Here’s an excerpt from R.A. Mathis’ excelent SHTF novel, Homeland: Falling Down. – Hank
After what seemed like a hundred miles, they finally reached the hospital. The ground outside was littered with patients. Doctors and nurses rushed from one victim to the other, trying to conduct triage as best they could. Walking wounded crowded the emergency entrance, blocking the door. Cole had seen this before in Syrian refugee camps. Whether the staff knew it or not, that’s what this place was turning into. He couldn’t believe this was the same city he visited two nights before.
Lieutenant Young ordered the vehicles to form a perimeter around the entrance to clear the way for medical personnel. The crowd wasn’t happy about it, but relented. Young went in to find the administrator. Cole helped his passenger from the Humvee “You’re safe now.”
The woman sobbed. “They just pulled me from my car. I don’t know why. They tried to rape me. I was trying to get to my son’s school. He’s in the first grade. I never should have let him go this morning.”
“Some of our guys are going to schools. Tell Private Hicks which one your son goes to and we’ll try to get you to him.” He gave her an MRE and a bottle of water, wishing he could do more.
Cole noticed a nurse kneeling over an old man who was lying in the grass. Her blonde hair was pulled into a neat pony tail that fell gracefully over her shoulder as she treated a gash on the man’s forehead.
Cole grabbed a first aid pack from the back of his Humvee and walked over to her. He squatted next to the pretty nurse and handed her the sterile bandage. “This will help.”
“Thanks.” She examined the man’s head and asked Cole, “You have any water?”
“One sec.” Cole ran to his vehicle and brought back some bottled waters.
“Thanks again.” The nurse opened a bottle and washed out her patient’s wound, applied a spray-on antiseptic, and bound it with the dressing Cole gave her.
The old man took her hand. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She gave him another water. “Drink this. You’ll be fine. Just rest a while and call if you need me.”
“You’re an angel,” the old man said.
The man took the words right out of Cole’s mouth as he watched her brush a lock of hair from her deep blue eyes.
She held a hand out to Cole. “I’m Amber.”
He took it, hypnotized by the young nurse’s striking gaze. “I’m…Cole.” He regained his senses and looked at the multitude waiting for care. “You’ve got your hands full.”
“It’s getting worse every hour. We’re already low on bandages and antibiotics. I don’t know how long we can keep this up.”
“I’m here to help.”
“Be careful what you offer. I’ll put you to work.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Someone yelled, “Help! Somebody help! Please! My little girl!”
Cole saw a man carrying his daughter. She was pale and limp, her limbs dangling as he staggered through the crowd. Both were covered in blood.
Cole ran to them and took the child into his arms as Amber asked, “What happened to her?”
The father responded, “Car accident. Truck came out of nowhere.”
Cole sprinted to the ER, holding the girl tightly. A doctor blocked him and said, “You can’t take her in there. We don’t have any more room.”
Sergeant Crowe walked up and grabbed the doctor by the collar. “Make room.”
The doctor wilted under the sergeant’s cold stare and iron grip. “I’ll squeeze her in someplace. Follow me.”
Crowe took the child from Cole. Her eyes opened slightly and looked up at the crotchety sergeant. He said, “I gotcha, sweetheart. You’re gonna be okay.” He snapped at the doctor. “What the hell are you waitin’ for?”
The doctor trotted into the hospital with Crowe and the girl close on his heels.
Amber was true to her word. She worked Cole and his men relentlessly. He lost count of how many people they treated as the hours passed. For every one they helped, three more arrived in need of aid. By dusk, almost every inch of ground around the hospital was covered with wounded waiting for help.
Streetlights came to life as Amber went back to the E.R. for more supplies, but returned empty handed. Her warm breath puffed in the chilled night air as she told Cole, “They’re out of everything. Do you have any more supplies?”
“No. What little we had ran out hours ago.” He surveyed the mass of humanity sprawled across the grounds. “The temperature is dropping fast. If we don’t figure something out, most of these people will freeze to death by morning.”
Crowe grabbed an MRE and a bottled water from his vehicle and yelled, “Hicks!”
“Take these to the little girl we brought in a few hours ago then report back to me with her status.”
“How do I find her, Sergeant?”
“Just tell ‘em she’s the one I brought in. They’ll know who you’re talkin’ about. Her name is Becky. Tell her Sarge says hi.”
“Will do, Sergeant.” Hicks sprinted into the hospital.
Cole jested, “I always thought you had a heart in there somewhere.”
Crowe saw Cole staring at him with a grin. “What the hell are you smilin’ at?”
Cole tried to straighten his face. “Nothing, Sergeant.”
“Then wipe off that shit eatin’ grin.”
Smoke from the smoldering city burned Cole’s nostrils. The cold night bit at him through his Gor-Tex jacket. He gazed at the poor souls shivering on the hospital grounds, wondering how many would be alive come morning. The chatter and beeps of the Humvee radios filled his ears, making him feel detached from his surroundings. The audio didn’t match the visual.
He looked at the blood smeared across his uniform. A little girl’s blood. American blood. This wasn’t supposed to happen here. This happened in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a hundred other places like them. But not here.
Amber asked, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Cole lied. “I’m good.”
Sergeant Crowe walked up to them and said, “These people are gonna freeze if we don’t do something. Gimme a hand. I got an idea.”
Cole, Amber, and several soldiers from the platoon helped Sergeant Crowe gather empty metal drums from inside the hospital and filled them with anything flammable.
Crowe told them, “We’ll set these on the ground and keep ‘em burnin’ all night. Gather the wounded around them close as you can. Should keep hypothermia from settin’ in. A nice warm burn barrel saved my ass on many a cold night.”
As the men set out the barrels, Crowe said to Cole in a low voice. “It’s time to think tactically. Prepare to defend this position.” He pointed to spots on the edge of the hospital grounds. I want fighting positions dug there, there, and there. You know the drill. Get moving.”
Amber ran up to Cole. “What’s going on?”
“We may have to defend this position.” Cole pointed to the hospital. “This place is full of drugs, food, and a bunch of other things people will need. If they’re desperate enough, they won’t think twice about killing us to get in.”
Amber shudder as gunshots crackled a few streets away.
Cole looked into her frightened eyes. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Private Hicks reported back. “Where’s Sergeant Crowe?”
“He’s over there.”
The soldier ran over to Crowe. “I found Becky.”
“How is she?”
“She didn’t make it, Sergeant. The docs said there was nothing they could do.”
Crowe stared at Hicks, his jaw grinding.
Hicks added, “Her dad said to thank you.”
“You take it from here,” Crow said to Cole, “I’ll check on the L.T……. Ain’t seen him in a while.” The platoon sergeant suddenly seemed old and tired.
Crowe turned and walked back to the hospital, kicking a trashcan over with a curse. Cole saw him wipe his eyes before going in.
The glow of fires in the city silhouetted the buildings nearby, casting ghostly shadows across Cole’s gaunt face as the last rays of sunlight disappeared. He looked at the sick and wounded civilians huddled around the fire barrels. The points of warmth shone brightly in the darkness. It looked as if the stars had fallen to Earth. Cole never believed in astrology, but he could easily read the ominous portents of these flickering terrestrial constellations.
Shouts echoed in the twilight from the edge of the clearing.
“Help!” a woman shouted.
“Hey!” More yelling. A man this time. “Dammit!”
Pop! Pop! Then screams. People running. Stampeding.
“C’mon!” Cole and his men rushed toward the disturbance, weapons at the ready.
A fire barrel went over. Flame danced across the frosty ground.
“Freeze!” Hank shouted as he ran at the front of his troopers.
A thug held a woman by the hair, her body shielding his, a gun to her head.
At their feet lay a well-dressed man bleeding from several bullet wounds to the chest.
“Back off or the bitch gets it!” the gunman yelled.
Sergeant Crowe arrived next to Cole.
“Take it easy,” he said to the gunman. “Put the gun down.”
“You first, soldier boy.”
“I’ll give you anything you want. Just don’t hurt me,” the woman sobbed.
“You can’t win this one. So put it down. Now!” Crowe ordered.
“Please, don’t let him hurt me,” the woman begged.
“Screw you!” The gunman whipped his pistol about and shot the sergeant.
Crowe staggered backward. Cole’s men returned fire as one. The shooter and the sergeant both hit the ground.