Part Two (Continued)
By Jack Woods
You can read part 1 here.
This is a fictional account of Martial law in no particular town in America. It is an account of how two, completely different neighbors cope with Martial law in their city, and the trials they go through along the way.
Shouts of frightened people are heard through the acrid smoke, gunshots are fired at the crowd. The scene sways back and forth from the flash bangs tossed into the mix.
Murphy’s ears throbbed from the sound of high-pitched cannons. He limped to the curb, to rest against the building for support. He is shot, the rubber bullets, leaving blackened circles of pain on his thigh. The howling sirens pulse in his head, filling him with dread. In sync with the mob now feeling part of it, a collective heartbeat booms in his forehead.
The scene was like a living animal filling all the air around him. Some huge circling beast swooping low over the mass of people, spraying the scene with copper jacketed fire, flying past with eerie buzzes. Bullets whizz past from high upon the rooftops.
A sharp quick zip as people ducked and they flew past, vapor trails brushing his face. The tear gas moved in gusts, back and forth shoved about by sudden grenade blasts. As ricochets whinnied through the air, adding fragments, concrete, and splinters to the scene.
The shock of boot-stomping riot police rocked this hellish world…
Murphy pushed on, running as if his feet were encased in cement. He could barely move and the harder he pushed forward the worse it got. An overwhelming fear sprang up in him. He suddenly sat bolt upright, soaked by adrenaline, and sweat.
“Damn these nightmares,” his head ached from the stress. He realized as his head cleared, he was somewhere in his car.
He was becoming weary. The dreams were now torturing him each night he tried to sleep. Ever since the lock down he felt the horrific effects of anxiety and the constant wondering about where the riots might lead. His sleep deprivation was making him ill. His mental state displayed as physical lines across his drawn face, black circles and deep sags appeared beneath his eyes aging him years over just the few short weeks, since it all began.
He brushed the sleep from his eyes and shook his head hard. He twisted both fists in his sockets, as if pressing the fog from his mind and he gasped for more air. He opened a window a crack to clear his head. All about him lay still, and blackness.
The tiny overhead light of the car revealed only a small universe that he was still trying to get used to. The cold, dark was like a womb that had brought him back to life. He felt untethered from everyone these days, in a constant state of confusion.
The car smelled of sweat and wet plastic. The nightmare had caught him off guard, and for a moment, he seemed lost, as if floating in the blackness surrounding him. He couldn’t remember where he was, or how he got there. Blackness, void of light gripped the outside of the car like a fist. Only a tiny yellow glow stood out in this starless universe and from a distance the glow looked millions of miles away in the stark blackness of space.
Murphy took a deep breath. He and everything around him suddenly exhaled and paused. The tiny bulb flickered as if it were drained of energy; he was certainly alone and there was no way back home.
He reached for the door handle, ready to run for it and slowly came to his senses. It was just a dream he told himself. He shook his head one more time to clear his thoughts.
Straining against the panic and searching for reason, a thought came to him, a car, in space. Then in the bush, in a downpour, now he remembered how he got there. Just the other day, yesterday. He remembered everything now including the check-stops, the soldiers, it all came back to him in a sudden rush.
He was shattered inside, shaken by the all too frequent nightmares. The last few days had taken their toll on him. Slowly his new reality crept back in. At first it constricted him like some huge snake gripping his chest. He wondered if he was having a heart attack.
Again, his chest tightened. He couldn’t breathe and opened the window wider to gasp for fresh air. He had to calm himself. He felt the drizzle of rain on his face.
“Wow, old man you better get your shit together,” he spoke these words into the darkness through the crack in the window. He once again took a deep breath and exhaled, his nightmare slowly melted away. His eyes began to focus in the darkness.
The siren from his dream was nothing more than an insignificant twig scraping back and forth against the car’s window. Its movement was the result of a down wash of wind pushed past by a thundercloud. Murphy stared at the bony finger squealing over the glass. It sounded hellish, like a fingernail on a dusty chalkboard.
He laughed now realizing where he was, trying to comfort himself, no doubt.
No doubt, the finger was attached to some beast hidden just beyond the shadows, lurking in the blackness. It belonged to some tormented entity come for his soul and he was only protected by this tiny egg of a car, and a quarter inch of glass.
“That’s enough,” he scolded himself as he sat up.
He checked his watch, it was 2:00 AM. Everything outside the car had been cloaked in blackness. A sudden blue flash from above followed by rolling thunder, obviously, the source of the bomb blasts from his dream. His mind cleared some more.
The lightning revealed a grove of twisted trees with stunted branches. The gnarled hands that stretched out to him through the quick flickering light looked false now like some childhood nightmare scene. The once bony fingers appeared as simple twigs, revealing an affront caused by the sudden starkness of the passing rainstorm.
The relentless downpour began to beat on the roof of the car, growing louder. It accelerated to a thunderous cacophony, as if drumming its way in to get at Murphy. The thick drops pounded on the roof for twenty minutes or more and then subsided to a whisper. Yet, not before drenching the woods and creating a swamp where there was none before.
Murphy was certainly stuck now. He accepted his fate, and relaxed, leaning back into the seat of the car. He had followed his neighbor’s instructions to a tee. He was now hidden as far off the road as he could get, waiting in the dank woodland swamp ‘till morning. He was a mile past the Dump Road and well beyond the soldiers guarding the approach leading to Bob’s cabin retreat.
Yesterday, the soldiers had been stationed exactly where Bob thought they might be. Again, Murphy heard his neighbor’s voice reverberating in his skull, “Hide your car as far off the road as you possibly can.” How could Bob know he’d get stuck?
At the time, Murphy regarded his neighbor’s instructions seriously. In fact, he drove the car for over two hundred yards off the highway and got stuck in the middle of the wet trail.
He had high-centered his car on the rutted old logging road, stuck between miles of swamp on either side of him. He was now very far from home. He was alone without any hope of getting unstuck. The spinning of his wheels for thirty minutes or more only managed to create two smooth holes beneath each wheel. The new tires now spun freely with no resistance, hanging in midair and finally confirming the worst. His chances of freeing himself were slim.
There wasn’t anything he could do about that at night, so he decided to settle in, and wait for his neighbor to show up. He soon fell asleep, until the thunder woke him just moments before.
He recalled leaving the last check stop out of town the day before. He had proceeded to the Dump Road, but saw the blockade at the approach. He initiated plan “B” and plan “B” was to drive past to the secondary road approximately a mile beyond the Dump Road then pull over, hide the car, and wait for Bob.
As Murphy approached the two guards at the Dump Road, one soldier leaned on the bush guard of the truck, and the other stood at ease with his M4 dangling from a lanyard at his side. Both were dressed in fatigues, looking bored, but professional.
Murphy’s neighbor Bob instructed him to pass by especially if any Military were at the roadway. Murphy was told to drive past without stopping or even slowing down.
He did this, and then made his way to the secondary road. The soldiers stared at Murphy as he drove past them, making him nervous. He sat up, trying to appear less suspicious, he acted cool, trying to be casual, but succeeded in only looking all the guiltier.
Being afraid was ridiculous. He slouched back down. He was driving at well above the highway speed, making it impossible for anyone to even know what Bob and he had planned, or at least he thought this as he passed.
The fear of being caught and the idea of being locked in a FEMA camp began to paralyze Murphy. He tried his best to mask his fear, but it got to him nevertheless.
Again, he heard Bob’s voice telling him to calm down, “Stay cool, you’ll be fine.”
Murphy thought the soldiers could see his guilt even at 75 MPH. He continued to drive by without looking at them; he imagined he felt them staring at the back of his head as he passed.
He could see the soldiers shrink away in his rearview mirror with no sign they noticed him or his fear at all. They evidently had decided not to follow.
He expected to see the logging road soon. He was watching for it intently on his right side, and suddenly just as Bob had said it would be, it appeared exactly a mile past the dump road, far off on the right side of the highway, just at the edge of the tree line.
Anxiety welled up in him again.
He nervously looked for anyone in his rearview mirror. No one was following. Then he decelerated the car, and pulled to the side of the highway. There was nothing there, just a tiny trail by the trees, a steep drop off, an insignificant road choked with bushes off about 60 yards in the trees.
He decided to hit the ditch slow, and at a long angle, hoping his car would make the sharp drop off of the shoulder without bottoming out. The front bumper made a horrific crunching noise as it dragged bottom, digging up gravel when he left the pavement.
“Damn it”, he cursed the obvious damage to his new car. He then slowly eased over another tire and released his brake making a bang and a bounce over the exposed culvert, and then rolling onto the wet and rutted trail. He followed this trail to the tree line.
The grass, and low bushes dragged along the underside of his car, making Murphy cringe at each sound. He and his car disappeared into the thick bush, beyond the view of anyone on the highway.
He did it hastily for fear of being caught, even though he hadn’t passed anyone on the highway since he left the check stop. He decided to get off the road as soon as possible before someone saw him disappear into the woods.
The branches squealed along the side of his car dragging over his fenders and doors, no doubt ruining the new car’s paint. He hated hearing the noise, but remembered Bob saying to get as far off the road as he possibly could and to cover the car with brush. He pressed on, through the squealing brush, until the vehicle finally got high centered and ended up stuck where it is now.
Another flash and another thunderous report startled Murphy, this time the boom was only a half second behind the brilliant blue flash. The thunderstorm was right above his head; that much was certain.
It seemed to him that he had been in some storm in one form or another for the past few weeks. His life had certainly taken on a bad turn lately. He asked himself the one nagging question over and over again:
“How the hell did I end up here? Stuck in the woods at night and at the end of some overgrown cow trail, sitting in a thunderstorm, waiting to rendezvous with a crazy Iraq War Vet that I hardly know?”
Murphy grabbed the bottle of Bourbon from the duffle bag. He unceremoniously pulled the cork with his teeth and took a long drink from the bottle. He brought his whole liquor cabinet with him just in case it was going to be a long trip.
The bourbon burned all the way down his throat, and it made his head shake, but in a good way. He could feel the tingle course through his arms. He relished the effects of the whiskey.
“Whoa, yeah, baby, now that’s what I’m talking about,” Murphy shivered, held the bottle up to the black skies, and shouted between thunderclaps.
“You might have all the noise and thunder, but I have this,” he laughed and corked the bottle before putting it back.
He rummaged through his bag again for something to eat. Most of the food was in his trunk. It had been nearly twenty-four hours since he last ate something.
Two granola bars, a box of crackers, and a can of soda was all he found in the back seat.
“Oh well, better than nothing I guess,” the meager meal gave him a sudden burst of needed energy. He began to wonder what he would do if his neighbor doesn’t show up.
“How am I ever going to get out of here,” he wondered.
He decided to work it out in the morning. He hoped Bob would make it. He had to; it was as simple as that.
Murphy turned the car’s radio on, searching the channels before settling on a local station. The music was faint, drowned by a sea of static as if it was coming from a million miles off.
He was happy the lockdown hadn’t blocked all the radio stations. The distant melody took him away from the swamp, silencing the bomb blasts, and dulling the flash bangs and lightning strikes, as well as the bony finger on the glass. He drifted off, dreamless, and for the first time in a while he slept soundly until morning light.
By daylight, he awoke to the whisper of the woods, alive and cheerful. The radio was silent, the car battery must have died in the night. The sun had been up for hours, he could see it well above the treetops. He was glad he had finally slept for so long, yet was worried that Bob had not shown up. It was late morning maybe nine or ten, judging by the height of the sun.
His stomach growled for food. He pushed the car door wide; it squealed against the tangle of brush that had him blocked in.
He climbed out, and shut the door behind. A thousand scratches ran down the side of his car. He shook his head in regret, “Son of a bitch, that’s a few dollars’ worth of paint. Can’t buff that shit out.”
Murphy dug out the food from the trunk, including the canned goods he brought. He threw it all in the back seat, then piled them into his second duffle bag, making a ready bag for when Bob showed up. He even cleared out what was in the doors, and replaced the panels.
He kept out a tin of kippers for brunch. The tin had no label, a half loaf of bread, some mustard, and a jar of pickled onions. He couldn’t remember why he had the onions, probably from Christmas, for gin martinis. Theresa always loved a martini. That was the first time he had thought of Theresa in days.
Either way, pickled onions were just fine with smoked kippers and mustard sandwiches.
He sat on the hood of his car in the warm sunlight. It was the only clear spot around in this tangle of bush, and marshes. He had a picnic. He washed the meal down with the last of his beer. Then realized, this meant no more beer for a while. He was going to miss beer. He wondered why he hadn’t thought of that before?
He consoled himself, “I bet Bob has a way of making beer at the cabin. I mean he would have thought of that for sure.” Where the hell was he, anyway?
Satisfied with his lunch, Murphy closed his eyes and lay back against the window enjoying the tiny bit of sun poking through the trees. The dappled sunlight shown through the leaves, creating orange-red flashes on the backs of his eyelids.
He honestly felt happy for a change, lying contently with his eyes closed. “Perhaps this will end soon” he considered, “Things are going to get better from now on.”
The sun rolled steadily across the clear skies. Time stirred gently with very little effort. The shadows tracked from west to east as the sun blazed across the bright blue canvas.
Murphy opened his eyes, a glowing vision appeared, standing alert and quietly chewing. It was a deer, a magical denizen of the woods. It startled and stared back at Murphy, standing no more than twenty feet in front of his car, a curious thing to see so close.
Murphy lay perfectly still, not wanting to scare the creature away. It locked its eyes with his, equally unsure of what to do. It chewed, then stopped, then chewed again, then lowered its head and plucked more buds from a bush, then chewed that too. Suddenly its tail flashed white and stood straight up, as it bounded off into the brush without rustling a leaf.
On the highway, a vehicle approached it could be heard slowing down. The whine of the tires was unmistakable. Murphy couldn’t see it, but the vehicle was obviously stopping at the turn-off where he had left the road.
“It could be Bob,” he thought. Then he remembered he forgotten to cover his tracks where he turned off as Bob had asked him to.
“Damn it, what if it’s more soldiers”?
He slid down the hood and locked his car doors with the keyless. He crouched low, and slowly snuck off into the brush, to hide behind a large dead poplar.
The damp smell of the rotting leaves reminded him of his youth. His heart was pounding with fear. He tried to think about those warm summers at the lake house. Back when he was a child, he and his friends often played hide and seek. His favorite hiding place was under a pile of rotting logs. No one ever found him, and he never did reveal his spot to the other children, making him last to be found.
“Olly, Olly, Oxen free,” they would shout, and Murphy would sneak out of his special place before revealing himself.
His family spent the whole summer at the lake. He cherished those days, fishing, boating, and camping out on the lawn. To him, it was heaven on earth. Murphy and the neighbor kids would sometimes sneak off at night and hunt night crawlers using flashlights along the golf courses. They would sell them to fishermen at the boat launch, for a dollar a dozen. The spare money was spent on soda, and candy down at the local general store.
A voice from the edge of the tree line rang out by the highway breaking Murphy’s spell, “Looks like he went in here,” the voice yelled up to the truck. Murphy couldn’t see the man, but he was only a few yards off.
“I ain’t going back in there,” the voice called out. “It’s like a bog, Must have been all the rain we had last night.” Several minutes of silence passed.
“ It looks like his vehicle went in here, we’d better call it in. It could be our guy.” The voice at the truck yelled back, “Copy that.”
It was soldiers; but what did he mean, “It could be our guy?”
It suddenly occurred to Murphy, that the instructions by the Corporal back at the check stop yesterday insisted he not leave the road, and head straight to Millville. This was probably because the soldier had radioed ahead with a description of each vehicle on the road as a definite way of counting the vehicles, and keeping track of all movement in the area.
It suddenly occurred to Murphy this would be, an ingenious way of identifying anyone who was missing in the zone, like Murphy.
“Shit I’ve had it now,” he slouched lower behind the dead tree.
He knew he would need to fade back into the brush, until they left, but decided to take a chance and hurry back to his car. He grabbed the two large duffle bags from the back seat. He slung them over his shoulders and quickly stole away down the trail to the west. He struggled to stay quiet, shoving wet brush away from his face, and shouldering through large tangles of brush that grabbed at his clothes as he pushed past.
Several hundred yards down the trail he began to feel at ease. He lowered the two heavy bags to the ground. They had been digging into his shoulders, and the pain was getting to him. The canned goods would have weighed 60 pounds by them self, not to mention his clothing bag which was stuffed with all kinds of junk he didn’t expect to be carrying.
How the hell was he going to travel with so much weight, and to where? He didn’t even know where Bob’s cabin was. It could be anywhere in the Kettle Mountains, which was all he knew, at least from the sketch Bob gave him.
“Damn it, Can I ever catch a break,” he kicked the bag of food on the ground.
“Somebody up there doesn’t like me very much. I’m a nice guy, right?” he threw his hands up in the air. “I mean, aren’t I,” Murphy groaned under his breath and felt silly for talking to himself.
He decided to wait until late afternoon and rest a while before heading back to his car. He hoped the soldiers hadn’t towed it. He considered they could have easily done this with a winch from the Humvee. If his car were still there, he would sleep another night in it and make plans for the morning.
Again, if Bob had not shown by then, he would have to abandon the car and assume his neighbor had been picked up by the Military. He would then need to move on, perhaps build a shelter, far back in the bush and hole up until it was safe. He easily had a month’s worth of food with him.
Besides that, it had just occurred to Murphy he had forgotten his sleeping bag in his haste to get away. It was still in the back seat of his car.
He cursed himself, “Jeezus, could I be any more stupid,” he hated being such a greenhorn. His life depended on not screwing up. He reasoned if he were caught it would be a FEMA camp for sure.
He knew he could do better if he used his head. It wasn’t as if he was stupid, “after all it was only common sense stuff,” he told himself. He decided to stop being an accountant and start acting like a thinking person.
“Stay calm, stay cool,” he kept repeating this over and over in his head.
He rummaged around for his bourbon bottle, feeling the urge again for a drink. He took a good long pull to steady his nerves. Murphy wasn’t a heavy drinker, or even a social drinker, he didn’t even go out much, but the stress was getting to him and it seemed to be turning him into one now.
He checked his watch it read 6:00 PM. It would be getting dark soon. He decided to leave his duffels under a bush, and make his way back toward the car, staying low and stealthy just in case the soldiers were still near.
He saw his car from several hundred feet off and seeing no movement he circled wide to check if the Humvee was out on the road still.
He crawled low up under the overhanging branches of a large pine tree. He lay perfectly concealed beneath the branches and scanned the highway for any sign of the soldiers. They were gone, and he was relieved that he might have a dry place to sleep that night. He assumed the men would not be back until dawn to tow the car if they were coming at all.
He considered covering the tracks his car left when leaving the highway but decided that might raise more suspicions if the same soldiers came back later. It was another lesson he learned the hard way, “always cover your tracks,” he told himself just more common sense.
“Oh, I had better start thinking for myself. This ain’t no game; Murphy chastised himself for being such a fool. Modern life has made everyone soft these days, unable to think for themselves anymore.
“If I get caught, it’s a camp for sure.” Murphy kept telling himself this, even though it might not be true. “What if, what Bob told him was even remotely true about those camps. Well, that will never happen, because you won’t get caught.” He shook the image of the camp from his mind.
He realized it was going to be dark soon, and made his way back to his car, he unrolled his sleeping bag in the back seat and dug in for the night. Murphy decided to sleep in his clothes, just in case he needed to sneak away quickly. He left a small ready bag stashed under the tree outside the car with a lighter, some food, and bottled water. Just in case he had to run for it.
All the while, he tried to formulate a plan for the morning. What would he do if Bob didn’t show up?
Another restless night’s sleep. The visions of a burning city blazed in his mind, this time he ran with the rioters between buildings burning all around him, and the sirens still blew relentlessly until he fell to the ground covering his ears.
His blackened face looked up at a lone figure walking toward him from out of the teargas. The figure strode casually and directly up to Murphy as if he were walking across a room. Murphy couldn’t make out his features, but somehow, he knew who he was. Within a few steps, he revealed himself to Murphy.
“Hello, my son,” the face twisted in an ugly grin inches from his own. The hideous smile grew more grotesque, forming a gaunt death mask. It was Murphy’s face, an image with solid black eyes stared back at him.
He yelled out like a wounded animal, and sat up in the car, now sweating profusely. He felt ice water spill over his body as if he had been plunged under a frozen lake. The cold poured down his chest and arms; ice ran through his veins. He shivered uncontrollably from fever, and dove into his sleeping bag, burying himself in the fabric. He pulled it tight around his head to stave off the violent shaking.
The rest of the night his sleep altered between cold sweat and hot flashes. The fever raged with rampant temperatures. He wrestled this devil all night, fighting against whatever ailed him.
By morning, he felt some relief. The only logical explanation was food poisoning from the Kippers. Either way it had weakened him tremendously. What was odd was that the fever seemed to dissipate as quickly as it had come. He had no explanation for this.
By midday, the fever had waned completely, Murphy felt much better about moving on. He enacted his plan of survival. The fever had given him a new outlook, giving him the drive he needed to make it happen. He was determined, not to fail now.
“You have to stop dicking around, Man,” he spoke this out loud. His new reasoning mind came forth. He now felt liberated and understood the full extent of his situation. He was no longer governed by fear but by reason.
His plan was to cut cross-country heading north toward the Dump Road, angling away from the highway, and arrive well behind the guards stationed at the approach. He then would head west along the road, hoping to find Bob’s marker. But if not he would proceed west until he located the trailhead. He knew for sure that the road eventually led past the trail to Bob’s cabin, as Bob had said as much.
He also recalled something about the cabin being on Myrtle Creek. At least he knew the cabin was near water, so finding a creek could help him locate it.
If he could locate that trailhead, and find the cabin, he could stay there and keep tabs on whatever was happening in the rest of the world using the electronic gear Bob told him about.
Obviously, he wanted to find Bob first and help him if he could, to pay him back for all that he had done for him so far. However, he knew he couldn’t help his neighbor without knowing where he was. He needed a place to lay-up, and then he could try and locate Bob.
Believing if he made it through this nightmare, he was sure Bob would understand why he had to use the cabin for shelter without him. It wasn’t as if he could go back home, not now, not until the Martial Law had been lifted.
He suddenly was worried about his neighbor. What if, he was in a camp? Murphy knew Bob was the type of guy that could survive anything, yet he felt guilty for not trying to find him. It was he, who should have been caught by the military, not Bob. Murphy was the fool in this scenario, and he knew it.
He rolled up his sleeping bag as tight as he could and made a carrying strap, which he slung over his shoulder. He made his way back to the place he had stashed his duffels and rigged up a pack board lashing together branches he cut from an Ash tree. He had learned how to do this from a survival show he watched last year. He smoothed the knots and selected them to be perfectly curved to his back. This helped them in the final design to hold it together.
He was thankful now and thought perhaps that he had remembered a few things from those survival shows’ after all.
He put everything into one duffel bag, and lashed the bag to the makeshift frame. Then added the sleeping bag to the top of the pack and padded the shoulder area with a thin flannel blanket that he had packed, and then slung the whole thing onto his back. It felt good even though it was probably 95 lbs. in weight.
The straps were woven from paracord Murphy threw it in his car at the last minute before leaving the garage at home. The pack was certainly a benefit, and it helped carry the heavy load, making it far easier to carry all the provisions at once. He hefted the pack, jumping in place to test it for weakness, then checked his watch. It was nearly noon.
He headed north paralleling the highway then aimed for the dump road. As long as he maintained a northerly direction, he would be safe. When he made the road, he would head west for as long as it took. He would then search for that mythical quad trail leading miles off into the foothills, ultimately wandering about searching for some unknown cabin in the bush, located God knows where, somewhere in a thousand square miles of wilderness.
“What could go wrong,” he laughed with his new confidence. He was surely going insane.
In addition to this impossible cabin quest, he would do it without a tent, or any real survival gear to speak of. He had a tarp, a sleeping bag, and a hundred feet of paracord along with a small bag of camping stuff, with about sixty pounds of canned food.
“So… I’m looking pretty good.” He considered this grim outlook and tried to make himself feel confident. “The only unknown thing here is where the hell was the trailhead to Bob’s cabin located?” He laughed at himself.
It was a long shot, but Murphy didn’t feel he had much choice after all he was certainly stuck. The soldiers would surely come back. He took one deep breath, hefted the pack again, and marched off into the tangle of brush.
He considered if he found the cabin, or any cabin, he would be a lot better off, then where he was right now.
He pushed through the high brush, waded through knee-deep bogs, and carried the pack over his head, twice through waist-deep ponds. He ducked over and under a hundred deadfalls for a grueling mile. He also came upon so much dark standing water he almost gave in, but refused to drink it. Instead, he conserved the tiny bottle of water he had brought from home.
A mile may not seem very far until a person is forced to do it through the tangled brush and bogs, and across shin breaking deadfalls. It lends a whole new meaning to the term breaking brush.
After an hour or more, Murphy was exhausted. He finally came upon a tiny stream. He replenished the dwindling water supply and filled everything he had with the streams clear liquid. Filling all three empty bottles and a large zip-lock freezer bag for good measure, he decided to take a break and rest.
He checked his watch. It was 1:15 PM. Looking at his watch, he recalled a trick he learned, using an analog watch to tell direction. A person could simply use the hour hand to tell basic direction at least during the daytime. He pointed the hour hand at the sun, and bisecting the halfway point between the number twelve on the watch, and the hour hand to give him South, he then knew the reciprocal direction was due North. This was the direction he wanted to go. It would bring him directly to the Dump Road; he would veer west after that to the kettle Mountains. It was a good plan because it was simple.
He angled slightly westerly to bring him as far away from the approach where the soldiers were as he could get. He didn’t want to stumble onto the road right behind the soldiers and get caught flat-footed busting out of the woods. Murphy felt a quiet pride, for himself, and realized how safe he felt in the woods where no one could get to him.
“No one would ever come back in here,” he thought. “Besides, who would want to”? He laughed at the idea of someone going through what he just did to find him.
He recalled the old Civil War stories he read of how rebels in the south, made camps in the Bayou during the war. They eluded the northern aggressors by using the sheer unpleasantness of the swamps. The fact is it left the north at such a disadvantage due to its close cover, they could disappear like ghosts. It was easy to get confused in the swamps, and many stories came back of soldiers never to being seen again. This kept many away from the southern swamps.
Not fifteen minutes went by, and Murphy suddenly stumbled onto the dump road. He had done it. Not two days ago, he was a pencil pushing Accountant, and today a frontier trekking woodsman.
He let out a cautious whoop quiet and under his breath. So as not to give away his position to the soldiers. He smiled satisfied with his latest accomplishment.
He brushed himself off, kicked the mud from his heels, and headed west along the gravel road. He was going to make it. He could almost see the cabin in front of him now.
Murphy began to quietly whistle an old tune for lack of imagination, “Country Roads,” and once again, things were looking up for Nathaniel J. Murphy.
The rest of the day was filled with blue skies and sunny breezes. He could not have asked for a better day. The last two downpours of rain had given the world a good scrub that it needed.
His new attitude made the miles fly by at first. Even the heavy load from his makeshift pack somehow felt good to him now. “One foot in front of the other,” that was his mantra for the next ten miles.
Slowly but surely, the weight began to drag on him, though. The miles and minutes ground into hours and the hours crept along like days. The straightness of the road didn’t help either. It made the trip seem that much longer. He knew he needed to travel twenty-five miles or maybe more to reach the Mountains.
He looked behind so often that he began to imagine he wasn’t getting anywhere. The trees at times hung over the roadway making it appear as if it was a long tunnel formed by their overhanging branches.
The only thing that prevented Murphy from seeing forever down this single vector road was the dips and rises it had. It hid the past from the future, rolling behind mysterious undulating hills. It made Murphy feel as if he was getting nowhere, one dip in the road look like the next. Disheartened by his lack of progress he decided to rest up ahead at an outcrop of rock. He would have lunch, and relax he felt safe off the road.
He hadn’t seen nor heard anyone since he started down the empty road. The soldiers apparently were preventing anyone at all from using the road. This at least meant Murphy didn’t need to dash off into the bush every time an unknown vehicle came by.
Murphy stopped and removed his pack. Relieved to have the heavy weight of the thing off his back even for a moment, he groaned as he lowered it to the ground. For food, he had mostly only canned goods and a few dry items that needed water to rehydrate. He decided to make a fire and cook some lunch.
Knowing the smoke would be easily seen by anyone driving by, he decided not to risk it too close to the road. It would be wise to build a fire several hundred yards off the road, where it was hidden from view and safer. The terrain was much drier the further west he went.
Finally, Murphy was beginning to use his head. He considered the woods as his refuge. It would be his greatest advantage against his new world of Military rule.
For the first time, in years Murphy had to build a fire, and soon discovered that it was like falling off a log. He finally had a chance to use the carbon steel striker his father had given him years before. It was a sort of gag gift. His Dad missed his son, and complained that he never went camping with him anymore, at least ever since becoming a big city banker, and moving to Metro.
The fire striker concept was not unknown to Murphy, but he hadn’t used one before. It worked marvelously as the first strike sprayed sparks all over the birch tinder that he had stripped from a nearby tree and it burst suddenly into a hopeful flame. He rotated a partially opened tin of beans next to the coals, making it his first hot lunch in days.
This minor miracle struck a chord in him. Murphy no longer felt helpless or lost in the wilds. He had certainly changed from the person he was just weeks before now a new man. This new person emerged from the old Murphy, shedding that skin like a chrysalis, and revealing a new being that now had become used to the woods. Or, maybe he’d simply remembered who he was again.
He stared into the flickering flames. His eyes were calm, and he appeared to be at home in his woods by himself. He sat back eating the beans and leaned against a log, becoming at one with the world around him.
Murphy put his time to good use, improving his pack frame and adding more padding where there was none. After a bit of thought, he distributed the weight higher above his shoulders. This would allow him to move quicker. He decided to fix the straps lower, so he could carry the weight on his shoulders, lessening the strain on his back. He added a chest-harness. Also, this he could tighten when he needed. It prevented the weight from moving about so much.
Certainly, he wished he had a proper backpack, but in a pinch, this one worked just fine. He smoothed the branches some more using a small hunting knife he had also owned for years. His Dad gave it to him too one Christmas years ago. His father and he often went deer hunting, when he lived back east as a young man. He enjoyed those hunting trips, the camaraderie, and he now felt sorry that lost touch since graduating College. He had moved to Metro for his job and hadn’t been back since.
Murphy used the tin from the beans, to dig up dirt and bury the fire; he managed to dig up the area with the can, hiding any evidence under the wet earth. After it was completely extinguished, he covered it with a layer of leaves hiding it from view.
He decided, “right then and there” rule number two was always to hide his camps before moving on. This may be the friendly environmental thing to do, but it was mostly for a common sense solution to his new situation.
He gathered his pack and checked his watch. He had at least another five miles before setting up camp for the night.
The Dump Road, despite its unfortunate name, was in fact, a very beautiful country road. Murphy had slipped past the Dump entrance several miles back. It was easily identifiable by the smell and the abundant loose trash that had collected at its entrance.
He was now simply heading westerly. The kettle Mountains were maybe another fifteen miles more, and Murphy was not expecting to see any southwest trail leading to Bob’s cabin until he reached the foothills.
He finished cleaning up his camp and headed back toward the road. He checked both ways before stepping out onto the gravel. Murphy was becoming, more aware of his surroundings. For the first time in a long time, there was a purpose to his life. Even though he did not notice this right away for himself, he was beginning to become in tune with the world around him again. The next five miles flew by, with his newly designed pack. It was a pleasure using something he had created himself. This added to the Accountant’s confidence.
He once again wondered what had happened to his friend Bob. He imagined him in one of those camps, and pictured him pacing back and forth behind a chain link fence, planning an escape.
“I hope if you are going to escape Bob, you do it soon.” It was only fair that he was here with Murphy. He searched the empty road behind him as if hoping to see him driving up with his jeep any minute, smiling and waving a cold beer above his head.
Murphy noticed the sun had dropped low on the horizon; he checked his watch. Soon he would need to get off the road, build a fire, set up his tarp, and make some supper.
He left the gravel road and headed back into the brush, hiking up a steep hill to get to high ground. After several hundred yards, he found a clearing. It was no more than a hundred square feet in size, but it was level and lay beneath the contour in the hill the spot overlooked the road below. It would give a vantage point while keeping him hidden from below.
The hollow area provided the perfect cover for his firelight, and a good shelter from the wind. He was confident about his choice, and began clearing the small brush that was in his way. He then strung a green tarp between two trees, and fastened it with the rest of the cord he had with him. He decided to wait until darkness, to start his fire, it would be better to conceal the smoke. So, he went about gathering wood for the evening.
The fire was built low behind the knob of the hill, making it impossible for anyone to see it from below. He set up the tarp to block the fire’s glow from illuminating the trees behind him. He was sure he was well hidden, and finally began to relax.
Next, he gathered bows for a bed, started his fire, and boiled pasta for supper. He used just one bottle of water that he gathered from the stream he crossed earlier back in the swamp, and saved it in the bottle again.
After a good meal and some hot tea, Murphy took out his cell phone. It was dead and therefore useless, but he wondered if they could track him using its SIM card, so he decided it was a good thing it was dead. He doubted they could pick it up without power to his phone. Nevertheless, he removed the battery from the phone and stored it in his pocket.
The stars over his head popped out like diamonds, and they spanned the heavens. Hanging from one jagged ridge to the other, the conifers were starkly silhouetted against the blue fire from above.
Murphy felt warm; he was fed even though he, of course, was alone, but he felt good inside. He began to question the direction that his life had taking before all this happened. He suddenly realized he never needed a bigger house or a better car, or even a better girlfriend. It was as if, once any person got away from the commercials, advertisement hustles, and the mind automatically reset itself.
What every none in life needs is a sense of purpose. He had obviously lost his years ago, yet due to this nation’s crisis, he may have just gotten it back again.
A loud crash in the darkness rose up behind him, Murphy jump. His heart pounded out of control. “What the F… was that,” he whispered, and grabbed a piece of wood for a club. A great creaking sound and a sudden thunderous roar followed by a shower of leaf litter falling to the ground. A massive tree had fallen not two hundred feet from where he camped. The tremendous crash had nearly given him a heart attack.
“Jeezus, that scared the living shit out of me,” Murphy gasped for air, he shook from the adrenaline. To be certain it was a tree he listened for movement, but heard only silence.
He laughed to himself, “Apparently when a tree falls in the forest; it does make a sound. Holy shit who knew,” he laughed and turned to face the fire again, taking a sip of his pine needle tea. His face glowed from the yellow flames.
Well, it was time to turn in. He stoked the fire against the night, and unrolled his sleeping bag then climbed into it. The tarp provided enough shelter to keep the cold and any rain off him, and it reflected the heat down on him while he slept.
The next morning Murphy awoke early. Again, he had slept without dreams. He decided to make some more tea before breaking camp. He hid as much of his campsite as he could before hitting the road.
Shortly after heading down the road, he heard a vehicle coming up from behind. He didn’t take any chances, and ran off behind a fallen tree and hid. As the unknown vehicle approached, its engine’s noise grew louder. He imagined it was Bob and the Jeep, until a large army vehicle came into view, a big 6X6 with a covered canopy rolled by. Murphy watched it drive past, confident he hadn’t been spotted, and equally confident he had made the right decision about hiding from all cars.
Rule number three he said, “always err on the side of caution.” “Especially when traveling alone in the woods, or dodging military convoys,” he laughed at his new confidence.
That day Murphy covered fifteen miles by late afternoon. The Kettle Mountains stood before him only a few miles were left to go. He made one more camp by a small brook that night, and then he would be ready to start searching tomorrow for the trailhead leading to Bob’s cabin.
That night passed without incident. Murphy awoke fresh and ready to cover some serious ground that day. He couldn’t help notice how much strength he had gained in just a few days of hiking.
The first five trails he came across seemed far too narrow for even a quad to use, and none showed the telltale signs of a quad tracks or of even being driven over at all. Although it then occurred to Murphy that Bob would have devised a way of hiding the trailhead from view.
Therefore, whenever the gravel road cut a field, he walked the perimeter if the field to search for trails. He hoped he would be able to tell when he saw a trail. The idea that debris would hide it encouraged him to look for things like downed trees, camouflage netting, or some debris that might look out of place or might be used to conceal the trailhead. Knowing what to look for might make it easier to spot.
Slowly several miles went by when a promising sight appeared. A turn-around beside the main road, built on the south side, and there were tire tracks in the dry mud. The most revealing clue was the fact that a downed tree had been pulled across the trailhead, and the tree was small enough to be moved by one man.
“I think I may have found my trailhead,” smiled Murphy. He walked around the downed tree and picked up the tire tracks on the other side. It was a quad trail. It looked very promising too. Murphy was so sure that he abandoned any idea of dropping his pack to first check out the trail before committing to it. He simply made his way up the trail-way toward the valley into the Kettle Mountains.
He used his watch to determine the general direction that he was headed. It was almost exactly south-by-south-west.
Initially, it was a steep climb, for at least a quarter mile, then it leveled out at the top. For the next half-mile or so Murphy felt confident that it was Bob’s trail. He suddenly felt like a college kid on a hiking trip and wondered why he didn’t hike more often.
There were the birds in the sky, and game all around. He even saw a whitetail buck, drop over a ridgeline far above him. The trail meanders a bit here and there, but mostly it headed in the same direction. He finally crested the last hill, and came upon a beautiful sight; a pristine valley lay a mile or so below him.
He also noticed a long winding gash through the trees at the bottom, and couldn’t help feeling that it must be Myrtle Creek, yet no sign of a cabin. This didn’t surprise Murphy, knowing how Bob’s mind worked, he assumed the cabin would be hard to spot from above.
Excited, though, Murphy stepped off the rise, beaming with foolish pride; he thought he was on his way. The first footstep fell on a patch of loose rock that slid out from under him. His weight kicked forward, and the heavy pack was too much to hold back. He tried to catch himself, but stumbled over head first off the trail and rolled once more. He caught his foot between two large rocks; his ankle snapped instantly.
He could almost hear it crack as he rolled over the top of the jammed foot. He slammed flat on his face, and the pack slid to a stop, finally coming to a sudden and abrupt end his head just missing a large rock. The pain shot through his entire body and revealed itself as a flash of light behind his eyes.
He had broken his leg. It shattered just above his right ankle. Murphy cried out from the pain and lay for several minutes grasping just above his ankle. He felt sick, looking back at the unnatural position of his broken ankle. He saw his jeans flood purple from the blood. It was clearly a compound fracture.
Murphy examined the break. The bone was sticking out of the skin about four inches up from his ankle; he knew right away that he would need to put it back in place. He needed to do it quickly, while his brain was still flooded with endorphins, and a rush of the chemical soup helped mask the pain. He decided rather than waiting he would to get it over with one quick jerk.
First, he stood up on his good leg, leaving the portion of his foot wedged in the gap between the rocks. He pushed up with his good leg and stretched the crushed leg, aligning the two pieces back in place again. He wailed with pain, and carefully slipped the bad leg free from the wedge. He lowered himself to the ground. The world went dark, and his only memory was a tunnel of white light growing smaller, with the blackness.
Murphy’s head swooned when he came to later. His vision went from black to a glimmering light like the sun’s reflection off a pond. The tunnel of light grew and grew until the world, and his pain came rushing back to him.
He had no idea how long he laid there. He knew help was not an option. He was certainly on his own.
The pack and most of its contents were scattered all over the ground. He scanned the debris field and saw what he needed. A simple roll of duct tape lay under some briars nearby. If he could get two sturdy sticks, and that roll of duct tape, he would be able to splint his leg solidly.
First, he needed to staunch the blood; it had slowed since it happened, but as soon as he moved the foot, it began to flow freely again.
He tore a strip from the pack blanket, poured Bourbon on the wound, and wrapped the blanket strip around the break. He split the strip at the end and tied it off with a bandage knot. Then with great pain and difficulty, he managed to crawl his way over to the roll of tape, and located two sticks of proper size and length.
His world swooned again. Perhaps he had lost more blood than he thought. The ground where he had lain was stained dark from his blood. He decided to rest just to regain some composer. He certainly didn’t want to pass out again before splinting the ankle.
He lay back, resting his head on the ground. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears. This might be good, he thought. He was hopelessly trying to make himself feel better.
“At least I have blood pounding through my head.” He stared at the sky for a moment and then shouted out loud.
“All right Murphy, old man, get’er done buddy.”
He sat up and grimaced from the sharp pain from his ankle. He grabbed the bottle and poured plenty of bourbon down his throat.
He then laid one stick on one side of his ankle, and the other on the opposite side, and very gingerly and very painfully lifted his pant leg with his left hand and passed the roll of duct tape under his leg for the first pass, and then rested.
The whole procedure of wrapping his leg took him a half hour or more. In the end, the results were truly epic. He had a solid silver duct-tape cast, which completely immobilized his ankle, and along with three fingers of his bourbon and the space-age splint relieved 75% of his pain.
He finally had time to realize what a big mess he was in,
“Now what, smart guy,” Murphy thought grabbing his Bourbon bottle once again and finishing half of the open bottle.
He knew he wasn’t going anywhere for a while, and resolved to drag himself about to gather what he needed for the evening. He pulled his sleeping bag next to the large rock, grabbed the fire striker, a can opener, and some food, and piled it by the rock too.
The scattered cloud’s overhead looked ominous, yet he hoped, the big guy would cut him some slack this evening. He simply wanted to wrap the tarp around himself that night for protection and fasten a crutch from a limb to use in the morning.
While dragging his leg behind him, Murphy managed to gather enough firewood to keep the flame going for the night. He built it against the large rock; it sheltered him and his fire from the wind. The flames certainly gave him a boost in morale. The warm flickering light gave him hope in this grim situation. That night’s supper was canned stew, with crackers. He drank the last of his water, knowing it was necessary to replace his blood loss.
Even though this would leave him with no water for tomorrow, he thought it best. With any luck, he would be able to make his way down the trail to the valley floor, and Myrtle Creek would be there, waiting for him.
Murphy estimated it was about a mile below to the bottom of the trail. His real problem was that he couldn’t take most of his belongings with him, the weight would be too much. He decided to solve this problem, by building a travois, to drag behind him, loading it with as much as he could comfortably bear, he would set out down the hill in the morning.
For now, he knew that most important thing was rest, and sleep.
The mountain air was frigid, and Murphy woke nearly every hour from a cold blast of wind. He fed the fire each time and managed to sleep in spurts as often as he could.
At midnight, a great gray Owl called out in the night waking him. It was no more than 50 yards off, high in a spruce tree. Although the bird’s hoots were loud, they were a comfort to him. He felt that the old bird was good company, and he no longer felt alone.
By morning, the fire had gone out, and the lack of blood made Murphy shake from the cold. He restarted last night’s coals and crawled from his sleeping bag, then heated another can of soup for breakfast. He reasoned from the soup he could at least get some liquid for he had no water.
After loading the duffel bag with as much as he dared, he lashed the pack to two poles of a travois. The crutch he found was not ideal, but he reasoned he would find a better one along the way. He tried not to use his bad leg at all, and solely relied on the crutch for support. The duct tape cast he had made was very impressive and worked fine. The travois proved to work wonderfully too and even added to his stability when leaning back on it.
The first hurdle was climbing back up onto the trail. This proved to be most challenging, as Murphy had to make his way up the bank, and then drag the travois up behind him after. He did this using a length of rope that he left tied to the working rig, and pulled it up the slope to the trail after him. He labored hand over hand holding it fast around a small tree when resting.
After several stops and starts he was finally standing on the trail and leaning against the travois. He began the slowly and painful descend the mountain. At first, the going was slow, and the switchbacks were hard to negotiate on one leg. Especially dragging a travois, he discovered that he only needed to walk just beyond each turn, and then swing the rig around the corner, hopping on one foot.
This proved the best way to avoid dragging the travois and its load across the drop-offs and possibly losing his load over the edge, taking him with it. He pushed himself along with his crutch and the gravity of the slope help move the load along after him.
After several winding switchbacks, Murphy reached the meadow below. The flat ground was a welcome sight, yet his load now seemed to drag him down all the more. He used all his strength to move it along the open field. The day was sunny, and this helped boost his morale. All he wanted was to make it to the trees on the other side of the meadow, and make camp.
Midway across the meadow, Murphy began to hear water trickling ahead. His hope welled up inside of him, for the first time that day felt he had a chance, and he might find the cabin.
He had no doubt that it was Myrtle Creek, oh how he needed it to be so.
When he got to the edge of the trees, he found a small creek flowing through an idyllic grove of Pines. The creek was crystal clear and only a foot or two deep at the most. It probably contained fish too, he reasoned.
“This is where I’ll camp until I work out a plan,” he sighed from the strain of the hike.
Murphy looked down at his leg and cursed his bad luck. His watch said it was 4:30 PM, and he was now headed nearly southeast, away from the slope of the hills. He knew that as long as he followed the creek, his chances of finding the cabin were much greater. The trail followed the creek south, so he knew in the morning that this was the way he would go.
Quenching his thirst in the creek, he filled his bottles again. He was so excited that he considered going on farther without camping. But he quickly reconsidered, believing he had better rest his leg. The break was throbbing tremendously now, and he considered, “what if the cabin was further than I can manage before dark?”
The pine grove was so comforting to him, with its appealing carpet of soft needles and a green carpet of moss running right over the high creek banks. They scrolled over in lush rolls that hid the trout below them from all but the cagiest predators, from Otters, Mink, and Raccoons. It was a paradise.
Murphy gathered wood and even managed to set up his tarp. Then he settled in for a relaxing afternoon under the canopy of branches. Soon a hardy meal of stew bubbled next to the fire. The meal relaxed him, as he listened to the woodland sounds all about him.
After the traditional boiling tin of tea and a splash of Bourbon, of course, Murphy lay contentedly, thankful he had decided to rest his leg.
The sun began to drift behind the ridge to his west. Its soft orange glow seemed to color the very air in the valley revealing a golden yellow dust, and millions of insects. The small birds dancing above the short grass in the meadow looked magical and happy. A lone doe and her twin fawns ventured out onto the field to feed in the dying warmth.
Murphy tended the fire and leaned against a large old fir tree. The giant Bower was held up by a trunk too big for even two men to wrap their arms around. A wonderful specimen of a tree, which had been growing since the time of Columbus.
Murphy felt carried away by the fire’s warmth. He piled more wood on it, building a blaze. He built it so high that it lit up the entire pine grove under the dying light creating a magical world under the massive limbs above him.
The warmth was also a welcome change from the cold wind that descended every evening from the mountains above. He found a can of condensed milk in his pack and added it to his tea. As the flames flickered above the burning pine knots, he sipped his tea and whiskey, and felt at ease.
He was surprised by a sudden and brief flash of light that appeared way up on the mountain and then disappeared just as quickly. He wasn’t sure, but it seemed to come from up on the hill to the northeast, maybe along the trail he had just descended. He couldn’t be sure, so he waited for it to appear again.
He watched for a while, but nothing happened. Then as soon as he doubted what he saw, it appeared again. It almost looked as if it was a flashlight or lantern swinging. It disappeared for a longer time, reappeared, and moved along the trail. It was definitely an electric light. It might have been military, a scouting party in this area thought Murphy, yet somehow he doubted it.
Either way, he was in no shape to try and hide or run away. Whoever it was had probably seen his fire, and decided to investigate. Damn it, this was it he thought, in his condition, maybe he’d be going to a FEMA camp. Perhaps it was better than dying in the woods. They at least would take care of him back at the camps, before executing him. The thought of medical attention sounded promising.
The light drew closer, and Murphy could hear an engine now. The glow appeared and disappeared several more times through the trees. Then finally it flickered its way out onto the meadow.
In the darkness, he could not make out anything more than the two headlights of the vehicle. It appeared small and sounded more like a quad, but he could not be sure until it got closer.
Oh, how he hoped it was Bob. He felt helpless, a deer in the proverbial headlights. The vehicle drove up shining its bright lights directly at Murphy and drew near.
It pulled within twenty feet of him and withou