The Moldi, as we call them around Savannah, somewhat occupied that area. Atom Bomb Eaters, they called themselves. It was a reference to their resistance to radiation, one can assume. I guess their name somewhat described their most unique trait aside from being very, very ugly. Some folks have said that the Moldi would carry out radioactive metal from inside the nearby bomb crater and place it where they didn't want normal people going. It was their fault so many areas around Fort Stewart and the outskirts of Savannah were still hot.
We talked about the Moldi and we talked about the riches of the lightly guarded holdings at the nearby Army airfield. We'd sit at the Pirate House, drinking lemonade spiked with moonshine or beer that wasn't flat half the time. The local folk band of the night would play a song and we'd all stop our conversation, regroup our thoughts and start planning all over again when their song was finished. This went on for several evenings.
When I say "we", I mean "us" as in the Broadstreet Bastards. We more or less ran Broadstreet and East Bay Street. We controlled the booze, hemp, tobacco and (deleted--street reference to female anatomy) mostly but we dabbled in other things too. Savannah was a happening place because of us and what passed for the local government loved us. We kicked a little their way for work on roads, sewage, communications and such. A long time ago it was called "taxes" but taxes were something you had to pay to a higher power. We were the higher power in our area and everybody knew we didn't have to pay squat. But we did. We loved the place and wanted to make sure it stayed lovely. It was a jewel in a junkyard.
But the problem with “some” is more. You get "some" and you won't "more." Some call it greed, we called it progress.
Security was always the problem. We had fresh water, plenty of food and even plumbing in most areas. But half the people in Savannah at any given time were just passing through. You had pirates to the north, Cubans to the south and a growing population of Moldi to the west. BB had about 50 soldiers, who were nothing but soldiers. The Marsh Men, another crew, had around 75 but not much gear. The Salties were mostly fisher folk but they added around 20 well armed troops to the mix. The local city militia numbered under 100 boots and weren't worth the worn out wool socks our guys threw away. In all, there might have been around 200-250 boots to defend Savannah at any given time. This was a problem for business.
The Moldi would raid us about once a month during the winter months and that would trail off in the summer to start up again around late fall. At first it was 10 or 20 of the diseased mutants would rush in and try to carry off whatever they could. We'd drop one or two and they'd get a couple of us in return. Then they slowly started stepping it up five here and ten there. Pretty soon, we were dealing with 50 or more at a time, often with light military vehicles and remakes (rebuilt civilian cars and trucks). They had .50 cal weapons and hit us with the occasional rocket launcher, no doubt all salvaged from Fort Stewart. Now that they were sending their big stuff into the mix and more troops (cheaper and more available than heavy weaponry), it was obvious that their confidence was building. People were getting scared and some talked about moving.
We came up with all kinds of ideas during our planning sessions. The best one was a doozy. The best looking aircraft at Hunter Army Airfield was one of two CH-47 Chinook helicopters. No, it wouldn't fly but we had people who had worked on them before and was sure it could be made flight-worthy again. We had plenty of guys who claimed to know how to fly it too. We could slowly rebuild it where it sat inside a hanger, then when the time was right, fly it back to Savannah. It wasn't like a jet or a prop-plane that needed a runway. We'd land it right in Forsyth park!
Then we'd make it a bomber of sorts. We'd then burn and blast the Moldi to a scattered gang of ugliness that a small farm work crew could wipe out. With our chopper-bomber, they'd never come back either. Then we could work on cleaning up their radioactive mess and expanding some too.
Work began in the spring. First, a few of us with a couple of mechanics slipped out to the air field. It took two trips but the grease monkies figured out all the parts we needed to get the thing airborne. All we had to do was get it to fly a few miles into the city. No problem.
It came time to make the final move. The crew of tech had sneaked into the airfield for the last time and made their final touches. They radioed in and said that they'd seen a few Moldi poking around the tower that stood near the hangers. I remember the radio being filled with static, often a sign of radiation.
This wasn’t the first time we’d seen a small patrol like that. They were always small and infrequent, apparently never detecting us or noticing our work inside the hanger.
Everything was set. The aircraft was fueled and all it needed was a pilot.
We went in during the early morning hours, just before dawn. Since we weren’t carrying any tools, parts or fuel on this run, we entered at the far end of the airstrip. It was heavily cratered from the war and fast movement was difficult. It was the cautious man’s path though. You could move from one crater to another, sure to have plenty of cover if you took fire. I was carrying my Mossberg MVP in 5.56. It was a bolt action rifle with a fluted barrel but what was special about it was that it took standard NATO 5.56 magazines. I had a small Nikon scope mounted on it which wasn’t the most fancy example of optics but worked well for me. The rifle’s wooden stock had someone’s name carved into it in Chinese. It wasn’t uncommon for the Chinese to use American weapons and it wasn’t that uncommon for us to recover them at some point. The rifle had most likely been snatched from a sporting goods store showcase and carried around by some Chinese soldier or brigand. I’d found it wrapped in an oil cloth in a deserted cabin cruiser that was drifting down the Savannah river one day.
I had carried a single grenade of local manufacture and a road flare. If things went bad, we’d stick the flare into the fuel tank and make a run for it. Once we started that bird up, the Moldi would know exactly what we were doing.
We had no idea after we’d wenched the aircraft out that so much racket was to ensue. The thing is, there is only so much you can do to get one of these birds ready to fly without cranking it up. You’ve don’t want the first time you crank it up to be the first time you try to fly it too.
I was strapped into one of the fold-down passenger seats in the back. The pilot tried the first start, which made a lot of racket and blew thick white smoke everywhere. Cursing and coughing, he tried again. The second time was the same result but with less smoke. Again and on the third try, he got it. The engine began to torque up and soon the blades were spinning. That was when something thumped on the wall opposite from where I was sitting. Then a window shattered. I pulled my pipe gun out of its holster as soon as I was out of my safety belt. I easily kicked the rest of the safety glass window out as another bullet hit the chopper near where the first had struck.
A pair of Moldi was shooting from behind a low brick wall in front of a one story administration building. One had some sort of long gun, maybe homemade and the other had a pistol of some sort. They weren’t doing much damage but at the time, nobody knew what the chopper could take. My pipe gun was a break-open single shot pistol that fired a 20 gauge round. It was made from a small door hinge, a piece of pipe and a crude action but it worked. Up close, it was a murderous bastard but at the range between us and the Moldi, it was a grouchy old man hurling insults. I fired it anyway, at least to let them know that we were shooting at them.
The pilot was a quick thinker. He lifted into the air just a bit and swung the old girl around 45 degrees. This put our aft section and our M60 facing them. BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP! It began taking apart the brick wall the Moldi were hiding behind. Cover became concealment and not even adequate concealment. Brick flew everywhere around a cloud of reddish dust. Magically, our gunner didn’t hit either one of them and they were able to take off running before he fired another short burst after them. Both had gotten away.
This encounter is what I think doomed the whole operation. The pilot and crew were all spooked a little bit and rightfully so. We had to get out of there and fast. The pilot took us up about like being on a rocket powered express elevator. I swear to you all that I heard something metallic snap towards the rear of the chopper. Nobody else seemed to notice as we began to head towards the city.
Suddenly the chopper jerked hard to one side and back again. My head slammed up against the seat so hard that it felt like I’d hit against bare steel instead of cushion. I cursed and before I could ask what was going on, we were spinning out of control. The world was a sickening blur of motion. The pilot was good and fought the craft hard but it wasn’t enough. The hand of almighty himself was all that could help us at that point. I don’t know how high we were or how fast we were going but I remember it crossing my mind that everything would be fine if I just held on, even though strapped in.
I don’t remember the crash. We can all assume that I was knocked out when we hit. The chopper was nearly broken in half and there wasn’t a soul anywhere as I glanced around. I painfully undid the straps and struggled to keep my balance on the tilted deck. My head was killing me. I just wanted to shut my eyes and stay perfectly still. But I couldn’t. There was a horrible itching sensation all over me.
That was when I stepped out of the wreckage and found out where I was. I was just on the edge of “THE” crater. It was a good place to land since it was mostly water and mud with no vegetation. It wasn’t a good place to stick around in though, since the radiation levels were still high. That was why I’d been left behind. I wiped the blood from my nose and mouth and realized that the others must have assumed I was dead when they did an evac. There was a blood trail leading out of the crater and I knew I’d gotten lucky in the middle of an angry mob of bad luck.
The first thing to do was leave. You don’t mess around with radiation, friends. The M60 was still on its mount along with half a belt of ammo. I left it, just grabbing my rifle and praying that the scope wasn’t knocked off zero or broken completely. My grenade and flare were both missing too. I assume the survivors had apparently had time to grab those items on their way out but not make sure I was really dead.
The mud wasn’t as bad a tidal sludge but wasn’t easily navigated through either. Struggling through it zapped all my energy. Before long, I found myself completely out of breath and with my head pounding worse than before, laying in some tall swamp grass. It was safe to assume that the grass wouldn’t have grown where it did if the radiation levels had been dangerously high. The way my head felt, death would have been a release anyway. But just when one might think it couldn’t hurt any worse, it did.
As I got up from my resting, I tried not to cry out in pain. It was so awful that I fell to my knees and puked. Noise discipline was not a great concern anymore. Where were the other guys, I wondered as I re-collected myself.
In the distance, there was a snapping of rifles and the familiar pop of pistols being fired. Trouble. The Moldi must have come to investigate the crash and ran into our guys. Then a firefight was on just to the north east of me. Our guys didn’t stand a chance, I figured. Besides, I wouldn’t have been much help in a fight since it hurt to walk, much less run. The best path to take, I figured, was straight north. West would take me right back into the frying pan.
For as long as I could, I’d walk with my eyes closed. The idea was to just open them long enough to check the path for obstructions. I frequently stopped to rest. After about an hour, my head was feeling better. Not great but it was better enough that movement wasn’t a problem. Sleep was on my mind now. Every few minutes, I’d ask myself, “are you nuts? If you sleep here, you’ll be found and killed! Just another 500 yards and you can lie down.”
This went on for at least a mile or two. Coming across a stream was great luck and a long drink of water made me feel a lot better. Just when I was contemplating walking the rest of the way to Savannah, I noticed a small overturned wooden boat. It looked like it had been there for year, just a few yards from the stream’s bank. After a quick check for snakes sleeping under it, I crawled beneath and passed out. My dreams were replays of the crash, over and over again. Sometimes a detail would be added or omitted, such as landing in a lake of fire or hitting an oak tree to explode.
Something thumped hard on the side of the boat. I woke up and blinked, trying to remember where I was. Again, something landed hard against the old wooden john boat. That was it, I thought. I was caught. I could risk a shot at my captors or do myself a favor and put one through my own head. Decision time was coming fast.
“Come out of there!” a hoarse voice shouted.
I held my breath. Maybe it was just one of them. I could shoot him and make a break for it.
“Get up, you lazy bum!” called the voice again. “Help us with the net! The rain is coming!”
Saved by assumption. The Moldis were working a net in the stream and thought I was a worker sleeping in an apparently popular hiding place.
“Yeah,” I replied back in a rough voice, trying to sound like a Moldi. “Be right there. Got to put some clothes on.”
The voice became a little more aggravated. “What do you need clothes for in the water? Come on before a storm hits.”
Good, I thought. They were working the stream in water deeper than what you needed to roll your pants up to collect a net from. I supposed they were using a barricade net. But there is one thing to know about a Moldi. Don’t think just because the ugly mongrel is barefoot that he won’t chase you. Their hide is tougher and a good portion of them don’t bother with shoes.
As soon as the fisherman walked away cursing at me, I slipped out from under the boat and headed off in the opposite direction. Maybe I’d gone fifty yards when I ran into, literally ran into, a young Moldi about my same height and build. He had been coming down the trail when I’d ran smack into him. He sat there flat on his ass, palms flat on the ground, staring at me in shock. I leapt to my feet as I bought the butt of my rifle up into his chin. He fell backwards, his head striking a small tree’s trunk.
I pulled out my trench dagger. It was a piece of rebar sharpened into a point with the other end bent around into a knuckle-duster type grip. I started to sink the dagger into his chest but noticed that he was totally unconscious. Now, I’m not a humanitarian and if I was, it wouldn’t have mattered since I don’t consider Moldi to be human. But it was a matter of time and noise. I let him slide, that is, if my blow from the stock of my rifle didn’t kill him. I doubt it did. They are a tough breed and anyone knows not to try one in a bare knuckle boxing match.
For a moment, my headache was gone. I ran like the devil himself was on my heels. Tree limps and brush hit me in the face but I didn’t care. I just ran down the little game trail, hoping I was still going in the right direction. I finally fell to the ground, out of breath and seeing spots.
I’d bought myself a little time but not much. Quickly, I recollected myself and got back moving. Was I being followed? Maybe. Who was following me? Fishermen? I knew enough about the Moldi to know that warriors seldom engaged in menial labor. Aside from hunting, they spent most of their time preparing for the next raid. That didn’t mean that a few fishermen didn’t have a rifle or a shotgun between them. I had to be close to Savannah territory and they had to know their chances of a violent encounter increased for every foot they got closer to our land.
I found a clearing or what was close enough to be a clearing in the thick swamp. If someone was after me, they’d have to pass through it. Snatching down a few branches, I made a hide and waited. Thinking better of it, I removed my 10 round magazine and replaced it with a 30 round NATO magazine I carried as a spare. A thick pine tree was my brace and I held my scope on the trail. Hopefully, the scope was undamaged in the crash. At that close range, it shouldn’t have mattered that much if it was off a little.
I didn’t see the whole Moldi but I saw the color of his shirt: brown. It was a dirty looking homespun wool shirt. I didn’t think, just pulled the trigger. I saw a spot of red appear on the shirt and a scared hand reach up to grab it. Looking back, it would have been a better idea to wait and shoot the second or third man in line. But nerves were worn thin and common sense was only lingering on the porch.
Curses came from across the narrow clearing and shots rang out. I didn’t move. Bits of tree limps and leaves fell around me from the return fire. I didn’t budge. The scope was on its lowest power but I still had to look around it to see if I could detect movement. I did.
BAM clack-clack BAM! I put two into the bush that had shaken. A Moldi fell dead and rolled out a little ways into the clearing. I worked the bolt and swung my rifle to where I’d heard noise. A hot pain flashed across my jaw, just about the jaw line. Damn I was hit…
It wasn’t that bad but enough to make me take my eyes off the targets. A buckshot pellet had cut the side of my face. But I had been lucky. Another inch and I would have got hit in the mouth or the neck. It bled like crazy, turning my collar red.
You join a gang because you think you are tough. You stay in a gang because you turn out to be. I was tough.
I brought my rifle back up and aimed at where I thought the shot had game from. A raspy voice shouted an insult my way and I pumped three more rounds in the area it came from, though I doubt I hit the foul mouthed fiend that I had wanted to. Just then I heard screaming and shouting as 4 Moldi burst from cover and charged. What happened next was like watching a slow motion video.
I hit the first one in the leg, a terrible place to hit a Moldi since most will drag along after you. This one did just that, pipe gun in hand. The second one took a round in the mid section but didn’t seem to realize he was hit. He just buckled over, nearly falling and continued to run towards me, screaming. The third I missed completely. I don’t know how but I did. The fourth took a round center-mass and fell flat on his face, sliding through the grass for about a foot. That left me with two to deal with who were immediate threats. By now they were too close for my scope so I just sighted down the barrel and fired. I hit the wounded one a second time, this time in the chest. He stopped his charge, holding his left breast and looking at the ground. Hit but not down.
I’d just chambered another round when the uninjured one was on top of me. He was flailing fists but doing no real damage since most of the blows were landing on the top of my head. The rifle was knocked out of my hands before it could be used as a club. I got to my trench dagger and swung it up at the Moldi. I got him across the arm, making him jump back. Blood ran down over his deformed skin, across his fingers and dripped onto the ground.
He cursed and shouted for his comrade, who was coming up behind him slowly, a pained expression on his face. “Use your pistol,” he urged, pointing at me.
“Use your knife,” the wounded Moldi replied, pointing to a machete handing in a homemade scabbard on the other’s rubber belt. “Not a very big one. Not a very good blade either.”
The wounded Moldi still held his pistol ready. I wondered if I could make it for my rifle just a few feet away. The uninjured Moldi just stared at me from behind wild eyes.
“Give up,” he grunted. “Give up and put down your blade. We might trade you back for goods.”
I knew that never happened. Moldi were never bargained with, not in a situation like the one they wanted to put me in. Besides, I had enough sense to know that any deal made in the field by lightly armed underlings wouldn’t be honored back in their settlement. They frequently burned people to death and anyone would choose bleeding out on the forest floor to that.
“Come on, bitch,” I said, beckoning with my left hand.
The wounded Moldi laughed and then coughed. “Kill him, tough man.”
Always bet on the guy who is fighting for his life if the odds are anywhere near even. Never bet on the guy who is fighting to save face. The Moldi took a step towards me, machete in hand. I threw my trench dagger right at his face. It didn’t stab into him but cut him open badly. It was better than it flipping and hitting him with just the handle and knuckle guard though. Blood poured from his forehead and over his face as he swung wildly with his machete. I jumped to one side to put him between me and the one with the pistol, who already had it up aiming it.
I got my hands on the rifle and fired, hitting the attacking Moldi in the chest. He fell to his knees, dropping his blade. The Moldi held up his arm, like he was about to call a “time out” and then fell backwards, dead. I had another round in the chamber in seconds.
The wounded Moldi held his pistol on me but I had a good chance of hitting him too. Time froze for a moment. Slowly, I took a step backwards. The Moldi didn’t move but stared at me with soulless eyes. Every step I took put me further from him and improved my chances. I heard distant shouts behind him and knew that there were more on the way, undoubtedly fresh and well armed.
I don’t remember making the decision to start into a run but I did. A shot cracked behind me and a bullet whizzed by my head. Later, it was easy to figure out that the Moldi who I’d wounded was as close to a private citizen as Moldis got. His ammo was his own stash and he was reluctant to use it unless he really had to. No burst of 5 or 6 rounds came but I still ran like a mad man. The odds of me holding them off a second time were slim, even though I still had half a magazine in my rifle and another 30 rounds in my pocket, plus my 10 round magazine.
After running another exhausting mile or so, I didn’t hear the sounds of pursuit anymore. I kept up a brisk pace for another mile and found a FASCAM shell right where the trees started to thin out. FASCAM shells scattered small land mines everywhere and after 10 years or more, they could be covered over well by brush. That was bad but what made it worse was that I knew I was near the entrance to a more recently planted minefield. The only good news was that it meant I was almost home. I knew a few of the minefields near the south-west of Savannah but was familiar with the one in front of me. The best thing to do, I thought, was crawl…slowly. I crawled through the wet grass, feeling ahead of me with the butt of my rifle. I finally saw one mine, a large anti-tank mine, partially unearthed by erosion caused by a tiny stream. Anti-personnel mines were what I was afraid of though. Those were hard to detect and even a bump from my rifle could set one off.
I looked up to see if I was still being followed. Nobody was behind me, yet. But I saw something that caught my attention. A white tailed deer grazed just 50 yards from me. I’d been so quiet and slow that it hadn’t seen me. There were a lot more deer now than there used to be. One reason was less people and another reason was that people saved ammo for killing other humans, generally only hunting deer as a last resort. This one perked its head up and tested the air. It must have smelled me. I watched as it slowly figured out where I was and took to a bounding run, right back towards Savannah.
It wasn’t perfect but it was better than nothing. This deer hadn’t stepped on a mine with his four legs; maybe if I followed him, I’d do fine with two. I got into a high crawl and followed where the deer had run. This was a better idea than you might think since most AP mines I knew of in the area were bounding-mines or generically called “bouncing betties.” Your chances of surviving one improved if you were lower to the ground, or so I’d been told.
Stealing a glance behind me, I saw a horrifying sight. At least 30 or more Moldi were all standing here and there along the tree line. They all looked well armed and most wore camouflage clothing. They didn’t shout or curse, much less shoot at me. Apparently, they knew full well about the mine field. They all stood like hungry dogs watching a cat from behind a glass window.
Why weren’t they shooting? The must have been worried about the rusty old guard tower, barely visible in the distance and the bunker at its base. No doubt it had a machine gun or two but from behind cover, could have done little to the group at that range. They could have all dropped down after killing me and any return fire (if any) would have only nailed one or two by accident.
The problem I had besides the Moldi standing at the edge of the minefield was one of animal mechanics. The deer covered a lot of ground quickly when it ran and normally left several feet between each time its hooves hit the ground. There was a good chance that it had leaped right over a mine that I would be sure to crawl over.
I was almost through the minefield when I lost track of where the deer had ran before. Cursing, I looked around to see distant shapes, slowly retracing my path behind me, keeping low as well. The Moldi had been waiting for me to get through the minefield so they could follow safely.
A hatch flung open on top of the round concrete bunker and a person wave out to me. A long rust stain ran down from the hatch to nearly the bottom of the weather-worn bunker.
“Come on!” he called. “Just run straight ahead and you’ll be ok!”
I got up to my feet and ran. The light snap of a .22 rifle sounded from the tower, first one or two shots then a rapid burst. Why such a light rifle, I wondered? The Moldi were now running as well. I got to the barbed wire and carefully tried to get through it without being badly cut. No luck. I got cut several times but after a minute, got through it. Fortunately the wire was lighter near the bunker, the idea being that in front of the bunker was the worst place to be anyway.
Bleeding again and with my clothes torn, I ran for the bunker. A knotted rope was thrown over the side and I began to climb it. A rifle round smacked the concrete near me and the .22 on the tower began to snap away again. There was no way they could hit the Moldi who were a good 250 yards behind me.
I got to the open hatch and someone helped me inside. The hatch slammed behind me as I dropped a few feet to the top of a wooden staircase. “Come on and bring your rifle,” said someone who had just dogged the hatch and came down a latter behind me.
The person was a man in his 30’s wearing a brown garrison cap and old Marine digital camo. He had an M14 in his hand and wore a black armored vest. I ran behind him down a dimly lit hallway that led towards the front of the bunker. At the end of the hall was another round hatch, which the soldier rapidly turned a crank to open. Daylight came through wire-mesh partially covered gun ports. Two more soldiers were aiming rifles next to a fake machine gun made from PVC pipe and plywood.
“Don’t shoot until you know you’ve got a shot,” the soldier said to me. “If we can’t keep ‘em back with the .22’s then we wait until they get within 50 meters before we let them have it.”
I didn’t brace my rifle out of the gun ports like the soldiers did but took aim from further back in the room, bracing from some stacked wooden crates. Nobody there seemed to have much experience. I waited until I had a clear shot and fired first. I hit the Moldi right in the spine, dropping him cold. The others in the bunker began firing too and we had three Moldi down in no time. They paused to return fire and one of the soldiers hit the floor of the bunker, holding his bloody neck. They tried to move forward again but we killed two more of them. It wasn’t worth it to them and the rest turned back, retreating same way they’d came in. A light mortar barked from behind the tree line but its shells fell harmlessly around the bunker but did manage to break a window out of the tower. Ironically, I don’t think a single Moldi stepped on a single mine. I was starting to doubt there were that many still out there. I knew that the militia occasionally moved mines from one field to another, depending on the threat and depending on how easily the particular mine was to move.
The soldier on the floor died while we were waiting for a quad to ride out from the nearest outpost to do a medivac. I was taken back to Savannah were I was treated for mild radiation poisoning.
Nobody else survived the operation but me. As a result, the Moldi occupied the airfield instead of just patrolling it occasionally. Apparently, they’ve started working on one of the old aircrafts, having our same idea.