Dust filtered down like flour from a sifter. Ariela couldn’t contain her sneeze. The sound reverberated in the tack room. Above her, a cacophony arose in the hay loft. The sound of scrambling feet and the creak of the ladder signaled an attempt at a hasty escape. Ariela pressed the talk button on her radio.
“They’re trying to escape.”
The headlights of several vehicles illuminated the barn. As the family tumbled out of the barn’s east door, they were bathed in the harsh light. They shaded their eyes and huddled together hugging one another.
Pete worked his thumb unconsciously on the back side of the blade of his knife. The knurled file work chewed at the meat of his burly digit. His eyes flicked back and forth assessing the group of people only a few yards away. They were obviously trained. It made sense. They would have to be trained … disciplined … to have survived this long without a place of refuge. Pete couldn’t see a gap in their formation – nothing to take advantage of.
For the first time since they had become reacquainted, Pete found himself wishing that David Johnson had convinced him to go against his instincts. David had left several M4 carbines with Pete’s family after the raid on the National Guard armory. One of those rifles and a good shooting position would have been mighty handy right about now. Instead, the rifles rested in a rack in the living room of Pete’s home.
The group of six people appeared to be working their way toward the farm-house. Pete decided to change tactics. He turned and circled back around the machine shed in the direction of the house where the rifles and his sons and son-in-law now slept. Pete realized that he didn’t have a moment to spare.
As the family of five clustered in the glare of the headlights, Ariela stepped around the end of the barn. Her hands were empty, with the exception of her radio. She was dressed in pajama bottoms and a tank top.
“What are you doing here?” Ariela demanded.
An older man – apparently the father of the two children – stepped forward. “We were just looking for a scrap of food or a bit of water.”
“So, you decided to steal it from us?” Ariela’s voice left no doubt as to how she felt about their trespass.
“We … uh … we, we weren’t sure if anyone lived here ….” The man’s voice trailed off as he dipped his head.
“We were looking for a warm, safe place to sleep tonight,” the woman stepped forward next to the man.
The three others stayed behind. Ariela could see now that all three were children. The taller one, that had looked like an adult in the dark, appeared to be a teenager when highlighted by the vehicle’s lights. All five appeared gaunt and weary.
Pete moved as quickly and quietly as he could while keeping an eye on the group of strangers. By the time he had reached the back door of his house, the intruders were only a few dozen yards away. They had stopped at the edge of the trees before an open stretch of ground that provided no cover or concealment.
Tate, Pete’s elder son, met him at the back door.
“What did you find out?” Tate was a bit out of breath.
“There are six of them,” Pete relayed what he had seen. “They seem to be well-armed and well-trained. They’re about 40 yards east in the direction of the machine shed.”
Pete’s younger son and son-in-law arrived just as Pete finished speaking. Each was carrying two M4 carbines, several loaded 30-round magazines in his pockets and a pair of hand-held FRS radios. Pete and Tate each took one of the carbines, three magazines and one of the radios from the other two men.
“We may need more ammunition than this,” Pete stated flatly.
The other three men looked at him questioningly and then turned to retrieve more loaded magazines.
As the three younger men went for ammunition, Pete took up a position in the dining room facing east. He could barely make out the shapes of the intruders in the trees. They hadn’t moved. It seemed as if they were waiting for something.
Pete began to worry again. What if they were part of a larger team? What if they were just the advance scouts?
Ariela backed toward the headlights. Her night vision was bad enough already. She didn’t want to ruin it further by walking face-forward into the bright lights. She joined the others and broached the question on everyone’s mind, “What do we do with them now?”
Pete crouched low in the dining room as his boys returned with more loaded magazines.
“I got to thinking,” Pete said, “what if this is just an advance party? What if these guys are part of a larger group?”
The three younger men looked at each other and then back at Pete.
“If that’s the case,” Tate spoke up, “we need to get on the radio and call for help.”
Pete nodded. “Maka, you make the call. Make sure you raise the Johnsons and tell them to bring the .50’s.”
Maka nodded and headed toward the back of the house where the short-wave radio sat on a small table.
“Tate, you get the women and children into the basement,” Pete ordered. “Things are about to get pretty hot around here.”
Pete turned to his son-in-law, “Get into position upstairs. The front bedroom will give you a good view of most of the yard.”
After giving his instructions, Pete returned to the dining room to check on the six-person team on the edge of the woods.
Pete could no longer see them where they had been clustered at the edge of the trees. It took a few moments but he located them, one by one. The team of six had spread out in a crescent shape, half-surrounding the house.
Pete pressed the button on his radio, “They’ve spread out from the north end of the yard to the south end of the driveway. They’re spread out about every 30 degrees at roughly 25 yards from the house.
Maka huffed into the dining room, “I raised the Johnsons. They’ve had some excitement themselves this evening but they’re on their way in the Hummers.”
“Good,” Pete replied. “I have a feeling we’re going to need them.”