hands showing his befuddlement, "This Mr. Ward must be real paranoid or something."

Gage shot Hunter a smirk as he held up a hand grenade, "I bet the door won't stand up to this!"

Hunter put his hand over his face and shook his head slowly, knowing Mr. K. would have a fit if he knew Gage was carrying hand grenades. The man had collected all of them they had come across. However, it just seemed fate was dead set on the kid carrying a few. Upon finding the military packs on the two Gage had shot the day before, he had taken the grenades and hidden them in his pack. Hunter almost told Sheriff Will about them, but decided to let it go. Now he wished he hadn't. "I know you have been dying to find out what one of those things do, but this is still someone's house! At least let me try to figure out a way in without blowing the place up…"

Gage let out a sigh, "Hunter, you are really a buzz kill sometimes. Let me know if you need anything. I'll be over at the south edge of the house keeping an eye out."

Hunter didn't know whether to laugh or cry as he moved up to the door and looked at the hole made when Gage shot off the doorknob. While Hunter had zero inclination to be within miles of a grenade explosion, Gage longed for it. Even as he peered into the small hole and poked his finger into it, he couldn't help but wonder what Gage would have been like on the annual Fourth of July fireworks party Angus' parents used to hold. There was little question Gage would have been one of the kids begging to shoot off all the really big stuff.

After a few seconds of fiddling with the mechanism, Hunter was once again glad he had helped out on the Eagle Scout project to build homes for three families who had lost their homes to foreclosures. He was able to identify the lock and how it operated because he had been one to put on the doorknobs and locks. He pulled out his pocket knife, opened up the small file, and stuck it in to the slot to lift up on the actual lock then jammed his fingernail clipper file into the deadbolt assembly and twisted until it popped open.

His success was tempered by the knowledge he was breaking into someone's home. He looked up, said a short prayer, asking for guidance, then turned the knob. This time the door opened a couple of inches but was stopped by a chain on the other side. "He sure didn't go out this way," Hunter stated to himself as he pushed on the door again as hard as he could and eyed the chain with a frown. The gap was too narrow to get the bolt cutters in and the chain had a protective round sheath around it to prevent a hacksaw from cutting it.

Hunter chewed on this inside of his mouth, "OK, he is either hiding something or is beyond paranoid!" Hunter briefly considered Gage's grenade idea, but just as quickly dismissed it. Instead he backed off and glanced over to Gage who was scanning the area beyond the line of defoliated trees with the scope of his hunting rifle. "Hey, do you know if we have any slug ammo for the shotguns? I know I don't have any for mine."

Gage glanced over at Hunter with a confused look, "Slug ammo?"

This caused Hunter to stop and eye the boy with a great deal of surprise, "Yeah, a shotgun round with a solid slug instead of shot or pellets."

Gage's head turned to the side slowly, as if trying to figure out if Hunter was teasing him. Seeing nothing to indicate deception, and realizing Hunter would be the last person to make someone look dumb, he shrugged, "Dude, no clue. I had no idea they made such a thing."

"Really?" Vernon's voice betrayed his shock at finding out there was something about guns Gage didn't know.

Hunter snickered, "Wow, we taught the gun nut something!"

"How about telling me why you would shove a slug in a shotgun?" Gage all but demanded.

"Hunting big game," Vernon responded. "Dad uses a shotgun for deer hunting because he can hunt closer to towns without worrying about where a high-powered rifle round will go if he misses. He has to change the choke out on his shotgun before he switches over. His gun case comes with the extra choke, so I guess it was designed for shooting slug. He can also attach a scope."

"A scope on a shotgun?" Gage eyed Vernon suspiciously but stopped as he saw Hunter nodding. "You've seen this too?"

Hunter jerked his head over in Vernon's direction. "My dad has the same set up as Vern's, but he won't let me fire slug yet, though. He says the kick is way too much."

"It does!" Vernon growled. "Dad and his dad let me shoot one once because I kept begging them. My shoulder was bruised for a week and Mom got really mad at Dad over it."

"And here I thought getting shot with one of your musket balls was bad!" Gage snickered as he once again scanned the area. "I know the one you fired sure knocked the Army guy on his ass."

"So why do you need a slug round, Hunter?" Vernon asked while grinning at the complement.

Hunter pointed at the front door, "Stupid things has chain with saw guard."

Gage backed up while keeping an eye on the main road leading in and handed the 10 gauge over to Hunter, "Take this back to the van and see if we have any slug ammo. If not I still have grenades…"

Vernon couldn't help but snicker at the glimmer in Gage's eyes. "You know if Mr. K. finds out you kept some, he may very well beat your butt, right?"

Gage glanced over his shoulder with a big smirk, "Then please don't tell him."

Hunter groaned as he took the shotgun from Gage and made his way back to the van. As he got close, he noted Angus kneeling on the top of the van and lifting one of the tires onto the roof while Luke and Ramsey struggled to heft the second one up high enough for Angus to grab. At the same time Devin kept watch, clearly wanting nothing to do with lifting anything so heavy.

Hunter waited until Angus had secured the second tire and jumped down before speaking up, "Do we happen to have any shogun slug ammo?"

"Slug," Ramsey asked, "what you blasting?"

"A chain off the inside of Mr. Ward's door. The door is metal and the chain has a guard. It's the best I could come up with unless one of you has a better idea."

"None I can think of," Angus admitted, "but I don't have in slug ammo for my 10 gauge."

Devin nodded and moved over to the van, "I got you covered, Hunter. Give me a few." He dug into the stored gear and came up with a case for his shotgun. He handed over the shotgun and followed it up with a box of twenty-five 12-gage slugs and a different choke for the shotgun he had traded for. Seeing the others all looking at him, he grinned, "Part of the deal I made. I have another box of twenty-five slugs and hunting scope too, if you need it."

Hunter almost refused the scope, but after a brief pause, he decided to take it just so he could show Gage what a big game hunting shotgun looked like. It took only a couple of minutes to change to choke and attach the scope. "Hopefully I'll only need one shot."

Angus glanced over, "You sure you don't want me to shoot whatever you want to destroy? Those come with a kick and you don't have extra padding on the butt."

Devin held up a finger, "Oh, yeah, forgot about the padding. I got a gel butt pad for shooting shot too, just a sec."

Angus let out a humor filled snort as he took the shotgun and affixed the gel pad, "This is why we need to have Devin with us! He trades an assault rifle and ammo, both of which we found in over abundance, for a full shotgun set-up worth well over eighteen hundred bucks!"

"More," Ramsey snickered, "way more. That is a top-end Bushnell laser range finder scope. Dad has been wanting one of those for a while. The scope itself is well over a grand and a half."

"It only cost me six extra clips for the scope and each of the dead guys had like ten or twelve so it wasn't a big deal to me."

"It's official." Hunter half joked, "When we find a store of some sort, Devin does all the deals."

Devin gave a satisfied grin as he watched Hunter move back over to the large house with the shotgun.

At the same time Ramsey snickered, "Nice trade, I can't believe you got a range finder scope out of the deal!"

"I saw it sitting in its box like it the guy really didn't want it or wasn't using it and he kept eyeing the eight clips of ammo I was offering with the M-16, so I knew he really wanted more bullets. I just knew I could swing it, so I pointed at the scope, asked if I could check it out, and put down six more full, thirty-round magazines. I could tell by the way he winced I was pushing it, but the deal was so close I dropped one of the cleaning kits on the table and shrugged like I was saying take it or leave it. He took it."

Ramsey frowned, "I thought everyone who traded out a gun for an M-16 got one of the cleaning kits…"

Devin snickered, "They all did, but I got extra stuff out of each of them by holding it till the end. Oh, except the old guy, Mr. Blankly, who traded out for the 410 Lever-Action shotgun Zeek wanted once he saw it. I kind of felt bad for Mr. Blankly since he was all alone and really wanted someone to talk to more than he wanted an M-16. He had to be like eighty years old, too, so I didn't really want to mess with him. Besides, he offered up all the 410 ammo he had for it, which was just under 500-rounds. Most of it was reloads he did himself, but I am sure by the way the guy talked… Well, I just know every one of those shots will fire." Devin chuckled, "Plus, I was finally able to pawn Zeek off on him, so he could learn how to use it, clean it and care for it. The guy kept him for like nine hours and ended up really liking Zeek."

Ramsey stared at Devin for several seconds before speaking. "Man, you are devious. So what other treasures did you get by holding the cleaning kits for last?"

Devin gave Ramsey a wicked grin, "One guy gave me a bunch of old coins, mostly badly worn dimes and quarters, but they are all old enough to be totally silver."

"The woman in Erma's bridge club gave me five full packs of Oreo's she was keeping for her grandkids, who she was sure wouldn't be making it from Boston and she didn't want them around to remind her of them. She also gave me a flare gun and the six shots included with it. I guess her husband bought it for a boat they never ended up buying."

"The mayor's brother traded a Ruger .40 caliber and a Nighthawk .45 caliber pistol with a flashlight attachment on the bottom, plus the tactical flashlight to go with it. He had like ten pistols and no rifles, so he really wanted one of the M-16's. He tossed in a .25 pistol as soon as he saw me hold up the cleaning kit. He only had a single box of ammo for each, but the guns are all in cases next to the flare gun.

"Then there was the tall, lanky farm kid who lost everyone other than his little brother and sister. His place was hit by raiders of some sort like the second or third day and they hid in the cellar as their house was plundered. They never found them, thank God, but he wanted a 'scary looking rifle'… His words, not mine. He is the one I got the extra .38 and all the .38 bullets from, plus those ten small silver ingots from, since he wanted a whole ammo can of bullets and one of the nine millimeters. As I showed him the cleaning kit, he tossed in his dad's crossbow and twenty shots for it, since his dad was killed and he had no idea how to hunt with a crossbow. It's in the plastic case in the far back.

"Finally old Mr. Norman, who gave me one of his two 30-06 with a scope and 60 rounds in exchange for one of the few remaining M-4's, saw the gun cleaning kit for it and gave me two boxes of LED solar recharging lights, so even if our flashlights go dead we can use those and he pointed out they come with rechargeable AA batteries so we can recharge batteries with them and he tossed in an extra eight pack of rechargeable AA batteries since he had a few extra packs."

"Wow," Ramsey chuckled, "you are devious! But why a .30-06 and all the handguns?"

"Gage's idea," Devin shrugged. "He gave me a list of gun calibers I should try to get while we were visiting Mr. Korbal. He wanted them since they are the most popular ammo types. He said we should get at least one gun in each, so we could use almost any ammo we come across. Mr. Korbal gave Gage a thumb's up too, so I figured I'd get as many as I could from his list. The only two I failed on as far as pistols go was a ten-millimeter and a .357 magnum.

"I fell way short on rifles because most people really didn't want to part with what they had, but one of the ones on the list Gage gave me was a seven millimeter. As luck would have it, however, Luke's hunting rifle is a seven millimeter, so I guess Gage was right to put it on the list. His dad also had .243, which we have with us. I still need to come up with a .270, .30-30, .300, .338, and a .50 cal, but his long list is stupid long and even he admits those are all way down on the list of popular ammunition types.

"The thing is, I can't keep collecting stuff because we were already running out of room in the van and now we have Luke, his gear, and his drinks. I still can't believe he is really mad at Mr. Korbal over making him drink water."

Before more could be said, a single shot caused all the kids to glance over at Mr. Ward's house. Gage was shaking his head as he handed back the shotgun to Hunter, while the door swung fully open. Ramsey couldn't help but snicker as he saw Gage reach up and rub his shoulder. "Looks like the padding wasn't enough."

Devin grinned, "Might have something to do with the deep bruise he got when he fired his grenade launcher while we were on the train. The doctor and nurse spent like half an hour making sure his shoulder was not out of socket. I didn't see it, since he won't let us, but I heard it was really black and blue."

"I should feel sorry for him," Ramsey smirked, "but I just can't. I still think he is crazy for carrying it."

Before more could be said, a limping man came from behind a nearby building, causing Ramsey to jerk up his rifle, push Devin behind the van for cover, and shout out, "Guys! We got company!"

"Kids… Don't shoot… Please… I'm not armed."

Angus came around the far side of the van, dropped to a knee, and pulled his pistol, while Luke peaked around the opposite side with his hand on his pistol, but not pulling it. The very idea of pointing a firearm at someone made his life flash before his eyes as another part of his brain told him what his dad would do to him if the man ever found out.

The man shook like a leaf as the muzzle of Zeki's shotgun poked out of the back of the van and pointed at him as well. "Really… I'm not armed!"

"Hunter!" Angus called out.

Hunter turned away from the door and saw the lone figure holding up his hands and quivering. He glanced over to Vernon and Gage. "Keep a look out in case this is a distraction."

Gage took a single glance and snorted, "Yeah, he looks pretty well covered to me. Vern, take the north side of the house and keep your eyes to the east. I'll take the south side and scan west. This way we keep everything guarded while Hunter deals with this dude."

Hunter waited until he was sure both Vernon and Gage were in good spots before he made his way toward the lone figure. He took one glance back toward the open door, somewhat aggravated the house would have to wait. As he got close enough to where he didn't have to shout, he eyed the man suspiciously, then spoke up loudly enough for those at the van could all hear him. "Mister no one here wants to hurt you, but there are some very bad people around here."

The man noticeably gulped, "How close?" He then added, "The others with me are all hurt worse than me and we're starving…"


The man didn't fully lower his right arm, but managed to point with his wrist and finger while lowering his arm just enough to indicate a direction to the southeast. "I came from over there. We saw headlights last night, the first sign of people we have see in… well since the crash. I came toward the lights, but then they disappeared, but then I could see the water tower in the moonlight and walked straight toward it, um, not sure how far… Maybe three or four miles?"

"Angus," Hunter glanced over at his best friend, "would you mind checking him for weapons so we can let him drop his hands and give him something to eat?"

Angus nodded, knowing Hunter had picked him because he was the strongest and least likely to be able to be easily grabbed and controlled by an adult. As he moved up, he could see the guy was thin and looked pale. He expected the man to smell bad, but as he moved up, he was glad to get a whiff of soap smell about the guy. One thing, which did stand out, was everything the man was wearing, other than his coat, had some burn holes and singe marks and his pants were coated with mud up to his mid thighs. The man had made a backpack out of a large sweatshirt, but all it held was clothing.

The man didn't move as Angus came up, holstered his pistol and patted him down. "Seems clean, Hunter."

Hunter let out a long breath and glanced over to Devin, while motioning for the man to put down his arms which the guy did with a look of gratitude and exhaustion. "Good a time as any to get rid of a jar of apples."

After a few moments of hesitation Hunter couldn't stand it any longer, "Come on, sir. Take a seat on the tire we were about to put up on the roof of the van. You don't look too good."

"Hungry, very hungry," the man stated as he plopped down on the tire. "Where are your folks?"

Devin came over with a jar of apple sauce and handed it to the man. "We are trying to find them. We were on a scout trip when the bombs hit."

The man took the offered jar, and tilted it back, basically drinking some of the contents. "Holy crap! This tastes so good, you don't even know!"

He took another gulp and followed it up with a couple of deep breaths, "I'm sorry… I'm just so hungry… So you all are out here alone?"

"No," Ramsey lied while cutting off Hunter, "our scout leader is trying to see if he can fix our other vehicle with parts from some of the cars in town. He told us to see what we could find and get the tires off the other van so we had extras."

The guy took another gulp of applesauce and paused as he started to get sick.

Hunter move up and grabbed the jar before it fell out of the man's hands. "Take it easy mister. If you haven't eaten in a while, eating too fast will make you sick and waste the food."

The man put his elbows on his thighs and dropped his head into his hands as he fought to keep the food in. After almost a full minute, he finally nodded, "Again, I'm sorry boys. But I have to find some food and get back…"

"Sir, you aren't in any shape to go anywhere." Angus stated without hesitation. "Rest for a few and tell us who you need to get back to."

The man ran his hand through his shaggy brown hair and sighed in defeat. "We were going from Des Moines to San Diego when we got hit by a huge shockwave. We crashed and... and we don't even know where we are at. Some of us in the back survived…"

Ramsey's eye went wide, cutting the man off, "You were in a plane when the bombs hit?"

The man managed a nod, then rubbed his whisker-covered face. "A 737 I think. Whatever it was, it broke up into several pieces. It felt like the pilots almost held it, but I guess there was just too much wrong. The wings tore off and sent burning gas all over. Those in the middle sections didn't stand a chance. They all got sprayed with burning gas. The nose part slammed into a small rock formation, but some in the back of the front part lived. If it hadn't started raining, I think we all would have died. I'm not sure if we were lucky or not, though."

"God had to have been with you for you to have lived." Hunter stated with a mixture of awe and sympathy.

The man made a grunting sound and said nothing for several seconds. Finally he glanced up, "Close to ninety of us were breathing after the crash. Sixty-two of us were alive two days after the crash… When those of us who were strong enough to search for help left the others yesterday, there were forty-six left. A total of six of us, including two boys not much older than you all, took off in different directions to look for help and food." He then glanced up at Hunter. "We were eating leaves and grass…There was even talk of eating the dead."

Several of the boys turned away as they heard the words, but Hunter forced himself to stay focused on the man. "Do you know where the plane is from here?"

The man looked skyward, "I tried to move as close to straight west as I could, but there were so many areas of flowing water, I didn't want to chance it. I followed the high ground as long as I could, hoping to spot a house or building, but didn't come across one until midday yesterday. It had a tractor with a trailer pulled across the driveway with a sign painted on it saying trespassers would be shot. I almost went for it anyway, but something told me I better not.

"I then came across this farm just as the sun was going down. There were pigs all over and um, I could tell someone had been there since there were tire tracks in the mud. I searched the place, but came up with nothing other than a couple changes of clothing that really don't fit and a decent coat which is also too big, but as cold as the rains are, it's nice to have. I was going to stay, but saw the headlights. And could see the water tower in the moonlight too, so it thought…" The man let out a sob, "Where are all the people? I need help!"

"You got help, sir." Ramsey stated firmly. "We are right here." He then glanced over at Hunter, "We can't leave those people out there…"

"No, we can't," Hunter agreed without any hesitation. "But we are going to need as much food as we can find. Then we can figure out how to transport forty people once we find them."

"There has got to be a tractor and hay trailer somewhere close by," Angus jumped in. "You're right, though. We need to get there with food, clothing and other stuff first, then we can look for transport to get them to Jennings. If we can't find any, we'll get help from Sheriff Will."

Zeki finally spoke up, "Forty be lot of food, Hunter. Not have nothing left if we feed all."

Luke jerked his head back toward town, "There is other stuff buried in the collapsed part of Mr. Woodson's store. I just didn't want to push my luck any further."

"We still have those Army jerks around here, too." Devin warned.

Angus' mouth scrunched up some as he thought about everything he had heard from Luke, "Hey, are there any trailers left in town?"

Luke glanced over with a raised eyebrow. "Yeah, my dad had three, but your friends took two to get everything back up to Jennings. But we got nothing to tow it with."

Angus' head tilted to the side, "You said they got some cars and pickups up and running to leave town with. When the firefighter dude left town with the others, did he take the backhoe?"

Luke shook his head as his eye went wide. "No, it is parked up behind the hotel!"

Angus sent Hunter a smirk, "There's how we tow a trailer and we even got gas for it if it is low."

Hunter gave Angus a satisfied looking grin, "Nice one! We need to spilt up and get as much camping gear, sleeping bags, camp stoves and stuff as we can while Gage and Ram keep watch. Luke we need to know which houses to look in so we can round up as much as we can as fast as we can. I still want to take a look in Mr. Ward's house. Besides, maybe he has some stuff in there."

"Luke, let's get this other tire up on the roof and get to the backhoe." Angus stated while motioning for the man to stand so he could lift the tire.

The man wobbled as he tried to stand up so Angus gave him a hand. "You ride in the backhoe with me and point the way."

"You actually know how to use a backhoe?" The man asked skeptically.

"No," Angus shook his head, "not really, but I can drive a tractor. I also bet I can figure out enough to rip a bigger hole into the store with the backhoe part to see what is buried in there for you and the rest from the crashed plane. It can't be too much different than using the Bobcat front end loader."

The man took another sip from the jar of apple juice, making sure to not take too much in. "But a backhoe is not a tiny Bobcat."

Angus snickered, "No, but it is way smaller than a combine or a tiller tractor."

The man studied Angus looking for any sign of deceit. Finding none, he shook his head. "I guess I'm not in Kansas anymore then, huh?"

As several of the others busted up in laughter upon hearing the Wizard of Oz joke, Angus grunted with a huge smile, "Mister, most farm kids I know can. Most of us KANSAS farm kids that is!"

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