“It’s Time To Go Home – A SHTF Story” Parts 7, 8 and 9

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Read parts 1 to 6 to catch up here >> https://www.shtfpreparedness.com/category/its-time-to-go-home-a-shtf-story/

 

Jim was grinning at him across the table, the old man’s rancid breath almost made Henry gag. Red rivers spread across his eyeballs and the scraggly stubble covered his ruddy face. Henry continued eating the thick, heavy stew as he listened intently to Jim. The old man lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper, and he crouched forward, so much so that his face was almost directly in front of Henry’s bowl.

“This place isn’t real. It’s all make believe,” he said, and Henry’s heart fell. “They make you thin’ you’re safe, like this is some kind o’ paradise but they’re all monsters and they all delude themselves into thinking this is normal. They don’t see what I see. I see behind their masks, they thin’ they’re so great. They thin’ they’re perfect and that we’re safe here but we’re not. The end of the world killed us all and we’re just in a queue waitin’ to meet our maker. The angels are gonn’ come down and pick us off one by one and we ain’t gonn’ be able to do a damn thing. They think they’ve saved us, the Duke an’ his cronies. They think they’re royalty but all they’ve done is damned us. Everythin’ they’ve done in the name of survival…it’s gonn’ send us to hell.” Jim spoke with a fervor that reached down into the pit of Henry’s gut.

“What things, what things have they done?” Henry asked, his voice fraught with tension. However, at that point the imposing figures of Max and Daryl towered over the two of them. Jim instantly cowered as they appeared and wrung his hands.

“I didn’ say nothin’, no, just welcomin’ the new fella yes I was just saying hi,” he said, and muttered some more ramblings while Max and Daryl smirked.

“Dinner’s over,” Max said curtly, and they hauled Henry to his feet. His strength was beginning to return now but he still didn’t have the courage to fight back. Meekly, he let them manhandle him and he followed them out.

“Who was that man?” Henry asked, trying to play innocent.

“Just an old fool. He’s crazy, but he has a knack for machinery so we keep him around,” Daryl replied coolly, although Henry thought there must be more to him. It seemed rather convenient that they were interrupted just as Jim was about to tell him something. Perhaps he was crazy, but Henry thought that within those meandering ramblings there was some kernel of truth or clarity, and if he could discover them he might find out what was really going on in the camp.

 

Max and Daryl led him through a different path of hallways. There were fewer people in this area, but it still had the same patched-together look as the rest of the compound. Henry was shown into a small office where The Duke sat behind his large desk. Max and Daryl left and shut the door behind them. The Duke didn’t seem to notice Henry as he was scribbling something in a notebook. Henry lowered himself into an uncomfortable chair and looked around. The desk was orderly with everything in its proper position. Cabinets and chests of drawers were stacked against the walls. On the walls behind The Duke were maps. Henry recognized them as the surrounding area; he’d had similar maps in his cabin, although these were far more extensive. On the maps various locations were marked. As he looked closer Henry thought he saw his cabin, and he had to stifle a gasp when his eyes drifted over and saw that The Duke had marked a location that he thought nobody would find. Suddenly Henry became unsettled, and it was at that moment that The Duke laid his pen flat on the desk and looked at him.

“You look well, I take it the stew did its job?”

“Yes I-I’m feeling much better,” Henry replied, speaking haltingly, afraid that one wrong word would see him thrust back into a cage.

“We need to talk about…home,” The Duke said, leaning forward and pressing the tips of his fingers together.

“Home?”

“Yes. I don’t know your story or your past, but we are both from England and that practically makes us brothers. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of what I have built here and it is nice to have a safe haven in this desolate world, but I long for home. Do you?”

“Y-yes. Have you heard anything?”

“No. We have radios, but they don’t pick up much, only the occasional local broadcast.” He sighed and placed his palms flat on the table, and for the first time since Henry had met him he looked human.

“Do you have a family Henry?” he asked, even though he knew full well that he did. Henry nodded.

“I do as well, I assume they’re back in England?” Henry nodded again.

“I hope you understand that I’m taking a big risk in telling you this, but I feel like as we share a similar longing for home we are almost kindred spirits. I love this place, but my dream is to return home. I want your help Henry. I want us to work together so that we can find a way to get back to our families. Will you help me?” Again Henry nodded. The Duke seemed genuine but Henry didn’t know whether to trust him or not. He was aware how this new world had changed people, and he wasn’t ready to take anyone at their word.

“I know you must think this is all very strange and I promise you that things will be explained to you, but I wanted you to know that we’re working together towards the same goal.” He smiled at Henry but it wasn’t a warm smile. It sent a shiver up Henry’s spine and his throat was suddenly dry. He was about to speak to ask the Duke why he needed to put those people in cages, but before the words escaped his lips the sound of gunfire rang through the camp and Max burst in.

“They’re back,” he said, sweat pouring down his face. The Duke cursed.

 

Henry was thrust into chaos as the sound of gunfire rang out through the bleak darkness. Max, Daryl and the Duke all leapt into action, barking orders and readying the community’s defenses. All around them people scurried about, their footsteps combining to create a thunderous sound that reverberated in Henry’s head. He followed the three leaders as they marched through the corridors, noting how streamlined everything was; everyone seemed to know their duties and how to cope. He came to the conclusion that this wasn’t the first time the base had been under attack.

 

They emerged from the main building and a scrawny boy, he could have been no more than fourteen, came up to them and saluted the Duke.

“They’re attacking the South barricades sir; they’ve got a turtle, looks to be more of a recon effort. They don’t have much in the way of firepower. We should be able to hold them off,” he said, his voice high and soft. It wasn’t like how a soldier should sound, Henry thought.

“Hmm, still, we should be prepared for something more. Make sure everyone at the other walls keeps a close eye out in case this attack is a distraction. Who is on duty at the South?”

“Miller and Ryan,” the boy replied, “but Parker and Booth have helped out as well.”

“Good work, carry on,” the Duke said.

“Yes sir,” the boy said, standing to attention and visibly proud of the role he was playing.

 

Henry followed the Duke, Max and Daryl as they powerfully strode towards the South wall. The cold wind was whirling around them and they were too far away from the burning bonfire to enjoy any warmth from it. After spending a little time indoors Henry had almost forgotten the biting, unforgiving cold, and he shuffled along behind the men, wrapping his arms around himself, trying to contain every ounce of warmth that he could. It was a hard task because the chill reached down deep into his bones and stabbed at his fragile heart. As they walked he recognized the area as being that which he was first brought into the camp. The cages were far off to one side and he made out the faint outlines of the people trapped in them.

“Who are these people that are attacking?” he asked through gasping breaths.

“Bad people,” the Duke replied grimly, “wars are either fought for land, religion or wealth. The only thing we’ve got now is land, and they want ours. Usually they come like this, just to rattle us and remind us that they’re out there. Sometimes, though, they come in greater numbers. We’ve lost a lot of good people,” he said, his face drawn, and once again Henry saw another of the Duke’s faces. He looked tortured and tired and Henry couldn’t imagine the pressures the man must have been under. After all, in this new world every camp was basically its own sovereign nation and people were divided not by creeds or heritage, but simply by the loyalty that was formed as they struggled through day-to-day life.

 

As they approached the wall (like everything else in the compound it was a patchwork structure, made up of any strong object they could find) Henry saw the vehicle sitting ominously outside the main gates, and it dawned on him why they called it a turtle. Whoever was controlling it had made a shell and attached it to the jeep, giving it an added layer of armor. It was a sad state of affairs that such measures were needed. Henry was beginning to get an impression of why everyone seemed so highly-strung around here, and suddenly the Duke’s actions seemed more understandable. Henry had spent most of his time in the post-apocalyptic world away from large groups of people, and in his absence he had almost forgotten how ruthless and cruel humans could be to each other.

“What’s going on?” the Duke asked. There were four men against the wall. Two of them were stood up with rifles pointed over the edge of the wall while the other two were crouched, their guns poking through small holes.

“They’ve been sat there for a while. They drove across the boundary until they settled there. They fired off a few warning shots but nobody was hurt. They’re just waiting there for something,” one of the men said without taking his eyes off the turtle. They were clad in thick clothes so Henry couldn’t see what they looked like.

“I say we go out, all guns blazing,” Max said. Daryl heartily agreed.

“This requires more finesse,” the Duke said, and he walked up the platform to stand alongside the men. Henry was shocked that he would put his own life at risk, and he watched on, enthralled, as the Duke revealed himself to the turtle.

 

The Duke slowly pulled a pistol out and trained it on the windshield of the turtle. A bit of glass was barely visible beneath the armored shell. Henry didn’t know how on Earth the Duke was hoping to hit the windshield with a pistol from that distance, especially not in the darkness with flakes of snow blowing around him. His hand held steady and then, as Henry stood peering through a peephole in the wall, the door to the turtle opened and a man walked out. He was haggard, and his face was visible through the storm. He shuffled across the ground, holding his hands up.

“Haven’t you had enough?” he shouted, “we don’t have to do this?” His voice was heavy with desperation and anguish. “We can live in peace, just let our people go. It doesn’t have to be this way,” he said.

“It can be no other way. You started this, you wanted this,” the Duke shouted back.

“It was a mistake! It wasn’t what we wanted; it all just got out of control. We can come back from this, let’s just talk about it.”

“It’s too late for that, there’s no going back,” the Duke said coolly, with no remorse in his voice. Before the other man had a chance to reply the Duke pulled the trigger and a bullet flew through the air.

 

Henry watched on, horrified as the Duke pulled the trigger. The bullet crashed into the pleading man’s skull and he fell limply to the floor. A burst of blood sprayed out and splattered over the white ground, and the dark crimson oozed out around the crushed snow where the fallen man lay. After that havoc broke loose, arrows flew through the air and whizzed pass the Duke, plunging deep into the chests of the men standing either side of him. They cried out and fell off the platform while the Duke remained impassive. As the arrows flew past, Max and Daryl yelled and leapt up to the platform, taking the other’s places. The other two, who were below, started firing at the turtle, which drove forward and circled around the dead body. From the hidden side two men leapt out and quickly hauled the dead body back in the jeep, but a raw scream tore through the air as a bullet left Max’s gun and tore through the flesh of one of the men’s legs.

 

Bullets and arrows danced through the air, and while the others were occupied Henry saw an opportunity to explore without Max and Daryl continually observing his every move. Without them noticing he stepped away, his footsteps making barely any noise on the layer of snow that blanketed the ground. He looked over his shoulder as he walked away, making sure that he went unnoticed and he moved as quickly as he could, his heart beating fast as he knew he was taking a risk, but he had to try and find out some things for himself.

 

He made his way over to the cages. The one he had been in was empty, but the frightened woman and the grizzled man were still in the adjacent ones. The big bonfire crackled but he wasn’t close enough for it to combat the chill in his bones, and his breath turned into vapor as soon as it left his mouth. He knelt down between the two cages and he first went to the woman.

“Are you okay? Who are you?” he asked. She cowered into the corner, drawing her knees up and wrapping her arms tightly around them. He asked her again but she bowed her head and mumbled something intelligible to herself.

 

Unsuccessful with his first try he moved to the other cage.

“You won’t get anything outta her,” the man said.

“Why? Who are you? Why are you being held here?” Henry asked, his questions flying as quickly as the bullets on the wall. The man scoffed at him.

“Why don’t you ask your friend, the Duke,” he said, his voice dripping with disdain.

“He’s not my friend,” Henry said in a small voice, “I barely know him. They captured me just like they did you.”

“I imagine the circumstances were slightly different. Besides, only one of us is in a cage.” Henry was suitably chagrined and looked sheepish, but he couldn’t let the captive man’s demeanor deter him.

“I want to help you. I want to know what’s going on. This place is crazy. Why are you here?”

“Because I killed his wife,” the man replied, his steely blue eyes betraying no hint of remorse. Henry was stunned, remembering how the Duke had mentioned his family. Why would he lie about that? Why would this man lie? He wanted to question him further, there was still so much to know, but in the background he noticed that the shooting had subsided and they had noticed his absence. He heard Max exclaim, and Henry had to fight with himself to run. He didn’t know when he’d get a chance to question this man again, so with a heavy heart he rose and ran as fast as he could through the compound.

 

The wind whipped his face as he ran past various people milling around. Max and Daryl were in hot pursuit but the Duke didn’t seem to be too worried. Henry felt a comforting wave of warmth wash over him as he ran past the bonfire, and then headed into the unknown area of the compound. On the way he ran into the boy who had reported to the Duke earlier, and Henry barreled into him, sending him to the floor. The area was mostly deserted and people didn’t seem to react to him, but he ran away from the crowd, back into the cold. Eventually found himself near the wall. He didn’t want to escape because he knew he wouldn’t survive out there, and in his heart he knew that there was nowhere to hide, but he was going to make the Duke search for him.

“Psst, over ‘ere,” a voice cried out. Henry looked around through the darkness, trying to pinpoint the source of the voice.

“Hurry up, got a place for you ‘ere,” the voice said again. Eventually Henry found it, and saw the face of Jim peering out underneath a layer of metal that acted as a door to a pit in the ground. With no better options Henry crawled in and knelt down by the old man. The pit was cramped and the stench made Henry gag.

“You live here?” he asked in disbelief.

“Peaceful here. Quiet. No-one to steal my stuff.” What ‘stuff’ that was, Henry dreaded to think.

“Listen,” Henry said, “do you know who attacked the camp? Is there another group out there?”

“Oh, aye, the righteous come and smite us. Avenging angels sent to punish us. They can’t forgive us because we know what we do, and there is no room for peace.” Henry scowled, and wondered how long it would be until the Duke found him.

“What about the Duke, what happened with his wife?”

“Oh the wife…she was beautiful. Most beautiful woman I ever saw. She wasn’t made for this world, far too pure, she’s in a better one now.”

“What happened to her?!” Henry almost screamed the question. Jim looked at him and his eyes glistened with tears, but before he could answer the door was open and the smug faces of Max and Daryl stared down at them.

to be continued…….

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