Authors: William Allen
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Post-Apocalyptic
HARD RAIN FALLING
WALKING IN THE RAIN
Copyright April 10, 2015
By William Allen
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All Rights Are Reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
For my family
In retrospect, leaving Chicago was the smartest thing I ever did. Although the trip was stupid dangerous, and until I got to southern Missouri, I met few people who weren’t out to kill me and take my stuff; I managed to help a few people along the way. I learned a bit about survival, used some ideas I got from books, and got to be pretty handy with a knife and pistol out of pure self-preservation. I was content to just continue living in my solitary, perpetual survival mode… until I met Amy. It was Amy who gradually taught me what it was like to be human again.
Stopping to help Stan and Ruth Schecter was another turning point for me. Amy and I risked our lives to save the couple and their little girl, Sophia—again, credit to Amy for convincing me to set aside my reservations and act. I had already learned the hard way that three dirt bags was my limit—still was, but I got a little help from our new friends that time.
We made quicker time of our travels after that, using a truck we liberated from the men who had unwisely attacked the small family. From there, we picked our way across the rest of Arkansas until reaching the Keller homestead outside Gentry.
Once at the farm, I wanted nothing more than a few days to rest up and resume my journey, but the refuge offered by these amazing people got me to thinking. My feelings for Amy had continued to grow, or
as the girls might say, and I worried about her safety for the next leg of my journey home.
Home was in northeast Texas, on a little ranch outside Ripley. My father and grandfather ran a cattle and horse ranch there on land that had been the family for over a hundred years. My early years were spent bouncing around the country from one post to another as my father served in the United States Marine Corps. At some point, my parents had a heart-to-heart, and we moved to a house my father had built on the family spread. He went out on seemingly endless deployments, but at least Momma, Paige, and I had a place to finally call home.
That was where I was headed now, with more than half of the trip behind me. But now I had Amy, and I didn’t want her living the same kind of nomadic lifestyle as before. So I made a deal. I’d stick around and help get the security set up and when I left, Amy would be free to stay. I did it without consulting Amy and lived in dread when the time came to reveal my deception.
Of course, I would need to live long enough to face the music with my girl, and a couple of times I doubted I would have to endure Amy’s wrath after all. We kept getting in scraps, fighting off an influx of raiders that turned out to be even worse than we first thought. They were truly evil, not just hungry people trying to feed their families. I never felt any guilt about killing these men and at times felt like I was doing the world a favor. I also had to face some unsettling truths about myself.
By the time I had to admit my underhanded plotting to Amy, though, another opportunity presented itself. With the Arkansas National Guard struggling to hold the state together, the Keller family managed to form a mutually beneficial relationship with the local Guard commander. Of course, before that could happen, I found myself stupidly drawn in the worst fight of my life. That day, while trying to hold off a horde of furious slavers, I realized I was not cut out for this adventuresome sort of lifestyle—nearly getting killed seemed to have finally taught me my limits.
On the other hand, that mindless bit of bravado did bring me to the attention of Colonel Hotchkins. He had an offer that I couldn’t refuse; one that would bring me closer to my ultimate goal and also allow Amy to come with me. The world was still a dangerous place that was growing worse every day. With his offer I could hope to keep Amy safe as we traveled with a military escort for at least part of the remaining route.
I didn’t want to jinx myself, but things were finally looking up.
The Colonel wasn’t at all what I was expecting. From the way Captain Devayne spoke of the man—of how he managed to hold the brigade together through tough times and hard circumstances—I expected him to be a larger-than-life character, maybe a real, live Captain America. Costume and all.
Instead, I found a flesh and blood mortal man, dressed in a clean but obviously work rumpled uniform, and I wondered how he managed to mess up his clothes this early in the day. Either he got up really early, or he was still working from the night before.
He had salt and pepper hair, and his dark brown eyes regarded me with a sharp intellect. Seated, I couldn’t tell his height but he had the greyhound lean features of a distance runner and the smooth mannerisms I’d seen in some martial arts practitioners. As I was sizing him up, the colonel was likewise giving me a careful once-over.
“You’re a little bigger than I was expecting,” Colonel Hotchkins finally said, gesturing me to one of the guest chairs in front of his desk. “Reading Captain Devayne’s report, I pictured you as a half-starved street urchin like something out of Dickens.” He added that last little bit with a good natured chuckle and I nodded, since it was pretty close to the truth. In the last few weeks I’d actually managed to put on enough weight so that I no longer resembled a scarecrow.
“No, Sir. I’ve managed to claw my way back up to skinny, instead of skin and bones.”
“That’s some feat, given current conditions, Mr… I’m sorry, couldn’t seem to find a mention of your last name anywhere in this report,” said Colonel Hotchkins.
“Please, just call me Luke, Colonel.”
“Fair enough, Luke. I appreciate you meeting with me this early. As I am sure you can imagine; my schedule is pretty packed these days.”
That was just Colonel Hotchkins being polite. When you are a civilian refugee and the brigade commander requests your presence at 0630h, you made darned sure you arrived early. Or so I was told by the sergeant who appeared at my door and rousted me from a perfectly pleasant dream.
Although, when he went to shake my arm, he hadn’t been expecting the pistol I pressed to his head…
I was curled up in a bunk with Amy in the transient enlisted barracks. The mattresses were lumpy, and the beds were awfully narrow and short (my feet stuck out over the end), but we were accustomed to such things and had been sleeping soundly when it happened.
“Whoa, whoa,” he’d said, the cold metal barrel dimpling his forehead.
“What do you need?” I asked; my brain still fuzzy with sleep.
“The colonel needs to see you ASAP, sir. And you need to get that gun out of my face.”
“Sorry, Sergeant, I’ve spent too long out there,” I said sheepishly, not even trying to explain what I meant by ‘out there’. Of course, he’d been the fool who’d thought it a good idea to invade my space in the dark.
The sergeant acted suitably chastised, and I made a production of passing the Glock off to Amy as I got up to splash some water on my face and slip into my boots. I’d slept in my pants and a tee shirt, so putting on a fresh long sleeved denim work shirt only took a second.
As I sat with the Colonel, I remembered the hassle of just getting here. Obtaining permission back at the armory in Fayetteville to get our weapons on base had proven to be a challenge from the start. I’d refused to travel without them, and Captain Devayne was more than sympathetic, to say the least—he’d figured out a loophole and hired us as civilian security contractors. We got to keep our sidearms but checked our rifles and shotguns at the base armory; well, except for the crate of gear we were hauling. Those items just stayed padlocked and we kept them with one of us at all times.
Upon arrival at the Fort Chaffee in-processing center, we’d then produced our temporary ID cards and a copy of the contract signed by the captain. The deal might have been a little shady, but by now the military was used to dealing with contractors of various sorts—even contractors who looked too young to drink or vote.
The contract simply identified us as “Luke and Amy Landon”; which was hilarious when Amy claimed that made us officially together. She nearly cried when I told her it was our engagement announcement, but she managed to keep it together… barely. Honestly, inside I felt the same way. My identification card also read “Landon” but I didn’t say anything about using Amy’s last name.
The thing about keeping my last name off the books was not me trying to be mysterious. It was the same reason only Amy knew our final destination. Whenever asked, I simply said “Northeast Texas” and left it at that. I had a family out there to protect, and no intention of bringing scrutiny to the ranch.
“Hey, Luke, can you get us some breakfast?”
That was from Lori in the bunk over ours. Amy and I were not traveling alone for this leg of the journey. But that was a worry for later, I was off to see the colonel.
“I read all of Captain Devayne’s report, Luke,” Colonel Hotchkins said, jarring me back to the present. “I was particularly interested in what you had to say about our counterparts in other states. Are you certain it was Colonel
Abbott over the camp you observed outside Jefferson City? What was the source of that name, if I may ask?”
“Certainly. He identified himself as such every morning when he lined us up for inspection. I’m not sure what was being inspected, but he always had a little speech prepared for us while the guards tore apart our tents looking for contraband. It included him introducing himself to all the new guests.”
“Okay. Got it. And this bit about the ‘comfort girls’? Was this a rumor you heard or…”
Colonel Hotchkins let the question hang for a long moment.
“We saw it going on, Colonel. The soldiers bunked in a separate, guarded section of the camp. The girls were allowed to use the showers and eat in the military mess hall after the soldiers finished. And no, these were not wives or other dependents. Most of them barely had any clothes, for one thing. They were treats the colonel rewarded his best soldiers with—the ones that brought in the most salvage and such.”
Hotchkins nodded; his face expressionless. I wondered if he was really that unaffected or if he was just really good at controlling his reactions.
“Well, this is most distressing news; but not completely unheard of. Reports have been circulated in certain circles about Guard units either disbanding or going their own way. Early on, we had our own problems making sure our dependents were provided for while trying to do our jobs.”
“And the federal government is doing what in all this, Colonel?”
Hotchkins gave me a grim smile before answering.
“That is the question, Luke… that is indeed the question. Some FEMA and Homeland folks have taken action, for good or ill, but this has been on an individual basis. We have State Emergency Management personnel who are trying to work with their federal counterparts. I’ve been informed the official party line is the federal government is ‘carefully studying the situation and formulating a nuanced response’. And that response was something I’ll wager the unnamed official just made up out of thin air.” Even the colonel couldn’t keep a straight face at that last little tidbit.
“Seriously? Every day they waste, thousands die and we lose more cities and infrastructure,” I complained, knowing my complaints meant nothing. Colonel Hotchkins was already overstretched doing what he was. To my surprise, he admitted as much.
“The cities are already lost, Luke. Fort Smith, Fayetteville, and Little Rock are all in the hands of looters and rioters. I’m sure it is the same all over the country. I can’t imagine how bad it must be in the Northeast.”
“Well, like I’ve said before, Chicago is a dead zone. From what I saw in the first week, everybody still alive was streaming out of the city and overwhelming the suburbs. It was like being in the middle of a tsunami of people. I bypassed every city or larger town I passed getting here. And I try not to even think about how bad it must be in New York City.” I finished with a shiver and the colonel nodded before continuing.
“The Governor has relocated to Camp Robinson, since much of Little Rock has already burned. He’s there with the reorganized First Brigade under General Tomzerak. Robinson is the headquarters for the Arkansas National Guard, and we’ve essentially split the state’s resources by consolidating everything into these two brigades. Still, we would need ten times our manpower to make a dent in the lawlessness out there.”
“Colonel, I know the concerns of my little group are trivial compared to what you are already dealing with. We’ll try to stay out of the way and pitch in where we can to help; but making nice with your counterparts in Oklahoma could definitely help your overall situation.”
Unless they are starving and coming for your food, I thought to myself. That the situation was untenable in the cities was driven home yet again when our convoy came under attack just trying to get through the gate to Fort Chaffee. I knew the windshields of the armored Hummers were vulnerable to .50 caliber rounds, but thankfully it was just small arms fire. Still, from inside the vehicle it felt like a heavy hail storm—very un-fun feelings all around.
Of course, the convoy was not just for the four of us; three of the Humvees were converted to ambulances and arrived full of injured Guardsmen. They had mostly been patched up by medics in their own units, but only Fort Chaffee offered enough specialized care for the worst cases.
“And why is that, Luke?” Colonel Hotchkins again gave me one of his grim but amused looks as he spoke.
“Well, when I looked up McAlester in the base library I found out a few things. Did you know McAlester is home to the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant?”
Colonel Hotchkins actually laughed at my question before answering.
“Actually, I did know that. They make a lot of artillery shells and bombs there—or they did—and you might be right. Those might just come in handy.”