Chapter 1

It all started with the depression of 2008, and, by 2011, there was 35.7% unemployment in the USA. Things seemed to snowball, and no one was surprised at the bomb that was set off under the stage at the 2013 presidential inauguration. It virtually wiped out the federal government: the president, the vice-president, the supreme court, and every one of the leading members of the Senate and House of Representatives. It was later estimated that the bomb consisted of on the order of 2,000 pounds of C-4. Ten years later, the hole was still there, surrounded by a metal fence bearing a plaque commemorating the event.

Of course, nowadays, not many people stopped to read the inscription on the plaque. Why? Not many people even passed by the plaque each day. Washington, DC, was a ghost town. What little federal government there was, was concentrated in New York City where the bosses could keep a close watch over it.

About the only government work being done in Washington, DC, was at the Pentagon where the military was concentrating on keeping the borders secure against the Mexicans and the Canadians, though why either one would want to enter the USA is a mystery. The Navy, also working out of the Pentagon, was responsible for the three coasts. There was no Air Force any more, they were declared superfluous and disbanded five years earlier.

The country was now run by the mob bosses and the union bosses. It was hard to say which one had the most power, but the question was kind of academic, since the mob concentrated on controlling territory, and the unions concentrated on controlling the failing economy.

The mob bosses had set themselves up as a feudal society, with the boss of bosses taking the place of the king. The lesser bosses swore fealty to him, and the even lesser bosses did the same to their bosses. Mob territories were as large as a boss could control, and the size of a territory constantly fluctuated as the boss's strength waxed and waned. The soldiers of the lowest level boss operated pretty much as did the knights in the middle ages: bullying and stealing from the civilians as the mood struck. If a civilian resisted, he was usually shot or knifed on the spot, if he was not beaten to death. Of course, women who resisted were raped first, but that was a given.

The unions operated in much the same way, except that they controlled employment to the point that absolutely no one could work if he did not belong to a union. And "belong" was the right word. The union dictated the job the person did and the number of hours he worked. No matter what the job, from surgeon to janitor, he was paid by the hour, and the number of hours he worked was determined by the union bosses. Each union had its enforcers who did pretty much as they pleased, as long as they ensured that the amount of work decreed by the union bosses was accomplished.

I guess that's where I come in. I was just another union worker as a machinist in a gun manufacturing plant. We made a knock-off of the AK-74. Actually, our guns were of remarkably high quality and were in demand around the world. The price was low, so almost any government could afford to use them. We ran a very high level of employment and were one of the few recession-proof industries.

If all that was true, then how did I get laid off? I was a damned fool, that's how! I objected when a union enforcer tried to rape a coworker at the machine next to mine. He was smart enough to wait until her break time so that production wouldn't suffer, but he just pushed her to the floor and started ripping off her clothes. She screamed for help, and I tried to come to her rescue. That was my mistake. I was beaten by four thugs to the point that I could not return to my machine, so I was laid off on the spot. The woman was still raped by at least six goons, but she was able to return to work when her break time was over, so she kept her job. The thugs were admonished by the shift foreman for disturbing the peace, but that was the end of it as far as they were concerned.

The foreman was somewhat considerate of me—he waited until I regained consciousness before I was thrown out onto the sidewalk beyond the boundary fence, so I was not robbed before I could defend myself. As soon as I got home, my live-in girlfriend tossed me out on my ear. I guess that was OK, since it was her apartment, and she was already looking for another meal ticket. One of her friends at the plant had telephoned her about the incident, so she knew that I was unemployed before I even did.

I did manage to collect my clothes before she locked me out, but now I had to find a place to stay while I recovered from my beating. I was lucky that the thugs were in a good mood and did not break any of my bones, but they sure did make me sore all over, particularly in the crotch area.

I was lucky that there was a homeless shelter only a couple of blocks away, and I managed to stagger there for help. Fortunately for me, all I really needed was a place to rest and recuperate from my bruises. The shelter was jammed full with a waiting list, so it was with the greatest bit of luck that I knew the manager of the shelter. We had been buddies when in the first and second grades. He let me rest on the floor in his office when he wasn't using it during the day, and he let me sleep there at night. I was able to eat at the shelter's soup kitchen, so I got by for the six weeks it took for me to completely heal.

Of course, being well didn't do me a hell of a lot of good, since I had no way to get a new job. If you weren't a member of some union, you had no chance to get a job, and I had lost my union membership when I had the "fight" with the enforcers. Having been booted out of one union, there was no way I could get into another union.

The only other possibility for a job was as a mob soldier, but it took "family" influence to get that kind of job, and I didn't have any. Besides, I really didn't want that kind of job if I could help it—I wasn't the kind of person that would do well as hired muscle. OK, so now I was one of the millions of unemployed.

Just a few days after I was well enough to move around on my own, my friend was promoted to a higher level job within his union, and he did not dare turn it down. He left town, and the guy who took his place didn't know me from Adam's off ox. That meant that I had to leave the shelter, and I knew that I was not going to find a place to live in another shelter in town. Winter was coming on and I didn't want to spend that time of ice and snow living in a corrugated box at the blind end of some alley. Even I finally got it through my thick head that I had to move to some other town, but where?

I asked around and was advised to head south. If I had to live outside, at least I wouldn't have to do it in freezing-ass cold. OK, I could agree with that, but how was I going to get south? I had no money for a bus ticket so the only thing I could do was walk. In that case, I had better get started!

I set out from Trenton, New Jersey, one morning in late summer. I knew that I could not walk as far south as I needed to get before the cold weather set in, but I was determined to get as far as I could before I froze. I just became another bindlestiff among many as I set out on my journey. All I had to carry was a few extra clothes; I didn't even have a bedroll. I was not properly equipped for the trip, but I had no choice.

I made 12 miles that first day, which I thought was pretty good, since I was completely out of condition from having spent so much time flat on my back recovering from the beating. I was out in the middle of nowhere when I spied another bindlestiff shuffling along in the same direction as me. He was an old guy, and he looked like he could have been a stock trader before 2008. He looked to be over 40 and probably was not long for this world. His pace was slow enough that I had no trouble catching up to him, and he greeted me in a friendly manner which I couldn't help reciprocating.

"Hello, my name is James Woodall, and I'm headed for the hobo jungle about a mile farther down this road."

Right then, I got some very useful information, so I decided to stick with James for a little while, at least. "Hi, I'm Bill Johnson, and I'm headed for the same place if you will lead the way."

He laughed at that and looked closely at my clothes. "I don't see any patches, so you must be just getting started on the road. As you can see from my outfit, I've been at it for a while."

"Yeah, I had a job up until a few months ago. I got fired for trying to stop a rape. It seems the rapists were union enforcers, so I got the shitty end of the stick. Where are you headed, James?"

"Call me Jimmy, everybody else does. Eventually, I hope to get to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, but I settle for Atlanta. How about you?"

"I don't know, Jimmy. I'm just headed for warm weather right now. I don't have any prospects, so I'll just take what I can get." We talked about this and that as we walked, and I picked up some very useful tips about life on the road as Jimmy rambled on. Just about the time I was ready to collapse with fatigue, we came upon the hobo jungle. Jimmy had several friends there, so he was able to talk them out of two cups, actually cans, of soup dipped from a communal pot. I have no idea what was in the soup, but it sure tasted good after a day on the road and a missed lunch.

Jimmy and I were walking along, talking, and enjoying the sunshine when we heard a weak cry for help in the woods to our right. It was obviously a young female who was in need of help, so I made the same mistake I had made a few months ago, namely, I rushed to her aid.

When I got there, I found two men in the process of raping a girl not over 10 years old. That was enough to make me completely lose all control. I was carrying a hefty stick for defense against dogs, so I was armed when I attacked. Neither man heard me coming, so I got close enough to strike without any reaction from them. They were both too intent on the rape to pay sufficient attention to what was happening around them.

In my youth, I had been an accomplished home run hitter for my stick-ball team, so I knew how to swing my club to maximum advantage. I hit the man who had penetrated the girl on his neck just below the back of his head. I knew exactly what I was doing. My intent was to kill him and I did it with one blow. The other man was kneeling at the girl's head and holding her arms. He was absolutely stupefied by what had happened to his partner, so he did not react quickly enough to save his own life. He fumbled at the waist band of his pants in the back instead of trying to dodge, so I had plenty of time to hit him in the throat right on top of his Adam's apple. This was enough to knock him tail over teakettle and jerk his hand away from his waist—a gun went flying into the weeds.

Uh-oh! The only people who carry handguns routinely are mob soldiers. If they caught me, now, I was a dead man. I quickly looked around to see if there were any other of their ilk nearby, but didn't see any.

Jimmy had entered the clearing right behind me, but had been too surprised to do anything. He now unfroze and rushed to the girl. "Are you hurt, honey?" It was too late for her to answer, we both could tell that she was dead. Maybe she had died of fright. We certainly couldn't tell, but we had three dead bodies on our hands, so we had to get out of there as soon as possible.

Jimmy, possibly because he was older than me and, thus, more experienced with the world, began searching through the pockets of the two dead men. He came up with a wad of cash from each man and the gun from the first man I hit. The other dead man was also carrying a cosh and a wicked looking folding knife. Jimmy pocketed all of those things, along with some spare ammunition magazines he found and asked "Did you see where the other gun went?"

I nodded and went to pick it up. I handed it to Jimmy, and he inspected it for dirt and, finding it clean, handed it back to me. "Bill, this is important! Do you know how to use the gun?"

"Only theoretically. I've see them used on TV and in the movies, but I have never shot one before."

"OK, I was in the Army at one time, so I do know how to use it. You better give it back to me for now. I'll show you how to use it once we have found a safer place. Let's go before we get caught."

We left the clearing by a trail we found and had gone less than 50 feet when we stumbled upon a car. Jimmy exclaimed, "Shit, how lucky can we get!?! Bill, do you know how to drive?"

"No, I'm a city boy. I never learned."

"That's OK. I know how. I'll teach you later. Come on. Climb in, and let's be on our way."

I wasn't sure about this, but Jimmy was acting like he knew exactly what he was doing, so I followed his lead. He said, "Well, we've got plenty of fuel, nearly a full tank, so we should be able to go a long way with this. Fasten your seat belt, and we'll head for Florida. It's been a while since I drove, but they say you never forget how, so let's give it a try."

The car was black and rather nondescript, so I figured that we could escape notice in it for a while. Jimmy got us turned around with only a little trouble and drove back the way the original owners had come. That scared me a little, but we didn't see anybody, so I relaxed a little. We weaved back and forth a little, and Jimmy cursed something about over correcting, but I let it go, since he seemed to be doing fine as far as I could tell.

We came out on the road we had been walking down, so I felt a little better. At least, I had the feeling of knowing where I was. I did begin to worry a little more when Jimmy sped up to what must have been close to 100 KPH (Kilometers per hour). I had never gone that fast, so I was unsure of what to expect. Jimmy noticed my unease and said, "Relax, I know what I am doing. We would attract attention if we drove any slower." About that time, a large semi truck tooted his horn and came flying around us at what had to be over 150, or at least I though so. Now, this was the way to travel. It sure as hell saved a lot of shoe rubber.

Jimmy drove for about five hours. It started getting dark and he flipped on the driving lights. "We need to stop for food and fuel, at least. I'm getting tired, so I don't know how much longer I can drive. Maybe we should just find a place to stop for the night. Hey, there is a motel. Let's stop there."

I agreed with him because I had not better idea. We pulled in and got a room with two beds. There was a Happy Fries down the street about 300 feet, so we went there for supper. Jimmy warned me not to eat too much fatty food because I was no longer used to it, and it would make me sick. We ate a big salad and a small burger, but no fries. My stomach actually complained about how much food I had put in it after being so long without a filling meal.

We went back to the motel and I enjoyed the first shower in really warm water that I'd had in months. I went to bed and was asleep before Jimmy finished his shower.

Cast in this chapter:

Bill Johnson—hero, narrator

James (Jimmy) Woodall—hobo met on the road

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Story tagged with:
Science Fiction / Post Apocalypse / Violent / Military /