The Union Creek Journal

A Chronicle of Survival

Archive for the category “2015 February”

February 28, 2015: Rule of Law

The last few days have been a somber time here at Union Creek.  Jake’s trial and subsequent demise weighs heavily on all of our consciences.

Jake’s family is still in mourning.  Karla and the girls have sequestered themselves at the Hanson place and have not been over to see us since Jake’s burial.  I suspect that the only thing that will bring them out, in the near future, will be the birth of Jamie’s baby.  We’ve been respectful of their privacy but I’m getting worried about their food, water and wood supplies.

Jamie Gunter is a tall girl.  I’d guess she’s close to six feet.  You’d think that would give her unborn child a lot of room to stretch out.  Instead, Jamie’s belly protrudes like Pinocchio’s nose.

I hope, for her sake, that Jamie doesn’t have twins.

There has been considerable discussion, of late, about establishing a rule of law.  We’re interacting with Pete’s family on a regular basis.  I think it’s safe to assume that there are other families in the area with whom we will begin to interact.  None of us wants a repeat of what happened with Jake.

Can you believe that we don’t have a single copy of the Constitution?  Everyone agreed that the Constitution would be a great place to start to develop our own laws but no one has it completely memorized and not a single one of us stashed a copy of it in with our preparations.

What a sorry lot of historians we are.  What’s that saying?  Those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it.  Well, it’s tough to learn from a document when you don’t have a copy of it to read.

Note to self: Memorization, in the absence of modern conveniences, it’s essential.

So, we’ve been collaborating to try to remember the content of the original document as well as its amendments.  I hope our recollection is accurate.

The founding fathers drafted the Constitution to “form a more perfect Union”.  We all remembered that.  What does “a more perfect Union” mean, though?

We’ve also recalled that the Constitution was drafted to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote general welfare (Is that where we got the ‘welfare state’?) and secure the blessings of Liberty.

Again, sounds great.  We need to boil it down and figure out what it means to us, though.

My brother, Joseph, the history teacher, thought he could remember most of the main articles.  He’s working on writing them down.

Everyone remembered the First and Second Amendments.  Joseph recalled that the Third Amendment had to do with quartering of troops.  That one didn’t get much press before the crash.

Several of us recalled that the Fourth Amendment prevented unreasonable search and seizure after recalling that a number of the States had essentially nullified the Fourth Amendment before the crash, passing laws that gave police “no-knock” authority to search a home where they thought illegal actions were taking place.

My father-in-law recalled that the Fifth through Eighth Amendments had to do with the courts, trials and punishments but none of us could remember which amendments dealt specifically with which aspects.

The Eighteenth and Twenty-first Amendments came back pretty quickly – Prohibition and its repeal.

My mother-in-law remembered that the Nineteenth Amendment established women’s suffrage.

As we worked through these recollections, a thought occurred to me.  Were we playing the role of the monkeys again?  Were we trying to base our laws on the Constitution and its Amendments just because we didn’t know any better?

I voiced my concern and several heads nodded around the table.

“What if we wiped the slate clean,” I proposed.  “Tabula rasa.  Start with nothing.  Try to forget that the Constitution and its Amendments ever existed.”

“We’re having a hard time remembering some of it,” my uncle, Terry, joked.  “Forgetting the rest of it shouldn’t be too hard.”

Everyone got a laugh out of that.

In reality, we found that forgetting what we had learned was, indeed, difficult.  Every time we tried to start with a clean plate, the crumbs of our memories fell onto it, sullying our attempts at a completely new rule of law.

Perhaps we don’t need to throw out everything.  Instead, maybe we just need to question everything.

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Fear of Fernando

Fernando Hernandez was seething.  Never in his adult life had anyone dared attack him.  Everyone around him knew the consequences of challenging el Patron, as he liked to be called.  Fernando hated his first name.

Usually, challenging el Patron ended in a slow, painful and, often, public death.

Fernando recalled the early days as he built his empire.  Necklacing was one of his favorite methods for disposing of those who challenged him.  Necklacing involved forcing a tire down over the arms and torso of an individual, filling it with gasoline and lighting it on fire.  Occasionally, the victim would run, if their ankles were not secured.  Typically, it took them about twenty minutes to die, screaming and writhing.

Fernando chuckled as he remembered how one of his victims, before Fernando learned to secure his victims’ ankles, started a fire that burned nearly 200 acres of farmland.  The local fire department had arrived to put out the fire only to find – to their horror – a Necklaced, faceless man in the middle of the field.  As far as Fernando knew, the illegal Mexican had never been identified and Fernando himself had certainly never come under suspicion.

Typically, Fernando forced at least a dozen of his underlings to witness a Necklacing.  It was like when the Conquistadors had placed natives’ heads on pikes.  It served as a warning.  Fernando was proud of his Spanish heritage and held nothing but disdain for Mexicans of native Indian descent.  They were a lower class in his opinion and good for nothing more than menial tasks.

As Fernando returned to his sprawling home in the warmth of his Cadillac Escalade his seething turned to fretting.  Who would dare attack his armory?

Fernando had taken the armory by force shortly after the idiots in the U.S. government ran their country into the ground.  Fernando did not think of the U.S. as his home.  It allowed him a degree of emotional detachment that frequently proved useful in his line of business.

Many of the members of the National Guard troop had already deserted the unit to care for their own families.  Fernando’s son, Enrique, led the attack against the remaining troops.  Although Enrique had been one of them for several years, he was more than happy to kill them in cold blood for the opportunity to manage the resources of the units for his father.

Now, Enrique and his brothers were dead.  They had been blown to bits along with the armory.  Fernando was sure of it.  He knew that Enrique had been involved in preparing for the attack on the gringos that had killed Marta, Fernando’s sister.  Enrique’s brothers were helping him.

For many years, Fernando had been embarrassed by Enrique.  Enrique had been lazy, fat, stupid and pretty much worthless.  Until recently.  Enrique had been skimming resources from his National Guard unit to the benefit of Fernando’s drug operation.  He had successfully overthrown his National Guard comrades and, with the help of his distant cousin, Ariela, done an excellent job of managing things.  Until this.

Ariela.  Although Fernando hated to admit it, the loss of Ariela pained him more than the loss of his own sons.  Ariela had been beautiful, spirited, smart, strong and talented.  She was everything any man could hope for … in a son.

A pang of guilt washed over Fernando.  To place Ariela ahead of his own sons was to dishonor the memory of the boys.

Still … in reality, Ariela was a far greater loss.

Fernando let loose with a string of vulgarities in a rare display of emotion.  He regretted it immediately as he met his driver’s eyes in the rearview mirror.  His driver was frightened.  Not because he feared Fernando in his anger, but because he feared anything that could cause el Patron to lose control of his emotions.

Emilio had worked for el Patron for nearly twelve years.  In that time, he had only seen him lose control twice before.  Those were very bad times, indeed.  Emilio knew that bad things were about to happen again.

Emilio pulled the big black SUV into the courtyard of Fernando’s home and slowed to a stop.  Fernando was out of the door before Emilio could open it for him.

Fernando’s mind raced.

Who would attack him?  The gringos from the east?  Certainly not.  If not them, then who else?  No one was fighting for drug territory any more.

Were there surviving National Guard members looking to avenge the deaths of their brothers in arms?  Unlikely.  In Fernando’s mind, they were cowards or they would not have gone home to be with the women and children.

In the privacy of his office, Fernando once again let loose with a string of curses.

He needed information but his means of communication had been destroyed along with the armory.  There were still outposts throughout the area but the only way to get through to them was to send messengers … or carrier pigeons.  Fernando snorted at the idea.  In his childhood he had raced pigeons.  Of course, his birds almost always won.  He had the finest stock and the best trainers.

What did he have now?  Nothing.

Fernando had never had to start from nothing before.  He had inherited his empire from his father.  His father had taught him to be tough and ruthless, but he hadn’t taught Fernando how to start with nothing and build it into something.

Fernando was lost … out of his element.  The death of his sons.  The death of Ariela.  The death of most of his troops.  The destruction of the armory.  It was all too much.

Fernando put his head in his hands and began to weep.

“Patron,” the voice came from the doorway to Fernando’s office – a soft, female voice.

Before he looked up, Fernando’s face contorted.  Who would dare enter his office uninvited?

“Tio, it’s me, Ariela,” she moved lithely to her uncle’s side and touched his shoulder.

Fernando looked up into her eyes, his face haggard with worry and stained with tears.

Ariela knelt next to Fernando.

“I escaped,” she whispered.

She was so close that Fernando could feel her breath on his ear.  It was like a warm wind in winter time.  Refreshing.  Invigorating.  His beautiful Ariela was alive!

February 16, 2015: Judging Jake

I’m no lawyer or judge but I think what we did with Jake was fair.  We’re all still coming to terms, I think, with what the new normal means, though.  What we did was difficult but it needed to be done.  My family members seem to be letting go of the way things were and grasping what the new normal means beyond our day-to-day survival.

Sure, we’re still dealing with “normal” stuff like the toilet paper shortage.  My proposal on that issue was not popular, I can tell you that.  The women, in particular, were dead set against individual rations.  Their premise was that they required more toilet paper than men.  I pushed back – gently.  Did they really need more toilet paper than men or was that simply a remnant of the past burned into their brains?

The toilet paper discussion was interesting and … telling.  It demonstrated the extent to which most of us still hold onto what I’ll call the old ways.  None of the women wanted to talk about why they needed more toilet paper.  That was not a subject for polite company.

Are we still polite company these days?  I mean, we regularly take the lives of people around us.  We pass sentence on people we’ve known for years.  Is there still room for politeness in the new normal?  I guess there’s not need to be impolite … until there’s a need to be impolite.

In the end, we agreed on individual toilet paper rations.  The women and female children were allotted a ration one and a half times that of the men and D.J.  We also agreed that toilet paper trade or barter would be allowed.  Finally, we discussed alternatives to toilet paper.  Eventually, it will run out.  Eventually, we will have to go back to doing what our ancestors did before the invention of toilet paper.

I can remember when I was a kid.  We used the outhouse that still sits behind the farm house here on this property.  In the outhouse there were always several newspapers and a bucket of corn cobs – not as comfy or absorbent as toilet paper, but adequate for the most part.

I brought up the fact that, in the Middle East, it is quite common to use your left hand to clean up after you’ve finished your toilet business.  That comment drew a lot of “ewww’s” and “yuck’s” and “nasty’s”.

Telling.

We conducted Jake’s trial as much like a pre-crash trial as we could.  He was offered a defense “lawyer”.  He declined and chose to represent himself.  My father-in-law was appointed the judge.  My brother, Joseph, was appointed as the prosecuting attorney.  Every adult, over the age of eighteen, was a part of the jury – including Jake’s wife and daughter, Jamie, who had recently turned eighteen.  I think we gave Jake every opportunity for a fair trial that we could.

Mutiny is typically a military crime.  The Uniform Code of Military Justice says that a person found guilty of mutiny shall be punished by death.

The primary question to be answered was, “Did Jake commit mutiny?”

Joseph gave opening arguments for the prosecution.  His argument was brief.  Regardless of how informal our structure of authority was, Jake had attempted to usurp it by force.  That constituted mutiny.  Virtually everyone present in the room had directly witnessed Jake’s attempt to take control by force and the resulting deaths of four individuals.  There was no question of fact.  Jake was guilty.  Furthermore, if Jake was found guilty of mutiny, he should also be tried for murder in the deaths of his fellow mutineers.

Of course, Jake argued that he did not commit mutiny.  As he read from a note pad, Jake argued that I had assumed my position of authority without proper authorization.  (There had been no election.)  Therefore, his attempt to remove me from authority was not mutiny but rather, for the good of the group.  I had demonstrated a predilection for violence.  I had committed crimes of torture and murder.  Jake argued that he was simply doing what the American Colonists had done when they revolted against the tyrant, King George.  He was a revolutionary and I deserved to be overthrown.

Jake had nothing to say about the deaths of his accomplices.  I honestly don’t think he anticipated that argument from Joseph.

As much as I dislike Jake, I have to admit that it was a good argument.  In fact, it was probably the only argument that made any sense.  Whether that was what was actually going through his head when he marched into the yard with four Mexican gang members or not … hard to say.

Joseph called those present in the yard when Jake arrived with the four Mexicans as witnesses.  The witnesses included my brothers Levi and Sam, Terry, my dad, Miriam and me.  Each of us agreed upon the key facts of what happened on the fourteenth.  Joseph also asked us, based on Jake’s opening statement, about our authority structure.  The views were interesting to say the least.

Everyone agreed that we didn’t need elections to establish leadership within a family.

Most also agreed that, in the event that the group grew larger, there might come a point at which elections would be required.  Almost no one agreed on the group size or make-up that would require elections.

Some thought that elections might be necessary once non-family members were brought into the group.  I didn’t like the sound of that since Jake could argue that our family had brought his family into the group, thus necessitating elections to establish leadership.

More of us thought that, in addition to bringing in non-family members, the group would need to grow to a certain size before elections would be necessary.

Joseph was smart enough to ask whether or not we had included the Gunters in the decision-making process.  We had only allowed the Gunters to participate in our decision-making process twice – once when we decided what to do with Daniel (one of the members of their group) and once when we decided to attack the National Guard armory (because we asked Jake to join us).  I think this helped establish that the Gunters truly were not a part of our group.  They lived on property that we didn’t own.  They did not participate in our day-to-day decision-making.  They were our neighbors.  We helped them.  But, they were not a part of our authority structure.  We only allowed them a say in our decisions when our decisions directly involved them.

Jake, of course, tried to turn everything around in his cross-examination.  He tried to play up the fact that we had “taken them in” and involved them, to an extent, in our democratic decision-making process.  He led the witnesses but Joseph didn’t know enough to object.  I’m not sure Anders would have known exactly where the line between fair questions and leading questions was either.  None of us are legal experts.

After Jake’s cross-examination was finished, Joseph rested his case.

Jake’s only witnesses were his wife and two daughters.  Since they were not present when Jake marched into our yard, they could not dispute the facts established by Joseph’s witnesses.  Instead of trying to dispute the facts, Jake continued down the line of questioning that he had started in his cross-examination.  He also asked them about my leadership capabilities and the “crimes” that I had committed.

It was obvious that the Gunter women were uncomfortable as witnesses.  They loved their husband and father and wanted to protect him but they knew he was a hot-head and had probably crossed the line marching into our yard with four other armed men.  They squirmed in the witness chair.  They apologized with their eyes.  But, in the end, they toed Jake’s line.

Joseph is a pretty smart guy.  He drew things out of the Gunter women that they may never have acknowledged to themselves.  It became obvious that Jake abused the women in his family – at least emotionally, if not physically – and that his temper and hatred for me were really at the root of his desire to overthrow our “authority structure”.

I’m really glad Joseph and I spent all the time that we did debating.  It was really kind of fun to watch him question the Gunters.

Every one of the Gunter women ended up crying by the end of their cross-examination.  Most of it didn’t seem staged.  Although, I remembered Karla’s ability to use her eyes ….

It was a little strange having witnesses who also were a part of the jury.  We thought it was the only fair way to decide Jake’s fate, though.  We thought it was fair to have everyone, of the age of majority, involved in making such a major decision.

Deliberation was painful.  The Gunter women knew the likely penalty if Jake was found guilty.  I think they also knew in their heart-of-hearts that he was guilty.  It was gut-wrenching to watch them struggle with the dilemma of protecting their husband or father or doing what they knew was right.

Because virtually every member of the jury had some level of personal involvement in the case, we decided that a unanimous vote was not required to convict.  At the outset of deliberations, we established 80% as the number that would decide between a conviction and an acquittal.  Joseph and Anders both abstained from participating in the jury.  We, of course, did not allow Jake to participate in the jury either.

You may have already done the math.  We had nine Johnsons and two Gunters on the jury.  After we deliberated for about an hour, we took a vote.  Nine-to-two to convict.  Not really a surprise but a very somber moment, nonetheless.  As I looked around the table, I was confident everyone else had the same feeling in the pit of their stomach that I had.

We were about to cross a line … about to pass judgment on a man who some of us had known for decades.  In all likelihood, we were about to sentence him to death.  There were no extenuating circumstances to excuse Jake’s behavior.  He was motivated by nothing more than a deep-seated loathing for me and a confrontational nature.

It seems odd that a man more than fifty years of age would allow his baser instincts to drive him to the point where he would try to “take over” a family – not even his own – with threats of violence.  It seems odd that he would involve strangers … gang members who had nothing to do with the situation … who were nothing more than mercenaries.

Then again, much the same thing has happened on larger and smaller scales since the beginning of time.  In the Bible’s first recorded murder, Cain killed his own brother Abel motivated by nothing more than jealousy.  Brutus killed his close friend, Caesar, motivated by nothing more than the fear that Caesar would declare himself king, ending Rome’s democracy.  (OK, it’s a fictional work but the principle applies.)  Hitler attempted to eradicate an entire race primarily because he misunderstood Social Darwinism.  Hitler felt that the Jews were inferior and represented a risk to the survival of his own race as a result.  Why didn’t anyone stop him before it was too late?

Why have men allowed their fears, their hatred or their confusion to move them to horrible acts throughout history?  Why have we, as a human race, failed to learn and apply the lessons of those acts?  Why did we so recently sit idly by as humanity’s baser instincts of greed and jealousy drove the whole world over a cliff like so many lemmings?  Why did we never clear the monkey cage, so to speak, and start afresh and anew?  Was it ignorance?  Was it laziness?  Was it the fear of change or of the unknown?

Why did we place Jake in front of a firing squad and take his life for attempting an insurrection?  Was it simply because we didn’t know any better?

Did we make Jake’s wife a widow because we, as humans, just couldn’t come up with a better way to deal with a problem?  Are we that simple?

I have so little hope for the future.

Ariela’s Escape

A huge explosion shook Ariela awake.  Instinctively, she rolled out of bed and hit the floor.  She waited silently for a moment getting her bearings.  This wasn’t Afghanistan.  She was in her little house in Nebraska.  The explosion didn’t make sense.

Ariela low-crawled to the dresser where she left her sidearm at night.  She reached up and grabbed the familiar Beretta, automatically checking the load.  Full magazine and one in the chamber.  Safety off, ready to go.

As a Marine, Ariela had gotten in trouble more than once for carrying her M9 in Condition Zero – loaded, round in the chamber and safety off.  In her opinion, it was better to receive an Article 15 than it was to end up dead because you were fumbling with your safety while someone was trying to kill you.

Fortunately, Ariela was an exemplary Marine in virtually every other sense so her company commander had overlooked the infractions.

There was a reddish glow coming through Ariela’s north window.  Her bedroom was tiny – barely big enough for her single bed and dresser – but it had two windows.  The north window allowed a nice breeze to enter the room in the spring, summer and fall.  The west window allowed it to pass through.

Ariela raised her head just above the window sill.  There was a huge dust cloud in the general vicinity of the armory.  She could hear secondary explosions and small arms fire from her location nearly two miles away.

“They didn’t wait,” she whispered.  “Whoever they are, those survivors didn’t wait for us to attack them.  They attacked us.”

Ariela found herself filled with a certain degree of respect for these people.

“They must be former military,” Ariela speculated.  “If we had attacked them, we would all most likely be dead.”

The next thought that popped into Ariela’s head brought an evil grin to her pretty face.  Enrique was at the armory.  He and the rest of the local crew would have been loading the trucks and getting ready to leave on her command.

Suddenly, it seemed, the Enrique problem had solved itself.

“Sometimes that happens,” Ariela chuckled aloud.  “Problems left alone often have a way of solving themselves.”

Of course, Ariela realized that she would need to verify.  “Trust, but verify,” pithy advice from one of her ITC instructors.

Ariela had been the third female to participate in the Marines’ Individual Training Course, the seven-month course designed to produce the Marines’ Critical Skills Operators.  It had been the crowning achievement of her life.  The Marines had only started allowing females to participate in Assessment & Selection the year before.  Two females before Ariela had been selected to participate in the ITC.  Both had washed out before Phase Three.  Ariela was the first female to complete all four phases.

Then, during an extended leave for her mother’s funeral … the crash.  Ariela was left stranded in Nebraska with no communication.  As far as she knew, the Marines had been shut down – along with every other department of the federal government – when the U.S. went bankrupt.

Ariela snapped back to the present as another secondary explosion ripped through the frosty morning air.  She could see the column of fire from her window.

“Must have ignited the propane tank,” Ariela thought as she began getting dressed.

Five minutes later, Ariela was fully dressed and armed with an M4 and her Beretta.  Her short, dark hair barely stuck out from under her boonie hat.

Twenty-five minutes after that, Ariela was scouting the area around the armory.  The place had been leveled.  Whatever had been used for the initial blast must have had the power of … Ariela caught a whiff of ammonia.  Of course, farmers with anhydrous … these people were not only competent, they were resourceful as well.

“Make use of what you have at hand,” Ariela recited the maxim as if she had learned it only yesterday.

From her vantage point, Ariela could see uniformed individuals advancing on the remains of the armory.  They all appeared to be wearing U.S. military uniforms but the uniforms were unmatched.  Some had more recent ACU’s or MCCUU’s.  Others wore the old Woodland BDU’s and still others wore the Desert BDU’s from the First Gulf War.

The uniformed troops systematically cleared the remains of the armory and killed anyone they found still alive.

“Ruthless,” Ariela whispered breathlessly.  She was slightly taken aback by the survivors’ absolute lack of mercy.

As Ariela watched the remainder of the operation, her admiration grew.  Some of the participants obviously had no military training but they followed what appeared to be a strict protocol, regardless.

Eventually, the group roared off with three still-mobile HMMWV’s, two Deuce-and-a-halfs, a Dodge pickup and a Ford Excursion.

Ariela stayed in place for another hour watching for movement.  She scanned the hills around the armory.  She scanned the houses.  Most had been burned to the ground and were uninhabited.

After about an hour and a half, some of the local citizens started to come out of the woodwork.  Ariela needed to blend in.  Most of the citizens had guns.  Ariela wouldn’t have to ditch her weapons.  She did, however, need to get out of her MCCUU’s and into some civilian clothes.

Ariela scanned the houses around her with her binoculars.  A man and a woman slunk out of a house about 100 yards away in the direction of the armory.  Ariela guessed the woman to be about her size.

After a quick recon, Ariela decided the house was empty.  The front door had been left unlocked.

“Not smart,” Ariela grumbled.

Inside, Ariela quickly found the couple’s bedroom and closet.  She dug into the bottom of the woman’s dresser drawers to find clothing that the woman hadn’t worn in some time.  Ariela found a stack of coats hung in the back hallway and selected one of the most generic that she could find.  It was a man’s coat – Carhartt – and only a little too large.  Nearly everyone in the area owned a similar coat.  Once Ariela felt sufficiently gray – as though she would blend in with those around her and go unnoticed – she exited the house and headed for the armory.  She imitated the pace and movements of the other civilians around her, trying as hard to blend in with her actions and movements as she had with her clothes.

As she reached the armory, Ariela could see that the civilians were picking it over without argument.  Everyone had reached something of a balance.  Things were in short supply.  You might have to do without a little bit but it was better to share with your neighbors than to shoot them or be shot by them.

“Amazing!” Ariela pondered the implications.

Although Ariela wasn’t there to scavenge food or supplies, she picked up an item here or there to hide her true actions.  She was looking at faces and body parts trying to find Enrique.  In all likelihood he would have been in the HQ room, Ariela reasoned.  He was probably sitting in that Aeron chair with his feet up on the commander’s desk while everyone else humped to get ready for the attack.

Ariela spit in revulsion and slowly made her way toward the back of the east end of the building.  The devastation was complete.  There literally was not a wall left standing on the back half of the building.  If Enrique had been in the commander’s chair when the blast hit … he would have been nearly obliterated.  Ariela resigned herself to trying to find a piece of him.

As she sorted through the rubble, Ariela picked up a few items.  Suddenly she stopped.  Protruding from a pile of broken concrete blocks was a hand.  The hand had rings on every finger.  Enrique always had loved his bling.

Ariela tugged on the hand.  The crumbled blocks grated against one another and toppled to the side.  Along with the hand came an arm.  Ariela turned over the arm to find a panther tattoo.  Enrique’s pride and joy.  Oh, how he loved to flex his fat forearm to make the panther move.

“What an idiot!” Ariela had hidden her feelings about her cousin for so long, the phrase passed her lips involuntarily.

Ariela removed the rings from the fingers and tossed the arm aside.  There was no sign of the body under the same pile of rubble.  However, Ariela did come across a skull fragment nearly embedded into a piece of concrete block.  Attached to the skull fragment was an ear.  In the ear was a one karat diamond stud earring.  Another sure sign.  Enrique frequently twisted the earring when he was thinking – or doing what passed for thinking when it came to Enrique.

Ariela was sure of it.  Enrique was dead.

Of course, along with Enrique went the National Guard armory and its resources … and a few members of Ariela’s extended family.

“So much for that part of the plan,” Ariela groused, focused on the loss of resources.

As she turned to investigate the motor pool, a black Cadillac Escalade pulled up.  Ariela knew before he stepped out with his guards, it was her uncle, Fernando.  No one else would be burning gas and driving an Escalade these days.

As the civilians around her started to scatter, Ariela scattered with them.  She hadn’t decided whether it was better for Fernando to think she was dead or know that she was alive.  Keeping him in the dark, for the time being, was probably the most advantageous Ariela decided.

Ariela made her way back to her small house, grabbed her bug-out bag, packed a few more things in her Marine-issue duffle bag and headed out through the back door.

February 14, 2015: Valentine’s Day Mutiny

I knew it was coming.  I should have paid better attention.  Jake attempted to take over this morning.  Maybe I could have cut it off at the pass, but I doubt if it would have been a permanent solution.

Now, we’re faced with having to execute a permanent solution.

Jake is locked up in the tack room in zip-tie cuffs for the time-being and four more people are dead.  His wife and daughters are pleading for his life.  According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the punishment for mutiny is death.  I’m just as sick and tired of killing people as I am letting people go who intend to do us harm.

A hundred and one problems.

About six o’clock this morning, D.J. came running into the barn where I was milking the cows.

“I spotted someone on one of the security cameras,” he was breathing hard, “so I let loose one of the shotgun traps.”

“You did what?” I couldn’t believe D.J. would set off one of the traps without a proper warning over the radio.

“I was on yard guard duty and monitoring the security cameras,” D.J. explained.  “As I was watching I saw someone trying to make their way through the tangle wire near the camera.  It obviously wasn’t anyone from our group.  They would have known to avoid the wire.”

“What if it was some friendly that just wandered in from the road?” I asked.

Just then, I heard shouts from outside the barn.

“Who’s on yard guard now?,” I yelled at D.J. as I headed for the barn door.

“Grandma,” he responded.

I paused at the door and looked out to see if I could see what was going on.  I caught sight of Jake walking down the driveway into the yard with two Mexicans on either side of him.  They were all carrying M4’s.

“Stay in the barn,” I told D.J.

I stepped out of the barn door headed straight for Jake.

“Don’t come any closer, Johnson,” Jake yelled out.

My bad feeling about Jake and Daniel and Ricky came back with a rush.  The hair on the back of my neck prickled and I could feel my face flush.

“What are you doing, Jake,” I yelled back still advancing.

“I’m here to de-throne you, Johnson,” Jake’s voice took on a high and mighty tone.

“De-throne?” I was incredulous.  “What are you talking about?”

I continued to advance.  The Mexicans were getting antsy.

“You’ve appointed yourself dictator of our group,” Jake retorted, “and I’m removing you.  Your screw-ups and hatred have cost people their lives.  You’ve tortured people and generally led the group astray.”

“Astray from what, Jake?” I had my eyes on the Mexicans’ trigger fingers.  Two of them were inside the trigger guards of their rifles, two were not.

“Astray from what is right,” Jake replied.  “You’re a war-monger.  You’re violent and careless.  You have no business leading people.”

“I’m not the leader of this group, Jake,” I rejoined.  “I just happen to be the guy that ends up doing what has to be done.”

I could hear footsteps behind me and to either side of me.  The Mexicans’ eyes were darting right and left.  My family was moving up behind me and on my flanks.  At that point, I wasn’t 100% sure if they were on my side or Jake’s.

I knew that some of the things I had done since the crash were unpopular with some of my family members.  With that said, I didn’t think they would take Jake’s side in this fight.  Blood is thicker than Jake’s B.S.

“Jake,” it was Joseph, “we don’t want a fight with you and your … friends, but if you want one, you’ll get one.”

Joseph had been my biggest concern right up to that point.

I kept my eyes on the Mexicans’ trigger fingers, occasionally glancing up at their eyes to see what I could read behind them.  Based on what I saw, Jake must have made them some promises to get them to come along on this boondoggle.  They were probably the guys from the Hernandez outpost to the south.  My guess was that supplies were running thin with the armory blasted into rubble.

Once again, I found myself wondering about Jake’s connection to Hernandez’s people.

I stepped backward, slowly.

My family members stepped forward.  We now formed a cohesive line – all armed, all now experienced in battle.

“Jake, what you gonna do?” asked the Mexican immediately to Jake’s left.

He was one of the two with his trigger finger inside the guard.

“You gonna let these gringos face you down?” Mr. Itchy Trigger Finger was either spoiling for a fight or desperate for supplies.

“Shut up, Manuel,” Jake snapped.

Manuel didn’t like that.  I could see the hatred in his eyes.  Jake might have some connection to these goons, but there was no love lost for him on their part.

The guy to Manuel’s left was getting itchier by the minute.  I could see that the situation was about to explode.

When Manuel’s M4 barrel started to tilt upward and outward, I reached for my Glock.

Jake saw what was happening, yelled, “No!” and then dove for cover.

The barrel of my Glock cleared the top of my holster just as Manuel brought his M4 up to his shoulder.  I dropped to one knee and got my front sight on his chest.  He hadn’t anticipated my movement and, having made no movement of his own, I had him lined up perfectly.  I punched two 10mm holes in his chest as I heard gunfire on either side of me.  There was the boom of shotguns to my left and a three-round burst from an M4 on my right.

All four Mexicans were on the ground bleeding.

Jake was cowering behind a small mound of dirt to one side of the driveway.  I advanced on him with my Glock drawn and ready to fire.  He dropped his rifle, put his hands over his head and got up on his knees.

“Don’t shoot!  Don’t shoot!” he cried out.

It took every ounce of restraint that I had but I didn’t shoot.

Joseph and Levi came up from behind me and zip-tied his wrists behind his back.

“Get up,” Levi ordered with a hard edge in his voice that I’d never heard before.

Levi yanked upward on Jake’s zip-tied wrists, bringing him to his feet.  I could see pain in Jake’s eyes.

“The tack room is empty,” my Dad chimed in.  “Let’s put him in there for now.”

“Zip-tie his ankles and put a padlock on the door,” I gave Levi a look.

Levi returned the look and pushed Jake forward toward the barn.  Jake stumbled, recovered and then stumbled again.  Levi pushed him hard with the butt of his shotgun and Jake tumbled onto the stony driveway.

“Get up,” Levi kicked Jake in the ribs.

Levi had gotten it.  He realized that Jake had introduced Daniel and Ricky into our group.  Ricky ended up nearly raping Levi’s daughter while Daniel watched.  I’m going to have to tell Levi about “the switch” and he’s going to have to find his or he’ll end up self-destructing.

So, we have four dead Mexicans to get rid of.  We have Jake zipped up in the tack room to mete out a sentence to.  And, I have a brother who’s made a 180 degree personality change in just over a week who needs someone to talk to.

What’s that now … a hundred and three problems?  The nice thing is … they’re not all mine.

Februay 10, 2015: Monkeys

I finally had a chance to tune in to some short-wave radio over the last couple days.  Although the weather is still wintry, it would seem that the world is starting to see some sprouts of recovery and re-growth.

From what I can tell, China is leading the way on the international front.  Reports seem to indicate that they were not hit as hard by the crash as were North America, and Europe.  For some reason, I haven’t been able to find out much about the other areas of the world.

It sounds as though Chinese troops, under the United Nations’ crest, will soon be boots on ground in many of the harder-hit countries like the U.S.  No one seems to have much more factual detail beyond that, but there is plenty of speculation that the Chinese forces will essentially be repo-men, disguised by the blue U.N. helmets, looking to gobble up any remaining assets to collect on the debts owed them.

Certainly plausible.

The densely populated areas of the northeastern U.S. were hit hardest here in the states.  The less-populated areas around the cities seem to have fared a little better but were overrun, in many cases, by looters in the mass exodus from the more metropolitan areas.

Destruction in rural areas of the country, like ours, has mainly been limited to larger towns and smaller cities.

Remnants of the old U.S. government are trying to pull together a new, provisional government based in Portland, Oregon.  I haven’t figured out whether that’s a good thing or not.  Too many remnants of the pre-crash government will simply lead us right back to where we were a couple years ago.

It’s like the story of the monkeys.

Scientists put five monkeys in a cage and hung a banana on a string.  Beneath the banana, the scientists put a set of stairs.  The monkeys could climb the stairs to reach the banana.

Every time a monkey climbed the stairs and touched the banana, the scientists would spray all of the monkeys with cold water.  The scientists did this for several days until the monkeys in the cage stopped climbing the stairs.  The scientists then stopped spraying the monkeys with cold water.

Eventually, the scientists removed one monkey and replaced it with a new monkey.  Shortly after the new monkey was introduced into the cage, it began to climb the stairs to get the banana.  The rest of the monkeys immediately attacked the new monkey, preventing him from climbing the stairs to the banana.

One by one, the scientists replaced each of the five original monkeys with new monkeys.  Each time a new monkey was introduced into the cage, it would attempt to climb the stairs to get the banana.  Each time the monkey was attacked by the other monkeys as it attempted to climb the stairs.

After all five of the original monkeys had been replaced, the scientists replaced one of the new monkeys with another new monkey.  None of the monkeys in the cage had ever been sprayed with cold water when attempting to reach for the banana.  Nevertheless, when the new monkey attempted to climb the stairs, the rest of the monkeys attacked him.

Why?  Because that was the way it “had always been”.  None of the monkeys knew any different.

I’m more than a little concerned that the remnants of our government involved in putting together a new government are like the monkeys.  They just don’t know of a better way to govern than the way that drove us to the brink of extinction in the first place.

The fact that China has taken the lead in re-forming civilization frightens me even more.  They weren’t exactly a bastion of civil liberty before the crash.  I can only imagine how their surviving leadership views the new normal.

Is it possible that the sprouts of recovery seen creeping from the rubble of society were the seeds of tyranny sown before its collapse?

As if I didn’t already have a hundred problems.

Speaking of a hundred problems, have you heard the saying, “It’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that gets you”?

I have this feeling that there is a lot we don’t know that we don’t know about Hernandez’s organization.

One thing we do know is that there were multiple outposts.  We know that one of those outposts is just a few miles to our south.  We know, from Pete’s questioning, that Daniel informed that outpost of our existence and location before he was taken into town.  We know Daniel was around long enough to get a pretty good look at our defenses.

We don’t know how many outposts Hernandez had.  We don’t think Hernandez was killed in the attack on the armory – at least Pete’s detainee was pretty sure that Hernandez was not there, personally.

Hernandez seems like a guy that keeps his hands clean, letting others do the heavy lifting and dirty work.  So, it seems quite possible that he’s still around.

We don’t know how many members of Hernandez’s gang were not at the armory when we attacked it.  I’m sure there are other things we don’t know that we just weren’t smart enough to ask before we disposed of our source of information.

Time for a pow-wow between Pete’s family and my family.

On the good news front we were able to “liberate” a fair amount of vehicles, equipment and supplies from the motor pool at the armory.  Hernandez’s troops had obviously been loading supplies into the trucks in anticipation of their attack against us.

We mainly recovered weapons and ammunition, but also a few cases of MRE’s, a number of water coolers and a several ALICE packs filled with battle supplies.

We also ended up with three 6.5 liter turbo diesel HMMWV’s – two up-armored with turret-mounted M2E2 .50 caliber guns and one with an ambulance van – and two Deuce-and-a-halfs.  Both of the HMMWV’s with the .50’s were loaded up with twelve 100-round cans of ball ammo on belts.  In the back of one of the Deuces were another fifty cans of .50 caliber ball.  We also found ten cans of M962 SLAP armor-piercing ammo with tracer rounds interspersed.  A thousand rounds can go through a M2 pretty quickly but it was still a nice find.

In the same Deuce we found about 18,000 rounds of 5.56 ammo loaded in 30 round magazines and packed in “Tall .50” ammo cans.  Someone knew what they were doing when it came to packing ammo.  I store my own 5.56 exactly the same way.  Of course, before we hit the armory, I had nowhere near 18,000 rounds.

There were also twenty M4’s – the newer version with the three-round burst setting and ACOG sights.  We found a half-dozen Beretta M9’s in a locked box in the same Deuce.  Next to the Berettas were three night-vision cases … complete with NVESD Gen III+ devices and helmet mounts.

Score!

There were a number of odds and ends like helmets, web gear, body armor and the like but none in significant numbers.  Most likely it was just the gear for the vehicle’s drivers and co-drivers.  The rest of the gear was probably in the armory when we sent it skyward.

At first I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with all of the weaponry but then I realized that Hernandez is quite possibly still out there and several of his outposts definitely are still up and functional.

Finding a use for all my new toys will not be one of my hundred problems.

February 6, 2015: Survivors?

It seems like a lot has happened since I was last able to write in this journal.  Certainly, there have been some significant events – life-changing and life-ending events.

I’m really not sure how much longer I … we … the human race can continue like this.  I know the human race has gone through periods of extreme violence before … and survived.  I wonder, can we do it again?

Even with all of our planning, all of our stocking up, all of our defenses … we were still unprepared, I think, for what we have had to do – what we will have to continue to do – to survive.  If we do survive, will we still be human?

I’ve said before that I’m not much of a philosopher but I think the events of the last week or so require some philosophical reflection.

What is it that makes us human?  What sets us apart from “lesser beings”?

A conscience?  A soul?  The ability to reason?

What happens if we sacrifice our spiritual being in the interest of the survival of our physical being?  Will our souls be lost?  Will our humanity drain from our bodies and drench the earth along with the blood of our enemies?

Before my first time in combat, our platoon leader pulled us all aside.  He was a crusty old sergeant.  He’d survived Viet Nam.  He’d survived Grenada.  He’d survived countless other missions that most of the world knew nothing about.  Sergeant Pantoja was a survivor.  He told us that in order to survive combat we needed more than the battle skills that we’d learned.  We needed a “switch”.  We needed to be able to turn that switch on and off.  The switch controlled our humanity and allowed us to maintain our sanity once the fog of war cleared.

In battle, the switch went into the off position.  We turned off our feelings.  We turned off our conscience.  We turned off the humanity that could not withstand the horror of the things we would have to do to physically survive.  Once the battle was over, the switch could be turned back on … along with our humanity.  The guys with good, solid switches survived.  The guys who were unable to flip the switch may have gone home alive on the outside but something inside them was dead.  In reality, I suppose something inside all of us was dead.  It was just that those of us with good switches could close off the deadness … to some extent.

If the evil nature of humanity brought the human race to the brink of extinction – to the point where we are today – how will we rescue the human race without the positive side of humanity?

Are we doomed?  Destined to fail?  I suppose I have already answered my own questions.  I hope not.

Maybe if I get some of what we have done – what I have done – off my chest it will help me find my way back to humanity.

We knew Hernandez would be coming for us.  As soon as Daniel arrived at Hernandez’s headquarters, the wheels would be set in motion … big, military wheels with snow plows and lots of supplies.

I’ve never been good at defense.  Not that I don’t know how to defend myself.  I’m just not good at waiting for someone to come at me before I do something.  I know it’s not that simple.  Good defensive strategists are always planning, always trying to stay several steps ahead of their enemy or opponent.  I can do that if I have to but I’m much better at going on the attack.

So … in short, we attacked.

We gathered up Pete’s family and my family and we decided to go on the offensive.  The big problem, of course, was that we had very little intel.  We made some assumptions.

We assumed that the only place that Hernandez could readily obtain military communications equipment and trucks was the National Guard armory.

We assumed that Hernandez would assemble his troops at the armory to stage for the attack.

We assumed that we would be out-manned and out-gunned and that our primary advantages would be speed and violence of action.

We all knew the risk of making assumptions.

We all agreed that regardless of the risk associated with those assumptions that an immediate offensive was our best chance at survival.  To wait for Hernandez to attack … to attempt to defend ourselves on our farm, or Pete’s farm … to give up the element of surprise … was far more risky that the alternative.

There were a few other things on our side.

Pete, having owned a business that sold fertilizer, knows a thing or two about mixing chemicals.  There are a number of chemicals available to most farmers that, when combined properly, can create some fairly effective explosives.  Pete, bless his heart, had spent a good deal of his time – since his “retirement” – perfecting those chemical compositions.  As a matter of fact, he was far better armed than I initially thought – despite not having many firearms.  Pete had a six pallets of improvised explosive devices in his barn ranging from Claymore knock-offs to hand-thrown devices to a couple of really big charges.

When Pete revealed his stash, I looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

Pete shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ain’t no white man going to take this injun’s land away from him without a fight.”

We laughed the nervous laughter of those about to go into battle.

This is probably going to sound sexist but we left the women behind.  First, none of them had any experience in battle.  Second, and more importantly, if none of us made it back, we wanted someone to care for the children.  All the women and children relocated to Pete’s place just in case Hernandez made it to us before we made it to him.

Everyone loaded out with a full battle load and saddled up around sunset in my Dodge diesel and Pete’s Excursion.  We made our way down to the paved county road that the Deuce-and-a-half had used and followed its cleared path to town.  We drove slowly with lights out.

Our arrival a few blocks from the armory was about three hours before sunrise.  The sky was heavily clouded obscuring the moon and stars giving us one more advantage.

Pete and I made a reconnaissance run on foot to get the lay of the land.  The armory was hopping.  I would estimate roughly 50 people were inside the armory making obvious preparations for battle.

Pete and I slunk back to the rest of the group.  Everyone gathered around the tailgate of my truck for a debriefing and last-minute instructions.

Our objective was to avoid engaging Hernandez’s superior (in terms of numbers) force directly.  Pete’s explosives were the key to our strategy.

Pete and his boys cut a hole in the chain link fence surrounding the armory and placed the two main charges on the back side of the armory building itself.

It was almost too easy.  I was worried that Hernandez had some sort of trap set that we’d stumbled into.  There were no guards.  Everyone, it appeared, was inside the armory preparing to launch the attack against us.

Sam and Levi followed Pete’s crew through the hole in the fence and, with some hasty on-the-job training under their belts, set up the Claymore knock-offs about twenty yards in front of the armory on either side of the main gate.  They planted four explosives and then pulled wire off of the four spools that Joseph and I had waiting for them on the outside of the fence.

Joseph and I ran the spools back a safe distance behind the remnants of a charred house across the street from the armory.  We left the clickers in the hands of my dad and father-in-law and high-tailed it up to the top of a hill behind the burned house to rendezvous with Terry.  Our job was to snipe anyone that escaped the initial explosion and/or the Claymores.  The range was about 200 yards – plenty close for man-size targets.

At 7:15 a.m. the sun was just high enough over the eastern horizon behind us to give us shooting light.

I clicked my radio’s talk button twice.

The armory exploded with two thunderous booms about a second apart.  Bits of concrete block, furniture, paper and a thousand other things launched into the sky in a giant mushroom cloud of dust.

As the dust began to settle, we heard screams.  A handful of charred figures stumbled out into the parking lot in front of the armory a few seconds later.

I gave them a few steps toward the front gate and then clicked the talk button on my radio twice.

I’m not sure where or how Pete learned to make explosives but I’ve never seen a real Claymore do more damage than the ones he made.  They were loaded with ball bearings, screws, nails and who knows what else that virtually shredded the few figures stumbling through the rubble that had moments before been the armory.

I spotted a figure moving toward the motor pool.

“Tango, ten o’clock,” I reported to Joseph and Terry.  “I’ve got him.”

I picked up the blackened face of the person stumbling toward the motor pool in the twenty power scope of my Remington 700, squeezed the trigger and rode the recoil back down to watch the body tumble forward, a bloody mess where its head had been.

Small arms fire came from the rubble but nothing hit near us.

“Twelve o’clock, low,” Terry intoned as he spotted through his binoculars.

I scanned the rubble 200 yards directly in front of us.

Another blackened face became a red mist seconds later.

Fires were burning throughout the former armory building.  A couple secondary explosions rocked the early morning.

From 200 yards away, things seemed to be under control and my switch was firmly in the off position.

That changed about an hour later when we went down the hill toward the armory.

We had to make sure we didn’t leave any survivors this time.  If anyone was left behind to communicate to the outposts … let’s just say (again) that we could leave no survivors this time.  Finishing the job was up-close and personal.  None of these people, with the exception of Daniel who I found barely alive under a line of heavy lockers, had done anything to us, personally, but every single one of them meant us harm.

I lost count.  Seven … maybe eight.  All still alive after the blasts … barely.  All head shots.  All looking into my eyes as I put them down like a horse with a broken leg or a dog with rabies.  All pleading, if not audibly, with their sooty eyes.

It was some of the ugliest work I’ve ever had to do.

I know Sam put down a few.  I radioed Levi when I found Daniel.  After Levi showed up, I left him standing there with his Glock pointed at Daniel, his hands shaking.  Fury?  Hatred?  Fear?  Probably all three.

I could see that Daniel was crying.  His mouth was moving but I couldn’t hear what he was saying.  I didn’t need to.

Bang!

Levi’s Glock barked once and Daniel’s short life was over.

Pete walked up to me as I stood in a spot miraculously clear of rubble.

“We found one who can still talk,” he looked at me with questioning eyes.  “You want to ask him some questions?”

“Will you do it, Pete?” I asked quietly.

“Sure, man … sure.”  Pete walked away with purpose.

I fumbled around in the rubble for a bit looking to see if there was anything usable left.  The biggest treasure that I found inside the building was a key box.  It was bent and blackened but it still held nearly two dozen sets of keys.

I tried to fish it out of the rubble but it was still attached to a chunk of concrete wall.

“Firing,” I said wearily into my radio’s mic.  “I’m shooting the lock off of a key box.”

“Roger,” came the responses.

The keys, of course, were for the vehicles in the motor pool and what had been the fire station section of the armory.

The fire trucks were beyond useless.  The blast and ensuing rubble shower had reduced them to crumpled masses of metal.

The vehicles in the motor pool, nearly 50 yards away, were in better shape.  Some of those closer to the building were pretty beat up but they had saved the ones farther away.

I rounded up Sam, Joseph and Levi and went to check out the vehicles.  Levi’s face was white, his skin clammy.  His eyes seemed vacant.  I could see remnants of vomit on his lips.  Killing that kid, Daniel, was going to leave a scar that would last for a long time.

We found three HMMWV’s – two with turret-mounted .50 caliber guns and one with an ambulance van – that were in decent shape.  Joseph and Sam started working through the keys from the key box to find tags that matched the vehicle’s bumper numbers.

There were also two Deuce-and-a-halfs with canvas covers over the beds that had survived.

As I dropped the tailgate on the back of the first one, I sensed movement inside.

“Down!” I shouted.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that Levi seemed to be moving in slow motion.  I’m sure he was still shell-shocked from his first kill.  I’ve never seen anyone who wasn’t.

Instead of dropping to the ground myself, I tackled Levi to the ground and rolled us both underneath the Deuce.

No shots.

More movement inside the bed of the Deuce.

“We’ve got a live one in one of the Deuce-and-a-halfs over in the motor pool,” I announced into my radio.

I rolled out from under the Deuce and drew my Glock as I got to my feet.

“You might as well come out,” I called out.  “You’re not going to get away.”

More movement.  A young woman dropped to the ground off of the tailgate.  We surrounded her.

She was about eighteen, maybe a little older, and a little gaunt.  My guess is she’d been using Meth for a while.  She hung her head low and constantly shuffled her feet.  From what I could see, she was unarmed.

Pete walked up behind me, “Where’d you find her?”

“She was in the back of one of the Deuces,” I replied.

“You know what we have to do,” Pete’s voice was somber and more than a little sad.

“Yeah, I know,” I wasn’t relishing this at all.

This poor girl had gotten herself mixed up with Hernandez somehow and now she had to die as a result.  Like as not, she had never hurt anyone but herself.  That didn’t matter in the new normal.  She was a risk to us and risks had to be dealt with.

I really don’t want to talk any more about what we had to do.  It doesn’t seem to be helping much.

Are we gradually eroding our humanity – the good in each of us that separates us from animals like Hernandez?  If so, why do we deserve to live if he deserves to die?

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