Glancing around the room reminded me of a scene from a movie. Imagine if you took a classic Viking movie and gave it a modern twist, that’s what I was sitting here staring around at. I had food enough to feed ten of me, enough beer that I don’t think even Culsit could drink it all and as usual the laughter and rough behavior was a bit more than just shocking to me. I’ll admit, since if you’re reading this story now it doesn’t matter anyway, that I was still devastated from the thought that Rory had turned on us. I just couldn’t believe that, there had to be more to the story than mere betrayal. As my mind moved over all these things like one giant train of thought roaring through my head, I sat staring across the room at Culsit, it seemed he had found a bucket and was using it as a beer mug, all I could do was laugh.
I shifted back to my plate when I noticed someone moving towards me from over my shoulder. I didn’t give much thought to it but after being in what I had been in, my brain just seemed to track his approach wether I wanted it to or not. Have you ever had that feeling when you know things are just going too good, it’s not dread, more of a gnawing at your soul that tells you to buckle up, the ride is about to get going and make sure you keep your arms inside at all times. Well, that’s the feeling I was getting. I reached down and felt for my pistol slyly under my jacket, she waited there for me to call on her to do my bidding. I shook my head and took another bite of roast, reminding myself I was safe here, Philo had called these people my true family and friends. I was just having a hard time turning off the fight or flight mode my body had become used to running on constantly.
As the mountain of a man came to stand beside me, I just turned my head to look at him and sat up a little straighter just in case.
“You must be this John we have all heard about?” He said while looking down at me. The sneer on his face and the way he let the words ooze out seemed more like a threat than a question but again I tried to look at it different since I was still wired.
“Yes, sir, and you are?” I asked between bites not looking at him anymore as I took another bite.
“Me? Thats not as important as who I am.”
“Yeah? Who might that be?” I replied as I turned back toward him.
“I’m the one that’s going to show all these people they are wrong. No-one is more deserving of being called the destroyer than me! Look at you! You’re small, middle aged and frankly useless in my eyes.”
As he spoke these words I knew this wasn’t one of those times like when I first met Jager with Culsit so long ago it seemed. This guy seemed really hostile towards me just because of what people seemed to be saying about me. My mind decided in a flash that I would ask one question, just one and if he answered wrong I knew which way this had to go.
“Is that right?” I asked while trying not to let my body look tense.
“Thats right little man!” The words came out of him with real hate in them.
Wrong answer I thought, enough was enough. I let go of my body and let pure instinct and adrenaline fueled reflex just take over. He had at least a foot of height on me and probably one hundred pounds in weight but my mind had already decided on a route to take and it was time to cut fence, and sort this problem out real quick.
Before I even realized what I was doing, I slammed the large glass mug I was drinking out of into the side of his right knee. I was on my feet and jabbing my fist into his throat as I moved in closer knocking him off balance making him fall backwards to the floor. I didn’t even realize how it happened but the next thing I knew I was staring into his wide eyes across the top of my pistols slide with my foot holding him to the floor on his neck.
“Now, Mister ‘my names not important,’ I know you’re struggling too breath right now so let me properly introduce myself.” I said calmly, surprisingly.
“I am the one that’s about to fix your breathing problem permanently, I am also the one that will not tolerate disrespect.” I smiled, fully determined to finish this little dance right now.
As my finger started to squeeze the three pounds that would end this, I heard my name yelled over my shoulder. It caused my finger to stop, I just stood looking down at the horror in his eyes as he realized I wasn’t joking about what was about to happen.
“What?” I yelled without turning my head from the focus I held on his eyes laying there on the floor.
“John! Stop, this is not you!” I recognized the voice. My anger rose and my finger began to move again.
“Don’t! I’m the one you’re angry at but let me explain!” This time it was Rory’s voice. He was right, it was him I was angry at, maybe this bullet should be used against him I thought. I pushed harder with my foot on the guy on the floor’s neck and in an instance swung the pistol around to the door that Rory’s voice was coming from. The whole time my finger hovered on the trigger right on the breaking point. In my mind it, I was determined as soon as the sights aligned on Rory, this chapter of his life was going to end at 1200 feet per second.
As I followed the front sight, it settled right on Venessa’s forehead! She was standing in front of Rory! In an instance my finger came off the trigger and I pointed the pistol to the ceiling.
“Move Vanessa, you don’t understand what’s going on here!” I pleaded.
“No John, you don’t understand, just relax and let us come over and explain what you thought you saw.” She looked into what seemed to be my very soul with those piecing blue eyes with the breeze from the door moving her blonde hair in waves. My body seemed to be riding on a roller coaster ride for sure, it was bouncing from one emotion to the next and to be honest right at this very moment I didn’t know who to shoot. What I did know that sometimes you see images that burn themselves into your mind so deeply that you just know way deep down that you will carry them in this world and the next.
“No, I don’t understand! Tell you what, let me shoot this idiot and we can talk!” I said as I swung the pistol back towards the poor terrified guy on the floor.
As my finger moved back to the trigger and started the squeeze, that big half drunk idiot had done it again. His face was inches from mine. Teeth grinning from ear to ear, smelling like a cross between a skunk and a beer can.
“You sure you want to do this here little brother?” Culsit asked as he pointed to the guy on the floor.
I turned my head to look at him, huge grin and all.
“Well, Culsit, yeah I am sure but it seems like everyone is all set against me smoking this idiot!” I said with exacerbation moving into my voice.
“Look at him little brother, this close your going to get your boots dirty! Just not worth it is it?” I held Culsit vision for a minute and found his smile was infectious. I mean think about it, here I stand, threatening it seems, everyone that moves with a pistol and he’s just bending over me grinning from ear to ear. I started to smile myself, maybe he’s right.
“I guess you just got lucky.” I said to the idiot on the floor with a smile coming on my face. “Never judge someones danger by their looks my friend!”, I said as I threw my gun down on the table and removed my foot from his neck. I turned to sit back in my seat as Culsit roared out a laugh and slapped me on my back as usual.
“Good choice little brother, good choice! I’ll get us new mugs.” He said as his voice trailed off to do exactly that.
“You good?” I asked as I looked down and offered my hand to help the idiot up off the floor. He took my hand still coughing and eased up to his knee. I ignored him then and turned my attention to Vanessa and Rory walking towards me. My eyes focused on hers now.
As they sat down, the idiot still kneeled there on one knee, choking to get his breath back. I didn’t give him even another glance after that. I just looked back up and watched as Vanessa and Rory sat down, her right beside me and Rory took a spot right across from me,
“John, just listen to him talk, you’ll understand, it wasn’t what it seemed like.” Vanessa said as she grabbed my hands on the table. I’m not for sure if she did that our of concern or out of fear I might shoot him anyway.
“Fine, but it best be really good Rory!” I said while staring straight at him.
“It is John, I had to do it, Vanessa and I are the only ones to make it out alive. I saw Doc go down myself. Jim, the others, they took the path that the Bigfoot you killed up in Washington did, they went to work with the enemy, hoping for a good spot in the new world when ours is destroyed. I listened to the speech and knew the only chance any of us had where to just go along with it and hope for the best. I got Vanessa on board by telling her that you had joined the enemy. It crushed her but it was the only chance I had to make her want to see you captured or killed.” He stopped and we glanced at her as a tear rolled down her cheek and she squeezed my hands a little tighter.
“How do I know any of this is the truth Rory? I saw you firing right at me, that bullet that was aimed right at my head would have killed me had Philo not shown up!” I yelled.
“I get it John.” Rory said holding up a palm. “ I saw the flash of Philo coming and decided to risk making it look like I was really trying to kill you until I could be rescued!”
“I shot at you also John, but you know I was missing on purpose, you’ve seen me shoot!” Vanessa said with a smile and the tear still on her cheek. I whipped my head around, stunned, I never saw her there.
“You! You where there?” I asked.
“Yes, but I am as good as you and Culsit at not being seen.” She said with a laugh and Culsit sat down placing four mugs on the table, grinning from ear to ear.
“What are you grinning at?” I took the mug and asked.
“Its good to all be sitting at the same table again little brother! I knew these two couldn’t have turned against us.” Culsit said as he practically emptied the mug with one gulp.
“You saw her there?” I asked pointing at her with my voice rising.
“Yes, but I didn’t tell you.” Culsit just kept on grinning with foam stuck at the sides of his huge mouth.
I wanted to smack the fur bag again right now.
“This is all fine and sounds good Rory but how could so many at home be converted over to the enemies without anyone noticing?” I asked because it just didn’t make sense.
“John, you’ve been home, what? Two days in the last few months? How would you have known? Rory has been gone just as much and everyone steers away from me most of the time anyway. Don’t you think we would have got out or warned others sooner if we could?” Vanessa said in the most serious tone I had ever heard her use.
“But Jim, how long do you think he has turned? I mean I fought with him in the same whole the night we got shelled. I trusted my life to him, I just can’t come to grips with it. Are you sure he just isn’t going along to escape?” I asked, pleaded really.
“No John, I watched him shoot Doc face to face myself. He wasn’t pretending.” Rory said with sadness creeping into his voice.
I just couldn’t get my mind around how fast things had changed. Out of all those I had lived for months and months with the remnants sat at this table and I looked over to my team at the next table over, drinking and eating like there was no tomorrow. Well, who knew if there would be. This was it, us and the guys from Delta team. I just hung my head and shook it. How could this be?
I looked up at Rory, I could tell by the look on his face that he was praying I would listen to him and most of all believe him.
“We good John? You forgive me?” Rory asked as he extended his hand across the table.
I sat there, thinking for a minute, looking at his hand. The more I thought on it, the more I thought about how he looked when he mentioned Doc being killed in cold blood, I knew he was telling the truth.
“Nothing to forgive, you did what you had to and I am glad you guys did!” I said as I shook his hand with my right and squeezed Vanessa’s with my left.
Up to this point I forgot about the idiot I just knocked to the floor but he just stood there by the table looking down.
“Again, I’m John of course and you are?” I asked as we all turned to look at him just standing there.
“Lars, my name is Lars. I am the leader of what is known as the Bear group of warriors. I apologize for the rudeness but you just didn’t look all that dangerous to me, much less the one that has been foretold that will lead this fight.” Lars said as he looked at me with a smile starting.
“Well, Lars, it is nice to meet you, and no hard feelings from me but of course I am not the one that took a beating.”
“No hard feelings, John, it’s an honor.” He said as I shook his hand.
Rory and Culsit busted out laughing so hard that I thought they would both choke.
“What do you two find so funny?” I asked as Lars looked on with curiosity.
“Lars, you get dumber and dumber every year, I told you about your Great-Great grandfather remember. This is John, it was his Great grandfather! You just got your ass handed to you by your on kin!” Rory laughed even harder.
“What!” Lars and I both exclaimed at the same time.
“Yup, it is true, I was friends with him when he worked for the CCC after the war. We spent many days looking for and fighting the enemy.” Culsit said with a sip.
“You knew him also? Is there no-one you haven’t known?” I asked.
“He’s known a lot of our family John. Culsit, did you ever tell him how you protected our people when we first came to the mountains on the Tennessee River?” Rory asked.
“Nope, hadn’t got around to it. I’ll tell him someday.” Culsit grinned.
“I sat for hours with great grandaddy and he never mentioned any of this to me?” I said in wonder more to myself than anyone else.
“Well, did you expect him to tell a kid that there really was monsters in the woods and the dark? That he fought all his life for all of our freedom all the while taking no credit nor asking for any honer from it?” Rory asked.
“But he had a family, kids, all of that. How did he live this life and do all that?” Lars asked.
“Well, Lars, it was different back then. Look at your family for example. John has never heard of you yet you’re not that far apart. I suppose it’s possible we might have to go back to fighting more like granddad did than the military structure we have been using. I mean we have lost a lot of our support we had before. We just might have to live like that again.” Rory said as he looked down at the table. We all got quiet as we sat there and the only thing that broke me out of my thoughts was the squeeze of Vanessa’s hand.
“I could think of worse ways to live compared to what we have been doing.” I finally said as I looked around.
“Well, what do you think about it Culsit, we seem to be losing and we don’t have the numbers left to keep fighting the way we have been?” Rory asked Culsit.
“Look, all of you are going to have to look at how my people do this, we have done it this way for generations. We live our lives, we stay hidden, yet we are some of the fiercest fighters you have.” Culsit said as he stood to go fill his mug again.
“Well, that’s great then!” I said sarcastically. “What are we doing here? Wherever this is.” I asked.
“We are here to get our plan together, gear up and set it in motion. As far as where we are, it’s Greenland.” Rory said as he looked at the grin on Lars face.
I thought on this and it made sense, Greenland, midway for those fighting but it would never work for us, not the way we fight and the areas we knew. No, our only choice was to go back home and take the fight guerrilla style. I’ll admit, the part about going back to living like great grandpa did sound good to me. Having a place to stay and what appeared to be a normal life, which of course it really wasn’t, but at least it would sort of look like that. Besides, as I stared at the smooth skin on Vanessa’s hand, I thought it could be worse. I could be stuck for weeks at a time in a muddy, wet and cold wood sleeping next to Culsit. I just turned and grinned at him as he sat down again. He grinned back at me with that big stupid smile. It was a good thing he couldn’t read my mind because I grinned even bigger thinking how much fun that wouldn’t be. It was now, for the first time since I about killed Lars that I realized the laughter was just as loud now as it was when I first came in here. I guess violence, be it Outside or inside, was just another fact of life here, I didn’t want that for a life.
I sat there nursing my mug, glancing at Vanessa as I did every now and again. I wondered if we went with this plan, if she was thinking like I was right now. Would it be possible to go home and ‘play house’ during the day with her all the while at night her and I could go out and raise a little trouble. Rory for a neighbor? Culsit for a scarecrow? I just burst out laughing and turned to look at Culsit.
“You ever been a scarecrow Culsit?” I looked at him laughing, everybody else just looked at me like I was crazy.
“Scarecrow? No, No cant think of a time.” He sat there and I swear I think he really was thinking about if he had done something like that before. “Well, that’s not exactly true. One time I snuck into a field to borrow some watermelons one night and I had to stand there like a scarecrow for a good while when the farmer came our to see what his dogs barked at.” He finished as serious as could be. I laughed even harder.
“How about you?” I turned to Vanessa. “You make good biscuits?” I snorted this time as I laughed.
“Yeah I do!” She said as she squeezed my hand until it started to hurt. “I can also set broken bones! Of course that’s usually because I broke them in the first place.” She said with a voice like she was the sweetest thing on earth. I knew better.
I just looked across the table at Rory and nodded my head. We both knew what had to be done, now it was just a matter of getting things in order to get moving with it.
The next morning after sleeping a good night for the first time in a long time, I awoke to the sound of Culsit knocking on the door with a growl. Well, I guess knock is not the word, pounding? No, that doesn’t describe it either, a battering, that would cover it. I thought about ignoring it but I knew he would just beat the door down or the wall, maybe both, either way I was getting up.
“What?” I yelled as I yanked the door open.
To my surprise there was nothing there! Why half way beat the door down and walk off. Sometimes I think that giant bag of fur had lost his mind. I looked both ways into the mist of the morning but I saw nothing. Not even a swirl from him walking off. I might just smack him this time. I closed the door and turned to walk back and get dressed for the day but the dull light from the dawn in the mist outside still made the inside of my cabin seem pitch black. Yup, I was going to smack him for sure for this. Knowing him, he probably just woke me up then went back to sleep himself.
I stumbled back towards my bed and found the table beside it. I felt for the candle there and patted around on the table for the matches. All the while, thinking about just smacking the hair right off his head when I saw him again. I struck the match and to my horror, not more than inches from the flame was his big ugly grin. I fell back and dropped the match and the room turned to totally inky darkness again. I would have yelled but my breath was stuck in my lungs but my mind was on definitely smacking Culsit for this one.
His roaring laugh echoed off the walls.
“You jackass! I just about passed out!” I yelled.
“Come on little brother, no time to sleep. We have to get our things together. It’s time to get things rolling to get back home.” Was all he said as he strolled out the door like nothing happened.
I followed him a few minutes later, back to the long house we first ate in last night. It wasn’t as crowded and was definitely quite. No wonder, I know Culsit drank the mead by the barrel yet it didn’t seem to have any effect on him. Ducking in the door, it looked much as it had the night before. Breakfast was being served and to be honest they all looked like nothing had ever happened. I guess for these guys it was a normal morning but for me it was almost like a dream.
Vanessa flagged me over to a set of long table our group had taken over and I went and sat down. No sooner than I had done so and Culsit literally dropped a plate of food on the table in front of me and slammed a mug down with it.
“I can’t eat all of this you big ape!” I exclaimed looking at the pancakes and bacon piled on the plate. He just sneered his teeth at me and started eating so I did the same. The shock came when I reached for the mug, it was mead!
“I can’t drink this with breakfast!” He sneered again and reached over and downed the mug.
“Now you don’t have too little brother.” He grinned with mead dripping in his hair, what a jerk.
“If you two can stop holding hands, we need to get our heads together with what we need. Philo says he can jump four of us today but after that he has to go do some of the AllFathers business somewhere else and won’t be able to help for a while.” Rory said as he looked between me and Culsit.
“We can’t just fly and jump?” I asked.
“Well, John, no we can’t. First we don’t have any aircraft and even if we did, we don’t have the fuel to go that far anyway. Now these guys said they will supply us the best they can but we need to put out heads together to come up with a list of things we can carry on us to get started back home.” Rory said as he ate.
“Just give me an M4 and about 500 rounds and I’m good.” I explained.
“No John, they don’t have it. The only rounds we have are what we brought in and that’s it.”
“I didn’t have any left when I came in. Thats why I threw my pistol on the table last night. I was bluffing, I didn’t have a round if I needed it.” I exclaimed.
“Dumb, little brother, dumb. What if I wasn’t there to save you?” Culsit said.
“Save me! You didn’t do anything!”
“Didn’t I?” He said as he grinned.
“Enough you two, Culsit, you are the goto guy about this. What do we need?” Rory asked.
“Just your clothes really if you’re going to learn from me to fight the way my people do. But I guess to be safe, if we can’t get ammo for you, which I think is a good thing. You see my people survived by not making noise. We learned to use fires with little smoke. We learned to live off of the land. Then we need to look at some knives, rope, and a good axe.”
“Knives and Axes, have you lost your mind?” I asked looking around.
“No choice John, things are going down hill fast and we are just going to have to learn from Culsit. I know you spent time with them learning all you could but you have been the first man they allowed to do that. Now it’s up to you and Culsit to teach us.” Rory replied.
I understood his point and the more I sat there eating and thinking about it, I realized he was right. I had learned a lot from Culsit and Jager. I could move like a ghost in the forest and by the time you realized I was next to you, it was too late. So I started thinking over what I would want to take with me. It had to be just what I could carry for some reason. I would have to asked Philo sometime why he couldn’t jump us there with a whole crate of stuff. However, if he said with just what we could carry then that’s what it had to be.
After breakfast Lars, came and took us to there supply room. I picked out a couple of knives of various kinds and two axes. A large one and a hatchet, and a stainless steel pot and cup. I shoved all this into my pack I had arrived with. It had lots of room because the radio I dropped, it didn’t work anyway. I kept one ammo can to keep my things in I didn’t want to get wet. I looked at it all spread out there as I got ready to pack it again and to be honest it looked pitiful compared to what I had been using. No night vision, no radio’s, no ammo, it was just a little depressing to think how fast things have changed.
Culsit made his rounds as we packed to inspect what we had each chosen. He added some things, I couldn’t see what to Vanessa’s pack and threw out a few things Rory packed but left my alone. With a nod he stood up from looking at my stuff and said it was time to get Philo and go. I just nodded back and shouldered my pack.
As we four walked up to Philo talking to Lars and his group he turned and asked if it was time.
Rory nodded and Lars stepped forward and offered his hand.
“John, I can’t say I understand it, but Philo tells me you are the one which means this is not goodbye but more of I’ll see you soon. I don’t know how but I trust what he says. Stay safe and if I don’t meet you again until Valhalla then just know the first thing I’m going to do is punch you in the face!” He grinned then wrapped me in a bear hug.
“Thanks for the heads up. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” I struggled to breath as he let me go. I looked around and the whole camp was gathered. I looked to the guys of Delta team that was staying here to fight and couldn’t find the words. They seemed to be thinking the same thing and just one by one gave me and Culsit a thumbs up.
As I stood there, trying to think of something to say, Philo just announced it was time and reached for me. With the same sickening and disorienting snap I was standing on a ridge covered in Oaks back home. I shook my head and glanced around at the others. Rory and Vanessa appeared shaken as I did but Culsit looked like nothing at all had happened.
“Here you are John, look to the Ravens for signs from the AllFather and myself. It could be awhile before I get back here.” Philo said as he stepped back getting ready to leave.
I looked over his shoulder as the sun started to climb over a ridge to the East. “Philo, when can we expect you and how am I supposed to know by a bird what’s going on?” I asked.
“I don’t have a clue John and these aren’t just ordinary birds. You will know when you see the two Ravens. You will also know what they have to say. Culsit will show you if you have trouble.” And with those words he snapped to where I don’t know.
I just stood listening to the woods, the birds, squirrels, the sound of the breeze in the leaves. The smell of the forest floor, plants, it was amazing how fast, in just a snap of the fingers really, all that I had learned from Jager and Culsit just seemed to turn on.
I looked back just in time to see Culsit ease low over the ridge to look around. I knew what he was doing and I knew he wanted me to look to the ridge towards the East. “Stay tight you two, we will be back in a minute.” I said, but before they could say a word, just like Culsit, without a sound I had moved over the ridge and was out of sight.
I moved just like I had learned. Each animal and tree seemed to speak to me. It all seemed normal but still I took my time and listened. I was just looking for anything out of the ordinary. I didn’t this up and down the ridge and after finding everything as it should I moved back to Rory and Vanessa and found Culsit sitting there with them waiting on me.
“Jager is coming John.” Culsit said while chewing on a sassafras root he had found.
“When?” I asked.
“About two days out, according to what I could see. I think he knew we was coming here so my opinion is we find somewhere to make a shelter and wait on him.” Culsit replied.
“Agreed, I doubt Philo dropped us here by accident. I say we move farther up this draw and get settled in and wait.” I said as I looked to Rory and Vanessa.
“Sounds like a plan.” Vanessa said as Rory just nodded.
It was just then that it struck me. Culsit and I had taken over how we did things. It seemed strange as I thought it but just as fast as the thought crossed my mind it left because I knew, in the forest, I was just a furless Bigfoot, nothing more nothing less. I chuckled as I walked past Culsit and smacked his forehead as I passed by, heading up the ridge to find a camp.
If you liked this chapter, you might want to head over to Amazon and buy yourself a copy of “The Enemy”. The exciting first book in this series so you can see how our friends got to this table looking to their futures.