Smoke from a Distant Horizon
High in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, perched on a rock, Angie Porter could see the distant lights of Fresno. But it wasn't the city lights she was seeing any longer; it was the light from fire - lots of fires. Or perhaps one huge fire; she wasn't really certain anymore. For the past few nights, the glow from the fires was getting brighter and brighter. Now, as the sun set again, she wondered if the fire would crawl up the mountain and engulf them.
But more than anything else, she wondered when and if her husband would return. It had now been 25 days since Jeff along with Claire's husband, Rolf had taken off back to Fresno to recoup the firearms. The mission was only supposed to take 3 weeks at most and by now Angie had taken to worrying.
Jeff and Rolf had given them specific instructions about what to do in the event they do not return by September 15th (this was the 9th of September). The tribe was to begin its long journey south to Area 2, in the Death Valley area to spend the winter there. However, the trip south would be dangerous without the firearms. Although their current encampment made a fine camp, it would not be suitable for winter. That high in the Sierras, without some kind of permanent shelter would create tremendous hardship for the tribe.
All the events of the recent past had happened so quickly. There had been no time for things like building permanent shelters; in fact there was scarcely enough time for them to get the families out of Fresno alive.
Oh they had seen the downfall coming alright. It was evident to the Porters the very day Congress banned all gun ownership in the United States. It was evident the day the 'officials' came around to collect all firearms from the citizens. It was a choice of giving up the firearms on that appointed day or face prosecution.
Most citizens caved in and gave up their firearms in order to gain immunity from prosecution. The Porters and a small group of other close knit families didn't quite fall into that trap. They buried most of their firearms in Rolf and Claire's spare lot across town. Each family turned in only a token firearm to play along and avoid falling under suspicion.
The original plan was to gradually move the families to an 80 acre parcel in Colorado where they could form a compound. But they did not foresee how quickly the downfall of the structured society around them would happen. Almost immediately after 'collection day' things began to change for the worse. Violent crime in their once peaceful neighborhood began to take a sharp rise. It was evident right from the start that they were not the only ones who didn't turn in their firearms.
The other element - the gangs, the hoodlums, and all other miscellaneous anti-societal ruffians - apparently had plenty of firearms and ammunition. It also became apparent that there was corruption in the government officials who were supposed to be stockpiling and safeguarding the guns and ammo. Prior to the ban, in an effort to remove poor people from welfare roles and to create jobs, the government took to hiring them. Now the very 'government officials' who were in charge of firearms and ammo were of the 'other element' and had little trouble laying their hands on all the firearms and ammo they wanted. Thus began their reign of terror.
It did not take long for their once safe middle class neighborhood to become a 'no mans land'; a place where the children couldn't play and people could not go out of their houses safely. Only 3 days after collection day, the couple across from the Porters was slaughtered in a hail of gunfire from a group of thugs while they were out in their front yard with their children. The children were taken away. It took the police a full day to come out and another day after that for the ambulance to come and take away the two bodies. Unlike their previously quiet life, each night, the sounds of gunfire could be heard from every direction. It was at this point, the Porters and the other families who would go on to form the Tribe, realized they would have to move fast.
The Porters and the other families had quickly grouped and made plans to leave town on Day 6. There was little time for elaborate plans, because even as they met, gangs were patrolling the neighborhoods picking out victims to rape, murder, and plunder. Even as they met to plan their escape, they could hear the screams of women being attacked and raped and the sounds of children screaming as they were being taken away.
In the early morning hours of Day 7, the families took off in 2 vans, sneaking out of town using a route made up of back roads. There was no opportunity to get the buried firearms from the lot on the other side of town that night. In fact, one of the vans broke down along the way and they all had to cram into one van to make the rest of the trip to the trail head. Not a happy trip.
After the group settled down in the mountain camp, Jeff and Rolf (after much arguing) set off on the long and dangerous journey back to the edge of Fresno to retrieve the firearms. As Angie watched the bright fires burning in the distance, she wondered whether she would ever see her husband again.
Claire walked up to join her and sat down on the rock next to her.
"It's getting brighter isn't it?", she said.
"Yeah, I think so", Angie answered. "But it seems there is another fire, even closer." She pointed to a spot in the near distance, in a small valley slightly down the mountain from where they were.
Claire looked for a minute and said, "You're right, that looks like a camp fire although I can't quite tell. It may just be a flash light. Maybe we have company? We ought to check it out."
Angie looked up at the darkening sky with only the last vestiges of daylight. "It is a strange light now that I look at it. Well, we'll have to go in the morning. There's no daylight left," she said.
Claire nodded her head in agreement. "We can get Dan to go with us and leave first thing in the morning. He's been itching to leave the camp on some sort of mission anyway."
With that, the two women got up and took the short walk back to the camp.
Early in the morning, the 3 trekkers gathered together.
"Julie, I'm leaving you and Gregory in charge of the kids," Angie said. "We'd better get out of here before they wake up and pester us to go along."
Julie smiled. "Here you better at least take this," she handed Angie a pistol crossbow. The crossbow was of the few legal weapons that were allowed since guns were outlawed and it was one of the two the Tribe had.
"True, I don't know what or who we'll find down there," Angie said. "Here Dan, you're the sharpest shot, you take the crossbow" as she handed it to the older man.
"We'd better move out," Dan said.
The three began to make their way down the mountain. Angie had been worried that they would have a hard time finding the spot in daylight, but she noticed a distinct column of smoke arising from the spot. They made their way down the mountain toward the odd looking column of smoke, which rose high into the sky before it eventually dissipated into the grayish clouds.
"Whoever's down there isn't too worried about being discovered," Dan remarked.
It did not take them long to descend the mountain and they neared the spot where the smoke was rising. As they approached the area, they saw a man standing on the edge of a clearing near where the smoke was coming from.
Dan motioned them to stop and got out his binoculars to look more closely.
"It's Rolf!" Dan exclaimed.
Claire was the first to take off running toward her husband as the other two followed quickly behind her. But as Claire got closer to the edge of the clearing where Rolf was standing, he walked back into the woods. Angie thought to herself that that was rather strange behavior. Shouldn't Rolf be happy to see his wife again?
By the time the 3 of them reached the edge of the woods where Rolf had been standing, he was no longer in sight. Claire went running after him frantically calling his name while the other two followed her toward the column of smoke.
Claire reached the body first. There was Rolf lying face down in a small puddle of blood. She knelt down to feel his pulse and began to weep.
Angie joined her and felt his pulse. Rolf was dead.
Dan turned him over and they could see that not only was he dead but he been dead for a least a few days. He had several bullet wounds in which the maggots were plentiful.
"What the... " Dan said. "He was just standing there a minute ago! We all saw him right?"
He looked at Angie who nodded. Claire was beside herself in mournful weeping.
Dan then saw a bundle a few feet from Rolf's body.
"It's the firearms!" he declared as he inspected the contents. "And lots of ammo too!". In the bundle he found a journal. Dan opened it, flipped to the end and began to read the last entry - dated September 5th.
Can't hold on much longer, can't go any further. Claire I love you. Angie .. Jeff said he loves U right before he died...
Dan handed the book to Angie and looked away from her. He looked to where the fire should have been. But the column of smoke had completely disappeared and there was no evidence of any fire.