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My lungs burned as I inhale. My breath freezes on the way out.

I shiver, yet I relax.

It is December, two weeks before Christmas. We will celebrate but we may not have gifts. We’d like to, we plan to, but circumstances may dictate otherwise.

We might carve toys out of tree limbs; make things from other resources we can spare. We prepared well for this, this situation, but not so well as to have foreseen the need for Christmas presents.

I am on patrol, resting and watching from what was a hunter’s tree stand. Deer and fowl are no longer our only prey.

At times we hunt man.

My two-way radio crackles with static. I hear no voice, gratefully. I am alone, relieved. I scan the perimeter again. My binocular’s metallic eyes bite into my face, temporarily scarring me; leaving me a fleeting reminder of what has happened.

I see no motion. I’ve observed no signs of intruders. My shift is almost complete. I yearn for warmth, food, rest, drink.

The crackle continues, and as I do every shift, I can’t help but wonder if the silence means death.

Jake speaks from within the white noise. “You there?”

“Yep. All clear.”

“Good. I thought we might have lost you.”

“You say that every day.”

“Can’t help it.”

“I shared that suspicion about you. Everybody good?”

“Yeah. Come on in. I’m ready to move out.”

“Roger that.”

Roger that.

Never in my life did I think I’d be using such terminology except when screwing around. I can’t even say precisely when we began to adopt official military terminology. It happened organically.

I have military experience. But Jake’s military knowledge is from movies, books, maybe a history class or two. Books.

We’d stored lots of books. Survival books. Military strategy books. Books on guns and ammo. How to shoot, how to kill.

Knives. Hunting knives which now double as impalers; disembowelers.

Everybody thought we were nuts before. Jake spearheaded this thing in the beginning and even I thought Jake was crazy — at first. We felt that way about ourselves much of the time as we prepared. But we didn’t, we couldn’t, stop. Something compelled us. We believed it could happen; that it was possible. Remotely possible. The Black Swan event. God how the use of that term pisses me off even now, but we were right.

The Black Swan. Thanks to a brilliant guy, Nassim Taleb — onetime hedge fund manager, philosopher, author — a flaneur by his own admission. A man with a brilliant concept and a brilliant book, “The Black Swan”. Very few regular Joes and Janes of the world were familiar with the term before his book. But after its publication in 2003, and after the Black Swan events of the next decade and a half, everybody knows and abhors the term.

It seems whenever a useful term gets adopted into the lexicon of the common man it gets ruined. The Black Swan, the singular event that forever dispels all previously held beliefs regarding an absolute truth.

There weren’t supposed to be any black swans. Swans were white. All of them. Everywhere. Then they found one. Finding something that’ not supposed to exist, or happen, well, that fucks with your head. Taleb’s Black Swans were global, market based, political, scientific, whatever. Big Holy-Shit Events. Things that were outside the realm of predictability, or so that were supposed to be.

He believed the Black Swan events were to be addressed, not necessarily identified, but acknowledged, anticipated. Many tried. Few succeeded.

How many genius hedge fund managers blew themselves up because of their unmitigated belief in their own genius? Long Term Capital Management, circa 1998. Two god-dammed Nobel Laureates on that team of braniacs. Geniuses. Yuh-huh. Bye-bye boys. Blown up, overnight.

Before Taleb these were referred to as long tail events. As in on a bell curve. You know, how many standard deviations from the mean do you travel to find the event. The center top of the curve is where the most common of whatever you were measuring would cluster. The rarer results were spread out to the right or left of the peak, until the curve flattened on either end. Like a long tail. If you went far enough away from the middle, the mean for you mathematicians, you’d encounter results and events that were so rare, although possible, that statistically, they weren’t supposed to happen.

But sometimes they did.

LTCM thought they were so fucking smart that the event that killed them actually was off their probability radar, way at the end of the long tail. So far out, so unlikely, that it wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t going to happen. Not in a million years.

But it did.

The Black Swan.

I’m starting to feel the cold now, six hours out in the Catskill’s winter and you’re going to get cold no matter what you’re wearing. But the compound will fix me right up. And fast.

The compound. Shit. It was a house. A home. Someone’s home once, then our weekend place. Now it’s a compound. Forty-two people live here. Forty fucking two. We’re so stacked it’s amazing we haven’t killed each other. But we won’t. We’re all family. If not by blood than by proximity. By agenda. It’s only been six months since the “revolution”, such as the news calls it. What’s left of the news.

We call it what it was. What is still is. The Collapse of the American Empire. The end of the world as the world had known itself for nearly a quarter of a millennium. The death of civilization, the return of barbarism.

I walk inside the compound and am greeted by my mother, as usual. What was once received as an annoyance, the constant attention and pandering like I was still a seven-year-old, is now welcome and appreciated. I’m lucky to have her here. Had she not listened to our warning and prepared, just a little, she may be elsewhere, interned. Or dead.

All of us are here and lucky, so far. They’ve left us alone. The only intruders have been the homeless, the hungry. We’ve tried generosity. A meal, some water, maybe a night’s sleep in a warm house. But they must leave. We have limited resources. They must leave. Some do. But some return. And some die.

My mother helps me off with my snow suit. My eyelashes have icicles hanging from them. The furred lining of my hood is white and crisp where it is usually black and soft. My boots are dry inside, but the tops are stuffed with snow. I am melting and the tingling in my extremities is uncomfortable but welcome. I’ve finished another shift with no problems.

Word from the outside is inconsistent. We have short radio reception from around the globe. Things are better elsewhere, in countries that were once subservient to us, the former United States of America. As much as we try to appreciate how good we have it on our compound we all live with the undercurrent of knowledge that our relative safety and comfort is temporary, fleeting. We could live here indefinitely. If they leave us alone.

We have the resources: an extremely deep well with an unlimited supply of fresh water; years’ worth of food — dried, canned, and frozen. Even for forty-two people.

We have weapons, ammunition, knives. We have gold, silver and other tradeables for commerce. You name it. We’ve got it.

We just know they will come for us eventually, when they are ready, at their liking. We’ll need to be ready to fight, possibly to the death. We are ready.

It just seems that we are alone. Our country is gone; our former leaders are treasonous wretches who will never see justice. American justice. Those left in place are mere figure heads, puppets to the new regime; men and women willing to sell their souls for survival.

It didn’t need to be this way. It was quite predictable. But as with many things hindsight is twenty-twenty. Who now doesn’t think they saw it coming, yet did nothing? We thought we were prepared. We expected life to become hellacious. Martial Law? Ready. Gross impoverishment? Check. Mass chaos, domestic terrorism, civil war? Ready.

But it was worse than that. Stupidity is one thing. Even generational stupidity, spanning decades, involving the “best” minds, our most revered politicians and leaders, those with the American dream at heart. But this was not stupidity. This was no New World Order. This was an inside job.