The Union Creek Journal

A Chronicle of Survival

Archive for the category “2015 January”

January 30, 2015: Trail of Tears

I’m back from following Daniel and I’ve learned a thing or two.

First, I learned that the kid has no idea how to navigate, period.  Second, I learned that he has even less of an idea of how to navigate in snow-covered terrain.  Third, I learned that he also has almost no idea of how to keep himself alive in a non-urban setting.  Fourth, and most importantly of all, I learned a little more about Hernandez’s organization.

We turned Daniel loose yesterday morning.  I volunteered to follow him.  Initially, my eagerness to follow him was met with some suspicion.  Fair enough.  I can understand that.  I tossed the ball back to the group and asked if anyone else thought they could keep up with Daniel without exposing themselves.

As it turns out, pretty much anyone could have.

Daniel’s banishment was almost ceremonious.  We put him out on the road just after sunrise.  Our entire group, minus those on guard duty, was there to ensure that he left.  The look on Carrie’s face was priceless.  Man, I love that little girl.  Her eyes were daggers.  Her face was resolute.  Her shoulders were back and she stood tall.  If whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger … she is going to be one tough cookie.  Interestingly, she was almost the opposite before the crash.

My brother, Levi, went through a pretty ugly divorce several years ago.  The divorce was hard on him and nearly crushed his girls.  Their mother was pretty much a worthless piece of … I’ll try not to get started on her.  That would be a long journal entry!

Anyway, Carrie had seemed defeated by the divorce.  Now, after this most recent horrible experience she was standing tall and relishing doing what needed to be done.  I gave her a big hug as we watched Daniel disappear over the crest of the first hill to the south.  She sniffled a little and snuggled in under my arm.

“Thank you, Uncle David,” she whispered.  “Thank you.”

“I’m just sorry I didn’t get there sooner, honey,” I replied.

She snuggled in closer and wrapped her arm around my waist.  Levi looked over at me with tears in his eyes.  I’m pretty sure he’ll be on board with pretty much anything I think needs to be done in the future.  Now, it’s just up to me to make sure it’s the right thing.

About 45 minutes after Daniel disappeared over the hill, I shouldered my pack and slung my AR-15.  The morning was crisp, but not particularly cold.  Normally, it would be an enjoyable day for a hike in the snowy woods.  In the new normal … it was a beautiful day to follow a teenage kid who we’d just sent on what might very well be a death march.

A little over an hour later I caught up with Daniel.  Watching him work his way through the snow was almost physically painful.  I wanted to go down and give him an education just to make my own life easier.  I suppose it’s not uncommon for people who grow up entirely in the city with shoveled sidewalks, snow-blown driveways and bladed streets to have no idea how to make their way through deep snow.  Daniel obviously had no clue.  He had, apparently, never heard of the path of least resistance.  I measured his progress in inches.

He was working so hard that he’d gotten over-heated and removed his coat.  I watched him finish his first bottle of water before 9:00 a.m.  Rather than re-filling the bottle with snow, he tossed it aside.

I was tempted to put a bullet in his head to put him out of his misery.

He slogged on like that until a little after Noon.  Around Noon he stopped, laid his coat on the snow-covered ground and sat down.  I could see his shoulders shake as he sobbed.

Naturally, he cooled down quickly as he sat there.  He put on his now soaking-wet coat.  I’m sure the coat was stylish before the crash.  It wasn’t very practical, however, in the new normal.  The exterior was a fleece-like fabric and I’m sure the interior was advertised as “sherpa-lined”.

When Daniel set that coat down in the snow, the fleece fabric absorbed moisture and transferred it to the faux sheep-skin lining.  The coat was virtually useless at this point.

While Daniel sat, shivered and munched on one of his MRE’s, I got to thinking about what I would do in his situation.  Start a fire, get warm, dry out that coat – that’s what I’d do.  Conserve my food and water and save my water bottles to melt snow or fill them again if I found a creek that hadn’t frozen solid.

So many people so unprepared ….

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of ringing steel and the crack of wood.  Someone was splitting logs not too far away.  I put my binoculars back on Daniel.  He had stopped rustling the wrapper of his MRE long enough to hear the sound as well.

Daniel dropped his MRE, grabbed his soaking wet coat and made a B-line straight west toward the sound.

I dropped below the crest of the hill that I was on and did the same.

The sound of splitting wood guided me to a little farmhouse about halfway down the south side of a hill.  The place was probably about four miles southwest of our farm as the crow flies.  There is a paved county road a little less than a mile south of that.

I dropped my pack in a stand of trees and slipped up to the top of the hill with my binoculars.

There was a guy on the north side of the house splitting wood.  You probably guessed that I noticed the maul in his hands before I noticed much else about him.  He was short – maybe 5′ 6” – and stocky.  He obviously had either been huge before the crash or he hadn’t missed many meals since.  His hair was black and thick.

I didn’t see any other activity around the house or through the windows.

Daniel got pretty close to the house before the guy noticed him.  Once he spotted Daniel, the guy dropped the maul and grabbed a rifle that had been sitting against a nearby tree.  He pointed the rifle in Daniel’s direction and shouted at him.  I was far enough away that the words were indistinct.

Daniel stopped and raised his hands over his head.

As the wood splitter drew closer to Daniel, he lowered the barrel of his rifle.  Suddenly, I could see him relax and then stiffen up again and look around.  The rifle came back up but not pointed at Daniel.

I heard him say something else unintelligible to Daniel and then the two of them double-timed to the house.  The wood splitter guy looked over his shoulder the whole time.  He definitely knew something wasn’t right.

I held my position at the top of the hill for about an hour.  I couldn’t see anything inside the house.  The sun was out and the interior of the house was unlit.  There were curtains on some of the windows.  Smoke drifted out of the house’s chimney and curled off to the north at a leisurely pace.

I sipped water from my hydration bladder and scanned the countryside.  I could see vehicle tracks in the snow leading away from the house toward the south.  My assumption was that the tracks led to the county road.  I could see drifts that had been sliced in half by whatever vehicle had made the tracks.  It was definitely something big with good ground clearance.  I clicked off the possibilities in my mind.  I didn’t like the possibilities.

About twenty minutes later, the possibilities narrowed themselves down to one.  A Deuce-and-a-half with a snow blade on the front trundled down the gravel road to the driveway of the small house.

Two guys jumped out of the cab and three more out of the covered bed.  They immediately started unloading supplies from the bed of the truck and hauling them to the house.

Roughly an hour later, the two guys who had been in the cab of the truck came out of the house with Daniel.  They climbed back into the truck and headed off in the direction of the paved road.

So, like I said, I learned a thing or two.

I learned that the small farm house is apparently one of Hernandez’s outposts.

I learned that Hernandez is supplying his outposts with military vehicles with snow-removal capabilities.

A safe assumption, based on Hernandez’s military communications equipment and military vehicles, is that he has access to other military resources.

I learned that Daniel is most likely on his way back to Hernandez.  From that information, it’s relatively easy to deduce that Hernandez’s troops will be knocking on our door shortly.

We’d better get ready!

I never should have let that kid go ….

Advertisements

January 28, 2015: Evil Rears Its Ugly Head

I killed Marta’s boy, Ricky, yesterday and I’m about an inch away from putting down his little brother, Daniel, like a rabid dog.  Those two apples definitely did not fall far from the tree.  Most of the members of my family are the only thing stopping me from just taking him out and putting a bullet in his head.

As if we didn’t have enough to deal with already … I mean, it’s the end of the world as we know it.  We’re living pretty much like we’re back in the Nineteenth Century.  We’ve most likely started a war with a drug lord and our toilet paper supply is running low.

I thought we’d stocked more toilet paper but it seems to be running out long before we anticipated.  Maybe someone’s using more than they’re supposed to.  I think I’m going to suggest that each person be given their share of what is left.  Once they’ve used their share, they can switch to corn cobs or leaves or … barter with those who have a good supply left.  I’m pretty sure most of the women will complain about that plan.

Some days it’s the little things that get to you.  Other days, it’s the big things ….

I imagine the story of Ricky’s death is a little more intriguing that our toilet paper problem.

Other than the toilet paper shortage, things had gone well for a couple days.  The weather was warming up.  The sun was out.  I met with Pete and we started putting together our plan to reconnoiter any additional gang banger outposts in the area.

Pete’s going to take on pretty much all the scouting.  That’s great since he’s so good at it.  Someone from our group will accompany him on each of the scouting missions.  He even agreed to take along some of our less experienced members to help them learn scouting from a master.  I’m pretty good at scouting but Pete’s in a league of his own.

Sorry.  I was going to give the details of Ricky’s death.

I was just getting started on evening chores when I heard some strange noises coming from the barn.  It sounded like muffled screams but, like the crying baby a few days ago, I just couldn’t place it at first.

We have pretty strict noise discipline here on the farm.  As well-hidden as our houses are, noise and odor are the two most likely give-aways if someone is looking for us.  There isn’t much we can do about the smell of wood burning to heat our houses, but we can keep noise to a minimum pretty much all the time and lights to a minimum after dark.

With that said, when I first heard the sounds coming from the barn, I figured it was one of our goats.  It didn’t sound like a goat, but that was the first thing that popped into my head.  It’s a little difficult to keep animals on a strict noise discipline but usually they’re fairly quiet if they have everything they need.

I went to the barn to see what was needed.

What I found made me break my New Year’s resolution.

Ricky was on top of my brother Levi’s older girl, Carrie, in one of the empty stalls.  I’ll leave out the details but let’s just say he was in the process of trying to rape her but hadn’t quite gotten there yet.

Ricky probably weighs about 140 lbs.  I grabbed him by the belt and yanked him off of Carrie, tossing him out of the stall and across the barn against the doors to the stalls on the other side.  Ricky’s brother Daniel shot out of the stall next to the one that Carrie was in like someone had lit him on fire.  I reached out to grab him when he ran past me but missed.

Meanwhile, Ricky had recovered and was charging at me with a knife.

Just like his mom.  Tree … apple.

As Ricky charged, I stepped to my right and landed a solid blow on the side of his head.  He went down hard on the dirt floor of the barn but managed to shake it off and get back up.  Probably used to taking shots like that from his mom … and dad, if he was around.

I drew my Glock.

“Don’t …,” I started to tell him not to move.

Ricky charged again – not a quick learner – so I put two quick rounds in his face.  After seeing what he was attempting just moments before, I simply did not have the restraint to keep from killing him … or maintaining my New Year’s resolution about not cracking any more skulls.

Not only was his skull cracked, the back side of it was entirely gone.  His face was in pretty bad shape too.  The 200 grain hollow-points in my 10mm had done the job for which they were intended.

Carrie was still in the stall, crying.  Her jacket was off and her shirt was torn.  She had a couple bruises on her face and throat but she seemed to be physically OK.

I took off my coat, wrapped it around her shoulders and hugged her close to me.

By that time, most of the rest of the family had come running into the barn.  They saw Ricky in a pool of blood.  They saw Carrie wrapped in my coat and, I’m sure, they saw the look on my face.

If looks could kill … Daniel would be dead.

I’m sure it didn’t take long for my family members to piece together what had happened.  In all likelihood, it was the same thing that happened to the Gunters’ older girl.  There was little doubt in my mind that Ricky was a repeat offender.

I was ready to chew nails and spit screws.

“Somebody better find Daniel before I do,” I said and stalked out of the barn.

Several of my family members, I can’t remember who, ran after me and stopped me.  Others ran to find Daniel.

By this morning, Daniel had been found – at the Gunters’.  We called a family meeting at the Gunters’ place.  They were the ones responsible for holding Ricky and Daniel.

I was pretty much ready to wipe Daniel and Jake – I held him accountable for letting the boys out of his sight – off the face of the earth so I held my tongue while the family discussed what to do.  Fortunately, Jake didn’t say much either.  I think he knew what would happen if he did.

Everyone in the family, it seemed, had an idea of how to deal with Daniel.  Joseph, essentially, lobbied for a slap on the wrist since Daniel wasn’t directly involved in the attempted rape.

I bit my tongue hard enough to make it bleed.

My father-in-law suggested a cooling off period.

My brother, Levi, couldn’t even talk he was still so upset.

Terry came up with what I think may be the idea that wins out in the end.  I have to admit, there are some aspects of the idea that are very appealing to me.  He suggested ostracizing from our group and putting him out on the road.

I finally couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

“While I’d much prefer putting a bullet in the little …,” I began and then reined in my emotions, “While I believe he deserves to die, I’m in support of Terry’s plan.”

“Here’s why,” I continued.  “If this punk has any knowledge of other outposts in the area, we can follow him and gain some intelligence.  While I’d like to send him out without any winter weather gear, food or water, I think we need to give him enough to make it several miles.  Not enough to make it back to Norfolk but enough to make it to a nearby outpost if he knows of one.”

I don’t think anyone had given much thought to the details and implications of the various plans.  My initial outburst and then coldly calculating follow-up made them realize the nature of what we were considering.  The thought was sobering – turning a kid loose in the dead of winter with no adult support or supervision.  Then again, Daniel was an accessory to attempted rape.  I have a pretty good idea what he was doing in the stall next door, but I don’t want to think about it too much.

Must … focus.  No … more … skull … cracking.

After a few more minutes of discussion and not a few tears from certain members of the party, we put it to a vote.  The motion passed with only Joseph and Janelle Gunter dissenting.

I could see where Janelle was coming from.  She had … or still has … some kind of emotional attachment to Daniel.  Joseph … I just don’t get it.  He’s turning into a bleeding heart.  We didn’t spend a lot of time together before the crash – especially before he moved back from Wisconsin – but I don’t remember him being like this before.  I suppose the crash has affected each of us differently.  Perhaps the crash has softened Joseph somehow.  If I’m honest with myself, it’s hardened me in ways that probably are not particularly good.  I didn’t bat an eye when I killed the six Mexicans at the abandoned house or when I cut off Ricky’s finger … or shot him in the face.

Am I turning into a monster?  Is that how the crash affected me?  Maybe the events of the last few months have simply peeled away a few of the layers that hid who we truly were before-hand.  Maybe as you peel away my layers, I become uglier and uglier.  Maybe I’m not so different from the Fernando Hernandez’s and Ricky’s of the world.  In my mind I’m only doing what I believe needs to be done.  Is it the same in their minds?  What separates us?

I’m a pretty terrible philosopher; I know that much.

The upshot of all of this is that Daniel will be ostracized from our group tomorrow morning.  He will be sent out with the clothes on his back, his small pack filled with his belongings, two MRE’s, four one-liter bottles of water and nothing else.

If he survives I’m sure he will want vengeance.  I know I would.

January 24, 2015: Pete & Repeat

Pete and I spent about half an hour catching up until my relief showed up the other day.  After Miriam took over for me in the blind, and I introduced the two of them, Pete described the location of his farm and we agreed to meet the following day, yesterday, at a location roughly half-way between our two farms.

Based on Pete’s description of his group, it sounded as if it was a little larger than ours with an average age perhaps fifteen or twenty years younger.  For the most part, it was Pete, his wife, their kids and grandkids.  Strange to think that a guy a day younger than me was already a grandfather.  I guess I got a late start.

Pete and Theresa, his wife, had five kids.  Both came from fairly large families – Pete with four siblings and Theresa with five – and loved every minute of having lots of brothers and sisters around.  They took the “be fruitful and multiply” command to heart.

Pete’s oldest is 25 – a boy named Tate (pronouced tah-tay), which means “wind” in the Sioux language.  Pete wanted to honor his Sioux heritage when he named his kids even if his name and his wife’s were about as plain vanilla as you could get.  All of the children have Sioux names.

In addition to Tate, Pete has three daughters and another son.  The first two daughters’ names are Peta (pronounced pay-tah), wich means “fire”, Mini (pronounced mee-nee), which means “water”.  The second son is named Maka (prounounced mah-kah), which means “earth”.  Apparently, the youngest daughter was a bit of a surprise as she is only twelve – seven years younger than her closest sibling – and is not named for one of the four elements.  Her name is Iktomi, which is the Sioux name for a trickster spirit.  She goes by Tomi (pronounced toh-mee).  According to Pete, she lives up to her namesake – quite the little trickster.

The two older daughters are married, as is Tate.  Tate and Peta each have two children.  The children, their spouses and their kids all live with Pete and Theresa in their big farm house.  By my count, that made a total of eight adults and five children in Pete’s group.

After he graduated from college, Pete was kind of trying to find himself, as he described it, and ended up digging into his Lakota roots.  Theresa was an anthropologist working on a dissertation about the Lakotas.  It was a match made in heaven – or the Lakota Sioux equivalent.

While Pete’s family hadn’t done much in the way of preparation for any sort of global collapse, Pete had pretty much lived off the land since he sold his feed and seed business about ten years ago.  The adult children had all settled in the area and had been able to make it back to Pete’s farm before things really got bad.

They’d all survived in relative comfort heating their big farm house with wood, hunting and butchering stock and eating vegetables canned from their garden.  They lacked a few of the creature comforts that we had, with our PV systems but nothing material.

The one important thing that they lack, in my opinion, is firearms.  Pete, in his “get back to my Lakota roots” mindset, mainly hunted with a bow that he had made himself.  He and his boys all had lever-action rifles with open sights but that was about it for guns.  They didn’t even own a single shotgun.  Pete had been trapping pheasants for food for years and never saw the need for a shotgun.  Trapping upland game birds was illegal before the crash, but Pete hadn’t really taken note.

Yesterday, as I approached our designated meeting place, I saw that Pete was already in place and had a small fire going.  I walked up and greeted Pete.  We shook hands and squatted down next to the fire.

When I questioned Pete about ranging as far from his farm as he had the other day, he sighed.

“From what I can tell,” Pete began, “there’s trouble brewing.  I’ve been trying to scout it out before it comes knocking on my door.”

I nodded, “That’s why we have the remote observation post set up where you found me.  We ran into some nasty stuff at that place.”

Pete didn’t look surprised, “Probably one of several outposts.”

It made sense.  The Gunters weren’t a good enough target to trail that many people behind them without some other reason.  Perhaps fewer farms than I initially suspected have been abandoned.  We may well be smack-dab in the middle of an area relatively rich in resources and survivors.

The prospect warmed me as Pete and I sat next to our fire in a stand of trees about two and a half miles northwest of my place.

We haven’t had any more snow in the last few days but the temps have dropped considerably.  I don’t think we’ve been above single-digits since the blizzard left us in its wake.

“What about other families?” I asked.

Pete fed a stick into the fire, stoking it a bit, “There are a handful around.  Most of them have fewer people than we do.”

“Any idea on how well-armed or stocked they are?” I inquired.

“Not really,” Pete admitted.  “We haven’t had much contact with anyone since winter set in.”

“How about any other outposts?” I was trying to formulate a plan.

“I think there’s a couple more in this part of the county,” Pete was picking up on what I was thinking.  “You think we should get rid of them?”

“Absolutely,” I nodded, chewing on my lower lip.  “I’m trying to get my head around what, exactly, is going on.  We found military-grade communications equipment at the abandoned place to the north.”

Pete huddled a little closer to the fire as the wind whistled through the trees.

“I was able to question one of the inhabitants of the deserted farm,” I volunteered.  “She gave me some basics but died before I could get into much detail.”

Pete squinted at me across the fire.  I could tell he was trying to figure out whether Marta had died while I was questioning her or for some other reason.

“I know what you’re thinking, Pete,” I said.  “I didn’t hurt her at all during questioning.  She attacked me inside the house.  I’m pretty sure the injuries she sustained during that scuffle were what eventually led to her death.”

Pete was still squinting at me.  I think he was trying to read my mind with some Lakota mind trick.

“You know, David, there’ve been some pretty wild stories about you over the years,” Pete was still trying the Lakota mind trick.

“I had some pretty wild years,” I admitted.

“You ever kill anyone?” Pete was deciding whether it was wise to work with me, I guess.

“I killed six people at that abandoned farm house the other day,” I wasn’t telling him anything he, most likely, didn’t already know.  “After what they did to those two girls and that baby, I wish I could have done it much more up close and personal.”

“You have the Warrior Spirit,” Pete decided.  “Disrespect makes the Warrior Spirit restless.”

“I guess you could say that,” I concurred.  “What those … animals did to those two girls and that baby goes way beyond disrespect, though.”

“I agree.” Pete stood up.

I stayed put, “Are you with me if I decide to take out those outposts?”

“My sons and I will fight by your side,” Pete said.

“We need a plan,” I was starting to formulate one in my mind, but I knew Pete would have some valuable input.

“Let me talk to my boys,” Pete replied.  “Let’s meet a mile north of here in two more days.”

I agreed.  We smothered the fire, said our goodbyes and made our way back to our respective farms.

I’m really glad that Pete came across my path.  I have a feeling we’ll be needing each other in the not-too-distant future.

Today, we had another family meeting.  It reminded me a lot of the one a few days ago.  Most of my family still doesn’t know what to think about a number of the things I’ve done recently.  We broke the ice a little bit the other day but it seems like my behavior is still weighing on their minds.  I’m still a pariah.

At the meeting, I debriefed everyone on Pete and his family.  We also discussed a few aspects of a potential plan to clear any other drug gang outposts in our area.  We don’t have much intelligence so our plans are very preliminary at this point.

In my mind, Pete knows this area as well as anyone.  Terry is probably a close second.  They’ve both spent several years living in this area and both have spent virtually all of those years hunting which teaches you a lot about the land.

Knowledge of the area of operations is key to tactical advantage.  At this point, we’re operating under the assumption that the gang bangers are unfamiliar with the territory.  Assumptions can be deadly, though.  It’s entirely possible that some of them were living and working in this area before the crash.  That would give them some knowledge of the area and its terrain.

Pete and I will meet again in a couple days and start fleshing out the details of our reconnaissance.  Once the recon is done, we’ll have a better idea of how to proceed.  We’ll, hopefully, know whether or not there are other outposts in the area and how we might go about closing them down.

One thing I almost forgot … we probably don’t have long before Hernandez’s scouting party shows up to investigate why the first outpost isn’t communicating with them.

Pete’s right.  Trouble is brewing.

January 22, 2015: Muerte de Marta

I made it over to see the Gunters today.  Marta is dead.

When I stopped at the house, there was a drift against the front door.  I went around back to find Jake splitting wood.

“Hey, Jake,” I tried to keep my voice friendly, “How’d you guys fare during the storm?”

Jake scowled, “How do you think?”

Man, that guy has a major axe to grind.  My apologies for the wood-chopping pun.

“Not sure,” I replied.  “That’s why I asked.”

“Well, that Mexican woman you dumped on us died yesterday,” Jake dropped the statement like a bomb.

“Marta’s dead?” I guess I really wasn’t too surprised.

“Yeah, she started bleeding from both ears not long after you left her here,” Jake was still blaming me.  “She was in a lot of pain before she finally died.  There wasn’t much we could do for her.  Karla thinks she had a brain hemorrhage.”

The way she hit those stairs … or the way I hit her with the Glock … a brain hemorrhage certainly wasn’t out of the question.

“Where is she?” I asked.

“Out in the woods,” Jake gestured with the maul in his hand.

It appeared that some of his strength had returned.  We’d hauled over quite a bit of food and water.  I hoped that the women were doing just as well.

“How about the boys?” I was almost afraid to ask.

“Ricky’s still in quite a bit of pain from that missing finger,” Jake looked at me like I’d gotten one of his daughters pregnant.  Oh, wait, no … that was Ricky.

“Why in the world would he be so protective of Ricky,” I found myself wondering.

Maybe it was like the old adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” or something to that effect.  In this case Ricky was my enemy so Jake had befriended him.  Never mind that Ricky had gotten Jake’s daughter pregnant just weeks before.  What an idiot.

“Any problems with either of them,” I dug a little deeper.

“No,” Jake responded.  “They were fine before you disfigured them and killed their mother.  They’re doing as well as can be expected.”

“You know what their mother did, right?” I was amazed by Jake’s thick headedness.

“I know what you said that she did,” Jake wouldn’t give an inch.

“You think I would lie about that?” pretty much all of the friendliness had drained out of my voice.

“I don’t know what you would lie about, Johnson,” Jake took a step in my direction the maul held at his side.

I looked at the maul and then directly into Jake’s eyes, “You sure you want to do this?”

Jake feigned shock, “Do what?”

“Forget it,” I was trying to remember my New Year’s resolution … something about bashing skulls … or not.  “As long as everything’s OK with your family, I’ll just leave you alone with your angelic little Mexican boys.”

I could see a vein throbbing in Jake’s forehead.

“Get off of my …” Jake began.

“Your what?” I cut him off.  “Your property?  This isn’t your property.  You’re here on my family’s good graces.  If it wasn’t for your wife and daughters, I would have sent you packing back in December.”

Jake turned red and then started to go purple.

“Don’t overstay your welcome, Jake,” I warned and took off toward the remote OP.

“You can kiss my …” Jake was fuming.

“Jake!”  It was Karla calling from the back door.  “The fires are dying.  We really need that wood.”

I heard Jake sputtering as I walked away with my back to him.  One more problem to add to my list of a hundred.

One of the positive things about the remote OP is that you get a little bit of time to yourself.  I’ve always been a bit of a solitary person.  Although, I like being around family and liked spending time with friends before the crash, I also need some time alone now and then to decompress.

We call in a channel check from the OP every hour.  Beyond that, you’re alone with your thoughts and a landscape covered in snow.  Occasionally, a hawk will swoop down and grab a mouse or a rabbit from the ground.  Every now and then a squirrel will scold from up in its nest.  The wind will make its music in the treetops but, other than that, it’s peaceful and quiet.

My shift gave me some time to think about my “hundred problems”.

Hernandez was coming.  I was sure of that.  The only questions that remained were: How soon, with how many, how well armed and how well trained?

Jake seemed to be making himself into a bigger and bigger problem.  After today’s conversation with him, I was relatively certain that he and I were going to have it out at some point in the not-too-distant future.

We are spread way too thin.  Regular guard duty and chores were plenty.  Now, we had three feet of snow to contend with as well as remote OP duty.  Most of us are only getting six or so hours of sleep a night.  I’d survived on less for considerable periods of time but that was when I was younger.  And, there were several in our group who really needed their eight hours of sleep to function at a normal level.  The lack of sleep was starting to show.  People were more on edge than normal.  Nearly everyone had black circles under their eyes.  We needed more people or fewer duties.

More people, if they were the right people, would help solve a couple of the problems at the top of my list.  If we could make contact with another trustworthy group of people ….

What was I thinking?  We don’t really have much more space to house people.  What group of people in their right mind would want to join us to start a war with a drug lord?  Two strikes already.  I’m sure we could come up with a third if we tried hard enough.

Maybe, though ….

What if there is another group of people out there – not too far away – who have their own sanctuary and who have had a run-in with Hernandez’s people?  The law of averages puts the probabilities of such a group down in the “slim-to-none” category but it isn’t out of the question.

A group like that wouldn’t help with our regular guard duty or chores but they might be willing to help with remote OP duty in an effort to capture some of Hernandez’s people and find out more about his gang.

But, how could we reach out and find such a group?  Hernandez obviously had military grade communications equipment.  Would he be monitoring commonly-used frequencies?  Would he even know what the commonly used frequencies were?

I sat back in the blind and sighed.  In these times of solitude, a little bit of prayer never hurt.  As I began, I heard a horse exhale.

If you haven’t spent time around horses, you’re probably not familiar with the sound they make when they exhale heavily out of their nostrils.  The nostrils vibrate as they exhale and it sounds … like an old man blowing his nose, I guess.  I can’t really think of a better way to describe it.

The sound of the horse wasn’t close.  Sound carries a long ways in these hills when the acoustics are right.  I guessed the horse was perhaps 100 yards off.

Everything else was silent.  No squirrels scolding.  No hawks swooping.  Even the wind seemed to have stopped blowing.  Not that the wind was blowing hard before, but it seemed as if it had come to a dead calm just as I’d started to pray.

Now, I could hear the crunch of the horse’s hooves as they broke through the deep snow.  Maybe 75 yards away.  The horse was moving slowly having to pull one leg out of the deep snow and lift it high before sinking back down again.

I carefully inched forward in the blind lifting my binoculars as I did so.  I scanned the entire area thoroughly.  Nothing.

Was it behind me?  Sound reached me primarily through the opening of the blind.  It was possible that my ears were fooled because of this.  I had initially thought the horse was ahead of me and to my left – to the northeast, near the abandoned house.

I had zero visibility to my rear.  The blind was covered in snow.  Had there been no snow, the crest of the hill would still have blocked my view.

I held absolutely still.  The crunching had stopped.  There wasn’t a sound for miles, it seemed.

Then, barely audible, there was a tiny little jingle.  The bit?  Some other piece of metal tack?  Probably, but I still couldn’t get a reading on the direction it was coming from.

I checked the safety on my AR.  Ready to rock.

I started to slip the mitten off of my right hand so I could fire my weapon more easily.  Typically, when hunting in the cold or pulling guard duty, I wear shooter’s mittens with tips that peel back, exposing an inner liner that is basically a fingerless glove.  In this kind of weather, I also wear very thin glove liners for a bit of added warmth.  In the silence, removing the mitten sounded like someone tearing heavy fabric.  I stopped.

“Don’t move an inch!” The voice was deep, a little raspy and muffled.  I still couldn’t get a bearing on the sound’s direction.

“Who are you?” I responded.

“Never you mind, just now,” came the reply, still muffled, still directionless.

I cursed silently.

“I’m assuming you’re armed,” the voice sounded closer.

“Heavily,” I replied.  “If you’re looking for trouble, you found it.”

“Maybe,” he was non-committal.

I still couldn’t get a bearing on his location.  He had to be behind me.  I decided to bluff based on that.

“I heard your horse probably a hundred yards off,” I said.

“Yup, she ain’t very quiet,” came the reply.  “You’ll see her off to the south, down near the bottom of the hill in a minute or two.”

Sure enough, a sorrel mare plodded out from behind the bottom of the hill about 80 yards to my south.

“Sneaky,” I said.

“I’m half injun,” he chuckled.

“Sioux?” I asked.

“Lakota,” a bit of pride crept into his voice.

“I had a buddy who was half Lakota in high school,” I responded.  “He was a sneaky S.O.B. too.  Always coming up behind me, trying to scare me, never making a sound.”

The guy chuckled again.  I was starting to get a read on his location.

“Sounds like my kind of guy,” the chuckle continued, infecting his speech.

I was pretty sure I had his location nailed down.  He was just over the crest of the hill, on my side, and about five yards to my northwest.

I exhaled slightly, preparing myself, then ripped off my mitten, rolled over and out of the blind and came up on one knee with my AR sighted right were I thought he was.

I’m 50 years old but, like I’ve said before, I’m no slouch.  In my mind, that move was slicker than snot.  Fluid, fast … it should have taken him completely by surprise.  But, when I pointed my rifle … there was nothing there.  I wasn’t 100% sure that my bearing was accurate but it should have at least been close.  Not even.

Somehow he was behind me.  I still don’t know how he did it … and I never could figure it out back in high school either.

The half-Lakota that had distracted me with his horse and snuck to within feet of me without me hearing a thing was my buddy from high school, Pete Olsen.  His mother had been a full-blooded Lakota Sioux – a beautiful woman – who married a local farmer.  They had five children.  Pete was the youngest and nearly my same age.  Our birthdays were only one day apart.  Pete had three older sisters and one older brother.  The sisters were all beauties just like their mother.  I think one of them even ended up marrying an NBA star.

None of that is really relevant now.  What is relevant is that Pete had stayed near our home town and become a feed and fertilizer salesman.  He’d been pretty successful, eventually buying the company from the original owner, and settling on his family farm about four miles due west of ours.

A friend in need … we hugged one another vigorously.

January 21, 2015: Storm Clouds

We’ve had heavy snow three days out of the last four.  The winds have been howling like a pack of rabid wolves and I’m guessing we’ve gotten close to 30” of snow.  Of course, with the winds, we have some huge drifts.  We broke down and used both loader tractors to keep up with the snow in the yard.  It wasn’t easy to get those old diesels started in this cold but there was simply no way we could keep up by shoveling it ourselves.  See: “Spread too thin” from a few days ago.

I haven’t seen the Gunters in over a week.  My hope is that they’re doing OK and that Marta and her boys haven’t murdered them in their sleep.  Jake is probably smart enough to post a guard 24/7 but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

Maybe I should swing by their place before my next remote observation post duty.

Speaking of which, remote OP duty has been one of the least favorite responsibilities around here since the blizzard started.  Not only do you have to hike nearly a mile and a half in the snow before and after your duty but you also have to sit for four hours trying to keep warm.

We rigged up a blind just below the lee side of the same hill that we first used to scout the abandoned farm house.  The blind helps break the wind and keep the snow off of you while you’re pulling duty and the snow drift that’s built up over it camouflages it completely.  We also took one of our small propane heaters over to the blind.  Every time you pull duty, you’re responsible for taking your own propane tank with you.  The heater uses the little, green tanks that work with camp stoves.  We fill them from our 100 lb tanks.

If you’ve never filled a propane tank before, it’s not rocket science.  There simply must be more pressure in the main tank than the tank being filled.  Raising the main tank above the level of the tank being filled and inverting it helps create the pressure.  It also helps if the tank being filled is colder than the main tank.  That’s not really a challenge in this weather.  We simply store the small, green tanks outside in a snow bank and keep the 100 lb tanks inside the shop.  I wouldn’t call the shop warm – we don’t heat it most of the time – but it’s certainly warmer than a snow bank outside in singled-digit or low-teens temperatures.

We have a 1000 lb propane tank for the original farm house and one for our larger cabin.  The two smaller cabins are each supplied by their own 500 lb tank.  We also have ten 100 lb tanks and 40 twenty-pound tanks in addition to a full pallet of the small, green tanks.  I found most of the 100 lb and twenty-pound tanks on Craigslist before the crash.  It took some time to buy them off of Craigslist, but we probably saved in excess of $2000 doing it that way.  I bought the entire pallet of small, green tanks on a storage building auction along with some other useful camping items.

The only problem we ran into with the used tanks was that propane dealers in the city would not fill older tanks without an overflow prevention device (OPD).  Farmer’s Co-op’s in smaller towns would fill them without batting an eye but the “big city” guys turned us away enough times that we simply stopped going to them.

Probably more than you ever wanted to know about propane tanks.

There has been absolutely zero activity at the abandoned farm which has led to some complaining about the remote OP duty.  While I’d like to think the blizzard will keep Hernandez’s gang away, it’s exactly the kind of advantage I’d look for if I was going to attack someone.  Although I have no idea what kind of a strategist or tactician Hernandez is, I’d hate to assume that he’s a lesser man than he actually is and end up paying for it with family members’ lives.  I also have no idea whether Hernandez has intel that would cause him to attack us or not.

Man, I hate operating with a lack of good intelligence.

For safety’s sake, it is my opinion that we must act as if Hernandez’s storm troopers will be fast on the heels of this blizzard – if not in the middle of it.  Most everyone returning from remote OP duty disagrees with that opinion until they’ve spent an hour or so next to a wood stove.  As the feeling returns to their fingers and toes and they stop shivering, their opinion comes around to my own.

More kudos to D.J.  After the first time he trudged back and forth to remote OP duty, he made up two pairs of snow shoes.  They can be strapped to virtually any size boot.  The frames are made of electrical conduit that was lying around in the machine shed.  He bent the conduit into teardrops and tied the tails together with a couple machine bolts.  For the webbing, D.J. used scrap pieces from some old canvas tarps that had seen better days.  We had made some custom tarps in the past – for grain wagons and such – so D.J. dug out the grommet kit to reinforce the fabric.  He laced the tarp pieces to the frames, through the grommets, with parachute cord and then used the grommet kit to attach pieces of inch and a quarter web straps to the main body of the shoes.  After he borrowed a few buckles from our pack repair kits, the snow shoes were ready to go.

Those snow shoes sure make the trip back and forth to the remote OP a lot easier!

I’m surprised D.J. hasn’t come up with a way to keep warmer in the blind.  Of course, he probably realizes that too much more heat will cause the snow on the roof of the blind to start to melt and then we’ll not only be cold but wet as well.

I don’t think I’m giving him too much credit.

The sun broke through the clouds as I’ve been writing this.  That bodes well for the end of the blizzard but also suggests that Hernandez’s troops will not be far behind.

January 17, 2015: Panic Button

OK, I’m not quite hitting the panic button yet, but I’m pretty sure we just started a war with a well-armed drug lord.

Based on Marta’s information from a couple days ago, this Fernando Hernandez guy is pretty well organized.  It seems that he also has a pretty big … army is the right word for it, I guess.  I’m not sure how well-trained they are but numbers can make up for a pretty significant deficit in the training column.  On the other hand, skill and training can be a major force multiplier.  Unfortunately, I would not describe my family as skilled operators.

Yesterday, we had another family meeting.

D.J. has all of his booby traps in place.  Man, I love that kid.  He sketched out a map of the farm and marked the locations of the different traps.  The map will be very helpful to those pulling guard duty until they become familiar with all the locations.

Ricky is patched up – minus one digit.  Laura also gave Marta a once-over and stitched up a couple cuts that were particularly nasty.  There wasn’t much Laura could do about the broken elbow and nose other than put the arm in a sling.  Laura’s a little concerned about broken ribs, as Marta’s torso was very sensitive to touch, and the prospect of internal injuries.  We don’t have any way of knowing for sure.  I do know that Marta’s fall down the stairs was pretty nasty and her color is not particularly good.

We went back to the deserted farm house yesterday and rounded up the coms equipment.  We also gave the place another really good once-over before we torched the house for a funeral pyre for the girls and the baby.  We pushed the vehicles close enough to the house that the fire eventually consumed them as well.

No one that came along to help with the funeral pyre recognized the girls.  It was good that everyone saw them, though, so they understand what these animals did to them.  I haven’t had the chance to ask Marta about the girls, but my guess is that they were holed up somewhere between here and Norfolk and that Marta and the rest of her gang discovered them on their trip in this direction.

I’m not sure I want to know the full details of what went on during that trip or after the gang took up residence in the abandoned house.  I might go off again.  My family is already on edge around me now it seems.  Must … remember … New Year’s … resolution.

At our family meeting, I debriefed everyone on what happened at the place north of the Hansons’.

Joseph related my “torture” routine to everyone at the meeting.  There really weren’t any family members who wanted to hear it, but he went ahead anyway.  His detailed description of what happened certainly didn’t help my family feel any more comfortable around me.

Right now, I’m not sure what everyone’s reactions are to what I did.  I think deep in everyone’s heart, they know I did what needed to be done.  I did what I had to in order to protect them.  Of course, now it’s looking like we’ll all have to do a lot more.  I’m not sure many members of the family are ready for that.

We also discussed our go-forward strategy regarding the Hernandez gang.

I’m guessing that Marta and her bunch reported in on some sort of regular interval.  Hernandez may not send anyone after the first missed report but two or three missed reports is probably going to bring a scouting party in our direction to figure out what happened.

When the scouting party arrives and finds the house and vehicles burned, one of two things will probably happen.  Either they will assume that one of the people in the house was cooking up some meth and burned the place to the ground or they’ll figure that someone attacked the house and burned it to the ground.

If the scouting party comes to the conclusion that the gang accidentally burned the house down themselves, their search might end there.  If the scouts are sophisticated enough to figure out that the house was purposely torched, they’re probably going to continue looking around the area until they find us.  Although they may not be 100% sure that we torched the place, an altercation will most likely ensue.

For the mean time, we all agreed that it behooves us to establish an observation outpost near the abandoned house to keep an eye on things.

We’re really stretching thin.  We need more people – people we can trust.

That brings me back to Marta and the boys.  Obviously, we can’t allow any of Hernandez’s scouts to find them here.

I made two suggestions at the family meeting.  My first suggestion was to “imprison” them somewhere on the farm.  The up-side to that plan was that no one had to do the dirty job of disposing of them.  The down-side to that plan was that someone – actually, several people – would have to take on the time-consuming job of their care and feeding.

My second suggestion was more pragmatic, in my mind.  An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.  In some way, all three of them had a hand in the deaths of the two girls and the baby.  I’ve always been a strong supporter of capital punishment.

As I broached the subject of the second plan at the family meeting, nearly everyone gave me a look of horror.

“Eventually, we’re going to have to re-build society beyond the borders of our farm,” I began to explain myself.  “A part of that rebuilding process will be establishing laws and appropriate punishments just as those that came before us did.”

Everyone knew where I was going.  Everyone knew what needed to be done.  No one had the stomach for it.

Joseph spoke up, “Heather and I will take on the responsibility of guarding them.”

“What about your hilltop and yard guard duties?” I asked.  “What about your daily chores?  How will you keep up with all of those?”

Joseph looked defeated.  He probably thought that pulling guard duty on prisoners would relieve him of his other responsibilities.

No way.  Not in my mind.

I’m pretty sure the look on Heather’s face was one of relief.

The family tossed the subject around for several minutes.  Finally, we came up with an alternate plan.  The boys would be sent back to the Gunters’.  Jake, who is pretty well mended now, would be responsible for them.  He brought them here, we reasoned, so they were his responsibility.

Marta was a bit more of a problem.  First, she was an adult.  The family held her fully responsible for her actions.  The boys were both under the age of eighteen and, as such, were granted a bit more grace by most of the members of the family.  Second, Marta had quite obviously been directly involved in killing one of the two girls at the abandoned farm house.  She was covered in blood.  When she attacked me she was still wielding the knife that was most likely used to slash and stab the poor girl to death.

Guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt?  Perhaps not, but certainly the preponderance of the evidence suggested so.

No one but me was willing to execute Marta.  I had seen, first hand, what she had done to that poor girl so I had no qualms about putting a 10mm round in the back of her head.  The rest of the family was pretty uncomfortable with that.  Joseph adamantly protested against killing an unarmed individual that posed no immediate threat.  He went on for several minutes about the lack of a justice system and the lack of unequivocal evidence proving Marta’s guilt.

I got tired of listening to him after a while and started cleaning my fingernails with my pocket knife.  He bears watching.  Too soft.  Too much of a sympathizer.

Ultimately, the family decided that Marta would also be sent back to the Gunters’ but that she would have her wrists and ankles zip-tied at all times.

I sort of liked the fairness of Jake having to take care of Marta and her boys after bringing them to our doorstep.

Time to draw up the schedule for the remote observation post and continue our defensive preparations.  It’s starting to snow again but I don’t think that’s the only storm that’s coming.

January 15, 2015: Q&A

Yesterday’s Q&A session with Marta, that’s the Mexican woman we brought back from the farm to the north of the Hansons’, was quite enlightening but not because she said all that much.

We were pulling the sled along the trail that had been trampled down between the Hanson place and the farm to the north.  As we came over a small rise, we almost literally bumped into the Gunter girls’ boyfriends.  At first, they looked frightened – like a little kid caught by an angry parent – then they noticed Marta on the car-hood sled behind us.  I could see recognition in their eyes and then … an even deeper fear.

I knew there was a connection.  My next job was to figure it out.

“Where you boys headed,” I asked.

Their mouths moved, like the lips of a fish out of water, but no sound came out.

“Cat got your tongue?” I was grinning and evil grin.

I could see they were thinking about running.

“Where you going to run to?” I asked.

More fish-mouthing.  The looks on their faces were priceless, like, “How could this guy know we were planning to run.”

“This isn’t my first rodeo, boys,” I assured them.  “I’m pretty sure you’re going to be familiar with this next part yourselves.”

Those poor boys didn’t know what to think at that point.

“Get down on your knees and cross your ankles one over the other,” I ordered, “put your hands behind your head and inter-lace your fingers.”

They knew the drill.  It was obvious they’d been through this before.

“Sam, Joseph, zip-tie their wrists and ankles,” I said.

Sam was nearly out of zip-ties so I gave him a couple of my own.

Once the boys were secured and lying on their sides in the snow, I turned my attention to Marta.

“Tell me, Marta,” I began, “how do you know these boys.”

She was as mute as a stone statue but her eyes showed something – fear maybe … perhaps concern.  I was beginning to get a sneaking suspicion.

I looked at Marta and then at the boys.  I squatted down and got close to each of their faces.  Despite Marta’s battered appearance, I was pretty sure there was a family resemblance.

“Looks like we have a little family reunion on our hands,” I said to Sam and Joseph.  “I think these are Marta’s boys.  The ages are about right and there’s a definite family resemblance.”

Sam and Joseph looked from Marta to the boys and back again.

“I think you’re right,” Sam said, a glint in his eyes.  He was getting it … playing along.

“Well, let’s see if we can get people to talking at this little reunion,” I smirked.  “Who wants to tell us how the three of you ended up here in our neck of the woods?  I’m guessing none of you grew up nearby.”

Not a word.

I gave some consideration to my next move.  The pawns were in play but perhaps the queen was the way to go.  A mother’s love … and desire to protect her young.  That might very well be the strongest thing we had going for us.  Then again, what boy could stand to see his mother … hurt.  I didn’t particularly relish hurting women or kids but the rules of the game had changed – the ‘new normal’ and all – and these three had decided to play.

I decided to start with the older boy.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” I began, “I’m going to ask a question.  The three of you will have ten seconds to answer the question – truthfully.  If you don’t answer, or if I think you’re lying, Chico, here, is going to lose a finger or a toe.”

Angry glares from the Mexicans.

“David, you can’t do that,” Joseph intervened.

“You want to?” I asked.

Joseph turned as white as a ghost, “Certainly not!”

“I guess it’s me or Sam, then,” I replied.

The younger boy spoke up, “You don’t know who you’re messing with!”

“Shut up!” Marta lashed out at him.

I squatted down and put my face closer to the younger boy’s, “You’re right, son, I don’t know who you are.  Do you want to tell me?”

His eyes were watery with fear.  I wasn’t sure if he was afraid of me or something … someone else.

“OK, Q&A time,” I said.  “Question one: Why are you here?”

None of them jumped up to give me an answer.  They were tied up, of course, so none of them could jump up but you know what I mean.

“Ten … nine … eight,” I started counting while I looked at my watch.

“Mom!”  The older boy was getting nervous.

“Seven … six … five,” I kept the count going.

“We came with the Gunters!” the older boy screamed.

“I know that,” I said flatly.  “That doesn’t tell me why you’re here.”

“Four … three … two,” I pulled my Benchmade from my pocket and flicked open the blade.

“Wait!” the younger boy was starting to cry.

“One,” I finished my countdown.

From behind his back, I grabbed the older boy’s left pinky finger.  I ran the blade of my knife around the base of the finger as the boy screamed.  I could hear Joseph dry-heaving.

“Is she watching, Sam?” I asked.

“She’s shutting her eyes,” he replied.

Crack!

With two quick movements, I snapped the older boy’s pinky at the joint between the finger and the hand and sliced through the tendons – just like cutting off a hog knuckle.

The kid screamed for a second or two and then passed out.

The younger boy was vomiting.  Good thing he was laying on his side so he didn’t aspirate any of the vomit.

Holding the finger by its base, I walked over to Marta and ran the tip of it over her face.

“Your boy can live without his pinky,” I said.  “How far are we going to take this?”

Her tough exterior was cracking.  I could see she was holding back sobs.

“Time for finger number two,” I said.  “This one will be easier on him.  He’s passed out.”

I walked back in the older boy’s direction.

“Please, stop,” it was barely more than a whisper.

I stopped and turned around.

“You ready to talk?” I asked.

“Si … yes, I will tell you what you want to know,” Marta had seen the light.  “They will kill me but perhaps they will spare my sons.”

“Well, Marta,” I started, “as you can see, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to protect my family … or a couple girls and a baby that I don’t even know.”

I looked her in the eyes.

“Yes, you are very scary,” Marta said, “but el Patron is ….”  Her voice trailed off.

“Let’s start there,” I suggested.  “Who is el Patron and why are you here in my neighborhood?”

“We are … were here to set up a base of operations for this area,” Marta was matter-of-fact.

“What kind of operations?” I probed.  “Don’t make me drag it out of you.”

Marta opened up after that.  She explained that she had been a part of a gang before the crash.  They had been drug dealers, for the most part, with a little bit of grand theft and intimidation thrown in here and there.  After the crash, el Patron – AKA Fernando Hernandez – had an epiphany.  His drugs were pretty much worthless but he could provide security to those who were willing to pay his “taxes”.  For those unwilling to pay his taxes, security suddenly became a major issue.

She and the others had recently moved into the abandoned farm house – a couple weeks after the Gunters showed up.

Her sons, Ricky and Daniel, had been friends with the Gunter girls before the crash.  Daniel had met Janelle, the younger Gunter girl, at a youth retreat put on by my parents’ church.  The two had grown close – maybe not quite boyfriend/girlfriend but close, nonetheless.  Ricky, the older of the two boys and the more opportunistic, had befriended Jamie Gunter shortly thereafter.

The Gunters, with their supply of food, had quickly become targets for Hernandez’s gang.  Ricky and Daniel had been tasked with infiltrating the Gunter family and finding out what quantity and type of supplies they had.

When the Gunters bugged out, Ricky and Daniel bugged out with them telling Jake that their mother had been killed and that they had nowhere else to go.

Now, the really scary part … Marta and her counterparts had military-grade coms equipment that they utilized to keep in touch with Hernandez.  We’d missed it in our search of the house because it was kept in the root cellar.  We didn’t even look for a cellar.

Amateur mistake.  Not like me at all.  Usually, I’m thorough to the point of anal retentive about those kinds of things.  The combination of a murdered baby and two young women must have thrown me off my game.

The coms equipment had come from the local National Guard unit – sort of confirming some of my fears about the members of the guard units going rogue.

Bad … very bad.

January 13, 2015: Add These to the List

Sorry.  After yesterday, I literally fell asleep at my keyboard.  I’ll try to finish my account of yesterday’s actions before I pass out again this evening.

When I first heard the sound, I thought it was a lamb or a kid – you know, a baby goat.  The second time I heard the sound, I realized that it was the other kind of kid – a human baby.

The three of us just looked at each other, dumbfounded.  We hadn’t heard a baby cry in months.  Our brains couldn’t seem to piece together what was happening.  The sound was unfamiliar.  The setting was unfamiliar.  Why would a baby be crying outside in the middle of winter a mile from pretty much any shelter?  The combined effect of those circumstances left us like first-graders looking at a Calculus test.

“What was that?” Joseph finally broke the silence.

“A baby,” Sam had figured it out.

“Other than our place and the Hansons’, the closest house has to be a mile away, easily.” I was trying to work out in my head what was going on.

“Let’s go check it out,” Sam said.

“Hold on,” I put my hand on Sam’s shoulder.  “It could be a trap of some sort.”

Both Sam and Joseph looked at me like I was a paranoid schizophrenic.  Maybe I was, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.  Things were strange enough and dangerous enough on a (new) normal day.  Throwing a crying baby, in the middle of nowhere, into the mix made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  That was always a bad sign.

“Are you kidding?” Joseph was incredulous.  “We have to go help that baby.”

“Guys, we don’t know what we’re getting into here,” I replied.  “That baby could be a member of a large group.  That large group could overpower us and take everything we have.  There are a hundred other scenarios that could be just as bad … or worse.  My instincts tell me that something is not right ….”

“Obviously, something isn’t right,” Sam interrupted, “There’s a baby out in the middle of a snow bank somewhere.”

“Maybe,” I agreed.  “We don’t know for sure.  All I’m saying is, let’s be careful.  I want to check it out as much as you do, but I don’t want to get killed or put our family in danger in the process.”

“OK, we get it,” Joseph chimed in urgently.  “What do we do?”

I mapped out a plan that got us into the area where we thought the baby was without revealing ourselves.  My only problem was that I was much more familiar with the territory to the south of our farm that I was to the north.  I tried to remember what was over the hill but came up with nothing.

We ended up following a ridge around to the northwest.  We stayed just below the crest of the ridge to avoid silhouetting ourselves and kept as quiet as possible.  We stopped every few yards to listen and make sure we weren’t exposing ourselves in some way that we didn’t anticipate.  We never heard the baby cry again while we made our way across the road and onto the next farm.

After nearly an hour and a half, we had worked our way close to the center of the section.  We reached a high point that gave us a pretty good view of the valley below.  I crawled up to the top of the hill with my binoculars to have a look around.

Below me and to my northeast was an old farm house set in the middle of a thick stand of trees.  It was difficult to see a lot of detail even though the tree branches were bare.  I could see that the house hadn’t been painted in years.  It was a weathered, gray-brown color – the color of many abandoned farm houses and out buildings in the area.  The front porch sagged.  The roof line looked like an old swayback mare.  I couldn’t tell if there were holes in the roof or not but I could see broken panes of glass in a couple of the windows on the west side.  Those windows appeared to be boarded up with particle board.

The yard was trampled flat.  The snow was nearly obliterated.

I didn’t have a good view of the north or east sides of the house but there appeared to be vehicles parked in the east yard.  I could see their bumpers through the east end of the front porch.

Dark smoke was drifting out of the chimney.

I carefully worked my way back down below the crest of the hill to where my brothers were waiting.

“Someone’s living there,” I informed them.  “It looks like there could be quite a few people.  The snow in the yard is all trampled down.  There’s a pile of trash on the front porch that looks pretty fresh.  There’s a fire going in the wood stove or fireplace.  You can smell it if you give a sniff.”

Both of my brothers sniffed the air.  The smoke smelled like burning trash and wood.

“I’d like to get a look at the vehicles in the east yard,” I said.  “I’m guessing the baby was outside the house somewhere.  Maybe the mother stepped outside with it for a bit.  The weather isn’t too bad.”

“Those tracks we saw near Hansons’ were pretty much right in the direction of this house,” I continued.  “Somehow, the people in this house are connected with the Gunters – of that I’m sure.”

“Any ideas on the connection?” Sam asked.

“Not until we find out more,” I replied.  “I want to take a closer look.”

I mapped out a plan for Sam and Joseph to cover me while I went in closer to see what was going on and then started following the ridge line back to the south.  I was glad we brought the handheld short-waves along but I was hoping that whoever was in that house didn’t have a scanner.

It took me about an hour to make my way back to the road on my own.  Once I reached the road, I started working my way back toward the farm house again.  Initially, there was little cover.  As I got closer to the house, I used the stand of trees surrounding the house for concealment.  As I worked my way through the trees, I made a mental note that the trees that surrounded our houses could be as much of a weakness as they were a strength.  I made my way carefully looking for trip wires and booby traps.  It didn’t appear that the people in the house had done a lot of preparation but one can never be too careful.

As I worked my way through the woods, I heard the baby cry again.  This time the cry was muffled.  The baby was inside the house.  The crying continued for perhaps a minute – maybe 90 seconds.  I could hear shouts from inside the house.  Suddenly, there was a shrill scream.  The front door burst open a few seconds later and a woman came running out of the house with something in her arms.  I was pretty sure it was a baby.

The woman was dressed warmly but not warm enough to be outside.  She was wearing thick, fuzzy slippers, fleece pants and a sweatshirt.  Her blond hair was in a pony tail trailing behind her as she ran.  All this registered in a flash before a man came running out of the house after the woman.

Guess what I noticed first about the man.  In his right hand was a revolver.  After that, I noticed that he was wearing only boxer shorts and socks.

The guy ran across the front porch and down steps, following the woman.  As he ran, he carried the revolver by his side, his arm out away from him and the pistol turned sideways.

Almost reflexively, I flicked off the safety on my AR.

The woman was headed directly toward me.  My guess is that she was trying to make it to the woods – maybe to hide.  I was nearly invisible in my current location.  She couldn’t have known that I was there.

My focus was on the guy that followed her.  He was probably in his late twenties or early thirties with a dark mop of hair on his head and a thin growth of facial hair.  He had almost no body hair.  His complexion was dark enough that I was pretty sure that he was of Hispanic descent.  The pieces of the puzzle started dropping together in my mind as I continued to watch the scene unfold in front of me.  This guy definitely had a connection to the Gunter girls’ boyfriends.

Suddenly, the guy stopped running.  He skidded to a stop on the packed snow in the front yard and yelled after the woman with the baby.  I was close enough to hear what he said, but the look on his face registered more than the words coming out of his mouth.  When I saw the look on his face, my eyes flicked back to his hands.  He was raising the pistol “gangsta” style – turned sideways with his elbow cocked slightly outward.  He cocked his head downward and to his right – trying to get a look at the gun’s sights, I guess.

I hesitated for a split second, not wanting to engage an enemy of unknown number and strength.  Then, lead started flying in my direction.  Some of it passed through the woman and the baby on its way.

I closed my eyes briefly, cursed silently and rolled to my right.  I came up in a battle crouch, AR at the ready.

“Engaging,” I said into my radio.

The VOX function transmitted my intent to Joseph and Sam almost as quickly as I put two rounds into the guy with the revolver.

One bullet smashed into the guy’s solar plexus, the other caught him in the throat.  He dropped to his knees, the revolver fell out of his hand and he gurgled up about a half-pint of blood onto the trampled snow.  The look in his eyes was hollow and blank.  He was still alive, on his knees, as I ran toward him.

I smashed the butt of my AR into his face as I ran past him toward the west side of the house.  In the back of my mind I heard him topple over into the frozen snow and pictured him on his side, a growing pool of his own blood darkening the snow around him.

My mind was racing.  How many people did they have here?  How many weapons?  How many friendlies?  How would we tell?

“Anyone with a weapon dies,” I yelled into my radio.  “Stay in position and make your shots count.”

Joseph and Sam weren’t ready for this.  Then again, nobody ever was their first time.  My first time flashed briefly into my mind.  I recalled the blood … and the screams … the sound of the IED’s exploding.  We didn’t call them IED’s back then.  I don’t think that term was used until the second storm in the desert.  We just called them roadside bombs ….  Whatever you called them, they could do a lot of damage.

As I put distance between me and the guy with the revolver, I headed for the back of the house.  I figured the gunfire out front would draw the inhabitants in that direction.

I was right.

Before I made it to the back of the house, I could hear the crack of Joseph’s AR.  I suddenly remembered that Sam had a shotgun and wished that I had traded with him before I came in for close quarters work.

Mental note: Include some slugs in the shotgun load-outs.

Joseph and Sam were about sixty yards from the house with a good view of the front door.  I had patterned that same shotgun at fifty yards, with the exact same ammunition that was now in it, just to see what it would do.  Interestingly, the FLITECONTROL wad of the Federal law enforcement ammunition held the 00 buckshot together well enough at 50 yards that all but one of the nine pellets landed inside the torso outline on my pattern targets.

Sam would be able to put some pellets in people at 60 yards, but the AR, or some slugs for the shotgun, would have been much more effective from that distance.  The 930, loaded with the FLITECONTROL buck, was an excellent close-quarters weapon.  Anywhere up to about fifteen yards, the LE132 left a single hole about an inch or inch and a half in diameter.  At 60 yards, though, it lost a good deal of its effectiveness.

Contrary to popular belief, most defensive shotgun rounds do not spread out to fill an entire room as soon as they leave the muzzle of the gun.  You do have to aim – or point – a shotgun even when using it in close-quarters.  The LE132 virtually destroyed anything it hit at CQB (close-quarters battle) distances – that was why so many law enforcement departments utilized it before the crash.

As I hit the steps to the back door, I heard Joseph’s AR crack twice more.  Pistol fire – maybe a .38 – responded.  Probably a revolver similar to the one wielded by the first guy out of the house.

The old door to the back of the farm house flew off the hinges as I hit it with my left shoulder running full-tilt.  The wood was probably close to 100 years old and as brittle as a little old lady’s hip.  As the door flew inward, I followed it expecting to enter a hallway.  Instead, I entered a room – probably a mud room – that was about ten feet square.  There was nothing in the room but a bunch of trash on the floor.

No response from inside the house yet.

The door from the mud room into the house was ajar.  I could see through the six inch opening into what appeared to be the kitchen.  I moved from side-to-side to get a wider view.  The gunfire outside continued.

While I’m not a big fan of breaching and clearing a house by myself, I had managed to get myself into that position.  Joseph and Sam were well protected up on the hill.  It was unlikely that the pistol-toting, woman-shooting cowards would charge up the hill at them.  I just needed to quit my belly-aching and do my job.

Violence and speed of action.

Tremendous violence and extraordinary speed are the tools of the breacher’s trade.  Entering a building with little intelligence about the interior and its inhabitants puts the individuals breaching the building at a definite disadvantage.  Standard military protocol would call for “softening” up the interior by utilizing flash-bang grenades (when friendlies might be inside) or fragmentation grenades when the breaching force knew that no friendlies were present.  I had neither flash-bangs nor frags.

Mental note: Project for D.J. – flash bangs and frags.

Based on the actions of the guy that shot the woman and baby, I didn’t expect to meet anyone that was particularly well-trained or well-armed in the house, but I learned long ago and very painfully: never underestimate your enemy.

I kicked open the kitchen door and assessed the room in a split second.

Empty.

Empty of people.  Empty of appliances.  Empty of cupboards.  Just a copper tube where the gas stove used to be.

My banging of doors had gotten someone’s attention, though.  I could hear heavy footsteps running down the stairs from the second floor.  Based on the sound, I guessed that the steps would empty out somewhere near the middle of the dining room.  Kind of an odd house design but then a lot of these houses were designed by farmers – certainly not by architects.

The kitchen opened to the dining room through a wide, open doorway perhaps six feet wide.  I moved quickly to the side of the kitchen opposite the exit from the second floor stairwell just in time to see another Hispanic-looking guy stumble on the last step into the dining room.

Hands.  Sawed-off shotgun.  Double-tap.

He went down in a slump, his momentum carried him across the dining room and into the wall opposite the stairway.

Both of my shots appeared to have hit him in the head.  The back of it was pretty much gone.  The hydrostatic shock of a 62 grain bullet traveling at a little over 3000 feet per second is devastating at that range.

My ears were ringing but I could hear yelling outside that was getting closer to the house.

I heard Joseph’s rate of fire pick up and Sam’s shotgun boom.

The yelling was peppered with a couple yelps and some fairly colorful swearing after that.  A few of those 00 pellets must have found their mark.

I grinned and positioned myself with a view of the front door.  I was still in the kitchen.  From my location on the west side of the opening to the dining room, I could see across the dining room and through a front parlor to where the front door opened onto an enclosed porch.  That door was my kill zone.  Only one or two guys could squeeze through that door at a time.  I felt my chances of being able to engage them successfully were quite good.

“Keep ’em off the back door and pressure them in the front door,” I instructed Joseph and Sam.

Almost immediately, I heard the crack of Joseph’s AR and the smack of the round hitting the back of the house about fifteen feet behind me.

“Careful, dammit!  I’m on the west wall.”  I figured I’d be lucky if I didn’t get hit by friendly fire.

I crouched low.

“Sorry,” Joseph sounded pretty shaken.

Guys started pouring in the front door about then and things got really busy.  I pretty much just focused my fire on that front door and let loose.  I’m pretty sure I got four guys before the onslaught stopped.

“How many of them are there?” I wondered aloud.

“We counted six coming out of the house after you shot the first one,” Sam replied.

So, four of those six were down, plus the first guy and the one that came down the stairs.  My brain was in overdrive, counting bodies, counting rounds … by my count I was fourteen rounds into my 30-round magazine with six bodies down.

Not exactly conserving ammunition.  But then, better to waste a bullet and be sure an enemy was dead than die conserving ammo.  I was carrying plenty.

I heard Joseph’s rifle crack again – closer this time.

“The two that came back out of the house are headed for the trees on the south,” Sam gave me an update.  “We started coming down the hill when they went in the house.  We’re moving in your direction.”

“Do not let those two get away,” I directed.

In answer, I heard Sam’s shotgun boom twice quickly.  Probably four shots from Joseph’s AR were interlaced with the shotgun blasts.

“Done,” Joseph whispered so quietly I could barely hear him over the ringing in my ears.

“Good job,” I congratulated them.  “I’m going to clear the second floor.  Come in carefully.  Keep me posted on your movements.”

“Roger that,” Sam replied.

The stair door stood open.  I could see the first six feet of a very steep wooden staircase.  There was no way I was going to be able to go quietly up those steps.  They were going to creak like a carnival ride at a county fair.

I ducked my head and tried to get a look higher up.

Nothing in view.  The walls were solid on both sides.  No open banister to either side.

Thank God for small favors.

I made my way up the steps as quietly as possible.  I stepped on the outside edges where the stringers would still give some support and keep the creaking to a minimum.

As I reached the top of the stairs, there was a horrible shriek.  I looked to my left to see a dark-haired woman rushing out of a doorway about four feet away.  She was half naked, her blouse mostly torn away, and in her hand was a bloody knife.

Hands.  Weapon.  Moving.

I didn’t have time to turn my rifle on her before she was on top of me.  Rather than try to resist her charge and risk getting sliced up by the knife in the process, I simply used her momentum against her and rolled her over my hip and down the stairs.  She landed with a sickening crunch face-first about half-way down the staircase.  Her knife clattered to the bottom of the stairs and I could see that her right arm was bent the wrong way at the elbow.

With the knife lady no longer an immediate threat, I turned toward the door that she’d come out of.  No movement.  There was another door immediately to my right.  It had been secured from the outside with a hasp.  A padlock dangled from the metal loop on the door jam.  The door swung inward.  There was no window.  I snagged my flashlight out of its pouch on my vest and flashed the light into the room with the momentary switch.  No inhabitants.  The room was perhaps six feet wide and eight feet long.  I depressed the switch on my light until it clicked on.  I could see that the room had a pile of clothes in it along with some packages of disposable diapers.

No immediate threat but there was blood in the room.

I started piecing together what had mostly likely happened at the house.  The more pieces of the puzzle that fell into place, the less I liked it.  A group of Hispanics, a blonde girl with a baby, a small room with baby items in it and a lock on the outside of the door – freshly installed by the look of it.  Blood in the locked room.  A tattooed Hispanic woman with a bloody knife.

The hair on the back of my neck was standing at attention like soldiers at Kim Jong-Il’s funeral.

At the end of the hall, further to my left, was another door.  I could hear noises coming from the room but couldn’t see anything.

The hallway was incredibly tight with bookcases lining one side of its entire length.  I slung my AR around to my back and drew my Glock.

The noises had stopped.

I made my way to the end of the hall and sliced the pie around the doorway.

There was blood everywhere.  I mean, I’ve seen some blood and gore in my time but this room was almost, literally, covered in blood … with no sign of a reason why.

Then I saw it.  The reason why.

A second light-haired girl was on a mattress in the far corner of the room.  The only way I could tell the color of her hair … the top of her head was about the only spot on her that wasn’t covered in blood.  Even the hair below her ears was drenched in it.

I would estimate that she had been stabbed or cut close to 30 times.  Probably not a single one of those knife wounds was fatal, but she’d bled out.  If I remember correctly, the average human body holds about six quarts of blood.  The room looked like someone had put all that blood in a bucket and sloshed it around.  The mattress on which the dead girl lay was absolutely soaked in blood.

What kind of an animal would do this to another human being?

I found out.

The crazy woman with the knife had returned.  Her face was smashed.  Her right arm was dislocated and she was limping pretty badly.  Whatever else she was, she was definitely determined.

She had the knife in her left hand now and she carried it like she knew how to use it just as well with her left hand as with her right.

She made a move toward me.  It was slow and clumsy.  The fact that she was moving at all was, in itself, amazing.

I stepped to the side and punched her in the bridge of the nose with the trigger guard of my Glock.

Have you ever seen the trigger guard of a Glock?  On the front of the trigger guard there’s a small point that protrudes from the lower section of the guard.  I’m not sure what Glock’s original intent was with that design, but some enterprising and creative close-quarters combats folks have figured out that the pointy little protrusion of polymer on Glock’s trigger guards is nearly as effective as a set of brass knuckles.

I’ve never had the opportunity to use my Glock’s trigger guard in an actual combat scenario before – only in training against training dummies.  No, not the guys with an AFQT score of less than 50.  Think of a mannequin.  The trigger guard does a lot of damage to three-dimensional training dummies when used appropriately.

You really do not want to see what it does to relatively small Hispanic women.

The woman went down like a bag of rags.  I kicked the knife away from her and rolled her over onto her front, pulling her arms behind her.

I heard footsteps coming down the hall and turned drawing the Glock.

It was Joseph and Sam.

“You guys really don’t want to see the inside of this room,” I said as I holstered my Glock.

They stopped.

I pinned the Hispanic woman’s arms together at the elbows and fished a big zip tie out of my cargo pocket.  Her right forearm flopped unnaturally.  Joseph saw it and dry-heaved a little bit.  I fed the zip tie under her arms and cinched it up around her elbows.

“You guys don’t have to watch,” I gave them an out.

Joseph took them out.  Sam stayed.  Maybe I’ve underestimated him.

“All right, Sam, if you’re going to stick around, make yourself useful,” I said.  “Give me some of your zip ties.”

Sam reached into his cargo pocket and grabbed one of his zip ties while I kept my knee in the middle of the woman’s back and a grip on her wrists.  With Sam’s zip tie, I zipped her wrists together.

“OK, now two more,” I said.

Sam gave me two more zip ties.  I cinched one around her ankles and then used the fourth plastic band to secure her ankles to her wrists.

“That’ll help us carry her,” I said.  “You can pick her up like a suitcase.”

I showed Sam how to do it.  The woman was only a little over five feet tall and couldn’t have weighed a hundred pounds so she was a fairly light load.

“Carrying her like this … her dislocated elbow is going to hurt pretty bad when she comes to,” I said, “but I’m OK with that.  You OK with that?”

I cocked my head toward the dead woman on the mattress.

Sam looked inside the room, nodded and swallowed hard.

“Put her down in the front parlor,” I instructed.

Sam hauled the woman down the steps like he was carrying a heavy suitcase.  As he came to the bottom of the steps, he had to duck a little bit and lost his balance with the load.  He dropped the woman.  She moaned but didn’t come to.  Sam looked up at me with a little bit of a grin, shrugged his shoulders and picked her back up.

He might just become a decent soldier with some training.

I wrapped the dead woman in a blanket that I found in the locked room and carried her gently down the stairs.  She’d lost so much blood that none even soaked through the blanket while I carried her.  At the bottom of the stairs, I carefully laid her on the floor of the dining room.

After that, Sam and I gathered up the woman and the baby from out by the trees and laid them on the floor in the dining room as well.

Joseph came back into the house as we were finishing up.  He was as white as a ghost.  There was still a little bit of something on his lips from throwing up.  He wiped at it with the back of his glove.

“Here’s my plan, guys,” I started.  “The ground is frozen too hard.  We can’t bury these girls and the baby.”

“What about the Mexicans,” Joseph asked.

“They don’t get buried,” I replied.  “They don’t deserve it as far as I’m concerned.  Coyotes gotta eat.”

I didn’t think Joseph’s color could have gotten any worse but it did.  He looked a little wobbly in the knees.

“Look,” I said, “I don’t know if you figured out what’s been going on here or not, but it’s pretty plain to me.”

I let that sit for a moment.

“I’m not sure how it all came about,” I continued, “but it looks like the two blonde girls and the baby were being held here against their will.  There’s a room up there with a lock on the outside of it.  Any ideas why a room would have a lock on the outside of it?  There’s a bunch of blankets in the room covered in blood and some baby stuff.  You getting this?”

I gave Joseph another moment.  Sam seemed to be with me so far.

Joseph looked down at the floor, “Yeah, I get it.”

“Like I said, I don’t know how it came about or what all these Mexicans did to these girls – besides lock them up and kill them,” the sarcasm in my voice was obvious, “but it obviously wasn’t good.  If you’re willing to shoot a woman and a baby … I’m not going to any effort whatsoever to bury you.”  I said it with an air of finality that left little doubt in Joseph’s mind as to what was going to be done with the bodies of the Mexicans.

“So, find some hose and siphon some gas out of one of those cars,” I ordered.  “Bring the gas into the house.  We’re at least going to give these two girls and the baby a funeral pyre.”

“Leave the Mexicans where they lay – except the guy over there, bring him out – strip their weapons and anything else useful off of them and out of the house” I continued.  “This one is coming with us.”  I nudged the woman on the ground with my foot.  “We need to figure out the connection between the two boys with the Gunters and this crew here.”

Joseph just nodded and headed for the house.  Sam went to the cars.

The knife-wielder was starting to come around.  I crouched down close to her face.  I wanted to be the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes.  Her eyelids fluttered and she seemed to be trying to focus.

“Good morning,” I said looking at my watch.  It was almost Noon.  “Today has been a very bad day for you.”

“Chingate!” she spat through her broken lips.  Her face was caked in dried blood.  Several of her front teeth were missing and the white of her left eye had turned completely red.  She was tough, I’ll give her that.  I was thinking that getting information out of her was going to be tough.

“En Español?  Bien,” I responded.  My Spanish was passable, but not great.  I’d spent some time in Central America but hadn’t spoken the language much since then.

She let off a string of swearing, in English, that would have made a sailor blush.  At least I knew she could speak English.

I guessed her age at about 40.  Even before she, apparently, got into a knock-down-drag-out with the blonde girl in the upstairs bedroom, had a face-to-face meeting with the wooden stairs and took the full brunt of my Glock’s trigger guard she would have looked a little worse for wear.  “Rode hard and put up wet,” was the phrase that came to mind.

Her black hair was heavily streaked with gray.  What was left of her face was lined with wrinkles.  Her skin hung off of her loosely.  My guess is she had lost quite a bit of weight over the last few months.  She definitely looked older than she was.

I patted her down to make sure she didn’t have any more weapons on her.  The pat-down produced a broken crack pipe and a couple rocks in a scrap of tin foil.  She had crack but there was hardly any food in the house.  Amazing.

Sam and Joseph returned with the haul from the Mexicans’ bodies, the house and the cars.

One of the items was a .50 caliber ammo can filled with tools.  Rattling around inside the can with the tools were a few links from a .50 cal belt.

I motioned to the can, “See if you can pull the hood off of one of the cars.  It’ll be a lot easier to get her back to the Hanson place on a sled than it will be to carry her.”

Sam and Joseph looked at me, confused.

“The Hanson place?” Sam asked the question on both of their minds.

“Yeah,” I responded, “I want the Gunter girls’ boyfriends to be there when I question her.”

Sam and Joseph looked at one another, back at me and shrugged simultaneously as if to say, “We have no clue what you’re going to do … and probably don’t want one.”

They were right.  I had decided that rapists, child-abusers and baby killers could be added to the very top of my list of people likely to experience what happened when I “went off” … well above bullies, know-it-alls and the lazy.

January 12, 2015: Life Skills

Our family meeting went about like I expected.  Even my family members seem like they’re walking on eggshells around me these days.

Several people have told me over the years that I’m intimidating.  I’ve never really believed them.  I’m not particularly big – just average height and weight.  I don’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder.  I try not to walk around with a scowl on my face.  I don’t get it.  Why would I be intimidating?  Whatever it is, my whole family is acting a little bit intimidated.  I suppose it could be seeing me take down a 6’ 3” former linebacker, but that was really no feat.  He was slow, starved and weak.

We gathered in the big cabin just before 7:30 a.m.  Most of the morning chores were done by this time.  I brought up the subject of looters and the possibility that they could have followed the Gunters … or might still be on their trail.

Everyone agreed with me that we needed to make some additional preparations in the likely event that looters showed up here.  Maybe they were just afraid that I’d crack their skull if they didn’t.  In my mind, it’s a logical fact; looters are going to show up some time.  Right now, it’s just a matter of when, not if.

The family discussed some specific preparations and tactics.  My son, D.J., had some really good booby-trap ideas.  I know I’m going to sound like nothing more than a proud papa, but that kid’s brain is truly a wonder.  The way it works and the speed at which it works … OK, I’ll stop.  Let’s just say that we all agreed to implement every single one of his ideas.

I know I agreed to stop gushing about my son … I lied.  If you don’t want to hear it, just skip this part.  He’s one of the very few bright spots in my life these days so I’m going to brag.

Before the crash, D.J. knew that he was going to be a robotics engineer from the time that he was about six or seven years old.  My wife’s brother, Philip, – the one that lived/lives in Cape Cod – was a robotics engineer.  He programmed autonomous submarines for the Navy – a pretty bright guy in his own right.

Up until a couple years ago, the outlook for robotics engineering jobs was pretty good and Miriam and I encouraged D.J.’s pursuit of the profession in every way that we could.  I helped coach his robotics team at school.  We gave him robotics kits for his birthday and Christmas.  The boy knew what he wanted and we did everything we could to help him develop his skills.

Of course, after June of last year, the prospects for becoming a robotics engineer were pretty limited.  D.J. went through a period of time where he was pretty down.  I don’t know if it was the fact that the entire world had pretty much fallen off a cliff shortly after his fourteenth birthday or that there was virtually no way that he would realize his life’s ambition or … a bit of both, but he really struggled for several weeks – well into August.

Around the first of September, though, he made a pretty remarkable turn.  Since then, he’s really come into his own.  I think he’s finding his niche here in our little group and that’s giving him the idea that, while his original ambition in life may never be realized, he has a new role to fill and it’s one that’s important and that he’s very good at.

Since September, he’s come up with all kinds of ways to make our lives easier.  When you’re in survival mode, making life easier really builds morale.  I’m not sure he realizes the positive impact of his efforts on everyone else but he obviously enjoys what he’s doing and that’s had an amazing impact on his own outlook.

For example, he removed the solar panels from the roofs of the cabins, put them on poles made from scrap tubing we had laying around and rigged up photo-sensors that actuate DC motors – powered by batteries charged by the solar panels themselves – that rotate the poles to follow the sun.  Can you say, “perpetual motion machine”?  Practically speaking, our PV systems now generate about 20-25% more power than they did when they were hard-mounted to the roofs of the cabins.  He even thought to tap grease Zerks into the receiver poles so they could be greased to turn more easily.  He pulled the grease Zerks from some of the old farm machinery parked in the trees to the south of the house.

Another example: Do you remember me complaining about having to chip ice out of the livestock water tanks?  After having to do that chore once himself, D.J. rigged up rocket stove water heaters for each of the tanks.  Just a few sticks fed into the feed-chute every hour keep the entire tank ice-free.  We’ve assigned the task of keeping the feed chutes full to the yard guard on duty.  It gets them up and moving every hour reducing the risk of them being overcome by sleep.

Did I mention that D.J.’s mind is pretty amazing?

When we started talking about looter defenses, he was really quiet for about fifteen minutes while everyone else tossed out ideas.  I noticed that he started sketching something in a notebook.  When he finished, he tossed the notebook on the table and said, “I think a few of these, placed strategically near logical points of ingress, would serve as a significant deterrent.”

Yes, he actually talks like that.  How many fourteen year-olds do you know that use the phrase “logical points of ingress”?  It’s funny, when he’s creating or informing, his vocabulary up-shifts a couple gears and the phrases like “logical points of ingress” come out.

The pictures that he had drawn showed several views of a PVC-pipe-based booby trap that utilized pepper spray canisters.  We had purchased a couple cases of four ounce cans of pepper spray a couple years ago.  The original intent was to provide them to any members of our group who wanted to carry less-than-lethal means of defense.  The way things are now, everyone carries a sidearm pretty much 100% of the time.  The cases of pepper spray had been sitting in the back of a dusty storage bin since we bought them.

Somehow, D.J.’s brain had catalogued that pepper spray and never lost track of it.  He remembered exactly where it had been stored and how much of it we have on hand.  D.J. also remembered that each of the canisters contained enough pepper spray to fill a 2000 square foot area if fully discharged.

Yes, I’m still gushing.

Another five minutes later, D.J. had a picture drawn of a booby trap that utilized some one-inch steel tubing and shotgun shells.  This one had the definite potential to be lethal.  When I questioned the wisdom of unattended lethal traps – that could be stumbled-upon by friendlies – D.J. passed me another sheet of paper.  He had thought of that and designed an electrical actuator powered by a nine-volt battery.

“I have several wireless, battery-powered, network IP cameras that we could mount near these traps,” he explained.  “I pulled them from our house in Lincoln when we sold it.  We can monitor the cameras on one of my old laptops and actuate the shotgun shell traps from the yard guard desk.  We have thousands of feet of com wire in the shop to wire up the actuators.”

That kid thinks of everything.

“How long will the batteries last in this cold?” my oldest brother, Levi, asked.

“The camera batteries are solar-charged and intended for outdoor use, but I’m not one hundred percent sure,” D.J. adjusted his glasses.  “I’ll conduct some resiliency tests before we deploy the cameras or shotgun shell traps.  Everyone should also be aware that these cameras are only capable of transmitting a signal approximately 300 feet.  Accordingly, the shotgun shell traps will definitely be an inner security layer.  I should have it all worked out in a couple days.”

“Thanks, D.J.,” I said.  “There’s another item that I think we need to address.  When I was over at the Gunters’, I noticed a lot of tracks out behind the house – way more than would be normal for just their family.  It could be looters or something else entirely.”

There were quite a few stunned looks when I mentioned that I had been over at the Gunters’ house.

“I went over to apologize,” I explained simply, shrugging my shoulders and turning my hands palms-up.

The stunned looks softened and turned to mild surprise.

“What?  You don’t think I can apologize?” I was a bit perturbed.

Everyone kind of looked around the room at each other and then, almost in unison, said, “Riiiight.”

That broke some of the tension.  We all laughed, I shook my head and waved off their sarcasm.

We discussed my findings and decided to send out a scouting party.  With the most on-the-ground military experience, I was elected to lead the party.  Terry and Joseph were selected to accompany me.  That concerned me a little bit as we were the three best guns in the family.  D.J. was a pretty good target shooter, but shooting targets and shooting people were two very different things.  Neither Sam, my youngest brother, nor Levi, my oldest, had any military experience.  My father-in-law, Anders, had been a Navy officer, but he, of course, had no infantry experience.

“How about we leave Terry here,” I looked over at him, “and I take Sam along, instead?”

My thinking was that this would give Sam some much-needed experience with scouting, tracking and other necessary infantry-type skills.

I tried to get my brothers Sam and Levi interested in firearms and self-defense back before the crash but neither of them had much interest in it.  Sam had actually purchased a pistol and gotten his concealed carry permit at my urging – something that surprised me – but hadn’t spent much time shooting it.  Levi owned a rifle that he had inherited from an uncle of ours but he was dangerously careless with guns at times.  I’d chewed him out more than once, when we’d gone shooting together, for pointing a firearm in my direction.

“It’s not loaded,” was usually his response.  I always resisted the urge to crack his skull.

Eventually, I had at least gotten Sam and Levi to the point where they were not a danger to themselves or other friendlies when handling firearms, but they certainly were not my go-to guys when it came to a firefight.

Everyone agreed with my suggested trade.  Leaving Terry behind meant that those on the farm would be better prepared and better led in the event that something happened while the scouting party was gone.

After a few more administrative details, we called the meeting.  Sam, Joseph and I geared up for the scouting mission.  Each of us dressed in camouflaged cold weather gear – the temperature was around 20° – GoreTex-lined boots, gaiters, MOLLE vest, pistol and long gun of choice, ammo load-out, hydration bladders (worn under our coats to keep them from freezing) and a small pack with food.

I stuck with my trusty Glock 20 and added one of the AR-15’s that I had built back before the crash.

When I started adding to our weapon inventory, I found that I could easily save more than $100 per rifle by building – assembling, really; the AR-15 is a bit like Lego’s for adults – our AR-15’s myself rather than purchasing complete, off-the-shelf rifles.  In addition to saving quite a bit of money, this had the added benefit of improving my familiarity with the parts and operation of the AR-15.  It required a few specialized tools but the expense of the tools was more than made up for by the savings in the cost of the first rifle.

Joseph carried a Glock 17 and another one of our AR-15’s.  Sam carried his Springfield XD in .40 S&W and the Mossberg 930 SPX that my dad had used the day that the Gunters showed up.

Joseph and I both carried a 30-round magazine in our long guns and eight spare 30-round magazines in pouches attached to our MOLLE vests.  The 930 SPX was ghost-loaded with nine rounds of Federal LE132 00 Buckshot.  Sam carried another 48 rounds of the LE132 in pouches attached to his MOLLE vest and six rounds on a side saddle on the gun itself.

Each of us also carried four topped-off spare magazines for his pistol.  We hoped to avoid a confrontation but wanted to be prepared if one took place.

Rather than cut through the Gunters’ place, we went straight north from our yard to the road that bordered the north end of the farm.  I didn’t want to travel by road and end up in an ambush like the Gunters, but I wanted to pick up the tracks that had led away from the Gunters’ house toward the northwest.  The best way to do that was to follow the road about a mile to the west.

Near the northwest corner of the Hanson farm – where the Gunters are now staying – we picked up a set of tracks.  Actually, calling it a set of tracks doesn’t do it justice.  We found snow trampled flat about ten yards wide.  There had been a lot of traffic through the area for some time – I’m guessing almost as long as the Gunters had been on the Hanson farm.

Sam, Joseph and I dropped out of sight into the ditch on the south side of the road.  I followed the direction of the packed snow with my binoculars until it went out of sight around a hill.

Squatting down, I looked at Sam and Joseph.

“What do you think?” I asked.

Blank stares.  They had no experience with this kind of thing.  That was a big part of why I wanted them along on this mission.  They needed experience.

“Maybe the boyfriends are going into town,” Joseph suggested.

“All the way to Norfolk?” I raised an eyebrow.  “That’s a long haul even on horseback and I don’t see any horse tracks here.  Just foot traffic.”

I could tell neither Sam not Joseph had noticed that.  Time for a block of field instruction, as my drill instructors used to say.

“Look at the tracks and tell me what you see,” I directed.

My brothers – one fifteen years younger than I, the other thirteen years younger – looked at me like a calf looks at a new gate.

“Who made the tracks,” I urged.

“The Gunter girls’ boyfriends,” Joseph responded quickly.

“How do you know?” I probed.

“Um … the tracks come from the Hanson house,” Sam chimed in.

“Probably,” I agreed.  “Have either of you noticed what kind of footwear those boys are wearing?”

Blank stares again.

“Felony flyers,” I said.

I was beginning to think my brothers had turned into deaf-mutes.

“Tennis shoes, loosely-laced and untied,” my patience was growing thin.  “Not exactly winter weather wear.  Better suited for grabbing old ladies’ purses and holding up convenience stores.”

Joseph and Sam looked at each other with confused looks.

“I thought they were members of Mom and Dad’s church,” Sam still looked confused.

“That’s not what Mrs. … Karla said to me the other day and not what I reported at the meeting this morning,” I corrected.  “Little details like that can make the difference between alive and dead these days.”

I think the message got through.

“Karla said that the girls met them through some of the boys at the church,” I purposely quoted Karla as exactly as I could.  “That could mean a lot of things.”

“Let’s rewind the tape a bit, though,” I said.  “Those boys are wearing tennis shoes.  That means they’re not going far in this snow – or, if they are, they’re getting really cold, wet feet.  Do they look like the kind of fellows that would be willing to get their feet all wet and cold?”

Joseph and Sam shook their heads.

“I think you’re right,” I encouraged them.  “I’m thinking they like to sit as close to the fire and keep as warm and dry as possible.  I’m thinking they’d prefer to let the women go out and get wood and water.  My best guess is that those two boys have never done an honest day’s work in their lives.”

I could see the light bulb starting to come on behind my brothers’ eyes.  Don’t get me wrong.  They’re not stupid.  They simply have no frame of reference for the kind of situation we’re in.  They’ve never had to track a human being before.  They’ve never had to keep out of sight to avoid an armed confrontation before.  There are a lot of people in the world just like them.  Well, maybe fewer these days, but most of the civilized world has never had to concern themselves with … survival.

In some ways, I’ve been preparing for a world like this for most of my life.  Most of the time I didn’t realize it, but I was.  At the time, I probably complained about a lot of that “training”.  At the time, a lot of it probably seemed unnecessary and inefficient.  Now, I’m eternally grateful.

“Here’s what I think is going on, guys,” I began.

As I started to speak, I picked up on an odd sound.  It was so out of place that I didn’t recognize it at first.  Joseph and Sam gave me a strange look when I stopped in mid-sentence and then they picked up on it too.

The sound was coming from our northwest.

January 8, 2015: Looters?

Do you remember hurricane Katrina?  Do you remember the picture that circulated shortly thereafter – the one of a looter carrying a plastic tub of beer bottles?  That picture became an instant Internet meme.  I think it was even a popular Halloween costume.

It sounds as if we have a new breed of looters.  These looters are much less friendly.  The post-Katrina looters smashed windows, broke into stores and stole things, but I don’t remember them setting fire to anyone’s home or shooting anyone.  If the Internet still existed, I can’t imagine our new breed of looters becoming a joke passed around by e-mail.  OK, we don’t have e-mail but you know what I mean.

After hearing the second-hand story of the Gunters’ survival, and giving it some thought, looters have become my new number-one concern.  I think it’s time that we call a family meeting and figure out what improvements we need to make to our defenses to ensure our security.  That goes on the top of tomorrow’s to-do list.

I’m also giving some serious thought to one little detail in the account of the Gunters’ survival.  National Guard troops disbanded and took home equipment, supplies, weapons and ammunition.  It seems pretty obvious to me that there is a serious probability that those items will be used for purely selfish purposes and not for defending the members of the community at large.  Now that could be as innocuous as the former troops defending themselves from looters.  It could just as easily be as insidious as those troops banding together and utilizing the weapons and supplies to do some looting themselves.

I went and visited Jake this week.  Does that surprise you?  I figured it was time to bury the hatchet.  I know what you’re thinking … not in his skull.  Remember?  I’m turning over a new leaf.  This was a big step.

Ol’ Jake wasn’t doing too well.

When I knocked on the door, his wife answered.  I couldn’t remember her name but she’s the only one in the Gunter family whose name doesn’t start with the letter “J”.  Anyway … you should have seen the look on her face when she opened the door.  What color there was drained out of her cheeks and her eyes started darting around the room.  Probably looking for a place to run and hide.

“I’m here on a peaceful mission,” I assured her.

She looked relieved but suspicious.

“I just wanted to check on Jake and let him know I’m sorry for hurting him,” I tried to calm her nerves.

“Please, come in,” she replied, regaining a bit of her composure.

There was a pretty good fire in the fireplace but it was still cold over by the door.  The girls were sitting on the hearth shelling soybeans.  There was no sign of the boyfriends.

“Jake’s back in the big bedroom,” Mrs. Gunter pointed through a doorway.

I followed her as she led the way to the bedroom.  She was wearing a dress that hung off of her like a set of drapes.  It was easily five sizes too big for her.  She must have lost 50 pounds over the last six months.  The girls didn’t look like they’d lost nearly as much weight but I was still concerned about them – especially the pregnant one.

Jake was laying on one of the Army cots in a sleeping bag.  There was a fire in the wood stove and the room was actually quite warm.  Jake rolled over in my direction when I entered the room.  An involuntary groan escaped his lips.

His throat still had a pretty good-sized bruise on it from where I’d hit him.  He was lucky I hadn’t crushed his larynx.  If I’d hit him with my fist, I probably would have.

“Jake, I just wanted to apologize for hurting you so badly …” I started.

“I ain’t hurt that badly,” he retorted, coughing.

The cough must have hurt his ribs because he winced in pain and kind of doubled-up in the sleeping bag.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” I replied, ignoring the obvious lie.  “We’ll need every able body if looters follow you here.”

I didn’t mean for it to come out in an accusatory tone, but it did.

“Nobody followed us.” Jake was getting mad.

Boy, he’s easily riled up.

“Good.  Glad to hear it, Jake.”  I didn’t buy it for a second.

He rode his family into our ambush without a clue.  Anyone worth their salt could follow the Gunters’ tracks in the snow directly to our place from the last place they stayed.  I was sure of it.

“Well, I hope you’re up and around soon,” I started out the door.

“Johnson.”  Jake had never called me by my first name as long as I’d known him.  “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about me.  You got plenty else to be thinking about.”

“You’re right, Jake,” I agreed, “I do.  So long, now.”

With that I turned and walked out of the room.

“Mrs. Gunter ….” I began when we were back by the fireplace in the main room.

“Please, call me Karla,” she stopped me, putting her hand on my arm.

“OK, Karla.”  I complied.  “You may not know this, but Jake and I go back a long ways.  There was bad blood between us long before what happened on Christmas day.”

“Jake mentioned that the two of you didn’t get along,” she agreed, nodding her head, her brow furrowed.

The two girls sat quietly, listening attentively to every word.  They had stopped shelling soybeans and folded their hands in their laps.  I noticed that both of them had severely chewed fingernails.  The tips of their fingers were literally raw.  I hope Laura spotted that when she checked them over.  I need to remember to make sure they have something to heal up those sores before they get infected. 

“He wasn’t sure that we should come here,” Karla continued.  “I don’t know what we’ll do now.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’m sure you’ll want us to leave as soon as Jake’s able, right?” Her eyes begged me to say no.

“Not if Jake …” I wasn’t sure how to phrase it, “… not if Jake and I can get along.”

“Oh, I hope so!”

The pleading in her eyes was so deep I could almost feel it.

I’m guessing she was a pretty attractive woman back when Jake married her.  Still barely more than skin and bones, now, her eyes were about all she had.  She knew how to use them, though.  A small tear had gathered at the corner of each of her eyes.  She dabbed at them with the sleeve of her dress.

Who wears a dress in this kind of weather?  Both of the girls were wearing long, denim skirts.  Strange.

I can’t figure out how Karla ended up with Jake.  They seem so opposite.  Opposites attract, I guess.  Miriam and I are very different.  A lot of people have probably wondered how she ended up with me.  I think Jake and Karla got married while I was away in the Army.  I don’t know how they met.  She seems awful nice to be stuck with him.  Not a lot of options in small-town Nebraska, I guess.

“You folks need to eat better,” I cautioned.  “Where are the boys?  Getting food?  Hunting?”

“I … I think so,” the older girl, Jamie, replied.

She was the pregnant one.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

She looked down at her hands, “Fine.”

Something wasn’t right with this bunch.  I couldn’t put a finger on exactly what, but I could tell that something was rotten in Denmark.  Maybe Jake was an abuser.  That wouldn’t surprise me. 

I wanted to know the story on the two boyfriends.

“How’d you two meet your boyfriends,” I asked, giving the two girls my softest, kindest look.

You’d have thought I farted at a church meeting.  Those women clamped up tighter than a can of sardines.

“The girls met them through some of the boys at the church,” Karla choked out.

So much for my softest, kindest look.

Both of the boys looked to be Hispanic.  I knew my parents’ church had a Hispanic outreach so that made some sense but something about it still felt wrong.  The women clammed up too tightly when I asked about the boys.  Karla’s answer was too strained.  The looks on their faces said way more than their words.  Both girls started chewing on their fingernails almost as soon as the question was out of my mouth.

My granddad had a remedy for bad habits like chewing your nails and licking your lips … Tabasco sauce … or horse manure.  Either one had the desired effect … quickly.

I’m convinced the boyfriends are up to some kind of no good.  Maybe Jake too.  I’ve been trying to remember anything I could about Jake, from before the crash, to try to get a clue.

Priority number two on the to-do list: Figure out what those two boys are up to.  Something just doesn’t add up.

“Well, you three need to take care of yourselves,” I purposely left Jake and the two boys out of my statement.  “We have plenty of food for the winter.  You just come over with a cart, or something, and we’ll help you load it up and bring it back here.”

Karla just nodded, eyes shifting.  The girls had to be close to the bone on their fingers by now.  What an annoying habit.

“For the time-being, I’d prefer that the two boys not come onto our place,” I looked hard at Karla to make sure she understood.

She got the message and nodded again.  This time her eyes went to the floor and stayed there.  The girls’ eyes were fixed on the floor as well.  Nom, nom, nom … what was that fairy tale where the old lady had the kids stick their fingers out of the cage to tell if they were ready to eat yet?  Hansel and Gretel?  Pretty sure that was the one.  These girls’ fingers would have given the old lady a fright. 

I said my goodbyes and went through the door quickly to avoid letting much more cold air into the house.

They really need to get that place warmed up and start eating some more nutritious food … and stop eating their fingers!

On my way back I decided to take a little bit of a look around.  Instead of heading straight down the driveway, I circled around the barn and toward the back of the house.  What I found there made me even more suspicious. 

There were a lot of tracks in the snow.  A lot more than there should have been.  I expected to see tracks around the wood pile and the out house.  I expected to see tracks leading off to the west to hunt in the trees.  I expected to see tracks, primarily, from the two boys.

What I saw was tracks made by probably ten people.  Most of them came and went from the northwest – the general direction of Norfolk.

Time to schedule that family meeting.

Post Navigation