Five miles into Day Five, I reached out and picked up the mike from the short-wave radios we’d rigged up to communicate between the trucks.
“Are you guys noticing this?” I asked, clicking the button to talk.
“Da,” Sergei answered after a second, his accent shining even through the static-filled connection. “Looks like we are not alone, here. Someone is working after the Event.”
“Bloody scary, that’s what it is,” Jaspers muttered from the other side of our truck, his hands tightening slightly on his rifle as his eyes searched for a target. “Like something out of those old horror movies. This is the part where you decide that we ought to split up.”
“Not happening.” I’d seen those horror movies as well, and didn’t want to end up anything like how it usually turned out for the heroes.
I did slow down, however, as we neared the obstacle up ahead that had caught all of our attention. Someone had, apparently, flipped over a semi truck, turning it so that it blocked all three lanes of the highway. Making it clear that this was no ordinary accident, they’d also done the same thing on the other side of the highway, on the lanes going in the other direction.
The only way past the obstacles was through an opening between the two overturned trucks, along the center median area of the roadway.
Jaspers looked at it, his jaw set. “Now, even if I wasn’t a soldier, I think that I’d recognize that as a damn bloody choke point,” he muttered.
I nodded. It was set up quite well; the road tracked through a depression here, putting walls of dirt and rock on either side of the road. No driving around the barricade. And if we drove through, we’d be sitting ducks for mines, tripwires, IEDs, or other attacks of opportunity. The trucks blocked our view from telling what was on the other side.
“Scout it out,” I decided. “If we have to go back and detour around this, it’s going to cost us some time – a couple of days, at least.”
“Are we in a hurry?” Jaspers countered. “We could take the extra few days.”
The radio crackled. “What do you think, boss?” asked Henry.
In answer, I threw the truck into park. “We’re checking it out,” I said into the radio. “Remember, part of our mission here is to search for survivors. And there had to have been some survivors of the Event at some point here, since they did this after the Event triggered.”
“Is this famous American hospitality?” Sergei asked. “Feels very Russian to me. Visitors are always bad.”
I opened the door of the still-idling truck, stepped out. Around me, the others also climbed out of their trucks, Sergei pausing for a moment to tell Sara to remain inside the backseat of the truck before climbing out to join us.
“We don’t know what might have been going through the minds of these people,” I reminded them. “Most of the population just vanished. They would probably be scared, fearful, afraid of what might be coming next. Putting up defenses seems like a reasonable response in that situation.”
They still didn’t like the circumstances, but they didn’t argue. I nodded to Feng, and she rapidly assembled her rifle and ducked into the brush along the side of the road.
“Jaspers, Corinne, I want you two with me.” I grabbed my own M4A1 from the backseat of the truck, checked it mostly by instinct. Ready to go, as always. “The rest of you, hold back. We’ll bring a walkie-talkie, and Feng’s got one too. Report if you see anything.”
We headed in towards the trucks, keeping low and running our eyes over the ground. We’d all become adept at spotting improvised explosives, and we knew the signs of a trigger. We didn’t see anything, however, as we moved in closer to the gap between the trucks.
“Well, that makes no bloody sense,” Jaspers hissed as we stepped between the two ends of the trailers, still not seeing anything. “Why build a bloody barricade if you’re not going to use the thing? Waste of damn effort.”
“Maybe they planned to reinforce this position, but later decided against it,” I offered. “Corinne, thoughts?”
She didn’t speak right away, but advanced with curiously small, mincing steps. If I didn’t know her, I might have guessed that she was practicing a ballet move. She moved over the dirt area between the trucks, a bump in the gully that ran between the two blocked roads. She prodded the dirt with one foot, wiggling her toes back and forth to dig slightly into the loamy earth.
“Back in World War II,” Corinne said softly, her toe still prodding the dirt, “we did not have the weapons to kill the Russian tanks. They would roll down our roads, into our villages, demolish them. We could not penetrate their armor with our rifles.”
“So?” Jaspers asked.
Corinne turned and sighed at him, shaking her head in mock exasperation at his ignorance of history. “We found a different way to fight them. If the tank was trapped, restricted, all its strength meant nothing, and we could fall upon its pilot and gunner at leisure.”
She knelt down, her fingers now prodding the same area that she’d investigated with her toes. “Ah,” she exclaimed softly, standing up and moving off to one side, over by the overturned trailer nearest her.
“But how do you trap a tank?” I asked.
Jaspers got more to the point. “Just bloody spit it out, would you?”
Over by the truck, Corinne knelt once again, and then smiled as she straightened back up to face us. “Dig a hole,” she answered. “The ground in Sweden and Scandinavia is too frozen to blast through, even with a tank. But snow is soft and can be shaped. We would build ramps of snow, over a pit in the earth. The tank drives up the ramp, over the hole, and…”
She turned her rifle around, butt now pointed towards the ground. Aiming carefully, she slammed it down on the corner of the trailer. We heard the sound of a twang, like a violin string breaking – and, abruptly, the mount of dirt that formed a path between the two barricades vanished, disappearing downward.
“Strong enough to support a man on foot,” Corinne said softly as both Jaspers and I edged forward, peering down into the newly opened hole. “But it would give way when a truck drove over it.”
“And the truck would be trapped,” I finished. “Can’t drive forward or backwards, and the hole’s too narrow to open the doors. We’d have to kick out our own windshield.”
“But until we thought of that, we’d be trapped, ready for them to find and finish us,” Corinne said. She looked around, as if our unseen assailants might be hiding behind a nearby tree.
I grabbed the walkie-talkie. “Feng, anything?”
“Deserted,” she said after a moment. “See nothing.”
I lowered the mike, looked at the hole. “We could knock this in, drive around it,” I said. “We can keep going – but there might be more of these. We’ll need to be on our guard.”
Corinne and Jaspers both nodded, although neither finished the second half of my comment.
There might be more traps as we advanced – but, somewhere out there, were the ones who set them in the first place. And while this trap appeared intended to capture, rather than to kill outright, it didn’t bode well that they hid it here.
“Into the bloody darkness,” Jaspers muttered as we climbed back into our trucks, Corinne pausing at Sergei’s truck to reassure Sara that everything was fine, that there wasn’t any reason to be scared. “Here we go.”
I didn’t say anything, but my sentiment mirrored his.
To be continued…
Author’s note: I have no idea if the Swedes used holes to trap Russian tanks during World War II. In fact, they likely didn’t, instead relying on mines – but that doesn’t fit as well with my story. Perhaps in this reality, they did use holes. Allow me a bit of revisionist history!