With most of our party now tucked into the relative safety of the abandoned tunnel, we focused our attention on the rescue and recovery mission. We left the group short three men, three guns and one vehicle. We hoped to return by midday with that and more. If not, instructions were left to continue on without us, to proceed with the original plan.
We took the jeep, now emptied of its supplies, each one more precious than it had been just twenty minutes ago. Only my grandfather’s bow and arrows remained. Rex rode shotgun once more, apparently still trusting my judgment behind the wheel. In the backseat, armed with a scoped hunting rifle, Riley sat in silence, his eyes darting to every shadow on the roadside. None of us spoke as the jeep rolled quietly to a stop in a side alley.
In the middle of the daylit street ahead of us, the looters were scavenging our supplies. A larger crowd had gathered, clawing and clamoring for anything they could grab. Armed bandits formed a perimeter around the SUV, watching the skies and side streets for any approaching threat. The early morning angle of the shadows hid us in darkness.
“See anything useful?”
Rex asked Riley to scout out the area as best he could through the rifle scope. Riley quietly opened the door and stood behind it. Hunched over at the waist, pointing the rifle through the door’s open window, he adjusted the scope and spoke in a whisper.
“Crowd’s mostly women and kids. Most of the men have clubs or knives. I spot, six or seven guns. There’s Hutch and
Riley continued to scan the crowd as Rex and I tried to think of a plan. I didn’t like our odds.
“We wait until dark. Follow them back to wherever they’re holed up. Sneak our boys out and let them keep the supplies. For now.”
I wasn’t sure if Rex was issuing definitive commands or just thinking out loud. It wasn’t much of a plan and it sure wasn’t sound thinking.
“The longer we stay here the easier we’ll be to spot. Besides, if we wait until dark the rest of our group will think we’re caught, or dead.”
Rex wasn’t ready to budge yet.
“We can hide out until then, keep an eye on them. We can catch up with the others later.”
“Do I have to remind you that those things are still out there? We can’t watch our friends, our enemies and the skies all at the same time.”
Rex seemed to take my comment to heart. I waited for him to suggest another plan.
“What do you have in mind then, John?”
The question caught me off guard. I didn’t know at the time whether it was sarcastic or serious. I decided on the latter.
“Riley, slide over. Let me see.”
I scanned the scene with the rifle scope, focusing on the men who held our friends captive. Not surprisingly, I found something I could use. I offered the rifle back over to Riley.
“If I put up the scout sign, take him out.”
I showed Riley a three-fingered salute, one I hadn’t used in years. He nodded and settled back behind the scope.
His eye squinted and the rifle barrel swung in slow, small arcs.
“The big red-head standing over Hutch.”
I take my 9mm out and hold it above my head with one hand. The American way of saying “I come in peace.”
“Just where do you think you’re going?”
I tell Rex to trust me, that Riley won’t have to kill anyone today.
I walk out of the shadows and into the light, hands above my head. It takes a few seconds for the bandits to spot me. Their guns train on me as I step slowly toward the SUV. The women and children scatter back to their homes and the men come around to face me, brandishing their weapons.
“Stop there, drop your weapon!”
One of them shouts, I’m not sure who, but I comply.
“Rudy! It’s Johnny Rysk! From highschool!”
I shout towards the big red-head, hoping my eyesight wasn’t mistaken. I can’t imagine there are too many oversized, curly-haired red-heads with pig noses and gapped teeth running around this neighborhood. I just hope he remembers my name on good terms.
I stop and wait for them to come to me. He exchanges words with the shirtless man that had been screaming for help in the road earlier that morning. The two approach me, with another gun-toting guard.
“You say Johnny Rysk?”
Thank god, it’s Rudy. I never thought I’d be glad to see that face.
“Yeah Rudy, it’s Johnny. You’ve got two of our guys over there.”
The shirtless guy trains his gun on me while the other man searches me for weapons. Rudy looks around in confusion.
“Where you come from?”
“We're headed out to the old military base. Looks like you have a lot of people. You should come with us.”
The shirtless guy speaks up. He’s shorter than me and smaller than either of his companions, but something about his voice commands respect.
“Our people are dug in here. We’re surviving as best we can.”
“By looting and kidnapping?”
There I go, running my fool mouth again. One thing I get from my grandfather, no doubt.
“Boy, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the world is going to shit. Won’t be long until it’s every man for himself. We’re just watching out for our own.”
“So are we. You’ve got two of my friends and a truck full of our supplies. I’ve got more friends and more supplies waiting. Join us.”
The companion speaks up and brings his gun up level to my face.
“Why not just save the trouble and put you and your friends down here?”
So much for civilized. I can almost feel Riley slide the gun barrel slightly to the right, accounting for the wind.
“You can do that. But I’ve got friends, all around here. You’ll get me, for sure. But you won’t get far.”
Thug looked around at the empty buildings and abandoned rooftops, thought about testing my bluff. He didn’t get the chance.
“Sky, sky, sky!”
The alarm went out behind the three men. Their eyes shot up above us. Thug was vaporized in an instant.
Men ran everywhere as a lone alien sentinel descended upon the group, firing its strange weapon into the crowd. Each shot was a precision aim, wasting no motion in disintegrating its target. In the chaos, I ran towards Hutch and
The bandits had taken refuge and began firing back at the alien. The attempts were as useless as always, but at least they distracted the solider for a moment.
“You have the keys?”
I shouted to Hutch over the gunfire and screams.
“In the ignition. Idiots never took them out.”
“Get in and drive, the old tunnels by the Fern Creek exit. Go!”
Off to my left, one of the bandits had decided that since the aliens couldn’t be defeated, he’d train his weapon on me. A clear shot rang out, spun the man back and he went down hard. I didn’t look to see if he got up as I dove into the shadowy alley.
Riley nodded from behind the still smoking gun barrel. Rex gunned the throttle as Riley and I jumped into the jeep. The tires squealed as we rocketed out of the alley, eager to catch up with Hutch and
“Light him up!”
Each of us fired our weapons, each of us leaning out of our windows in gangland fashion. It was sloppy. It was dire. It was futile. Even with assistance from the bandits shooting the alien in the back, not one shot found its way through. The sentinel raised his laser-equipped arm to finish us off. I had one final crazy thought before I was burned to cinders.
I jumped out of the door and ran to the back hatch. Throwing it open, I grabbed my grandfather’s bow and an arrow out of the quiver. I nocked it against the string and pulled back while inhaling, just like Grandpa Jack had shown me. For a second, the hovering alien seemed to regard me with curiosity. It tilted its head to one side, the same inquisitive look it had given my Grandfather before hauling him off into the sky. I exhaled and loosed the arrow.
Where bullets had failed, where mortars had fallen, my arrow sang true. It split the space between alien and armor, pierced them both and drove half through the monster before lodging in place. Something akin to grinding metal gears rent the air. An extraterrestrial scream.
No blood poured forth, but the thing was clearly wounded. It slumped to one side in the air and struggled to hover evenly. The shrieking metal scream sounded again before it rocketed off into the sky, limping its way home.
The gunfire stopped. No mortal made a sound as the screaming, wounded alien disappeared into the distant sky. All eyes turned to me, to the answer in my hands. Rex alone spoke.
“And the hand of the god Apollo guides the arrow of
I couldn’t help but smile in that most surreal moment of my life to date. I placed the mighty bow over my head and around my chest. The mighty bow of Grandpa Jack. I couldn’t help but laugh at how history might remember it. But for the first time since they arrived, I truly believed we humans would still have a history.