All Hallows Eve
The next week and a half passed uneventfully. I did the usual: scavenging, shooting dogs, watching movies, and learning what I could from Army field manuals and machine shop books. I learned how to weld halfway decently. I picked up a reloading press and gave a stab at reloading my own ammo. Yes, I had a ton of ammo, but eventually it would run out.
Every morning at ten I called Kat and we’d talk for an hour or so. I was starting to fall in love with her cute, girly laugh and her smarts. I felt a little guilty, since I really didn’t know what had happened to my family, but the tiny thread of hope was weak.
I tried flying on the simulator for a while and kind of got the hang of it, but I knew that the real thing wouldn’t have a pause button if I got in trouble.
I really didn’t like the idea crashing; if I wasn’t going to fly to Boston what other options did I have? Walking? Screw that! Train? The idea of rounding a curve and meeting a stopped train head-on scared the crap out of me. What about going by truck? Most of the roads would be clogged with wrecked cars. Then it hit me! What about a snowplow? Smaller vehicles could easily be knocked out of the way with a plow. The big problem was that the back end of a plow wouldn’t be very friendly for carrying supplies. I looked over at the welding tools; I guess I could Mad Max something together.
I arrived at the county road depot and found an old snowplow with the older wedge shaped plow in the motor pool. It was rusty and ugly, but the heavy steel blade would make mince meat out of cars. After messing around in the office, I found the keys. I coaxed the rig to life and returned to the armory. Somehow, I had to remove the snowplow and mount it to the Deuce- without killing myself.
Using forklifts, copious amounts of WD-40, sweat, blood, and the largest socket set from the auto parts store, I was able to unbolt the plow. I plopped down on the couch, exhausted, and wiped the sweat from my brow. After a few minutes of resting in my soaked t-shirt, I realized I was getting chilled. The last thing I needed was to get sick with a cold or flu.
I quickly filled the camp shower with hot water and washed off the sweat and grime. After changing clothes I felt like a new man. I fired up the stove in my makeshift bedroom and it warmed up nicely. There was nothing quite like cozying up to a hot wood burning stove when cold. It brought back some childhood memories of snowball fights and drinking hot chocolate in front of my parent’s old Cast Iron, smoke belcher.
After warming up I went back out to the garage and looked at the mammoth snowplow. The big, rusty orange beast was missing something. I grabbed a can of white paint, that the guard must have used to keep the pavement markings looking good, and a brush and attacked the plow.
A few minutes later the rusted old beast was sporting some wicked looking teeth. “Happy Halloween!” I said with a laugh.
Bandit had been laying on the old couch in the garage, adding to the already copious amount of pet hair embedded in the faded plaid fabric. He sprung up and exploded into a barking mass of fur. I grabbed the closest weapon which happened to be a sawn-off Remington 870. Yes, it broke quite a few firearm laws, but the law was the least of my worries. I had cut the barrel off just past the magazine tube and had fitted it with a pistol grip. It packed a lot of punch in a small package.
Bandit snarled at the back door to the motor pool. What was out there? I pulled the pump halfway back and looked in the chamber. The shotgun was loaded with five rounds of double ought buckshot with four more in a side saddle. I unlocked the steel door and opened it a small crack. Nothing moved so I opened it enough for Bandit to slip out. He charged out to the left and disappeared from view.
I followed, holding my shotgun in front of me my trigger finger extended across the receiver. I hurried around the corner and saw a white-tailed doe running scared across the street.
“What is it running from boy?” I asked Bandit as it tore across the street. The deer just reached our side when something darted after it. It took me a moment to figure out what I was looking at. It was an honest to goodness mountain lion.
I raised my shotgun and pointed it at the quick moving cat. The predator and prey turned and darted, the deer was losing ground as the beastly cat tore divots out of the soft dirt with every stride. I felt strangely detached from the whole event, as if I was watching some African documentary. The doe stumbled and the cat pounced on its victim. As they collapsed in a heap I opened fire.
The cougar leapt into the air as a couple of pellets struck its hind legs. Out of the claws of the lion, the doe scrambled back to its feet and stumbled away. I rapidly worked the pump and trigger, five shells full of lead pellets flew toward the massive beast. It twisted and scrambled away as I shoved four more shells into the weapon. By the time I was done reloading, the giant cat had slipped behind the cover of a dingy Chinese restaurant.
“Damn it!” I yelled as I pulled out my earplugs. Now I had a wounded Mountain Lion in my neighborhood. The doe would have made a nice addition to the freezer, but I had concentrated my fire on the blasted cat. I looked down at my little shotgun and put the safety on. It was a great weapon, but not for hunting big game over a hundred yards away. I should have grabbed a rifle, but it was too late for that now. We had a big cat to find.
I picked up my FAL carbine and a few twenty round magazines full of hollow points; its hard hitting .308 round should have no problem dropping a cougar. I reloaded the shotgun and hung it off a clip on my belt. I grabbed a .44 magnum and holstered it. I was loaded for bear, or cat as it were.
I hopped in a side by side four-wheeler that I’d pinched from the local park’s maintenance office and hit the starter. Bandit scampered up into the passenger seat and we tore across the field toward the restaurant where I’d last seen the cougar.
We dismounted and located a few drops of blood in the parking lot. Bandit followed the trail down the alley. This collection of dilapidated restaurants, bars, and pawn shops had always been the proverbial black eye of our town. I made a note to burn it down later. I followed the dog, weaving my way between the dumpsters, empty beer bottles, and assorted trash.
He was trotting along, nose to the ground following the cat’s scent. Bandit rounded a corner behind Jim’s Pawn, but moments later he ran whining back to the ATV. This was it; the Cougar had to be just around the corner. I flipped the safety off with my thumb and eased up against the cinder block wall. My heart began pounding and my breath came quick and ragged. I tried to quiet my breathing. I adjusted my grip on the rifle and took a half step around the corner, raising the rifle ready to fire!
Nothing. Where the hell did it go? The fence was too high for the big cat to jump with its wounded hind leg. The trash bags and discarded cardboard boxes weren’t hiding the beast. I glanced at the door to the pawn shop, it was firmly locked with a heavy duty padlock. The brick wall across the way had no openings. Where did it disappear to? Had Bandit taken a wrong turn in this maze of buildings? I took another step into the alley and flipped on my weapon-light. The beam brushed aside the remaining shadows; the big cat had nowhere to hide. I looked for a hole in the fence, but there was nothing it could have squeezed through.
“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” I called out. What was I doing? I lowered my rifle.
“Behind you,” Noid whispered in my ear.
“Noid? I thought I got rid of you,” I replied.
Noid whispered again, “Behind you.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I spun around; the cougar was in mid leap. Time slowed down to a standstill as I tried frantically to get the muzzle of my weapon on the cat.
I jerked the trigger; bullets hit the cinder block, sending fragments flying. The muzzle blast from the eighteen inch barrel melted the cat’s whiskers as it knocked me back. My head bounced off the old wooden fence and I saw stars. I scrambled to my feet, swinging the rifle as a club as the cougar lunged again, smashing us through the rotten fence.
Time returned to normal as I lay pinned in a pile of trash beneath the horrible ball of fur and teeth. The rifle was the only thing between its jaws and my throat. Its breath smelled of fetid garbage. Claws slashed at my vest, shredding the nylon and finding flesh. I screamed and pushed the rifle into its throat, desperately trying to keep its yellow teeth away from my face.
I couldn’t let go of the rifle to grab the handgun without letting the beast feast on my jugular veins- I needed a miracle.
I tried kicking the cougar, but couldn’t get enough leverage to move it. It sank its claws into my chest and I screamed again. I couldn’t even reach the trigger on the rifle anymore; my hands were slick with the cat’s blood and saliva. I was about to give up and let the damn thing eat me when I heard a muffled pop.
The mountain lion reared up on its hind legs as I heard another pop. The beast was struck again and it tried to run. Rapidly, more pops followed until the cougar collapsed, shoving me further into the garbage.
What the hell happened? Were those gunshots? I lay in a fetid heap completely exhausted. A few moments later I heard a young girl’s voice. “A mountain lion! I just killed a mountain lion! Whoo Hoo!”
I struggled to turn but couldn’t see where the voice was coming from. Was it all in my head?
“Aww, looks like it was chewing on a dog or something. I guess I should put the dog out of its misery,” she said casually.
“Don’t shoot!” I yelled as I pushed a garbage bag away from my face. A young girl in a dirty baseball hat was standing a few feet away holding an M1 Carbine, its muzzle pointed right at my face.
She gasped and leapt back, the rifle snapping to her shoulder. “You aren’t real! You can’t be real!” She quivered in fear, the muzzle of her rifle shaking slightly.
“Whoa, calm down sweetie. Why don’t you point that rifle somewhere else, OK?” I said as calmly as I could with all the adrenaline pumping from coming close to death twice.
She lowered the rifle but kept it ready; I noticed her trigger finger was straight along the receiver. Good girl.
“You are real! I can’t believe it!” she said, her voice quivering.
“I’m going to get up now. You’re not going to shoot me, right?” I said. She nodded and I struggled out of the garbage and shakily stood. I moved away from the dead cougar then leaned heavily against the cinder block wall.
The girl, who couldn’t have been a day over eleven years old, was sizing me up. I was covered in blood, garbage, and cat hair- I had to look like a nightmare to her. After a minute or two the girl shrugged off her camping backpack and sleeping bag. She put the carbine on safe and slung it over her shoulder. I noticed she was wearing a Smith and Wesson revolver on her belt and a dirty camouflage jacket that was two or three sizes too big for her.
After my breathing returned to normal I looked her in the eye and said, “Thanks.”
“For what?” she asked.
“You just saved my life. That cougar almost had me for lunch,” I replied.
She cracked a weak smile, “You’re welcome.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
She seemed a bit wary. “Sarah.” I grimaced and closed my eyes. “What? Something wrong with my name?” she said defensively.
“I’m sorry, Sarah was…” I choked up slightly then swallowed. “Sarah was my daughter’s name.” I slumped down against the building, I was spent.
After a few moments the girl spoke again. “Was she pretty?”
I looked up at her and smiled. “Yes, the prettiest little blond two-year-old ever.”
The girl pulled off her ball cap and golden, shoulder length curls rolled down her neck. A bit matted and dirty but they still held a bit of sunshine. “What’s your name? Garbage man?”
“Hey, I don’t hang out in piles of garbage for fun you know.” I rolled my eyes and she laughed. “My name is Martin Miller. You can call me Marty.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet someone again.”
The word ‘again’ caused me to perk up. “Again? Do you mean you’ve found other people out there?”
She looked down at the dirt. “I, umm…” Were those tears welling up in her eyes? “No… just my dad, but…” she couldn’t finish.
“Hey, it’s alright, you don’t have to tell me about it.” I needed to change the subject. “You didn’t happen to see my dog around here did you? The coward ran off when we ran into the cougar.”
She wiped away a tear, leaving a nasty streak of dirt on her cheek. “You have a dog?”
“Sure do. Bandit, here boy.” I whistled. A few moments later he appeared around the side of the Chinese restaurant. He ran over to me with his tail between his legs.
“Oh poor doggie, he’s scared to death,” she said in a too cute voice.
After I scratched him behind the ears he decided to check out the new girl. He sniffed her and wagged his tail. She petted him on the head and he licked her fingers. “He likes you.”
I looked up at the sky; dark storm clouds had rolled in over the mountains, a nasty rain storm was sure to arrive in a few minutes. “Hey, Sara, are you hungry?”
“I’m starving,” she replied.
“I think it’s time I broke out a couple of T-Bone steaks I’ve been saving. Come on.”
I didn’t have to ask her twice.