Omnivictus Them - 2
Chapter Thirty Seven – Near Greenbriar State Forest, Tuckahoe, West Virginia
The campfire was mesmerizing. The flickering yellow and blue flames dancing around like playful nymphs in the night highlighted the weathered features of the men and women enjoying the warmth of both fire and friends. The sweet smell of pine smoke permeated the air and the harsh popping of bubbling resin created a cacophony of discordant music.
Other than that it was eerily quiet. The night sounds of animals and insects were long gone. The horror that had crawled throughout the land had spread a dark blanket of fear and uncertainty among nature’s minions.
“We checked everywhere,” Floyd stated. “Found no signs of the men and the people they claimed to be with.”
“It’s been nearly two weeks since we met them,” Buttercup added. “If they were dangerous you’d think by now we would have spotted them.”
“They’re out there,” Theopolis emphasized. “You can bet on it. They’re just waiting for the right moment to strike. Didn’t you say they smelled to high heaven?”
“Gunny said the religious fanatics recruiting in the area they lived also smelled awful. There’s a connection, I’m sure of it.”
Dennis changed the subject. “Got the ham radio working today. Very little traffic on the air. Most commercial stations have probably closed down and the military uses different frequencies. There should be some ham operators out there though.”
“Be good to know what’s going on around the country,” Angel stated. “We know the creatures have taken over but it would be nice to hear that someone, somewhere, is trying to do something about it.”
“Civilization as we know it no longer exists,” Buttercup mused. “Even if we somehow get rid of the giant ants, things could never go back to normal. Too many key people gone to operate the complex civilization we had.”
“Like in them there movies about the end times?” Floyd asked. “You know, Mad Max and War of the World and the Stand?”
“Exactly! The entire modern infrastructure will steadily fall apart. Not enough trained people left to run things. We’ll be lucky to retain enough technology to build an eighteenth century level existence. We have our books and references and other things, but lack of people will be out greatest problem. We may even revert to a feudal society.”
Buttercup didn’t realize that Floyd only had an eighth grade education. “Back to castles and kings and lords and ladies and peasants and such,” she smiled.
“And religious fruitcakes, bandits, and no law and order,” Angel added.
“Not a whole lot of change for us,” Dennis interjected. “We moved out here to be away from society and government interference anyway. Without the ants, and without the government, life could be somewhat ideal.”
“Don’t forget we also depended a lot on trade,” Buttercup stated. “Without people buying our homemade crafts, paintings, sculptures, and such, we won’t be able to obtain basic items such as sugar and flower and coffee and medicines, lots of things we took for granted.”
The silence around the fire was suddenly shattered. “Movement on the perimeter!” someone yelled.
They grabbed their weapons and rushed to their assigned stations. Gunny Sergeant Gilbert had worked miracles with the defense of the campsite. He’d created military style organization and assigned certain squads and platoons to sectors of the circular perimeter around the camp. Everyone had a place to go and a job to do when they got there.
“What’s the situation, Gunny?” Theopolis asked over the hand-held radio. Another one of gunny’s improvisations was to make sure each group leader had a means of contacting the other. They obtained a large number of two-way radios from several electronics stores along with as many batteries as they could find and Dennis had jury rigged a bicycle contraption to recharge the rechargeable batteries.
“Something or someone set off one of Jackie’s early warning devices,” Gunny returned. “We don’t know what yet but we can’t take chances, man.”
“Love your new lingo, man,” Theopolis chuckled. “What sector was it in?”
“Sector? Talk about lingo, I think we’re learning from each other. Sector is definitely not hippie talk. In front of the third platoon area about a hundred yards out.”
“Cut the jabber.” Another platoon leader came on line. “We have a really bad smell coming in from the north over here,” she related.
Theopolis searched the thick woods. He could barely see beyond fifty feet. Search as they may, they had been unable to find any night vision devices, which would have definitely been useful for the sentries and in a low visibility situation like this. He caught a putrid smell on the mild air currents.
“Smell coming in on south sector also,” he spoke into his handset. “I don’t think it’s the ants. Too organized.”
A few minutes later a machine gun opened up spewing rounds and tracers into their defenses. One man caught standing beside a tree was literally chewed to pieces. The machine gun must have been the signal because the entire perimeter was abruptly drenched with incoming fire.
“Stay down, wait for them!” Gunny yelled.
Within seconds men came into view beyond the defense circle. There were hundreds of them and they boldly walked forward firing their rifles and reloading. Many had rifles, others shotguns, even others had assault rifles. A second line behind the first came into view spraying hot lead as they slowly advanced.
Theopolis' voice overpowered the noise. “Give them hell!”
The defense perimeter opened up, bathing the attackers in a murderous counter fire. The assault force started falling like dominoes and when the SAW’s on line joined in, they started dropping like wheat under a scythe. Suddenly, a third line of men came rushing from the woods carrying flaming bottles. They threw the Molotov cocktails into the ranks of the defenders, setting large sections the defense line on fire.
Theopolis winced from the burning flames as a bottle burst near him, splashing the burning liquid everywhere. He quickly beat the flames from his left leg as he noticed another line of people approaching with flaming bottles.
“Retreat to secondary positions!” he yelled, motioning for those around him to fall back to their second line of defense which consisted of firing pits dug into the ground.
The attackers were rapidly dwindling, many running around on fire when the bottles they carried were shattered by bullets. The smell of burning gunpowder mixed with the pork smell burning flesh was overpowering.
Theopolis watched as one of the attackers, no more than ten feet from his pit, was struck by a bolt from one of the crossbows. The bolt went completely through him and lodged into the person behind him. Both went down shaking and foaming at the mouth. Another man was struck by a bolo and his head crushed by the heavy metal ball.
The firefight was over in a matter of minutes. The surviving attackers dashed back for the safety of the dark woods. Theopolis could hear some of his own people screaming for medics, and many of the attackers screaming for mercy or help.
“Maintain your positions!” Gunny yelled. “LP OP’s forward.” LP’s and OP’s stood for Listening Posts and Observation Posts. These were people assigned to go forward to give early warning of the enemy’s possible return. They consisted mostly of volunteer ex-service members who had recently joined the commune.
They remained quietly at their positions until daylight started creeping into the area. The smell of cooked flesh and wood was heavy. They’d managed to get the fires out but the acrid smoke still smoldered.
“Counted one hundred nine bodies,” Gunny stated, as he walked up and joined the small group of leaders standing near the central campsite. “That’s a lot of people, considering most of them got away.”
“Any wounded?” Theopolis asked.
“A couple too badly burned to save, a third wounded in the gut but won’t last long. He said that ten thousand true believers will avenge him.”
“Well, we already know where they came from,” Angel stated. “They’re converts of that fake prophet.”
“Be nice to know how many of them there are?” Theopolis shrugged. “Ten thousand is an awful lot.”
Gunny grunted. “If they can afford to send five or six hundred against us, we can assume that there’s more than enough to be dangerous. Obviously, they didn’t know the strength of our defenses or they would have sent a larger force. We came damn close to being overrun as it is.’
“What’ll we do with the bodies?” Dennis asked.
“If there are any ants within ten miles of us they’ll be attracted to them like flies,” Gunny answered. “Can’t bury them, the ants will dig the bodies up. We’ve got to burn them.”
“Still puts us in a difficult situation,” Theopolis added. “Regardless of burning the bodies, the blood soaked into the ground will draw the ants and the religious nuts now know exactly where we live and our strength.” He glanced up to see Floyd heading his way waving a piece of paper.
“Found this nailed to a tree.” Floyd handed the paper to Theopolis who read the short note then passed it to Gunny who read it aloud.
Need help-desperate, location marked. Be there, 5 p.m. three days from now. We are against Moses. 52.525=151.625:Us.1700-1900.
No names were given but a map had been hand drawn on the back of the note. The place identified was an X marking a point on Interstate 64 just west of the small town of Dickson.
“Trap?” Gunny looked concerned.
“Splinter group probably,” Theopolis stated. “They know we’ll check the place out in advance so there’s no way for them to set up an ambush. I think this Moses character has some unhappy people in his organization who want a way out.”
“Congregation,” Buttercup added. “What’s those numbers behind the writing?”
“Anyone know?” Theopolis passed the note around.
“Frequencies,” Dennis answered. “They’re ham radio frequencies. I used to be big into that myself. First set of numbers is the freak used by all ham operators on their six-meter band. Second number I think is the channel used for itinerant business or travelers. Looks like they want us to contact them between the hours of five and seven p.m. only.”
“Can you do that?”
“Certainly. Reason I didn’t get them before on my scanner is they were probably not on the air. Anyone trying to stay under the radar is smart enough to only use their communications system a few short minutes at a time. Whoever these characters are, they don’t want us to find them, or, they don’t want their leader to know they’re looking for other survivors.”
“Like it or not, they may have information we need. Next question, what do we do now? We obviously can’t stay here now that we know that they know where we are. If they have ten thousand people we don’t stand a chance in a head on fight.”
“Guy may have been exaggerating,” Gunny stated. “Either way, they were pretty well organized during that attack. Someone with credible military experience is directing them. You can bet they’re scrounging for better military weapons and equipment too.”
“We do know they didn’t walk all the way into this wilderness,” Jackie offered. “They had to use one of only two roads in and out. If we post OP’s far enough out to give us advanced warning if they return, we should be okay here until we can figure out where to go. Might even be able to set up a surprise ambush for them.”
“I’m supposed to be providing the military advice, Jackie.” Gunny grinned at him. “What were you in the Army, some Special Forces, Airborne Ranger type.”
“Army? Hell no! Good old United States Air Force,” Jackie smiled back. “I was way too smart to beat the bushes with those weird grunts. Learned a lot from them when I transported their hides to their drop-off points. Great bunch of Rambo types. Real weird ground pounders though.”
“And you’re not weird?” Buttercup grinned.
Theopolis nodded his head. “We’ll take Jackie’s advice until we make contact with the mysterious people who left the note. Jackie, we’ll leave it up to you to organize the OP’s.”
“I’ll overlap the range so we can have a longer warning time,” Jackie mumbled as he walked away.