By Craig Sargent

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The 4th thrilling installment of the Last Ranger series.

Martin Stone, a survivor of WW3, finds himself in boot camp with the New American Army led by Gen. George Patton III. After a few missions with the army, Stone finds that the general has plans to make himself dictator of a revived America. Craig Sargeant’s series offers a chillingly realistic America after the ultimate disaster.



The Last Ranger

The Savage Stronghold

The Madman's Mansion

The War Weapons*

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First eBook Edition: October 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-56644-5


SOMEONE WAS about to die.

He awoke with a start, sitting bolt upright. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up like little quills. Where was he? How long had he been asleep? It seemed as if he had just been in a black funnel, a storm of darkness deep and twisting, swirling down into unfathomable regions. He knew that if he hadn't awakened right then—just a moment before the cloud swallowed him, a second before the funnel swept him up in its wispy clenching jaws—that he would never have awoken. For there was blood in the air. Murder all around him.

He looked around sharply, trying to ascertain his location. It was night but the full sky of stars spread out across the heavens like a mess of spilled marbles and a thick bloated moon sitting directly overhead he could see clearly. There was rubble everywhere and bodies. Suddenly he remembered the explosion that he had set, and then the storm of smoking rock and dismembered flesh falling from the black sky; all that was left of the Dwarf's fortress and vacation retreat for the high-rolling criminals of America. A small smile sketched its way across his ash-coated face. At least he had accomplished something in this hellhole, tipped the scales of blackness and light ever so slightly to the side away from the darkness.

It all came back to him—the truck he had escaped in, then the roaring eruption, the truckload of whores who dug him out. He had just put his head down to rest for a moment, and… he must have just passed out on the spot. The whores were nowhere to be seen. Just bodies all around him as if the sky had rained flesh, had cried blood.

He heard a noise off in the shadows, then another and the smile vanished from his mouth like a fish darting back into the darker waters. Figures were rushing around the debris like rats, bent over, furtive. They mouthed obscene laughs as they searched the dead bodies for booty, rifling through the bloodstained clothes with quick, filthy fingers, grabbing everything that was still usable—boots, jewelry, knives, whatever. Martin Stone dropped back down to the center of the small explosion-created crater he was lying in and watched with drawn breath.

Suddenly he heard a coarse voice perhaps ten yards off. "Found me a good one," it yelled. Then there was the slicing sound of a knife sawing through flesh. Stone raised his head slowly and peered out over the rise… and almost puked up what little food was still sitting in his stomach from his last meal two days before. For one of the scavengers was cutting off the ears of a body on the ground, its long dead hands clasped together in a prayer of rigor mortis. He cut away with a long hunting knife with the expertise of someone who had carried out the action numerous times, rising with the two red dripping appendages in his hand.

"Got me two more," the scabby creature yelled to his pals, who were busy on their hands and knees filling burlap sacks with everything they could find that would be of use to their miserable lives. Stone could see through the moonlight filtering down through high curtains of cloud that the man was hideously ugly, his face misshapen and scarred as if he had been through a meat grinder more than once. And he saw something else—a necklace of ears around the scavenger's neck, shrunken to the size of dried apricots, hard and brown. There must have been a hundred of them, extending clear around the man's stubbled throat. The human slime held the bloody ears up in the air examining the newest additions to his necklace of human flesh by the rays of the neon moon.

"Jesus Christ," Stone mumbled under his breath. So many people had died to create the bastard's grotesque jewelry. It wasn't how he felt like ending up, that was for damned sure. He felt down to his waist, reaching frantically for his .44—but it was gone. His knife was missing too. The whores had stripped him of everything that could kill. He searched around with darting bloodshot eyes for anything that he could use to fight with. For the corpse strippers were drawing closer by the second, and they were heading right toward him.

"Lookee here," the ear cutter laughed out with sputtering glee through his half toothless mouth. "Another! Got me another set. Damn, if I ain't gonna need to start a new necklace soon." He bent down over the body of a woman, and sliced down hard twice. Two more ears fell free, the gaping holes in the skull gushing out a red liquid ooze that coated the slicer's filth-coated boots. But he didn't seem to notice or care as he moved ahead searching for more. Tonight he was in paradise—a Garden of Eden of death.

Stone dropped down flat on his back as the scavenger walked up to the dusty crater and saw him lying there.

"Look at this one; don't even look hurt," the cutter yelled to his pals, who moved across the field of bodies like locusts stripping a forest. "His ears are perfect… like uncut diamonds… big ones too. This is my goddamned night. Lady fucking luck is looking over my shoulder." He kneeled down and raised the knife to bring it down on Stone's right ear, but before the long blade could descend, the would-be corpse threw a handful of dust into the man's face. Coughing and momentarily blinded, the cutter fell backwards, landing on his ass as he tried to wipe the grit free from his eyes with snot-covered cuffs.

Stone was upon him like a leopard on an impala. He kicked the slime in the face, catching him directly under the chin and the big man's mouth erupted in a spurt of blood. Stone grabbed the gnarled hand and twisted it hard, grabbing the knife as it fell free. But the others had heard the struggle and suddenly appeared out of the shadows, surrounding him. Without hesitation Stone jumped behind the ear cutter, grabbed a handful of greasy, lice-infested hair, and pulled back hard. He rammed the blade edge against the Adam's apple and pulled the man to his feet.

"Back off, slime, or he's dead," Stone screamed, suddenly able to see as he rose just how many of this happy crew there were. Too many! There must have been nearly a dozen of them, their burlap bags filled with rotting treasures as they stared with wide open mouths at him. Corpses weren't supposed to fight back. But if that's what tonight's little game was going to be, so be it. With something approaching the pleasurable look a gourmet gets on his face when he sits down to a meal of steaming escargots, they gently set their bags down on the debris-covered ground and pulled out an assortment of weapons—knives, axes, meat hooks—to greet their uninvited guest.

Stone gulped hard and pushed ear cutter forward, keeping the knife right against the jugular, ready to dig in deep if the bastard made the slightest move. But he didn't. Like all scum, he was brave only when he had the upper hand. Stone prayed that the man was the leader of the group, or at least in the upper echelon, or the rest of them would only see it as an opportunity to get yet more treasure by taking them both out.

But apparently earman was high in the pecking order, for the smiles vanished from the scavenger crew's face as they realized that their pal was in big trouble.

"What should we do, Ear?" the scavenger closest to Stone, with a pockmarked face, nose half eaten away as if it had worms in it, screamed in something approaching hysteria.

"Just… just take it easy, boys," the prisoner stuttered back. "This man don't mean no harm, do you, fellow? He just thought I meant him harm, which I didn't. How the hell was I supposed to know you wasn't dead?" he beseeched Stone. "Just lemme go and you can walk. I swear."

"Kill him," one of the corpse strippers yelled, coming toward Stone from the right holding a machete in his raised hand. "If we all charge, we'll cut the bastard up into ant food."

"No! No!" Stone's prisoner yelled back even louder. "Don't one of you make a move, you hear me. If you do—and he cuts me—I'll get you, if I have to come back from the grave." Such was the awe in which the others held Ear that they stopped in their tracks and made room for Stone, who moved slowly through their ranks, gripping his stinking Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-Card with every bit of strength in his sore arms. The ranks opened like the Red Sea parting and though Stone could see by their grinding jaws and wild eyes that there was nothing they wanted more on this earth than to say hello to his kidneys with their blades, they held back.

He was just beginning to think he might actually make it when Ear decided to make a move. He grabbed Stone's knife hand with both of his steel fists and bit down hard with the few teeth that remained in his mouth, the cracked fangs sinking deep into the back of Stone's hand. Stone let out a howl of pain but he didn't drop the blade. Ripping the hand free of the man's jaws, he slammed the knife back again, ripping it across the thick throat. The flesh parted like butter as the razor-sharp edge dug in deep, cutting muscle and artery in a flash. Stone pushed the dying thing away from him as it spewed out a waterfall of red, the mouth gurgling out a wet sickening sound as blood gushed from between his lips instead of words. He fell forward, hands wrapped around his own throat as if he was trying to hold it all back in.

Out of the frying pan into hell. As if the cutting of Ear's throat were the signal to charge, the rest of the slime rushed toward Stone with murder in their black eyes. Stone ran straight toward the closest one, remembering his late father's, Major Clayton Stone's words: "Never run away; charge when the shit hits the fan. At least it gives you a split second of surprise." The noseless slime was coming at Stone, his machete raised high overhead in his right hand ready to deal a death blow… but Stone struck paydirt first. He came in fast from the left and slammed the blade into the man's guts, slicing it from left to right so the entire stomach opened up. He ripped it out just as fast and stepped to the side. The machete wielder stopped as if he'd run into a brick wall, his mouth twitching as if he'd just swallowed a rattlesnake. He looked down at the spreading red across his deer-hide jacket, at his own intestines sliding out from his stomach, releasing a load of half digested food and blood, and his eyes got a look of infinite surprise.

"I—I can't die," he blurted out as if making a confessional to Stone. "I've killed them all. Everyone I've fought."

"No comment," Stone spat out, grabbing the machete from the trembling stiffened hand. He turned and rushed into the melee without a backward glance at the dying man whose eyes were glued to his rushing guts as if he were looking into the punishing face of God himself. With a blade in each hand Stone waded into the next two takers like a tank going into a crumbling fence.

They were tough but they weren't fast. Not fast enough, anyway, as they found out. With his youth and training and lean-muscled body Stone was suddenly somehow right between the two of them, slipping down on both knees as their blades stabbed forward. He ripped the machete and the bowie-sized hunting blade into each man's knee, cutting right through the bone and slicing the thick connecting tissue inside into broken wires that no longer supported their part of the load. As they tumbled forward, each man's wounded leg falling limp as wet tissue, and slammed into the ground, Stone was already up and moving, rising to his feet in a single leaping motion as he propelled himself forward into the charging wild-eyed ranks that seemed to have no end.

Stone tried to calm himself and be objective as he started forward toward the next three, their steel blades and axes caught for a split second by an errant beam of the moon, flashing into his eyes with a telegram of death. He didn't have to kill all of them, for Christ's sake, he thought to himself as he suddenly changed direction in mid-stride, pulling them off balance for a second. Just get through them, to the road ahead. He could outrun them there. There was just this three, and then two beyond them. It was a football game, that's all, he tried to bullshit himself, and I'm the ball.

Plan made, Stone came straight toward the three rather anxious individuals who were zeroing in on his body like it was Christmas roast, and again feinted to the right, so that all three of them veered that way. Like a receiver in full stride, he turned his leg and pushed off with the right foot, suddenly spinning him away from them again, catapulted by the force of the motion like a ricocheting rock. He swung the machete forward as he spun by the closest of the scavengers, a man with a long black beard that reached almost to his stomach and a mat of twisted hair piled high on his head. The motion was so quick that none of them quite realized what had happened for a second. Stone just suddenly was gone—and then the two scavengers turned and saw their pal with his hands to his face screaming, or trying to scream.

For the machete had gone point first into the opened mouth of the man, cutting all the way into his throat and out the back of his neck. It was as if he was a sword swallower, only he wasn't. His eyes rolled back in his head, looking like overcooked eggs about to burst their shells as the man tried to scream. But with the blade filling his entire oral cavity it was a little difficult. A gush of liquid swam out from all sides of the machete as his severed jugular vein fed out a stream of red through his lips. He looked as if he was one of those statues rich people or would-be's had on their lawn, spitting out a little fountain of water. Only this was blood.

His black beard turned red, bright red, red as Santa's Christmas hat, and gurgling pink bubbles of foam he fell forward. The handle of the blade slammed butt-end first into the dirt, pushing with all the weight of the scavenger's two-hundred-seventy pounds plus into the machete, pushing the blade in a kind of circular motion. The sharp edge sliced through everything that was left and the entire head pulled free of the body, somehow still horribly alive—eyes rolling, quivering lips whispering moans of incredible pain.

But Stone was long gone. The moment he felt the machete dig in he let go of it and shot forward. The remaining two, huge leather-faced things, with spikes where teeth should have been, their frames covered over in immense, badly sewn buffalo hides that still stank of bison urine, came toward him. One was swinging a long axe, the other twirling a hooklike weapon that he swung on the end of a spiked chain. Just the kind of guys you'd like to go bowling with. Stone watched the orbiting hook coming in toward his chest like a meat hook searching for meat to sink into and timed himself. As the orbit just took it by, he launched himself straight toward the bearer. By the time the hook spun around again, Stone was already inside the man's reach. He caught the inside of the hook with his left hand as he slammed his knife hand up and inside right between the man's legs.

The scavenger seemed to shoot like a rocket into the blood-scented air as his genitals exploded from his body. He had the most terrified expression Stone had ever seen on a man. Stone grabbed the handle of the hook as it fell from the air. The wood-cutting axe of the attacker bit into the dirt just inches from his foot as Stone let the hook go toward the man's chest.

The tip of the hook caught the flesh scavenger just beneath the rib cage and as soon as he felt it dig in, Stone pulled back hard like a fisherman landing a bass. The eight inch hook dug deep up and under the ribs, hooking into the right lung. Stone stepped back another yard, pulled on the chain as the man came helplessly forward, walking as if on his toes, as he sucked in hard for air. Stone wrapped both forearms around the chain and pulled with every once of strength. The hook ripped forward and tore right through the rib cage of the man, exploding in a tidal wave of blood and lung and whatever the hell else is stuck up there inside the chest. It was as if a bomb had gone off inside him. He toppled forward like a tree pouring blood and lay there quivering and letting out sounds that sounded like the mews of a dying kitten.

Stone rose to his feet and raised the knife hand, ready for the next man. And still they came toward him, howling in mad rage even after seeing six of their number slaughtered like cattle. The son-of-bitches were stupid or brave. Maybe they were the same fucking thing, Stone thought disgustedly. But he didn't have to fight them anymore. The road lay just ahead. Dark, snow-covered, but he could beat them in a flat race. He turned in a flash and shot into the dancing shadows as the moon flickered in and out of the darkening clouds overhead, creating a kaleidoscope of rippling ribbons of darkness and light. They lumbered after him, screaming, enraged, swinging their slicers with wild flailing arms. They came down the road in their stinking furs and thick coats of handmade armor from wired-together rows of tin cans like a herd of mastodons who didn't know they were already extinct. But Stone was gone, disappearing into the darkness. They kept on for almost fifty yards, with a lot of huffing and puffing just for face's sake. Then they stopped.


IF DOGS can pray then this one was praying with all the fervor of its canine heart, praying a message of supreme thanks that Martin Stone was walking toward it from out of the mist-shrouded forests. The bull terrier had begun to think that he was never coming back, that he was gone, or dead. It had greedily eaten all its food and water within the first few hours of his departure. Subsequently it had had nothing for days while it stayed hidden in the thick bush where Stone had left it and the Harley. But now he was here. It would drink. It would eat.

Its eyes grew big as creampuffs and it whined out a shrill childlike screech as its muscular white body trembled wildly. Suddenly, as if unable to contain its enthusiasm, the bull terrier jumped high in the air, twisting around in a corkscrew motion like a dolphin spinning in water. Stone couldn't help but laugh and grabbed the dog around the collar, pulling it toward him so it slammed into his chest, bounced off him, hit the ground and then shot right back up again like a cue ball looking for a game of billiards. It put its paws on his chest and sniffed him with a strange expression. Stone looked down and saw that he was covered from just below the neck to mid-thigh with blood and specks of purple flesh. The dog sniffed hard again and then jumped down to the ground in disgust. Good, Stone thought. Excaliber wouldn't lick human blood. He didn't want it to ever acquire a taste for homo sapiens or a hell of a lot of people would be missing tails, and other things. But the bull terrier was smart; it knew that mankind was too bitter a steak to chew.

"Yeah, I'm here. Master is back." The dog whined greedily, its nose aiming up toward the canteen on his waist. Stone took it off and the fighting dog let its huge tongue slap out of its mouth several times in restless anticipation. Stone reached down and poured a stream of the cool liquid into the animal's empty bowl. Its face hit the stuff with a splash and it began lapping away madly so that only about half the water actually made it into its throat. But it was the idea that counted, and it looked up happily after about a minute of machinelike licking.

Stone grunted hard as he lifted the huge Harley 1200cc Electraglide from its side, hidden in the center of a doughnut of thick shrubs. It was hard going pushing the mobile battle-wagon through the wooden tendrils that grabbed everywhere with thorny fingers. But after about five minutes he pulled it free, out onto a deer path, and mounted up.

"Come on, dog. We gotta get out of here before some of my recent acquaintances come looking for more action." Stone patted the thick leather seat behind him on the purring bike and Excaliber looked over from where he was sniffing a dark, fungi-covered wet log, nosing around for black beetles. Suddenly the pitbull found one and snapped it into his jaws. He crunched hard, popping the armor shell like a peanut, and swallowed it with a look of gourmet delight. Then he turned and ran, reaching the Harley in two quick strides. Without breaking step the bull terrier jumped and landed smoothly on the back, gripping its front and back legs around the sides of the seat like a starfish wrapped around a clam. Stone looked down at his hand. It was throbbing painfully, the top of it red and swelling already. The teethmarks of Ear's few molars were clear on the flesh. It was infected with that slime's mucus. God only knew what kind of diseases Stone was going to get now.

He reached around behind him on the bike into the medical box, quickly took out and rubbed on Ampicillin and Tetracycline Salve over the wound and then popped down some pills of the same. His father had prepared, among many things, a number of combat-usable ointments and medicines—just a few tricks he had picked up in his twenty years fighting in Southeast Asia and Latin America. How it would work against human saliva was another question.

Stone pulled back the accelerator on the handlebar and the bike picked up speed along an ice and snow patched road that headed quickly up into the lower slopes of the Uinta Mountains, Utah. Dr. Kennedy, the double-talking, snake oil salesman extraordinaire who had helped get him into the now decimated Last Resort, had also been able to get out with Stone's sister April just minutes before Stone sent the place into a smoking hell. He trusted the man with his life. Kennedy must have run into trouble, and had to split fast. There had been enough guards after them all back there. He wouldn't let himself think for even one second that they hadn't made it. No way. No fucking way. But where would he have headed?

Stone slowed as the bike approached a steep road that angled sharply up and around in a long twisting motion, up the side of a towering mountain. The night seemed to grow darker by the minute as thick rolling storm clouds filled the heavens above, a churning sea of mile-wide fists that threatened to pummel the earth at any moment. Rangely—that was it. Kennedy had mentioned that he used Rangely for his base in this part of the country. A place where he had friends—people who would hide him. It was about sixty miles to the east, which Stone knew would be closer to one hundred and twenty or more through these twisted mountains and valleys. He exhaled a breath of deep weariness and sped up slightly as the dog barked for a second, as if feeling his master's anxieties.

Stone rode through the night seeming to ascend forever into the mountains, into the very heavens, which twisted in a sea of black that and felt like just yards above his head. The moisture condensed down from above in sheets of gray, filling the slopes with a thick cold mist that coated him and the dog with a cloak of liquid. Even with the deep grooved tires of the Harley, Stone had to take it easy on the ice-sheened one-lane road, the edge of which dropped thousands of feet to a chasm of rock-hard teeth ready to smash anything that came hurtling down into pudding. The bike's headlight burnt a dim hole through the icy fog, just enough for Stone to edge on into the darkness.

At last they reached the peak. Though he couldn't see it, Stone could feel the ground level off fairly rapidly, go on for about two hundred feet then start down again. Moving slow as a turtle, Stone eased the big bike down the far slope, absurdly slow for a machine of that size and capability. But if they went over the edge, it wouldn't be anything but twisted junk. And so its power was reined in as Stone kept both feet on the icy road, just sliding along down the side.

Suddenly he sucked in, a breath of awe. For they had dropped instantly out of the cloud level. And below, as far as the eye could see, was a fairyland of hills and streams, low valleys and darkly colored geometric shapes of fields and small towns. The moon sliced through the cloud cover several miles off, sending down a stream of white beams that lit the terrain with a brilliant merciless light. He felt for a split second as if he could see all the world, melting into weaving shadows at the end of the horizon.


On Sale
Oct 31, 2009
Page Count
137 pages