The next entry in the ongoing story, where reader comments guide the characters' actions as they struggle through an evolving society collapse. Read along and then share how you would react in the given scenario--I am looking forward to hearing from the tribe!
Chapter 3: Sucker Punch
Jack and Tex talked over their various options for fifteen minutes, and then consulted with Fiona, Esmerelda and Amy. The decision was made to wait a while longer for the others to show up; if they did not arrive and communications were not restored, then a scout party would be sent out to go look for them in the early morning. On the same trip, the scout party, consisting of Tex, Amy and potentially Jack, would also make stops by the group members’ homes to gather additional supplies.
In the meantime, the group would do what they could to prepare for and plan out their next moves.
The Rourke home had its own well for water, complete with a secondary, solar powered backup pump, solar panels and a small bank of deep-cycle batteries, so they were self-sufficient for their water needs. If the solar well pump failed, Jack had a small Yamaha generator, and Tex had a generator in his camper trailer. If those failed or ran out of gas, then there was a forest stream a short walk away and the group’s water filters for purification. And, of course, that was in addition to the considerable stores of water already in place—Jack had six blue, 55 gallon water barrels, stacks of bottled water and a half dozen 5 gallon military water cans. Tex had bottled water and military water cans in his camper, plus the camper’s drinking water tank.
In fact, because their water supply was in such good shape but the natural gas supply to their water heater uncertain, Jack insisted on warm showers for everyone who wanted one. If and when the gas supply went out, then Tex’s trailer would be the only source of hot showers. Like the barbeque, a quick hot shower was a welcome bit of normalcy that helped calm the nerves.
Between the Rourke’s food storage and what Tex had brought along, they had food enough for several weeks to a few months, so food was not an immediate concern. If the emergency extended beyond a medium-term problem, then they would run into shortages, but that was not an immediate concern, nor a problem they could immediately resolve.
The generators, solar panels and a good supply of batteries gave the group an adequate supply of electricity for the time being. Jack and Fiona moved some of the perishable food from the fridge to the deep freezer in the garage, and the rest went into a cooler with frozen bottles of water from the freezer. Rechargeable LED lanterns were used for lighting inside of the home.
Jack and Tex took it upon themselves to manage security for the time being. Aside from the scattered and inconsistent reports of localized rioting and looting heard over the radio, the group did not have a clear picture of what was happening around them. Their street was quiet, save for the background hum of generators running at several of the homes.
Both men carried pistols holstered on their hips—Jack, his Glock 17 with a Surefire weaponlight and Tex a blued Springfield 1911 with stag grips. Jack kept his AR-15 close by, and Tex did the same with a stainless .45/70 lever action rifle. They made plans to switch off watch in the middle of the night, with Jack sleeping first.
The home’s windows were already boarded up tightly, which gave the group an added measure of security, but also of course limited their view of the outside world. They decided that the man on watch would stay out in the front yard to keep an eye on their surroundings. Walkie-talkies were kept on, and it was decided that at least one other adult would remain awake at all times.
While Jack’s radiation meter was still reading normal, the group decided to camp out in the basement as a precaution. Blow up mattresses and sleeping bags were broken out, the couches pushed into service as beds and the children piled into the guest bedroom. To the kids, it was a sleep over. To the adults, it wasn’t home, but it was tolerable. None of them were really particularly interested in sleep, either, still recovering and adjusting mentally from the events of the day. Scriptures were read, prayers were said and the children, thankfully, went to sleep without putting up a fight.
Esmerelda and Fiona teamed up to measure and pre-cut the plastic sheeting from the hardware store into the right dimensions to cover each window, staging them nearby in case the decision was made to seal up the house.
Amy, still anxious and frustrated about the loss of communications, took it upon herself to monitor the airwaves. Jack dug his world band radio out of storage and handed it over to her. Within minutes, Amy had it tuned into a foreign news station. The group quickly gathered around.
“—launching the region into a full scale nuclear exchange,” said the British newscaster, “The Israeli military has issued statements claiming that its counterattacks against key targets have led to a decisive victory over the Iranian regime. Communications in and out of the region are sporadic, but the British Ministry of Defense has confirmed multiple nuclear explosions in Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as multiple explosions across Iran, including the capital city of Tehran.”
“Wait—Israel? This isn’t just us?” Jack said, echoing what the others were thinking. All were too enthralled in the radio reports to respond.
“Meanwhile, American and South Korean military forces are reporting open conflict along the Demilitarized Zone, as North Korean forces attempt to fight their way across the long-held buffer zone. North Korean government outlets have issued statements declaring a full state of warfare with the South, vowing not to cease hostilities until the democratic government turns over control to Pyongyang.”
“This is World War Three,” Tex said.
“The United States is still reeling in the aftermath of the twin attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. American authorities are struggling to get rescue workers closer to the blast zones in order to survey the damage and casualties, but initial estimates range into the millions of dead. Many outlets are reporting that the President, Vice President and other senior government officials were amongst those killed. Secretary of State Susan Hearst, on a diplomatic mission in China, has issued a written statement claiming temporary authority to act as President of the United States.
“In addition to the attacks, there are numerous reports of far ranging failures in utility services across the country. Entire regions of the country have become communications black holes, with a complete loss of phone and electric services. There are no official reports from American sources on the cause of these outages, but sources in the Ministry of Defense have speculated that they may be due to an act of cyber-terrorism. No nation or group has yet claimed responsibilities for the attacks.”
“United Nations representatives and Heads of State across the globe have pledged solidarity and assistance for America, and anger over the attacks…”
Jack had to sit down.
“I don’t understand—what does this all mean?” Esmerelda asked. The question hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, the broadcaster’s voice filling in the void.
“It means we got sucker punched. Broadsided when we weren’t paying attention,” Tex finally said, frustration and simmering rage clear in his voice. Jack nodded.
“I think you’re right. My guess—Iran, North Korea or someone like them was in on the attacks today. As long as the U.S. was playing policeman of the globe, those guys couldn’t fight the war they wanted—attack Israel, invade South Korea. So, you sucker punch America, like Tex said, catch us off guard and distract us for long enough to fight your fight.”
“And what better way than to knock out D.C. and New York, and then turn the cyber nerds loose?” Tex added.
“But that is suicidal! Surely they can’t think we won’t fight back,” Fiona said.
“Will we? No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks—will we launch nuclear warheads on a country because we have a hunch they might have been behind the attacks?” Jack responded.
“We damn well better nuke them all back to the Stone Age,” Tex said.
“Kill them all. Every last one of them,” Amy added coolly, tears rolling down her cheeks. Again, there was a long pause as the others tried to gather their thoughts.
“Look, that problem is out of our hands. Regardless of what the military does, now we know more about what is going on out there. We know what is happening overseas. We know why the power is out and why the phones aren’t working. If those outages really are due to some kind of cyber terrorism, then I’ve got to think we will be able to get the infrastructure back up and running eventually. And, given that the likely suspects seem to be preoccupied fighting their wars, I would think the chances of any other serious follow-up attacks on the U.S. are pretty low. So, things are bad, but there’s a good chance they won’t get any worse,” Jack said, realizing that it was a small consolation given the magnitude of the events they’d just learned of. The world was at war.
The discussion continued as the radio sounded in the background, various so-called experts and field reporters joining the program with their own theories of what was going on around the world. The reports offered speculation and minor details of the attacks and the conflicts raging around the world, but little else of real substance, save cautions about radiation for citizens in states bordering New York and D.C. Eventually, they shut the radio off—it was causing more stress, angst and frustration than good.
Despite the news, the group’s plans did not materially change. Hunker down at the Rourke house, at least until the threat of fallout passed.
With mixed feelings of anger and despair, all of the adults had trouble getting any rest. The night dragged on. Eventually, with sunrise approaching and still no sign of the Blackwells or Kyle, the scout party organized for their trip.
The final decision was made to take two vehicles, with Jack joining in. Tex and Amy would ride in Tex’s diesel 80s-vintage Chevy pickup, Jack would ride in his Tacoma. Two vehicles gave them redundancy in case something broke down or got stuck.
Amy declined the offer to carry a firearm on the trip, and only reluctantly agreed to come along in order to ease any concerns from neighbors when they swung by her home to retrieve additional supplies.
After some discussion, the men decided to carry their pistols, which were covered by their concealed carry permits. They had some concerns about police roadblocks, searches and similar, so they decided to leave the bigger long guns at home. Jack brought along some serious backup in the form of his AR-15 pistol—a short barreled AR-15 that lacked a proper stock, and because it was legally registered as a pistol, was also covered under his concealed carry permit. It was light and maneuverable in tight quarters, and the buffer tube, inherent in the AR-15 design, almost made up for the lack of a real stock. The AR pistol also concealed well inside a gym bag, and along with a bandoleer of magazines, gave Jack more than enough firepower to deal with whatever he thought they might face.
Similarly, trying to maintain a low profile, they wore normal street clothes—jeans and button-up shirts. Communications would be maintained by walkie-talkies. They tossed get home bags packed with water, some basic food and other supplies into the vehicles on the off chance that they had to hike home.
With long guns passed out to Fiona and Esmerelda, Jack and Tex hugged their spouses goodbye, and then loaded up and headed out, Jack taking the lead in his Tacoma. They’d drawn out a route that would take them to the Blackwell’s first, then to the MacNab home, then along Kyle’s estimated route of travel, and then stopping back by Tex’s home on the way back.
“Hope they’re safe back home,” Tex said into the walkie as they pulled onto the country road.
“They will be. Momma bears with guns are not to be messed with,” Jack responded.
It was just before dawn, the night sky barely beginning to show the first few signs of giving way to the morning light. The road was quiet and empty. They took back roads towards the Blackwell’s home, passing by the shopping center Jack had visited the day prior. The usual 24 hour gas station was closed and security grates had been pulled over the grocery store’s doors and windows. The center looked like a ghost town, save a police cruiser parked in front of the hardware store, headlights on. The cruiser made no move to follow as they passed by.
“At least it looks like there wasn’t any trouble here,” Jack said.
“Yep, but they ain’t exactly wide open for business, Rourke,” Tex transmitted back.
As they travelled onwards, gradually moving into worse parts of town, more signs of trouble began to emerge. A car, flipped on its roof, pushed to the shoulder of the road, broken glass still strewn across the asphalt. A drug store with windows smashed, security grate torn out of place, lying wrecked in the parking lot. A man only in boxer shorts, wielding a baseball bat and a bottle of cheap malt liquor, stumbled down the sidewalk. The drunk seemed totally oblivious as they sped past.
They turned off the main road and onto another that led towards the Blackwell’s neighborhood.
“Almost there—a couple of miles to go,” Jack said.
“Yep; stay frosty,” Tex responded.
Turning onto the Blackwell’s street, Jack’s internal alarm bells started to go off. There was trash and debris strewn all over the place—broken chairs, beer bottles, an ancient flat screen TV riddled with what looked like bullet holes. The charred wreckage of a 90s vintage Chrysler sat in the driveway of a mobile home, the home’s front door flapping in the wind. Two thirds of the way down the block, the remains of a large bonfire smoldered in the middle of the street, a half dozen mattresses and a handful of camp chairs surrounding it, with a variety of beat-up cars parked alongside the makeshift campsite or angled across the street. Even with his truck’s windows rolled up, Jack could hear and almost feel the booming bass that echoed from one of the car’s stereo systems.
The mattresses and chairs were definitely still occupied but at the distance and in the darkness, it was difficult to make out details. The lack of movement suggested the people were sleeping. Jack guessed the group to be easily twenty people, quite possibly more.
Jack put on the brakes and flipped off his Tacoma’s headlights, hoping that the group hadn’t yet noticed him.
“Kill your lights. Big group up ahead, camping out in the street. I’m going to guess they’re the ones that made this mess—want to avoid dealing with them if we can,” Jack said into the radio.
“Roger that. Can we still get to the Blackwell’s or do we have to go through the camp?”
They would have to navigate a few obstacles—a flipped over kitchen table, a torn open bag of garbage being picked through by a stray dog—but the campsite was set back a hundred or so yards from the Blackwell’s home.
“Yes, we’re good. Follow me in,” Jack said, stepping gently on the gas. He was glad for the loud music—it would hopefully cover the sounds of their engines. They moved in closer and around the obstacles, closing in on their destination.
The Blackwell’s front yard was partly obscured by a large tree in their neighbor’s yard. As the view cleared, a scene of horror came into focus—the shirtless body of a tattooed black man, face down in the middle of the walkway. The front door, with holes kicked into it, set back off its hinges.
“Crap Tex, something happened--looks like a dead guy in their yard!” Jack shouted, reaching for the AR pistol and drawing it from the duffle bag, a feeling of panic starting to set in.
“Wait, what?” came Tex’s confused response.
Jack stepped on the gas, racing the last few hundred feet towards the Blackwell’s home. His mind seemed to almost stall out for a moment, overwhelmed by the combination of adrenaline and honest to goodness horror. He struggled to determine what to do next. Who should go into the home—him, Tex—both? How? They weren’t a SWAT team—what if the home was occupied? What if—heaven forbid—the Blackwells were hurt? What about the gang camped out a stone’s throw away?