Read Chapter 5 here
We stood frozen for a long while until Pat broke the silence, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Yeats. I didn't figure Pat for poetry. Josh seemed to straighten, and cleared his throat, "We need to get moving again." Back in the jeep, and back on our way Pat and I were silent. I didn't know what he was thinking, but I barely knew what I was thinking... The miles flew by in a blur while we sat deep in thought. I wanted to do something. I wanted to find the people who did this, and send them to the center of San Diego so they could feel the burning pain of what they had done. I was on edge, and wanting a fight. I wished for some zombies to vent my frustration on, but knew that encountering them this far out would be worse than the relief destroying them would bring me. Pat began clicking something incessantly. I exhaled angrily and turned my head to glare at him. He wasn't clicking anything, instead he was looking at my AR. I looked down at it so I could make a show of asking him what he was staring at, and found my thumb was clicking the safety off and on. I removed my hand and crossed my arms, exhaling deeply. Try to relax. There is more work to be done, and you need sleep. But I didn't even try to sleep. I knew I wouldn't be able to, and feared what my dreams would bring after this development.
We drove on. Faster than before. Hoping to escape the horror behind us, and hoping to find some hint of humanity ahead.
The path had become more treacherous, full of hairpin turns, and switchbacks. I could see Josh eagerly taking the hard turns on the motorcycle, trying to expel his aggression through the throttle. Miles in, Josh disappeared around another corner, and was soon followed quickly by the lead car, when we heard screeching tires from what had to be Josh's motorcycle. I grabbed the "oh shit" handle and unbuckled myself as we caught up and swung around the corner to reveal a roadblock and a crashed motorcycle ahead of the convoy. Josh was standing and was taking his helmet off in front of a man pointing a shotgun as his chest. Shit! My door was already opened as we began to slow behind the next car, I saw the road was slightly raised and surrounded by bushes and trees, and knew the slight ditch on the side of the road would give me good cover, and a good angle on the bastard holding the shotgun on Josh. As the jeep slid to a stop, I jumped from the jeep, and started a low run to the side of the road, AR ready for action. I was half way to the ditch when I saw I had made a mistake.
I tried to stop, but the dirt on the worn asphalt rolled and slid my feet forward faster than my body was moving. I fell flat on my back, losing my grip on my AR, and sending the magazines flying from the mag pouch. I sat up slightly and looked at the side of the road where four men had suddenly appeared with shotguns and rifles, stopping me in my tracks. I looked at my AR, which was within reach, but had been turned around in the clamor. I briefly calculated how long it would take me to grab it, get it into a grip, aim, and start firing, but only got half way before realizing there was no way I would survive such an attempt. So, this is how the story of Perry Bishop ends. He fell on his ass, dropped his gun, and was shot by some fucking yokels. Sad. I looked again at the men who were going to kill me, and saw there weren't exactly poised to shoot; they were really just casually standing around while holding guns. They clung their guns closer as they stared at me, but it was obvious they weren't out for blood. I raised my palms to them so they didn't change their minds. An authoritative voice called from the roadblock, "Stand down!" and the men in front of me relaxed slightly. I looked at the roadblock and noticed the side of the road was suddenly dotted with armed men who had appeared from the brush. I saw a man walk from behind the roadblock, and hug Josh. I guess we're here...
Two of the men walked up to me as I rubbed the bump on the back of my head. "Looks like you had a bit of a spill there." I gave a wheezing chuckle, "Yeah." The younger man shouldered his shotgun, and started gathering my magazines while the older one picked up my AR and said, "Looked like you were fixin' on shootin' us." He spoke without anger. I looked up at him and saw he had my AR in one hand, and was reaching his other to help me up. I grabbed his hand and he pulled me to my feet. "Not quite. I didn't even see you guys there. You scared the hell outta me." The grip that pulled me to my feet turned into a handshake, and the man smiled, "Well, we may not have and plastic space guns up here, but we sure are sneaky!" I laughed and he joined me. The younger man, somewhere in his 30s, began handing me magazines as I fed them into the pouch. When I was done, the old man handed me my AR and said, "Welcome to Horse Thief Canyon."
After exchanging some pleasantries I drove the jeep behind the convoy to Josh's parent's house. They've got a pretty good setup out here. The area was pretty densely wooded, and each home had some acreage to it. The kind of place I wouldn't mind settling down in one day. As we turned into the long driveway I thought about Josh's dad. He was unmistakable; tall, and triangular. He made me wonder what his wife was like. As we pulled to the house, she burst through the door, and ran to Josh. She was small, but was clearly full of energy. But which gave Josh his cynicism? I parked the car next to the others, and joined the group surrounding Josh, already planning the unloading. I unburdened myself before we started we started unloading the equipment and supplies. Most of it went into a small divided garage that housed the ammunition reloading equipment Josh always bragged about. It even had the shooting window that opened to a cliff face about 400 yards away, just like he said. I couldn't help but smile at the impressive selection of equipment. Heh. Lucky prick.
I parked the Jeep in a side garage, and hurried to join the group making its way to the house, catching part of a conversation. "Why do I get the feeling I'm either going to be really happy, or really mad after dinner?" Josh asked his father. "Well, it all depends on how you feel about being a sergeant in a militia..." Josh groaned emphatically, and his father continued. "And, it depends on how you feel about the judicious application of high explosives in isolating ourselves from the threat." My ears perked up; "Wait, did somebody just say we get to blow stuff up?" Josh's dad, Gary, turned and looked at me with a smirk. Josh gestured to me, "Dad, this is Bishop; that guy I told you about." Gary's smirk grew into a smile, "The guy who likes to blow things up. Gimme ten." He put his hands in front of him, palms up. Gimme ten? Been a while since I've done that. Not sure what to expect, I slapped his hands with mine firmly. Gary seemed to be pleased and said, "Well, you still got all your fingers, so we'll talk after dinner."
Dinner was good. Well, it looked good from outside. I wasn't hungry, and I wanted to be alone.
It bugged me that they were just sitting there eating without a care in the world. I saw a few people walking around and figured the roadblock was disbanded after Gary left. Sloppy. I walked back to the garage we unloaded the vehicles into, and searched for the box I had noticed. It was a big box named "mil surp stuff." I needed some web gear to decrease the amount of straps I had hung across my shoulders, and loose items bouncing against me every step. In the box I found some load-bearing equipment, basically a vest with straps and pouches. After a bit of futzing, I had a pretty good fit that didn't restrict motion, or hang loosely. I loaded six magazines into the attached pouches and fished around in the box for some extra magazine pouches to attach. Under the first layer of stuff I spotted a dark ghillie cape, and eagerly pulled it free. Niiiice. I put the cape on, and checked my reflection in one of the windows. The white of my face and neck stood in stark contrast to the green and brown of the ghillie. Shemagh. I found my backpack among the unloaded bags and supplies, and fished out my green and black shemagh. A shemagh was basically what you see middle easterners wearing over their face. It's very soft and very light, making it useful for both hot and cold weather. It's also huge, four feet by four feet, and is usable as everything from a broken arm sling to a small towel. Because you gotta know where your towel is. I folded it into a scarf shape, and wrapped it around my neck three times, making a pass across my face before tucking it into itself. I checked my reflection again, and pulled the hood of the cape a little lower. Time to go on watch.
I started a walk through the lightly wooded area around the house. There were enough brush and trees to slow someone down, but not enough to fully obscure view for shooting. Along what appeared to be the property line the trees and brush were denser making a barrier the zeds might not think to try to climb though. The front seemed to be the only real way in, and there was already a good fence up there. I settled into a spot where the overgrowth extended to the front of the house, giving me visibility from the front gate to the front of the house. I knelt among the shrubs and bushes until I found a spot that gave me a low line of sight to both locations, and got settled in. The heat of the day was waning, but the ground against my front cooled me considerably. My mind churned over the events of the day, pausing only on the near death experiences I had. After about an hour I realized I should probably feel tired, but I just couldn't. At least I'll be awake for the watch. A low murmur rose from the road. Could zeds have made it down the road without being noticed? I realized I had no way of contacting the people inside, but figured I would have to positively identify them first, and decide on a course of action once I see where they're heading. I slowly moved my rifle to the ready, raising my upper body slowly to meet the rifle which could get no lower with the large 30 round magazine in it. Gotta remember to ask Josh if he has any 20 round mags. As the murmur grew slowly I fought the urge to angle myself to see further down the road. The human eye is drawn to movement, so you can be the most camouflaged motherfucker in the world, but if you move, you'll be spotted. The front sight was shaking slightly. I'm tense. I need to relax. I've done this before. I took a few slow breaths, but couldn't find the calm I needed. Movement from the street behind some bushes. They'll probably walk on by. Clear laughter rang out, and into view walked seven armed men, long guns slung casually, chatting amongst themselves as they turned to walk toward the house. Idiots.
I watched them as they walked toward the house. One was telling a joke, and the others were listening intently. On the punchline "...that's my wife!" they erupted into a chorus of laughter that seemed to ring in the canyon. I was ready to jump out of the bushes and yell at them for being so loud, but they seemed to catch themselves, and continued chattering in a lower tone. I got a better idea. As they continued to the house they passed the section of overgrowth I was in. I grabbed the branch of the bush I was behind, and shook it slightly. The rustling went unnoticed. They were almost to the house now, and were talking about who was going to be the first one to bag a rioter.
"A rioter ain't no deer. He ain't gonna be sneakin' around, sniffin' the air--"
"No, I'm just sayin' they're probably gonna be walking around clueless. If any of 'em show up, it'll be a damn turkey shoot!"
"As I recall, you missed that turkey shot two seasons ago!"
Stifled laughter came from most of the men. The man who was speaking glared at the wisecracker, then rang the door bell.
"Ha ha, Gus. I'm just sayin' we're hunters, we're the ones with the keen senses. Ain't gonna be one inside 300 yards without us knowin' it."
I pulled the shemagh down to speak, and said loudly, "Is that so?"
All seven men jumped and unshouldered their long guns, bumping into each other, and getting tangled in each other's slings, before pointing in my direction trying to see through the darkness. I stood up slowly, and walked toward them. The door swung open behind them, and Josh yelled to me, "Hey, dick, it helps when people inside know you're going to go outside and stand watch!" I couldn't help myself, and laughed as I walked to the house.
Gary had called the "Men's Club" over to discuss their next course of action. Of course Josh probably destroyed whatever plan Gary had developed over dinner. They didn't know they were dealing with zombies, and Josh had probably mentioned that bit of information. The question at hand, however, was whether or not they believed him. After they started arguing I got annoyed and went into the kitchen. Josh's mom was clearing the left-overs, and noticed me walking in.
"They're a bunch of animals, aren't they?" She said with a nod toward the living room full of arguing men.
"Those things out there are easy to deal with. Opinionated men, however..."
She laughed. "You're Perry, right?"
"Oh shut up. Call me Jean. Why weren't you at dinner?"
"I was on watch. Just keeping an eye on things."
"And which of my men sent you out there?"
"Well, I kind of just went on my own."
"So you refused to eat the food I made."
I was thrown off guard. "No, that's not what I meant. I just wasn't hungry."
"Wasn't hungry after making your way down from Orange County?"
"I ate before I left." I lied.
"You're lying to me, Perry." Caught off guard again!
"I-- I'm sorry I missed dinner, I meant no disrespect. I just thought I should have kept an eye out." I initiated a tactical retreat. "Let me get back in there, those guys are probably--"
"Perry Bishop!" I froze. I was suddenly four years old. "Sit down in that chair, and eat your dinner!"
I jumped into the nearest chair. "Yes, ma'am!"
Her stern demeanor instantly changed to sweet, "There, that wasn't so hard, was it?"
As soon as the food was in front of me, my stomach groaned, and hunger came charging back. Jean refilled my plate twice times before I was done. She seemed pleased.
I sat at the empty table, idly picking my teeth, when I noticed the clear, empty table in front of me. "Jean? Is there a place I can clean my rifle?" "Certainly, Perry." She walked out of the room, and returned with a small tackle box, and a beach towel. She spread the towel on the table in front of me, revealing black smudges of gun powder, and the unmistakable scent Hoppe's 9. She opened the tackle box, which was full of gun cleaning supplies, "I don't wanna see any smudges on the table, otherwise I'll have to beat you with that broom." She smiled, and resumed cleaning dishes as I began stripping my AR. People give the AR a lot of crap because it vents its gas into the chamber, causing most of the parts to become dirty. I've done stress testing on my AR, and with good ammunition, it takes between 1800 and 2000 rounds before I start getting occasional failures. After another thousand rounds the failures become very prominent. I figured if I was ever firing 2000 rounds in a single firefight, I was either shooting with my eyes closed, or should have retreated long ago. There are more reliable rifles, but few are as accurate, light, and easy to shoot. Besides, I like this rifle. I had a small pile of soiled patches when Gary sat at the table, clucking his tongue. "That's why you always clean your rifle after you shoot it." I looked up at him, still cleaning, "What do you mean? I always clean my rifle after I shoot it." Gary smiled, "Hey, there's no shame in it. I'm just saying either you're being less than truthful, or that rifle's been shooting a lot more than the story I heard backs up." What is he talking about? Jean turned off the faucet, and turned to the table, "Gary, he's the one from up north." His face changed, and he looked again at the pile of soiled cleaning patches. "How many?" His voice didn't have the playful inflection it had before.
"Bullshit. How many mags then?"
"Nine... and maybe two more."
He sat up straight, and eyed me. "I'm guessing you didn't miss very much."
"No, sir. Not that much."
"How far north?"
"About 5 miles in from the border of the county. But they're pretty sparse up there."
He scoffed, "That nuke didn't do shit."
We were quiet while that sunk in.
"Gary, do you know how to weld?"
"Not perfectly, but I can get it done."
"Good. If you were thinking about bringing that bridge back there down cleanly, I'll need some housings made."
He thought for a moment about what I said, then his eyebrows shot up, "EFPs?"
"Shit, where'd you learn that stuff?"
"Here and there."
"'Here and there' huh? We'll talk about that tomorrow.... I'm setting up a fire watch, but I think you've earned the sleep."
"Nah. Sleep is for the dea--" I caught myself. "If there's a spot open early morning, I'll take it."
"You got it."
He picked up the upper half I had finished cleaning, and began inspecting it. He put it down in front of me, and tapped it. "These from today? They look new." I looked at the upper, and suddenly noticed the scratches and light gashes on the corners and edges. The bright silver of the metal gleamed where the black finish had been scraped off against asphalt and who-knows-what. I looked at the lower half I was still cleaning, and saw similar flashes of silver. "Aww, man!" I looked back at Gary who had a broad grin. I was confused, "What? This is funny?" "No," He said, "It's just that now the two of you match!" He started laughing heartily, and I remembered the road rash I had on my face. "Oh, you're a riot." I said, holding back laughter. He stood and walked out the room, laughter subsiding, "Oh-400 hours, Mister Bishop." "Yes, sir."