(c) 2018 Jim Yackel all rights reserved.
It seemed that Jack Eaton had forgotten how to sleep. His five-foot-nine frame had laid awake on his
cot in the main room of the cabin, as his ears were assaulted by Dave Jamison’s snores that sounded like a
foghorn choking on a fish bone.
Jack had likewise been listening to Marie Stonish moan through a nightmare. While Dave slept like a
cadaver, his wife Marie’s moans of “Josiah” and “no” were as chilling as a widow’s sobs of mourning.
Twice she gasped “help” as though she was being strangled, and Jack was tempted to shake her and set
her free from the entity that in the waking world was a top-secret Area 51 project gone awry. But, if he
woke her, he wouldn’t be able to sneak out unnoticed.
The warm, stuffy cabin had been part of a small FEMA camp that the alphabet agency had abandoned.
Those who now called it home wouldn’t open the windows at night for fear of providing easy access to
desperate mobs that could sneak up the railroad bed or the old Erie Canal towpath.
The quaint abode was armed to the proverbial teeth, but what good would the myriad of rifles and
pistols do if they were snatched-up by the invaders while the remnant there slept? And, with Dave’s
snores as cover, those seeking the generous stash of food and water could slip through unlocked windows.
The mobs would be seeking drugs as well, but a few bottles of Tylenol would be all they’d find, as the
morphine departed with those who’d set up the camp.
The snores would provide Jack cover as well. It was too warm for the orange knit hat and black ski
jacket that he’d been wearing upon arriving there in the snow. Now, he sported the bright orange Boonie
hat that as an afterthought he’d shoved into his backpack before setting out in December on the journey
that had brought him and Dave to the cabin.
The navy-blue t-shirt he wore had the FEMA logo screen-printed across the shoulder blades. But, a
few days before, he’d cut out a rectangular section of a white bed sheet. With a black permanent marker,
he wrote the acronym AMEF near the top; being the reverse of the alphabet agency. In smaller lettering
along the bottom was written A Man Entirely Free. With a needle and thread this was sewn over the
original screen-printing like a mismatched nameplate on a football jersey.
His ensemble was completed with camouflage BDU pants, and black 5.11 ranger shoes that were the
best “sneakers” he’d ever worn. Everything except for his hat and black backpack were left behind by the
U.S. government personnel that had built and initially run the camp. To be clear, the food and supplies
inside his backpack were also from the camp. The green canteen strapped to the frame was army issue, as
was the Sig Sauer P320 holstered to his right thigh. There were 15 rounds in the magazine, and Jack
hoped that none would need to be fired. A tactical knife was sheathed to his left hip, and he hoped that it
would never need to penetrate human flesh.
Attached to his pack was the portable AM-FM radio that had been carried with young Caden Grey,
who’d accompanied him most of the way to the cabin. When Caden was called to embark on another
journey by rail, he’d strapped it to Brad Ducey’s backpack.
Brad had made it to within yards of the cabin when he was gunned down by one of the mysterious
snipers that was never pinpointed. A bloodspot remained on the side of the radio below the volume dial;
having splattered from Brad’s head as the bullet impacted. Jack refused to wash it off; leaving it in
memory of his departed friend. There were still inconsistent and erratic broadcasts over the AM band, and
for Jack it was a connection to better days, and a way to monitor in a limited manner the ongoing current
His smartphone had been discarded on the way westward along the snowy abandoned Erie Canal
Towpath that decades before was converted into a walking and biking trail. Jack had no use for the phone
now, as nothing remained on the internet – which now operated without interruption – but communist and
Satanist propaganda including the promotion of transgenderism, non-gender, and so-called “Utopian”
ideals, all under the guise of “news.”
The term “Post-Truth” had become “New-Truth”, and anyone in the independent media that espoused
Christian or conservative viewpoints had been eliminated from the Intelligent Web One. In some cases,
those voices of real truth were killed by the National Civilian Security Force, or agents from NADIT;
which was the North America Department of Information Truth.
A new Intelligent Web Two had been created by free speech advocate and tech mogul Kane Dattman.
The dot IW2 extension was employed by social media, news sites, forums, and a video channel called
DatTube; all operating on the “Bright Web.” It was a haven for those hidden in the shadows and fearing
for their lives that sought truth, fellowship, news, and information. IW2 existed for only three weeks
before Dattman was found dead of “natural causes” in his Dallas home. That same day, ICANN
eliminated the IW2 extension, and the Bright Web went dark.
Google had repaired itself after a destructive fire and was now called ALL. It was though it had
become a living, breathing beast that could not only eliminate you from the internet, but likewise kill you
without drawing a drop of blood. With IW1 as its hammer and sickle, it would tear down and reconstruct
reality any way it chose to. Jack was no longer sure if it was being operated by Silicon Valley techs, or if
it was itself the master and the techs were the chopping and hammering slaves.
Dave continued snoring, and Marie’s nightmare had appeared to have come to an end. Two others
slept quietly; their faces barely visible in flickering candlelight. Jack’s bandmates Stan, Mick, and Kurt
had left without a word three nights before, and it was crucial that he now slipped away with nary a trace.
The thick wooden door was pushed open without a sound, and from the step Jack pulled it closed.
Once down the step, he turned to face the structure hidden in the weald that was part of what he was sure
had been the most unsecured detention camp in the nation. Like all such camps, it had never been listed or
reported as a FEMA center. What existed as the U.S. Federal Government abandoned it in December – a
week before Jack and Dave stepped through the cabin door – and only two months after it had been
opened. At that point it had become a residence from which anyone there was free to leave.
A gentle rain fell; not salty like the tears dripping from his hazel eyes and evaporating on his cheeks
before rolling too far past his proud nose. His thin lips were clenched together like a trap that held a bear
wanting to cry out in pain, but crying would be a waste of energy and resources. He could look back but
wouldn’t. The locks had been cut off the fencing before he’d arrived, and the only things that had kept
him here were friendship, and obviously the need for safety. He’d come here with the notion he’d needed
to rescue his bandmates and hacker Matt Stonish. However, it was he that had been rescued.
An invisible clock had been ticking in his head and keeping him awake over the last three nights. He
was surprised he didn’t hear his bandmates sneak out of the other cabin, as he’d averaged two hours of
sleep each of those nights. It was though he had an appointment to keep with someone who’d slipped in
and out of vivid dreams during his brief periods of anxious slumber. It was too fuzzy for specifics, and yet
he knew he had to get his feet moving.
The narrow path was well worn, and he stepped along with all due wariness garnished with a sour
glaze of paranoia. The pond to his right was shrouded by brush and a thick curtain of fog. He could walk
the path with his eyes closed if need be, and that allowed for a long glance at the water as his legs moved
at a pace short of a jog. A moment later he stopped and stood at an opening on the east bank.
The only sound was the pattering of the rain on the surrounding leaves and fauna. He stared out over
water that the fog allowed to be visible just along the marl bank, as the thoughts that raced through his
mind were overlaid with the notion that this was a beautiful rain. With those thoughts were lyric lines and
a melody that weaved through his spirit, and if he was ever able to write another song, he’d use them:
Beautiful rain, gentle beautiful rain
Drowning the flames of my pain
Your voice, your fingertips
Strawberry sunrise of your lips
Until we get home
Refresh me beautiful rain
As he sang softly to himself, he reached his left arm back to snatch the white, unlabeled can of
government-issue insect repellent from an open pocket in his backpack. It worked better than anything
ever offered for sale to the public, and it smelled like fabric softener. He wasn’t a big man, so it was a
cinch to spray every accessible section from his shoulders to his feet before applying a heavy dose onto a
blue bandana from the same pocket. He then wiped his forehead, face, and neck, and satisfied that he was
armored against the mosquitoes, flies, and ticks, he shoved the bandana back into the pocket.
He couldn’t linger at the pond’s edge, for fear that he’d change his mind and return to the cabin. Not
knowing the precise time on this cool yet humid morning, he estimated that it was 7:00, and those back at
the camp would be rising soon. They’d wonder where he was and begin searching, and he wanted to be as
far eastward on the canal towpath as possible.
He was about to resume his short trek to the towpath when he was halted by a sound. It was a splash
out on the water, but the fog kept its source invisible. He assumed it was a Largemouth Bass terminating
the life of a dragonfly that hovered to close to the surface, but then there were three more splashes in
quick succession. His next thought was that it was carp undertaking their raucous spawning ritual, but that
annual fish orgy had ended two weeks prior.
There were four more splashes over a second’s time, followed a hollow thud. Jack instantly identified
that sound as a paddle impacting the side of a canoe. He couldn’t see through the fog but estimated by the
repeating sequence of sounds – this time with two paddle whacks – that they were fifty yards out. The
sounds became disorganized, but he could tell that they were at a proverbial snail’s pace moving toward
It was then that the rain stopped. Likewise, all was silent out on the water. He strained to see, but he
may as well had been looking at a grey concrete wall. He found it peculiar that the fog was only over the
pond and nowhere else.
Above him, the sky was a blanket of various greys with random strands of purple woven through; as
though having been knitted by a grandma on acid. Some of the clouds were misshapen blobs and twists
that made Jack think that it was the engineer’s first day on the job at HAARP headquarters in Alaska.
“Oh, wait, the military suspended that program” was the skeptical snicker that burst through his lips
louder than he would have desired. He hoped that whoever or whatever might be out in the canoes didn’t
All remained quiet save for the hammering of his heart in his ears; the two parts of each beat like the
slam of a sledge followed by the strike of a smaller one used for framing. There were no more splashes,
no pitter-pattering raindrops, and no birds chirping.
No trains click-clacked along the nearby CSX mainline, and the asphalt of the New York State
Thruway a mile away was mute ribbon offering nothing in the way of diesel engines and whining tires.
Very little freight moved since the collapse; or what had been reported as such by the government media
the last time he’d gone online. Jack was unsure of what kind of government was or wasn’t in control of
what might or might not have been the United States of America.
The dreams during his coma years before hadn’t taken him this far. He didn’t see this day and hadn’t
expected to be on the earth this long. He was alone in this physical realm; relying on Christ’s Holy Spirit
to guide him. He felt that the sounds on the water came from danger heading for those at the camp, and it
was the Holy Spirit that spoke “no, don’t go back” a millisecond before he would’ve prayed to ask if he
“But Lord, shouldn’t I run back?” he gasped; questioning what he thought he’d heard that still, soft
voice speak from a place that wasn’t his mind or his ears. It was then that the snapping of twigs and fallen
branches shattered the silence. The noise stung his ears like a cyclone of drill bits, while the soil below his
feet vibrated like a 4.0 magnitude earthquake.
Turning to face the invisible drill bits he instead saw a herd of White-Tailed Deer stampeding along
the trail from the direction of the camp. A mere eighteen inches separated him from the leaping and
galloping animals, and a hot breeze slapped his face as the procession rumbled past in a frantic parade
toward the towpath. There were twenty-one in the herd, and as they scaled the short rise that on the other
side descended to the towpath, he whispered “roger that, Lord.”
He dashed up the slick and muddy rise and then pussy-footed down into the wet grass that edged the
towpath that was a mix of gravel and exposed soil. As he slipped to a stop, he twirled his arms to maintain
his balance and not fall onto his face.
Once steady on his feet, he repositioned the backpack that had slid askew. After retying his right
shoelace, he first looked west and then east, and saw nothing but trees, brush, and the disfigured grey and
purple sky. There were no deer in either direction, and after all the strangeness he’d experienced in life,
he shrugged his shoulders to express to no one his lack of surprise in that discovery.
A foul stench hooked his nostrils and pulled his attention to a break in the canal-side weeds and brush.
In this section of the historic ditch, the water had only been two-feet deep for decades. But now, as he
squinted while peering down into the bed he saw no water at all, despite the rain that had fallen all night
and into the morning.
He’d last ventured to this spot on a sunny morning two weeks prior, when he’d abandoned his first
attempt to leave the camp after being struck like lightning with the notion that he was resetting a clock
that he had no authority to put his hands on. On that morning the usual shallows had still existed, and a
few carp had been visible as they rooted in the mud bottom looking for whatever edibles may have suited
Now only one carp was present. It was stiff and dead; although retaining part of the brown and gold
coloration displayed during its life. The fact that a touch of the coloration remained told Jack that the fish
had been dead no more than a day. What troubled him was that the fish laid on the mud bottom that held
not even a puddle. Clumped on the bottom around it were strands of Coontail and layers of Duckweed;
left thirsty without a trace of life-giving water.
The stink of death on the air reminded him of the time as a child when the septic tank under the
backyard of his family’s home overflowed onto the grass, creating a convenient breeding ground for
hoverflies. His father had dug a short ditch to drain off the sewer water until a repair crew could come and
fix the tank. The ditch was the width of a shovel blade and three inches deep, and Jack recalled watching
grotesque rat-tailed maggots swim like tadpoles through the liquid waste.
He didn’t know if he should cry or vomit, so he decided to opt-out of both. He eyes clenched shut and
is jaw tightened to the point that he thought his teeth might crumble. The old familiar headache fingered
its way from back to front across his skull; making him think of the 1970’s “let your fingers do the
walking” Bell Telephone yellow pages TV commercials. He drew a sharp breath through his nostrils, but
the air morphed into needle-nose pliers of putrid stink that flipped the yellow pages from his mind’s
lampstand before depositing maggots there to wiggle and writhe.
Jack exhaled with a piercing moan, then with a head jerk opened his eyes. He wished the fog that hung
over the pond was here, but instead he was left with the same heartbreaking view. It was more painful
than the chronic headaches, so he snapped himself to face east. He needed to head in the direction that he,
Dave, Brad, and Caden had come during the freak double storms on that December day. There was
something behind him to the west that he couldn’t see, and he needed to flee the sanctuary that could now
be a killing field.
“You’re a piss-assed little coward, Jack. You’re bailing on your friends in their time of greatest need”
was the hissy, raspy whisper that taunted his right ear.
In his periphery he saw the black cloak and hood. The others had been subjected to the taunts, but only
Jack and Dave were able to see what they referred to as Mr. Jones. Before Jack could utter a rebuke,
Jones disappeared, not wanting to hear the name of Jesus. Jack was sure that Mr. Jones would be back;
knowing the worst things to say at the absolute worst times.
Jack did in fact feel like a coward who was bailing on his friends. The guilt was a two-headed, redeyed black rodent that gnawed through his abdomen and into his chest. The thing likewise had two tails that seemed to become his femurs and tibias, causing his suddenly weak legs to give out and collapse him to his hands and knees.
“Lord God, I need to go back and stand with my friends” he groaned, as his fingers dug into loose, wet
gravel, and his legs felt detached from his body. In his mind each of his legs was a wriggling rat’s tail
with a leech’s mouth where his foot should be. The mouths whispered; the left one chiming in first with
“coward.” Not to be outdone, the right whispered next, announcing with glee “and a piss-assed one to
Jack’s hellish head-trip ended as quickly as it began by what sounded like two rifle shots. His legs
were strong again, and in a flash, he was back on the feet that were in fact his feet. Without forethought,
he turned toward the rise that began the path to the cabin. But standing on it as a mammalian wall were
three of the bucks that had been at the lead of the herd of twenty-one. Behind them as a curtain that hid
the trees – and likewise wafting around them – was the fog that had lurked over the pond.
The precise same sound he’d heard before issued forth again, only once this time. He realized that it
wasn’t a rifle but a snort. It echoed off things unseen yet very, very present. Each of the deer appeared to
be staring at him; challenging him. Jack couldn’t maintain his counter-stare and shifted his eyes left to
right, and then back again. He observed that two of the bucks had twelve-point racks, which would be a
prize for a hunter.
He blinked four times before shaking his head, as his attention was drawn to the one that stood in the
center position. The deer was different, and it wasn’t that it was the largest buck he’d ever seen, with a
shoulder height of five feet. It stepped downward on the rise, surefooted and strong, and when it halted it
appeared to have blood on all four hooves.
The buck stared at Jack as though it saw inside his very spirit, causing the man to look away from its
eyes. His attention was then drawn to its antlers, and it took but one heartbeat’s time for Jack to realize
that this buck’s rack had eighteen points.
His breath was taken away as while most of the antler rack was the normal grey and brown, the three
points at the top of each side were a metallic gold in hue. The gold reflected an unseen light source, as
though the sun was shining, and the points were angled forward as if ready for battle. The buck snorted
again at a lower more intimate volume, and with its right front hoof pawed into the mud.
It then dropped its head as though it was preparing to charge him, but Jack knew that wasn’t the case.
His eyes teared, and his breaths were hitched as he knew now there was no turning back. As he began to
step eastward, he glanced back and saw that while the wall of fog remained, the three bucks were gone as
the beautiful rain started falling again.