“Artifacts” a new short story, Part I

San Luis, Colorado

San Luis, Colorado

Artifacts
by Terry Engel

Part I

My father’s phone call came before midnight, but it was late enough that I knew the story I’d been watching unfold on television was Jacob. My father never called me, so for him to pick up the phone meant life or death.

“Did you hear?” he asked. I guess he assumed the government pumped propaganda into public buildings, especially university classrooms and offices.

I’d heard the report on the radio and after my classes I pulled it up on CNN, I told him. Earlier that morning, a San Luis, Colorado police officer had pulled over a two-ton truck that had been stolen the day before from a construction site. Before the cop could get out of his car, the passenger had stepped out and opened fire with an automatic assault rifle, shooting the cop seventeen times and killing him immediately. The officer’s name struck a hollow point in me, and I recognized him as the father of a boy from my hometown. I wasn’t friends with the boy, but I’d seen him at the farmer’s Co-op. Dillion had been a good kid, not a friend, but at least he hadn’t given me crap over being homeschooled—even the Christian homeschooled kids thought my family was strange.

Eyewitnesses reported the two men wore camouflage clothing and body armor, and after killing the policeman, they hijacked a four-wheel drive pickup at gunpoint and started a massive chase. One of the men rode in the bed of the pickup, keeping up a running gunfight with the cops chasing them. They crashed some roadblocks, and he’d managed to shoot up four more cops, killing two. It was not a fair fight. The guy had an automatic assault rifle and apparently unlimited ammunition and the cops with nothing but shotguns and pistols. The shooters drove down Dry Creek Canyon road, headed for Utah, where it was easy to disappear into one of the dozens of interlocking canyons. That was the last I had heard, I said.

My father’s voice was flat, like he was reading a weather report. “They found the pickup in Marble canyon, crammed into a gully in a willow thicket, covered in branches. They left some guns and a couple thousand rounds of ammunition with the truck,” he said.

“It was Jacob,” I said.

“Jacob and Seth are over in Utah. They got permission to dig for Indian pots on private land.”

“Artifacts are protected, even on private land.” It was a sore spot with me, since I was writing my master’s thesis on the Ancestral Pueblo People—what people who don’t know any better call Anasazi Indians—and their petroglyphs.

I pictured my father’s face. He’d have that look he gave me whenever the subject of government or laws came up, like he’d look at you if you’d left all the lights on in the kitchen and the refrigerator door standing open. “I don’t know anything about laws that can tell a man what he can or can’t do on private property, but I know Jacob told me he was going to Utah.”

I hadn’t been home in almost a year, and I hadn’t even seen Jacob that time. He’d been out in the desert somewhere, probably in Utah. For a couple of years he’d only worked part time, welding and construction, staying on a job long enough to save up some money for supplies and then he’d head to the canyons, him and Seth, hunting for Indian artifacts to sell on the black market and practicing survival skills. Jacob knew those canyons as well as anybody, and since he’d probably been building supply caches, he could probably stay hidden until the cops gave up and went home.

“Why would you say that about Jacob?” my father asked. “Did he ever say something to you?”

I had gotten a letter from Jacob the month before, I told my father. “He signed it ‘WTSHTF.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means, Dad, same as me. Jacob said it all the time.”

My father just grunted. I could hear the line making static and the dim voice of another phone conversation mixing in on our line. “Your mother would like you to come home,” he said.

I still had a couple of final exams to give, so I told him it would be later in the week. He didn’t say anything, but I could picture him nodding at the phone.

“I’ll get there as soon as I can,” I said. “My Jeep’s not running right now.”

“Okay. Do what you can do,” he said, and then the line went dead.

“What are you going to do WTSHTF?” That’s how Jacob had closed his last letter. It meant “When The Shits Hits The Fan.” He and my father hated the government. Taxes, anti-gun laws, ObamaCare, you name it. They thrived on conspiracy theories about how the government was going to take away our freedom, and, Jacob especially, longed for the day when it would be every man for himself, living in the desert or the mountains like an old time mountain man. No laws. They weren’t alone either. Just Google “survival” some time. The craziness abounds.

“YOYO,” he’d written as the answer to his own question. “You’re On Your Own.”

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