Infection / Destruction / Hope

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JDubs

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Hope this isn't too late...


            Amman, once the glowing jewel of the Jordanian kingdom was now a very dark place.  The streets and houses were abandoned and cars littered the roads.  The only sound was the occasional barking dog or creak of a windblown door or window.  Far off, the roar of a fire that had blazed on for almost a day burned on unchecked.  Four young men, mostly soldiers, stood on the outskirts of the dead city dazed by the events that had brought them to such a place.

*

Even though he was a seasoned veteran of the Israeli Defense Force, Sergeant Amit Levin could hardly believe that almost a week before he had been guarding a checkpoint in the northern Gaza region.  Things had changed when word of an infection and a pandemic had come along with more security and a mix of about European Union and American soldiers.  They had worked furiously to turn the checkpoint into a fortress where they could mount a defense if the carriers came.  When they did, the checkpoint had fallen to the unstoppable horde.

Amit had fled east with the survivors, just over a dozen of the original four hundred troop, all of differing nationalities; seven Israelis, two French, two German, and one American.  After reaching Jerusalem the group had split even further, the French and Germans opted to stay and fight on with the EU soldiers stationed there.  All but three of the Israelis had opted to join them as well.

The remaining Israelis and the American, a Corporal named Terry Hobbes, agreed that after the carnage they’d seen in Gaza the very last place they wanted to be was near a large city.  Rumors were already spreading in Jerusalem that the disease brought the dead to life.  If that was true, a city with three quarters of a million people was not the place to find out.

The four Israelis and Corporal Hobbes “borrowed” an Israeli Defense Force Toyota Land Cruiser along with some food, water, ammunition and several fuel containers.  The group had quickly piled the supplies into the back of the SUV and driven off hastily before anyone had noticed the missing truck or equipment.

Amit had taken his issued radio out of his pack and tuned it to monitor the defense of Jerusalem.  Only 30 minutes after their group had left the outskirts, reports began of Israeli helicopters that had spotted several sprinters heading towards the ancient city.  Much like in the Suez and the checkpoint in Gaza, the helicopters’ rockets and machine guns quickly dispatched the first sprinters.  Then more sprinters appeared and in ever increasing numbers.  At first helicopters and Israeli F-16s and F-15’s were sent to intercept the approaching carriers, but as the day wore on it be came clear to everyone in the Toyota that Jerusalem would fall like so many others before it.

Around 1800 that evening, the group was nearing the checkpoint at the Jordanian border near Jericho.  A mix of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian vehicles and equipment had been left in a panic and were scattered around the bunkered and fortified checkpoint.  Amit slowed the SUV to a stop.

“I want to make sure there is nobody here,” He said in heavily accented English. “no sense in coming this far to get killed by the Jordanians.”  The group nodded in approval.

As he opened the door, the radio crackled to life.

Guardian six, this is Checkpoint Twenty!  Guardian six come in!!” Cried a frantic voice in Hebrew.  Guardian six was the commander in charge of the defense of Jerusalem.

This is Guardian three, go ahead.” came a reply, also in Hebrew.  This was the radio operator for officer in charge of operations.

Guardian three, we have at least two hundred sprinters approaching our location, we are running low on ammunition.  We need supplies now!”

Corporal Hobbes did not speak Hebrew, but had gathered from the frantic young man on the checkpoint radio something very bad was happening.  He had understood one word though: ‘sprinter’.

“Oh fuck.”  He whispered.

Checkpoint Twenty, how much longer can you hold?  We will get a supply truck to you as soon as we can.”

Guardian we need help now!”  They could hear the rapport of automatic gunfire over the crackling radio, “Now! We need help now! They’re here! Oh God they’re here!  Help us!

Sounds of more gunfire, screaming men, and the animal cries of the carriers could be heard before the checkpoint radio operator stopped transmitting.

Checkpoint Twenty, are you there?  Checkpoint Twenty, do you read us?”

The increasingly desperate Guardian radio operator tried for two solid minutes, but got no reply and at last the radio went silent.

Amit, turned off the radio.

“Holy Shit!”  said the American.

“Yes, “agreed Amit, “Holy Shit.”

*

There had been no one left at the Jordan checkpoint.  Evidently news of the ending of the world meant that international borders were a thing of the past.  They had spent a few minutes scrounging around for supplies, then cleared the debris and abandoned vehicles from the road so they could pass through.  Fifteen minutes after checkpoint twenty had fallen, Amit’s small group was moving east again.

The road to Aman was improved, but not quite up to western standard.  For the most part it was a fairly narrow two-lane road.  Potholes and entire sections of missing road were everywhere.  Amit had been forced to slam on the breaks twice when a rather sizable pothole seemed to appear out of nowhere.  As the last of the sunlight disappeared below the horizon, the men could make out fires that dotted the distant rolling hills.

“There are still people out there.” Hobbes spoke for the first time since the radio was shut off.

“Not for long, I think.”  Replied Amin. “They will begin moving east like us very soon.”

“Where will they go?  And for that matter, where are we going to go?”

“I’m not certain.  Iraq, or Syria Maybe.”

A young Israeli Private Named Katz spoke up, “Iraq! How can we go to Iraq?  It is bad enough we are in Jordan!”

“The carriers do not seem to know the difference Katz, pretty soon I think  we will be wishing for the days when we were standing guard in the Golan or the West Bank.”

“This is crazy.”  Hoffman sighed and leaned back into the chair.

“And we must hope that it is crazy in a good way for us.”

“Why?”

“Because if we get to Amman and it is anything like the madness in Jerusalem, the Muslims may tear us apart before the carriers can get here.”

Katz chimed in again “We are wearing uniforms and carrying weapons, anyone that stops us will know who we are, and what we are.”

“Well, I’m not Israeli.  And Jordan is supposed to be an ally of the US.”

“My friends, we must hope that things are so confused now the Jordanians will not notice us, ally or not.”

Sergeant we should change out of our uniforms, they only set us apart.”  Another young private spoke up from the back, this time speaking in Hebrew.

Amit replied in their native language, “We will Private Moshe, but we must put distance between us and Jerusalem first.  We’ll stop after we’ve made it to Amman to get supplies and clothing.  And speak English, it’s rude to the American.”

My English isn’t very good though.”

“Try.”  Amit concentrated on driving once again.  The trip to Amman was not a long one, but between the lack of illumination, the questionable road conditions, and the ever-present threat of a checkpoint or ambush he was not in a rush to get everyone killed as they made their escape either.

As they got closer to Amman, they could see a glow on the horizon, the tell-tale orange of city lights glowed against the night sky.  As the group grew closer though, they could see flickering light of fires as well, burning whole sections of the city.  Amit said a silent prayer that these were only a result of panicked or opportunistic people, and not caused by carriers that had somehow gotten to Amman before them.

The young men who had been silent most of the trip, now stared at the spectacle of a major city tearing itself apart in rise of the oncoming pandemic.  It was amazing how quickly civilization could collapse on itself.  The defense of humanity had been abandoned for self-preservation.  Amit had never liked Muslims much, since as far as he knew they all wanted to see him dead.  But even he felt a tinge of pity for the people suffering inside the city.

The car slowed to a stop and Amit turned to his compatriots.

“I think we should find a place to stop for the night, get some supplies and clothes, and move out before the sun comes up in the morning.  I don’t suppose we are soldiers any longer, so I will ask your opinions on this.”

“What if the carriers make it this far before we can leave?”  Private Katz asked.

“I don’t think they will. The soldiers defending Jerusalem will probably slow them down, and they will also need to get through all of the West Bank before they even get into Jordan.  No, I think we have a day, perhaps two before we will need to start moving.”

“I don’t know man, staying here even over night just doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

Amit pointed through the windshield towards Amman, “Would you like to see how lucky we would be in there Corporal Hobbes?”

“Yeah, good point.  And please, call me Terry.”

“Very well Terry.  How about the rest of you?”  He looked into the back seat at the three soldiers.  Katz and Moshe spoke to one another in Hebrew, and then turned and nodded to the Sergeant.  The last soldier, another Corporal who Amit had known for many months stared blankly out the window.

“Lev?  What do you think?”  Amit and Lev Peretz had been stationed at the checkpoint together months before the pandemic had even begun.  They spent many long and stress-filled days watching Palestinians pass through their checkpoint.  The constant stream of people that moved through were almost always quiet and fairly passive, but without exception they always with a look of resolute anger and hatred for the Israeli soldiers.

Lev and Amit had come from the same neighborhood in Haifa but had not known one another until they were assigned to the unit in Gaza.  Even so, they had still become fast friends.

“I will go with whatever you think my friend.”  Lev turned to look at his friend, smiled meekly, and went back to looking out the window.

“Okay, lets find a place to hide then.”

They turned into a small community outside Amman, it looked like any other suburb in the developed world.  Rows of houses that would have made Terry Hobbes think he might be in a small town back home, were they not all sitting empty.

They found a home with a driveway that gave access to the rear of the house.  They pulled the car in back and got out.

“Do you all know how to conduct a house clearance?”  Amit asked in both English and Hebrew, to make sure he was understood.  In matters of life and death it was always best to be certain you made your intentions clear. 

Everyone nodded, they were all infantry soldiers, and in modern combat learning how to clear a house was part of the training.

“Good, Terry you take the point, Katz two, I’m three, Moshe you are four, and Lev you are the breach.”  He took exactly one minute to talk the ad-hoc team through their entrance and how they would clear each room.  They then checked their weapons and ammunition and moved to the rear entrance of the house where they “stacked up” ready to make their entrance.  The men tensed, their rifles at the ready.

With a hand signal from Amit, Lev moved to the door, inspected it for a week spot, turned the handle to see if it would open, and finally stepped back and gave the door a swift kick.  The door swung open violently.  Like a machine, the team began moving as one.  They entered the house swiftly, checking corners, clearing rooms and danger areas.  They flowed through the house ensuring every room was empty.  At last, when Amit was certain there was nobody in the home he called out.  “All clear!”

Like a switch had been turned off, the soldiers became young men once again, their weapons lowered from a ready position and they began to meander around the house, taking time to inspect anything of interest.

The modest little home had once held an entire family.  Children’s toys magazines for women, a sitting area with a large television, and a modern kitchen with a large dining room table all indicated an upper middle-class family.  Amit felt hopeful they would find clothes here.  They spread out further in the house, each man looking for supplies.  Terry Hobbes opened the refrigerator to find it had been stripped of anything edible but condiments and a plate of something that looked like brown mustard and rice.

He looked over at the sink area, the plates and dishes had been surreptitiously dumped into the sink and forgotten about.  But it reminded Terry of something very important.

“Hey Amit!”  He raised his voice just enough to be heard in the adjoining rooms.  No need to attract more attention than they already had.

“Yes Terry?”  Amit’s voice came from the next room.

“We should top off our water while we’re here.  No telling how long it will be ‘till we get to running water again.”

“Good idea, I will go and get the water containers.”

Amit dropped the blankets he’d found piled up in the next room and started to head outside.  He slung his rifle across his back as he did to free up both hands.  When he reached the Land Cruiser, he opened up the rear hatch and grabbed two of their three 40 Liter water containers.  They had consumed one already, and hadn’t had time to top off the other.  He placed the containers on the ground and stepped back to close the gate.  As he did, he felt something metal press against his back.

raweenee edeek.”  A voice came from behind him.

Amit raised his hands immediately.  “I don’t speak Arabic,” He said in English, hoping it might buy him a second to turn around and face his assailant.

“Then turn around.”  The voice said in British-accented English.

Amit turned, his hands still raised head-high.  As he did a young man in his mid twenties filled his vision.  In his hand was a semi-automatic pistol, most likely a 9 millimeter.  He was clearly nervous, but angry.  Amit recognized his face from the pictures he’d seen inside the house.  As Amit turned, the young man examined his uniform, he felt hit gut sink when the man noticed the subdued flag of Israel on his shoulder.

“You’re Israeli?”

“Yes, I..”

“What are you doing in my house Israeli?”

“We were just looking for some supplies, we didn’t think anyone was home.  We will be on our way soon.”

“I don’t think so.  You broke into my house, and start stealing my things.  It is no surprise that Israel would use a time like this to try and take our land!”  The anger burned in every word he spoke.

“You misunderstand!  We are only…”

“Hey! Amit, check out what I foun…what the Fuck?”  Terry Hobbes walked out holding two beers in either hand.  The smile that had been there a second before was quickly wiped away.

The young man turned his head, startled.  It gave Amit the half-second he needed.  Swiftly, he brought his left hand across to the hand holding the pistol.  He grabbed it and pushed it into the young man’s body.  With his right hand he quickly drew back and stepped forward to unleash a punch to young man’s nose.   The Jordanian flinched though, and instead on hitting him on the bridge of the nose, Amit’s punch landed on his cheek.  It was enough though, the move was so violent and fast the hand holding the gun reflexively let go of the gun as Amit used his punching hand in a hammering motion on the pistol.  As he did, the pistol came free in his left hand.  Amit stepped back, pulled back the action on the pistol to ensure a round was in the chamber and drew down on the young man who was holding one hand to his face and the other to his chest his eyes dazed.

“Jeez…”  Terry could only watch in awe at the display he’d just seen.  He’d heard the Israeli military’s self-defense techniques were effective, but he’d never seen them in action.  He made a mental note to ask for some lessons later.  He put the beer down, unslung his M4 rifle and moved down to help his new friend,

The young man turned again to watch Terry as he approached him.  Suddenly, the shock of Amit’s attack wore off and he began to scream.

Ahtaaju Almusa'ada!  Ahtaaju Almusa'ada!

Terry flipped his rifle over and hit the screaming man in the head with the butt of his rifle, knocking him to the ground unconscious.

“That’s about enough of that shit.”

*

“…can’t kill the guy, he was just trying to protect his house!”

Someone was speaking English, an American.

“He will not just let us go Terry.  We have to leave him tied up here then.”

“Amit that’s as good as killing him.  When the carriers get here, he’ll be defenseless!”

The Jordanian man opened his eyes painfully.  His vision was obscured by swelling in his right cheek and his head throbbed painfully.   A gag tied tightly around his head kept his mouth from closing fully, and his hands and legs were hogtied behind him.  As his vision cleared, he saw five men standing over him.  Four were wearing the uniform of the Israeli, and one an American uniform.   The American was the first to notice he had come to.

“He’s waking up guys, we’re going to have to figure this out.”

The man who’s voice the Jordanian had heard a moment before replied, “Terry you hit him in the head with a rifle, I doubt we’ll get much cooperation from him.”  It was the Israeli he’d fought with outside.

“It’s worth a try.”  The American turned to face the young man.” You speak English?”

He nodded

“Okay, I’m going to take off your gag.  If you talk like a civil human, we’ll return the courtesy.  Understand?”

He nodded again.  Terry leaned down and untied the gag from the man’s head.  As he did, the Jordanian opened and closed his mouth a few times to moisten his dry tongue and lips.

The American stood up fully again, “What’s your name?”

“Hamid”

“Hamid, what were you doing pulling a gun on my friend here?”

“You were breaking into my house, what else would you expect me to do?”

“Okay, fair enough.  Now here’s the deal Hamid, we aren’t here to hurt you or anyone else.  We just want some supplies and water, and we’ll get out of here.  We’ll let you go as soon as we leave”

“And why should I trust a bunch of Israeli thieves?”

“Because we have the guns,”

Anger flashed in his eyes, and then gave way to sadness.  He shrugged as much as he was able, “Whatever, take what you want. “

“Well, I’ll make you a promise.  I’ll untie your legs and hands, if you promise not to try anything stupid.  I know that’s not comfortable.  Deal?”

Hamid sighed and nodded resolutely.

Terry pulled a knife and cut the twine they’d used to tie up Hamid, his hands and feet came loose and he moved them gingerly as they regained feeling.  Slowly, he pushed himself into a sitting position.  He saw two of the Israelis react as he did; everyone was clearly on edge.

“I’m not going to do anything,” Hamid said.  “I told you to take whatever you want.  I suppose none of this matters now anyway.”

Amit pointed at a family portrait sitting on a nearby table.  “Where is your the rest of your family?”

“I don’t know.  We went to town to try and get on a bus to a shelter in Turkey.  The crowd was massive, everyone was crowding to get onto the busses.  There were only ten, TEN!  For at least a hundred thousand!  Suddenly someone started screaming that carriers had gotten into the crowd, and everyone panicked.  I was knocked into a wall and trampled; I lost my family in the crowd.  I hope they made it onto the busses.  There is certainly nothing left for them here.”  A dour look crossed his face.

“How did you get back here?”

“I walked, we had to abandon our car on the road.  Nobody could move, the streets were too jammed.”

Another of the Israelis asked “Were there really carriers?  Were they there?!”

Hamid shook his head.  “No, just frightened people.  Or, at least I didn’t see any.”  He looked up at Amit. “So, you’re not part of an Israeli invasion force?”

Amit shook his head.   “No, I suppose we are all on the run.  We were all in a fight in Gaza, only 12 survived that we know of.  And some of those chose to stay in Jerusalem.  We have no idea how many are left now.”

Hamid scoffed, “Typical Israeli, running from the flight with your American protector.”

“Call it whatever you want,” Amit shot back “the winners of this fight are the ones that survive.  The lines will break, they all do.”

In the sitting room, the TV came to life.  It startled everyone except Private Moshe who had grown tired of the conversation since he couldn’t understand most of it.  He’d found the TV remote and started clicking through channels until he reached a news channel that was broadcasting in Arabic, but he immediately recognized the picture as the city of Jerusalem being recorded from a news Helicopter.  As he watched the camera focused in on what looked like ants swarming, but as the camera continued to increase the magnification he could make out men with automatic weapons firing desperately at the onslaught heading towards them.  As the sprinters reached them, some of the men broke and ran, others were trampled under the sheer force of what had to be at least a thousand sprinters.

Sergeant, you need to see this!

Amit and the other Israelis moved to see what he was watching.  Terry, was left to guard their prisoner.

“What?  What is it?”  He yelled.

“Jerusalem has fallen to the carriers.”  Hamid answered

“How do you know that?”

“I was listening, I do speak Arabic.”

“Right.”  Terry wanted to smack himself for such a stupid question.  But the gravity the situation called for a more collected response.  “Not good.”

“No, I suppose it’s not.”

Terry helped Hamid to his feet, and walked him into the sitting room so he could watch the television.  He instructed Hamid to sit in the sofa on the wall, but soon they both were staring in horror at the events unfolding on the screen.

A TV reporter was standing in front of a line of soldiers who were firing madly into a group of rushing sprinters.  The news channel had dubbed whatever language he was speaking into Arabic, but they could understand what was happening regardless.  They watched as the sprinters overwhelmed the soldiers on the line.  One sprinter jumped on a soldier tearing wildly at his throat, blood began jetting out from the soldier’s neck.   The reporter broke and ran, the cameraman behind him was trying hard to keep up.  Then, the image became a sideways view of two men running away, the cameraman had dropped the camera.  They could now see sprinters close behind the fleeing newsmen.  The reporter and cameraman were quickly overtaken by their pursuers, who immediately began tearing them both apart.

Allah al-must’an.”  Said Hamid.  It jolted all the soldiers back to reality, who suddenly realized they had been so wrapped up in the carnage on the television they had stopped paying attention to their prisoner.

“What was that Hamid?”  Asked Terry

“It means God help us.”

“Yeah… Throw one in there for me too.”

*

The men sat around the table in Hamid’s kitchen.  The pretense of prisoner and captor had been dropped, for now.  The conversation of where to go next had lasted over an hour, it was now almost 0130 and the men were showing their fatigue.

“We should avoid the city, there is no way to get through with any sort of vehicle.  Besides, you will all stick out in a crowd of Jordanians.  It’s worth the longer route, and I know my way.  I’ve lived here most of my life.”

“Perhaps,” said Amit, whose eyes were bloodshot and tired. “But shouldn’t we at least stop for some supplies?”

“There is a market less than 3 kilometers from here, we can stop there on our way around the city.”

At this Private Katz jumped in “Are we really going to take this Arab shit with us?”  This had been the primary point of contention all evening.  Even Hamid wasn’t sold on coming with the soldiers, but he liked his chances against what he’d seen on television even less. 

Terry sighed angrily, “Even, you’ve been outvoted on this one, so shut the fuck up.  We’ve left enough people to die.  If you leave him you will leave me with him, and then you’ll be a gun down.”

“And I’m not going to let us go down by even one gun.”  Amit said, rubbing his eyes.  He looked at Katz, who slumped back in his chair resigned to being the sole dissenting vote. “It’s settled then, we will leave at dawn and go to the market on our way around Amman.”

The men broke from the table, and moved into the sitting room.  Hamid had brought out pillows from the beds in the house and they had taken some of the blankets Amit had found earlier to create makeshift beds.  They were all exhausted and fell asleep almost as soon as their eyes were shut.  Amit was the last to drift off; as he did he smiled a bit at the irony of Israelis taking refuge in a house in Jordan.


JDubs

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*

Amit woke blearily.  He’d only managed to sleep three hours before the urge to get moving forced him from a dreamless sleep.  He sat up, half expecting to see the room swarming with carriers.  The men were all sleeping soundly, except for Lev who was flipping mindlessly through a child’s book with a cartoon puppy on the cover.

Lev, why aren’t you sleeping?  And why are you reading a children’s book?”

“I might ask you the same question my friend.  I could not sleep, and I wanted something to take my mind off the insanity in the world.  What better than a child’s book written in a language I can’t read?”

“You’ll have to let me know when you get the part they start teaching the dogs to attack Jews.” 

Lev merely gave a ‘humpf’ in reply

Amit got up to use the bathroom.  When he returned Lev was folding blankets and putting on a pair of jeans and a shirt he’d chosen from Hamid’s closet.  He pulled on his combat boots, Hamid didn’t have shoes in his size, but he figured the risk of someone singling him out because of his boots was slim.

Amit also dressed, he’d chosen a pair of jeans and a button down shirt. He looked in the mirror and thought he looked a little odd in another man’s clothing.  But they seemed to fit well, so he brushed it off.  The rest of the men were beginning to stir.  As soldiers, they’d all mastered the routine of forcing a weary body awake.  They moved slowly but deliberately, and went through the process of packing and preparing to leave.

Thirty minutes later they were finished loading the last of the equipment in the SUV and were ready to move.  Hamid, it was decided, would ride in the passenger seat to navigate (a decision that did not go over well with Private Katz), they would keep two shooters in the middle and back.

As the men began loading into the truck, Moeshe ran out of the back of the house yelling.

“Amit!  Amit!  Sprinter out front!”

The men all felt their blood run cold.  Amit jumped into the driver’s seat, did a quick check of his weapon and the radio, and started the car.  The men also loaded up quickly, Amit could hear the metallic clacks of full magazines being fed into weapons, and the clack-clack of weapons being charged.  So fast. He thought to himself.  Dear God, how did they get here so fast?

When the last door was shut he put the car into reverse and deftly backed the truck out from behind the house leaving just enough room to turn around, then threw the car in to drive, barely missing the corner of the house.  They came flying out of the driveway and onto the street.

“Which way?”  Amit called.

“Right, Right!”  Hamid was hanging on for dear life.

Amit flipped the steering wheel to the right and the Toyota’s wheels screeched on the road.  Ahead, the road led up and over a hill and then deeper into the housing area.

“Amit!”  Terry called from the back  “I think I see them!  About four or five...Oh shit, they’re following us!  I think they saw us or something!”

Amit cursed under his breath, he had been certain they would be safe staying in that house overnight, how had they moved so far so fast?  A near miss with a car parked on the side of the road, snapped him back to reality.  He pushed the SUV to go as fast as he felt he could safely go on the winding road without risking hitting someone or something around a blind corner.  No sooner had the thought crossed his mind then a sprinter appeared in front of him from a side street, running at breakneck speed.

“Look out!”  Hamid screamed, but there was no way to avoid him.  The sprinter impacted the front corner of the SUV and was bounced off the reinforced brush guard on the front.   The impact was so violent, the 4” thick steel tubing of the brush guard bent inward slightly.  Amit could see the body tumble in a heap on the side of the road in his rear view mirror.

“How in the hell did they get here so fast?”  Came Terry’s voice from the back seat.

Lev answered, “It doesn’t matter!  We have to find the fastest way out of here.  No time to stop for supplies Amit!”

“I think you’re right Lev.  Hamid, where is the fastest way out of town?”

Hamid shook his head. “You’ll have keep going this way, there’s no faster way.  The only other option is to go back the way we came.”

“All right, this way then.”

Hamid took them through a series of back streets that wound them through what were essentially the suburbs of Amman.  The houses were older looking, almost Mediterranean in style, but nicely kept.  If they’d had time to enjoy the scenery, it might have made for a nice drive.  Instead, Amit kept moving as fast as he safely could.

Forty-Five Minutes later, they had reached the southern part of Amman, their adrenaline had subsided completely and Amit felt an almost irresistible urge to pee.  The terrain had flattened out slightly, and he no longer had to weave up and down hilly housing areas, which was a relief to his battered passengers who had suffered through the sudden stopping and turning for almost an hour.

“I need to use the W.C.”  Said Hamid

“Yes, I do too.”  Amit replied.

“If that means take a leak, make that three.”

“We’ll stop at the next store, grab food, and go.  No more than 10 minutes.”

Two miles later they rounded corner and saw a market at the corner of a crossroads.  The doors and windows had been hastily boarded shut.  Amit slowed the Toyota to a stop and the men jumped out quickly.  Lev and Private Moshe began working on the boarded door, Terry and Katz took turns pulling security and emptying their bladders.  Amit emptied his own, then went about topping off the fuel.

Hamid watched the soldiers move about wordlessly.  He was impressed at how they seemed to know what needed to be done, and how they set about their tasks without needing to be asked.  For the first time, he actually felt safe with his would-be captors.  Hamid decided to make himself useful and went inside the door that Lev and Moshe had just pried open.  The two men turned to look at him as he entered, then went back to loading up packages of rice, canned meat, bread, and anything else that looked like it would survive for more than a few days.  Hamid grabbed a plastic bag and did the same.

“Two more minutes.”  Amit’s voice called from outside.

The three men grabbed their plastic bags and started moving outside. Hamid stopped before exiting.  There was a display of baklava next to the register.  He put his bags on the ground, grabbed two of the sticky treats and shoved them both in his mouth, the ends were still sticking out from his lips as he chewed on them.  He picked up his bags and started moving to back to the SUV.  He was mere feet from the truck when he heard a guttural howl coming from the other side of the truck, it made him forget all about the remaining ends of the baklava that were falling from his now open mouth.  He could not see what was making the noise, but soon had an answer.

“Carriers!”  Lev Yelled “Get in the truck!”

The men piled in quickly.  Amit was about to hit the gas when a cry from Moshe made him pause.

Oh!  My Rifle! I left it in the store

Amit scowled, a stupid undisciplined mistake. 

“Leave it, we have…” But Private Moeshe had already opened the door to run back inside.

Moshe!  No!” Katz called from the back seat.

Amit looked in the rear view mirror, the carrier that had made the awful howling noise was a sprinter, and it was closing the distance to them fast.  He estimated they had another fifteen or twenty seconds.  Behind the oncoming sprinter Amit thought he could make out two or three others.  They moved so fast!  How had they caught up to them again?

Private Moeshe emerged from the shop, rifle in hand.  He jogged towards the Land Cruiser.  Inside, his compatriots were urging him to hurry.  He looked to the left and saw the oncoming sprinter, and then looked back to the truck with a look of desperation and fear.  He raised his rifle and fired at the oncoming sprinter as he continued to run, but his shots went wide and the sprinter kept coming.  Within steps of the open car door, the sprinter tackled the young man sending him flying sideways; its nails and teeth already tearing at the young man’s head and neck.

“Noo!”  Katz yelled.

Lev leaned out of door, and aimed his rifle at the sprinter and fired twice.  The sprinter went limp and lay across Moshe’s wounded body.  Lev ran from the truck, he grabbed Moshe by the collar of his shirt with one hand and his rifle with the other and began dragging them back to the SUV.

“Lev!”  yelled Katz. “Hurry!  There are more coming!”

He picked up the Moeshe’s limp body and tossed it into the back seat, then jumped in behind him.  “Go! Go!”

Amit hit the gas, as he did he counted least 10 sprinters coming from different directions behind them.  Private Moshe was making gurgling noises from the back seat; the sprinter had almost completely torn his throat away.  Lev was using their medical kit to bandage the wound, but they all knew it was a wasted effort.  Moshe’s eyes were already becoming glazed.

It’s okay,” Lev spoke in Hebrew.  It’s okay, it’s all over.  Be at peace, my friend.”  As he spoke, the young Israeli’s gasping, choking breaths slowed, then ebbed to a stop along with the gurgling from his trachea.

“May you come to your place in peace my friend.”  Lev said somberly, reciting the only Jewish funeral rite he knew.  In the back, Katz cried silently for his friend.

*

A little before 1000 the group stood on the Western foothills of Amman looking back at the city.   Fires now raged throughout, but there was no visible sign of life left.  They had stopped long enough to bury Moshe under a pile of large rocks.  Lev had taken the bottle of isopropyl alcohol and disinfected his hands, as well as he could, and wiped out the inside of the Land Cruiser. Unsure of how one might catch the carrier’s disease, he didn’t want to take any chances.  He’d also burned the clothes he had taken from Hamid as an additional precaution.  He stood over Moshe’s grave wearing his uniform pants and an Abercrombie polo shirt and was saying a quiet prayer for their fallen comrade.

Amit, who had seen death well before the plague had begun, was dealing with the loss a little more stoically.  He and Hamid stood watching the city as it burned.

“Where shall we go next Amit?”  Hamid asked after a few minutes.

“We mush continue east, away from the cities.”

“Any idea where?”

“No.”

“Guys,” Terry called.  He had climbed up the side of another hill and was keeping a lookout.  “I think we’d better get going.  I can see carriers coming this way, about a mile or so.”

Amit and Hamid turned and then gave one other a brief nod in tacit agreement to put aside their issues for a while.  Hamid turned to walk back to the SUV.

“Wait a moment.” Amit put a hand on his arm and then moved to open the back hatch of the SUV.  He grabbed Private Moshe’s rifle and handed it to him.  “Do you know how to operate this?”

“I think so, yes.”

“It’s yours then.”

“Does this mean I’m not a prisoner anymore?”

“It means someone without a gun is a drain on our resources.  And I need to trust you will do your part to protect the group.”

“Very well then Amit, I suppose I am a conscript then.”

Amit’s face darkened a bit.  “We are all conscripts in this war.”

At that, the men climbed into the vehicle and began driving east once more.

DocT

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Great story. I was riveted.  Let's see more. 



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Really great story, need to hear more.


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Good stuff for sure. I don't know how the hell these guys are going to get away.


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Thanks guys, sorry for the typos.  I swear no matter how many times I proof read, a few still slip through.  If you want I'll continue the story, I just wanted to have something to submit for the contest.
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i worte a story with IDF for the first contest...z let me in on the secret that bfpore the majpr horde arrvied they nuked them and then nuked their cities in an attempt to stop them

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Great story, J.

Thanks for the submission.

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It's a great story as is. I can see this being the entire story with the last statement being a reference to the title. I would like to read more however, if you were so inclined...hint, hint.


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Give me a few days, just had a new baby so I'm short on time but I promise there will be a part two.
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Folks, I'm sure you were all waiting with bated breath (you were right?  RIGHT?)  But, I swear I am working on the second and third installation of this story series.  I'm sorry it's taken me the better part of the year, but I gotta make sure the bills get paid.  It is in the works though...more to follow..
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Looking forward to it.   

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I just read “The Conscripts” for the 2nd time. Still holes me spell bound. Please continue writing.

Japing

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Gentlemen Part Two of the Conscripts is complete and I will post below.  Sage, I altered the story just a bit to stay as true to Z's intent as possible....It's his world, I'm just writing in it.

I hope you all will forgive a few typos, I've had a hard time with editing with work and family making rather large demands of my time.

Criticism is welcome (just make it constructive please).  And while I am still working on Part III, if there are any special requests or things people would like to see (I know, more zombies...I'm getting to it!) let me know.  Nothing wrong with a little audience participation!
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Hamid woke from a dreamless sleep.  His counterparts were taking turns scanning the horizon and sleeping, though no one had gotten much rest lately.  They were still heading east, deeper into the desert and into increasing danger for his Israeli companions.  It would likely be just as dangerous for him and Terry if the wrong people stopped them.  They were caught between two impossible options and a sense of dread had grown in his stomach as the days wore on.

They had been on the road almost non-stop for a week.  All of the men were showing their fatigue.  Private Katz had become increasingly depressed at the loss of his friend, and like a pressure valve on a kettle, small tiffs were breaking out between the men.  To make matters worse, the already dark mood had worsened when they’d gotten word that most of Israel had been leveled in a series of nuclear explosions; a desperate attempt designed to stop the oncoming horde of carriers.  The added insult for the Israeli soldiers was seeing a few Arab men and women dancing in the streets at the news.  Even in the midst of disaster, some people still could not get beyond their hatred.

Terry seemed to be the only person unfazed by the whole experience, if he was suffering any ill effect from their travels, Hamid certainly couldn’t tell.

Hamid looked over at Terry, who was sitting to his left

“Hammie, you  hungry?” Terry had taken to referring to him by the ridiculous name and Hamid had grown tired of correcting him.

“Yes, but the idea of more canned meat makes me ill.”

“I hear you man.  I’m not sure what kind of meat that is, but it sucks.”

“Perhaps we can run over a few goats on the way north.”

“How about a Camel?  I heard they’re good eating.”

Hamid made a face “Eeech, that’s quite all right, I’ll pass.”

The jovial nature of the conversation belied part of Hamid’s growing concern.  They were quickly running low on food, and they were in the absolute worst possible place to forage for supplies.

As the men headed west they were forced to make an extremely difficult decision as to which escape route they would take.  If they stayed south, their trail would have lead into the expansive Iraqi desert, where roads were sparse and if they were mired down in sand or if their vehicle had a mechanical problem there would be very little help.  As fast as the sprinters had made it to Aman, Amit was unwilling to test their speed again.

The northern route would take them into eastern Syria where fundamentalists in the eastern part of the country, likely unaware of the impending doom, would have no issues killing three Israelis and their two conspirators.

The group had decided to split the difference and take the northernmost route through Iraq.  Unfortunately that meant passing through Iraq’s Anbar province, which had become notorious as a hotbed of violence during the recent American foray into the country.  None of the men liked it much, but it was the lesser of three evils and was the only real choice.

Hamid looked to the driver’s seat.  Amit stared dully at the road, the miles of driving had clearly taken its toll on him.  Several times the others had offered to take over, but since hearing of the bombing of Israel Amit had insisted he would drive and he had most of the week.  Before they’d left Jordan, Hamid had overhead a short conversation during a fuel stop between Amit and Lev; both tried to reassure the other their families had made it out of Israel.  Neither seemed convinced.  Hamid could relate since most of the time he’d spent sitting idly in the Toyota watching the Jordanian countryside was consumed with thoughts of his family and their fate.

Hamid cleared his throat a bit, “Amit, any idea where we are?”

“I think we are nearing the Euphrates crossing, I just hope the bridge is clear of troublemakers.”

Lev spoke up from the passenger seat, “I hope there is a bridge.”

All four nodded silently.

*

After several close calls with bandits who were treating the Morningstar outbreak like a financial opportunity, the men had learned to approach things like bridge crossings and narrow passages with caution.  Hamid translated the signs written in Arabic for the group and as they neared the Euphrates the tension inside the Toyota increased.  All of the men scanned the terrain for any sign of activity, the low evening light made it difficult to see anything at all.

At 10 kilometers, Amit turned off the headlights and relied on what little illumination the waning moon was providing.  Katz, now awake, passed the men’s rifles forward from the rear of the SUV and readied his own.

At 3 kilometers, Amit slowed the vehicle and Lev climbed out of the passenger window and onto the top of the truck.  He took a prone shooting position in the series of blankets and sandbags the men had tied to the top creating a makeshift fighting position.

At one kilometer, Amit stopped the truck Katz and Terry jumped from the door opposite Hamid and started moving towards the river, rifles in hand.  Hamid crawled to his position in the front seat next to Amit, ready to return fire, provide cover, or take over driving duties if Amit was seriously injured.

Hamid and the others had executed this drill half a dozen times and had practiced it at least a few dozen more times during their travels.  He had to come to admire the soldiers’ methodical insistence on precision drills.  It was the only time Amit had been willing to stop for any length since leaving Aman, clearly there was no use in escaping the carriers only to be killed by uninfected humans regardless of their motivations.

Neither of the men in the truck spoke as they watched the barely visible forms of Terry and Katz approach the bridgehead.  Amit and Hamid had developed a moderate degree of respect for one another, Amit proved to be a sound leader despite the stress of all that had happened and Hamid had done his best to help where could, determined the make the best of a very bad situation. 

After about 10 minutes of silence except for the low rumble of the diesel engine, a red light from the bridge flashed twice in quick succession, it was the “all clear” signal.  Amit shifted the car into gear and moved toward the crossing.  As they neared, Hamid could see the small two-lane bridge more clearly, the water rolled lazily beneath.  Katz and Terry both kneeled on opposite sides of the bridge facing outward.  As the Land Rover passed, the two men hopped in the rear of the truck closed the doors.

Amit picked up speed as the other side of the bridge became more visible.  All of the men willed the opposite shore to come faster, wanting nothing more than to be across the bridge and back on the road.  As soon as the wheels touched the opposite bank though, Hamid heard what sounded like rocks being thrown against the side of the truck.

“Ahh Shit!  Contact left!!” Terry called out from the back seat.

Hamid turned his head to see Terry trying to position his weapon to provide cover, the rear passenger window was now a spider web of broken glass.  The Toyota was very lightly armored and could sustain a limited amount of damage, but it was not designed as a fighting platform.  Terry started returning fire through the small shooting port on the door, the sound was deafening inside the truck.

Amit had already turned the headlights back on and was picking up speed as fast as he could without throwing Lev off the top of the truck.  The intensity of the incoming rounds was increasing; whoever was shooting was doing their best to prevent their prey from getting away.

Katz jumped in the back and found the port in the rear hatch and began firing.  Hamid thought his ears might rupture from the rapport of the two rifles.  He could hear Lev shooting sporadically from the top of the truck as well, though he was sure Lev was probably preoccupied with not being thrown from the top of the truck.

As the men rounded a corner the sounds of battle started to decrease and finally stopped altogether.  Hamid’s ears were ringing and the acrid smell of gunpowder was heavy in the air.  Amit was still pushing the vehicle as fast as he dared, but had let off slightly on the accelerator.

“Is everyone okay?”  Amit yelled.

“Okay!” yelled Katz from the rear.

“I’m still in one piece” Terry called.

Amit turned to Hamid “You?”  All Hamid could muster was a vacant nod.

“Lev!”  Amit banged on the roof, “Are you okay?”

There was no response.  Amit banged again.

“Lev!”

Lev slapped the windshield twice.  Hamid looked at the windshield and hissed in a breath.

Lev pointed, “Amit look!” Both men looked at the windshield where Lev had just slapped.  The moonlight highlighted Lev’s crimson bloody handprint.

*

Amit drove for another minute doing his best to keep the vehicle from making sudden movements, to Hamid it felt like an eternity.   The thought of one of his companions bleeding to death of the roof made him feel ill, the idea of loosing the security provided by a member of their group caused an unexpected tinge of fear, between the two he felt on the verge of panic.

“Stop Amit! We have to get Lev down!”

“Hamid, we must get away from the kill zone, or we will all die!”

Terry spoke up from the back, “Amit, give me a few seconds I’ll pull him down and we can treat his wounds while you drive.  You don’t even have to stop, just slow it down a bit.”

Amit let off the gas, and the Toyota slowed.  Terry opened the door while the truck continued to move forward and pulled himself onto the roof.  The others could hear him moving around above them.

“Guys!  He’s in bad shape” Terry’s slightly muffled voice called from the roof

Without taking his eyes of the road Amit shouted “How bad?”

“It’s his leg.  Might have hit something serious.  If we don’t get something on the wound I don’t think Lev’s going to last much longer!”

Amit cursed in Hebrew.  “Even, hand him the medical kit, we need to put another kilometer between us and the kill zone before we can stop.”

Katz did as he was told and for another minute the men sat in silence waiting for more word from Terry.  This one felt even longer than the first.

Finally Amit saw what he was looking for, a series of large trash piles on the side of the road that could concealment from other passing cars.  He slowed the SUV and gingerly pulled behind the largest pile, trying to stay as centered on the trash hill as possible.  Before he was able to pull the truck to a complete stop both Katz and Hamid had jumped from the doors.

Amit fixed the parking brake and turned off the truck, for a second he held tightly to the steering wheel.  Fear of death was a problem all soldiers had to face at least once in their lives and was something one could ultimately learn to cope with.  Fear of a friend’s death however, was never something one could make peace with easily and never got easier.  He let go of the wheel and opened the door, hoping this would not be his friend’s last day.

Terry and Katz were passing Lev to the outstretched arms of Hamid, Amit moved to assist them.  He could see a pressure bandage that Terry had placed on Lev’s thigh, the leg of the pants he was still wearing shone in the limited moonlight, and were clearly soaked.  Amit’s heart sank, a leg injury with that much blood usually meant the Femoral artery.  With no hospital and no doctor, Lev would be dead before the sun rose again.

The men moved Lev to a small grassy spot near the SUV.  Lev looked up groggily at his friend.

“Your driving is getting worse.”  Lev smiled.

Despite his growing fear, Amit chuckled a bit.  “How else could I shake you off the roof?”

“Iraq doesn’t have enough beaches, wait until we get to Turkey and try again?”

Amit patted Lev’s hand “Okay.”

As Amit continued to console his wounded friend, Terry started taking a closer look at Lev’s wound.  Terry had volunteered to be the primary aid man since he had gotten a great deal of basic level care in and out of the military.  Between his abandoned ventures into becoming an EMT after high school and the basic military aid courses, he was by far the best trained medically.  Even so it was a role he took on begrudgingly since he knew he might potentially face a situation just like this one.

Using a pair of medical shears, he cut off the soaked pant leg.  From the front, Lev’s thigh looked normal except for a small hole in the front of his quadriceps muscle.  The back however was a different story.  Terry knew that AK-47 rounds have a tendency to tumble in flight, because of their caliber and weight this often meant the exit wounds were often nasty and hard to repair.  Lev’s exit wound was about the size of a silver dollar and looked like someone had taken a cone shaped chunk from the back of his leg.  Blood was oozing from the wound on both ends.

Terry had already placed a band in a makeshift tourniquet further up Lev’s thigh to prevent more bleeding, he took the plastic piece he’d originally used as a windlass to tighten the band and loosened it half a turn.  Usually, such a move was reserved for doctors, but Terry knew that if Lev’s femoral artery was severed, he was as good as dead anyway.  As he loosened the windlass another turn, the blood continued to ooze but did not pulse or squirt out.  A very good sign, all things considered.

After two or three more turns Terry was convinced that Lev’s wound was not the mortal one they had all feared.  Even so, it was still life threatening.  Without the proper medical care, his wounds would certainly become fatal most likely through infection.

“How Bad?  Hamid asked.

Terry shrugged.  “I’m pretty sure the bullet missed most of the major stuff, but until we can get him to a doc, he’s still knocking on the door.”

Hamid looked at him quizzically, “door?”

“’Knocking on death’s door.’  It’s figure of speech we use a lot in the states.   Either way, he needs medical help guys, and better help than I can give him.  We either need to find a hospital that’s willing to help, or do our best to make him comfortable.”

Amit, Hamid, and Even already knew the answer before any of them spoke.

Hamid sighed, “I hope my Arabic dialect works in northern Iraq.”

The other three shrugged as if to say “I guess we’ll have to see.”

Lev spoke up “Leave me here.  I will slow you down.  You can find a…”

“Shut up Lev,” Terry stopped him.  “You don’t get a vote.”

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The road north of the bridge was one of the worst roads the men had traveled.  Much of the concrete two-lane highway had fallen into disrepair.  In places, abandoned vehicles or burned out hulks sat in the road.  More than once Amit had been forced to slam on the brakes to avoid bottoming out the truck in one of the gaping holes in the concrete.  It was unclear what had happened, the cars were evidence that as recently as a few weeks or months ago it was still a thoroughfare, but all along the way they continued to see cars that had been left behind or destroyed, and portions of roadway that looked like they had been purposefully dug up.

Amit forced the warning claxons going off in his head to go silent, there was simply no other way to get help for his friend, and he was not prepared to loose anyone else.  For days he had fought off despair over Moshe’s death and the subsequent decimation of his home and family.  He could feel his ability to keep it together slipping, and he knew he could not let that happen.  The other men in the vehicle were counting on him too much.

They were about 100 miles from Mosul, the largest city where they could have any hope for safe passage.  Despite its reputation, most of northern Iraq tended to be relatively open minded.  If they were able to find an open minded doctor, there could be hope for Lev.  Assuming of course that Mosul was not abandoned like Amman had been.

As the men neared the small town, they could make out fires.  Not the out of control blazes they had seen running through Aman, but organized bonfires. Someone had set these for a particular purpose.  A weathered sign grew visible that read ‘Ninewah’ in English and Arabic.

Terry, who was monitoring Lev’s wound, spoke up from the back.  “Hammie, do you know anything about this place?”

“No, nothing.  Let’s hope they’re friendly.”

“Yeah, no kidding right?”

Ten minutes later they were nearing the outskirts of the town, a makeshift wall of broken down cars, concrete barriers, corrugated metal roofing, and myriad other materials created a wall around the entire area.  The gate was a large metal plate on a pulley system, it looked like a gigantic guillotine.  As the men neared the gate, a single figure, his head wrapped in a scarf and wearing a long green coat stepped out in front carrying what appeared to be an AK-47.  Amit took his pistol and tucked it under his right leg, just in case.

“I hope you can talk this guy down Hammie.” 

Hamid nodded, but continued to watch for outwardly hostile movement.

Amit slowed the car considerably, but the man with the AK-47 waved for him to move closer.  He inched the vehicle forward and rolled down his window, his right hand rested on his thigh only inches from the butt of the pistol.

Finally, tired of waiting the man with the rifle moved towards the truck, as he did Terry’s shocked voice came from the back.

“What the hell?  That’s a white dude!”

They all looked at the man’s face.  He did indeed look Caucasian, but in Iraq it was not uncommon for men to have some Caucasian characteristics, since in the 1960s and 70’s Baghdad had been a vacation spot for many Europeans.  Some had left more than their money.

As the man approached the window, Hamid spoke in Arabic.

Salaam alaykum.”

The man responded in accented arabic, “Wa alaykum salaam.”

We need some help.”

You may have trouble getting it here brother.”

Hamid had heard similar accents before in the UK when he was at University.  He decided to take a chance.  In English he spoke, “Do you speak…English?”

The man with the scarf pulled it down from his face a bit so the men could see him more clearly.  He certainly looked like a westerner, but he was not smiling or making any expression at all for that matter.  For a moment Hamid wondered if he had shown too much of his hand.

“I’m Australian.  Name is David, don’t suppose you want to tell me who in ‘ell you people are do you?

Amit spoke up.  “David, my name is Amit, this is Hamid, and in back is Even and Terry.  The man they are treating is our friend Leven, he was shot by bandits this evening and we need to get him help.”

“I’m sorry mate, but we don’t have anything to spare.”

“I’m sure you are limited, but if we don’t get this man some help he will die!”

David grimaced a bit “Seems to be the way of things these days.  I am sorry for your friend though.”

Amit let out a sigh “David, please…”

“No!  Listen friend, you’re lucky you made it this close to the town.  And you’re lucky anyone from inside the town was even willing to come talk to you.  We want to be left alone, and that means you too.”

This time it was Terry’s turn to speak up, “Listen Jackass, where the hell do you expect us to go?  It’s the goddamn apocalypse out here, and you want to get pissy about five guys in a shot up truck?  Wait till the carriers get here, they don’t ask for permission to come in I promise you.”

David looked shocked, “An American?  Where the hell did you guys come from?”

“Israel, Jordan, and North Carolina.”

A look of amusement crossed David’s face.  “No shit huh?”

“No shit, pal.  But if you don’t get us in that gate so we can get this guy some real help we’re going to be down a friend, and we’ve already lost a guy on the way here.  I’d rather not loose another one.  We’re not asking to set up camp inside, just let us patch up and get back on the road.  That’s all.”

David leaned back a bit, his left hand rubbing absently across his forehead as he thought.  “Okay, but if you boys start wearing out your welcome, don’t expect a friendly escort out of town.”  With that he gestured to someone behind the wall, and the giant guillotine door slid upwards.

*

The town consisted of about thirty to forty single-story buildings in varying degrees of disrepair.  Several vehicles were parked next to one of the larger buildings with a red crescent painted next to a red cross.  Amit turned and headed straight towards the building.  As he did , two other men holding rifles stepped in front of the truck.  David walked up next to Amit’s still opened window.

“The boys will want to take a look at the truck before we let you in any further mate.”

Amit stifled his frustration as best as he could “Can I at least get my friend to the hospital while you check it?”

David looked somewhat surprised by the question.  “Uh, sure I guess.  But it’s really more of a clinic”

Without another word, Amit jumped out of the driver’s seat and opened the rear door.  He and Katz pulled Lev from the back, they got him into a modified fireman’s carry and moved as fast as they could to the hospital-clinic leaving Terry to deal with David and his ‘boys’.

Terry climbed out of the Land Cruiser and gave Dave a ‘what can you do?’ look.

“How did three Israelis, and an American make it way out here?”

“It wasn’t easy.”

One of David’s men said called to him in Arabic.  He was pointing inside the Toyota and seemed to be communicating something about their radios and the weapons.  David gave a quick reply and then turned back to Terry, now with a look of suspicion.

“What are you boys?  It looks to me like you weren’t in Israel for a vacation were ya?”

Terry bit his tongue for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders having decided keeping secrets at this point wasn’t going to help matters.  “We’re military, most of us at least.  Hamid. the Jordanian, he was a late addition.”

David started to laugh, Terry looked at him quizzically not at all sure what he’d said that was so funny.

“You’re going to love this, then.  This is an Iraqi-Christian settlement, the people here are part of a group from Irbil.”

Terry looked at him confused.

“Don’t you get it mate?  Three Jews, an American , and a Muslim from Jordan walk into a Christian town in Iraq.  It’s a bloody comedy sketch!”

Terry chuckled politely, but he wasn’t in the mood for humor.   The journey to Ninewah had been anything but funny.

*

After three days in the camp, Amit and his ad hoc squad had explored every corner of the small enclosed town, met everyone who was willing to speak with them (which was about 10 people out of about 145 total), and had played several dozen hands of spades (which had taken Terry two of those days just to teach them).  Most of the village consisted of Iraqi Christians who had picked up their belongings and established this town about two years before.  They were cautious people and strangers were an unwelcome addition.  Amit had been careful to hide the fact that three of them were Israeli, he was not going to press his luck more than he had.

Two UNHCR doctors and a former Australian SAS medic named Lowrence who went by “Lonny” ran the clinic.  He and David had taken refuge in Ninewah when the Iraqi army had started destroying everything on the roads.  David, it turned out was also SAS and had served with Lonny.  After several trips to Iraq and Afghanistan he had retired and decided to try his hand at rebuilding the countries where he’d spent so much time. Lonny had come along for the adventure.  Both had an air of danger about them despite their benevolent reasons for being in Iraq.  Lonny was a very capable medic, and with the help of the two UN Doctors they had done a remarkable job fixing Lev’s leg despite being woefully underequipped. 

Despite their efforts, Lev’s leg was not healing and the Doctors both feared infection.  Lonny had convinced them to use some of the limited amount of antibiotics available in the dispensary to try save Lev’s leg and probably his life.  Amit had grown fond of Lonny, and as it turned out they had some mutual friends on the IDF.  For his part, Lonny seemed happy just to be around other soldiers.

The evening of the third night, Amit, Lonny, and Terry sat atop one of the clay and stone buildings and were enjoying the cool night air.  The men immersed themselves in stories of past deployments and shared incidents of barracks humor.  While none of them wanted to admit it, all were worried about the carriers.  The conversation had skirted around the issue all evening.

Terry had been debating with himself for the better part of an hour about how long it would take someone to get from Israel to Ninewah.  “It’s a long way from Israel, and I really can’t see anyone making it this far without a truck.  I mean, look at how long it took us to get here and we got banged up along the way!”

“Terry,” Amit sighed, he’d grown tired of the running diatribe. “We can’t be sure of anything!  Look what happened in Aman, and that was only one night.  We have no idea how fast those things could travel.”

“Well the option can’t be we stay here and hole up, or we leave Lev and look for a better place to hide.”

“Just because you don’t like the options doesn’t mean you can demand others that don’t exist my friend.”

Lonny spoke up “Amit, where are you and the boys trying to go?  I mean, did you have a place in mind?”

Amit shook his head.  “No, we were hoping to get to Turkey and then if we needed to, cross north and head into Europe.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work so well mate.”

“Why?”

“Word on the radio, before the stations stopped broadcasting, was the infected made their way into Europe, and were in Paris, Berlin, and a few others.   North is just as bad as any direction.”

“Well that’s bullshit!”  Terry’s frustration was rising.  “There has to be an option.  I mean, are we really talking about staying here in this crappy little town and trying to fight off anything that comes this way?  I mean, Jesus, this thing swept through Egypt and Israel in less than a week and it took down everything the IDF could throw at it.  Including a nuke!  There is no way in hell the four of us would do anything more than spitballs would to the Hoover Dam.”

“Six.”  Lonny interjected

“Huh?”

“Dave and me, we may not throw down much anymore, but we can still scrap.  And don’t count out are Iraqis either, they’re not well trained, but they’re brave little buggers.”

Terry shrugged a bit, “Lonny, I like you and Dave and we really appreciate everything you’re doing for Lev, but you didn’t see the video of this thing..er..things.  These things rolled over thousands of soldiers like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  Even with two pipe hitters like you two and a thousand Iraqis, it won’t matter for shit.”

“Piper hitters?”  Lonny pondered the title for a moment as if he hadn’t heard anything else Terry had said.  “I like that.  Look mate, I’m not saying you’re being overly cautious but me and Dave, we’ve put some decent things up to protect this place.  Give it a chance.”

At last Amit spoke again.  “Lonny, in 48 hours if the carriers have not made it this far, we will stay.  Otherwise, we leave at the first sign of carriers.  The trip north may not be the best, but it’s better than heading into Iran which would mean death for us anyway.”

Lonny gave him a knowing nod, he and David were the only two in the Town Amit had trusted with their nationality.

*

It had not taken 48 or 24 hours.  In fact, it had not even taken 10 for the first sprinter to appear.  Around 5:30 the next morning Lonny was shaking him awake.

“Amit, you might want to take a look at what our spotters have found mate.”

Amit felt his blood run cold, certain he could guess at what he was going to see.  He followed Lonny to one of the makeshift parapets where an Iraqi was tracking something on the horizon with an old pair of binoculars.  Lonny spoke to the lookout in Arabic who then handed the binoculars to Amit.  The Iraqi man pointed to a spot on the Horizon and used his other hand to push them up to Amit’s eyes.  He took a moment to focus and after a few seconds of scanning saw why Lonny had come and woken him.

A lone figure, dressed in tattered clothing was running across the gently rolling hills.  Its gait looked awkward, like it barely had control of its extremities.  While it was still too far off to see any features, Amit was sure he’d see the dazed hungry look of an infected if he could magnify the image.

For now, it was running at angle that would send it well past the small town, but where one had made the trek, there would most certainly be more.  In the back of his mind Amit silently cursed those who had decided to drop an atomic bomb on his home.  Such a waste, and at what cost?

Amit handed the binoculars back to the Iraqi and looked at Lonny “I think it’s time to go.”

Lonny patted him on the back.  “You’re sure about this?”

“We can’t stay here Lonny, there will be more and we need to keep moving.”

“Amit, I can’t force you to stay, but we could sure use your help here.”

Amit dropped the binoculars and stared into the morning horizon.   The rolling terrain dotted with date trees and vegetation mixed with the cloudless purple hued sky might otherwise have been beautiful.  He chuckled a bit at how much change a few days had brought.  When they arrived, David had been trying to keep them from even entering the town, now Lonny was asking them not to leave.  What’s more, despite his misgivings the offer did have some appeal.

*

It had only taken the men 20 minutes to get their gear packed and stowed in the Toyota.  Katz and Hamid had spent a good portion of their time in the town fixing the damage from the attack at the bridge.  Not surprisingly, there had been considerable damage to armor on the driver’s side, the radiator had taken a beating, and a hose had needed replacing.  Most of the parts had been scavenged from vehicles in town or left on the road just outside the walls.  They had also managed to find a man with a spot welder who could affix some scrap metal to the sides as a makeshift patch.  Miraculously, none of the tires including the rear-mounted spare had been so much dinged in the attack.  The four men took that as a good sign.

Amit headed to the hospital to make a final visit to Lev.  The clinic was an open bay with a series of gurneys lined up three to a wall.  A separate sterol room in the back served as an operating room.  The gurneys sat empty save one, Lev who was deep in a drug-induced sleep was oblivious to the world. Amit sat in a chair next to him, held his friends hand, and whispered quietly in Hebrew.

Please forgive me my dear friend.  I don’t know what else to do.”

He fought back tears, as he listed to Lev’s breathing.  The guilt at the decision he was about to make stung deeply.  Leaving a defenseless man behind in a country where weeks before he almost certainly would have been shot dead upon crossing the border easily ranked as the worst choice he’d ever been forced to make.  After a few minutes he gathered himself and stood.  He gave Lev’s had one final squeeze, wiped his eyes, and started walking towards the door.  David and Lonny both met him there.

David wore a grim look.  “Amit, you need to see something.” He paused, Amit could see the concern in his eyes. “I think your friends are on the way.”

Both men headed towards the same parapet Amit and Lonny had visited earlier, as before Amit followed.”

This time, he didn’t need binoculars to see that there were at least 50 sprinters on the horizon, more than one on a direct heading towards the town.

Dave looked at Amit, who now had a grim look of his own.  “You may want to think twice about driving out of here.”

Amit nodded.  “It seems three days was too long.”

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