The room was a simple bedroom, a bed and dresser sat against their respected places. The clothing tossed about on the floor was the product of the ransacking the room was currently under. The stagnate smell was left over from the roughly eight years of being unoccupied.
“Coach, help me with this.” Stuart grunted. He bent his knees and, with the help of Coach, lifted the large dresser. It was old, as everything these days was, but older than most things. It was made of real wood-not that cheap crap that fell apart the first time it was moved. The drawers slid out and scattered their contents on the carpeted floor. When the dresser was placed back against the wall, Stuart knelt and rummaged through the materials of clothing. He used the back of his hand to spread the lady’s underwear aside. He saw the roll of money-must have been several thousand dollars, and smacked it away. He wasn’t looking for money or under-garments. Then, he found what he was looking for.
“Here we go.” Stuart grabbed the bullet box and slid the plastic chamber free of the box. Inside, the box was over half full of .308 rounds. “That should work with something we have, right?”
“I don’t know. That’s a hunting rifle. We don’t have many of those back at camp.” Coach rubbed his hand over his bald head as he thought. “I’m sure we have a couple though.”
“Great.” Stuart stood and dropped his backpack on the bed. He unzipped the bag and tossed the box of bullets into the pack. Stuart kicked the rest of the clothing aside as he continued his search of the ransacked bedroom.
“I’ll take a look in the bathroom.” Coach offered and stepped his large frame through the tight door. After deciding that the dresser had nothing left to offer, Stuart began his work on the end tables. He found some chap stick and a small box of batteries and tossed them on the bed beside the pack. Then he dug through the closet. He slid the summer dresses and overalls to the side. He used a flashlight in brief flashes to search the closet. Tucked in the back corner was a rifle. He would inspect it further when they returned to camp.
“That’ll do.” He sat the gun on the bed then checked the remaining closet space. There were several boxes on the shelf above the clothes rack. Two of the boxes held family photos. Another box held several dozen spools of yarn, but it was the last box that had what he could use. The last box had random items inside. Among the items was a jar of safety pins, some old coins, a few more batteries, a few cassette tapes and a pair of gloves. Stuart took the batteries, safety pins and gloves and tossed them in the pack. After he checked the jackets in the closet for his size, which he didn’t find, he grabbed a couple of nicer-heavier jackets and slipped them into a duffle bag he found on the floor of the closet.
Coach stepped back through the bathroom door carrying a small plastic make-up bag. Stuart thought it was an unusual sight to see a large black man clutching a small makeup bag.
“Cute.” Stuart chuckled. Coach looked down at the feminine way he held the bag.
“Shut up.” He tossed the bag on the bed. Stuart sat down and unzipped the bag. “…just some ibuprofen and a few hydro’s-nothing much.” Coach sat on the bed on the other side of the bag. “I see you found the rifle.” He took it up and looked it over.
“Yeah, it’s simple, just the way you like ’em.” Stuart smirked. Coach worked the bolt action. A shell shot from the chamber.
“Loaded. This guy wasn’t messing around.” Coach bent over and grabbed the bullet and replaced it in the chamber. He raised the gun as if to aim with it. “Looks good-heavy.”
“Alright. Are we ready to go?” Stuart asked. He stood, not waiting for a response. Coach stood and followed Stuart out of the small hut. They stood together on the porch and watched the horizon. The woods surrounding the small hut seemed to swallow the world around them. With the previous owners long gone, the trees were bushy and the grass was tall. A path could be seen beaten in the tall grass where animals had traveled through.
“Standing here, like this in the woods, you almost forget anything has happened.” Stuart began. Coach took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“Yeah, it’s nice here.” He stepped up behind Stuart and reached his arms around, taking Stuart into an embrace. He playfully laid his head on Stuart’s shoulder. He felt awkward trying, being nearly half a foot taller than Stuart. Stuart batted him away.
“Get off me, or I’ll give you dish duty for the next month.” Stuart lifted his pack and started off down the path.
“I was just trying to savor the moment.” Coach called out to Stuart. “Are we going to visit any more shacks down the road here?” He knelt and pulled a small strip of duct tape from a roll. As he passed the mailbox he pressed the strip over the mailbox, sealing the lid shut. He caught up to Stuart as he answered.
“It’ll be dark soon. We better get going.” Stuart watched the sky as he spoke. The clouds were dark purple in front of the bright blue sky. The orange glow began in the distance behind the trees. A slight breeze blew through the trees. Coach pulled the jacket he scavenged from the hut tight and tucked his arms as they walked.
“It’s getting harder and harder to make a living by searching the country homes.” Coach admitted. Stuart shrugged, but didn’t say a word.
“We don’t go to the cities, remember? We’ve managed to survive this long avoiding the greater population.” Stuart said. When they cleared the tree line Stuart heard Taylor call out to him.
“What kind of score did we get?” Taylor sat in the aged-golf cart. He was leaning back with his feet crossed on the dash. He had a fedora that covered his black fine-braided hair.
“It could have been better.” Stuart offered. He tossed his pack at Taylor and sat in the passenger seat. Coach chuckled.
“It wasn’t all bad.” He pulled the rifle from his back and held it out for inspection. Taylor took it and gave it a once over.
“Savage .308 with a 3-9x40. Nice piece. Accurate. She’s a beaut…” Taylor followed his remark with a whistle then handed it back to Coach. Taylor was the weapon’s expert. He knew firearms, knives and more unique weapons.
“I’m thinking I may keep this one. You can’t buy guns like this anymore.” Coach said, then he chuckled at his own quip. Guns hadn’t been made in nearly seven years. Not since the second civil war, not since the rebels took a stand against the draft. Gun shops were closed and reopened under the government’s influence. Then when the government fell the guns were completely shut down. Had it been eight years since the cataclysm?
“Let’s get to Market. We need to unload this stuff and get home.” Stuart said. Coach sat down on the rear facing seat and Taylor pulled the cord to the engine. The engine cried out in agony and Taylor hopped in and took the wheel. He stepped on the peddle and the golf cart sped off down the road.
The road was a county line road, once running between the smaller towns off the highways. Now it was cracked and uneven. The fissures dug deep-allowing grass and weeds to fill the void. In many cases these were smaller and so Taylor could simply drive around them, however there was the occasional fissure that was unavoidable. The ditches were covered with over growth. The trees leaned in all directions, creating an eerie visual as they road along. The fields, once used to provide vegetables now housed the large patches of weeds. Once nicer homes built along the county road now stood with an unstable gate. Leaning or missing windows and shingles, the homes appeared to be lost and forgotten and let the vegetation to grow where it would. Weeds grew up along the siding and made buildings look to be crafted from the ground itself. From their view at the road, the windows were dark eyes, staring at the road wailing for occupants to once again house themselves within them. Though these smaller county roads held such anxiety stricken sights, they were far more preferred over the larger highways. Stuart and his party knew better. People did not travel the larger highways-unless they wished to take their chances with the gangs that frequented them. The larger highways were now the territory of the Crows, a wild bunch with little rules and no respect for those not members. No one knew how the crows started-just that some street thugs started to form a post-economic collapse gang that developed into a large collection of filth and anarchy. As the cart road along down the road, humming loudly in the dying light, Stuart dug through the pack making a quick count of what he had.
“We should have enough here for food rations for a week-if we’re lucky.”
“If it helps, I’ll throw in the rifle-the bullets too.” Coach offered. For such a large man, he seemed to have a soft-spoken voice, though Stuart could remember a time where Coach was forced to raise his voice. Coach’s mouth could split wide and belt out orders over the roar of a battle. He would use his large arms to direct men to evade fire and take to the trees. He would holler out for men to fire and to hold; to engage and to hold back. Coach was fantastic when it came to battle. Stuart always sent Coach when he knew trouble could arise. Stuart would go too of course.
The road was quiet, as it was most of the time. The weeks-maybe months leading up to The Cataclysm caused things to escalate out of control. When the cataclysm occurred-and the government lost all reputability; things slowly fell into silence. The only noise was that of looters and robbers taking to the streets. Stores were broken into and the shelves were cleared of food, clothing, outdoor equipment, guns and even electronics. The cities became ripe for violence and many scattered to the country. Cars no longer drove down the highways, trains no longer took to the rails. Planes remained grounded. It all started with a war over the remaining oil reserves. The war was not kind to anyone, but America took it the hardest. The government initiated a draft to accommodate the multiple threats from Russia, Europe and the Middle-east. Unable to find common ground the citizens of America found themselves in a second civil war, fighting between the government and its supporters versus the rebels not wishing to support another world war.
Many Americans lost their lives in the war and many more in the following years. It all seemed to happen so fast. Now, just under a decade later, the population had dwindled and only the strong, resourceful-and sometimes lucky survived. Stuart considered himself the latter. He managed to find his survival in the group he surrounded himself with. They worked together to survive and have developed into this well-oiled machine. they were resourceful and managed to keep safety in mind with most outings. They were lucky to stumble across useful gear.
The rifle came to mind.
“No, you keep it. We could use fire power at any time. We’ll manage. We’ll just go out again tomorrow.” Stuart smiled and tucked the items away in the pack.
“Whatever it takes boss.” Taylor raised a fist to Stuart. He glanced down, returned his gaze to the road, and bumped the back of his own fist against Taylor’s.