Authors: William H. Weber
Tags: #EMP, #SURVIVAL FICTION, #post-apocalyptic
The Defending Home Series
William H. Weber
Copyright © 2016 William H. Weber
Cover by Deranged Doctor Design
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. Any material resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Other books by William H. Weber
Last Stand: Patriots (Book 2)
Last Stand: Warlords (Book 3)
Last Stand: Turning the Tide (Book 4)
Long Road to Survival (Book 2)
I'm blessed to be surrounded by a group of incredibly supportive fans, many of whom have helped shape this story at every turn. There isn't the space here to list them all, but you know who you are and I thank each and every one of you. Another thank you to the ARC team who agreed to read an early draft in exchange for an honest review. And finally, I want to thank my family, for putting up with the long hours, the crazy brainstorming sessions and the uncertainty of following your dreams.
A month has passed since a deadly virus swept the country killing millions and leaving chaos in its wake.
Dale Hardy has managed to weather the storm by hunkering down on his homestead in Arizona. He grows his own crops, generates his own power and draws fresh water from his own deep aquifer.
But when a nearby town's water supply dwindles in the searing Arizona heat, Dale's peaceful existence is threatened. The new mayor and sheriff want what he has and they're willing to do whatever it takes to get it.
With a crooked local government conspiring against him, Dale will need to stand in defiance or risk losing everything.
ale Hardy nudged the second-story window open with the barrel of his Mossberg 590 shotgun and swiveled it toward the three men already illuminated by the motion-sensor light. One of them had a crowbar in his hands, the other two carried pistols, and it was clear they intended to break into his well pumphouse, a small locked shed which gave access to his most precious resource: fresh drinking water. The sound of Duke’s barking from inside the house didn’t seem to frighten them one bit. These guys knew what they were doing.
Dale didn’t rack the shotgun, loaded with double-aught buckshot, to frighten the men, didn’t even holler out a warning—he simply opened fire. The first pull of the trigger released a thundering boom, jerking the shotgun deep into his shoulder. The man with the crowbar fell back as though pushed over by a strong Arizona desert wind. A quick rack and another loud boom caught the second man in the face, his sharp features coming apart in the darkness, his pistol and his body both thudding to the ground at once. The third was wearing a cowboy hat and must have taken a few pellets in the shoulder because he let out a cry and spun on his heels, ready to race off into the night, his own pistol in hand. As he ran, his boots kicked up clouds of dust and dirt, visible from the thin shafts of light emanating from the front porch. Leaning slightly out the window, Dale gave a final rack, took aim, and put one square in his back. The hat flew off the man’s head as he fell face first and lay still.
Soon, the only noise from outside was the squeak of the windmill as the blades spun in endless circles.
“What’s going on?” His daughter Brooke charged into his bedroom, eyes wide with fear. Twenty-one, beautiful with short brown hair and soft, tanned skin, she was the spitting image of her mother, Julia. Even after five years, every time he saw her, it served as a stinging reminder of what he’d lost.
“More trespassers,” Dale said in a low, matter-of-fact tone. He might as well have been describing a rat trap that had gone off under the kitchen sink.
“Are they dead?”
Dale no sooner nodded than his nephew Colton ran in, clad in little more than a pair of boxer shorts. He and Brooke were the same age, cousins on Dale’s side of the family. Colton had come to live with them after the flu—or H3N3, as the scientists on TV called it—had carried his mother off.
Colton was about to ask a question when Dale threw a hand up to stop him. “You hear that?” he asked them.
They shook their heads, both clearly still in shock.
Dale craned his head out the window and saw the two dead men near the pumphouse. But in the patch of dusty driveway where the third man had fallen, all that remained was a cowboy hat and a wide streak of blood.
“Get on the radio and get a hold of Sheriff Wilcox,” he instructed Brooke, loading a handful of shells into the Mossberg. He moved past them and down the stairs.
“What about me?” Colton asked, his hands cupping his elbows in the early-morning chill.
“You, get some clothes on.”
ale slid on a white medical mask and leveled the shotgun as he exited the house. It was a wooden ranch-style home with a covered, wraparound porch, one he’d built more than ten years ago with Julia’s diligent help.
The sound of moaning grew louder as Dale reached the point where the porch met the driveway. Keeping the weapon leveled with one hand, he reached in his back pocket and fished out a small LED flashlight. Flicking it on, he found the blood trail and followed as it swung toward a heavy patch of sagebrush. Poking out from the bushes were a pair of legs, clad in jeans and cowboy boots.
Brooke appeared behind him. “The sheriff’s on his way.”
He waved a hand at her. “Stay inside until I tell you it’s safe to come out.”
She glanced over his shoulder at the protruding legs and covered her mouth.
“It isn’t safe yet, honey, now go.”
Turning, she jogged back into the house and closed the door.
Dale returned his attention to the wounded man. Apart from firing at paper targets in his backyard, he’d never received any tactical training and determined the best idea was to approach the man from the side. That way if he was armed, Dale wouldn’t be directly in his line of fire. He also decided to turn off the flashlight, as the faint glow from the motion-sensor lights provided enough illumination.
“Throw your weapon out past your feet,” he told the man.
The reply that came was muffled and hard to understand. It sounded as though one of the man’s lungs was punctured. More than that, it sounded as though the man was speaking Spanish.
“I’m gonna ask you one more time, are you armed?” Dale shouted as he approached carefully.
“Yes,” came the weak reply. He tossed the pistol passed his feet.
In three quick strides, Dale covered the distance and kicked the gun away. Reaching down, he grabbed hold of the man’s pant leg and yanked him out from the bush.
The man was Spanish all right and no older than Brooke or Colton. In addition to the wound in his back, Dale saw blood on his right bicep. Must have been the winging he’d received when Dale had taken out his friend.
“What gives you the right to come onto my property and take my water?” Dale yelled, feeling suddenly jarred by a rush of anger, not only for the men’s transgressions, but also for what they’d forced him to do. They hadn’t been the first to sneak onto his property in the days and weeks since the power company had gone offline. Most folks in the nearby town of Encendido had never made the connection that power not only helped pump water into their homes, but also kept it safe to drink. Now, four weeks into a pandemic that had effectively overwhelmed and in most cases crippled the country’s existing infrastructure, these kinds of invasions were occurring with more and more frequency. Dale had chased the first few away with warning shots, but as the situation had become more desperate, so too had the poachers. It hadn’t been long before warning shots were no longer enough.
Dale’s eyes focused on the man before him who was flat on his back. His hands were clamped together and he was begging in a language Dale didn’t completely understand. But language barrier aside, the meaning was clear enough. The man was about to meet his maker, that much was already decided. What remained to be seen was whether or not his trip would be expedited by a mercy shot from the end of Dale’s shotgun.
Sheriff Joe Wilcox’s cruiser swung into the drive just then, its red and blue lights making the area around look like a dance party was afoot. Dale held a hand up to shield his eyes from the car’s blinding headlights. Joe Wilcox had been Encendido’s sheriff for as long as Dale could remember. He recalled heading into town with his father as a young boy and Joe, a deputy then, would smile, pinch one of Dale’s cheeks and fish a lollipop out of his breast pocket. Given Joe’s way with people, it was no surprise that after old Bill Johnson retired, Joe had been elected to replace him.
Joe got out of the car wearing a mask and Dale called out to him right away. “I caught him right between the shoulder blades after he and his friends tried to break into my pumphouse. He’s wounded real bad, Joe. Don’t think he’s gonna make―” He glanced down and saw the now dead Mexican staring glassy-eyed up at the stars, his hands still clamped together in prayer.
When Dale glanced back toward the sheriff a second thought came to him. Whoever he was, the man approaching wasn’t Joe Wilcox, nor was it his deputy, Tim Diaz.
“So you shot a man in the back,” the figure said. “Why am I not surprised to hear that?”
“There shouldn’t be any mystery to it, Sheriff,” Dale replied, still unsure who he was speaking with. The voice was eerily familiar and yet hidden as it was behind a surgical mask, he couldn’t quite place where he’d heard it before. “Given the state of recent affairs, if a man sets foot on my land, he better have a damn good reason.” At Dale’s feet, the young Mexican was frozen in death, looking like a religious statue.
The man in Joe Wilcox’s uniform lowered his mask and removed his hat.
“Randy Gaines,” Dale said with surprise, the name rolling off his tongue like a bite from a bad apple. “This some kind of joke? Where’s Joe, Tim or Sandy?”
Sandy Hartman was another of the town’s deputies.
A look which might have passed for sadness clouded Randy’s features.
“I’m sorry to say they couldn’t be here, Dale. Joe and Tim both took ill and died three days ago. I got sworn in yesterday.” Randy brushed the edge of Joe’s name still stitched into the breast of his shirt. “I’m aiming to have them fix this as soon as possible, but you can imagine we’re more than a little short on manpower.”
Dale’s free hand went to his forehead, grief surging through him. Those two brave men had made it through the deadliest days of the infection, never giving up on their duties. He’d been certain they’d be around once all of this was over. “What about Sandy?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t ask about her first.”
Dale felt his teeth clench. “Cut the bull. Is she all right?”
“She’s fine, but she works for me now, Dale. Whatever was between you two in the past is over and done with. I can’t have her distracted from her duties, not at a time like this.”
“There’s nothing between us,” Dale said quickly, maybe too quickly. “Least not the way you tried to portray it.”
Brooke and Colton exited the house then and made their way down to the cruiser. Dale caught the way Randy was staring at them and didn’t like it one bit. “Let’s not beat around the bush, Randy. You and me, we have a history and most of it isn’t very good. All I’m after is to keep my family safe. I’m hoping we can finally get along.” Dale held out his hand, but Randy didn’t take it.