THE COLLAPSE: Seeking Refuge

BOOK: THE COLLAPSE: Seeking Refuge
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THE COLLAPSE:

Seeking Refuge

By:  Frank A. Kaminski © 2015

PROLOGUE

This is definitely not intended to be a spoiler here, but a vast majority of the setting of this novel is at Deception Pass State Park in Washington State.  For those of you that have never been there, it is an exceptionally beautiful and well-maintained park with a gorgeous lake and miles of hiking trails.  Not to mention the breathtaking blue waters of the Puget Sound itself!  The campground is an extremely popular tourist destination during the summer, and if you don’t have a reservation, well, you might as well not even
try
to get a site on a weekend.

For those of you that have had the pleasure of visiting or camping at Deception Pass, you may notice a discrepancy or two within the chapters of this book.  Please, do not get upset when you come across any of these!  Just smile to yourself that you know better, and keep on readin
g

I purposely added those discrepancies to go along with my plot.  Since this is fiction, anything is possible!  Thank you for taking the time to read my book, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it down.

Chapter 1

HIGHWAY 20 WESTBOUND

2.5 MILES OUTSIDE BURLINGTON, WASHINGTON

 

Fish fired his M-4 automatic rifle at the two sedans and the mid-size SUV that were following him.  Just a couple of shots, enough to keep the followers a safe distance away that their handguns would be useless. 

With fuel being as scarce as it was during The Collapse, Fish figured that the followers would shortly abandon the pursuit.  There was no need to waste ammunition if he didn’t have to. 

Fish was riding in the bed of his jacked-up Ford F-150 along with a tarped-down load of survival items and supplies.  He had been riding in the bed of his own truck as a security measure, and it was a smart move.  The thugs that were chasing them wanted whatever they could get their hands on, and
who knew
what else.

Fish’s best friend, Stephen Alexander, was behind the wheel of the truck.  The rest of Stephen’s family was inside the truck as well.  The road had been relatively clear as they evaded the thieves up to that point, but not anymore.  Stephen gasped as he noticed a long string of unmoving vehicles randomly scattered throughout the road ahead. 

“That is not good!” Stephen exclaimed as he pointed at the metal monsters in the distance.  His wife, Tarra, acknowledged the new obstacles.  Her brain was functioning in overdrive.  She had to think for Stephen.  He was too preoccupied with driving to accomplish any type of effective brainstorming.  She knew that males could only concentrate on one thing at a time.

Stephen began evading all of the wreckages and abandoned vehicles.  Fish could no longer aim his rifle properly as he was tossed around in the bed of the truck along with all the boxes, bags, camping gear and jugs of water.  Hell, he could barely hold on!

“Stevo, they’re starting to catch up!” Fish yelled inside the truck through the open rear sliding glass window.

Stephen glanced at his rear view mirror and replied, “I know, but there’s too much shit in the road!  Just shoot them!”

Fish grimaced, and spun around to attempt firing a few more shots.  It was pointless, though.  He just simply couldn’t take aim.  It would be a waste of precious ammunition to even try.  To make matters even worse, the bandits began firing their handguns at the truck.  Fish was forced to take cover amongst the supplies.  He cursed.  If only there wasn’t so much damn debris in the road!  At the present range, he could easily take out the drivers and wipe out all three of those vehicles!

Tarra, who was riding shotgun (literally, she had a shotgun), suggested to her husband behind the wheel, “Just drive into that field.  I don’t think they will be able to follow us through all that mud.”

“That sounds like a good idea, but what if
we
get stuck?” Stephen asked, dubiously. 

Tarra shrugged and said, “We gotta do something!  I don’t think we’ll get stuck, but
they
definitely will.”

It was early March in Washington State, and since The Collapse had begun, nobody had performed any maintenance to the empty strawberry and tulip fields that lined Highway 20 near Burlington.  Leaving the road would be a dangerous gamble.  Fish’s truck had enormous off-road tires, but what if the fields were too mushy from all the recent rainfall?  Then what?  They would be sitting ducks for the thugs, that’s what.  Eventually they’d run out of ammo and be overrun.  Most likely just as all the cars and trucks that Stephen was avoiding on the road had been.

A bullet suddenly struck the right rear window pane and it shattered loudly.  Stephen and Tarra’s twin six-year-old daughters in the back seat screeched in terror and held each other as they quickly laid down flat on the seat.  Pharaoh, the family’s German shepherd, who was also in the back seat along with the twins, began barking furiously as the girls had taken cover.  The bullet had exited the truck through the roof between Stephen and Tarra, and they had both flinched. It’s one of the scariest feelings in the world, to realize that a bullet had just passed by so near to your body.

“That’s it, enough is enough,” Stephen said to himself over the dog’s loud barking as he scanned the ditch on the side of the road for an entryway.  He had to get off of that highway. 

And soon.

Stephen yelled over his shoulder, “Fish!  Hold on, buddy!  We’re going off road!”  He prayed that his best friend would be able to hear him over the truck’s engine and Pharaoh’s barking.

“Do it!  I’m good to go!” Fish hollered back through the now non-existent rear window panel.

Stephen spotted a tractor access path and cranked the steering wheel.  The truck’s transmission thunked as Stephen threw it into four-wheel drive and met the soft earth as gently yet expediently as he could, considering the circumstances.

It was a successful entry!  The truck’s big, knobby tires gripped the moist earth and Stephen was relieved to notice that he had traction.  He goosed the gas pedal and the Ford’s V-8 engine roared as he accelerated and drove the beast at an angle away from the road towards safety.  Fish did his best to hold on, meanwhile attempting to keep everything underneath the blue plastic tarp from bouncing out of the truck.  Unfortunately, a red two gallon gas container had flown out. 

Naturally, the dickweed driving the SUV had tried to follow them, but ended up in a spinout not more than a few dozen yards into the field.  He must have been a typical SUV driver, thinking that he could drive just about anywhere.  The two sedans didn’t even try to brave the field.

As Stephen carefully drove further and further away from the road, Fish watched a lone man in the distance walking toward the plastic container lying in the field.  It was a loss.  There was no going back for it.

 

*****

 

Fish jumped out of the back of the truck and landed on the flattened dirt path that separated the fields.  Stephen had stopped the truck at a four-way intersection of the paths that split the four fields into huge chunks.  He had assumed that the westbound leg of the small road led back to a regular road, since he could see a large house and a barn in the distance.  They would need to make sure that the bandits weren’t waiting there to ambush them.  Stephen thought that it might be a good idea just to drive back through the field to Highway 20 somewhere ahead of the string of disabled vehicles and continue on from there.

Stephen and Tarra asked the Kays (a nickname for their twins, derived from the names of Kyla and Katrina) if everything was okay with them.  They were fine, a bit shook up, but fine.  The parents climbed out of the truck to meet with Fish on the road.

Fish said to Stephen, “Yo, that completely sucked!”  Then he pointed up at the bed of the truck and added, “You beat the shit out of me in there!”

“Sorry, man.  I couldn’t help it,” Stephen replied.  But he knew that Fish was okay, because he was grinning.

Tarra asked the men, “Now what?  Where do we go from here?  We are in the middle of a fricken field right now.”

“Well,” Stephen started, “I have three options to suggest.”

“Let’s hear them, big dog!” Fish said, still smiling.  He was hyped up from all the action that had just ensued.

“Option one.  We try to find a detour around Burlington somehow to avoid all those thugs and whatever else is happening there.  Our gasoline is limited, though.”

Tarra immediately responded before he could continue, “No way.  You saw how bad it looked once we had crossed under I-5 into the city.  Uh, uh, nope.  We’re not trying that again.”

Stephen shrugged and nodded in agreement, then continued with, “Option two, we go back home.  Wait it out there for another month or so until those people in Burlington either starve to death or kill each other off.”

Fish laughed and said, “Really, dude?  After we just packed up to get the hell out of there, you want to go back home?  What about TC and the AWOLers, you know that they are gonna come back for us, right?  Not that I would mind another opportunity to kill TC, but I’m thinking about the rest of you.  Especially the Kays.”

“It’s just an option,” Stephen replied.  “Which leaves us with option three. We ask those men on the bridge at Deception Pass if we can stay with them for a while at the campground.”

Tarra’s eyebrows raised, signaling Stephen that she probably liked that idea best.  Fish’s grin elongated, and Stephen knew what was coming next.

“Yeah!  Let’s do that!” Fish exclaimed.  He put his hands in the air and did a little dance in the dirt.  He shouted, “I’m a celebrity there, let’s go!  Woohoo!”

Stephen chuckled at Fish’s display, then said, “The thing is, we don’t know anything about those people.  We don’t know if they will even let us stay there.”

“They will,” Fish said confidently.  “I know they will.”

Tarra added, “If they don’t, we can always continue on home and stay there, like you said,
temporarily
until the shit simmers down in Burlington.”

Stephen nodded at Tarra and said, “I guess it’s settled then.  Let’s roll.”

As Fish scaled the tailgate to get back into the bed of the truck, he noticed the smell of alcohol.  It was very strong and overpowering (and quite familiar to Fish.).  He lifted the blue plastic tarp to investigate, but he was pretty sure he already knew what it was from.

“Damnit!” Fish shouted.

“What?” Tarra yelled from the front seat over her shoulder, worried.

“A couple bottles of the Gentleman Jack that Margaret gave me broke open,” Fish replied, sadly.

Stephen shouted, “Nothing we can do about that now.”

“Yeah there is,” Fish started, “Stevo, can you drive slow through the field, please?  I don’t want any more of those to break.”

 

*****

 

After an uneventful passage from the field to the bridge at Deception Pass (with no more broken bottles), Stephen saw the same men guarding the bridge that they had encountered earlier in the distance.  The men had seen the truck approaching, and had pushed the same two small cars into the road to block the bridge, presumably to request the same “toll” they had asked for the first time: 50% of whatever cargo they were transporting.  The men on the bridge were still unaware of who was approaching, although Fish’s truck was quite large and distinct.

Stephen said to Tarra as they nervously approached, “I hope this doesn’t backfire on us.”

“We don’t have much of a choice, do we?”

“True.”

Fish stood up in the back of the truck as they neared the men on the bridge, and began waving excitedly as if to say,
“Hey guys, it’s me!  I’m back!”

The same man that had been the spokesperson during their first encounter appeared to be in charge once again.  As Stephen cautiously brought the truck up to the roadblock, the spokesperson recognized them and smiled.   He signaled to the rest of his men to lower their rifles.

The men must have recognized Fish and the Alexanders as well, because they immediately pushed the two cars off the road for them to pass.  But Stephen did not drive forward as they had anticipated.  Instead, he opened the truck’s door and got out of the vehicle.  Fish also climbed out of the truck and joined Stephen on the road.

“You’re back,” the spokesperson said.

“We are,” Stephen said.

The spokesperson looked at the two men and asked with a curious grin, “Social visit?”

“Not exactly,” Stephen started to explain as he watched Fish shake hands with all the delighted men that had formerly aimed rifles at them. “We were wondering if you had any vacancies left down in the campground.”

“Hmm,” the spokesperson began, “we’re pretty selective about who stays here with us, ya know?”

“I can understand that,” Stephen said and nodded.  Fish had finished up shaking hands with the other men and moved to the spokesperson with his hand outstretched.

“Aw, c’mon dude!  You
know
you want us to stay here!” Fish blurted, grinning, as he shook the spokesperson’s hand.

Stephen added, “We’re willing to earn our keep.  We also have some serious firepower to supplement your operations here on the bridge.”

“Operations?!” the spokesperson exclaimed as he raised an eyebrow and laughed. “You guys are military, eh?”

“Aren’t
you
?” Stephen asked, confused.  He had assumed that the man was military, judging from his conduct and leadership during their first encounter.

“You might laugh at this, but I’m actually a writer,” the spokesperson declared. “My name is Jason.  Jason Oxnard.”  Jason had yet to shake hands with Stephen and reached out to him.

“Stephen Alexander.”

“Nice to meet you, Stephen.  Or is it Steve?” Jason asked.

“Just Stephen.  This guy likes to call me Stevo, though,” Stephen laughed and thumbed his finger at Fish, who had forgotten to introduce himself to all the men.

“Oh shit, oops!  My name is Fish,” he said, sheepishly.  Fish raised his hand to all the men behind him that he had forgotten to introduce himself to while shaking hands.  The six men called out their names, quickly, one by one, as if Fish was actually going to remember all of them.

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