It’s amazing, the things I ran into. Events so obscure they tested my grip on reality. Most just crashed into my senses and demanded my attention as soon as they appeared. I had grown used to them, or at least they weren’t as jarring anymore. One of the perks, I guess, of traveling alone for so long was that I forgot what was supposed to be ‘normal’. Then again, nothing’s ever been ‘normal’ for me in the Commonwealth and I’d like to meet someone who can tell me how things should be otherwise. So far, no one really has.
“Hey Mike!” I shouted and ducked as bullets chipped the thick wall at my back. “Mike, right?”
Mike, having spied a glance outside through a hole in the wall, passed me an affirmative nod which set me on edge. It wasn’t the nod specifically; it was the way he did it. A group of raiders closed in on our position. I chose this house because it was the only one still standing, though I swear I’ve felt the foundation shift. This location and what was outside shouldn’t elicit a calm, firm, nod. It warranted a hurried look, a rushed reaction, something else to ground him to the very real threat of a rusty demise at the hands of a bunch of crazies who could call a spiky dumpster a decent home. A collected nod from a cool gaze sizing up approaching death was not normal. If anything that nod confirmed this guy, ‘Mike’, knew danger like this, or worse. Red flags barely began to describe what my gut told me about him. How could I be certain he won’t turn on me after the raiders are dealt with? I’ve only known him for a few minutes.
With a fresh .308 chambered in my rifle I snapped into the door frame. Some of the raiders began to reload and revealed an opening. My aim wasn’t the best in such a scant moment and a few pot shots flung splinters into my forearm, but my iron sights were accurate and adrenaline was always a hell of a stimulant. A gawky teenager, clad in scrap metal and chain at first glance, reloaded above his cover and I took my shot.
Direct hit in his chest, though he dove for the ground. I snarled and regained my cover. Raiders were a pain to deal with. They were scavengers adept at fashioning armor from damn-near anything and I should have recognized the combat armor sooner. Of all the dangers the Commonwealth of post-war Massachusetts had, raiders were by and far the worst. I made a note to spare that kid and ask where he got that armor if all went well.
I established a better position inside the dilapidated building and scoured the room for Mike. The foyer was empty, the dining room across from my new position on the stairs was empty, and I failed to hear anyone moving in my vicinity. That keyed me on to one thing.
Mike the asshole abandoned me, which is what I got for offering hasty asylum to him after he crashed through the roof and took a tumble down the stairs a few moments ago. I decided he could get tetanus for all I cared. I didn’t need his help to get out of this and I was glad to be rid of the liability. Besides, no one just recovered on the spot from an entrance like his.
The lingering pause was unsettling. I approached a window at the corner landing of the stairs to peer outside. The sun started showing in pockets across a desolate terrain of irradiated puddles and broken suburb. One shaft gave me a clear view of the raiders. Their woven movements through the debris of shattered concrete, splintered wood, and rusted cars closed the gap between us at an alarming pace. Maneuvers like that took coordination and I didn’t hear orders being barked out. A series of hand signs and silent signals guided them I assumed, which meant someone in their gang had a military background. There went my advantage.
One of the raiders lobbed a grenade, though his aim was off and it bounced a foot into the dining room, well away from my old position near the entrance and far from where I relocated to. Where the hell were they aiming? Were they even trying for the foyer? What the hell kind of grenade even looked like - Realization struck harder than the flash-bang's burst of sound and light.
Doubling over from the fire in my eyes I scrambled back to the stair way corner and knocked over a lamp stand. I lost grip of my rifle and fumbled for my knife. They were going to rush me, no doubt about it, and I was determined to take at least one of them with me.