Castle Roland

Day of N

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 16

Published: 19 May 16

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 M4, M9A1, 12 gauge Browning BPS
Hunter 12 Grey Brown M4, M9A1, M-1014 12 gauge
Angus (Gus) 12 Green Red M4, M9A1, 10 gauge Browning BPS, collapsible .22
Gage 11 Blue Sandy M4 w/M203, M9A1, .308 w/scope
Zeki (Zeek) 11 Brown Brown .22 w scope, .38 rev., 410 Shotgun (single shot)
Ramsey (Ram) 12 Brown Sandy M4, M9A1
Vernon (Vern) 11 Blue Blond M4, M9A1, Remington 870 youth 20 gauge shotgun

Hunter's eyes snapped open as he sat up and had to stifle a scream. Breathing hard his eyes darted around as his brain took in the surroundings. Even as he shivered from the cool clamminess of his sweat drenched body, the sight of several of his friends sleeping on beds around him helped to ease his fears.

He closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths as his mind finally kicked back in. 'I'm in the living room of Sheriff Will's house. Everything is OK'. Once he had this established he glanced around noting Zeki was sound asleep on his left while Ramsey was asleep, but very restless on his right. Across the room, Angus, Vernon and Devin were also sleeping in beds the town had found for each of them.

As Hunter's eyes better adjusted to the light coming from the single lantern sitting on the end table next to the TV, he realized Vernon was rolling back and forth in his small bed and was talking, or at least it sounded like talking, but it was too light and panic filled to really understand.

"Nightmare, that's what woke me!" Hunter whispered to himself as he debated on waking Vernon up. Another glance at Ramsey told him the boy next to him was also having bad dreams, but unlike Vernon, his breathing was heavy and he gripped at the comforter covering him with a grasp so hard his knuckles were very white.

Hearing the uneasy breathing caused Hunter to pause and listen more closely. Keeping his voice low, Hunter leaned closer to Ramsey, "Breathe, dude, just breathe. You're Okay... safe... nothing bad is going to happen here."

Hunter continued to whisper softly to Ramsey until the boy's bad dream faded and normal breathing resumed. Satisfied his friend would not experience an asthmatic attack, he turned his attention back to Vernon, only to find the boy was on his side and clutching his pillow like a teddy bear, but was otherwise sleeping fitfully, if not peacefully.

Hunter leaned back and rolled his head back and forth. Suddenly he realized Gage's bed was empty. Not liking this fact, he slipped out of his bed being ultra careful not to disturb any of the others. Without really thinking about it, his left hand reached back and secured his assault rifle. It wasn't until he slipped it over his shoulder his mind took notice. At this moment he suddenly found himself in a strong debate with himself.

Part of him wanted to toss the weapon on the bed, while the other part reminded him of Mr. Korbal's words of warning to not go anywhere, even to take a leak, without a rifle. The man had insisted on it from the first day they all had weapons. He had scolded the boys relentlessly whenever he saw one of them without a firearm. The constant reminders were never left out of any conversation. The former Army Ranger had not let them slip so much as a micron on this one issue. He even had everyone watching out for slip-ups from the others and gave out harsh words to those who didn't notice or didn't point out when one of the others moved around without first grabbing a firearm.

Any time one of them had been caught without their firearm, an extra chore had been given, and they had never been easy. With a deep breath of aggravation, Hunter adjusted the strap so the rifle was at least somewhat comfortable before he slid out of the room as soundlessly as he could.

Deciding to take a pit stop at the bathroom, his mind wandered some. What had woken him? A nightmare, yes, but about what? As he took a leak, a few glimpses flashed in his mind. The first was of the 'body' hanging out of the train window. This seemed really odd since it had been nothing more than a dummy, but as Hunter focused in on this he was certain it had played a major part of whatever terror had woken him.

The second image, which seemed a great deal more logical, was of the scout trailer blowing over on the troop's scout master. The problem was, all he could remember from the dream was of the man looking up as the trailer fell toward him. There was nothing more, but even the brief mental picture was enough to cause a shiver down Hunter's spine.

Part of Hunter hoped the man had not seen what was happening, while another part found himself thinking back to his bible lessons. If the man had seen it coming, then there was a chance he could have gotten off a final prayer. If he had then his sins would be forgiven and he would be in heaven now.

This thought lead to Hunter wondering what the man would think about him carrying a rifle and shooting at people. Would the man have approved? Under the circumstances, the best response Hunter could come up with is 'probably'.

Hunter then ran down a list of other highly respected adults in his life and tried to guess at each one's reaction to the notion of Hunter carrying a rifle openly and using it to defend himself from people with it.

His mom would certainly be appalled and probably sickened. His dad was harder to get a good notion of. The idea of killing another human was unthinkable, a horrible sin, but in defense of himself and others, Hunter guessed his father would be understanding and possibly even a bit proud, since to risk one's life for a friend was the greatest thing one person could do for another.

His grandfather, well, he was sure the old man would be very proud. The man had served in the Marines for twenty-eight years after all. The preacher, who Hunter respected a great deal, was a real question mark. There was no easy answer and of all of them Hunter found himself thinking about, this was the one he really wished he could talk to. The minister was the best listener and always had the right words. It was this wisdom Hunter longed for as he stepped out of the bathroom and moved in the direction of the only other light on in the old house.

As he approached the slightly cracked door at the far end of the hall, the boards under his feet creaked slightly no matter how softly he tried to put his feet down. Before he was even half way down the hall, the sheriff's wife opened a door into one of the bedrooms of the very old yet massive house slightly in front of him and held up a hand while putting a finger to her lips. She spoke softly but with a voice which demanded respect. "Young'an, I think it would be best if you let my husband talk to your friend alone."

Hunter took a deep breath and nodded, "I just wanted to make sure Gage was OK…"

"My husband is trying to find out the same thing, only in a more firm and hopefully adult way." Hearing a whimpering pout from behind the door the woman glanced back, "It's OK sweety, you are safe. It is just Hunter wanting to find out about one of his friends."

Hunter moved toward the door only to get blocked by the woman's outstretched hand. "I'm pretty sure the adults can hand this. You boys have all done great, but this is one of these times where you need to let age and experience take over for a while. Besides, I think I have Rivka real close to talking and I don't need anyone breaking up the trust I am building in there, even if it is totally accidental. Now go back and lay down. You should get as much shut eye as possible." While she smiled tenderly, her voice told Hunter this was really not up for discussion.

With a nod of understanding, Hunter took a step back. "I'll try but after the dream I just had, I'm kind of wide awake."

She took a step forward and wrapped her arms around Hunter, "After what you boys have been through I am not surprised. Do you need someone? Hank and his sister are upstairs…"

While it felt odd to be twelve and getting a hug, it also felt really good and he treasured the few moments of contact. "No ma'am, I'm OK. I'll just go write for a while. I was just worried about Gage when I saw his bed was empty."

The older woman pulled him tighter into her side for a moment ignoring the fact she was also hugging an assault rifle before letting him go. "Well, if you do need someone you go right up those stairs and turn left. Hank and Carol are here for you or any of your friends."

"Thank you ma'am." Hunter stated as he took a step back and glanced at the cracked door at the end of the hall again. Part of him wanted to go up to the door and listen, but a glance back at Erma told him it was not going to happen so he turned and moved back to the living room.

With a near silent sigh, he glanced around the room noting everyone else was still asleep. Not wanting to disturb anyone he pulled his notebook out of his pack, pulled a pen, and took a seat at the table with the lantern. He opened it and looked at the last few words for several minutes before turning the page so he could start with blank paper.

'Day of N +11 or maybe 12, I'm not sure if it is after midnight or not and I don't want to wake Zeek to check his watch.

It is really dark out and I can't see the moonlight out the window so I guess it clouded back up. I hope it doesn't rain again for a few days. Everything is really flooded and messy once you get off the concrete and side roads are more mud than rock and gravel. Even the concrete is not great. Many streams are more like rivers and have taken out bridges and washed out some roads too. Getting anywhere at the moment is more about really knowing the area and luck than anything like map reading.

I guess I better back up a second here. The rain stopped and we went out today. We almost made it to where we were supposed to go camping to begin with, but the park is gone. Well, at least we were told it was, and after seeing the edge of the blast damage I believe it.

At first we thought it was earthquake damage, but once we really started looking we realized everything was pointing the same way. From now on, we'll know what to look for, but I still can't believe one explosion could be so awful. The closer I looked the more I realized entire buildings were leaning away from where the bomb exploded.

There is so much to write about it is hard to pick a starting point. I think entire books could be written about what we saw, heard and did today. The world beyond this small town of Jennings is a mess. Two of the towns we passed showed us everything Mr. K told us was true. The world is not a nice place. People are shooting at each other and carrying a gun is the new normal, even for us kids.

All things considered we are very lucky. This town, if one can even call it that much, is in good shape and the people here are good and caring. The whole place has banded together and have accepted us, all of us. I guess saving the girls from those army guys was about the best thing we could have done, since everyone here knows about it and everyone seems very grateful. They even drove us to the park, well at least to where we found some survivors from it. They were on a train.

This is still the weird part for me, though. They were about to attack us, we shot and killed two of them and shot two others. Devin almost got both himself and Angus killed, but Angus got to him in time. It was a hard tackle, and Devin said his side still hurt as we got ready for bed. Hopefully it will teach him to get down when shooting starts, cause something says this will not be the last time, especially if we go back out to look for our moms and dads, which I am determined to do.

Anyway, we shot at each other. Gage killed two of them, yet an hour and a half later as Zeek drove the train back to Jennings we fought as one against… I am not sure what word to use here. They came out of a small town just up the tracks from Jennings and wanted to make us stop. Maybe the word I want is bandits or even raiders, but part of me says it's not fair since we took the train just like they were trying to do. It is all so confusing.'

Hunter looked over what he wrote and rolled his eyes. No one reading it would be able to get anything out of his ramblings, and the whole point of this was to keep some kind of notes for others so they could understand what Hunter and his friends were going through. He stared into the flame of the lantern for a couple of minutes to compose his thoughts better before putting the pen to the paper again.

'Wow I really messed up on this and I hope whoever reads this doesn't stop reading because I tried to squish a whole day into so few words. Let me start again and say sorry. I badly need to do better if I want someone to take this serious… seriously?... I hate adverbs and adjectives. I could really focus and get it right, but I bet whoever finds this won't care so I will move on.

We left just before sun-up and headed toward the park we were supposed to camp at. We passed the first town and heard gunshots. I think they were shooting at each other and not us since it was pretty far away. The sheriff of Jennings didn't want to wait around and find out and I don't blame him, but I bet we all heard fifty or more shots in total.

As we tried to find roads that were still there, we saw several cars and trucks and one really bad accident. The bodies were still there in the wreck. One hand was held out the widow of an upside-down car. With no phone and no one to come rescue them, they may have been trapped in their cars for days before they died. I think we were all glad it wasn't any of our parents, but that seems so unfair to think, since they were someone's parents... or kids. No matter what, it was awful to see and even worse to think about.

As I mentioned above, we saw signs of a nuclear blast before we realized it. We got lucky this time since we came in from the direction the wind was blowing from so we didn't get into the radiation zone, but it was a good lesson. We need to keep the Geiger counter handy and check it more often. At least now we know if everything is pointing the same way, then we are closing on a bombed place.

We came across a train since the sheriff decided to jump on the tracks after finding several roads and bridges washed out or damaged. His guess was pretty much right. The tracks tend to be higher so they were not washed away and we got almost to edge of the park when we came across a train. We thought it was empty because there was a body hanging off, but it was a dummy put there by the people using it for shelter. We ended up shooting at each other and once again Gage showed he is a crack shot. He took out two, killed them with head shots. I am pretty sure I nicked one and I know Ram shot one woman in the shoulder.

We took the train, on this Levi, a kid who was aboard, is correct. We took it by force and didn't give those aboard a chance to run away. The sheriff made them surrender to us. Sure they were trying to trick us and Ram saw a gun pointed our way, but once we started shooting we didn't give them any options. I am still having some problems with this. It feels wrong to do what we did. It may have worked out for the most part though. Levi's dad was dying and he gave Levi to the sheriff to take care of.

The kid is Jewish and we about had a fight about it since he said bad things about Zeek being a Muslim. I am real surprised Zeek stood up for the kid, who is a total wimp by the way. Still, Zeek did stick up for Levi and calmed things down.

Speaking of Zeek, man, he really came through big time! He knows everything about trains, everything! He knows how to hook and unhook cars, disconnect the automatic thingy, start the engine and even drive it. He even can figure out how much one engine can pull and how long a train he can safely make. Zeek may not have been one of us before, but now… now he is beyond one of us.

On the way back Zeek drove the train and told the rest of us what to look out for and stuff. He was in charge of us and he deserved to be.

We did get jumped by the town just up the tracks, or at least by one rich family from there. Two cars came out and tried to take us. We had another shootout. I still can't figure out what they thought they were doing though. Even Zeek said he would have just knocked them off the tracks if they had gotten on them.

Still it was a pretty nasty gun battle. Gage even got to shoot his grenade launcher and caused one car to flip. I think it must have really hurt though, because while we all checked on Mr. K. and the woman pilot at the clinic, one of the nurses took Gage in another room and looked at his shoulder. She said it has a nasty bruise and Gage hasn't let anyone see it or touch it since.

This time I am sure I shot one of those in the car. The NRA guys Mr. K. had come out and work with us on our winter camp out were really good cause once I focused on doing what they taught me, my next two shots were almost perfect. Part of me now wishes I never got those lessons though. I know I killed, I saw the red spray of blood on the back window and know it was my shot. I want to cry when I think about it. Did I kill someone's dad? Someone's brother? Is this really how humans are inside, when there are no laws? Are we all secretly cold blooded killers?

I really need to think about what God wants me to do at this point. Fixing that woman and working on those on the train made me feel like I was doing something important, but shooting to defend myself and those around me also feels right. Can I be a good killer? Is there such a thing? Maybe if the woman pilot wakes up she will have some answers since she is military. Mr. K. doesn't seem like the right guy to ask since all he will say is good job and don't worry about it or something.

Speaking of people who I want to wake up and Mr. K., he is out of surgery. They said something about three broken ribs, them draining some fluid from a lung and phenomena, but it was not as bad as they expected. The shots and pills kept lots of the infection down. They say he will be in bed for a couple of weeks but will make it. As of nightfall, he was still out so I have not talked to him yet. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to.

The woman pilot is still up in the air (OK, I know, bad pun and in real bad taste here, but I couldn't resist, sorry). They said something about nerve damage and some external junk still inside her. It sounds like we may have missed a piece of metal, but the medication did the same for her as it did for Mr. K. The female doctor here cut whatever we missed out and found a few town people to donate blood for the rather long operation. They say chances are better than even the pilot will live, but chances are not so good of her having good movement in her arm ever again. After doing the first surgery on her, I want her to live. I think Gage does too, but he is just so hard to read on anything. All I know is it would really feel good to know my first time of really doing doctor type stuff ended up saving a life. I hope I can learn more and do it again and again.

While several of us stayed in the clinic hoping Mr. K would wake up, Zeek took Vernon, Angus, Hank and two other men back to the coal train. Not only did he end up brining forty-three cars back, he was able to go back out and went the back way to get to where the engines were. With the adults' help, they hooked them up and brought back three more engines and sixty-seven more coal cars from the opposite way. Once again it seems the sheriff was right. The tracks are in much better condition them the roads.

In the morning Zeek is going to try to go back out with the men again and try to grab more of the first train by wrapping around to it. The cars we got from it were full of food! The first two were full of Campbell's Soup and the next two had all sorts of Kraft stuff in them. I never really thought about how many boxes of Stove Top Stuffing could be put in a boxcar before, but even one third of a boxcar of it is kind of amazing to see.

Even as I write this I can hear a couple of big tractors pulling the cars off the tracks on the north side of town. Since we know there are lots of bad people with guns out there, Sheriff Will decided to empty the train cars and is getting everyone with a working big tractor or truck to help build a wall out of train cars around part of Jennings including the area they are setting up as the tent camp. They are also planning on using the box cars for food storage. Those trains may make the difference over the next several months here.

The nice part is the three engines Zeek managed to grab from the second train were pretty full of fuel. I had no idea each one, when full, could hold over 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel! This gives Jennings all the gas it needs to keep things running and the generators for the clinic full for quite a while. Still, there is a chance one or two of the cars from the first train are fuel cars and if we can get them here, this place could have enough gas to go for the next year. Coupled with all the coal, this could become the capitol of Kansas! I know, it's silly, but, well, who knows, right?

It is really nice to know we are helping here, but we all want to head back out. The big park ranger we found on the first train made a couple of good points about seeing if any information trickles out, so we are going to give it a few days. The female park ranger also noted that giving things a couple of days to shake out will probably get rid of some of the trigger happy people out there. It sounds mean, but she is right. If some of those people start shooting each other it will cut down on the number of jerks roaming around.

On the other hand, the sheriff was quick to point out if we wait too long then those who are left will become more dangerous as they get really organized. Because of this we have decided to head back out in three days as long as the weather is OK.

The sheriff along with Hank is even going to give us a vehicle of some kind so we can go as far as possible and take some extra food too. I know Hank said he will work on something in his shop for us. I am kind of worried it will make us a bigger target though. I mean if people are willing to go after a train, then they will be real quick to go after a car or truck, right?

Speaking of the two cars from the town just northeast of us, it seems taking them out may have been for the best even if it sends creepy feelings down my spine. With those in the two cars out of the picture the others from the town agreed to follow Sheriff Will and the mayor here in Jennings. In this Devin is back in his element. He went with the Mayor of Jennings and some of the men to talk to those who are left. It was decided to break down the silos they have and bring all the grain here since their town has lots of water and earthquake damage.

Besides, with the family known as the Garlands all but gone there is no one really left in charge and they are worried they will not be able to protect themselves from raiders or bandits. It seems Sheriff Will and the mayor here are very well respected since many farmers have come in from the surrounding area as well. A few of them even talked about pulling down their wind generators to see if Hank could fix them. I guess the EMP did some damage to those too.

Hank is pretty sure he can get them up and running. If he does, then there is talk of going to get some of the bigger ones that were damaged and set them up for the town. If this works, there is a good chance Jennings will get some sort of power grid up. If they do, it may be the only town for many miles with electricity.

I wonder how many places like Jennings there are out across the U.S? I bet there are probably quite a few. The real question is how many are getting organized as quickly as Jennings. In this I bet the number is far fewer. It makes me think those who are like Jennings will become small capitols and will end up controlling many of the others. I wonder how long it will be before they start to unite and get the country running fully again.

I guess the scary thing would be for them not to unite, to start fighting each other like medieval Europe with castles and city states. In some ways Jennings is becoming a castle. I think I better stop now, this gives me the creeps.'

Hunter looked through what he wrote before tucking the notebook back into his pack. He then moved to the front window and looked out. Since the house was toward the north side of town he could see a few of the lights on the biggest tractors as they worked to move cars off the tracks. The only other light came from lanterns and candles in windows, and they were few and far between.

Once in a while the shadow of someone walking across one of the light sources reminded Hunter there were some of the town's adults out patrolling the perimeter of the town, making sure the town was quiet and secure. As the sheriff put it, people who saw or heard the trains moving were probably going to head in the direction they went, so it wouldn't be long till refuges showed up.

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