Doug Carlton hid inside the underground bunker that he had prepared several years ago. Although it was buried in the backyard of a home he ended up losing in a foreclosure, the new owners never knew about the bunker and were nowhere in sight. Doug had staked out the place for several days, but it appeared that the new owners must have also fallen victim to what the survivors were calling the Rapture.
Drawing both power and a signal from the house with cables he had long ago buried, Doug watched one of the only functioning television stations. The famous televangelist, Pastor James Turnbridge was running a live segment of his show.
“The Rapture foretold by ancient Prophets has finally come! Only sinners and unbelievers remain.” He preached, “God has given me a great calling to fulfill: to bring all of you back to his fold before the Lord returns on Judgement Day and condemns your souls to Hell!”
The pastor rambled on about various predicted calamities to come while Doug rolled his eyes and drained the last swig of his beer.
What a load of crap.
Doug flipped through the few remaining channels, but could only find news stations streaming the Pastor’s live broadcast. Turning off the set, he got up and opened the small refrigerator in his kitchenette. His stomach grumbled as he stared at the scanty shelves.
Dang it. I’ll have to go out again.
Though he was fortunate to have reclaimed his bunker, so many years had passed since the initial foreclosure that not much of the food he had stored was still salvageable.
He quickly grabbed his gear, filled his pockets with 12 gauge buckshot shells, and loaded his sawed-off shotgun to capacity with one in the barrel.
Can’t be too careful.
He unlatched the vault-like door and crawled down the access tunnel. Waving his arm in front of him, he swatted away the freshly spun cobwebs that had accumulated over the past several days. After a few feet he reached the end of the tunnel and climbed the rungs for 30 feet to the surface.
He paused cautiously near the top for several minutes, listening carefully for any sounds that could indicate movement. Satisfied that he was alone, he pushed up on the false septic tank cover hidden in the middle of his old rock garden. After heaving himself and his gear out of the hole, he carefully replaced the cover and made it appear as though it hadn’t been disturbed.
As he crossed the backyard and approached the side gate, he was unnerved to see that it was broken. He cautiously approached the back door of the home, and it too had been forced open with what looked to be the marks of a crowbar. He cocked his shotgun with an audible click and carefully ventured inside.
The house had been entirely ransacked. The kitchen was by far in the worst condition of all the rooms. The refrigerator door hung open, and all of the cupboards were bare.
He left the house and crossed the front lawn. As he walked down the rural street, the entire neighborhood appeared to be a ghost town. It was strange to think that had this been a week ago, the street would be bustling with the standard morning commute. The silence was far from peaceful, and his hair stood on end.
He turned down the adjacent road and approached the first house. Cautiously, he peered into one of the front windows. Without warning, the pane shattered before him with the sound of a gunshot.
“Get off my property!” an old man’s voice bellowed as Doug dropped to the ground.
Another shot fired, and he scrambled as fast as he could to get off the porch. He bounded across the yard and back around the corner. After sprinting for several minutes, he stopped to catch his breath by leaning against a tree on the outskirts of a community park.
He was surprised to see the large circle of dilapidated tents surrounding several metal drum barrels being used as fire pits. From the dinginess and haphazard look of the tents, it was quite apparent that the homeless community had settled in here.
“Hey! Where’d you come from?” a voice startled him.
Doug whipped around, and his suspicions were confirmed. A filthy man with tattered clothing stood a few feet away with a glower on his face. He aimed a cocked pistol in his shaky hand.
“Friend or foe?” the man demanded.
“I.. uhh…” Doug slightly lowered his shotgun, “Friend, I guess.”
The man eyed him warily for a moment, and then placed his pistol in a fancy-looking holster that had clearly been stolen, “Good to hear. Ya can’t be too careful nowadays.”
Doug nodded in agreement.
“Well, come on then. I’m Jim.” he closed the gap and threw an arm around Doug’s shoulders, “I love welcoming new friends! I hope you’re hungry.”
The smell emanating from his new ‘friend’ was nauseating, but Doug followed along anyway. He hadn’t eaten any real food in days, so the prospect of being fed was very tempting.
Two more homeless men sat around the fire on park benches and picnic tables that had been moved from their original locations.
“Hey Jim?” one of them spoke with alarm as he saw them approaching, “Who’ve you got with you?”
“Don’t you recognize him?” Jim spoke enthusiastically, “It’s Larry!”
“How many times do I have to tell you?” the other man sighed in frustration, “Larry’s dead. He’s been dead for a long time, Jim.”
Doug raised an eyebrow in confusion and glanced at the man who had so quickly befriended him. It seemed Jim hadn’t heard the other man’s declaration at all considering he continued to lead him toward the fire. A small animal was being roasted on a spicket, and as they got closer he immediately recognized it as a cat. It still had its full fur coat, though now charred back.
Jim sat on one of the benches and gestured for Doug to join him. He sat down warily, making sure not to turn his back on the other two who were staring him down with contempt.
“So Larry, how’s the wife and kids?” Jim’s eyes appeared to roll back behind his sockets, “It’s been years!”
“He’s not Larry!” the other man roared and grabbed a baseball bat from a nearby tent, “This impostor isn’t welcome here!”
Doug jumped to his feet and raised his shotgun, “I’m just looking for food.”
“Aren’t we all?” the second man spoke gruffly. He too was brandishing his own shotgun.
I wonder if it’s even loaded?
Doug pointed his barrel at the sky and pulled the trigger. The loud gunshot echoed through the trees of the park and both men ducked for cover. Jim however seemed completely oblivious.
“I’ve got a lot more ammo where that came from!” he cocked the barrel again, “I know you’ve been ransacking local homes for food. Now show me your stash!”
The man with the other shotgun hesitated for a moment, and then dropped his empty weapon while raising his hands high in the air.
I knew it.
The other man also followed suit, whereas Jim continued to sit on the bench, seemingly talking to himself.
A lunatic, eh? Now that makes more sense.
“Hey Jim!” Doug asked him directly, “Can you show me where the food is? I’m hungry.”
Jim snapped his head up and smiled, “Of course, Larry! Anything for my friend!”
The other men scowled as Jim stood from the bench and began walking toward the small building that housed the public restrooms. Doug kept his aim trained at the other two while he followed close behind. Jim opened the door to the women’s restroom, and Doug’s jaw fell. Stacked nearly to the ceiling along the far wall were cases and cases of canned food!
He threw Jim his backpack, “I need you to fill this with as many cans as you can.”
Jim nodded and set to work immediately. After a few minutes, he dragged the heavy backpack across the floor.
“Here… you go… Larry.” he gasped between breaths.
With a grunt, Doug threw the backpack over his shoulder and strapped it on. It was heavy, but not terribly. Staring at the cases of food, he selfishly decided that he needed to come back for the rest of it tonight. There was easily enough there to last him a full year, if not longer. He’d just need to find a way to transport it…
Then he saw the pickup truck.
It was parked right up against the back side of the building. Clearly this was how they had moved the cases here in the first place. Doug glanced back at the other two men, who still had their hands high in the air but were obviously fuming.
“Jim, go start the truck.” Doug instructed.
The other man who hadn’t spoken yet chuckled, “That truck ain’t goin’ nowhere! It don’t have no gas!”
Doug rolled his eyes and sighed in annoyance.
Of course not.
“Who’s fault is that?” the second more articulate man jammed his elbow into the other man’s chest, “Charlie here thought it was a good idea to keep the truck idling with the heater running last night because he was a sissy and claimed he was cold!”
Charlie got up in the other man’s face and shoved him, “Oh, ya? Well, you’s the one that done hogged all them blankets for himself!”
Oh, this is just great.
The last thing he wanted to do was watch a couple of bums scrap it out in a fistfight. Doug weighed his options, then made a quick decision.
“Hey, it was great visiting with you Jim!” he smiled and nodded at him, “I’ll see you guys later.”
And with that, he darted back toward the entrance of the park. He glanced back to see the two men attempting to pursue him, but Doug was too fast for them despite the extra weight he was hauling on his back.
Warfare (DarkForce: A GameLit Saga)
Copyright © 2021 R. M. Mulder
All rights reserved. Except for the use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, no known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the authors imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This edition published by arrangement with the publisher.