Whump, whump, whump … whump, whump, whump … the sound of the .50 caliber machine guns continued as Mike realized that none of the rounds had penetrated his defenses. Mike looked down at the scalpel in his hand and then at his neighbor, Will. Will’s breath was coming in shallow gasps. His skin felt clammy and cold. Mike was almost certain that the piece of 2X4 protruding from Will’s abdomen had pierced Will’s lung – maybe worse.
“Mandy, check the window – carefully,” Mike instructed. “See what’s going on out there. Keep low, don’t expose anything below your eyes above the window sill.”
Mandy left the kids in the far corner of the laundry room and hustled over to the daylight window at the front of the house.
“It looks like two military vehicles are attacking the gang of looters,” Mandy shouted from the front of the house.
“Military?” Mike muttered.
That didn’t make sense. From everything he’d heard over his short-wave receiver, the military had completely disbanded before the end of the previous year. Of course, it could be civilians or ex-military that had commandeered military vehicles. That made more sense – especially with the sound of the 50’s.
“But, why would they attack a gang of looters?” Mike wondered aloud.
Jenny looked at Mike and then down at Will.
“Mike, are you going to do something?” Jenny asked.
“Huh?” Mike shook his head to re-focus on the task at hand.
Will was fading fast. Mandy looked back from below the basement window, deep furrows of concern obvious on her face.
“OK, Will, this is going to hurt like hell, but we don’t have anything stronger than aspirin to dull the pain and I don’t think we can wait for aspirin to take effect.” Mike looked at his neighbor with an apology in his eyes.
“Here,” Mike pulled his wallet out of his hip pocket. Even though the wallet and everything in it had been useless for months, Mike still hadn’t gotten out of the habit of carrying it. “Bite down on this and try to hold still.”
“Jenny, give me some clean gloves, will you?” Mike realized that he’d just contaminated his Nitrile gloves by pulling his wallet out of his pants.
Jenny carefully handed Mike two new gloves as he removed the old ones.
“OK, let’s get to work,” Mike gritted his teeth and made the first incision.
Will groaned, closed his eyes and bit down on the wallet.
“Hang in there, buddy,” Mike said as reassuringly as he could.
As Mike made the second incision, blood gushed out of Will, onto the linoleum and down the floor drain near where he lay. Mike bit his lip to avoid saying anything. He looked Jenny in the eyes and shook his head. Mike and Jenny’s daughter started to cry. Her oldest brother hugged her so she couldn’t see what was going on. Mike and Jenny’s eight year-old boy, stared wide-eyed.
Mike could feel Will’s skin going cold. Will began to wheeze as his eyes rolled back in his head. Mike stopped and looked over at Mandy.
“Mandy, he isn’t going to make it,” Mike said simply, quietly. “Come say your goodbyes. We’ll leave you alone.”
Mike and Jenny took their children by the hand and went out into the family room, closing the door behind them. Jenny’s sobs and Will’s wheezing breath followed filling their ears.
Strangely, it had grown quiet outside. The gunfire had stopped. The natural sounds of everyday life had not yet resumed. Mike peeped up over the sill of the window. He could see two HMMWV’s parked in the general vicinity of the looters’ vehicles. Several people in uniforms were milling about. The uniforms were mismatched. Some were the Army’s old Woodland pattern. Others were the Desert Camo pattern from the first war in Iraq. Still others appeared to be wearing more modern digital camouflage. Two men stood on guard keeping a 360-degree watch. It appeared as if they were carrying M4’s or AR-15’s. Mike saw one of the guards look in his direction and point and ducked down.
“I don’t know who they are, but they’ve spotted us,” Mike was struggling to catch his breath.
Jenny nodded and hugged her kids closer to her as a tear rolled down her cheek.
Mike thought he heard the big diesel engines in the HMMWV’s roar to life.
“I’m going to go out and see if they’re friendly,” Mike announced as Mandy exited the laundry room dabbing at her eyes.
“No!” Jenny was almost screaming. “We can’t lose you too!”
“Honey, as well armed as those guys are,” Mike began, “we aren’t going to be able to hold them off if they want our supplies.”
Mandy walked unnoticed past Mike and Jenny as they argued. She climbed over the pile of rubble at the bottom of the stairs, a piece of which had claimed her husband’s life, and then to the top of the stairs. The front door was hanging off its hinges as the storm door flapped in the wind. Mandy stepped around the wooden entry door and pushed the aluminum storm door aside as she stepped out onto the front landing.
Mandy paused on the front stoop. The March breeze caressed the bare skin of her face and arms and toyed with her hair. Tendrils of Mandy’s unwashed locks floated like thick, blonde kite strings. Tears steamed down her face. Mandy tilted her head back. She closed her eyes. The world began to spin.
As Mandy fell into a heap at the top of the steps leading down to the driveway, two HMMWV’s pulled over the curb on the opposite side of the street outside Mike and Jenny’s house. The turret-mounted .50 caliber guns swiveled in Mandy’s direction as a Deuce and a Half rolled across the church parking lot.
Bits of paper and plastic shopping bags swirled across Mike and Jenny’s driveway in a litter-filled dust devil. A robin, the first sign of spring, hopped across the yard, between the tangles of wire, looking for a worm.
Mandy looked up at the big black guns pointed in her direction and tore open the front of her blouse. Buttons popped and fell to the concrete dancing down the steps into the grass below. One of them caught the robin’s eye. It hopped over for a closer look.
“Go ahead, shoot me!” Mandy shrieked.