Sneak Beyond

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1. Scavengers

Randy Stewart licked his cracked and dehydrated lips as he studied the bikers down below him in a small secluded valley that was surrounded by rock strewn rolling hills. Trees were scattered sufficiently in meandering patterns. It was so cold that his breath was visible.

Shirley, his wife, bumped up so close to him that he had to refocus on the Slavers he was studying intently through his binoculars.

“What are they doing?” She asked him softly as she studied the small dots moving about as if they were ants and not people.

“Not much,” he responded without emotion as he continued to watch the gang. “I think they’re going to be moving on by the looks of things.”

In a few more minutes one of them got up on a large rock and was talking to the rest of them. He looked big. Randy couldn’t hear what was being said, but the guy was animated as he spoke and moved around repeatedly, his arms flailing about in irate gestures. The talk lasted for about ten minutes and the big man got off the rock and walked over to a motorcycle, started it up, and jetted away toward the northeast.

The rest of the bikers fell in line by threes, fives, and as many as eight… all riding close together. The man in front was joined by eight other riders, four on each side of and slightly behind him, and the rest made a line on both sides of the lead figure.

They were all heavily armed. Each of them had a handgun, or two, and Randy saw a number of rifles that appeared to be AK-47s or M-16s, but he couldn’t be sure because of the distance. One appeared to have an old Thompson sub-machine gun over his shoulder that hung from an olive green strap. It was just far enough away that he couldn’t be sure, but that was what he supposed.

There were knives and side arms, and a few fellows had LAW rockets on their backs. Most of them had bandoliers of ammo over their shoulders and chests that sparkled when the sun glinted off the brass.

He also saw what he assumed were grenades strapped to their vests. These guys were well-armed and on their way to places unknown. Coming up from behind the lead motorcycles were several pickups with canopies on them.

“We’ll follow them and see where they’re going.” Still no emotion. It was a matter of fact statement said without any reply expected. “We have to find some food soon.” His voice trailed as if he were thinking aloud about what to do next.

“If there’s that many men,” he said, turning to his wife, his son, and his daughter, “And I saw a lot of women with them too… there has to be some food. Probably a great deal of it by the size of that gang. I make them out to be more than three or four hundred. I can’t be exact ’cause they were all moving around or were bunched together, but I’m sure there are at least that many, maybe more.” He said it in a stoic manner that didn’t warrant any discussion.

“Do you think that’s a good idea to approach them?” Shirley said with conviction. He sensed the caution and fear in her voice. “They could be big trouble for us.” Her voice was melodic and he always loved to hear her speak, even when it was this serious.

He looked into her eyes, pausing to formulate a response. Slumping his shoulders a bit, he finally spoke, “We don’t have much choice, Shirl,” her eyes were a beautiful gray, “We need food… and the last time I looked, there weren’t many grocery stores open for business.” He started moving toward the small pile of essentials that they had managed to scrape together.

She sensed the sarcasm in his voice but let it slide. They were all on edge and hungry. He wasn’t a mean man and she knew he wasn’t trying to scold her. He was simply stating a fact.

“Let’s gather up our things and head east,” he was looking at his compass as he talked.

Shirley had the children working with hand signals and body movements as they prepared to move. They all knew what they had to do. They had relocated a number of times in as many days, following these bikers from nearby Crescent City on the Coast.

“We’ll stay a few hours behind them,” Randy said as he swung his pack onto his shoulders. “If they do the same things they’ve been doing, we should catch up to them just before dark or early in the morning.”

She merely shrugged her shoulders and went about getting ready to move out. She was tired… they all were… and the lack of food was draining the energy out of each of them. She wasn’t looking forward to the hike, which could possibly be another thirty or more miles. She was tired of walking and foraging around in the garbage the Slavers were leaving behind. She felt like a dog as she was doing it. The food was plentiful in the scraps that were left behind and she liked the fact that when they were able to forage and find food, it kept them alive. But just the thought of what they were doing filled her with revulsion.

“Shirl,” she knew what was coming, “Before we move out, let’s do what we’ve been doing and go over to their camp and see if we can scrounge up some of the food they left behind.”

Her thoughts evaporated at his words and she joined her husband and two children as they walked toward the abandoned camp. She thought it but didn’t say anything, Woof woof, master.

The four of them moved toward the abandoned Slaver’s camp and began to scavenge in the trash that was left behind. Some remnants of edible food were tossed here and there. The area covered about a couple of acres of ground and it took awhile for the family to pick through that which was left so they could eat.

Once they were all satisfied and they had salvaged enough to keep them going for a little longer, they moved out toward the large trail left by the bikers.

It was dark now, and Randy watched the moon rise over the horizon. He carried a flashlight he had found at one of the other camp sites the Slavers had stopped at earlier. It was a military flashlight with a gooseneck that looked like an inverted “L.” It was still fairly bright, but he used the batteries sparingly.

Their greatest find was a rechargeable light that people had used awhile back to light up a pathway in their garden or patio area. It was convenient and the batteries were recharged every day with a built-in solar cell on the side of the light fixture. They could use the two lights intermittently, and he simply pulled the battery from the pathway light to keep it from shining needlessly.

Tonight was a full moon, which alone would be enough light to help them see the trail they were following. He was grateful because that would help save their batteries.

He also had a small hand-held compass that had radium-covered dials and principal points of the compass, giving them an eerie glow in any darkness. They were heading toward the North and East. It would take them most of the night to catch up to the large group of Slavers and they had to be careful they didn’t accidentally catch up with any other stragglers, which would invariably result in a shootout.

They traveled for hours, stopping now and then to rest, until it was obvious they all needed to get some sleep. They set up a sleeping area by gathering leaves to lay on, which acted as an insulating barrier between them and the ground. They then spread their meager blankets and spare clothing over the leaves to form make-shift mattresses.

Randy remained awake while his family slept… he could catch cat naps later. His main preoccupation was to make sure his family was safe. He was grateful it wasn’t raining or worse, snowing.

He remembered last winter when they were on the western side of Mount Shasta. It was cold then too… freezing as a matter of fact. They had gathered firewood, then dug a pit, and built a fire that had burned for a few hours. Slowly, they gathered rocks the size of a cantaloupe and placed them in the pit with the fire. Over the course of a few hours, the hole was covered with enough dirt to smother the fire, but the rocks stayed warm all night long. Then they built a small lean-to over the covered pit and the four of them slept near the hot rocks comfortably. It had snowed that night, but they were snug and warm.

Tonight the stars were overhead, and it was dry. There was no need for a lean-to tonight. In an effort to stay awake, he concentrated on his plan.

They would follow the slavers in the morning, which was difficult, at best, because the slavers were driving vehicles and Randy and his family were on foot. Even though he didn’t believe any of the large group would come back their way, he always made sure they set their sleeping camp well off the traveled trail… just in case.

If they could ever find themselves in a place where there was plenty of food and adequate shelter, he would take the time to make safety provisions such as building booby-traps for perimeter protection. But since the war, they had not found any place that he felt would support them long-term, just an occasional area that had enough food to keep them going for a couple of weeks at most.

Instead, they simply did what the Native American tribes of old had done; they lived off the land as long as they could and then moved on. Lately, they were following this large gang and were surviving off the scraps the bikers left behind. Randy knew his wife wasn’t too crazy about doing this, but they were eating on a fairly regular basis. He knew it took a lot of energy and a lot of luck to find food in the wild these days.

He wanted to get close enough to take a couple of the Slavers out in order to acquire some much-needed items from them, such as another weapon, or two, and a lot more bullets. He was down to about a dozen for his 30.06 Mauser and Shirley only had a few rounds for her Auger 9mm pistol.

The kids had nothing except a hunting knife each and he had been teaching them some hand-to-hand fighting techniques, as best he could anyway. He wanted to get a few canteens, more blankets, and of course more firearms.

Perhaps tomorrow they would get lucky.

Morning came and Randy felt very tired. He woke Shirley up first. “Honey, it’s time.”

She rose without saying anything and immediately started to prepare something to eat from some of the scraps the bikers left behind last night. Randy lay down next to the kids and tried to rest, but couldn’t. The best he could do was nod off a bit. He remained in a twilight stage without actually sleeping.

When the food was ready, Shirley woke the kids and they ate, gathered up their meager belongings, and headed down the trail once again.

He would try to sleep the next time they stopped to rest.

It was going to be a long and hungry day!

As they followed the large and prominent trail left by the outlaw gang, they found a .357 Magnum Revolver laying on the ground, loaded. Someone must have dropped it when they hit the pothole in the road nearby.

Perhaps their luck would hold today.

Several hours later, they reached the Slaver’s encampment. They hadn’t posted any guards or patrols yet; not that they bothered half the time, anyways.

Randy crawled forward on his belly until he could get a good look with his binoculars.

He didn’t notice the mounds in the field below him and to the right… or the fact that they moved.





2. Down & Dirty

Two weeks prior to the bombs…

Eric Bell returned to his unit at Twenty-Nine Palms, California after his mother’s funeral to find orders to go to an Army Mountain Climbing School at Camp David Briscol near Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. The Camp was named after a World War Two recipient of the Medal of Honor. As a Marine Corps Sniper, Eric was often sent to a number of different training camps.

He had attended and graduated from SERE, (Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion), Jungle Training, Desert Environment, Cold-Weather Operations, and a few others over the last two years. This time it would be Mountain Climbing. He enjoyed the different schools, the challenges each one posed, and the opportunity to meet and interact with other specialists.

The Marine Corps arranged his transportation and after a couple of days to recoup from his Mother’s demise, he packed his duffel bag and headed to the airstrip at Twenty-Nine Palms. The flight to McCord Air Force Base, just south of Seattle, Washington, was an overnight layover and then he rode with a military convoy to the school near Mount Rainier the following morning. The trip would have been quite boring but a comedian by the name of Joe Smith made the trip in the Humvee a lot shorter with his barrage of one joke after another. Eric found it absolutely amazing that anyone could have that many jokes committed to memory.

Before he knew it, the Humvee took a turn down a long mountain road and terminated at a guarded gate manned by U.S. Army Military Police. After presenting their I. D.s, they were allowed to proceed to an office area where he could present his orders. This took about a half hour and a Corporal was directed to show Sergeant Bell to his quarters.

The billeting was a Quonset hut… barracks-style on the interior with a wooden floor. There were sixteen cots in a straight line on one side of the hut and the other side of the structure was identical in layout. At the foot end of each cot sat a steel foot locker for personal belongings. There was a diesel burning stove on one end with a chimney that went up and through the roof of the hut.

It must get pretty cold here, Eric thought.

The Camp was, after all, very near Mount Rainier… a towering dormant volcano covered with snow and ice year-round. Eric stowed his gear and walked over to the Non-Commissioned Officer’s Club, accompanied by his spotter, to see what it had to offer.

This camp was remote and a bit isolated from nearly everything. He guessed the recreational facility would be a decent place to break the monotony of the camp. It was his experience from other training facilities that the more remote, the better the entertainment facilities.

He wasn’t disappointed.

There was a large TV viewing area for movies and a couple of other big screens to watch sporting events. One area housed a couple of pool tables and another section sported an ample bar. There was a small grill area to order hamburgers and cokes. It wasn’t bad considering the remoteness of the camp. Eric met some interesting people and before long, it was time to turn in.

Tomorrow would be a long day.

Reveille came early the next morning and the camp came to life with trucks moving about and people getting ready for the day.

The first week of training was grueling and physically draining. All of the participants were young Soldiers and all of them were in as a good shape physically as any young Soldier should be. They climbed sheer cliffs that went up vertically several hundred feet and terminated on a small ledge, only to continue up several hundred more feet and terminated on another ledge that was ample for all of the climbers.

Eric learned how to tie the number of climbing knots and how to use pitons and other climbing paraphernalia. As tough as it was, it was extremely interesting. The first 10 days went effortlessly in terms of climbing, reaching the objectives, and rappelling from the top… or as some experienced people might say, “rope down” to the next successive ledge below, rig for the next one, and do it all again until they were all safely at the bottom.

This training readied them for the rest of the course.

In weeks two and three, there were two injuries; one Soldier fell and broke an arm and another washed out through his inability to adapt and follow orders. This was a “washout” course. If for any reason some Soldiers couldn’t cut it, they were simply sent back to camp, issued new orders, and sent to a new duty station doing a different job than what they did prior to coming to the course

It was what was referred to as “Down and Dirty.” These training programs were reserved for the elite. Among them were Green Berets, Rangers, Force Recon Marines, and Navy SEALs. They were normally selected by a Senior Enlisted Advisor and approved by a Company Commander in order to be here in the first place. Few were selected to attend and most who were selected completed it to the regulated standards.

Eric loved the Sniper phase of the course. It was innovative, interesting, and moved along smoothly. Some of what was required of Snipers and their Spotters was fairly routine and Eric had done much of it many times before. There were, however, some new innovations that he found not only interesting, but also stimulating.

The climbing techniques that made up the training exercise were interesting enough, but they were simply a means of getting Snipers and Spotters where they needed to be. Once there, they had to take into consideration the distance, wind, bullet drop data, temperature, and humidity before they took the shot. If a Sniper missed that first shot, they may never have the opportunity for a second shot. That’s why Eric was among the top 10 Snipers in all of the military.

He simply never missed his target!

The chances were pretty good that as each year passed by, he would be considered among the top two or three in the world. Perhaps, even, number one.

Tomorrow was the day that Eric and his Spotter were to be graded and shipped back to Twenty-nine Palms. The training was over and everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves without having to worry about tomorrow and another training session. They were done. They could afford to relax, have a few beers, and enjoy each other’s company as they talked about some of the frustrating moments of the course.

The only exception was talk about the news of the two terrorist attacks in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.. One of the Army Ranger’s family lived in Northern Virginia and he requested to drop the course at the end of the second week to go take care of them.

No one questioned his decision and he headed East.

On the evening of the attacks, everyone had been given “Admin Time” to call and check on their family members. The only family Eric had left was his brother Chris, but he was out to Sea on patrol. So instead, he listened to the news that evening, and he could still hear the radio interruption in his head, …you evil Americans have felt the wrath of Allah, the magnificent, and it is not done. We will kill all of you infidels…

The thought of it pissed him off, but tonight he could ignore that issue with another beer.

As usual, there was small talk about the way that some of the instructors handled some students. But mostly it was sheer relief knowing the course was behind them and the confidence each possessed now that the training was finished. Eric wasn’t the least bit worried about whether he passed or not; little comments he heard from observers pretty much assured him that he was as good as people said he was.

He was going for another beer when a Soldier burst into the NCO Club with a piece of paper in his hand. He was the Company Clerk, the same Soldier who had taken his orders when he first arrived at the Camp.

The young Soldier hurried to the front of the club. “Listen up,” he said in a loud voice, “As most of you know, two nuclear devices were detonated on the East Coast a couple of weeks ago. Today the United States of America officially declared war a few minutes ago. China has aligned itself with Russia and has nuked both the West and East Coast of the United States and they are invading us from Canada and Mexico.”

People started to murmur to each other as he continued, “All leave and special liberty requests are canceled. We are at war, Troopers, and the death toll is climbing quickly! Further word about this situation will be relayed to you as the commanding officer of this post gets it. No letters, no telephone calls, no radio messages will be come into or out of this post by order of the commanding officer Major Gregory Fields U.S. Army. That is all for now!”

He abruptly left the club.

Eric was stunned, as was everyone else in the club. Some of them held their heads low, some took a seat if they were standing, and some stood who had been seated. Many of the Soldiers began shouting questions at the First Sergeant who was sitting at the bar.

“Right now,” he held up his hand as he spoke, “I don’t know anything more than you do. I promise I will let you know what I’m told as soon as I have information that I can pass on to all of you.”

He paused, knowing they expected something more from him. “Look, we all have families and loved ones beyond the gates of this post and I know exactly how you feel right now about this news. I’ve also got family about an hour north of here on Highway 410 in Greenwater, Washington. The Army will be getting everything ready in order to protect the civilian population here and throughout the rest of the country.”

“It is our job to protect the United States of America from attacks,” his voice got a bit stronger as his words started to take hold. “This attack was premeditated and carried out without any warning whatsoever. I can assure you that those of us who are career military will get our revenge fairly quickly. As I said before, I don’t know any more than you do right now but I promise you this… I will keep you informed of the latest news as soon as I get it.”

And with that, the First Sergeant briskly walked toward the door and made his exit. The next day, he was gone without a trace.

Two weeks went by and more than half the camp’s personnel went Absent Without Leave. AWOL was a serious transgression, especially in a time of war. But few gave it a second thought, just as the First Sergeant did that first night before he disappeared.

Camp David Briscol was rapidly becoming a ghost town.

No one had received any pertinent information from anyone in ten days. Everyone assumed that perhaps an EMP, or electric magnetic pulse, was the culprit. All it would take is a nuclear device to be detonated around 10,000 feet above the ground, it would destroy most electrical apparatus. The radio men were certain their equipment was in working order, but there were no forthcoming messages. Men began sneaking off in the night, taking their weapons and equipment with them.

Most of the Soldiers posted at the Camp on a permanent basis had family about 60 miles north in mostly rented apartments and houses. The powerful feelings of fear for their families’ safety overtook them, and they eventually deserted the base and the military to find their loved ones, and nobody really seemed to care. A number of them who still remained at the Camp were transient and far- removed from where they lived and their permanent duty stations.

A group of 45 Soldiers would leave the camp and head west toward Seattle, Washington to assess the damage. They were not deserters; they were Soldiers in search of answers.

It was a sanctioned Military Operation.

The group decided to head out the following morning. The group was led by First Lieutenant William Everett, an Army veteran with recent combat experience. He assigned his second-in-command to be Lieutenant Stephen Donnelly and although Donnelly did not have any actual combat experience, he had attended all the right schools and was a West Point Academy graduate. Both men were good leaders noted for evaluating situations before acting on them. They also weren’t exactly the 100 percent by the book officer types, either. They were well-liked and well-respected by the Troopers selected to go on this mission with them.

The Commanding Officer of the post went AWOL two days prior and hadn’t been seen or heard of since. Nobody made an effort to go after any of the deserters because too many people were abandoning their posts these days and there weren’t enough Soldiers left to go after them. Soldier needed to know what was happening with their friends and families, and the breakdown with the communications systems directly resulted in the breakdown of the military structure. Everyone needed to know the situation beyond the fence of this Camp. Food was running low, which was another cause for Soldiers to run off.

Bright and early the next morning, the 45 men gathered in formation and heard the plan from Lieutenant Everett.

“As most of you already know,” he said in an even and calm voice. “We are heading toward Seattle, Washington and with a little luck, we should be there in a few hours. We will maintain a convoy formation and follow the highway until just before it splits to go into Seattle from the north, and then we’ll continue west to Fort Lewis. We have no idea what we will come across on the way, but we are all professional Soldiers and Marines and will act accordingly. Keep your eyes open and be prepared for anything and everything!”

Buckling his Kevlar helmet into place, he placed his hand on the door handle, “Okay troops,” his voice had a confidence of reverberation, “mount up!”

With that said, the Soldiers engaged the starters on their trucks and other vehicles, and the engines sprang to life.

As they traveled west, there was only one incident of significance. After traveling about an hour and a half on the highway heading west, a group of civilians tried to overpower the convoy, and that was a big mistake. Lieutenant Donnelly tried to warn them to unblock the highway, but the people shot at the Soldiers and they responded in kind.

Several civilians were killed, and, as others dragged their companions away, the Lieutenant called for a cease-fire. One of the convoy medics did what he could do for the wounded but it was a hopeless situation for most of them. They needed immediate surgery to survive their wounds and that wasn’t going to happen here and now.

The convoy continued after a few moments and just before arriving at Greenwater, where many of the Camp’s dependents lived, they saw numerous dead people lying alongside the road. Most had been dead for some time and birds and insects were already feeding on the carcasses. The convoy stopped several times along the way to look for survivors.

They were all dead.

None of them had anything of value in their possession. They had simply been shot and left there to rot. The Soldiers continued on and were stunned into silence as they passed so many houses that were burned to the ground. A few still smoldering and smoking, but the fires appeared to be old… probably older than just a few days. Cars were abandoned and many of the stores had been looted. Windows were broken out and glass was scattered all over the sidewalks and streets. Items of clothing and other miscellaneous things were lying about, obviously dropped as the looters scurried away.

There were no living beings anywhere, except for the Soldiers of the convoy. It took a little while before Lieutenant Everett gave the order to leave Greenwater. When they arrived at the junction where the highway split to go north to Seattle and west to Enumclaw, the convoy continued west. There was a brief conversation about exploring Seattle, but that would have to be at another time, not right now. They continued toward Fort Lewis, where they could determine what they would do next.

The further west they traveled, the more corpses they encountered. Most vehicles were abandoned, but occasionally a driver could be seen dead in the driver’s seat. Lieutenant Donnelly had a Geiger counter and tested for radiation poisoning at random. At this point, there was no evidence of radiation in the area. These people had simply been murdered. They all knew that these were indiscriminate acts of violence.

Eric tried to focus on the task at hand, which was moving safely to Fort Lewis. But his mind kept wandering to his brother Chris, who was Assistant Weapons Officer onboard the USS CALIFORNIA, an OHIO Class Nuclear Submarine. “Run silent, run deep” was their motto, and they were there for strategic deterrence. It kept the bad guys from shooting because the retaliation would simply be too high a price.

But deterrence was out the window now, and if they had fired their missiles, it would have made them an instant target and hard to miss. Their chance of survival, at that moment, went down drastically.

Still, he wondered about Chris.

What was he up to?

Where was he?

Was he safe?


To be continued…