Authors: David Crawford
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Copyright Â© David Crawford, 2012
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To my father, Jim, who taught me right from wrong, my most valuable survival skill
There is no way to thank everyone who helped, encouraged, motivated, and even chided me to write this book. Without all of the motivation,
would have never been finished. Thank you all so much.
I do need to mention a few people by name. My team, Norman Comparini and Elaine Scott-Culbertson. Becky Cole for finding me and bringing me to the Penguin family. My awesome editor, Mark Chait, and his wonderful assistant, Talia Platz. Eric Melbardis for always having my back. And finally, my family, Rosemary, Danny, and Samantha, for putting up with me. Words cannot do justice to the debt I owe you all.
J Frost was a likable guy. Most thought him a little on the eccentric side, but they couldn't help being pulled in by his happy-go-lucky personality and brilliant smile. DJ, they would say, could have sold ice to Eskimos. Many wondered why he wasn't in sales instead of security. But DJ liked working security. People respected him, and he enjoyed helping strangers, like Valerie. DJ had turned the corner just as three guys pulled her into a van. He'd chased them down and shot out their tires. Then he had single-handedly apprehended two of them. The police caught the other a few days later. DJ earned the Employee of the Year Award, and he and Val started to date. It didn't last long, but it had been good for a while, and they were still friends.
The uniform did seem to have an effect on women. DJ was no Robert Redford in the looks department, but he wasn't an ogre, either. He worked out regularly and groomed himself meticulously. That, coupled with the uniform and his disarming smile, gave him more than his share of attention from the babes.
The other thing he liked about his job was being able to carry a firearm. Weapons were DJ's passion, second only to women. He had a nice collection and shot them often. Sometimes he was able to combine his two favorite pastimes by taking a woman to the range with him. Most were hesitant at first, but once they fired a few rounds, they were usually hooked. That always put a big smile on his face.
DJ wasn't smiling now, though. In fact, he had a scowl on his face. Things were not good. He'd always told people this could happen. Most of them had laughed at him. Some to his face, but the majority had done it behind his back. They would politely listen as he talked about preparedness, but he knew they were rolling their eyes the minute they turned their backs. He wondered how those people were doing now. Hopefully at least some of them had taken what he had said to heart. Maybe some would make it through unscathed. If the phones were working, he would have called to check on the ones he knew best, but that wasn't possible now.
He sat in his town house apartment, listening to the radio and eating a bowl of SpaghettiOs he'd heated up on his backpacking stove. The news was getting worse. Many people were running out of food, and the governments, both local and national, were losing control. DJ had heard shots down the street just last night. It was probably time to get the hell out of Dodge, he thought, as he listened to the droning reports. He decided that he'd start loading up and head to his bug-out location. He would have left earlier, but once before it had looked as if things were going south and he'd bugged out prematurely. The economy had turned around before anything bad happened, and when he got back, he found that he'd lost his job. He really liked the job he had now and didn't want to lose it, so he had waited. By the time it had become obvious that this was the real deal, the arteries out of the city were clogged. Then martial law had been declared. It would be a risk to leave, but not as big a gamble as staying in the city once the authorities lost complete control over the situation.
There were many theories on what had caused “the Smash.” It seemed as if there were new experts on the news every day, and each had his own pet hypothesis. That was before the electricity had gone out yesterday. Some of the authorities had said it was fuel prices; others blamed the shrinking value of the dollar. The bursting of the housing bubble had some proponents, and a few even thought the government had done it deliberately. Three or four had less popular theories, but all the so-called experts agreed that this was the worst thing to happen to America since the stock market crash of '29.
Most people were shocked that things could get so bad in such a short time. It had even surprised DJ to some extent. Of course, the buildup had spanned many years, but the end came astonishingly fast. It really didn't matter to DJ what the real cause was or how fast it had happened. He'd been preparing for this for years, and had tried to get others to do the same. He had succeeded in a few instances, but most people didn't want to be bothered by DJ's gospel. He figured the reason most didn't listen was that they'd have to admit something bad could happen, and most people just couldn't bring themselves to believe that.
When he finished his dinner, he put the dishes in the sink and turned the faucet on. Water came out, but the pressure was low. He knew it was only a matter of time before there would be no running water at all. He had plenty stored for when that happened, but he planned to be long gone by then. The loss of electricity had caused the crime rate to double overnight. At least that's what the radio had said. DJ suspected it was actually much worse, and he knew that the loss of water would push even the law-abiding over the edge.
He finished the dishes and put them away. It seemed foolish to do such mundane things when the world was falling apart, but DJ knew routines should be followed whenever possible. It helped one deal with the bizarre to do the ordinary.
He grabbed a flashlight and headed downstairs to his garage. His trusty old Toyota pickup sat in the bay closest to the stairs, but it wouldn't be the vehicle he'd use to leave the city. The news had covered the mass exodus when the unprepared hordes had tried to leave. The lucky few who departed early had hardly any problems, but the ones who left only a few hours later had damned themselves from the start. As more and more people saw the handwriting on the wall and tried to get out of the city, highways that weren't designed for so many cars became death traps. As the routes filled to numerous times their optimum capacity, travel slowed to a crawl. Cars ran out of gas. Emergency vehicles were unable to reach the scene of wrecks to clear them and help the injured. Fights broke out, first at gas stations along the routes and then on the actual roads themselves.
Finally the criminal element moved in on the helpless motorists like spiders on insects caught in their webs. Many peopleâat least the lucky onesâhad been forced to walk back to their homes, leaving behind most of the possessions they'd packed. The unlucky were still on the highways, silent as their useless vehicles. The governor had had no choice but to call out the National Guard and restrict travel. Heavy military trucks had been fitted with snowplow blades and had cleared lanes on the impacted roads, but now Guardsmen sat in machine-gun-topped Humvees with orders to stop anyone who tried to use those roads without authorization.
DJ walked around the truck and used his flashlight to find the propane lantern on the shelves loaded with his survival equipment. He hung the lantern on a hook and pulled a lighter from his pocket. A second later, the garage was bathed in a yellow glow. He turned and looked at his ultimate escape vehicle. It was a Polaris Sportsman 800. The ATV was the biggest and baddest ever built. It had a top speed in excess of seventy miles per hour and a huge payload and towing capacity. Attached to the back was an off-road trailer that would haul a thousand pounds of cargo. DJ had done some modifications to it so that, between the trailer and the racks on the quad, he could easily carry all the gear he needed for his trek.
The bike had less than five hundred miles on it. He and his girlfriend had bought two smaller quads a couple of years ago. When they broke up last year, DJ traded the older pair in for this new machine. He reached down and turned the key. The twin-cylinder motor fired almost immediately. However, instead of the roar that the stock exhaust system would have made, the quad made a
sound that was barely audible over the hissing of the lantern. DJ had installed a second muffler that quieted the four-wheeled beast to a level even a librarian wouldn't find offensive. Hunters most often used the aftermarket exhaust system so they wouldn't spook game animals. It cut the performance of the big bike a little, but the trade-off in power was well worth the stealth it afforded. That wasn't the only modification he'd made to the big bike, either. DJ smugly turned the machine off. He checked the oil and water levels. They were fine. Then he twisted off the fuel cap and topped off the tank. Next he examined the tires. They were all overinflated, but that was on purpose. The higher air pressure made the bike quieter and easier to handle on pavement. When he got off the pavement, he could easily let some of the air out.
The tires checked, he began packing the trailer. He'd practiced this over and over, developing a meticulous system for where everything went. It took less than ten minutes to load the trailer. He finished off by placing four five-gallon jerry cans on the custom mounts that ran down the sides of the trailer. These, combined with the four gallons in the tank, would give DJ over four hundred miles of range, more than enough to get to where he was going.
Next he grabbed a big plastic box that mounted to the rear rack of his Polaris. It took only a few seconds to lock it down, and then he began loading it, mostly with food and cooking gear. When it was almost half-full, he closed the lid. The front rack had a built-in waterproof storage space under it. He quickly filled it, and then a medium-sized duffel bag was bungeed down on the top. He opened the door to his truck and removed several items from inside. One was a small satchel of maps. He looped the strap over his neck to take upstairs with him. Next was a military-type day pack that had enough of everything he would need, except for guns and ammo, to live for three days. That went into the plastic box. Finally he removed his GPS from the mount in the Toyota and placed it in the one on his quad's handlebars. He rechecked everything and was almost done. All that was left was to get his firearms and clothes, but he would load those right before he left. He turned off the lantern and headed back upstairs. Halfway up, he stopped and slapped his forehead. With the aid of the flashlight, he found a roll of duct tape, pulled off two pieces, and placed them over the taillights on the four-wheeler. A little slipup like having a red light showing could ruin his day, he thought.
Back upstairs, he packed a small duffel with a week's worth of clothes and toiletries and laid out what he'd wear in the morning. Then he went to the spare bedroom, opened his large gun safe, and pulled out the weapons he would take. If he'd been able to use his truck, he would have brought all his guns. But since he just had the quad and trailer, he'd take only what he absolutely had to have: three rifles, a shotgun with an extra barrel, and four handguns. They were all cased except for one rifle and one handgun. He placed the handgun in a drop-leg holster that he'd wear. The rifle would go into a custom scabbard that gave DJ access to the rifle while he was moving. It had taken a lot of work to get the scabbard right, but DJ was very proud of it. It was not far from what the cowboys had used a hundred years ago, although his steed and his rifle were unlike anything someone from that era had ever seen.
DJ pulled an odd-shaped container and a .30-caliber ammo can from one of the shelves in the safe. The ammo can was heavy. It had a small wad of cash in it, not that cash was worth much these days. What made it heavy was the assortment of old silver coins and the few gold coins that it held. The coins would ensure him more than just a meager existence when he got to his destination. DJ closed the safe with the hope that he could one day come back here, if for nothing else than to get the rest of his gun collection.
Finally he opened a metal cabinet that sat next to the safe and pulled out loaded magazines for the two guns that weren't cased. Extra ammo was already loaded, some on the quad and quite a bit in the trailer. He put the magazines in a vest that had pockets set up just to carry them and a few other essentials. He carried all of the stuff to his room and placed it at the foot of his bed.
He looked at his watch. It was almost nine. He found his map satchel and pulled out an atlas of his state. He turned to the back where there was a map of the city. He already knew the route he would take, but he traced it with his finger anyway. Examining all of his backup routes, he searched for any other means to get out of the city he might previously have missed. After thirty minutes of scouring the map, he yawned. He stretched and looked around the apartment. On the desk in the corner of the living room sat his now useless computer.
Talk on his favorite Internet survival forums had increased ten- or twentyfold before the Web had gone down. Most of the traffic on those survival and preparedness Web sites was from newbies who were coming face-to-face with the new reality. DJ tried to help them as much as he could, but he knew most of them were screwed. He wondered how the regulars on the sites were doing. Many were more prepared than he was. They lived out in the country and already had gardens and livestock. Others were more or less in the same boat as he was. They had places to go, but would they be able to get there? He hoped so, even for the ones who normally disagreed with him.
He had continually preached that everyone who intended to bug out should have a plan other than automobiles and interstates. Some had listened and taken what he had said to heart. Many had bought dirt bikes or quads like his. Some were not so far that they couldn't walk to their retreats in a few days. DJ even had a plan for going on foot if it came down to it, although he didn't relish the thought of a three-hundred-fifty-mile hike. He wished his retreat was closer, but when his group had formed, that was the closest they could find acreage that was in their price range. Other than distance, the place was perfect. The soil was fertile, there were plenty of hardwoods for firewood, and it was far enough from a big city that if a mass exodus took place, the hordes would be thinned out before they got that far.
DJ yawned again. Better get some sleep, he thought. He set the alarm on his wristwatch for three thirty a.m. He figured most of the troublemakers would be in bed by four. If he left then, it would give him at least a couple of hours to get well out of town before dawn. Invisibility would ensure his safety, so his plan was geared toward moving in the darkness and sleeping during the day. The most danger would come in the first twenty miles of his escape route. After that, it would fall off as he got farther and farther from town. DJ had played out this scenario over and over in his mind. Now that he was going to have to put his plan into action, he was filled with excitement and a little trepidation.