Groundswell: Chapter twenty-one

Walt Sheckley hadn’t heard the sound of a car engine running in so long that he almost didn’t recognize it when it drifted in through his open bedroom window.

He jumped to his feet, grabbed his shotgun off the dresser and stood with his back flat against the wall next to the window.

Normally he took two Tylenol before he got out of bed on account of his arthritis making it hard for him to get around in the morning, but the adrenaline coursing through his body did a fine job on its own of making him forget all about pain. The Tylenol in his stash didn’t work so well anymore, anyway, on account of ’em being sixteen years old.

The vehicle was getting closer. His heart racing, he took a quick peek outside.

Twin white vans with windows tinted so dark he couldn’t see through them crawled down the cracked, weed-infested street he’d lived on for nearly sixty years.

“Ol’ dirty buzzards. Come to try and take me outta my home again. Well sir, I been waitin’ for ya. I knew yall’d be back.”

He looked again, and the van in front slowed down as it passed his house.

Did they see him? He couldn’t be sure. He felt like they did.

The vans stopped. They had seen him.

He ran to the living room, wincing as he kicked a long-empty Spaghetti-Oh’s can across the sunken, rotted wood floor in the dusty beams of early sunlight that penetrated his dilapidated old house. A shotgun wasn’t going to be enough.

He cleared the top of the trunk in front of the couch of junk and popped it open.

“There y’are, ol’ girl,” he said, reverently removing the Vietnam-era M16A1 from its place of slumber. “Oh, you an’ me had some good times way back when, didn’t we?” He kissed the side of the barrel. “For ol’ time’s sake, sweetheart.”

The vans had come to a complete stop by the time he reached the kitchen window and peered through a small space between the boards that covered it.

Two people in yellow hazmat suits emerged from the first van, followed by three more in the one behind it. One of them was carrying what appeared to be some kind of scanning equipment.

“Buzzards!” Walt spat. He caressed his gun. “We’ll take care of ’em though, huh Sally?”

He could hear them talking now, through radios, their voices electronically altered to resemble those of the demons they truly were.

It’d been years since he’d sent the last package. How’d they track him down? He dug through the foggy mire of distant memories and found no holes in his plans; no mistakes. Maybe all that DNA stuff they got now?

He shook his head. “Lord knows. Satellites. Microchips. The beast. It’s always been about control.”

They were on his front porch now. Walt lowered himself to the floor and maneuvered himself behind the couch. A mouse ran over his leg, but he didn’t flinch. He could hear what they were saying now.

“Look at this,” said one.

“What is it?”

“It’s a bucket of shit. Somebody’s been here. Recently. It’s still moist.”

“Squatters. Homeless. Alright, let’s be careful. No more talking, use your hands to signal. They may be hiding and watching. Shoot to kill.”

Walt’s hands tightened on his rifle. They didn’t know who he was. They hadn’t come here for him. But what were they here for?

He’d have to take them all out, load the bodies in the vans and drive both of them somewhere to hide them. Could he still drive? Where would he put them? The lake? No, not deep enough. Creeks were dry, too. Woods was no good, either.

The front door creaked open, and sunlight poured into the room.

“Holy shit, I’m glad we have these suits on. I bet it stinks. Look at all the trash. Looks like some kind of human rat lives here.”

Walt heard the sound of a pistol being cocked. “Yeah, well, we’re the exterminators.”

Walt jumped up and revealed himself. “Don’t you cuss in my house, you twinkle-toe buzzards!”

He couldn’t see their faces, but their body language betrayed momentary surprise–and a moment was all he needed. He squeezed the trigger.

Nothing. Jammed.

“Shoot! Dang it come on!”

One of the five suited stranger raised his gun and pointed it at him.

Walt smiled and hugged the gun. “It’s okay, baby. I forgive you. Like I said, it’s just like old times.”

Bang.

Walt collapsed to the floor.

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