The next few weeks came through, and life continued as normal. I took to riding my motorcycles around a lot, just seeing the sights and looking for other survivors. Occasionally, I would come across highly useful things, such as an Army-Navy surplus store, or a large orchard full of fruit that was just slightly overripe, or a chicken farm. I had a blast letting all the chickens out, as they would die if I left them where they were. A lot would get eaten by wildlife, but enough would survive and start to breed. The orchard I was particularly thankful for, as the fruit would just keep growing there, and, come spring, would be a ready source of food. Another thing I began doing was taking a crowbar with me and breaking open cash registers in stores and restaurants. I justified this by telling myself that no one needed it and it just might come in handy for me later.
I grew to understand the mindset of people in colonial times. My agenda was survival, and I had to work to achieve it. Life was not handed to me on a silver platter anymore; it was more like it was being pulled away from me, and I was in a tug-a-war to take it back.
During this time, a lonely Christmas came and went on D+67, or D-Day, plus sixty-seven more. I had at first decided to all but ignore it, but I crumbled and celebrated it with Steve with some expensive liquor and Cuban cigars..
The Wednesday after Christmas, I amused myself by lying on the front lawn and participating in my new favorite activity: cat hunting. After D-Day, the rodent population had skyrocketed, and with it, the cat and dog population. Consequently my neighborhood was swarmed with cats, almost to the point that if I looked out the window for more than thirty seconds at any time of the day, I’d see at least one. So I shot them with my Kimber .300 rifle. Overkill, you say? Let me just say that I first shot them with my Barrett M95, until I realized that the shells were going straight through whatever the cats happened to be in front of (normally a house) and out the other side. After that, the M95 was moved back to its upstairs window.
At any rate, that Wednesday found me lying in my front yard, the grass several inches tall now, plinking at cats. I didn’t feel bad about this activity, as the cats did not suffer and there were always more of them. I ran through twenty rounds before the cats either got wise or there were none left. As I was packing up to go inside, my satellite phone rang.
“Steve. I’m coming over, what you doing?”
“Just finished plinking at cats.”
There was a long sigh. “All right, weirdo . . . I’ll be there in a few.”
“See you then.” I finished cleaning up and went inside. Steve arrived about ten minutes later and came inside. We talked for about an hour, and then he went in the back room to take a nap, and I went upstairs to read. I was currently reading a high school Spanish textbook and attempting to learn the language. After that, I was planning to read either the Federalist Papers or any of the dozens of other books I had.
I had been reading for half an hour, and was just getting ready to doze off myself when I thought I heard something. I cocked my head and listened closely, waiting to see if it would come again. Noises were very rare now, and any new one made me wary. It came again. I heard it very faintly, a distant, rhythmic thumping. It sounded almost like a . . .
Helicopter. Helicopter? Helicopter! That meant . . .
“Steve!” I bellowed, bursting out of my chair, “Steve! Wake the heck up! Wake the heck up! Get the flare bag!” The flare bag was a bright orange duffel bag that always sat on the dining room table. It had a break-open single shot 12 gauge shotgun loaded with flare cartridges in it, as well a bunch of day-night flares and smoke canisters from a firework store. I had kept it for just a moment like this, but had almost lost hope that it would ever come.
As I bounded out of my room, I grabbed a Day-Glo orange case from my bookcase. It contained a breech-loaded Orion flare gun and four shots. I extracted the gun as I ran down the stairs, out the front door, and onto the porch. I kept going, and as soon as I was clear of the roof, I cocked the pistol and shot a flare into the bright blue sky.
I cracked the pistol open, extracted a new flare, and reloaded, all the while scanning the sky. There! A Blackhawk helicopter was flying, about a mile away and around five to six hundred feet up fluttering off to the west. I fired my second flare straight at the helicopter, and reloaded again, frantic that they might miss us.
At this point, Steve burst out the front door, the shotgun in his hands. He leaped down the steps and pointed the shotgun into the air. With a loud boom, the flare was away, and Steve quickly reloaded.
“Where is it?” he shouted.
“There!” I hollered back, firing my third flare and loading my final one. I didn’t fire this one, instead going for the flare bag, which Steve had dropped on the ground while he launched another round. I pulled out two day night flares and popped the day ends, and hurled them into the street, where they began to spray large amounts of red smoke. I then lit a white smoke canister and chucked that out as well.
Steve was aiming his shotgun directly at the helicopter. He fired. This time, something happened. The helicopter executed an abrupt left turn and headed our direction. I fired my final flare while Steve reloaded. I reached into the bag for another, but there was no doubt they had seen our smoke.
“Here! Here! Over here!” I shouted, waving my arms unnecessarily, nearly hysterical with excitement.
The helicopter descended towards us until it was at rooftop level directly over a neighboring house. It was definitely a Blackhawk, but I couldn’t make out the ID numbers, and therefore had no clue where it had come from. Was it Army? Air Force? What if it wasn’t even American?
I ignored these thoughts, as Steve and I were too busy shouting ourselves hoarse and waving our arms at this sign of life. The noise seemed to shake the block, and the wind from the rotors blew our smoke back. At this distance, I could clearly see the pilot and copilot inside, and I could also see two door-mounted miniguns. Hopefully they realized we were friends.
The giant helicopter moved delicately until it was centered over the road, and then it descended, landing in the street one house down from us. Several men in full battle gear jumped out and proceeded towards us, their weapons at low ready. Steve and I set down our flare guns and jogged towards them as well, still shouting.
“Names!” one soldier bellowed, stopping ten feet away. We shouted our responses, which were barely audible over the noise of the helicopter. The man nodded and shouted something into his radio. At this, the helicopter’s noise decreased dramatically, and I realized it was shutting down.
“First Lieutenant Reynolds,” the soldiers’ leader announced, “US Army Guard.” The other soldiers introduced themselves in turn. I grinned. I couldn’t help it.
“It’s great to see you guys. It really is.”
The big soldier chuckled, lowering his weapon. “Likewise.”
“What’s happened?” I asked, “Where did everyone go? How are you guys still here?”
“I’ll answer all your questions to the best of my ability,” Reynolds answered, “Which may not be satisfactory. Why don’t you come on back to the chopper, first, though. We can sit down and we’ve got a medic if either of you need it.”
We agreed and walked to the helicopter. The pilots introduced themselves and we sat down on the side of the helicopter. I still couldn’t stop smiling. “Smoke?” Reynolds offered.
I declined, and Reynolds continued. “I’ll answer your last question first. Exactly seventy days ago, at 1707 precisely, we received an urgent call from NORAD. It stated something was incoming and we needed to take shelter. They specified to take shelter underground, so we crammed ourselves into basements and the like. Myself and the majority of the men went to the underground fuel storage near the flight line.
“We had been underground for seven minutes, wondering what the hell was going on, when something happened. There was an incredible vibration that lasted for roughly 15 seconds. When it was over, we assumed it was clear to emerge, and we did so. You can imagine the shock that greeted us.”
Here the soldier stopped for a moment to take a drag off his cigarette. “How come NORAD didn’t tell everyone?” I demanded, “How come they only told you guys?”
“They tried,” Reynolds answered soberly, “They tried. They called and messaged every radio station they could. They tried to get the New York Times and other large newspapers to put the warning on their websites. They didn’t have much success. Their story was greeted with skepticism or outright disbelief, and even the people who believed them wanted either confirmation or details before they did anything. Obviously, NORAD couldn’t provide them, and they didn’t have time to put the story out themselves before . . . whatever it was got here.”
I nodded. “So what do they say is happening now?”
“We’re in constant communication,” Reynolds replied, “Apparently our post is one of the most intact in this part of the country right now, and by that I mean pretty much everything south of D.C. Some people are still alive in bunkers up there, and they’re also working with NORAD. NORAD says that whatever happened is not likely to happen again, but to take, and I quote, ‘all necessary measures to defend you and yours from enemies both terrestrial and otherwise.’”
I froze. “Terrestrial?” Steve asked quietly. Reynolds nodded gravely.
“NORAD believes this to be of . . . otherworldly origin,” he replied, “I don’t know where they’re getting their intel, but they say that extraterrestrial beings will be moving through Earth. Not colonizing, but clustering in random places temporarily. Thankfully, they appear to be clustering in areas of the United States and the world that are far from us.”
“Now I know why I have so many guns,” I muttered. This was a shock. Aliens? Real, unfriendly aliens?
“Quite,” Reynolds agreed, “That’s the reason for these.” He gestured carelessly towards the door guns on the helicopter. “At any rate, NORAD has us flying around, attempting to locate and contact other survivors.”
“How many have you found?” Steve asked eagerly.
“Other than you two . . . seven. And we’ve been searching steadily for more than two months. This is actually the farthest we’ve ever come from our post.”
“That’s all? Only seven?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, but this event appears to have been quite successful, and very few humans are still here.
“Now! We need to be moving on so we can be back before nightfall, but we would like to offer you the opportunity to come with us. You can each bring your personal effects and live with us at our post. It’s a secure location, and has a steady supply of necessities.”
Before he finished, I already knew my answer. “Sorry,” I replied, “But I can’t. This is my home.”
Reynolds nodded. He understood. “All right. That’s your choice. Do you have everything you need?”
“Yup,” I replied, “We’ve got tons of fuel, food, power, and guns and ammo up the Yinyang.”
Reynolds nodded again, “Be careful,” he said, “These aliens may not be your worst enemy. Make sure you have plenty to do to keep your mind busy.”
As I tried to digest this, one of the pilots was digging around in his flight bag. He extracted two large handheld radios and handed them to Reynolds. He took them. “Another thing NORAD has instructed us to do,” he continued, “Is to set up a communication network with all the survivors we find. Please keep these radios with you at all times; your call signs are Sierra Eight and Sierra Niner. We would like you to contact us every twenty-four hours to check in. Do that on channel one. There are four other channels for you if you would like to contact other survivors.”
Steve and I took the radios gratefully. “We’ll definitely use these. Thanks.”
Reynolds stuck out his hand. “Stay safe.”
“Okay, Lieutenant,” Steve said, shaking his hand as the helicopter’s engine began to whine, “Thank you for doing this.”
The soldier gave a grim laugh. “We’re still United States Army Guard, and this is still the United States of America. We’re just doing or job, and no friggin’ aliens are going to stop us.”
And with that, the rotors spun into a blur over us, and Steve and I moved backwards to avoid the tremendous wind. The sergeant and his men climbed into the helicopter, and it lifted off delicately. It overflew our area once and then it was gone.
Steve and I turned to each other, and as if we had read each other’s minds, did the exact same thing: