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Ryan Westfield

DEFENDING CAMP

A POST-APOCALYPTIC EMP SURVIVAL THRILLER

1

MAX

Max woke up early at the first crack of light. He lay on the cold ground in the tent for a minute before rising. He moved quietly so that he wouldn’t wake up James, who was sound asleep, snoring loudly.

The first thing he thought about wasn’t the immediate safety of the camp. Things had been calm for a week. No signs of anything about to happen. No strangers stalking them. No footprints where they shouldn’t be.

His mind went right to that radio call they’d received. Someone needed help. Max had the coordinates.

But should he do it? Should he go?

John and Cynthia were on watch, stationed at opposite ends of the camp. They were fairly close to the fire, and they nodded wearily at Max.

“Why don’t you get some sleep?” said Max to Cynthia as he gathered the supplies for making coffee.

She nodded without saying anything. Her eyes were bloodshot from staying awake all night. She stood, slightly unsteady on her feet, and gave John a silent kiss on the cheek before disappearing into the van where the women slept.

They’d spent time patching up the bullet holes in the van and the tent. But, even so, they didn’t offer much protection against the cold.

Fortunately, since the snowstorm, the weather had turned more mild. That didn’t mean it wasn’t cold at night, or the early morning.

Max shivered slightly as he placed the small pot of water onto the metal rack that lay over the recessed fire pit. The rack was one of the many things they’d scavenged from the pot farmers’ camp.

“Put some on for me, will you?” called out John.

“Already got it.”

Max decided not to ask about the kiss. That was their business, not his.

Max’s leg still hurt him, especially on cold mornings like this. He doubted he’d ever fully recover. That was fine with him. It could have been worse.

Anyway, what could he expect? It wasn’t like he’d had the luxury of hospital care or round the clock nurses. And forget about physical therapy, with trained professionals who’d spent years studying recovery theory.

Max had been conducting his own physical therapy. He’d made a little step with wood, and he made sure to do step-up exercises every day on his bad leg. So far, it seemed to be helping, even if all it was doing was strengthening the muscles surrounding the injury.

He’d also added in some basic strength training.

While the coffee water was still boiling, Max got down on the cold ground into the pushup position. His leg hurt more like this, like it was rebelling against what he was about to do. His fingers dug into the cold black dirt, slightly wet with dew, and he started cranking them out.

Max was breathing heavy by the thirtieth pushup. He could already feel it in his chest.

It wasn’t that he was out of shape. It was that his body had been through so much. It was battered and weakened. He needed to rebuild it. His life would depend on it at some point.

“Don’t you think you should be going easy on those?” said John.

Max pushed through the burning sensation, knocking out another dozen, before letting himself roll over onto his side, where he lay resting. He looked up, and John’s tired face looked down at him.

John was thinner than he’d ever been before the EMP. His hair was longer, and he sported a couple days’ growth of beard. Unexpectedly, among the dead pot farmers’ possessions, there’d been a huge collection of disposable razors. These had allowed John and Max to shave for the first time since the EMP. There’d been nothing but water and soap, but that was good enough.

“What makes you say that?”

“You don’t want to hurt your leg, for one thing.”

“It’s already hurt. Some pushups aren’t going to make it any worse.”

“Well what about how it’s going to increase your caloric needs?” It seemed like John, for whatever reason, really wanted to find fault with Max’s workout plan.

“Good point,” said Max. He’d thought of that, of course. The more he worked out, the hungrier he was. “But we’ve got plenty of food for now.”

“If you can call it that.”

“You’re tired of it?”

“Tired of it? That doesn’t even begin to describe the…” John let his words just sort of trail off. He was, after all, very tired.

“Why don’t you go wake up James? It’s time for his shift, and you need to get some rest.”

“I wanted to let him sleep in a little. He’s just a kid.”

Max wasn’t so sure about that. James had been taking on the same responsibilities as the adults. But there wasn’t anything wrong with letting him catch up some sleep.

“It’s your call,” said Max.

With John staring at him, Max got back into position and managed to crank out another batch of pushups.

“Not bad form,” muttered John.

“Not bad? I don’t see you doing any.”

“I’m saving my strength rather than wasting it.”

“All right, John,” said Max, glancing over at the water. “Just get it off your chest. I know something’s eating at you. Might as well tell me what it is.”

The coffee water still hadn’t boiled. Max prodded at the fire, took a small dry log from the woodpile, and added it to the fire.

John just glared at Max without speaking.

“Don’t start getting on my case about the wood,” said Max. “There’s plenty of it. We’re in the middle of a forest. Now tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Not until the coffee,” said John.

“Fine,” said Max.

He did one more set of pushups. By the time he was done, the water had finally boiled. He made the coffee carefully. He’d been making it cowboy-style recently, just putting the ground beans directly into the hot water, waiting, of course, about thirty seconds after the boil for the water to cool slightly.

Max poured a cup for John. He’d use the pot itself as a mug. He didn’t mind, and it was one less dirty dish. Not that they were overly cautious about washing dishes. There were more important things to do. More important things to focus their energies and attention on.

Washing dishes was one of those chores that seemed like they’d be the first to go in a situation like this, simply sliding to the wayside to make room for more crucial activities.

But washing dishes was important. It might just be the thing that stood between them and sickness and disease.

Now that they’d had two weeks of relative calm, life had begun to take on a different flavor. Now that they weren’t stalked by a violent sociopath, or fighting off a small army of well-armed men, there was time to wash the dishes, wash the clothes, bathe, and start to think about the future.

Long-term survival, Max knew, was a completely different game. When he’d gotten them all safely to the farmhouse, he’d thought that soon enough he’d have crops and defenses set up. Or at least concrete plans for them. Life had thrown a number of wrenches their way, and it hadn’t worked out anything like that. They’d been on the run ever since, barely escaping with their lives intact.

Had things really calmed down? Max knew it was too much to hope for. But at the same time, they weren’t going to survive in the long run if they didn’t start making the right steps while they had this peace, however long it was going to last for.

“You done with your coffee yet?”

John took one final long drag then placed his mug down on the dirt. He made a face.

“You know you’re not supposed to drink the grounds too, right?”

“Whatever,” said John. “I’m starting to like it.”

If Max had been in a better mood, he would have laughed.

     

 

2011 - 2018