Author Name: L.G. Anthoney
If he had never heard the unearthly voices or discovered the entrance to the cavern in Red Rock Canyon, Tony Miccelli might have been just another casualty when the alien ships arrived. After four days of crawling around looking for a treasure that never even existed he emerges to find Las Vegas deserted except for some desiccated bodies, and all attempts to communicate with the authorities or his family were to no avail. Anxious to reach his loved ones back east he encounters other survivors on the way…and thus begins their quest for survival and the battles that ensue against an army of men gone crazy.
Length of Sample (in words): 7,280
Breathless from her headlong flight through the forest dark the girl stops to rest…but the wolves almost have her now… and frightened by their bloodcurdling howls the girl panics and blindly runs off right into a tree. The impact nearly knocks her unconscious…and all of a sudden…she is no longer in the woods but in a small windowless room filled with rats and screaming women and…
…my eyes pop open after just minutes of sleep at the same place again in the same dream and lock onto a ghostly green light moving across the calcitic ceiling. Startled, I glance around the cavern expecting to see someone else down here but there’s no one but me and the eerie light as it continues to touch every part of the cavern’s crown. And there is a really weird moment when it passes right over my head and seems to reach for me. Intrigued now, even if this is one hell of a hallucination, the light finally disappears leaving me bemused but much too tired to care. All I want to do now is to get the hell out of here.
Once my rucksack is packed and loaded I start for the surface and on the way am recalling the recurring dreams and unearthly voices in my head; the ones that lured me here with a promise of treasure behind the fist-shaped boulder. After four days of crawling around in that dark airless hole though, the only thing to be found was a secreted burial site of the ancient Anasazi cliff dwellers; at least, I think it was the Anasazi. Quite an anthropological discovery, for sure, but not what was expected. These recollections coupled with some personal feelings, or rather, failings, kept me company all the way up the winding passageway until I was outside in the pre dawn darkness standing beside that damned boulder.
It could have been quite an ordeal trying to climb the fifty feet to the crest in my condition, but the mere thought of falling down this hill again propelled me up that rope in near record time. After making my way around the backside trail and through the jumble of talus close to where I fell six years ago, a vaguely familiar shape blocked the way. Dumbfounded, I just stood there staring at what remained of an Air Force F16 Falcon that had crashed and burned here sometime during the last four days. The pilot’s name stenciled on the fuselage was scorched black and unrecognizable right along with its owner still securely strapped inside the cockpit.
Closing my eyes and shaking my head as though that would clear away any possibility of another hallucination, I reached out and touched the plane for confirmation. It certainly felt real enough. This crash must have been the cause of the vibrations in the cavern yesterday. Was that yesterday? Being this tired it was difficult to focus on anything specific, especially time.
As the crow flies, Nellis Air Force Base was not that far, and they would have, should have, been tracking the fighter until it went down. How, I wondered, could something like this happen without an immediate reaction from the base recovery crew, the park rangers, the fire department, and the state police? In any case, Nellis still needed to be informed, and since my cell phone battery was dead, the nearest telephone was at the Red Rock Canyon ranger station about half a mile away.
It took me thirty minutes to reach the parking area and once starting my Jeep it was only a minute’s drive to the station. At this time of morning the building was deathly quiet but that did not deter me from pounding on the locked front door or peering through every window. As a rule, there were supposed to be six rangers on a rotating schedule here twenty-four hours a day twelve months a year, except, the place appeared to be empty. Four BLM vehicles, a tow truck, and five personal cars were in the fenced lot behind the station, so, where did everyone go?
Filthy, thirsty, hungry, tired, sore, and in no frame of mind to be caught up in this unbelievable bullshit, I took one last look around before heading down Scenic Drive toward the city. It seemed to take forever to reach the corner of South Rainbow Boulevard where the lights from a 24-hour convenience store drew me in like a caffeine craving moth. I went straight for the coffee maker and found shattered glass canisters instead strewn on and around the burners. Apparently, heat from the elements had evaporated the untended coffee and burst the containers. Whoever worked here must have been asleep when it happened. Anyway, calling out loudly thinking the clerk might be in the stockroom or in the head received no reply; and a quick check inside and even out the rear door proved the store was just as empty as the ranger station. I then dialed 911 on the landline phone to let the authorities’ know about the downed F16, but there was no response…not even an automated one.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING HERE?”
This uncharacteristic outburst of mine brought on the mother of all headaches and started the store spinning, stomach churning, and legs going all rubbery right before blacking out. When I came to the Sun was up and the pounding in my head was almost gone but now my gut was making some really weird gurgling noises. I took advantage of the restroom first before dialing 911 again and still there was no answer…nothing…zero…nil…zip.
I swore under my breath this time but did not have another outburst and that unfulfilled craving for coffee needing to be pleased suddenly filled my head. After cleaning the glass off the burners, putting fresh grounds in a filter, finding a new decanter, and starting the brewing process, I watched the coffee dripping into the pot and now new thoughts began filling my head: that poor burnt to a crisp pilot…the empty ranger station…and this empty store.
Maybe there was a city wide emergency and the people were all in shelters or had been evacuated to a safe zone. Could be that I was still in the cavern stuck in some nightmare world and none of this was really happening. Then again, perhaps I was going nuts or was already there!
Filling a large go-cup with coffee and munching a stale donut, I left the store behind and drove east on Tropicana to Las Vegas Boulevard. A number of empty vehicles were scattered helter-skelter across the intersection and some were up on the wide sidewalks. Now, this is where the fog finally lifted and forced me to come to grips with the fact that I wasn’t hallucinating, or going crazy.
On a whim, I stopped at the Tropicana Hotel and entered the darkened interior of the casino almost stumbling over two bodies wearing the uniforms of Tropicana security. How I had stared dumbfounded at the F16 and its pilot was nothing compared to the way I was staring at these bodies. Both of them were shriveled like raisins as though their innards and fluids had been completely drained. Having seen and caused enough death and destruction during my time in the Army to practically be immune, this, however, made the hair at the nape of my neck bristle. And regardless of the circumstances, ghoulish as they were, I could sense no immediate danger here; although, removing their weapons and spare magazines made me feel a lot more secure.
Further reconnaissance of the casino floor revealed four additional bodies in security uniforms and two wheelchair-bound bodies, each one desiccated but with no visible wounds or signs of duress. This last observation was only a guess on my part since there was no way to know what actions or conditions preceded their current state.
Eventually, I ended up in the hotel tower peeking beyond open doors and knocking on closed ones. Several floors were covered before whatever was keeping me awake and sane, more or less, finally began to pull me down. A small empty suite on the fourth floor beckoned, and with the door locked, I took a long hot shower and then hit the rack for a few short hours before waking and taking care of business.
Following a breakfast of toast and coffee in one of the hotel restaurants, I roamed the casino floor again trying to make sense of what occurred here. Personal affects, cash, and chips in various denominations were abandoned on the gaming tables, a sure sign that their owners had been rushed out for some emergency. It could have been a chemical or biological attack by terrorists, or even a natural catastrophe, like massive solar flares or gamma-ray bursts from another star. But if anything like that did occur, then where were all the bodies? In any event, whatever it was had no affect on me probably because I was deep under Red Rock Canyon at the time. And then I remembered that strange green light in the cavern wondering if it had something to do with this madness.
Hoping to find some of the answers online, I ended up in the administrative offices but quickly discovered that internet service was down and there was no information stored in the off-line document section either. It occurred to me then that whatever happened here may have happened everywhere, which prompted me to try phoning family members in New Jersey and Boston one after the other, but once again there were no responses.
Anxious now to get back east as soon as possible may be understating my true feelings. However, before making the crossing without a clue as to what was waiting out there, I had to secure a better vehicle, food, water, and more weapons. As to the need for more weapons, especially in light of the present circumstances, the army had taught me that it is much better to have one and not need it than to need one and not have it. Who could argue with that?
The first stop was the big auto dealership on East Sahara to trade my aging Jeep Wagon. Selecting a late model Range Rover with an installed hitch, changing the battery, checking fluids and tire pressure, transferring my belongings from the Jeep, and then filling the tank, the next stop for curiosity’s sake was at the police plaza downtown.
Every officer there wearing a uniform or in plainclothes and carrying weapons was dead and desiccated. With that piece of the puzzle confirmed, more or less, I took a ride to Sunrise Hospital on Maryland Parkway to confirm another piece and found hundreds of emaciated bodies inside, making it painfully obvious that whatever or whoever caused this horror had been predisposed to killing the sickly, the disabled, and anyone carrying a weapon, in uniform, or not. Yet, it was impossible for me to imagine how such a thing could be accomplished on a specific group of people; and what about the rest of the population. An old sixties song, Everyone’s Gone to the Moon, suddenly popped into my head just then and I almost started crying.
It would be very easy now to allow the madness to take over and roll me around in crazy juice for awhile, but the thought of my family in trouble helped refocus most of that negative energy and kept me moving forward.
Breaking into the Boulevard Mall next to the hospital made me feel slightly guilty, but what did it matter now. I took some basic tools, camping gear, a two-burner propane stove, a dozen fuel canisters, two stainless steel thermoses, extra clothing, socks, underwear, toiletries, and even a double handful of very expensive trinkets from a high end jewelry store. The jewelry was something that my friend, John Gerhard, had talked about with me concerning the collapse of civilization and who would be prepared enough to survive. He was quite certain that gold, silver, platinum, and diamond jewelry would make effective bartering tools when our civilization did collapse, which he had no doubt would happen one day soon. Obviously, jewelry is worthless in a do-or-die situation, but he believed that most people were fundamentally greedy and could not resist its lure, no matter what the circumstances. I had some recent experience with that.
Leaving the mall, I stopped at a nearby market and put enough food and water together to last several weeks. There was a shriveled female body inside draped over an open ice cream freezer…her head and hand stuck to the bottom in the melted ice cream. It was unsettling and forced me to finish quickly.
The summer heat in Las Vegas was oppressive and fatigue and dehydration had already been taking its toll on me. For the time being I settled into a Traveler’s Inn on Paradise Road and turned on the air conditioner, guzzled a quart of bottled water, and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Waking several hours later drenched in sweat, the air conditioner was now off and the room was as dark as it was outside, which could only mean a city-wide power failure.
At dawn, I drove to a U-Haul dealer on East Fremont, attached an enclosed mid-sized trailer to the Rover, and then headed to my friend John’s house on Torrey Pines Drive. Hoping to find the house empty it saddened me quite a bit to find him in bed shriveled up like all the other bodies. There were no weapons in the room that I could see, and if the rest of my theory was correct he must have had a serious illness and never mentioned it, or perhaps he didn’t know. His wife, Jeannie and their two daughters were not in the house.
Next stop was, The Outpost, his gun shop on West Charleston Boulevard. John owned the entire building, a small converted warehouse filled with weapons, military surplus, and camping and survival gear. My somewhat farsighted friend and fellow officer from our days together in the Rangers had many other special things locked away in a hidden room…things that the general public was not allowed to purchase legally. John had shown me how to open the hermetically sealed room through its two electronic safeguards; practically impossible to get into with the power off, but he had backed it up with a six-volt battery in the event of power outages.
For the coming apocalypse, John had put together an impressive assortment of military grade weapons, supplies and equipment: Glock handguns in various calibers; MP5’s; M4’s with M203 grenade launchers; cases of 40 mm grenades and assorted ammo; older M26 and newer M67 grenades; electronically controlled Claymores with a master coding detonator and blocks of C4; a Vietnam era flamethrower filled with homemade napalm; combat and NBC accessories; special ops gear and ACU’s; survival supplies; MRE’s; and last but not least, two ‘customized’ Stoner 63A carbines with attached M203’s and collapsible metal stocks…one of my favorite weapons. Needless to say, everything there was taken and loaded in the trailer.
On the drive back to the Inn a considerable amount of black smoke was billowing over the Las Vegas Strip. One or more of the hotel casinos was obviously burning, and seeing the smoke somehow triggered feelings in me that were suppressed since exiting the cavern. Trepidation over my sons, mother, sister, family, friends, and all of the dead and missing now came out in a hot gush of tears right in the middle of Charleston Boulevard. It was quite awhile before I recovered enough and returned to the Inn.
While it was still light out to see, and with a clear-cut need to stay busy, everything in the trailer was unloaded and repacked into specific groups of importance. Only the items for my immediate kit were left out: one of the Stoners, a Benelli M3 shotgun, two 40 caliber Glock’s, extra magazines, ammo, a vest and two holsters. After prepping and trying on the load bearing utility vest, I glanced in the mirror and experienced a sudden wave of nostalgia for the army, an important growing up period for the younger ‘gung-ho’ part of me. That was a long time past though and the ability to soldier again at my age was uncertain, to say the least.
In the solitude of my dreams that night, instead of the usual recurring ones, I envisioned an empty world, except for one grey bearded old man all decked out in combat gear.
Early the next morning, packed, topped off and ready to go, I stopped at Pep Boys first for hand cranked gizmos to siphon gas, extra lengths of tubing, and a five-gallon can for gasoline. Forty minutes later, I was rolling across the eastern pass on the way to Utah. Wrecked and mostly vacant cars and trucks were in limited confusion along this stretch of the highway. The going was slower though while passing through populated areas with more abandoned vehicles to avoid on and off road, not so easy to do hauling a heavily loaded trailer.
The Sun was directly overhead as the city of St. George came into view. Electric power was still operating here and a quick sweep of the area revealed a small percentage of the population desiccated and the rest missing, the same as in Vegas. Stopping at a trendy roadside diner, I drank canned tomato juice, ate a few crackers, did the bathroom thing, brewed coffee, filled both thermoses, gassed up, including the gas can, and then moved on to Colorado.
Six hours later, several buildings smoldering along the outskirts of Grand Junction welcomed my arrival. Worn out from the strain of driving, I settled into a small clean motel and slept soundly for the first time in days. It was nearly dawn when the sound of chirping right outside the window woke me. Perched on the branches of a young Douglas fir was a sparrow and I opened the window to say hello, but its finely honed instincts did not allow much room for trust and it flew off.
This bird was the only living thing seen since emerging from the cavern. If the two of us survived whatever happened, then there had to be others, possibly lots of others.
Electric power was also operating in Grand Junction and I refueled at a gas station. The Rover was working perfectly, but what some would call an obsessive compulsive disorder kept me checking tires for low pressure and slow leaks. And for the first time since acquiring the vehicle, this trepidation finally made me look at the spare. It was a good thing, because the compartment was empty except for a jack and lug wrench. Kicking myself in the ass for not checking it in the first place, I backtracked to a car dealership and removed three new all terrain tires from a SUV. One went in the spare’s compartment and the other two were secured on top of the trailer…and then it started to rain.
It took me six hours of maneuvering through an obstacle course of empty vehicles and blinding thunderstorms in order to reach Denver. More than a few areas of the expansive mile high city were burning fiercely and I remained on its fringe until dawn before moving on under ominously overcast skies. Traveling down the Rockies from Colorado and then into Kansas on Interstate 70 is and always has been a long and extremely mind-numbing drive, even more so when there is nothing else moving as far as the eye can see.
Finally reaching Hays about two hours before sundown, I moved into a clean empty motel while it was still light. The power now seemed to be off just about everywhere on this side of the Rockies. Following a supper of soup and crackers, the only food my stomach could handle these days, I sat outside the room trying to imagine what happened to all the people and animals, though, most of my imaginings seemed improbable. While recalling some of the post-apocalyptic movies and TV series seen and chuckling without the slightest bit of humor, I was at least thankful that there were no zombies to worry over…hopefully. A sudden thunderstorm forced me inside for the night where I lay in bed for hours listening to the things that go bump before falling into a dreamless sleep.
Arriving at the outskirts of Kansas City around four o’clock the next afternoon, thousands of abandoned vehicles were cluttering the roads into the city. It had to have been the morning rush hour here when the horrific event took place. Getting through the tangle of vehicles and making my way around the downtown area was quite an ordeal, but at last I came across a clean empty motor inn on the Missouri side of the city. My back and legs were aching constantly from all the driving, and after washing up and changing into fresh clothing, I checked through The Yellow Pages for pharmacies and found the closest one in Walmart’s less than a mile from here. The Sun was setting by the time I got there and it took some time to locate things in the unfamiliar blacked out store with just a flashlight.
I was almost out the door with a shopping bag filled with batteries, low dose muscle relaxers, aspirin, antibiotics, antiviral meds, and organic vitamins, when a loud thump followed by a yelp of pain by the checkouts made me reach for my weapon. Before I could even give warning to whoever was hiding there, a girl stepped out from behind one of the impulse headers rubbing her elbow and mumbling something unintelligible. The concentrated beam from my flashlight revealed a young face covered in grime, but not even the dirt could conceal her inimitable wide-eyed expression almost as though she had been expecting me. Her clothing was as filthy as her face and gauze bandages spotted with what appeared to be dried blood were haphazardly wrapped around both wrists.
All of a sudden she burst into tears.
“It’s going to be all right, darling, there’s no need for that. What’s your name?”
The crying stopped almost as quickly as it started. “Eileen, my name is, Eileen. I’ve been trying to find you…I mean…someone to help my family and the other women and children. I think it’s been three days since escaping and…”
“Wait a minute, uh, Eileen, who did you escape from?”
“You’ll understand better if I tell it from the beginning. Okay? Anyway, a few weeks ago my mom, sisters, and I were on the road to visit family in South Carolina, and as soon as we crossed into Missouri there were billboards everywhere advertising these limestone caverns claiming to be as good as the Meramec caves. I had started experiencing some really weird recurring dreams about caves and wolves, or something, before we even left Texas, and when I saw the billboards it was as though they were calling to me. Both of my sisters put up a fuss, but my mother wanted to see the caves, too, so we went.”
Her eyes got bright with tears again but none fell.
When she mentioned the recurring dreams about caves and wolves, and how she felt lured by the advertising, a slight chill traveled up my spine.
“Anyway, when we got there two guides escorted us and another group of tourists with five children through the cavern explaining its geological history and pointing out imbedded marine fossils. When we were deep inside, seven or eight men came out of the shadows pointing guns at us. One of the guides tried to be brave and he was shot right in the face. God…it was awful. They then took everyone’s money and jewelry and led the men in our group away. A minute later we heard gunshots.
“The leader of the gang then sent one of his guys outside for something and he returned a few minutes later acting really nervous. I did not hear all the details of their conversation, except for one part about the lookouts not being there. Someone else was sent up to find out what he was talking about, and he too returned confirming the disappearance of the guards and how strange it was because their choppers were still there. I did not understand what any of it meant at the time.
“They eventually brought us to the surface and that’s when everyone noticed a shriveled body lying face up in the grass near the souvenir and snack hut. One of the women started freaking out at the sight and the leader told her to shut up, but she wouldn’t and he punched her right in the stomach. We were then herded inside a big step van and driven off with the rest of the gang following on motorcycles.”
“Do you know how many there were?”
“I’m pretty sure there were eight or nine at the cavern.”
“What happened next?”
“After about an hour’s drive we arrived at a public campground with dilapidated wooden shacks and small house trailers…and there were more men, too, but I’m not sure how many. They put us inside one of the windowless shacks and tied all of us, even the children, wrist to wrist and foot to foot without food, water, and only a small bucket to use for a toilet. Later that same night they took most of the women out to their trailers and forced us to do things with them. I was so afraid…everyone was.
“Several days passed before we began to get a general idea of what happened from overheard conversations. Scouts had been dispatched to different areas and each one came back with the same story: that most of the population was missing except for some dried up bodies. No one knew how or why, though.
“Late one night the leader of the gang came to the shack and untied me. He was falling down drunk and my mother begged him to take her instead and he just laughed and whacked her in the face. While he was dragging me to his trailer he collapsed insensible on the ground. None of the other bikers were nearby at the time and the guard at the shack did not see me run into the woods. I climbed a tree and remained there for hours trying to think of some way to rescue everyone. That’s when I realized it wasn’t possible and left to find someone who could help.”
“Do you remember the address or the name of the camp?”
“I did a lot of wandering around day and night since escaping and the location is no longer clear, but I do remember passing a sign that read, Redoubt Cavern RV Park and Campgrounds, one mile ahead.”
“Okay. Try not to worry about your family or the others…we’ll get them back safe and sound. First, let’s find you some clean clothing and whatever else you may need, okay?”
Once Eileen had made her selections we returned to the motel and she remained in the doorway of my room watching me light candles. Aware of her seeming uneasiness, I told her that she had nothing to worry about from me.
In a voice so soft, she replied, “I’m not worried about you.” She then picked up one of the candles and smiled before disappearing into the bathroom with her shopping bags.
Emerging thirty minutes later, she had transformed into a very pretty young lady, and perhaps a little bit older than previously thought. I had heated a can of vegetable soup and made hot chocolate for her. Half expecting the girl to devour it all like a starving beast, she barely noticed.
“Are you not hungry?”
She replied that worrying over her mother, sisters and the other women and children suppressed all desire for food.
“Drink the cocoa, at least.”
She nodded halfheartedly and sipped at the steaming liquid while I prompted her to describe anything she could remember about the layout of the campground. In fifteen minutes it was done and then she closed her eyes and fell asleep. In the interim, I changed into black ACU’s and prepped electronic detonators on half a dozen Claymores all synced with the transmitter.
She woke at midnight and did not seem very surprised to see me geared up for combat and face streaked in greasepaint.
“Are we going to leave now?”
“Pretty soon, Eileen. Would you like some more hot chocolate first?”
She nodded. “Uh, my family and friends call me, Leenie.”
“All right, Leenie. I like that name.”
She blushed as I poured hot water and cocoa mix into her cup.
“If you don’t mind my asking, where is your father?”
“He was killed in a car accident almost sixteen years ago. I barely remember him.”
“Oh, I’m very sorry.”
“What do I call you?”
“My name is, Tony, but my family and friends call me, Tony.”
She smiled brightly at my attempt at humor, finished the cocoa in three gulps, and said, “Shall we go?”
There were no maps of the local area in the manager’s office and neither was there a listing for the campground in the phone book. Leenie did not recognize anything as we drove around searching, but we eventually passed that worn out sign she had seen days ago leading to the camp’s location. We arrived shortly after and concealed the Rover in a stand of trees next to the entrance.
And now, even though Leenie wanted her family and the other women and children to be safe, she implored me to reconsider by implying that it wasn’t possible to stand alone against all those men. Not knowing how to respond without sounding too full of myself, I avoided answering and handed her one of the 9 mm Berettas taken from the Tropicana security guards.
“The safety’s off so keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ready to fire. Have you ever handled a weapon before?”
An uneasy expression lined her face as she shook her head.
“Well, there’s not much mystery to it. Just point your arm straight out at what you want to hit, take a breath, and squeeze the trigger. I’m going to reconnoiter the camp now and will return shortly. Stay here out of sight in case someone else comes in or leaves. Do you understand?
She was staring at the Beretta and still nodding when I slipped into the darkness of the woods. Minutes later, I was skirting the campground’s perimeter visually recording details from Leenie’s memory or that were added after her escape. One addition was a huge tractor trailer parked in the middle of the compound loaded with boxes of canned goods, cases of beer, liquor and cigarettes. The ground around the truck was trashed with empty bottles and assorted garbage.
It did not take long to confirm the location of the litterbugs, twenty-eight in all, fast asleep and distributed more or less evenly inside nine of the small house trailers. Only one sentry, also fast asleep, was posted in a van in front of the windowless shed where the captives were being kept.
I had enough information now and returned silently to Leenie’s side scaring her half to death.
“Jeez Louise and cottage cheese! Please, do not ever sneak up on me like that again! And what the heck took so long? You said that you’d be right back.”
“I had to make sure of their number and the exact layout. Your mom, sisters, and everyone else will be safely out of there in a little while. Can you hold on til then?”
“I suppose so as long as you’ll be safe, too.”
Smiling at the way she said it, I retrieved my weapons and the shoulder bag filled with Claymores, and then ordered her back into the trees.
After another quick recon to be sure that nothing had changed in the last ten minutes, I placed a mine under the gas tank on every sixth bike of the twenty-seven parked in front of the trailers. The two remaining Claymores were arranged six feet apart on the ground thirty meters behind the trailers to complete the enfilade.
The next thing was to eliminate the loudly snoring guard and free the women and children. I walked over, opened the door of the van, and plunged all eight inches of my blade into his left ear. With a final grunt the snoring stopped at once.
Nine women and five children were huddled together on the dirt floor of the shed, their legs and wrists cruelly tied. Most of them were already awake as I cut their bonds and whispered my intentions. After hustling the group outside, they were well out of harm’s way before the first 40 mm grenade fired into the lead trailer killed the three men inside. The second grenade did the same to the trailer at the far end. Confused, blurry eyed and probably still drunk, the twenty-one men remaining in the trailers now began to pile outside…my cue to detonate the Claymores on the four choppers. The resulting explosions of metal fragments and burning gasoline effectively showered most of them and eight more went down.
As anticipated, the thirteen survivors now recoiled away from the explosions right into the last two Claymores shredding another six. Seven scumbags remained and they ran in a group toward the trees at the far end of the compound. Two grenades fired in their path eliminated four more forcing the leftovers to turn right into my sights. At the finish line, one man was left standing and he reached for a handgun stuck in his belt. The Stoner burped out three more rounds and that was the end of him.
Once every biker was confirmed dead, I trotted off to catch up with the women and children. Appearing in their path from the crush of trees resulted in a few ear-piercing screams setting off every youngster crying.
One of the women approached me then after everyone had settled down. “We couldn’t help but hear the explosions and gunfire. Are they dead?”
I did have a special gift for cutting to the chase.
Gaping at me with a mix of uncertainty, fear, and awe, she asked, “How did you know we were there? I mean, where did you come from? We didn’t think anyone else was alive, but then…” Tears began falling and she was unable to continue.
I gazed at the other women and children during her pause and all of them appeared pale and sickly, as though none had eaten or slept for days. Probably hadn’t. Most of the women sported bruises, swollen lips, wrists and ankles raw and bloody from the bindings, and what clothing they wore was torn, filthy, and in some places, bloodstained.
Even under all the grime and her swollen eye, the woman standing in front of me looked exactly like Leenie, or was it the other way around. I asked her if she was Leenie’s mother. The question was pointless…a blind man could have seen the similarity.
“Yes. But how do you know my daughter’s name?” And then her eyes suddenly grew wide and hopeful, “Leenie’s alive? But we were told by those bastards that they had killed her attempting to escape.”
I shook my head.
She and the two young women clinging to her started weeping again, but now their tears were tears of joy.
As soon as the group reached the end of the road Leenie came charging out from cover and almost knocked her mother and sisters over with hugs and kisses. The rest of the women and even the children joined in the reunion and another deluge of tears began. Watching them, it suddenly occurred to me that the Rover was not going to hold seventeen people; and no one even noticed me leave to retrieve the biker’s van.
At the motel, everyone had separated into the empty rooms to clean up as best they could. I lit one of the propane stoves and started boiling water in two large pots for hot chocolate, sponge-bathing, or whatever else they might need it for. Leenie pitched in by lighting the second stove and opening every can of vegetarian vegetable soup from my supplies and dumping them in two other pots she found in the kitchenette.
While waiting for the water to boil and the soup to heat up, I asked where she and her family lived in Texas.
“A small community called Flour Bluff, a suburb of Corpus Christi.”
“What is your mother’s name?”
“What about your sisters?”
“Well, Maria is the one with the bleached blonde hair and Maryann is the other.”
“Did your mom ever remarry?”
Leenie now affected a sly smile.
“No. She had dated once in a while but never anyone seriously.”
“Why are you smiling?”
“Because you’re attracted to her, huh?”
“I don’t even know her.”
“So, what else do you have to do?”
Her gaze seemed to go right through me and I quickly changed the subject by lamely asking if the soup was ready. She nodded, crushed several handfuls of unsalted crackers into the soup, and smiled that sly smile again.
There weren’t enough bowls, cups, or silverware in my small kitchenette to go around, but one of the women found extras in the manager’s office. When everyone had their fill of soup and cocoa, another woman, Claire, began to take care of cuts and bruises, children first. While that was going on, Kathleen and Leenie cleaned up the kitchen mess, and watching them, I was mesmerized by how much they looked alike.
When I woke the next morning, Leenie was in the outer room trying to be quiet.
“How long have you been here?”
“Oh, about a half hour now, I think. Would you like some breakfast?”
“I’m never hungry this early.”
“What would you like instead?”
Smiling at her wit, I replied that toast and coffee would do just fine
“Well, there isn’t any bread. Will you settle for peanut butter or jelly on crackers?”
“Jelly sounds like a plan.”
Once I was out of the bathroom, Leenie had two pots of coffee ready with a mess of crackers smothered in grape jelly. Water was heating on the second Coleman stove she had set up near the open door for ventilation.
Just then Kathleen entered followed by her other daughters.
“Good morning, Tony.”
“Good morning. How are you feeling?”
“Much better, thanks to you. Although, what really has me concerned is, well, pregnancy and disease…if you know what I mean.”
There is nothing like getting right to it.
Kathleen glanced at her three daughters with sad eyes and then back at me. I avoided that look and started helping myself to the over-jellied crackers.
Kathleen chuckled, “Coffee and crackers for breakfast?”
“It’s usually toast and coffee. But these crackers are expertly prepared and will do nicely.”
Leenie and her mother smiled.
“I do know how to cook…right, mom?”
“Yes, my darling, you are quite the epicurean.”
Leenie blushed as Kathleen poured herself a cup of coffee.
The rest of the women and children now began filtering in, uncertainly at first, but with a few words of encouragement from Kathleen, their awkwardness quickly faded. Eventually, everyone was crammed inside the outer room, cooking, eating, and discussing what they should do next, except no one seemed to know what that would be. Claire suggested a meeting later on today to figure everything out. At present, they agreed to follow my recommendation to go shopping for the things they were going to need right now.
Several hours were then spent in Walmart putting together clothing, footwear, underwear, toiletries, another camp stove, lanterns, fuel, candles, matches, extra food, water, and gassing up both vehicles on the return. Back at the motel, tables and chairs were dragged out onto the lawn for a late lunch/early supper buffet. When everyone had finished eating, the meeting to figure out what to do next sort of took off on its own.
The four women whose husbands had been killed in the cavern were uncertain about everything, and even though no one actually said the words, it was evident that they were clinging to hope that their men could still be alive. The other two women and Kathleen who were traveling only with their children knew nothing regarding the fate of family members, husbands, or lovers. Even so, like me, they wanted to and needed to find out and discussed a return to their homes.
At that, Leenie jumped in with both feet. “I’m staying here with Tony no matter what, and if you know what’s good for you, everyone else should do the same.”
Kathleen gazed at her daughter and then at me with some alarm. I put my arm around Leenie’s shoulders and she hugged back tight enough to make me gasp.
“There is a simple solution, ladies. You would all like to find out about family and friends, right?”
Everyone, including the youngest at four years old, looked my way and nodded.
“For safety’s sake then, we will remain together until that is accomplished. Okay?”
All were smiling now, even Leenie.
What these women had suffered through at the hands of the bikers was not yet over and probably never would be; nevertheless, they seemed to be adapting in a hurry. I guess it was either that or become as mad as the Hatter.
Over the following two days enough food and water was secured to last the group for weeks; plus, two-way radios, LED flashlights, lanterns, oil lamps, and always more batteries. From a car dealership three late model SUV’s were selected and prepped for the long road ahead. On the third day, just as we were about ready to leave, Joan wanted to return to the cavern to retrieve from her car what she claimed were important papers. This request suddenly turned into a priority for the others whose husbands were killed. Thinking it a monumental waste of time, I stalled hoping they would all agree, but Kathleen talked me into going simply by saying, please.
An hour and a half later, we were pulling into the gravel parking lot at the caverns. Most of their personal belongings were locked in the trunks of the cars, but no one had keys. Kathleen then led me away from the others to chat privately.
“After our money and valuables were taken, the handbags, keys, and wallets were dumped in the cavern. You have probably guessed by now that these women need closure more than what’s locked in the cars.”
“Do they really think their husbands could still be alive?”
Kathleen shrugged and was about to say something else when Leenie suddenly appeared by my side announcing that she would show me the way. Kathleen frowned and Leenie looked like she might attack anyone who tried to dissuade her.
Electric lights were strung along the passageways of the cavern but there was no power. We dug out a couple of LED lanterns and entered the grotto across a wooden footbridge spanning a steeply banked dry creek bed. There was a man’s body under the bridge, not desiccated, most likely one of the employees killed by the bikers. Less than five minutes inside the cavern and we came upon the four husbands and the second guide…each one had been shot in the head. Leenie hurriedly pulled me away from the sight and smell. The first guide the bikers had murdered was discovered soon after along with everyone’s personal effects.
The women waiting to find out about their men were sitting at the picnic table when we emerged carrying everyone’s belongings. The withered body in the unkempt grass that they had first encountered almost two weeks ago was now ancient history. Seeing only the two of us coming across the wooden footbridge, they stood up as one with tears in their eyes, knowing at last that their husbands were truly gone. As soon as the keys and wallets were returned, and what other effects were retrieved from their cars, Kathleen then took over and hustled everybody out of there and on the road to our next destination.