Category Archives: Fiction Novel: What if Martial Law Were Declared

What If Martial Law Were Declared in America Part Eight: Out of Options

This is part of our free, online and highly-praised survival fiction novel. You can read the rest of the parts here.

The winter holidays came and went. Marlee doted over her new colt, and worshiped the ground under Harlan’s feet. She watched over it like a brooding hen, often staring out the window for hours as the colt pranced about in its new coral.

Her father and her had built the structure out of saplings, and constructed a roof from their bows.

January was a harsh month, temperatures remained well below freezing for weeks. Marlee and her father worried over the colt, and decided to build walls for its small shed to stable the young foal. During the inclement days, he would need a straw bed, but Harlan managed only two bales when he returned that Christmas. Poor Tom would have struggled bringing more than the total five bales. It would have been too much for the big mule.

Marlee and her dad gathered spruce bows to lay under the sparse hay. This would form the bed for the foal that spring. It would keep the young thing up off of the frozen ground during the evenings.

Harlan told her that young colts will lie down quite often in their first year or so, until they gain enough strength to sleep standing as adult horses do.

Harlan purchased Marlee’s foal from a rancher. The same rancher he had bought the big mule from years before. They had been lifelong friends. Bill Mowatt was a horse rancher that lived north of Mayerthorpe in a dead end valley all his own. He was a 5th generation rancher, and with very little persuading, Harlan told the story of the young girl and her love of the animals.

Bill easily let Harlan have the colt for a reasonable price, and Harlan paid the man using his share of the gold-dust that he, and Murphy had panned months before.

After the exchange, he loaded up big Tom with as much feed and straw as he could haul, and left the ranch behind him that mid-December. They hauled a full pack, with three bales of Timothy.  Along with that were two bales of straw for the animals, and a supply of staples for the group. It was all Big Tom could bear. The trio hit the trail during the last moon that month. The snow lay deep, as deep as eight feet in some parts of the pass. It was passable through the trees where at times it was far less. The struggled along avoiding the dangerous tree wells, that could swallow a horse if one ventured to near.

It was a grueling trip, not that Harlan had not seen worse in his many decades of traveling the western mountains.

The extra weight of feed was not difficult at all for the great Mule. Tom seemed to enjoy hauling it through the deep snow. He only got nervous when it hung up on the narrow portions of the trail.

Harlan never took chances of injuring his big Mule, he talked to the pair as if they were lifelong friends. They walked the path quietly home, enjoying the solitude, and tranquility of the northern forest. Tom pulled the heavy load over the snow trails with ease, and the group slowly made their way back toward their valley, and their waiting friends.

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When winter was finally over, the last cold snap being more than two weeks ago. March rolled around, with temperatures returning to near freezing. This indicated the coming spring was finally on its way.

The few birthday celebrations and spring holidays over the months had lessened the doldrums of winter, and were a welcome break as they longed for the coming spring.

The snow on the beaver pond had melted several times and refroze. It frequently pooled on top during the thaws, and then refroze. This created the perfect skating conditions for the residents. They took the opportunity to play friendly games of ice hockey. Taking advantage of the smooth ice that had formed at its center.

None of them owned any skates, but merely slid about the ice in their boots. They used homemade hockey sticks taken from the curved alder saplings growing along the edge of the pond. The beavers had conveniently chewed the bark from the choicest sticks making them look almost homemade. The sticks resembled old fashion golf clubs that might have been used when the game of golf was first invented. They made use of whatever was handy for a puck. Sometimes using frozen horse turds as these were far easier to find then chasing a bouncing puck, lost in the deep snow surrounding the pond.

Marlee thought the horse droppings were most amusing, and giggled every time she got a shot at the goalie. She would then apologize for the rudeness and laugh.

Harlan… being Harlan, and always up for a challenge while never wanting to be left out of the activities, tried to play along… using his enormous make shift hockey stick, he hacked at the bouncing frozen puck, and despite his old age, he managed quite well.

Marlee always insisted she be on Harlan’s team, and helped the big man score three consecutive goals to win the coveted Michael’s Valley cup. That was the name of the valley by then, in honor of Bob’s Grandfather.

The young girl would pass the turd to the old man, as if she was his star wing man. They would race down the entire twenty-five yards of ice, passing back and forth. Harlan would pound the frozen lump toward the goal, using his massive stick, and score.

They were a team to be reckoned with. Everyone rolled about on the ice with laughter after Harlan made his final break away to score the victory goal.

Bob, liked being the goalie, and laughed uncontrollably, whenever letting them slide past him just to see the young girl’s beaming smile when they scored.

On one particular warm afternoon about mid-March, the group of friends crowded in the corner of the pond fighting for a bouncing puck. Hacking at the frozen block buried in the snow. It bounced above their flailing sticks, in a flurry of snow and wood, until someone connected and sent it flying toward the goal.

The group scurried behind the bouncing block, each trailing behind like happy fools that often fell in a heap laughing uncontrollably at the absurdity of it all.

During one of these sudden skirmishes, a loud bang occurred and the ice sank beneath the group’s feet. The dark water bled through brown looking like tea, as the crack expanded all around them.

Bob, Logan and Murphy still laughing… escaped without even getting their feet wet, but the young girl… Marlee sank beneath the rotting ice.

She disappeared out of sight within seconds.

A shock spread through the adults, as their panic set in. They gasped in horror at the finality of it all. Harlan reacted quickly as he was nearest, not hesitating. He dove head first into the frigid waters, right after the young Marlee. He did not even remove his buffalo hide coat, and followed behind the young girl into the dark waters. He disregarded his own safety and the icy chill.

His great bulk forced a wave of dark water up, and over the gaping hole in the ice. It splashed rolling across the white surface. Then turned the rink dark for an instance, before it dissipated beneath the crusted edges of the rink. The horrific gap widened in the ice as a result of the day’s warmth. Their game had become too close to the entrance of the beaver lodge where it always melted first.

This is where the feed pile of vegetation gives off warmth in its decaying, and the beavers frequently travel beneath the ice creating a thinning of the ice by their comings and goings throughout the spring season.

Harlan knew this all too well from years of trapping, but the frantic game and the fun they were all having, prevented him from heeding his own notion of safety.

The deepest part of any beaver pond is usually in this area as well. It is maintained at a sufficient depth by the animals to cover their entrance, and submerge the feed pile below the ice. The beavers will dredge the area in front of their entrance to maintain a sufficient depth.

It helps deter the many predators from entering the lodge during the summer months as well, and allows them free access to their underwater feed pile during the winter.

Most times it is deeper than even the big man Harlan can stand in, usually five or six feet beyond the thickest winter ice.

Several moments slowly passed as the group stared in horror. Harlan and Marlee were simply gone beneath the ice. The turbulent waters slowly settled and quieted for what seemed an eternity. The helpless on-lookers watched in shock as the turbulence settled.

Marlee’s father rushed toward the opening, hoping to save his darling girl, but before he could reach the boiling hole. The surrounding ice cracked beneath his feet. He did what he could, trying to lay flat. He crawled forward over the fracturing ice to distribute his weight more evenly. It was hopeless, a large sheet of the rotting ice broke free and Logan barely had a chance to push back in time before the sheet slid under the still solid surface.

Harlan, and Marlee were gone. Below they were fighting the blackness to get back to the opening in the ice above them.

Lynda screamed in horror, “Do something Logan!” Logan, without thinking, slid into the frigid water and frantically pawed beneath the solid ice using his hands, hopelessly diving beneath the dark surface. He came up three times, and slumped over. Murphy and Bob pulled him free, nearly succumbed. The men tried to locate Harlan, and the young girl, using their sticks. Their combined weight broke through the ice as they approached, not helping the situation at all.

Bob, reacted quickly, despite the ongoing panic, and dashed toward shore. He fell a dead tree, hacking at it with a nearby ax the group had used to create the skating party’s bonfire. He pushed the tree over toward the hole in hope that it might act as a pier for the ones in the water. The branches fell over the hole, and slapped at the still waters.

Murphy next sprang forward and quickly made his way out onto the ice sheet using the tree. Lynda screamed hysterically, horrified for her young daughter. While using the fallen tree like a makeshift foot bridge, he inched forward. His weight was too much for the rotting surface. He made his way toward the icy waters, and the missing skaters, as the branches sank beneath the brown water. The terrified group milled about in horror, unable to think of what else they could do. How could such a fine day go so wrong?

Suddenly an explosion, as Harlan erupted waist high above the murky, cresting in a great splash a miracle, holding the young girl in his huge hands. He literally threw her from the water with a heroic force. She flew above the ice, straight at her father’s waiting arms.

Logan grabbed for his daughter’s limp body, and immediately wrapped his coat around her, hugging her tightly and crying as she slowly came to life. The tiny girl coughed up the dirty water from her gasping lungs. She was alive…

Harlan flailed about in the brown swamp, weighed down by the massive Buffalo coat. It pulled him down to the bottom of the mire twice before he could get a firm hold of the ice. He pawed at the tree limbs gasping, and they broke, and bent beneath his flailing arms.

Murphy extended a hand to pull in the mountain man. His massive size was just too much for the rotting ice, and Harlan knew this. The exceptional morning was to warm. Perhaps it would have held them both but, by afternoon, the sun had rotted the ice far much.

That morning, perhaps it would have held them both, but the warm afternoon sun had rotted the ice too far. Murphy nearly tumbled in after his friend if Harlan had not let go when he did… Harlan knew that both men would have ended up in the icy waters.

Even while using the felled tree, it could not bear their combined weight. The tree simply sank uselessly beneath the muddy opening.

Harlan yelled at Murphy in a great booming voice, “Get back, I’ll get out on my own.” He shouted as he flailed at the branches.

“Get that girl home NOW,” he yelled so loud Logan jumped… realizing he was still standing there with his daughter, watching the spectacle.

The drowning man struggled to pull himself from the icy waters, and slowly succumbing to the frigid temperatures. Even the great Harlan Pettimore could not get out of this predicament this time.

Lynda and Logan wrapped their little girl in their dry jackets, and raced to their cabin as fast as they could. They needed to remove her wet clothing and warm the poor girl by the woodstove before she yielded to winter’s bony grip on her.

Despite Murphy and Bob’s efforts, Harlan could not be saved. Murphy managed to scrambled back to shore, as the tree was not enough to hold the great man’s weight. Harlan was weighed down by the massive coat, and simply too large to climb out on his own.

He slowly stopped struggling in the frigid waters. His heavy coat clung to the man like a death shroud that might as well been made of iron.

He fought and each attempt dwindled in effect, barely able to keep his head above water he stopped struggling. It was hopeless for the great man. Without any way of pushing off the bottom, Harlan had no way to climb up onto the ice or the tree.

He waited panting from the excursion as his breathing slowed. His strength leaking away by the deadly cold.

Harlan shivered uncontrollably, his body fought to stay warm. Icicles formed on his white hair and beard.

He looked up with a glassy stare, and spoke calmly to the Bob, and Murphy,

“Now, you young fellas, I’ve been in some pretty tight spots before.” He paused to catch his breath, another tremor over took him.

His face was losing its cherry hue.

He continued, “This might be the tightest spot yet,” his chest heaving under the strain. “But… I need you two to listen to me, okay?” The men nodded from shore in affirmation.

Each dying a little inside as they watched Harlan slip away in the frozen pond.

Harlan gulped for air. It looked odd… to see steam began to form on the water around the hole, making it look as if he were in a warm bath.

“Go and get me some rope,” he tipped his head toward the cabin, using every ounce of his being. “Elly… or Tom, bring ‘em down here,” he gasped again for another breathe.

He calmed himself, and slowly continued, “bring ‘em down here to haul me out… They’ll mind you Murphy, you go quick, they know you best. You RUN… hard now, son… do as I say.” Murphy took off like a scolded cat. He covered the quarter mile or so across the field in record time.

Harlan looked thoughtfully at Bob now, “you pile some wood on that fire Bob, make it big… I might need to get warm after this.” The words were an understatement.

When Murphy arrived at the cabin, he was shaking with adrenaline. He grabbed Elly’s halter hanging from the tree, and fed the bit into the horse’s mouth, then slipped it over her head.

Elly seemed to know something was up, she took the bit without any fuss, sensing Murphy’s panic in his manner.

He grabbed the lariat from the tree, and swung himself onto the painted horse’s bare back. He kicked at Elly’s sides using both heels, and blazed across the open meadow toward the pond.

The snow flew up in muddy chunks high behind Elly’s hooves as she covered the distance like a barrel racer. Murphy drew near the pond and saw Bob had piled timber on the fire in an attempt to create a raging bonfire. The flames rose high above the nearby scrub. Murphy knew what Bob was attempting to do. He felt the heat as he approached the pond. He assumed Bob was attempting to get it ready for Harlan.

Harlan would need to warm himself as soon as he was pulled from the icy waters. The chances were not good that the big man would make it to the cabin before the icy temperatures killed him, if he made it at all.

When Murphy rode up, Bob was frantically throwing branches on the blazing fire. He knew Harlan was right, and Bob knew at Harlan’s age… his chances were slim that he would survive such a shock to his heart, especially after spending that much time in the icy water. Even at his great size, the waters would reduce his core temperature rapidly. He would most likely have a heart attack soon.

Elly jerked to a halt when she saw Harlan in the waters, she swung her head wildly up and down, and whinnied. She seemed to know instinctively not to walk out on the ice, but tried anyhow.

The paint horse pawed at the shallows, breaking the thin ice beneath her hooves, and she scrambled back with fear. Suddenly she started bucking for no reason, just sheer excitement. Murphy jumped to the ground, and calmed her. Talking to her quietly. He needed her to remain calm to pull Harlan from the waters.

Meanwhile, Harlan had grown so weary he could no longer shout at his Elly, not even to calm her. He called out to her, spouting frozen whispers through chattering teeth… making garbled noises, not words. He talked to himself incoherently now, as he slouched lower in the waiting mire.

Harlan had been hanging on by only one arm for twenty minutes or more. All the color had drained from his face… it now had a ghostly grayish hue. He was near unconscious and yet still hanging on.

Bob could hear the man’s teeth chattering as he watched helplessly. His friend was now slowly succumbing to the frigid waters.

“Harlan,” Bob yelled at his dying eyes, “Murphy’s here, you hang on, you hear me?”

Bob waited for any sign that Harlan understood.  He yelled again, “We’ll get you out of there right away. Just you stay calm.”

Harlan was delirious, he seemed to be in his own world now. No doubt wrestling with death himself.

He looked like he was rapidly slipping away, and Bob knew it would not be long. He shouted again at Harlan, repeating his name over and over.

Bob’s training in combat had honed him to such predicaments, he often, was called to men near death. In a sense Bob, had kept them from drowning beneath their grim embrace of the war and death. Many times he had shouted at dying men in combat. It can sometimes bring them back from the abyss. When men are slipping into unconsciousness from wounds, drowning beneath that inevitable end, the medics and the corpsman of war do try, and attempt to snatch back those souls from that final sleep. Often, the medics would yell their names at their faces, jolting them into wakefulness, and turning them away from that long nevermore… that end.

Shakespeare put it as, “To die: to sleep; No more… To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil…”

No one knows… thought Murphy. He readied the horse and rope.

“HARLAN, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” Bob’s shouts were barely enough, he nodded feebly, and lifted his one arm out of the icy water… a mere reflex.  It wouldn’t be long now, Bob knew they had to get him out soon.

“MURPHY HAS GOT ELLY… YOU’LL BE ALRIGHT NOW… YOU HANG ON… JUST ANOTHER MINUTE… OKAY, HANG ON.” Bob shouted at his friend. The old man nodded, looking far beyond hope.

Harlan appeared to be drifting off as if he were falling asleep.

The effects of his drop in body temperature was causing sluggish behavior.

Bob, knew it soon might induce heart failure in such an old man as Harlan, and yet somehow the mountain man hung on. He certainly was as tough as a pickax handle, and yet that may not be enough to save him this time.

Of all of Harlan’s adventures and dangers he had faced over a lifetime, an afternoon hockey game was to be his end.

Harlan whispered things toward the sky. It reminded Bob of the first day he met the man, and how he would speak to the sky sometimes. He stared up at the sun, on that blue day… It was a good day to die… he whispered to himself. No one else could here him now…

Murphy ran to the edge of the pond. He swung the lariat at Harlan’s head. Harlan grabbed for the line but his hands were too stiff. He simply could not grasp the rope. He moved an arm but had no control over his fingers to close over the thin rope.

Bob shouted at Murphy, “Use a loop, and throw it over his head.” Murphy pulled the rope back furiously, and did as he was told. He opened the lariat, and readied himself to swing it over Harlan’s head.

Bob held up a hand to halt Murphy for an instance to first talk to Harlan. He yelled at Harlan again, “HARLAN, I NEED YOU TO LISTEN… LISTEN TO MY VOICE…” He smiled at the dying man. Harlan then looked back at Bob.

Bob, spoke carefully, “RAISE ONE HAND OVER YOUR HEAD,” Like this. He demonstrated to the big man what he meant, mimicking the motion of a raised arm.  “MURPHY WILL LASSO YOU,” he nodded as he stared into the man’s dimming gray eyes, and Harlan nodded back.

He surely was the toughest man Bob had ever known.

“YOU NEED TO GET THE ROPE UNDER YOUR SHOULDER SO IT WON’T CHOKE YOU__ DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME HARLAN?” Harlan nodded again, bleary-eyed.

He was barely able to move his head, but he held on. The surrounding water rippled from his convulsions. His body fought against the cold.  He tried lifting his right arm, it failed to move, the strength needed to hold on and stay above the water was just too much. It prevented him from using his strongest arm.

Bob knew that, if Harlan let go, he would surely sink to the bottom.

“Use your other arm Harlan,” he spoke quietly now, as if he were sitting across from him at a dining room table. His calm tone jolted the dying man awake again, and he smiled meekly at Bob… “Ah, John there you are,” he was delirious now. Bob knew Harlan thought he was his grandfather, John Michaels.

Harlan raised his left arm. It shook …as if he were holding some great weight above his head.

He slowly extended the arm above the steaming water.

Murphy swung the lasso at the shivering fist and missed with his first toss.

Bob shouted at Murphy, “CONCENTRATE MAN.”

Murphy quickly pulled the lasso in and readied for another throw. He used a larger loop this time, and threw it hard, and right over Harlan’s trembling limb. It fell all around Harlan’s body, ending up diagonally across his shoulder and chest just as Bob had hoped.

Murphy ran with the lose-end of the rope, toward Elly. He didn’t have time to saddle the horse before riding to the scene, and all he could do now was toss the lose-end over the paint horses back, and grabbing it under her belly he wrapped it across her chest. He held it firmly in a fist, as he steady her, patting her shoulder. Elly seemed to anticipate the move, crowding Murphy in anticipation. She nearly stepped on his foot with her nervous angst, as she readied to pull Harlan out.

Murphy held the rope fast, keeping it taught, and wrapped it in his hand. He backed the animal away from the hole, pushing her chest as he backed her up.

The animal stepped lively toward the meadow and Murphy held the Lasso firm.

She pulled so hard that Harlan groaned from the force on his chest. It was crushing him against the still solid ice surrounding the hole. Harlan wailed from the pressure.  The force made Harlan come to his senses. He had stopped responding to Bob’s yelling by now, but suddenly brought back to life by the pressure on his chest.

The big man filled his lungs with one heroic breath, and let out a wild growl, like some angry bear. He shoved down hard on the ice with both arms, breaking a sheet off beneath his great weight. Elly pulled on the big man and lifted him and the broken sheet across the solid ice, like a sled. Harlan rode the sheet out over the brown water in a large dirty wave of water, and he spilled out onto the solid ice.

He cursed aloud from the pain and the cold, as the air hit his drenched body. He lay there shivering exposed. The air temperature was much colder than the water and it hit him like an electrical shock.

The true thing that kills a person in ice water isn’t just the temperature, It’s the direct contact with an inexhaustible draw of body heat such as water. Water is always above freezing, the danger is the fact your body temperature will never warm the massive body of water you are laying in, and so your body’s heat is continuously wicked away from you, and death’s cold fist slips in to claim your life.

“Damn it boys, get me the hell home,” he gritted the garbled words through clenched teeth, and shook uncontrollably.

Bob dashed over to his friend. He quickly untied the rope from his chest allowing him to breathe freely, and began rubbing his arms and legs to increase their circulation. He shouted to Murphy, “COME HELP ME GET HIM OVER TO THE FIRE,” he threw his coat over the big man’s body.

Harlan was a heavy man, and made all the heavier in his wet Buffalo coat. Bob and Murphy frantically stripped him of the massive hide, and struggled to drag his shivering body through the crusted snow. They brushed off the frozen crystals of ice from his wet leggings and laid him near the blazing bonfire. Time was of the essence to save this man’s life.

Within minutes, steam was rising from his darkened buckskins. The fire roared above the men’s heads. The flames melted the snow and ice in every direction. Melt water pooled around the fire, creating a moat that crept toward Harlan’s shivering body, now exposed to the winter breeze.

If he were left alone, he would have fallen into the growing pool and died on his own. It was forming rapidly around the bonfire. He lay helplessly, shivering, lying in its melt water. Bob slapped at Murphy’s arm, and yelled, “Let’s get some evergreen for him to lay on.”

The men split up, and ran for the nearby trees, wading through hip deep wet snow, they gathered the evergreens needed to save their dying friend. When they returned only minutes later, they found Harlan had passed out from the shock.  His head had slumped to one side.

Bob shed both gloves and checked for a pulse, he quickly rolled the big man on his back. With all his might, he grabbed under his arms and heaved. He began dragging him up onto the evergreen bows. Murphy took both legs up under his arms, and lifted with all he had.

They lay him on the dry bows, and Bob raised a clenched fist high in the air and punched down hard on Harlan’s chest with such a force, Murphy thought he heard a bone break. He began CPR on his friend.

He crushed downward, pumping with all his weight, up and down, up and down, trying to revive his failing heart. Stopping just momentarily, to check for breathing and some sign of a pulse.

He repeated the procedure five or six times, then stopped to check again.

First he listened for breathing, then pulse. He repeated the steps over twenty times. Periodically checking his vital signs, but nothing…

Bob looked gravely at Murphy, but continued… determined as he went through the motions for another fifteen minutes.

Murphy suddenly envisioned Bob on the battle field, dressed in his fatigues, with enemy gunfire spraying all around him and his platoon. The vision filled Murphy with dread, it shook him back to reality.

Another twenty attempts went by…

Murphy touched Bob’s shoulder, and spoke to him calmly, “Bob.” He shook his friends arm slightly. Bob was still in a frenzy trying to revive the old man… pumping hard up and down on Harlan’s lifeless body.

He violently tossed Murphy’s hand from his shoulder, and continued. “He’s not dead,” he shouted at Murphy without looking up from Harlan’s face. He checked his eyes for life… and continued.

“Bob,” Murphy try again to calm his friend. “BOB,” he shouted at him, and touched his friend’s shoulder again. “He’s gone…let him be.”

Bob desperately pumped on the man’s chest two more times before the notion settled in his mind. His friend was gone. He gave one final blow to his chest, and slouched back by the man’s side, “Damn you Harlan, why’d you have to go, and die?”

He shook his head as beads of sweat dripped from his forehead, and stared at his friend’s lifeless stare. He whispered the words directly at his friends face, “Why did you have to die, you bastard?” Murphy and Bob sat back on their haunches …as a light snow began to fall all around them. Bob let his arms fall to his side from exhaustion, and stared down at Harlan’s blue frozen face. His mouth, gaped wide, revealing that golden tooth… that so often flashed when he smiled.

“Marlee’s going to be heart broken,” Murphy said softly to himself… as he too stared at his friend’s lifeless body. The sudden image of the little girl reminded the two men about her battle too. “I hope she’s alright,” Bob spoke calmly as if in a trance.

He looked stone-cold, stoic, even after losing his friend he was still a soldier at heart. He shook it off, and moved on. It was like so many other losses in his life, he said, “We better check on her and see how she is doing.”

The two men sat heart broken, and didn’t move for several more minutes. They pondered, and stared at Harlan for what seemed an eternity, still their dear friend did not move. The snow slowly fell, and covered his cooling body. Murphy felt gloom as the snowflakes fell and refused to melt on Harlan’s forevermore vacant stare.

“What are we going to do with him, Bob,” Murphy asked… unable to process what to do next.

“I mean we can’t just bury him, not in this frozen wasteland. Perhaps we should bring him to the cabin until spring and the thaw is here…”

They agreed, and still stared at their friend. They felt down hearted as they felt they would need to prepare themselves before telling the others of Harlan’s death. They waited quietly horrified.

How could such a beautiful blue day end this way?

Murphy reflected back to that moment long ago, when Harlan and he were coming home from the gold claim, a few months before.

“I have something to ask you Bob. It’s going to sound weird, but I think I know how Harlan wanted to be buried.”

Murphy looked oddly at the body lying there. “Some of you are NOT going to like it,” he spoke humbly as he stared at Harlan lying on the frozen ground.

He then poured it out quickly as if it needed to be said all at once, to be said correctly, all while the snow continued to fall. It seemed odd, and while watching the flakes settle on his white beard, he again realized Harlan was truly gone.

Murphy spoke the words directly at Harlan’s face, speaking softly as if he could somehow still be heard by the old man. He paused for a moment, waiting for some confirmation. Oh how he deeply wanted it, if only he would say something once more, and open his gray eyes once again…

Bob looked over to Murphy with a questioning stare, and squinted through the now blizzard of white falling all around the men…he shook his head slightly, “Why, what do you mean?”

“He told me when we were riding back from the gold claim last fall, of how he wanted it…” He paused, again, “You know to end up… finally… for him.”

Bob, shifted from one knee to another as he crouched beside Harlan’s body. “Why what did he say,” he asked Murphy waiting for the words, and somehow knowing what they might be.

“He said he hoped the wolves and raves that had been following us that day, would feed off on his dead body. He said that to me that day; that was how he wanted to end up when he died.” To be left in the open for the animals to feed on.”

Murphy held up a finger, and smiled remembering the conversation, “As a matter of fact, I believe his exact words were as I recall them now.” They suddenly were resounding clearly in Murphy’s mind …as if Harlan were once again speaking them to him right then.

“I hope when I die, that those wolves out there, feed on my corpse. That would be how I want to end up. Let the ravens and crows, and magpies pick my bones over, let the mice nest in my skull, and the wolverines can crack my bones for their marrow. That is how a want to go out…”

“That’s ridiculous,” Bob said staring at Murphy in disbelief …feeling still aggrieved.  Then slowly the look of horror, melted away from his face and he laughed to himself and smiled, slowly realizing that it made perfect sense. “I’m sure Harlan would not want it any other way, and you and I will make it happen Murphy.” Bob stood up, “Come spring we’ll do just that.”

Murphy smiled, “I’m pretty sure that I know the perfect spot, too.”

“Where?” Bob asked…

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Weeks had passed by since the group had lost their friend. Marlee had pulled through the ordeal with flying colors, but she hadn’t taken Harlan’s passing well at all. She spent a lot of time by herself. This worried Lynda, and Logan. Then the day to of Harlan’s funeral had finally come. She seemed ready, and fought back tears when she saw the body again.

The group never got around to preparing the big man’s corpse over the weeks since his death. Murphy and Bob, did prepare him as best they could. His face had a sunken look to it, and his mouth had stretched into a horrible death scream. Murphy gravely said, “Marlee wouldn’t want to remember her friend in this state.”

It would be proper to hide the death face from her. The men decided to sew a canvas body bag for their friend. He lay quite stiff and prone, frozen solid… waiting on a bench that Bob had set for him, sheltered beneath the cabin’s over hang in the back.

He was now wrapped in heavy canvas, and laid under the overhang out of the weather. It had warmed, and was now time for the funeral. The trail north wound past the prescribed burial spot, and mostly cleared of deep snow. It was mid-April now. The several feet of snow that had accumulated on the trail during the winter, was mostly melted, and it was ready to travel once again.

Bob, and Murphy laid out the big man on the travois pulled by Tom. The mule knew his master had died, and pulled the body with slow and steady, as he headed north to the spot that the men had prepared a month earlier. They had built an elevated air burial plot, and by that spring day, the residents arrived with Harlan’s body, ready to pay their respects.

Marlee was dressed in her rabbit fur jacket she and Harlan had sewn over the winter from the furs she had snared. The girl held a bouquet of dry winter flowers to her chest. She had made them originally for her mom last fall, but insisted Harlan should have them instead, for his funeral.

The grim procession of residents made its way north to the clearing that Harlan and Murphy had watched the pack of grey wolves follow the elk herd many months before.

Murphy brought Bob to the exact spot last month to show him, and explained how he thought it should be prepared. The two men had cleared an area for the platform, and built it on the lower limbs of the great spruce. The same ancient tree that Murphy had lain against when Bob first found him a year ago, the same tree Harlan and Murphy stopped at when they water their horses that day the wolves were seen. The monstrous tree, was nearly three hundred years old. It was a fitting monument for any mountain man. Harlan had spent nearly his entire life in these hills, and he deserved to remain there eternity.

It was here where Harlan told Murphy of his desire to become part of the ecology in his own special way.

After Harlan’s death, Murphy had studied up on native Indian procedures, and after the tragedy at the pond, he looked up ways to accommodate his strange request, Murphy decided on an open air burial in the manner of the Crow Indians, using their burial style in the trees.

It resembled the method used by the indigenous plains Indians. The Cree and some other natives used raised platforms, some out on the prairies used stilts, and for centuries before the missionaries stopped the practice.

The Northern Crow burial however, was different, as they lived in the forested regions to the north, they used the limbs of great trees for their platforms instead of manmade stilts, like those needed on the prairies. This was how Murphy honored their dead friend… by laying him in the raised branches of the great trees, as if he were an offering. Trees such as the massive spruce have spiritual significance to many tribes. The old timers felt as if they had some power in them, and that no one could deny.

This burial seemed fitting, as the group gathered around the cloaked body. He lay peacefully across the low branches, as if his body was being held up in some great arms of the tree, she cradled him in her protective embrace, it was humbling to view the group gathered around their friend.

The men had selected the side that faced west, and chose the lowest limbs to the ground were the wolves might gather if they so wished, during the setting sun.

Bob knew from his trapping days, that even if the wolves could get at the body of Harlan Pettimore, they most likely would never feed on the corpse. The higher level predators rarely feed on human remains unless they are desperate. The task of consuming bodies is left to the scavengers, such as coyotes, ravens, and other small birds and animals.

No, it was unlikely that wolves, cougars, and bears would eat the remains. The whole idea seemed gruesome to Marlee at first. She respected Harlan’s wishes though, and accepted the strange request, never mentioning it again.

Again, a brilliant blue day appeared, just like the day Harlan and Marlee fell in the beaver pond. The sun was now sinking low over the west ridge. It cast long brooding shadows across the patches of spring snow, making them glow orange high on the slopes in the fading light.

The vigil gathered about their dead friend, ready to pay their last respects. Marlee stepped forward and reached up to the body first. She placed her dry flowers on Harlan’s chest, then wiped a tear from her eye. Lynda gently touched her daughter’s shoulder, and guided her back to her side so others may approach the body.

Bob was next, he placed his hand on the canvas were Harlan’s head was, and whispered a few words to him. He then backed away.

Murphy waited patiently until Logan and Lynda had paid their respects. Each person placing an item on or near the body. Then Murphy stepped up, his item was a gold nugget from their claim. He slipped it under the shroud, near Harlan’s heart.

He felt close to Harlan after their adventures at the claim …having spent a week with him up river. He felt obliged to speak on everyone’s behalf at this point.

He spoke as poetically as best he could. He began, “Harlan was a gift, like a warm Chinook wind, he blew into our lives quite unexpectedly, and melted our hearts. And just like those warm winds that melt the snow from our valley every spring. He too was welcome… as needed as those warming breezes are and now he is gone, just like those winds.”

Murphy was oddly humbled by the moment, and spoke openly.

“Harlan was probably the finest man I have ever known.” He, choke on the words, but carried on. He gathered himself, trying to continue.

“I have an old verse from a Celtic prayer… I wish to share with you all. I suspect Harlan would have liked it, or so I hope… I pray somehow he is still able to hear these words.”

Murphy pulled a small folded piece of paper from his breast pocket, and cleared his throat,

Harlan Pettimore if you can hear me… this is for you,” he nodded at the corpse lying before him.

May the warm winds of benediction blow hourly over your hallow grave, and may the glorious songs of the wild things exalt their hymns forevermore in this your heavenly valley.”

The group lifted their heads…

“Be at peace our good friend, you will be missed.”

With that being said, Murphy lifted Harlan’s whiskey jug up, and poured out a dram of Moonshine on the ground. He then took a long drink to hide the fact he had tears in his eyes. He then passed it to Logan, and wiped his face with his free hand and smiled.

Logan took a swig, and everyone took their turn, even Lynda.

Marlee was handed the jug last of all, she just hugged the big clay jug. Murphy handed her the cork, and she silently pushed it into the mouth, and wiped her runny nose with a mitten.

She handed the jug back to Murphy, who then stepped toward the body again, and punched the cork down hard, setting it flush, to the neck. This was to symbolize Harlan’s end of life, and the last drink… his fair well. The jug must never be uncorked again. Murphy then stood it on the platform near Harlan’s head.

That was the final blow for Lynda. She fell to her knees beside Marlee. She began to cry uncontrollably, holding one hand on the Harlan’s ribs. She knew her little girl’s life, would have been taken from her that day, if it were not for this bigger than life mountain man. She whispered her thanks to the body…

Marlee began to cry too, and both girls fell to bawling as they held each other, their eyes filling with tears. The two held one another shaking beside the frozen corpse of their dearly departed friend.

Murphy reflected to himself, “a finer funeral could not be had by anyone,” and he moved off.

The golden light of dusk… crept up the distant slopes of the great western facing hills, and the men moved away toward the meadow. They gathered at the clearing near the edge of the matted brown grass, and waited for the girls to finish.

Just then, a lone and faint howl from a lone wolf began, it rose high up on the ridge, well above the valley floor. The men all tipped their faces toward the soulful music. No one seemed surprised by the event. Murphy spoke first, “That’s probably Harlan,” and the men laughed slightly.

It somehow felt probable. Nothing about that old man would surprise any of them that knew him. He had more wild in him than he had man… and of that there was no doubt.

The howl slowly subsided, like taps would be played for a fallen soldier.

“It feels odd to leave him out in the open like that,” said Bob. “Yet it still feels right, too.”

He paused as if thinking about what he had just said, repeating it again privately in his head. He smiled at the others, “You know, if it were anybody else left out like that, it would be unconscionable.”

The others quietly nodded again in agreement.

They passed a flask of whiskey around. Murphy took a big swig, and spoke softly, “I’ll visit him every once in a while, just to tidy things up if it looks, you know, disrespectful. Well, you know what I mean.” The others nodded in agreement same as they had before, and said nothing more. For there was nothing more to be said.

Marlee and Lynda came toward them still holding each other, apparently they had finished their private vigil.

“Should we get back,” Lynda looked at Logan in a way that only husbands and wives understand. Logan smiled at his wife, and winked. “Come on Marlee, you can ride on Elly with Murphy.”

Logan and Lynda climbed up on Tom, and Bob rode in the travois where Harlan’s body had lain just moments before. He sat crossed legged and comfortable. Death did not bother Bob. He had seen plenty of in his lifetime and had moved beyond the superficial idea of it. Bob moved on from death much better than those less experienced, and he had seen more than his share in his life already. He sat back, and let the orange glow fill his closed eyes.

Not many words were spoken by the group on the way back to the cabin. Marlee pointed at three noisy chickadees that had been darting about through the trees as they rode the trail home. The birds had followed the group since the funeral, and the young girl smiled at the energetic wood sprites darting about the group.

“Look,” she pointed.  “Harlan sent them to follow us,” she began crying all over again, but gritted her teeth and stopped herself somehow. Tears still ran down her face, and she imagined Harlan sending them to carry his spirit back to their little spot in the valley to be with her and her family from now on.

Murphy smiled down at the little girl sitting behind him. She looked up at him. He nodded to her quietly, “that would be just like that old man to send them. You know something Marlee, Harlan told me you meant the world to him.” She hugged Murphy’s waist, and casually lay her head against his back, whispering, “I know”, and that was all she said.

The group felt the big man’s presence following them home that day, and they watched the birds flit from tree to tree, escorting the procession home, just as Marlee said they would…

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April ended finally, it had brought the many expected showers. They were hard, but a welcome respite, and much better than the heavy snows the group had become so accustomed too. The showers brought a touch of spring to the valley, and soon washed away even the deepest patches of snow lying on the upper slopes. The rivers and the creeks brimmed from the run off. Their banks held fast, and the rain brought a rapid growth to the valley. Spring had arrived.

The men readied the ATVs for the coming summer. Bob had been worried about the amount of fuel that was left in the few cans they had left. Now that the Granville family had an ATV too, the supply had dwindled twice as fast as Bob had expected.

That evening the group gathered at Bob’s cabin, and sat watching the satellite TV. It showed how martial law was still in effect. The scene in the country had gotten worse since their exodus from the city of Metro. Much of their hometown was under a constant military aggression, either by the local militia or the various feral vigilante factions, not to mention the military coup that was taking place across the country. It was a confusing time for all. The nation was fractured into a hundred pieces, each piece having a different interest, a different view of right and wrong.

The Home Guard was what the local militia called themselves these days. They were local, and mostly content with guarding the vulnerable neighborhoods from the anti-fascist gangs and the vigilante groups. The rub was that the government had brought in an active force of UN troops from Europe, and even some African and Russian mercenaries were among them. They had been brought in to quell the coup started by the so-called rebels. It all made it hard to tell who was dismantling the remaining government, the UN troops or the scattered uprisings. Most had doubts there was a United States anymore, and believed their government had lost complete control of the nation.

The tension that this confusion created in the Military was too much for the leaders of their forces to endure. A coup seemed eminent. It would be impossible to suppress, as many soldiers deserted in droves. Believing their commanders were acting against their oath. In many ways it resembled the beginning of the 1860s, the nation’s last civil war.

Entire divisions had seized control of regional military bases, and using conventional weapons, took control, including the many air-force assets. Most aircraft disappeared into the night. The country was tearing apart, in every direction. It seemed largely unexplainable, to most that witnessed it, yet Bob suspected it all along, he claimed.

There were rumors emanating through the forces that recently an entire base, all of Fort Bragg had been taken by the patriots. Captured without any resistance, being controlled by rogue generals and a division of army engineers who had refortified it. They ceased the massive base, and used it to capture and align with many other bases. Even creating hidden landing strips in the mountain areas all across the nation.  Most military bases had been in lock down for months prior, with high alert status. Yet now many were being controlled by the patriotic military commanders. Was it a civil war or resistance to an invasion…? That much was never clear.

These patriots, along with their commanders, felt it justified for the defense of the nation, fighting against what was seen as a foreign invasion, and the UN takeover of America.

Very little resistance was had by the capturing of assets throughout the western states, and a good deal of personnel saw it as a response to the unconstitutional take over, so un-American. Soldiers cheered when they found out they were no longer under the UN umbrella.

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Bob, and Murphy decided they would have to make a run to town for fuel. They knew it needed to be soon, especially if they were to continue to use the motorized equipment, the ATVs, augers or chainsaws. They had grown to rely on these items, they were hard to give up. Murphy considered distilling fuel for the group, as Harlan showed him before he passed. If only he could convert the engines to ethanol, he wondered? For that he would need parts from town too, carburetor parts he didn’t have, new jets, and seats for the engines.

The group considered a covert mission to Misty Lake… first to get fuel to make a run to Metro. Their plan was a reconnaissance of the valley and then raiding its resources. Murphy considered the fact that they were the aggressors now, stealing resources for themselves.

The fickle philosophy of survival… Somehow it seemed okay for their group to steal supplies from the enemy.

First they would check the fuel tanks at the gas station in Misty Lake, and then the bulk tanks at the boat launch before making their way into Metro for supplies. The added fuel would make it much easier to travel the 150 miles to town.

Murphy and Bob hoped to have Logan and Marlee escort them to Bob’s jeep. Then, using Harlan’s animals, to drop them off. They would make a run to the east, and Misty Lake, stealing fuel for the mission. The idea was to drop them, and take the animals back home after the drop off.

Murphy and Bob would hit the valley for resources, and head to Metro. After the mission, they would rendezvous back at the same point in two weeks’ time. They could then move the fuel, and whatever else they gleaned from the city to their valley.

Bob had stashed his Jeep under cover months ago, it lay hidden in the bush under a camo tarp. He parked it far off the main trail, hidden behind a picket of brush that he had cut and stacked around the vehicle in a hedge.

The two men pack their rifles, and Bob threw a spotting scope in his pack. The plan was to move into the neighboring valley during the night, navigating by using the topo map. They both carried tools for the mission, bolt cutters, vise-grips, a hacksaw, an ax, and other odds and ends to facilitate the acquisition of the fuel, and whatever supplies they could find. It was a raiding party…

The mission was to acquire the truly needed supplies by any means necessary. It now seemed crucial to the survival of the group, at least for maintaining any reasonable comfort.

Bob had created an electric transfer pump. He built it for the purpose of acquiring fuel. It used a 12 VDC in-line lift-pump, and thirty feet of gas line. It was designed to simply be lowered into any tank, and then using the small portable batteries from the Quads, it could pump fuel out of holding tanks, and into jerry cans for transportation.

When Murphy had made his trip over the valley gap many months before, he had spotted two above ground bulk tanks by the boat launch. These Bob considered were most likely empty. They were stationed off to the side of the boat launch, but by chances theirs was also below ground tanks at the gas station. These he reasoned would still contain fuel.

Bob reasoned that no one at Misty Lake was smart enough to expect them to have fuel below the pick-up lines. These extraction lines were usually left several inches off the bottoms to prevent drawing in any water and corruption that settles there.

To the gang, the pumps would appear empty, but below ground the tanks would still may contain several hundred gallons, depending on their size. The men anticipated that the tanks would not be guarded well if at all. Using Bob’s makeshift transfer pump, they would be able to access what was left at the bottom of these tanks.

If what Murphy reported about the chaos of the Misty Lake gang was true, they would never suspect they were in any danger of losing fuel that they never knew they had in the first place, as far as they were concerned they would appear to be completely empty.

The group loaded Harlan’s old pack saddles with their gear, taking only what they needed for the mission. The men studied the maps sitting at the kitchen table that night. They carefully went over every detail, until they knew the plan inside and out. They were ready…

They would take the trail north to Bob’s Jeep, and fuel it with what they had left from the quads. Then they would drive along the gravel roads too within a mile of the Misty Lake resort, hide the Jeep under some brush, and proceed on foot to the outskirts of the resort village. There they would wait until dark, and make their move into the village undercover.

Bob had ten empty Jerry cans in all, and they were tied to the sides of the two pack animals. There was just enough room for the rider to slip their legs under the roped cans. It looked as if the horses were now being used as some strange desert camel with red cans tied all around them. The idea was they would not come back until they filled all 10 cans of fuel and topped up the jeep for summer use.

All the while, they were to keep an eye open for a small trailered fuel tank. They hoped to commandeer one for future needs and, if possible, to tow it back to the valley for long term fuel storage. They expected to find one at a cabin at Misty Lake resort and take the oil furnace tank, and use it for a storage tank by mounting it on Bob’s tiny trailer. They expected one of the quads could handle it if empty, as-long as it was no-bigger than 100 gallons in size. It would be easy enough to tow if it were empty of fuel. They would make multiple trips to fill it, using the Jerry cans and horses.

They packed a tent, and food for their trip, including plenty of ammo for the rifles. The idea was to move at night to avoid all the check stops whenever practical.

As a precaution, Bob had two large ABS pipes permanently wired under the frame of his Jeep. He used these to hide contraband weapons and ammo. They were hidden beside the trucks frame. They were attached firmly beside the frame one on either side of the drive shaft. Most check stops would likely miss the tubes, unless the guards were using search mirrors to look under the vehicles. Bob knew they used these search mirrors when looking for difficult hiding space, and sometimes the men would even lie under the vehicles using a flashlight on the big trucks. This Bob hoped would not be the case…

The next morning, he and Murphy had breakfast and prepared themselves for the mission ahead. They drank two pots of coffee and waited for Marlee and Logan. Neither man was particularly concerned about the mission yet.  Both men sat calmly, sipping their hot brew in silence.

A sudden sound of footsteps was heard on the porch. “Hello, camp,” Logan shouted at the door.

Bob, and Murphy jumped to their feet and grabbed their small day packs, and without ushering a word then greeted Logan and Marlee on the porch.

The weather had deteriorated to such a point it fell slanted in gray curtains, the animals stood still as statues, waiting under the protection of the trees by the creek. They had been packed and ready to go before sunrise.

Marlee blurted out, “Can I ride Elly?”, as she dashed toward the paint horse. The men just looked at each other, saying nothing. The occasion was solemn. Logan turned to Bob, “Are you ready?”

“Definitely,” he quickly answered back, and hurried down the steps. His reaction was very military, showing absolute confidence. He strapped his gear on the lead animal, “We best get going.”

“I hope to be back in two weeks, I expect you to meet us this time then, right where you drop us.”

Logan knew the plan well, and just nodded at Bob for his assurance.

Murphy stared blanked faced into the morning rain… he was certainly glad he wasn’t going to do this mission alone this time, but felt suddenly apprehensive. It was an unpleasant start to the day, that much was sure. He felt confident at having Bob along this time, but feared heading into Metro with all that he saw on the news. The fighting seemed to be far worse than the authorities were letting on.

Everyone climbed astride the two animals, and Bob kicked Big Tom to life. He and Logan sat atop him, and headed up the north trail.

Right away Elly, fell in behind the big mule. Marlee, turned and smiled at Murphy as she always did, “Here we go,” she said with a grin looking up at him with excitement. Murphy smiled back.

The ride was quiet, as hardly a word was spoken between the group. There was just the sway of the animals, and the rhythm of the trail measuring the pace of the riders. The group made their way up the switch backs of the high mountain pass. It was a steady climb.

Finally, they arrived at where Murphy had come over into the valley nearly a year ago. They had reached the top. Murphy glanced out over the edge. It was the spot he had fallen from, remembering that day when he first arrived almost a year ago.

He recalled his broken leg that day, and grimaced thinking about it. He leaned over the edge, and rubbed his thigh just above the old injury, and kicked at Elly to hurry her along.

The trail had begun to get wet from the torrential rains. The horses hooves slopped in the mud as they trudged along. Murphy focused on the massive tracks left ahead of him by Tom’s huge steel shoes.

The mule had no trouble pulling the small load of Bob and Murphy’s gear behind him. He had grown accustomed to hauling the travois over so many years. Tom took everything in stride it seemed, he was an amiable beast with steadfast determination.

Marlee turned to Murphy and ask, “Are you scared, Mr. Murphy?” Murphy hesitated a moment, before answering, “A little, Marlee …Who knows what we might find in town, but I’m not too worried. Bob is a trained soldier, I’m sure he won’t do anything to get us into trouble. Don’t you worry okay, we’ll be fine.” The little girl smiled back at Murphy, and graciously straightened up looking like a proper equestrian rider. She was prim and proper atop of Elly, the reins in her hand just so.

Murphy smiled down at the young girl, admiring how she had adapted to her new way of life after martial law. It’s amazing how children adapt to any environment. When stability is offered, they see no wrong in the world. Even without stability they seem to cope, knowing no difference in the world. That is the secret of mankind, we cope no matter what happens to us, or what world we are handed.

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When Bob, arrived a year ago, he had moved the fallen tree by the main road. The one used to hide the trail entrance. He drove up the trail, replacing it behind him, and made his way to the valley gap. He then drove to nearly where Murphy had spotted the white tail buck, cresting the ridge almost a year ago.

The group found Bob’s jeep well hidden off the trail. They saw the brush he had piled around it, it was covered very well behind the picket. But the brush had now died off, looking odd against the new growth. It did not blend well with the buds of spring that now began to form on the living trees nearby.

Murphy was thankful the rain had slowed to a drizzle, and he removed the wet tarp, as Marlee held the horses steady. The men unloaded the gear into the jeep, then set about starting the dormant vehicle. Bob slapped the steering wheel, and pumped the gas three times. He turned the key, and the engine unexpectedly roared to life with the first try, almost as if it had been waiting all winter for the chance to run again. Bob petted the steering wheel, “That’s my baby,” he said, and smiled to the others.

He climbed out of the Jeep, and turned to Logan, “Well thank you my friend, remember to meet us here in exactly two weeks, okay? Bring supplies in case you need to wait a day or two. Who knows what we may find, to slow us down.”

Logan shook Bob’s hand, “Not to worry, I’ll be here if it kills me.”

Logan shook Murphy’s hand next, “Good luck you two, we’ll be here.”

“Me too, I’ll be here too,” Marlee chimed in. She was already sitting on Elly’s back, ready to go.

“Let’s go Daddy,” She was keen to hit the trail, excited to be riding by herself for a change.

Logan smiled at the men, for his daughter’s naivety. They watched as the two men climbed in the Jeep and drove down the steep trail toward the dump road, and headed east toward the highway and the Misty Lake valley.

Marlee finally saw the reality of the situation as she watched them go, “Do you think they’ll be okay, daddy?” the little girl asked appearing somewhat worried.

Logan smiled at his daughter, and cheerfully said, “I’m sure they’ll be fine, young lady, now let’s get these animals back home, and get some feed in them.”

“Okay,” she kicked the horse with her tiny feet and the two headed back south trail toward their valley.

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Before it had gotten dark, the men came upon the Misty lake road. It aimed southward toward the village. Bob knew the Lake was more than ten miles ahead, and they would need to ditch the jeep at some point, and continue on foot.

The plan was to wait until dark, make their way into the resort, and observe the village from the trees. Their first stop would be the gas station, to siphon its underground tanks. When they arrived, they would cut the locks on the fill-caps, and drain whatever they could using the electric transfer pump.  Then stash the cans out of sight. They knew it would require several trips to retrieve the full cans on foot afterwards, but this was the safest way to do it undetected.

Bob’s only worry was whether the small quad batteries would hold a charge long enough to do the job.  He knew he could always recharge them using the Jeep’s alternator. He had set up some jumper cables under the hood for this job as they drove. He hoped to get twenty or thirty minutes of pumping time out of each of the ATV batteries. That should fill most of the cans that night.

The men cautiously approached the rundown gas station. They noticed a dim lamp light coming from inside the store front window of the manager’s office. Bob held up his fist, indicated to halt… then using his open hand, he indicated for Murphy to get down low. Murphy set the cans down behind some bushes. He followed behind Bob, staying low to the ground, then slowly moved forward to check out the station. They needed the blackness of the night, made their way toward the station.

Moving with purpose, they slowly made their way toward the large window. Both carefully stayed beyond the line of sight from anyone inside. Bob had taught Murphy the basics about recon work. Spending the entire evening before vigorously going over their plan. This glitch in the plan was surely not expected, yet Bob’s instincts adapted to the situation. No recon will ever go as planned, he had told Murphy, “You need to adapt to the situation, use your head, and above all else stay cool.”

They moved close to the window, and clung tight to the wall. Murphy put his hand down on some broken glass, and quickly pulled it back. Bob turned to Murphy with a concerned look, and made a downward motion with his open palm, indicating to stay low and be quiet. He commenced to move forward, then held up his fist again. Murphy stopped as Bob approached the window alone. He moved slowly like a sloth pocket. It was like watching one of those time elapsed video shots.  He slowly retrieved a signal mirror from his pocket, holding it up to the lower corner of the window. Crouched under and off to one side, he lifted it up to the glass.

He used the mirror’s reflection to observe anyone inside of the office. It allowed him a view, and did not expose himself to anyone who might looking out at that moment.

Murphy was astonished at how slowly Bob could move, it must have taken an entire minute for him to inch the mirror forward, looking up and over the window sill. Murphy noted his deliberate stealth… determined to practice the same tactic himself from now on.

How that moment shook Murphy. A wave of anxiety overtook him. Only a year before he was chained to a desk in a high-rise in down town Metro, now he was endangering his life for survival.

Bob, again moved slowly as he pulled the mirror back. He gave Murphy the sign to back away. Then turned toward him, and pointed two fingers at his own eyes, and held up a single finger, indicating he saw one person inside. He slowly swept his two fingers toward the way they had come, indicating they should move off to the bushes again. Murphy led the way back to the tree line.

When they arrived, Murphy whispered, “What do we do now?”

“I’m not sure,” Bob said. He thought about the situation for a moment. He shook his head in confusion, and shrugged. “We can wait here a bit and see if he goes to bed, or maybe leaves. I’m not even sure why he would even be here.”

The men settled in and made themselves comfortable beneath the overhanging limbs of a pine tree. They waited as time slowly crept by. Both tried to stay alert, and quietly discussed strategies, they ate jerky to keep from falling asleep. The hours went by with slow boring precision. Suddenly, the lamp dimmed inside the station. The men sat up, waiting. Nothing happened, the person did not exit the gas station. He did not move from the chair either. “What’s he doing now?” Murphy asked. “Well he must be living there,” said Bob.

They watched for another hour, then Bob motioned to Murphy that it was time to move in. “He may have gone to bed,” Bob said.

The plan was for Bob to watch the station, and the occupant, as Murphy filled cans. He was to keep an eye on the transfer pump from the trees, while the cans filled. Filling each one at a time, waiting and watching from the trees. It certainly was going to look odd to anyone with a lone can sitting in the middle of the turnaround, but not as odd as five cans would appear to be. Murphy then would return each filled can to the woods, one at a time. Retrieving them later when they were done. They planned this in case, they were spotted, and they needed to escape. This way they might get away with most of the cans. Murphy began topping the Jerry cans off when Bob gave the signal. They hoped to fill as many as they could or until the big tank was drained.

Bob’s job was to watch the store in case there was trouble from within. If the man inside spotted any movement outside, Bob was to intercept him, either by creating a diversion (and allowing Murphy to escape), or fighting off the gang as Murphy escaped with the gear. They could then return for the hidden Jerry cans in the woods later.

Murphy moved quickly, while crawling low in the shadows. Only two cans were filled when the first of the two batteries had died. The pump stopped working, and at first Murphy panic, before realizing what had happened. He was beginning to use his head for himself finally. It was time to hook up the second quad battery to the transfer pump.

Bob laid back against the flaking stucco wall of the gas station, and whispered into his throat mic, “How’s it going, Murphy.” Murphy looked up to his friend, and gave Bob the okay sign.

He continued monitoring the fuel transfer. Bob flashed back a thumbs up to Murphy, and moved toward the window of the office again. He then froze… stopped by some movement inside. He whispered to Murphy, “Get out of there, someone’s coming.”

Suddenly the door opened beside Bob, and the man from inside stepped out into the darkness. He looked about the turnaround. Apparently he did not see as Murphy’s foot darted under the cover of the pine tree. He lit a cigarette, carefully shielding the flame. The orange glow grew in his cupped hand.

Murphy watched this, and slowly crept further back into the bushes. He left the fuel can by the filler opening, he only had time to disconnect the terminal of the pump from the battery. The man hadn’t noticed Bob crouched beside him, or the can in the darkness. The man’s eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness yet. Bob waited motionless behind a garbage can next to the door. It was just too dark for the man to see well. The flame of the lighter had temporarily blinded him. In the man’s mind Bob was just an unfamiliar shadow next the door. A black shadow…

He drew hard on his cigarette, making the ember burn bright. He stepped away from the doorway then let the door close behind him. At that moment he noticed the Jerry can in the middle of the turnaround. Bob realized everything was just about to go sideways, and quite quickly… he stood up. The man let out a short gasp, and Bob grabbed him from behind. He held a combat knife against the man’s Carotid Artery, and whispered.

“Don’t move, don’t say anything,” he spoke quietly, “I won’t hurt you.” The frightened man stiffened, and a gradual puddle formed beneath his trembling leg. He carefully shook his head in affirmation, and tossed his cigarette in front of him to hold his hands up in surrender. The cigarette threw sparks as it hit the ground.

Bob again spoke softly to the man, “Is there anyone else inside? Just nod,” he whispered in the man’s ear again. The frightened man did what he was told and shook his head slowly side to side.

“Alright,” Bob said. “You and I are going back inside. Now I want you to move with me slowly.”

The two backed into the station. Bob pressed the call button, on his radio. “Murphy I’ve got a situation up here, check the can… how much longer are you going to be?” Murphy rushed out to check the can, lifting it up to feel its weight, “I…I don’t know… I think the tank is running dry, and this may be the last one,” he whispered back over the radio.

Bob closed the door behind the man and him. “Okay finish that one up, and head back to the truck with just two of the cans, I’ll follow you later.” “What about the other cans,” Murphy squawked back.  “I’ll grab the other cans, when I come.”

Murphy didn’t know what had happened, and asked, “What’s going on Bob, that’s not our plan, over…”

“I’ll let you know later just do what I say,” he sounded stern, and Murphy knew something serious was going on.

“Okay, but how are you going to carry the extra cans?”

“Never mind that__ just do as I say,” he sounded angry, and Murphy decided not to push him for answers.

He topped up the remaining can coiled up the transfer pump line, and headed to the tree line of the parking area. Murphy moved quick as he could.

He packed the gear in the rucksack, and gathered up two full cans, and started down the road toward the jeep. He was worried about Bob… but held his head fixed, and steady looking straight ahead as he hurried along. He was focused and strained against the weight of the cans. “Damn, I hope he’s alright.” For now all Murphy could do was move toward the jeep.

He stopped to rest several times, yet sped along the darkened trail as best he could. The shadows sometimes seemed to leap up in front of him, throwing him off with visions of crouching person’s.  He couldn’t help but see shapes in the trees. Sometimes they reached out to him. The woods had a life of their own. It was only his imagination he kept telling himself until logic told him to disregard the images.

The cans were around thirty pounds each, and he had a mile to go to the Jeep. A nagging thought kept occurring to him during his grueling march. He laughed, “Perhaps we should have parked closer.” He grumbled this to himself several times, but with good humor carried on. Murphy knew it was certainly safer to park so far away, and by the time he got to the vehicle his neck muscles were burning from the pain of carrying the heavy cans. He dropped them at the trailer, and rubbed his shoulders. He swung the cans up into the back of the Jeep trailer, and grabbed a quart water bottle, inhaling a drink. He only paused to catch his breath…

He called Bob on the radio, “All clear, are you coming this way?”

There was no answer.

Murphy repeated the transmission, “All clear, are you headed this way.” The ear piece crackled, “I can’t talk now, hang on…” His voice was soft… it went quiet as if he were whispering the words over the throat mic.

Murphy held the radio away from his face as if seeing it at it arm’s length would help him to know what was going on. He was worried things had gone totally wrong. Perhaps Bob was caught in something he couldn’t handle, and was now in trouble. He considered heading back. He would take the Jeep in case he needed to get away fast. He could drive right up and snatch Bob’s guns blazing.

He laughed at the foolish idea. He didn’t know what to do. “Damn it Bob,” he cursed. He figured that if something tragic happened he’d need to go back to the valley by himself. How would he lead the group from now on without Bob? First Harlan was gone, and now Bob…

Murphy began pacing back and forth in the dark beside the jeep. He muttered to himself, “What the hell do I do now?” He paced, glaring at the trail head in the looming darkness. “What the hell should I do, I better not call him again on the radio, he may be hiding from someone, right near him.”

Murphy reasoned that if that were true, the noise from the ear buds might tip off anyone… near enough to hear, even a faint noise might reveal Bob’s hiding place.

He decided not to take that chance. He would not call again. He would wait for Bob to contact him first. He knew that it was going to be a painful wait. The not knowing was killing him.

“What the hell Bob, what’s going on? Call me, buddy.” Murphy whispered into the blackness as he stared down the trail for any movement.

An hour went by, with still know word from Bob.  Another hour crawled by… slow, grueling, moving like that bad day drags on for a condemned man.

Murphy turned back towards the Jeep… quietly a faint crack from a branch came from the nearby bushes. It startled him, but he did not react.

He froze, then slowly reached for his rifle lying across the front seat. A blue beam of light caught him directly in the eyes. “You won’t be needed that buddy.” Murphy froze: it was Bob. Then two forms appeared from the shadows. Bob lowered the flashlight. In front of him was the man from the station. He carried two of the three Jerry cans. Murphy pulled the rifle down from the Jeep, and pointed it at the man. “It’s okay,” Bob said. “He’s catching a ride with us to Metro.”

They casually walked by Murphy and the man smiled at him, and shrugged sarcastically. Murphy stared as they walked past. The captive hefted his two cans into the jeep, and held out his hand to Murphy to shake.

“I’m Simon, you must be Murphy. I’m pleased to meet, yeah.” He then quickly scrambled into the back of the Jeep, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” The man bounced up and down, as if he were checking it for comfort.

Murphy slung the rifle over his shoulder.

“What the hell is going on here?” he asked, and turned to Bob.

Bob jumped in the driver’s seat. He turned over the engine and pulled the brake release. He looked at Murphy’s face, still enjoying his stunned look:

“You better get in, Murphy.” Murphy shook his head and quickly swung around the back of the jeep to climb in the passenger seat. Bob grinned at his friend, and stepped on the gas.

The trio sped off down the trail. Bob wheeled the Jeep hard onto the road, and headed toward Metro. He explained the situation to Murphy as they drove along the gravel road:

“Well it turns out the gang was using this poor guy here as their personal slave. So he was making a break for it. He was hiding out at the station tonight until it got dark. Then he was making a run for it.”

“It took some convincing before your friend here bought the whole story,” Simon piped up from the back seat, “those bastards never figured I’d have the guts to head out on my own, so they weren’t watching me very closely. Turns out they were wrong about me,” he leaned forward between the seats and smiled with a twinkle in his eye. “I fixed them, I sugared their truck tanks before I left, no worries about any one following us for a while.” Simon, leaned back in the Jeep seat with a satisfied grin of accomplishment.

Bob added, “I was just about to leave with him behind, when, wouldn’t you know it? Two big no neck clowns showed up, and decided to confront Simon here. He told them a long story about being sent to get boat parts for Brent, the gang leader. They listened for a while, and Simon spun such a tale they finally moved on.”

Murphy asked:

“Where the hell were you all this time Bob?” still looking astonish by it all.

“Oh, I was standing just out of sight behind the door next to Simon. Mind you I had my AR trained on the two meat heads through the wall, but they seemed satisfied with Simon’s story and moved on… and here we are.”

Simon leaned in again as they hit the main gravel road headed East toward the highway.

“Yeah that could have gone sideways really fast if they hadn’t had left, eh…” he laughed sounding a bit unhinged to Murphy. He punctuated the outrageous story by slapping Bob’s shoulder, “Holy shit, you’re one lucky son of a bitch, Bob…”

With that, Bob dropped a gear and roared the engine, as they sped away from the Misty Lake resort. The trio sped down the dump road and made their way toward the highway. They were glad to put some distance between them and the east valley gang.

divider

The moon had risen, and the night lit up bright and cool as the three men flew down the back road running with their lights off. It would allow them to move along the roads without easily being detected.

They drove without their headlights on, whenever they saw approaching lights they slipped into the ditch, and laid low until they passed.

With martial law being in effect, there was nearly no one on the roads. Bob feared military patrols might be waiting in the darkness along the edge of the highway. It was standard procedure to catch travelers as they passed by. He knew they would need a better plan to get to town then to just drive straight down the highway. The closer they got to the city, the more the check stops appeared ahead of them. Most were easy to make out as they were all lit up by arc lights. Their glow could be seen for several miles before the came close.

After some strategic detours around the first few check-stops, the trio were able to dodge them all together. The Jeep moved swiftly over the back roads, and detours. Murphy leaned back in his seat, he was now casually watching the stars and rising moon as if it were following the Jeep through the country side.

A great white light, shone off the hood of Bob’s Jeep. The moon lit the landscape with a magical silver light. It strobed over the interior of the vehicle, as they sped along, re-emerging in flashes behind the trees as they traveled the old country road.

They were in farm country, and Bob hoped that this would allow them to use the hidden back roads, to scoot around the many check-stops, and outposts. Each way-point would be mapped and plotted for future runs. Bob’s new outlook for survival was they need to make periodic trips to Metro for supplies.

The trio periodically stopped at intersections to plan their next move… They waited and watched quietly. Sitting in the middle of the countryside, Bob sometimes shut off the engine, to listen. There was very little danger of anyone coming along, so they enjoyed a surreal moment in the night’s silence, listening to the void above them, and enjoying the brilliant evening sky over their heads.

Simon had a backpack with him. He brought it for his escape. He reached for it, and hauled out a bottle of eighteen year old Scotch. He held it up in the moonlight, and offered a drink to his rescuers.

Bob smiled at Simon in the mirror, “Well, well, you are full of surprises.”

Simon had stolen it from his captors’ liquor cabinet …Just before he parted ways with the gang, Simon uncorked it and inhaled a luxurious whiff from the bottle, then a long pull…

“Ay that’s what I’m talking about. A wee dram Mr. Murphy?” He bumped Murphy’s arm with the bottom of the bottle waking him from his funk as he watched the heavens above him.

Murphy glanced back at Simon, who was gripping the neck of the bottle as he pointed the base of it at Murphy. The adrenaline of the evening had left the men a bit numb. He reached for the bottle, and wiped the neck with his sleeve then tipped out a good draft of the contents. He looked back at Simon surprised, and smiled knowingly.

“Oh that’s the good stuff, Simon, thank you.” he then handed it next to Bob, who without hesitating skillfully took the bottle, accepting a drink while still driving with one knee. He first held the bottle up to their new friend in the back seat, and offered a toast to their new friend, “Cheers fellas,” he tilted the bottle back, all while watching the road rise up ahead of him in the moonlit night. He squinted a wary eye around the brown glass as he drank deeply. Bob felt reckless that evening, he needed a good swig to straighten his head out after the excitement.

He knew it was going to be no mean trick to get to into Metro and to his house. There was something he wanted to pick up there, and he was determined to make it by morning. Besides the obvious, getting more fuel for the group he wanted something else. He thought it might help the residents, or so he hoped…

The moon shone bright above the jeep as it sped down the silver ribbon of road toward Metro. A long cloud of dust spun off the gravel surface. It rolled off into the ditch and out into the woods as the men flew along the dirt surface. The shadow of the jeep disappeared off into the distance.

Simon had been to town many times before during his captivity by the Misty lake gang, he knew these back ways even better than Bob did.  He could point out turns and T intersections well ahead of time, sometimes showing them ways that even the topo map did not show.  This helped the group tremendously in their moving about the back roads in the moon light.

They were able to completely avoid the main check stops, each time rerouting their mission using Simon’s guidance. They moved about far back in the hills beyond the outpost, and using Simon’s directions, and the obscure logging trails they managed to avoid all of them. Bob stopped the Jeep near the outskirts of town, the glanced over the city from a hill overlooking the gloomy valley below them. Much of the city was in darkness. All street lights and traffic lights were out. Just the glow of scattered fires lit the once vibrant city.

The trio looked in awe at the ruined city, “Well this is it, let’s get‘er done boys,” Bob hit the accelerator and they sped down the hill toward the town…

To be continued…

The post What If Martial Law Were Declared in America Part Eight: Out of Options appeared first on Survival Sullivan.

What if Martial Law Were Declared in America? Part Seven: The Storm

This is part of our free, online and highly-praised survival fiction novel. You can read the rest of the parts here.

Murphy woke before the sun and lit the lantern. The yellow flame barely illuminated the interior of the canvas outfitters tent; it cast ominous shadows on the walls. Harlan woke next. The men were soon alarmed that the tent’s roof had sagged a foot or more during the night. It was obviously weighed down by the heavy snow fall which had accumulated during the evening as they slept. Murphy went to the tent flaps, and pushing the wet snow back with his foot around the entrance. He peered out in the morning gloom. A winter spectacle had magically appeared overnight.

The storm had dropped more than twenty inches of snow that evening. The dim blue light revealed a winter wonderland to behold.

Magically, the valley had been transformed, a hushed form of silence had come over the world. A once vibrant forest now lay frozen and dormant beneath a thick blanket of snow. Everything made calm, muffled beneath an eerie lull that had descended over the woods.

The raucous sounds of the tiny creek, as it plunged over the falls, had now been contained by the growing ice and the deep accumulation of snow hanging from its banks. The stark whiteness now look blue in the still morning light. Everything had been covered, and laid deep as a man’s knees. The trees, the tarps, and the ground were all buried in snow. A gathering of growing ice formed along the creeks edges giving the impression that the water had receded. Even the mining claim had been buried beneath with a layer of heavy wet snow.

Murphy exhaled, watching his breath float away in the cool air, and pulled his head inside, and turned to Harlan.

“Well, we got some digging to do just to get to the gravel bed that’s for sure. There must be two feet of wet snow out there and it’s still coming down hard.”

Harlan, stood up and pulled on his buckskins, and wrapped his belt around his waist. He coughed hard and cleared his throat, “Wouldn’t be the first time, some snow tried to slow me down.” he chuckled to himself thinking of bygone days. “As long as it ain’t frozen, we can work it a little longer, who knows what we’ll find today.”

He added: “Snow’s at lot easier to move than gravel for sure, young fella, but it don’t yield as much gold neither way.” He grabbed the coat from his cot. He slept with a heavy buffalo hide waist length coat over him at night. Poking an arm in one heavy sleeve, he tossed the rest over his shoulders as best he could, awkwardly slouched beneath the sagging wet tent.

“Damn I’m too big for these here wall tents,” he grumbled as he grabbed for his moccasins.

Harlan then pulled on his Moosehide moccasins and, without even lacing them on, he ducked his head through the tent’s doorway to finish in the open where there was more room to stand.

“I better see how Tom and Elly are doing, may-haps need more feed with all this damned snow out here. I bet it’s been buried by all this.” his booming baritone voice fading as he walked away into the blue morning shadows.

Harlan spoke softly to the two animals as he approached. “Hey you two knuckle heads, how’d you fair the storm last night?” The horses were standing dead still and covered in several inches of the white stuff. They seemed indifferent to the snow, then stirred as if just woken, and slowly walked over to Harlan. The first thing they did was nuzzled Harlan’s pockets looking for treats, but he didn’t have any for them this morning. “Never mind that, I’ll get you some new feed.”  He rubbed and petted each in turn, and went to find the buried tarps.

Big Tom had lain over in the snow recently, and rolled out a large flat area where he and Elly were standing. Like every year, both horses had grown heavier winter coats and did not mind the falling snow. Their hair were long and thick by this time of year. The temperature did not affect the two animals. It was probably their favorite time of the year, with no biting insects pestering them like during warmer months. They happily rolled and kicked at the new snow.

Harlan and Murphy had built the animals a corral when they first arrived, lashing tall dead fallen spruce trees to several standing trees, making them a small enclosure. This allowed the horse’s some freedom to move about without being tied or hobbled. He told Murphy when building it that the animals would stay calmer if they had a few extra yards to move. Tom and Elly could easily get free, especially Big Tom, but Harlan assured Murphy they would not bother. Unless they felt mischievous, and broke through looking for some feed under the tarp that Harlan had covered the feed with.

Harlan had been adamant about covering the feed after building the coral, and thankfully so, as not only would the timothy be under the snow that morning, but it would have been wet and prone to freezing. The feed that was left in the corral had been trampled by the pair during the night.

Harlan threw back the heavy canvas tarp, and broke another chunk of the compressed bale free, and brought it to the two horse. He then grabbed an armload of fresh poplar, and laid it in beside the feed for the animals to chew on. He then gathered some split pine from under the tarp before covering it all again, and made his way toward the tent. The temperature outside was cool enough that the snow hung inches thick on the tree limbs. Weighing everything down, and looking like thick icing for miles.

Harlan inhaled deeply the cold mountain air, and then exhaled with a tired sigh, he cleared off much of the snow on the tent, and ducked in through the tent’s door.

Murphy already had a pot of coffee sizzling on the stove, and was digging about in the kitchen pack when Harlan came in. He looked up, “I figure we should get some hot breakfast in us before we start working the claim.” Harlan nodded, “I couldn’t agree more, young fella. That there gold, been waiting a thousand years, and it ain’t going anywhere in the next few minutes I wager.” He dusted the snow from his Buffalo hide coat, before removing it, and laid it on his cot.

“How ‘bout carving off a thick slice of that there deer bacon, you and Robert cured. I’d fancy that for breakfast, and maybe some gruel.” He looked at Murphy like a child might, and added, “We don’t have any more of them hard tack biscuits do we?” he grinned.

Murphy raised a finger in anticipation, “Just a minute I’ll check,” he said with a laugh, as both the men knew they had brought at least twenty pounds of the rock hard food.

“Sure do, Harlan. I was also thinking of using up the last of the eggs too, before we get into those powdered ones powdered ones you have.” Harlan had wrapped the farm eggs in paper, and placed them in a tin for the trip. He had mentioned back at the cabin that he sometimes used dry grass or moss for packing the delicate things if he didn’t have any paper.

“Yeah, I’d better get rid of these eggs or they’ll freeze soon, if they haven’t already,” he fussed about them as he unwrapped them from the paper.

Murphy was a wizard at camp cooking now, and Harlan wasn’t complaining either way.

“I reckon young fella, I ain’t eaten this well in years. Glad to have a camp cook along for a change.” Harlan certainly enjoyed Murphy’s company, especially after nearly half a century in the bush on his own.

“Tell me something Harlan, what do you do when the timothy hay runs out for the horses?”

“Oh, hell, they’ll eat the bark right off of the trees, been living that way for years, most winters. Both have been doing it since they was colts. I only bring the timothy bales just in case I get stuck in an area like this, where there ain’t no poplar or leafy trees for them to feed on. It helps give them the energy they need during the cold snaps. They like poplar best. I cut down the young trees, and toss them right into the corral and they’ll chew the bark off like beavers, and old Tom he’ll eat about anything he can wrap his teeth around.”

Murphy was now curious about these things, as he was considering a horse for himself, half expecting he might be in this valley, much longer then he cared to think about.

“Do they get enough nutrition from the bark?” he asked prodding Harlan like a naive kid would ask about the world.

Harlan looked thoughtfully, figuring on why Murphy was inquiring, about horses and said, “A few winters back, they lost considerable weight during some hard times, but they were young, and still gained it all back and then some, by summer.”

“They’re fine mountain animals, those two, and damned handy to have around. They’ve been my best friends, going on eight years or more now.” Murphy looked at Harlan, and would have thought he’d been talking about people, but to this man who had spent the majority of his life alone in the wilderness …to him …these animals were the next best thing to people. Maybe better company then most.

After a hardy breakfast, the two men spent a good part of the morning digging a path to the claim, and removing a large swath of snow from the work area. Murphy had to pickax through a foot of frozen ground before hitting the looser gravel. Today, they hoped to process another 6 cubic yards of over burden.

Harlan straightened his back and looked at the claim: “we best move on home in a day or two if this cold keeps up. The ground will be too solid to work I reckon by then.”

That afternoon, the two had managed to fill three pails with finish grade gravel, and, by the end of the day, they processed a total of 6 more pails, producing a substantial amount of gold flake.

Harlan again stood up and groaned as he straightened his bent back: “Well that’s it for me, young fella. What say you, and I take them two nags for a little ride up stream, and check out the rest of this valley a bit?”

Murphy stretched his tired shoulders, “That sounds like a plan Harlan, I bet those horses could use a good stretch too.”

The men put away the tools, and dried and weighed the gold. It was another 4 grams of gold dust. This was hard work for such little pay, but it was at least a way to earn the money needed for buying what they couldn’t do without. After a week of staying out here in a tent, Murphy was looking forward to heading home soon.

“That was certainly a good day’s work,” Murphy noted. “How ‘bout we have an early supper of flap jacks, and then hit the trail?”

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” said Harlan.

The men ate a quick supper of hot cakes, and made their way to the horses.

Elly had the only real saddle to speak of, which left nothing for Murphy to ride with. Harlan simply strapped on the pack saddle to old Tom, and tossed over a bundled up horse blanket to give Murphy a place to sit. He could have road bare back, but Murphy figured he’d need something to cling to, just in case they climbed any hills. Tom was too big for a man to hang on to easily.

Harlan straightened the blanket: “I wouldn’t want to lose you in some river crossing, young fella”. Harlan liked to joke with Murphy. The two had grown close, and Murphy respected Harlan’s knowledge about the wilderness.

Murphy looked under the horses neck with concern, “Nor I either Harlan.”

Harlan stared back nodding his head in affirmation, and added, “Oh don’t get me wrong… I’ve fallen in rivers before …even fell through the ice six or seven times last winter …beaver trapping. T’ain’t no big deal really…” Harlan looked puzzled for a moment as he worked the cinch strap. “Well, if you get a fire going quick enough you’d be alright. I mean a man will be okay if he gets warmed up fast enough before he freezes.” He hauled hard on Tom’s strap, and added, “I always carry a bottle of lamp oil and a striker just for such a case.”

He looked seriously at Murphy and checked the harness again, “Oh yeah, you’ve got to be careful drying buckskins over a fire too, or they’ll shrink up tight as a hat band on yeah. Then you’ll be in a world of trouble,” he roared with laughter at his mental image while shaking his head thinking about the comical scene.

“A man don’t want to be running around buck naked in the winter time, do he? Let me tell yeah… ain’t much a fella can do for himself if that happens. Might as well lay down and die. Yes sir, I suggest you dry them while you’re wearing them.” Murphy laughed at the image of the big man running about the wilderness with nothing but his birthday suit on. He couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps he was speaking from experience, but decided not to ask.

Harlan seemed in a particularly talkative mood this afternoon, and continue to chatter as he hitched the saddles up.

“I hear tell… freezing to death ain’t all that bad.” he paused with a serious shrug, but indifferent to the conclusion.

“I ‘spect that’s so. Never happened to me yet,” he laughed again at the silliness of the idea of dying and telling about it.

“But… I can say yeah this much… thawing out after freezing, ain’t no treat. I lost two toes a few years back.” He lifted his left foot up and pointed at it. “Froze them black as coal. Had to cut ‘em off myself. Couldn’t feel them until I thawed out by the stove when I got home. Oh yeah… I made it back to camp all right, and thought I was in good shape. Then the pain set in, as soon as they started to thaw, and a day or two later, they turned black like lumps of coal. I was sure glad I had some tangle foot spirits left over from the summer before. I polished off about a quart of 180 proof, poured some on the toes and with my knife, I cut them dead toes right off. Sure I wailed, but I knew if I hadn’t they’d be the end of me.”

He pulled again on Tom’s harness.

“I had an old Army buddy I knew back during the war. He got gangrenous and ended up dying because we ignored him for too long. He wouldn’t let us cut off his leg no how, so he died. Damn a man’s pride.”

Murphy couldn’t help marvel at this old man, and his survival stories. “You are something else, Harlan. You mean to tell me you cut off your own toes? How’d you stop the bleeding?”

Harlan simply looked under Tom’s neck again, right at Murphy, and nodded.

“Weren’t nothing son, if you tourniquet them off first, then heat up some pine-tar good and hot, ‘til its bubbling, then cut them toes off right quick, sew up the loose skin with a few stitches, and you jamb that stump right into that hot tar. It’ll cauterize them clean, and staunch the bleeding …protects ‘em too from gang green. Wrap everything up with clean bandages, and you’re good. They say it got sulfurs in it, I can’t say for sure. I CAN SAY it hurts like the dickens, BUT IT WORKS …and pretty well too. In the old days they used sulfur tar for all kinds of poultices.”

He went back to checking the halters of the animals, and pulled on Elly’s saddle harness again and hard too. The poor thing almost stepped on him trying to keep her balance. He offered more advice to Murphy, “I learned ‘bout it from a book I once read, ‘bout Pirates, and such. It told of how them buccaneer’s would use boiling pine tar to staunch the blood when amputating limbs. Must have been some hardy fellas back in them days. I just used it on two little toes, and nearly passed out. Sticking a whole limb into a bucket of hot tar like that… whew-wee that must have stung a bit. I wondered whether I’d been a good sailor.”

He looked at Murphy formally, not expecting an actual answer.  “You know, I wonder whether if I’d of lived back then I mean, seems like a right fine-way of travel.”

Harlan smiled meekly… as if he was considering the sea fairing life, and then winked at Murphy as he finished saddling the rig for him.

He swatted Tom’s massive shoulder, and looked at Murphy, “There yeah go, young fella, I reckon that will be comfortable enough as long as we don’t need to make a run from the Indians or something,” he laughed at his comedy, and smacked Murphy on the back knocking him off balance. Murphy just smiled to himself. Harlan was one of a kind, that much was sure.

Murphy had no doubt that men like Harlan were cut from a special bolt of cloth. The old time men of the Rockies must have been much like Harlan. He wondered if there would ever be men like him in this world again. Perhaps Harlan was the last of his kind.

He considered that as he watched Harlan walk Elly out of the coral. A man like Harlan would never fit in a big city like Metro, or any other for that matter. That was probably why most modern people never run into men like Harlan in their world. Perhaps Murphy was naive, and there are plenty of men like him still around out here. It was mostly the opposing differences of those two worlds and why most will never meet men like Harlan in their lives.

This old timer and ones like him, are simply born in the wrong century, and as they wander in the wilderness, far from modern life he and his animals, “his critters” as he called them, will always be out there. As they will always have a place in the hearts of young men dreaming of adventure, like Harlan must have fifty years ago when he first came to these hills.

Harlan couldn’t possibly know that the outside world had moved on, and as Murphy saw in his gray eyes, this old man standing before him with his white beard, and buck skins, suddenly gave him the feeling that wouldn’t much care either way. He was truly happy in his life. Not many modern men can honestly claim that.

Harlan lived for the moment, and had no concerns over the future, mankind’s future especially. He regarded modern man with their worries, and wants as if it didn’t concern him one way or another. Men like Harlan, lived by a code, and that’s all they need. Anything else wasn’t even considered.

Right and wrong were easy to spot for these men from far off, and the modern gray lines the rest of us complain about are none of their concern because they just don’t fit in with their code.

Harlan walked big Tom out of the coral next, right up to a fallen log. “Here you go, son,” he motioned Murphy toward the dead tree. “A step so you can climb on.”

It still took a great deal of effort for Murphy to scramble onto Big Tom’s back. He groaned, “Damn, Tom you are one big son of a bitch,” Murphy laughed to himself sounding like Harlan. Once he was aboard, he patted the huge mule’s neck to calm him.

Harlan found two thin poles of dead swamp alders, stripped the small branches from them, and handed one to Murphy. “Use this to knock snow off the trees, so it don’t fall down on Tom too much.” He pointed at the two animals, “these pair tend to get the chills if you don’t keep ‘em dry this time of year.”

He then swung a leg over Elly as if he were only twenty years old again, and set off down the trail at an easy pace. Tom turned behind Elly as usual, and Murphy and he fell in behind without him even touching the reins. The group walked along in silence for an hour or more, enjoying the stillness of it all.

The day was quite warm, considering this was creating large thick flakes to fall in a steady curtain. Near dusk the huge flakes grew so large they looked to be the size of silver dollars floating down over the valley.

Tom’s huge hooves plowed through the deep snow and created white wakes, tossed forward like a boat’s prow. Steadily, the animal pushed aside shovels full of the white crystals. His massive head bobbed up and down to a steady cadence keeping an easy rhythm to his simple world. Playing to the conductor of some silent orchestra.

Murphy felt connected once again to the woods in a new way, in a way he hadn’t ever considered until now. He reminisced over the ways his life had changed during the last few months. So much so that in a short while, less than a year ago, he had gone from a senior accountant at one of the largest banks in Metro, to panning for gold and riding a mule through the forests of North America.

He wondered if he would ever miss the old Murphy? Right now he doubted it…

They plodded along for another hour or two, and saw plenty of country.

Harlan then spied a small stream. He led Elly towards the stream coming out of a side gorge. It flowed directly into Myrtle Creek. He walked her up the narrow passage, fallowing the stream-let to its source.

Harlan was in search of a logical source for the gold, that he and Murphy had panned. He was searching for rock formations, outcrops, and veins along the exposed strata. White veins marking the rock face. By doing so, he hoped to see the tell-tale quartz formations proving millions of years of inclusion, upheaval, and erosion had brought the gold to this source.

Harlan began speaking loudly to Murphy over his shoulder as the led the horse up the gorge. He began waving his arm at the sides of the gorge, and explained what he was looking for.

“I look for these cracks that occurred millions of years ago, back when they filled up with minerals like quartz, gold, and other deposits, during different events, not all at once mind you, you know?”

He turned in his saddle to see if Murphy was paying attention. Then he continued, “Mostly I look for the fissures that ran deep beneath the Earth’s crust. They were places where gold was deposited by heat and activity, and eons of time.”

Murphy couldn’t help notice how Harlan sounded different when speaking of such things as geology. He almost sounded like another person. He had told Murphy a few nights back how during the war, he had been a member of the Army Corp of Engineers, and so he was taught a lot about Geological formations, the placing of footings for bridges and dam construction. He was truly a renaissance man when it came to such things.

He continued, “The thin cracks in the rock look like, and are called veins. They’ve been pushed up by the force of the moving plates of the earth and left exposed over time,” he pointed at the rock wall. “Here, where they now lay exposed by rain, wind, and ice that has eroded them over thousands of years, and eventually stripped the minerals from the veins. The gold and other valuables were stripped out over thousands of years too, and washed into the rivers and streams where it now lays waiting.”

He kept talking, he no longer sounded like some old mountain man. He sounded like a prospector and a geologist.

Harlan certainly had many dimensions, and Murphy listened intently as the lesson continued “This is why the gold is where we found it in Myrtle Creek now, and this is where it came from,” he turned again to face Murphy. “It all ends up under the sand bars and other resting places. Waiting for us to dig it up.”

Tom bumped along steady as a mill stone, grinding away up the hill behind Harlan and Elly. The big mule deftly grabbed and stripping buds from the swamp alder and poplar trees as he plodded along. Much like a conveyor belt, Tom processed food in one end and deposited it behind him at the other end. He was a marvel to behold. Murphy liked old Tom…

“Tomorrow, if we go up the creek and pan and don’t find any gold, we can be sure the source was somewhere between there and our claim.” It was a simple enough tactic, and foolproof. The only glitch is if the source of the gold had already been stripped away with nothing remaining.

“It’s easy to locate gold deposits. If a fella can just imagine, that you’re traveling down the middle of a river, dragging a long rope behind you. The rope’s trail left behind, represent the flow of the gold in the river. As the heavy gold clings to the sides, like the rope clings to each bend and curve it shows you were to look. That is where them gold flakes and nuggets will settle.”

Murphy was getting the idea that Harlan was trying to let him in on this prospecting know how. He probably figured Bob and he were going to be around much longer than he was, and he wanted to pass on what he knew to the clan of John Roberts before he left this world. After all it was Bob’s grandfather, John, who started Harlan into prospecting in the first place.

“This is how to locate gold for sluicing,” Harlan’s voice snapped Murphy out of his thoughts.

“Now looky thar,” Harlan pointed the alder stick at the rock face. A thin, white quartz vein could be barely seen beneath the lichens and moss, it ran diagonally through the gray granite where Harlan aimed his stick. He climbed down off of Elly and made his way to the rock, wading through the deep snow. He pointed at the rock as he plowed through toward it. “Hard to say,” he puzzled. “I don’t see any gold yet, but might be worth checking it out in the spring, maybe with some rock drills and dynamite.”

He turned to Murphy who was still sitting on Tom, and held out his arms in a huge arc: “Most people don’t realize that there is this layer of gold all around the entire planet. It’s just that there are hundreds of feet of rock and over burden laying on top of it. That’s why it’s so hard to get at. It is usually pushed up by the forming of mountains or volcanic activity, that’s why some older islands like Indonesia and the Philippines have gold on them. The new ones like Hawaii, are mostly built of volcanic pumice, and might have diamonds because of “Kimberlite formations,” but not likely any gold.”

Harlan waded back through the snow drift, ‘We’d better get back before it gets dark, the horses are fine traveling in the dark, but I don’t much feel like eating branches all the way back.”

Murphy turned Tom around, “Me neither, let’s get going.”

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Back at the cabin, Bob had spent most of the day clearing snow from the solar panels, and topping up the batteries under the shed roof with pure water. He had invited the Granvilles up to watch movies on his DVD player, so he wanted to make sure the power system was up to the task.

The Granvilles arrived later carrying a pot luck dinner. Lynda knew Murphy was away, and Bob could probably use a hand. So, she arranged to supply the food for the group.

Right after dinner, the ladies started to clean up the table and Logan and Bob readied the movie, but first the men watched the evening news before putting on the show.

The TV sizzled to live, and a news reporter dressed in a bulletproof vest and helmet reading PRESS across the front, and the back, came on looking stressed.

He was obviously afraid and shouting as he crouched behind a concrete barricade, hiding from the gunfire in the background, he then addressed the camera holding his microphone to his mouth.

“The rebel forces have not giving up even though the UN troops have commandeered armored vehicles from the local police force, and are using them to push back the growing resistance. The rebel forces appear to be spreading across the city using the roof tops, their intentions are unclear but they appear to be firing down at the UN soldiers who have tried to take back several dozen blocks of the down town Los Angeles core. There are similar scenes all across America cropping up in every major city in this country.”

“The Pentagon, claims it is gearing up for all out civil war. No word from Washington yet, as they claim they will not condone nor objurgate the civil unrest. They have admitted they will meet any violence with equal force if necessary. The newly elected President has vowed to get to the bottom of these issues, but has assured the people he will do his best to turn back the UN troops his administration has called for help. He merely requests the people to allow more time to get a handle on the root of the problem. Most of the rebel leaders doubt the President’s intentions, and have run out of patience with those in charge. They say they will not back down, and want their country back… This is Sam Henderson, Fox News, Los Angeles California…”

Bob flipped to another channel, and another reporter standing in front of a courthouse somewhere in the southwest of the nation.

“This is Lyle Nesbitt reporting live from New Orleans at the Louisiana State Court House, where just moments ago, a terrorist organization claiming to be members of the Muslim Brotherhood has simultaneously detonated three devices inside the court house foyer, killing twenty-five people and injuring many more. As you can see, the court house is completely engulfed in flames, as firefighters desperately try to extinguish the blaze. Apparently, the devices had been strapped to the chest of three individual radical jihadists, who stormed the court house doors, and shortly thereafter detonated the bombs before any security could stop them.”

He held a hand to his head, adjusting his ear piece.

“This newsman has just heard that four more terror attacks have occurred today, across the state of Louisiana. The Brotherhood has admitted to taking advantage of the recent chaos caused by the martial law decision, using it to wreak havoc over the people of the United States.”

“Holy shit, look at this Bob,” Logan whispered pointed at the TV in awe.

The reporter then continued, “Elsewhere, Christian lives are in turmoil, in Alabama, Florida, and the state of Georgia as multiple Churches were attack and set ablaze. Many community churchsgoers are panicked in the aftermath, demanding action by their government. Washington administration remains silent despite the growing concerns of the public.”

“Radical members from various Islamic groups have taken credit for these terror attacks, and still no word from the White House.”

Logan, and Bob glanced over at the girls, to see if they were listening, then look to each other, whispering so as not to frighten the women, who were cleaning the supper dishes, and apparently not hearing what had just been announced.

Logan leaned over to Bob and quietly confessed, “Damn, it’s getting worse, what the hell are we going do about this, Bob?”

“What can we do?” he whispered back. “It’s not as if the bunch of us are going to make a difference by ourselves. Turning against your own government isn’t something you do lightly, ya know… especially with Jihadist terrorist loose in the country.”

“That’s what I mean, Bob. I know you were over in Iraq, and you understand this better than I do, but I don’t want to lose my country to a bunch of jihadists, do you?|

He didn’t need to ask Bob that, he knew the answer.

“Hell no, let me think about this for a few days we’ll talk later okay?”

Logan looked worried as he watched his wife and daughter work at the sink. The mother and daughter were talking quietly to themselves.

“They think we can’t hear what’s going on.” Marlee said to her mom, she looked forlorn looking up at her, “I hate that the world is going through this, why do they have to attack us like that,” she whispered trying to hide it from her Dad. Her mother spoke softly to her, “Don’t let on that you know. Marlee, it would kill your father that you worry so much.” Marlee agreed, and wouldn’t mention it again, she promised.

Bob saw the fear in Logan.

He tried to reason with him, and let him know how he felt, “I knew this day was coming. I had planned on riding it out here by myself. I never expected to be responsible for so many others. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you are all here. I just had a simpler plan in mind, that’s all.  Fighting in another war wasn’t part of the plan.” Bob knew this was different though, it wasn’t just another war, it was a fight for America. He couldn’t refuse the calling, and he knew it.

Logan felt guilty for putting Bob on the spot, “By the way Bob thank you for being our friend. We really couldn’t have made it out here if it hadn’t been for you and Murphy.”

Bob wasn’t afraid to fight, he had done it before in Iraq. He unfortunately knew that this time it was a whole new bag of worms. It was a war where you can never tell who is really on your side. It would become a fight that the American people would not be allowed to win, not on their own anyhow.

The strength of the military in America had taken centuries to build. It now could be used against the very people that built it, as it was controlled by outside foreign influences. The foreign kleptocrats had entrenched themselves with every position of power of the United States. This fact did not sit well with Bob, or most veterans. Their only hope was that the current military personnel would see the wrong in all of this before it became too late. They needed to turn against this evil that was trying to turn the nation’s military onto itself.

“What the country needs right now is a proper sit down, with the president. If he is a free thinker, they will convince him that having UN troops invade our nation is an act of war, and something the people and veterans of this country will never stand for.”

“I agree,” said Logan. “But, how does someone get through to a president and bring him to our side of the fight?”

“I don’t know Logan, it’s something I have never considered before.” Bob looked haggard just thinking about the country’s bleak future.

The girls came over with an armload of coffee mugs, and offered the men some coffee and cookies. Marlee handed them out as Bob turned off the news, and pushed the DVD into the player.

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Harlan and Murphy were back at the claim, and just finishing up stowing the tack from their ride. “Well, young fella, I don’t know about you but I’m beat.” He reached under the timothy bale, and pulled out a big clay jug.

“I’ve been saving this jug for our going home day, but figure this is as good a time as any. It’s my home made corn sqeez’ns, and mighty fine if I do say so myself, would you care to partake, my young friend?”

Murphy smiled, “Are you kidding, I would indeed good sir, I would in deed.” They both laughed, and Harlan pulled the cork with a pop, and took a good long pull, and handed the clay jug to Murphy. “Be careful, it’s got a little Rattlesnake venom in her, and it’ll bite you if you’re not careful.”

Murphy tried his best to duplicate Harlan’s example, but the burn of the nearly 180 proof liquor was too much for the accountant from Metro. He vowed to get used to it, and commenced to doing just that. Harlan admitted he was showing off, and the men got a canteen of clear creek water to mix with it. It went down much better, and tasted like butter after that. It was still probably 100 proof, but it was so smooth they couldn’t tell.

Murphy thanked Harlan for asking him along to mine gold, and told him how everything that he was learning has brought on a whole new dimension to living here in the bush.

Harlan thanked Murphy for his kind words, but said this, “Every man needs to ask himself how he wants to be remembered after he’s gone. You can only do that by treating others the way you want them to remember you when you leave this good earth. I wanted to teach you and Bob what I know, because you are the only ones connected to my past, and the only ones that will remember me when I’m gone.”

Murphy, shook his head after hearing this, and said, “See, Harlan, you just taught me another thing, and you probably didn’t even know it,” he reached out his tin cup and clanged it against Harlan’s. He rubbed his hands together greedily, “Now let’s see how much gold we got so far,” outside above the tent the two men’s laughter could be heard as a flickering flame of humanity seen yellow and afar, floating off like the chimney smoke in some silent cosmos of winters wilderness. The snow kept falling in wet round flakes over the valley, and the men were held in winter’s white embrace.

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Many times in the old days, miners simply sat out the winter back at their camps, waiting until spring to do it again. They were always trying to get every ounce they could from the claim before shutting down during the frozen months. Some would head to town and exchange their gold for provisions to be used the following spring. Some returned to the wilderness broke, after a considerable time of merriment with the ladies from the local saloon. Others spoke little to the town’s folks, preferring to keep their business to themselves. Harlan never needed to worry about competition, as for the most part, he was the only prospector in this area.

“Governments nowadays,” he complained shaking his head, “like to keep track of every bit of real money entering their world. So they make a law that every “free miner,” needs to be licensed to prospect in the country’s hills.”

Murphy understood the “why” behind the bank’s resistance of real money, resisting their infusion of their fiat currency scam. It was real money they needed to control, but couldn’t unless they licensed it and kept track of everyone, and every nugget of it. That was another reason they constantly try to end cash in society, too: more control.

He instinctively knew Harlan couldn’t care less about the government’s currency scams. He just wanted them to leave him alone. His thoughts were that he didn’t bother them and they shouldn’t bother him. He was a true Libertarian, and consequently, Harlan never had a “Free Miner’s Certificate, whatever the hell that was,” he asked sarcastically.

“Oh, forget them, it’s not important,” Murphy reached for the jug and poured two more helpings of the sour mash. “This is some fine liquor Harlan, you know back in town, I could sell this here stuff,” Murphy bragged. Harlan’s voice boomed, “Now I have no interest in selling anything in town, thank you very much, young sir.”

“Suit yourself, Harlan, I’m just saying this is premium hooch,” Murphy sipped his cup dry, and held it out for another.

“Careful now son, I warned you it bites, we need to get packed and out of here tomorrow, and it ain’t going to be easy on those trails I’ll wager.”

“I got this,” said Murphy as he tried to focus on the two jugs being poured into his two cups at the same time.

Harlan spilled the liquor on Murphy’s hand, and the men roared at the spectacle of it all, “Oh well,” Harlan said. “We aren’t in any real rush are we,” as they laughed at the absurdity of it all. They were both righteously drunk, and they knew it.

The men had managed to sluice a full ounce of gold flakes and then some from the sandbar, before the weather had stopped their progress altogether. It proved to Harlan he was right about this spot, and he vowed to return in the spring.

The next morning, the two awoke feeling not bad at all. The pureness of the alcohol, mixed with the clear creek water had very little after effects on the two. They quickly broke down the tent and loaded the animals, and were soon on their way back to the cabin. The snow had accumulated to a staggering three feet in depth. If it were not for the horses it would have been a grueling trip home without snowshoes, perhaps impossible. Many a person has succumbed to the elements after a blizzard such as this.

At the first clearing, the men saw herds of Elk that had come down from the upper slopes because of the deep snow. They even witnessed a pack of wolves following the herd. Later on, off to the right of the meadow, just beyond the creek they spotted three dark shapes. A bull moose and his two cows, standing amongst some poplar trees. Murphy watched the three animals and wondered how difficult it must be to hide oneself, when you are so large and nearly solid black in color, all except the grayish brown of their legs. It was equally hard to miss the shine of those huge polished antlers that the great animal the Bull Moose wore. Harlan commented that the bulls use them to signal each other during the rut, and that they were not to be trusted or approached without a rifle that time of year, as many an adventurous soul has been killed by the unpredictable behavior of these animals during the rut.

Harlan asked Murphy if he cared to shoot the bull, as it made for the best and softest moccasins. Murphy hesitated, feeling him and Bob had more than enough meat for the winter, and saw it as a waste.  Harlan then confessed he had some tanned moose hide left over in his kit. He’d be willing to let Murphy use it for the moccasins, “It ain’t big enough for me to make another pair, but it would be plenty for you and your tiny feet,” he said this without malice, but matter of fact like. Murphy had to see the humor in his observation, as Harlan’s feet were certainly much larger than his own. So he took the comment in the spirit it was meant, and accepted the gift of the moose hide, and Harlan’s promise to teach him how to make a pair for himself, after all he had held up his end of the deal.

Elly and Tom plodded along quite at home in the thigh deep snow. Harlan decided to stop at the pine grove that Murphy had rested at on his way-in many months before. The two watered the animals, and Harlan pulled out a pouch of jerky, and offered some to Murphy. “How you feel’n this morning,” he asked Murphy with a smile.

Murphy had to confess, “You know, considering how much we drank last night, I feel pretty darn good.”

Harlan puffed up his chest, “I make some pretty darn good shine if’n I do say so.”

Murphy then asked, “Perhaps you can show me how to make the shine too, when you get a chance, I promise to keep any secrets you don’t want me to share.”

“You know, Nathaniel I might just do that.” It was curious how Harlan either called Murphy and Bob by their proper Christian names or simply used the term, “young fella” to cover pretty much everyone, as chances were good that they would be younger than he.

“We’ll get working on those moccasins as soon as we get back to the cabin.” Harlan cinched up the saddles tighter, and hopped astride Elly. Murphy led Tom over to a dead-fall and climbed aboard the great beast. He wondered what he would do if no step could be found, he supposed he would simply have to lead the animal around until he found one, and laughed to himself picturing him and Tom stuck in some vast prairie with no step in sight.

“Let’s get moving, we should be back at the cabin in no time.” Right then, Murphy noticed a movement through the trees on the far side of the meadow. “Did you see that,” asked Murphy.

“I did,” said Harlan. “Looks to be wolves, I suspect they been following us since we cut across them back at the upper meadows.” Harlan was quite calm, but Murphy took another view toward these demons.

“They often follow men,” Harlan spoke calmly, “especially in winter. I reckon it’s an old habit from way back when we were mostly hunters. They followed the native tribes as they wanted to share in their kill.”

“I’ve been followed by wolves for many winters, ain’t never been bothered by any of them yet. Sure they can give a fella the willies some nights, especially when they come right near your camp fire in the evenings, but they ain’t never bothered me, not once. I suspect in the old days they might have been a little bolder and attacked a few settlers but, all in all, I reckon they was just scared and made up most of those stories back then out of fear.”

Murphy at heart was still a city boy, and didn’t take as much comfort in Harlan’s tales of wolves as he should have. He still kept a wary eye for the fury devils still following behind them. He counted three nearly black ones, and six mixed or gray colored wolves. It was hard to say how many there were, and Harlan said, the older ones will stay well hidden, as they are used to being shot at from a distance.

“You won’t see the old ones come forward until it gets a might bit darker. Many times, they are the ones that sit off by themselves on a hill and such, and call the others too them. Other times it’s the lone wolves who have been kicked out because they are competing with the head males, and have been banished by the pack.”

Back east, when Murphy and his Dad hunted whitetail hunting there was no need to keep an eye peeled for wolves, as they had been all but eradicated from the landscape. He trusted Harlan, but only so far. It is man’s nature to fear wolves because of our past history with them, and we are constantly being told to fear them.

But, the creatures’ fearsome reputation as man eaters is largely undeserved. They can and do wreak havoc on moose populations in some areas, but only in so much as they decrease it then most move on. Where this conflict can come from, is when there is nowhere to move on too. This can sometimes upset the modern day hunting lodges that make a living off of the large game populations, as well as the local ranchers, as the desperate animals often take on whatever game they can to feed themselves.

Harlan blames the lack of trapping as it has been all but ruined by, “tree hugging granola eating liberals,” as he put it. He told Murphy of mega packs, with as much as 45 wolves and more in one group. These huge pack numbers scare even Harlan when he comes across them. The reason is the unsustainable amount of game it would take to feed such a large group. This may indeed temp some animals to take on cattle, or even humans such as a lone man out and about by himself.

Harlan prattled on with his trapping sermon, “what these bleeding hearts don’t seem to get is that men are part of this Eco-system too. Those city folks look at this planet and its wildlife like humans have somehow invaded it. They don’t see it as if we are here like the animals, to grow in this garden, along with all the other creatures. This is not a zoo or adventure park, this is life.”

“I hope when I die, that those wolves out there, feed on my corpse, that would be how I want to end up. Let the ravens and crows, and magpies pick my bones over, let the mice live in my skull, and the wolverines can crack open my bones for the marrow. That’s how I want to go out…”

Harlan didn’t say anything else for the rest of the ride…

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Logan and his family decided to accept Bob’s invitation to sleep over, rather than make the long snow shoe trek back home through the storm.

The next day they were just about to leave when Murphy and Harlan rode up. Marlee spotted them first, and shouted out, “They’re back,” she shouted pointing, and dancing about like she did whenever she needs to release that pent-up energy of youth. The rest of the group gathered at the edge of the stairs to greet them on the porch. Murphy and Harlan waved, as they rode the animals under the trees by the creek, and took care of their needs first before heading to the cabin.

After unsaddling the pair, they stowed and covered the gear under tarps. Harlan, held up his jug, as if asking confirmation from Murphy. “No, I think we can share what Bob and I have, maybe some dark rum.” “That sounds right pleasant,” Harlan grinned, and stowed the jug back under the tarp.

The reunion was grand, with a million questions, mostly from the little girl, Marlee. She must have held on to the small sack of gold the rest of the night. Hefting it in each hand as if it held some magical power somehow. The group was together again. Murphy marveled at how they had all become such a tight-knit family. He looked over to Harlan who seemed to be enjoying the experience as much as the next fellow. He laughed uproariously and flashed that golden toothed smile the rest of the evening. Perhaps he was making up for all those lost years of living by himself.

As soon as the evening wound down, the Granville women, went to bed, and the men stayed up and chatted about the news Bob and Logan had watched. Harlan was amazed at how far the country had fallen. He honestly never thought he would ever see his great country fall to such lows. He listened to Bob’s theories about corruption, and had no problem understanding what Murphy was still having trouble believing most days. He finally had to admit to himself that the over whelming coincidence of it all did always seem to point to a shadow government, and a global agenda. Every piece of the puzzle fit.

The next day, Harlan dragged out his quarter hide of moose, and laid it out on the table. He had a separate piece of thick hide that he explained to Murphy was from the hump, and top of the neck it was at least a quarter inch thick and tough yet flexible. This would be used for the soles. The patterns where simple enough, and Harlan showed Murphy how to use his own foot for the measurements. He checked the first one against both feet and used it to create both the left and the right pattern. In no time at all, he had two identical, yet opposite patterns cut out.

Next he created forty feet or so of lacing, the same way Bob had taught Marlee to make it for the snowshoes. Everyone sat around and watched as Harlan stitched together the moccasins. The trick, he said, is in keeping the stitches small, and using a very sharp knife for cutting. “Gathering the toe area up with the stitching is the hardest part,” Harlan explained to the group how to wax the thread for stitching the lower parts, and use the lacing for the uppers. Then the rest is quite easy. Murphy worked on both of the moccasins, “as having two people working on a pair would make them lop sided and odd,” Harlan explained.

Harlan had Beaver fur for winter lining’s in his moccasins, he explained that beaver provided the most warmth and admitted, Murphy could use rabbit fur instead for now, as that was all he had from the hides Marlee had tanned over the falls catch. They certainly were cozy, and Murphy ran outside to try them in the snow. They worked marvelously, the action of his foot rubbing in the fur, and the layer of air trapped by the rabbit fur provided a layer of warmth, like no other footwear Murphy had ever owned before.

It was strange at first, to be wearing such light footwear in the winter, it felt odd, and took some getting used too. He ran about in them, and kept lifting his feet high, not believing how light they actually were. “These are fantastic Harlan, thank you very much.” The entire bunch of valley residents thanked Harlan for his knowledge. “Hell, it’s just nice that it won’t be forgotten. That’s the real gift here,” Harlan contended.

The group gathered together when Harlan was tending to his horses. They had a short meeting, about Harlan. “We should asked him if he would be willing to stay here, at least for the winter,” said Lynda. The others agreed. Bob asked Murphy first, but suggested he stay with them, as they clearly had more room, besides he admitted, “We live far closer to the meadow, where the horses can feed.” The group agreed, and when Harlan came in he knew by the way they all stared back at him that something was up. “What’s going on?” he asked looking rather bewildered.

Bob looked Harlan in the eye, “We all had a vote Harlan, and we want you to stay the winter with me and Murphy, rather than risk heading back over the mountains in this snow.”

“Oh, really, you know I been traveling through snow much worse than this here storm. I once traveled ninety miles in snow that was up to old Tom’s chest.”

“Oh, we didn’t mean you wouldn’t be able, we just thought we might want you around, you know, to teach us more about things you know, and relax around some people before heading back to your valley.”

“Well, that do sound pretty inviting, I might stay for a while, if’n nobody minds.” “No we don’t mind,” everybody shouted at once, and Marlee gave the great bear of a man a hug that melted his heart. “It’s settled then, Murphy and I will make you a bunk over by the wall or the stove if you prefer.”

“No, the wall will be fine, I can’t stand the heat when I’m sleeping.” Murphy smiled and shook Harlan’s hand, “welcome aboard old timer.”

“Just until spring mind you, then I better be moving back to my valley,” Harlan was quick to add. He was a bit over whelmed by the suddenness of it all. “I’m planning a trip to Mayerthorpe in the spring. I’ve got to get my yearly supplies,” he said nervously as everyone rushed off to get him settled. Murphy spoke up next, “Hey, Harlan, do you suppose I could tag along when you go? Bob and I could sure use a few things there too.” “Sure I don’t see why not, we might want to hit that claim again before we leave,” Harlan winked at Murphy regarding their little secret in the gorge. Murphy nodded in affirmation, and went about getting the tools for building Harlan’s bunk.

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November blustered and blew, and melted into December. The residents went about the days, and more or less enjoyed their valley together. The winter had been kind to them so far, and they shared many activities together. Marlee grew particularly fond of Elly, though she liked Tom too, she was afraid of his enormous size. She often came up to the cabin just to visit the horses, and offered to feed and care for them as well.

The holidays rolled by with Thanksgiving being the most memorable any of them could remember, and then came Christmas.

Everyone drew names from a hat, to determine the person they would be making a gift for. Marlee drew Harlan’s, Harlan drew Lynda’s, Lynda drew Bob’s, Bob drew Marlee’s and Logan drew Murphy’s, Murphy drew Logan’s, and all were secretly working on their surprise gift for the holidays. Marlee couldn’t contain her enthusiasm, and she kept track of the days with an advent calendar that Lynda had made her. Each day, she would announce how many days left before Santa would be there. Both houses had been decorated for the holidays, each with a tree in the corner waiting for presents, and that special day.

It was a week before Christmas, and Harlan stood sipping his coffee watching Marlee through the cabin window. He had grown very fond of the little girl, and smiled at how well she handled the two animals. He turned to Bob and Murphy, and said: “I’m headed to a friend’s house I’d like to visit during the holidays.” Bob looked at Murphy and Murphy at Bob, each thinking how odd it was Harlan had never mentioned before he knew anyone nearby. “Who would that be,” Bob asked. “Oh it’s just a friend that I like to visit during the holidays. I should be back in time for Christmas, if I’m running late you can find my present to Lynda under my bed.”

It all sounded rather sudden and very odd to the other men. “You sure it’s a good idea to travel in this kind of winter?” they asked. “Oh hell yes, this ain’t nothing, been doing it for all my life,” Harlan was adamant about the trip, and wouldn’t hear any more about it. He was leaving that afternoon. The men looked at each other and shrugged. “Well, do you need any help to get ready?” they asked him. “No,” he assured them he would be traveling light and could pack himself.

That afternoon, Harlan waved goodbye to the two men and Marlee, and headed north along the trail, he never said where he was going or when he might be back, just that he hoped to back by Christmas day.

Whatever it was Harlan was determined to do it. Nothing the men could say would dissuade him from leaving. The days rolled by far too slowly for Marlee, who now didn’t even have the two horses to keep her mind off of the coming holidays. She drove everyone nuts asking each to guess what she had made Harlan, she also bugged Bob about what his gift to her was.

Despite the child’s pestering, she was the one catalyst that made the holidays real for everyone. No one even thought about the distant turmoil back in the city. They went about their days with nearly a care. As the holiday approached, Marlee grew anxious, she desperately worried about Harlan. She prayed he was alright, and that he would make it back soon, as Christmas was fast coming, and she had made his gift for him. She so wanted to give it to him on Christmas morning.

The days ticked by and Marlee counted them off with the advent calendar, until that finally evening, the night before Christmas.

The group decided to gather at Bob and Murphy’s cabin. They spent the evening singing carols and drinking eggnog punch. They played games into the evening, until Marlee could no longer hold her eyes open. She was devastated that Harlan wouldn’t be there for Christmas morning. She tossed and turned in the big man’s bed. Dreaming of Christmas day.

Marlee of course woke first, it was still dark, and she wasn’t sure but she thought she could make out piles of gifts under the tree. In her mind, she was sure that Santa had been there and left the presents as they were all sleeping. She looked over at her mother and father sleeping on the floor, and tried to see if Harlan was there too, hoping he had somehow made the trip back in time. She was heartbroken when she discovered he was not.

She waited in bed until she could no longer, and got up, trying to read the tags on the presents under the tree. She was certain that many of them were hers. She squeezed, and prodded, rustling the gifts as quiet as she could. Until finally her mother stirred, and “Shhhhh, Marlee, people are still sleeping, it’s only 4:30 in the morning you go back to bed young lady.”

Her mother’s voice made Marlee jump right out of her skin, and she dropped the gift. She didn’t understand, she was positive no one could hear her, she had been so very quiet.

Marlee grabbed her stocking from behind the stove, and climbed back into bed, she was still clinging to it when her mother shook her awake as soon as the sun came up. The others reluctantly rose for the glorious morning. Everyone was happy and hugged, accept Marlee who kept checking the window and looking up the trail for any sign of Harlan and Elly, and old Tom.

The family made hot cakes with blueberry syrup and tea for breakfast, they opened their presents, and thanked everyone for their gifts. The sun was now cresting the valley and slowly peeking over the ridge. It was a clear blue day, like no other anyone could recall since summer. Not a cloud in the sky. A truly magnificent day.

Lynda noticed Marlee sitting forlorn on Harlan’s bed. She went to talk to her daughter. “Now Marlee, Harlan said he’d be here if he doesn’t make it, it’s probably because he was held up by snow. I’m sure he is fine, you mustn’t worry. He’ll be along sooner or later, he has been traveling these mountains his entire life.”

Lynda was a little disappointed that Harlan had chosen such an inopportune time to leave, and go visiting friends. But, she considered it was the holidays, and perhaps Harlan had his reasons. He, after all, was an old man who probably knew he may never get the chance to visit them again.

The rest of the day, Marlee moped around, not really feeling the Christmas spirit yet. She spent most of the day, checking the North Trail for Harlan and the animals. Lunch rolled around, and everyone went inside to eat. Marlee said she wasn’t hungry and waited on the porch steps. The sun was as high in the sky as it would ever get this time of the year, and she played with her little doll that Bob had made for her. It was one of those Grandma Apple dolls, he had used and old dry apple for the face, and some thin copper wire to make spectacles for the wrinkled old woman, and Marlee’s Mom helped Bob with the sewing of the cloths. She loved it, but it still wasn’t enough to cheer her up. She kicked at the snow on the porch, and threw a stick at the suet feeder scaring off the chickadees.

Then suddenly she thought she heard a noise, a faint snort as if from a horse. She looked up toward the trail, and stared. She watched for the longest time. Still, there was no movement, and no Harlan coming round the bend. She kicked at the snow some more, she got angry at Harlan for leaving when he did. How could he be so selfish as to leave when he knew she had made a present for him to open Christmas day?

Suddenly a red squirrel began its angry chatter, it sprang across the snow at the far end of the trail holding its tail high in the air, then bounded up a tree quick as lightening. Just then, Elly came round the corner with Harlan riding high and waving his arm, and old Tom was right behind them both. Then, as if from some magical story, trotted a tiny yearling colt with its head barely above the trail the two other horse left behind them.

Marlee let out a scream, alerting everyone in the cabin, “Harlan is here.” Elly bobbed her head and whinnied, as soon as she saw the young girl.

“Harlan, I’ve been waiting for you, what took you so long,” the girl was in tears. She flew down the steps, and waded through the chest deep snow to greet the big bear of a man. When she got to him, he reached down his big bear of a paw, and took her hand in his and lifted her up to the saddle. “I brought you a gift Marlee,” he smiled and pulled the lead of the colt forward and handed it to the girl. He doesn’t have a name yet, so you can name him whatever you want.”

Lynda watched from the porch with tears in her eyes as she saw what Harlan had done. This was going to be the best Christmas that little girl would ever know.

To be continued…

Authored by jack Woods.

The post What if Martial Law Were Declared in America? Part Seven: The Storm appeared first on Survival Sullivan.

What if Martial Law were declared in America? Part Six: Stories from the Past

This is part of our free, online and highly-praised survival fiction novel. You can read the rest of the parts here.

Bob half turned, rolled his eyes to his left, and slowly straightened, blinking in wonderment at the figure that appeared before him. It was as if this man and horse had just stepped out of some nineteenth century novel.

He wore buckskins, a pull over thigh length deer hide shirt, tied at the waist with a thick belt. A large sheathed bone handled knife and hatchet were crossed in an X along his backbone. He wore a pair of buckskin leggings fringed, with knee-high moccasins, and on his head sat a fur hat that stared right back at Bob with a face and eyes of a coyote.

Bob blinked trying to clear this vision from his mind. The strange figure held a rifle across his chest …a Winchester lever action, encased in a buckskin scabbard also with frontier style fringe. The rifle’s scabbard was adorned with tiny glass bead work stitched in swirls and patterns, and multiple colors. The image of this huge man was as if some character from an old novel had just stepped out of the yellowed and brittle pages from the past, and come to life, right there in front of his eyes.

Bob was understandably perplexed as he looked about the yard, making sure he was where he thought he was. “Where did you come from?” he asked in his confusion. He stood in awe, blinking at the mountain-man as if he were in a dream, just an image standing there in the dim morning light.

The bigger than life character then shifted in his saddle proving to Bob he was real. He stood up in his stirrups, and casually pointed to the southwest with his scabbarded rifle.  The saddle creaked, and the horse adjusted her stance to accompany the man’s weight.

“I have a cabin a few valleys over that way to the west.” He pointed and settled in his saddle again. His voice was deep, with a low rumbling to it that sounded as if it came from far off somewhere in the hills behind him.

The horse moved about nervously, and then as if it decided all by herself, she walked toward the edge of the porch, and poked her nose at Bob for a treat or a rub.

At this point, Bob was only chest-high with the large man that sat on her back, this despite his advantage of being on a raised porch.

This giant being looked down at Bob, and managed a grin beneath his thick white beard. He spoke in a low bass tone, “My name is Harlan… Harlan Pettimore”, his voice boomed.

The barreled chested man was awe-inspiring. His massive frame leaned over Bob looking as big as the trees and the hills surrounding them. Much like some great bear this mountain-man held out his huge paw for Bob to shake.

Bob, stared at the hand for a good while, and slowly offered his back …it was more out of reflex than desire to have his hand crushed, and he waited with doubt. The massive paw engulfed his hand, like an adult would a child’s, and for an instance, Bob couldn’t help thinking perhaps he had made a horrible mistake in offering his limb up to this giant man.

Yet the man gently shook his hand and just smiled, “Pleased to meet you, and you are”, he kindly asked in that rumbling voice?

“Oh, I’m Bob”, he stammered, “I… I… I mean Robert Michaels, people usually call me Bob.”

Bob felt silly standing in his long johns with the tin pail in his hands.

The larger than life man stroked his white beard with his free hand, and politely replied: “Pleased to meet you Robert”, His voice was so low, it was hypnotic.

Harlan, looked about at Bob’s camp as if taking in the whole scene.

He began talking, “I was riding through, checking on some new territory when I remembered that years ago I had an old friend who lived out this way.”

Bob looked curiously at Harlan, “You mean my father Roy Michaels?” he asked the large man.

He rubbed his thick white beard again, “That was his son’s name I believe, No… I’m speaking of John Michaels, he must have been your grandfather, I suspect.”

Bob considered this for a moment, reasoning that Harlan couldn’t be more than sixty, other than his weathered face he looked as fit as a fiddle, “well you must have been a young boy when you knew my grandfather?”

“I was in my early twenties”, Mr. Pettimore confessed.

“I remember he learned me prospecting, and trapping… it was soon after I got back from the Korean War. I was a bit mixed up in those days, and your grandparents took me under their wing I reckon. I think it was 1954 in fact …if memory serves me right. My guess is your dad wasn’t even born in those days.”

Bob gradually relaxed …soothed by his demeanor and his quiet way. He noted that men like this man and his grandfather, those who spend many years in the woods often have a quiet way about them.

 

“You’re Roy Michael’s boy, aren’t you”, the man asked Bob.

“I am”, …he cautiously replied still not believing this man could be nearly eighty years old if what he claimed was true.

Harlan looked at Bob with his cool gray eyes, “Your Dad …Roy might not remember me all that much, as I didn’t come around after your grandmother started raising you kids. I confess I was still a little wild back in those days”, his laugh sounded like distant rocks falling off a mountainside.

“How is your Dad?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, but my father passed away nearly 6 years ago now. Heart failure I’m afraid.”

“Oh, that’s too bad, I’m sorry to hear that, I would have much liked to see him one more time.”

The big man then looked skyward, as if reading the weather. Looks to be fair weather for a day or two, then I suspect the snow will return.

“Do you still trap out this way Robert”, Harlan asked. Bob was looking a bit dimwitted still, the shock of what he was seeing hadn’t set in yet.

“I… no I don’t… well for food sometimes, but not for fur”, until seeing this man Bob doubted anyone still trapped out here anymore for fur, but felt like humoring the old man. An awkward pause took place between the two men.

Apparently Harlan had used up all his idle chit chat, and it was Bob’s turn to keep the conversation going.

“Are you looking for trapping territory”, he asked the bearded giant.  He wondered what other reason a man such as this would be out his way, or at all …especially in these days and in the beginning of winter. “Where do you come from?” he asked Harlan trying to sort the thoughts running through his mind.

This time, the giant man tipped his head toward the west, “The third valley over,” he replied in a matter of fact tone. Bob suddenly realized why he looked so puzzled, as he had already explained this to him moments before.

“I have always lived out here”, he continued. Bob wasn’t sure whether he meant this metaphorically, and then he continued: “for the last sixty years I reckon …wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

He again paused for a short bit, as if to reflect on his life. “I only head to town whenever I need supplies, like gear, staples, lamp oil, wicks, candy and such. I have a sweet tooth, you see”, he grinned at Bob, and flashed a golden tooth barely visible under the massive beard.

“How do you manage to get to town?” Bob asked the old man.

The mountain man narrowed his eyes at Bob, as if wondering what was so unusual about heading to town, “Oh, I ride Elly here”, he patted the paint horse on the neck. It tossed its head from side to side when she heard her name.

“But, where, what town?” he asked in wonderment.

He looked bewildered at Bob, and tried to understand what he meant, as he stared back he said, “I ride into Mayerthorpe.” He looked down at Bob with sympathy, and perhaps thought he might be a bit slow.

Bob knew a place called Mayerthorpe it wasn’t more than a village, and it was at least a fifty miles due west over the hills. He wasn’t sure it even had a store, or a population above a half dozen people.

He then saw the puzzled look on the Harlan’s face.

“Oh, I’m sorry, forgive me”, Bob shook his head, and apologized, “would you like to come in for some coffee Harlan”, he pointed at the cabin door and invited the old man inside.

He smiled expectantly, “that would be right neighborly of ya, I’ll just tie Elly down by the creek and be right in”, the horse seem to anticipate the offer and turned without Harlan even touching the reins.

“I’ll follow you to the creek”, Bob said as he hurried to catch up, “I was headed that way to get some scalding water for the stove,” he held up the empty pot looking embarrassed and feeling awkward as he only wore long johns and his jacket. He scrambled down from the porch behind the stranger and his horse.

Harlan called back over his shoulder to Bob, and said, “Your grandmother used that same pot when she was alive,” Harlan then stared up at the sky again, and rubbed his broad chin, he spoke perhaps remembering the days long ago, and continued talking as if speaking to someone above him. “You remember those days.” Bob couldn’t help, but look up to be sure no one was actually up there looking down.

Harlan gazed forward, “They were fine folk your granddad and grandma, your grandma helped me through a few bad winters too, you know.” He then looked back at Bob. He raised his voice as if Bob might not be able to hear him, “Lent me more than my fair share of staples, and not just once neither,” he shouted. “Many times she did… to tide me over,” a faint smile could be seen under that thick mustache as he recalled those long forgotten days. “Yes sir, good people.” He stopped the horse by the creek.

“A person can’t always make it out here on their own, you know.” Bob looked back up at Harlan as he reminisced. He had just used the same saying his grandfather always used, and Bob had used for himself many times.

Harlan reminded Bob, of his Grandfather in some way. He didn’t look anything like him, but both were cut from the same cloth. His grandfather was just as tough and just as sure of himself, it occurred to him how these old woodsmen possessed a gentleness about them despite their granite like hardness.

Harlan swung a leg down, and climbed off the horse, and turned to Bob as he tied the reigns of the animal, low on a limb by the creek, so it might still drink and feed.

“I have another pack animal, over yonder,” Harlan pointed to the south meadow.  “Tom’s his name. He’s hobbled in your meadow. He’ll be alright for a short while, though he gets mighty lonely without Elly.” He patted Elly again, as she pawed at the frozen ground, and pulled at the sparse greenery.  “I suspect he’ll kick up a fuss in an hour or two, when he gets bored.”

Harlan then removed a canvas sack from his saddle bags, and dumped a pile of oats on the ground for the horse.

Just then the cabin door opened, and Murphy stood at the top of the stairs grinning. Obviously happy about meeting someone new.

“Hello…” he shouted to the men. “Hey Bob who’s our new friend?” he asked holding a cup of coffee in one hand, and eating a slice of jam toast in the other. “Would you two care for some breakfast?” he asked.

Bob answered for both men, “we were just about to do that, thank you.” Bob then pointed to Murphy and introduced, “Harlan …this is Murphy, and Murphy this is Harlan, a neighbor of ours from way over west,” he waved in the general direction that Harlan indicated earlier.

“Please to meet you Harlan,” said Murphy cheerfully, as if seeing a mountain man in the middle of the twenty-first century was perfectly normal to him.

“Like wise young Sir,” he rumbled back in his quiet tone.

“Well come on in,” Murphy waved his toast to coax the two men toward the cabin.

Harlan pulled the saddle from the horse and threw it over a fallen tree, still leaving the blanket on her for warmth.

Bob and he made their way up the stairs, and stepped inside.

Harlan looked about the place with his steel gray eyes taking in everything, “Well it certainly looks different from the way it used to be.” He tipped his head toward the men, “when last I saw it, in 59 …I guess.”

Harlan’s eyes sparkled as he took in the memory of the old cabin’s interior. “Good to see it once again,” his demeanor perked up, “and I believe, I remember it had a different roof in those days, and I remember the day your grandma got that stove. Brand new back then it was, and John broke a finger hauling it back here. ”

“Oh you know this place?” Murphy suddenly realized.

“I do,” said Harlan, “from long ago.”

Harlan was such a large man that Murphy couldn’t help but notice how he needed to duck to get in through the front door. He stood maybe just 6 foot 4 inches, 6 foot 8 with his fur hat, but his shoulders were almost as wide as the doorway itself.

Bob felt some pride in the cabin’s renovations, and spoke up eagerly, “Yeah that’s right, Harlan” he said considering the ceiling with the others, “Dad and I replaced it a while back with those fir timbers, and we spanned them with 4-inch spruce slabs, we milled here right on site.” The three men admired the wood work of Bob and his dad, commenting on the craftsmanship. Each agreed it was a fine roof, and sturdy too.

Harlan recalled that Bob’s grandparents built the tiny cabin around the late 1930s. They had lived in the old place for over a decade, before John found work in the nearby town of Millville the reason they moved to the tiny hamlet.

Only then, using the cabin seasonally, for hunting or trapping.

Murphy offered Harlan a chair at the table, “Here you go Sir, take a seat.” He then took his place near the stove. “Would you care for some breakfast, sir?” he handed Harlan the handle of the spatula. The table had already been set with three tin plates, and a hot skillet waiting in the middle.

“Thank you kindly, Murphy, that would be nice”, he rumbled.

Harlan reached for the spatula, nodding politely. He paused for a moment staring at the skillet, “How do you manage to have fresh eggs this time of year without no chickens,” he inquired, adding, “It’s been quite some time since I’ve had fresh eggs.” Harlan then scooped at the skillet … after using some quick math he slipped three of the nine eggs onto his plate, followed by a good chunk of smoked deer meat, that the boys called bacon out here.

Bob smiled at the old man, “Well it’s an old trick of my grandmother’s,” he said.

“I’m surprised you don’t know about slaked lime water”, Bob said feeling a small victory at knowing something this old woodsman didn’t know. Immediately, he assumed that the old man may have simply forgotten this old trick, or was merely humoring him.

Bob took the spatula next, “If you keep fresh eggs in unslaked lime water, they will last years.” He was happy he could pass on this trick to someone as knowledgeable as Harlan. He really wanted to pick his brain about such things about the wilds, and the old ways. There weren’t many people alive anymore like Harlan, who had lived in the bush as he had, and for so long.

Bob continued talking as he scooped up his portion of the meal.

“Almost a year and a half ago, I purchased a thousand farm fresh eggs from a local farmer in Millville, and stored them as grandma did, but in plastic pails, using unslaked lime water solution. I buried them in caches below the frost line in holes, in the nearby hill,” he added with a smile.

“About 250 eggs to a pail. You need to be careful to layer them in with cheese cloth to keep them from banging about, and breaking,” he added knowingly.

Harlan, straightened up in a look of mock surprise, he was curious about Bob’s claims, “Say that’s pretty clever young fella, and you say it will keep them forever this slaked lime water?”

“Well, hard to say… Grandma always said they will last years, and I haven’t had a bad one yet. These are at least 18 months in the solution, and taste fine; mind you, we always finished them off in less than two years.”

“Yuh don’t say,” Harlan looked impressed. “…that’s pretty clever. I’ll certainly have to give it a try, when I get a chance.”

“I once heard a fella say he ate an egg that was over six years old and lived to tell about it,” Bob added as an anecdote.

Harlan tasted one cautiously, then slid the whole thing down in one gulp, then with a smile he said, “Your right they taste fine. How about that. You learn something new every day,” he grinned at the men, and finished another egg in another gulp.

“Those are some fine eggs,” he grinned. “Thank you very much,” Harlan wiped his beard with his hand, and rubbed them clean on his leggings, trying to look proper.

The younger men looked at each other, and secretly smiled. Both silently thinking that this giant of man would be very hard on their food supplies even if for merely a week or two.

Murphy watched Harlan finish half his breakfast in three bites. Then he paused for an unusually long time, and continued talking as if out of habit. He told a few stories to the men about the good old days, to allow his hosts to catch up with their portions of the meal. Then promptly finished off the other half of the meal …in as many bites.

Murphy, and Bob both offered one of their eggs to Harlan by just slipping it onto his plate without asking, and Murphy poured more coffee for the three, they laughed and talking more about the meal.

“When Bob told me how old these eggs were,” Murphy went on, “I have to admit I had my doubts, but they taste just fine to me too. It’s nice to have real eggs instead of powdered one’s especially this time of the year.” Bob added, “We dug up two pails, just enough to see us through the winter.”

Harlan then told a story of keeping chickens in the past, “Years ago, I’d tried to keep a half dozen birds or more,” he paused holding up his mug for more coffee, and Murphy filled it waiting for the story to continue.

“Thank you Murphy …it was a few years back, but the damned weasels, mink and pine martins kept getting them, so I just gave up. In those days, I was always away checking my trap line, or something to be bothered with watching them damned birds.” He stared off as if remembering the days.

“It’s damned hard to keep those little beggars out of a coop. One time a weasel, killed every bird I had, and broke all there eggs and drank the yokes …in just in one night.”

Harlan anxiously looked back and forth between the two men to emphasize this fact, “it was the damnedest thing,” he then sipped his coffee, and suddenly spied the sugar on the table.

“Sugar, now that’s what I miss. Do you mind?” He reached for the bowl, and waited for permission before pulling it towards him. “No not at all, go right ahead,” the men insisted. Harlan scooped in a heaping spoonful, into his mug and stirred. He sipped…

“Now, that’s how coffee should be. Sorry gentlemen, but I told you I have a sweet tooth,” he laughed, while added another great spoonful to the cup, and continued talking.

“They’re vicious little beggars, weasels are. Sometimes they’ll kill for the sheer enjoyment of it,” in between words, he swallowed his last of the eggs whole. It looked like a man eating oysters on the half shell, he didn’t even chew.

“I ended up having that same weasel as a pet. He would come in my cabin every night through a hole in the wall, and scurry around the outer edge of the cabin looking for scraps.”

Harlan, pointed to the outer wall, visualizing the animal in his mind. “He was good at keeping the mouse population down, and I always left him a treat or two, just so I could watch him eat it. After a while he would sit up in my lap, and play hide-and-seek in my beard,” Harlan roared with laughter. “All you could see was his little black nose peeking out,” he said in between coughing fits of laughter. It was contagious as the other men joined in.

“Little beggar’s been with me for years now, though I’m not sure if it’s a different critter then the original one. Can’t say I know how long weasels live. It might be some kin of the original one though.”

Suddenly Bob remembered the man traps they had set in the valley. “Oh, one thing, Harlan… I have to warn you about is this.”

“We’d been having trouble with some bad men over the Misty Lake Valley, to the east,” Bob pointed in that direction.  “The neighbors, and we,” pointing at Murphy and him “…we set some man traps on most of the main trails leading into our valley here. From the north and in the south, even some trails leading east. If you missed them you …must have come over the west hills so you didn’t run into any I hope. If you did, I suspect you saw them first …beware they are lethal.

I’m very glad you or your animals didn’t get shot. I’ll show you where they are especially if you are planning to head east from here.”

“You know, I did see some peculiar sets near Miner’s Creek, and all the felled trees across the trail. I wondered what you folks were up too. I headed down that way to see if the creek was open, and saw two large traps on the southern trail. I let them be …but I have to admit I was curious as to what you thought you would catch in such a rig as that,” he chuckled, and gulped his coffee.

“Elly smelled them traps before I even saw the first one. She wouldn’t budge any further, ‘till I got off to look. She’s smart that one. Not as smart as old Tom though.”

The men told Harlan all about the Granville’s and the gang in the next valley, leaving out the part about killing the one man.

Harlan listened intently, “That’s too bad, what’s this world coming to” he asked as he shook his head?

Pausing for a moment looking at them sternly, “This Martial Law thing happening in this country, it kind of reminds me of the start of the Korean War.”

He suddenly looked old, “Democracy is used nowadays like a lie, a way to fool the people into accepting the socialist ideologies of these governments. Their twisted meaning of change is socialism mixed with fascism, just like the Russians, the Chinese, and North Koreans brought to their worlds. Our version of democracy has certainly taken on a whole new meaning these days. Yeah the term is a lie …used to fool people these days. Bringing democracy to the world is just a lie… I might be old but I ain’t dumb, I know that much for sure.”

Harlan finished his coffee and politely asked for one more cup. “Them bastards that run this country use democracy as a free rein to bomb others creating instability, then they insert their puppet dictators into rule, and these men; they use anything, but democracy in their countries to control the people. Oh, sure, the communists do the same thing, but mind you they don’t pretend that it’s something other than communism.”

Murphy felt sick listening to Harlan talk. Here was another person that was shattering his illusion of the world that he once thought he knew. Bob sat back, and nodded his head in agreement. He was fully aware of the take-over of their nation and how the Government used this ploy of democracy to cleverly hide their intent of socialism.

Harlan, changed the subject, and quietly asked about the family in the line shack to the south.

Bob, and Murphy told him of the Granvilles living there, and how they fixed up the old shack. He told the men that years ago he had built that shack. He had brought in the tin roofing by horse back with his granddad John Michaels in 1957, and put up the line shack for his trap-lining endeavors. He told them how he used to run a line all the way south to the great river, forty miles at least. He had two other similar shacks along the way.

“I’m glad to see the old place is still getting some good use. It wasn’t meant to be much, just a place to rest a few days.”

After an hour or so of conversation, Harlan opened up to the men, and told them more about his life out here. Murphy could not figure out one thing though. He desperately wanted to know how this giant of a man still lived this way. How did he manage to survive were few could, and live for so many years without any money or work? He understood he was trapping for a living, but that was years ago, and hardly enough money nowadays to live off of. Granted, back in the 70s the price of fur was at the highest it had ever been in history. A man could make a fair living by trapping. That all ended with the animal rights movement that took place near the end of that decade.

Murphy couldn’t take it anymore and had to ask, “How is it you can still afford to go to Mayerthorpe for supplies? I mean, how do you make money, away out here and so far from town?”

Harlan stared into his mug of coffee, pausing for a good long time. He then looked up, and winked at the two men. He leaned in as if to tell a great secret and whispered, “I guess at my age I can tell you fellas.”

He lowered his voice to a rumbling bass tone, “…I do a little prospecting on the side.” He nodded in affirmation, and blinked, “I have for …going on 50 years or so. Mostly in the summer mind you.”

He leaned back in his chair that creaked under his weight, and continued, “I sometimes, do it even in the winter, when I can find an open spot along the creeks and such.”

His voice rose without whisper now.

“Hell, I don’t find much these days, maybe, a couple of ounces… or three, even in a whole season, but at today’s prices, that’s not all that bad.” Pretty much panned out my side of the mountain, thought I try back here again. He watched the two men, as their faces changed to looks of surprise.

Harlan knew what gold does to people, but he trusted these men. After all Bob was John Michael’s grandson. He knew that if it weren’t for John Michaels and his wife Becky, he couldn’t have made it out here. He had an unpaid debt to his longtime friend, and figured on a good way to square it up was to offer to show his grandson were to pan.

“Mind you, I have to work hard for every gram,” he said this emphatically while nodding his head up and down.  “Well, not that I have anything against hard work,” he shrugged, “…I don’t really mind washing rocks for leisure, and besides its good exercise for an old coot like me.” He then rubbed his sore back, “though it’s getting mighty hard these days. I ain’t getting younger.”

Just then, a faint strange unwinding braying noise came from the meadow to the south. The paint horse …Elly whinnied back her reply. It was certainly her friend, Tom, calling her.

“He must be done grazing. Now he’s bored,” Harlan said as he got up from the table.

“Oh I better fetch him, or he’ll break a leg trying to get to Elly. My mule ain’t like most horses, he often can’t be separated from Elly for long without causing trouble.”

Harlan sat on the bench by the door, and grabbed his moccasins … he removed them when he entered, out of courtesy for the cleanliness of the cabin. Murphy noticed the beautiful footwear right away, and now felt comfortable enough to ask Harlan about them.

They were hand made, and nearly knee-high sewn from soft white moose hide. The soles had extra thick neck hide for strength, and double layer, all finely hand-stitched.

Murphy had to ask: “Those moccasins are amazing, did you make them yourself?”

“I did,” Harlan replied as he wrapped the long laces around his calf. “I make all my buckskin, and leather. Nothing better to keep a fella busy in the winter time, and they’re warm as toast. I was taught by my wife, Macha, she’s flat head.”

“Oh I didn’t realize you are married,” Murphy said.

“I ain’t no more, she just run off and left me one day, haven’t seen, hide nor hair of her since… I call her Mai now.” Harlan laughed and said this without explanation to the two men.

Apparently Mai is Coyote in Native American, the men found this out later. Macha was from the flat head tribe of lower Montana. They had been married for twelve years, back in the early 60s. He met her at a rendezvous in lower Montana years ago. A bunch of similar men, still gathered to have a good time, like the days of old. They still do it to this day, but it’s largely for romantic nostalgia, and tourist these days.

Harlan never elaborated on why she left. The men assumed it had something to do with his stories of his wild days or so they guessed as it was over fifty years ago when she left him.

“I sure wish, I had skills like that,” Murphy said as he admired the leather work.

“Well, I’ll tell ya something young fella …if you’ll help me do some prospecting just north of here,” he said waving a hand north toward Myrtle Creek, adding, “as I ain’t getting any younger,” then laughed.

He pointed at the moose hide moccasins, “I’ll teach you how to make these for yourself …now, how’s that sound to Yeah,” he slapped his legs, and watched Murphy’s reaction with a twinkle in his eye. Murphy grinned from ear to ear? He stammered in disbelieve, “Are you kidding me, you got a deal Harlan?” he jammed out his hand and they both shook on it.

“Now prospecting is hard work young fella,” Harlan confessed.

“I ain’t doing you no real favor here, it ain’t for no weak fellas, you’ll need to do some real dirt moving that’s for sure. Sometimes you might need to sift through an entire sand bar to find anything.”

He got up from the bench, having finished lacing his footwear on. “Rolling river rock aside, and boulders ain’t easy, but it’s necessary to get at the gold beneath them, is hard work.”

“I don’t mind hard work,” though he felt unsure when he said it. He wasn’t afraid of hard-work, and yet he tried to appear confident. He wasn’t certain, but he had resolved to learn this from Harlan.

“I’m pretty healthy, and working out here these last few months has made me fit,” he beamed as he began thinking of the gold he might find. He knew this was not only an opportunity to learn some wilderness survival skills, but also how to make some money out here too.

“When do we start?” he asked. Well, I’ll set up a camp under those trees over the creek yonder, and you come get me tomorrow morning when you’re ready, and we’ll head out.

And, you can show me the man-traps you set along the north trail as we go.

Harlan was the kind of quiet soul, a person could easily become friends with. He had an unspoken strength about him. It was easy to believe in the truth of what laid behind those knowing gray eyes. He was the kind of man that always says what he means, and does what he says. He wasn’t forceful about his opinion either. Although he also was the type of man that hardly ever showed whether he disagreed with the way a person was living their life or not. He simply remained silent, letting them live life the way they wanted that was good enough for him so it was good enough for others too.

Bob listened to the conversation and considered what a little gold might mean to the pair of them out here. Just the other day, Murphy and he were both were trying to figure ways to get gas for the quad, and this might be that way.

Bob spoke up to let both know he didn’t feel he needed to tag along on this adventure. “I was thinking I might take Logan, and his little girl Marlee out tomorrow for her wilderness schooling, and bring in those traps we set. You two go do some panning then maybe I’ll catch you later. The snow will be getting too deep soon for those Misty Lake men to travel without snowshoes, or snowmobiles, and the traps won’t work properly buried under the snow anyway.”

Murphy agreed, and Bob put in a call to their neighbors using the two-way radio, to see if they were up to a little adventure of their own this week.

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Murphy spent the rest of the evening preparing the gear he might need for a week or two in the winter bush. Most of what he brought was the same as he took with him for the trip over the mountain into Misty Lake valley. The weather had been mild for a week or more, and most of the snow had melted in the valley. This time, Murphy didn’t need to worry as much about the weight of his gear but the season he was in. He brought his heavy coat, and sleeping bag, and lots of layered winter clothing.

The next morning Murphy rose early, excited about heading out with Harlan. He made a pot of strong coffee, and again invited the men in for breakfast and a cup before he and Harlan hit the trail.

Before leaving, the two moved some gear from Tom’s heavy pack to Elly’s. This gave Murphy a tiny space to sit up in front, though the frame of the pack dug into his back still, he managed to hang on, as there was no helping it. Behind Tom was a “travois” the large poles were strapped on either side of the big mule, and on which Murphy could rest his feet as he rode. It was similar to the rig he had used to carry his gear down the hill after breaking his ankle last spring. But this one was a proper one, and carried several hundred pounds of their gear, and two bales of timothy hay for the animals. The two then took to the trail heading north.

Murphy sat precariously atop Tom’s big shoulders, not a particularly comfortable, but Tom quietly followed directly behind Elly and Harlan. He hadn’t realized what a huge animal Tom was as Harlan had never mentioned what type of mule he is.

He was a huge hybrid…half Clydesdale, and half donkey he was artificially inseminated at a ranch near Helena. The rancher who bred him used these hybrid animals to haul wagons and massive logs from the mountains. He needed these huge beasts to go where vehicles were not allowed to go, due to environmental laws, or simply the difficult terrain. The result of this breed was a mountain animal capable of climbing the steepest hills, and crossing the deepest rivers all while carrying twice the load of a horse. Tom would literally browse bushes for food and frequently did. Murphy watched him once strip an evergreen bow as they walked along and chew it down like it was a treat to him.

Harlan beamed with pride when Murphy mentioned this behavior. “Mules are the damnedest thing for these mountains, they’re smarter than horses, for sure.” He leaned over and quietly spoke in Elly’s ear, “Sorry girl but it’s true,” and continued.

“They always know where their hooves are going, they never stumble, and this particular one here likes eating pretty much anything that he can sink his teeth into, so watch your rear end when your back is turned.”

Murphy petted the huge animal, and who… at that very moment, was stripping a young alder of its remaining brown leaves, but stopped chewing as soon as he heard his owner started talking about him.

“Just a word of warning, young fella, don’t let him stop too often and eat along the trail or we’ll never get to where we’re going.”

The pair of prospectors headed up the north trail. Murphy felt he had the unique advantage from his lofty perch, but soon regretted it when the first of many low hanging branches was cleverly used by Tom to try and knock Murphy off his back.

Harlan had forgotten to mention that Tom… being used to carrying packs, and not people might take offense to his new passenger, and secretly try to knock him to the ground. It was all very innocent of course, and Murphy, like the trooper that he was, took it all in-stride.

The slow pace of the trek was comfortable for Murphy, despite the pack frame digging into his back.

Harlan kept a non-stop dialog as they plodded along, so Murphy assumed he was taking advantage of having a companion along for a change, but he soon realized Harlan always talked as he rode along, and the animals expected it.  Murphy being along for the adventure had nothing to do with the constant dialog.

The story telling continued as they ambled up the north trail. Tom took one step to Elly’s every two, but all in all they were a team, Elly and Tom. They had grown extremely used to each other over the years and acted as one. Harlan’s story telling finally came full circle back to Tom again, and he continued, “I bought him from an outfitter-guide about twelve years back. He’s been the best damn pack animal I ever owned. Sure he’s big and eats too much, but so do I,” Harlan laughed so hard at this joke, the echo could be heard bouncing off the high hillsides above the valley.

 

Murphy could not marvel enough at what a trio of characters these three were.

 

Tom’s ears perked up when Harlan laughed, and somehow Murphy got the sense he knew he was being talked about again. This was probably why Harlan chatted so much while riding the trails. His deep voice seem to calm the animals, they were certainly used to it by now. The mule had finally straightened up and stopped trying to knock Murphy off his back once he got used to him there, and the rest of the trip was tranquil and magical.

 

Murphy felt like a prospector in one of those old adventure movies. He couldn’t help, but imagine that he was on one of those ancient explorations heading up some great river. The mountain range was uncharted, and brimming with gold. A romantic notion of his mining endeavor, and soon he would be striking it rich.

This notion of course, was soon to be shattered by the reality of actual prospecting. Soon to be made apparent to Murphy as another form of hard work and a lot harder than the romance in the old movies made it out to be.

Even at the price of gold these days, much more work is required then is earned in gold prospecting. A person can spend all day moving, sifting, and grading a yard of gravel searching this precious metal, and yet only find a gram or less, or none at all. Meaning a person would have worked harder all day for less money than you would have earned at flipping burgers at the neighborhood fast food joint.

Long ago, Harlan chose his way of life for himself, because it suited him…

Placer mining was the simplest answer to having a way to earn money out here, and then he was able to buy simple things that he needed to make his life more comfortable.

The men and animals soon came to that sleepy pine grove that Bob, and Murphy had camped at many months before. Murphy recalled the first days in the valley. When he broke his leg, and the struggle he had coming down the mountain side. He told Harlan of the accident.

Harlan thought the story was very entertaining, he asked Murphy many questions about his adventures through the swamp, and how he managed to stay positive, and not lose his head. This made their ride pass by very quickly. They grew accustomed to the sounds, from the surrounding woods, and rode on in quiet reflection.

Elly and Tom carried them further and further along the north trail, making the climb up the valley into the hills. The path narrowed ahead, and began to grow intermittent with bushes and brush to walk through. Tom was certainly built for this terrain. Elly, on the other hand, needed to go round many obstructions that Tom merely walked through, or stepped over.

Murphy’s lovable animal was a freak of nature and a gift to the wilderness. He looked more like a caricature of a Mule with his enormous Clydesdale size, and his huge donkey ears. His hooves were the size of dinner plates. The sound of them hitting the hard ground was amazing. Tom had the ability of climbing hillsides like a billy-goat and the appetite to match. He was as gentle as a lamb, and as long as he didn’t fall too far behind, Murphy let him browse as they walked along. Tom knew this, and never stopped, but simply stripped leaves from the branches hanging close to the trail as he passed.

Murphy figured any animal the size of Tom would need to keep his strength up by eating as much as he could along the way. He was an eating machine, like Harlan. Besides, Murphy was beginning to like Tom, he even envied him for his simple take on life. He envied Harlan too for the way he had adapted to this wonderful world out here by himself. He wondered whether he could deal with the loneliness of living by himself, and assumed the animals kept him some company, and wonder if it would be enough.

Finally, Elly and Harlan stopped up ahead in a narrow part of the valley. He dismounted, and led her out on a small sand bar for a drink. This was where the creek had carved its way through the gorge over a thousand years or more, cut six hundred feet of over burden away from above them. The water had done the work of a thousand years of excavation for the men. Carving the layers of rock and dirt with its constant erosion. The small creek gently fell now from a tiny waterfall only forty feet up river from where the miners stood and only fell from head high.

Murphy could almost picture the ancient days, many centuries before the rushing water fell perhaps from the top of long ago ancient cliff face.

The air here was damp, and a bit cool from the water fall. Even though it was the month of October, the snow fall had been fairly low and lately this week it had been quite warm for this time of year. The famous westward Chinook winds melted most of the early snow that had fallen that month. This left the valley brown and dead looking for the most part like September. The tiny bit of snow that remained, lay in melted drifts, and barely three inches beneath the shadow of the trees.

The autumn sun was still high enough in the sky that the men were easily sweating as they unpacked their gear, and took care of the animals. Elly, and Tom shared a portion of Timothy, and each got their own feed bag of oats, and crack corn.

The men cut seven poles to set up the outfitters tent for the week ahead of them. It had an asbestos sleeve in the roof for the stove-pipe to poke through, but no floor.

Harlan, and Murphy began to gather wood for their outfitter’s stove. Harlan always carried a folding bucksaw with him, and he reasoned that a quarter cord of split wood was enough for the tiny stove that evening. They could gather more in the morning.

To save space, Harlan had wrapped the heavy canvas tent around the tin stove, after packing it chock-full of metal items. Things that didn’t matter whether they got soot on them or not. The large canvas bundle sat on the top of Toms pack frame, behind Murphy. It contained the metal stove legs, an ax, tent pegs, utensils and some cookware, and wrapped beside it was a folding aluminum back packers sluice with folding legs.

His other larger mining equipment that Harlan owned, included a unique style of collapsible Rocker-box for grading the gravel, (Of which he built himself) and a small miner’s pick-ax also a D-handle shovel. Along with that were two standard metal miners pans of varying size, a black sand magnet for separating sand from gold, a sniffer bottle for collecting the gold dust from the pan, and a tiny sized balance scale for measuring its weight.

Harlan suggested that, in the morning, they use Tom to gather some larger trees and buck them up as fire wood for the week ahead of them. He figured they would spend at least that to get to the bottom of the forty-foot-long sandbar.

It had been untouched by any miners, and built up over the centuries of time. Harlan had planned on working this sandbar years ago, but never did. Ever since Bob’s grandparents lived in this valley, he meant to do it with John. He thought now was a good time to do it for Bob instead, and his long gone friend John Michaels.  Before his meeting with Bob and Murphy he suspected he might never do it. He thanked Murphy for coming along and helping, but assured him it was going to be hard work.

“Hey Harlan this is a rare treat for me,” Murphy told Harlan. He explained his past to him, about the accountant he used to be, back in the other world, and laughed at his old life.

“You’re a fine young man Murphy, and I’m glad I met you,” Harlan rumbled in his deep voice. Murphy was proud he felt that way. He truly like this lovable bear of a man.

“Oh well we don’t need to start killing ourselves just yet here, we’ll start tomorrow morning,” and Harlan pulled out a coffee can from his belongings.

Harlan, knew that there were trout in the pool under the falls, and suggested he try, and catch a few for supper. He used a simple rig of a coffee can with a fish line wrapped around it. Inside was a few hooks and some split shot. He crimped several split shot on one end of the line, and tied a wet fly below them. He put his big fist into the open end of the can, and tossed the line at the base of the pool. His aim was dead on, and the line unreel right off the can as he pointed it. It worked much like a spin casting reel.

“Now that’s a neat trick,” said Murphy. He suspected that a man of normal size could get away with a much smaller can though.

Once the fly landed where he wanted, he began to wrap the line back onto the coffee as if reeling it in. In this way, the setup acted much like a regular fishing reel would. He got a hit on the very first throw, and landed an eight-inch cutthroat trout. In less than an hour Harlan had enough trout for their supper.

Meanwhile, Murphy had set up the outfitter’s stove in the canvas tent. The fire was burning and he had already begun warming a pan of beans now bubbling on the stove.

Harlan ducked in the tent with a stringer of trout. He needed to sit whenever inside, as standing for him was mostly impossible. Murphy suggested they have potatoes that he brought with them, they would probably freeze overnight and be inedible after. He pan-fried the trout with sage and garlic, and threw a bit of salt and pepper on the skin too. The meal was more than enough for Murphy, but Harlan almost always looked like he could stand a few more bites.

Harlan then pulled out a pipe and loaded it from a pouch he had tucked in his shirt. It was the most delicious smoke Murphy had ever smelled, the aroma of it wafted throughout the tent and almost made Murphy wish he had smoked too, which of course he didn’t really, nor wanted to start another habit this late in his life.

“That’s a wonderful smelling tobacco you have there,” he commented. “What is it?”

“Oh it’s something I have smoke for years now. James from Mayerthorpe… buys it by the drum full for his little store in the village. He and I have smoked this brand for years. He’s the store owner over in the village. The one I spoke about yesterday.”

Harlan then blew a smoke ring at the stove draft that magically got sucked into the stove. He smiled at his little trick, of which he no doubt had practiced thousands of times over his wilderness life.

Murphy asked, “Would you care for another coffee Harlan?”

“No thank you, it keeps me up at night. I’d like to get an early start if we can tomorrow. Who knows how long this weather will hold out for us, especially this time of year? We need to get down at least two feet before pay dirt I suspect.” He then leaned back on his cot, and finished smoking his pipe. Murphy asked, “How long will that take Harlan?”

“Oh don’t worry it’s not a race, it takes whatever it takes, you’ll do fine. I ain’t dead I can help too, you won’t need to do all the heavy work. It’s more important that we just get it done.”

Then he set his pipe on top of his pack and rolled over, and before Murphy could ask him another question he was snoring like a bear. “Oh great,” Murphy quietly thought, now I’ll never be able to sleep.

Murphy finished his coffee, and climbed into his cot. By now Harlan had rolled over and was silent. The long ride and the fresh air caused Murphy to soon fall asleep, and before he even knew it, he was dreaming pleasant dreams. By morning, he woke to Harlan feeding the stove, and a sudden gust of wind when he opened the tent flap to look outside. The blue light of the morning was the only indication of how early it was as Murphy rolled out of his sleeping bag, and got ready for the day. He whispered to himself as he pulled on his cloths, “This is it old boy, you’re going to be a placer miner today.”

Harlan threw the tent flap open, and stepped inside with a coffee pot full of cold water from the creek. “Hey there young fella, how’d ya sleep?” he smiled at Murphy sitting bleary-eyed by the stove.

“Good, you know its funny, I always seem to sleep pretty well when I’m outdoors.”

“I know what you mean, young man,” he grinned comically looking a lot like Santa Claus in his red woolen long-johns.

Harlan set the pot on the stove with a sizzle, and dug around his kitchen pack for the leather pouch of coffee. He loosened the leather lace, and grabbed a fistful of coffee, then simply tossing it into the pot.

“So, Harlan, What’s on the agenda today? I mean, what do I do first?” Murphy felt awkward, around this man he felt much like a greenhorn again. “Well, young fella, I’ll show you how everything works after breakfast, and you and I will start grading the gravel.”

Murphy laughed, “About that, what does grading gravel mean,” they both laughed. It needed to be asked. “Let’s get a few things out-of-the-way first,” said Harlan. “So, what would you like to know?” he asked.

“What’s the process here?”

Harlan began, “all grading means is separating the different sized gravel using varying sized grates. Sifting the sand and gravel into the different sizes or grade.” He smiled at Murphy, “that way we can eliminate the large pieces of gravel from the load bearing pay dirt we are after.”

“Oh, okay, that sounds simple enough,” Murphy thought.

“It is. You’ll soon find that placer mining is mostly fighting boredom, sore backs and skinned knuckles. By the way, I usually tape my knuckles before they get all skinned up, but the water is way too cold to work without insulated rubber gloves in winter. I have a few pairs in the pack over there for you. I think they might be a bit large for you I suspect, but they should do.”

He dug out a large pair of blue heavy-duty, industrial rubber gloves, and handed them to Murphy.

He was right, they were enormous, far too large for Murphy. However, they were perfect if he wore his winter gloves inside of them, which worked out even better that way.

They ate some breakfast, and finished off the whole pot of coffee. “Well young fella, let’s wash some rocks,” Harlan roared with laughter at this little joke. Murphy couldn’t appreciate the irony of it all just yet, but he soon would.

By mid-afternoon, Murphy was down to his T-shirt and jeans, yet still going strong. The rocker box was being manned by Harland, and besides him were two piles of graded large rock, four pails nearly filled to the brim with the best grades of pay dirt. Most of the larger rocks were examined and then tossed aside. The pebble sized gravel was looked at with a slight bit more attention. Mostly spent looking for that flash of a nugget lying in amongst them. Finding nuggets this way almost never happens, but has to be done just in case. A miner missing a nugget the size of a pebble will be tossing a day’s pay out in one handful. The most important are the pails that contained the graded sand or smaller grain pay dirt. This needs to be processed down much more carefully by the miner.

After a hardy lunch, the two spent several hours running the fine graded pail through the sluice box. The sluice was set up, right in the creek itself, thus using the constant flow of water running through it to simply wash the sand and gravel away from the heavier gold.

“The lighter grade gravel was carried through the sluice, allowing the heavier grains of gold to fall out of the agitated slurry and with any luck… most will be getting caught behind the ridges of the sluice.”

“Beneath these ridges of the channel, lies a felt mat. The ridges cause a riffle affect in the water releasing the tinier gold flake from the flow by separating the particles of sand from the heavier gold. So when setting up a sluice, it should be the right speed to create these riffles, and not too fast to carry away the finer flakes of gold. The gold dust is easy to lose in this process if you are not careful, and this is why a felt mat is used to catch the finer gold dust in its fibers.”

Years ago in ancient biblical times, they used lambs fleece to do this very thing. That is where the reference of, “the golden fleece” in the bible comes from.

“This mat is then washed out in a clean pail of water and panned by hand, using one of those flat looking miners’ pans. Although, this is not the only stage by any means, but we are close to finishing here.”

Murphy was pretty sure he understood the process now, and the mechanics of it all.

Harlan then continued, “The remaining extra fine pay dirt caught behind the riffles, often contains black sand. This a magnetic iron composition, that mostly contains iron particles and some marginally valuable minerals or gem stones, depending where you are panning. The black iron sand is easily removed using any strong magnet to separate it from the gold. The black sand is usually discarded by most miners, using this magnetic device, and nowadays these devices are usually built for this purpose, not like mine,” Harlan bragged.

Harlan held out his magnet in a plastic bag. His ingenious way was a simple speaker magnet kept inside several plastic bags. The black sand is picked up by the magnet, and then washed in the creek, to separate it from the gold flake, (as gold is not magnetic) and the remaining non-metallic silica sand is later washed out using the panning method.

Harlan looked excited, “You NOW hopefully have your gold at the bottom of your pan when this is all finished. Then using your sniffer bottle you pick it up with one of these.” he held out a plastic sniffer bottle.

“Oh, I almost forgot, the most important fact when looking for gold, and the basic rule of thumb to placer mining is when panning a potential site. If you do not find black sand you should just move on, as there will be no gold where you are. Unless you’re dry panning in the desert I suspect.”

At the end of the first day, Harlan emptied the gold they had found in a clean empty tuna can. Then he placed it on top of the stove to dry using the stoves heat. He set up his scales, and balanced them, and next weighed the day’s work, and found they had one and a half grams of gold dust.

Murphy was ecstatic, until Harlan pointed out it isn’t considered pure gold yet, not until it is smelted. It must be 99% pure gold to meet the standards required. Not until it is refined is it considered pure, and then it is only worth about $40 dollars a gram after that. Depending on the area it is found in, gold can contain many trace minerals some valuable such as silver, and others not so much, like copper.

Murphy jokingly, pretended to let his shoulders droop as if he was disappointed.

“Hey, don’t look so glum these are some pretty good returns for something we just washed out of a sand bar, and only a foot or so down. This is a good sign.”

Murphy looked up from the scales smiling, “Oh I’m only joking, I’m still very happy with this, I’m not glum at all.  I’m just glad we actually found some gold, I think this is great. I can’t wait to get at the rest of it tomorrow.”

Harlan, smiled with that gold fever twinkle in his eyes, “Good, because tomorrow we may get into an even better pay zone. Remember gold is denser than most anything out there, and it will always keep making its way back to the bottom of the earth over time, or until it finally can’t move any deeper …or somebody like you and me comes along and digs it up,” he roared with laughter with that great belly of his, and Murphy couldn’t help but join along. The two men’s laughter could be heard throughout the forest, as the sun set and a gentle snow began to fall in the upper crags of the mountains above them.

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Marlee woke first that morning, her dad and her were to meet Bob for an outing. She barely could contain herself, and thought she would hurry her dad along by starting the morning coffee for him.

“MARLEE,” her dad complained. “It’s only 5:30 in the morning, it won’t be light for another two hours at least.”

“Sorry dad I didn’t realize,” the young girl stopped scooping coffee into the pot, and set it back on the broad shelve that her Dad had built for her mom as a counter.

“Go back to bed,” Logan pleaded.

Marlee plodded over to the bed, and fell into it clearly, too awake to sleep.

She waited the two or more hours staring at the ceiling, before her dad finally woke again, then bounded out of bed as soon as he stirred.

“Can I get up now?” she pleaded with her father.

“Sure… you can get up now Marlee.” Logan yawned and scowled at his young daughter. “Since you’re so full of energy, you can make us some porridge.”

“Not me,” cried Lynda. “This is your morning adventure not mine, I’m sleeping in. Just… because someone kept waking me up all night, getting in and out of her bed,” Lynda groaned as she rolled over and pulled the covers tightly around her head.

Marlee knew her mother was speaking about her that morning, but took no offense by it.

“Okay Marlee, try to keep quiet for your mom, and make just enough for you and I.” Logan got dressed and went outside to gather some wood for his wife, and the day’s fire. Several trips later, the wood bin was full and Marlee had the coffee percolating on the stove. The two ate their breakfast, and got ready for the day of gathering traps, and learning from Bob some needed winter survival skills.

Marlee got dressed quickly for the day, and Logan noticed his daughter’s winter coat barely fit her anymore. She had been growing like a weed this past summer, “What are we going to do with you… your clothes don’t fit you anymore?”

Marlee looked at her coat, “But Dad, I like this coat, I don’t need a new one.” Logan smiled at his daughter, and worried about her future being stuck in the woods with no children to play with. “What would things be like for her if this world doesn’t straighten up,” he wondered?

Soon Logan and his daughter were dressed, and they heard Bob’s quad coming down the trail from the north. The two stepped outside, to greet their neighbor.

Bob pulled up and shut the engine down, “We’d better get moving it looks like some bad weather is about to blow in, and if it does, we won’t be able to get to all those traps till spring.” The snow was just beginning to fall. Most of the earlier snowfall had melted during the last warm spell, but Bob didn’t want to take any chances. The weather in the mountains is certainly unpredictable.

Bob had seen blizzards in July some years, and warm winds called Chinooks easily melting a month’s worth of snowfall in one day. It could raise the temperature 25 degrees by afternoon. These cherished winds were a welcome change in the middle of winter, but sometimes made the rivers over flow their banks. Rising on top of the frozen ice.

Climb in Bob said.

Logan climbed into Bob’s trailer, and Marlee sat behind Bob on the Quad. The three spent most of the morning clearing the deadly man-traps from the woods. By noon, they had removed forty of the traps from the trails. They decided to head home for a break and some hot lunch. The snow was beginning to fall heavier by 1:00 pm, and Bob wanted to head back right away before things got to sketchy.

Another reason the three spent the day outside was so Bob could teach Marlee, and her father how to set rabbit snares to feed themselves this winter. So during lunch he sat them down and instructed them on the art of snaring rabbits. “First, I like to make my snares ahead of time,” he said. “I find it easier than dealing with them in the bush, and as a trapper, it’s important that the less time you spend at a trap set the less scent and disturbance you leave behind to spoil the set.”

This all seemed perfectly logical to the two would be trappers.

They set about creating around 25 snares each, out of the long roll of brass wire that Bob gave them to use. “Try, and save your snares every year for next year too.”

Most of the sets were quite simple to make, simply tied to a bush or limb over the trail. Bob would point out the existing rabbit trails for the two, and show them how to block off alternate routes, using sticks and whatever was handy. Then he showed them the proper size of the loop and the height to set them at, to ensnare the animal is caught properly around the neck, and not the body.

Whenever Bob could, he would use a spring pole, or what he referred to was a tip up. This is a pole, set over a fulcrum that tipped up when the animal pulled free the trigger, thus lifting it up off the ground. This suspended the animal away from predators, and was necessary in the North Country especially with martin and weasel around, as these animals had no problem eating your catch when it was freshly caught and struggling in a snare.

Bob also explained to Marlee that they needed to be checked at least every other day, or she would lose her catch to scavengers. Even jays and magpies will pick apart your catch in a day or so. He also explained to the two how they would need to adjust the heights of the snares as the snow fell or melted, to keep them productive. Bob promised as soon as Marlee caught some rabbits, he would show her how to skin, and preserve the rabbit fur for lining gloves, boots, coats, and many other, such things.

By mid-afternoon the snow fall had increased to a near blizzard, with no wind though it merely layered up as round mounds covering the trees in the valley. The thick white snow fell softly as if each flake were being lowered by millions of invisible threads, onto the valley below.

“Well we better head back. I think we’ve done enough today. After this snowfall, you may have to raise all the snares we set anyhow, Marlee.”

“I will Mr. Michaels, I promise.”

Bob looked north through the thick white falling snow, “I wonder how Murphy and Harlan are doing?”

Logan looked northward, “I was wondering the same thing.”

“Well I doubt there is anyone in this whole wilderness that knows more about survival then that man Harlan,” Bob dismissed any doubt he had about the two.

We better get back before this snow gets too deep for this quad.

To be continued…

Authored by Jack Woods

The post What if Martial Law were declared in America? Part Six: Stories from the Past appeared first on Survival Sullivan.

What if Martial Law were declared in America Part Five Bush Whacked

This is part of our free, online and highly-praised survival fiction novel. You can read the rest of the parts here.

 

Bob’s shot, buzzed over the men’s heads, and then struck one of the ATV tires. The Misty Lake gang ducked behind two fallen trees as the tire burst. Their heads spun round desperately searching for where the shot came from. The confusion was exactly what Bob had hoped for. The gang had no idea where he had fired from.

“Lay down your weapons,” he shouted again. Bob’s ominous voice echoed through the ravine.

He casually laid back behind the large boulder and waited.

“Lay them on the ground, NOW,” he bellowed from the cliff, then waited for a reply.

At first, the men dared not move, each searching the cliff face for the direction the voice came from. They froze and did nothing.

Bob inched forward, and carefully aimed his rifle over the rock. He let lose a second round at the other tire. He was angry now.

“I said lay your weapons on the ground, and head out.” Two of the four men immediately did as they were told, dropping their weapons at their feet. While the other members of the gang, the ones who operated the chainsaws, now refused to comply.

Bob shouted again, “Don’t make me shoot you… DO WHAT I SAY, AND I’LL LET YOU LEAVE, UNHARMED.”

The last two men looked at one another and nodded as if in agreement, they pretended to lay their weapons on the ground, then quickly rolled to a log they thought was between them and the shooter.

They began spraying the hillside with automatic gunfire. Wasting two entire magazines of 7.62 bullets from their AK-47s, they tore up the foliage all around Bob, and the boulder.

Bob shrunk back behind the rock for cover as dirt and debris flew all around him.

No sooner did the east valley gang, (as the Granvilles were calling them now) open fire, then Murphy and Logan let fly a volley of rounds from across the way. The two companions from the adjacent cliff took full advantage of their position high on the hillside.

Logan instantly killed the closest man with his first shot. He fell at the edge of the trail with a brutal head wound exposing his skull. The gang member beside him looked at his fallen buddy in horror.

Next, one of Murphy’s rounds accidentally hit one of the unarmed men who had been complying with Bob’s orders. The errant shot had ricocheted off a large rock at the edge of the trail and struck the man’s arm just below the elbow.

The surviving instigator next to his gunshot buddy, yelled out in horror upon seeing the brains of his friend, “ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT, WE GIVE UP,” waving his weapon in the air. He tossed his gun out in front of the log and waited for the shooting to stop.

Using the radio, Bob called for a cease-fire. Then stood up on the boulder aiming the Ar-15 down at the group, and yelled out:

“GRAB YOUR WOUNDED, AND GET THE HELL OUT OF OUR VALLEY, AND DON’T COME BACK …WE WON’T BE GIVING YOU A WARNING NEXT TIME WE SEE YOU. WE’LL JUST START SHOOTING.”

The statement had the desired effect. The group quickly gathered their wounded and the body of their fallen friend. They frantically maneuvered around the stranded ATV on the trail, leaving it behind as it apparently belonged to the dead man. Then the three tore off, reluctantly leaving their discarded weapons where they lay. The three quads revved their engines, spewing a cloud of blue smoke as they blew down the southern trail, and were gone.

Logan and Murphy stood up, cheering. They waved their guns in the air like warriors. Bob called to them over the radio, “Save your cheers, men, these guys are definitely coming back for revenge. We just killed one of their buddies.” He paused staring down at the scene, “Let’s get back to the girls to make sure they’re safe.”

They made their way down from the cliffs, and collected the weapons left behind, and hid the quad under a brush pile several hundred yards back in the forest, carefully hiding the vehicle’s tracks with dead fall, and debris, then they headed back home.

The 2-mile walk to the cabin was somber, each man was lost in his own thoughts. They tried to reconcile the death of the man that had been killed. They realized it was necessary, the gang members would have killed anyone of them if the tables had been turned, yet it was still hard for the men to digest the man’s death.

As the group walked, Logan spoke up: “I never killed a man before.”

The statement was unnecessary to admit to the group, it was simply Logan’s way of confronting what he had done. The sin of death is a harsh one. Bob knew Logan would have to carry it for the rest of his life. No sane man ever feels right after killing another man. This is what separates us from the mentally unsound. It’s a burden that every combat soldier has to bear by himself. Either they make friends with the event or are forever tortured by it. Most soldiers develop different ways of dealing with this challenge, but all will carry it to their grave.

Before the men arrived back at the Granville cabin, a dark cloud had built up over the valley, and it began to rain. It was as if a sign from above had foretold of some bad omen that had transpired on that southern trail that day. The rain tried to wash the blood away like the men tried to wash away the memory of it.

They all decided to make no mention of the death to the women and agreed to only tell what was needed. They would simply say they had scared them off. They needed to first process the event for themselves, and if the time came… on that day Logan must tell his girls about it, he would.

They rounded the last bend in the trail expecting a hero’s welcome, but found no one at all to greet them. Granville’s small clearing lay silent and empty. There was no sign of the girls anywhere. The rain was coming down in a slight drizzle. Logan’s heart sank as he yelled out in vain for his wife and daughter. He cupped his hands to his mouth, “LYNDA, MARLEE,” and called again and again. He ran to the cabin and burst through the door searching for his family.

“Oh Jesus, let them be safe,” he ran back outside. He felt ill as he frantically scanned the tree line for signs of the girls.

It was too much for his heart to take. He was already burdened with taking a man’s life that day. He now had to reconcile the loss of his family too. He sat on the bench, and broke down and wept, as the other men tried to comfort him. Bob grabbed his shoulder, “Now Logan, I’m sure their fine, they’re probably just hiding somewhere, I’ll take a look around before this rain washes away any sign.”

Bob circled the cabin. His eyes scanning the ground near the door. He walked slowly, watching carefully where he stepped. He headed around the back of the cabin scanning head down, with the other men in tow. He looked up at the woods and entered …following some invisible trail. Their tracks headed North by North-West away from the tiny home. Then they angled straight through a small break of Aspen, and down toward a stand of Spruce, several hundred yards behind the home. Bob yelled back to Logan: “They’re alone… no one followed them …and they were walking… not running.” Logan’s spirits brightened at the news.

He quickened his pace. Bob continued the narration of the invisible story that he read from the tracks, “I see no other tracks following them.” He then began to jog. Logan yelled out once again, “Lynda, Marlee,” he called and hurried to catch up to Bob.

“Oh let them be alright,” he choked out the words, his face staring skyward.

The men slowly followed the trail for three hundred yards or more. Twice Bob lost the trail altogether, and had to double back to start over. The rain was coming down harder now, making it difficult to see the tracks. Logan yelling all along as they followed, “Lynda, Marlee,” with no response.

Hours went by with no sign of them. The only hope was that there was no sign of pursuers chasing them. The rain had washed away all but the deepest tracks. Bob was finding it impossible to follow anymore, and just as he was about to turn, to say he was giving up…

A faint noise, a voice coming from the west… “We’re here, daddy,” the little girl cried out from deep inside the bush. Logan rammed through brush like a bull moose charging his way toward his daughter’s meek voice. “Marlee,” he called, “I’m coming.”

By the time Bob and Murphy caught up to Logan, the family was locked in an embrace sobbing in each other’s arms. Apparently, Lynda had twisted here ankle on a slippery log, and couldn’t stand.

Earlier, when the shooting started, Lynda wisely decided to hide in the forest. She had considered the worst might happen. That her husband and their friends may not be able to hold back the men from Misty Lake. So for safety’s sake, she decided Marlee and her would hide in the forest until it was safe to come home. Everyone knew that this was a good plan, but all agreed that next time it would be best as part of the group’s plan, leaving no surprises for Logan’s heart.

The family settled down after their embrace, and Bob carefully splinted Lynda’s leg, then they made their way back to the Granville home together.

The men revealed what they dared of the earlier event on the southern trail. The women regarded the ambush with horror and were glad everyone was safe. They agreed after hearing the story, that more was needed to secure their valley from further intruders. In any case, it was sure these men would be back for revenge.

The women proposed placing “NO TRESPASSING” signs at the trail heads with a message under it, warning the trespassers to keep out with words like “DANGER or DEATH”. They all agreed this may work, and decided it was time to set mantraps along the trail as an added precaution. There was no illusion among the five of them now that these men would come back to try again. They would most likely bring more men next time, and more weapons too.

Bob had years of experience making deadfalls for lynx and marten trapping. He had constructed many wooden triggers for these types of traps, and other spring pole devices …but as for man traps.

The group would have to improvise.

The simplest device was ingenious. Murphy came up with it while considering the sheer number of devices they would need. It was the most lethal too. They were simply made and they used a piece of copper tubing, with a live 7.62 round held firmly at its end. It was necessary to have the rounds in a tube to build up enough pressure when fired to be lethal, as a round fired without a barrel will not have enough pressure to do any harm. Then it was fastened solidly to a tree with bent nails, and fixed with a trigger when ready.

The device was then aimed up the trail, and it was fired by a trip wire held under tension, using the leftover fishing line from Murphy’s alarm system at the cabin. The mechanism was wired so as, to release a clothesline spring-clip held under tension, striking a nail behind the percussion cap. This would prove to be the easiest trap to set up. It used only bent nails to fasten it to a tree and was the most effective. It was easy to hide and quick to set up too.

The group was able to create fifty of these simple devices and set them all along the trails and pathways that skirted or entered the valley. The men spread hair clippings at each site and periodically urinated by the lethal traps to keep the wild animals from triggering them. Bob had taught the group that whenever an animal smells human scent along a trail, they will almost always stay around the area. He had learned this from his trapping days. It lasts for several weeks, then needs to be renewed.

The hair and urine were the most effective to warn the beasts that man had been in the area and to steer clear. Occasionally, it was unavoidable and an animal was accidentally shot by these man-traps. Although this was unfortunate, it simply added to the larder of the residents of the valley. Whenever a shot was heard, usually at night, two of the men would check it out in the morning to make sure it wasn’t human. This way, they could collect the game that had been taken by accident, and divide it up amongst the two groups.

Other devices in their arsenal were large pendulum-style log traps, and huge dead-falls that were built out of large trees. The trees were at least a foot in diameter and were designed to crush a quad. It took half a day to build these complicated traps. They were difficult to make and hide along the trails, so the men only made four.

Of these large log deadfall traps, two were on the South trail and two on the North trail. Two were pendulum-style, and pulled back behind bushes so as hide them from view. They were designed to swing out from thickets, and crash across the pathway. Violently striking the vehicle broadside. The force drove the rider and machine off an embankment or crushed it against another object like a tree or boulder. The triggers for these devices were heavy-duty to support the weight and were of two-fold staging.

The initial trigger was designed to use a trip wire to spring a secondary trigger of much higher tension. The first trigger was used to spring the secondary mechanism. This lets fly the heavy log or, in the case of the dead fall style trap, dropping it onto the unsuspecting victim, crushing him.

Bob remained uneasy about using such devices. He warned the group of the potential of killing an innocent person. The women agreed with Bob, but even they felt that the deterrent factor outweighed the possibility of innocent victims. That’s when they all decide to add the words, “Lethal Danger for all who Trespass” under the “No trespassing,” signs.

Marlee painted a skull and bones on the signs, as she was a very talented artist. They were black with white lettering, and red flames behind the eyes and heads of the skulls. Marlee had painted four of them using scrap plywood she had found at Bob’s cabin. Murphy had to smile when Marlee showed him, “that will scare off anybody that reads it, Marlee, good job.” She beamed with pride as she showed her sign to her parents and Bob.

The next few weeks were surprisingly quiet despite how the group was on-edge. Their feelings were kept hidden from each other, but the feelings were to be expected, given the events that took place just weeks before.

The Misty Lake men in their black hoods and leather jackets were a constant irritant in everyone’s thoughts. Marlee was beginning to have nightmares about the men. She would wake up in terror at night, sobbing.

That unanswered question was always in the back of everyone’s mind. When or if ever, will they come back to their valley? This no one knew. It was a question that nobody could answer for certain.

Both groups decided to rig their cabins with the lethal 7.62 caliber booby traps. They wired them just inside their doorways. The traps were set to shoot two rounds at the door whenever they were pushed open. A deadly greeting without first disarming them. All the trap locations around the valley were shown to the entire group, and for safety they were plotted on Bob’s topographical map for the valley.

The door traps were shown to Marlee over and over to be sure she was aware, and whenever they left home, she was the one to set the trap. In this way, she was sure to remember it was engaged. Whenever she found the door locked, she would instantly know to disarm the trap before entering.

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Life in the coming weeks was hard on the group, the stress was ever present, and for the last few weeks it was unbearable, especially for the women. Murphy decided to have a get-together at Bob’s cabin. It was a beautiful blue summer day, so he proposed that afternoon. He hoped it could relieve the stress that the group had been feeling.

Bob and he dug up another cache, and from it they retrieved three bottles of wine and a magnum of dark rum, along with some Holiday treats. The cache had been intended for Christmas fun when Bob had buried it years before, yet he agreed it would be better used and dug up now to boost morale. He had hidden several large jars of pickled eggs and sausage, some popcorn kernels, and chocolates wrapped in foil.

Murphy and Bob started preparing for the celebration. They nailed up spruce boughs, pinecones, and berries all around the cabin as decorations, and Lynda tied bundles of wildflowers to the porch posts and leaves. They even tied them to the trees around the clearing. The picnic table was set up with a large centerpiece that Marlee had designed using daisies and whatever she could find in the woods that day. She even made wreaths of daisies for her mother and her to wear as hats. It was a proper pagan festival. The atmosphere of the valley felt bright and cheerful again. Everyone was having a great time decorating.

On the menu for the feast, there was roast venison (of course) Indian potatoes with wild greens and edibles from the forest, the pickled eggs were served with smoked beaver tail. The beaver tail was slow cooked and made into pulled BBQ meat and used in homemade rolls Murphy had baked.

He was getting really quite good at baking, and cooking now.

Bob showed Lynda how to prepare the Beaver Tail. You first start with the large muscle near the base of the tail. This powers the animal’s tail, and for the most part; the mountain men of old considered it the choicest part of the animal. Yes, they ate the tails as well but mostly they were talking about the muscles when they mention Beaver tails. They often spoke about it in old stories of the west. It’s a large-sized muscle that tastes remarkably like beef when slow roasted with salt and pepper and mixed with BBQ sauce until it falls apart.

Murphy had even rigged two loudspeakers outside, that he ran wires to on the porch for music. The party was perfect and they played their favorites from the satellite radio system.

After the food and festivities wound down that evening, the residents of the tiny valley gathered around the fire pit and enjoyed a quiet evening talking under a clear starry sky, listening to ghost stories and relaxing music from the cabin behind them. They spoke of memories and of the old days before Martial Law, and took turns sharing jokes. Their joy mixed with the music and filled the evening with their laughter that echoed throughout the valley.

When the women grew tired, they set up their beds on the cabin floor, and the men drank rum and talked into the wee hours. They laughed and told jokes not fit for the women, and laughed like school kids on an outing. Then the conversation turned to more serious matters.

Bob kept repeating the same issue, “We need to see what those bastards are up to at Misty Lake, or none of us will ever get any rest.” Murphy agreed, “We should head straight over the ridge,” he pointed a wobbly finger toward the East ridge, “and I will drop in behind them …to see what they are doing …over there,” he added trying to focus on the faces around the campfire.

Obviously, they were feeling the effects of the dark rum, but this did not dissuade them of the seriousness of the topic.

Logan then piped up with, “If we can set up a lookout we can spend a few days up there, watching them from the ridge line, maybe find out what they’re capable of …how many there are, and whatever else we can.”

They were all good points, and they knew it.

“That’s a big hike up there, fellas,” Bob slurred as the rum was taking its toll on him too.

“It might take more than a day to get to the other side,” Murphy commented, merely thinking out loud.

Logan spoke next, “It would be the safest way to recon the valley.”

“Perhaps it would be better to send only one man, to do this,” Murphy said …as he raised his hand pretending as if to volunteer for the assignment. Bob disagreed, “I would be the best choice …I think,” He wobbled his head toward Murphy and Logan… waiting for their agreement.

Logan and Murphy looked at one another, feigning confusion and shook their drunken heads in unison. “I don’t think so …I disagree,” both claiming that Bob was much better off defending the valley than either one of them would be. Murphy focused, and added, “Besides, Logan has a family, and he should remain behind with you Bob in case of an attack. That leaves only me.”

No one could argue with Murphy’s logic, so it was settled, Murphy was to leave in the morning. He would bring just enough food and supplies for a week, and travel dead East over the gap. The mountain pass at the ridge would bring him right above Misty Lake. He was to find a vantage point over the village to observe the comings and goings of the hooded gang, then make his way back and report to the group.

The campfire vigil wound down, and the men made their way to the cabin and their beds. Murphy was apprehensive about his mission. After all he wasn’t very experienced like Bob was in military tactics or woodsman-ship. He worried as he was climbing into bed. Lying there, he consoled himself:

“I made it through the swamps of Longview… so I can certainly make it across these mountains,” This was enough for his drunken brain to help him sleep that night.

By the time he awoke, it was late morning and his head pounded like tiny hammers in his skull. His very first thought was that he hoped the others didn’t expect him to leave that day for the eastern Valley. If so, he considered, it was going to be a very hard trek.

“It’s alive,” whispered Logan with a chuckle. Murphy painfully opened one eye and looked up from his bed, and at his friend drinking a coffee at the kitchen table. He retorted back, “No offense my friend, but you don’t look so good yourself this morning.” The two laughed at their merrymaking last night. Bob opened the cabin door and entered with the large pot of water for the stove.

“Oh, you’re up. Let’s have some breakfast and make plans for this recon …eh Murphy. You’ll need some charts, and a small pack, a week’s supply, and a plan.” Bob set the heavy pot of water on the stove with a clunk and poured a cup of hot coffee for himself.

All in all, the men were in fine shape by lunchtime, and none of them regretted the celebrating that they had done the night before. It was the break they needed in their routine. The group felt normal, and cohesive again, like one family.

They all gathered equipment that Murphy would need for the trek over the mountain. They organized it carefully, and spread it all on the kitchen table before putting it in the pack. The idea was to take everything he might need, and leave whatever he could do without …saving weight.

Soon after lunch, they finished packing and devised a rough plan formulating the mission. Murphy was to follow the trail indicated on the topographical map. The map that Bob asked Murphy to guard with his life, for it was the only one he had. The idea was for Murphy to navigate through the pass to the other valley, and once there, sketch whatever he saw on the map.

By evening, the recon was completely planned out, and Murphy was to leave the next morning. He hadn’t slept a wink all night, tossing and turning until the wee hours. He wrestled with sleep, and between fits of wakefulness and reoccurring nightmares fighting armies of black hooded figures wielding AK-47s, swinging battle axes, and charging down the mountainside in hordes. He imagined the invasion like some medieval battle, hell-bent on killing everyone in the entire valley, and woke up every twenty minutes until he didn’t dare try to sleep anymore.

Finally, he climbed out of his bunk. “There really was no point in lying in bed until daylight,” he thought. It was quite early, and no one else was up except for Murphy. He outside to think, and stepped into the cool night air, quietly closing the door behind him.

It was late August, and the sky were filled with stars. All in all, it had been a very favorable summer… with warm temperatures, and sunny skies for the most part. Not too dry, just enough rain to keep the forest green, the garden growing, and the creek running clear.

His eyes searched the darkness high above him, looking for the ridge line in the East. It was still too dark to see. Yet, somehow he felt it up there and imagined himself cresting the summit later that day.

He sat in his homemade chair on the porch and wrapped a heavy blanket around himself. He sighed from the stress of not sleeping and leaned back closing his eyes. For the first time that evening he fell soundly asleep, not waking until the sun peered over the ridge three hours later.

A pair of black-capped chickadees woke him with their namesake chatter. The brash pair were fighting over the contents of a suet feeder that Marlee had made, it hung from the eaves of the cabin over his head.

He was the only one up, so he decided to make coffee while getting his mind ready for his trek. Bob woke next, as soon as Murphy entered the cabin, and Lynda woke next after the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the room.

“You ready for this Murphy,” Bob asked as he poured his coffee.

“I think so. The initial climb is the difficult part. I’m sure I can stay out of harm’s way, using that spotting scope… I’ll be fine,” he smiled meekly at Bob feigning a look of confidence. Both men sat quietly drinking their coffee. Nothing more needed to be said as they sat in silence.

Lynda climbed from her sleeping bag and went to the stove to pour herself a cup of coffee. She joined the men, and sat down. “So, Murphy, you ready for this?” The men hid their smiles, and Murphy answered, “I think so Lynda, should be a snap.” Lynda was meticulous like most women, as she then proceeded to run through a long mental list of virtually everything the men had packed for Murphy the day before. Murphy stopped her half-way, “I have everything I need, Lynda, I’ll be fine, and what I don’t have I don’t need.” he looked thoughtfully at his neighbor, “I’ll be fine.”

“Oh, okay,” she said not believing him, “I just wanted to be sure you were all set. We wouldn’t want to lose ya, Murphy. Who, would teach us about baking bread, and who would feed Bob here?” She smiled, and squeezed Murphy’s hand, as Bob and she laughed.

“Thanks again Lynda, I’ll be fine, really.”

Logan loudly comment from sleeping on the floor, using a normal tone as apparently whispering was no longer needed, “Sure he’s all set, nothing to worry about. It’s really quite safe.” Murphy wasn’t sure if Logan believed that or was just trying to comfort his wife, but it felt reassuring nevertheless, and Murphy relaxed and sipped his coffee.

He was now ready, standing outside with his backpack on and his rifle neatly tucked alongside the frame. Everyone was awake, including Marlee. The gang all wanted to see him off.

He took his first step, it landed firmly on the top stair. He remembered, months ago, the stumble he took from the North trail that broke his leg. It had healed well, and only gave him problems when it rained. He paused, considering the old injury, still looking down at his boot and grinning to himself. He clattered down the stairs like a school kid and headed straight to the creek crossing.

“Good luck… be safe… be careful,” the voices called after him.

Once he reached the creek he felt invigorated, the lightness of the pack, the bright morning, the lack of confidence that was now gone. He felt good …he felt brave for taking on the mission.

At the creek crossing while balancing expertly on the large log he stepped lively across it in three giant leaps like he was sixteen again. The last thing he heard before entering the woods was Marlee calling, “See you later, alligator.” Then silence, as the dense forest swallowed him up. There was no real trail leading straight up the mountain, and any trails he found soon died out. It was mostly bushwhacking and straight uphill climbing.

It wasn’t long before the steady climb began to take its toll on Murphy’s legs. The pack was made purposely light, however, it was still hard to climb without losing one’s breath. It may have been the altitude or simply the climb but he decided to take a break. He was halfway from the summit, and the altitude at the gap was approximately 2000′ above the valley floor. The slope was a constant 60 degrees, too steep to stand most of the times, but not steep enough to crawl.

The sun had finally crested the ridge, and its rays were beginning to shine on the trees below him.

He knew that if he wanted to be comfortable while hiking, he should make the gap before the sun was overhead. Therefore, he couldn’t rest anywhere for long. He just wanted to take a good look at the valley from this height. It had been so long since he last saw it so many months ago. He sat for just a few minutes before he continued on.

Below him, the valley was lush and green. All of it, except for the meadows that were beginning to brown from the summer sun. Across the valley …way above the ridge soared two Eagles. Murphy watched them for ten minutes or more, as they danced and swirled in the blue sky. The birds never once flapped a wing beat. They simply glided on the thermals of the warmer rising air, and slowly sailed off toward the west until they vanished into the distance. Murphy thought to himself, “what a beautiful valley,” it is well worth protecting it from those punks from Misty Lake.

He felt righteous…

He pushed himself from the ground with a walking stick that he had scavenged along the way, and said: “Well I’d better keep moving.” He got up from the spot, “This ain’t going to get done without a little effort,” he told himself as he rose.

By mid-afternoon, he had finally made the west end of the gap that led to the divide over the top. He hoped to camp at the summit that night, and make his way to the other side next morning. He had stripped down to his t-shirt at noon but now thought it best to layer back up again, as the temperatures dropped with the altitude and the sunset.

As soon as he stopped to redress, a small gang of elks stepped out on the trail in front of him. Three cows, two yearlings, and a calf. They stared at Murphy for a moment blinking, and then hurried off around a stand of trees for cover. Probably making their way into the valley behind him. Murphy could see how Bob had gotten so attached to this world and his Grandfather’s camp. It was heaven on earth.

He hurried along the rest of the trail until he crossed into the Misty Lake Valley and found a decent spot to camp for the night. He chose it because his fire would stay hidden from below behind a large outcrop of granite.

That evening, the shadows from his fire loomed large and menacing on the dark gray rock. He decided not to cook that evening, and continued to snack on what he had been eating all day during the climb. He carved another large piece of deer salami, and a large chunk of home-made bread with some dipping oil. He could only imagine how some cheese and wine would taste with his meal.

“Beggars can’t be choosy,” he said to himself and kicked at the tiny fire making sparks fly up into the air.

After his meal, he unrolled his sleeping bag and moved beside the smoldering coals for warmth. In no time at all, Murphy fell fast asleep. He had no dreams that he could recall later, and no nightmares, in fact, he slept completely at peace with the world. The outdoors agreed with him now. He had forgotten how much he loved it when he was young. Murphy believed that most people forget how to bond with nature, and that is truly what is missing in their lives. Most think that is more stuff that will make them happy, but Murphy now knew what it was.

By morning, the frost had formed on the outside of his sleeping bag, and the fire had died out. He gathered his belongings and hid the fire. He hit the trail before breakfast. Choosing to chew some jerky as he hiked along.

According to the map, if he stayed near the ridge line and headed south, paralleling it, he would come to an abutment. A huge granite slab that stuck out above the Misty Lake Village. The topographical map showed it as a perfect vantage point to watch over the entire village below. It took Murphy over an hour to get to the outcrop, and he finally made his way to the very edge of it. He scanned the valley before him. He could see for miles over the forested valley, and just below him lay a tiny lake surrounded by cottages. Running behind the cottages was a single road that wrapped the circumference of the lake.

The Misty Lake Resort had a general store a boat launch and nothing more, just a string of cottages surrounding a body of water. This was the Misty Lake village. The village that the hooded gang of miscreants had taken over as their own. According to the Granvilles, Logan, and Lynda claimed they now controlled the entire resort.

They claimed it all started with just a few young men who had broken into a single cottage at the north end of the lake. The residents of the resort tried to get the authorities to come and chase them out, but the lockdown had prevented any officers for following up such minor offenses. Soon, the lake shore hooligans realized they could get away with what they wanted, and began to call their buddies. As word got out, in less than two weeks, many more cottages fell to the wrath of these punks.

It was still early morning, and Murphy couldn’t see any activity other than a small pack of dogs roaming the roadway. The animals stopped at every garbage bin searching for food. He pulled out the spotting scope from his pack and scanned the shoreline of the lake. The first thing he noticed was the destruction of many of the boathouses, three burnt cottages, and garbage everywhere. The cottages had been burned to their foundations, along with several cars that had been turned over then burned to their rims. Several ATVs could be seen in the shallow parts of the lake, and he saw two sunken boats bobbing in the waves. “What a shame,” he thought.

A dozen ravens, magpies, and as many crows could be seen scavenging food on picnic tables in the yards of the cottages and even more circling above the lake. So many birds were there that it looked surreal, like some sort of nightmare had unfolded here.

Shockingly, he saw several tall pines that had been torched to their upper branches. Obviously set ablaze for the fun of watching them incinerate. Murphy considered how lucky it hadn’t been a dry year. Otherwise, these morons would have started a forest fire, and burned down the entire valley.

He watched the village until the sun came up, and managed, only to see an occasional person walking from one cottage to the next; once several children were observed motoring around on quads. Murphy couldn’t imagine children growing up in a place like this with these people. He felt sorry for the kids. He suddenly wondered if the man Logan had shot might have been a parent to one of these youths.

What had once been a middle-class resort, had now been reduced to a ghost town in less than two months.

Murphy could see there was nothing organized about these delinquents and their methods. In fact, he doubted they would last until fall. They were just punks, bent on destroying and looting everything they could find. He wondered how dangerous they would be when the free stuff ran out and they started to get hungry.

That evening, as the sun sank below the western horizon, Murphy watched below, as the miscreants slowly came out to revel in the neighborhood. It all started with just three bonfires and grew in symphony with loud music, and harsh voices, coming from everywhere as if some kind of competition was taking place. The unnatural din of the festivities filled the valley, upsetting its natural order.

The noise seemed to spawn hundreds of the hooded beings that poured from the cottages like ants from a nest disturbed by some unseen hand. They filed out howling and shooting their guns into the night sky, and as far as Murphy could see, there were over two hundred of the revelers in all.

The festivities stormed well into the next morning. All the while, the mob drove about on quads, motocross bikes, and 4×4 vehicles tearing up everything they cared to, spinning wheels and jumping or crashing their vehicles all over the village.

Murphy could hear cheering from one group, as a lone man drove an ATV straight into one of the bonfires, they all shouted and stepped back as the gas tank exploded, and cheered some more.

Murphy then witnessed as two towering old pine trees were set ablaze at midnight. They lit them from their base with diesel fuel, watching the flames run up the trunks until the great trees lit up the entire valley, bursting into flame, yet only for a few moments as the sparks billowed and swirled with tendrils rising over a hundred feet above their branches, licking the night’s sky.

Murphy considered how easily he had come over the mountain, and hoped that none of these idiots would ever make the effort to venture into their valley. Either way, they were certainly a dangerous bunch. He decided to stay one more day and watch how they acted before heading back. He saw no point in wasting a week up here. He considered that, unless he could come up with some other purpose for being here, his mission was over.

He sketched what he had learned on the map, noting the location of the fuel tanks which he assumed would be empty, and the main cottage at the center of the party. The large log cottage on the far side of the lake. This seemed to be the central place for the group’s gathering. Murphy figured the head punk was located there. He decided to stay one more night and then move back on down the mountain.

That next evening was more of the same debauchery, vandalism, and mayhem, coupled with the pointless merriment of drunken fools. Murphy considered returning with Bob and Logan to run these morons out of the valley. But he knew in the back of his mind that they were too few, and that they would only move on to someone else’s resort or village, and cause the same problems. He considered that they were perhaps just as well off here, where they were at least contained in the valley. Here they could do no more damage if left alone.

Even if they started a forest fire, there was a good chance it would stay contained in their valley, while eventually burning itself out against the highway to the east, and held back by the prevailing winds, and the mountain slope of the west side.

What a sad end to such a beautiful slice of heaven. The following afternoon, Murphy decided he had seen enough, he packed up and made his way back down the mountain.

The trip down was much more leisurely than the hike up. The three days on the mountain were sunny and bright. If not for the gang in the other valley, it would have been a fantastic adventure.

After he crossed the log at Myrtle Creek, Murphy purposely kicked the trip line to warn Bob of his approach. He called out, “It’s me, Bob, don’t shoot,” and laughed out loud at his little joke. Bob called to him as he broke from the trees, “You’re back early. What happened?”

“Let me have a beer and sit down and I’ll tell you all about our neighbors to the east.”

Bob called the Granvilles with the VHF radio, and everyone met at the cabin. Murphy had to explain the whole trip once again, but he didn’t mind after getting a few beers in him. The group was delighted to hear that the threat of the Misty Lake gang was less than eminent. They still feared the men and worried about them invading their little slice of heaven, knowing it was so easy to cross the mountain that separated the two valleys.

The question was now what will happen when the easy pickings run out at Misty Lake? Will they risk invading their valley for supplies after losing one of their men in the ambush?

It was mid-September by the time the five residents of the tiny valley got back to normal. The group eventually relaxed. It was a magnificent Indian summer bursting beneath blue skies, with fantastic colors amidst the evergreens, were amber and scarlet leaves blazing like fire, and flocks of geese flying south in their usual formation, making their way to those winter feeding grounds.

Murphy and Bob fed the Granvilles some supper. They noticed how hungry Marlee seemed. Bob indicated with a nod to Murphy, as Marlee asked for seconds. The family left for home after supper, with a laugh and a cheerful thank you and goodbye, and Bob asked, “Do you suppose they have enough food set up for winter, Murphy?”

“I thought so, but the way that little girl was eating like she hadn’t seen food in a while, made me think that maybe they don’t.”

The next afternoon, Bob and Murphy agreed to visit the Granvilles and take a secret look at their food stores. They didn’t want to embarrass Logan in front of his family, they just wanted to make sure the family had enough supplies for winter.

Earlier, Murphy was digging around under the shed roof at the back of the cabin, he discovered a half-dozen large gallon glass jars. He decided to load up the jars along with a few smaller ones, and deliver them to Lynda for food canning. Although the jars were not re-sealable, they could be sealed with paraffin wax, and stored with the lids on them to protect the wax seals. They were ideal for family sized quantities, he also threw in a dozen empty jars of various sizes. Lynda was delighted to have another way of storing her winter supply of canned goods.

Murphy apologized to Lynda, “I’m sorry I hadn’t found these earlier. I just came across them today under a pile of tarps.”

“That’s okay, I’m just happy you found them, thank you.”

She took the glass jars and cooked all day. Driving everyone out of the tiny cabin, with her frantic brewing of stews, soups, and canned wild edibles, cramming each jar full for the long winter. The tiny cabin was like a sauna inside from warming the pressure cooker on the hot stove.

Both cabins were now ready for the coming season.

It was the first week of September and, normally, Marlee would be heading back to school, so it was decided that the three adults would supply Marlee with an education. Lynda had been a teacher in the past so her job was certain, math, English, and social sciences. Logan taught her business, Murphy taught the girl accounting, and economics, while Bob taught Marlee her favorite subject, hands-on wilderness survival, and wildlife conservation.

The adults taught class using an old rusty plate steel, and a piece of soapstone as the chalk, they washed off the lesson with a wet cloth. This added to the rust and made the rough surface that the soapstone could write on.

By October, the snow began to fly.

Bob had an idea: Marlee and he would spend the next week making five pairs of snowshoes using the old Algonquin Indian style as a pattern. They were made of straight grained ash for the frames, and webbed with long strips of rawhide from Granville’s deer. Bob showed the young Marlee how to make the long pieces of the hide, starting with a circle and using a razor stuck next to a nail in a board or log, one could pull the circle of hide against the razor as the nail kept it even and from running astray, and unwind pieces as long as you like.

With a little practice, Marlee was able to strip off long twenty-foot pieces of hide a quarter inch thick. Next, they soaked the hide in warm salted water to soften it and then used it to weave the webbing needed for the snowshoes. They dried it over a smudge fire that cured the rawhide, this along with the salt soaking preserved it for a lifetime. It dried and shrank into place as tight as a drum holding everything together without any nails, except at the pointed tips and trailing ends.

Here, the nails were peened over holding tiny pieces of tin as washers in place. The Algonquin style was perfect for making your way through the bush as the leading end is curved upward, and pointed. Not rounded like conventional snowshoes. This style allowed a person to poke their way through tangles of brush without getting hung up by the closeness of the bushes.

Eventually, the two got so proficient at making them, they could assemble a pair of shoes in a day once the frames were steamed and set.

That evening, Bob and Murphy were invited down to Granville’s cabin for supper. As with most evenings, they sat around the stove, having coffee, and talked until midnight.

Logan suddenly spoke up, “What if there is a way to get that quad we hidden down on the south trail up here without removing the barricades.”

“How do you propose we do that,” Murphy asked.

“Well, what if, by using just two or three lashed together ramps we simply drove them up and over the log jams?”

Bob quickly sat up, “You know that might work. Say we lash two sets of ramps made from thin spruce saplings, maybe twenty-five feet long or so. We could drive up and over the jambs and drag the poles behind us to the next log jam.”

“Hey, that might work,” Murphy commented a bit too loudly. “Shhhh… Marlee is asleep,” Logan said quelling Murphy’s excitement.

“Sorry …How about we give it a try in the morning,” he whispered back. The men clinked their coffee mugs together, and stared at the open door of the camp stove and watched the flames.

The next day Bob and Murphy came down and met Logan and Marlee at the Granville cabin. Marlee wanted to come, and no one could see any reason why not. Besides’ it gave Bob a chance to teach the girl about felling trees, limbing them, and lashing technique.

The group finally arrived at the last log barricade, where they hid the quad. After a reasonable effort, Bob and Murphy managed to get it started. The gas was old, and it took a little finesse on their part to get it to run properly. Even with the flat tires they could run the quad up the makeshift ramps to the top of the log pile, then off loaded it, sliding the ramps down the other side, and continued on like that until they were clear of the jamb. Then they made their way to the next log jam and repeated the process. It was quite easy, and they all wondered if the men from the adjacent valley were smart enough to think of it for themselves. They hoped not…

“What I hope, is for the snow to come back again and covers these tracks soon,” grumbled Bob.

“I was thinking the same thing,” said Logan.

Marlee was hanging on behind Logan riding the new quad, and asked, “Why Daddy?”

“Oh we just don’t want anyone figuring out how we did this that’s all,” he smiled over his shoulder at the young girl.

Murphy glanced at Bob with a look of concern. “That would definitely not be good,” he quietly whispered to himself so the girl couldn’t hear.

They finally got back to the camp, and despite the flat tires, the quad made it without any trouble. “Well Logan, now you and the family have a quad. That was a good idea buddy.” Logan was quite proud to show the ATV to Lynda, and the first question out of her mouth was; “Why did they leave a quad behind?”

Bob, and Murphy suddenly coughed on what the answer might be.

“Well we had better get going we have other things to do today.”

“Yeah,” said Murphy, “I need to buck up that spruce tree in front of the house that fell the other night in the wind storm.”

“Oh yeah,” cried Bob, “That’s right, better get going. See you guys.” The two chicken men hurried off before they got stuck in the middle of the family squabble about to take place.

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The next morning, Bob woke, and grabbed the water pot from the stove as usual, and headed to the creek. He quietly left the cabin and closed the door behind him and, as he turned, he came face to face with a bearded man all clad in buckskins, sitting astride a painted horse. He wore a large fur hat and carried a Winchester lever action across his chest cradle in one arm.

Bob froze mid-turn, still bent down with the cabin door handle in his hand, his jaw dropped, not truly believing what he was looking at.

The strange being spoke in a deep voice, “Sorry I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, as the painted horse pawed at the ground.

To be continued…

Written by Jack Woods

The post What if Martial Law were declared in America Part Five Bush Whacked appeared first on Survival Sullivan.

What if Martial Law Were Declared in America? Part Four

This is part of our free, online and highly-praised survival fiction novel. You can read the rest of the parts here.

The next morning everyone slept in a little too long except for Marlee, who was heard trying to find something to eat in the cupboards, to no avail.

Murphy sat up, “…You looking for something to eat, Marlee?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, did I wake you Mr. Murphy?” she whispered, “I was trying to be quiet.”

“Do you have any cereal or anything like that?” she looked shy and a bit lost.

Murphy whispered back, “I’m afraid you won’t find much like that here. Do you know how to make coffee?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“Well, you put on some coffee and I’ll make French toast for everyone. How’s that sound?”

Marlee smiled, “That sounds great, thank you.”

“Coffee is in that cupboard, and the waters in the cooler there, pots on the stove.” Murphy pointed to everything the girl would need to get coffee brewing, and right away she set to work.

Meanwhile, Murphy stoked the fire and then limped his way down to the creek to fill the water pot for the stove, as it had dried completely out that night. He was relatively mobile these days, and didn’t require a crutch anymore. He felt it may even be time to take off his cast. Then he noticed Logan’s rifle leaning against the fir tree by the creek, and realized Bob was a very insightful man indeed.

Last night when asked about weapons, Logan had said the gun was back at camp, and Bob wisely knew right away that there was a gun somewhere nearby…

Murphy didn’t blame Logan, he would have done the exact same thing if it was his family and he was seeking refuge. He grabbed the rifle and brought it back to the cabin.

In the cabin he began breakfast for the group. He wondered what was the best way to handle their new guests.

Eventually the family would need to move on, as Bob and he did not have enough supplies for this large group. It was a matter of fact, not cruelty, to consider. He knew he would need to discuss this with Bob as soon as he got a chance.

The aroma of cinnamon French toast soon got everyone up and out of bed. Marlee had helped Murphy with some scrambled eggs too, and she looked very pleased with herself when she brought them over to the table and her folks. Murphy had made at least two dozen pieces of toast to make the eggs go further. They were an easy way to stretch out the supplies.

He decided that there was a fair chance that these people would still be here for supper, so he dug out several cups of dried red kidney beans to soak throughout the day. He figured on making some ground deer chili for supper. It was a great way to feed a large group of people. Throw in a few biscuits, and you have a hardy supper for five.

After breakfast, Bob and Murphy sat down with the Granville’s, and talked over a plan of action they had for them.

Bob told them of a derelict shack just past the south end of the valley. They offered to drive them there with the quad and trailer, and help them get it fixed up a bit for living in.

After assessing how much food the family had left, Bob offered to shoot a deer for them when he had the chance, and show them how to smoke it in a smoker. That is if they were willing to do the work themselves.

Logan was unsure but eager to learn, and definitely willing to try. That afternoon the group headed to where Bob had showed them the shack. It was in bad shape with a dirt floor and a large hole in the roof, but that was easily patched using a piece of tin that had fallen from it. The stove in the corner was nothing more than an old 45 gallon-drum with some stovepipe. Yet, what it lacked in sophistication it made up for in heat. By that evening, the old shack was warm and dry, sporting a solid door on its front and an actual window made of glass, with the happy noises of a family living inside it.

Bob lent them a lantern, and some basic staples, such as beans, rice, and flour. He then told them to drop by anytime and he would teach them where to find berries and edibles for themselves, and what was poisonous, and what was not.

The family was indebted to Bob, and Logan vowed he would never forget their hospitality. Bob commented that, “Few can survive out here by themselves, even with help it can be tough. So, just return the favor or pass it on someday.”

The Granville family dropped by the cabin once a week at first, until they gradually settled in to their new home. They seemed very capable of living there now, but not before Bob had a chance to teach them a little about wilderness survival…

He showed them a few places they could get edibles and how to snare birds and rabbits, as well as make deadfalls for the bigger game.

Logan built a small smoker he set up using only willow branches braided together to form four walls and a roof. Bob showed Logan how to hunt deer, and how much fire wood they would need for winter. He also showed them ways in which to dry, pickle, and can food to store for hard times. They only had a dozen odd jars left over from pickling, yet they managed to put up some substantial stores.

Bob showed Lynda an old trick of his grandma. She would pour paraffin on the tops of the jam jars to seal them. When his grandmother had no sealable lids left for her jars, she would then fill the tops of the jars with wax to seal them. This was also an old timer’s trick that they mostly used for jams and preserves. The wax was then saved and reused as often as possible.

Logan later began to dig a root cellar beside the shack in a nearby hillside to keep their stores, which he covered with a heavy split log door to keep the animals out. It was a small narrow hole barely big enough for Marlee to fit in, but it was lined with logs and dug just below the frost line; this would do for now.

Bob and Murphy were both surprised at how well Marlee adapted to her new wilderness life. The two men, often after a very long day of hard work, would have discussions over a game of crib. How the world got so messed up, and how they were sure it must be the lack of discipline and poor upbringing of children that was partly to blame.

The men surmised that likely it was the leisurely lifestyles, and the far too comfortable existence that made people today, and the world, the way it is now.

However, after seeing Marlee’s rapid transformation from helpless infant to wilderness child, it was more likely that it was society’s coddling that made the youth this way… ignorant of reality and unambitious.

Either way, it was a poor way for anyone to start out in life, and wasn’t doing the children of the west any good. It left them with no direction in life, and not doing anyone any good by encouraging people with “pie in the sky,” aspirations by believing they could get ahead without working for it. Everyone wants to be a pop star these days…

It is as if society is in some perpetual childhood for the most part, and that we are never encouraged to grow up.

Both men agreed on this, that they both had observed fifty and sixty year olds acting like teenagers, refusing to grow up and act their age. It was no longer like in their parent’s day. They were even guilty of these crimes themselves. Neither one of the men could even remember adults in their day and age acting like this. What was happening in the world was profoundly a mystery.

It must be the availability of easy money that was to blame for this strife. The fake money injected into a fake system, this was the root cause of the west feeling that it would always have good times ahead of it. This left people with no regard for the day the bill would finally become due. The fake money was the driving force behind the irresponsible attitude of the western civilizations.

The men were glad to see that the young girl was easily capable of changing. This gave both of them hope for the future.

That night, as the two men watched the news on satellite, they saw how the two opposing sides were not only NOT coming to an agreement, but that the Federal government was announcing their intentions of bringing in foreign UN troops as standby against the American uprising.

The “alternative media,” the Internet, wwere getting ready for an all-out revolutionary type war spreading across the country. It was losing its mind about the idea of foreign troops occupying the country.

Despite what the mainstream media kept telling everyone, it appeared that the majority of the American people were firmly behind the militia groups. Many affluent money monsters from around the world were accused by the alternative media of injecting funds into both sides of the uprising, and even promoting the riots that initially instigated the whole mess.

“Things are getting worse out there,” Bob said. Murphy slouched down in his chair in disgust as he watched for the tenth time a video of their home town blazing beneath a windswept orange brown skyline.

“Should we be doing something, shouldn’t we be in town fighting or something?” asked Murphy as he stared blankly at the TV.

“Do what?” asked Bob. “Fight who?”

Murphy shrugged, “I don’t know, maybe join the Militia?”

Bob stood in front of Murphy, blocking the TV screen. “The real frontlines of this battle are the ones being negotiated by the diplomatic few, who actually get what’s going on.”

He moved aside, and went to the window, “This is the only way to get the Nation back… we’re no longer in control… that’s what you must realize. That is the only way to bring some end to all this. More force will only bring more foreign influence. The UN troops and allied forces from other nations that have no problem shooting innocent Americans,” He lifted the binoculars and scanned the bush.

“It’s like I said before.”

“The people in charge of all this, the owners of your American dream, don’t want peace they want conflict. Conflict is their stock-in-trade. The corrupt shadow government has been designed to drive this nation to its knees. They have succeeded, and now they are about to finalize their plan, a One-World-Government.”

Murphy looked ill.

“So… what do you suppose we do, Bob?” Murphy asked.

Bob quietly answered, “I have fought in war. I was told it was for a good cause back then too. It wasn’t. It was for warmongers, and bank profits. No one person can stop this conflict from unfolding around us, at least not by fighting on some frontline. To really end this nightmare they need to stand together, and cut off the head of the snake. Follow the money Murphy, that’s where this evil is coming from…” Bob looked like he was getting really pissed off.

Murphy grunted. He knew Bob was right, but the question was too big for Murphy to consider. He wondered how they would ever resolve the conflict in the nation’s heart. Murphy felt helpless. He got up, slung his rifle over his shoulder, and decided to go for a walk. He left Bob sitting in his chair watching TV, and closed the door behind him.

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Murphy felt better being outside. The news of the nation’s trouble wouldn’t fade away that easily. So he headed north along the trail that he and Bob came in on, just two months before.

It was late May, and spring was just about over. The summer was coming. Everything was in full bloom, and wherever he looked the skies had been swept clear by summer winds. As far as one could see was bright sky.

It was hard to imagine the chaos that the people of Metro faced 150 miles away. He thought of his old girlfriend Theresa and wondered about her, and for that matter, what the people of America were now facing. He closed his eyes and warmed his face in the sun, while breathing in the pine scent of the forest.

Murphy stood motionless for several minutes staring up at nothing, and thinking of… absolutely nothing.

Just the sun’s warmth.

When, gradually, a faint buzzing arose on the wind. At first, it was barely audible, and then it gradually grew until he recognized the sound of a chainsaw in the distance. It was coming from the North, along the trail.

Murphy understood what it meant right away, and ran as fast as he could back to the cabin. Bob was on the porch, listening to the sound of the saws…

Without Murphy even uttering a word, he said, “I hear it,” as Murphy ran up to the cabin steps.

“It’s someone clearing your felled trees from the trail isn’t it?”

“It is,” replied Bob, showing no emotion.

He turned and went into the cabin to get his AR.

As he locked the door behind him he commented, “We had better check this out.”

Walking toward the quad, he added, “you’d better come too Murphy, I may need you for back up.”

The two men jumped on the ATV, and headed up the trail towards where the sound was coming from. As they got nearer to the sound, they dismounted and traveled by foot to within a hundred yards of the men. Skirting high along the hill to avoid being detected, they crept closer.

There were only two of them below and they were traveling by quad as well. The men appeared to be young and in their early twenties. Each one was carrying a firearm. One had a deer rifle with scope. The other had a short sawed-off pump action twelve gauge slung across his back.

“I’ll go in by myself,” Bob whispered. “You cover me. Keep a bead on the guy with the shotgun. I’ll bet has very fast with it, so if he tries to go for it while I’m talking, you take him out. Aim for his chest.”

Bob slowly made his way toward the two young men. He had his AR ready, but held it pointed toward the ground, so as not to alarm the men. He called out when he was fifty feet away, “You there.” The man with the shotgun heard Bob’s call, and tapped the shoulder of the man with the chainsaw. His rifle was no longer on his back. It now leaned against a nearby tree. He looked up at his partner who pointed to where Bob was standing. Then he turned off the chainsaw and set it on the ground.

Bob saw his eyes as they wondered over to where his rifle was leaning on the tree. He then looked to his partner and saw how his gun was looped over his head and shoulder. They were not ready, and hadn’t expected anyone to be dropping in on them… that much was for sure.

“Hello there,” the man said, giving a fake smile and trying to sound neighborly. “Ah, we didn’t expect to see anyone out here,” his tone was contrived, yet he continued to try to sound cheerful. He was a greasy man, both had on black hooded jerseys under leather jackets. They looked like cheap two bit punks, they wore no gang colors. They were not organized members, but the kind of rabble that looked like the rioters and thieves on TV, except these two were armed.

Bob called out to the men. “This is a private trail… and I’d appreciate it if you leave my trees where they are.”

The men looked at Bob angrily and replied, “We didn’t realize you owned this valley,” sounding even more like cheap punks.

Bob walked closer stepping over some dead brush, “There are plenty of other valleys around these parts gentlemen, you can explore any of them all you want, but this one’s been taken.”

“Hell, friend,” the owner of the deer rifle grinned at Bob, revealing missing teeth. “This is a mighty big valley for just one man to have.”

Bob flashed a stern look at the young man, “Not that it’s any of your business,” He said quietly, “but there are a lot more people other than myself in this valley, too many already.”

The greasy rifleman then smiled at his friend with the shotgun, “Well, we didn’t realize that at all, we thought it was all government land out here.”

“Well,” said Bob, “now you know. So if I were you, I’d move on.” He pointed up the trail with his AR-15. “You can leave the way you came,” Bob was still pointing the AR up the trail, when he said this.

Murphy listened to the conversation from the hillside. His hand began to shake, but he forced himself to stay calm. He steadied the rifles bead on the shotgunner’s chest, and preyed he wouldn’t have to shoot him.

The two men were taken aback by Bob’s forceful demeanor, and yet common sense made them comply. They still kept trying to figure out a way to turn the situation to their favor. Slowly they began loading their quads with gear.

The man with the shotgun reached for his sling to remove the shotgun from over his head, “I wouldn’t do that son…” Bob said, and pointed the AR toward the man.

He then yelled out to his accomplice on the hill, “MURPHY…” Making the two intruders aware of his friend with the Russian made rifle.

“Are you still aiming at this one…” he pointed at the man’s chest with his AR. Then he tilted his head sideways listening over his shoulder for Murphy’s reply… all the while, never losing eye contact with the two men in front of him.

Murphy then shouted back from the hillside, “I am…”

Bob continued eyeing the men, and called back to Murphy, “Well… you keep an eye on both of them, but I am going to let them leave, okay?”

Bob’s eyes darted from one to the other the whole time. The encounter went down pretty smoothly, and looked well planned. This left no doubt who was in charge of the situation. The men moved slowly, and mounted their ATVs. Bob grabbed the rifle leaning against the tree before the greasy man reached for it, and unloaded it. He handed the bullets to him slowly, and commented, “Allow me,” then shoved the rifle at his chest before letting go.

Any notion of trickery soon vanished from the men’s minds, as they quickly readied to leave.

Before they started up the vehicles, the greasy one looked back at Bob, and said, “We didn’t mean any harm fella, just looking for new territory, that’s all.”

Bob walked right up to his greasy face and replied, “We have several families in this valley, and that’s all that it can handle right now. We don’t want any trouble, nor do we want any more people using up our resources, so if you don’t mind… don’t come back.” Then he added, “We’ll respect your territory if you respect ours.” The greasy man sized up Bob for several moments, then lowered his gaze and turned over the quad’s engine. Without looking back he gunned the machine, and turned it back on the trail, the two headed north from whence they came.

Bob and Murphy listened as the engine noises slowly faded off into the distance. They waited until they finally crested the valley’s summit, and heard them no longer.

Murphy walked down the hill towards Bob, “Well, that was fun. I have the feeling we haven’t heard the last of those guys,” grinned a nervous Murphy.

“Unfortunately, I think your right.” replied Bob.

“I recognized tattoo’s on the back of their hands. They looked like some cheap ass gang tats. I bet these are some of those guys from that group Logan told us about.”

“Might be,” Murphy replied.

“Let’s get out of here. We better warn Logan about them. They might try coming up the valley from the south end next time.”

Bob threw the AR over his shoulder. He rolled the cut off log back onto the trail, and the two men headed down the path to their vehicle and then raced home.

When they got back they grabbed some supplies, two bottles of Murphy’s homemade brew, and a deer roast. They planned on visiting their neighbors, the Granville’s, to the south and wanted to bring a meal. They threw the bottles into a sack with everything else. Bob had another idea of using a pair of his Dad’s old VHF hand held radios. The two radios once were used for a hunting trip to Alaska several years ago by his father and him before he passed on, but now he found they weren’t much use around here in these tight valleys.

“They do have a decent range,” He commented.  “Twenty-miles over a direct line of sight, and still will hold a charge (even if only for a day), at least when not used much.”

He threw one radio and a solar charger for it in his rucksack for Logan and his family to use. The idea was that one could warn the rest of any movement in the valley, while the others could come running as back up or head for the hills, as the case may be.

 

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The family must have heard their quad coming, as the Granville clan was standing in their front yard waiting when the men pulled around the last turn in the trail.

Marlee jumped up and down dancing silly when she saw the men, and waved at the two as they approached. Logan held up his right arm in greeting as soon as he recognized them, and then turned to get some chairs for his guests.

Murphy got off the quad and handed Lynda the deer roast, which she graciously thanked both of them for. Then she promptly set about getting it on the stove in her Dutch oven. She brought three beer glasses for the men back from the cabin. Murphy filled them and handed one each to the other men, Lynda did not like beer so she had iced tea, without the ice.

“We have some news for you about two bad looking dudes we ran into just around an hour ago,”

Bob looked at Logan and then Lynda. “Marlee, you’d better go play, until we hear what these men have to say,” motioning to the young girl to leave them for a moment. Marlee whined, but did as she was told.

Bob waited until the young girl had left then began to tell the tale. “Murphy and I just have come from the north trail, right after chasing off two greasy looking guys with quads trying to chainsaw their way through our barricades at the north end.”

Logan looked at Bob and asked, “Did they have black hoods and leather jackets like the men from the eastern valley?”

“Yes,” replied Bob. “I’ll bet it’s those guys from over towards Misty Lake.”

“I suspect so,” Bob nodded.

“I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them,” Logan growled.

“Well, they were both armed, that much is for sure, and intent on coming into this valley. We chased them off for now, but I’m sure they’ll be back. I bet you might even see them coming in from the south on this trail,” Bob pointed at the trail heading to the south, “So be ready. Keep that SKS I lent you loaded on you or next to the door at all times, Logan.”

“Does everyone in the family know how to shoot now?” it was a valid question especially out here in the wilds.

Logan looked at his daughter playing, “Marlee is a little squeamish, but she is a pretty good shot, and Lynda can hit a bird flying.”

“Good,” Bob continued, “I brought your family a handheld radio you can use to call us for help if they do come this way,” Bob handed Logan the radio, and showed him how to use it and what channels to monitor. He then said, “We also brought you some more ammunition for that SKS. You never know, you might need it… just in case.”

“We’ll come by tomorrow and drop some trees across the south trail for better security; at least if you hear them like we did today, you will be able to know if they’re coming, and when. Well, if they use a chainsaw to cut through them, that is.”

Murphy could see Marlee was getting bored playing off by herself, and was now slowly making her way to within ear shot of the adults.

“Marlee come here,” her Mom patted a spot on the bench seat beside her.

The girl approached cautiously, knowing something important had been discussed.

Lynda nodded toward the men, “Bob and Murphy say that they just saw some of those men from the other valley north of their place today.” Marlee looked around frightened at the faces of the two men.

Lynda then spoke quietly to the young girl, “It’s okay… they chased them off, but if you are alone and see men anywhere, you run and hide deep in the woods and don’t come out, or even move, unless one of us calls for you.”

She was truly scared, yet bravely tried to look calm, and said, “I will Momma.” The discussion then changed to everyday topics between the adults, now that the girl was listening.

It seems that the Granville’s had truly become a wilderness family. They had even started a late spring garden with the seeds that Bob lent them. They were now growing snap beans, lettuce, and radishes in the garden. But only after pushing a picket fence made of a thousand willow branches into the ground to keep the deer, rabbits and gophers out. They finally had a crop, and proudly showed off their latest endeavors to the men. They were thoroughly impressed by the change in their neighbor’s skills since they arrived. They had truly come a long way from the first night they had stumbled onto their cabin those many weeks before.

The sun was beginning to set, and Lynda invited the group into her home. Inside were a half log table and a set of bench seats that Logan had made himself. The table was crude, sturdy, and well-made. There were two beds also newly made, and a flattop sheet steel griddle added to the old barrel stove for cooking.

Logan invited the men to have a seat. It was now a proper home, and far from that run down shack it was when first the family moved in.

Once everyone was seated, Lynda brought the Dutch oven over and set the hot meal on three stones in the middle of the table. She lifted the lid to reveal a pot chock-full of potatoes and vegetables, all piled high over a perfectly roasted piece of venison. The smell of wild garlic, sage, and parsnip filled the room. Logan handed a large spoon to Bob who had sat to his left, and said, “Help yourself gentlemen,” Bob eagerly took the spoon from Logan and filled his plate. He then passed it to Murphy beside him, and so on…

Logan carved the roast.

Right after the meal the men sat around and drank coffee, while Lynda and Marlee had tea. When the conversations were over, and the men got up to leave, they thanked the Granville’s for a fine meal. Bob and Murphy headed for the quad and made their way home. The men promised to be back the next morning to drop trees across the southern route as planned.

It was dark when they left their friends, but the quad’s lights were perfect for finding their way. By now the trail was well-worn and well-known to the residents of the valley. By the time the two got back to their cabin a moonless night made the yard appear dark and foreboding. The head light seem to barely cut sections of the blackness out like lasers, revealing nothing beyond the edges of the beams.

Their encounter with the rabble earlier certainly had everyone in the valley on edge. The men dismounted, and made their way to the cabin door. The lock was secure. The shutters were still latched, and it appeared that their home was secure.

No one slept well that night. Murphy, who had NOT had any bad dreams in quite some time, experienced some that evening.

He found himself back in the city with the usual caterwauling of the air raid sirens wailing overhead.  Yet, this time instead of rioters and firestorms, he looked down upon a battlefield that raged across his forgotten city. The battle raged with tanks and military vehicles using 50 caliber machine guns mounted on their roofs. Tracer rounds trailed off in the fading light punctuated by large explosions and billowing clouds from mortar rounds dropped into the frenzy of citizens.

The troops used conventional warfare against the citizens of their own country… the defenseless were now the combatants in this war. Citizens were armed mostly with Molotov’s, rocks, and some small arms. Their grimy heads popped up from hiding for just long enough to toss whatever they could muster, then they ducked away quickly before being fired upon. Most avoided the machine gun fire by hiding behind what was left of some ruined building. It was nearly impossible, as armor piercing rounds from the big 50s cut through the cinder blocks like cheese.

Many locals hopelessly hid in sewage systems and culverts under the city’s streets and roads. The scene was apocalyptic, looking more like the war torn eastern city of Aleppo than the down town city of Metro.

Murphy had gotten used to his periodic nightmares, and barely rolled over in bed before moving onto a less arduous dreamscape. Next, he dreamed of his ex-girl Theresa and the two of them living in the valley together raising a family like the Granville’s. The dream continued as he sat quietly on his porch. The two of them side by side, quietly rocking in a porch swing built for two as they watch the sunset.  A shot rang out and Theresa slumped over on Murphy’s shoulder. He awoke from the nightmare gasping for air. Only the sound of Bob breathing could be heard in the darkness. Gasping for breath, he soon calmed himself, and went back to sleep. Eventually realizing it was only a dream.

…He didn’t dream again the rest of that evening, and suddenly woke up to morning.

His first thought that morning was… he wasn’t sure what the dreams meant anymore… if anything, but he was absolutely sure he was certainly not getting back together with his old girlfriend, Theresa.

It was such an odd dream, perhaps his mind playing tricks on him.

He confirmed this to himself… not for all the tea in China would he get back together with Theresa, especially after the hell she put him through.

He reasoned it must have been some Freudian cerebral bile that built up in his mind that must have been coughed up like some mental phlegm. Perhaps a bit of bad venison, still undigested, that sat in his stomach caused it all.

Bob woke next, and the men readied for a long day of felling trees on the south trail. The project was paramount in securing the valley from intruders. They packed up what was needed, and left the cabin locked, even bolting the heavy bear proof shutters from inside. They decided to test the radio out and called the Granville’s before leaving.

Bob, smiling at Murphy before speaking into the receiver, called out, “This is Red Fox, to Grey Squirrel-killer, come in Grey Squirrel-Killer, over.” Bob forever kidded Logan about the amount of grey squirrel he had shot during the spring. Logan would certainly get the joke, and know who it was that was calling. Bob frequently teased the family about how much squirrel they had eaten. Surprisingly Marlee still liked squirrel stew, despite the hundred or so times they had it. The three must have eaten most of the squirrels in the valley.

One morning, Bob was on a routine trip with his quad, he cruised down by the Granville’s place, and spied a big buck feeding at the edge of a grove of poplars. He took careful aim and dropped it with one shot for the family, and let them know where it lay. Logan and his family gratefully went and dragged the deer home and filled their larder with the meat for the summer.

He repeated: “Calling Grey Squirrel-Killer, this is Red Fox, come in Grey Squirrel-Killer.”  A second or two went by then the radio crackled and Logan’s voice came on, “Hey Red Fox, very funny, are you and Murphy on your way down, over.”

Bob pressed the call button, and answered, “You bet Grey Squirrel. We are just about to head out. We’ll see you in an hour or so. Over and out.”

The men looked around the camp, climbed on the quad, and shouldered their rifles. Bob had tied a chainsaw to the front of the vehicle. Then they headed down the south trail to the neighbor’s home.

Logan met them at the trailhead next to the clearing. “Hey Red Fox,” he shouted and laughed as the men approached. “Where do you think the best spots will be to drop these trees?”

Bob knew exactly where.

He suggested they cut trees as far down the valley as “Lost Miner Creek,” a tiny tributary to Myrtle Creek near the narrowing of the canyon’s entrance. It was about two miles south. He wanted to drop a tangle of logs in this tight spot of the valley, and other trees every quarter mile after that. It would certainly buy some time if someone was determined to come that way. It would slow down anyone with vehicles from getting in from the south before the group could react.

The canyon was an ideal place to block off, as there was no way around the bottleneck created by the sheer canyon walls. This effective defense cut off the entire southern entrance to the valley. It would take several men a full day to clear out just one tangle in that narrow stretch.

The group knew it meant that there was no quick retreat, if any, for them if they had to abandon their valley home. This was a decision that all the men had to agree on together, before the work was to begin. There would be no retreat, and they would all have to stand and fight if it came to that.

A plan “B” was formulated for running to the hills on foot if things got to rough and they were way over their heads. It included plans for a rendezvous point. It was established so that the women could flee first… allowing them time to get there well before things got out of control.

When they arrived at the narrows, they were concerned when they found some old foot prints, and a set of ATV tracks. This didn’t mean it was the same men Murphy and Bob had braced, but it did mean their valley was known to others.

The men dropped five large spruces. The first fell straight down the trail in a massive spectacle, and the remaining trees were dropped in an X- pattern effectively holding down the first tree, thus blocking off the trail from any further use. It was a tangled mess with no way around it, and a hard day’s work for several men to remove even with two chainsaws and ropes.

As the group of residents retreated northward they dropped similar tangles behind them every quarter mile, until they were back at the Granville homestead.

“Well, gentlemen, I believe the southern route is secure,” Logan smiled emphatically, wiping sap from his hands across his overalls.

“How about a drink of some of my cranberry wine…it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself,” the ex-manager smiled at Murphy and Bob grinning with anticipation. “That sounds great,” everyone laughed as the two spoke in unison.

After lunch, Bob and Murphy invited the family back to their cabin for supper, and then the two headed out to get ready for their “guests.”

Murphy called out over his shoulder, “Bring some of that wine, Logan,” and Bob gunned the engine to the quad and sped off.

The drive to the cabin was leisurely, as the men felt they had taken care of the potential problem that had been nagging them ever since their encounter with the members of the gang yesterday.

When they arrived, Bob suggested he add some more felled trees across the northern trail, and headed out to do just that. Murphy volunteered to cook supper for the guests, and went to the pantry for some meat.

As there would be so many mouths to feed, he decided to simply make a peppery venison stew, using his garden potatoes, some wild parsnips, carrots, and a large chunk of hindquarter that he diced and browned up in some bacon fat. It would have at least four hours to stew and become tender. He also rolled out some home baked biscuits to fill the void.

Everyone arrived just before the sun began to disappear over the mountain ridge. Bob returned from the north trail and the entire group sat on the porch enjoying the sunset as it changed the valley’s hue from crisp green to orange, then added a light show of golden flames bouncing off the sparse gathering of clouds to the west.

Just at that moment, Murphy’s alarm bells jingled beside the porch. Everyone immediately looked up the trail to the north, and there before them stood a cow moose and her calf. The same pair that was videoed on the trail cameras Bob had set up when he found Logan’s footprints near the creek, weeks before.

A quiet nervous giggle was heard as the group stared at them. “Oh, look… whispered Marlee, as she slowly pointed at the creatures.”

Quietly the group watched the animals stare back at them. They were certainly a magnificent sight to see, and a great way to end the afternoon. The mother moose finally got bored and moved on, hopping over a large log with ease before crashing off through the bush with the young calf in tow.

Murphy suggested they all head inside for some stew. He was glad to have some females around for a change. He never realized how not having women around upset the dynamics of a room full of people. Their laughter was a welcome change. The stew must have been wonderful too, as not a word was heard during the first ten minutes, only the ravenous sound of people eating. It was like a family event and everyone felt the same way.

After the dishes were cleared and washed, the group sat on the porch in the warm summer night. They waited for the heavens to reveal their evening light show.

Without any city lights to ruin it, it was like a person could reach out and touch each and every star, and there were millions to choose from.

Lynda had brought the lanterns for the walk home. Bob and Murphy watched them leave. Marlee’s silhouette waved at them as she straggled behind, and the men waved back as the lanterns disappeared around the bend of the southern trail.

“They turned out to be pretty good people, huh Murphy?” Bob spoke rhetorically, not expecting an answer. All Murphy said in return was, “Yeah, they did,” as the men went inside the cabin and closed the door behind.

Bob opened the cupboard and pulled down a bottle, “I don’t know about you Murphy, but I’m having a rum,” he exclaimed.

“That sounds perfect,” said Murphy as he snatched two tumblers from the counter and handed them to Bob. “Make mine a double if you please sir!”

Bob liberally poured two full tumblers of dark rum, and handed one to Murphy, “Cheers, my friend,” and each cheerfully clinked their glass against the others.

“Let’s see what’s on the news,” Bob said and sat in his chair.

The screen lit up, just as the evenings topics were being announced.

“Tonight, the nation is in chaos. Peace talks with the Militia are still at a standstill.

Is the cost of Martial Law going to be too high for the nation? And later, how you can prepare        for the FEMA camps.”

“Jeezus, we’re all screwed, aren’t we? I was still hoping to make a midnight run to town for supplies, but this is ridiculous. It looks like there are no supplies anywhere, anymore,” Bob tossed back his rum, and poured another.

It was the intention of the Federal Government to weaken the resistance by cutting off food supplies to the nation. This created instant cooperation by the locals. Who easily went willingly into the FEMA camps for some aid.

“How are our stores Murphy?” asked Bob.

“Pretty good, we have enough to get us well into the fall, anyway.”

Bob got up and started pacing the floor, “We need enough vegetables to get us through the winter. Start dehydrating everything for storage.”

“I’m going out tomorrow to collected parsnip, Indian potatoes, and berries.” Bob looked at Murphy. “You collect wild garlic and dried herbs from the south meadows… and anything you can find to get us through the winter. Then we’ll set up drying racks and our smoker for mass production. I want to be ready for winter by the end of July, we’ll jerk an entire deer if we have to,” Bob looked Manic.

Murphy could see he was correct in thinking they could expect no help whatsoever from the people of Metro or the government. Bob was reasonably sure they would be okay for this coming winter because they had two sacks of dried beans and three sacks of rice, not to mention 80 lbs. of flour and 40 lbs. of sugar all in the cold storage. Not to mention Bob had probably half a ton of dehydrated food and supplies buried in ABS caches all over the valley, and as Bob put it, most of them will be impossible to dig up in the dead of winter. “So I wouldn’t count on them Murphy.”

It wasn’t that Bob felt there wasn’t enough food for him and Murphy to survive a winter on. It was that he had a feeling that this civil war was going to be around for a very long time and he needed to know could they survive here for years if necessary.

Over the next four weeks, the men worked seven days a week, for twelve hours a day. They managed to fill the root cellar and pantry with all kinds of wild edibles and smoked meat. Bob shot two more deer in which they jerked, smoked, and canned all of.

Murphy spent every evening canning. Everything from wild vegetables like parsnip, peeled Thistle stalks, and Indian potatoes of which there were not many to be found. He canned preserves like raspberry, black berry, and blue berries. He also put up six jars of crab apple jelly. In all, he managed to store over one hundred and fifty jars of food for the two of them.

It was mid-August now, and the men were confident they could relax. Murphy decided to try his hand at catching some trout and headed to the beaver pond on foot. It laid half-way between the southern meadow and the Granville place, as they now called it.

The afternoon was hot and steamy, as Murphy waded through the tall grass toward the pond. He could hear the frogs peeping long before he got to it.

Mosquito’s, as well as the smell of wet poplar and beaver castor, were in the air. Anticipating the wet marshy ground around the pond, Murphy wore his boots. He approached cautiously, and could see several small cutthroat trout rising for flies just off shore.

There were many obstacles to cast around such as dead trees and tangled brush in the water. It was a beaver pond after all. However, the small trout were so eager to strike that Murphy had his limit met in no time. He casually made his way across the meadow when he heard three shots from the camp. It must have been Bob. Three shots means someone is in trouble. Murphy started running toward the camp, as fast as he could.

Before he even got to the tree line, Bob came around the bend, and across the meadow with the quad in high gear flying toward Murphy. He approached and skidded to a stop, “Climb on, Logan hears chainsaws on the south trail.” They sped off to the Granville place, and found the family getting ready in their front yard. Logan had the SKS, and Lynda had the squirrel rifle. Marlee began locking the shutters of the old shack. Apparently Logan had made them in the past week as a precaution against trouble and bears.

Bob asked the women to stay behind and be ready for anything. “I will leave the quad here in case you need to get away. We won’t be able to take it past our last log barricade anyway.” He then turned to the other men, “Let’s go see who’s coming up our trail.”

The men headed off, running down the southern trail toward the sound of the chainsaws. They managed a steady jog, concerned about an increased heartrate affecting their aim. After passing five of the six barricades, they could clearly hear the chainsaws working about two hundred yards off and down the trail a way.

Bob was in the lead and held up a fist to stop the group. He gathered them close, and whispered, “They might be expecting us this time, fellas. So keep low and move slowly, the closer you get, the slower you move. If you spy someone, take cover whether they see you or not. Logan, did you bring your radio?”

Logan reached in his jacket and pulled it out, “Right here,” he held up the radio to show Bob.

“Good,” Bob handed him a set of ear buds to plug in the radio, “use these and this throat mic, so we can communicate, all you need to do is whisper, okay?”

Logan nodded as he plugged in the head set.

“Now, I want the two of you to go high and come around from the east side of the ridge, alright? Keep going, I doubt you will run into anyone up there. Move until you are directly over them. Find a good clear spot to shoot and defend yourself from, and wait for my command. I want you to spread out a bit, but no more than twenty or thirty feet between you. Okay?”

Bob then indicated with his hand, aiming at the west side of the canyon, “I’m going up on the west side, behind the tree line, and then I’ll be dropping back over when I get above them on that side. This way, if any shooting starts we have them in a cross fire. If you hear me shoot, just keep going, but do not fire unless you have to. Not before I give the command. Got it?” He looked stone-cold, like he had done this before, while the two white-collar guys, looked sick to their stomachs.

“I’m going to try, and talk to them first, but bear in mind that I’m pretty sure they’re here to fight this time, so be ready. You will have to shoot somebody this time, all of our lives depend on it. Do you both understand this?” They nodded in unison.

“Now get moving, I’ll watch the trail as you make your way up there, and be careful.”

Murphy and Logan began to ascend the steep hillside of the narrow half of the valley. From where they left they were still able to climb the face of the slope. Further south the passage got steeper. The walls got smooth with loose shale, until it was sheer, and narrow, and filled with felled trees.

By the time Bob had reached the place where he could see the men below, he saw they had managed to remove half of the fallen trees the residents had left for them. They were working on bucking up the bottom tree that lay down the length of the trail. Bob watched for a while, making sure he could see all the men involved. After observing them for ten minutes or so, he determined they did not have anyone watching from above (like he had), and there appeared to be no form of radio communication with any others.

This was good news, and meant perhaps scaring them off was still a possibility. Bob hit the call button on his radio, and whispered using the throat mic strapped around his neck, “Logan, are you in position?” He waited for an answer.

“We are, and we have a perfect line of sight from where we are.” Bob pushed the button again, “I will shoot one of the ATV tires out, but don’t you shoot. I repeat, hold your fire. I just want to get their attention. I am going to call down to them. Fingers crossed…over.”

Bob moved up to where he could use a boulder for cover, and still hit any target below him. He leaned back against the boulder and breathed deeply. “Well old boy, you better hope this works.”

He bounced up quickly, aimed and shot out the tire of the furthest machine. It burst with a puff of white powder. The men on the ground ducked and crouched where they stood, looking all around for where the shot came from. Bob yelled down to them, “Everyone stay where you are, you are surrounded. We want you to leave this valley and never return.”

To be continued…

Authored by Jack Woods

The post What if Martial Law Were Declared in America? Part Four appeared first on Survival Sullivan.

What if Martial Law Were Declared in America? Part Three

This is part of our free, online and highly-praised survival fiction novel. You can read the rest of the parts here.

Bob woke before sunrise, accustomed to early rises from his military days. He threw back the heavy sleeping bag, swung his legs over the bunk, and climbed out of bed. He began stoking the embers in the old stovetop woodstove, poking them to life again using a steel rod, and adding in the split pine.

In the mountains the morning temperatures often fall below freezing in spring, and even at this time of the year the air is crisp.

He grabbed a large pot from the woodstove, slipped into his boots and headed to the creek.

The pot of water was kept full all day, and sat on top of the stove to keep the cabin from drying out. The dry heat from the wood made everything parched. The water’s purpose was to continuously add humidity to the air, and to help warm the space. It is an old timer’s trick that his Grandmother always used when he was young.

Wearing only a coat, a pair of boxer shorts and his heavy boots, Bob stepped outside into the cool mountain air. The ground showed signs of frost. He pulled his coat tighter around him. The morning was dark, and the sky above was clear, only a few stars still poking through. It was looking like a promising day ahead. The ridge to the east showed a slight orange tinge, its light beginning to shine off the tips of the mountain peaks. He inhaled deeply the Alpine air.

It was enough reason to foretell of a fair weather day ahead for the men. Bob considered taking the time to hunt for those grouse that Murphy and he had seen on the way in yesterday. The birds would be a nice addition to supper. It was early, so the grouse may still be roosting in the trees. In the evenings often during the cooler temperatures they would perch high in the branches to avoid predators. If the birds were unfamiliar with humans, they will sit perfectly still, just huddled balls of feathers, puffed out to keep warm, roosting as still as pine cones.

Sometimes a careful man can walk right up to a group of them and knock one off with a stick. Many of the old timers called them fool hens for this trait. The birds rested this way at least until the morning when the sun warmed things up, and then they would drop down from the trees and feed in the underbrush on dry berries, buds, and seeds.

Bob’s cabin was only 35 yards from the tiny creek. It was flowing quietly southward, singing cool and clear as it passed the cabin. It took its time making a leisurely course to the east, meandering toward the Longview marshes some twenty-five miles away. It fed the swamps that Murphy had struggled through to get here.

He paused a moment to look around at his Grandfather’s camp. The log structure was encircled by a wall of towering conifers. This made it hard for any aircraft to spot it from above. A pilot would need to be directly overhead to see it through the trees. Other than the telltale signs of chimney smoke, it was nearly invisible.

The camp had a constant freshwater source from Myrtle Creek, and was well shielded from the elements. It lay nestled beneath a sheer hillside, studded with tall fir trees at its peak. The large overhanging roof that his Dad and he had repaired many years before backed right onto the steep shale hill. At its base both the roof and the shale scree had been covered by decades of moss over the years. The cabin roof appeared as if it melded straight into the hillside, making it impossible to see it by the average searcher.

The exposed scree, warmed by the sun in the daytime, prevented snow from building up above it, this reduced the chances of avalanches in winter. The line of trees at the ridge prevented dangerous cornices of snow from forming at its summit.

The heavy roof of the cabin had been built using eight large timbers hewn from whole skinned trees, taken from the nearby forest. Roy, his Dad, and he had replaced the old thin roof with a layer of four inch thick planks sawed back in the late 80s. They had milled them using a portable chainsaw mill, and placed them using a home built gin pole set-up. The simple rig was made from two 40 foot tall spruce timbers in the shape of a “V” holding a pulley system at the top for lifting.

With steel cables a block and tackle, and a hand-crank winch, they were able to lift the heavy timbers into place with ease. The Gin pole was set up over the cabin, and swung off the trunk of a large nearby fir tree that stood beside the structure. The fir tree was used as an upright support, and as a pivot point, it was tethered from behind with cables holding the gin poles to the tree, and the tree to the ground. The cables ran down and were fastened to the base of several other trees used as anchors. The whole rig stood solidly, and was capable of lifting several tons in weight.

The large logs used for the roof planking were rough milled to size, and fitted snugly with each other after trimming them with a chainsaw. These planks were also harvested from the nearby woods. They had been dried for over two years before milling them, and then placed and held down by one inch dowel pegs.

Each peg was twelve inches long. His Dad would split the tip of the dowels with a hand saw and insert a wedge that would expand as it was pounded into the bottom of the augured holes, thus fixing each permanently in the rafter and the gable end walls. Once the peg was set, another wedge was inserted into the top of the dowel to hold the planks solidly in-place. This sturdy roof design was thick enough to span the large spacing of the rafters, and made for a rock solid roof.

Then the entire roof was covered with a layer of felt paper, and a double layer of heavy black polyvinyl plastic sheeting. His Dad and he also piled it high with a thick twelve-inch mat of Sphagnum moss, gathered from along the creek banks. It was a living roof that acted as insulation, like a green blanket growing over the cabin, firmly rooting itself many decades ago.

The living moss helped act as a fire retardant for the chimney, as well as insulation. It had grown to about a foot and a half thick over the passing years. This helped make the cabin part of the landscape. Moss has always been used by trappers in this way during the old days for cabin building.

The cabin had survived the occasional scree slide from the hillside without any concerns. The tiny sturdy building took it all in stride, making it blend into the scene naturally. It was a very impressive structure. Overly built, yet idyllic in the way that it looked under the hill, it was as if it grew there.

Bob stood on his rustic porch beneath the four-foot overhang of the front gable, and breathed in the mountain air. He always felt at home here at his Grandfather’s old camp. He considered the world around him, and whispered out loud, “I swear if I didn’t need to make a living, I’d never leave here.” He smiled, and made his way down the heavy log steps, toward the creek.

All along the shore were tracks and evidence of wildlife. There were deer, raccoons, and even a set of moose and Otter tracks. Across the creek on the adjacent bank was an old mashed down beaver slide left from last winter. It ran down the slope on the far bank. It was beat smooth by otters as well as beaver, and was evident by the matted grass and mud trail. The beavers must have passed through after the winter thaw.

Spring was their mating season. As soon as the ice breaks it was time for the young bucks to move on down the road to look for a mate, and make new lodgings. Beavers usually travel at night to avoid the many predators that would stop at nothing to catch one in the open. Yet, make no mistake about it, a big male beaver weighing 45 or 60 pounds can be a very formidable creature when cornered.

Bob had once watched as a large adult beaver fought off a lynx, and even saw one take on two cyotes at the same time. The big male simply held them at bay with his teeth, chastising them with a hiss a few nips to the pair of young canines. After several yelps, he turned and dove into its hole in the ice as if it was no big deal.

His Grandpa had taught Bob all about trapping, and the woodsman ways that he now possessed. Occasionally, in his youth, Bob still trapped fur. That was until he joined the Navy, and now he rarely bothered these days. The modern fur market was mainly over in Eastern Europe today, and the lucrative Russian fashion houses of Moscow.

Everywhere else has gotten too sensitive about trapping. The Western world virtually boycotted the entire fur trade all together. Bob thought this was a shame as natural fur is still one of the finest insulators out there. Now the conservation officers mainly exterminate the problem beavers, wasting the fur and meat.

Bob bent down to fill the tin pot with cool clear water, and then made his way back to the cabin. When he entered, he found Murphy still in bed rubbing his eyes. “Hey, buddy,” he called out as he made his way to the stove.

Murphy nodded cordially then croaked back, “Hey,” shaking his head awake. He looked groggy from the pain killers Bob had given him the night before.

“Wow, I slept like a rock. I feel much better, thanks for everything man…” Murphy rubbed the thigh of his bad leg using both hands, and stretched out his arms and yawned.

Bob tipped his head toward the window as he struggled with the heavy pot to the stove. “It’s looking like a great day out there,” he smiled then set the pot of water on the stove to heat. “You take it easy on that leg for a few days Murphy… ya hear? I’m headed out to scare up some grouse for supper.”

Bob lifted up the mattress of his bed and grabbed the .22 rifle from its hiding place, and slung it over his shoulder. He then slipped a full magazine into his coat pocket, pulled on some pants, grabbed a handful of jerky from the table, and stuffed it in his breast pocket.

Next, he slung an old tattered rucksack on his back. This he always kept ready by the door, as it contained the few odds and ends he might need when out and about. “I’ll see you in a few hours, Murphy.”

“Yeah, sure,” he replied, “I’ll make some breakfast…”

“Remember take it easy on that leg today. Maybe when I get back I’ll show you around a bit… if you’re up to it that is?” with that, he slipped outside and closed the heavy door behind him, and was gone.

Bob loved the woods, of all the places he could be it was here that he felt the most comfortable. He made his way north back along the trail he and Murphy had come in on yesterday. He spent the rest of the morning scouring the old winter berry patches. The odd dry berry still hung wrinkled and nearly inedible on the bare branches, being a favorite winter food of the Northern Grouse. He then skirted the hazelnut groves watching the lower limbs of the spruce trees for his birds.

By mid-morning, he had shot three and managed to scare up a rabbit on the way back to camp. He quickly dispatched it with one shot, and threw it in the sack with the rest. All in all, it was a very successful morning.

He saw plenty of deer and moose tracks, which encouraged him to ready the smoker when he got back to camp. Maybe later this week he would concentrate on something bigger for the food stores.

He then came to an old dry log by the creek and sat down to rest. He scooped up a drink of water with his cupped hand, and sipped the cool liquid. Sitting back on the log, he pulled out a large piece of jerky from his pocket, and tore off a piece with his teeth, then began to chew the leathery meat.

He thought to himself, “It really doesn’t get much better than this,” as he savored the dried meat.

The wind whistled through the tops of the spruce trees, gently moving them back and forth, swaying like a gathering of ship’s masts in a gentle harbor. The sun had finally crested the ridge line, and the day was getting warmer, it was a perfect spring day.

After a short break, he decided to clean his catch by the creek. First, he used an old woodsman’s trick to clean the birds. He laid the grouse on their backs, and stood on their wings. With his boots placed on either side of the bird, and then he began applying pressure… slowly pulling up on the legs until the entire insides came lose. The breast simply slipped out of the skin as quick as you please, and the guts were free in one go… well, when done correctly that is.

He then cut loose the legs from the tangled mess, and tossed the rest aside, and left the feathers, guts and wings for the wild things to eat.

The rabbit was different, yet equally ingenious. After squeezing the urine from the animal’s bladder to keep it from getting on the meat, he wet his fingers for grip. Then one by one he grabbed the rabbit’s legs, and while using his other hand he jerked down hard on the skin breaking it away from the foot. Rabbit skin is very delicate and tears easily. In this way he could pull the fur from the animal without using a knife to cut it.

Working his finger under the hide between the back legs, he simply tore the skin open and removed the entire fur as if it were a sweater. He completed this procedure by pulling the hide off, inside out, over the animal’s head. Leaving nothing more than the furry feet on the remaining carcass, in which he deftly chopped off with his hatchet on the log.

The whole process, although gruesome to watch, took less than a minute to perform. He then cut open the abdomen, and removed the animal’s insides. Saving the heart and liver from each for later. He cooled the meat in the creek, and washed his catch in the cold water. He then gathered up the spoils, dropping it all in a plastic bag, and stashed it in the rucksack. He washed his hands in the creek, and then picked up his rifle and headed back down the trail toward the cabin. Yes, Bob was quite at home in this valley.

The pack was light but for the game and would certainly make for some fine eating. “Perhaps,” Bob thought, adding some vegetables to the mix will fill it out.  He walked along and kept his eyes open for any sign of new shoots popping up through the winters mat.

He was looking for a certain type of fern. When picked in early spring, before it has a chance to open, it makes for a very fine vegetable. They call them fiddleheads, a name given to it for its resemblance to the curled head of a violin. The key to identifying them is that the stem of the edible ferns are clean without fuzz, and have a U-shape when cut crosswise. True fiddleheads are otherwise known as ostrich ferns, although there are other varieties that are quiet edible when their sprouts emerge, they are at their best before they become poisonous at full bloom.

The first patch he spotted just along the edge of the creek was in a low area. A person must be careful not to take all the shoots from the rhizome root. They grow in groups of three or five, and it could kill the fern for the next season if you take them all.

He walked the creek picking as he went. By the time he finished scouring the area he had a gallon of the green edibles, and was nearly back to camp when he looked up. Bob decided to clean the fern heads in the creek, as they grow with a brown papery material attached to the heads when they first emerge. This needs to be washed off before cooking. He also threw in some wild parsnips for the stew. He then made his way into camp.

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He opened the door of the cabin and saw Murphy watching the news on the TV.

Murphy’s shocked appearance drew Bob’s eyes to the screen and the mayhem taking place on it. A chaotic scene in the streets of Dallas, with people panicking and running for cover as National Guardsmen marched forward with bayonets held at the ready. Live gunfire crackled through the smoky background.

A confident reporter’s voice came on the TV claiming, “Several small rebel militia groups have cordoned off areas of the Texas city in response to the rioters. They appeared to be organized, and well-armed, and ready for a fight. I have with me Colonel Colton Madson, from the local branch of the Texas based Militia. ”

At that moment a tall military man stepped in from the side of the screen dressed in fatigues and wearing some form of military insignia on his sleeve. Under the screen it read, “Colonel Colton Madson, Texas Republic Militia.” He was a large man, dark haired; maybe in his fifties with a Marine style haircut, clean shaven, and portraying a stoic sense of authority about him. He leaned toward the reporter’s microphone and spoke.

“The Republic of Texas is willing to defend the neighborhoods of the people of Dallas from rioters and looters. We have also determined that under Texas Constitutional Law, the so-called United States Government has declared war, and is now operating under a rogue administration that has over stepped its bounds according to the Law of the Land.

Its use of Martial Law to control the nation is unconstitutional. It has been determined to now be under direction by a self-appointed tyrannical administration, a shadow government completely outside of its constitutional jurisdiction. We therefore are notifying the President and the nation’s capital that we will meet force with like force unless this nationwide military martial law is suspended. Furthermore, we are requesting control of the individual States to be returned to the people, and the Republic.”

The Colonel pulled the microphone from the reporter and continued his rant…

“Currently we are securing as many neighborhoods as possible from the looting and criminal elements, and our Militia intends to resist any attempts by any federally controlled Military or National Guard to enter our neighborhoods,” He paused and added, “without authorized Militia permission. We will not be deterred from our duties to the people and the citizens of Texas.”

The interviewer stepped back into the shot, retrieved his mic from the Colonel, and commented, “Well, there you have it folks, the people of Texas have spoken. This is Dexter Jacobs, MSNBC news, Dallas Texas.”

Murphy nervously turned off the TV using the remote. The sudden silence in the cabin seemed surreal.

“Jeezus Murphy, what is happening out there?” Bob dropped his rucksack on the floor, and leaned his rifle on the wall beside it, and took his coat off.

Murphy looked up from the TV, “I don’t know, I… I just turned it on.” Without looking at the blank screen, he pointed his finger at it, “This is serious Bob, what if this is in more than one city… or even more than one state? What if it’s happening in all of them?” his voice cracked when he said this.

“I mean this could last a long time, maybe… a real long time.”

Bob bent down and picked up the rucksack again, I hear ya… this could be what I feared would happen, a war… a civil war right here in America.”

“Turn it back on, I need to see more,” Bob pulled up his chair.

Murphy turned on the TV and located another station. It seemed that every station was covering similar uprisings in towns and cities across the nation. Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Birmingham, Philadelphia, even in the Nation’s Capital of Washington D.C. there were men marching on the White house lawn wielding weapons. The Nation was acting as one entity, with one purpose in mind. America was a sea of discontent. At least that much was clear.

The government had finally pushed too far, and the people… oh how the people pushed back. At first, it appeared disorganized. Over the next few weeks (because the government tried to use force to quell the uprisings), many citizens died. New militias kept springing up all across the nation. The government tried diplomacy and sanctions, and then they cut off food supplies and water to towns and cities in a hope to starve out the revolt. But, all of this just simply added fuel to the fire.

The people banded together, and organized bigger and better Militias, spanning State wide. The weeks rolled by, and many of the regular Armed Forces began to choose sides too.

On the Internet channels, it was rumored that several squads of American Southern Reservists deserted and joined the ranks of the people. It was a revolution now, not just a civil war. The people wanted their nation back. Everyone felt it. It was like an awakening had swept the land.

At first, the militia groups were defending just their own towns and neighborhoods against the unruly mobs. This had a profound effect on the rioters. The riots began to dissipate, and although the National Guard still controlled the main streets and some rural towns, the militia controlled the big city neighborhoods and most of the southern and western towns in America.

The National Guard threatened to assail the barricades that they had erected, but held the attacks off hoping a peace treaty could be arranged with the militia groups. The guardsmen were confused, and many showed no desire to confront their own countrymen in a war. The US Federal government considered bringing in foreign UN troops… using foreigners to go up against Americans.

This certainly would have been as if a bomb had been set off in the nation. Even the Generals of the various military branches of the nation asked for caution before doing something so brash. Many were afraid of losing total control of their forces to the growing cause.

Bob and Murphy followed the events happening beyond their wilderness world. Religiously watching each evening as they sat in front of the tube every night, and made plans of how to stay hidden as best as they were able. They stored up supplies for the long haul, and pre-prepared for the inevitable siege. They secretly hoped the situation would get resolved before they needed to join the fight.

Bob was pensive; he went out the following day and dropped a dozen large trees over the north trail leading into the valley. He hoped this would deter most of the weak-hearted from continuing further into their zone.

Murphy awoke the next day, and noticed Bob was already gone. He had taken his rifle, and the quad. He had casually mentioned going hunting last night, before the lamps were blown out.

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The new morning light grew orange and gold as Bob took careful aim at the magnificent deer standing before him. He waited for a broadside shot, and punched the great animal through the lungs with one round. The shock of the hit was more than the deer could take. His hind legs went out from under him immediately, and the rest followed soon after. By the time Bob had made his way through the brush to claim his prize the animal lay still, it was a good hit. He gutted it, and hoisted the carcass high into a tree to cool. He then proceeded back to the trail to where he left his quad.

In no time at all, he had the animal hanging in front of the cabin. Murphy came out onto the porch, and commented, “Nice one, Bob,” and returned to the cabin for his jacket as the cool morning air hit him.

“You need a hand with it?” he asked as he headed down the cabin steps.

“No I got this, but maybe you could put some coffee on, that would be nice. I could use a cup.”

“Here,” he handed Murphy the deer liver, kidneys, and heart then added, “Maybe some liver and eggs for breakfast, huh?”

“Yeah, absolutely no problem, I’ll bring some coffee when it’s ready too.” Murphy set about brewing a pot, and preparing the breakfast.

First job was removing the hide, then splitting the pelvis, and ribs. He then proceeded to butcher the animal into manageable pieces. Being it was late spring the deer had no antlers, but Bob was sure it was a big deer and probably dressed out at 185 lbs. easy. This would certainly keep him and Murphy in meat for quite some time, at least until August if the two men played their cards right. That evening after removing the brains of the animal used for tanning, Bob wrapped and roasted the head in foil. He set it in a Dutch oven on the wood stove, and nothing on the animal was wasted. The next day he soaked the hide to scrape it and remove all the hair to ready it for tanning.

That morning Murphy sliced up part of the liver for frying with some wild garlic. He stuffed the heart with an onion and wrapped it in foil to bake for lunch meat, which they ate later between slices of home baked bread with mustard and onions. Bob prepped the rest of the meat for the smoker, after carefully de-boning the entire animal.

Many years before, Bob had made a fair size smoker out of an old upright freezer. They dragged it in on the quad trailer, stripped out all the insides, and used the racks to lay the meat strips on. He inserted a tin pan in the bottom for holding coals as well as the wood for smoking the meat. He merely punched some holes in the top and sides with a pick ax for ventilation. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked wonderfully as he had been using nothing more than this old freezer for years.

Unfortunately, in these parts there weren’t many hard woods or fruit trees for wood smoke. So, Bob used what the old timers used, Alder, and hazelnut. He soaked the deer’s hams in some brine water before smoking them, and to this mixture he added a bunch of salt, a touch of pickling spice, and a pinch of sugar. He would check the hams in the smoker for proper temperature about every fifteen minutes at first. The saltwater brining added a considerable flavor to the meat, giving it a fine taste when roasted with potatoes, carrots, and some wild parsnips.

He also stripped all the meat from between the ribs of the buck, and added this to the grind for the sausage which he created from the tougher, less desirable parts mixed with some pork fat, of which there was precious very little. He added pepperoni spice and used dried, man-made casings he had left over from his supply. He always had this at hand from their annual hunts.

He created a dozen feet or more of pepperoni sausage, this he also smoked in the smoker. It took two days of constant work, but there was jerky, sausage, and corned meat. The bulk of the deer was chunked up and then canned in mason jars using a pressure cooker on the wood stove. Murphy took care of most of the canning. The men were certainly set for quite a while now. This allowed them to relax finally like they had not been able to in weeks.

The days passed by quickly, and Murphy’s leg healed well. He kept up with all the wood splitting, and cooking, and Bob went about filling the larder. Each man accepted his role without complaint. Soon the early days of summer were upon them, and the nation’s civil uprising had escalated further. Both sides set up peace talks of sorts. This was where each could voice their concerns. Neither side respected the other, and it seemed to be an eternal stalemate.

The two men sat on the porch that evening, watching the sunset as the creek flowed past. “Well you got potatoes, carrots, and corn planted, and cabbage which looks like it’s already forming heads in the sunny part of the garden,” Commented Bob.

Murphy was unusually quiet then blurted out, “I want a beer so bad I could murder for it.” His sudden outburst was comical.

“Well buddy, I don’t have one on me right now for you, but… I do have a beer kit stashed, oh about two hundred yards in that direction,” Bob casually pointed southeast past the creek.

“Are you kidding me, GO get it.” Murphy sat up like he’d been jabbed. “Why didn’t you say this before,” he grinned.

“To be honest, I just remembered.”  The two men laughed, and jumped on the quad to locate the cache.

Bob had many caches located all over the valley. He had spent several summers over the last three years installing them by using a power auger with an eight-inch attachment. This he did while moving from place to place scattering the caches everywhere he went.

When the men pulled up to the cache’s location, there was no evidence of it, or any other disturbance that anyone could rightfully see. Bob did a great job of hiding them. He began raking back the leaf litter to locate a rope. Once he found that, he then pulled up on the rope revealing a length of dog chain, and then walked out a couple of dozen feet of cable from the quad’s winch. He tossed it over a sturdy tree limb above the cache. Attaching the winch cable-hook to the dog chain, he then began winching up the chain.

Bob nodded in the direction of the front of the vehicle, “Murphy, sit up on the front of the quad to add some weight.”

The chain tightened, and slowly the earth swelled up beneath the chain. About three feet of lose earth was revealed, and suddenly a large diameter black ABS pipe broke through the ground.

Bob wrestled the pipe onto the quad, and lashed it down with several bungees. It was approximately five-feet long and eight-inches in diameter and weighed about a hundred and twenty pounds.

Bob laughed and said, “Okay Murphy, let’s get home.” Murphy swung his cast leg over the back seat and they were off as simple as that.

As they approached the creek crossing, Bob stopped the quad, turned it off, and got down.

“What’s up,” Murphy asked?

He just held up a closed fist indicating stop, just a minute, and then pointed to the ground, crouching as he pulled back some leaves from the dirt and asked, “Have you been out walking around here recently, Murphy?”

“No I haven’t been walking much of anywhere, accept around the cabin, why?” replied Murphy.

“Somebody with size thirteen boots is in our area. Looks like military issue footwear.” Murphy then noticed the partial track Bob was pointing at in the dirt by the creeks edge.

“Who do you think it is,” he asked?

“I’m not sure, might be civilian, might be military, hard to say, but we better keep an eye out for them that much is for sure. When we get back I’m digging out some of my old trail cameras and installing them on our perimeter tonight.”

“You think it’s serious, Bob?”

Bob just shook his head, “I don’t know Murphy. It could be they are here to steal from us. Did you lock the door when we left?”

“I did.”

“Just in case, we better get back quick.” Bob jumped on the quad and gunned it back onto the trail splashing across the creek. “Hang on!” he shouted over his shoulder as they sped off to the cabin.

When the men arrived, everything seemed okay in the yard. Bob jumped off and ran up to the porch, the door was latched and there was no sign of anyone trying to jimmy the lock or the windows.

From now on there would have to be at least one person left behind to watch the cabin, until the men find out about their new neighbor, or neighbors, as the case may be. Bob looked grim as he sat in his chair and kicked off his boots.

That evening the two men went over their game plan. The next day, just to be safe they hid a few weapons outside. A hand gun in the crook of the tree by the creek wrapped in grease cloth, loaded and ready to go. A sardine can of ammo, with one of the SKS rifles, and some dried food were stuffed in a hollow log located about two hundred yards back in the bush. It was just in case they were overrun, and needed to get away fast.

During the day they watched the underbrush with infinite care, scanning the grounds with binoculars for any sign of movement, snipers or rifle-scope lenses in the foliage. They also set up game cameras along the trails at night, so they wouldn’t be detected while installing them. They set up trail “print traps,” to reveal any evidence of people in the area. These were simply smooth dirt or mud areas, which are left undisturbed on trails to show evidence of any foot traffic passing by.

Murphy suggested man-traps, but Bob didn’t like the idea. “We don’t know their intentions, and it would leave a bad impression if they are friendlies, or kids.”

Bob looked out the window with the binoculars, and said, “I think… if we do find evidence of them still in the area in a few days and they haven’t attempted to contact us, we can be sure they are not military. However, they may still be hostile, and looking for our weaknesses. So Murphy, be wary when out and about.”

He lowered the binoculars, and looked over to Murphy. “Don’t go anywhere without a gun. I have several more SKS rifles, and an AR-15 that I will dig out tomorrow. Take your pick. I’ve thought about doing some target practice to let them know we are armed, but I think… what they don’t know may be our best defense.”

Bob then added, “If you come across someone when you’re out and about, get behind cover right away, and don’t be afraid to at least shoot a warning shot.”

“Hey with any luck they may have moved on,” said Murphy nervously looking back up at Bob.

“That would be nice, but I wouldn’t count on it,” Bob went back to looking out the window with his binoculars.

He added while staring in the bush, “You know the problem with being so tightly hidden in the woods like this, is that it gives plenty of cover for someone to sneak upon us. If we were in the middle of a field, it would be harder to sneak up, but very easy for us to be spotted from the air by a plane. It’s a “Catch twenty-two” scenario, I guess.”

“Maybe we can set up some basic alarm systems in the bush,” Murphy suggested. “You know like some fishing line and tin cans, or something like that?”

“Yeah, that might work, at least for the average Joe, but I doubt any military guys will fall for it… Worth a try though,” Bob lowered the glasses, and smiled at Murphy and indicated with his head. “There’s 500 hundred yards of 100 lb. Fish line on the shelf over there,” indicating toward the back of the cabin…

“And, a couple of fishing bells in the cupboard over the sink,” he called after Murphy who was already moving. “Keep the fish lines low, and the bells high, and close to the cabin were we can hear them. Use eye hooks or bent nails, and if you keep the line taught it will be more sensitive.”

Murphy grabbed the supplies he needed and limped his way out of the door. He made two perimeters of lines about two hundred feet each. Concentric half circles inside each other to double the chances of triggering them.

Using the eye hooks as Bob suggested, he then stretched them tight. They were held taught by a light rubber bungee and rigged with a set of small bells used for ice fishing, which he located where Bob described in the cupboard. Murphy then had him trigger his makeshift alarm system as a test, and it worked perfectly! No matter where along the line it was triggered, the bells would ring up on the porch.

Now in the areas like the frequently traveled paths on the trail, a layer of soft fir boughs were woven through the lines close to the ground, allowing the men and others to travel over them with the quad without breaking them. The tension was held fast by the bungees, and when someone walked on the bows or even pressed down on them, it was enough to trigger the bells at the house. A sinker weight was added to the slack line under the bungees to bounce when triggered, and this kept the bells ringing longer than usual.

“It may be low tech, but sometimes low tech is the least expected thing… good job Murphy” Bob slapped Murphy’s back and laughed at the ingenious device.

Murphy’s fear of living with a crazy war vet was gone now, and Bob admired how talented Murphy turned out to be. He no longer was that scared accountant at his kitchen table several months ago.

The men decided to relax on the porch for the rest of the afternoon and watch the sunlight fade orange all around them. That evening, when the two were having supper, Bob spoke up.

“I knew we would have visitors sooner or later, but never thought it would be this soon. I wonder how the folks in the city are managing right now,” Bob gulped down his hot coffee.

Murphy stabbed another piece of venison, held it near his mouth and said, “I’ve been wondering the same thing. God only knows what these news channels are NOT telling us, like the real truth.” Then he popped the meat in his mouth, chewed and swallowed. They both certainly were feeling healthier these days, ever since working long hours outside over the past month or so. The fresh air and good living certainly did improve their appetites.

After supper, Murphy again dragged out the ABS cache Bob and he had retrieved the other day, and unscrewed it and emptied it on the floor. It contained four large cans of beer malt, some brewer’s yeast, and everything a brew master might need to run off a batch of beer, except the fermentation pails. Bob had stacks of white plastic pails with lids for food storage out back under the shed roof.

He said to Murphy as he rummaged through the treasure on the floor, “It’s all you buddy, it’s your project. I have a dozen large plastic soda bottles you can use for bottling the stuff.”

“Murphy, have you ever made beer before?”

“Yeah, when I was in college. I used to make it all the time. Got pretty good at it too.”

“Well, I can’t wait,” Bob laughed jokingly rubbing his hands together like a maniac.

Murphy washed out four plastic 5 gallon pails with lids. Then sterilized the remaining equipment with bleach and let them dry. Bob had made beer here at the cabin before; therefore he had all the equipment that Murphy needed.

Murphy recalled way back on that day he was having a picnic on the hood of his car in the Longview Swamps, those many weeks before, and smiled to himself.

Remembering how on that day he had wondered whether Bob would have a way of making beer at the cabin, “What was I worried about?” he laughed.

“What’s so funny,” Bob asked.

“Oh nothing, just something I remembered from before this all began,” Murphy grinned.

The plan for the beer was to start a batch every two weeks, so they would have a steady supply.

It only took a few minutes once the boiled water cooled to the right temperature to grow the yeast. The cabin smelled like a brewery for the next few days. Yet, to the two thirsty men the malt elixir smelled like heaven.

Another evening passed without incident. Bob and Murphy usually played several games of crib after supper, and then they unpacked and cleaned the rifles they had chosen.

In the end, Murphy decided to take one of the half-dozen Russian SKS rifles, and Bob made his weapon of choice the AR-15. Murphy’s reasoning for letting Bob have the AR was that Bob would be much more effective with the AR-15 than he could ever be.

As Bob handed Murphy his rifle, he said, “They’re battle set for two hundred meters…”

“So you may want to tune yours up a bit for yourself,”

“I’d take it down to the end of the valley if you decide to target practice with it.”

Bob gave the weapon to Murphy. “I’ll show you first how to break it down, and then you can re-assemble it for yourself.”

The rifle had been stored in grease, which needed to be stripped away first, cleaned, and oiled before any reliable use. The weapon was in great shape for a rifle that was so old. It looked unused, and almost new.

The next day Bob took it upon himself to check the trail cameras as well as the print traps for any sign of people in the area. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, no sign of activity was found. One camera had video of a cow moose and her calf, and another had a video of a young black bear chewing on the camera housing. Despite the welcome news of no intruders, Bob still felt uneasy about the foot prints by the creek from the other day. He decided to venture further on, and to loop down around the south end of the valley to see what he could find

After several hours of searching, he did come across an old campsite by the trail, probably used by the owner of the footprints.

There appeared to be more than one person, judging by their sleeping area. These were people not accustomed to outdoor living (that much was clear). The location, as well as the access to fire wood and water was very poor, not to mention they had bedded down in a new patch of poison ivy. Yet Bob could clearly tell it was two adults and a child. Most likely a family. This was good news in a way.

The site was at least a week old, and showed no sign of them returning. Bob headed back to the cabin to let Murphy know what he had found.

Murphy was splitting wood as he pulled up on the quad. “I think I found a campsite that our mysterious intruders stayed at.

“Really, how far from here?”

“Just down at the south end of the valley. It looks like they stayed about a week and then left suddenly. They are a small family, a man, a woman, and a child of about twelve. They haven’t been back for a while, so… like you said, they may have moved on.”

That evening the two men relaxed and watched the news after supper. The rioting, as well as the skirmishes between the militia and the National Guard had died down somewhat. The police reports of arson, and burglaries were up in most cities. Not mentioning the several cases of the Militia shooting rioters or the rogue gangs of vigilantes murdering people in the ghetto neighborhoods.

Their violent tactics were definitely having an effect on the unruly mobs. Many of the militia neighborhoods were now being quietly left alone. Yet large sections of urban areas were engulfed in flames. Martial law was still in place and the peace talks had hopelessly stalled.

Bob hated the Shadow Federal government, “These Feds are not going to give in to the Militia. Not in a million years. Those bastards have been working towards this for decades, if not for a hundred years. They won’t quit now that they are so close to total fascist rule,” he growled at the TV aiming at the reporter with his AR-15, and dry firing it with a “click.” “They need an honest congress on their side to get anything done.”

Suddenly Murphy’s alarm bells began to jingle on the porch. The two men looked at each other. Bob said, “It could be just an animal, but let’s be sure.”

Murphy secured a magazine in the SKS rifle, and dropped the bolt on it. Bob jammed a mag into his AR, yanked back on the charging handle and let it fly, readying one in the chamber.

“Get the lamp,” whispered Bob. Murphy turned it low, and blew out the flame. He then moved to the edge of the window, staying off to one side, and slowly he peered into the blackness …he felt ready.

It was a moonless night, and the yard was as black as coal, nothing could be made out from the shadows. The two men just waited…

Suddenly a voice yelled out from the edge of the trees, “Hello camp, may we approach?” Murphy remembered his Dad had taught him when he was child, about this woodsman’s etiquette of announcing yourself before approaching a camp, especially at night. The voice yelled out again, “Hello Camp.”

Bob opened the door a crack, “Who are you?” he yelled back.

“I’m Logan Granville, My wife and my daughter saw your light on and wondered if we may come in and get warm?”

Bob was playing things close to the chest, “How are you living in these woods without a way to get warm?” he asked.

It was a reasonable question, and deserved an answer before any neighborly hand was offered.

The voice yelled back, “We left the city last week, afraid they would throw my family and me into one of those FEMA camps. So, we left in sort of a hurry…” he hesitated for a moment, then added, “I’m afraid I’m not a very good bushman or handy person when living in the outdoors. I ran out of cooking fuel and matches two days ago… although that wasn’t entirely my fault.” He added this without explanation.

The reason seemed plausible. Bob, grabbed a spotlight, and while holding it out away from his body he shone it where the voice was coming from. A tall man stood there. The man nervously shuffled from one foot to the other and called back, “Howdy friend,” shielding his eyes with his open palm. He then stepped aside, revealing his wife and child anxiously huddled behind him.

He introduced them, “This is my wife Lynda, and my daughter, Marlee. We just need to warm up a bit, and perhaps, if you could spare some matches that would be great.”

Bob looked over to Murphy, “What do you think?”

Murphy nodded, “I’ll hide the good silverware,” Then smiled as he cleared away the guns, ammo, and other valuable things lying about.

Murphy knew out of sight meant out of mind.

Bob shouted to the group, “Okay send your wife and daughter to the porch first. Then you come forward, I have my reasons for not trusting people nowadays.”

The men could hear talking, whispering amongst the three of them discussing his odd request then they agreed, “Okay, here they come.”

His wife Lynda and child Marlee walked up on the porch and stood there, until Bob decided to let them in. Then Logan started forward. “Wait,” Bob called out. “Do you have any weapons on you,” the question was prudent, given the circumstances.

“No,” Logan claimed, and continued, “I left my squirrel rifle at our camp upstream about a quarter mile or so.” Bob doubted this. He suspected it was leaning against a nearby tree, and at the ready. No man would leave his family unprotected unless he had to.

“Okay, approach, but slowly.” Bob opened the door and invited the woman and child in. “No one else is out there with you?” he asked of them as they entered.

She spoke in a Dutch accent, “No, I assure you we are alone sir and thank you very much for letting us in,” the woman said smiling up at Bob.

She and the child looked over and saw Murphy for the first time, and smiled at him too, “Thank you, sir.” Murphy showed them to the stove to warm themselves. The two women didn’t hesitate, and moved right next to the warm stove.

The tall man came to the door. He looked like a stock broker, but one that a cat had coughed up. This made Murphy laugh to himself. He suddenly realized that only a month or so ago, he probably looked a lot like this guy.

The group looked pretty banged up by their ordeal in the bush, but nothing a good night’s sleep and a hot meal couldn’t cure.

Bob grabbed a homemade half log bench that sat against the front wall. The family used it for sitting on and removed their foot wear to warm their feet by the stove. The women were shaking uncontrollably from the cold, and the tall man stood beside them rubbing his hands above the heat. All the while, he kept thanking the two men, until Bob made him stop.

“That’s perfectly fine, you seem like a nice family. Sorry for being so distrustful, but you never know who is out here.”

Logan agreed, and told a story of him and his family encountering some bad men a while back.

“Last week I ran into this group of young men that scared us a bit. They’re camped just one valley over from here. I can’t prove it, but some of them slipped into our camp at night and stole most of our food we had with us. So, we left the valley and moved on and here we are.”

Lynda added, “I’m so glad you guys are normal.” This statement seemed odd to Murphy, but he understood where the couple were coming from. Murphy offered a set of blankets for the women.

“When were you last in town,” asked Bob.

“About two weeks ago. It was becoming too dangerous in our neighborhood for us to stay any longer. The rumor was that anyone that had asked the soldiers about leaving, were soon rounded up and sent to the FEMA camps, and none were ever heard from again.” Logan looked scared when he said this.

“We watch them round up our neighbors from right out of their house that night. I wasn’t about to take any chances with my family, so I grabbed what we could and got the hell out of there fast. We left on foot with just what we could carry.”

“How did you manage to get way out here,” Bob asked?

“I used to work at a car rental place on the outskirts of town near the airport,” Logan said.

Murphy piped up, “I know the place, the Econo-car rental place.”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” he said.

“I took one of the rentals and we made our way as far as we could. I was trying to get to my cottage on Misty Lake, you may know the Resort side… and like I said we were chased off by gangs of young men, and that is how we ended up here,” Logan looked exhausted from just reliving the nightmare.

“It was the harassment of the gangs and their comments about my daughter that really had me scared. I wasn’t sure I could protect them with just a squirrel gun, and all by myself.”

“I understand,” Bob said and Murphy nodded in agreement.

“Well, warm yourself up, and you’re welcome to spend the night, if you don’t mind sleeping on the floor?”

“Not at all,” said Logan.

His wife and daughter suddenly looked as if a great weight had been lifted from their shoulders.

“Thank you both so very much,” Lynda shook both the men’s hands, still holding the blanket wrapped around her.

“Do you have any belongings with you,” Bob asked Logan.

“Just some food and a small backpack out by the tree.”

“You go get it, but leave your squirrel rifle outside if you don’t mind.”

Logan looked embarrassed, but said nothing regarding Bob’s insight.

Murphy put on a pot of coffee on, and the group sat around until midnight talking about the surreal world in which they found themselves.

Bob and Murphy discovered that much of Metro’s downtown and inner city had been burned to the ground. The mobs were now attacking emergency vehicles preventing entry into the areas to fight the flames. All commerce had completely stopped, and many of the citizens seeking help were being picked up by the military wearing FEMA personnel patches on their uniforms. They then were taken to the local stadium, before being shipped out by buses to centralized camps all across the countryside.

There had been rumors around the town that the rioters were being incited by anti-government forces. Paid insurgents infiltrated the mobs by posing as one of their own. Bob didn’t find this hard to believe at all, but Murphy couldn’t consider this possibility… it was simply too much for his mind to wrap itself around.

Murphy’s world was gone, and it had been replaced by this nightmare. He considered that it may have never been as he believed it to be. His world may have, in fact, only been an illusion all these years. Maybe before all this even started to change. He felt foolish for falling for such a diabolical lie.

Lynda noticed the time and looked around for Marlee, who was curled up fast asleep on the bottom bunk. “I’d better make her a place to sleep.” Murphy showed the Granville’s where the bedding was, and Logan and Lynda helped themselves. Bob stoked the fire in the stove for the night and shut down the dampers, making it burn slow and long, then climbed into his bunk. When everyone was settled in, Murphy blew out the last lamp and all was quiet.

To be continued…

Authored by Jack Woods

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