--Here are the first four chapters of Buck. You may post them on your website as you see fit. Again, it's the sequel to Shut Down and takes place two years after the economic collapse.
W. R. FlynnChapter One“Joe, look!” Chris Saunders said, as he nervously drew his handgun for the first time in nearly two years.“Whoa,” replied his friend, Joe Hancock. It was the last thing they expected as they tried to catch a few trout or an early-running summer Chinook salmon.It was late morning, warm, and would soon get hot as they fished along the shore of the snowmelt-swollen Sandy River. The river was still flowing fast, but in two weeks, by mid-July, the river level would drop and, as the summer Chinook became more numerous, they would become easier to catch.The two men had been up since early morning working on Joe’s family vegetable garden, getting their hands dirty in the early cool air. Summertime meant long hours of hard work but they didn’t complain. Everyone in town pulled their weight working on farms, fishing or hunting with bows to make sure they had enough food to feed everyone.Prior to the sudden economic collapse, Joe’s family farm grew blueberries, selling them to local markets and overseas wholesale buyers. For years, as a hobby, Joe’s mother, Mary Kay, tended a small vegetable garden alongside her family’s well-maintained early-twentieth-century Sears Craftsman farmhouse.Since the disaster struck, the Hancock vegetable garden expanded. It grew from a few hundred square feet of tomatoes, peppers and zucchinis to five acres featuring dozens of assorted organically grown vegetables. Next year they planned to grow corn, which meant cultivating ten acres. The blueberries still grew in nice straight long rows meandering over the easy rolling hills of western Corbett. They would soon ripen with little help, but their vegetable plot needed constant coaxing, especially during the annual spring and early summer planting period. It was one of many small vegetable farms that had sprouted up in Corbett over the past two years. Work crews would be tending the crops every day all summer and well into fall. As the morning grew warmer, a walk to the river was a welcome break from the backbreaking farm labor.Chris and Joe began fishing for the summer Chinook a few weeks earlier when the first ones arrived. When fishing line grew scarce, the way people fished had to change. There were still plenty of quality, pre-disaster fishing poles to use, but many now preferred the short, simple, birch-branch pole, like the one Chris made during the past winter. Since fishing line was in short supply they no longer casted. Instead, they dropped short lines along the shore, always bringing the lines home afterward.Since midmorning they had caught only one, a twenty-pounder, so they tried their luck downstream. They moved to a point where they could look across the river at the trees and aging picnic areas of Oxbow Park along the opposite shore. Each time they fished along this beach they felt the ghosts of the dead. The shore they stood on was the site of the old battles. Thinking of the hundreds of dead, Joe usually became misty-eyed as he walked nearer and today was no exception.As they settled in and went to work preparing to drop a few fishing lines, Chris glanced downstream a short distance and saw him first. The man was barely visible, lying prone on the riverbank partially shaded under a low-hanging birch tree branch. He was facedown and motionless between a few large river rocks, barefoot, both legs in the water. His scraped and bruised feet stuck out of badly tattered pants. Two filthy hands reached out through the sand toward the trees. His long, greasy dark hair and filthy grey t-shirt were wet and bloodstained. He was an outsider; someone they didn’t know. And that scared them.“He looks dead,” Joe said, whispering back to Chris while clutching his well-worn fishing pole near his skin-tight tan sleeveless t-shirt.“Yup.”“I don’t recognize him,” Joe replied.“Me neither,” Chris said, “but I don’t know everyone. With over three thousand people in town I still meet new people all the time.”“He looks like a stranger,” Joe said.“Yeah,” Chris said.“We better check him out,” Joe said.“His pants’re wet. So’s his shirt. Looks like he just washed up,” Chris replied, as they both moved cautiously closer along the shore of the river.“I dunno, Chris. He may’ve been here all night. Hard t’tell. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen a dead body on this beach,” quipped Joe, referring to the ferocious battles fought along the banks of the Sandy River one terrifying afternoon two summers back.“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anyone at all,” Chris said.“Let’s hope it stays that way. But when there’s one ….”“True,” replied Chris, as the two of them carefully scanned with their eyes in all directions, barely moving their heads.Chapter TwoTwo hundred and fifty men had been killed that day two summers ago when a small Corbett foot patrol stumbled upon and quickly slaughtered a battalion-sized invasion force of freed jail inmates. Their guards had waited helplessly as they sat for days in their cells and dormitories slowly starving to death. Food shipments had stopped when the nation’s trucking system ran out of fuel and collapsed. When the inmates were finally turned loose by good-hearted jail guards, they quickly organized and set off on a manic search for food, drink, drugs and women.A massive Monday morning wave of bank closures, which shut down the world’s fragile financial system, released humanity from its once-powerful social bonds. The sudden unraveling of human civilization was worldwide and struck without mercy. Within a few days everything had fallen apart in a historically unprecedented orgy of death and destruction. Riots and looting exploded unchecked in nation after nation as social order vaporized and the Four Horsemen saddled up for yet another ride, their best ever.Immediately after hitting the streets of northeast Portland the newly-freed, rag-tag army of thugs went on a brutal rampage, looting, raping and burning their way east during two intoxicating weeks of pure mayhem. They were on a winning streak and optimistically thought Corbett would be easy to take, too. After all, northeast Portland, Fairview, Wood Village and Troutdale fell with little resistance. However, when it came to terrorizing Corbett they were dead wrong. Two weeks after the collapse nearly all of them were slaughtered moments after crossing the Sandy River along this shallow stretch of riverbank.The attackers were giddy with excitement as they waded across the Sandy River and clambered over thick logs deposited by past floods. Their anticipation grew as they danced and joked their way to Gordon Creek Road, which meandered near the river at this point. They carried little other than a crazy assortment of looted rifles and handguns, some of which were unloaded. Few knew how to shoot the ones that were. Nevertheless, they were an intimidating force made up of violent wannabes, social outcasts, toothless drug addicts and other assorted Multnomah County rejects.During the two weeks of looting they had shed their jail clothes and were nicely dressed as they strolled north up the road and prepared to attack. After weeks of rummaging through abandoned suburban closets, most looked like they had climbed out of a Columbia Sportswear or an Eddie Bauer catalogue, while others wore casual business attire, some for the first time in their lives. Their meager possessions were carried in colorful convenient daypacks that once held schoolbooks. Many packed sharp knives pilfered during their two weeks of freedom, knives littered with the DNA of their countless victims.A well-armed, well-trained, six-member Corbett foot patrol spotted them. They knew the terrain very well and they knew their weapons even better. After silently taking solid cover positions alongside the road, the local militia waited, hidden in the bushes behind logs, boulders and trees until the noisy mob drew near, then all at once they opened fire. Moments after the shooting started, five members of another nearby foot patrol heard the gunshots and rushed to join them. The one-sided battle lasted only a few minutes. One defender died on this particular beach: Steve Nelson. He had taken a stray bullet in the forehead. He’d died during the first of two one-sided battles fought near the same beach where the filthy barefoot outsider just washed up.Chris had been shot, too. His friend, Alison Lee, also took a round, but she was saved by her father’s Kevlar vest and remained in the fight, bruised but otherwise uninjured. Chris had nearly lost his left arm during that battle along this wooded stretch of beach, but he kept fighting, firing away with his good arm until the battle ended. He’d taken a bullet through the bicep. If not for his inner determination to recover and the loving care of Denise Song Bird, the Native American town veterinarian he later married, he would probably now be fishing one-armed.At five-foot nine and a lean one hundred and fifty-five pounds, Chris now sported a shiny black, foot-long ponytail. A few dozen short wispy black hairs sprouted randomly from the chin and cheeks of his round unscarred face. He once scaled in at a chubby, yet clean-cut, one-ninety. However, with a primarily vegetarian diet and the loss of junk food he, like nearly everyone, lost his body fat. His new weight left him lean and muscular: ripped, in fact. Barefoot and shirtless in his orange-brown deerskin pants, the baby-faced former soldier now looked like an adopted Indian child standing alongside his much larger, light-skinned, bald-headed and blue-eyed friend, Joe.At the time of the collapse, Joe had been packing nearly two hundred and fifty mostly fat free, muscle-bound pounds on his thirty-something superhero frame. Premature baldness had slammed Joe hard, leaving only a stray hair or two on his squarish, sun-reddened head. Always standing straight as a totem pole and well over six feet tall, he was once a mighty presence wherever he went. Heads would turn as he passed by with his nineteen-inch neck and twenty-one-inch arms.However, with the daily foot patrols and hard labor, combined with the limited diet following the disaster, he had lost fifty pounds, reaching a weight he hadn’t been since he graduated from the Navy’s BUD/S training ordeal over a decade earlier. Others had lost even more, but a hardened, intimidating two hundred was how Joe stood since. Along with his father, Joseph, who likewise lost a wheelbarrow full of body fat, he nevertheless continued to hit the weights hard, so Joe and his dad, now nearly sixty, were still considered among the toughest men in Corbett.Sadly, as the months passed, walking was gradually becoming more and more of a minor annoyance for Joe, but when asked why he would always brush it off. Over the last two years he had developed what Denise simply called a nervous disorder. It caused him to walk with a slight rhythmic limp reminiscent of those suffering from a mild case of cerebral palsy. She told him it could worsen over time but, although running fast was no longer possible, he could jog slowly and otherwise get around just fine. Still, if folks needed something heavy lifted or someone friendly to talk to, they often turned to Joe.Chapter ThreeJoe and Chris quietly moved closer, then stood staring at the stranger from about ten feet away. They once again silently scanned around a moment, listening to the nearby woods and looking in all directions to see if anyone else lurked nearby.“There’s no trespassing,” Chris said. “What should we do?”“He isn’t trespassing. Just washed up on our beach. Look. His head’s bleeding,” said Joe, pointing at the blood on the man’s face and in his hair.“Maybe he hurt it crawlin’ outta the water,” replied Chris a bit louder, as he set down his homemade fishing pole alongside Joe’s tackle box and much longer, fiberglass pole.“I doubt it, it’s partly scabbed up, but he looks harmless. Skinny. Bony, like he hasn’t eaten much in weeks. I think he’s hurt bad. You have your gun. Cover me. I’ll roll him over, check him out,” Joe said.Chris still held his Glock nine in his hand, careful to always have it ready after what occurred two years back. “Wait. What if he’s sick? Maybe we shouldn’t take the chance. Remember the old rule about newcomers? We aren’t allowed to go near anyone ‘til we find out if they’re sick,” explained Chris.Joe had stopped carrying his handgun long ago, but he always felt safe as long as his friend Chris carried one. After hearing the man’s story, he’d never again go out without it strapped to his faded baggy blue jeans. “Okay. Let’s find out if he’s sick. Poke him with a stick, Chris. See if you can wake him up. We’ll ask him.”“Let me look at him first,” Chris said, as he approached closer. “Let’s see here … hmm, no weird rash, he’s not sweating, his hair isn’t falling out, he’s not leaking from the nose or mouth … he isn’t shaking or nothing, either. He’s breathing weak, but steady, too. I don’t believe he’s sick at all.”“Well, go on, poke him, Chris. Get him to wake up.”“No, you poke him,” chuckled Chris.“Fine,” said Joe. “I’ll poke him.”“I’ll cover you.”“Okay, but I want you to stand over there,” Joe said, pointing to a sandy area not far from the man.Chris stood where he was told. Joe then walked a short distance back and broke off a small branch from a nearby shade tree. He then stretched out his right arm and carefully aimed the stick at the man’s ribs.“Hey, wake up,” Joe said, as he gently jabbed the man in the ribs a few times with the stick.The man offered no response.Joe then spoke a bit louder while repeatedly tapping the man on his head with the stick. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap and tap, “Hey! Get up!”The man groaned once and slowly turned his head. He faced Joe, staring hard with one eye barely cracked open. The other, black and purple, remained firmly swollen shut. He looked an inch from death.“Why are you hitting me?” asked the stranger.“We’re asking the questions, buddy,” said Chris in a stern voice as he stepped back cautiously, standing behind Joe, glancing up at the back of his friend’s head while holstering the gun.“I’m hurt,” said the man.“Are you sick, or hurt?” Joe asked.The man simply mumbled and pointed at his upper left chest with his grimy, sandy right hand.“What he say?” Chris nervously asked.“I dunno,” Joe replied.“I said I’m shot.” It was much clearer this time.“Shot? Where? By who?” Joe quickly asked.“Where I’m pointing, you idiot,” the man softly replied. “I can barely breathe. Please help me. I’m not sick. I’m shot.”“Can you walk?” Chris asked.“What’s it look like?” asked the man, as he clutched the sand and softly groaned in pain.“Let’s get him to Denise. Chris, help me get him up.”“Are you sure you’re not sick?” Chris asked.“Not sick. Shot. Arrow in the back. Came out my chest. Can barely breathe. Hurts.”“Who did it?” asked Chris.“Dunno. Upriver. Yesterday afternoon. They chased me. Shot arrows at me. Got hit by a couple. One bounced off my head. One went in my back. Pulled it out my chest. Made it to the river. Started swimming. Where am I? Who are you people?”“This is Corbett,” Chris said. “We live here. Where are the people who shot you?”“I dunno. Upriver. By Sandy. How’s Portland?”“Portland’s gone. We saw it burning from the Vista House. How many of them were there?”“Gone?”“Yeah, gone. How many were there?”“Lots. Didn’t count, they chased me, I ran. Portland gone? Oh, no. I used to live there. Roses, mom and dad,” he mumbled as his head flopped back into the sand.“He’s losin’ it, Joe,” Chris said.“Okay, we’re gonna get you to a doctor,” Joe said. “Right now.”Joe turned to Chris. “We’ll walk him up the hill together.Leave the fishing stuff. We can get it later, but bring thatsalmon. We can’t waste it. It’ll rot in the heat.”Joe straddled the stranger. Then he put his massive hands under the man’s arms and stood him up.“I can walk,” said the man. “I just can’t stand up.”Joe caught him as he started to fall.“Joe, look at your hands! Blood!”“Whoa! We better get this guy up the hill fast. Let’s go.”Chris slipped into his moccasins. He then picked up the canvas bag holding the salmon with his weaker left hand and together with Joe helped gently lift the man over a few logs. They half walked, half carried the man the rest of the way up the riverbank to the hot, smooth pavement of Southeast Gordon Creek Road. They could retrieve the poles later.When they reached the road, the man stumbled and nearly fell on the asphalt.“Hey, buddy. It’s only a few miles. Stay awake. Talk to me,” Chris said, as they helped him up.“C’mon, man. You can make it. We’re gonna make you okay again. You’ll be fine soon. Denise Song Bird will fix you up good as new,” Joe said.“Hey, I’m Chris. This is Joe. What’s your name?” Chris smiled and asked.“Baccellieri. Michael. I hate ‘Mike.’ Don’t ever call me ‘Mike.’ Please, don’t.”“Okay. I can’t pronounce your last name. How do you say your last name, again?” Chris asked, staring at the bloody-faced stranger.“‘Bah-chel-lee-air-ree.’ It’s easy,” Michael slurred.“‘Buck-lee-airy.’ Hey! That’s easy to pronounce,” Chris smiled, at what he thought was a small linguistic success.“No. No. It’s, ‘Bah-chel-lee-air-ree.’”“No, Chris, say it right. It’s ‘Back-lee-air-ee,’” Joe said.Michael glanced up at Joe, then over at Chris. He shook his head, “Hicks. You two friggin’ idiots are killing me. Just drop me. Let me die in the road. I can’t take this anymore. Is Denise Song Bird, the doctor, anything like you two? Hey, you look like a Native American.” Michael groaned toward Chris.“Chris, he’s about to pass out. We should just help him get to the clinic and kinda ignore what he says right now,” Joe said.“Around here we prefer the term 'Indian' not ‘Native American,’ if you don’t mind. And yeah, she’s my wife,” Chris replied, ignoring Joe’s advice. “We’re from different tribes. I help out in her veterinary clinic.”“C’mon, really, now. What is this place? Am I dead? Yeah … oh yeah, fer sure. Did I drown? Was it the arrow? I’m in Purgatory, aren’t I? Damn it, knew I wouldn’t make the first cut: must have been the crap I pulled in high school, or in the army,” he slurred.Chris spread his arms out, palms up, as if carrying an invisible bag of onions. He then looked at Joe and shrugged, not quite sure what Buck was talking about.Joe laughed. “No. You’re not dead yet. You’re hurt bad, but you’re gonna live. Denise is really smart. She’s helped lots of us get better. For a vet, she’s doing a really good job as our doctor.”“I have an arrow hole through my chest. My head’s bleeding and it hurts. I can’t see out one eye. My boots are gone. I ain’t eat’ in two days. And you morons are bringing me to a damn country veterinarian?”Joe, dumbfounded, glanced at Chris and shrugged. “Hey, I’m sorry. It’s all we got. She’s our doctor now. You’ll get better soon. You’ll see. Hey, would it be okay if we just called you ‘Buck?’”“‘Buck.’ Yeah, I guess so. That’s fine. Cool. I’ll live with ‘at. You guys jus’ call me Buck.” Michael slurred.“Okay, Mike. We’ll call you Buck,” Chris said. “By the way, Buck, where’s Purgatory?”After Chris spoke, Buck glared at him briefly then lost consciousness, dreaming of the men with the bows.Chapter FourThey came from the south, always hungry, walking through ghost towns and along abandoned roads in search of food. This wandering pack of feral men was thirty strong now. As they moved, they would lose a few, then pick up a few more as they travelled meal to meal. Always moving, always searching, always hungry, their craving for food was purely primal. Sometimes getting lucky, they would stumble across an overlooked hoard in a rail yard shipping container or a freeze-dried stash cleverly hidden in a basement or sometimes secreted in the dusty attic crawlspace of a long-gone survivalist’s home.Moving through what was once called California had become too dangerous, even for these savage, silently moving feral men. The once-cultivated fields had long since dried. The battles for dominance during the past two years had provided victory to none. The bloody struggles over the scraps ended when the scraps were gone. However, countless individuals and a few small groups still roamed the countryside in search of food. This no-name group from somewhere in California was one of the last, and the only one still scavenging in Oregon.The California Central Valley heat was deadly during the summer, and getting hotter each year, so they moved north, to a cooler place, into the Willamette River Valley. They had one objective: survival.To reach there they walked north, skirting the western Sierra foothills. They occasionally encountered farming villages, isolated heavily-armed small groupings usually numbering under one hundred, although some were larger, all of them remnants of the horrifying decimation two years earlier. The members of these colonies worked hard, struggling nonstop to survive. Most defended themselves, vigilantly guarding their perimeters and brutally turning away outsiders with well-aimed rifles, especially those looking like this band of thirty-odd hard-faced men. Few let them get anywhere close.It was becoming routine for this marauding band. Some communities made the deadly mistake of welcoming these strangers, offering them food and shelter. Those who did lost everything. The feral men would then gorge themselves and move on, packing the remains. The fortunate ones learned from their misplaced kindness and got a chance to start again, wiser and more cautious about where to direct their compassion. The others became one with the ever-present wind and dust.As the feral pack moved north, through the eastern side of the Willamette Valley, the few survivor colonies they found were unfriendly, armed and well-guarded, allowing no one near. In April, three of their pack had been shot and killed approaching one small, but well-organized farming village south of Lebanon.They approached the crude, makeshift gate, handguns hidden under tattered shirts. One man walked well ahead of the other two while waving a white shirt high over his head as if coming in peace. It was a clever entry tactic they had successfully used: approach with a white cloth waved high, draw close, and then kill.They were ordered to stop twice, yet their simple plan and burning hunger drew them ever nearer to the vigilant town guards. The lead man was thirty yards away. Next, the other two moved closer. It was a tactic that had worked well before. The three kept walking closer, waving the white cloth, smiling at the guards as if they were old lost friends. Twenty yards away. Now ten. One of the sentries ordered them once again to stop yet the three kept drawing closer. The three sentries then opened fire at once, stopping them cold when they ignored the final order.After that, the ferals avoided the well-defended towns unless their situation became truly dire, in which case they would attack a few less-defended homes on the outskirts. Instead of overpowering the armed guards, they would wait until night then attack poorly defended homes on the edges of towns under the cover of darkness, quickly taking what they could and then fleeing like rats into the night.They had yet to move past the first level of Maslow’s pyramid of hierarchical needs. They accepted no women or children into their band. “Maybe later,” they kept telling themselves. Maybe when they found a place to retire, a place to stay for good. That was a distant dream, often talked about, but few believed it would happen.The men had become desperate, hungry, as they moved north to the Sandy River, near the ghost town once called Sandy. The town was the last food stop along the Mount Hood Highway. In the days and weeks following the collapse, tens of thousands of starving people arrived, fleeing the chaos in the city. Its orchards, farms, markets and homes were stripped bare. Only a few families survived.Scouts moved ahead of the main group in twos, searching, listening, ever on guard. They heard the distant rhythmic cracking of axes barely echoing in the silent air. They found a few sets of fresh footprints along a river beach near their camp, one set, human, another set, dog. They followed them for a time, then returned to the main pack with their walking bounty, sharing the exciting news that a town was near.Most of their ammunition had been spent hunting deer and other game during the past winter. Their remaining bullets were divided, loaded into inaccurate rifles and rusty handguns. Bows were inspected, once again. More arrows were made ready as they cooked a scrawny mongrel over a small, carefully burning fire. Tired of eating undercooked stray dogs and raccoons, they were now excited, preparing for yet another attack.Then, an emaciated stranger approached, a threat to their planned raid. “Kill him!” one of them muttered. Grimy hands dipped into deerskin quivers. Arrows rained on the man. The men saw one arrow strike his head. Another pierced his back. They saw him fall into the river and float away, and thought no more of him.
SHUT DOWN A Story of Economic Collapse and Hope