Nora slung the grenade launcher over her shoulder, where it rested awkwardly alongside her bow, then pulled her pistol from its drop-leg holster and ran for the shack. As she leaped over the dead soldier, she noticed her arrow lying shiny and red a couple of yards away.
Perfect pass-through. She decided to come back for it if she could. Out of the corners of her eyes Nora saw that Karin and Matt were also up and sprinting for the building. Anyone still alive would be out of there in a matter of seconds. If they came, Nora and her companions were ready. A minute passed. The fire from the exploded generator and fuel tank had spread out along the dried grass and was now licking the south side of the building.
The door remain closed, and no shouts were heard coming from inside. Nora looked left and right. Matt and Karin both caught her eye while simultaneously keeping their attention on the building. Nora flicked her hand twice towards the structure and all three got up and ran for the shack, keeping their weapons aimed at the doorway. Although she always hoped for a quick kill, she was concerned that no one had run out of the building after she had fired the grenade. The blast would likely not have been fatal to anyone inside.
Now she was worried about what, or who, they would find inside. Once they reached the building, Nora covered the door with her pistol. Matt circled around the east side while Karin moved to the west corner. The first room—the one farthest from the generator—contained the communications equipment.
Matt and Karin peered through grimy windows and saw nothing but the equipment bank, a couple of folding chairs and papers scattered about the room. With a nod to each other, they moved to the next room, the one closest to the generator. They felt the heat radiating from the growing fire behind the building. Both windows on this end had blown out from the blast, and smoke had started to waft through the vacant casements.
Easing his head into the opening, Matt looked inside. He drew back quickly.
Karin quickly scanned the smoky room. She looked at Matt and held up two fingers. There were two men down, their forms partially obscured by the steadily thickening smoke. Matt jerked his head towards the door and they both ran back to the front of the building. There are two of them in the back room, Matt said to Nora. Nora reached for the handle and flung open the door.
She moved in low and side-stepped to her right, her pistol sweeping the empty room. Heat and smoke from the back of the building had begun to move into this outer room. Nora felt the pressure to hurry if they were to have any chance of scavenging something useful, but she had to make sure the men in the back were neutralized first. A handful of equipment was not worth risking their lives. They walked quickly but cautiously, passing between the equipment rack on one side of the small room and a work bench on the other. The acrid smell of diesel smoke hung heavy, but not enough to completely cover the stench of the unwashed bodies that lived year-round in this small steel building.
Nora gripped her pistol tightly with both hands, pointing it in front of her, ready to shoot the first thing that moved. No hallway separated the equipment room from the living quarters. A four by seven-foot opening had been cut into the partition wall. From her vantage point Nora could see the first man lying beside an upturned cot.
Nora froze, peering hard through the smoky cubicle.
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The bunks on the opposite side of the room were empty. An overturned table hid nothing. Nora eased through the doorway, her pistol tracking with her eyes. Except for the man on the floor, the place was empty. She turned and looked quizzically at Matt, who was right on her heels, his rifle held tight to his shoulder. Nora was tall.
At well over six feet in height, she was the tallest member of her clan, and a good foot taller than Matt. She immediately saw the demon standing behind him, backlit by the fading evening sky and filling the frame of the outside doorway. Nora saw the muzzle blast through the doorway as the report exploded in her ears.
Matt pitched forward and hit the floor in a thud. Only twenty feet separated Nora from her target—too close for her to miss even on a moonless night. The man fired again, but the shot went wide, pinging through the wall behind her. Nora loosed three more rounds, sending the man stumbling backwards and onto the ground outside. She looked down at Matt and saw the large pool of blood spreading out from what used to be his head.
Training kicked in. Neutralize the threat. Shouldering the M, she walked to the door. Not this time. Stepping through the door, Nora saw Karin lying on the ground at the corner of the building.
Her eyes were open, her neck twisted at a stomach-churning angle. When Nora was a child, her father had taken her on hunting trips. All the children in her clan learned to hunt at an early age. In their teenage years, it was their primary duty.
Hunting for food was the best practice for what would come a few years later. Nora had enjoyed watching elk roam the open meadows and creek drainages around camp, but always at a distance. Really close. Hunting was always done with bows and arrows.
The bow was quick, lethal and, most importantly, quiet. No loud reports to alert Nephilim soldiers or roaming bands of wilders. Soon they heard limbs breaking in the pine thicket above them. The bull, high on passion, thrashed its massive antlers against every small tree and limb within reach. Like some invisible monster in the forest, it kept coming, louder and louder, until it stopped at the edge of the clearing opposite where Nora and her father were hiding. Her father gave another call—this time that of a bugling bull.
A challenger. The bull screamed from within the tree line, then headed for Nora and her father at a trot.
In a matter of seconds it was standing less than fifteen feet away from them. Up close, the animal seemed impossibly huge. It was nothing like she had expected. Nora felt a rush of fear and excitement so overwhelming she lost control of her bladder. Things went blurry at that moment.
Her father let loose an arrow and the bull took off running, only to die on its feet a short distance away. Probably more like eight, Nora guessed.
Over the next decade I worked as an editor for several automotive magazines, became a full-time freelancer and columnist, then bookended my magazine career when I became editor of Heartland USA where, of course, I became friends with an astounding writer by the name of Gregory L. Nora is a tall and beautiful young woman whose skills in guerrilla combat have earned her a position as leader of a small team of raiders. Through this character, we get to understand the psyche of the small clans of human raiders and it is through the eyes of Nora that we see this post-apocalyptic world with the skeleton of civilisation still showing as she and her comrades travel through a devastated future America. For my English professor and advisor, who spent a good portion of her much-deserved Florida vacation critiquing and copy editing, and providing sound literary advice which, I hope, I have implemented satisfactorily. Training kicked in. For mystery writer and long-time friend Tom Corcoran, who pulled me out of the darkroom of a small publishing concern twenty-some years ago and set me forever on this path.
Long, dark coarse hair covered his head. A short-cropped beard, riding high on his cheeks, hid much of his face. His broad nose, heavy eyebrows and wide mouth combined with a light brown complexion to complete the horrible visage.