Danger In The Ashes [Ashes: 8] [MultiFormat]
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eBook by William W. Johnstone
eBook Category: Historical Fiction
eBook Description: During the years following the nuclear holocaust that decimated the United States, the legend of Ben Raines has flourished throughout the shattered land. Soldier and survivalist, Raines has dedicated his life to rebuilding civilization from the ruins of humanity. But for a once-great nation to rise again, the new laws that are imposed must be just but harsh--they must be Ben Raines laws. The bloody war continues against the hordes of subhuman cannibals infesting the urban wasteland. But Raines and his rebel forces encounter an even greater threat to their dream of a new America. A savage pestilence is sweeping across the South, as a reawakened Ku Klux Klan sows the poisonous seeds of ignorance and prejudice. It is a hideous scourge that must be eradicated at all costs, either through education ... or annihilation. For Ben Raines knows that of all the threats to mankind's survival, blind and brutal hatred is the deadliest...
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, Published: 1988
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2007
This eBook is part of the following series:
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On the morning of his second day back in Louisiana, Ben drove out to see his old house. He knew it would be a bitter disappointment to him ... and it was. The house was in disrepair; looked like a band of trash had been living in it.
"Maybe they have," Ben muttered.
Ben's Thompson SMG was lying on the seat next to him in the Jeep. One could not safely venture out unarmed. There was danger everywhere. All sorts of cults had sprung up, so-called religious orders, preaching all sorts of semireligious bullshit. Most of it hate-filled, and most of it directed toward Ben Raines and his Rebels.
The far northeast was out of bounds for any exploration ... so far as Ben knew. And he didn't know that for a fact. Someday he meant to go and see for himself; maybe soon. He'd like to get away; off by himself.
And there were mutants that roamed the land, products of the germ and chemical and nuclear bombs. Part human, part animal, and God alone knew what else. Great beasts, the adults larger than the biggest polar bears, and twice as dangerous because they had some capacity for thought and reason.
There were the Night People, too. They lived mostly in the cities, and the cities were called Cities of the Dead.
Physically scarred and mentally traumatized by the bombings and aftermath of the Great War--as it was called--and the awful sickness that followed, the Night People banded together, electing to hate and despise those who were not like them. To make matters even worse, the Night People were practicing cannibals.
Yes, there was danger everywhere one turned.
Movement caught Ben's eyes; movement behind the rags that once were curtains.
"Good God," Ben muttered. "Somebody is actually living amid all that squalor."
"Whut you want, boy?" The question was called out from behind the rags.
"I'm not here to harm you," Ben shouted. "Just looking around."
"You bes' carry your ass on, soldier-boy! 'Fore I take a notion to shoot it off."
"I'm not on ... your property." Ben's hackles began to rise. "I'm in the road. And you don't own that. Furthermore, I doubt seriously that you actually own anything. Very few people do, nowadays."
"Are you a native of this area?" Ben changed the subject, hoping to get some kind of sense from the man, but beginning to realize that might be a hopeless task.
"I'm from the parish, yeah. What be your name?"
"You the feller who writ all them books back yonder?"
"Yes. I used to live in the house you're presently occupying."
"You don't no more."
Ben realized then that he was not exactly in conversation with a mental giant. Or even a mental midget, for that matter. Ben asked the man if he was from a certain part of the parish.
"That figures," Ben muttered. Back when the parish had built a new library, several residents of that area had said it was the most useless building in the parish.
Ben knew then when he was going to build the first westward-stretching outpost. Right here.
"I've got several thousand troops camped just outside of Morriston. Going to be lots of activity around here."
The voice behind the ragged curtains was silent for a time. "I reckon with you comin' back, we're gonna have all sorts of laws and rules and sich as that again, rat?"
"That is correct."
"'Posin' I don't wanna foller 'em?"
"Then I imagine somebody will shoot you," Ben called cheerfully.
As his words were fading away, Ben saw the muzzle of a rifle poked through the rags. He rolled out of the Jeep, grabbing his Thompson as he went over the side. A rifle cracked, the slug popping through the windshield. Ben caught movement by the side of the house. A man stepped into view, carrying an M-16. Ben stitched him across the belly and then lifted the SMG, emptying a clip through the ragged curtains. A scream came from within the house.
Ben waited; no more shots came his way. He ran, zigzagging across the tree-filled and weed-grown yard, coming up to the edge of the house. Moaning could be heard through the broken windows. Ben thought: I put a lot of money into this house, only to have these trashy bastards screw it all up.
He kicked in the door, which wasn't all that difficult a task ... it was hanging by one hinge.
Ben looked down at the badly wounded man. The .45 caliber slugs had taken him in the chest. He lay amid filth on the floor. "You're not exactly a paragon of neatness, are you?"
"Fuck you, Raines! I didn't lak your arrogant ass when you lived here 'fore."
"Hell, man. I don't know you."
"I knowed you," the man managed to gasp. "Always lookin' down your damn snooty nose at the res' of us."
"The word is reserved, not arrogant." Ben felt a little silly, standing there discussing word meaning with a dying man.
"Whure's my brudder?"
"Was he carrying an M-16?"
The man cursed Ben.
"If you're quite finished.... "Ben looked down at him. "Anything else I can do for you?"
"Whut you gonna do with me?"
"Nothing." Ben turned and walked back outside, across the lawn--loosely called--and got into his Jeep.
"You jist gonna leave me here?" the redneck hollered.
"That is correct," Ben muttered. He cranked the Jeep and drove off.
It was a hard time, and Ben Raines was a hard man when he had to be. Even when world conditions had been at their best, before the Great War, Ben could not tolerate ignorance, and he was doubly contemptuous of those people who were ignorant and proud of that ignorance. There had been too many schools, both traditional and Vo-Tech, for anyone to remain ignorant; therefore, he had no patience with anyone who chose to muck around in blind mental blankness.
He met a patrol driving fast up the old blacktop road.
"We heard shots. What happened, general?"
"A couple of people just learned a hard lesson about the value of knowledge and civility," Ben told the lieutenant.
The Rebel smiled. "Yes, sir. Will they be needing medical assistance, sir?"
"If you want to mess with them, go ahead." Ben drove on.
Used to be a lot of people living in this area, Ben mused, driving slowly along the rutted road. By and large, good people. We're going to be starting from scratch. He thought of the monumental task ahead of them all.
First we build the outposts, one every hundred miles, stretching from the Mississippi River to the coast of California. Little oases of civilization, where men and women could live in some higher degree of safety and build schools and homes and once more begin the job of pulling themselves out of the ashes of destruction.
After the recent battles, the Libyan terrorist Khamsin--the "Hot Wind," as he called himself--would be weeks, maybe months, rebuilding his army. Khamsin was of no immediate worry to Ben.
Getting the first real outpost set up and working was Ben's main concern at the moment. That, and staying alive long enough to do it.
Hiram Rockingham stepped out onto his front porch and surveyed his own personal little kingdom. It began some twenty miles from Morriston--south. That area had been called, back before the Great War, the last bastion of ignorance, intermarriage, and intolerance in that part of the country. And that was only a mild exaggeration. Every state, and probably a large percentage of the counties therein, had something to compare to this region. Albeit not something the Chamber of Commerce would want to include in any tourist packet.
Hiram knew that Ben Raines was back, and Hiram knew also that with Ben's return, things were going to change.
The two men had hated each other for twenty years. Ben, because Hiram was the personification of an ignorant redneck. And Hiram, even though he would never admit it, indeed, probably didn't even realize it, had always felt threatened by Ben Raines.
Both men were strong-willed individualists. Both felt that their way was the best. The similarity ended there.
Hiram was ignorant. Ben was a man of books and knowledge. Ben preferred to talk matters over and reach some sort of gentlemen's understanding. Hiram, if he felt slighted, would burn the other party's house down or shoot his dogs. And then go home and feel very smug about it.
To Ben's way of thinking, people like Hiram took much more from society than they gave.
To Hiram, Ben had always been uppity and snooty. Read books and watched that silly stuff on the Public Broadcasting TV. Ben Raines felt that animals had rights. To Hiram's way of thinking, that was nonsense; animals didn't have no rights a-tall.
Back when the world still was spinning in some degree of order, Hiram and his ilk hated the men who worked for the Wildlife and Fisheries Department; 'specially them bastards in the enforcement arm of it. To Hiram's way of thinking, a man had a right to shoot a deer anytime he damn pleased. To try to convince Hiram that if everybody felt that way, there would soon be no game left was tantamount to beating your head against a brick wall.
Ben felt that the wilderness areas and the forests and streams were for the enjoyment of every citizen. And it had not improved relations between the men when it got back to Hiram that Ben had suggested an open season on rednecks. Then you could shoot one, strap it on the hood of your car or truck, and ride around town, showing off your kill.
"'at damn feller's plumb crazy!" was Hiram's response to Ben's remark.
"That suggestion of yours is a little extreme, Ben," a friend told him. "'Necks are human beings, you know?"
"They walk upright," was Ben's reply.
Hiram believed that there never was and never would be no damn colored man as good as or as smart as a white man. Period. Wasn't no Jew worth a damn; the Holocaust never happened. Mexicans was lazy and no good. You couldn't trust them slant-eyed folks. All Wops belonged to the mafia. Anyone who didn't like black-eyed peas and corn-bread was ignorant. And so on, and on ... imparting his dubious wisdom to his kids and anyone else who cared to listen.
Ben, on the other hand, believed, along with a growing number of people, before and after the Great War, that the time was coming when the nation as a whole would be forced to see that people of Hiram's ilk, regardless of color, could no longer be tolerated, socially, morally, economically, and probably most important, intellectually.
"Whut the hale's far does all that mean?" Hiram blustered, upon hearing Ben's comments.
"Hit means he'd lak to shoot you," a slightly more intelligent neighbor informed him. "Ifn you won't change."
"'at bassard's crazy!" Hiram hollered.
As Ben drove the old country roads, Hiram sat on his front porch and looked out over the fields he and his kind worked.
They were good farmers; not even Ben would take that from them.
The weather had been good and the crops looked fine. Hiram wondered if Ben Raines was going to let him live long enough to get his crops in.
One thing Ben Raines wouldn't have to worry about was gettin' colored folks to join up with him. There wasn't no colored folks left around these parts. Hiram and his buddies had seen to that. There was some lived over to Morriston, but they stayed to themselves and didn't mess with white folks.
That was the way it ought to be.
Hiram remembered when that damn Kasim and his bunch come in; gonna make this whole place something called New Africa.
But President Logan had sent mercenaries in and wiped most of them out.
Then Ben Raines had killed Logan. Funny, Hiram pondered ... the word he'd got was that Ben didn't even like Kasim.
Hiram sighed. All that was four-five years back, at least. He couldn't 'member 'xactly. Didn't make no difference noways.
Ben Raines showed his ass down in this area, and Ben wasn't gonna show it no more.
Hiram looked up as a pickup rattled over his cattle guard. Frank Monroe from up the road got out and come walking up to the porch.
"Frank. What's on your mind?"
"Ben Raines is back."
"I know it."
"Got an army with him."
"I hear he had him some soldier-boys. Don't worry me none." That was a damn lie, but Hiram wouldn't admit it for the world. If he hadn't been worried about it, he never would have thought about Ben killing him.
Frank spat tobacco juice on the ground. "Five or six thousand strong."
Hiram gripped the arms of his rocking chair so hard his knuckles whitened. "You a liar!"
Frank backed up and looked at Hiram. "We elected you leader here, Hiram. But that don't give you no right to call me no liar."
Hiram took several deep breaths. "You rat, Frank. You rat. I 'pologize. You seen this army with yore own eyes?"
"I seen 'um. Just got back from up there. Looked like a bunch of beavers workin' live. Stringin' wire for phones. Cleanin' out houses and sich. They's wimmin soldiers, too. Some of them givin' orders. They tough, Hiram. They lean and they mean and they tough. You know the very first thang they done yesterday morning?"
"Started school for they kids. Whole passel of kids come in yesterday, right after the Rebels hit the parish."
There were no schools in Hiram's little kingdom. Hiram never saw much use for them. But he knew, with a sinking feeling in his guts, he knew, that once Ben came into this area, and Ben would, there would be schools built. Right then and there.
The goddamned pushy son of a bitch!
"Git the people together, Frank. We'll have us a preachin' and a singin' and a prayin' and a eatin' on the grounds this night. Then we'll have us a meetin' of the men."
"Hiram," Frank said softly, carefully choosing his words, for he knew how much Hiram hated Ben Raines, "you thinkin' about fightin' Ben Raines and his Rebels?"
Hiram stood up. "This is our land, Frank. Our community. My great-grandfather come in here and cleared this land with mules and muscles and sweat. After the Great War, Frank, you and me, and all the others, we formed up and fought the outlaws and the trash. We ain't botherin' nobody down here, Frank...."
That was not exactly true. Travelers had been shot dead for simply walking along the roads. If for no other reason than the parents of those who pulled the trigger had imparted to their offspring that they were "better than others."
"...we got our own law here, and by God no fancy-soldier-suited blue-nose is gonna tell me and mine what we can or cain't do. I ain't a-gonna have it!"
"I'll pass the word, Hiram."
"You do that. And git hold of Reed. Tell him to build us a cross. We'll burn it after the meetin'."
Ben connected with the old US highway and drove back into town. The scene that greeted him was one he had expected.
A large crowd of civilians had gathered around the Rebel's main CP; a mixture of black and white.
General Ike McGowan walked over to Ben's Jeep. Ike cradled his CAR-15.
"This it?" Ben asked.
"Most of the adults that live in town. 'Bout a hundred more live around the outskirts. They tell me the real trouble is south of here."
"Yeah, I know."
Ike smiled slowly. "I can hear the wheels turnin' in your head, boy."
Ike was Mississippi born and reared, and at times loved to talk as if he didn't have a thought in his head. But he was highly educated and a former Navy SEAL. One of the original members of Raines's Rebels.
"Oh?" Ben smiled at his old friend. "And what do you make out of all the turning and grinding, Ike?"
"That you are going to step out of character, and when you do, you're going to do it up right."
"You've been talking to some of the townspeople?"
"Several. Black guy name of John Simmons. White feller name of Rich. Several of the townspeople who knew you from 'way back when. They told me some interestin' stories about you and a 'neck name of Hiram Rockingham."
"John Simmons. Got to be in his sixties now. He was a young man out in L.A. when Watts exploded. He and several other blacks guarded their businesses with rifles until the trouble was over."
"Yeah? He kill anybody?"
Ben grinned. "John told me that an L.A. cop got all upset when he saw them guarding their places of business with guns. Asked them what was going on. John told him that if any nigger tried to burn his place, he was gonna get shot. Cop told him, 'Yeah. Well, just don't wound anyone.'"
Ike laughed. "Cecil's been talkin' with John ever since you pulled out this mornin'. I imagine he's told Cec the story."
General Cecil Jefferys was yet another Rebel who had been with Ben for years. A former Green Beret. The black man was one of the most honorable men that Ben had ever known.
Ben walked over to the knot of people and shook hands with those that he remembered. John Simmons smiled at him.
"Been a while, Ben."
"Fifteen years, John. Might have known you'd still be kicking. You're too damn ornery to die."
"Been close a couple of times, though. I made the mistake of driving down into the Stanford Community one day." He met Ben's eyes and let Ben figure out the rest.
"They put lead in you, John?"
The man shrugged still muscular shoulders. "Because I'm not the right color, Ben. They asked me what the hell was I doing down there? I told them it wasn't any of their fucking business."
Ben laughed aloud at that. "John, had you been drinking?"
"No. I was just driving around. Hell, I wasn't bothering a soul, Ben. But rednecks and white trash and niggers irritate the hell out of me."
Ben clasped him on the arm. "You won't do, John. You just won't do. Let's talk about something more pleasant than Hiram Rockingham. Who's the leader of Morriston now?"
"No one. And that's the shame of it all. The town is still divided ... just like it was twenty years ago. Hell, a hundred years ago!"
"That's going to change, John." Ben's words had steel behind them.
"I knew that when we got word your columns were heading this way. But I warn you, Ben. It's going to be one bloody son of a bitch."
"I expect so, John." He looked at Richmond Harris, who had been standing quietly, listening. "Rich. You and John are now the administrators of this area. Appointed by me. Start drawing up plans for this community."
"How much area, general?"
"What used to be the entire parish."
Rich arched an eyebrow. "I can tell you a bunch of people who won't like that at all."
Ben smiled. But it was not a nice smile. "I'm counting on that, Rich."
Ike looked at his friend. He knew that Ben Raines was not a man you wanted to get crossed-up with ... for Ben had said that if this nation was ever to be rebuilt, ignorance and prejudice were two things that would have to be eradicated. Either educated out, or killed out.