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 ….