Percy's Mission Chapters 30 - 33


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Chapter 30

The sky was clear and there was no fallout when Calvin and Nan suited up again two days later and headed to town. It was slow going through the thick layers of ash. It was drifted five feet deep in places. The rains had made it a heavy mess. But the U500 with front bucket easily cut a path. Though the ash was drifted in places, other stretches of the road had been blown clear before the rains wetted the ash down.

They were fearful of what they would find in town. The fear was justified, though there were many survivors. There were also many houses showing no signs of life. Their first stop was at the police station.

Chief Connolly was there with both the town’s officers. “So you two are okay?” he asked.

They’d checked with the survey meter and the radiation at the station had faded to about the same level as at their home. Calvin and Nan had taken off their respirators when they entered the building. Calvin nodded. “We wanted to report we found the Andersons the other day. They must have been on the way out to our place. Both of them were dead.”

Bill Connolly sighed. “I’ll add them to the list. We’ve been meaning to do a census of the town and outlying areas, but just haven’t had time.”

Just then Nan noticed the slight wince the Chief made when he sat down at his desk and pulled over a notebook. “Chief, are you okay?”

“He got shot,” said one of the officers. Neither Calvin nor Nan knew him, though they’d seen him from time to time. “I’m Officer Tom Perkins,” he said, reaching out to shake both Calvin’s and Nan’s hands.

Stanley Smith, the other officer, said, “A small group tried to loot the store. We stopped them, but the Chief took a round in the thigh.”

“Oh, my!” exclaimed Nan. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Bill said. “It was just a scratch on the thigh. Betty Lou fixed it right up.” His eyes took on a distant look. We need to get out there and see if they’re okay.”

Tom said, “We’ve only been out and about for a couple of days. Haven’t had time to do much. Only rig we’ve found so far that will run is Jackson Clements old Ford.” Tom sighed. “He didn’t make it.”

“Yeah,” added Stanly. “He knew he wasn’t going to make it and brought the car down and left a note for us to use it. We went to check on him when we found it. He was dead.”

“And we need to do something with his body. And the others I know are out there,” said the Chief. “I just don’t know what.”

Calvin and Nan looked at each other. “We might be able to help with that,” Nan said.

“Yes,” Calvin added. “With our equipment we can dig graves and haul bodies if we need to. Clear the ash where needed. But we have a pretty limited supply of fuel.”

Nan looked at Calvin questioningly, but didn’t contradict him on their fuel situation. It had occurred to Calvin that not everyone needed to know everything about them. Tom was eyeing their gun belts and holsters.

“That would sure help,” Bill said. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do. Only a couple of the town council made it. The mayor didn’t. We’ve talked to state emergency management and they told us were on our own for a while.”

Tom started to edge around toward the side of Nan and Calvin. “You know, Chief. We’re basically in charge. We ought to think about commandeering their equipment if it works.”

“Hold your horses, there, Tom,” the Chief said. “And come back around here. What’s the matter with you? They just said they’d help out.”

Tom stopped flanking the two, but didn’t move back. Calvin edged Nan slightly behind him and his right hand drifted to the gun belt, near the holster, his eyes narrowing as he looked at Tom.

“Well, we at least ought to disarm them. We don’t need a bunch of guns around at a time like this. Look what’s already happened.”

“That’s enough, Tom!” There was a distinct note of anger in Bill’s voice. “We’re not a bunch of jack booted thugs out to rule the town. We have a job to do. That’s to protect and serve this community. I aim to use every resource I can, but we’re not going to usurp the constitution. Not on my watch.”

“Come on, Tom,” Stanley said. “We talked about this. It’s going to take community effort to get through this. Trying to strong arm people is not going to help.”

“Well look at what happened to the Chief! He could have been killed. That was some of our upright citizens that did that to him. If I ever find out who shot at us, I’ll…”

“You’ll arrest them and they’ll be tried,” Bill said firmly. “We are officers of the law. Not a judge, nor jury, nor executioners. Some things are different now, yes. I don’t want to hear any more about it. If someone is making trouble, we’ll do something about it. But the Stubblefields are already trying to help. I aim to let them.”

The Chief looked over at Calvin and Nan. “Thank you for your offer. We’ll see about supplying some fuel for you to use. When can you start?”

“With the radiation levels where they are, I don’t think we should be out of shelter more than four hours or so. It takes us close to half an hour each way, so that gives us three hours a day to get things accomplished. We can bring the equipment in tomorrow and get started.

“I think it’s best if you and the townspeople get together and decide what the priorities are. We’ll provide the equipment and a little manpower, but it is up to you guys to provide the plan.”

“Okay,” Bill said. Tom seemed to be settling down.

“We just want to help where we can, without getting radiation sickness or shot or anything,” Nan said.

“Nobody is going to get shot that doesn’t deserve it,” the Chief said. He looked a bit surprised when the other four suddenly laughed. It dawned on him then, what he’d said. “You know what I meant,” he said with a chuckle. “Now,” he continued, looking at Nan and Calvin, “Is there anything we can do to help you at the moment?”

Calvin shook his head. “No. I want to get back. We just wanted to see how things were going and if we could be of help. We’ll be in tomorrow morning with the equipment and we can get started.”

Bill stood up, with another wince, and shook Calvin’s hand. “Okay. Sounds like a plan. We’ll get with the others and come up with more of a plan for tomorrow.”

For the next several days Calvin and Nan did some very unpleasant work. Those that had survived in and around town had begun to make themselves known. New council members and a mayor had been elected and they had wanted individual graves dug. Calvin was able to talk them out of it, with support from the Chief.

Calvin dug a wide trench and the bodies were laid in it side by side. Someone was marking down the exact location and markers would be set, sometime. It took several days, working only three hours a day, to get the work completed. But it was finally done, except for those that would die from radiation exposure. There were several that were very sick and would not get better.

It was a heart wrenching time and Calvin and Nan went home every day with tears in their eyes. Though there were no tears for the occupants of another trench grave that Calvin had to dig just after the last local had been buried.

The small grocery store had become the local meeting place. Calvin had used the Unimog to clear the parking lot of ash. The town council was allocating what resources were left, and people were trading and bartering for things in the parking lot, too.

Nan and Calvin were in town again, working with the city council and the Chief, planning a scavenging trip using the Unimog, one of the Stubblefield Jeeps, and a couple of old farm trucks that still ran, when a carload of outsiders roared into town. They stopped at the store and clambered out of the VW van, guns waving.

Other than the near riot at the store a few weeks earlier, there had not been any real trouble in the town. But Nan and Calvin, and the police force weren’t the only citizens going around armed. Before they could think about it, Calvin, Nan, and the others returned fire when the group opened fire on the crowd as they moved into the store. It was a short battle.

One man from town took a round in the arm. The Chief got the first aid kit out of the old Ford that was their new squad car. Tom and Stanley checked over the marauders and found two of them alive. One man and one woman, both severely wounded.

“What do we do, Chief?” asked Stanley.

“About all we can do is bandage them up with what we’ve got and get old Broderick the vet to take a look at them. County says they’re going to send over a doc to check everyone out, but that’s going to take a while yet. I’ll call it in and see what the county wants us to do with them in the meantime.”

He looked over at the Ralph Clemens, the local that had been shot. “Ralph, too, I guess.”

“What about right now?” Tom asked, as Sally, the woman that had bandaged Ralph, began to work on the two injured marauders. “We can’t take them in to the county jail at the moment. At least we haven’t taken out the old cells at city hall yet. Put them there, even injured?”

“Yep,” replied the Chief.

“Just one, though,” Sally said. “The woman just died.”

Stanley went to get a stretcher from the ambulance shed for the man. Sally stood up to talk to the Chief. Of the five ambulance attendants in the town, Sally was the only one that had made it through the war. Two had been gone on vacation when things started, and the other two had each tried to shelter in place for their families. Neither had been successful.

Sally had become hardened to illness, injury, and death since the war, being the only one with anything other than advanced first-aid training in town that was ambulatory. There were three nurses, all employed by the county hospital. All three were down with injuries or radiation sickness. And Betty Lou hadn’t been back to town since that first day.

“You all right?” Calvin asked Nan, seeing her watching the injured man being placed on the stretcher in preparation of being carried to the city hall jail.

Nan leaned against him and Calvin put his arm around her shoulder. “Yeah. I guess so. It’s just that something like this seems so pointless. All we have to do is help one another. We’ll make it. There is no real need for things like this to happen.”

“I know,” replied Calvin. “But you know as well as I do that there are people in this world that would rather take and not give in return.”

“Yes,” Nan said with a sigh, “I do. I just don’t like it much. Let’s go on back home. The plans are made for the trip tomorrow. Nothing more we can do here.”

Nan was driving one of the Jeeps and Calvin the U500 the next morning when they returned to town. It was a bright, sunny day, and warm. The Chief and the Mayor met with them for a few minutes before the convoy of vehicles left town.

Besides Calvin and Nan, Stanley Smith was going along as official city representative. Two farmers, with older bob trucks that still ran, were coming along. Four people would ride the backs of the trucks, with an additional man in the cab of each truck. That gave them a total of twenty people.

Everyone was armed. Calvin had an M1A and his Glock 21. His load bearing vest and belt carried six spare twenty-round magazines for the M1A and four thirteen-rounders for the Glock, along with two one-quart canteens, first-aid kit, a utility pouch with a few odds and ends, and an M-6 bayonet for the M1A that was more for field use than its intended purpose.

Nan was similarly equipped, except she carried a Steyr AUG and a Glock field knife. The others were armed with a mix of weapons, mostly hunting rifles and the occasional revolver.

The police armory for the town was limited. Stanley was in uniform and carried his normal load out, including a Glock 17 9mm with high capacity magazines. About the only other options he had was a Remington 870 12-gauge pump shotgun or one of two M1 Carbines the town had acquired in the 1950’s. He left the 870 for Tom in town and was carrying a carbine with a fifteen round magazine in it and four thirty-rounders in his pockets.

Calvin led the way, clearing the ash where needed, with the Unimog. They found their first vehicle about five miles out of town. It was locked and abandoned. Stanley used a key gun to get it unlocked. There was nothing in it of real use. “We found a few people just outside of town,” Stanley said. “One or more of them were probably in this when the EMP hit.” They siphoned the gasoline from the cars fuel tank and transferred it to a fifty-five-gallon drum in one of the farm trucks. Stanley took down the pertinent information and they moved on.

It went much the same until that afternoon. Nan and Calvin wore their load bearing equipment over their Tyvek coveralls. The others, except for Stanley, had some type of overall or coverall and jacket to protect themselves from the ash. Everyone had respirators or dust masks, as well.

When they found bodies, and they found many, in vehicles, and afoot, Stanley recorded what information he could find. A few of the passenger vehicles had some supplies that were useable, and they were loaded onto the trucks. Not a one of the vehicles would start. They emptied any fuel that remained from each one.

The only major find was the delivery semi for the grocery store. It had been on its way to town with a full load for the store. They tried to start it, too, but to no avail. Everything was transferred to the smaller trucks. It was late afternoon and they decided to head back to town.

When they returned, they found the roadblock at the edge of town. The Chief and Tom had not been idle during the day. The town council had decided they did not want a repeat of the previous day and authorized the roadblocks on each road into town. They would be manned by armed local citizens until they were sure the threat was over. Each one would have a radio available so those manning the roadblocks could call the police force for assistance, if needed.

Calvin and Nan made a couple more trips with the townspeople, but became worried when they saw some signs that there was at least one group out there that was raiding for supplies. They had found one family massacred. A man, woman, and two children. The house had been ransacked. Anything and everything that might be of use to a roving band was taken. Everything else was trashed. It looked like the gang had stayed in the house for at least a couple of days.

After the find, Calvin and Nan stayed at home for a while. Partly to conserve their stock of fuel, but also for security reasons. The Chief and his officers had suspicions that someone in town was involved with the gang. If the gang got word from someone it town that the Stubblefields were doing well in the aftermath, it would only be a matter of time before the gang descended on them. Calvin arranged with the Chief to have two way radio communications between their home and the police station, in case their home was attacked.

Calvin and Nan were careful to always go outside, either together, or with one covering the other from a good vantage point. They were working diligently in the greenhouses. The ash had pretty much destroyed the garden. The attack and the volcanic activity had them worried about the weather.

What little news was coming from FEMA, through the county and thus the town, was to expect a severe winter. Calvin’s and Nan’s gardening paid off. They had plenty of vegetables to can. They’d been able to trade for a half a beef from one of the locals, and a whole pig from another. Both had taken partial payment in gold and silver coins and the remainder in work on their farms with the Stubblefield’s equipment. Mostly digging burial pits for the animals they lost.

Both had some working farm equipment, but very little fuel, despite the ongoing scavenging trips by those in area. Small amounts of fuel were coming to the town from FEMA, but only for emergency and protective services. Food shipments were also few and far between. The community was having to fend for itself, for the most part.

With heavy snow starting in early September, those that could prepared for the forecast harsh winter. Quite a few had moved to the camps that FEMA set up, hoping for the best. The rest hunkered down and also hoped for the best.

Except for that small handful that had no preparations, except for weapons. With a system that looked good to become an early blizzard, the gang finally attacked the Stubblefield home. Calvin and Nan had continued to keep their guard up. That included regular checks of the property.

“Nan,” whispered Calvin into the Motorola FRS radio. “We’ve got company. Bad company from the looks of it. Get back to the house and up in the stairway cupola. You’ll have 360 degree vision. I’ll hunker down in one of the hidey-holes and hit them from the rear while you take them head on. But be sure to keep scanning all around.”

“Okay,” Nan whispered back, the tension in her voice obvious. She’d been following Calvin, about twenty yards back as his cover. She hurried back to the house, entered, and locked everything with the security system.

They’d talked about how to effectively defend their home, and having one of them outside in prepared defensive positions and one in the armored cupola was the only remotely effective method of repelling an attack of more than one or two people. At that, if there were enough of them, it wouldn’t work either and Nan would have to bug out through the escape tunnel and join Calvin outside.

She took the time to call the police station and tell them they were coming under attack, then hurried up to the stairwell cupola. They had pre-positioned ammunition there, just in case. Nan removed the thirty round magazine in the Steyr AUG and inserted a one-hundred-round Beta C-Mag dual-drum magazine into the rifle.

Nan used the binoculars kept in the cupola and did a quick scan all around the property. The only place she couldn’t really see was the area right in front of the house. She kept checking the other areas, but watched the area around the road leading to their place. She could see at least six men in the forest, and two walking up the road itself.

Calvin was watching, too. From inside a prepared fighting position. It was off the road, but where he could see parts of it. He waited a while as the group continued to move toward the house. Calvin checked the forest behind him. No signs of anyone else staying back to cover the group’s rear.

When he was sure everyone was between him and the house, Calvin exited the fighting hole and move toward the men, to a another fighting hole. He removed the cover, climbed inside, and pulled the cover back over him quietly.

Calvin could see all of the front of the house and a good section of the road, as well as much of the open space between the tree line and the house on the front, and well to each side of the bluff.

Those in the forest stopped, each one taking up a position behind a tree right at the tree line. One of those in the road threw his arm over the other one and hunched down slightly, faking a bad limp.

That settled it for Calvin. He had some question that the people had just wandered into the area and were being cautious. The deception proved other wise.

“Hello the house!” the one supporting the limping man called out as they stopped out in the open area in front of the house. “My friend’s been hurt! We need some help!”

They waited a few seconds and repeated the call. When they received no answer both men stood up, bringing weapons out from under their coats, and moved toward the house. The snow started to fall lightly. Calvin lined the sights up of the M1A on the center of the back of the man that had shouted. He squeezed the trigger.

As soon as Calvin fired, Nan began to fire on those that had just started toward the house when their two companions had brought weapons out began to approach closer. Calvin put another round in the man he’d shot, and then took out the second man, who was simply looking around uncertainly, his rifle at the ready.

Again Calvin fire two rounds, then switched his aim to those still approaching the house. They had begun to bob and weave, but Calvin and Nan were both experienced shooters. It was some time before the group realized that they were being fired on from behind as well as from the house, and began to return fire at Calvin. They had been concentrating on the cupola.

Calvin tried not to think about the fire pouring toward his wife, despite the fact that she was well protected with concrete, steel, and thick Lexan. And the firing ports were just large enough to use, and no larger. He could tell she was taking out those most likely to get behind her first, letting Calvin take care of those around the front of the house.

It didn’t take long for the gang to realize they were in untenable position. The survivors began to run back to the forest. Nan stopped firing, but when Calvin continued to drop assailants, she resumed, as well.

Those few still able to move had run out of sight. “Nan,” Calvin called her on the radio. Stay alert. We’re not moving until I know they aren’t coming back or the Chief gets here.”

“Okay,” Nan replied. She switched magazines, putting in another of the three C-Mags they had for the AUG, then set it down and picked up the binoculars. The snow was beginning to get heavy, but she continued to scan the area. At least that kept her mind off what had just happened.

Calvin was doing much the same, surveying the area all around him. He was beginning to get a little cold by the time the Chief and Stanley showed up thirty-five minutes later. Calvin waited until the two got out of the car and he was sure it was them before he came out of the fighting hole. “Nan,” he said into the radio, “Keep watching. We’re coming in.”

As he approached and saw the Chief with the force’s shotgun, and Stanley with an M1 Carbine, Calvin called out. “Over here!” He was holding the M1A down at his side so they wouldn’t mistake him for an attacker.

Both continued to swivel their heads around as Calvin walked up. “Looks like you took care of it yourselves,” Bill said.

“Maybe,” Calvin said. “Some of them got away.”

They walked over to the two bodies near the front patio. Bill looked at the bodies, and then gave Calvin a quick look. Calvin said nothing, but looked calmly back. The two men’s weapons were lying in plain sight.

They went and checked each of the other bodies. Well, six bodies and three badly wounded live men. None of the three were able to move on their own. “What do we do, Chief?” Stanley asked.

“Well, I’m tempted to just put them out of our misery,” Bill replied. Stanly looked shocked. “But we can’t do that,” the Chief continued. “We’ll have to send someone out for them. It’s really a county problem, you know.” Bill looked at Calvin.

The snow was coming down harder. “You can’t leave us out here like this!” one of them cried out.

Amidst groans and the occasional scream, the three were moved none too gently over in front of the house. “I’m not going to ask you to take them inside,” Bill said, as they propped them up against the patio wall.

“Stanley,” the Chief said then, “You stay here and guard them. I’ll go back to town and see what I can do about getting a deputy and an ambulance out here.” He looked down at the three men. “Don’t be holding your breath, fellows. It could be a while.” His voice was as cold as the weather was turning as the snowfall increased. Bill headed out to the old Ford.

One of the men had lost consciousness when the situation finally got to Calvin and he went inside to make them something warm to drink. He called Nan down from the cupola. She wouldn’t be able to see anything now, anyway. With the snow falling, and the light fading, you could only see a few yards.

Nan took Stanley inside to use the bathroom while Calvin watched the men and tried to help them drink the warm beef broth he’d made for them. It was mostly a waste of time. The one was unconscious, one had chest and stomach injuries, so couldn’t drink, and the third died of his wounds before Calvin could try to help him take a sip.

Stanley came back out carrying a cup of the broth to warm himself up, with Nan accompanying him. “Nan,” said Calvin, “I’m going to get the Bobcat and drag the bodies over by the road.”

Nan nodded. She swapped rifles with Calvin, taking his M1A and giving him her AUG. It would be easier to sling and keep handy while he worked, just in case. He didn’t want to be out there with just his Glock 21.

The man with the chest and stomach injuries gurgled loudly one time, spasmed and died while Calvin was moving the bodies. By the time he’d moved the bodies from around the house, and the two on the patio, the third man had died. Calvin added him to the pile.

“Chief,” Stanly said into his handheld radio. When the chief responded, Stanley said, “No need to bring the ambulance. All three of them have died.”

Calvin and Nan both heard the reply, as did Stanley. “Just as well. County, through state, from FEMA, just put out a shoot on sight order for looters and marauders. We’d have had to hang them tomorrow. Anyone captured in the act is to be executed immediately. Only if there’s reasonable doubt is anyone to be held and taken to the FEMA holding camps. I’ll be there in a few more minutes to pick you up.”

Calvin and Stanley took a quick trip around the tree line, checking one last time, before they went into the house to wait for the Chief. Nan started a fire in the fireplace. “How are you holding up?” Calvin asked her, putting his hand on her shoulder when she stood up.

She sighed, gave him a quick hug, and said, “Okay, I guess. But I’m going to need some serious crying time here pretty soon.”

Calvin hugged her to him and held her for long moments. “I may just join you,” he said softly.

Bill came in for a few minutes to warm up when he arrived. The heater in the Ford wasn’t working all that well and the temperature had already fallen to below freezing. “We can’t stay very long,” he said. “The road is starting to get bad.”

“You want to stay here tonight?” Nan asked. “We can lead the way in the morning with the Unimog, if you think it’s too bad to go back tonight.”

“No. We’ll be fine,” Bill replied. “But keep your radio on, just in case. I don’t want to have to walk the rest of the way in if the car quits.”

As he and Stanley bundled up to go out into the storm, Bill looked at Calvin and Nan. Calvin was standing with his arm around Nan shoulders. “You two did what had to be done,” Bill told them. “Don’t knock yourself out about it. That’s the group that’s been killing and raping and stealing from the survivors. When we catch up to the rest of them, they’ll meet the same fate.”

Bill frowned. “I hate to leave those bodies out there. Could be wild dogs get to them. They deserve to be dead, but I don’t like to see bodies desecrated.”

“Chief,” Calvin said, “we haven’t seen a single animal or bird since the start of this. I think the ash got what the radiation didn’t. Oh, there’s bound to be a few animals that made it, especially ground dwellers, but I doubt there’s anything out there now that’ll brave this storm.

“You could be right. Now that you mention it, there haven’t been much in the way of wildlife, except for domestic animals. And a lot of them died during this, too. Okay. We’ll see you guys… whenever. I think you’re safe for now, but keep being careful.”

“Thanks, Chief. Thanks for being there when we needed you. You were right. We’re really the county’s problem.”

“You may be the county’s problem,” Stanley said, “But we aim to see you stay safe. You and that equipment of yours. It’s going to be a big part of saving the town.”

When the Ford had disappeared into the snow and the darkness, Calvin and Nan returned to the fire, after locking the door. True to her word, Nan snuggled up against Calvin and began to cry softly as he held her.

Chapter 31

Buddy and Charlene went out nearly everyday, suited up. When they were actively decontaminating they wore respirators. If just getting some fresh air and sunshine, such as it was with the nearly constant volcanic haze in the air, they wore dust masks.

By then end of another two weeks the area around the shelter was decontaminated and they could go outside without the Tyvek suits. “Char,” Buddy said, as he checked the city again with the binoculars, “I think I should go down and see what we can find in the city. We have food for a long time, but I’d like to get more. Some more ammunition. Some more supplies for you.”

“When should we go?” Charlene asked.

Buddy took the binoculars down from his eyes and looked at her. “I think it should just be me.”

“Oh, Buddy! That’s too dangerous! We should both go. I’m comfortable with a gun now to be of some help, if something happens.”

“I know,” Buddy replied. “It’s just… I’m worried it might be bad. And now that I have you, I don’t want to lose you.”

“Well, Buddy,” Charlene said somewhat sternly, “I feel the same way about you. If you go down there alone and something happens, I would never know it. I couldn’t stand that.”

“It would be better if we both went. But then again… I hate leaving the place alone now. We’ve seen smoke a couple of times. There are other people up here.”

“The chance of anyone running across us is slim. You said so yourself.”

“I know. But I still worry.” Buddy paused for a moment, then added, “Okay. We’ll go down together, but be prepared to take the place back if someone had found it. At least we’ve got some of the supplies cached, too.”

“Do you plan to stay overnight, or go and come back?”

“We’ll take things for an overnight stay, just in case, but I’d rather do a quick reconnaissance, pick up what we can find, and get back here. There’s bound to be some people that made it. I want to find out what I can. The radio broadcasts haven’t been that informative.”

“Tomorrow?” Charlene asked.

“Tomorrow,” Buddy said.

They moved the shielding from in front of the garage doors that after noon, in preparation of taking the truck out the next morning. They loaded up what they wanted to take with them, and then turned in early. It would probably be a long day, the next day.

They didn’t see any signs of people until they got to the suburbs of the city. It took them most of the morning to make their way that far. The roads were choked with abandoned vehicles.

Tense with worry, Buddy cautiously drove up to the two men walking along the side of the road. Both stopped and turned to watch as Buddy approached. Both were armed, but left their rifles slung over their shoulders, though they looked ready and willing to bring them into play in needed.

“Hi,” Buddy said. He had his window down and drove up to them on his side of the truck. “I see there are other survivors. I’m Buddy Henderson. This is Charlene Brubaker. We’re up in the hills.”

Buddy breathed a slight sigh of relief as the two men nodded politely. The first one, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt said, “We figured there are a few of you up there. I’m Alan and this is Juan. We’re headed in to the shelter to get supplies. Any chance of getting a ride? Aren’t too many vehicles working any more.”

“We can tell you how to get there,” Juan said.

“You understand, we have to be careful,” Buddy replied. “The news reports…”

Juan patted his rifle. “Understood. We haven’t run into anything yet, but we always go armed.”

“Okay,” Buddy said. “Climb in the back. But if I get a bad feeling about something, you’ll have to get out. Okay?”

“Sure,” Alan replied. “Any less walking is better than not any less walking.” He gave Buddy the address where a shelter had been set up by FEMA. Buddy knew where the location was. There would be plenty of time to see if there was some type of ambush set up.

There were more and more signs that some work had been done on the roads as they got closer. A regular lane had been opened up in the worst of the traffic jams. It was another twenty minutes before they saw more people. They were all moving the same direction. There were children as well as adults. Perhaps ten percent were armed in obvious ways.

Convinced that the two men had been telling the truth, Buddy stopped to let a family of six, with small children, climb into the back of the truck, too. It was another fifteen minutes of slow driving before they got to the entrance of the compound set up on the parking lots of a Wal-Mart and a Sam’s Club.

There were a handful of vehicles parked outside the compound. Juan directed Buddy over to them. When Buddy was parked, the others got out of the back of the truck and thanked Buddy and Charlene.

A National Guardsman walked over, M-16 slung, and said, “I’ll log you in and your vehicle will be guarded until you return. Can I see your ID? You’ll need to show it again to get the truck, in case I’m not on duty.”

Buddy pulled his wallet out and handed his driver’s license to the corporal. The Guardsman dutifully recorded the number on the clipboard, along with the truck’s license number.

Handing the license back to Buddy, the man said, “You look new here. You need to see registration first off.” He pointed to one of the tents near the entrance. There was a table set up in front of the tent. Next to the tent was a large board with many things posted on it..

When Buddy and Charlene got over to it, they could see that the postings were mostly messages from one person or group to loved ones, stating their condition and location. It wasn’t too busy at the moment at the table, so Buddy and Charlene approached it.

“We just came down from the hills,” Buddy said. “First time since the war.”

“Fill these out and we’ll get you on the census,” the Guard Lieutenant said. “Are you healthy? Do you need a doctor immediately?”

“No,” Buddy replied. “We’re fine. We just wanted to find out what is going on.” He was filling out the card as he spoke. “Should we put our old address or… Oh. Never mind. I see.” Someone came up behind them, so Buddy and Charlene moved to one side and continued filling out the form.

A sergeant took the form from them and went into the tent. A few minutes later she returned and handed each of them a laminated ID card. “You can show this to get rations and such. Be aware that the information is recorded in a computer and anyone found abusing the relief system will be dealt with harshly. You’ll have to check your weapons, but you will get them back when you leave.”

The sergeant nodded over toward a tent a few steps further in from the registration tent. Half a dozen soldiers were taking and giving weapons as IDs were shown. Buddy looked back at the sergeant and said, “We were going to try to find some more food, but we’re pretty well supplied. It looks like…”

“You’ll need to speak with our Captain, Sir. There is nothing I can do for you. I have a specific job to do. Just tell Lieutenant James what you have in mind. She’ll direct you to where you need to go.”

Buddy nodded. Charlene had yet to say a word. When there was a break in the line, Buddy stepped back up to the Lieutenant’s position. “Lieutenant, we’re not desperate for food or anything. We’re more interested in finding out what is going on.”

“That’s good to hear,” she replied. “Go to the third tent in the cluster just inside and ask for Captain Hansen. He’s the PIO. He can update you.”

It wasn’t quite a madhouse, but the place was busy. Buddy and Charlene followed some other people inside the delineated area and approached the tent. Several people were standing around. Buddy saw a soldier standing at the entrance of the tent and asked for the Captain.

“He’s just getting ready to give an update, Sir. Just join the group there and you should be able to hear everything.”

They listened to the Captain and learned the condition of the city, surrounding area, statewide and nationally. It wasn’t good. Buddy and Charlene exchanged a look. Charlene started to say how lucky they’d been, but realized that luck had been only a small part of their good fortune. It had been Buddy’s foresight and preparations that had allowed them to be in as good of shape as they were.

After the briefing, they hung around until the captain could see them. “I don’t really know what to do,” Buddy said. “We’ve got a place in the hills. We’re okay for the moment, but we’d like to get more food, fuel, and some ammunition. We heard about the marauders…”

“We can’t help you on the ammunition. The food yes. Fuel we using all we can salvage for official purposes.” The captain gave them a hard look. “As you mentioned, there have been some marauding. That includes looting. Now I know there are some areas of the country where that has been condoned as salvage and scavenging, but here in the city it will not be tolerated. Just keep that in mind.”

Buddy nodded. “Like I said, we aren’t that bad off, short term, as long as the marauders don’t make it up our way.”

“I don’t want to sound too harsh,” the captain quickly said. “You can barter, trade, or buy whatever someone has to offer, as long as it hasn’t been looted. There are people that have. Most do not.”

The captain’s fatigue was suddenly obvious when he added, “Most of those out there now are not going to make it. Too much radiation exposure. It just hasn’t caught up with them yet. But you didn’t hear that from me. Shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. But you folks look like nice people, trying to do the right thing.

“I’d suggest you share as much as you can, if you have supplies, but I’d be cautious. Re-supply is going to be problematical. I’m afraid that is all I can tell you. Since you’ve said you have supplies we can’t really give you anything, despite the fact that it is known that at least a few people are getting everything they can, even if they already have good supplies. Fear at work with all this talk of a bad winter coming on.”

“I guess we should head back to our place, then,” Buddy said. “I wouldn’t be comfortable taking anything, anyway, with people needing that have nothing.” Charlene squeezed his hand in agreement.

“I wish I could do more. I can make arrangements to see our commanding officer, though I don’t think it would do any good. I’m not a policy person, as you know. I disseminate information.” He managed to smile then. “And acquire it.”

“No. That won’t be necessary.” Buddy shook the captain’s hand when he held it out. “Thank you for the information.”

“Good luck to you. Oh. If you do have a mind to trade, there is an area on the far side of the compound for barter and trade. It separate from the compound itself. You’ll have to walk around.”

“We’ll check it out.” With that, Buddy and Charlene left.

“What do you think?” Charlene asked Buddy as they made their way toward the entrance of the compound.

“Let’s check out the barter area. What the captain said changes things a little for us. I thought we’d be able to scrounge things. I guess they are in places, but not around here. Though I bet some are. Some get caught, others are sneakier.”

“Okay. Let’s see what they have.”

Buddy thought there was quite a bit available. But most of it was of no use to them. He and Charlene did make a not of things that were in demand. They would be able to do some trading if things continued much the same.

A few people were taking silver and gold coins, though many would only trade item for item. Buddy had brought some coins with him and used some silver to buy all the seed he could find. Gardens were going to be very important in the future. Even more important would be farms.

There was a different guard on duty at the parking area, but upon showing his driver’s license again, and the new ID, they were able to get the truck and head out. Rather than turning back toward the hills, Buddy headed for Charlene’s place first. She gathered up quite a few more things, and with Buddy’s help loaded them into the truck. They did the same at Buddy’s place.

Both their houses were in decent shape. They’d not been damage much by the blast, other than losing some shingles. Neither had been looted. Buddy suspected that would just be a matter of time. He would try to find the parts to get the plumbing van going so he could move it and all his plumbing supplies up to the new place.

Chapter 32

It wasn’t until he got to the suburbs that Charlie saw any activity. What he did see was people all heading in one direction. He followed along slowly, keeping his distance from everyone. Part of the way was uphill and he was very tired when he came to what had to be a government camp.

Charlie pulled out of the way and thought about things for a long time. He really didn’t like the idea of being in a camp, but they should have food and a safe place to sleep. Probably medical care. He must have stayed in the shelter long enough, since there were people here in the open. Still, he hesitated.

He noticed that people with transportation, the occasional motorized vehicle, several bicycles, and even one horse, were all going to one area and leaving their vehicles. There were also people coming back and getting the vehicles and leaving. That convinced him.

Showing the state photo ID when asked, Charlie asked several times if he would be able to get his belongings back and was assured patiently each time that he would. He went through the registration process FEMA had in place, and then sat down to a hot, filling meal.

Charlie got a change of clothes, since they were offered, and three days worth of food. “That wasn’t so bad,” Charlie said softly, as he pedaled away. Though told it was safe to be out of shelter now, if he hadn’t received much radiation exposure, Charlie thought that since he had received enough to make him sick he should stay in shelter all he could.

But it was a long ways from the construction site to the FEMA camp. Charlie decided to try to find an abandoned house with a basement he could stay in until he decided what to do. He’d been told it was going to be a terrible winter. Deciding that a ritzy place was as good as a hovel, if it was abandoned, he headed for the upscale part of this suburban area.

He almost went past the house, but he saw the front door open and decided to investigate. The place certainly looked ritzy enough. Charlie looked around carefully, and then quickly pedaled the bike to the side of the house. He hid the bike and trailer near the back corner of the house, behind some landscaping bushes.

Taking his closet pole, minus the chains and buckets, Charlie waited a few minutes, then quickly went inside the house and closed the front door. “Hello!” he called, not yelling, but not so soft that it couldn’t be heard.

It took a couple of hours to search the place. It was fancy, all right. And it did have a basement. There was even some food in the pantry. Fancy food. The food in the fridge and freezer was all bad. He found a few tools in the garage. Taking a shovel, he buried the stinking mess in the side yard.

When he went out into the backyard he noticed two big plastic looking disks some distance from the house, and a nice bird fountain with gazing ball, but didn’t think much about them.

He’d tried a faucet. No water pressure, he noted, but remembered from the articles in the paper that there might be some in the hot water heater. He’d get to that later. He waited around until dark, to see if anyone showed up. When they didn’t he brought his things inside the house. He brought the bike inside, but didn’t want to open the garage door manually to move the trailer in. He left it hidden behind the bushes.

Charlie didn’t fill the buckets very full, but he used the shovel to dig a pretty good size hole in the back yard, near the fence line, and put the dirt into several buckets. He would use it to cover the waste in the toilet bucket, and then bury the accumulation in the hole.

He was feeling the strain by the time he had the last two buckets in the basement. It had been a long day for him. The basement was semi-finished and included a family/game room, as well as a bedroom.

Sleeping in a real bed helped Charlie. He woke up refreshed. After he ate, he stashed some of his belongings in several places outside the house, and then hooked the trailer back to the bike and set off. Apparently water wasn’t a problem at the camp. They let him fill all six of the buckets he had on the trailer.

Charlie took a rest after taking each of the buckets into the house. That was his drinking water. Water from the pool in the backyard would do for sanitation and bathing. The rest of the day he spent resting, inventorying items in the house and garage of use to him, and making plans.

Chapter 33

Angela hadn’t told Emily about the man staying in the house for the last three weeks. She’d seen him on the camera system in the back yard occasionally, digging and filling holes. He would also get water from the swimming pool with a pair of buckets on a pole. He seemed harmless, moving slowly, as if he were weak. Of course, he was out in radiation of over a roentgen. He must be staying in the basement, for shelter, Angela had decided. She wondered what had brought him to that specific house.

Despite the man being there, they needed to get out of the shelter and take a look around. The information on the radio indicated FEMA and the National Guard had a camp nearby where they could get help and find out more about what was going on. They still had plenty of supplies, but the reports of a bad winter coming had Angela worried. And Emily was next to useless when it came to decisions.

Emily was content to let Angela call the shots. She made no protest when Angela strapped on the holster and 1911A1 pistol that had been in her fanny pack, and slung the Benelli over one shoulder, a bandoleer of shells over the other, and began climbing the ladder up to the shelter hatch. She’d check the camera. The area was clear at the moment.

When she had the hatch un-dogged, she quickly opened it and clambered out, closing the hatch behind her. Angela ran over to the side of the house and looked around the corner, bringing the Benelli around off the sling and to the ready.

After checking the other side of the house, she tried the back door. It was locked. Angela had taken the precaution of getting Emily’s keys from her before she left the shelter. Quietly she unlocked the door and went inside.

Things were in better shape than she expected. There was no sign of any ransacking. Deciding to leave the basement for last, she checked the rest of the house. It was obvious that some things had been disturbed, but there was no wanton destruction.

Finally, Angela tried the basement door. It didn’t have a lock, but when she opened it the door knocked something down the stairs that made a loud clattering noise.

The noise from the early warning system woke Charlie up. He’d been taking a nap, one of several he took every day. He was regaining his strength, but it was coming slowly. He had to work at the camp for a couple of hours now, each time he went in to get food or water and he was tired much of the time.

He lay there quietly, not moving, in the darkness of the basement bedroom as he heard footsteps on the stairs after several long moments. Afraid he might get shot if the person or persons coming down the stairs were armed, and he startled them, Charlie finally decided to call out. They’d find him anyways. Perhaps he could talk his way out of this. He got up and went to the open door of the bedroom.

“Hello! What do you want?”

Angela stopped her descent. He was in the room that opened off the family/game room. “I want to know who you are and what you are doing here.”

“Just crashing,” Charlie replied. “Look. I’ll get my things and go. I thought the place was abandoned. I don’t want any trouble. I’ll just go.”

“Where is that big stick you carry?”

Charlie was surprised. “How’d you know about that?” he asked, but quickly answered anyway. “There by the sofa.”

“Okay,” Angela said. “Come out where I can see you. I have a shotgun. I’ll use it if you try anything.” There was enough light from the basement windows, set high in the basement walls to see adequately.

Charlie stepped out, his hands at shoulder level. “Don’t shoot me. I’ll be out of here so fast you’ll never even know I was here. Can I take my stuff with me?”

When Angela saw Charlie she came down the last three stairs. “Is there anyone else here? And don’t lie to me. I’ve been watching the place for some time.”

“Just me. Honest.”

Keeping the Benelli at waist level, but trained on the man, Angela took a quick look around. It was obvious the man was living in the basement. But he was living neatly. Still no signs of wanton destruction. “What’s your name?”

“Charlie. Charlie Grayson.”

“If you want to get out of this alive, Charlie, you’d better tell me the truth. Do you have a weapon?”

“Closest thing is the closet pole there.” Charlie was keeping his hands up. He took a step forward and added, “Please. Just let me leave. I’m not out to hurt anybody. I just wanted a safe place to stay until I can head south. I have radiation sickness.” Realizing that the woman might think it contagious he quickly continued. “But it isn’t catching or anything.”

Angela frowned. “I know that. How bad is it?” She kept the shotgun trained on him and made a small motion for him to stop moving. He did.

“Not too bad, but I’m not up to a long trip. FEMA says the winter is going to be tough. I aim to put together some supplies and go south. FEMA is handing out a little food for work.”

“Yeah. I heard that on the radio.” Angela shifted the gun slightly, raising the end of the barrel enough for it to point over Charlie’s head. But ready to drop it again and fire if needed.

“You have a car or something? And fuel?”

Charlie shook his head. “No. Bicycle and trailer. Fuel is hard to get. There’s people scavenging, though they aren’t supposed to. You can buy it if you have whiskey, food, guns and ammo, or silver and gold. If you don’t get caught.”

“So there is trading going on,” Angela said. She brought the shotgun barrel down and tucked the stock under her arm. “You can put your hands down. But don’t try anything.”

“I won’t,” Charlie replied. “Yeah. You can trade. A lot of people are. There is a lot of scavenging, despite the National Guard patrols. They aren’t pushing it too hard as long as it doesn’t get to flagrant. Or violent. They’re really cracking down on violence.”

“What are they doing to gun owners?”

Charlie shook his head again. “Nothing if you don’t use it first. A lot of people go armed. Me, I just have my closet rod handy.”

Angela started visibly when Emily called down from the top of the stairs. “Angela, are you okay down there?”

Looking up the stairs, Angela saw Emily standing in the doorway, John on one side, and Catherine on the other.

“Jeez, Emily!” Angela called up. “You scared me half to death! And I could have shot you. What are you doing out of the shelter?”

“Well, the kids wanted out and you’ve been gone a while and I wanted to see what was going on and… I know you told us to stay, but it’s been such a long time and you were out… and I was afraid you might just take off… and… I don’t know. I’m sorry!” Emily was starting to cry.

“Okay, Emily. It’s okay.”

“Someone has been here, haven’t they?” Emily asked.

“Yeah. A man named Charlie. He’s here now. He’s been living in your basement for three weeks.”

Again Charlie was surprised at her knowing that detail. She must have been watching from the start. That was creepy.

“Is he dangerous?”

“I’m not. Really,” Charlie said quietly.

Angela frowned. “I don’t think so, but we can’t take any chances,” she told Emily. To Charlie she said, “I’m going to let you go, with your stuff. But don’t try anything.”

“Thank you,” Charlie replied, relieved. “I won’t try anything. It’ll take me a little while to move everything.”

“I understand. Make sure it’s far away.”

Charlie’s face fell. “I was just going to move to the next house,” he said, the disappointment obvious in his voice. “I can’t afford to get too far from the FEMA camp.”

“Oh,” Angela said. “But how do I know I can trust you not to try something?”

With a shake of his head, Charlie sadly replied. “I guess you can’t, can you? Can I have a couple of days to move everything? I’ll do it whenever you say.”

Angela groaned when Emily called down, “Why can’t he stay here, Angela? We’re staying in the shelter. He can’t do anything to us there.”

“Emily!” Angela barked. Under her breath she muttered, “Tell all our secrets, why don’t you.”

It hit Charlie then. The big disks on the ground in the back yard must be part of an underground shelter. “You must be alone, then,” Charlie said. Before he could continue, Angela spoke.

“What of it? I’ve got the gun. And I will use it.”

“I understand. What I meant was that it’s hard being on your own. I don’t want to stay in the camp, but I’m afraid all the time that someone will catch me off guard and hurt me and take my stuff. Like you could have done, if you wanted to. Maybe I could be of some help to you. I don’t want anything, but you’re going to want to go to the camp and register. You can get food and water there. And information. I can keep an eye on things.”

“Yeah. Like that’s going to happen.” Angela snorted.

Emily had come down the stairs several steps. She bent down and looked at Charlie. “Isn’t that a good idea, Angela? We need to do that. Get registered. I’m sure the government will know what to do. But I don’t like the idea of leaving the place empty.”

Angela just shook her head. After a moment she said, “But we don’t even know him. He could do anything.”

“We have to trust someone,” Emily said quietly. “Has he really done anything to indicate he’s a danger? It doesn’t look like he hurt the house.”

“Well, no, not really. And he’s got radiation sickness.”

With that, Emily backed up the stairs and gathered her children to her. “Maybe it’s not such a good idea, then.”

“Emily, you can’t catch radiation sickness from someone. Not if they’ve been decontaminated.”

Charlie quickly interjected, “I have been. Clothes and all.”

“Oh,” Emily said. “That’s different, then.” Firming up her voice, Emily added, “I’ve let you make the decisions so far, Angela. But I’ve always been one to lend a hand. At least when Edward would let me. Which wasn’t often. He’s obviously a sick, homeless man. And he said he wants to help. We should help him if we can.”

“Things have changed,” Angela protested.

Angela was rather impressed when Emily stood up to her. “I must insist.”

“Well, it is your house and shelter. And I’m not going to give up what you’ve shared with me, unless I have to, so what you say goes.” Angela looked over at Charlie again. “I guess you get to stay.” It was Angela’s turn to harden her voice. “But you try the least little thing and I’ll put you down like a rabid dog.” She was surprised when Emily didn’t protest.

“You aren’t making a mistake,” Charlie said. “Okay. What’s next?”

“I want to see this FEMA camp of yours. Come on upstairs.” Angela stayed cautious, but Charlie followed her up the stairs without any problems. They all took seats around the dining room table. Angela had the Benelli slung over her shoulder, but kept her hand near the Colt 1911.

“I’m reluctant for all of us to go at once,” Angela said, when no one else spoke up. The two children headed up to their rooms to get some toys they’d been deprived of for the last two months.

“Maybe you and Charlie should go so you can check it out while I and the children stay in the shelter.”

Angela was surprised again. It was what she was going to suggest. “Okay. That sounds workable. But you must promise me you will stay in the shelter with the hatch dogged until we get back.”

Emily nodded. “When?”

“I was going in tomorrow for more rations and water,” Charlie offered. Emily and Charlie both looked at Angela.

“Okay, I guess. Charlie and I’ll go in tomorrow.”
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