Authors: Jf Perkins
Renewal 9 – Delay Tactics
By J.F. Perkins
Copyright 2011 J.F. Perkins
Renewal 9 – Delay Tactics
Chapter 9 – 1
Terry crept through the darkness. A sinister orange glow drew him onward. He did his best to move silently through the underbrush as he followed the low murmurs of fevered chanting. Soon, the crackle of flame buried his worry about being heard and replaced it with the worry of being seen. He need not have worried. The white-robed figures were fully involved in their ritual of obscene pain. One layer of leaves from full exposure, Terry watched the center wooden cross crackle and spit, burning bright in the black woods.
Terry sat absolutely unmoving until the figures on the side crosses forced a ragged gasp from his throat. He reached for his automatic and prepared to die. He had never met the victims, but he recognized them from Bill’s stories. On the left cross was Arturo, and on the right, little Jimmy. Terry was struggling to reconcile the fact that they matched his imagination perfectly. He would have known them anywhere, and yet he could not possibly know.
As he judged the timing for his attack, the center figure of the ritual spun around to face him. He knew he was caught, most likely recognized. He rose to his feet behind the bush, his upper half in plain sight of the entire white-robed crowd.
“Terry Sheffield,” the figure intoned, “So nice of you to join us.” He pulled the pointed white hood from his head, and Terry sagged back to his knees. The leader of the ritual was Bill Carter. He waved Terry into the clearing.
Terry stepped around the bush and walked forward until the heat of the burning cross became uncomfortable on his face. He was surrounded by a hundred hidden men, all wearing the white robes of the Knights of the White God. As Terry scanned the crowd he picked out eerily familiar eyes peering from holes in the hoods. He was lost. Everything he believed in his rapid transformation into a member of Bill’s carefully built community was overrun by the revelation that Bill was no different from the enemy. These men could burn him, for all he cared. His hope for the future was shattered.
Bill Carter spoke again. “I’m glad you’re here, Terry. We didn’t know how much longer we could pretend to be the good guys.”
What? Terry felt the cracks forming in his reality. The others began removing their hoods. There was Kirk. There was Sam. There was Jeffry and Seth. John Hall pulled his hood and leered at Terry with a purely evil grin. The hood to Bill’s right came off. It was Dusty Baer.
Wait a second. Dusty is dead. This is wrong.
Bill glanced away for moment and back again. “Wake up, Terry. Wake up!”
A dream. It was a dream. The open window was black. Terry physically shook to rid himself of the last vestiges of the horrible dream. He heard gunfire outside. With his mind still mired in the twilight of sleep, Terry let his body drive. He pulled on his clothes and weapon belt. He sat back down on the edge of the bed while his hands laced his boots. Another part of his mind heard scuffling sounds from down the hall. When he turned the knob on the bedroom door, he stepped out into the hall and was nearly knocked over by a slender redhead in full stride.
Sally looked angry at first, and then they both laughed at the collision for a second or two. Then they remembered. Gunfire. Sally slid past Terry with her hand lingering on his shoulder. He followed her down the stairs, still struggling to pull his head out of the wild dream. Down through the kitchen and out the back door. They listened to the firecracker pop of weaponry to the west, and headed out in that direction.
The whole of Teeny Town was only four hundred feet wide, east to west, and two turns later, they were standing at the massive barn that served as the main vehicle storage and western defensive gate for the town proper. Beyond the barn was a flat series of crops fields, everything from beans to corn, mixed for maximum efficiency and synergistic support. The town nestled in a valley that started up at the main road to the south and drained gradually to Brewers Creek to the north. Outside of the crop zone, pastures ringed the hillsides and ended at fences that were situated so that they were just out of sight from the road. The community had stayed hidden for more than a decade just by the simple advantage of being situated in that valley.
Peering around the barn, Sally could see muzzle flashes at the western gate. She gave Terry a rapid fire sequence of hand signals, which he only vaguely understood. Although Teeny Town kids were raised into entire systems of action, Terry was a newcomer. While he had already proven himself in important ways, he was still weak on the fundamentals. He matched Sally step for step as they advanced toward the source of the gunfire. The moonless night made it easy to find the problem, but hard to navigate through the fields. More than once, Terry lost track of Sally in a patch of corn, and was forced to stop and listen for her quiet rustling movement through the tall stalks. That was how he detected another sound. Off to the right, he could hear a group making their way in the opposite direction, back to town. He stepped forward and grabbed Sally by the shoulder. She spun around to shake him off, and saw him holding a finger to his lips. Then he pointed in the direction of the sounds.
Sally picked it up instantly. The group was talking in low murmurs, which told her that whoever it was, they were not from the community. Thanks to old teaching from an ex-Marine named Arturo, Teeny Town used hand signals in combat. She made a slicing motion, back in the direction they had come. Terry pivoted and set out in a slow, hunched walk back down the corn row. Quickly, they were standing at the edge of the field. A broad strip of grass and gravel separated the field from the barn. They had been outside long enough to develop decent night vision, and a few dim electric bulbs from town provided more than enough light to see.
Terry was fully awake now, thinking fast. They had two enemies to worry about. The first was the wealthy families of Coffee County. These families had gained early advantage as the countryside recovered from the Breakdown. They had used their advantage to essentially subjugate the entire surviving population of the county, so that in modern Manchester, Tennessee, most people existed at the pleasure of a ruling elite. The families had fought among themselves for years, trying to gain the leadership role among those elite. Eventually, the Jenkins family managed to consolidate power and to make it look legitimate to anyone who cared to look from outside the county. Of course, they abused that power to keep the population on the edge of starvation and completely dependent on the families for survival.
Two nights ago, Terry had taken part in a raid on the Jenkins farm. Although the raid was launched in retaliation for the abduction and tortured death of Dusty Baer, a key member of the community and someone he considered a friend, Terry could not feel good about it. The raid had gone off without a hitch, unless you considered a banshee woman with deadly knife skills a problem, but it was out of character for Terry’s idea of morality and for his idea of what the community should be. This, right now, was different. Someone was attacking his new people and that was a fair fight, by his standards.
The second enemy was newer, the result of an unplanned mission into Nashville. Terry had been a part of that one as well. Under the leadership of Bill Carter, Terry and five others had successfully attacked a much larger group of particularly sadistic men from the Columbia area and had rescued seventeen state police officers from whatever horrible deaths the bad guys had in mind. The leader of that group, known as the Grand Dragon, was captured and later compared notes with the head of the Jenkins family while in the state’s jail in Murfreesboro.
Because of that connection, Teeny Town was up against both groups at once, which was a situation for which they had never planned. In the raid on the Jenkins farm, most of the first group of Dragons had been literally blown to bits, but the leader and son of the Grand Dragon had escaped to Columbia for reinforcements. Thanks to some spying by Kirk, Terry knew those reinforcements were not due until the next day, which left Terry to conclude that he was listening to the minions of one of the Manchester families crunching their way through the corn field.
Sally moved three rows to the right and dropped to a prone position in the deep shadows of the corn stalks. Terry backed up to give her a clear field of fire and followed suit, drawing his 9mm in the process. The first of the group emerged from the corn, and Terry recognized the man from school. Definitely the families, Terry thought. As seven other men filed out into the open, the picture became clear. Two of the men carried heavy metal fuel cans while the rest covered those two. The men were casting their eyes around in every direction, looking almost comically guilty as they began to cross to the barn. There was no doubt in Terry’s mind that the men intended to burn as much of the Town as they could. The skirmish at the gate was just a diversion, and once again Terry was stuck right at the heart of the problem.
Sally had apparently come to the same conclusion. Terry jumped as her rifle barked, just eight feet to his right. The man he recognized crumpled, solving a small moral dilemma for Terry. At least he wouldn’t have to shoot a classmate, no matter how big a jerk the guy was. Terry already knew from experience that, depending on the situation, he was either the world’s best shot or the world’s worst. Up until now, the difference between those two states was completely out of his control. Terry was gifted with a natural ability to enter a very focused state of mind when he, or someone he cared about, was in danger. If he was in that state, he was blur-fast and accurate. If not, then the huge barn wall was probably safe.
Sally, on the other hand, got her skill the old fashioned way; training and practice, and she was very good. Terry knew this because, while he was thinking, the second man fell from a rifle bullet through the sternum. Through a long session with Kirk, who had the same kind of gift, Terry was supposed to be learning how to enter that state of focus at will. Since everything felt fast and chaotic, he knew he wasn’t there, but he wasn’t helping Sally either. He aimed and squeezed the trigger, knowing he was thinking too hard as he did it. Someday, someone would find his bullet down by the creek because it missed his target by a mile. Damn it.
By the time he had gone through this mad rush of thought, Sally was pulling the trigger on the third man, and the entire group of bad guys had begun to orient on Sally’s position. Several rifle rounds zipped over Terry’s head, low enough that he expected to see that Sally was hit. In the tiny space of time it took for him to turn and look at her, the world slowed down. He saw the rounds cutting through corn stalks in slow motion and plowing into the dirt just beyond Sally. His head swung back around to see the third man slowly crumpling under Sally’s latest shot. His handgun, almost of its own accord, lined up on the fourth man, cracked and flamed, and sent the spent casing tumbling through the air. Again, three more times in the space of time it took that first casing to bounce on the dirt. One man left.
The last man was too stunned to drop the fuel can. He dragged it back into the corn and started running for the gate. For a few seconds, Sally couldn’t shoot because Terry was in the way. She waited and tracked the man entirely through the sound he was making in his headlong retreat. Terry saw her rifle swinging in time with the man and scrambled out onto the grass to clear her shot. Her rifle barked one final time. Terry heard a metallic “spang” and a liquid thud. Then the man hit the ground and started spewing a long string of obscenities.
Sally said, “Crap! Fuel’s spilling in the corn.”
Terry’s own response was a little less practical, but he kept it to himself. He got to his feet, and ran in the direction of the wailing man somewhere in the field. He was scared right to the brink of panic as the corn whipped his face. If he had Sally’s training, he would have done it differently. Terry almost stepped on the man before he saw him sprawled on his back, dappled in dim light split by shadows of corn stalks. The fuel can was flat on the ground by the man’s left hand and a handgun was four feet beyond the man’s right. Thinking of Sally’s last concern, he reached down and set the can upright, feeling for the telltale wetness of diesel fuel.
Terry called out his discovery. “Hey Sally! You just dented it. There’s only blood in the corn.”
Sally didn’t answer. Some alert members of the community had come out to help. Sally explained in a rush, and someone pulled a truck out of the barn to shine headlights into the field. The fallen man was revealed to be a sorry looking thirty-year-old in a trucker’s cap with a ragged gash across the top of his thigh. Terry thought about helping the man, but the bastard was still shouting foul language at the top of his lungs.
Kirk was the first one to arrive on the scene. He took one look at the man and said, “Shut the hell up.”