The Remaining Refugees Online - D. J. Molles


The two men worked quietly.

In the cold morning light, diffused through a thin veil of clouds, their breath came out of them in bone-white plumes. Thick beards covered both their faces. The shorter, balding man crouched over a single-burner camp stove and attached the small green propane tank. As the shorter man worked, the taller man held his tan-coated M4 rifle at a low ready and scanned the derelict streets around them.

The concrete surrounding them sparkled with a thin sheen of frost. Squat buildings stared down over them like empty and plundered tombs. Their windows were either boarded up with graying plywood, or smashed through, leaving only jagged glass teeth protruding from the window frames. Directly behind where the two men worked stood a two-story brick building, and as the tall man scanned, he could see dark figures atop the roof, silhouetted against the sky. The figures peered over the side and watched intensely.

The two men worked in the center of a four lane street. Along the edges, trash had gathered at the base of the buildings and the gutters, where wind and rain had swept them. All of it was old and sun-bleached and melded into anonymous heaps. From these mounds of trash, hastily disguised, small green rectangles poked up. Wires ran off of them and trailed up the side of the building to where they dangled from the rooftop.

A lighter clicked.

Lee looked down to see Harper setting the lighter’s tiny butane flame to the gas grill and slowly turning the propane on. There was a shallow hiss, and then blue flames jumped up from the burner, sending up a wave of heat that felt pleasant on Lee's face. Harper adjusted the flames so they quivered low and then set a grungy looking aluminum pan atop the grill.

"Your turn," Harper stood, his knees popping.

Lee took one last look at his surroundings and bent to the ground where he had laid a small canvas satchel. He opened the top and retrieved the only item it contained: a gallon bag full of deer guts, the pale coils of intestines steeping in a marinade of blackening blood. His nose wrinkled as he bent over the grill and dumped the bag into the heating pan. The air smelled immediately of a stagnant slaughter house.

Harper growled low in his throat and shook his head. "Disgusting."

Lee nodded in agreement and gingerly zipped the plastic bag closed, stuffing it back into the canvas satchel. Letting his rifle rest on its sling, Lee pointed for the building where all the thin black wires trailed up to the roof. "Let's go."

Harper snatched his own M4 off the ground and they headed for the open door at the base of the building. Lee matched his pace, just barely showing the limp in his left leg. The ankle had never healed properly from his fall down the elevator shaft three months ago. His back hadn't been the same either, and it had become quite a process to get mobile in the morning.

They picked their way through the ransacked interior of the building—an old mom-and-pop pharmacy. The shelves had been tipped over, everything emptied and looted. Refugees and scavengers had taken what they needed, leaving behind the pill bottles and packages. At the back of the pharmacy, where a sign that read "Cold Remedies" hung over empty white shelves, a door opened into a stairwell that led up to the second level, and from there to the roof. The door was in splinters from when Lee kicked it in earlier that night. The place still smelled of death. They had not moved the bodies of the pharmacist and his wife. They remained huddled in the dark corner of this shit-stained storage area.

The only light in this upstairs area came from an open skylight with a pull-down ladder to provide roof access, and from the three glow sticks lying on the dark floor like a strewn out constellation leading to the ladder and creating an eerie green glow across the floor.

Harper went up first and Lee followed.

On the roof, he found the other eight members of his team with their backs against the brick abutment of the roof and their rifles lying across their laps. Seven men and Julia, Marie's sister from Smithfield. She had insisted on being a part of the team and working as their medic. After she had explained her background as an EMT, Lee welcomed her to the team.

He crossed the tar-paper roof and sidled down between