Mike settled into the seat behind the shooting bench he’d built in his living room. The window was open a few inches and a cool March breeze drifted in from the street carrying with it the stench of rotting corpses and human waste. Mike sniffed, picked up his binoculars and scanned as far as he could see, looking for looters, marauders or phony government officials.
There had been no shortage of any of the three for the past several months. Mike paused to take count. It had been 148 days since he had shot the first looter in his front yard.
From the back of the house, Will, Mike’s neighbor, shouted, “Firing!”
Will’s .30-06 boomed inside the house rattling the china in the dining room hutch.
“Down,” Will reported.
Mike made a small tic mark on a note pad sitting next to his rifle. Between the two of them, Mike and Will had shot 324 people over that 148 day period. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t given fair warning. Will and Mike had attached signs, painted on 4′X8′ sheets of plywood, to both the front and rear of Mike’s house. In all capital letters, Mike and Will had used red spray paint to spell out, “IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU ARE IN DANGER OF BEING SHOT. PROCEED NO FURTHER.”
Will, with a wry smile, had added a skull and crossbones at the top and bottom of each sign in black spray paint.
Several houses up and down Mike and Will’s street had similar signs. Most of the houses without such signs had been abandoned or the homeowners had been killed before they realized that they needed to defend themselves with deadly force.
It had been a long five months, Mike reflected. Longer than that, really, but things had gotten really bad in October of the previous year. Mike and Will had seen it coming thanks, in part, to a conversation Mike had with his wife’s cousin a couple years before.
At the time, Mike recalled, he thought David was a little bit off his rocker. Mike had labeled David as one of those goofballs that he had seen on a couple NatGeo Doomsday Preppers episodes. David had built a couple small cabins and a larger one on his family farm and was stocking up on all kinds of “essentials”, as he called them, for what David figured was the inevitable collapse of modern society. As Mike and Jenny returned home after that family Christmas gathering, he made fun of David for his “preps”. Jenny had been uncharacteristically quiet on the trip home.
“The guy was right,” Mike mumbled as he scanned for un-friendlies, focusing his binoculars on something that looked out of place just to the east of the church down the street.
The church had tried to help out in the early days, but their food pantry emptied quickly and they were unprepared for the riots when they began to ration food more severely. Those who had availed themselves of the church’s charity quickly turned on the staff and then on the inhabitants of the surrounding neighborhood. Mike and Will hesitated briefly when the first wave of hungry survivors left the church and came to their doorstep looking for a handout … or to take what they wanted by force. Few of them were armed. The church’s pastor had asked everyone who sought shelter at the church to surrender any weapons. The weapons had been locked in a room in the church’s basement. While some were attempting to break into the room, others spilled out into the neighborhood looking for food and supplies.
That had turned out to be a fortunate break for Will and Mike. It was amazing how much of a deterrent a few dead bodies on one’s doorstep was to others who were thinking about raiding a house. For the most part, the second wave of looters leaving the church were armed but looking for easier targets. What was the point of attacking a house with inhabitants willing and able to defend themselves with deadly force when there was a house right next door without either the ability or the willingness to shoot someone?
Of course, eventually the unprotected houses were stripped bare and, out of desperation, looters began to reconsider their original decision about the armed and fortified houses. That was the point at which Will and Mike decided to consolidate forces in Mike’s house. They chose Mike’s house as their bug-in location in part due to its position at the top of a hill and also due to the fortifications that Mike had already put in place.
Mike, himself, had suffered some ridicule from a few of his neighbors as things began to slide downhill in the middle part of the previous year. Two of his neighbors stood by, drank beer and laughed as he strung tangle-foot wire across his entire yard.
Mostly below ground and constructed of concrete block, the basement of Mike’s raised ranch home was pretty well-protected. Mike added some protection to the upper floor as well. He stacked concrete blocks inside the walls and installed bullet-resistant film on the windows. Will had watched from next door as Mike completed each project but he never laughed. It occurred to Will that Mike might be taking things a little too far but that an ounce of preparation wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.
While Mike toiled away fortifying his home, Will and his wife, Mandy, began to stock up on food. Mandy discovered that the bakery at the local Sam’s Club gave away food-grade buckets freely to their members. Almost every week, she would bring home several of the large frosting buckets. With a little dish soap, bleach and elbow grease, the buckets made excellent containers for food storage. Mandy bought Mylar bags, oxygen absorbers and a hand-held heat sealer on eBay and began storing away rice, beans, wheat and corn.
In addition to the free buckets from the bakery at Sam’s, Mandy also discovered a number of products from Augason Farms that helped in her food preparations. Only a few of the Augason Farms products were available in the store, but there was quite a selection available on the Sam’s Club website – most with free delivery. Quite literally, Mandy and Will had a lifeline delivered to their doorstep.
Mandy and Will spent ten percent of each paycheck on their preparations. It was a sacrifice, but as things began to look more and more bleak, they became more comfortable with their decision. They stocked up on virtually all of the day-to-day essentials, filling an unfinished room in their basement with steel shelving units stacked with canned goods, toilet paper, sanitary items, bottled water, bleach, salt, spices, a Berkey water filter, a manual grain mill, several propane tanks, propane heaters, batteries and a host of other items.
One cool September day, Will tip-toed through the tangle wires and knocked on Mike’s door. Just a few miles away from their suburban homes, Lincoln was experiencing its first riots as grocery stores ran out of food and utilities were shut down. Will was getting nervous. Mike was surprised to find someone at his door. The tangle wire … and the general economic collapse … had really cut down on the number of door-to-door solicitors and unwanted visits from ridiculing neighbors.
“Hey, Will,” Mike looked behind his neighbor to see if anyone was standing out in the street. “What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if we could talk for a few minutes,” Will replied.
“Uh … sure,” Mike was hesitant. “Come in.”
Mike gestured to the sofa as Will glanced around at the stacks of concrete blocks.
“Mike, I don’t know how to ease into this so I’m just going to ask,” Will rubbed the palms of his hands along the tops of his thighs as he spoke. “It seems like things are getting ready to bust loose in Lincoln and they’ll probably be on our doorstep pretty shortly after that.”
Mike squinted his eyes and tried to figure out what Will was getting at.
“Look, Mike,” Will continued, “I was hoping the two of us could sort of team up here.”
“What do you mean, team up?” Mike was suspicious.
“Well, Mandy and I have been stashing away a lot of food and supplies for a while now,” Will’s stomach was doing little flip-flops and he was starting to perspire. “You’ve obviously being making some preparations yourself. We were kind of thinking … hoping … that we could … um, share.”
“Share?” Mike wasn’t making it easy.
“Yeah, you know, if you needed food and we needed … protection,” Will was hesitant. “Maybe we could help each other out.”
Mike rubbed his chin and leaned back in his chair. He knew that Will enjoyed hunting and thought he had a couple shotguns and a rifle.
“How much ammunition do you have?” Mike looked hard at Will.
“Ammunition?” Will gave it some thought. “Maybe 100 rounds for my twelve gauge and twenty or thirty for my .30-06.”
“Any other guns?” Mike barked.
“No … why?” Will was even more nervous than when he’d started.
“Look, Will, I got a family to think about,” Mike said as he considered a possible partnership with Will. “You know I got three kids and Jenny. They come first.”
“Sure, sure,” Will responded.
“If I throw in with you, how does that help me and my family?” Mike cut straight to the point.
“Well, what are you short on?” Will asked.
“Who knows,” Mike replied. “This could blow over in a few weeks or it could go on for months … or years.”
Will looked shocked, “Years?”
“Could be,” Mike looked deadly serious.
The two continued their conversation for nearly an hour. Ultimately, Will convinced Mike that their two families had a better chance at survival together than they did on their own. Will and Mandy had no children, but they had stockpiled enough food to feed Mike’s family and themselves for nearly six months.
Shortly after that conversation, the first wave of looters exited the church and flooded the neighborhood. Will and Mike had put up their signs and settled in at the front and rear of the house with their deer rifles.
Despite their preparations and mutually beneficial partnership, the winter had been long and difficult. They ran out of firewood for the fireplace around mid-February. The temperatures had dipped below zero and they had resorted to Will’s propane heaters. Proper ventilation required them to keep a window or two open just a crack to circulate fresh air. The accompanying blast of cold nearly negated the effect of the heaters. The only real warmth was within a few feet of the heaters.
The house got so cold that it was almost impossible to keep water from freezing. The two families collected snow and melted it next to the propane heaters nearly non-stop but it was barely enough for all seven of them. Occasionally, they would thaw out one of the four-gallon bottles of water that Mandy had purchased at Sam’s to augment what they collected from melting snow.
Without utilities and with propane reserved for heating, cooking food was out of the question. Mandy and Jenny usually just opened a can of vegetables or fruit or a few of the smaller cans of turkey or chicken for each meal. Mike had collected a fair number of MRE’s from his Army Reserve unit when the commander bugged out and left the unit in a shambles, but the MRE’s had run out in January.
They were constantly hungry and almost always nearly dehydrated. Mike couldn’t remember the date of his last shower, but he knew it was in early September. For the most part, they “bathed” with baby wipes that Mandy had bought in bulk at Sam’s Club. Wiping down with a baby wipe every other day or so kept the funk to a minimum. Still, none of their clothes had been washed since about the same time as the last shower.
Mike and Jenny’s kids – two sons, ages ten and eight, and a daughter, age six – cried a lot at first. They were hungry. They were cold. They were thirsty. They were suffering just like the adults. After a while, an empty belly, a dry mouth and five layers of clothing became normal.
Jenny tried hard not to nag Mike about his decision to stay in their home rather than going back to her dad’s farm, but some days it was just too much and she let her emotions out.
“There would have been an endless supply of firewood!” Jenny would complain as she shivered and hugged her children close for warmth. “We could be cooking on the wood stove. We could be eating steak and hamburger and warm bread fresh out of the oven.”
Jenny had been a vegetarian before the crash.
Mike secretly wondered it Jenny was right. Maybe they should have bugged out. He’d put a lot of work into their home but it still might have been better to get away from the city.
At least they were still alive, Mike reflected as he scanned the horizon yet again. They had made it through the winter. March was here. Spring was in the air. The bottled water had thawed as had the creek at the bottom of the hill. They had precious little propane left so cooking was still out of the question, but they had almost gotten used to that.
Gathering more firewood was out of the question. Even though Mike had a good chainsaw, the sound would draw looters or one of the roving gangs like moths to a flame. They just couldn’t take the risk.
Lately, the smell was taking some getting used to. A good portion of the corpses of the 324 people that Mike and Will shot over the course of the last 148 days were still out there – as were many more shot by their neighbors. With the spring thaw, the bodies had begun to rot. The latrine that Mike and Will dug in the back yard had thawed out as well.
Mike sniffed again and adjusted the focus on his binoculars. Something wasn’t quite right with that bush to the east of the church. Mike had been looking at the same terrain for five months. He knew it like the back of his hand. That bush was different somehow. He just couldn’t figure out exactly how ….
Jenny brought Mike a bowl of cold green beans and some canned turkey.
“We’re almost out of the canned goods, Mike,” she said quietly. Jenny didn’t want the kids to hear and worry. “We have to figure out how we can cook the rice and beans somehow.”
“We could eat them uncooked,” Mike offered.
“Probably,” Jenny agreed. “We may have to.”
Mike thought he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head back to zero in on the suspicious bush.
“What about the neighbors’ grills?” Jenny started to ask if they could scavenge the propane tanks.
“Shhh!” Mike held up his hand.
“What is it?” Jenny whispered.
Mike didn’t say anything for a few moments.
“I’m not sure,” he said finally. “There’s something not quite right with that bush to the east of the church.”
“Can I take a look?” Jenny reached for the binoculars.
“Hold on,” Mike tried once again to improve his view by adjusting the binoculars’ focus.
“Here,” Mike handed Jenny the binoculars and put his cheek to the stock of his rifle to look through the scope.
“Is that a leg sticking out behind the bush?” Jenny asked.
Mike squinted. His vision was blurry. Dehydration and exhaustion were taking their toll. He and Will had only slept two or three hours at a time since the crash.
At night, Mandy and Jenny would watch through the night vision goggles that Mike had “borrowed” from his Army Reserve unit while Mike and Will tried to sleep. The women had learned to wake their husbands with directional and range information when they spotted something that didn’t look right. Mike and Will had learned to be ready to shoot when their wives woke them with directional and range information. What had seemed strange and terrifying at first, had quickly become normal.
“I think you’re right,” Mike said as he rubbed his eyes. “That is a leg. Watch to see if it moves.”
Jenny trained the binoculars on what appeared to be a human leg protruding from behind the suspicious bush. She thought she could make out a black boot and camouflage pants, but there was no movement.
“Is it someone you shot earlier?” Jenny asked.
“No, I’m pretty sure I haven’t shot anyone behind that bush before,” Mike rubbed the back of his neck.
“Wait!” Jenny whispered excitedly. “I think I saw movement.”
Mike put his eye to his rifle’s scope once again just in time to see the leg pulled in behind the bush.
“Whoever’s out there must have realized that we could see them,” Jenny said breathlessly.
“Mm hm,” Mike scanned laterally with his rifle’s scope.
Another flash of movement caught his eye. This time it was near a tree about twenty yards to the east of the bush. Another mile to the south was the interstate. Mike began to wonder if one of the roving gangs that they had heard about on their short-wave receiver had come in from I-80 looking for supplies.
“Let me have the binoculars,” Mike held out his hand.
Jenny gave him the binoculars and, instinctively, crouched down behind the concrete blocks under the window.
“Get Mandy and the kids and get them into the basement,” Mike instructed.
Jenny darted to the kitchen, rounded up her children, grabbed Mandy’s hand and headed for the basement.
“Will,” Mike shouted, “I think we have multiple bogeys to the south.”
“You need assistance?” Will shouted back.
“Not yet, but check your AO closely. I don’t want ‘em pinning us down from both sides,” Mike replied.
Mike spotted more movement out on the plain beyond the trees and shrubs on the church property. Several vehicles appeared to be making their way overland toward the church.
“We’ve got serious problems,” Mike said just before the first bullet struck the exterior of the house.