Thursday, January 13, 2011

Story Time

Today, I want to do something a bi different. I want to tell you a story. It goes something like this...

Josh powered up his laptop and checked his mail. He had been hoping to hear something from Aaron or Patrick, since he had managed to stay in touch with all the other refugees from the compound save those two. As Gmail opened, he noted with sadness that there was still nothing. Damn, he thought, when are they going to contact me? Are either of them still alive?

Josh went through his rounds, checking his voicemail and text messages, hoping that he had missed something. Nothing. More nothing.

He was just giving up hope when his wife, Jess, handed her phone to him. "Look," she said, her eyes bright with excitement, "Aaron posted on the blog today. Pay attention to what he wrote..."

Josh typed in the address of the blog, looking at the post left there by the friend so long out of touch. Something about it was off, but he just couldn't put his finger on it...

Aha! Of course! Embedded into the post was a code, a simple numerical substitution that had been taught to various people from the compound as a way of sharing location without letting anyone who read the message know exactly how. Josh pored over the text, double checking each part of the code. He ran the converted digits through his GPS app, and got a location.

Aaron and his kids were being held against their will, and not that far away. Maybe two hours if they took a vehicle capable of running down whatever obstacles might be in their way...

...and two hours later, a team of eleven people slowly worked their way behind Josh as he crept toward the lonely building, smoke barely rising from its decaying chimney. The neighborhood had clearly been prosperous and expensive at one point, but nearly a year of warring survivors and unchecked fires had decimated it, leaving a lone home standing amid a field of the blackened skeletons of what had once been homes.

The house was large, perhaps 3,500 square feet, and guarded by two men on each side. So, Aaron had been at least in the ballpark about their numbers. No survivor would leave so many people outside for guard duty unless there were even more inside to watch the prisoners.

The low mounds of rubble pushing up against the small wood Josh and his group were crouched in offered some cover, but the best advantages they had were the cover of darkness and the element of surprise. The men standing guard looked haggard but tough, and they were armed with small arms. No rifles among the ones that he could see.

Behind him, the gentle crunch of snow stopped, and a warm gloved hand gently brushed his shoulder. It was the sign letting him know that his people were in position. Now, to wait for the signal from the other team...

From the far side of the clearing that had once been a cul-de-sac in the ruined neighborhood, an angry chattering sound erupted. The guards nearest to Josh jolted with surprise but made no sound. Experienced men, obviously used to dealing with threats in the night.

The raccoon scrabbled across the snow and ice, moving with the quiet desperation that only wild animals confronted by men are capable of. The guards, still away from their positions with their backs facing Josh and his team, never heard the sharp thrum of the bows, nor the whistle of the arrows that struck them. Instantly, six of the men were down, arrows transfixing them in various places. The men screamed, trying to go for their weapons, but the third team had already rushed in, slaughtering the downed guards in the confusion.

Josh assumed that team four had done the same to the pair of remaining guards on the far side of the house. There was no chance that the men inside hadn't heard the racket, but that couldn't be avoided.

Josh raised the bullhorn to his mouth. "You inside the house. You have some of my people captive. Let them go, now, and we will let you walk away from this. Harm them or take too long, and we'll kill every one of you."

There was silence from inside. After thirty seconds or so, a scuffling sound could be heard, and a body came tumbling through the front door, a knife plunged into its neck. It wasn't anyone Josh recognized. There must have been an argument among the captors about how best to proceed.

A man came out, his hands raised in surrender. "We're sending them out. Just don't start shooting."

Josh nodded to the man, but kept the arrow nocked in his bow just the same. He was ready to drop the bullhorn, draw and fire in a heartbeat, and the dirty man with the raised hands in front of him could clearly see it.

One by one, Aaron's kids came shuffling out. They joined the group behind Josh, and with the last of them came Aaron. Josh looked him over quickly, and didn't see anything seriously awry other than the obvious hunger and exhaustion on his face.

Josh tipped his head toward the house, and spoke to the filthy man in front of him. "We're going. You and your men will stay here until we're gone. Try to follow us, and we'll kill you. Come after innocent people again and we catch you....and you'll wish the zombies got you first."

The man's face darkened, but he gave Josh a terse nod all the same.

The assault teams backed away from the house, guarding the retreat of Aaron and his kids as the man went back inside. The groups had all nearly reached the safety of the woods when a loud argument could be heard from the house. Screams filled the night air as someone was put through a window on the second floor, and the thundering blast of gunfire filled the night. Bullets winged into the earth nearby, causing Josh to duck and weave. Puffs of dust and ash sprang up wherever the bullets hit, coming closer to his party with every shot.

Josh fell to his side behind a pile of rubble, and nearly knocked out some teeth when he slapped the bullhorn to his mouth.

"TAKE IT DOWN!" he shrieked.

A few moments later, small bright points could be seen from the edges of the cul-de-sac. The flaming bottles made shining arcs as they flew through the air, smashing to brilliant life against the siding. A few broke windows. It only took moments to set entire structure ablaze. Those that ran through the doors were picked off one by one. There were no survivors. The End.

Aaron and his kids are safe, and the people that took them no more than ashes on the wind. Such is the fate of anyone who comes for us or our people.

Call it a parable. Learn the lesson it teaches.

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