Like all people who dabble in the writering of word usements, sometimes something strikes me and I want to write it down. For most of the writing I do that I am compiling into book form, it’s funny stories or anecdotes that are deeply grounded in my experiences. But I’ve been branching out recently into more pure fiction. This brief bit takes place in a larger world I sometimes explore.
I’ll be up front about the fact that it’s derivative. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where you’re not going to be told the inciting incident and it’s likely even the characters themselves don’t understand it fully. But I was entranced with the idea of, in a catastrophe, the tension between the slowing of the inertia of civilized society and the rise of simple survivalism. So a lot of the stories in this world are of that idea.
Please to enjoy, Internet.
A dozen or so miles away from safety and security, Lockhart was growing increasingly pissed off at the Corporal with the machine gun. The smell of what had just happened was only making things worse. It should dissipate, the whiff of a shot fired. Against the fierce cold and the weeks long omnipresent smell of ozone, the unique tinge of a modern military round was stuck in James Lockhart’s nose and triggering in his sudden focus an increasing rage.
Three weeks. Three weeks, and this is what it’s been reduced to.
This fuckhead is more scared than you are, he thought as his eyes focused intently on the soldier’s belt. Arms crossed over his head, he finished the thought: remember how humans act in times of stress. The rage had to be shelved. It wasn’t relevant. Only the focus was.
“It was wrong of me to step forward,” Lockhart said calmly, “I’m not armed. My hands are on my head. I’m going to slowly take a step back.” The belt was taut against the corporal’s body, oddly scarce of any holsters or packs or ammo storage you would normally envision on a soldier. A foot slid softly on the dirty asphalt in a backwards motion, the shoe making a track in the grime. Carefully Lockhart pulled the other foot back and stood, shrugging slowly as if making a point that his hands were locked across the top of his head.
The soldier repeated his earlier command, “Sir you will re-enter your vehicle and proceed to the left. Approximately three miles down that road you will be guided to the refugee camp where you will be processed.”
Never get out of the boat, absolutely god damned right, the quote from that bleak movie came unbidden to Lockhart’s mind.
It’d all gone south when the poor visibility had led to the soldier announcing the presence of the road block with an initial shot in the air. It augured into the ground when, the initial shot unheard, Lockhart had hopped out of his truck waving, and approached the soldier to talk. The headlight beams that blasted into the misted air somehow stuck and became a soft wall when the shocking POP of the soldier’s second shot deafened him. Deafened him except for perhaps the inaudible but tactile sensation of the bullet crossing just to the left of Lockhart’s head.
Time stopped. Nothing but white mist, green and brown trees, and a road the color of bruises.
The realization hit that the soldier had been saying something after the initial warning shot. Something unheard during what he thought was a mutual relief at seeing another person, even an armed soldier. In that abrupt moment of halted time, there came the further realization that he was simply a threat easily discarded. The same went for the Gunnar and Target, the dogs in his truck.
The itching sensation of the sprinkling salted rain running into his eyes and ears returned as he stood in upright supplication before the soldier. He felt like an idiot, staring at some ridiculous military outfit belt. A belt assigned to a national guardsman who was protecting a world that would coast on momentum for months hence.
“Corporal I am not arguing with your order, I repeat I am unarmed and I am not a threat to you. I have two Golden Retrievers and a small amount of food and water in my truck but no weapons. I’m basically going to stand here looking at the ground until you lower your weapon.”
After a pause, the corporal shifted his stance in a jerking motion, which Lockhart thought looked comically like an offensive line trying to draw a foul in an NFL game. He stood motionless. The soldier’s weapon lowered slowly. The soldier earlier that day had nearly come to a firefight with a troupe of would be survivalists and wasn’t eager to take another life if he could help it.
“The best possible thing for you to do,” the corporal said clearly, “is to please do as I say and head to the refugee camp.”
My only chance, Lockhart thought. Make eye contact. He raised his head to meet the soldier’s eyes. Jesus, just a kid, he thought. And scared at that.
“I get that,” He replied, “I do. You’ve been given orders to divert everyone to the camp. But please listen to me. A few miles up the road I have a lot of land and a home. A weekend house I built for myself and my wife. It has food and electricity, enough to last a while. If you just—“
“Where’s your wife?” came the soldier’s rebuttal.
The wave of grief was unexpected, even as the soldier’s words hit and he knew they were a logical challenge to his statement. James Lockhart breathed again deep and clear and with a cleansing effect. That one breath was audible and went without incident, no coughing or labor.
“She was in the city.” He said. “We lived outside on the edge. I worked at home.” Unbidden, his hands left the top of his head and dropped to his sides. One question had drained him. His body almost accepted the possible consequence.
The corporal kept his weapon pointed just off his target. “You understand what’s happened?”
Lockhart had spent the past 2 weeks getting here. Again the rage climbed up and hinted just how close the mania was to the surface. He’d held a 16 year old girl in his arms while she bled to death. Killed what looked like a deranged father in a business suit who’d gone after Gunnar and Target just because they were animals he thought he could get for his family to eat.
“I do.” Deep down the temptation to argue he knew far better than a military lackey on guard duty pushed itself on the rage wave to the front of his brain. He looked down again for a moment while the corporal watched him, “I do.” He looked up in challenge, “Do you?”
“Power failed about a week and a half ago. We’ve got very little if any control of the valley. You know I could let you go to wherever, and maybe you have a generator or something, and the very first time you turn on a light at night the looters will see it for miles. I’m here for a reason and that’s to get people into the camp for their own protection.”
“I have a small observatory at the house,” Lockhart replied calmly, “I was…I am an amateur astronomer. The house itself was designed not to create light pollution. The window covers are metal to prevent the house being broken into but they also block internal light from getting out. Look I know—“
The third shot like the first was straight up in the air, executed with precision by the soldier in a quick upward motion and shot followed by the weapon now once again pointing squarely at Lockhart’s head.
“You’ll have an answer for everything I say. Now pay attention. Get in the car, go to the camp.”
“Every bit of food I eat at the goddamn refugee camp is food away from someone who actually needs it,” Lockhart screamed, “And my dogs, do you think they will have food for them? I do, fucking just up the road from here. By following your idiotic fucking orders you’re not just killing us you’re killing people in the camp!”
The soldier calmly shifted his weapons aim to the left, into the car.
“In five seconds I will kill one of the dogs. Get in the car. Turn right. Go to the camp.”
If rage is ruling a bleak place, impotent rage is being a subject there. Lockhart turned slowly and went to the truck. Gunnar and Target were already agitated due to the gunshots and he barely stopped them from bolting out of the cab as he opened the door. He shoved them back roughly, more so than needed to drive home the point he wasn’t playing.
Twelve miles by road, probably 8 or 9 as the crow flies he thought. Easily 24 hour’s worth of travel in heavy woods with the dogs if he had to walk it off the roads. And it looked like he would have to, at least for a while. It meant abandoning the truck. But he knew, knew, the house was secure just a bit away. At Cynda’s insistence, out of her fear of being snowed in, they’d set up solar and wind power to charge the batteries to power the place; An almost hippy-esque effort to be green when the phrase “off the grid” was an affectation. The grid was always on. Why wouldn’t it be? And if not, only down for a few days. They’d maybe overbuilt out of her fear. He’d been so proud the day he’d slowly cut off each power supply to show how another took its place to placate her fears.
The odds of that being enough to run the freezer after only two weeks without power were more than zero, never mind the dried food that was there in abundance, and the well for water. In the camp, he and the dogs would face a cramped and slow starvation. At the house they faced slower starvation, but with heat and warmth and comfort. And in a place they knew, and had built themselves. Himself now, his mind said. Just me and the dogs.
He shoved the car into drive. Fuck it, Lockhart thought, I’ll ditch a mile down the road, out of sight. There was still enough food and water in the cab to last a day.
The truck slowly turned past the lone soldier and his station, the sunlight starting to fade with the exception of the glow on the opposite horizon. Behind him, down the way he had come, Lockhart saw headlights in the far distance.