Catch up on the story: Part 1 // Part 2


This Marine’s apocalypse is heating up. After saving the strangers from the bear, Joe found himself in a precarious stand-off. Readers thought he should talk this one out.

The shaking rifle betrayed the constitution of the middle-aged man wielding it. Joe had no quarrel with him. Nor with the other man, the rusty-bearded traveler he held in the Mk-14’s gunsights. Escalating the already tense situation would gain nothing.

However. Be polite. Be professional. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet.

So he kept his rifle expertly trained on Rusty’s face, the sights lined up to put a 7.62 round right through the base of his skull. The barrel did not move. Rusty did not blink.

“Man, you do not want to be pointing that at me,” Joe said. “And you don’t need to. We’re gonna talk. Then you’re gonna put your gun down.”

“He saved us,” the boy said. His breath came out in rasps. “The bear, he killed it.”

Dark blood seeped from over a dozen holes riddling the carcass, proving the point. The beast was dead but its fading warmth seemed to thicken the air and the scent of its sopping, mud-caked fur lingered.

The boy stepped closer to his uncle, and risked raising a hand to the quivering rifle. The man lowered the weapon and relaxed, as if unhinging himself from a tenuous courage he never imagined possible.

“Drop it,” Joe ordered.

“It’s not even loaded. Neither is the other one.” Greybeard said. The rifle hung loosely at his side. He squeezed the trigger. A feeble, empty click of the chamber echoed in the woods.

“Then it’s a good thing mine is. Drop it.” Joe repeated. The man obeyed and the rifle splashed into the mud.

In the dimming light, he ordered them all to sit down. He took the kid’s .22, a round jammed in the chamber. He freed it, unbolted it, and emptied four rounds into the mud. He found Rusty’s AR, also empty, and instinctively removed the magazines of both and double checked the chambers.

“We’re not dangerous,” the boy said.

“Doesn’t matter what you are or what you’re not,” Joe said. “Where did you come from? Why are you following me?”

Rusty spoke. “We’re not following you. We’re trying to find somewhere to camp. Our last place got bad.”

“The hell does that mean?”

“Some kind of gang, they took over the place. A lot of our friends got killed.”

“When was this.”

“Two days ago.”

“Are they following you?”

“I don’t know.”

A groan of thunder interrupted the conversation. The storm wasn’t quite done yet. Joe looked at the three people sitting in the mud as the rain began to fall once more.

“I’m moving on,” Joe said. “I don’t care where you go, but I’m not saving your asses again. Don’t follow me.”

They stood up and started collecting the few things they had. Two smallish backpacks, probably low on food. The two men slung their empty rifles over their shoulders, and the boy stood like a lost child, as if any direction traveled from this point would lead to the same unpromising future.

You’ve done enough. It’s time to leave.

He turned and walked away.

The encampment was a repurposed mini mall, a block at the edge of a community appropriated by immune survivors. 54 people lived in the shops, their storefront signs illuminated by the generators powering the facilities. Similar encampments dotted the coast, separated by hundreds of miles, some clinging to the ailing power grid abandoned by the last vestiges of infrastructure the state had left.

Three days had passed since Joe left the travelers in the woods and returned to camp with the supplies he’d scavenged. The rain finally ceased and the wind grew colder as winter settled into the coastal community, the roadside grass dusted with a light frost that burned away in the quickening light of morning.

Things made sense in camp. The pharmacy served as a medical center. The fast-food restaurant in the center of the parking lot was the chow hall. In a corner near the café stood a gazebo, the gathering point for all things community related.

The garden was further down the road in a clearing, a series of plots surrounded by chicken wire. Potatoes, carrots, and cabbages grew there, augmenting the abundance of grocery store-scavenged food suddenly available to the small population of survivors. Keeping the refrigerators stocked and powered was a full-time job, but no one went hungry.

There was a clocktower too, an aesthetic irrelevancy when first built, a sharpshooter’s nest now. Joe had spent many nights there with his rifle, surveying the street to the south, and the forest to the east. Encircling the entire encampment was a chainlink fence topped with razor wire, with a guard post set up at the main gate.

Joe would’ve preferred snipers on every rooftop. At highest alert, the best he could muster was three shooters: Hank, the buck-hunting sportsman, Mitra, an airman from the Portland Air National Guard, and Todd, a college kid who loved airsoft.

Todd was the worst shot.

Still, they were eager. And they were the only defenders the camp had. Joe wish he could train them more—and so did they—but ammunition was a scarcity. He’d raided as many sporting goods stores as he could and scrounged up enough bullets to fend off an army, but it would do no good if most of them ended up in the dirt behind practice targets.

On a clear afternoon, Joe sat shotgun in a flatbed ATV while Mitra drove. They needed fuel for the generators from the gas station to the south. Recalling the criminals the boy had mentioned in the woods three days ago, Joe ordered Todd on clocktower duty and put Hank on patrol to the north.

Mitra, a 29-year-old Pakistani-American, kept her thick brown hair in a bun, complying with USAF regulations through a comfort of habit. Her father was an accountant from Islamabad. A widower, he moved Mitra and her two brothers to Seattle after their mother was killed in a suicide attack at a market. Twenty years later, Mitra lost the rest of her family to the disease.

The ATV rumbled down the road. Mitra was alert yet talkative. After days in the forest, Joe appreciated her conversation. She had to yell over the sound of the engine.

“You know, I really miss my baba’s maash pulao,” she said loudly, speaking only the last words with a Pakistani melody. The rest of the time she sounded like a typical Seattle girl.

They crested a ridge as Mitra continued her musing about vegetarian cuisine. Joe grew hungry listening to her. The gas station wasn’t far.

“We gotta find some apricots,” she said. “Hell, even some jam would work.”

“I’ll be sure to look for some at the farmers market next Tuesday,” he quipped. “You hipsters love that shit, don’t you?”

“Hey, don’t judge.”

“I outrank you, I can do whatever I want.” That got her laughing.

Mitra stopped laughing and Joe’s thoughts of food vanished. His combat instincts ignited as the sudden sound of an explosion ripped through the air. A deep, huge detonation.

Joe knew the gas station was gone before the shockwave hit him. The ATV’s chassis rattled violently.

Mitra raised her binoculars. Dark smoke rose from behind the trees down the road.

The radio on Joe’s plate carrier buzzed.

“Joe, come in!” It was Todd, in the clocktower. His youthful voice cracked over the radio. “The hell was that?”

He keyed the transmit button. “Gas station’s gone, Todd.”

“Jesus. That’s the only fuel for miles.”

Swarms of blackbirds fled the trees down the road, darting in every direction as the smoke rose thicker.


A. Retreat to a position of strength by returning to camp immediately.

B. Evaluate the threat, and recon the area ahead with Mitra.

C. Take a chance; send Mitra back to camp, and risk scouting ahead alone.

Voting has ended and the story continues! Read the next part here.

Leave a comment:

Robert D.

11/3/2015 4:50 AM


James R.

11/3/2015 8:02 AM

B or C, but I would prefer C. Partly because they need to know if there is a potential threat, and partly because this is a good story and I want to know what the hell happened to the gas station.

James R.

11/3/2015 8:04 AM

Also, set some radio silence in case the gang is on their net.

Samuel W.

11/3/2015 8:20 AM

C. Send Mitra back to camp to relay the information, and run alone to reduce the risk of being seen or heard. Scout the threat and head back to camp afterwards.

Brannon G.

11/3/2015 8:22 AM

B. Leave the ATV in some cover and hike the rest of the way to recon the area, also turn the radio off until you know what is going on.

Steven H.

11/3/2015 8:23 AM


William L.

11/3/2015 8:26 AM

B. I didn't realize Joe was such a jackwagon , but he does appear to know his stuff. He should have gotten more info from the three in the woods. He could have even bolstered the defenses at the camp with them. However, his only recourse now is to find out what caused the explosion and what the threat could be. He'll need Mitra to help cover more ground. They could stash the 4 Wheeler in cover, and hump it on foot. Once they have the Intel they'll be able to exfil quickly with the 4 Wheeler. Maybe Joe won't leave her behind....

scott h.

11/3/2015 2:14 PM

This guy read my mind.

Mark O.

11/3/2015 8:28 AM


Kyle G.

11/3/2015 8:32 AM

Why not take a position observing the road back to camp and wait a few? If the gang rambles by they can get behind them and flank them if they reach camp. I guess B though...

Brandon B.

11/3/2015 8:38 AM

B, leave the atv in cover, have Joe cover mitra and get a sitrip

Rayford N.

11/3/2015 9:16 AM

B. Intel is vital to survival.

Justin S.

11/3/2015 9:27 AM

B. Evaluate the threat, and recon the area ahead with Mitra on foot, off major paths and roads.

Doug L.

11/3/2015 9:48 AM


George B.

11/3/2015 9:56 AM


Adrian L.

11/3/2015 10:18 AM


Bobby B.

11/3/2015 10:22 AM

B. Stash the ATV and establish radio silence, then recon.

Jerome M.

11/3/2015 11:24 AM


Eric A.

11/3/2015 11:50 AM


Bryan G.

11/3/2015 1:38 PM

C. Can't risk somebody so inexperienced, but you have to find out what happened. Send mitral and the atv back to camp and then hike ahead to see what happened. But warn the camp, as this could be a distraction to take attention away from the camp.

scott h.

11/3/2015 2:11 PM

B. The chance of the gang actually designating someone to scan radio frequencies is slim and would be a waste of time more often than not. Move the ATV to a more secure location while everyone is still ringing from the blast, and scout the threat on foot. Find some high ground.

Ronald B.

11/3/2015 2:13 PM


David G.

11/3/2015 2:14 PM

B. 2 on recon is better than 1. Always nice to have someone covering your 6.

Jonathan T.

11/3/2015 5:49 PM


Jonathan T.

11/3/2015 5:50 PM

Why risk your mode of transportation

Sean A.

11/3/2015 6:12 PM

C, recon the area and take mental notes of the threat. Information is highly valued and very fluid....

Jeremy M.

11/3/2015 7:23 PM

B, stash ATV, stay off the road, and recon the gas station

Roger P.

11/3/2015 8:32 PM


Joseph T.

11/3/2015 10:13 PM


Kevin L.

11/3/2015 11:46 PM

B. Two is usually better than one.

Kevin L.

11/4/2015 2:42 AM

B. Two is usually better than one.

Destry W.

11/4/2015 4:41 AM

C. I would not put Mitra's life at risk. Besides, they might need more strength back at camp to defend a possible attack. But they also need to know what just happened and who is responsible especially means it is so close to their basecamp.

Mark K.

11/4/2015 4:54 AM

B, you need to know what the threat is especially one that is that close to your Camp.

Douglas r.

11/5/2015 1:01 PM


David I.

11/5/2015 3:30 PM

C - Scout alone and send her back to help the base in case of attack.

Mike D.

11/5/2015 3:30 PM

Bravo - stash the quad and proceed on foot with Mitra. Joe can explore and she can provide security.

brenda k.

11/5/2015 3:49 PM

B. Sending her back is risky as they have been driving in a loud vehicle. They may already be compromised and staying together to get out of potential problems is smarter. Radio back to let the camp know what the plan is and order radio silence, turn off radio to enforce it. Assess the situation, drive back to camp if safe, disable the atv and go back on foot if it isn't safe.

Brian S.

11/5/2015 6:00 PM

B. Best option....A. leaves you with nothing but guesses.....C. Take a chance? Don't think so!!

Michael R.

11/5/2015 8:26 PM


Ryan T.

11/6/2015 6:14 PM

A. Intel is vital, but that doesn't change the fact that you have 2 inexperienced shooters guarding your whole camp. One is a hunter and the other an air-softer, not a good defense plan. the explosion could be a trap, or possibly some kind of electrical failure, either way a beacon has just been sent for miles around that someone had enough provisions to make that kind of explosion. That my friend is a SHTF calling card! Return to camp, fortify your post and send out scouts after you lock down your lifeline.

Brent H.

11/7/2015 1:57 PM

This is the best defense of option A I've read so far.

Jeremiah C.

11/7/2015 8:16 AM

B need to know what happened. Then you have two pax to flank with if the need arises. Radio back hi alert status & radio silence till Joe gives the all clear

Dan W.

11/8/2015 7:57 AM


Ian H.

11/8/2015 9:13 AM


Mark S.

11/8/2015 11:29 AM


Sam L.

11/8/2015 12:53 PM


James E.

11/8/2015 5:37 PM


Raymond B.

11/8/2015 9:29 PM

B you've got to know who you're going to be dealing with.

nicholas k.

11/8/2015 11:16 PM

A. If he goes out without a plan and gets captured his camp and everything in it is defenseless. There are too many unknowns at this point to go further responsibly.

Jenette D.

11/9/2015 12:07 AM


Edwin S.

11/9/2015 2:39 AM

B need to find out threat levels and Mitra, being military to some degree, could be used as backup and extra set of eyes.

Scott W.

11/9/2015 4:00 AM

B, they need to know what's happening to see if it is a threat to their encampment.

Benjamin H.

11/9/2015 6:53 AM


bryan b.

11/9/2015 7:16 AM

C with strict direction to Mitra for radio silence and potential additional support if he doesn't return in X amount of time. They shouldn't take an ATV into that area for recon as it's too noisy. However, they need to know what's going on.

Michael A.

11/9/2015 9:08 AM


Travis S.

11/9/2015 1:15 PM


rene s.

11/9/2015 1:22 PM

B. Recon the area after hiding the ATV. Remove an ignition part so that the enemy cannot use it if they find it. Update the camp as soon as addtl. intel is obtained. Put the camp on high alert right now.

Norma D.

11/10/2015 11:16 AM


James P.

11/10/2015 8:17 PM


Mark S.

11/12/2015 7:15 AM

B. He should have tried to get more info from the two men and boy about the threat they faced, but now it's possible they are headed to his camp so they'll need to do some recon.

Jaymes H.

11/12/2015 8:01 AM


joel n.

11/12/2015 10:14 PM

bump uglies then def B...hey ya never know

Charles C.

11/13/2015 9:47 AM


Dennis P.

11/13/2015 11:57 AM


Michael H.

11/14/2015 12:44 PM


Scott M.

11/14/2015 6:59 PM

B -- Someone's got to have your 6

Toni A.

11/16/2015 1:33 PM


Bryan B.

11/19/2015 6:23 AM


Christopher L.

11/20/2015 9:58 AM

C....The gang seems to be going from concentrated area to concentrated area killing and taking what they can. Heading back you reinforce the base but are sitting ducks. If he is alone with Mitra back at camp to add another body for defense and direction/leadership he can go hunting solo. Hope he has a suppressor for the rifle.

robert b.

11/20/2015 4:34 PM


Kristy w.

11/25/2015 1:09 PM


david s.

12/1/2015 2:15 PM


Jesse S.

12/5/2015 6:44 PM


matt c.

12/7/2015 6:41 AM


Nicolas V.

12/8/2015 1:03 PM

B. is definitely the best choice. Stash the ATV and move in on foot. If possible they need to find a spot in cover to set up an OP to see what happened and watch for any movement but it needs to be close to their exit plan so they can stay ahead of the enemy should there be any. I personally couldnt imagine why any type of group would want to destroy something as useful as gas... hopefully it was just a freak accident... rats chewing on wires in the pump or something... Whatever the case may be they need to see whats going on and they should stay together at this point.

Troy G.

1/5/2016 8:42 AM

B. I'd use Mitra as an RP and have her ready with the vehicle to bug out if necessary and go ahead a little ways to see what caused the gas station to explode and see if there's a further threat to the camp.

James P.

1/5/2016 11:23 AM

C. Make her return on foot. You need someone to warn the others and someone with military experience to keep the others safe. Keep the wheels hidden and move in on foot to get at sitrep. Use the wheels as a quick exit if needed otherwise leave them because you now have no fuel supply anyway.

matt c.

4/20/2016 1:49 PM