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Authors: Joe Nobody

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Pedestals of Ash

BOOK: Pedestals of Ash
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Holding Their Own III: Pedestals of Ash

By

Joe Nobody

Copyright © 2012-2013

Kemah Bay Marketing LTD.

All rights reserved.

Edited by:

E. T. Ivester

Contributors:

D.
A.
Hall

D. Allen

T. Baughman

www.holdingyourground.com

www.prepperpress.com

Other Books by Joe Nobody:

- Holding Your Ground: Preparing for Defense if it All Falls Apart

- The TEOTWAWKI Tuxedo: Formal Survival Attire

- Without Rule of Law: Advanced Skill to Help You Survive

- Holding Their Own: A Story of Survival

- Holding Their Own II: The Independents

- The Home Schooled Shootist: Training to Fight with a Carbine

Holding Their Own III: Pedestals of Ash

 

Prologue

Julian Alvin Penderhurst
shifted his weight, leaning back in the well-worn chair. He reached with one hand
and
tugged slightly on his jean
s
,
before raising his feet to rest on the large oak desk. His
intense
, black eyes matched his hair, short beard
,
and
much of the tattoo ink covering his arms
. The
re was no mistaking the dark core
of the man or his mood.
H
is
posture
displayed an honest disregard for
the myriad of files and documents scattered on
the desk’s
surface. Sitting directly in front of the worn soles of his work boots was a sign that read “City of Alpha, Texas – Chief of Police.” Julian was not the Chief of Police
, nor had he ever met the man
face to face
.
This was a rare circumstance
,
as
Julian was
no
stranger to law enforcement
. T
he majority of his adult life had been spent in
the company of men such as the c
hief.

Julian had been arrested the first time at 12 years of age for petty shoplifting. His latest detention, just a few months ago, had been for armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. There had been so many arrests, warrants and convictions, Julian couldn’t remember them all. He had spent more of his 32 years incarcerated, than free.

A lifetime of experience in the criminal justice system allowed Julian to develop a multitude of skills and some very unique habits. For starters, anyone who called him
“Julian,” risked being assaulted
. His first prison experience as an adult taught him that the name Julian quickly became Julie, and that was definitely of the feminine persuasion. Not a positive situation for an 18-year old boy of average build, surrounded by larger men who had little hope, few options, and even less scruples. Over the years, the name Julian faded away, and Mr. Penderhurst had become known to everyone as Smokey.

The two men standing in front of Smokey were shifting their feet and moving their bodies as if they were scared. Smokey took a deep draw from the cheap cigar held between his thumb and forefinger and blew a perfect oval-shaped ring. The cloud formation drifted toward the man on the right, surrounding his face before dissolving into a greyish blue haze encircling the fellow’s head. Smokey’s lips curled just slightly at the corners in what amounted to more of a disapproving smirk than any resemblance of a smile.

“So,” his gravelly voice sounded, “this
one
man killed nine of our guys and wounded three others. We lost three trucks,
wasted 300 rounds of ammunition
,
and a motorcycle to boot. You dipshits also pissed away what…20 gallons of gasoline?”

The target of the smoke ring hesitated. “Umm…uh…yeah…something like that. But I’m here to tell ya, he was like a Green Beret or something. I’ve never seen anybody shoot and move like that.”

Smokey pondered the response. In a single motion, he lifted his boots off the desk and stood quickly. His unpleasant stare focused on the second man. “He was only one man – right? I mean, you guys had him outnumbered what – 20 to 1? Was he Superman or some shit? The caped crusader? Did bullets bounce off him or something? Do I need to give you clowns kryptonite or what?”

Small streaks of sweat streamed down the forehead of the man being grilled. Rather than answer, he used his shirtsleeve to wipe the perspiration from his brow. His partner couldn’t leave well enough alone and added fuel to Smokey’s fire. “We think it was the same guy who took out the sentries. He matched the description of the guy Hawk called ‘Bishop.’ He’s the same dude who busted up the ambush the night before at the carwash. The good news is he’s gone now.”

Smokey’s brow furrowed, and his gaze turned toward the ceiling as if to verify God heard the gentlemen’s recount of events. After receiving no comment from the heavens, Smokey shook his head and exhaled loudly. Moving like a striking snake, both of Smokey’s fists slammed down on the desk, causing the two men to jump and
turn
pale. Smokey roared, “Before we took over this town, all of you assholes were locked in your cells! None of you would have gotten out if I hadn’t set you free! When the man who owned this desk tried to lock us back up, I was the one who took him out. I was the one who led the fight. Do I have to do every fucking thing around here myself?”

Smokey stopped his tirade for a moment, his expression showing contempt for both men. The only reaction he received was two pairs of eyes shifting their focus to the floor. This didn’t please Smokey, and his speech became even more vehement. “Whose idea was it to bring every morsel of food you could find back here to the jail where we could protect it? Who was it that started recruiting all of those starving college kids? Who organized the kidnapping teams? Who had the idea to empty out the phar
macy and the liquor stores
first? No wonder you two got busted – you are so fucking stupid. You two are no higher on the evolutionary scale than pond scum, and I’m surprised your cells can divide. Please…please tell me neither of you ever fathered children. No wonder the damn country collapsed with idiots like you two walking around.”

The boss’ temper was legendary. When he paused, both convicts believed the scolding was over
,
and they relaxed. Smokey smiled, spreading his arms in a gesture of “
What the hell?”
The two men glanced at each other with relief, believing the storm had passed. 

Smokey acted as if he were rubbing his lower back, and instantly a .357 Magnum revolver appeared in his hand. Before either man could protest, a moist, crimson dot appeared on each of their foreheads. The two bodies slumped to the floor with a
solid thud while the room
echoed with the thunder of the pistol’s discharge.

Smokey turned back toward hi
s desk as the door burst open,
and several men came pouring in. The first one through was Hawk. He had known Smokey since their time together at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary. Hawk was Smokey’s right hand man and was clearly relieved to see his boss was the man still standing.

Smokey looked at the men crowding the doorway and motioned to the bodies on the floor. “Get those worthless, incompetent carcasses out of my sight. Dump ‘em along the road somewhere
,
and the feral hogs will eat ’em. They ain’t worth a minute of shovel time.”

As the two dead men were dragged from the room, Smokey motioned to Hawk and said, “Get everyone together, and I mean everybody. That bitch over at the church is behind all this, and I’m sick and tired of messing around with those holy rollers. We are going to storm that compound and take over this town once and for all. Is the tank ready?”

Hawk looked at his boss and calmly replied, “Just about. We
’re
still working on the driver’s compartment, but other than that, it’s all ready.”

Smokey didn’t hesitate, “Finish up as much as you can. We
’re
going to use it today and get this thing over with.”

Hawk could tell his boss wasn’t in the mood to debate tactics. Like his fearless leader, he was pissed that someone had invaded their territory and gotten away with it. He didn’t know for sure what Bishop had taken, but everyone believed he had pilfered some pretty valuable medical supplies and equipment. There was probably some great prescription drugs heisted as well. All that medical stuff should have been theirs to use. No matter, Smokey was right. There weren’t enough resources in the town for two different camps. The people at the church had to go.

“You got it, boss.”

 

Chapter 1 – Bishop’s Trek

 

The West

Cracks and channels, craters and crevices,

Mark her ancient face.

Veins of color cross her surface

And yet display such grace.

Dry and yellowed,

Dusty from age.

Swirled and straightened,

Brushed with sage.

Widened, flattened,

Peaked and troughed,

A vast expanse of space so rough with age.

 

DALH, 2010

 

Bishop was having trouble maintaining focus. The inside of his mouth and throat felt like he had swallowed a handful of talcum powder. The lining of his nose was so dry it bled. He couldn’t make spit, and his tongue kept sticking to his teeth. The last few precious drops of water had been sucked through the tube of his camelback hours ago, and that hadn’t exactly been a geyser of refreshment. He started cursing himself for not refilling it before leaving Alpha, but then stopped.
No
, he
thought;
don’t be too harsh on yourself. You were a little preoccupied.
As he replayed the last 48 hours in his mind, the irony of it all dawned on him. Surviving four exhausting skirmishes and a minor concussion didn’t mean squat now. Now the desert air was the reaper, and she was a dangerous, merciless bitch. A passing impulse to grimace was stopped cold, the effort sending pain shooting across dry, blistered lips.
All those dudes were wasting their time trying to kill me
, he thought.
They should’ve saved their energy and let the desert do the job.

He paused to look at his surroundings for what had to be the tenth time in the last hour. It wasn’t so much in anticipation that anything had changed, but rather an excuse to give his aching knees and sore feet a break.

As he sluggishly shifted his gaze across the desert terrain in front of him, he struggled to think of a more desolate place. He’d never felt any desire to visit Death Valley or the Bonnevill
e Salt Flats – being raised in w
est Texas
,
he’d seen enough scorched landscape for a lifetime of memories. Perhaps
those places
were as void of feature as the ground ahead. The moon, no doubt, was just as lacking of vegetation and life. He’d worked in Afghanistan, both in the pine-infested hills of the north and the destitute, parched south. Even the deserts of the Kandahar Province were graced with the occasional splotch of green here and there. In this place, he was completely
surrounded by sterile and ugly.

Bishop was more aware than ever of the weight of the rifle slung across his chest. His movements were uncharacteristically slow, as he unhooked the sling and propped the weapon against his leg. He glanced down at the normally spotless carbine and grunted. A thin layer of crusty sand covered the rifle like the crystalline topping of a sugar cookie. Bishop had escaped from Alpha via a hijacked off-road motorcycle, and the weapon had been swung around to his back. The rooster tail of dust created by the bike’s rear wheel left a coating of gritty earth that he hoped wouldn’t cause a firing malfunction.
Not that there was anything to shoot at,
Bishop mused.

He sighed and continued scanning the surrounding area. To the west were barren foothills, colored mostly in a depressed and faded hue of yellow, accented with the occasional
blotch
of sun-blanched grey. Too steep to climb, but not commanding enough slope to provide shade, Bishop considered the mounds as something God had left unfinished, incomplete
,
and without purpose. The land directly in front of him was flat and just as worthless. There wasn’t a serious undulation as far as he could see. Broken hunks of sandstone, both the color and size of his boots, littered the ground everywhere. He hadn’t seen a single living thing for the past three hours – not even the small lizards so common in the southwest could survive here. He could see the floor of the valley spread out far to the east until the heat mirages rippling through the air obscured the image. In the distance beyond, The Fort Davis Mountains stood forebodingly dark and angry.
Who could blame them
, thought Bishop.
If I were stuck with this view in my backyard, I’d be pissed too

Bishop took off his hat and tucked it under his arm, running his hands through his filthy hair. Terri and a pair of dull kitchen scissors kept it short. His wife loved to tease about putting a bowl on his head and making him look like an 80’s punk rocker.
I wonder if I’ll ever get a real haircut again.
His scalp should
have
be
en
damp with perspiration, but it was bone dry.
It’s the damned air.

His mind drifted back to the time when he was a child living on a ranch not too far from where he was standing right now. His after-school chores that day were interrupted by a desperate sounding horn in the distance. A small crowd of ranch hands gathered around as a speeding pickup skidded to a halt, quickly enveloped by the pursuing cloud of dust. The ranch’s foreman jumped out of the truck as the pack of men approached and solemnly peered into the bed. Bishop knew his place as a boy – especially when something important distracted the men. He was to remain quiet and stay out of the way. As usual, curiosity got the better of him, and he carefully wormed his way around the crowd until he could peek into the back of the truck. He recognized one of his dad’s coworkers lying flat in the bed. The man wasn’t moving.

A quick, intense discussion ensued, and then just as suddenly as it had appeared, the truck sped away, being chased by the dust. Bishop watched the fast-moving vehicle bounce along the washboard dirt road, growing smaller and smaller as it approached the horizon. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see his father gazing down at him with a serious look on his face.

“Bishop, do you know what happened to that man?”

Bishop blinked and switched his gaze back to the distant speck, quickly fading from view. “No, sir.”

“Son, I’ve taught you how important it is to drink lots of water when it’s hot outside. How the body needs the water whether you’re thirsty or not. That man didn’t drink enough water, and now he’s very sick. He may meet his maker before the day is out…God help him.”

Bishop digested his father’s words and then looked around. “But dad, it’s not hot out today. I’m not even sweating.”

Bishop’s father sized him up and then motioned for the boy to follow. “Come over to the bunkhouse, son. You’re old enough to understand this now. This is an important lesson for you.”

Bishop followed his father to the rough wood-planked building that served as quarters for all of the single ranch hands. Since Bishop’s mom and dad had split, father and son had been required to move back in with the other non-married men. Bishop didn’t mind the new accommodations so much except for the racket at night. He had a recurring nightmare of being attacked by grizzly bears, only to wake up and realize the sound wasn’t from a bear at all, merely a chorus of snoring men. The noise ranged from the gentle wheezing of one older cowpoke to several full-fledged, “shake the bunkhouse to its foundations” snores. Falling back asleep with that medley of exhausted men was never easy, regardless of how tightly he wrapped the pillow around his ears. His father was one of the worst offenders, but that was different. No matter what caused young Bishop to waken, no matter how much the dream had shaken him - everything was okay if his father were sleeping soundly in the next bunk.

On that day so many years ago, Bishop followed his father into the kitchen area, or the grub parlor as the men called it. They entered a small room that housed
a hand
operated pitcher pump
and a wood-burning stove. There were shelves along one wall that must have been painted a dozen times over the years.
Random
layers o
f
color had worn off here and there,
leaving a
n
abstract
impression
of a space that was old and tired. Stacked on each shelf were the dishes, pots, and pans used by the hands. While the main meal of the day, supper, was served in the big house, the men used this area to fix lunch buckets in the morning before heading off to work remote parts of the ranch. Bishop shied away from this place because it meant washing dishes, and that was his least favorite chore. While his father rambled through the cabinets, Bishop’s attention was drawn to his favorite place – the tack room.

Even today, isolated and unsure of his own survival there in the desert, thoughts of the tack room brought a painful smile to Bishop’s cracked, dry lips. As a small boy,
that room
was off-limits unless he was specifically asked by one of the men to fetch something. He remembered
that
smell, that glorious, intoxicating aroma of rawhide saddles balanced on rails
,
and bridles lining the walls. The scent was of working leather, sun cured, and sporting a history rife with toil. Some of the saddles were reserved for the 4
th
of July parades in Alpha,
strikingly adorned with highly-
polished silver studs and buckles. Those shining emblems were like Christmas lights to Bishop - rare ornaments in an otherwise bleak and dusty world of a working west Texas ranch. The room’s real magnet for small boys was in clear view from the doorway. Along the back wall hung the men’s pistols and holsters, now mostly used for show. Bishop had intently absorbed the bunkhouse stories of daring Indian raids and brave cowboys barely holding off Comanche warriors. A young fellow with quite the vivid imagination, Bishop recreated battles using a stick rifle and firing pretend bullets at attacking savages crouched behind the barn - after his chores were done, of course. His fantasy was interrupted by his f
ather’s pumping
of the cast iron handle
, and he knew well enough to snap to attention.

His dad removed a sponge from the dishwashing sink and dampened it under the running well water. Saying only, “Feel this,” he handed it to Bishop
.
Doing as
he was instructed, the boy
watched as his father waved the sponge in the air a few times. His dad waited a bit, and then passed the sponge to Bishop to touch again – it was bone dry!

Bishop had seen some of the ranch hands do card tricks and had even once watched a man dressed in black coat and tails slice his femal
e assistant in half at the 4-H F
air in Alpha. Bishop’s voice
sounded
astonished, “Dad! I didn’t know you were a magician.”

Bishop’s father laughed, tousled the young boy’s hair, and replied in a serious tone. “Bishop, I’m going to tell you again, son, you don’t have to be hot or sweating for your body to lose water. Today, the air is sucking the water out of everything, including your very lungs as you breathe. On days like this, drink more water regardless if you feel hot, cold, sweaty,
dry,
or thirsty. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

That day had been over 30
years ago, and Bishop had never appreciated the lesson more than this afternoon. He knew a man could normally last a few days without water - but not today. The humidity must be below 5%, and the air was draining his body with every breath.
Of all the days to be without water
, he thought.
If I don’t find some soon, I won’t have to worry about this sore back and dirty rifle.

In his mind, Bishop determined he would walk a hundred more steps before he rested again. He re-slung the rifle and started counting. As he headed north, he planned to complete the majority of his journey to Fort Bliss at night. Since he was traveling through west Texas, water would be spotty. The few widely known lakes and springs would most likely attract refugees, and after what he had just experienced, he wanted to avoid people. Traveling at night would be cooler, require less water, and help him pass through unnoticed. 

He also needed to rest and re-inventory his pack. He had been using a lot of ammo and wasn’t sure exactly how much reserve was left. His current predicament would be even more complicated if his supply of lead were as low as his water. He mentally estimated a three-day walk to Fort Bliss if he traveled from dusk to early morning light. Bishop knew he could shorten that distance if he trekked through El Paso, but the risk wasn’t worth it. Every scrap of information, rumor, and just plain old common sense screamed, “Avoid El Paso!” The few drifters passing through Meraton whispered wild stories of horrific scenes and terrible circumstances in that west Texas city. Bishop figured there was some exaggeration involved, but his narrow escape from Houston tended to lend some credence to even the most farfetched claims. He judged their tall tales had some foundation in truth. 

On the third set of 100 steps, he had to fight down a strong urge to take off his pack and leave it behind.
I can move on ahead, find water, and then come back and get it,
he kept telling himself
.
It took all of the discipline he could muster to overcome the impulse.

On the fourth iteration, he noticed that the landscape was changing around him. His route was now gradually sloping downhill, and an island of vegetation lay ahead. The small clump of cacti was mostly dead, but it was the first life he’d seen in hours, and it immediately improved his morale.

BOOK: Pedestals of Ash
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