16 November 2010

Chapter II, part 7

The fact that the government encouraged people to stick their noses in their neighbors business wasn't anything new, nor was it something anyone wise would ignore. Back in the Bush years, it was part of the national "vigilance" in the wake of 9-11. The Obama years had shifted focus from religious extremism to domestic issues, still in the name of terrorism. Alot of hunting guides and weekend warrior types got hauled in back then. As the economy went into convulsions since then, the focus had become more localized. Instead of calling some DHS hotline because your next door neighbor wore camo and drove a van, it was more about dropping a line to the local PD because the guy across the street had left his house after 10 pm. It wasn't like he was going to work, and the effort showed that you were on the correct side of the law. Some people probably still thought that they could get something out of the whole scheme, but there was nothing left to give.

With those thoughts streaming through his mind, Aaron carefully drove home, and he only went 8 miles out of his way to do so. He had enough insight and forethought to avoid the mobile checkpoints, this time. It was mid afternoon by the time he pulled into his driveway, and the clouds were breaking up enough to halt the incessant drizzle that had stained the day. He saw that his father-in-law had taken advantage of the break in the rain to split wood, and he got a rare, yet barely perceptible nod as idled by the main house on the way up the hill to his poor little singlewide. The old man begrudgingly tolerated Aaron, if only for his only daughters' sake, and in turn Aaron tried to respect him. After all, if it weren't for Becky's dad, he wouldn't even be with his family, much less living with a roof over his head. 

05 November 2010

I'm back....

I just put up a post that I was literally interrupted in the middle of writing - about two weeks ago. As in the rest of the "really real world", my little slice of heaven here in the Rockies is going through some turmoil, and as such my workload tripled overnight.
Anyway, enough with the excuses, and please accept my sincere apologies.

27 October 2010

Sorry for the delay...

We got our first winter storm of the season over the weekend, so I was out on I-70 until 0900 Tuesday. I'm proofing a long post for the second chapter, and it should be up late tonight.

Side note - After too much thought and some precious insight, I've decided to publish my first ebook. Although it will not be this story, (yet...), it will be along the same lines. The story is actually something that I wrote over 10 years ago, and I'm reworking the base to fit with "modern" times. With a little luck, and some tech intervention, I hope to have it out by Christmas. I'm planning a Kindle edition first, then... we'll see. 

22 October 2010

Chapter II, part 6

He had about 10 miles of unmaintained road before he got back to the state road, which he drove extremely carefully. Any road that wasn't an interstate hadn't seen any upkeep in years, and tearing up suspension parts was usually terminal for the vehicle. It wasn't that you couldn't find parts anymore - it was that you had to be really committed to pay what they cost. The influx of cheap foreign parts had dried up at about same time the road crews quit working, so the domestic NOS supply became incredibly valuable in short time. The days of replacing parts were over - if you couldn't repair or recondition it, you might as well just park the offending vehicle. Walking was still free, at least the last time Aaron checked.

Of course he spent the whole trip back agonizing on the misfortune of running across the drunk hunters, as well as tearing up his old pickup on a twenty year old pothole. Becky, his wife, would probably know who they were, if not from descriptions of the guys then at least by the description of their ride. What was more disturbing was that they knew him, or at least they thought they did. It went unspoken, but it was there nonetheless. The sad part was he might have never even laid eyes on either of them, or visa versa, but his reputation preceded him to the point that it didn't matter. An outsider. Former cop. Married  Rebecca Lauder, the former town sweetheart who ran away, only to come home with her tail between her legs, toting a disgraced husband and two kids.

With "real world" unemployment figures at better than 40% countywide, people had little better to do than run their mouths about those that were beneath them.

19 October 2010

Chapter II, part 5

Aside from hearing a dog barking from at least a half a mile away, the hike back was uneventful. Aaron stayed off the trails for the most part, instead running parallel to them at about 30 meters. As he approached the parking area, he chose to cut through the woods at a slant and come out on the forest road so that he would end up behind anyone hanging around the small lot. That turned out to be a wise choice, as a pair of hunters had decided to end their day by having a lie swap session over a few beers, sitting on the tailgate of a newer Ford pickup parked next to his clapped out Toyota. Of course.., he thought.

He ambled into the lot, really little more than a turnout off of the forest road, and headed for the passenger door of his little truck. The hunters conversation trailed off noticeably, as they both focused their attention on Aaron. He gave them a nod, and hoped they could just ignore him. Judging by the 4 empty cans on the ground, below their feet, it wasn't probable.

As he dug the single door key from the coin pocket of his Carhartts, he watched from his peripheral as the one closest to him set his beer down and ease off the tailgate, knocking the can over in  the process.

"Hey man. Didcha have any luck out there?"

The word 'man' came out sounding like 'main'. Aaron glanced at him, then back to the beer can, now rolling back down the tailgate, foam dripping onto the bumper. "You spilled your beer", he said.

The guy looked around to his right, all but doing a clumsy 360. He shrugged, picked up the can and drained the half swallow that might have been left. Then he chucked the empty toward the front of the bed, bouncing the can off the rear window.

"You wanna beer?", he asked as he reached for the foam cooler sitting just inside the pickup's bed.

Aaron looked over at the other guy, who hadn't moved from his perch on the tailgate. He also hadn't stopped staring at Aaron since he had walked into the lot.

"No, thank you." He placed the ALICE pack in the bed of his own truck, tight with the bulkhead. He didn't bother to remove the  sheathed recurve stave from the pack's frame.

Thankfully, he didn't recognize either of the men, but the Ford looked familiar. He glanced at the plate, and saw the vol tag attached just above the Virginia license plate. That's it... , he thought.

Aaron had thought it would be a good idea to join the volunteer fire department after arriving here with his wife from North Carolina. She had grown up here, and they had moved into a little singlewide  trailer on her parents property well south of Pulaski. It hadn't been by choice - it was the only place for them to go after everything had gone to hell in the Outer Banks. It hadn't helped that her father downright hated him, either.
He had figured that showing some sense of community and civic duty would make inroads into changing that, and he signed up at an RFD fundraiser held at a church.

They had called him, and he joined after passing the physical, along with a basic standardized written test. At the time, he was a complete outsider, so he chose to just keep to himself. He faithfully went to the certification certification classes, even paying for his EMT B cert, although no one else on the squad had to pay for theirs.
He also attended every meeting, and spent more than the requisite time at the station doing his maintenance duties. He wasn't working - at least not regularly - so why not show some initiative? His downfall was his lack of interest in the extracurricular activities that went with the squad. Namely, drinking. Not just a few beers after the fire meeting, but twelve-pack-per-person throwdowns, usually involving pallet fires or some bar closing up early. It didn't take long for him to go from an outsider to an outcast.

It all ended when a squad member, whose day job was as a Sheriff's deputy, took it upon himself to run Aaron's backround. Getting fired from law enforcement was akin getting convicted of a felony, as Homeland Security saw disgruntled unemployed cops as a threat. Although there was no policy in the squad that marked him for dismissal, he was still removed from the call sheet and forced to relinquish his issued equipment. His father-in-law had laughed in his face.   

These two weren't from the same squad he had been with, but they were of the same type. Locals from birth, just getting by, and only on the right side of the law by association. In other words - trouble. Time to go...

Hopefully they would be too drunk to remember him, or care. Beer Spiller was now leaning over the left side of Aaron's pickup, intently staring at a shiny spot in the all but empty bed. The other guy spoke up.

"You getcha a doggy deer?" He nodded at the ALICE pack, and smiled at Aaron.

Aaron grinned back at him. Then he walked around the front of his truck, got in, and started it. He watched as Beer Spiller stepped back and bumped into the side of the Ford. As he reversed back, he rolled the window down, stopped even with Tailgate Guy, and made sure he had the guy's attention.

"You boys take it easy," he said, still grinning.

Tailgate Guy looked at him blankly. "Yep. We'll be seeing you around."

That we will, Aaron thought as he headed down the road. That we will.....

17 October 2010

Chapter II, part 4

After he cleaned out the organ cavity, all that was left was working the carcass down to manageable proportions. Since there was not much to work with, there was no point in hanging it up - within fifteen minutes he was stuffing six bundles of not quite boneless meat into his old ALICE pack. Each bundle was wrapped in surplus dot matrix printer paper he'd found sitting at the curb, still in the box, outside a foreclosure up in Radford. It never ceased to amaze him what people would still throw away, even after all that had changed.

Aaron dug a small pit with his folding shovel to bury the unusable organs and bones in - no reason to advertise his luck - and almost covered it back over before the socket gave on the shovel, leaving  him holding a bare stubby handle. He toed the blade over so he could read the stamp on the back. Yep. Hencho au China. The empty handle followed the blade into the hole, but then both ended back in the pack after a moment. Americans didn't make shovels anymore, and crappy Chinese ones had probably quintupled in value.

The hike back to his truck was a little less than 8 miles, but Aaron took his time, mainly to avoid any human contact. Running across a wildlife officer with fresh venison and no tag was obviously not on the agenda, but dealing with anyone could lead to trouble, thanks to easy rewards for poaching tattletales. And pretty much everyone around here is broke, he thought. How any of them came up with the small fortune required to buy a tag was beyond him, but that was besides the point. It just wasn't worth the risk, especially because he wasn't a local. He could stay around here for the rest of his life, and he'd still be shunned like a leper. Marrying in didn't count. Nothing did anymore.

14 October 2010

Notes and thanks

First and foremost, I 'd like to thank Nova for the plug he gave me on his blog -  American Apocalypse. Most of you who know me have already heard of AA. For those of you who haven't - www.americanapocalypse.blogspot.com

Check it out, immediately, if not sooner. Buy the books - Kindle, Smashword or paperback - you will not be disappointed.

I'd also like to offer some explanation to my frequency, or lack thereof, in posting updates. I am lucky enough to still have a job, and a good one at that. (Most days...) I work (3) 24 hour shifts and (1) 8 hour shift every week, plus I operate my own recovery business in between. Living in Vail means that winter is my busiest time, but at any point throughout the year I could end up working 48+ hours straight. Unfortunately, I also have to sleep at some point. This sucks because I'd really rather write and create during that time spent looking at my eyelids, but exhaustion doesn't mix well with my occupation.

Anyway, I will try - honestly TRY - to update at least every 72 hours. The story is in my head, and the bulk of it is on paper, if only as barely legible notes. If I happen to overshoot this, I apologize in advance. It also probably means someone in central Colorado, besides myself, is having a very bad day - hopefully you will not have their luck.

TY, Regulator

11 October 2010

Chapter 2, part 3

Basic training during a near unbreakable Missouri summer heat wave had worked well to prepare him for Iraq. Since combat operations had been declared over, three times over at that point, his stint there was short, and he lucked into catching the tail end of winter at Shok Valley. Assigned to 3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division, he served 2 full tours in the 'Stan' before returning home to Ready Reserve status. Defense cutbacks were inevitable from the Bush era buildup, and he had come home in what was only the beginning of the "Great Recession". Various opportunities still existed for those with combat experience, and Aaron tried his luck with various defense contractors, stuck with low level security work.

It didn't last. Congress had tied up his employer in an investigation, as the IRS went after the employees. Aaron escaped the prosecutions, and the suicides, but was left penniless. Stuck in the lowlands of North Carolina, no job, no home, and no real friends, he chased after a seasonal reserve officer position out on the barrier islands.The pay was less than half of what it had been in the early 2000's, sans benefits or training pay, but it was better than nothing. It turned out that his clean service record and quiet demeanor landed him a year-round probationary spot with the Nags Head PD, and all he had to do was keep his mouth shut and do what he was told.

He couldn't...

In the time he'd spent deployed, life in America had changed. Or maybe he had? No...Not to the extent it had to this point in his life, as he double bagged edible organs from a poached doe deer into thrice reused ziploc bags. But it was more than subtle, even in the carefree Outer Banks. The tourists had still come, just without the money they had in years past. The kids had still cruised Route 12, but they were off the streets by midnight. They couldn't afford to waste the gas....or get the citation. If they were old enough to drive, then they were old enough to pay rent. Many of them probably had to, if only to ensure they had a dry place to sleep since Mom and Dad were getting notices from the mortgage company.

Private and public employers across the country had pushed pay cuts, severed pensions, and slashed hours. At the same time, everything had become more expensive. The beach stores, once filled with cheap Chinese junk, had bare shelves; everything left was still 50% off. Only it was 50% off triple the price it had been. Even the tourists had trudged around like the locals. He would have figured that they would be ecstatic about getting away from whatever inland hellhole they came from to spend a couple days at the coast. Then he began to realize it - a few years before that, those same people were taking 2 weeks in Cancun or Acapulco.
Aaron couldn't fathom the mathematics of the economy at any point during its fall, but he felt the difference that it had made.


10 October 2010

Chapter 2, part 2

As he set about the skinning and gutting process, Aaron let his mind wander back to how he ended up poaching deer in the Jefferson National Forest, as pathetic as that sounded. At least it was bow season....

The pitiful fact was he wouldn't let himself free of the past - keeping it at the forefront of his mind was his own self induced prison.

It always went back to Nags Head, a hot August night a little over 5 years ago, but he knew, deep down inside, that his destiny was cast back in Nebraska on the family farm. The decisions he made, even to this moment, were literally beat into him by his father, the poor suffering bastard that he was. But it was his fathers own lessons that left Aaron with the inability to feel sorry for himself. Or blame anyone other than himself for his fate. Now he had kids of his own, and he was the father whose nemesis was pride.

The situation in Nags Head was really only another deciding factor in the inevitable course of his life. He should have never become a cop in the first place, especially if he had truly wanted to live a quiet life. After all, he hadn't grown up being the "quiet kid", the humble child his mother had expected (wanted?) him to be. Sure, he paid his dues on the farm. He even put up with the church, for a while, if only to meet girls. Naughty little Lutheran girls that they were, Aaron smiled inwardly. How he'd come out of his teens without an STD, much less a criminal record, was beyond his comprehension. Then, following the footsteps of generations of Nebraska farmboys before him, he up and joined the Army. His dad hadn't approved, because there was "no reason for an honest man to fight some politician's wars", or something like that. Pops was probably more concerned about losing the free help he'd had since Aaron was old enough to drag a feed bag around. As for his mom... she hadn't spoken to him since she gave him a ride to Cheyenne, the beginning of his trip to basic at Ft. Leonardwood, 13 short years ago.

09 October 2010

Chapter 2, part 1

Pulaski County, Southwest Virginia

Aaron Schleigher stepped into the clearing, departing the treeline for the near side of a slight rise running across from the south. It was an unseasonably cold morning, perhaps a few degrees above freezing, with the sky a mix of high dark clouds billowing in from the west giving way to a murky sunrise. There was just enough of a streak of orange mixed into the steely gray to illuminate the early morning ground fog. It's going to be dumping within an hour, he thought. The wind had steadily picked up overnight, but the few showers from the night before had dampened the ground sufficiently to ease his morning work, to an extent.

Aaron nocked the arrow to his bowstring as he ran, almost perfectly silently, across the 60 meters to bottom of the rise. He eased into a crouch, drawing the bowstring of the handcrafted recurve in a steady, quick motion as he sidestepped up the slight rise. With the wind at his back, carrying his scent, as well as any sound, he would only get one chance at a shot. The window of that shot taking place on a still animal would be around 2 seconds, three on the outside. The rise rounded out to a narrow flat at about head height. Aaron slowly stood, so as to see over the rise. He made a quick scan of the foreground, and eased back down, avoiding any hesitation. 40 meters to his left, pointed slightly away, was a small doe, maybe 50 pounds.
He couldn't be picky - this wasn't a trophy hunt, by any means. Anything less than a kill shot meant his family would go hungry. Again.

Aaron had gone without more than once in the past 4 years. But his family didn't deserve it; none of this was their fault. It was his....

He lowered his couch and ascended one final sidestep up the embankment, pivoting to the left to compensate for being a southpaw. He rose in a fluid motion, bearing back to the right, and sighting just above the doe's left shoulder. It tensed, as if shocked, then began to take its first bounding leap as the arrow left the bracer. The arrow struck just forward of the left rear leg with too much of an upward angle for a quick demise. Ms. Doe staggered the landing, and favored her right side as she made the far treeline at half speed. Aaron didn't even bother reaching for a second arrow. It was time to track a bloodtrail.

He found the fletched end of the precious tri-head a few feet from the tree that had sheared its carbon fiber shaft. At about 200 meters back into the thicket, he spotted fresh droppings with a fair amount of blood mixed in, lifting his spirits. With a little luck, he would find the carcass before the rear flanks were tainted from the unfortunate intestinal shot. He picked up his pace, and after another 20 minutes, found the doe still alive lying on her right side in a honeysuckle patch. Aaron pulled his old Ontario combat knife, then placed his knee into the back of it neck, reached around and cut its throat just below the jawline. There was no fight, as if the doe had decided to just accept her fate. He smiled, as he readied his cleaning gear. His family would eat well... for now.

Chapter I, part 8

There were only a few pictures of the couple from the border ranch, found dispersed amongst several sites that would probably cease to exist in the near future. They looked like typical 2nd or 3rd generation western ranch owners, maybe in their late 50's or early 60's. Definitely parents, probably grandparents. What they did not look like were terrorists. Of course, the definition of "terrorist" was no longer synonymous with bearded middle eastern men brandishing AK-47s and RPG launchers. The characterization of the  "new" terrorist was subjective. It really depended on which party was in power at the time.

Neither party was into being questioned, even from within their own ranks. Those that didn't tow the line could count on a visit with a prosecutor, or at least an investigative committee. Sometimes they fell victim to airplane crashes in remote areas, as well. "Pilot error" or "bad weather" had silenced more than a few naysayers over the past few years.

Currently, both parties seemed to be vehemently anti-gun, which was a departure from past policies. It played well into the blossoming "domestic terrorism" surge quite well, though. Mike saw it as the only move they could make to maintain any Federal control over the never-ending downward spiral the US had taken over the course of his life. Certain states had tried to buck the trend, and had seen significant funding cuts. Most had gone along with a rash of permit laws being passed. Open carry states of the past were going to "permit carry" or "permit ownership". Concealed carry was a thing of the past. Except Arizona, which was reverting back to frontier land. Too bad they were all but shutting down their state borders.

Mike got up from the computer, figuring that it was time to formally start the day, even if it had become just an extension of the previous day. Hopefully less eventful, he thought, as he covered Darcy with a blanket.

He couldn't have been more wrong.

07 October 2010

Chapter I, part 7

The news looked as bleak as it ever had - nothing new there. China was still trying to figure how to stabilize itself after the rest of the world couldn't afford their cheap junk anymore. Pakistan was still deep into a three sided civil war, as India was sniffing at Kashmir. Again. Britain was mired in debt, as Wales threatened succession. Bodies were still piling up in Iraq. A new Pope was being sought...

Headlines from the US were a mix of violence, unemployment, and political rhetoric. Nothing new there, either - at least in the last 5 decades. California, once the worlds 4th largest economy, was reporting 14.9% unemployment. Sacremento was still locked down after the rioting from the past month, as residents interviewed while leaving the state capitol were telling of door-to-door searches, unexplained detainment and disappearances of loved ones. Arizona was still crying foul after their Federal funding was revoked over the never-ending immigration dilemma. The bodies of 16 Texas Rangers had been found in remote part of west Texas, ironically near a drug cartel border crossing...One 20 second feature really caught his attention out of all the other chaos; the video clip was showing military helicopters landing on a ranch in southern Colorado, troops deploying in full battle armor as they took up offensive positions. The video abruptly ended, but only after several shots were heard from the backround noise in the clip. The anchor was rattling on about some "domestic terrorism" investigation, then switched to another personality as she showcased some giant cupcake from somewhere in New Jersey. Mike thought it was funny that none of the people in that video clip looked very happy either.

The incident that had caught his eye from the news had begun a few months back and had captured the headlines for the first few weeks. As far as Mike was concerned, the ordeal had actually began with the Colorado governor signing a significant piece of legislation that, in effect, forced Colorado ranchers and farmers to keep at least half of their production in Colorado. The Feds and the state were going to be the financiers of the deal, as well as the only customers. The only catch was the fact that they were only going to be paying 45 cents on the dollar. That little tidbit of information had been kept undisclosed for the most part, at least until the law had been signed. Obviously, it hadn't gone over well.

The Denver news had covered a few days worth of protests, an "illegal assembly" or two, and a handful of suicides. Then coverage of anything even related to the bill, its passage, and the ensuing outcome just vanished.

Mike got up from the couch and went to the kitchen to make coffee. Their little kitchen was cramped, but they both spent most of their time in there, at least when they had a chance to be at home. After a near disaster with precious $20 a pound store brand coffee, and the added chicory to make up for the necessarily weak brew, he headed back to the laptop to dig up something online about the ranch story from the news. What little he found was disturbing. 

Apparently, a group of 8 ranches down in Las Animas County had worked with one another to drive their collective herds across the state line into New Mexico. The state and the Feds didn't approve, and asked New Mexico authorities to intervene, in good faith of course. New Mexico had refused, and the Feds sent in a "team" to deal with the ranchers and drive 20,000 head of cattle back into Colorado. Somewhere in all of the jurisdictional maneuvering, the cattle had ended up being asserted as Federal property. Colorado, ever dependent on Federal tax dollars, folded and looked the other way. Now, almost 50 people associated with the 8 original "breakaway" ranches had been detained, 4 others had been gunned down in "standoffs", and the couple that ran the ranch on the border where the cattle had actually crossed were being sought as "domestic terrorists". The video clip being aired on a select few networks was still being speculated upon, but most were assuming the "terrorists" had been found. They weren't expected to survive.

Mike had a sick feeling in his gut, not only from what he was reading, but also because he was seeing that more and more non-network news sites and blogs were disappearing. There was rampant speculation of the causes, but he saw the simplicity for what it was. If you asked questions, you got shut down. Or worse. Detained without charges worse. Disappeared worse....

06 October 2010

Chapter I, part 6

Mike sat staring at the laptop screen long after his wife had sobbed herself to sleep. How she could do that was beyond him. All he wanted to do was something, but he knew that it wasn't the late hour alone that prevented him from.... what? What was he going to do? They had been responsible and honest all their lives, and where had it gotten them? They had taken their series of licks over the years, both individually, and now as husband and wife, but the setbacks never let up. There was never going to be a bailout for Mike and Darcy Heath. They had made what they thought was the smart and responsible decision to not buy when credit was easy and home prices were high. He remembered back to when he lived in Idaho all those years ago, and actually having a broker knock on his door on a Sunday morning. The guy was shameless, trying to convince him that he could "dump" the "starter" home he had at the time and upgrade to a $430,000 "family" home. Mike had just laughed and shut the door, leaving the greasy broker talking to himself.

Then the credit dried up, right after he sold, and there wasn't a chance in hell that he would own again. Had he fallen for the lies, maybe he could have held on. The administration at the time felt sorry for the countless homeowners who had signed up for mortgages they knew they couldn't afford. Or, should have known. It didn't matter now, as the American Dream was fading fast. Or was it already gone? Decade after decade, Americans had dug themselves into a hole they would never recover from. TARP I, II, III....gone. Just more  debt piled on top of debt. The dollar was worthless, despite all the efforts of the Fed to stabilize it. They managed to prolong the inevitable longer than he ever would have expected, but they couldn't use corporate accounting to bullshit the public anymore. Or the world....the US dollar was finished as a global reserve currency.

Nothing the government had done on any front had benefited the Heaths; they had gone from fodder to prey. It made no sense to Mike, as he sat in the dark with his fitfully sleeping wife in his arms. First they lie to us, then they steal what little they can to keep the lies alive a little longer, he thought. Why couldn't they come out and just admit what 90% of America had already accepted? The sights from his extended drive from metro Denver earlier that evening hadn't shocked him - not even close. But it had enlightened him. He saw the differences for what they were. The towns that had money were trying to protect what little was left; those that had struggled over the years were giving up or disappearing altogether. What amazed him was that the communities that hadn't given up were the ones that had relied on riding the wave of money that no longer existed. The towns that were centered around actually producing something were going the way of Rhyolite.

Mike noticed that night was slowly turning to dawn as the early morning light became visible through the drawn curtains. He glanced at the clock on the laptop, now bouncing around the screen as a screensaver.
5 am. He slowly wiggled out from under the now snoring Darcy and reached across the coffee table for the remote. They had kept basic satellite service for their sole remaining television, an outdated LCD flatscreen, even after the rate had doubled in the last year. It meant they had to go without somewhere else in their small lives, but gave an occasional escape from reality. It also gave Mike an opportunity to keep up with the news away from the rural Colorado mountains, and he switched over to Fox News from the classic movie channel Darcy had been watching at some point. Why he bothered was beyond him, as the news was much more thoroughly sanitized then it had been in the past.

Chapter I, part 5

Mike fished his house key out of the daypack that he carried literally everywhere and quietly entered his house, as to not wake his sleeping wife. As it turned out, she was awake and staring at her old laptop perched on the coffee table.

"Hey, babe," he offered cautiously. "What're you doing up?"

Darcy Heath looked up at her husband with a faraway look in her eyes, but said nothing. After a moment, tears streamed down her cheeks. Mike's heart sank, as his mind flooded with at least a thousand scenarios that could be happening.

"They took everything," she murmured. "Our accounts..... they're gone...the money..." She broke down into heaving sobs, unable to continue. Mike just blankly looked at her for a moment before easing himself onto the couch to comfort his wife. He felt as if his stomach had dropped even lower than his heart had fallen only a moment ago. Darcy had ahold of the collar of his overshirt, and had balled it up in her fist as she withered down until her head was in his lap.

He gave her a minute to compose herself, then asked, "Who? What?"

She looked up at him again, and said, "The IRS. Its over my tips....I think... I won't know anything until I talk to them, tomorrow I guess."

Mike diverted his eyes from her to the the laptop screen. The open page was their joint account summary, the top of the page displaying the most recent 10 transactions. The uppermost entry was noted as a "Remote ADS Deduction", whatever that was. The balance tab on the left showed $-213.72. He looked at the tabs on the current window and scanned across the screen. Google. Internal Revenue Service. Something with "tax code" in it. He closed his eyes.

"You'll spend all day on the phone, and in the end we'll still be screwed." Mike knew, as he had been through this before. "Just close the account - it's over."

Darcy began crying again.

Chapter I, part 4

The drive home was thankfully uneventful after he crossed the county line near the Eisenhower Tunnel, and he only had one stop for fuel and brackish coffee in Silverthorne. There were a few changes since he had been this way a few years ago. Upon exiting the interstate at Frisco to cut down Highway 9, Mike noticed that all of the side streets leading toward the residential areas to the west had been closed. Not just with orange cones and signs, but with jersey barriers and a distinct lack of signs. As he passed Main St, he saw it now had a checkpoint with a rolling gate, with an unmarked cruiser parked adjacent to the booth erected over the center stripe. The parking lights were on, indicating someone was paying attention to the passing traffic on the state highway. South of town, the county office complex had been thoroughly fenced in, as well as the entirety of the hospital grounds, with fortified checkpoints at each.
The once quaint ski town of Breckenridge looked to have had a facelift as well, as the downtown shopping area and the residences beyond were now closed to vehicles. The only access appeared to be a hastily constructed gate on the south end of town, with a guardshack situated to the north of what was once Ridge Street. It appeared that entry required a vehicle search, as a uniformed cop was leading a good sized German Shepard around an old Toyota pickup parked in front of the gate. Spotlights from atop the structure flooded the whole scene.
Even tiny Alma had changed, if only with signage telling visitors to keep going. There wasn't much there before life in America began its drastic change in the past decade or so, but now there was literally nothing. Most of the buildings had been boarded up; those that weren't looked as though they had been gutted. A few houses off of the highway appeared to be inhabited still, but this was a ghost town. It was depressing to see, even at night. Mike remembered driving up here right after he married Darcy, and stopping into a little restaurant on the northbound side of the highway. The food had been good, with locally grown produce and meat that still tasted like meat. They had stayed longer than they had anticipated, playing a few rounds of pool and cajoling with the locals before driving on to Breckenridge for a rare ski weekend getaway. The building still stood, but it had more in common with a pole barn now.
The only other traffic he saw after leaving a bleak looking Fairplay was a 15 year old State Patrol cruiser that followed him for a few miles south of Buena Vista, which flipped back around to the north as suddenly as it had appeared in his mirrors.
Mike finally pulled into the driveway of his rental house just before 2 am, and he parked the Honda in front of his 25 year old diesel Dodge. It hadn't moved in almost 2 years, thanks to the injector pump giving up at 600,000 miles and his lack of the $2000 it cost to replace it. He sat just looking at his old pickup for few minutes, reminiscing of the days when that poor truck was all he had to take care of  in the world, aside from himself. Things were alot more simple back then, if not lonely. He felt himself treading into a self induced guilt trip and blinked himself back to the present. The front door to the 100 year old two story was locked now, where it would not have been when he and Darcy first moved in together.

03 October 2010

Chapter I, part 3

Thinking of his wife, Mike pulled out his phone and brought up her contact info. She's going to love this, he thought. She answered on the 3rd ring.

"Hey, babe." She sounded a bit harried.

"Hey. I got popped by SO outside Idaho Springs. 6 over..." Might as well get that out of the way.

"Why are you on 70? Oh, Mike.... how much?"

"$340. I'll find a way to make it up. And, there's a fatal or something north of the Springs. I just wanted to get home - that'll be the last trip to Jimmy's, probably ever."

"Yeah, I'm seeing its not working out anyways." Now, she was sounding exasperated.

"Look, I know you just got home. I'll be there in a few hours. Don't worry about it, OK?"

"How much cash do you have on you?"

This caught him by surprise. "I've got the money from Jimmy, and maybe another $200. Why?"

"The post office, remember? They dropped Friday....You can't afford to send in the fine - it probably won't get there in time." She paused. "We can't afford..."

"Yeah, I get it.", he cut her off. "I'll stop in Georgetown. I'll be home as quick as I can." Now, he wanted to chuck the phone out the window.

"I love you.", she said, expectantly, almost sympathetically.

Mike sighed. "I love you, too." He skipped the "bye", and hit the end tab.

Georgetown is going  to be fun, he thought. The town had no police, and hadn't for years. More recently, the Sheriff had tried to increase the fees for a county patrol unit to cruise through town a couple of times a day. The town was beyond broke, and just nixed the whole deal. The end result was a "citizen patrol", which amounted to a few unemployed, overly anxious locals self appointed to "uphold the law", or more accurately, stick their noses in places they didn't belong. Running into one was somewhere between a joke and life threatening encounter. Not being a local didn't help.

Of course, it didn't take long to get the attention he really wasn't in the mood for. No sooner than he exited the highway, turned toward "downtown" and passed the only gas station still in business, headlights flooded the side of his car. Black F-150, parked in the lot of the defunct state rest area. Here we go, he thought.
Mike stopped  at the fourway, then made the right onto Argentine. The pickup followed, closing the gap to his rear bumper to around 5 feet. "Its not like you can run me", Mike muttered to himself. The only contact these wannabes had with "real" cops was their personal phones, and it was a crapshoot as to if the county dispatch would even bother airing the call.

He tried to just ignore the pickup as it followed him to the county courthouse. There was no lot to speak of, only angled spots with meters off the street itself. Since it was almost 11 pm, the spaces were mostly open. The exceptions were two older vehicles, covered in dust, with wheel boots attached. Mike would have sworn the white pickup on the end was a county truck. The F-150 stopped directly behind him, effectively blocking him. As he got out of the car, he glanced over to the pickup and nodded his head, as if to acknowledge his presence. With that, he turned toward the court building itself in search of the after hours drop box. He made it maybe 5 feet before he heard the squeal of the PA.

"Whatcha doin', bud?" Yeah, this guy's a pro, Mike thought. He started to turn back toward the idling truck, then, deciding against confrontation, kept going toward the entrance.

Maybe 20 feet down the path, he heard the truck's door open noisily. He just kept walking.

He had figured on finding a drop box, with some instruction on how to leave a payment, but there was nothing aside from a narrow slot cut into the concrete adjacent to the entryway. It looked as thought he was going to be losing another day to come back up and pay in person. Too bad nobody took checks anymore....

The driver of the F-150 was leaning against his Honda when he got back. Mike looked at him, and said, "Excuse me".

The guy didn't budge. "I was taking to you a minute ago, bud."


The guy was overweight by 30 pounds, and had some of his dinner on his jacket. There was a large frame semi-auto in a camo thigh rig, with the leg buckle cinched down too tight. He was a few inches taller than Mike's 5'9", and was sporting a dark watchcap with an embroidered star on it. The fact that it was crooked on his head didn't help that professional image he was shooting for.

"So watcha doin' here? Court's closed" The local folded his arms over his paunch, as if to indicate that he wasn't going anywhere soon.

Mike just looked at him. "I was going to pay a fine. I've changed my mind, and I'll come back later." He enunciated each word, trying to keep his temper. "So, if you'll excuse me..."

"Who pays a fine at, what, midnight?" The local checked his watchless wrist, and looked back up at Mike.

"You're an hour off, and you're in my way. I'm leaving. Now." Mike stepped forward, closing the space between them to about a foot. He was trying a last ditch effort at avoiding an altercation, hoping the local would back off. He kept his stance loose and stared at the guy, who just stared back.

"You must not be from around here, bud."  Nothing got by this guy.

"Nope", Mike said, not breaking eye contact. "I'm aware that you are trying to protect your town. I'm not here to do anything but pay a fine from the last shakedown, which was just down the road, just a little while ago." Again with the enunciation. "Are we done here?"

"Just drive straight back to the interstate." With that, the local backed up to his truck, and got in. He made a point of leaning out window and glaring as Mike got back in his car. Mike got an escort back out of town, with the beat F-150 right on his back bumper until he turned up the ramp for 70 westbound.

After passing Silver Plume, Mike breathed a sigh of relief. He had spent much of his adult life avoiding situations like back in Georgetown, after spending his youth looking for them. He had always kept to himself, even back in high school, but he'd learned the hard way that one couldn't always resort to violence to resolve their issues. When his high school assistant principal had grabbed him by the arm, and ended up on the floor with two broken ribs for his efforts, Mike had ended up in juvenile detention for 6 months. That hadn't really helped control his temper, as he figured out how not to get taken advantage of in lockup. Several of the fights in there had ended up on his adult record, thanks to a fling with the county prosecutors' daughter when he was 16. They had actually sent him to the county jail, but he had talked his way out of anything long term with the judge. He completed his probation, barely, thanks to a less than stellar relationship with the town cops, and then left the next day. Now, at 39, he was still plagued by his misadventures in his youth. He never went back to his hometown in Texas, either.

Mike had bounced around the western US for the better part of 2 decades since leaving Texas just before his 19th birthday, rarely staying anywhere longer than a year. Most of his employment came from construction, which meant he went where the work took him. He had attempted settling down in northern Idaho back in '05, even getting married and buying a small house. It didn't work out - she had bigger plans, and he had hated his job at the time. They split, and he kept the house, unoccupied, until dumping it just before the housing crash of '08. Unfortunately, selling that house was the one standout decision he could look back on with any amount of pride in all those years. He'd made a little, just enough to pay his taxes, and took a job in Gunnison, Co. The project he had moved there for had run out of money within 4 months, with the bond holder fencing down the site overnight. A mechanics position an hour away was the best he could come up with for the short term, and he moved east, with his few possessions in his pickup towing his 22 foot travel trailer, better known as "Home", with him. He had never intended to stay. If it wasn't for meeting Darcy, God only knows where he'd be now.

29 September 2010

Chapter I, part 2

Mike got out of his car and paced, trying to come up with an excuse to not light a cigarette, or scream, or both. Smokes had gone to over $8 a pack earlier in the year, finally making them unobtanium for all but the most dedicated smoker, but he still bought a pack every week or so. He'd figured the $40 per month saved wasn't worth the stress of quitting all out. That, and being forced to quit by politicians just didn't sit right with him. There was a deal that he made with himself in regards to smoking awhile back that centered around smoking only for the pleasure of it, and not as a vice. Times like this made that deal awfully hard to keep, and he lit up anyway.

The hollow sensation in his gut had turned into a whole body enveloping red-hot rage, which is why he had pulled off in the first place. His anger had plagued him his whole life, but he'd at least learned to manage it over the years. The combination of the cool air, the rush from the nicotine, and focusing on the reality of his current situation steadily calmed him after a bit.

The reality was that he should have just waited out the freeway closure, rather than getting impatient and driving around the long way. There had been news stories on the increase in traffic enforcement in this particular county a few years back, but the practice was rising pretty much everywhere. The state had abstained from the practice so far, with the exception of commercial vehicles. But individual counties and municipalities that were cash strapped saw increased enforcement as a revenue source, and the state had gone along by raising fine limits. Even the DMV was helping by streamlining the revocation and suspension processes. If you didn't pay within time, usually 10 days, your license was gone instantly. Most of the courts cranked up court costs, and some required prepayment if you decided to fight the ticket. Ironically, the court costs were about what the ticket was, so it really wasn't worth it. The official spin on all of this was "safety", of course. With plowing and maintenance cutbacks, they had to show something besides full coffers. It was almost funny, Mike thought. It wasn't all that long ago that the roads were crowded with people running 10, 15 over, bumper to bumper. Now, with the crackdowns combined with $6 plus for a gallon of gas, what few people were out here were all going 10 under. How could it not be safer?

After about 10 minutes of pacing, and convincing himself it was just his turn on the wheel of fate, Mike got back in his old Honda, and headed back out on the 70. As he passed the scales at Downieville, he made note of the backup that actually forced a significant slowdown, and a lane change. The State Patrol had taken over commercial enforcement a few years back, in an attempt at consolidation of state agencies. That hadn't gone over well with the trucking companies, or their drivers. It was estimated that the shakedown cost an average of $300 per trip across the 70. Fuel stations, trucking companies and repair shops across the state had closed left and right in the last few years as more transporters routed there freight through other states. That included the fuel stop off the 50 in his hometown, where Darcy had worked as an auditor. That had been over a year ago.

27 September 2010

Chapter I, part 1

Central Colorado
"I'll need to see a copy of your license, registration, and proof of insurance."
The deputy was young, probably barely old enough to buy his end of shift beer. He had been aggressive to make the traffic stop, especially for 6 over the posted 65 mph limit, but now he seemed a bit nervous. Maybe he's feeling ashamed for shaking people down for infractions that wouldn't have raised an eyebrow a few years back, Mike thought to himself. The requested paperwork was already in his hand, retrieved while the deputy was still running his plates prior to making contact. He handed them through the window, then fished his license from his wallet. The deputy made no small talk during the exchange, and his right hand never left the top edge of the kidney plate sewn into his vest.
"Please keep your hands on the steering wheel while I'm looking this over." He stared at Mike for a few long seconds before backing to his right and continuing backwards just outside the fogline to his patrol truck.
Mike complied with the request, tapping on the wheel with his thumbs to the almost inaudible country coming from the speakers. The warmed rock sensation in his gut hadn't dissipated, and mild tension headache he'd had was cranking up in intensity. I should have seen this coming, he thought.
He'd been in Lakewood for the past three days, working on a side job to supplement his on again, off again income. Being forced to drive out of his way to get home due to a wreck that had closed the 25 was just another gutshot in a series of blows that had made the trip an all out money loser. Of course, the inevitable ticket that was coming was going to set him another week behind. He thought about how he was going to tell Darcy yet more bad news, and he felt his stomach sink.
They had been married for four years now, and the past three years had been a steady series of setbacks that should have driven them apart for sanity's sake. Still, they held on, but Mike had caught himself exploring the "hows" and "whys" more frequently. Sowing the seeds of distrust, and slowly driving himself insane was all he could ever accomplish by going down that road, and he knew it.
A flicker in the beam of the spotlight illuminating his over-the-hill Honda brought him back to his current issues. The deputy decided to change things up, and appeared at the passenger side window, rapping on the glass with an old-school Maglight. Mike reached across the car, and wound down the window, glancing up at the deputy.
"Here's your stuff back, Mr. Heath. I have to write you on the speed, but I'll just give you a warning on the marker light", explained the deputy. The kid went on to cover how and where to pay, and that the court costs to fight the ticket would double the amount if the judge didn't see things the way Mike did. It took a fair amount of self control to not light the kid up with a rant, but after another awkward moment, Deputy Jr. headed back to his truck. Mike thought it was odd that he didn't wait for him to proceed - he just killed the lights and reversed back to exit of the corner to await the next victim.
Mike carefully accelerated back into traffic, as light as it was, and then got off at the next exit. He pulled onto the shoulder of the adjacent frontage road, doused the lights, and shut off the engine. The little 4 cylinder ticked as it cooled in the thin mountain air, as he attempted to cool the rage building inside of him. $340 for 6 over? That was almost the same amount he had made for working the past three days, having gone 200 miles from home to do so. Unfortunately, it was that or nothing. His little town had dried up, in every possible way imaginable. But so had the rest of the state, even the country at that. Nothing was like it was even a few years back.

08 September 2010

Prologue - Part 2

As this forthcoming work of fiction is being written in the latter half of 2010, most people will always remember this as a time of economic hardship. Some have called it the the "2nd" Great Depression, while others just refer to this as another recession - another bump in the road... With the "official" unemployment rate hovering around 10%, I'm sure that there are more than a few people out there who might feel that their hardship is not just "the way it is". As far as comparing our present situation to that of 80+ years ago in America, I suggest looking at two key factors. Population and domestic production - which will be well referenced in the story that follows.

As a connoisseur of the apocalyptic fiction genre, I find that key characters often are portrayed as stereotypes. The ex-special forces vet. The small town mayor. The single mom of a special needs child. The heartbroken widower. To be fair, these characters are key to the stories they come from, and in some cases are easier to write around. The people in this book are set to portray people that we all know, or ourselves in some cases. The storyline is set in the not-too-distant future, as our societies' descent back into reality transpires, as it is in the here and now "real world". For those of you who look for the transgression into the fantasy realm, you will be disappointed. I believe the realty of our "real world" situation is fantastic enough, thank you.

As for the "last, but not least" section of my prologue, I must touch on the surging number of "survivalists", and the sometimes disoriented logic, (or lack thereof), that has created an unending marketplace that sometimes preys on the well-intentioned. There should be a line drawn between the upstart "survivalist" and the "prepper". While it makes perfect sense to be prepared for the worst possible scenario, draining your life savings into a "retreat" thousands of miles from where you actually live does not. Having a well stocked emergency bag in your trunk, having a plan to disassociate yourself from social disorder, even stocking up on non-perishable food and essential supplies are all things I advocate. Face it - we really do live in uncertain times. But owning 10 assault rifles, spending 20% of your take home in ammo and turning the yearly family vacation into a "training mission" is taking things a bit far. If you think you are going to shoot your way out of urban chaos in some metropolitan area and come out unscathed, you need to turn off the TV and hide the remote. Buying a timeshare in the survival camp in the mountains is like playing the lottery - do you really think "The End" is going to come during you two-week-per-year allotment? I'd probably reallocate the $5000, but I guess you could get lucky... The $100 you blew on the keychain radiation detector from China could have been better spent taking your kids to a ballgame, or your wife out to dinner - you won't get that time back, ever. In "The End", information is your greatest weapon. Knowing what is to come before it comes is the critical factor. Keep up with the news, both national and local, and vary your sources. Remember, everyone has an agenda. Actually talking to people still goes a long way as well. That neighbor that you always wave to, but never talk to, might have insight into layoffs, or perhaps a county commission meeting that you weren't even aware of, or even a sale on dented canned food. Any of these things, however small, could alter your outcome in "The End"....

Please enjoy my writing, and good luck to us all......

Prologue - Part 1

For years now, I have been enthralled with "end of times" fiction - I think it began with the original publishing of "The Stand", when it was first out. Of course there were many versions of the theme prior to that, and so many since that the niche has become mainstream. I personally read hundreds of stories per year that fall in this category, from books to blogs, short stories to anthologies. Few are perfect for me, as I am a realist - you could call me a pessimist, and not be far off. Of course, what began as an escape in my youth has matured, just has the envisioning of "The Apocalypse" has gone from fantasy to perhaps possible, in the least.
I'll apologize in advance, and admit that my vision of "The End" is already under way, if only in its infancy. Our society as a whole - as a world - is divided. Some see it as a political division - the left and the right. Liberal and conservative. Democrat and Republican. Others see the division as socioeconomic - the invariable rich and poor. The "haves" and the "have nots". And still others divide us along ideological lines - usually with religion.
But in "The End", it really comes down to "Good vs. Bad" or perhaps, "Good vs. Evil". And, as always, the perception of good and bad/evil all depends on where you stand, sometimes literally.
Of course, only a very few would associate themselves with the "bad" element. Even if clearly defined as "bad", most people would view their actions as good or indifferent. If you question my reasoning, I'll offer a few vantage points...
We'll start with the lowest of the low - a rapist. Most rapists believe they are entitled to what they took, and if not, they see themselves as the "punisher". The entitlement theory leads to indifference, as the "punisher" theory leads to the rapist to believe he/she is "good" and the victim is "bad". Now, I'm sure there is an element of known rapists that know they are bad, and just don't care, but from what I know, the majority seem to have a justification for their actions. Remember that word..... justification.....
How about a despot ruler - say the late Saddam Hussein? Can you imagine that he put his people through the horrors they were subject to, and he accepted that he was "bad"? Or do you believe that the "Butcher" was just an out of control madman? The fact is that Hussein was a revolutionary prior to his succession to power - you might not agree with his morals in the later years, but he was on the "right" side in the beginning, or so he thought. Once in power, he had to maintain that power. If that meant exterminating the Kurds, so be it. Of course the Kurds were/are revolutionaries in their own "right".
I guess I can't leave the current administration out of the equation... I'll never forget the posters that came out around the primaries - Obama with his head bowed, as if in submission, with a backdrop of (ironically) primary colors and the word "Hope". But even if you were a volunteer staffer for McCain/Palin, can you really say BHO is "bad"? Or does he have the best interest of the nation in mind, and the means to an end are what they are? Bush43 asked us to give up some freedom for our collective security, and Obama is asking us to relinquish the same for some of the same reasons. And health care, not to mention other causes... 
Of course, removing your shoes prior to boarding an a commercial aircraft is a far cry from the Feds going door to door, confiscating guns and knives, as some suspect is inevitable. But even if/when that happens, does that make the perpetrator "bad"? Its being done for your safety, right? Maybe some people really do believe that if we shred the Constitution that we won't be capable of harming each other anymore....