Castle Roland

Day of N

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 7

Published: 18 May 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

As they approached the farmhouse and barn, the older teen called out loudly, "Dad?"

The younger girl also shouted out, "Dad, where are you?"

A man in his late thirties rounded the barn with a rifle held awkwardly in his right hand, while his left arm hung down. Even with the rain and dark skies, all the kids could see drips of blood running down the left hand and into the muddy ground. Showing extreme determination, the man used the corner of the barn to help him brace his rifle. "Scott, who are those with you?"

"It's OK dad," The teen responded while moving up to the weakened man. "They are the missing scouts, and they saved all three of us!"

"Where are the soldiers?" The man demanded to know while looking past his son.

The older girl put her arm around Angus, "These guys took out three of them and hurt two of the others! They're gone!""Ran away..." The younger one announced while giving Hunter another hug, "Well, drove, but they left real fast!"

The man still didn't budge, "Scotty, you're bleeding, what about Nikki and Tamera?"

Vernon spoke up, "We didn't react fast enough to stop the one with the specialist rank from hitting your son, but no one else got too badly hurt." He nodded toward the girl they now all knew as Tamera, "She skinned her knees, but they didn't get to her…"

The man finally lowered his rifle, "Oh, thank God!" A moment later he collapsed into his son's arms, who struggled to lower him gently to the ground.

Tamera ran up shouting "Daddy!" Followed quickly by Nikki.

Hunter and Angus both moved up. While Angus helped pull the man into the barn out of the rain, Hunter pulled his pocket knife and cut the man's long sleeved shirt from the cuff all the way up to the shoulder. As he did so, he realized the entire sleeve was soaked with a mixture of blood and rain.

Vernon was next to move up, "Give Hunter room to see what he can do, guys!"

Scott stood and grabbed both his sisters, "None of us are going to be able to help him. Let's see if these guys can."

Tamera looked over at her dad and started crying. Seconds later Nikki broke down as well.

Scott held both girls as he slid down the side of the barn. Even though his head throbbed and his nose and split lip were killing him, he stayed totally focused on his father. "How bad is it?"

Hunter let out a long breath as he sliced a long strip off the man's shirt and tied it tightly around the bicep. "It looks like the bullet went all the way through. There is a hole in the front and a bigger one in the back and both are bleeding, but we didn't bring any first aid stuff. This will slow it down, but I need some real bandages and gauze pads or something like it!"

The man forced his eyes to open, "In the plane… I saw a medic kit… in the back... of the Hummer… back seat…"

Angus jumped up as did Devin, but Hunter held up his hand, "Gage, watch them, and Angus, take the shotgun!"

Scott pulled a handful of twelve gauge shells out of his pocket, while holding out the double-barreled shotgun he had been carrying. He then all but waved it at Devin, "Kid, take this, but you should be OK, there were only seven of them alive when we got to the plane, and one died while we were in it."

Devin eyed the weapon with a frown, so Vernon moved over and secured it. He opened the breach, and moved over to Devin, "It's easy, two triggers, one for each barrel. The shells go in here and this opens it up so you can put in more ammo. You only have two shots, but you saw what Hunter did to the guy beating up on Scott with only one."

Devin reluctantly took the weapon, opened and closed the breech a couple of times and finally nodded. "OK, but you need something more than a musket to guard Hunter and the others."

Vernon knelt, picked up the man's rifle and checked it over, ".30-.30." He grinned, "My first hunting rifle was one of these. We'll be fine."

The man weakly turned his head to the side to look at Vernon while reaching into his pants pocket with his good hand. He pulled out nine more rounds for the rifle. "It's all… I got left… I fired two shots… maybe three…"

Vernon moved up and knelt, taking the ammo and brushing off the dirt. "Relax, sir, we got this."

The man gave Vernon a slight nod and grabbed his hand. He then glanced over at his son, "So… Scotty… you still think scouting… is for pussies?"

Vernon glanced back and saw the teen's head drop with shame in his eyes.

Outside, Angus, Devin, and Gage moved up the muddy hill until they got right across from the wreck. By the time they got to the broken off wing of the C-130 their feet were all caked with copious amounts of heavy mud and they were all breathing hard, even Angus.

Angus stopped as he reached the rocky part of the hill and kicked his feet against the largest rock he could find. With each kick he could feel pounds of muck come off. "OK, get as much off as you can and take a minute. Get a drink from your canteens too."

While the others did as he instructed, Angus moved up to the top and knelt. Now that he was only twenty yards away from the bulk of the wreck, he realized just how big the plane was. He whistled softly as he noted the broken off engine was way longer than he was tall and bigger around than a truck. At the same time he noticed there were ruts of mud behind where the massive back loading ramp sat open.

He backed down toward the others slowly, keeping his eyes in the direction of the wreck the whole time. As soon as he got back to the others he spoke in a whisper, "Something was driven out of the back, and it was after the rains hit, cause I can still see deep mud tracks. But there is only one set of tracks, so they only got one truck out. Still, we have to be careful."

Devin nodded understanding and glanced over at Gage, "Make sure you are ready."

Gage looked over his rifle and nodded, "Let's do this."

Angus once again led the way. As they crested the hill, he went down into a crouch and moved the rest of the way down to the open ramp, having to avoid several hunks of debris as they did so. With a deep breath Angus readied the shotgun he was carrying and pressed his back against the outside of the fuselage. Once the others were behind him, he started to move around, only to be stopped by Devin.

"I have a shotgun too, and I'm a smaller target. Let me go first."

Seeing Angus was about to insist otherwise, Gage put his hand on the larger boy's shoulder. "He's right, you are a much bigger target and your silhouette will be framed in the open back while those inside will be in the dark and hard to see. But you guys have to let me do this," he cringed as he added, "I know how…"

Angus' eyebrow shot up clearly wanting to know more, but realized this was not the time. "OK, then you take the shotgun," he snarled softly as they switched weapons. Angus then gripped Gage's shoulder for a moment as he added, "No getting killed on us, newb."

For the first time hearing the term newb didn't hurt his feelings. He grinned and darted around the edge of the wreck, panning the shotgun over the width of the opening, while staying as low as he could. Nothing moved and, as he expected, it was pitch black beyond the first twenty or so feet. However, it was more than enough to see three dead men lying just off to the side. Their bodies were devoid of gear, but their uniforms clearly had patches on one shoulder showing a large 'C' with a ball in the middle, and the other was a crest with the words, "Remember the Mission" on it.

He cringed, but moved forward, while speaking just loudly enough for the other two to hear him, "Clear so far, but keep down and to the right. There is more cover over on the far side than this side."

Angus turned, saw the bodies and quickly turned his eyes away, "Oh, gross."

Devin was next. His first instinct was to check on the three bodies, but after only two steps he could see they were dead… their eyes staring blankly and all three of them bent into weird shapes no living person could obtain. He turned and puked.

Gage's eyes went wide as he darted behind Devin and helped by pulling the sickened boy away and behind the bumper of another Hummer. "Dude, you just made yourself a target!"

Devin took a few deep breaths and managed to whisper, "Sorry." He looked back over at the bodies realizing there were several more all along the right side of the craft. Many had been killed as stuff broke loose and others had been violently thrown around, as was evidence by blood smears all over the place. More than a few bodies had stuff sticking into them. Bile came up, but this time he was able to force it back down. He then moved past the gruesome scene, ducked behind the Humvee, and took a swig from his canteen.

From further in, Angus' voice echoed off the metal walls of the doomed craft, "There are more up here, guys… just to warn you, but no one took their stuff like the ones we passed up back there. There is also a third Hummer with lots of stuff on it. There is a couple of huge pallets of stuff stacked up behind it too, but some of it looks like it was taken. I'm not seeing anyone alive, though. There is a big stack of large hard-sided green boxes and other stuff tied all along the side of the plane. This is a bunch more on this side of the Hummers, but I'm not sure what it is and it looks like quite a bit of it broke loose and there are four cases that are open with nothing left inside."

Devin was still trying to recover after seeing all the dead, but managed to speak, "See if you can find the medic kit for Hunter and let's get out of here. We can come back once Hunter does what he can for the other kids' dad."

Angus moved up, noting the front Humvee had a flat tire and the passenger side was against the side of the aircraft, but it was still tied down, although the tie-downs were somewhat loose. He pulled open the driver door and instantly saw the keys were in the ignition. He shot a glance back to Gage and gave a silly little grin. "I got a key…"

Gage cocked his head to the side, "Can't hurt to give it a shot."

Angus looked over the other kids with him then reached in and turned the key. Much to his and everyone else's surprise it cranked over then fired up.

He climbed in and looked over the controls. He then turned it off and jumped out. "It has a full tank, but there is some damage to the dash. I bet we could pull off the straps and limp it forward. If we get it off the wall I bet we could change the tire too."

Devin took a deep breath, "Let's give it a shot. It looks like it hit the side of the plane hard so it may not run great, if at all."

Angus pointed to Devin, "Help me with the straps. If we can get them off maybe we can drive it back to the farmhouse with way more than we could otherwise carry."

Gage jumped up on the last Humvee and looked over the machinegun. After only a few seconds he jumped back down. "I guess those six took all the ammo for the M-60 and it needs belted ammo, so it won't do us any good."

Gage then grabbed the large medic kit out of the back, "I'll get this to Hunter while you guys see if you can get the Hummer out."

Devin suddenly remembered Mr. K. needed a real pistol. Since he had been so rattled after the firefight, he never noticed Gage had already grabbed a pistol. Because of this he moved up to one of the dead soldiers and took the man's handgun out of his belt. This time he wasn't able to swallow the bile and threw up again. As he backed off, shaking badly, the man's helmet came off revealing the entire right side of the man's face had smashed into the side of the craft and caved in. The only saving grace was the blood and brain grey matter had dried, but it still left a very gruesome blood streak directly behind the guy.

Angus looked up and shivered lightly as he saw part of what Devin was staring at. "Um, maybe you could help me over here."

Gage stopped, moved back over, and showed a great deal more resiliency to the horrible sight. He pulled off the guy's vest and pulled out three clips for the pistol. He looked at the guy's uniform then moved over to Devin and handed him the extra clips. "The guy had one gold bar on each shoulder which is different from the others."

"Second lieutenant," Devin responded as he tried to pull off the first tie-down strap. "My uncle is in the Mississippi National Guard and taught me rank. The patches on these guys show they were from the Colorado Guard. They must have gotten some kind of warning if they have guns and bullets cause, from what my uncle told me, they don't normally carry bullets unless they are doing a real deployment."

"Really?" Angus spoke up as he moved up to help pull off the damaged tie down straps. "Why don't they give them ammo?"

"Safety…" Devin grunted. "Uncle Gary always complained on how stupid it was." Devin resorted to kicking at the elaborate strap in an attempt to get it loose, "How do we get these things off?"

"How stupid!" Gage muttered as he jumped off the ramp and headed back to the farmhouse, grabbing several other items as he went.

Angus snorted in agreement but was having equal difficulty on the strap he was trying to take off. On the other hand, he spotted a crowbar lying off to the side of the Humvee and snagged it. "Stand back!"

Once Devin had moved well clear, Angus jammed the bar down into the release and pulled back with everything he had. It snapped and the metal part of the strap made a loud metallic bang as it shot into the side of the Humvee. He moved over to the next strap with a grin. "You just have to have the right key!"

In the barn, Hunter continued to cut strips from the man's shirt to tie around the wound, hoping the extra pressure would eventually stop the bleeding. Sudden noise from above caused him to almost cut himself with his knife. He looked up as some pigeons flew from one rafter to the next. "I sure hope having those things around means there isn't any radiation."

Nikki shook her head, "When we first entered the plane, there was a guy with gold colored leaf like things on his shoulder, but he was badly hurt. From what he told us before he died and the rest went creepy and all crazy on us, the guy said they had been aerial refueled several times and they flew all over the place. He said most of them lived in Denver but it was gone, they tried Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Sterling, Pueblo, then Cheyenne, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, and like ten other places, including Topeka and Kansas City and even Manhattan and Wichita. Each time they got close they could see it was gone and their radiation detector in the plane would alert them to get away.

"They said there were a dozen small towns with large enough airfields to land at they tired as well, but all of them got hit with small bombs. He called tactical nukes. Anyway, once they got into this area there detector didn't register anything and one of the engines was overheating. They went for a low pass to check ground level radiation and found none, but they turned to land on the highway a few miles over, they got nailed by a pair of lightning strikes and went down."

Vernon looked over with hope in his voice and relief in his eyes, "So there is no radiation around here?"

"According to the man with the leaf things on his shoulders, no," Nikki sighed. "But there are several places within a hundred miles that do and all the big cities within like five hundred miles are really hot."

As this was said Tamera started sobbing again.

Scott pulled Tamera onto his lap and stroked her hair as she cried. "Mom and Grandma went to a Christian concert in Manhattan." He looked down and kissed his sister on the head, "But they were supposed to come back the day we got hit so maybe they made it out in time."

Once Tamera snuggled into Scott's chest and settled some, he continued talking. "We saw the plane go down. We were in our storm cellar when the ground shook and the back wall caved in. Dad had us grab what we could, but it wasn't much. As it was, Dad had to partially dig Tammy out as our whole house came down around and on us."

Nikki let out a long breath, "All our food, bottled water, everything, is under what is left of our house. But as Dad and Scott tried to dig out some stuff, the plane came right over our heads, its left engine was smoking. We didn't see it crash, but heard it. Dad figured we might get some food and stuff off it and figured it wouldn't take long for others to go after it, especially since like half the brick houses in town either fell or were badly damaged."

Vernon glanced over from where he had taken up guard at the door of the barn, "One of the guys in our troop knows all about earthquakes and once when he slept over he told me rock, brick and concrete buildings are worse because they don't flex like wood ones do. Really big buildings, with big open spaces, like churches and warehouses, also are bad because there is not much inside support. So once something goes, the rest comes down fast."

Scott frowned, "Are you saying, since our house had a brick cellar with a center support, it made it worse for us?"

"From what Zeek told me one night, yeah…" Vernon sighed, "Seems like it should be opposite huh?"

Nikki nodded, "One of the reasons Dad bought the house was because it had a brick cellar, since he said it would be safer for us in storms and tornados."

"Which it would have been, but your dad didn't buy it thinking about earthquakes in the middle of Kansas!" Hunter countered. "No one could have guessed we'd have them here!"

"No, but…" Scott winced and held up his finger to show he needed a few seconds as his younger sister accidently bumped his badly broken nose and split lip. Everyone looking on could tell it took just about everything Scott had not to yell out or push his sister off, but after a quartet of clenching and unclenching of his fists and a few fast deep breaths he forced himself to calm.

"As soon as I stop the bleeding on your dad I'll do what I can for your face, but I really don't know what I'm supposed to do." Hunter stated apologetically.

"The nose hurts way less than my lip and mouth. One of my teeth is like broken in half and every time my tongue touches it…" He shuddered.

Hunter closed his eyes for a second, then glanced over to Nikki. "Can you hold this bandage as tight as you can? Um, you'll get blood on your hands…"

The teenaged girl gulped but nodded. The second her hands replaced Hunter's, Hunter stood and moved over to Scott. "I can take a look, but about the only thing we could do is pull it, and we don't have anything for pain."

"As bad as it hurts now, I'd say do it."

Hunter dug into his pack and pulled out a very nice Leatherman knife, which had a pair of pliers. "You sure, cause if I try, this is what I'll use unless you have something better.

Scott eyed the pliers for a few seconds then reluctantly nodded, "It's that or I live with it, cause I don't think going to a dentist is an option at the moment."

Nikki glanced over, "Oh no! What about Insulin for Grandpa?"

Vernon spoke up as Hunter found a place to pull Scott's horribly swollen lip back so he could take a look. "We are wondering the same thing about one of our guys with asthma."

Conversation was halted as everyone saw Scott quiver.

Hunter pulled the pliers back and cringed. "Sorry… Um, I can grab and pull, what is left is loose, but…"

"Kid…" Scott took a couple of sharp breaths, "Yank the bastard already!"

Hunter closed his eyes and nodded. It took a few more seconds for him to mentally prepare, but once he had his mind-set he moved forward, pulled down on the lip, grabbed on with the plies, and yanked with everything he had.

Scott let out a short-lived, pain filled, scream as his hand went up to his mouth.

Tamera hugged her brother, while Nikki noticed the half-broken tooth still gripped in the jaws of the pliers. Nikki whistled softly, "I'd have never been able to do that!"

Scott shook like a leaf as he pushed his shoulder up to the side of his mouth. It took almost a minute but he finally spit out some blood and blinked some tears out of his eyes. "Damn… As much as that hurt, it already feels better; thanks little dude!"

Before more could be said, Gage came in huffing, puffing and struggling to carry the almost twenty pound medic kit, a full military backpack stuffed with a few extra things he decided he couldn't pass up on as he exited the plane, and feet caked with mud almost up to his knees. "The whole back of the plane is loaded with stuff Hunter!"

Hunter took the medic kit and raised an eyebrow as Gage set down the military pack that was way too big for him. Even though he was putting the pack down on dirt it hit the ground with a pretty loud thunk. He moved over and pulled at one of the straps. He got it off the ground, but only barely. "Gee, Gage, you could have left some for the rest of us."

Gage shot Hunter a bewildered look, pointed back in the direction of the plane, and spoke with total confusion, "There's all sorts of…" Suddenly his face turned bright red, as Nikki, Scott and even Tamera started snickering. "Oh, come on… I didn't take THAT much!"

Nikki looked at the military back pack, with the sleeping bag, and foam pad roll on the top, the inside stuffed to where it looked like it was ready to rip and all the outside pouches full of stuff; plus the fact he had the shotgun and had stuffed three assault rifles into and through the rolled up foam pad and sleeping bag. "No… not much at all…"

Vernon couldn't help but giggle.

Gage kicked the side of one of the empty horse stalls to get the mud off. "Hey, now… Some of that is for you guys. After what we dealt with on the road, no one should be unarmed." He then moved back over to the pack and started pulling out ammo and other gear he had picked off a few of those closest to the back of the plane. Some of it still had blood on it, but it didn't seem to bother Gage very much. "I got two M-16s, three pistols, and the M-4 with an M-203 for me." His eyes gleamed as he pulled out the M-4 assault rifle with the 40mm grenade launcher on the bottom. "I can't wait to shoot this!"

Hunter slapped his forehead, "Dude! Mr. K. told us not to play with explosives if we found them!"

Gage turned and threw up his arms while turning his hands outward, "What? I grabbed a full case of practice chalk rounds so I could learn!"

Vernon burst out laughing, "OK, now I know why Ram's dad all but adopted you. There is such a thing as a bigger gun nut than Mr. Tridell!"

Gage shook his head, "Oh, come on, I'm not that bad!"

"No?" Scott managed to ask as he pulled open a gauze pad Hunter handed him, so he could stuff it into the hole where his tooth had just come out of. "How many real grenades did you take?"

Gage dug into the pack, "I think the standard load out for a grenade person is like twenty… I took his gear so I'll let you know in a couple of minutes."

"Twenty?" Nikki backed off so Hunter could use the medical supplies on her dad. As she rubbed her hands while pouring water out of a canteen to get rid of the blood on them, she gazed down at the younger boy with a mixture of humor, tempered with a bit of concern, "Twenty live grenades and you really want us to believe you aren't like the ultimate gun-loving kid this side of the Mississippi?"

"Hey, are you really going to tell me you have never dreamed of carrying a military assault rifle with a grenade launcher in the open?"

"Yes!" The other five stated in perfect harmony.

Hunter let out a sigh as he continued to work on the now totally unconscious father. "Gage, leave them alone until Mr. K says otherwise. One of those could probably kill all of us."

Gage frowned, and looked like he was about ready to pout, so Scott decided to cut the kid a break. "Why don't you show me how to load, shoot, and clean one of those rifles?"

Hearing someone was interested in one of the assault rifles caused Gage to quickly bounce back to being excited. Before he even sat down next to Scott, all signs of him being disappointed with not being able to look over the grenades had vanished.

Vernon continued to keep watch, but moved over and listened and did his best to observe as Gage went over the M-16 in great detail. He spared nothing, even breaking down the rifle to its tiniest parts and showed Scott how to clean it and put it back together. He went on to show him loading, ejecting the clip, replacing ammo in the clip, and how to clear jams.

Once he was done with the basics, he helped Scott to his feet and moved to the back of the barn, away from the others, and handed Scott a package of earplugs he found on the grenadier. "I grabbed at least two dozen clips, you should fire a couple and get the feel for it. We can adjust the site for you as well."

Scott nodded as he slipped the earplugs in. He looked over the rifle, while Gage moved into one of the stalls and pulled up a half rotten piece of plywood. He looked around for several seconds before pulling some mud off his pants and used it to paint on a target. Satisfied, he moved back and stood next to the teen who was several inches taller than him, "Have you done much shooting?"

Scott shrugged, "Only pheasant hunting with the shotgun."

Gage forced himself not to sound disappointed or annoyed, even though he was both. "OK, well, we'll keep you on single shot, cause burst fire isn't something I can show you as easy."

Scott nodded, "No, single shot is fine with me."

Gage put on a smile, but knew it looked fake so he quickly turned and pointed at the target. "Shooting a rifle is pretty much the same as a shotgun. It's all about the breathing and squeezing of the trigger. If you jerk back on the trigger your aim is gone."

Gage looked up again, "Um, it may be easier on us if you kneel so I can watch you shoot and give you pointers."

Scott shrugged and went down to a knee and planted his left foot out in front. He held up a finger and looked over at Hunter, "Do you have any more of those wads of bandages? This one is getting nasty."

Hunter pointed to Nikki then tapped a box of four inch gauze pads. "Give him a few of those." He then turned his attention to Scott. "Leave the one you stuffed in and put more on top. Until we find out how much medical stuff is in the plane we can't waste any."

Scott took a minute to pack another hunk of the sterile bandaging into his mouth and around his gum. "Do we have anything for pain?"

Nikki reached into the bag and started to grab some aspirin.

"No!" Hunter barked, stopping the older girl cold. "Aspirin thins blood and can lower body temperature. We don't want either. We want his blood to clot! Grab the Tylenol. We need to use it up first anyway."

Nikki dropped the aspirin back into the bag of medical supplies and picked up the Tylenol. As she tossed it over to her brother she frowned, "Why do we have to use it up?"

"Once it hits its expiration date, it starts to break down and becomes more damaging to your liver." Seeing the weird look he was getting, he added, "I heard some doctors talking about it when I was taking some tests at KSU."

Scott didn't hesitate to pop two of the pills and washed it down with water, spitting some bloody water out first. "Well, at least you didn't learn it in scouts. My dad is never going to let me live down the fact I got rescued by you all as it is."

Vernon grinned, "You drop out?"

"Never went in." Nikki shot Vernon a bit of a smile. "He threw a temper tantrum the likes of which got his butt whooped and him grounded for a month."

"Whooped ain't the word for that one," Scott grumbled. "But once I refused scouts, I got put into 4H. Working with animals and farming was way more up my interest line anyway."

"It was way more about the uniform," Nikki jumped in. "He thought it looked gay and told his dad he wasn't going to look like some fag. Bad move too, considering our uncle, Dad's twin and best friend, is gay and Dad was an Eagle Scout."

Gage eyed the boy with a bit of a smirk. "I actually hate this shirt too, but man… what were you thinking?"

"I wasn't, OK?" Scott grumbled as he forced yet another sterile pad into his mouth. "How about you just teach me how to shoot this gun and I admit scouts are pretty cool, OK?"

Vernon couldn't help but snort, "I wish we had school to go back to in the fall, so you could come stick up for us."

"When or if school does resume, I'll be the first to come kick the crap out of anyone bothering you," Nikki stated firmly. "Without you all, I'd be with those creeps and wouldn't have any family at all!"

"Glad we could help," Hunter remarked sincerely while reading down an instructing booklet for a weirdly packaged dressing. "It's supposed to be what one of the things scouts is about, after all."

While Hunter's eyes went up with a great deal of interest at what he was reading; Gage once again went over the basics of the M-16 and then took a step back from Scott. "Fire three rounds and let's see how you do."

Scott glanced back and after getting a nod he put the rifle up to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. After three shots he put the weapon down.

Gage did his best to hide his disgust as he purposefully said nothing as he walked up to the plywood. "At least all three shots hit the board."

Scott hung his head, "I never said I was good at hunting pheasant."

This got a giggle out of Gage. "When you first went hunting what were you taught about shooting?"

"Just the regular stuff, like where the safety is, not to point it at people, and to know what you are shooting at before pulling the trigger."

Gage shook his head, "No, those are all safety things. I'm asking about what you were taught on how to shoot."

"Just to breathe and let half of it out and make sure I'm looking down the barrel to the sight and have the site on the target or to lead it… The leading part was always the biggest problem, but I never was good at target shooting either."

Gage pulled his hand through his hair and looked away, fighting the urge not to mutter.

Nikki caught the reaction and the flash of anger in her brother's eyes, so she shrugged and spoke up. "Uncle Eric taught both of us properly once, but that was before he moved in with his boyfriend, who Mom doesn't like even a little…"

"Oh, yeah… but I was like nine." Scott nodded, "And it was just with a .22."

"It's pretty much the same thing," Gage grinned. "A rifle is a rifle."

Scott thought it over, "Well, Nikki was better at it than me, but I remember Uncle Eric kept on stressing three or four things…"

"Six." Nikki corrected his brother. "Alignment, sight target, breathing, trigger pull, stance, and shot hold. I never really did get the difference between alignment and sight target since it seemed like the same thing to me and the shot hold seemed dumb."

Gage motioned for Nikki to come over, "Let's see how you do."

Nikki grabbed another pair of packaged earplugs and inserted them while looking over the assault rifle. She started to pick up the one her brother had just fired, but Gage shook his head and handed her the other one. "We want to adjust the sites for each of you, so you need to get used to using your own rifle."

Like her brother, Nikki went down to one knee, put the clip in, chambered a round and motioned for Gage to step back. She actually looked a great deal more comfortable as she pulled up the weapon, flipped the selector lever to semi automatic and took aim. Her first shot almost missed the hunk of plywood, taking a chunk off the edge.

She lowered the rifle, shook her head and pulled it back up to her shoulder. The second shot went through the mud making the second of three circles. She paused and took a couple of breaths then sighted in again, this time the shot went between the inner circle and the middle one.

Still not satisfied, Nikki held up her hand letting the others know she was not done. She then fired three more shots, all of them hitting just to the left of the bull's-eye but each at a different level. Much happier with herself she flipped the safety back on and lowered the rifle. "Sorry, first few were more to get the feel back. Mom doesn't think it's lady-like to shoot, so I don't get to very often."

Scott sent his sister a bit of a glare, "But you must have found some time to do so."

She said nothing, but did flash her brother a smirk that said way more than words could.

Gage moved up, "Not bad at all, but if you change two things and we adjust the sites you'd be way better!"

Scott rolled his eyes, "Let see bullet boy shoot at his target first."

Tamera glanced over at her brother, "Scotty he did… he shot the guy in the truck!"

"With one shot in the head," Nikki added.

"Yeah, but I had a scope." Gage responded with a grin. "Back up over by Vernon, so I have a longer range to the target."

Nikki helped her brother up and gave him a light elbow, "You realize he is probably going to make us look real bad, right?"

Vernon shook his head, "No probably about it. I've heard Ram's dad talking about trying to get Gage into shooting competitions."

Gage moved well back, pulled up his heavier M-4, M-203 combination and took aim. He fired seven shots in evenly spaced, fairly rapid succession and lowered the rifle. "There you go."

Scott waited until Gage moved the selector to safe before moving up on the target. Even before he got there however, the others could see him slow up, "Son of a…" he muttered then turned around. "OK, fine! You're mean, but I get the point. I'm all ears. What did I do wrong?"

"You didn't take the hint?" Gage asked with clear smirk.

Scott's shoulder dropped a little as he looked pack at the piece of plywood, "That bad huh?"

Gage snickered, "How about we just pretend no one ever taught you and start from scratch?"

Vernon couldn't help it, curiosity had taken hold. He moved up to the target and burst out laughing.

Hunter looked up, "What did you do, newb?"

Vernon picked up the board and held it up, "He shot in a frown face!"

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