Page 4 of Warzone (The End 3)

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He got up and checked his watch. It was past five, which meant that it was time to hunt. Once the sun appeared in the sky, all his favorite kinds of animals to catch would be gone to their hiding places. Asides that, he needed to prepare for work once it was dawn. There was no time. He sold barbequed meat in a small stand. His customers didn’t know he got his meat from the woods. And it was better that way. People were appalled when they realized they were eating Bush rats.

He was a long way from home

because he was running for his life. And the funny part was that he didn’t know why he was being chased.

His life had been full of ups and downs, as was the life of any other person that lived on Earth. He had stayed in Ohio for most of his life. Growing up, he had a simple view of life: if everyone did good to every other person and the strong defended the weak, the world would be a better place. Since he'd been little, he'd been a deep thinker and had opinions about almost everything. He’d lived with that mindset till he got to High school. There, he’d been bullied most of the time since he hadn’t been strong enough to defend himself. Obviously, it was a world where everyone was alone. That had led him to the decision to join the Air Force in Ohio. He had prepared himself for it, joining the U.S. Air Force academy and getting trained. Luckily for him, upon graduation in 2015, he had been posted to the base at his native state of Ohio as a Second Lieutenant. With extra hard work, he had progressed to become a Captain. Those were the Up-days. Everything had gone perfectly. Then one day, early in March the same year, for no reason, he had been given a test that had nothing to do with his specialty, and upon failing it, he had received a dismissal letter from the military. They had said that he had been 'mentally unfit to carry out the office's duties.

It was against the contract he had signed. In fact, it was absurd for it to be done in the military. He had spoken with his commander about it, but his commander had told him that the instruction had come from the top and, therefore, couldn’t be countered.

He had returned home to his family in shame. His family consisted of his parents, paternal grandmother, kid brother, who had always looked up to him, and his ever-loyal German Shepherd dog, Tanner. Somehow, the news had spread fast that he had been rejected by the air force. He was content, though, to be with his family and to work as a mechanic at the automobile shop in his town.

Then the unthinkable happened: in May that year, some people had tried to kill him.

He could still recall the events of that day. He had just come back from work that evening. His grandmother had been sitting on the patio. His mother had been inside preparing dinner while his brother had been doing his homework. His father, who worked in the bank, wasn't back from work yet. He usually spent the evenings with his friends at a bar before returning home. That evening, Stephen had just been about to enter the house when a black car had driven by. Tanner, who had been trained by Stephen like a military dog, had begun to bark fiercely. Gunmen in black had suddenly gotten out of the car and shot at him.

Flinging the door wide open, he had ducked and dived into the house for cover. Unfortunately, his grandmother hadn’t been as athletic as he was. Being without cover, she received two bullets, one to her shoulder and another to her abdomen. The gunmen got back into the car and drove off. Hurrying out, Stephen tried to read the car's number plate, but the car didn't even have one. That was when he saw his grandmother on the floor, whimpering in pain. Tanner was by her, barking- the loyal dog he was. Being frail in health a long time before the incident, his grandmother hadn’t lasted up to five minutes after the gunshot.

Not knowing why anyone would want to kill him, he took the attempt as a misdirection of fire on the part of his assailants. There was no means to track down the gunmen; still, he reported the incident to the police. Funny enough, whenever he looked into the eyes of his family members, he could see suspicion. They suspected he had done something to warrant the attack. They felt that his crime had been the reason he had been kicked out of the military in the first place. He didn’t bother trying to defend himself. Who would believe him? They had a good conspiracy going. And it made complete sense: he had done something in the military that warranted his death. There were just two problems: he couldn't think of any offense he had committed that was as grievous enough as to warrant his death. And even if he had done something, the military didn’t have to send him off on false claims to exact retribution. The military could use the constitution to handle it in a shorter time.

Despite the pleas of his mother, he had returned to work the next day. Then another attempt was made on his life. He had been at work when a man wearing a jacket drove in, claiming that his tire was flat and needed pumping. The moment the man stepped down from the car, Stephen had noticed the bulge at the side of the man's pants. Because of his years of training in the military, he knew it was a gun, and so he became alert. Just as Stephen had bent down to check the car, the man moved to pull out the gun. Swiftly, as the man was about to pull the trigger on him, Stephen kicked his hand away. The bullet lodged itself in another mechanic's arm while the gun flew out of the assailant's hand. The man had pulled his belt out and ran towards Stephen. Dodging Stephen punches, he stepped behind Stephen and curled his belt around Stephen's neck. Struggling for breath, Stephen bent to the ground.

The man, struggling to maintain control, bent down with him. Stephen had come to sit on the ground. From the corner of his eye, he could see his toolbox. He reached for it. The man on top of him was struggling so hard to snuff Stephen out that he didn’t notice Stephen’s hand pick up a wrench from the toolbox. Stephen had whipped the man’s head with it hard enough so that the sound of a crack had emanated from the man’s skull. The man had fallen to the ground, unconscious. Suspecting that there were more people who wanted him dead around, he had decided to leave everything behind and run back home. On his way, he realized that they knew his home and could still find him there.

It was at that point that Stephen knew his life was in danger and that, as long as he stayed with his family, their lives would be in danger too. On getting home, he had picked up everything he would need: his bank card, his pistol, a few clothes, and his small Air Force survival kit containing a map of the U.S., a compass, a pair of binoculars, a walkie talkie, an insulated bottle, and a firelighter. Stuffing them all in a backpack, he walked out of the house. Only his dog had been at home then, so he had taken Tanner with him. It saddened him that he wasn’t going to be at his grandmother’s burial. Before leaving Akron, he had emptied his bank account and broken his SIM card after writing out important phone numbers in his journal. With Tanner, he had moved from Akron to Mansfield in Ohio. Once, he had made the mistake of calling home to tell them where he was, and he had been attacked again. Since then, he had cut off all connections with his family and moved to Columbus, where he had settled down. At least he was at rest there. No one knew who he was. No one would find him.

15th November, 2021

11:30 am

Columbus, Ohio. USA.

Marcus and Adelaide drove through Italian Village, looking carefully at the street as they passed. Their target was a huge red-haired man who sold barbecue at a small kiosk. The picture they had seen, the things they had read about him, and the things they had experienced with him told them it wasn’t going to be an easy task. One of their colleagues had died at his hands.

After the general meeting in Washington, D.C., they had moved along with some other agents back to Ohio for the purpose of reaping children and young ladies. For everyone else, that was the last operation before they returned to their lives in Russia. However, for them, there was a pending task to complete before they could leave the United States. For several months they had been trying to track Stephen Wallace, but the guy was smart and had gotten himself off the radar: no bank card activity, no online purchase, no phone call from his number, nothing. According to the bosses, he had some intelligence he wasn’t supposed to have and, therefore, had to die. It had been made clear to them that they wouldn’t be returning unless they brought proof of his death. Luckily for them, Adelaide had spotted him the previous day, shortly after they had settled in the neighborhood. She had been unprepared then, so she had returned with Marcus the next day.

“Marcus, this bomb could blow up any time now," Adelaide said as she furled her fingers around the gun she held under her jacket. It was locked in safety mode, so she wasn't afraid. "I don't understand why you'll insist that we take a car when you know that it will affect even cars."

“Relax, Adelaide. The bomb will blow up soon, but it won’t be now. We need to take out this guy quickly, so we don’t miss out on all the fun of hunting. Besides, a car ensures that no one sees our faces. The faster we get this done, the better for us. If we must face this guy off in a fight, we’d compound issues for ourselves,” Marcus said, focusing on the road. They took a turn that led into the street where their target worked.

As they got closer to the address, Adelaide got her gun ready for action. She had only one shot and she didn’t want to miss it. Marcus indicated a right turn and began to slow down to enable Adelaide to have a clean shot.

Adelaide spotted the man through her sunshades, turning a chunk of meat over on the grill. She raised her gun and aimed at him. Her finger curled around the trigger and she pressed it.

Suddenly the car engine went off with the car still in motion and they bumped into another car. Her bullet went astray and hit a wall.

Adelaide turned to Marcus. “What happened?” she shouted at him.

Marcus was going to answer but his eyes got fixed on the rearview mirror and his mouth hung open. He couldn’t speak.

From behind, another car moving with speed bumped into them, throwing them forward against the dashboard. They blanked out.

Stephen heard the gunshot and saw where the bullet struck a wall. He realized that the bullet had been meant for him. He was going to run but another thing made him stop and watch. As far as his eyes could see, cars skidded to a stop, crashing into other cars and structures. It was weird. Every electric sign went off. He looked at his digital wristwatch. It had stopped working too.

Something was wrong. Quickly, he pulled out his bunch of keys and went to the post where Tanner was chained. Releasing his partner, he called out, running,

“Come on, boy. Follow me!”

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