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Cold Gray World (Directors Cut! Hehe Finished edit, unfinished story. I will post new chapters here as I get'er'done!)

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  • #16
    Chapter 16

    Our little group had nowhere to go but back down the long road or into what was left of the city of New Orleans. Easy for PAL to toss their war prisoners to a city of death. We decided to stick together and try to find supplies in the city. Two of the prisoners needed aid walking and were helped along by the rest, who could barely walk themselves. We made it down the overpass, into an industrial area. It was starting to get dark.

    We were attacked almost immediately by a group of ragged half-people. They pummeled our group with rocks while snarling and screaming. The two prisoners who couldn’t walk were quickly fell upon and stripped of their boots and clothing. The other two prisoners ran off in different directions.

    I ran also, into the rubble of a building, three of the attackers started chasing me. I fell grabbing at chunks of concrete. I threw a chunk as hard as I could at my pursuers.

    “GET AWAY! I’LL KILL YOU!!!” I screamed.

    The three stopped.

    I threw another piece, hitting one of the monsters on the chest. She or he cried out and stopped.

    The other two backed away slowly.

    “GET!!!” I threw another piece of rubble. It hit the lead mugger’s head, causing him to drop to the ground. The other two leapt at their stunned companion, ripping at his clothing. More of the Slinkers came out from the buildings on the other side of the road.
    I got up and ran into what was left of a side alley. After a few yards, I hid in debris; an old crushed dumpster and broken wall.

    A few attackers soon followed, running by me. I remained hidden, not moving for an hour. My attacker’s didn’t come back.

    It started getting to dark to see. I heard screams. They were near and far and were unnerving. I stayed awake not moving, paralyzed with fear.

    What now Ethan? You are back to a place worse than Houston. You hadn’t a turned over ambulance or store to hide in. There was nothing. Why was I staying sane? Why hadn’t I turned into one of those monsters months ago? This living, no this existence was a nightmare. I wanted to wake up from it. I pleaded within to the voices in my head to release me.

    Should I just die here? Should I do myself in?

    I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth.

    My daughters face came to mind. She stared at me smiling. Then Clair, smiling. I remembered.

    Keep going Ethan…. You can do this….I love you, Dad.

    It was enough for now. I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

    I took a quick inventory of my situation; I was dressed in my jeans and a light button up shirt. I had my boots on and a dirty bandage on my arm. Everything else I had once carried was gone. The wound to my arm and shoulder had been poorly treated. I wasn’t bleeding, but could tell I still needed stitches. It didn’t appear to be infected which was a good thing.
    I was in New Orleans. It was cold, but there didn’t appear to be any snow on the ground.

    Most importantly, I was alive.

    Night turned into morning. Shivering, I pulled myself out of my hiding place and followed the alley away from where I had run. It led to a chain linked fence, partially broken and then a barren field. I climbed over the fence, falling and snagging my pants ripping them.

    There was a warehouse of some kind and what was left of a power sub-station at the far end of the field. There were several rusted vehicles scattered about. It looked like they had been here long before the war.

    I walked warily across the field.

    The power station looked as if it’d exploded. I could smell burnt electrical coming from it. The huge doors to the warehouse were open. I peeked inside. The roof had collapsed in a few places, it looked as if this was some kind of facility for large storage containers. There were several of these Connex units spread throughout the football long warehouse. At the back I saw several stacks of pallets. Towards the center of the warehouse was a second-floor balcony and office with a set of stairs leading up to it that had collapsed.

    The storage containers were empty. I weaved my way through them and looked up to the office. If I could find some way of getting up there, I’d have a safe place to hide out in.
    I looked for rope or other items in the warehouse that would be of use. After about 20 minutes of looking I couldn’t find anything. I realized that I could use the pallets to get to the broken balcony. It took me a while to retrieve and stack enough of them where I could get to the stairs. I climbed up on top of the pallets and reached up. I grabbed the wood above me and pulled myself up, my arms screaming with pain. I made it.

    After a few seconds of panting and resting, I crawled over to the balcony and front of the office. The door to the office was closed and locked. It had a window and a closed set of blinds. I wadded up my shirt around my hand, took a breath and broke the window out. I reached in and unlocked the door.

    The office looked as if it had been left at the end of a workday. There were three desks with dead computer monitors on top of them and old swivel chairs. There was a blackboard with numbers on it. The whole side of the office had windows looking out over the warehouse.

    There was a coat rack next to the door. On it was a lightweight blue jacket which I took down and put on. I rummaged through the desks and found normal items: office supplies, and such. I grabbed a large pair of scissors and put it in my coat pocket. I found a baseball hat under one of the desks, which I also put on.

    At the back of the office was a small refrigerator, next to it a counter with some cabinets and a coffee maker. Next to that I saw a portable water dispenser. I hastily grabbed a paper cup, there was about a gallon of the water left in the dispenser. I slid down the wall, sitting on the floor and drank 4 cups.

    I closed my eyes and wondered what to do next.

    Without getting up, I opened the fridge. It contained old sack lunches and half empty bottles of water and juice. I rummaged through the sacks and found three packs of crackers and a can of tomato soup. I tore into the crackers quickly, realizing I was starving.

    The cabinets contained plates, cups, plastic forks and knives. I also found several large cans of coffee. Behind the coffee cans, I found the sugar and creamer packets that went with them.
    I could use a cup of hot coffee right about now! I flicked the switch to the coffee maker several times with disappointment.

    I looked around the office.

    This was, I guess, a start.
    The half humans were pouring into the warehouse. There were hundreds of them, some with torches. I pushed the desks, up end in front of the windows of the office. The screaming mob below started throwing pieces of rubble and torches breaking the office windows. The torches started a fire, the smoke became deadly instantaneously. I coughed and tried to think of a way out…

    I woke with a start. I had curled up next one of the desks and used the jacket I found as a pillow. My body was stiff and sore as I got up. I walked over to the fridge and grabbed the can of tomato soup. I rummaged through the cabinet drawer and found a can opener. I drank down the soup which was cold and unfulfilling. Halfway through the can I decided to add some sugar for energy. I mixed a few spoonfuls and drank the rest of the sticky sweet syrup.

    I knew I had to move. This place would not sustain me for a long period. I tried to remember whether or not I’d ever been to New Orleans. After reminiscing, I came to the conclusion that I knew nothing about the place. I sat on the desk and looked out at the warehouse below me. The containers had either been empty or long ago looted, I couldn’t be sure of either. I was sure that I wouldn’t find any of my most basic needs here. I had to act quickly.

    I did one last search the office. I found a candy bar in one of the desk drawers. This went into the pocket of my jacket along with the scissors I had found. I decided to take the coffee cans thinking that they may be of use for a trade or some such in the future. I found a black plastic garbage bag in the cabinets and put the cans in the bag.

    I made my way out to the balcony and carefully climbed down to the pallets below.

    It was midmorning when I left the warehouse. It was strangely quiet outside, maybe traveling during the day was a better idea than at night. I certainly didn’t want to meet up with any of the desperate people I had encountered at the bottom of the overpass.

    I walked back across the field littered with the hulks of rusted out vehicles, to the fence I had climbed. I followed the fence and soon found another alley. I found a place in the fence that had been ripped open and carefully made my way through.

    The buildings on either side of the alley were around 10 stories tall and covered with broken windows, the bottom story windows were encased in either bars or brick, some with both. I found several reinforced doors, but was unable to get inside of any. I made my way slowly to the main road. In the distance I could see the overpass that our little group had come down. It looked as if this was a highway into the outskirts of the city. I didn’t have any other choice but to follow the road towards the city center.

    The buildings, they looked industrial, were destroyed. It looked like they had been bombed out similar to the area I had awoken in in Houston. The road was filled, with bumper-to-bumper abandoned vehicles. I maneuvered my way from vehicle to vehicle trying to remain small and undetected.

    Some of the vehicle doors were open, every other car door window had been broken out. Some vehicles had the mummified remains of people left in them.

    I made my way to an intersection with traffic lights long dead, either crashed to the ground or standing at a haphazardly angle. There was a convenience store on one of the corners. I spent a few moments making sure the cross roads were clear and then jogged to the other side.

    I entered the store through the broken front windows and crashed security gate. Besides rows of broken shelving, the store was empty. I made my way to the back where the cooler had been. The cooler doors were shattered and empty like the rest of the store. There was an alcove leading to a bathroom and a utility closet. Both areas had been vandalized and broken. I did find the shaft of the mop or broom, which I took.

    I checked the front counter of the store. It was littered with garbage and debris; paper, receipts and wrappers. There were several pieces of paper money scattered in with the rubble. I picked up a $20 bill and looked at it; the world as I once knew it had revolved around this, now it served no purpose. I crumbled the bill up and dropped it in the pile.

    What had become important in this new life? The world had changed so quickly, overturned in almost minutes. I was jolted back into this new reality as I stood and looked at the ruins of the store. I crawled back outside and continued the direction towards the city center.

    After about a mile, the industrial area changed. There were several restaurants and bars lining the streets. After checking a few it was obvious that I wasn’t going to find much left.

    The wind started to howl through the barren avenue. Trash swirled about as I made my way down the sidewalk. I was cold but had been colder, the weather was manageable. I soon came to another intersection like the one I had just left. I found another store, the remains of a clothing business. I walked inside seeing mostly empty racks and broken mannequins. There were remnants of clothing on the floor that had been ripped and were unusable. The other clothing strewn about was made for women and children. I found an upturned seat next to the remains of the fitting rooms. I turned it over and sat down.

    I’d been in places like this with my daughter shopping. I never thought I would be back under my current circumstances, that life was distant and unclear. I sat, closed my eyes and tried to pull the memories of those happier times. All I could think about was meeting my current needs: water, food, shelter.

    I took the broom handle and used the blade of my scissors to sharpen one end. At least now I would have a weapon to defend myself.

    As I sat there, I started to hear the unmistakable sound of an engine approaching. I got up quickly and hid behind the front counter of the store. After a few minutes, I could also hear the booming sound of a car stereo. The car came within view of the intersection slowly making its way around the rubble. It was an older model four-door family car, I saw at least six occupants sitting in it with the barrels of guns sticking out the open windows. Whoever these guys were, they looked like gang-bangers and were better clothed and equipped than the people I’ve seen the day before.

    The vehicle continued on its way and I soon lost sight of it. When I couldn’t hear the booming stereo, I carefully made my way out to the sidewalk.

    Who was I to judge, but I did. Was it my own survival instincts or was it some long ago prejudice I held of the people in the car? After trying to make sense of it, I decided that not making contact with the group was a safe thing. All the people in the world had been deeply changed and affected by the way life was now. If the people in the car were criminals before the war, they most certainly would be immoral at the present.

    I turned and was physically startled.

    There was a woman standing ten feet from me wearing a tan fur-lined parka with matching fur-lined boots. She was wearing urban camouflage pants and had an old Soviet style winter hat on her head, the type with flaps. The hat had a red star on the front of it. On her jacket was a decorative button the size of a tea saucer. I couldn’t place the image on the button, but I was close enough to read the words; “Hello Kitty” printed on it. She looked at me with unblinking eyes, her auburn colored hair framing her face.

    She also held an AR 15 rifle pointed at my midsection.
    I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


    • #17
      Chapter 17

      “Hands up!” The woman said.

      I complied, dropping my broom handle.

      “Who are you?” She asked.

      “Who are you?” I replied quickly.

      “I asked you first, Idiot!” She emphasized, shouldering her rifle.

      “My name is Ethan.” My eyes widening.

      “Ethan who?, EH, Eh! Keep your hands up!” She clicked off the rifle safety.

      “Uhhh… Ethan…Just Ethan. I’m not dangerous.” I said, stumbling on my wording.

      “I’ll decide that, where are you from? How did you get here? Why are you wearing a Ravens football cap, I HATE those guys!” She machine-gunned spoke to me.

      “Wait..WHAT?” I shook my head trying to wrap my mind around the things she asked. I realized the cap I wore had a sports emblem on it.

      “You are going to shoot me because I am wearing a hat with the football team you detest on it?” I sputtered.

      “Maybe!” She replied quickly, narrowing her eyes.

      I swallowed. This woman was obviously insane.

      “Well?” She asked.

      “Well what? I’m not armed, I’m not a bad guy! I belonged to an NCSA unit. I was captured then dumped here!” I said.

      “Prove it?” She asked.

      “HOW IN THE WORLD CAN I PROVE THAT? I never wore a uniform! I was a civilian volunteer! A medic!” I tripped over my tongue.

      She looked at me unmoving.

      “Listen, my arms are getting tired. I have had a bad few weeks. Can I put my hands down?” I pleaded.

      “Well.. Okay. If you suddenly become stupid, I will shoot you full of holes, agreed?” She said.

      “Agreed.” I lowered my arms.

      “I told you my name, what’s yours?”

      “I’m Amy.” I was told after a pause.

      “Can you lower your gun, Amy?” I asked.

      She lowered the rifle back to midsection.

      “Are we just going to stand here, out in the open? I know there are dangerous people around” I asked.

      “Oh, you mean the crazy people or the gangs? I call the crazies “Zombies”” She smiled. Seriously, she smiled.

      Zombies, I thought? I guessed the remnants of humanity were zombies.

      “Okay, zombies, you win!” I nodded.

      “Tell me about your unit, your NCSA unit?” She asked suspiciously.

      “Well, we were a scout unit ordered to secure a bridge, I assume north of here. We were there a few days when we were attacked by I assume PAL, or the Northern Coalition.”

      “You assume a lot, don’t you?” She replied.

      “Well, I…I was just a medic. Listen. I’m not lying to you. I am who I say I am.”

      You’re a good man, Clair told me…..

      Amy appeared to think, tilting her head.

      “Okay. I believe you. PAL does drop off civilian NCSA prisoners in this city. It’s a wild area, but still within their A.O. They don’t believe in prisons.”


      “Area of operations.” She replied still thinking.

      I knew that acronym, my memory coming back.

      “Can we get off the street?” I asked.

      She motioned me back into the clothing store picking up a desert tan backpack on the ground behind her.

      “That’s far enough.” She ordered, taking a knee still cautiously away from me.

      Amy sat on her haunches with the rifle across her knees.

      “Would it be too much to ask about you?”

      “Me? I’m from Florida. When the bombs went off, I stumbled around until those damn PAL guys started landing on our beaches. I joined the resistance, killed a lot of them, and now I am here. That’s all you need to know” She jadedly told me.

      “Sounds like we are on the same side” I said.

      “Maybe!” She stood. “I have a place a few miles from here that’s safe. Let’s get moving before dark and the zombies come out”

      “Okay, but… Do I have a choice?” I asked.

      “Not really. If you are who you say you are, your medic skills are needed.” She again pointed the AR at me.

      “Okay. Uh, I’d be glad to help.”

      “We’ll see” She said again quickly.

      We made our way out of the store and down the street, Amy behind me, never relaxing with her rifle.
      We snuck our way down another two intersections, taking cover in the burned out buildings when my guide thought she heard something. She was younger, and probably had better hearing. Who knows how bad mine had been damaged during the battles I fought.

      We came to a restaurant that had collapsed. After making sure the coast was clear, Amy started to climb up the remains of the building. On the second floor, she began to climb a rope to the third.
      I followed struggling to get up. We soon were on the remains of the third floor of the restaurant a gaping hole through the middle. Amy took the rope from the outside and lowered it into the hole.

      “You first!” She pointed at the rope.

      I repelled down the caved in café and fell the last few feet to the ground. We were in the basement of the place.

      Amy soon followed, helped me up and guided me down a hallway and then to a door.

      “Hey!” She called out opening the door.

      “Hey what!?” A man’s voice called out.

      “Hey, I brought help, you hairless Yeti!” Amy shook her head entering the room.

      There was a middle aged man with a bald head wearing an old Soviet bloc uniform. He was laying, propped up against a wall with an AK47 next to him. The man had a bandaged leg. He looked at me in surprise.

      “I assume you are a friend?, You’d be dead if you weren’t” He asked wincing and nodding to Amy.

      “If you are fighting against PAL, then I am your friend. What happened to your leg?” I asked.

      “We were ambushed just outside the city by those Bastards. I took a round to the thigh. We ended up running into the city to escape” He winced again.

      “His name is Ethan, he claims he’s an NCSA medic. I think we can trust him.” Amy said putting down her pack and opening it.

      The man looked at me.

      “Okay, Amy, did you find the supplies?” He asked.

      “Some.” She started taking out items from her bag.

      “Let me take a look” I moved past Amy and squatted in front of the man.

      The supplies she had were basic, things you could find in a corner pharmacy store. I unwrapped the bandage on the man’s leg. I could see he indeed had taken a round through his thigh.

      “Looks clean, shot clean through. It didn’t break your remur. You were lucky. The round nearly hit a main artery.” I started disinfecting the wound using a bottle of Iodine Amy had brought.

      “This is going to hurt a little”

      The man closed his eyes and gritted his teeth.

      “I don’t suppose either of you has a suture kit?” I asked.

      “Do I look like a hospital?” Amy shot back.

      “Okay, what about a needle and thread?” I again asked.

      “How about a needle and floss?” The injured man said.

      “That’s even better” I answered back.

      The man dug into his pack and came up with the items. I took them, lucky enough flavorless floss.

      “This is going…” I started.

      “Yeah, I know hurt.” The man finished.

      I soaked the floss in the iodine then began to stitch up his leg wound. I could see the beads of sweat on his forehead, but he remained still and didn’t cry out.

      After a few minutes, I was done. I cleaned the area once again and then wrapped it in a new bandage.

      “You’re all set, No infection…yet” I said grimly.

      “Well.. Doc… Let’s hope for the best. We are a long ways from home. I think I’ll pass out now.” He said, closing his eyes.

      “Well, I guess you are who you say you are” Amy said again rummaging through her bag.

      She threw me an MRE, which I caught.

      “Payment for the work!” She smiled.

      I was starving. I ripped into the meal, sitting down. I didn’t think a military ration would taste so good.

      “Here, have some water.” Amy tossed me a bottle.

      “Thanks. I needed both”

      “Yeah, PAL prisoners don’t last long here. Hey.. You mentioned the Northern Coalition? Are they down here too?” She asked.

      “Not only are they down here, they are allied with PAL” I replied, munching away.

      “We heard that might be the case.” She paused thinking.

      “This Yeti and I are a long range reconnaissance patrol sent by the Southern Resistance. I guess I can trust you. Our primary mission was to make contact with the NCSA and to find evidence of PAL and the northern armies fighting together.” She explained.

      I thought for a second.

      “You completed half your mission, I am NCSA. I’m not sure what that will get you.” I answered.

      “We’ve been unable to learn any information. PAL has the whole southern coast and nearly all of what remains of Florida locked down.” She went on. “It’s a bad situation. What’s left of the country is being pushed from the north and the south now. If they are fighting together, it makes things even worse.”

      “You can believe me when I say that they are allies. I was in an armored Battalion in Texas, when we were attacked by both. My unit was destroyed.” I thought about George and the Colonel.
      Amy nodded. “It’s a bad situation all around.”

      “Very!” The injured man said not quite unconscious.

      “Names Myakka! Good to meet you and thank you for patching me up.”

      “Myakka? That’s a strange name.” I replied.

      “Long story” The man said.

      “How long before I’m well enough to move?” He asked.

      “I’d say at least a few days. You want time for the stitches to set and begin to heal” I told him.

      “Well, we aren’t in a hurry, I guess.” The man smiled.

      “Maybe if you had been faster with that rifle, we would have been more mobile” Amy said taking a seat on the floor.
      The man frowned and looked at me. “Do you see what I have had to deal with? Hundreds of miles of mental torture from this woman!”

      I laughed.

      These two were the “Good guys” I decided. Again, I was pulled out of the fire by a random coincidence. I began to loosen up. We talked about the war and what we did before. Both scouts had been regular citizens when PAL attacked. They had friends and family that were killed and had harrowing stories before joining up with the resistance. Their group was small but had become quite a thorn in the enemies’ plans. They conducted all manners of “low intensity conflict” on the invaders. Bombings, ambushes, I seemed to remember a movie years ago, then lost the thought.

      “I’d like to stay with ya’ll? It sounds like we are heading in the same direction.” I asked.

      “Sounds like the plan, Doc.” Myakka said. “We definitely could use your skills and another man on the team”

      “We could use another woman, a younger one. Too many old guys.” Amy said slyly.

      I looked at Myakka. He was right about this Amazon.
      A week later, we were ready to move out. Myakka’s wound was healing nicely and he was noticeably stronger, although he had a limp. The basement proved to be a supply trove from the restaurant above. We found large cans of food, sacks of rice and beans and spices. More than we could carry. I had a fleeting memory of having spicy Cajun food once with my family, the memory quickly fading. We loaded up as much as we could carry. I also found a kitchen knife, which I slide into a makeshift belt I made from some rope I found. Myakka gave me a sweater from his pack and sidearm, a stainless .357 Magnum. I admired the revolver and thanked him.

      Climbing out of the basement proved to be harder than the way down. Amy and I ended up pulling Myakka up as his leg was still too weak. After a brief rest, we climbed down onto the street. The snow was almost gone and it was considerably warmer. The city was as we left it, a mostly burned hulk. Our plan was to find the overpass and make our way out of the city.

      We moved down the street cautiously, stepping over the skeletons and mummified remains of the people who once lived in the city. It was a nightmarish scene, one I had experience with, but still shook me to my soul. I imagined New Orleans full of life, the celebrations and parades long gone. The silence was most startling. The wind moaned and the buildings creaked, adding to the apocalyptic tribulation around us.

      Amy led our group with me in the middle and Myakka taking up the rear. We traveled north, then east until we came to a huge expanse of water that Amy said was a lake. We could see the bridge in the distance and made our way to it. As we neared, it was evident that the way was blocked by huge fallen buildings. Our only way was to go deeper in the city to find a route around.

      It was dark when we heard the faint sound of music a few blocks ahead. We kept in the shadows until we could see several bon fires in an intersection. The urban music echoed onto the ruined stores and cafés surrounding the street. Myakka laid his hand on my shoulder and signaled Amy to stop, all three of us taking a knee. He pulled out a pair of binoculars and looked. He shook his head and handed them to me. I saw several of the gang members wearing the same bandanna I saw the guys in the car wearing two weeks before. Some were lounging on chairs and couches. It looked like a party, several others were drinking and dancing to the rhythm of booming music.

      Myakka whispered; “No go” to me. The intersection the gang held was centralized, a large one and the way we needed to go. We would have to backtrack, there was no way we could fight several dozen heavily armed individuals.

      “What do you think, Doc? This road leads to the bridge, our way is blocked east. It would take us another day in this hellhole to try and circumvent these idiots.” Myakka whispered.

      I looked through the binoculars again.

      I could see several vehicles parked circle wagon style around the intersection. I didn’t see any guards.

      “I wonder if we could sneak past them.” I said.

      “The light from their fires is bouncing off the buildings. I don’t see any unlighted areas.” Amy said grabbing the binoculars.

      “We’ll just have to head back, it’s too dangerous otherwise.” Myakka added.

      “Wait!” Amy whispered looking through the glass.

      “There is a pedestrian bridge on the third floor of the building to the west of the intersection. We might be able to use it. It still looks intact.” She pointed.

      I was handed the binoculars. The walk bridge was covered and went from building to building. Shattered windows covered it.

      “The fires light the bridge up. We might be seen. It looks like there might be room to crawl while remaining hidden though” I responded.

      We sat silent trying to figure out what to do.

      “Let’s take a look at the walkway. If we can find a way into the building and up, we can be out of the city by daybreak.” I looked at the party going on. “Looks like a lot of those guys are high or drunk. I think we should try.”

      After a moment Myakka answered; “Okay Doc, it can’t hurt to try. Amy, take the lead.”

      We moved slowly across the street.
      I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


      • #18
        Chapter 18

        We stayed close to the buildings, walking hunched and carefully. Half a block in we made it to the store the bridge was connected too. The gang party continued, louder now as we were closer. The place was once a department store, now all plate glass had been shattered. There were manikins mixed with the bodies of the dead in the displays and outside on the sidewalk.

        We found a window to the store that we could use to get in.

        It was then that one of the gangers started walking toward us. We got down on our stomachs. I hid behind a burnt skeleton, its face forever grinning. The gang member was a tall man with a bald head. He had an AK47 slung on his back and was wearing saggy pants down to his thighs with the ever present underwear showing above it. I slowly took out my revolver. I could hear both my companions click off the safety of their rifles.

        The man walked to the edge of the firelight and stopped. He unzipped his pants and started to urinate 20’ from us. He swayed as if he were drunk. I held my breath as he finished, turned and walked back to the party. I wasn’t the only one in our group to exhale.

        As soon as the man was back into the group, we rose and entered the department store.

        The inside of the store was trashed and it smelled like a sewer. The animals outside must be using this place as a latrine! We made our way to a cosmetic counter and hid behind it. The smell of broken perfume bottles was almost as startling as the human waste. I rose and looked at the street where the walking bridge crossed. The party was a lot larger than we had anticipated. There were several men playing cards under the bridge.

        “Looks like we can’t sneak around on the ground floor” Amy said quietly.

        “I hope we can get to the bridge, Amy, You have better eyes than us. Can you see the elevator on the back wall?” Myakka whispered.

        “Do you think it’s still running?” Amy said sarcastically.

        Myakka shook his head. “No, but the stairs should be close by, genius!”

        I looked over towards the back wall. I thought I could see the elevators. On the back wall closest to the party, I could see fitting rooms. The store was huge, about the size of a baseball field.

        “I see some fitting rooms!” I said.

        “Great! Maybe we can try on some outfits.” Amy said with a grimace.

        “Okay, enough small talk. Let’s head towards the back wall, the stairs should be there.” Myakka silenced us.

        We started moving from the counter and suddenly heard a scream. Two gang members were dragging a woman into the store. We hid again behind the counter. The two men started beating the woman. She looked middle aged and frail. The men dragged her to within rock throwing distance of the counter. They commenced to beat her and rip off her clothing. Amy clicked off the safety of her rifle and started to rise.

        “NO AMY!” Myakka whispered. “You’ll have the whole herd of those Idiots on us!”

        “I’m not going to sit around and do nothing. This is personal, you know that!” Amy said gritting her teeth.

        I wondered if she had been attacked in the past.

        “Seeing your friend raped isn’t reason enough to get us killed!” Myakka said.

        After a moment Amy kneeled back down clicking her safety on.

        “We could take these guys out with knives. Nobody at the party would miss them!” Amy said angrily.

        Myakka shook his head and after a few moments agreed.

        “Doc and I will do it! You stay here. You are too small for those men if things get out of hand.” Myakka looked at me.

        “Wait…I …Uh… I’ve never killed a man with a knife.” I stammered.

        “That woman may be your wife. I don’t like the chances, but, we need to do something. DOC! We have to try and rescue her! Amy is right” Myakka said.

        Amy pulled out a long pointed commando knife.

        “Do what I do, Doc. We’ll grab them from the rear and cover their mouths. Stick the knife up into the animal’s brain. You are a medic. You know where the brain is.” Myakka said coldly.

        Amy flicked her knife over and handed me the handle.

        I reached over and grabbed the knife as the woman being beaten continued to moan.

        I had killed before. I had never been so close however and the thought sickened me instantaneously. Myakka was right though. The woman needed help and I couldn’t turn and do nothing. I thought about my own wife, daughter and Clair. These men were evil. They would get what they deserved. The world had become more complicated than ever and I was about to make it more personally so. I nodded, Myakka pointed around the counter.
        We inched up on our stomachs in the dark. One of the gang members was laughing and telling the other to hurry. The woman did a good job struggling, even getting out of her captives grasp once, but was quickly caught.

        We were around ten feet from them when the music stopped.

        Myakka and I both stopped crawling. I held my breath. The music started again as well as the rape. We inched forward. Myakka whispered to me to take the guy leaning over the woman, he said he would take the guy standing. Both had their backs to us. I closed my eyes trying to justify killing again in my mind. It wasn’t the man I was, but one I had become. We inched forward.

        “Ready Doc?” Myakka hissed. “Yes.” I replied.

        Myakka leaped up and grabbed the man covering his face. I leaped up jumping on the other’s back, straddling him and reaching for his mouth. The man raised up and bit my hand. I dropped the knife as we tumbled to the ground. He was considerably stronger than I and soon had me on my back, strangling me. I started to panic failing around.

        Then the man went limp, sliding to the floor.

        I looked up and saw the woman holding a large piece of bloody concrete. She started pummeling the man’s face into pulp. I looked over to Myakka. He was hunched over the other ganger, cleaning the knife on the dead man’s shirt.

        “Lets GO!!” Myaaka grabbed the woman and we ran back to the dark of the store. The woman continued to sob quietly as we led her behind the counter.

        “Your safe now ma’am.” I said putting my arm around her. She covered her eyes and continued to weep silently. We looked over the counter at the party. Nobody had seen us.
        “We better move! Let’s find those stairs before they realize their friends are gone!” Amy said. We crept to the back of the store near the elevators and found the stairs going up. We opened the door to find the stairwell completely caved in.

        “Now what?” Amy hissed.

        Myakka thought for a moment. “They have to have a back storage room. Let’s find that.” We paralleled the back wall and soon came to a set of double swinging doors. I opened them to the darkness behind.
        “I’m going to need a light.” I asked and was handed a small flashlight. I cupped the light and peered in. The room contained broken fixtures and pallets, as well as heavy heating and air equipment. It was large, reaching the length of the store.

        “Let’s block this entrance, quietly.” Amy suggested.

        We started moving heavy fixtures blocking the double doors. I peeked out, the party continued.

        “There has to be a service elevator or stairs, believe it or not, I used to work in a department store!” Amy said as we stacked up the equipment. The woman sat quietly, vacantly staring at the floor. I moved to the back of the storage area searching. The place was full of boxed appliances. I climbed up on a washing machine box and looked. I saw the outline of an elevator. It was full of more boxes. Amy was right; this was a large industrial elevator used to transport goods to the floors above. It appeared as if the elevator had been left during a regular workday. I looked up in the gaping shaft shinning the flash light. It was clear, I counted five stories above. I went back to the group.

        “I found the elevator, the shaft looks clear. We could climb up using rope.”

        “Let’s not waste any time. We’re cornered here!” Myakka told the group.

        I walked over to the weeping woman. “Listen, we need to get out of here. I know you are traumatized by what happened. You have to continue to trust us, ok?” I said laying a hand on her shoulder. She looked up and nodded.

        We moved inside the elevator shaft. Amy unfurled a length of strong service rope making a loop on the end.

        “I’ll try for the second floor. It looks like there’s machinery I can hook the rope with” Amy swung the rope and tossed it above.

        After a few attempts, she whispered “GOT IT!” She pulled on the rope testing the weight. “I’ll go first.” Amy climbed up the rope like a spider monkey. She hung above the second floor door and pried it open.

        “I’ll go next”, Myakka said grunting and pulling himself up.

        “Ma’am, they are going to pull you up to safety.” Myakka tossed down the loop and I tied it around the woman. After a few moments, her light body was lifted from above.

        I was soon tossed the rope and struggled pulling myself up. Had I not lost so much weight, I was sure I couldn’t do it. My adrenaline kicked in and I was soon lying on the floor, panting on the second floor with the others. We looked around. The floor was full of household appliances. There was also a sporting goods section that looked untouched. We made our way to the panel windows looking out above the street. The party was as we left it.

        Myakka looked over the store. “I wonder why this place hadn’t been looted.” He asked nobody in particular. “Wow. There are bikes over there in the corner. We could use those if the circumstances were different. This place is a great find!”

        “People probably hadn’t found the elevator, I could barely see the outline of it.” I commented. I walked over into the sporting goods department. The place was well stocked with all manner of equipment and clothing, most importantly, hiking and camping items. I would definitely stock up while I was here. I saw some winter clothing which would fit the woman. She was only wearing shorts and a light top. I went back and hunched facing the woman. “My name is Ethan, may I ask yours?”

        “I’m Tracy” She looked up. “I..uh… Thank you for rescuing me. The Red Shoulders would have killed me” She said wiping her face.

        “Red Shoulders? Is that what they call themselves?” I asked.

        “Yes. They are ruthless murderers. They rule New Orleans. The rest of us left hide from them. They’ve killed most of my family and friends” She began to cry again.

        “Well, you’re safe now” I looked around. “At least for the present. Do you know your way around the city?” I asked Tracy.

        “Yes, I’ve lived here all my life.” She mumbled.

        “Okay Tracy. We are going to get out of here. These other two, Myakka and Amy are good people. Do you believe me?” I told her. “I need you to go pick out some clothing, make it subdued colors, Okay? Also, get yourself a pair of boots and a back pack.” Tracy got up.
        “Okay, I’ll make it quick” She nodded.
        I picked my way through the clothing and found a decent gray colored ski jacket. I also replaced my torn and old jeans with a pair of green hiking pants. New socks, a tee-shirt and two button up fishing shirts completed my clothing “shopping”. I went to the hiking section and found a military camouflaged scout pack. I also found a hiking stove, fuel and a water filter in a case. They looked expensive. I filled my pack with the rest of the things I thought I might need, based on my survival from the months prior.
        “We’re still in a giant pile of shit!” Amy said. “Let’s figure out a way up to that bridge.”

        Moving to the back of the store again, we were surprised to find the stairs leading up to the next level were more or less intact. We would have to be careful not to fall down to the first floor. Amy went first and disappeared onto the third floor. She peeked down and told us it was safe. We climbed the stairs and were soon on the next floor. The department contained electronic equipment. The huge windows facing the street were mostly intact being so far up. A layer of dust covered everything.

        “Need a new TV?” Amy said grinning.

        "I’d rather take a new flame thrower.” Myakka answered back.

        We checked the party down below. We could now count around thirty of the gang, along with a few tied up captives. There was nothing we could do for those poor souls. Tracy, luckily, didn’t know any of them.

        “There is the bridge entrance” Myakka pointed. We made our way to it quickly. The doors to the bridge were intact and locked from the inside. I could see another set of doors closed on the other side. The windows lining the bridge had shattered, pieces of glass all over the walkway.

        “We’ll have to be careful, I’ll go first” Amy knelt and started crawling across.

        “Wrap your hands up so you don’t get cut” Myakka pointed to the broken glass on the floor.

        Amy stopped and looked back. “I have gloves on, you Dolt!” She had grabbed a pair in the sporting goods department. Myakka scratched and shook his head. We followed Amy across the bridge. The music was loud and the laughing voices were near and under us. We made it to the other side and were stopped – The doors were locked.

        “Leave it to an idiot manager to make sure the doors are locked at the end of the world!” Amy murmured.

        We lay on the floor of the bridge.
        I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


        • #19
          Chapter 19

          “Any ideas?” I said.

          “If we break the glass, those monsters will hear it.” Myakka said quietly.

          “A diversion! We need a diversion. I don’t suppose any of you have explosives?” I asked in jest.

          “No… Wait. Myakka! Hand it over.” Amy reached out her hand.

          “NO! Not that. I have been saving it.” Myakka replied painfully.

          “Give it to me NOW, you stinky swamp yeti!” Amy snapped her fingers. Myakka frowned and dug in his pack, reluctantly producing a full bottle of very old whiskey. Amy took it and cut a piece of her sleeve off opening the bottle and soaking the clothing. She stuffed it into the top. A Molotov cocktail, I knew where this was going.

          “Myakka will toss the bottle and aim for one of those gang’s vehicles on the other side of the intersection. I will break the glass when the crap hits the fan below. Do you think you can do this, Yeti-Breath?” Amy said. “Make sure you arc it high enough where it can’t be seen!”

          “Don’t tell me how to throw.” Myakka replied coolly. “I was pitching balls before you were born.” He grabbed the bottle.

          This would work, I thought. We all got into position, Myakka got up on his knees taking out a plastic lighter. He lit the bomb and chucked it across the intersection. It exploded, dead on one of the gangs vehicles.

          It was instant chaos. The men got up grabbing rifles and shooting haphazardly all around. At the same time, Amy smashed the glass doors enough to crawl through. The music and gunfire continued as the gang launched an attack away from where we were hiding. We crawled through the doors into the next building.
          The next building contained an indoor mall. There were several multilevel shops lining a huge court, with a glass elevator in the middle that had been thoroughly decimated. The roof of the place had collapsed showing the morning sky above. A light rain sprinkled down through it. After walking around the outside, we found the emergency stairs door blocked by a giant floor cleaning machine. The machine was the size of a small car. We were safe for now.

          The stores appeared to be intact on this level. There were clothing shops, a candy seller, a few cell phone places, a jewelry store and several other miscellaneous places with things we could not use. Most stores had their metal gates down and were locked. Tracy moved to a shoe store and casually looked at the merchandise as if she was shopping. Amy moved into the open candy shop kicking at the fallen displays.

          The gunshots outside became random and the music had stopped. We had gone a full day and night without sleep and were tired. Myakka argued that we shouldn’t stop, if the gang outside somehow found us, we would still be trapped.

          “They’ll never see us, even if they do get in.” I said. “And, there is no way for them to get up here. Whoever moved the floor machine to block the door did us a huge favor.”

          “I still don’t like it”, Myakka replied. “If those guys determine I threw the bomb from the bridge, we are going to be in a world of hurt up here regardless if they can’t get up!”

          I thought for a moment and agreed. “Okay, what’s our plan?”

          “I’m not sure. Let’s look around” He said going into another of the stores.

          I went to the shoe store. “Tracy, you okay?” I asked her.

          “Yes. I used to go to this store.” She said in a daze and looked around sadly, “Back before everything happened.” I saw a tear forming on one of her eyes.”

          “I… I know it’s hard. I don’t have anything to say to make you feel better. The world we lived in seems so far away now. All I can really say is that life has a way of going on. You are part of that.” I told her, rubbing her back.

          “Yes” She mumbled picking up a shoe from a display and tossing it to the ground.

          “We’ll get you out of here safe Tracy. Then you can find your family and friends, like the rest of us.” I promised.

          She sat down amongst the shoes and hugged her knees with her back facing me. I could sense a heavy air of grief and pain coming from her as she spoke. “They are all dead. Every last one of them.” She stared into space. “I think I’d just like to stay here. This is still my town…my mall.” She whispered.

          I shook my head. There really was nothing else I could tell her. It appeared as if she had come to the end of her road. I turned and walked back towards the others. Amy came out of the candy store.
          “SCORE!” She said grinning with boxes of chocolates in her arms. Myakka soon returned and we dug into the sweets.

          “What’s with her?” Amy chewed and pointed to the shoe store.

          “She says she has nobody left and wants to stay here.” I replied.

          Amy shrugged her shoulders, popping candy into her mouth. “Well… if that’s what she wants to do. Besides, she’ll slow us down.”

          “Amy! That’s horrible!” I paused.

          Amy shrugged again. “It’s the truth. Sounds like she has made her mind up. LISTEN. I’m not done living, if she is that’s her own problem.”

          “Maybe we can convince her, tell her she’ll die here.” Myakka added.

          I looked toward the shoe store. “I’m afraid Amy is right, that’s what she wants.”

          We stuffed ourselves with stale chocolates. I took a box and laid it near the still sitting Tracy. She didn’t look up or make any movement. I patted her on the shoulder and went back to the others.
          We did a thorough search of the floor and found a hallway leading to some bathrooms and a utility room. The room had all manner of cleaning equipment, tools and supplies to keep the mall running. Towards the back we found a narrow door with a padlock and chain on it. Myakka rummaged around the room and soon came back with a metal saw. We took turns sawing the heavy chain until it dropped to the floor.

          I opened the door. There was a narrow shaft that had a built in ladder leading up and down the insides of the building.

          “I think we found our way out!” I said. Myakka looked up and down the shaft.

          “Maybe this leads to the roof. The buildings in this part of town are close together, I don’t know about you, but, we need to get back to the ground level. We’re trapped like rats up here.” Myakka whistled. I realized what he was saying. Staying high would be a death sentence if the bandits below got organized.

          “I’ll go talk with Tracy. Be right back.” I walked back out to the shoe store.

          Gunfire suddenly erupted down towards the court and I instinctively fell to the floor. I heard men screaming as they shot automatic weapons up into the mall. Rounds broke glass and pinged off of metal. I backed up against a store gate and made my way sideways to the shoe store. Tracy was gone, the box of chocolates left where I had placed them. I exited, staying close to the wall and back around to the hallway. I could see Myakka and Amy peering out of the entrance, pointing their rifles towards the court.

          “Looks like they figured things out!” Amy said excitedly.

          “Tracy is gone. We don’t have time to look for her. Let’s get to the shaft!” I said running past them.

          We started climbing the ladder.
          We climbed six more floors and made it to an unlocked hatch. Soon we were all up on the roof. Myakka was right, the roofs on the buildings formed together to the east, they all looked partially destroyed, but we could manage to navigate our way across them. We had to be careful climbing on the remains of walls and the tops of the structures. We climbed across three building roofs. The city block shortly ended to another intersection below. There were two sheds standing on the last roof we were on, both had doors leading down and both were chained shut.

          We realized the shots stopped as well. We peered over the edge of the building and saw the gangers patrolling and looking for us several blocks down. I circled the building top.

          “There! “ I pointed down the backside of the structure, the others ran up. A fire escape into a debris filled alley.
          The escape was one story down and could be easily gotten to from the roof. We each lowered ourselves to the rusted stairs, and then slowly climbed down. I sneaked over to the road and peered out of the alley. After checking it was clear, we took off away from where the gang was searching.

          We ran most of the day, weaving in and out of roads and passageways, stopping only to drink water then moving quickly again. We thought we were heading east. It was hard to gauge within the city.
          The construction of the city changed from modern skyscrapers to old classic brick buildings. We walked under a huge built up highway. This part of the city, we realized, had been thoroughly burned. Ash and skeletons littered the ground. All the cars looked like they had exploded. Amy found and uncovered a sign. It read “Bourbon Street 1 mile”.

          “We’ve been going the wrong way!” Myakka said painfully. “We’ve headed south instead of east. This is the start of the old town, the French quarter.”

          “What do we do?” I said.

          “Let me think.” Myakka took a seat on a burnt out car. “It looks like this place has been bombed. It could have dangerous radioactive levels.”

          I remembered something I had been told. “I was told that Iran used a lot of conventional weapons. It would make sense if they bombed this part of the country. We haven’t really seen any of the destruction a nuclear bomb would make.” I thought out loud.

          “You do know that Cuba tossed a few nukes our way too.” Amy seethed. “Miami was obliterated!”

          “I didn’t know. I’m..uh… Sorry if you had relations there.” I looked at Amy sadly.

          “Well, that’s life in the end of the world!” She picked up a brick looking at it.

          “I think our best course of action is to continue and find the Mississippi river. It weaves its way around the south of the city, if I remember correctly.” Myakka interrupted.

          “Okay Bro. Lead the way!” I answered.

          “If my hair starts falling out, I’m going to throttle you!” Amy looked at Myakka, her eyes narrowing.

          “Don’t worry, you’d look good bald, like me!” He replied, getting up, rubbing his head and walking towards the overpass.

          I had seen pictures of the French Quarter. The roads spilled with costume people having a good time in the quaint old city. This place looked nothing like that; it was now lifeless and eerily quiet. There were birds, although few. We even saw a ragged dog which ran from us. These were good signs, telling us that there may not be fallout.

          “We need to stop soon and rest. Let’s find somewhere out of the way. Amy, work your magic.” Myakka looked back at her. Amy moved ahead, in and out of the remains of the brick pile building fronts. After a few blocks, she came out of one and raised her hand. “I think this one will work, I may have found a basement.” We entered the place and discovered it was an old bar. There were tables and chairs strewn about. Towards the rear of the room, a massive wooden counter with broken glass shelving and beer lights. Amy hopped over the counter pointing to the ground.

          “An old hatch, looks like it was missed” She began to clear broken glass and other debris from the floor and the rubber mat that covered it. The portal door down was made out of the same wood the bar and floor had been made from. It was nearly indistinguishable from the floor.

          “How on earth did you find that?” I asked her.

          “Easy. I saw it in a movie!” She grinned. I laughed out loud.

          “No kidding?” I asked.

          “Yup, no kidding!” She opened the hatch and showed a flashlight below. “It was an old black and white about a tavern owner who worked and lived in his bar. He lived in the basement below it. He would climb down a hatch, just like this one.”

          There was a short set of stairs leading down. Unfortunately, the smell of rotting corpse greeted us.

          “You first!” Amy pointed at Myakka.

          He shook his head, muttering something about “Zombies”. Myakka slowly descended the stairs. After a moment he gave the all clear. Amy grabbed a rubber mat and closed the door so the mat would cover the hatch.
          I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


          • #20
            Chapter 20

            When inside the cellar, I looked around with a sleek flashlight I had gotten from the department store. It was full of cases of beer and other alcohol.

            “Looks like we won’t go thirsty.” Amy chuckled.

            “The last time we found something like this, I remember getting into a shootout because one woman couldn’t keep her drunken mouth shut!” Myakka said.

            “Don’t worry Dude, I won’t let you get that drunk again!” Amy patted him on the shoulder.

            Myakka huffed. “We got another problem.” He shined his flashlight to the corner of the room. There was a mummified corpse sitting on the back wall surrounded by empty bottles and packages of bar food.

            “Just cover him up, you Wuss. We won’t be here long and he aint going anywhere. Unless, of course, I decide to get into the alcohol trading business. This is quite a find!” She wooted.

            I smiled at my new friends. These two were characters. They probably wouldn’t have met if the crap hadn’t hit the fan. I was just glad I had met them. I shivered to the thought of where I would be now if I hadn’t. I would probably be dead. God must have plans for me yet. I had made it through a lot of harrowing times, most just barely making it.

            I sat down and cracked open a beer.
            We were able to wrap the alcohol macerated body in plastic and a rug. Amy even found some air freshener, which we liberally used in the little cellar. It became almost bearable. The smell of death was something everybody got used to. Even in the snow, rotting bodies were a problem. As time went on, I didn’t notice the smell as much. This poor guy, who probably died of hunger, was different. He was pickled by what he tried to survive on. That and his flesh breaking down was a nightmare. I wondered why he didn’t leave. Was it greed with all his booze? Or maybe fear. Nobody would now know. This place would be his crypt forever.

            Myakka produced a small battery powered lantern. It did a good job of lighting up the place. We used bottled water, which the cellar had in abundance, and a small military grade stove and pot to cook beans and rice Amy produced from her pack. We spices we had found in the cellar, and soon began eating and warming up. It wasn’t bad, Myaaka was a good cook!
            After we ate, I saw Amy writing in a small notebook and then unfolding a map.

            “Whatcha doing there, Girl?” I asked.

            She looked up. “This is my treasure map!” She said grinning.

            “She writes down all the caches we find. Marks it on the map too!” Myakka said.

            “Someday, I’m going to get a truck and visit all the places and pick up the loot.” Amy stated. “I’ve got over twenty already. The Yeti and I hide them as best we can. I figure I’ll try and push over the bar, hiding this place.”

            “She’s nuts” Myakka mouthed to me. I shook my head and grinned.

            “I know one thing we are going to grab here. More booze bottles for Molotov Cocktails. Those things work!” I said.

            “Great idea Doc! Who knows when they will come in handy? You can carry them!” Amy said bitingly. I shrugged still having plenty of room in my pack. I grabbed four bottles of Vodka, figuring they would have the highest alcohol level. I looked around and found a box of bar t-shirts. The shirts had the name “Goodies” on them in big black letters with “The party starts here” on the back. I looked towards the body. Goodies was the name of the place, huh? I thought, the poor guy. I cut one of the shirts into strips and tied one on each bottle.

            We sacked out on the floor, sleeping for a few hours. When I woke up, I was sore, either from sleeping on the hard ground or from running across the city, I had no clue. Amy and Myakka didn’t seem to have the same problems. I figured they had slept in some pretty uncomfortable places and were probably used to it. We were soon ready to go. Myakka replaced his bottle of whisky he had lost with a not so expensive brand with a frown.

            We climbed the narrow stairs, Myakka peaked out. It was clear for us to leave. Amy dragged large pieces of debris and other trash, covering the opening, making it look like part of the demolition of the place. We then headed down the road towards the French Quarter.

            Another half mile, we turned a corner and saw our first group of scavengers. There were ten dressed in dirty and tattered clothing. They each had some sort of mêlée hand weapon; an axe, bat, or club. The leader was a large man with a full beard that was braided. He pulled out a pistol and opened fire on us. We took cover behind a wrecked van as the others in the group ran towards us screaming incoherently. Myakka and Amy shot at the same time, dropping two of the attackers. Upon seeing their friends fall, the other seven skidded to a stop turned and ran back, passing their leader.

            The leader was more fearless and took cover behind a burnt family car, shooting inaccurately at us in rapid succession. All three of us fired back, me finally getting my revolver out.
            “Doc, He aint going anywhere! It’s time for one of your bombs!” Myakka screamed continuing to place well aim shots and causing the boss to take cover.

            I pulled a bottle out, unscrewed the top and wet the wick. The man was about thirty yards from us. I took out a lighter and prepared to throw the cocktail.

            “WE’LL COVER YOU!” Amy yelled, both stood and fired into the other vehicle. I lit the cloth strip and threw the bomb.

            My aim was off, the bottle shattered near the vehicle causing a large flame to spray out across the concrete. The Scavenger boss finally lost his nerve. He shrieked, turned and ran towards where his followers had gone.

            We waited a few moments, and then approached the two that had been shot. One was breathing in quick ragged movements, the other was still. Both had been shot in the upper torso.

            “This guy will be dead in minutes, there is nothing we can do.” I said.

            “You mean nothing we WILL do” Amy said. She took out her commando knife and scrawled a “Z” on her rifle butt-stock.

            It was then I noticed she had at least thirty more etchings.

            “Let’s go! Before more come!” Myakka said.

            We raced down the road away from the Zombies. I expected to find a decimated parade with those creepy Mardi Gras carnival floats. It must have been the wrong time of year, thankfully we didn’t discover any. It would have added to the hellish scene of the city.

            We soon saw other people in the road a few blocks down, They were still and dressed strangely. Myakka pulled out his binoculars and looked as we took cover.

            “What the hell is this?” He said.

            I grabbed the binoculars. I could see the figures were all dressed in period costumes and were….posing. Their faces looked melted adding to the horror of it all.

            “WAX! They’re made out of wax. There is a museum over there. Some crazy person must have dragged them out!” Amy commented with wide open eyes.

            “The sooner we get out of this place, the better!” Myakka ran towards the figures. We weaved our way through the wax figures. Their melted expressions were disturbing and out of place.

            “You going to mark this on your map, Amy” Myakka kidded her.

            She shuddered. “No, but I wouldn’t mind coming back and setting them all on fire.”

            “You’d sleep with a bloated corpse, but you’re afraid of wax people?” Myakka laughed.

            “Let’s just get out of here” Amy pushed one of the figures over, jogging past it.

            A mile more and we came to the Mississippi river. It was full of half sunken boats and destroyed ships. For a brief moment, I thought it may be a good idea to find a boat and use it to navigate the river. I told the others who disagreed with me saying that doing so would make a huge target. We decided to stick with the plan and follow the direction of the river.
            Slowly crawling along, came to a city park and hopped a low wall. The trees here were dead and leafless, nothing was alive. Myakka sadly commented on how beautiful the city once was.

            “I took my family to New Orleans a few years back. Those were happy times.” He said to nobody in particular. Amy and I were quiet.

            We continued walking through the park and came to a lip of a huge crater. The crater gouged a hole in the ground the size of a basketball court. It was filled with broken pipes and murky brown water.

            “Looks like you were right, Doc. Conventional weapons.” Amy said.

            Myakka stood, staring out into space, thinking.

            The nation would never be fixed, I concluded. There was too much damage to repair. Maybe one day, we could rebuild. It would be different though. The things we knew were gone. I picked up a rock and threw it in the crater. It bounced off the broken concrete sides and made a “sploosh” sound in the water below.

            “We need to move! No time for any more reflection.” Myakka shook his head and started off.

            After making our way out of the park, our pace slowed because of the destruction in this part of the city. There were several more craters scattered about and whole buildings completely destroyed. We exercised our way through them carefully. After a few blocks, we were stopped by a large upside down fishing trawler blocking the road. I wondered what kind of force could pick something like this up and toss it like a toy.

            We continued our journey and before long stopped suddenly. Ahead we heard a terrible inhuman shrieking. All of us took cover. A figure appeared walking towards us. The person was stained gray like the scavengers we saw; its clothing and skin. It was gaunt, a walking skeleton and had long white tangled hair. The being crept along with its arms out, its bony fingers reaching. It would stop and screech every few steps.

            I hugged the wall trying to make myself disappear. I looked at Myakka, his face was a twisted scowl. He took off the safety of his rifle, hugging it close.

            The figure neared us, stopped and screamed. Amy, who was lying behind some rubble covered her ears and closed her eyes.

            The creature continued to stalk an unseen foe. It walked past where we were hiding and soon disappeared around a corner.

            “Let’s get out of this hell hole! “ Myakka said. “I think it’s getting to me.”

            I silently agreed. Today had been one ghastly sight after another, a true horror show! I never again wanted to experience what I had seen. I hoped that if I finally reached Atlanta, it wouldn’t be anything like this city. I knew my chances were slim of finding an intact and pleasant home. I just hoped that I could find my family and that they had somehow managed to endure this terrible new world intact. I also knew, that the longer I survived, the chances of it were slim.

            We continued to follow the river.
            I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


            • #21
              Chapter 21

              It soon started becoming dark. As much as all of us wanted out of the city, we had to find another place to hole up in. Amy scouted ahead of the group within eyesight. Before long she signaled us, coming out of a building and raising her hand.

              “I think I’ve found a place.” Her whisper echoed through the street.

              Amy found a small ruined fish market. I looked around the deserted business. There were pictures on the walls of smiling anglers, holding enormous fish. There was a large price board to the back of a shattered display case and counter. Next to the counter was a walk-in freezer. We cautiously opened the door. It was dark and empty, however warm inside. We went in and used a mop handle to secure the door.

              “Smells like fish!” Myakka said lighting his lantern. “I miss fish. I want to eat fish.”

              “You and me both, Bro.” I replied. “I wonder if there are fish left in the ocean with this climate change and all the bombs that fell.”

              Myakka shrugged. “Maybe, I’m not sure. If there are, I’d like to open a fish and chip place. You know, good beer batter and fresh fries. I have this tartar sauce recipe….” He became lost in thought.

              “Sounds good. I know I would visit.” My stomach started to rumble at the thought of seafood.

              “We’ll be partners! All of us! Amy can clean the fish!” He grinned.

              “No thanks. I don’t do guts!” Amy said, causing me to smile. This woman was tough, had killed and survived more terror than humanly possible, but still retained some of her post-life personality. The world wasn’t the only thing that had changed. Could this entire personal trauma in our lives be fixed, I wondered. Could I ever forget all that I had seen? I shrugged and started taking out cookware from my pack.

              “The menu tonight will be….Beans and rice!” I said.

              “Great, absolutely great!” Myakka mumbled fatuously taking out his stove.

              We ate and quickly lay down to sleep. It didn’t take long for Amy to start snoring. I couldn’t sleep as fast and thought about my family. I did finally doze off and I dreamed about the shrieking creature we had seen. It was chasing me through the streets. I was finally cornered by the thing and it reached its nailed hands to my throat. I woke with a start. Amy was awake and hugging her knees. She was crying softly.

              “Bad dreams?” I whispered.

              “Yeah. I guess I’m not as tough as I look.” She muttered back.

              I remembered what Clair and Harriet had told me.

              “Amy, you are a good person. You are going to be alright.” I tried to sooth her.

              “Maybe… maybe not” She said getting back under her poncho liner and turning from me.

              I wasn’t able to get any more sleep that night.

              We moved out while it was still dark. I realized, I was exhausted – Both physically and mentally. I yearned for my trailer back at Fort Vicksburg. The safety of all the soldiers around it, the food and warmth of a real bed. I wondered if Amy and Myakka had experienced some of that comfort. Probably they hadn’t since before the world had changed. I felt for my new friends and was determined to help them more than ever.

              “Hey guys. I …uh.. Never really thanked you for pulling me out of the fire. I..” I said stumbling my words.

              Myakka shushed me. “People need each other, Doc. That’s one lesson I’ve learned. This place is bad but it will get better once we are in the country.”

              We packed up quickly and left the fish shop. After a few more miles we came to an overpass across the river. The sun was setting east across the bridge. We all breathed a sigh of relief, at last we would soon be out of the city.

              Myakka took the lead and abruptly motioned us to stop, he lowered to the concrete behind an abandoned truck.

              Across the bridge was a PAL checkpoint with heavy weapons pointed towards the city.
              “Great…Great” Myakka turned and sat down with his back to the vehicle. “We’d be cut down in seconds if we tried to cross.”

              “Looks like PAL have more of a hold on this place than we thought.” Amy peeked over the vehicle.

              “New Orleans, the largest prison in the world.” Myakka said sarcastically and wiped his face with his sleeve.

              “It looks like the river curves to the south.” Amy observed. “Myakka, didn’t you tell me there’s another bridge to the northeast? Leading over the marsh lands? We may not have to cross the Mississippi after all.”

              “Yes, but we would have to go back into the city. Also, the river isn’t the only water source surrounding this place. There are lakes and the bay that block the whole city. ” He said. My stomach churned.
              “What are the chances that bridge is guarded as well?” I added.

              “Doc, I’d say it’s certain.” Myakka uttered.

              “We need to find a boat. That’s the only way we are going to get past these idiots.” He continued. “We’ll have to find something small and paddle across when it’s dark.”

              “Let's get up high and take a look at things.” Amy said.

              I looked back towards the city. A few blocks away, I saw a tall skyscraper. “There, that building.” I pointed.

              “Let’s move!” Amy jogged in the buildings direction, with us following close.

              It took us an hour to reach the skyscraper or what was left of it. All the exterior of the building – The glass windows, the metal siding had been blown off. All that was left was the framework of support beans and concrete floors. We found the stairs and hiked twenty stories, picking our way to the edge, climbing over desks and other furniture.

              From this position we could see that the river did indeed turn south and ran through a suburban area of the metropolis. To our left, we could see the main part of the city end in a massive lake or bay. A highway snaked through the city ending with a massive overpass.

              “That’s the northeast bridge to this place.” Myakka commented. “It’s where we need to go.”

              “I think we should camp up here tonight, no lights. We can see a long ways and I’m sure we could be seen.” Amy said.

              We set up a small area in the center of the building floor. The wind started to howl being so high up. We moved desks forming a square and stacked them two high to block it. We ate the last of Amy’s MREs and prepared to sleep.

              During the night, we were awakened by gunfire. Below us to the east was a massive battle. We could see vehicle mounted machine guns and explosions.

              “Any thoughts on that?” Myakka huddled under a poncho liner and looked over the edge.

              “It may be that gang. Who knows who they are fighting? “I said.

              “This gets worse every minute we are here. I’m going to try to get more sleep.” He replied walking back to our shelter. I watched the fighting for a few moments longer and soon joined the others.

              Morning came with the end of the night's battle. There were sporadic shootings that still echoed, but no combatants could be seen. We packed up and made our way down to the street. It was easy to find our way towards the bridge. We soon came to fresh scavenger bodies from the previous night’s battle. They weren’t the only victims; a gang vehicle was on fire filled with dead occupants. We shadowed another block and the shooting started again fiercely. We took cover in an abandoned café and looked down the street.

              The Red Shoulders were advancing towards some barricades and people with a huge semi-truck, beefed up with iron plating a few blocks in front of us. They were maneuvering behind it, running from cover to cover shooting automatic weapons. There were several more vehicles slowly following the massive truck. Their enemy was a horde of scavengers, attacking them in droves with mostly hand weapons. Most fell under the fire of the gang, however, with the shear mass of attackers, hand to hand combat ensued. We saw more than one gang member get butchered. A few of the scavengers had bows and firearms and were fighting from behind the foot soldiers. We even observed one skeleton like zombie race up and throw a fire bomb at the semi-truck. He or she was instantly cut down by automatic weapon fire. The bomb exploded harmlessly against the trucks armor. The ragged group of half-humans was being pushed back toward the bridge we were heading for.

              We quickly crossed the street into another building.

              “We’ll stay with them until we get close to the bridge.” Myakka panted. “Then hide and wait until they retreat.”

              The battle pushed one more block. We exited and were unexpectedly met by a group of five gang reinforcements running up from our backside.

              Amy and Myakka wasted no time firing into the just as surprised group. Three fell while the other two took cover behind a ruined taxi. I pulled out my pistol and tried to get a shot. I fired through the windows, causing the two to disappear behind the vehicle seeking better cover. Amy advanced under the cover of our fire and was able to envelope the kneeling gangers. She kicked at one holding a rifle, causing him to spray rounds upward. At the same time, Myakka ran forward and hopped onto the Taxi’s hood and shot the other. Amy pummeled the man with the stock of her rifle. Both men were brutally taken out of action. I ran up to them and noticed Amy’s arm was bleeding.

              “You’re hit!” I shouted.

              “It’s nothing Doc, GET DOWN!” Amy replied going prone.

              Myakka pulled his binoculars and looked around the vehicle at the Red Shoulders main force. A few had turned hearing the gunfire and dived behind cover. We hid behind the taxi hoping that none of the gang had seen us.

              No luck. We started taking gunfire from the attackers.
              Incoming rounds pinged off the taxi. I tried to get as flat as I could behind my cover. A small group of Red Shoulders peeled off from their main group and advanced toward us. Amy and Myakka started shooting well placed shots, hitting two of mob.

              “Doc! I think it’s time for more of your fire bombs!” Myakka shouted.

              I shakily took my pack off and prepared three of the bottles. I peeked through the windows of the taxi, the men were still advancing while shooting from the hip. They were a little too far for me to throw. I waited while my friends fought.

              ‘NOW DOC!” Myakka yelled.

              I lit the three Molotov cocktails and threw them as hard as I could down the street. Two of the bombs exploded dead on, closely near the attackers. Three men were engulfed in flames, running a few more feet before falling.

              The startled survivors ran back toward the main force and were cut down by our fire.

              “We’re only three blocks from the bridge! If they turn and use their heavy weapons, we’re dead!” Myakka reloaded his AK.

              It was then the unexpected happened. We started hearing a shrill sound followed by far off thumps. Incoming artillery! Rounds started exploding within both groups of fighters. The semi-truck took a direct hit, blowing the vehicle into the air, causing it to spin and landing on the vehicles behind. The deadly fire went on for five minutes, obliterating both gang and scavenger alike. The incoming rounds stopped just as sudden as they had started and the area got jarringly quiet. The only sound we heard was the flames of the destroyed vehicles. We saw two Humvees with PAL markings and turret machine guns drive down the bridge. They spent a few minutes finishing off survivors and then drove back across.

              I laid there in amazement and shock. Over three hundred people were massacred before me.

              “Thank you PAL!” Amy grimaced. “Remind me to send them a Christmas card.”

              Myakka exhaled. “Looks like they had the area zeroed in.”

              “Problem solved!’ Amy replied.

              “Those are Americans!” I sputtered angrily, looking at the carnage.

              “Those WERE Americans Doc”, Myakka said taking a drink of water.

              PAL had saved us. I knew we would have been dead if they hadn’t. I couldn’t get over the fact that all those people died, even if they were trying to kill us. I guess I was soft inside. Amy and Myakka were in high spirits about what had happened, proving that they were hard fighters. I presumed my previous life practicing medicine, a man of peace, caused a conflict deep within me. Wait! I remembered. I was a doctor and had a clinic. The memory of the place flooded back through me; my nurse staff. My patients. I remembered my last name; I was Doctor Ethan Cole.
              I sat there taking it all in.

              “Doc, what’s wrong?” Myakka shook me back to reality.

              “Oh, it’s nothing. I just…this is going to be hard to believe… I just remembered some of my old life!” I said in amazement.

              “Let me guess, you were a male stripper?” Amy joked.

              “Ah no, I was a Doctor. I am a doctor.” I shook my head.

              “That’s great Doc! We won’t have to call you something different!” Amy said grabbing her arm. “This dang thing hurts. Could I get you to look at it?”

              “Of course!” I started treating her wound.

              “When you finish with that Doc, we’ll take a closer look at the bridge.” Myakka added.

              The anger in me faded and was replaced with a moment of joy. The fight had awoken something inside me.

              At least now, I knew who I was.
              I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


              • #22
                Chapter 22

                We waited until it was dark to sneak to the bridge. The bombed out area was gruesome. Blood and body parts could be seen by the still burning vehicles as we picked our way through. Nobody had been left alive by the PAL butchers. The bridge was narrow and short. Across from it, we could hear generators first then saw lights from a PAL checkpoint. There were two of the heavily armed Humvees and about a dozen soldiers at the position.

                “PAL regulars.” Myakka said looking through his binoculars. He turned, spying out the river. “We could follow the river, if I remember right, it begins at the lake that the city borders.”

                We crept off quickly. After a few more blocks, we found another bridge and the lake. The bridge had been demolished. The good news was that there weren’t any soldiers guarding it.

                “Looks like we’re going to have to get wet….great.” Amy whispered.

                Myakka produced three plastic trash bags. We took off our outer layers of clothing, down to our underwear which along with our packs went into the bags. Myakka looked at Amy and laughed out loud. “I forgot you wore those!” He said.
                Amy was wearing “Elmo” long underwear. I smiled.

                “Where on earth did you get those?” I asked.

                “Listen. Take a picture, it will last longer. Let’s talk about fashion later!” Amy lowered herself into the ice cold water, using her large leaf bag as a float. Myakka followed with me taking up the back.

                The coldness of the water hit me like somebody punching me. It caused me to gasp out loud and get shushed by Myakka. We crossed quickly and then got up shivering and soaked to the bone. There wasn’t any time to warm and put on dry clothing. We jogged a block and found a large bombed out apartment building. It took time to find a hole in the rubble where we could crawl into. The space was small and cramped. Myakka got out his stove and lit it while Amy camouflaged the entrance. We all shivered silently, trying to warm up in the space with the little heater.

                “I…never…want…to …do that again.” I said gritting my teeth.

                “Doc, you have to do what you have to do to survive. Amy and I have been through worse.” Myakka sputtered.

                “Yeah, toughen up Buttercup!” Amy said smiling. I got the idea she liked seeing us frozen, or she liked being frozen.

                It took a few hours to dry up. We cooked some rice and added the Cajun spices. Myakka even pulled out his whisky and gave us a shot. He said you should never drink a lot of alcohol when your body is cold. Doing so fools the body and may make you drowsy. Sleep was the last thing you needed to do if you were in danger of hypothermia. Made sense to me, Myakka really knew some survival tricks. I remember him telling me he had been a forest firefighter in the previous life. Those guys had skills!

                We bundled up using our body heat and tried to rest. After a few hours, we were once again ready to go.

                We waited for darkness to fall.
                When it was dark enough, we left our hide.

                The city had changed from the high buildings to industrial complexes and homes. We crept a few blocks and came to a large field to our left. We low crawled to a grassy rise and took a look below. Inside the field was the PAL artillery unit. They had three self-propelled guns protected within a sandbag perimeter. There were several support trucks and tents set up to the rear of the pieces. There were only a few guards, lazily patrolling.

                “Those are old Russian Self-propelled pieces” Myakka whispered. “Still deadly. Let’s give them a wide berth. Amy, mark them as intel.”

                “Copy that!” Amy said taking out and scrawling in her notebook.

                I looked at the guns and thought. If PAL could spare these for “Prison detail” I thought they were better equipped than the NCSA thought. The guns must have come from Iran or Cuba, or one of the other countries that hated Americans. I wondered how the NCSA could hold ground, they had so many well equipped enemies wanting to take it.

                We made our way through the first housing developments. It was dark and unsettling walking through the houses; they were still intact, but almost every front door was open. We saw signs that a lot of the residents left, luggage and boxes at the front of the house. They had gone quickly. We hiked for two hours following the road east.

                At daybreak, we were attacked by our first pack of now wild household pets. A group of five mixed race dogs came out from one of the houses and started barking and growling at us. They slowly stalked toward our group. The lead dog was a Golden Retriever, matted with dirt and who knows what else.

                “DON’T SHOOT!, we are still in PAL owned territory..The shots will alert them!” Myakka said. I heard Amy clicking off her safety.

                “We’ll be forced to defend ourselves!” Amy said raising her rifle.

                Myakka ran towards the dogs picking up a brick from the ground. He threw it at the lead dog while yelling; “Scat!” The lead dog yelped, falling to the ground then getting back up and slowly withdrawing. The others in the group ran off except for one small terrier that leaped forward and grabbed on to my boot. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so pathetic. I shook my leg until the dog released, then kicked towards it causing it to back away. The dogs followed us from a distance howling and whining. I always had a thing for animals. When they were mistreated or abused it angered me. These poor dogs had been left by their masters, left to die.

                A few more blocks, the pack continued following us. We heard a commotion and turned to see the dogs being attacked by a stronger group of the wild dogs. We turned and watched the battle wage. The original pack soon lost its alpha dog and the rest ran off with some of the stronger dogs chasing them. The dogs that were left ripped into the still alive pack leader.

                Humans weren’t the only life forms, literally clawing to trying to survive.
                We walked through the suburban streets for the rest of the day. All three of us were exhausted. It didn’t look like we would clear the city soon. We decided to make camp, finding a house in half-way good condition and clearing it. Myakka disappeared into the kitchen and soon called out;

                “Looks like this house has propane! The pilot lights still on after all these months.” He laughed in amazement. “I even found pots and a few canned goods!”

                “We’ll be sleeping on real beds tonight too!” Amy whooped as she came out of a back bedroom.

                “Let’s not get to comfortable. Who knows if PAL still patrols this area?” I asked grimly.

                “We’ll have to set up a guard. Doc, you take first shift, five hours until around midnight. Amy you take second and I’ll take the last.” We nodded.

                We cooked a fine pot of Jambalaya using cans of chicken we found in the cupboard and the last of the spices from the restaurant. We ate sitting on old living room furniture. It reminded me of my grandparent’s house, the couch was paisley and had a plastic cover on it. Amy ripped the cover off, saying the owners wouldn’t be back. I sat on the clean, soft sofa and sighed. I closed my eyes and thought this could be like old times.

                “Hopefully we’ll be out of the city tomorrow.” Myakka said tossing his empty plate on the coffee table and sitting back in a lazy boy chair. “I don’t know about you all, but I need a few weeks in a beach resort.”

                “Yeah, I’m sure there are resorts still running.” Amy said sarcastically.

                “I’ll find my own beach and START a resort. I’ll charge you double.” He said.

                I smiled.

                We finished up dinner and placed the plates and pot in the sink unwashed. Myakka gave me a watch he had found and told me to stay in the living room until my shift was over. He and Amy made their way to the two bedrooms of the house and were quickly quiet. I wrapped a sleeping bag around me and lay on the couch with my revolver on my lap. I finally had a chance to think and reflect, mostly about my wife and kids.
                A memory came back of being on a beach with my family. I could almost see my wife’s face as she served me a fancy cocktail with one of those stupid little umbrellas in it. We ate platters full of fresh grilled seafood and I had actually made a disappointed comment that there weren’t any oysters in it. Funny how life changed, I would fight an entire PAL battalion for that plate of seafood now. I caught myself dozing off and stood up. Maybe someday I would find my family and be with them.

                Six hours later I woke Amy up who wasted no time scolding me for letting her sleep the extra hour. I guided her still sleepy body to the couch and then went back to the room. The bed was still warm from her sleeping. I laid down covering myself with my bag and was soon asleep.

                I was awoken with a start by Myakka, who shushed me.

                “Do you hear that?” He said.

                “Umm, no. Hear what?” I answered.

                I then heard a faint sound of music. It sounded like a guitar was playing far off.

                “That’s somebody playing a guitar!” I said stumbling out of my cocoon. “It sounds far off.”

                “It sounds like its coming from the direction we are going. Let’s get the Amazon up and move out early.” He said rapidly. We packed up quickly, even with a sleepy complaining Amy. We were soon heading toward the sound of the music.

                The music stopped after a few blocks. The houses ended into a marsh area. We followed a side road until we got to a highway exchange. The road signs told us that this was Highway 10 East. Across the exchange was a startling sight. There was an amusement park that was empty and grown over. Most of the attractions were under water adding to the creepiness of the place. Myakka told us that the park had been abandoned before the bombs. I guessed the rest of the city finally caught up. Amy wanted no part of the park, mumbling something about scary clowns.

                We headed east on Highway 10.
                I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


                • #23
                  Chapter 23

                  We walked mostly in the open down the highway. It was slow going; on each side of the road was deep gray colored marshland or bayou as Myakka called it. Two miles down and we heard the sound of vehicles coming toward us. We rushed into the swamp, concealing ourselves in the sticky mud and low growth bushes.

                  A convoy of PAL resupply trucks came within view. There were two five ton military trucks led by a Humvee. They lackadaisically passed by us, the Humvee gunner didn’t have his heavy machinegun loaded and was smoking un-alert. PAL felt safe that was apparent. We got out of the bayou half covered in stinky muck and continued walking. I mile more and the highway turned into a long low bridge, across two large lakes. Across the bridge, we discovered a huge PAL base. We saw helicopters take off and land and hundreds of vehicles. The base was a beehive of activity. Amy cursed while Myakka rubbed his head in frustration.

                  “Can’t we just catch a friggan break?” Myakka moaned lowering his head in his hands. “It’s obvious we can’t cross here. I have no clue what’s south of us, swamp more than likely.”

                  “We can’t go back to the city, it looks like south is our only alternative.” I added.

                  “This is the whole reason why Amy and I trekked around the damn city in the first place!” Myakka angrily answered back.

                  I took my knees. I didn’t have any more answers, both my friends were frustrated.

                  “WAIT! There it is again!” Myakka stood.

                  Guitar and violin music started to drift faintly over the cold marshy land.

                  “I hear it! It’s coming from the south.” Amy crossed the road trying to get a better direction the music was coming from.

                  “What if it’s more PAL camped out?” I said.

                  “No! That’s Cajun music. I can’t believe they would ever be in with PAL. I don’t know why they are so close to the Hispanic soldiers. I think we should find them and check it out!” Myakka said excitedly.

                  “Yeah, me too. Besides, it’s the only direction we can go Bonehead.” Amy said tilting her head to the music.

                  Amy wrote and sketched in her book the PAL base location before we left. We walked another half mile and found a two lane road south of a small bridge over Highway 10. The road was overgrown and cracked. We decided to take it. The road led us into a barren bayou, gray and still.

                  “Nobody has been down this for quite some time. See how the undergrowth is breaking up the asphalt? Myakka commented, pointing to weeds.

                  “It’s good to see things growing again. I can’t think of any time since before the nuclear winter I’ve seen the color green.” I said. Even though it was just weeds, I took gratification in seeing life.

                  “Yeah, it snowed in Florida a bit. Melted a few months later, covered the place in gray sludge. The place is not close to as green as it once was though.” Amy added.

                  We followed the road as it twisted past small lakes and canals. All of us felt safer leaving the highway. A few miles more and the road ended into a highway heading east again.

                  “Okay, maybe things are looking up!” Myakka breathed.

                  We took the road, Highway 90, we discovered from a sign and soon came to some industrial areas, Ship builders and manufacturing plants. They were empty and still. Amy noticed that each of the buildings had a red “x” painted on the door.

                  “We better look for supplies.” Myakka said warily.

                  The first building was a warehouse with several rusted utility vehicles next to it. We entered the main entrance into an office area. The room was cleaned out. The desks were even missing their chairs. We chose another building. It was even emptier.

                  “Okay, I guess supplies are out. I presume the red Xs are loot markings.” Myakka commented after checking a final building.

                  We continued tracking down the highway. I noticed that the road didn’t contain any vehicles. It was even halfway clean. The music started up ahead, louder this time. We came to a large wooden sign painted in red with the word “Arcadia” on it.

                  Another 500 Yards and we came to a fully functioning and unguarded town with no PAL in sight.
                  The people of the town hardly took notice of us as we walked in. The highway seemed to go straight through the place. On either sides were open shops; food, hardware, supplies. Even a few vehicles traveled up and down the road. We moved to the sidewalk to avoid a honking truck shooing us along. The music we heard was coming from an outside bar, full of people drinking, dancing and having a good time. We walked into a restaurant next to the open air concert. The place was busy. People were eating and talking. It was like before the war happened.

                  “Take any seat you want, you new in town?” A lady with long black hair, wearing a dress told us in a thick Cajun accent.

                  Stunned, we took a table away from any other patrons, in the corner.

                  “I’m Marie. What can I get you, here are menus.” The lady told us quickly. She brought us glasses of water. The glasses had ice in them.

                  “What is this place?” I stuttered, drinking greedily.

                  “This is the Borough Café” She said smiling.

                  “No, I mean… this town.” I replied.

                  “You are in Arcadia, Free American Republic. Uh, you really aren’t from around here, are you?”

                  I quickly drained my water glass.

                  “Uh, no. We just came in from south…on a fishing boat.” Myakka replied quickly.

                  The waitress leaned close. “I would advise you to put away your hardware.” She said pointing to Myakka’s and Amy’s rifles. “The constables don’t take kindly with weapons. I’ll give you a few minutes to look over the menu” Myakka and Amy quickly broke down and stowed their rifles into their packs.

                  “Well. I..uh… Don’t know what to say.” Myakka said, looking around.

                  “Let’s get some food” Amy said shrugging warily.

                  The menu was short but had many Cajun seafood selections; Shrimp gumbo, Crawfish stew, Chicken Jambalaya and many more to include sodas, coffee and tea. Down at the bottom they had a paragraph in red; “We take gold, ammo and jewelry, please ask your waitress.”

                  Marie came back refilling our glasses. “What can I get ya!” She asked smiling.

                  We were silent, still taking it all in.

                  “Well?” She said.

                  “I’ll have the fried catfish. How much will that cost?” I said.

                  “We take most valuables. We don’t take cash. Typically, it’s a full magazine of ammo. One of those rifle mags you hid will do.” She told us.

                  “What will this get me?” Amy pulled out a handful of gold jewelry. Myakka looked at her shaking his head and stopping himself from saying something.

                  Amy looked at him. “What? I am a girl still!” She said smugly.

                  “With that, anything you want!” Marie said taking the gold.

                  “Great, I’ll take some jambalaya and a side of beans and rice. Also some of that shrimp gumbo. Oh and some boiled crawfish. Hey, is that fresh bread I smell baking? I’ll take some of that too” Myakka said.

                  “Uh..Just give me what he’s having.” Amy pointed at Myakka.

                  “Oh and a few Cokes and maybe some coffee!” I asked, as Marie left back to the kitchen.

                  “We need to find out what’s going on here.” Amy whispered. Myakka and I agreed. Our food soon arrived. With my fried catfish, I had real steamy French fries and hushpuppies. We ate in silence, digging into the meal. It was fresh and delicious. The bread was hot out of the oven and had real butter slathered on it. We ordered more of the boiled crawfish, cracking the bugs and tossing the shells in a bucket near our table. Soon we were fat and happy.
                  Marie came back. “Anything else?” She asked. We shook our heads, sipping on coffee.

                  “Wait, is there a place we could stay here?” Myakka asked.

                  “Sure. Several hostels in town. I’d stay at Leon’s. He’s got nice rooms.” Marie said and left to help other customers.

                  “Well. Let’s pay a visit to Leon!” Amy smiled.

                  We drained the rest of our coffee and prepared to leave. Amy turned and put a hand on my shoulders looking startled.

                  At the front door, three PAL soldiers walked in.
                  I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


                  • #24
                    Chapter 24

                    The soldiers looked around. Amy stood up and reached into her pack, trying to put her rifle back together. I grabbed for my jacket covered revolver. It was then they did what we least expected; they sat at a table and motioned for Marie to come over. We all stared in shock as they ordered food….in English.

                    “Let’s make a quiet exit” Myakka left for the door. We followed. The soldiers didn’t look our way.

                    Outside, we peaked through the front windows. The soldiers were talking and laughing, like nothing was happening. We made our way down the street, intermingling with the crowd. We saw several more PAL troops around the town. They looked like they were on liberty. Some stumbled around drunkenly. A few blocks down we found a lighted sign that read “Leon’s”. An old man in a suit with a cat sat at the front counter reading a magazine.

                    "Need a room?” He said without looking up from a magazine.

                    “Yes, we’ll take one.” Amy said pushing up to the front. She reached into another pocket and produced two large stone diamond rings.

                    The old man looked up. “Hmmm! Those will get you a few days if they are real.”

                    “Sir, they are real.” Amy told him.

                    The man took out a jeweler’s glass and to our amazement, nodded. “Fine pieces. I used to own a diamond ring shop. I’ll give you a week in my largest room.” He finished, handing us a key. He pointed to the stairs. We walked up a floor and found our room. It had two queen size beds in it, a folding bed and to our amazement, a modern working bathroom.

                    “Dibs on the shower first!” Amy pressed between us, went into the bathroom and locked the door.

                    “I guess she gets the cot.” Myakka said jumping on one of the beds, regardless of his soiled clothing.

                    “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to fight the woman. I’ll take the cot.” I replied.

                    “I guess PAL has some sort of treaty with these people.” Myakka said looking at the ceiling and stretching.

                    “Yeah, I guessed that. I’d like to find someone and ask, if it didn’t alert the authorities.” I answered back unpacking my bag.

                    “I think we should blend in, continue to blend in I should say. Take advantage of the place while we can. We look kind of like everyone else.”

                    “I don’t know Myakka. I have a bad feeling about things.” I sat on my cot, testing the springs. “These people have it too good. Those soldiers in the café weren’t even armed.”

                    Amy came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her head and a fresh outfit on. “Hot water too! Who’d of thunk!” She looked at the other vacant bed and tossed her pack on it. “Smart move Doc! I would have skewered the Yeti if I didn’t get a bed.”

                    “Me? Why me? Myakka said.

                    “Doc is worth more!” She looked at him with a deadpan stare.

                    “Say, where’d you steal all the jewelry, anyhow?” He answered back. Amy sniffed.

                    “Every time I went out scouting, I picked it up here and there. You got a problem with that? It’s saved our butts today!” She answered him.

                    “I’m going to take a long hot shower. “ Myakka smiled, shaking his head.

                    I wasn’t mad being third for a shower. There was more than enough hot water. I let it run on my face. The hostel even had soap. I washed off more than a month’s worth of dirt. It stained all of us no matter how much scrubbing. It was just something you got used too. We were asleep in minutes after locking the door and tucking into the fresh sheets and blankets.
                    The next morning, we went back to the café and had plates of grits, coffee and eggs. Another group of PAL soldiers wandered on in after we received our food. It was hard not to look at the butchers and harder not to be noticed. Marie came and took care of us with more of the hot coffee. She patted our backs telling us we were welcome and calling us “Old friends”. It made our tension melt. The PAL troops didn’t look our way once. Marie came and made one final fill up with coffee and told us the gold from the night prior was more than enough for breakfast too. We thanked her and left.

                    We wandered the town, going into shops. Food and supplies were in abundance. I noticed that a lot of things for sale were labeled with Spanish wording, some items that you wouldn’t get here in the states. We even spotted a Hispanic bar filled with PAL troops. We crossed the road to avoid it.

                    One particular store caught my attention. The sign read “Farmacia”.

                    “I’m going to go check this store out. Might be able to get some medical supplies.” The others nodded saying they would meet me back in the room.

                    I walked through the door as a bell dinged. A young man wearing a white lab coat behind a counter in the back of the store nodded to me. He was busy working on filling prescriptions. I tried to look like a regular customer, browsing and such and made it to the counter. I waited patiently as he finished with a few other customers.

                    “What can I get for you?” He asked me next.

                    “I need some antibiotics and some pain medication. I suppose I would need a prescription?” I asked without thinking.

                    “No. You can buy what you want. Pain meds are easy and cheap. All the opiates coming up from the south. Antibiotics are in demand. I have some, not much though.” He told me. The front door dinged again. I turned and saw the last customer leave the store.

                    The pharmacist leaned over and whispered to me.

                    “You and your friends need to come back tonight at ten. Meet me at the back door.” He finished my prescription order as another customer entered. He asked if they needed help, ignoring me.

                    I backed out of the store pretending to look at things. I wasn’t expecting what the man had just told me and I didn’t know what to think.

                    I made my way quickly back to the motel room.
                    I told Myakka and Amy about what the pharmacist had said to me. We were unsure about what to do. The people of the town had it better than anyone or any place we knew. We weren’t sure of their intentions. Were they in league with PAL? That was obvious to some extent. Was there a secret cell in the town? An underground? We came to the place unaware of what was going on and had nobody we could trust and speak with.

                    “We could just leave.” Amy brought up, turning an office chair around and sitting. “It would be safer and it looks like there is free passage.”

                    “That would be the easiest on us, I agree.” Myakka answered. “Our core mission has always been to gather intel. If in fact there is a contingency here, it’s our job to find out and link with them.”
                    We sat in thought, huddled together.

                    “Doc, you were never part of this mission in the first place. I am leaning towards infiltrating here, no matter how dangerous. I understand if you choose not to be part of it.” Myakka laid a hand on my shoulder.

                    “Well, it’s true I’m not part of your underground. I am, however, one hundred percent for what you guys believe in. I have also become quite attached to you personally. Whatever you two decide, I will tag along. My personal goals can wait.” I thought this was at least the third time I had made this decision, searching for my family and who I was had always been my goal, but I had been shanghaied by my core beliefs. Rebuilding this country, no, saving this country was something I had to do as an American.

                    “We’ve been on the mission for a while; we’ve gathered plenty of information. Myakka, I know how you feel about it. I’m just torn and I have a bad feeling about this.” Amy said looking down. “I’m for the liberation of all the land we have lost, you know that. I just…I ..don’t know about these people here.”

                    “I admit, I feel the same way. I don’t want to end up hanging on some tree, or worse; being thrown back into New Orleans.” Myakka finished. We nodded. New Orleans was not an option for anyone in the room.

                    “I have an idea.” I brought up. “I’ll go alone. You guys can scoot out of town in the darkness if things go bad.”

                    “DOC! There is no way that’s going to happen!” Amy sputtered.

                    Myakka looked at the floor saying nothing.

                    “It’s okay. I can use my medical experience as a bargaining chip if I get caught by PAL. I doubt they would shoot a doctor.” I secretly wondered if they would keep me alive. Probably not.

                    After a few minutes of pondering, Myakka nodded. “I’ll make the call. Doc, you’ll go meet with the Pharmacist. Amy and I will be ready to leave town in a hurry. We will keep an eye out outside and hidden. If you don’t come out in an hour, we will leave.”

                    “Listen, we won’t abandon you whatever happens. I have grown to like you too. If you get locked up, we will come for you!” Myakka laid a hand on my knee. Amy nodded.

                    “Well then it’s a go for tonight. I’m going to take a nap after I get some chow.” I said getting up from the chair I was sitting on.

                    “We’ll tag along.” My friends followed me to the door.

                    We ate at a hamburger joint. Although the toppings on the burgers were limited, they were tasty. Amy brought up the fact that we weren’t eating beef. The burgers had a slight wild taste to them. Myakka argued that it was alligator we were eating. I chose wild pig. Amy said it might be a mix of whatever meat was available. We decided to end the conversation, as there were a lot of wild dogs just west of us. We finished eating and made our way back to the room to take a nap. I took one last shower and lay on the folding bed. Sleep came hard.

                    I dreamed again. I was at a friend’s house from my youth. Across the road, there was a PAL camp. My friend kept telling me that the soldiers were here to help. He dragged me by my hand to the camp entrance. The soldiers there jumped on me and tied me up. I was beat and then tied to a tree where a squad of men prepared to shoot me. I woke when they pointed their rifles at me and fired.

                    I laid there until Amy and Myakka woke up a few hours later.
                    We left, packing up shortly before ten. The band from the outdoor bar could be heard echoing off the buildings. People were laughing, walking and having a good time. It was easy to blend in. The pharmacy was dark and had a closed sign in the front window. We waited until several drunken PAL soldiers stumbled by us, then walked into the dark alley next to the place. I continued to the unlighted back door. I took a deep breath and knocked quietly. The door opened to the face of the pharmacist.

                    “Where are your friends?” He asked.

                    “They are not coming.” I said simply.

                    The man looked at me for a moment and then spoke. “You’d better come in!” I walked into a small apartment that had one lamp lit in a corner. The door was locked behind me.

                    “Have a seat. You can call me Chervil. Do you want something to drink?” He asked.

                    I shook my head. “No thank you.” It was then I noticed another person sitting on the bed of the place in the dark and smoking a cigarette.

                    “You don’t mind if I pour myself a drink?” He asked ignoring the other in the room.
                    “Please.” I replied.

                    Chervil walked to a table and poured himself a whiskey. “You and your friends coming to town weren’t unnoticed.” He said with his back to me. “Also, fishermen don’t usually order fish for dinner.” How much did this guy know about us?

                    “In fact,” He took a drink, “Everyone, even the PAL police noticed. Did you know that you and your two friends are being followed?” He set the glass down.

                    I leaned forward. No, I didn’t know. “Listen, it’s complicated in the world. We are just passing by. We’re from East Texas.” I half lied.

                    “I would say you are more than that.” Chervil said slyly. “You came into town from the west, with rifles. At least one of your friends is wearing part of a Cuban military uniform. Have the Cubans invaded Texas?”
                    The man in the corner continued to smoke silently.

                    “They may have. I don’t know.” I really didn’t.

                    Chervil sat at the table and laid his hands palm first in front of him. “Ethan, that is your name?” I was startled again. “We can sit here all night chasing each other in circles. Or we can speak truthfully towards one another. Wouldn’t you agree?” He told me without smiling.

                    I stared at him. Things were getting out of hand; this was more like an interrogation. I was now thinking I had made a mistake.

                    “I think, I had better go….” I said, it coming out nearly like a whine, I slowly got up to leave.

                    Chervil looked at me, motioning me to stay.

                    “I’ll go first since there is an issue of trust.” Chervil eyed me saying.

                    “You are far within the PAL held territories. You are not Cajun, neither are your friends. All three of you speak with northern accents. You are about to be arrested by PAL and charged with spying. I know this because it has happened before to people who wander into this town, whether they are spies or not. Friend, you have one chance and that is me and my friends.” Chervil said clasping his hands.
                    If what he said was true, we were indeed in great danger. If he was saying it to elicit some type of confession, his technique was working well. I wasn’t at all skilled in this cloak and dagger stuff. I could tell this man was.

                    “What makes you think I believe all that you are saying? Maybe you are a PAL agent?” I said.

                    The man in the corner spoke up. “Because, you don’t have any chance of getting out of here alive. We’ve already told you that.” Still in the dark, he lit another cigarette.
                    I swallowed.

                    “Alright. I am from Atlanta. I’m a doctor. I’ve forgotten about most of my life before the bombs. I care about this country, where it is going and who is trying to take it. Is that enough?” I looked Chervil in the eyes.

                    “It’s a start.” The hidden man said.

                    “I don’t know what else to tell you. I came here hoping that you were allies.” I said. “Now, please tell me about you?” I questioned.

                    “We believe the same as you. We want this country back into its rightful citizen’s hands.” Chervil answered.

                    “Then why are we going through these games?” I replied getting angry.

                    “It’s true. If we didn’t think you weren’t anything but….a…friendly, you would already be dead.” Chervil said.

                    There was a soft knock on the front door. Chervil turned off the lamp, got up and went to the entry. He peaked out the window and opened the door. Marie the waitress walked in.
                    “Hello Mr. Fisherman!” She said simply and sat down.

                    “I’m sure you know Marie from the restaurant.” Chervil said pointing to her.

                    I was silent. The clock was ticking, soon Myakka and Amy would disappear and I would be a prisoner or worse if things went south. I sat there looking down at the table.
                    After some time Chervil began to speak, this time staring into space.

                    “I was sitting on my back porch the day it all happened. I heard an unusual buzzing sound that got louder as the seconds ticked by. I lived next to a military base. I was used to hearing them training; Shooting and such, however I had never heard this buzzing sound before. After a few minutes, I saw a couple of F-15 fighter jets streak by, followed by far off explosions. The buzzing continued. A bit more, I saw the first of hundreds of military transport planes flying overhead in formation. They began to drop paratroopers, in the thousands. The troopers darkened the skies. I was paralyzed, sitting there, trying to make out in my mind what was happening. I had a plan, to pack up quickly and leave with my wife..” He stopped speaking for a moment.

                    “With my wife Georgette and my two boys…” I saw tears form in his eyes. “Within minutes there was shooting. I was close to a large farmer’s field. I saw the paratroopers land, gather their parachutes and prepare weapons. They weren’t from our army. They were wearing uniforms I didn’t recognize. I still sat there, on the stairs of my porch.” He stared off into space remembering.

                    “They started shooting bystanders that had come out looking at them. My neighbors, my friends. They were cut down in seconds. All of them. Women and children. I was still not able to react to anything, I was frozen with fear. They came within a few yards of where I was sitting, outside my house. Two of them set up some kind of rocket launcher. They aimed it towards me and fired. The next thing I remembered was waking up a few feet from where I was sitting and looking up at the sky. The shooting had become sporadic. I turned my head and looked at my house…” Another pause and another tear.

                    “My house was gone. The rocket had obliterated it. “My wife and boys had been inside. I saw one of their burned corpses. It had been blown up….onto….. a ceiling fan hanging upside down. It was staring at me with its eyes open and smoldering.

                    I started getting physically sick as I sat there hearing this man’s terrible story.

                    “Next came the far off deep explosions of bombs laying waste to our country. They vibrated the ground as I lay there. The skies grew dark and an odd wind began to blow. I lay there wanting to die. I drifted off into un-conciseness, sweet death that never came. I woke to the eerie quiet of the new world. I don’t recall a lot of what happened for the next few months. I wandered the land; hiding, sleeping and……and….. Eating whatever I could find.” He shuddered, stopped and leaned forward focusing in on me.

                    “I was eventually trapped like an animal. I saw and heard myself growl and try to bite my attackers as I struggled in the net they used to capture me. One of them knocked me senseless. I awoke to see Marie’s face above me and strapped to a bed. For several weeks, she cared for me, spoke softly to me, sung to me, and fed me.” Another emotional pause.

                    “After being freed of my shackles, it took several more weeks before I spoke again.” Marie gently held Chervil’s hand from across the table.

                    “PAL came. A huge army landing on the beaches. They set up camp across the Interstate Ten bridge. They gave us no choice in our little town, but to cater to them. Our food, our women…. They wore the same uniforms as the paratroopers that day. We served our new masters or were killed. I was a pharmacist before and soon became one again. My plan wasn’t to help people, you see, I poison those butchers! Every medication that goes out of my shop to them is poisoned. Not to kill, but to make them suffer.” Chervil’s face became distorted with anger.

                    “In those days, we had no plan. We had no way out of the hell this town had become. Then, one day, He came.” Chervil pointed to the darkened smoking man. “He organized us. Trained us. Brought in weapons. We soon were raiding PAL convoys, ambushing patrols, killing those bastards.” He leaned forward looking at me. “We fight daily to take this country back!”
                    The man in the corner stood and came to the light. He was tall with piercing blue eyes and a military haircut. He had on jeans and a blue flannel shirt with a Berretta pistol tucked into his waistband.

                    “My name is Major Jones, 1st Tennessee Volunteers – Second NCSA corps.” He said simply.

                    I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


                    • #25
                      Chapter 25

                      I stood, unable to speak.
                      The Major looked at me with honest eyes. I could see he was a warrior, even without wearing a uniform. He moved to the table and took a seat, motioning me to do the same. I slowly sat, still wide eyed. He nodded and smiled.

                      “We track the people coming into this place. We know you came in from the west, which means you had been in the PAL prison otherwise known as the city of New Orleans. You came in with weapons and at least one of you are wearing an enemy uniform, but surprisingly, none of you are Hispanic.” Major Jones said.

                      “You are right, it’s time to stop playing games. Ethan, why don’t you tell us about yourself?” He said gently.

                      “Sir…” I fumbled. “Everything I have said was true. I am from Atlanta. I was in Houston when the bombs came and I am or was a doctor.” I swallowed. It was time to lay down some trust, just as they had done.

                      “I made my way north of the city where I met and joined Colonel Higgan’s NCSA unit. I fought in the battle of Houston. We were routed by the Northern Coalition. I wasn’t a soldier, rather, a civilian volunteer…a medic.” I continued. The major nodded sadly.

                      “I know Colonel Higgans well. We fought together in the Battle of Macon. You will be glad to know that he is alive and able-bodied. Some of his unit made it out that day.” The Major told me. “You weren’t the only one to survive, Ethan.”

                      I was surprised, taken back and comforted all at the same time. This information was welcome and shook me deep inside. I started getting teary eyed myself.

                      “That’s great news to hear! Just where are he and his men?” I asked.

                      “They are at Fort Benning. The Old goat has been raising his brigade again and desires to get back into the fight! That little maneuver the North did on him made him angrier than a man should be here on earth.” The Major smiled. “Go on with your story.”

                      “Okay. I retreated with what was left of our Brigade, a Private gave his life saving me.” I thought of the smiling Private Orwell. “I was by myself and in rough shape. I made my way north, then east to another NCSA checkpoint eventually ending up at Fort Vicksburg and reassigned to a scout unit. We were attacked guarding a bridge and I ended up in New Orleans.”
                      “PAL does away with their military prisoners like that. Most don’t make it out of the city alive.” The Major said gravely. “You and your friends are one of the lucky few.”
                      “Yes sir.” I said. “My friends are from the Florida underground. I met with them in the city, they saved my life.”

                      The Major nodded again. “I have heard they are good fighters. I think you should go get them, again, it’s not safe out there.”
                      I agreed and got up walking to the door. The lights were extinguished; Chervil waited a moment looking outside through the heavy drapes. He gave me the go-ahead. I left the apartment and headed around to where Myakka and Amy were hidden.

                      “Ethan! We just about gave up on you.” Amy whispered as my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the alley.

                      “I met with this areas underground and a NCSA Major. We need to go quickly, they told me it’s dangerous here.” I motioned to my friends.

                      “Wait, are you sure they can be trusted?” Myakka said cautiously.

                      “I am. Follow me.” I crept back to the door and knocked softly. After a few moments, the door was opened and the three of us entered.

                      “May I introduce you to Mr. Chervil and Major Jones of the NCSA. You know Marie.” I told my partners.
                      The major extended his hand, while Chervil said, “Just call me Chervil, please.”

                      “It’s good to meet fellow patriots. We are glad you have all decided to come.” The Major said politely.
                      “Please?” Chervil said giving up his seat. Marie got up offering her seat as well and went to a kitchen alcove. We sat and soon had steaming cups of coffee in front of us. The tense feeling in the room faded as the Major spoke. Myakka and Amy gave him a quick rundown on who they were and their mission.

                      “The NCSA has operatives like me in all the areas that PAL occupies. You will be glad to know, we have agents in your underground movement, finally, in Florida.” He said nodding towards my friends.

                      Myakka and Amy set down their cups interested.

                      “We are slowly still in the planning stages of gathering people together. The bad news is that PAL and the Northern Coalition are routing us on four fronts. We are being squeezed from all directions. Our losses have been heavy. Even with new people trickling in, we still do not have units for anything but light defense.” He said sadly. “I’m sure you all know that the country, the remnants of this great nation is losing the war.”

                      Myakka stared into space, while Amy shook her head.

                      “The Floridians have people and are equipped with light weapons, our agents tell us. What we need are heavy units to advance. Those we don’t have. Any loss of a tank or APC is final for us. PAL has reinforcements coming daily, either from the Central and South American countries they now control, and that my friends is all of those countries. They have also allied with our traditional enemies; Russia and what’s left of China and the United Islamic States.” He continued.

                      “Sir? The United Islamic States?” I asked.

                      “Yes. The Middle East has taken this opportunity to form a radical coalition of nations from what they have left. They call themselves the UIS for short. They were hit hard, but now have come together under the premises that we have started this world war, a holy world war. They fight mostly with numbers, radicals with minimal equipment. They are busy pushing into Europe. The Europeans have come together and are fighting to stop the UIS advance. They weren’t hit as hard, nuclear wise as this continent, but we have heard rumors of massive biological casualties. We have not yet made contact with any of the European nations. We also know that there are several hundred terrorist sleeper cells that had been here for over 20 years. They have formed into active units joining with PAL. The UIS is a dangerous foe. Pakistan and India were completely destroyed. The two countries are both nuclear nightmares, so the UIS eastern borders are relatively secured.”

                      “So, I guess this really is World War III.” Amy muttered sarcastically.

                      “Yes, a war unlike any the world has seen.” Major Jones said.

                      “PAL is being re-supplied by the UIS, China and Russia. It’s a bad situation.” He continued.

                      “What about Korea?” Myakka asked.

                      “Korea, both south and north, no longer exists. China has claimed all of those lands as well as what is left of Japan.” We sat and listened intently. “What about the Northern Coalition? We heard that foreign troops are fighting under our own flag?” Amy asked.

                      The Major nodded. “Those troops are mostly made up from Russia, the UIS sleeper cells and China. They with the radicalized Americans, mostly left thinking people who welcome the communist and socialist manifestos, fight in the warped idea of the Northern Coalition.”
                      The Koreans not only had container ships full of rockets to attack us. They also had ships full of troops, who were landed just after the bombs fell. China has persuaded the leaders of those troops to fight for them. We have heard of massive troop deployments on the west coast. What’s left of China wants the United States desperately and will destroy it in the process of taking it.” He finished.

                      “You said about the west coast?” Amy asked. “I have relatives out there.”

                      The major’s face darkened again. “The west coast was hit hard. Nobody knows what has happened west of the Rocky Mountains besides the rumors of the Chinese invasion. PAL has taken Denver, besides a lunatic leading an army somewhere out there, that’s all the information we have.”

                      We sat silently drinking our coffee.

                      After a few minutes, Myakka asked; “What’s next Major?”

                      “That would be up to you guys. We can get you through the lines, back to Florida and Ethan here to the NCSA or you can join us. You’ll have to remain hidden whatever you decide. We believe in individual rights, your freedom. I will say that we can use you here.” He said laying his hands on the table.
                      We were quiet again, each of us thinking.

                      “The decision doesn’t have to be made right now, regardless. You can sleep here tonight. We will talk again about it tomorrow. Chervil and Marie will take good care of you.” The Major got up and stretched. “I must be off. Our camp is a few miles out of town, past the main enemy encampment. We are operating right under the PAL’s noses.” He smiled.
                      We thanked the major, who soon left. Chervil and Marie brought out two cots and bedding. I was given the bed in the corner. They asked us if we needed any food. We declined and soon were lying warmly in the darkened room. Chervil and Amy left us alone in the tiny apartment.

                      “Well? What do you guys want to do? I am more inclined to head for home.” Amy said.

                      “Yeah, I have to admit, I’m tired and miss Florida. We have gathered much Intel. I think it’s time to go home” Myakka said, agreeing. “What about you Doc?”

                      “I don’t know. I really don’t know. The NCSA needs me still, but, maybe I better go deal with myself, try to find my family.” I replied. No answer came.

                      We fell asleep thinking about it.

                      Morning came with the smell of bacon and coffee. I woke seeing Marie cooking breakfast and humming in the apartment’s small kitchenette. Amy was half awake and going through her pack, while Myakka still snored. I got up and asked Marie where I could wash up. She directed me down a hallway into the closed pharmacy and its public bathroom.

                      When I came back into the apartment, Myakka was sitting on his cot frowning, while Amy sung, off-key, a forgotten pop song. I could see he was agitated about being woken up such and hid my smile.
                      We ate bacon, eggs and toast and slurped hot fresh coffee. I asked Marie where she had gotten the coffee. To my surprise, she told me it was from PAL, sold to the café. It made sense. One thing South America had was coffee. We sat on our beds after eating and drank our third cup. We chatted about nothing in particular until a soft knock on the back door was heard.

                      Chervil entered, carrying a paper sack.

                      “Good morning friends.” He said, smiling.

                      We each said our good mornings. Chervil was handed a cup of coffee and sat at the table.

                      “Have you had a chance to think about what you are going to do?” He asked.

                      “Amy and I have decided to get back to our organization in Florida.” Myakka said. This surprised me. I had not heard them talking about it anymore during the night.

                      “I see. I understand you two wanting to get back to your people. We can smuggle you out on a fishing trawl and land you safely away from any danger. You would have to make your way back to Florida, as I’m sure you know, all routes are blocked by PAL starting in Alabama.” He told us.

                      “We would be in your debt. How close can you get us?” Amy asked.

                      “Our fishing fleet travels as far as Mobile. The town is occupied by a monitoring enemy force, not many troops. It is safer to drop you off there.” Chervil said.

                      “Yeah, we went through Mobile on the way here. Rough town, like the wild west.” Amy frowned.

                      “Mobile is full of modern day pirates and other scum. I heard that the Bureau traders has set up shop there recently though, that’s good news.” Chervil added.

                      “Hey Yeti, you should really consider retiring there, you’d fit right in!” Amy said with a big Cheshire cat grin.

                      “Hey, when I want advice from you, I’ll shoot you an email.” Myakka quipped.

                      “What about you Ethan?” Chervil turned to me.

                      “I…. I really don’t know. I have personal business in Atlanta, family and such. I guess Mobile would get me closer.” I shrugged.

                      “Well, that settles it! The three of us will take your offer.” Amy stood up and stretched.

                      “I thought as much. I have here messages to your leadership in the Southern Resistance.” Chervil handed Myakka the closed paper bag. “It’s got a thermite grenade in the bag in case you are compromised. Please use it to destroy the letters if you are compromised.”

                      Myakka hesitantly took the bag. “Okay boss, let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point in the game”

                      “I must be off to secure your transport. Please stay inside here until I get back.” Chervil stood and walked towards the door.

                      “Hey, thanks for all your help.” I said standing, offering to shake his hand. Chervil stopped and turned.

                      “If we don’t stick together, this country will be torn to pieces before the next year. I’ll see you soon.” He left quickly, waving.

                      We gathered our belongings together. Marie came out from the pharmacy holding a box. She handed it to me saying that it contained rare medicines, pain killers and hospital trauma tools – Gifts from the resistance. I thanked her and packed them. She left as quickly as Chervil.

                      After a few hours, we heard a soft knock at the door. I got up taking out my revolver and looked through the window. I could see Major Jones and another man standing there.
                      We let them in. The new man introduced himself as Sergeant Woodard. He was tall and lanky and had a thick southern accent. If he were wearing a coonskin hat, I would have sworn he was Daniel Boone.

                      “What have you decided?” The major asked.

                      “We’re going to Mobile by boat, then home.” Myakka replied.

                      “I understand.” The Major said sadly. “We could use you here, but, we need you to bring word to your command. I trust Chervil gave you the letters?”

                      “Yes sir. They are packed and I have instructions to destroy them if things go south.” Myakka told him.

                      “It’s important, the information in those letters. I won’t get into detail, but the securities of the Gulf States could be in jeopardy if you fail to deliver.” Major Jones said seriously.

                      “Yes sir.” Myakka nodded his eyes widening.

                      “We have no reason to mistrust you. Having said that, we are concerned for your safety. Sergeant Woodard will be accompanying you to Mobile.” The major told us. We each nodded.
                      “I have other news to tell you.” Major Jones sat at the table. “Sit” He directed.

                      “We have come about information that PAL is planning a major attack soon into NCSA territory from the south, while the Northern Coalition attacks from the north. They feel it will be a death blow to the NCSA. Our units are preparing defensive locations on several axis’s, to stop the attacks. We are spread thin and will conduct a slow retreat towards Fort Benning. Our Special Forces units will harass and disrupt enemy lines from the rear. We need help from every resistance organization. That’s why it’s important you get through with the messages.” He said solemnly.

                      I stared at the man. Our enemies were much stronger than us, I couldn’t help but thinking that the war would be soon lost. All those patriots I had met and become friends with, I knew would fight to the bitter end. What would this country become? What would I become? I thought about those desperate peoples I saw on my journeys, the destruction of the land. It would be like the bombs falling again.

                      Major thanked us, shaking our hands and left. I felt as if I would never see this man again. The Sergeant made himself at home, going into the kitchen and pouring what was left of the morning’s coffee.
                      “Ya’ll take your time packing. We have a spell before we need to get to the boat” He said, sitting at the table and stirring his coffee.
                      “Do you have any questions for me?” He asked.
                      “Yeah, can you shoot?” Amy asked bitingly.
                      “Good Lord woman, did you have many friends in your old life?” Myakka rumbled. “Don’t mind her, she has social issues.”
                      Sergeant Woodard laughed. “I’m used to tough women. Where I come from, they are all as charming.”
                      “Tell us about yourself?” I asked.
                      “Not much to tell. I’m from the Northeast part of Tennessee. I was beer delivery guy. I loved being in the woods, hunting and fishing. I was picked up by the NCSA after those Yankees from the coalition, attacked our town. My family and I made it out were transported to Benning where I joined up with the Major’s Special Forces unit. I guess he thought I would be good in the wild. Oh and no, I never grinned down a bear!”
                      I got the Daniel Boone reference and laughed. Good kid. We needed more like him to build this country back up.
                      “Also, call me Jim. We don’t use rank down here for obvious reasons.” He smiled.
                      We signaled we were ready to go. Sergeant Woodard, Jim, led us down to the docks and to an old shrimp boat. A large African American man dressed in quilted orange coveralls hailed us from the wheel house.
                      “Ho! Woodard! Good to see you again”, he laughed deeply. “Come aboard. Come aboard” He hopped down to the edge of the dock.
                      “Captain Julian! You look well. Meet my friends, Ethan, Amy and Myakka!” Jim pointed each of us out.
                      The Captain shook each of our hands. The man was well over 300 pounds, his arms were as large as my legs. He was rough and had seen a lot of hard work in his life, which was obvious.
                      “Myakka! That’s a strange name” The Captain smiled.
                      “Yeah, long story” Myakka sighed.
                      He laughed heartily. “Yes, the world is now full of long stories. Make yourselves at home. We’ll be casting off soon.”
                      We climbed aboard the old boat, stowing our gear in the crew cabin. The cabin was sparsely equipped, but looked comfortable. There were two sets of bunks on each aisle and a larger bed in back. It had a small kitchen and a desk near the front hatch. Near the desk were pictures of Captain Julian and what I assumed his family and friends mounted on the wall. As I was looking at the pictures, the big Captain came in.
                      “My life on that wall. It hasn’t changed much for me. I go out, fish, come back and sell my catch. I do the same thing the next day. I’ve been doing it for 40 years. My customers may have changed, nothing else really did.” He grinned.
                      “How did you get hooked up with the NCSA?” I asked.
                      “Same as everyone else. I’m an American. These south of the border folks won’t take my country, if’n I can help it!” He bellowed. “Marie and I are old friends. She’s the one who introduced me to the Major and this lanky redneck here.” He pointed to Jim.
                      “We’ve been in a few scuffs since knowing King Kong here. The man is good in a fight. Doesn’t use a gun though. Says he’s a man of peace.” Jim said, causing Captain Julian to laugh.
                      “I’ll leave the firepower to yawls. I prefer my baseball bat” He took down a rusted aluminum bat from a storage space above the desk. The bat looked well used, even blood stained. I imagined it had seen more than just fish being dispatched.
                      “Let me give you a run down about our trip” The big man told us as we gathered outside on the foredeck. “You are now fishermen. If you can’t fish, just look like it. I’ll do all the work on the boat. We should have smooth sailings, however we do have a chance of meeting up with pirates or those PAL guys in patrol boats.”
                      PAL had a navy, I thought. Great. I suddenly had a question for Captain Julian.
                      “Sir, PAL has boats out here, what happened to our own Navy?” I asked.
                      “First off, call me Cap. That’s a good question son. The ocean is a big place. I heard from other fishermen that some of our boys are still out there. A lot of our Navy ships had been sunk in the first few weeks after the war started. What was left either went to the Yankees up north or to an independent flotilla led by the Admiralty of the Atlantic command. I heard they were last seen off the coast of Georgia. They have Navy and Coasty ships and civilian boats, shoot, they are a whole city onto themselves. What they don’t have is the ability to patrol the Gulf Coast. They are more concerned about holing up and waiting out this shit storm. That’s what makes this area ripe for pirates – no more good guys around.”
                      I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.


                      • #26
                        Bump. I am soon relaunching. Stay tuned. :)

                        I'm not a fatalist. I'm a realist.