Bugout! California Part 109 – Children

“Should we go back right now?” Yvonne asked, looking at the ruined church before them.

“No, we need to check out the town,” Sam said. “We can’t let them shut down our resolve every time they kill one of us.”

“You’re right,” Erica said. “Let’s go into town, but nobody opens any doors, and watch the ground for trip wires too.”

“They’re watching us,” Clem said, pointing into one of the trees.

“That’s a video camera?” Yvonne asked.

“Yep,” Clem said.

Sam took aim with his pistol and shot it, the plastic exploding over their heads.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be doing that,” Sid said.

“You want them to know which direction we’re going?” Sam asked.

“Crap, didn’t think about that,” Sid said. “We ought to look for more of them.”

“Save one,” Clem said. “I might be able to figure out which IP address they’re using.”

“Okay,” Sam said. “Let’s go.”

“Your Jeep got hit, Sid,” Clem said. “We’d better take a look.”

“It did?” Sid asked. “Didn’t see it happen.”

They rushed to it, Clem using his flashlight. “There, see. Driver’s side fender.”

Sid squatted next to it as Clem brought the flashlight closer. “It’s okay, but we’re lucky. Just missed the tire. See?”

“We’d better check it over good, and then check Sam’s Jeep too,” Erica said.

“Yeah,” Clem said. They looked at both vehicles.

“I think we’re okay,” Sam said. “Let’s get going.”

“Which way?” Sid asked.

“Get to Oak Grove Drive,” Yvonne said, looking at her phone screen, the glow lighting her face. “There’s quite a few streets. We won’t be able to look at the entire town. It’s tiny but spread out.”

“Okay,” Sam said. “Let’s go.”

They got into the vehicles and took off.

“This is terrible,” Erica said as she fastened her seatbelt. “Poor Sarah.”

“I know, this is really gonna hurt. It’s hard to keep going.”

“Did you know him long?”

“Not as long as Sid,” Sam said. “Always liked him a lot.”

“He went out of his way to be nice to me.”

Sam chuckled. “Before this mess started, he had a drinking problem. I think it was on its way to ruining the marriage. He sobered up when things started to go nuts.”

“I wonder how many more of us will give up our lives?”

“I’d rather not dwell on that,” Sam said.

“It still hurts, doesn’t it? Connie.”

“Yes, it still hurts,” Sam said.

“What was she like?”

“A lot like you, actually,” Sam said. “I don’t think I can talk about her right now. You mind?”

“No, of course not.”

They rode silently for a few blocks, coming to another clump of buildings.

“Look, to the right,” Erica said. “Looks like a grocery store.”

“I see it,” Sam said. “There’s some lights on inside, but it doesn’t look open. I’m gonna park there and check it out.”

“Don’t open any doors,” she said.

He nodded as he got out. Sid pulled up next to him.

“There’s probably nobody here,” Sid said. “These businesses have lights on a timer.”

“I know, just wanted to look around.”

Erica came over. “The front is all glass. Probably hard to rig the way they did with the church.”

“Hopefully,” Sam said. They walked up to the front and peered through the glass, the others following cautiously.

Erica saw something and rushed forward.

“What?” Sam asked, running after her. “Don’t touch the door.”

“I think there’s a child in there,” she said.

A little girl peeked out from behind a shelf, then moved back behind it again. Erica started to go for the door.

“Stop!” Clem shouted. “Don’t step in front of that door. Back away.”

“There’s a child in there,” Erica said.

“I know, but if this door opens, there’s gonna be an explosion. Look.” Clem pointed at the top of the sliding door. There were wires running from there up to the ceiling.

“Dammit,” Sam said, looking at it. “Everybody back. Now!”

They rushed towards the cars.

“We can’t leave that little girl in there,” Erica said.

“I know, but we can’t go through the front door, and I don’t trust the back doors either.”

“Roof,” Sid said.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking,” Sam said. “Wish we had a chain saw.”

“Maybe there’s a trap door,” Yvonne said.

“I should go see if I can get her to come out,” Erica said.

“What if she runs towards the door?” Yvonne asked.

“She won’t,” Sam said. “She’s part of the trap. I’ll bet she’s tied up so she can’t go near the trigger points herself.”

“You might be right about that,” Clem said. “Otherwise she would’ve come out that front door on her own.”

Erica nodded in agreement. “I just want to let her know we’re going to help her.”

“Okay,” Sam said. “C’mon.”

They rushed to the windows in front, avoiding the door. Erica knocked on the glass.

“Little girl! We’re here to help you. Come out where we can see you. We won’t hurt you. I promise.”

“I hope she can hear,” Sam whispered.

“She heard us out front,” Erica said. “Might have heard the Jeeps.”

“Look,” Sam said. “There she is.”

“It’s okay sweetie,” shouted Erica. “We’ll help you.”

“She’s got an ankle cuff on,” Sam said, cursing the enemy under his breath.

Sid rushed over from the side of the store. “Hey, man, there’s a ladder on the side of the building. Goes up to the roof. It’s got one of those hasps to keep people from climbing up, but it’s only got a cheapo padlock on it.”

“We can shoot it,” Sam said. “C’mon. Erica, let her know that we’re going to shoot a lock. Tell her not to be afraid.”

Erica shouted to her as Sid and Sam rushed to the ladder and looked at the lock.

“Hell, this is real cheeseball,” Sam said, looking around the delivery dock yard. There was a crowbar sitting next to a forklift. “I can probably break the damn thing with that.” He rushed over and grabbed it.

“Yeah, that ought to do it,” Sid said. He watched as Sam wedged it into the padlock and pulled. The lock snapped loose.

“Bingo,” Sam said, pulling the broken lock off the hasp and moving the barrier. He climbed up the ladder, Sid following him with the crowbar in hand.

“I see a trap door,” Sid said, pointing to the trap door towards the back of the building. “You don’t think they boobytrapped that too, do you?”

“Stay up towards the front,” Sam said. “No reason for both of us to get it.”

Sid laughed. “We’re both dead if it goes off. Make your move.”

“There’s no padlock on this side,” Sam said. He pulled up on the trap door, and it creaked open. “No bomb here, but we do have one problem.”

“What’s that?”

“No ladder. I can see one, leaning up against the wall by the back of the receiving dock. Over there.”

Sid looked. “Yeah. Maybe if we had a rope.”

“Don’t know if I’m in good enough shape to climb down a rope,” Sam said. “Been a long time.”

Sid chuckled. “You’re still in good shape. You got a rope?”

“There’s one in my Jeep,” Sam said. He rushed to the front of the building. “Erica, could you grab the rope out of the back of the Jeep? It’s in the storage compartment. Just move the carpet piece, undo the latch, and lift.”

“Got it,” she yelled, then rushed over to the Jeep’s tailgate.

“Hopefully there’s a door somewhere that doesn’t have a charge,” Sam said to Sid.

“Clem’s good at recognizing that stuff, but he’s not going down that rope.”

“Hey, he’s got an iPhone, right? We could Facetime it.”

Sid chuckled. “Yeah, we could at that.”

They heard huffing and puffing behind them. Erica appeared at the top of the ladder, climbing over, the rope on one arm. “Here you go, sweetie.”

“Perfect, thanks,” he said.

“Tie her off on this sewage vent pipe here,” Sid said.

“It strong enough?” Sam asked.

Sid pushed on it. “Yeah, it’s plenty strong.”

Sam tied one end of the rope to it and then fed the other end into the trap door. It made it within two feet of the floor.

“You sure you can do this?” Erica asked.

“Hell, if I fell half way I’d live through it,” Sam said. “Here goes nothing.” He started his climb, wishing he had gloves, but making it to the floor. The stock room was dark. He pulled his cellphone out and turned on the flashlight, looking for a light switch. He found it, by the back door, which was wired with plastic explosives. “Not getting out that way.”

“You okay?” Erica shouted down.

“Yeah, he said. “The back door is wired. Can’t go out that way. I’m gonna go get the girl.”

He pushed through the swinging doors into the store, rushing to the spot where the girl was. She sat on the floor trembling, her long red hair matted to her head from sweat, her pants soiled with urine.

“Hi, honey,” Sam said softly. “We’re gonna save you. Don’t be afraid.”

She eyed him with terror, then rushed around the shelving until the chain was taught. Sam peeked around the shelves at her, then got on his hands and knees and crawled over. “What’s your name, honey?”

She looked at him, trying to figure out if he was safe or not. “I’m Mia,” she said softly.

“What a pretty name,” Sam said. “I’m going to get the chain off. Don’t run away, okay? The doors have explosives on them. We can’t go out that way.”

“I won’t,” she said. “I have to go to the bathroom again.”

“Okay,” Sam said. He looked at the chain. It was bolted onto a hole in the bottom of the shelf. “Just a sec.” He ran into the stock room and found some pliers, then rushed back and undid the bolt, getting the chain off. Then he looked at her ankle, which was raw and bloody from her struggles, his anger flaring.

“You aren’t going to hit me are you?” she asked, eyeing him.

“Oh, no, honey,” Sam said. “I’m mad at the people who did this to you. Hold still while I get the nuts off. It might hurt a little if it twists.”

She nodded yes. Sam worked on the nut, getting it loose easier than he expected, and carefully pulled the ankle piece off. “C’mon, there’s a bathroom over here. He rushed her over and held the door open while she used it.

“My pants are wet,” she said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of that after we find a way out,” Sam said.

She came back out and they walked into the back part of the stockroom. Sam pointed to the back door. “Don’t touch that. See that thing over the door, on the wall, with the wires coming out of it?”

She looked at it, then shook her head yes at him.

“If we try to open that door, it’ll blow up. Do you understand?”

She nodded yes.

“Let’s go look at those big doors.”

“You two okay?” Erica asked from the roof.

“Yeah, just looking for a way out,” Sam shouted back. “I’m going to check out the roll-up doors. Tell Clem to be ready for a Facetime, okay?”

“Sid already did,” Erica said. “He’s standing by.”

Sam took Mia’s hand and they walked towards the big doors. He looked all along them, not seeing any explosives or wires, but there were large padlocks on both the doors. He set up a Facetime call to Clem.

“Oh, Facetime,” Mia said. “I talked to Grandpa and Grandma with that.”

“Yes, it’s nice,” Sam said. “Hey, Clem.”

“Coming through perfect,” Clem said.

“Okay, I’m going to show you the roll-up door back here. If it’s not wired, I’ll open it.” Sam walked to one edge, focusing his phone on the right side from floor to ceiling, then across the top, then down the left side.

“I’m not seeing anything,” Clem said. “That’s a pretty big padlock on there, though. You won’t break that one with a crow bar.”

“I’m going to have to shoot it off,” Sam said. “See you soon.” He took Mia’s hand and led her into the bathroom. “Stay in here, honey. I don’t want you to get hit with anything.”

“Okay,” she said, walking in. Sam blocked the door with some crates and rushed back to the roll-up door, aiming his pistol. He fired, the sound echoing through the stockroom. The lock moved, damaged on the outside, but it wouldn’t open. He stood back and fired again, twice. The lock broke. He knocked the remains away and then pulled the chain on the right side to roll the door up. Erica, Clem, and Sid were waiting for him outside. They rushed to the bathroom, unblocking the door. Mia came out, looking scared.

“Did they come back?” she asked.

“No, I had to use my gun to open the door,” Sam said. “It’s okay. You’re safe.”

“Hi, honey,” Erica said, squatting next to her. “Do you know how to get to your home?”

She nodded yes, but her expression was full of fear. “They hurt mommy and daddy there. I heard them.”

Erica shot a glance at Sam, her brow furrowed.

“They’re liable to have booby traps like this set up all over the town,” Sid said quietly.

Sam nodded. “Let’s go.”

They left the store, heading back out to the parking lot, where Yvonne was watching, her rifle in her hands.

“We gonna blow this place?” she asked. “So nobody else gets killed?”

“There’s a lot of food in there,” Sam said. “Maybe we ought to empty it before we do that.”

“All it’s gonna take is somebody standing in front of the doorway,” Clem said.

“I’ll go shut down the power,” Sam said. “I saw the breaker box in the back. That should stop the door, right?”

“You don’t think the doors automatically open if the power is shut off, do you?” Sid asked.

“Crap,” Sam said. “Good question.”

“I could try to defuse it,” Clem said.

“You an expert?” Sam asked.

“Nope, but I’ve read some stuff.”

“No way, Clem, you’re way too valuable to lose,” Yvonne said.

“Yeah, I agree,” Sam said. “Let’s keep going for a while.”

“Should we go to the girl’s house?” Erica asked.

Mia shot her a worried glance.

“Don’t worry, honey, we won’t take you inside, but we could get some of your stuff,” Erica said.

“She’s only about seven,” Clem said. “She might not even be able to tell us how to get there.”

“I’m eight,” Mia said. “It’s right down there.” She pointed down the street.

“Maybe we should just go back to camp and come here with the main group,” Yvonne said.

“There might be other children being used for bait,” Sam said.

“Might not be able to get them all out,” Clem said. “We were lucky with this one.”

“Yeah, I know,” Sam said. “We still have to try. If we can’t save our children, what good are we?”

“Might be easier when it’s light,” Sid said.

“True,” Sam said. “Let’s at least try to get to her parent’s house. Maybe they’re alive.”

The others nodded in agreement, and they got into the Jeeps, Mia sitting on Erica’s lap.

“There it is,” Mia said, pointing to a house next to a yardage store. “That’s my mom’s store next to it.”

Sam turned into the driveway. “Wait here.” He got out and rushed to the door, Sid following him. Yvonne stood outside their Jeep with her rifle.

“Hope they watch out for booby traps in there,” Clem whispered to Yvonne.

“They know,” Yvonne said. “What are we gonna do with the girl? You know her parents are dead, right?”

“Somebody in our group is going to foster her until we can find some relatives,” Clem whispered back.

Sam and Sid walked down the hallway from the front door of the single-story house. There was blood on the wall near the door of the first bedroom.

“Smell that?” Sam whispered.

Sid nodded yes. They went inside. There were two headless corpses on the floor and blood all over the room.

“Dammit,” Sam muttered under his breath. “Look for an address book or some ID.”

Sid nodded as Sam checked the other rooms. There was a little boy dead in the next bedroom, single bullet hole in his forehead. The next room was Mia’s. Sam grabbed the pillow on the bed, yanking the pillowcase off, then filling it with clothes and other items. He came back out just as Sid was leaving the master bedroom.

“Find anything?” Sam asked.

“Nope. Let’s look in the kitchen. People keep address books in there more often than in their bedrooms.”

They walked down the hall, turning left before they got to the front door. The kitchen and connected family room were a mess, broken plates and glasses all over the floor, food laying around half eaten on counters, windows to the back yard broken. A dog’s bloody body lay on the carpet in front of the TV.

“Animals,” Sid said, going to the small hutch where the phone was. “Bingo.” He picked up an address book, taking a second to look inside.

“Look for the woman’s purse,” Sam said. “We want her driver’s license. I’ll go check the male body in the master for a wallet.”

Sid nodded, rummaging around as Sam walked away.

“There was a wallet in the back pocket,” Sam said, holding it up as he came back into the kitchen. “Jason Berliner.”

“Here’s the purse,” Sid said. “Wonder where the heads are?”

“Probably on spikes someplace. I say we take Mia back to camp. I don’t want her to see anything like that.”

“You’re right,” Sid said. “Let’s go.”

They both rushed back outside.

“We’re going to the camp,” Sam said to Erica as he got into the Jeep.

“Why?” Erica asked.

“She’s asleep?” Sam asked.

“Yep, she crashed. She’s totally exhausted.”

Sam got close and whispered about the heads to Erica, who looked down, her body shaking as she began to cry. She nodded yes. “Get us out of here.”

Sam drove back onto the highway, his heart heavy as he thought about Sarah and John. Sid and the others followed.

To be continued…


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