Another day dawned in Jericho. Most of the days following the bombs had been the same, but this particular day was different for one person, and Jake Green was one of the handful of people who knew it. It was the day he would face his duty.
Five years had led him to this, half a decade of near-total secrecy, rugged training, and being alone as hell -- not being able to share what was happening in his life with anyone, although his Mom had figured it out. Mothers were odd that way; she‘d somehow had a sixth sense about what he was doing, and had become his confidante in the process. She was the only one.
Jake sure as hell hadn’t expected to deal with the aftermath of the apocalypse, but if this was the enemy, he would face it down, as he had all of the others. He was no longer the man who had left Jericho five years earlier. There would be no more running away.
Heather had packed a bag for him that morning, quietly, without him knowing. She’d found his dark greens and grays in the closet, thinking they were military, and tucked them all away in his big duffel bag along with the last of his toiletries, and a handwritten note of her love for him that she felt he might read, maybe even need, on the battlefield. When he’d walked upstairs that morning and been surprised by seeing his bag on the bed, ready to go, she’d given him a tearful look, rushed into his arms and held him, not saying a word, pressing all of her emotions into him with her tight embrace. He’d held her tenderly in return, cradling her head gently with his hands.
Jake recalled her words the previous evening, something about feeling like a war wife, and thought that she certainly seemed like one today. His feelings were achingly parallel.
She hadn’t been able to say much to Jake that morning, sitting across the table from him over what passed for breakfast. Heather had made her peace with it, as best as she could -- he’d made a promise, he had an obligation, he was going. She couldn’t talk him out of it, and she was trying hard not to think of herself, and especially of herself without him. It had left her choked her up, speechless, and there was so much she wanted to say. The inner conflict frustrated her nearly to tears.
She reached across the table, placed her hands on his, and looked at him. There were no words.
Jake caught her look, and it said all that needed to be said.
Do what you have to do, her eyes told him, and come back to me.
* * * * * * * * * *
Johnston Green was sitting in what was the mayor’s office these days -- his upstairs den, since the daily commute to Town Hall was proving to be entirely unworkable without transportation -- when Jake walked in. If he’d had a uniform other than his greens and grays, he would have worn it to this particular engagement.
“Dad,” he started. “You’ve heard the announcement on the radio ordering all military branches to service.”
“Yep,” Johnston said, not thinking much of it.
“It applies to me. I’m here to report for duty.”
So that’s what he’s been doing for the past five years, his father thought, something to do with the military. But then, why the long absence, the complete secrecy, the long, furtive looks between Jake and his mother whenever he did come home? There had to be something more he didn’t know about.
“Sit down,” Johnston ordered. He did.
He looked at Jake. “I knew you’d been somewhere. I didn’t know where, other than in San Diego. Now I know it was military. But I always got the impression that you had some kind of special training, covert operations, something secret, undercover, whatever the hell it was. Am I right?”
He nodded. Perhaps his Mom had hinted at things. The guess was close enough.
“You reporting specifically to me for a reason?”
“Dad, you’re the last authority left around here. The federal government is history.. The state isn’t functioning -- not yet, anyway. The county seat at Rogue River is a ghost town. San Diego is gone -- I probably couldn’t get there even if it wasn’t. When it comes down to who’s in charge here, you’re the end of the line. Did you expect me to report to the deputies?”
Johnston decided he had a point there.
“Jake, the National Guard units at Goodland and Great Bend, I haven’t had any contact with them at all. I suspect they’ve been fully deployed. Nobody home. Where they are and what they’re doing, I don’t know.”
Jake didn’t know, either. If it had been meant as a question, he didn’t have the answer. His dad went on.
“There haven’t been any other military contacts, no Army, no Navy, no Air Force, nothing. For all I know, there may be no more military, at least not the way it used to be. We’ve got a handful of deputies here in Jericho, some volunteers, and me. That’s about it.”
He got up and paced around the room a little.
“The world’s different now,” the mayor said. “If we were fighting a war overseas, an enemy we were sure of…” He turned. “We don’t know who caused these attacks, or if the second wave, the EMP, even came from the same place. We’re fighting blind, there. Some of our worst enemies are right here in the streets, creating havoc, vandalizing our town. They may not have started the war, if that’s what it is, but they may finish it -- or finish us.”
Johnston came to a decision.
“I think your place is here, right here,.” he told Jake. “If you’re expecting me to send you off to some distant shore, well, I can’t really see the point of that. Hell, I wouldn’t even know where to send you -- or how to get you there.”
Jake smiled inside. He’d thought of that problem, too.
“Shep never came back from Denver,” Johnston sighed. “You saw his truck. He’s probably dead. We’ve got refugees coming across the Colorado border -- walking, most of them, poor devils, until they drop. The medical clinic is being overwhelmed by the people that make it here. We don’t have enough medicine left to take care of them -- not even anything to kill the pain, most of the time. The Ravenwood boys and Jonah Prowse’s gang are going down I-70, taking what they want, doing what they damn well please.” He shook his head, feeling like he was presiding over anarchy.
“I’d seal off the borders if I could,” he said. “That’s impossible, but I need to know what’s coming our way. We‘ve been to the north, east, and south. West is our vulnerable direction now -- that’s where Ravenwood is coming from, and Jonah’s compound.. I’ve got no intelligence from over there. We need some short-range reconnaissance. Is that old boat of Heather’s still running?”
Jake nodded. Her car, an ancient Plymouth, hadn’t been affected much by the EMP; no electronic ignition, no computer chips. She’d replaced the spark plugs, some wiring, and a few other parts and it ran like new -- one of the handful of vehicles in Jericho that was running at all.
“You did a hell of a job in Rogue River, or so I’m told. Thanks to you, we have some antibiotics and another doctor in town. I’m not going to risk both of my sons again -- not at the same time. Eric has done something really stupid” -- Jake knew about that -- “but April is going to need him when that child comes due. I think he’ll do the right thing, when the time comes, and I don’t want to lose him. You seem to be the man for this job.”
Johnston paused. “That girl of yours. You’re obviously pretty important to her, and I know she’s pretty important to you. I also know she doesn‘t want you to leave.”
Jake nodded. He hadn’t expected his father to consider it, or even mention it.
“Are you up for this job?“ he asked him, hard. “Are you ready and willing to go?”
Jake thought of Heather and the look she had given him: Do what you have to do.
“Will she let you have her vehicle?”
Jake said yes. He knew she would.
“All right, then,” Johnston sighed. “Take a full tank of gas from the fuel stores, and if I were you I’d throw a couple of extra gas cans in the trunk. You might need them if you run into trouble. Take your rifles and more than enough ammo -- I want you armed. Head five or ten miles down I-70 to the west and tell me what the hell is going on out there. I want you to head out first thing in the morning.”
Jake nodded his assent. He’d turned to walk out when he heard his father say one more thing.
“Son,” Johnston said, “Jericho’s lucky to have you back. You’ve already saved our ass more than once. And you’ve turned into one hell of a man.”
He looked at his prodigal boy, finally home.
“I’m proud of you, son.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The first thing Jake did was hurry home to tell Heather he wouldn’t be leaving Jericho, at least not very far or for very long. She was emotional, girlish, throwing her arms around his neck, resting her head on his chest, utterly contented. He wouldn’t be in Iraq or China or North Korea or somewhere across this devastated land, whatever was left of it. He’d be here. He’d be hers. She’d kept him.
She smiled at Jake, convinced that as long as he was with her, somehow he would never come to harm.
“Dad told me to head west down I-70 first thing in the morning,” he told her. “He wants to know what’s happening out there.”
“How far?” she asked.
“Couple of miles. Five or ten. Just far enough to see what’s heading our way.”
He nodded. “Probably, unless they’re all coming down the two-lane highways. It’s not safe on the interstate these days.”
“You’ll be careful,” she admonished him, tenderly.
He put his hands on her shoulders to reassure her. “I’m taking rifles and ammo, and I know how to take care of myself. San Diego taught me that. Heather,” he added, “I’m going to need a vehicle.”
She knew there was only one vehicle he could have meant.
“Aren’t they going to give you a police car or something?”
Jake shook his head. “They can’t. Bill and Jimmy have their hands full trying to keep up with the trouble in town and most of the police cars still aren’t running. The newer cars, the electronic ignition, the EMP fried them all. My car isn‘t running, either.” He looked at her.
“Heather,” he said reluctantly, “I need to borrow your car,” thinking it was a line straight out of an old sitcom like “Leave It to Beaver.”
She looked thoughtful. Jake thought he could see the gears of her mind turning
“You get my car on one condition and one condition only,” she told him evenly.
Jake gave her an exasperated look, waiting for what he knew was coming next.
“You’re taking me with you.”
* * * * * * * * * *
A few miles down I-70, with Heather riding shotgun, Jake knew that she had been right. If the car broke down, Jake might be able to monkey with it, but Heather knew it inside and out -- and they couldn’t exactly call Triple-A for a tow. Jake thought she could handle herself if anything went wrong. She was willing and able and capable. And, maybe most important of all, she was not afraid.
He took her hand and smiled at her. Heather smiled back. They were in agreement. By his side was where she wanted to be, and where he wanted her to be. Now, and always, as he had told her.
Jake hoped she’d be as handy with a rifle as she’d been with the spark plugs. She had never held a rifle in her life, and he’d only had time to give her the most basic of instructions.
The day was overcast and gloomy and they traveled down the dark, empty interstate as if they were the only vehicle on the road. They were. A few abandoned, overturned cars greeted them on the shoulder, mostly from the opposite direction -- people who had tried to get from Denver to Jericho, Oakley, Colby, anywhere -- fleeing from the nuclear nightmare. They’d gotten so far and then run out of gas, he figured, but the condition of some of the cars -- windows broken, tires removed, hoods up and engines stripped -- spoke of something more. Ravenwood, he thought to himself, or Jonah’s boys.
They rounded a turn -- and suddenly, unexpectedly, hit a roadblock. An old truck, blocking both lanes. Jake swerved, sideways, the car spinning to a stop. He got his bearings and looked at Heather, a probing look that needed no words. She nodded. She was shaken, but okay.
“Jake Green, you son of a bitch,” rang out a familiar voice.
It was Mitchell Cafferty, armed, staking out new territory.
Jake got out of the car, grabbing his rifle. Heather followed not far behind, also brandishing hers, but it was one on one. Jake and Mitch. As it had been before.
“And who gave you title and deed to the damn interstate,” Jake opened.
“No one. We just took it,” grinned Mitch, holding his rifle.
“I see you brought us a little present,” he added, looking squarely at Heather.
Jake turned, protective. If she was afraid of him, she wasn’t showing it. He hadn’t misjudged her at all -- unless he’d underestimated her strength of character.
“You’ll have her over my dead body,” he told Mitch.
“That could be arranged,” Mitch said coldly.
He sauntered up to Jake, both of them holding their rifles at the ready, but neither of them ready to fire on an old friend, even a former one. Not yet.
“Every now and again, a car comes down this road,” Mitch said, as if he were narrating a story for Jake‘s benefit. “I’ve been stopping them for the past couple of hours. Sometimes there’s worthwhile stuff in the back -- food, water, supplies. Sometimes nothing. But I’ve got a bundle in the back of my truck to take back to Jonah.”
“A regular Robin Hood, you are,” Jake spat at him. “Steal from the rich, give to the poor bastards at your compound.”
He glared at Jake. Jake returned the look.
“I could have killed you when I saw you hauling ass up the interstate, shot you dead, taken her -- he motioned at Heather -- “and whatever the hell else is in your car, and headed out, but I didn’t do that. I figured you and I owed each other a little something more.”
“You should have done it when you had the chance,” said Jake, fingering his rifle.
He thought he saw his old-friend-turned-enemy weaken, but only for a moment.
“Jonah wouldn’t like it,” Mitch said. “His daughter. He said she wants you alive.”
Emily, Jake thought. Maybe this time he actually had something to thank her for. Another debt he owed her -- as if he didn’t owe her enough already.
“What the hell do you want,” Jake said, impatiently.
“Here’s the deal, Jake,” Mitch ordered. “We’ve been living in that compound out on the fringes of Jericho for a long time now, kept out of town by people like your dad. That was fine when the world was civil and we could get by, but as you may have noticed, it’s not so damn civilized these days.” He spat on the ground.
“We’re moving into town. All of us. There’s plenty of space for our merry little band of patriots. You’ll welcome us into the community, give us food, water and shelter, and room to survive, or we’ll kick your asses into the next county and take whatever the hell we want anyway.”
“There are five thousand people in Jericho,” Jake intoned, “and they’re all against you.”
“They won’t fight,” countered Mitch. “They’ll let us in, rather than risk their own safety. All you have to fight with is a couple of Dukes of Hazzard deputies and your old man. You think they can stop us?”
He smiled -- that smarmy smile Jake had come to hate.
“Hell, you can help,” Mitch sarcastically added. “Tell the town to take us in. You‘re the big hero now. They‘ll listen to you. Negotiate. You did it before.”
Jake was growing angry, and showed it.
“You’re not welcome. You’ve been nothing but trouble, and you’re proving it again right now.”
“We’re going to own this little corner of the country, “ Mitch sneered.
“Like hell you are,” Jake growled, his eyes as hard as marble.
It was more than a promise.
That cinched it for Mitch. His anger got the better of him, and he hoisted his rifle and jammed it into Jake’s chin, knocking him to the ground. Jake’s rifle flew out of his hands, and Heather tensed as she saw it skid along the pavement. She felt her own rifle, still uncertain of herself.
Jake was stunned for a second, but quickly got back up and landed a roundhouse punch to Mitch’s jaw, and then a second. Mitch reeled, but held his ground. He pulled his rifle up into position, aimed it squarely at Jake, and cocked it. Heather looked on, frozen in place, horrified.
“Don’t make me do this, Jake,“ Mitch said. “We go back a long way.“
“You’ll never get a piece of Jericho,” Jake said icily, going for Mitch.
Mitch pulled the trigger.
Heather suddenly saw a part of Jake explode, and at that moment, something changed in her. She raised her rifle, and without more than a moment of thought, shot Mitch Cafferty squarely in the leg.
Only her religious upbringing stopped her from shooting him dead on the spot.
Mitch dropped to the ground, clutching his injured calf, the blood running through his fingers. He looked up at the girl -- this schoolmarm he‘d heard about -- not having expected anything like that from her. She still had the gun on him, and this time she wasn’t aiming at his leg.
“Get back in your truck, and get out of here,” Heather said, in the most menacing voice she could manage, a voice Jake never would have recognized. She kept her rifle trained on Mitch, who’d lost his when he fell -- he didn’t dare reach for it now. He continued to look at her, incredulous.
“Now!” Heather yelled, with an anger she didn’t think she owned.
He was dumbfounded and more than a little scared, but not because of Heather or the gun. He had shot Jake Green, and when Jonah found out, there would be hell to pay. He found himself hoping against his own wishes that Jake was still alive; if not, his own life was on the line.
Mitch got up, limped towards the truck, got in the vehicle, turned over the engine, and started back down the interstate toward the compound, near Jericho.
When he was out of sight, Heather dropped the rifle and fell to her knees, shaking, disbelieving all that she had seen and done, and thinking of one thing -- the only thing in the world that mattered to her at that moment.
He was laying on the ground with a bullet in his chest. She could see the blood beginning to pour from his wound. Heather scrabbled over to him, still on the ground herself, trying to stand up and run but never entirely succeeding. At last she leaned over his bleeding body.
“Jake…oh my God, Jake…”
She couldn’t tell if he was dead or alive.
Her whole world hung in the balance for one eternal moment.
Then, Jake looked up at her through glazed eyes, half-conscious. Thank God, she whispered under her breath.
“Heather…try…stop the bleeding,” he said with an effort.
Think, Heather, think, she told herself. She’d had some basic medical training in college, in case it was needed in an emergency for her schoolchildren. She recalled the day Lucas had cut open his hand in class and she’d tended to him until April got there. But nothing in her experience had prepared her for anything as life-threatening as this.
There was no point in trying to remove the bullet; it would take a doctor or surgeon, and the two of them were laying on a stretch of interstate highway five miles from anywhere. She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, pressed it tightly against his wound, and watched it quickly turn from white to red as it soaked up the lifeblood of the man she loved.
It was not enough, not nearly enough. She hurried to her car, opened the trunk, found some small towels she knew were tucked in the back, and ran back over to Jake. Again, she pressed hard against him. Again, the blood kept coming.
“Hospital,” said Jake, fading. “Got to get…”
But there’s no way for me to do that, Heather thought, panicking. She looked at her car, a hundred feet away. I can’t get you there by myself!
She suddenly realized -- to her horror -- that she could have forced Mitch Cafferty to drive Jake to the hospital at gunpoint, had she thought more clearly, but now it was too late. You stupid girl, she railed at herself, you’ve cost him his only chance. Tears welled in her eyes.
In desperation, she threw herself on top of him, pressing the already red-soaked cloths against him with all the strength she could muster. His blood stained her hands, her clothes. She was close enough to hear him faintly whisper her name.
He placed a hand on hers, as if holding on to her was life itself.
Minister’s daughter or not, she would have traded her life for his, prostituted herself, sold her soul, anything -- anything at all, to keep him from heading into the abyss.
She felt his hand slip away.
“Jake,” she cried, hopelessly.
It all spilled out of her now, all the emotions she had been holding back, the things she’d wanted to say when he’d told her he planned to report for duty, the things she wished she’d told him that morning at the breakfast table -- all the things she felt, as if the words themselves could bring him back.
She prayed he could still hear her.
“I love you, Jake,” Heather sobbed. “I’ve never loved anyone else, not in my whole life, the way I love you. I need you, I need you here, with me, for the rest of my life…the rest of our lives, together…”
It was almost a supplication. “Jake, dear God, Jake, I’m not going to make it without you,“ and as strong a girl as she was, she spoke the truth. It might have started out as a crush, but Heather had grown a woman’s heart, and it was breaking.
“Jake, hang on,” she wept, her tears falling on his shirt.. “Hang on, please, for me…for us…”
But Jake had drifted into unconsciousness. How much of it he had heard, she could never know. Heather held him tightly, feeling him slip away from her, frantically trying to figure out what to do next.
Her resourcefulness failed her. She had no clue. No ideas at all.
For the first time in her life, she thought her sanity would leave her. She could hardly think, barely breathe, her heart pounding, the world spinning around in circles before her as they lay on the pavement.
Dear God in heaven, she whispered, half praying, half pleading.
Labels: jericho fan fiction