River Of Night – Snippet 20

Harlan Green gestured casually as he stepped back, the movement of his arm encompassing both the numerous Gleaners, the work-gang and the newest prisoners.

“Make them believe it.” he said.

Biggs’s eyes flickered to Loki for a moment, but he didn’t even hesitate. His posture remained upright and he raised his voice for the benefit of the large crowd, while looking directly at Harlan.

“Governor Green, I humbly apologize for wasting your time with that trash. It won’t happen again,” he enunciated carefully.

Harlan looked at him for several long moments. Despite Biggs’ outward calm, the open collar of his looted shirt revealed skin that was darkening with a suffusion of blood, making his neck and face tattoos harder to distinguish.

Which was fine. Anger and fear were Green’s tools-in-trade.

Green made sure that Biggs felt his regard and then turned to address the entire assembly, focusing on the newest raw material. A few steps away, the corpse was still leaking onto the pebbled, gray pavement.

“My name is Governor Green.” he began, framed against the dark clouds overhead. “I’m the head of the new civil government in this area. Let me explain how your life has changed.”


October 29th

Cumberland Uplands, western Virginia

The Twelve Gauge Ranch

Robbie Robbins inhaled mightily, enjoying the scent of fresh cut timber and crisp fall air. Then he mopped his brow with a dull OD green bandanna that he produced from a hip pocket. Once his hands were dry and clean-ish, he produced a can of Copenhagen and with an unthinking but expert flick of the wrist he settled the tobacco in a compact mass before packing a generous wad into his cheek.

He and his team mates hadn’t been able to operate the portable sawmill for months, lest the din attract unwelcome and ravenous guests. However, early in the crisis, the heavily wooded pocket valley had rung with the snarl of chainsaws and ripsaws as they harvested lumber from their property. He sighed, enjoying the cool numbing sensation of his fresh dip, and surveyed the pile of freshly re-stacked, seasoning lumber that he had salvaged from a dead pecan tree months back. The work was worthwhile, and the resulting couple hundred board feet were stacked out of the weather, continuing season into very nice furniture grade material. He’d even set aside a dozen stock blanks for the ranch’s gunroom.

By reflex, he turned to scan his surroundings, taking in the fruits of the last five years of his labor. The existing prefab structures had already been connected to the county grid, but had been improved and expanded by contractors selected for discretion. His group of fellow investors had also paid to update the leach field and installed a large propane fuel system. Likewise the small wind turbine mounted on an adjustable mast. The seasonal truck garden surrounded by an eight foot deer fence didn’t make the ranch self sufficient, but it helped. They even had a decent four lane range good out to three hundred meters. In theory, the families which had formed the limited liability real estate investment firm and acquired the previously run down property in the ranch were each supposed to take their turn in residence. In practice, the Robbins’ had stayed for nearly five years so far, homeschooling their four kids and systematically renovating the estate, one project at a time. Most of the investors summered at the ranch, which had enough room for all the grownups, and in good weather, plenty of tent space for the kids. Some investors had never lived “in” at all, but contributed in other ways.

They’d all been carefully selected after much mutual evaluation. The group ran heavily to retired members of the US Special Operations Command Association and its auxiliaries.

Rob snorted as he thought about the Aussie specops troop turned banker that was their silent partner. Smith had always been unlikely to leave New York City and the ready supply of feminine company that it had represented. He’d certainly helped with the financing though. They hadn’t heard from Smith or any of their City connections in over ten weeks. The last of their association arrived at the refuge two months prior, leaving a third unaccounted for.

 Rob appreciated the presence of his teammates and their families; there was greater safety in numbers. Pre-plague, solo prepping had been all the rage and much money had changed hands for this gadget or that bit of apocalyptic kit. The truth was that mutually supporting communities and mastering the fundamentals of shelter, water and security were far more important that any high-speed, low-drag gear. Of course, if you had mastered the basic, special purpose kit could make a difference.

He grinned. His group had more than mastered the basics.

The group had selected western Virginia for a variety of reasons, though compromises had been made.

There was no point in buying in the Midwest when the majority had day jobs on or near the Boston-New York-DC axis, for example. Not to mention that the Feds controlled water rights on everything west of the Mississippi.

The vets had pooled their interest and their resources. Rob had learned that the only thing that preppers liked as much as prepping was arguing about prepping. After debating an apparently infinite  number of variables such as growing season duration, proximity to a trauma facility and the potential for future development and others ad nauseum, they’d finally pulled the trigger on a large plot of land.

The investors had deliberately picked a spot that was not too close to the interstate and then groomed the access road so that all-wheel drive was required to navigate some carefully tailored obstacles. The difficult and extended driveway dissuaded lookie-loos and represented just one layer of a passive defense that shielded their get-away from prying eyes. The location was in a triangle between two small rivers. In the event that social conditions deteriorated so badly that the rule of law was no longer respected, bridges across each waterway could be dropped, preventing most access by vehicles. There was also a ford that could be used in an emergency, and was known only to the locals. No one was going to find this place without a map.

Rob wasn’t particularly antisocial, but he would’ve been lying, pre-Plague, if he told anyone that he wasn’t a little paranoid about things.

And look at that – all of sudden who was looking like a prescient genius?


Having a place that didn’t rely solely on the grid generated some peace of mind. He inhaled deeply again and glanced at the sky. The clouds were lined up in endless gray-white ranks. Time to get moving again; there were plenty of chores to get done and a trip into town to complete before dark.

He heard a low growling coming from the woodline, not even thirty meters away. As quickly as a stooping raptor, he pivoted his head and drew his ever-present side-arm. The infected that emerged from the shadows was a large male. This one appeared to have been feeding well. The dirty skin was mostly free of open sores and there were no obvious wounds. As it neared, the infected accelerated from a quick walk into a jog.

Rob had already lined up the Glock. The big Gemtech can still allowed use of iron sights, but in the last year Rob had invested in a very expensive prototype holo sight, a concession to his middle-aged eyes. As the infected reached a full sprint, the tall former CAG operator completed the trigger stroke and the infected dove into the dirt a few feet short of its intended meal.

Rob kept the gun on the unmoving zombie as he scanned the treeline for any additional threats. His kill had been alone; the steep approaches to the ranch dissuaded most infected from wandering upwards when easier meals could be had for less effort.

“Maybe they’ve eaten out the lowlands?” Rob muttered. “Sucks to be them.”