Dear Friends, I hope you’ve been enjoying The Steadfast Series: America’s Last Days. Steadfast Book Four was recently released! While writing Book 4, it was a real task to dig deep and challenge us all to offer others what we’ve received from God: grace and forgiveness.
This is a free short story from within The Steadfast Series timeline, “Sudden Accomplice” – a Steadfast Short Story. If you’ve read the Steadfast Novellas, you’ll immediately recognize some of the characters here. It’s my prayer that the fuller truths embedded in these stories will be recognized as principles from the Bible. In these last days in America, let’s remain steadfast examples of Christ when we relate to others. See you on the next page!—David Telbat
by D.I. Telbat
Red Fisher used binoculars to scope the Sharrock Mountains to the west. After the war zones he’d passed through in the east, Wyoming looked inviting since it was green and seemed secluded. The ruggedness was nothing like what he’d known in the Appalachians. Though he wasn’t geared-up for forest survival, he only had to find someone who was. Red was an expert at taking what wasn’t his.
“We’ve just got to get through the winter, Bonnie,” he said to his Blue Tick hound. She had long legs and a sleek body—perfect for outrunning the wolves and wild dogs of the plains. “The snow will be deep, girl. You sure you want to stick with me?”
As if in response, Bonnie yawned and licked her jaws.
“Really? No, I don’t think you stay with me because I feed you well.” Red picked up his walking stick and started forward again. “If we get through the winter, we might reach California next year. There’ll be plenty of people there. Where there’s people, there’s food for the taking.”
For six years, Red had been moving west, doing his best to avoid cities and armies, but not small settlements. Anyone he could steal from made his life easier. In this way, his existence after Pan-Day was the same as it had been before Pan-Day—since he’d been a criminal then too.
By mid-afternoon, Red reached a highway bordering a steep mountain blanketed with thick forest. The mountains jutted up sharply from the prairie, but the highway at Red’s feet seemed more inviting. It stretched out of sight to the south as far as he could see, and to the northwest, the cracked pavement curved around the mountain. Which way should he go?
From his waistband, Red tugged a worn-out map and unfolded it. Bonnie whined and lowered her head at the looming mountain peaks.
“Don’t be a chicken.” Red scoffed at the hound, though he quickly forgave her. He didn’t really expect the dog he’d rescued as a puppy from a Kentucky alley to have the heart of a lion. “Just be my nose and ears, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Red frowned at the weathered map, which he’d stolen from a Nebraskan trader the year before. He’d never heard of half these towns, being born and raised in the east. Weighmouth, Rosenkern, Mastover, Adderthorn? Adderthorn was to the northwest, maybe just a couple of miles.
“We didn’t get this far by wandering into strange towns, right? And south, there’s nothing for miles.”
Bonnie whimpered in response, and Red shaded his eyes from the setting sun to see the top of the mountain above them. All he wanted to do was get to sunny California and live like a king. His whole life, he’d heard how California was the breadbasket of the nation. Pan-Day couldn’t have changed all of that. He was tired of starving.
Instead of walking up the highway in either direction, Red crossed the ditch and headed into the woods. The mountain was steep, but Red was in no hurry. It had taken him six years to get this far. Besides, he’d found that moving slowly, he would most often see other people before they saw him. If they were friendly, he would steal from them when their guard was down. If they weren’t friendly—he had no qualms about running away. Cowards lived longer, he told himself.
That evening, Red made camp beside a deep gorge that held a creek. The walls of the gorge were too steep to climb down to fetch water, but he had enough water in his canteen for now. Over a small fire, he heated the last of their canned food and split a biscuit with Bonnie. It was all that remained of the food he’d stolen from a family two days earlier.
The next morning, he followed the gorge on its northern edge for a mile to the west before he veered away to easier ground. Twice that day, he and Bonnie came upon deer. Though he needed the meat, Red didn’t draw the pistol from his hip. He was no hunter or marksman. That was why he didn’t carry a rifle. His gun was for protection only. After he stole from people, he needed to protect himself from them.
Toward the end of the day, he was cresting a wooded ridge when Bonnie’s ears perked up and her tail stopped wagging. Red unclipped his gun holster and crouched behind a log.
“What is it, girl?” he whispered.
But true to Bonnie’s nature, she whined fearfully and moved behind her master.
“Fine, you chicken.” Red sighed. “You did your job. Now, I’ll do mine.”
He crawled forward, through the bushes, hoping to find the campsite of a family hiding in the wilderness. Maybe they had a pack of canned beef or fruit cocktail! It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d picked clean the gear of Pan-Day survivors while holding them at gunpoint.
But through the bushes and over the ridge, Red discovered a small canyon below filled with activity. Seven log cabins sat on the bank of a winding river. Men carrying axes walked out of camp to the south. Others with rifles approached from the west, one holding what looked like a coyote pelt. Children threw rocks in the river, and a black dog barked as a youth pulled in a fish flopping on the end of a line.
Bonnie pushed up next to Red’s elbow at the sound of the dog’s bark.
“We’re better off avoiding this lot, girl.” He frowned at the few who had hunting rifles. “They look like they’re a little tougher than the people we’re used to relieving of their property.”
Red was about to retreat into the foliage when he noticed a camper butchering a fresh deer on a block of wood. As the man cut steaks, two women seasoned and draped them over wooden racks to smoke-dry over a fire.
Bonnie licked her jaws.
“Exactly my sentiments,” Red said. “But we’ll have to wait until dark to take what we want.”
Red pulled back into the trees and worked his way off the north side of the ridge. He waded across the river upstream from the settlement, carrying Bonnie through the cold water since she wasn’t fond of the chill. Though she was an unlikely companion for a thief, Red saw much of himself in the little hound. Because of her cowardice, he’d never had to tie her or shush her when he was on the prowl. She either hid or joined him as he’d elbow-crawled up to snatch a camper’s meat.
But stealing food from an armed settlement? It went against all the cowardice in their bodies. However, hunger had a way of making even Red more courageous than he wished he were.
While it was still daylight, Red prowled behind the settlement’s seven cabins then waited on his belly in the bushes with Bonnie. His handgun was in his hand, ready to fire a warning at anyone who walked up on him. In the fading light, he studied his approach into the settlement, and up to the racks of drying meat.
Before he finalized his plan, the bushes behind them rustled. Red glared critically at Bonnie for not warning him of some creature behind them. But, as always, he forgave her. She’d been as focused on the mission in front of them as he was.
Without rising, Red twisted around and aimed his gun at the bushes. He expected one of the settlement’s mischievous dogs, or a wayward porcupine. But instead, a bearded man’s head appeared! Red was so shocked to see a man seven feet away that he didn’t pull the trigger or speak, and Bonnie seemed no less confused by the intruder interrupting their quest for a meal.
The bearded man held up a finger to his lips. Red frowned and lowered his gun. Much to his consternation, the stranger crawled with determined stealth right up next to him, and surveyed the settlement from their hidden vantage point.
Bonnie looked at Red, and Red looked at her, neither knowing exactly what to do about their sudden accomplice.
“What do you think?” The bearded man narrowed his eyes at the settlement, his gaze measuring the angles. “These people won’t miss what we take, huh?”
“Excuse me?” Red preferred his thieving ways to be a secret—strictly between him and Bonnie. “I work alone!”
“Sorry. The name’s Eric Radner.” The man shoved his hand at Red so abruptly, Red could do nothing but shake his hand. “I was out in the woods, saw you sneaking up on this place. Figured four hands are better than two, right? We going after their meat?”
Red growled under his breath, realizing there was no easy way to dismiss the stranger, not without drawing attention from the settlement. He and Bonnie would have to tolerate him for now, if they wanted to eat that night.
“Yeah. They have enough to share.” Red lowered his head. “Just keep your voice down. This only works if they discover we were here long after we’re gone.”
“Hey, I’m as hungry as you are,” Eric said. “You guys come far?”
“Wow. That’s some trek. You always make ends meet like this? By stealing?”
“More or less.” Red shrugged one shoulder. “Can’t trust people enough to do anything else but steal from them.”
“How much are you taking? I mean, how much do you need? How far are you going?”
“What is this—an interview or a robbery?”
“I’m just saying,” Eric pointed at the settlement, “if you don’t need too much, maybe we could just ask them for some food. Maybe they have extra.”
“That kind of defeats the purpose of hiding in the bushes, doesn’t it?” Red scoffed. “Look at you. Why didn’t you ask them? Then you wouldn’t be hiding here with us, risking our lives with dumb questions!”
“They look nice enough.” Eric glanced up at the sky. “It’s almost dark. It’d be a shame to approach them in the dark and get shot at. They have rifles, I see.”
“They’re just for hunting. I think.” Red put his arm around Bonnie to comfort her as she trembled. “I don’t see any assault rifles. They’re hiding out here like everyone else is doing these days.”
A few minutes of silence passed, both men studying the route to the meat racks.
“It’d sure be a waste if we stole what we could just have if we talked to them.” Eric clucked his tongue. “I’ll talk to them if you will. We can go together.”
“I’m not talking to them!” Red lowered his voice. “I’m here to steal some meat! As much as I can carry!”
“Yeah, but why steal what could be a gift? What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Well, they could ask questions.”
“Why, you have a past?”
“Yeah, and I don’t like nosy people.”
“We all have pasts. Maybe these people know that and they’ll just accept us.”
“It’s my experience that people judge first,” Red said, “and ask questions to find out your real faults second. Bonnie and I are too smart for that.”
“Well, you don’t mind if I go ask them, do you?”
“Are you dense?” Red gritted his teeth. “We can sneak in and take the meat in a couple hours. We never even need to speak to them!”
“But, aren’t you hungry now?” Eric nodded at Bonnie. “Your dog sure looks hungry now. Listen, you stay here. I’ll ask them if we can have some food. If it’s safe, I’ll signal you.”
The bearded man moved ahead on all fours, then stood upright.
“No! Wait!” Red aimed his handgun at Eric’s back, but decided against shooting the man. Of all the luck—a perfectly good caper was being spoiled by a stranger who was so simple-minded, he was about to ask for food instead of stealing it! Didn’t he know that no one shared food anymore? Since Pan-Day, stealing and hoarding was the only path to survival.
Red watched as Eric walked calmly between two of the cabins and nearly bumped into a redheaded woman. Her arms were full with a bundle of deer skins. To Red’s amazement, Eric spoke to the woman Red figured was in her late thirties, perhaps explaining his plight and requesting some meat. But when Eric pointed out at the woods in Red’s direction, Red hid his face against the forest floor, not caring that pine needles were poking him in the forehead.
“The fool!” Red hissed to Bonnie, who continued to tremble under his arm. “He just gave us away. This is why we never work with partners, girl. They have no sense for the way the world is now. I’d be surprised if we live out the night.”
“Hey! Hey, buddy!” It was Eric, yelling at Red in the woods. “They say it’s okay. Come on in and get some food. There’s even bunk space for the night! You hear me?”
Red didn’t move. He’d been so careful to avoid making contact with people. It was harder to steal from folks when he knew their names. And he definitely didn’t like people knowing about his past.
Bonnie whined. She was hungry.
“I hear you, girl.” Red closed his eyes. “Well, we do need somewhere to spend the winter. It’s been a hard few months.”
Red slid his handgun into its holster and climbed slowly to his feet. To his humiliation, about ten people, settlers of all ages, stood with Eric, and watched him emerge from the bushes. He couldn’t remember ever being caught so red-handed, prowling up on potential victims. He was exposed.
“They’re fixing some stew right now,” Eric said as Red reached the gathering crowd.
“And we have extra,” the redheaded woman said. She reached out and took Red’s arm. “Come on, now. You look like you’ve been on the road awhile. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“You know, they call me Red,” he said as she marched him away to a wash basin of steaming water. It had been a long time since he’d visited with anyone but Bonnie. “So, you understand, I’m partial to pretty redheads.”
“If that’s a pickup line, Red,” the woman said, handing him a bar of soap, “you’re several months too late. I’m spoken for. Eric’s my fiance. The one you met in the woods.”
“Eric?” Red accepted the soap and glared back at the bearded man. “You mean he’s from around here?”
He shut his mouth. A boy of about six years old ran into Eric’s arms and Eric threw the boy over his shoulder like a backpack, while tickling the youth. The black Lab Red had seen from the ridge had already stolen Bonnie’s attention. Red clearly understood he’d been had.
“Don’t feel sore,” the woman said. “You’re not the first one Eric’s lured into having dinner at his campfire. It’s for a good reason, though, right?”
“What’s a good reason? I told him I try to avoid people!”
“Most of us here in River Camp have witnessed God do miracles inside us, changing our whole perspectives, even though our circumstances remain the same. Jesus Christ lives inside us, teaching us how to live for Him. Doesn’t that sound like a good enough reason to mingle with some friendly people?”
“You mean, Eric was pretending to be a thief like me, and it was all to get me in here to talk to me about God?”
“Are you hungry or not? Take off your gun and wash up.”
Red dipped his hands in the water and splashed it on his face. He’d always thought he was so crafty, and everyone else was the fool. But he’d been taken captive by a forest settlement who offered him soap, food, and a bed, even though they knew he’d intended them harm.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to stay in River Camp and find out about their God. After all, Bonnie certainly seemed at home already.
The End of “Sudden Accomplice.”
Prayer Prompt: This time, we ask for prayer for the country of Tibet. Back to Jerusalem is a ministry that partners with the Chinese Church, and whose goal is to evangelize the unreached peoples from eastern provinces of China, westwards towards Jerusalem. The BTJ website states, “Tibet is still home to one of the poorest groups of people in all of Asia. Most Tibetans have still never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel, and only portions of the Bible are available in their language. Back to Jerusalem is currently supporting 210 evangelists in Tibet and they need the prayers of fellow believers around the world.”
Back to Jerusalem has created a 30 Day Prayer Guide for Tibet. Click the link to read more about this mission and for a link to download their free Prayer Guide.
COMING UP: Join us next Wednesday for the bimonthly October 2017 Latest D.I. Telbat Novel News from Dee. Next Monday, join us for David’s post for the Nov 5th International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the persecuted in, “How to Pray for the Persecuted Church.”