the night runners prowling the streets of the base reach his ears from time to time reminding him of the reality of the current world. Everyone he knew is gone. He glances at the Ranger tab on the shoulder of his ACU’s thinking how meaningless it and the other patches on his uniform are now. The world changes and so does the importance of things that were once meaningful.

His days are filled with scrounging for supplies and his nights with avoiding being found by the night runners. He switched houses the other night choosing to be on McChord rather than Fort Lewis; the choice coming because he feels that any hope of finding anyone or help arriving will come from the air, thus his desire to be closer to the airfield. That choice was vindicated by the sound of an aircraft passing overhead just a short time ago. That was a C-130, he thinks knowing that sound well and he is filled with hope. The sound of night runners on the street outside brings his mind back to the present. The noise of the aircraft has stirred them up in this area.

The barricades he placed across the doors and windows should slow them down some but he knows they will not keep them out if they make a determined effort to get him. His best choice is to remain silent and try to find out what the aircraft was about once the sun comes up. The dark room and house around mimics the darkness within him; the darkness of losing everyone and living day to day without hope. The darkness of thinking he might be the only one left; at least until hearing the roar of the aircraft arriving. He thinks if he can just live through the night, then the hope of rescue and deliverance will come with the daylight.

That hope is balanced with fear caused by the increased activity of the night runners outside. They have proven to be wily in finding him and he knows he has been lucky so far; a few very close calls with the sun coming to his rescue on a number of them. The coldest part of the night comes just before sunrise and that is how he feels inside. Hope looms just over the horizon yet seems so far. First, he has to endure through the coldest part before hope has a chance. The fear that accompanies hope being so close and that the door may shut before becoming reality.

The sudden thump against the front door startles him from of his dark musings. Oh God No! He thinks as he lunges for the M-16 lying on the floor next to him. Greg brings it to his shoulder and swings the barrel around to the front door, the red dot centering on the boarded entrance. A loud shriek sounds as a solid thump jars the door and frame. More shrieks call out from the street and surrounding yards. I’ve got to do something quick or they’ll be all over this place. He is at a loss though as to what that something should be. There is death outside and it will soon spill over to death inside.

He thinks one choice is to try for the airfield and the aircraft that flew over recently. The illusion of security the walls of the house provides keeps him kneeling in the room with his rifle pointed at the front door. If I leave out of the back now, they may be too focused on gaining entrance to notice, he thinks looking over his shoulder at the faint outline of the back door. On the other hand, if it does come down to a fight, the house might be easier to defend.

The jarring sound of breaking glass upstairs makes the decision for him. He is up and across the room to the back door before the tinkling of the glass ends. Pausing momentarily to listen for sounds of night runners out back, he opens the door to the night air. The coolness of the night brushes by his cheeks as he dashes out of the house and into the back yard. The moon outside provides a measure of light as he navigates quickly around a swing set and toys scattered in the grass; grass grown long by neglect.

The dull thumps against the house reach the back yard. Shrieks fill the night air as he rushes for the fence separating the individual housing units. A glance over his shoulders lets him know his exit hasn’t yet been discovered. Just prior to reaching the fence, Greg tosses his M-16 over it into the next yard and hears it land with a soft clatter. He takes a running leap at the fence, his fingers finding purchase on the top, and his boots pounding against the side. The noise from his boots hitting the fence sounds like the continuing thuds coming from the front of the house. He vaults over and into the back yard of the neighboring house. A change in the intensity and tone of the howls from the night runners tells him his escape has been discovered.

Coming to rest on his feet, Greg scans the immediate area looking for his weapon. The shadows of the night play havoc with locating his black rifle hidden in the grass as there is very little color variance in the glow of the moonshine. All objects are all in varying shades of gray. Fear takes hold as he knows the night runners are on his trail. Time is not on his side. Fear becomes panic. He wants the security of his M-16 but knows he needs to be on his way if he is to have any chance of making the tarmac. He also knows this attempt to find sanctuary is a long shot as those who landed earlier may not be there anymore. They may have moved to a different location, if they stayed on the ground at all.

There, a slight difference in the way the grass lies. He dashes over, retrieves his rifle, and is off across the yard. Running down the side of the housing unit, he enters the street to the sound of night runners behind him coming over the fence he vaulted moments ago. Identical housing units line the street on both sides, bathed in the silver glow of the moon. Vehicles of various types are parked in the shared driveways; a late model mustang in the driveway to his immediate left, mini-vans that transported families when the world was ‘normal’ in others, and a few later model pickups. He quickly recalls the vehicle buying frenzy that went on when members of his unit returned from Afghanistan with deployment cash to spend.

The sound of night runners vaulting the fence spurs him into action and he takes off down the street in the general direction of the aircraft ramp. He avoids running through the housing units themselves as he knows that the ones after him can scale the fences quicker than he can. His only hope is to reach the ramp ahead of the night runners; hoping also they remain behind him and don’t materialize ahead. If that happens, the chase is over.

The sound of his boots on the paved street is drowned out by the periodic shrieks of the night runners giving chase; drawing others into the area. That it will draw others, he knows from experience. That experience coming in the short time since the bottom dropped out from the world he knew. Keeping a quick but steady pace, he turns left at the first cross street knowing this is the way out of the housing area and into the base proper. He scouted the area during the day after his move knowing it is easy to get lost in the streets of housing areas; that there is usually only one street out. If he were to take random turns, he would eventually get lost and become trapped.

Rounding the corner, shrieks escalate letting him know that night runners have entered the street behind him. His feet respond to the increase in fear that fills his mind with those howls. He is close to a full block ahead of the pack but knows how fast this distance can be eaten up. His only hope to maintain this lead, and get to the ramp ahead of them, is to get a lead of more than a block and keep making turns at each street keeping a general direction towards the airfield. Weighing the need to increase the distance between them and the need to keep his wind with a steady pace, he knows that distance is the more immediate need. With this in mind, Greg streaks down the street and rounds the next corner.

He is thankful for the short street and makes the corner just ahead of the horde reaching the corner to his rear. His thought is that the night runners will slow momentarily without having witnessed which way he went. He knows they will be able to track him by scent and sound but doesn’t want to make it easier for them. He runs across the yards on this street knowing the grass will better hide the sound of his running. He imagines the mass behind him will hastily make for the intersection having lost a visual on him. The wish is that it will take some time to locate him again. For that reason, he darts around the vehicles in the driveways hoping that, with vehicles between him and the night runners, he will become less easy to spot.

The bright moon overhead momentarily casts his shadow on the hood of a sporty new Camaro as Greg continues his run along the yards towards the exit from the housing area. Shrieks escalate in the night air behind as the night runners pick up his scent. He has gained a little distance. Not enough to make it all the way to the tarmac, but any distance gained is beneficial. He still has his M-16 but if it comes to having to use it to defend himself, he knows his time will be measured; measured by the number of rounds he has left.

The three clips he has remaining will not sustain him long should it come to that; especially in the dark without any night vision capability. He will be shooting at shadows until they get closer, in which case, they will overwhelm him within seconds. No, his best bet is to keep making for the airfield.

Greg exits the housing area. The cool of the night air chills his face and body as beads of sweat run down his forehead. His fatigue top forms dark circles under his pits and along his back. A road cuts across his path and beyond the road looms the shadows of the base golf course. He is still a mile from the base proper and approximately a mile and a half from the ramp. Much closer than if he were still at Fort Lewis. A mile and a half. Only a little less than twelve minutes, he thinks sprinting across the street and entering the dark shadows of the trees lining the fairway.

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