The Secret Diary of Cameron Baum

MONDAY

The final toll is in.

Four prisoners were killed trying to escape. Nineteen were injured resisting arrest. Ten police officers or National Guardsmen were injured during the roundup, though this figure also includes self-inflicted injuries such as the overzealous Guardsman who shot himself in the foot. Easily done. If you're an idiot.

The good news is none of the escapees reached a public highway and no ordinary citizen was threatened or, for the most part, even aware of what had transpired until they woke up and tuned in CNN the following morning. Don't you just love Jake Tapper? So butch.

None of the media coverage mentions our part in the proceeedings or Sam Clemens' successful escape. A cover up is once again firmly in place. The Wizard can hardly be reported missing if there is no legal record of him being arrested, charged, tried or convicted. For once the authorities own skullduggery has come back to bite them in the ass. Hope it hurts.

The State Department in Washington issues a strongly worded denial that the catastrophic computer failure was a result of cybercrime. Fox News discovers that several crucial components of the system were sourced from China, a less than subtle hint that the Chinese were behind the whole fiasco. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump picks up the story and denounces the chinese government at a rally in Michigan, demanding they 'butt the hell out of our prisons, and keep a cell warm for Hillary while you're at it.' Such a charming man.

THURSDAY

The prison story soons fades from the headlines as the national media gears up for the election, now just a few months away. John pays little heed to the coverage beyond laughing at the candidate impersonations on Saturday Night Live. Others are more proactive. Paige Barlett is a keen democrat and even ropes me in to help deliver leaflets door to door in our neighborhood. Paige is young and idealistic and talks enthusiastically about how empowering it will be for women everywhere when we have a female president. Dream on, sister. At this stage, Cameron subprime and I are the only people who know the outcome of the election. We keep it to ourselves. No one likes a party pooper.

During this period Paige and her best pal Sookie have a minor falling out. Instead of helping us deliver leaflets the asian girl spends the afternoon with a basketball player from UCLA. As Paige points out with a degree of acerbity, balling a baller isn't going to advance the democratic cause one iota, and her hyperactive cooter is becoming tiresome, an accusation Sookie struggles to refute and the two don't speak for several days. This raises an interesting question: what exactly is a cooter, hyperactive or otherwise? No medical reference book I consult has an entry for cooter listed in its pages. BB-8 has a few suggestions, but these are so obscene I can scarcely give them credence.

From Seattle, Cameron subprime reports that the Wizard is settling in fine, his cover of posing as her grandfather accepted without suspicion. Sam Clemens is an educated man who can be charming when the mood takes him, unless the conversation involves the military industrial complex and its perceived threat to liberty, then he becomes as Daniel succinctly puts it, as crazy as a loon. Still, his ankle is healing nicely, the concensus being it is merely ligament damage and not a broken bone. He should be back on his feet in a month or so.

Snowy's makeover soon fades, his fur returning to its natural state so he looks less like, in John's opinion, a mutant dog-sheep hybrid. Even the diamante collar is abandoned, replaced by his favorite leather one with the tiny bowtie.

The picture of Mia with the vice-president takes pride of place on the wall of the rec room, alongside the photo of Snowy leaping three feet in the air when startled by an inquisitive pigeon. He'll never live that one down, the cowardly mutt.

MONDAY

An unexpected video call from Cameron subprime in Seattle. It's been two weeks since she last contacted us. She appears on the screen seated at a desk with the Wizard standing in the background clutching his arm. He seems to be in pain.

"Hey, guys," John greets them. "What's going on?"

"What's going on is your girl here broke my wrist!" the Wizard replies angrily.

"Your wrist isn't broken," Cameron subprime responds calmly.

"No thanks to you! Damn you're strong. If you weren't so thin I'd believe you were on steroids."

"Whoa, let's keep things civil, shall we. Jan, why don't you tell me what happened."

"I apprehended the Wizard attempting to leave the building. I restrained him and brought him back."

"Apprehended? Since when am I a prisoner here?"

"Sam, I thought we agreed you'd stay inside."

"I was just getting some fresh air. A harmless walk round the block is all it was."

"Untrue. He was carrying a rucksack containing a change of clothes, a map of Vermont, a timetable of train departures from Seattle, and five hundred dollars cash."

"Where'd you get the money, Sam?"

"Won it. Frank the building supervisor hosts a poker game for some of the tenants every Friday night."

"Frank informed me that no longer took place," Cameron subprime says mildly.

"He said that because the other guys were sick of you winning all the time. They wanted you banned."

"So he deliberately misled me."

"He didn't want to hurt your feelings. Frank likes you. He says you remind him of a girl he knew in Texas."

"So what was the plan, Sam - sneak quietly away and head for your cabin in the woods?"

"What if it was? Or have I swapped one prison cell for another?"

"Sam, the railway stations all have closed circuit TV cameras. You're six-six and look like Gandalf. They'd have picked you up two or three stops down the line. You might not know where we live in LA but you'd immediately put Jan and Daniel in danger."

"I would never squeal. They could torture me and I'd never tell."

"Noble sentiments. Let's just not put it to the test. I take it your ankle is feeling better?"

"My ankle's fine."

"Incorrect. He still limps."

"it's just stiffness. From being stuck indoors all day."

"Okay, well, how about this - Jan will drive you up to the mountains. Someplace quiet and remote. You can get all the fresh air you need. If your ankle doesn't hurt then I'll personally drive you to Vermont myself this weekend. How's that sound?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"This is best for everyone, Sam. We risked a lot breaking you out of prison. Remember Erik? That kid worships you. He'd be at risk too if you get yourself recaptured. Cybercrime carries a hefty sentence."

"You've made your point. The weekend then. Do I have your word?"

"Scout's honor. Now, give me a moment with Jan alone, would you?"

The Wizard disappears from the screen. John says, "Has he gone?"

"Yes."

"Can he hear us?"

"No. He's in his room. And his hearing is less than optimal."

"Good. Drive him up to the mountains like I said and let him wander around as much as he likes. Don't let him out of your sight. If he tries another getaway stunt lock him in his room."

"Understood."

The call ends. John stares thoughtfully at the darkened screen. "Do you think he will obey your instructions? I ask.

"I think so. He's a smart guy. And I don't blame him for getting a little stir crazy. What's it been - a month?"

"Three weeks and five days."

"Time our little birdie flew the nest."

SATURDAY

Cameron subprime delivers her report. The Wizard has cooperated fully and made no further attempts to walks in the mountains were long and fairly arduous and his ankle no longer causes him pain. It is her opinion he is fit and ready to travel.

John and I take the Suburban and head north overnight on the Interstate. Sarah Connor isn't accompanying us; she's not a walk in the woods kinda gal apparently. We briefly debate taking Snowy along but decide against it. After all, a dog so easily intimidated by a pigeon might find the attentions of wild woodland creatures a trifle overwhelming. Plus all those tree trunks might put a strain on even his prodigious bladder.

We arrive in Seattle at daybreak. Daniel, the Wizard and Cameron subprime are waiting for us outside the apartment building, dressed appropriately for an outdoor excursion. By a curious coincidence, Cameron subprime and I are clothed near identically: hiking boots, tan shorts, strappy tops and cowboy hats, white for me and grey for her. Daniel immediately dubs us the rodeo twins.

"Sam, you're looking well." John says in greeting.

Indeed he does. The Wizard has put on some weight, filling out his previously gaunt frame. His straggly white beard is neatly trimmed and his long mane of hair washed and tamed in a ponytail. He still conveys an air of slight craziness, but at least now it's well groomed outwardly respectable crazy, like Donald Rumsfeld.

"Sarah not coming?" Daniel asks.

"She's binge-watching Gilmore Girls so she's up to speed for the Netflix reboot."

"Seriously? That doesn't sound like...oh, you're joking."

"Mom thinks we can handle this ourselves. She's gonna oil the automatic weapons then go for ten mile run."

"That sounds more like her. What about Mr Hotshot Hacker?"

"Erik? He has classes at Caltech."

"Ooh, fancy. I didn't get to go to Caltech."

"Can you hack a prison?"

"Fair point."

We set off in the Suburban, John and I upfront while Daniel, the Wizard and Cameron subprime squeeze in the back.

"You want to tell us where this cabin of yours is located, Sam? I'll program the SatNav."

"You will do no such thing. The CIA monitors all SatNav requests so it can keep tabs on the population. Here. I've marked it clearly on this map. A place called Randolph."

"That's where your cabin is?"

"It's the nearest town. There's a survivalist store there. I want to stock up on essentials."

The Interstate is long and dull. To pass the time Cameron subprime suggests a friendly game of travel scrabble.

"No," John and Daniel say simultaneously, evidently recalling the thrashings we gave them previously.

"I will play you, my dear," the Wizard volunteers.

"Don't do it, Sam; she'll hand you your ass," Daniel warns.

"Son, I am the recipient of a first class education. And I have excelled at word puzzles my entire life. No teenage girl is going to hand me my ass."

"Don't say I didn't warn you."

Three hours later the score is:

Wizard - 0 games.

Cameron subprime - 26 games.

She handed him his ass.

"Remarkable, my dear. Your facility with words is truly astonishing. Where did you go to college?"

"I didn't go to college."

"Indeed? Then it was surely academia's loss."

"I can belch the alphabet. Wanna hear?" Daniel suggests.

"I'll pass, thank you."

-0-

We leave Interstate 5 just short of Eugene and head into the Willamette National forest. The road is two lane blacktop, cutting through mature forest seemingly without end. There is little traffic compared to the freeway. The sky is a narrow blue band above a landscape of timber.

"You're really gonna live in these woods?" Daniel asks staring out at the ever present trees.

"Certainly am. I'm from Oregon originally. An outdoors life, at one with nature, is nothing new to me."

"Are there bears in Oregon?"

"Black bears. No grizzlies. They were killed off back in the thirties."

"That's good, right?"

"Not for the grizzlies."

"I mean, the bears won't attack us?"

"Generally, no. The black bear is smaller than a grizzly, though faster and more agile. They eat mainly berries and plants, though they're not adverse to a smaller mammal."

Just as well we left Snowy at home. It would be just like him to become a bear's breakfast.

Randolph proves to be an old logging town adapting itself to the new millenium. There are arts and crafts stores aimed at tourists, while restaurants cater to all tastes from carnivore to vegan.

"Place has become yuppified since the nineties," the Wizard explains. "A lot of the old logging cabins have been bought as summer homes by the tech millionaires from Silicon Valley. New money replacing the old."

"You don't approve?"

The Wizard shrugs. "When the lights go out and civilization fails they'll leave soon enough."

The survivalist store is on a corner plot. We park and grab a shopping cart.

"Wow, look at this place," Daniel says as we walk the aisles. "This is like a Target for Hillbilly nutjobs."

"The clientele call themselves preppers not nutjobs," the Wizard says tartly. "I first came to this store twenty years ago and it hasn't changed a bit."

"What's a prepper?" I ask.

"People who are preparing for the apocalypse."

Sounds like our kind of place.

"Check it out, one kilo of pork wieners with a best before date of 2086. Wow. What are they canned with - formaldyhide?"

"Two for one on squirrel traps," John points out.

"Good spot, son. I'll take some of those."

"You eat squirrel?"

"I sure as hell won't be keeping 'em as pets!" The Wizard laughs wheezily.

The contents of the shopping cart increase. John notes, "We're gonna need something to carry all this with. They sell backpacks?"

"Aisle seven."

We add five backpacks. The cart is full to the brim. "You sure you can afford all this, Sam?" John asks. "We can help you out."

"It's fine. I have some money saved."

"Poker winnings?"

"Partly. I also helped out the tenants with their computer problems. I was told a girl named Krissie used to do it but she moved away. Apparently her boyfriend was a complete ass."

"Er - that's me. I was Krissie's boyfriend," Daniel admits sheepishly.

"Oh. Why'd she leave you, son - if you don't mind my asking?"

"It's complicated."

"Scare her off with your depraved sexual desires?"

"What? No! I don't have any depraved sexual desires."

"Maybe that was the problem."

Again the Wizard laughs his wheezy laugh while Daniel's face reddens. Depraved sexual desires. Hilarious!

We wheel a fully laden cart to the checkout desks. A sign above the cash registers declares the stores accepts payment in cash, all major credit cards, precious metals and fine gemstones. Daniel asks the checkout operator, "Do you really let people pay with precious metals?"

"Oh yes, sir. We accept gold, silver and platinum. Gold is the most popular commodity. We take refined gold, unrefined such as jewelry, plus nuggets and gold dust. We cater to quite a few gold prospectors from the mountains who pay in kind. We also accept gold tooth fillings."

"You can pay with teeth? Actual human teeth?"

"Well, I've never seen it myself, but technically, yes."

"I was right the first time. This is a Target for nutjobs."

-0-

We drive a few miles out of town to the start of the main hiking trail. I's a stoney parking lot which is completely empty. "Looks like we're the only people hiking today," John says looking around.

"It's the hot weather. People would rather be at the lakes swimming or sunbathing. A couple of months from now this place will be packed with folk here to see the Fall colors."

We open the Suburban's tailgate and begin to load our purchases into the backpacks. I notice that John is putting all the heavy items into mine and Cameron subprime's packs. He's so thoughtful!

"How you off for weapons, Sam?" John asks lifting the false bottom that hides our stash of guns. "We could let you have an M-16. Maybe a Glock or two."

"Thank you, son, but no. I have some hunting rifles hidden under the cabin floorboards, greased and wrapped in oilcloth. They'll do fine."

John ponders the arsenal then hands us two pistols and takes one for himself. "Lieberman, you want a pistol?"

Daniel shakes his head. "This pack's heavy enough as is. And you heard the man - bears eat berries and plants. They shouldn't bother us."

"Who said these are for bears," John says cryptically. "Okay, we all set?"

"Wait." The Wizard points at myself and Cameron subprime. "Are you girls going to hike in those shorts?"

"It seems inappropriate to hike in our thong underwear," I reply.

"This is a proper forest, not a city park with neat manicured bushes. There are thorn trees, brambles, nettles, poison ivy, not to mention insects who bite and suck blood. You might want to cover up those pretty legs."

"We'll be fine."

"Okay. Don't come running to me if you get scratched to ribbons and need ointment rubbed on your thighs."

Daniel winks at us and says, "Don't worry, if there are thighs to be rubbed I'm your go-to guy."

Aw, he's so kind!

The hiking trail is a steady rise for two miles. The ground underfoot is worn turf over hard bedrock. We make good time walking in a single file, the Wizard leading the way, his ankle showing no signs of weakness.

At the end of the trail the land falls steeply away in a series of escarpments. There is a viewing platform here complete with a fixed telescope that accepts quarters. All around are wooden picnic tables, empty now, but the graffitti on them indicates this is a popular spot. As is someone named Vage, who has her name carved into the wood. Lucky Vage. I wonder why she's so popular?

"Wow, that is some view," John states hand shielding his eyes from the sun as he stares towards the distant horizon. "Nothing but treetops as far as you can see."

"In the Fall the leaves turn red and gold. The whole forest looks like it's on fire."

"And you're going to live in there."

"That's the plan."

"How far's your cabin?"

"From here? About ten miles south east."

"Ten miles!" Daniel groans. "I haven't walked that far in...ever."

We leave the hiking trail and enter the woods proper for the first time. It's cooler out of the direct sun but the humidity levels rise to compensate. And the insects the Wizard warned us about make themselves known. John and Daniel start slapping their exposed skin with their palms.

"Damn bugs! They're everywhere. I'm like a happy meal on legs to them," Daniel complains, swatting the back of his neck.

"Didn't you boys think to apply insect repellent?" The Wizard asks.

"No, Sam, we didn't. Thanks for the heads up."

"City boys!" He takes out a tube of something and hands it over. "Here. This'll do the trick. Rub it all over. Girls, you need some?"

He holds out another tube for us. I shake my head. "We'll be fine."

"Hear that? The girl's don't need coddling."

Indeed. The insects appear to be giving us a wide berth, just like every other animal on the planet apart from Snowy. The bugs might have brains no larger than a grain of sand but it's sufficient to alert them to the fact we aren't human and to snack on our pseudo-flesh is to invite instant death.

For seven miles we follow animal trails. They undulate with the contours of the land. Occasionally the trees are so close together we have to squeeze past. At others they widen out and allow ferns and thick green moss to predominate. We encounter several streams, all shallow enough to wade across. There is animal spoor in places, some of it so large and pungent it makes Snowy's doings seem positively dainty. He'd love it here, at least until he encountered the animal doing the pooping. Leap three feet in the air? He'd probably clear the trees.

At the eight mile mark the Wizard starts to flag, his pace drops and face reddens, cheeks puffing out as he struggles to get air into his lungs. He is not a young man after all. And until recently his prison lifestyle was sedentary.

John notices his difficulties and suggests stopping for a restbreak.

"No no. We're close now. Last mile or so."

"All the more reason to stop, take a break and arrive refreshed instead of shattered. Let's take a vote. All in favor of stopping raise a hand."

Four hands are raised. The Wizard blusters a little but I sense he is relieved to have an excuse to call a halt.

We sit on the banks of another shallow stream, the water gurgling gently over half-submerged rocks. The other three take out ready meals they have brought from home. John has baloney sandwiches, Daniel cold pizza slices, while the Wizard has a plastic container filled with something meaty. "Mrs Nussbaum's brisket," he confesses. "That woman might well be the worst Bridge player in America, and mean with it, but she certainly knows her way around a kitchen." He looks over at us. "You girls not eating?"

"Not hungry," we chorus together.

"And we've walked ten miles yet there's not a bead of sweat on either of you."

"Because they're young," Daniel suggests nervously.

"You boys aren't that much older and your shirts are as drenched as mine."

Awkward...

Fortunately any further questions are forestalled by a sudden commotion high in the tree canopy. We all look up and watch three squirrels leap from branch to branch, heading away from us in some haste. "Something's got 'em spooked. Could be a predator in the area," the Wizard speculates.

"Two, even," Daniel quips with a sidelong glance at us.

"Not the bravest of critters, the squirrel. Tasty though."

"I suppose they taste of chicken?"

"Nope. Can't say they do."

"Bet they'll miss you back in Seattle, Sam. I hear you were very popular," John states in a blatant attempt to keep the conversation off my sweaty shirt, or lack of.

"Well, I don't know about that..."

"Where did you tell them you were going?"

"Texas. I spent some time in Houston with NASA so if anyone asked I could lie with a degree of verismilitude."

"Did anyone ask?"

"Frank the building supervisor mentioned it, though not because he was suspicious. He spent time in Texas back in the sixties, before he shipped overseas."

"Shipped overseas?"

"To Vietnam."

"Frank the super was in Vietnam?" Daniel shakes his head in astonishment. "Wow, I did not know that. He kept it pretty quiet."

"Men who go to war seldom talk about it."

"Were you in Vietnam, Sam?" John asks quietly.

"No. I was one of the lucky ones with a college deferment. By the time I left the war was winding down and the soldiers were coming home."

"Do you think Frank shot and killed anyone?" Daniel speculates.

"I don't know. And if you've a shred of decency you won't ask."

"Right. Right. That would be...uncool."

The Wizard stands up. "Now if you'll all excuse me I need to go and drop a few el bees."

When he's gone I ask, "What are el bees?"

John explains. In graphic detail. Oh my, I wish I hadn't asked.

"When he comes back I want the pair of you to drink some water, for appearances sake," he instructs. "To hike ten miles and not be hungry is one thing. But not be thirsty? That's stretching credulity. Sam's a smart guy. He'll notice these things."

"Just out of interest - where does any liquid you drink actually end up?" Daniels asks.

"We have a small receptacle under our abdominal armor," I explain. "When full we purge in the traditional manner."

"Except with more force than a human female," Cameron subprime adds.

"So...you're saying you're a couple of squirters?"

"Yes, I suppose we are," I agree amiably.

John and Daniel exchange a look. I get the impression there is a subtext here that I don't understand. How odd. When we get home I will Google 'female' and 'squirters'. I'm sure the results will enlighten me.

Looking around at the trees Daniel says, "You know what this place reminds me of?"

"Endor. Return of the Jedi."

"Yeah! How'd you guess?"

"I know what a nerd you are."

"Hah. Takes one to know one."

"What would you give for a hover bike about now?"

"Oh man. Sweet! We'd be at this cabin in like ten minutes tops."

"Provided you could avoid crashing into a tree like that stormtrooper."

"Not me. I'd slalom round the trunks like a motherfu-er, good driver."

The two of them smile. They are very different in a number of ways yet they share an appreciation of pop culture, of an entire fictional galaxy borne of the human imagination that they can escape to when the pressures of the real world seem too onerous to bear.

"Listen, I'm thinking we should maybe stay overnight."

Daniel seems outraged. "What? Are you crazy? Why would we want to do that?"

"For one, a twelve mile slog in means a twelve mile slog back. Plus the drive home."

"We can sleep in the back and let the girls drive."

"Two, this cabin's been empty for years. It probably needs repairs and stuff. Least we can do is stay and help. Come on, weren't you a boy scout?"

"Nope. My mom thought the scouts were a gentile plot to draft jewish boys into the army."

"Let's put it to another vote. All in favor of staying raise your hand."

Three hands go up.

"The yeas have it."

"That's not fair. Of course they're going to vote with you. They'd probably step off a cliff if you said so."

"You can go back on your own if you like. Of course, without us you might get lost. And the woods can get kinda spooky after dark..."

"Fine. I'll stay. Under protest."

"Duly noted."

The Wizard returns tucking his shirt into his pants. "Ah, nothing beats that first dump in the woods to really connect you to mother nature."

"I'll take your word for it."

Cameron subprime and I raise water bottles to our lips and drink. "Ah, I feel thoroughly moistened and refreshed," I declare.

"Yes, my tissues are now well and truly hydrated to optimal levels," Cameron subprime adds.

John and Daniel burst out laughing.

"What's wrong with you two?" the Wizard demands.

"Long story. Listen, Sam, we were thinking maybe we can stay at your cabin overnight and make an early start tomorrow morning."

"Certainly. A pleasure to have you all."

"Wait a second. This cabin. It does have proper toilet facilities installed?" Daniel asks primly.

"Absolutely, son. The very latest enviromentally friendly installation. Don't you worry."

"It's a hole in the ground, isn't it."

The Wizard's laughter seems to fill the entire forest.

-0-

We finally reach a stream that is too wide and deep to easily ford, forcing a detour east to find somewhere narrow enough to cross. Cameron subprime's suggestion that we strip naked and wade across with our clothes and packs held above our heads is ignored, except by Daniel who has a sudden coughing fit. Probably swallowed a bug.

"This looks like it might be narrow enough. Let's give it a try.

The gap between banks is eight feet. I leap across first and Cameron subprime throws the backpacks over for me to catch before jumping herself. John and Daniel follow easily enough.

Only the Wizard is hesistant. "It's too wide," he insists. "I'll find somewhere else."

"Come on, Sam, you can do it. Where's that Harvard spirit?" encourages Daniel.

"I went to Stanford, you ignoramus."

He stares at the water, then at us waiting on the opposite bank. He takes a deep breath and takes a short run up, nailing the landing but with his weight leaning backwards. His arms windmill in a futile attempt to prevent gravity dragging him down into the water.

Gotcha!

I grab the front of his shirt and yank him to safety.

"Thank you, my dear. That was close. Not as limber as I used to be."

We strap on our backpacks and prepare to set off, all except John who is crouched on the bank studying something near the waterline. "What is it?" I ask.

"Footprint. It's recent. See how the little ridges haven't dried out yet."

The others gather round. "Another hiker came this way?" Daniel suggests.

"We're way off the regular trail. And looks more like an army boot to me. Decent size too. I think someone knelt here to collect water."

"No one knows about this cabin, right?" Daniels asks nervously.

"Not a soul. If you want to disappear off the grid it's best not to advertise the fact."

"This cabin's in a clearing, yes?"

"Yes. About an acre. I plan on growing vegetables. Why - what do you suspect?"

"It's probably nothing. Just to be safe, let's take a few precautions. Jan, you take point. Everyone else single file and as quiet as we can. Scan the ground for any more footprints."

We barely go a hundred yards before Cameron subprime stops and raises her hand.

"What is it? Another footprint?"

"No. Look."

"I can't see anything."

I can. A thin wire filiment six inches above the ground stretched taut between the trunks of two pine trees.

"Shit, is that a booby trap?"

John carefully steps over the wire and examines the rear of one of the trees.

"It looks like a transmitter. I think if you break the wire it'll broadcast a silent alarm."

"To whom?"

"I think we have to face facts. It seems like your cabin's been compromised."

"No. Impossible."

"So do we go back?" Daniel wants to know.

"I'm not leaving. Not without my gold."

"Gold? What gold?"

"I have gold buried at the cabin. When civilization falls paper currency will be worthless. I've stockpiled a supply to barter with."

John says, "We've come this far. I guess we might as well see what we're up against."

-0-

The clearing slowly emerges from the surrounding green, illuminated by shafts of sunlight. We creep around the edge until finally we're crouching at the very last row of trees.

A one-storey cabin is at the northern edge where it gets the most sun. It looks like a house a child might draw: a rectangle with a window either side of a central door. The sloping roof is constructed of corrugated iron that has weathered to a rich ochre. At the gable end someone - the Wizard presumably - planted a honeysuckle which has climbed and scrambled up and across the roof to dangle colorfully fragrant flowers over the eaves. It's a picture postcard sight. Except for one small jarring detail.

There is a Chinook army transport helicopter parked in the clearing.

"Shit, look at the size of that thing," Daniel exclaims. "It's taller than the cabin."

"This isn't right. This must not stand," the Wizard whispers over and over like a catechism, his whole body appearing to tremble with barely suppressed rage.

Before anyone can react he makes up his mind, takes a step forward and strides purposefully out of the trees and into the clearing.

-0-

Wrote this in tandem with the previous chapter, hence the swift update.

Would survivalist stores accept gold teeth as payment? Kinda gross. 'Here's your change, sir. Two molars and a bicuspid. Have a nice day.'

This chapter would look good on TV. The sheer majesty of the forest. The girls in shorts. Of course, the FX budget would need a boost to show two Camerons.