Bugout! California Part 79 – Hovercraft


Sid looked tired. He’d been driving the Jeep for hours now. It was nearly dusk. Sam snored softly in the passenger seat, head turned towards the window. The terrain had gotten tougher. Still no sign of tracks, which made Sid nervous, even though he knew it was more a good thing than a bad thing. The Jeeps ahead of him slowed and made a sharp left turn, where there were ancient remains of a rutted wagon road. It climbed into the foothills, coming to a section of nearly broken dirt switchbacks. Tyler stopped his Jeep, James parking beside him. Sid parked behind that, and they got out and met in a huddle, Sam trying to shake off his sleep.

“What’s up?” Sam asked.

“It’s only about a mile in, but I don’t know if we can trust these switchbacks all the way up,” Tyler said. “I say we park in those bushes over there and walk in. If the road is good enough, we can come back and get the Jeeps.”

“Probably better to be safe than sorry,” James said. “At least there hasn’t been much rain lately.”

“Some of this road was so bad that a small quake could bring it down,” Ryan said, “and we have those all the time out here.”

“We’re taking the guns, right?” Sam asked.

“I’d suggest that,” Tyler said, “although hefting these M60s that far doesn’t sound like much fun.”

“We’d better get moving, unless we want to do this in the dark,” Sid said.

“Yeah,” James said. The men drove their Jeeps down the embankment, into a stand of bushes and trees in the bottom of the canyon.

“If it rains, we’ll lose these vehicles,” Sid said.

“No rain in the last weather report I saw,” James said.

Sam picked up his M-16 and his M60. Sid grabbed his hunting rifle and the BAR. The warriors picked up their AK-47s and their bows. They climbed up the loose hill of the embankment and started the trudge up the switchbacks.

“This is more fun driving up than walking,” James said. “The grade is worse than it looks.”

“Yeah, but imagine backing all the way down because we run into a bad spot,” Sid said.

“Seriously,” Tyler said. “If we’re lucky it’ll be good all the way up and we can fetch our vehicles.”

“Not that much in there that we need for this trip,” Sam said. “Unless we got followed here or something like that.”

“Crap,” Ryan said.

“Don’t get all upset, man,” James said. “It’s unlikely we got followed.”

“Didn’t we leave tracks?” Ryan asked.

Sid laughed. “Not on those rocks. They take the wrong way and they’ll get good and stuck.”

“Hope there’s another way in and out of here,” Sam said.

“There is,” Tyler said. “It’s just many more miles than this.”

They plodded along, tiring quickly, straining to carry weapons. The road didn’t have any major breaks in it, but the dirt was loose, rutted from a century ago.

“How much further?” Sam asked.

“We’re a little over half way,” Tyler said. “Let’s stop and rest for a few minutes.”

They all sat on the road, breathing heavy. Tyler took a large bottle of water out of his backpack and passed it around.

“I guess I don’t feel so bad,” Sam said. “You young guys are almost as winded as Sid and I are.”

Sid looked over at him and grinned. “Oh, I can feel it. Feel it more in the morning. This is tough on the joints.”

“Don’t remind me,” Sam said.

“How come they didn’t just come here first?” Sid asked.

“It’s further away from supplies, mainly,” Tyler said.

“How’d they get their vehicles up here?” Sam asked.

“They sent a scouting party with vehicles the long way around,” Tyler said. “The rest of the people walked or rode horses. I’m sure it took them several days to get here.”

“Your people must be strong,” Sid said. “I thought it was a lot of older folks.”

“Our older folks aren’t like most older folks,” James said.

“You got that right,” Ryan said. “We’d better get moving.”

“Yes,” Tyler said, standing up.

“Might as well,” Sam said, standing, moaning as he picked up the m60. “Should’ve left this thing in the Jeep.’

“Nah, we might need these,” Sid said, lifting the BAR.

“We aren’t bringing up enough ammo to get into a real battle,” Sam said.

“We don’t know what we’ll find when we get up there,” James said.

“Is this the only place they could’ve come to?” Sam asked.

“No, there are two others,” Tyler said. “Both further away, and both with possible water problems, due to this damn drought.”

“They have less game, too,” Ryan said. “It’s easier to live off the land here than in any of the other places.”

They continued the climb, the road getting thinner as they went, but still passable. Finally, they came to a long straight section, going through a beautiful valley with a tree-lined stream fifty yards to the right of the road.

“The road’s good enough,” Sam said. “Assuming there aren’t more problem areas ahead.

“Look up there,” Sid said. “The mill is running. Wonder if they did some work on it. The water wheel wasn’t turning last time I was here.”

“Kinda looks like they did something,” James said. “That’s beautiful. I want to take some pictures before we leave.”

“No internet posting,” Tyler said.

“I know,” James said.

“Hear that?” Ryan asked.

“Sounds like a small plane,” Sam said, getting his M60 ready.

Tyler laughed. “No! I know who that is.”

A white vehicle came into view, several men on it. There was a fan in the back.

“What is that, a swamp buggy?” Sid asked.

“That’s a hovercraft,” Sam said. “Wow. Good way to get around out here.”

“Wouldn’t work very well on those switchbacks,” Ryan said. “Silver Wolf is a nut for these things.”

The vehicle approached quickly, then pulled off the road and shut down. An old man and three younger warriors got out, rushing over, embracing James, Tyler, and Ryan.

“You’re okay,” the old man said. “We feared the worst.”

“You’ve been seeing news?” Ryan asked.

“This crazy old dude put a small generator on that damn mill,” said one of the warriors. “We’ve heard stories on the radio.”

“Respect your elders, Red Snake,” the old man said.

“Yes sir,” Red Snake said. “Sorry.”

Tyler stepped up. “Silver Eagle, this is Sam and Sid. They’re part of the group we’ve been fighting with since we had to flee the reservation.”

“Good to meet you,” Sam said.

“Likewise,” Sid said.

“You’re Indian,” Silver Wolf said to Sid. “Which tribe?”

“Chiricahua,” Sid said. “My wife is Zuni.”

Silver Wolf laughed. “Strange combination. Been in California long?”

“Most of my life,” Sid said. “Dad left us high and dry. My mom got a job in California, thanks to her sister.”

“You live among the white man now?” Red Snake asked.

“I was living in Sam’s RV Park when the war started up,” Sid said.

One of the other young warriors smiled. “You’re the folks who blew up that pass on Highway 94.”

“And who might you be?” Sid asked.

“Kerry,” the young warrior said. Silver Wolf shot him a glance. “Sorry, Yellow Bird.”

The third warrior snickered.

“Shut up, Swimming Cub,” Kerry said.

“That’s Swimming Bear,” the warrior said, a mischievous grin washing over his face.

“Are the young people in your tribe like these?” Silver Wolf asked Sid.

“I’ve been away from the tribe so long that I couldn’t tell you,” Sid said. “I used to be like them.”

Silver Wolf nodded, shaking his head.

“You’re the chief, aren’t you?” Sam asked.

Silver Wolf glanced at Tyler, and then at Sam. “I’m one chief. Tyler is another. I’m the Executive. Tyler is the War Chief.”

“Yeah, some War Chief I’ve been,” Tyler said.

“One Eye would be proud,” Silver Wolf said. “Come, let’s get to camp.”

“Mind if we put the big guns in your hovercraft?” Tyler asked.

“Not at all,” Silver Wolf said. The men put the guns into the back of the hovercraft. Silver Wolf drove it down the road, the other three warriors staying behind to walk in with their guests.

“Who’s left?” Red Snake asked. “And call me Shane when the chief isn’t around, okay?”

“I’m Will,” Swimming Bear said. “I don’t mind the Indian name that much, though.”

Shane sighed. “Oh, I know, when we’re with the tribe it’s okay.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Will said, “but who’s left.”

Tyler’s face was grim. “Us, plus Zac, Kenny, and Bradley.”

“Crap, that’s all?” Kerry asked.

“Kaitlin and Megan,” Tyler said.

Will snickered. “It’s been kinda dull with them gone.”

“You got that right, bro,” Kerry said. “I could look at Kaitlyn all day. Maybe I was too hasty with her. She’s got a fiery passion, that’s for sure.”

“You’ve been married for three years,” Ryan said. “You getting bored already?”

“No, not really,” Kerry said.

“Both Megan and Kaitlyn are married off,” James said.

“They aren’t married,” Sam said. “Unless they snuck off someplace and did it after we left.”

Sid laughed. “They’re as good as married. The rest is just a formality.”

“There are other braves with you guys?” Will asked.

Ryan snickered. “They captured a couple of white boys. Well, a white boy and a Mexican boy.”

Will chuckled. “They don’t know yet, do they?”

“Hey,” Tyler said. “Both of those boys, as you call them, are great warriors. We’ve fought with them. Any woman of our tribe would be proud to have them.”

Sam chuckled. “Hell, I place Kaitlyn as about the second-best fighter we have.”

“Yeah, she was always good at that sort of thing,” Kerry said. “She’s scary good.”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect,” Ryan said. “Really. And those two couples get along well. Both those guys are used to more aggressive women. It’s a good fit.”

“Where did you lose the others?” Will asked.

“Ambush in Dulzura,” Tyler said, feeling himself choke up. “We were lucky anybody survived.”

“Thank Ji-Ho and that crazy Battle Wagon of his for that,” Ryan said.

“True that,” James said.

“Who’s Ji-Ho?” Kerry asked.

“A crazy old Korean guy,” James said. “He’s just like Silver Wolf. Total tech nut. He’s got an RV with a mini-gun mounted on a retractable turret.”

“Mini-gun?” Kerry asked. “Hell, do you know what those things can do?”

“Chew through a lot of ammo in a hurry,” Sam said.

“That’s for sure,” Tyler said. “Saved our butts more than once, though.”

“True,” Sam said.

“Ji-Ho is a close associate of Ivan the Butcher,” Ryan said.

The three warriors stopped in their tracks.

“You’re kidding, right?” Will asked.

“Nope, he’s not,” Tyler said. “This guy’s in constant contact with Ivan. We’re getting more of those Battle Wagons. Should be there the day after we get back.”

“You’re going back?” Kerry asked. “I thought you were staying here.”

“They would’ve brought the others if they were staying here,” Will said.

“How many people are at this base?” Sam asked.

“Just under two hundred,” Will said.

“Holy crap,” Sid said. “How are you feeding yourselves?”

“Hunting, and runs to Lake Barrett’s general store,” Will said, “but we’re gonna have a problem pretty soon. We’re hunting the game down too much.”

“We need to be going further out,” Kerry said.

“We can’t go off our own land,” Will said, “or we’ll be poaching.”

Sam laughed. “I don’t think anybody’s paying attention, guys.”

“See, that’s what I’ve been saying,” Kerry said. “Desperate times require desperate measures.”

“Silver Wolf might not go for it,” Will said. “You know how he is.”

They got to a clearing, where there were people walking around and vehicles parked. To their right was a mine shaft. In front of that were a multitude of small dome tents. Past that on the left was the ghost town…a collection of grey-black wood buildings, some dilapidated, some burned, but a few in good shape. There was some modern bracing and good wood on a couple of the buildings. A huge coral towards the back held many horses. Another held mules. Tribe members eyed the strangers, some rushing up to greet Tyler and the other Barona warriors.

“Tyler,” shouted a young woman, rushing over, throwing her arms around him. They kissed deeply. James’s woman rushed him, then Ryan’s.

“Wow, there’s beautiful women in this tribe,” Sid said. “I have even more respect for these guys now.”

“Because of their choice of women?” Sam asked.

“No, because they’re willing to leave them to fight for the tribe,” Sid said. “That can’t be easy.”

“Guys, meet our wives,” Tyler said. “This is my wife Mia.” She smiled at them, a young woman of delicate beauty with dark eyes and shiny long black hair.

“This is Abby,” James said proudly. She was of heavier build, with a rounder face and a smile that lit up the whole area.

“Thanks for taking care of my James,” she said.

“And here’s my wife,” Ryan said, his tiny bride standing next to him, tears still on her cheeks. “This is Riley.” She had a fetching look, with happy features and a warm smile.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “Are you hungry?”

“I am,” Ryan said.

“We all are,” James said.

“Think we should go get our Jeeps?” Sam asked.

“In the morning,” Sid said. “They’ll keep.”

“Okay,” Sam said. The women led them into the first repaired structure. It was a saloon, complete with a long bar on one side and coarse-looking tables and chairs in the middle of the room.

“You guys fixed this building up pretty well,” James said.

“I wouldn’t go upstairs,” Abby said. “A lot of the floorboards are rotten. We took out the ones that were in danger of falling from the ceiling.”

“It took a while to get all the bugs out of here,” Riley said.

“How’s Kaitlyn and Megan?” Abby asked.

“Fine,” James said.

“Is Kaitlyn still making the warriors look bad?” Mia asked.

The other women giggled.

“Pretty much,” Tyler said. “They both have men.”

“I’m not surprised,” Abby said. “Who?”

“We’ll tell you later,” Tyler said. “How’s it been going around here?”

“We need more game,” Mia said. “I wish we had some chickens and goats. Silver Wolf doesn’t want us to go there, but it’ll get harder and harder to stay here. Winter is not that many months away.”

“It’s six months away,” Tyler said. “The war should be over by then.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Sam said.

“We’ve got some stew,” Mia said. “We’ll bring you some. Sit.”

They left.

“Nice wives,” Sid said. “Nice place, too. Probably a little more authentic than Garrett’s town.”

“Garrett?” Kerry asked. “That guy still alive?”

“Garrett and his men saved our butts,” Tyler said. “Twice.”

“They still into those black powder guns?” Kerry asked.

“Yep,” Ryan said, shaking his head. “How do you know him?”

“We broke a bunch of horses for them,” Kerry said. “Stu and I.”

“Really?” Sid asked. “Their horses look pretty good.”

“Yeah, they got a good group from one of those auctions,” Kerry said. “Came from the Colorado River valley, not far from Lake Havasu.”

“I’ve seen them,” Sam said, “from my boat. Back in happier times. Connie was so thrilled when we saw them.”

“Is that your wife?” Kerry asked.

“She was killed in the big battle,” Tyler said softly. “Same explosion that killed One Eye.”

“Oh,” Kerry said. “Sorry.”

“I know,” Sam said. “I miss her so.”

“If Erica sees Sam, she’s liable to start chasing him,” Kerry said.

“Who’s Erica?” Sid asked.

“Widow,” Shane said. “A beauty for an older woman. She’s lonely, and she likes the rugged type.”

“What happened to her husband?” Sid asked. He glanced at Sam, who looked uncomfortable.

“Her husband was a pilot,” Shane said. “His plane went down in the mountains north of the reservation. That’s been about five years ago.”

“I might know him,” Sid said. “You talking about Buck?”

“Yep,” Shane said. “Good man.”

“Yeah, he was,” Sid said. “He flew me and a buddy into the back country for a hunting trip, seven or eight years ago.”

“You know everybody, don’t you?” Sam asked, laughing.

“Kinda seems like it sometimes,” Sid said. “Sorry to hear that Buck is gone.”

The women came back with a big pot of stew and bowls.

“What, none for us?” Kerry asked.

“You guys just ate,” Mia said. “Want to get fat?”

“I was kidding,” he said. “I’d better go find my wife. She’s going to want help with the kids.”

“Me too,” Kerry said.

“Yeah,” Shane said. “Maybe we can chat later.”

“See you guys later,” Will said. The three men walked out together.

“This is good,” Sid said. “What kind of meat is this?”

“Rabbit, rattlesnake, and a little venison,” Mia said.

“How much juice are you getting from that mill?” Sid asked.

“Only enough for the fridge, the lights, and charging of our electronics,” Mia said. “And our radios.”

“Wish we had air conditioning,” Abby said. “This little valley heats up like a damn blast furnace.”

“It does,” Riley said.

“You are sticking around for a while, I hope,” Mia said.

Tyler got an uncomfortable look on his face. “No, I have to go back, at least for a while.”

“Why?” Mia asked, eyes tearing up.

“Because we’re on the verge of kicking the enemy all the way out of eastern San Diego County and Imperial County. When that’s done, the war will be over for us.”

“Is that true?” Riley asked, looking at Ryan.

“I think it is,” Ryan said. “Believe me, if I could stay here, I would. I don’t want to be away from you or the girls.”

The men finished eating. Silver Wolf pulled the hovercraft up to the front of the building. “Hey, guys, want your guns?”

Sam got up. “Thanks for the food.”

“Yeah, that was great,” Sid said, following Sam out the door.

“Call Tyler over, and let’s chat,” Silver Wolf said.

“Sure,” Sid said. He went back to the door. “Hey, Tyler, Silver Wolf wants to chat.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, turning towards Mia. “I’ll be with you soon. I promise.” He kissed her on the forehead and left.

“Where should we meet?” Tyler asked.

“The next building down,” Silver Wolf said. “Oh, and while we’re by ourselves, you can call me Ed.”

“Okay, Ed,” Sam said. They walked down the broken wood sidewalk, avoiding the bad spots. Ed walked in the dirt street next to it.

“You guys are brave,” Ed said. “I damn near broke my leg on that thing.”

The others looked at each other and got onto the dirt. Ed chuckled. “This building is in better shape than the saloon.”

“What was it?” Sid asked.

“Combination jail and city newspaper, from what we can tell,” Ed said, “although we have a running argument about that.”

“What about it?” Sam asked.

“Some people here think the printing press is in there because it was confiscated.”

Sid chuckled. “Wait, didn’t they have the first amendment back then?”

“Yeah,” Ed said. “They also had property rights and due process.”

Tyler shook his head.

“He’s right,” Sam said. “Good thing to remember. There’s some lessons for today.”

“Yeah,” Ed said. “The conduct of powerful men never changes.”

They walked into the structure. There was a kerosene lamp already burning.

“Feel like a drink?” Ed asked.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Sid said.

They poured whiskey shots and sat at a round table in the middle of the room, a few feet away from the rusty bars of the jail cell, one of its hinges broken.

“Okay, what do you want to chat about?”

“I want you to convince me that I should let my warriors go back with you,” Ed said, “and Tyler, you be quiet until the end. Got it?”

“Yes,” Tyler said.

Sid started talking.

To be continued…


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