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John M Del Vecchio’s New Novel, ‘August 2024’: An Excerpt

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Publisher’s note: We are deeply honored to present this excerpt from August 2024, a new novel by John M. Del Vecchio, a must-read author in the genre of modern war literature. One Vietnam War combat veteran said this about Del Vecchio’s The 13th Valley: it was like “hearing from my soul in the night.” The following is set in the year 2048, during a period of crisis, the collapse of social order, balkanization of the United States, and the rise of tyranny. It is written from the perspective of narrator Angelica, as she reflects on events that unfolded in 2024, when she was 14 years old. ~SKK

by John M. Del Vecchio 

You must think me terrible talking like this. But… when you know the story, then you can judge. 

Old words. Old lines. No qualifications. 

It was the worst of times. Period. 

It was the season of Darkness. Period. 

It was the winter of despair. Period. 

We had nothing before us… except… neither of us could voice it… it wasn’t hope… desperation. Yes desperation… perhaps into the maybe… the impossible… 

I was 14, Serafino, my brother 16 ½. Nothing was left when we set out. Grandpa’s farm was like 2000 miles away. We didn’t know if G-pa or G-ma, that’s what we called them, if… 

But what else could we have done. 

August 2048 

It’s cold. Colder than August. Wind blows across the unkempt field bringing milkweed parachutes. Much too early. I grab at them as they sweep by the root cellar. From above a crow… damn biggest crow you ever saw… caws at me. I answer back, “Caaa-ah!” The bird is not friendly. There are new rodent trails below the door. Double damn. 

My limbs are swollen. My fingers stiff, and my wrists and arms barely mobile. I write like G-ma who did not like to keyboard, and like others without the power to be digital or with fear of being so. I write now, in my 38th year, with an old instrument. A pencil. On paper that hasn’t been burned. I write in the hopes… no, there is no hope… I write because I must. Because we have been vilified. We have been debased. We are being destroyed. Despite meritorious efforts, we have been reduced. 

I write because I must. 

I write about what happened 24 years ago, about that summer, about August 2024. 

The month had just begun. It wasn’t yet my birthday. We were on the road. In The Truck. All night. We drove only at night. I should say Serafino drove—I called him Sal, he called me Ang when he wasn’t calling me Squeak or Mouse Turd or any of the other names he used. Sal drove The Truck that G-pa brought out in July before Mom succumbed. Sal didn’t talk. Or maybe he did. I was numb. Everyone left was numb. 

Shit! Okay, I gotta back up. We kinda built it. The Truck. G-pa did most. He got it when we were like 8 and 10—a rusty bucket of bolts with tires smooth as the ice cream melting off the tops of the cones he’d buy us. This was near his house in the hilly… well, best not to say but it was 2000 miles from ours, and G-pa bought The Truck for us to rebuild with him during our summer visits. In his barn. That first year—maybe 2018—pieces all over the place, outside, covered with tarps. In the barn just the chassis of the ’69 Ford F-100. We sanded. He welded. We sanded more to get the rust off and expose the weak spots. It was hot. Rust dust got up yer nose. It covered yer legs. Even after G-ma pushed me into the shower my legs were still orange. 

More later about G-pa and The Truck. That’s what we called it—The Truck. G-pa was old. Maybe 80. Maybe a few years less. In those last few years Sal became like a muscleman. G-pa with his red face and white beard looked like a street-Santa, except usually in stained and dirty work clothes. He didn’t have the strength to handle tires, much less transmissions or engines even when they were on the chain hoist, and me… truthful… well, truthful I wanted to be like Sal but I was a girl even if I wouldn’t admit it and identified as a boy… but then I didn’t give a shit… 

You must think me terrible talking like this. But… when you know the story, then you can judge. 

July 2024 

“Gee-Pa, what are you doing here?!” Sal and Ang were about to take down the flag. It was no longer the 4th. “Is that The Truck?” Neither had heard it pull in. 

 The old man winced as he turned to drop from the cab. Sal reached up to help him but instead got smothered in a bearhug. 

Ang stared. “It’s green,” she squeaked, laughed.  “It’s really really green.” G-pa pulled her into the communal bearhug. She hugged him back, squiggled out of the scrum, said, “I mean really really really green.” 

G-pa smiled broadly. His eyes twinkled. He really did seem to be Santa. “Let me go inside. I gotta pee. Then I’ll show it to you. Yer Mom home?” 

The truck was indeed green, a matte deep forest green with matte black trim. Even the camper cap they’d built the summer before covid—the sides plywood, the curved roof, teak slats—was that same deep forest green. The tires were black, no white lettering, the wheels matte black. 

To Sal Ang said, “I thought we were going to poly the slats so the wood showed.” 

Sal ignored the comment, said, “How come we didn’t hear him drive in. He couldn’t a made it EV, could he?” 

Ang made one of her silly faces, her lips shut, her jaw pulled back, her eyebrows arched. “Looks different than last…” 

“Yeah. Not just the paint. It kinda sits different, doesn’t it? What’s GeePa doing here? Weren’t we supposed to go there?” 

The ’69 F-100 was a classic, but it was no brute, more light-duty than bulldog. The siblings were baffled.  

More baffling: G-pa drove out, came without G-ma. And he didn’t come out to take them someplace or to do something special. He went inside, didn’t come back out. Sal and Ang went in. G-pa and their mom were in the breakfast nook, talking, Mom imperceptibly shaking her head. “…ebola vaccines in Colorado… shedding… Chinese troops… sleeper cells… high energy weapons from space… cusp of World War III…” They all knew that G-pa was kind and generous and a history buff, but they also knew he was a kook. 

“Ellen,” G-pa’s voice was raspy, urgent. “I’m serious.” 

She pursed her lips. There was more than a generational divide between them, more than a gender gap, more than a west coast-heartland chasm. The old man, a veteran, was forever upset at the mis-recording of history, was forever reading books and documents. He’d worked physical jobs much of his life, was hardier than men twenty years younger. “I don’t know, Pa, and I don’t want to know. That’s never going to happen. They wouldn’t let any of that happen.” 

“Pretending it’s not,” G-pa exhaled, seemed to deflate, quietly said, “is a recipe for disaster.” 

August 2048 

It was the lull before the storm. By mid-July of ’24, well… 

We had The Truck.  I should say Sal had The Truck because I couldn’t drive, but the title was in both our names. Mom was upset… well… pissed. It was great having another vehicle, but she’d lost control. She cancelled our trip east. When we were small, we loved G-pa even if everyone said he was crazy. Besides, he usually had a bag of Skittles, and if not, Jellybeans. Mom was always upset about the amount of sugar. Or about him teaching us to camp and make fires and shoot. When we’d go home, she needed to ‘un-indoctrinate’ us. Now she seemed steamed over everything. She’d been to the bank to get cash for something. Everybody there had been coughing. The teller told her they’d switched to “Only digital transactions.” She said, “How am I supposed to pay…” “Tell him to open an account and we can transfer…” Mom like exploded. Then… The Truck. She wanted the keys. G-pa had given us two sets which included keys for the compartments plus keys for his house, for the barn and for the root cellars. He’d said, “The longer one is for the root cellar in the woods, down by the stream. You remember… the entrance between that big standing dead and that white boulder.” Sal gave Mom a set for the ignition and doors. 

We had the coolest truck ever. I made Sal take me by threatening to tell Mom when she got home from work if he didn’t. We showed it to all our friends. Everybody called it The Truck. Sal monopolized. Exasperated, Mom let him drive… first to stores, then on errands. That broke her spell. Sal took it nights. I think he first laid Chloe Newsom in the bed in back. Then Alicia McConnell, then Hannah Blumenthal who had already graduated. What me and Ava did… in back… then me and Kyle… well, I was experimenting.  

Mom got more and more pissed at us. Our breakout summer—wine, drugs, sex! Mom was like always angry. Then her skin got weird. She seemed gray but with red spots. Tiny red spots. And they got worse, but she was covid negative. G-pa had warned about something like this but neither Sal nor I remembered what, but, again, Sal was like techno at lookin stuff up, and that’s when he came across the stuff about measles, and then about the biolabs, that some labs were on property owned by a foreign corporation, and that at others biolab volunteers were vaccinated with experimental shots. It was summer. We were small-town, couldn’t wait to get out. We partied. Biolabs were a million miles away. 

August 2024 

They buried the body of the old man. No casket, no body bag, just the bedding he’d been on when they found him. The water system was still intact, working, a solar battery running the pump. Ang showered. Then Sal. While he washed, she scarfed all the toilet paper from the cabinets in the other bathrooms.  

Eeriness crept over her like a second layer of skin. It was not the house, not the smells, not fear. It was her. It was the lack of being horrified, the lack of fear, the acceptance of… of what? She could not envision, could not grasp the change. Instinctively she knew Sal had morphed earlier… perhaps after Hannah’s disappearance, or their Mom’s death… while she was in her flipped-out state. Perhaps as he maneuvered from their home across to Idaho and into Wyoming. He had not said much more than that she had been out for days, that the drive had been weird. 

They planned, or G-pa had planned, had laid out, a circuitous route south which would take them into Colorado, toward Durango, east toward South Fork, then east again into vast sugar beet fields. They waited to well past dusk, then set out. The drive through the mountains, on secondary roads, in the dark, was, to say the least, at times treacherous, at times impossible. Half a dozen time they had to back up retrace their route, find an alternate path forward. It was easy to skirt small cities, but there was no way to skirt small towns. In Colorado there was traffic, just a few vehicles not obeying whatever curfew had been imposed. Each time Sal, looking far down the road, saw movement or lights, he pulled off, parked, turned off all lights. They waited for emptiness. They moved on in silence. A few homes, buildings with lights burning… Ang wanted to stop. They had not been with another person, not a live person, since the night they’d left home. She wanted to turn on the CB radio, but Sal forbade it afraid their signal might be triangulated or somehow be pinpointed even if they didn’t transmit. Ang scrunched her face, almost blurted like her Mom at her Dad, “Men!” 

Most small towns had side streets that paralleled the main road. Sal did his best to roll slowly through neighborhoods. His focus was as far as he could see, plus up and down, side to side. Ang stared into windows. She tried to see people. In one home she was sure she saw a woman with a cell phone in her hand, to her ear. Ang pretended to be part of the conversation, pretended to answer, to chat. In another she saw a man seemingly at a sink, washing dishes, perhaps from a late meal. She imagined eating something other than beef jerky and oatmeal bars, or the MREs that Sal prepared in the camper. 

Then everything changed. A loud crack-bang on her door. She lurched toward Sal. Another further back on The Truck. Crack-BANG. Shots hit the vehicle. Sal floored it. Get off the X. Where he’d heard that he knew not. Likely G-pa prattling in the barn years earlier. It made no difference. Get off the X. Get out of the kill zone. The F-100 had far more power than the original. Wheels chirped; the vehicle seemed to rear back then soar forward. He hit the night daggers, pulled off the NVGs. Then they were out of town. Everything in reverse. No lights. Creeping. Creeping quickly. He knew they’d been discovered. Off the road, into a hollow, a small canyon, a mountain road, dirt, twists, turns, backing into a space between a cliff face and scrub trees. Stopped. 

Neither spoke. Both surveilled their abouts. They didn’t know the damage to The Truck, would not yet get out to check. “Get G-pa’s notebook.” Dim red lights. Sal said, “We’re close to that biolab G-pa talked about. Look it up. I don’t remember what he said.” 

Pre-dawn they checked The Truck. The shots had ripped jagged holes in the sheet metal, but the damage seemed inconsequential. They grabbed their go bags from the camper—Sal’s now with a 9mm, six magazines, two boxes of rounds.  Ang grabbed Mr. Silver’s Mossberg, but Sal thought it too heavy, took it from her, slung it over his shoulder. They locked the vehicle, climbed the cliff to a ledge, backed into a lemon-squeeze crease in the stone face. For two days they holed up, mostly staying still, out of sight should anyone come, should a drone search be under way, sleeping, barely talking, eating and drinking rations from their go-bags. By midday on the second day, with no apparent pursuit, Ang broke out G-pa’s book. What she read she did not want to share with Sal. It wasn’t the beginning, it wasn’t what he wrote to Ellen, it was the ending. 

Serafino, Sal and Angelica, Ang, AnJo—You were born while I was in my early 60s. Like many grandparents, your births set off in me hopes, projections, anticipations, and fears. If you live to 100, and why should you not, the years will be 2108 and 2110. That thought shook me to my core, as did the feeling of overwhelming love. I cannot explain it but will attempt below. 

The range of thoughts and emotions, the spectrum of possibilities! Will you be free citizens in a peaceful nation, in a world powered by fusion or hydrogen? Will mankind live in harmony, and in harmony with the natural world, all in an amazing solar system so astounding it is, today, inconceivable? Or will you need to fight against tyranny and the turmoil of a new Dark Ages? 

At your births I wondered what you’d witness. Would plagues and pestilence be eradicated, or would new horrors visit our earth? Would you fry due to global warming or freeze in a new Ice Age? Would thermonuclear war reduce life to ash, or electro-magnetic blasts from the sun push it back to the 17th century? And what of your children? Your grandchildren? They will live into the 23d century. 

My wish on those days for you each—all the beauty, splendor and meaningful personal fulfillment life can bestow—that your life be long, your journey be full of wonderment, passion, of knowledge, achievement. Others wished you happiness, I chose to focus upon your learning, your joy in learning, in expanding your horizons. 

My dearests, the stories you learn will affect your beliefs about yourself, your community, your country, your world. Stories will build your self-image and your worldview, and you, like everyone, will behave in ways consistent with your self-image and worldview. That’s why it is important to learn honest and accurate stories, inspiring stories, narratives neither infected with prejudices nor ignorance. 

These thoughts, hopes, projections are for your life, not for this moment in time. I had hopes of you becoming explorers, independent thinkers, ones who make their own way—much as has your father, your great grandfathers, and your great-great grandfathers—exploring from the tops of mountains to the depths of the seas, exploring sub-atomic structure to distant galaxies, exploring social interactions and your own innermost thoughts. 

Now, here it is, 14/16 years later. Ellen, if only you could understand. It is a time of turmoil and challenge; a time when obstacles are thrown in our path simply because we live on a planet and amongst people with a continuum of ethics from pristine to pathetic to those who with no ethics at all.  Maintain your honesty, your integrity. Snags and woe come into every life. How you handle them is far more important than whether they happen. Be strong. Be resilient. Be less concerned with how others define you but be aware of how you define yourselves. 

Our lives live on in others long after our demise. I am so sorry the world being passed on to you resembles more the negatives above than the positives. Persevere.  

G-pa’s note stopped. There were many more pages, but the next section was filled with directions to South Fork, and with information about biolabs, about what was happening in Montana and what had happened in Colorado.  

Sal asked Ang to reread the part about the biolab in Colorado. “Does he give the location?” 

“No. Just that note… wait… Fort Collins… there’s more here on the next… Oh, it’s about a North Dakota group protesting the Chinese purchase of land near a Strategic Air Command base.” 

“Jeez!” 

“’Maybe a hundred Chinese biolabs in North America. Maybe ten.’” 

“Jeez! Jeez! Jeez!” It was coming together in Sal’s brain… all he had seen in the past week, longer. All that was on the road from home while Ang was comatose. And all that wasn’t. 

Twilight. The siblings were quietly repacking their go-bags when they heard a vehicle. They laid flat, froze. Sal edged out, searched the road, saw dust rising, then the vehicle, white, odd shape, on the side a blue logo, olive branches holding a polar world map. It advanced without caution, stopped before The Truck, blocked it in. 

Ang began to shake. Sal whispered, “breathe deep.” 

Two men exited. The driver, tall, perhaps Asian, a pistol in his left hand; the passenger, shorter, brown, perhaps Latino or middle eastern. A SAW hung in nonchalance from his right hand. Both wore white suits as if they’d come from a hazard zone, but to Sal they appeared relaxed, a standard patrol, a walk in the sun. They chatted. Their words were unintelligible at the distance. All Sal heard was Ang’s tremored breathing.  

Below the men attempted to open the doors of The Truck. Then the camper. In frustration the taller one took a few steps back, fired at the camper lock. The canyon amplified the explosive report. Ang bit down hard. Echoes reverberated. Sal pushed her down, stood. “Hey,” he waved.  

Below, unarmed, no go-bag, he smiled at the troops. “Just out hiking,” he said loud enough for Ang to hear. “I can open…” The short one hit him. Now there were no intelligible sounds. Sal was on his knees, hands behind his head. The tall one scoured the rock walls. His jaw was moving but Ang could not hear. The short one put the barrel of the SAW to the back of Sal’s head. Ang squeezed the trigger of the Mossberg. Again an explosive report, then echoes. The tall man spun, crouched, eyes darting, searching the canyon for the origin. Sal sprung, bashed him in the back of the head with a fist tight as a rock. Then again. On the ground, again, the back of his neck. Again, until the man was limp. 

Ang descended. Sal scrambled up, grabbed the go-bags. Ang was still holding the Mossberg. She could have been a zombie. 

John M. Del Vecchio is the best-selling author of The 13th Valley and other novels on the war in Southeast Asia and the veteran home coming experience. He volunteered for Vietnam, where he served as a combat correspondent for the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). He was awarded a Bronze Star with V device for combat action near the Laotian border. His military themed works include For the Sake of All Living Things and Carry Me Home. His books have been translated into four languages, and have sold some 1.5 million copies.

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