The fire was nice that night. With the fall approaching, the nights were beginning to be too cool for comfort. After returning to the school to gather anything not taken north, the party continued their travels. They headed east until the fuel ran out. After they took in their surroundings, it seemed like as good a place as any to spend the night.
Maggie ran a line of paracord between a couple of trees before tossing a tarp over it, creating a makeshift shelter. When it was tied in place, she laid out a couple of pallets and ushered the boys down into them. She lay with them in the shelter and were all fast asleep. Sitting just a few feet away, Coach sharpened a knife on his diamond block. He checked the blade for burrs. Satisfied, he undid his belt and took the knife to it. Taylor and Ariana took the pot from dinner down to a nearby creek to clean it out.
Everyone else had made a simple pallet near the fire. Of those around the fire, all were as quick to sleep as Kim and the boys except three. Jeremy listened in on Stuart and Malcolm as they spoke of their days in Sanctuary-and about the Gauntlet.
“I never did thank you for coming back for me.” Stuart said rubbing his wrist. The pain was still there from his encounters in the Gauntlet.
“You would have done the same for me.” Malcolm smiled. “To tell you the truth, it wasn’t the plan to get captured again.”
“Oh, just a happy accident, huh?” Stuart smiled too. They shared a quick chuckle. “It worked out though.”
“I suppose. I sure wish Conrad hadn’t lost his life-or Brandon.” Malcolm said while he prodded the fire, shifting the logs and turning the coals up so that the under log could catch.
Stuart agreed, “Me too. With any luck, we did enough damage that Sanctuary will not hurt anyone ever again.”
“Did you see the vehicles driving off?” Malcolm had been wanting to ask that for days now.
“Do you think it was...” Malcolm left the rest unsaid. Understanding where he was going, Stuart nodded.
“I have no doubt that my father, as resourceful as that man is, managed to get away unscathed.”
“Do you think he’s done with you at least?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure that Sanctuary is far from done. If anything, we have managed to paint a larger target on our backs.”
“Is that why we are running?”
“Partially.” Stuart seemed to want to say more, but instead, he rested his gaze on the fire focusing on the bright red coals contrast against the blackness of the engulfing night.
“I guess I should turn in for the night.” Malcolm stood and stretched the knots out of his back and shoulders before he slid into his pallet near Kim.
“Good night.” Stuart said absently.
Jeremy stood and began pulling electronic components out of his pack. “I better check in and figure out my marching orders.”
“You’re heading out?” Stuart inspected the electronics. It seemed to be a ham radio with portable antenna and battery supply.
“In the morning.”
“I wish you the best with your travels.” Stuart said and stood to shake Jeremy’s hand.
Taking his hand, Jeremy said, “You know, I think that you check out, and if you should ever want to, there is an option for you to join the New World Army.”
“Thank you, but no thanks. I don’t see myself as the military type.”
Jeremy collected the remainder of his radio gear. He started to walk away, then stopped.
“Stuart, we are on the cusp of something big. There will be a time, a time real soon where you will have to choose which side you are on.” Jeremy added. Not waiting for a response, he disappeared through the woods.
Jeremy was not aware of just how right he was. Stuart had thought about that very thing for some time. He had heard rumors of how the government was laying the groundwork for a comeback. They were planning a rebirth that would allow them the ability to fight against the Russian invasion. Honestly, Stuart felt that the world as they knew it was gone and it would be a long journey getting back to that. He didn’t think it would happen in the next twenty or so years. It wouldn’t happen in his lifetime.
Still, with people like Jeremy, who have faith that there were things that could be done, perhaps the government had a chance.
Stuart chuckled silently. Could he truly see himself as a military man? His father would have something to say about that for sure. There would surely be a lot of responsibility that he would not tolerate well. With the troubles of the camp and crop and the following days in Butler, he had enough of a hard time to help keep his own group safe. That is why they had recently taken the opportunity to separate from their previous group.
After the encounter and demolish of Sanctuary, the remainder of the group was on their way north. When Stuart and the others discussed their situation, they had chosen to go their own way to keep their group small. Becoming a member of any military would put him in the same role he had fought to avoid, which was that of the leader.
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