Sorry You're on Your Own


Chapters 1 through 3

Sorry, you’re on your own

Chapter 1:

Bob lay against the cold mud. His finger tips were numb, frost melted into his hair from the leaves brushing against him. The night wind sighed through the bare treetops. How had it come to this?

Life had been so stinking easy just a few weeks ago. There were no worries about whether your family would survive the night if you weren’t there to protect them.

He had left the house locked up tight with a warm fire burning and the family armed and alert with the dogs inside. He had told them that he might not be back until after dawn. If he ran into trouble he wouldn’t go back to the house. Not to lead trouble home. Maybe to the cache site. Maybe just far away if someone were following him with hostile intent. He didn’t even know who might be in the house below. Now he realized that he should have organized a neighborhood watch and been patrolling the neighborhood for weeks. He barely knew who lived a mile away let alone whether they might have guests who were target practicing. That was the best explanation he had come up with while waiting for darkness to fall to investigate the flurry of gunfire. One of the neighbors had probably bought a couple semi auto rifles for self defense in these increasingly uncertain times and test fired them in their back yard. If two or three family members had been firing at the same time, that would explain what had sounded like full auto fire. Maybe he was just being paranoid. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that somebody was in trouble.

An hour after sunset he had put on his camo, added grease paint on his face and slipped into the trees. The shots had come from the direction of the homes between the village and his place. He worked his way to the back yard of his nearest neighbor. All seemed well at the Fleishers’ place. He actually saw either Gert or her daughter Mandy blow out a candle in an upstairs bedroom as they settled into bed. Bob slipped back into the woods and worked his way toward the next house. It was the goat farm so he followed the fence line of their back pasture and approached the house and barn from the rear. He paused 300 yards away and listened for a moment. He couldn’t hear anything besides the gently blowing wind and an occasional leaf scuttling across its fallen fellows.

He crouched low to take advantage of a small rise shielding his approach. He crawled the last few yards to keep his profile below the ridge top until he reached the top of the rise itself. By raising himself just enough to peer over the roots of the brush, he could see that there was a light burning in the house here too. He wondered if he should get closer. Six weeks ago he could have had a starlight scope delivered to his door for less than a week’s pay. About now, he’d have given a month’s salary for one.

Just a week ago the radio transmission that they had hoped would put them back in touch with civilization had instead told them not to expect any help from outside. It was only three weeks since things went crazy.

There had been rioting when the stock market closed for a “cooling down period” after the big drop. That news was already dwarfed by live coverage of the huge fire in New York City when the power went out. Some said it was from a terrorist attack at a fuel depot, others said it had started with a riot at a gas station when the price at the pump went over five dollars a gallon. Almost everyone agreed that the fire had contributed to the blackout. Someone heard a report that hydro dams in the Midwest had been dynamited. There were rumors that the nuclear reactor just over the border from Buffalo had been bombed. There was even mention of an EMP. But whatever the contributing factors were, once the grid was down the firefighters lost their pumps there was no stopping the blaze. God only knows how many blocks burned. Fire crews in the west had already been battling wild fires. Their drought showed no sign of breaking while the Southeast continued to be drowned in floods. It was just another symptom of the increasingly violent weather patterns of the last decade.

The first week was easy. With the power out, most business, schools and government offices shut down. Those with generators diverted power and fuel to hospitals and other essential services while it was available, but eventually even that stopped. The first few weeks most folks treated it as an unexpected holiday. After the initial rush to empty convenience stores there was little to do but wait. Then things started getting ugly, fast.

Day 1.

The outage hadn’t come without warning. In fact, the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) had issued a statement just the day before pleading with businesses and individuals to cut back on energy usage to ease the strain on the already stressed system.

When the office lights had gone out, the computer continued to run as the battery back up came into play with seamless efficiency. Bob Adams saved his spreadsheets and clicked on the Internet Explorer icon. The news homepage told him what he already suspected, that the rolling black outs were getting worse and the power grid was going down in chunks. Almost no one had heeded the pleas of the power companies to cut back on power usage, but that wasn’t surprising because the same press release assured the public that the shortage was temporary and would be quickly remedied. When the overhead lighting dimmed and finally blinked out, Bob made his decision. He updated his timecard showing vacation time for the remainder of the day and shut down his computer. By the time that the monitor display had collapsed to a central bright wink he had slipped on his sneakers. He habitually left the Oxfords at the office just in case he had to do any significant amount of walking before he got home. It was a lot more comfortable to shop in high-tops than in wingtips. If the power didn’t come back on soon, it might be awhile before he came back to the office so he used the key on his car key ring to remove the black gym bag out of the locked drawer in the bottom of his file cabinet. Before leaving his office he verified that the contents of the “get home bag” were intact and undisturbed. Slipping the duffel bag’s strap over his shoulder he relocked the cabinet and his office door on the way out.

He was talking to Dan Condon when the big diesel generator restored power to the building.

“See, nothing to worry about” smiled John. At five foot five and 240 lbs. John was all smiles now that the elevator was working again.

“You might be right, but I think I’ll take the rest of the day anyway.”

“Yeah, I’ll twist your arm.” Grinned John.

With archery hunting open, it wasn’t hard to convince Bob to take the day off. Even though John reported to him, Bob considered him more of a friend than a staff member. They had hunted together occasionally though John was more of a backyard plinker than a hunter.

Bob let the rest of his office know that he would be out of the office for the remainder of the day and slipped into the stairwell. Even with the generator on, he decided not to risk using the elevator. He pushed the heavy exit door open flooding the dim bleak stairwell with late October sunshine. As he cleared the building he saw a number of other people standing around the exits of neighboring doors. The businesses couldn’t run without power so employees were standing about smoking and chatting while waiting to see how long it would take the power to come back on this time and lamenting the big losses in pension funds making headlines.

Bob put the gym bag on the passenger seat of his truck. It gave him comfort to have the full sized Colt 1911 within reach. The single stack magazine only held 7 of the fat .45 ACP cartridges but he had a lot of confidence in the stopping power of those blunt jacketed hollow points.

It was mid-morning but traffic was already backing up at the intersections with nonfunctioning red lights. Bob shook his head as he saw a dozens of vehicles waiting in line while those in the lead warily nosed into each intersection. A few swift turns carried him around the stalled traffic on streets. The stop signs still worked perfectly. One quick shortcut across a long parking lot brought him to the main thoroughfare exiting the city. This was the closest bridge to his worksite, and he breathed a deep sigh of relief when he left the river behind him. Getting across one of the bridges was his top priority for getting out of the city. The Hudson was wide, deep and cold, but now that he was on the same side of the river as his home, he knew that he could walk if he had to.

He tried to call his wife to let her know that he was on the way home. The cell phone was out of service. The same thing had happened on 9/11/2001 and during the 8/14/2003 black out. He shook his head at the frailty of the system. He should have used the land line before leaving the office. Without Nancy’s help to refresh his memory he mentally reviewed the inventory of supplies in his pantry. He thought that only the perishables needed topping off. All the staples had been stored years in advance and they rotated semiannually. So they should be set for rice, oatmeal, soup mixes, and pasta.

Parking at the grocery store he reached into the gym bag for the envelope with currency. He had four twenties, four tens, four fives, and ten ones. He had considered saving it for an emergency, but with under $20 in his wallet, he concluded that this was emergency enough. It at least had the potential to become one anyway. If it didn’t, he’d just replace the $150 at his next stop at an ATM. He concealed the gym bag with its’ Colt on the floor boards under a jacket and locked the truck before going inside. The front door had a piece of paper taped to the glass with large magic marker letters spelling out

“CASH ONLY – exact change appreciated”

There were no lines at the check out registers so it was the work of minutes to cash out with a cart holding two 25 pound bags of dog food, 10 pounds of cat food, a 3 pound bag of oranges, 2 gallons of milk, 2 gallons of orange juice, 2 quarts of lemon juice, and 2 loaves of bread. Realizing that he still had half of his cash reserve intact Bob added a package of each size of alkaline batteries from the rack near the register. He had already bought extra canned food and storable stables like salt and sugar very shopping trip for the last month as prices had begun to climb. It was getting to the point where it was worth shopping where stores priced inventory at the cost of goods sold rather than the cost to re-order. Just last week he had bought three gallons of cranberry juice at $3 each instead of the current $3.75 he saw on the shelf today.

The store manager was working the register himself with a calculator and a pad of carbon copy receipts.

“I can only take cash sales, buddy.” He waved a warning hand as Bob approached with his full cart.

“No problem. I’ve got it.”

When Bob made exact change to the penny the manager remarked that he was glad that somebody still remembered how to use cash. Bob saw several abandoned carts of groceries and at least one shopper sitting with her check book in hand waiting for the power to come back on.

Bob saw a gas station that was taking customers and pulled in to top off his tank. The station had generator power to both the register and the pumps. While he was there he picked up a half dozen quarts of motor oil as well. He could use it at the next oil change if he didn’t need it for any other reason. With the price of oil approaching $100 per barrel, he figured that he’d save at least 10% buying what was on the shelf now instead of waiting until after the next price hike. Bob figured that he’d rather have just a little too much than not enough. The brown outs and rolling black outs had been happening in the western part of the state all day yesterday. The radio said that the trigger event for this black out was that a hydro generating station in Montreal had gone offline for “unscheduled maintenance” during mid-morning. Bob didn’t like the sound of that at all. He wondered if there were equipment failures at fault or if or if an undisclosed security threat was at the heart of the matter.

It took a few minutes longer than normal to reach home. It would be far worse for his coworkers who waited until noon or the usual commute time to brave the increasingly gridlocked traffic in the city. The radio told him that the black out was spreading beyond state boundaries with reports of grid failure in south eastern Canada as well as New York, Pennsylvania, and the New England states. From habit Bob flicked the light switch inside the kitchen door when he went inside. The complete lack of result confirmed that the lights had not miraculously stayed on at his home while the half the country was going dark.

He brought in the gym bag, replaced the emergency cash from the funds he kept at home and locked the entire duffel in his gun cabinet. Then he unloaded the groceries, putting everything that needed cooling into the refrigerator at the same time, only opening the door once. At the same time he took out everything he needed to make a sandwich treating himself to an extra portion of deli meat in the realization that it would quickly spoil. It was just noon and his family wasn’t due home until after the end of the school day so Bob spent the next few hours adding to the wood pile. The weather was still warm, but autumn was coming on fast. He couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if they had to rely exclusively on wood heat for the long cold winter. Just the thought of it was enough to motivate him into cutting a face cord of wood to stove length pieces. That required both refueling and adding bar and chain oil to his saw. He was glad that he had stocked up on two cycle oil and bar oil in the spring. There were a lot of local loggers so no one thought it strange for him to buy a case of two cycle oil, or five gallons of bar and chain lubricant six months ago. Under normal conditions that would be a several year supply for his household needs, but now he was glad that he had it. He figured that buying a year’s supply before the prices soared had saved a minimum of 10% and any investment that earns 10% was worth making. If only the saw kept running, he would be all right.

When the saw ran out of gas/oil mix the second time, Bob checked his watch and realized that his family was due home in a few minutes so he put his equipment away. Leaving the wood to be stacked later, he stripped off his outer clothes outside the back door and gave them a good shake to get the majority of the saw dust off. The lights were still off which meant that neither the water pump nor the boiler to heat the hot water would be working, so he took a quick dip in the cold pool rubbing his scalp briskly to wash the sweat and saw dust from his hair. It was chilly but effective. If the lights didn’t come back on he was sure going to miss hot showers. For that alone he was glad that he had the generator. He hoped he wouldn’t need to fire it up. After working with the smooth running saw and with the bright sunshine streaming down he almost convinced himself that he was just being paranoid and everything would quickly return to normal.

Nancy had picked up a gallon of milk and a pound of nectarines on her way home as well. Rob said that school without lights “was fun” except that the only pencil sharpener in his fourth grade classroom hadn’t worked. The electric sharpener was out of commission so those who broke their pencil leads had to either use spares or share with their better stocked neighbors.

Nancy’s long hair swung gently as she inclined her chin and noted that “There might just be a lesson in that.”

Bob had to agree.

Supper that first night without electricity was “Potluck surprise” because it was surprising what was hiding in the refrigerator! Left over everything that needed using before it fermented was the theme. The evening was passed pleasantly telephoning friends and relatives and confirming that everyone had eventually made it home despite traffic snafus and other inconveniences. The Adams then had a family read aloud first by fading sunlight then by the light of kerosene lamps until it was early bed time for everyone.

Day 2

The power was still off the next morning and the battery powered radio told the family that the governor’s office had declared a statewide emergency. Schools and government offices were closed. The cell phones were still out, but the land line still worked, so Bob and Nancy touched base with their supervisors and confirmed that they had the day off. Breakfast was a hearty round of cold cereal with fresh fruit and the still cold (but not exactly icy milk) and hot tea. The family enjoyed the unexpected day off together picking late black berries and thimble berries and playing soccer and frisbee on the lawn. Fresh salad greens from the fridge and garden with the remaining deli style sandwiches and slightly cool milk made lunch.

After lunch the family worked together to stack the wood that Bob had cut the day before and then to collect the late garden produce: tomatoes, broccoli, and green beans were harvested to save them from the danger of frost. Then as Rob played and Nancy began canning the tomatoes, Bob looked to the generator.

The old generator was hard wired to the house. Bob flipped the switch from power coming in from the overhead lines to the generator and began resurrecting the seldom used machine. It needed a little coaxing but carburetor cleaner and a fresh spark plug brought it roaring to life. Bob ran rechecked the circuit board making sure that he had power only to the boiler, well pump, and laundry room. Nancy was glad for the ease of filling the hot water bath canner from the kitchen tap instead of needing to haul jugs of water up from the basement. While the water was heating on the propane fueled stove top, Nancy began to do laundry. Bob filled every water storage container in the house including filling the bath tub with hot water. The boiler not only heated the hot water for laundry and bathing, but also heated the house to a pleasant 70 degrees while the generator ran. When the last load of laundry had rinsed and even the kitchen sinks were filled with water for washing dishes, Bob shut down the generator. It had consumed a half tank of gas in two hours’ time.

Their phone went out some time during that evening as well. They didn’t know that it would be a very long time before they heard a phone ring again. Bob had the last turn in the tub. Even though the water was luke warm by the time he reached it, it still felt good to be able to lather up and rinse off without freezing. The temperatures were already dipping into the 40s at night. Frost would be coming soon.

Day 3.

The morning news on the little tri-powered Grundig radio told them that the financial markets were closed for a “cooling down period” because of the continuing slide in stock values. A state of emergency was still in effect and that SEMO was recommending that people stay home to leave the roads free for emergency vehicles. Anyone in need of food, water, or special needs like continuous oxygen should report to County shelters being established at each hospital.

Bob decided that the first order of business after breakfast would be to top off the gas tanks. He pocketed the $150 cash reserve from the get home bag, and added the remaining ten $20 bills from the cash reserve he kept at home. With the partial can of gasoline from the garden shed Bob topped off the tanks in the generator, lawn mower, and mixed another gallon for the chainsaw. That emptied the five gallon can. He had another empty can on hand that had been emptied over the summer. So his stored gasoline had dwindled to just three full five gallon cans besides what was in the vehicle and equipment tanks.

Everyone decided to go into town together to stock up at the library and see if they could pick up anything still lacking. The twelve mile drive into town was uneventful except for the high number of people out raking leaves and closing their pools. Children played on the lawns in windbreakers and puddle boots as a light rain spattered the windshield.

“Whoa!” The gas station was overrun with cars parked at every conceivable angle. A big sign in the window read “FREE ICE-CREAM” and every child in the neighborhood seemed happily holding a cone. A rented generator on a trailer hummed at the side of the lot with thick cables running to the pumps for the underground storage tank. The lights were on and the register was running nonstop as everyone within 20 miles filed in to top off their gas tank. Bob pulled into line and turned off the engine. “I guess I’ll meet you guys at the library.” He kissed Nancy and tousled Rob’s hair sending them across the street to the old library where the lights were off, but the doors were open.

It took 35 minutes to reach the pump. There was the expected “CASH ONLY” sign plastered on every pump but he hadn’t expected the 50 cent per gallon mark up in the last 48 hours. Somehow that didn’t seem right, but Bob topped off the tank and filled his two cans then parked on the street before going in to pay. The dairy case was nearly bare. There was no milk, but Bob took most of what was left. Two pounds of butter, a container of half and half, and four half pound blocks of cheddar cheese. Cashing out, Bob noticed the “Out of Order” sign on the ATM Automated Teller Machine. He left his truck parked beside the gas station and walked to the pharmacy. Glen looked up from behind the counter as Bob walked in.

“Morning Bob.”

“Good morning Glen, How’s business?”

“I’m happy to say that it is slow.” Smiled the pharmacist.

“Let’s hope it stays that way.” Bob agreed. The men knew each other fairly well as Nancy taught fifth grade and Glen’s children (now teenagers) had both been through her class room.

“What can I do for you?”

Bob had been vaguely panning the shelves of over the counter medicine.
“Tell you the truth Glen, I’m stocking up. Everyone is healthy at the moment but with prices going up and winter coming on, I thought it might be a good time to refill the medicine chest.”

“Your check is good with me Bob, just let me know what you want.”

In a few minutes Bob had a basket of tissues, flu remedies, and cures for stomach upset, diarrhea, headache, sinus pressure, congestion, cough, stuffy nose, fever, and allergic reactions.

“Did I miss anything?”

“Just this.” Glen put a large dark bottle of liquid in the bag. “While you were shopping I looked up the last few prescriptions you had filled. Nancy had an unfilled refill on an antibiotic. I’d feel better if I knew you took some home with you.”

Bob took a long look at the pharmacist and slowly nodded.

“I believe that would be a good idea.”

Glen’s calculator tape totaled $85.25
Bob paid in cash, thanked his friend and returned to the car.

On the way to the truck, Bob noticed that there was a line of people inside the bank. A printed notice taped to the glass of the front door announced that because of the power outage withdrawals were limited to $100 per account until the power returned and balances could be updated. Deposits of cash and checks were still being accepted but the withdrawal limit included cash back on deposited checks. Locking up his purchases in the car, Bob returned to the bank and withdrew $100 from both his savings and checking account.

On his way to the library he noticed that his full gas cans were getting more attention than he wanted so he drove to the library and pulled up outside of the large plate glass windows where he could keep an eye on the car. He had just found Nancy and Rob with a big pile of books they had checked out when the Fire station siren rose from its moaning sigh to near deafening crescendo only a few doors away. Watching the trucks pull away through the glass Bob wondered how they had been notified that there was a fire. Perhaps someone had driven in to tell them. Perhaps they had a scanner or CB set on battery power? In any case Bob was glad to see that help was on the way for folks who needed it.

Nancy suggested a stop at the hardware store as long as they were in town. The store was already out of batteries and candles but there were four bottles of paraffin lamp oil for just 99 cents each. When Bob asked about garden seeds the clerk told him that the unsold seed inventory had all been shipped back to the seller for refunds. Looking out through the store’s plate glass window from the unlighted interior Bob saw the same two teenagers who had been hanging out near his truck at the gas station gross the street toward his truck.

Bob excused himself and stepped outside just as the boys reached his tail gate.
“Anything I can help you guys with?”

The boys hadn’t actually touched the truck or its contents but the reacted as if they had been hit with chain lightning.

Paul Henry’s mouth fluttered like a landed fish but no words came out. Tim Easton just stood like a deer in the head lights.

“No Mr. Adams…we were just…looking …for….at…um..for my Mom!”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought. Say, you wouldn’t be looking for work would you? I need a couple young guys to split firewood for me and I thought you might be willing to trade some work for some gas in your bikes.”

Both these kids had worked their way through cub-scouts without managing to fully grasp the concepts of honor and responsibility. But they had managed to develop a love for motor cross and spent most of their waking moments either riding or working on their bikes. At 16 they were legal to be on the road before dark if they were going to or from work.

It took a few seconds for the realization that they weren’t about to be chewed out or arrested to take hold. Then the swagger returned “we’ll need gas to get there too.”

“I’ll go one better” nodded Bob. He handed them each a $10 bill. “That ought to get you enough gas to get to my place after lunch. I’ll feed you dinner and top off your tanks when you finish the wood pile.”


Nancy stepped up beside Bob as the boys went to wheel their bikes toward the pumps. “You’ll never see that $20 again.”

“Maybe.” He acknowledged “But at least they won’t be stealing form anybody.”

When the boys showed up a few hours later Bob had dropped a fair sized dead beech tree in the woodlot and was cutting chunks from the trunk. He set his hired labor to splitting the wood into stove sized pieces and carting it to the woodpile at the edge of the lawn. At 5 PM Nancy called them in for a big pile of cheeseburgers, chips, and the five of them emptied a gallon of milk in one sitting. The woodpile had been enlarged by a month’s worth or heat and more importantly the boys had been diverted from mischief. Bob had deliberately left the two gas cans in the back of the truck so that he would not have reason to open the storage shed while his guests were present. He let them fill their own tanks and sent them home tearing up gravel with their on/off road tires. They would enjoy the twenty mile round trip on their bikes as almost reason enough to come to work.

After they had gone, Bob fired up the generator and threw breakers to power the water pump, boiler, and freezer. While he and the rest of the family enjoyed hot showers in turn, the semi-thawed contents of the chest freezer refroze.

Listening to the evening news broadcast by kerosene lamp light was an oddly pleasant mix of 18th and 21st centuries. “It reminds me of the gaslight era” said Rob. The news told of the Governor calling up the National Guard to deal with
riots and fires in New York City. There was chaos in the international stock markets even though Wall Street had been closed for 24 hours. The broadcast ended with a story on relief conveys coming into Texas from the government of Mexico and speculation that power could be restored to the west coast within 24 hours.

Day 4:

Butter fried toast from the frying pan with orange juice, bacon, scrambled eggs, and hot tea with half and half started the day. Emptying the refrigerator freezer occupied most of the morning. Some of the formerly frozen vegetables and steaks became lunch with the last of the second gallon of milk on hand (only one remained). Everything else became chicken stew with dumplings simmering for supper. The stew grew to include all of the chicken breasts and a several packages of vegetables and frozen broth from the chest freezer. This stew was then home canned in jars for a longer shelf life without refrigeration. They ran the generator for an hour to refill water jugs, wash a load of laundry, and cool the freezer. The news was unchanged except that riots were reported in half a dozen cities. Municipal water had been out for at least 72 hours nearly everywhere. Convenience stores were stripped of bottled water and soft drinks and people were becoming desperate. Those interviewed on the street demanded relief from the government. For weeks afterward Bob remembered one woman indignantly demanding “Somebody has gots to help me! They need to get some water and food to folks that don’t have none!”

Day 5:

Butter fried toast, bacon, eggs, orange juice and tea with half and half made the world seem right when the sun was high. Only the kerosene lamps sitting about the house looked out of place indicating that life was forever changed, but in truth the television had already begun to look like a waste of space.

The morning news no longer referenced the financial markets or the state of emergency. Martial law had been declared in New York City, Newark, Cleveland, Chicago, and Los Angeles. All non-military flights were grounded. The National Guard had been federalized and sunset to sunrise curfew was in effect in a long list of locations including the entire previously mentioned cities.

The national news broadcast closed with an announcement that in an effort to ensure future capability the station would only be broadcasting for two four hour blocks of time beginning at 6 AM and 6 PM until further notice.

A local news commentary noted that people were running out of water, food, and medicine. The mayor of a nearby city’s interview announced that since trash was no longer being collected, each household should make an effort to securely bag refuse and to try to recycle everything of value to limit the total amount of trash awaiting pick up. The violence had apparently not yet reached rural upstate NY, but in every metropolitan area mentioned martial law and curfews were in place. Refugees were streaming out of those areas, traffic was gridlocked or roads entirely blocked by disabled vehicles or intentional barriers. It was like the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, except this was nationwide and growing.

In the larger cities law enforcement seemed nearly ineffective. Without communications, the officers on the job could do little unless something happened while they were actually watching. In those instances their options were often limited to either let the looting occur or use deadly force. There were no detention facilities with power available. Many urban areas had already erupted into violence. Large fires were burning not only in NYC but also in LA and Chicago.

Some rural villages were becoming near feudal states with roadblocks to keep refugees from the cities from overwhelming them. Others areas tried in vain to helped everyone in need as best they could. It happened not only on a town by town basis but also on a national level. Canada and Mexico struggled with huge swarms of refugees. The Peace Bridge in Niagara Falls became the scene of a mass trampling when undocumented refugees attempted to force unrestricted crossing into Canada and border guards fired on the crowd.

In their little corner of Heaven, tucked outside of village limits on a mountainside, the Adams weathered these events fairly well. They decided to stay off the roads, stay out of town, and stay home. For the next week, they finished the fall yard work and garden preparations for next season. They spent the days cutting firewood and ate heartily from the freezer which was kept cool while slowly thawing by running the generator for about an hour each day.

Day 6:

By the end of the first week they were out of fresh milk. The powdered milk was barely tolerable for use in oatmeal and cereal and there didn’t appear to be any end to the power outage in sight. So when Rob suggested that they get a cow, Bob and Nancy really explored the idea. Keeping a full sized cow wouldn’t be practical without the advanced preparation of a good fenced pasture and winter feed. A miniature cow like one of the Dexter cattle they had seen advertised in Countryside and Small Stock Journal might be more practical but no one kept them within 100 miles. The most practical solution seemed to be to visit their neighbors the Emmons who kept a small herd of dairy goats a few houses down the road.

With the only fresh milk for 20 miles, Ike Emmons knew that his herd was a gold mine. He eventually agreed to let Bob take home a milking doe in exchange for $100 in cash, a 22 caliber rifle, and 500 cartridges. A few months before, the nanny goat would have sold for $50 and the rifle for twice that but it gave the Adams fresh milk again and Bob knew that the growing boy needed that.

It was the 7th day after the power went out when Bob noticed hearing shots in the hills as people began poaching whatever they could to fill their tables. Bob stabled the goat in the chicken coop at night and tied the dog at the door. He also began to keep a loaded rifle within reach at all times, just in case.

He decided to siphon the gas from the second car and store it in the shed with the rest of the cans just so no one else could siphon it out and carry it away. He was using a quart of gasoline in the generator each evening to refill their stored water, take hot showers and do laundry. Each night before starting the generator he would throw the big switch back to grid power in the hope that a light would come on. When that failed, he would return it to the “Off grid” position and start the generator.

It was on day 8 that Nancy brought a gallon sized can of dry vegetable soup mix up to the kitchen. The fridge and freezer were almost entirely empty, but they still had a lot of canned and boxed food in the kitchen pantry and on the basement shelves. The #10 cans were their emergency reserve of food in case of disaster. Bob raised an eyebrow in inquiry when he saw her carrying the big can up the stairs.

“We have to rotate it anyway” Nancy said.

Bob knew that it was a smart move to begin mixing their storage food into their meals. They had tried to use up six cans of the stored food every year for the past several years. That let them cycle through 30 in the recommended five year storage period by using and replacing one six can case annually. By opening this can “for rotation” allowed them to begin using their long term reserve without quite admitting that they had given up hope for the power to be restored. If the lights came back on, they were simply cycling through their stock to freshen their inventory. But if this was truly the beginning of the end of the world as they knew it, then it was a less frightening way to begin adjusting their diet from fresh and commercially packaged food to that stored for seeing them through a crisis.

“If this is it” Bob said “we’ll need to really ramp up the garden next year.”

Nancy nodded and came to hug her husband. It was frightening to consider that they might need to produce every once of food that they would consume for the rest of their lives.

When Nancy began to make the soup, Bob went down to the cool, dim basement. Without the aide of electric lighting, only the soft light filtering in through the small basement windows lit the poured concrete room which he always considered a sanctuary. He breathed in the dry cool air deeply. There stacked beneath the stairs were the five cases of #10 cans. At a rough estimate of 10 meals per can in 30 cans, they held 300 meals. Split among the three family members at three meals per day that would be just 33 days of food. There probably wasn’t quite that much in the cans. Bob had thought of the cans as a month’s supply of pancakes, soup, dried fruit, and bread mixes. If there was a little more there, then all the better. The next stack of boxes was MREs. The five cases of “meals ready to eat” military rations and their civilian counterparts (produced by the same supplier as the military field rations) contained 12 meals per case. The 60 meals, even at only two per day that would only last 10 days. Bob figured that these were his evacuation meals. If they ever had to leave home, these pre-cooked and ready to each meals should carry them until they reached safety.

40 days food sure wasn’t much compared to the coming five months of winter before them. His gaze rested briefly on each shelf of the basement pantry. They probably had another month of commercially packaged groceries there. That gave him a bit of comfort, but not as much as the big plastic pails resting on a pallet in the corner. These had given peace of mind since well before the Y2K scare. In 1998 he had started his long term food storage plan by picking up three pails of rice and three pails of oatmeal. He figured that they would store just about forever. And with a combined weight of over 200 lbs that reserve of basic grains would let them fill their bellies with at least one solid meal per day for six months (even if they would get mighty sick of oats and rice). If the lights didn’t come back on by Monday they’d better start having oatmeal for breakfast on a regular basis.

They thought that surely by Election Day all would be restored to normal. But the broadcasts they could find on the little dynamo radio told them that most of the country was in far worse shape than they were. Instead of announcing polling places, on election morning the President addressed the nation to say that elections would be postponed until the power could be restored and that each municipal area should prepare for winter to the best of their ability. In other words “Sorry, you’re on your own.”

Sorry, Chapter 2 - Bob’s diary:

November 9th – It’s been two weeks since the lights went out.

Well if we are on our own, we’d best set about looking after ourselves in a serious way. I had been hoping that things would get back to normal before winter set in. But it is getting too late for that. There was ice in the dogs’ water dishes this morning.

I’m so glad that I have most of the firewood cut. Even using the generator just a little each day used up the stored gas far too quickly for my comfort. What a waste of precious gasoline lawn mowers were. Sawing through the umpteenth piece of stove wood I vowed that if the lights ever came back on, I would never mow the lawn again. Within a minute the chainsaw sputtered out and I had to dip into the 2nd five gallon can to mix a new batch. We spent the rest of the day bringing wood into the basement to stay dry until we needed it.

The last of the potatoes, carrots and onions are in the basement, packed in buckets of cool dry soil. I tried to collect the seeds on the lettuce and spinach but I won’t know how successful I have been until spring. The potatoes at least will grow from the skins even if we have to eat all the tubers themselves. The tiger lily roots have proven edible, but they certainly aren’t potatoes. I’m glad we have the Jerusalem artichokes too.

It gets dark so early now. But that gives us time to rest and appreciate a cup of tea and good books between supper and bed. Chili and corn bread with fresh milk for supper with the last can of fruit cocktail for dessert tonight. We have begun having oatmeal for breakfast every other day.

Nov. 10 - It snowed last night. It’ll melt today but it is cold enough now to preserve fresh meat. It’s time to start hunting in earnest. I felt strange leaving home to hunt. Who knows what might have happened while I’m away? Rob wanted to hunt with me (so he was looked after easily enough). But Nancy stayed home to protect the place. Who will protect her while I’m away? Of course she knows how to defend herself but I pray she won’t have to.

After our usual breakfast of hot oatmeal, the boy and I took to the woods. He carried the 22, and I the 308 semi with a 20 rd magazine of soft points. The rules are different now.

The deer trails low in the valley hadn’t been used, but the snow was a blessing. We hit a pair of tracks high on the hill and followed them as quietly as we could. Just as the tracking was becoming impossible as the snow melted in the heat of the day, a tail flagged out of the brush on our left. A pair of deer were rocketing downhill. I had already told the boy to shoot at anything he could positively identify as a deer for as long as he could see it. I followed my own advice sending four shots at the one in the rear.

Minutes later, the little doe’s eyes glazed as we followed the blood trail to her. I swapped in a fresh magazine pocketing the partially empty one, closed the 308 on an empty chamber, then slung the rifle and began to dress the deer. Two 308 bullets and a single 22 caliber projectile had indeed broken the skin. The boy nearly burst with pride.

The entrails (except heart and liver) were left behind. Heart and liver were bagged and brought home to be soaked blood free and batter fried for supper with a can of green beans on the side, and chocolate goats milk to celebrate the day. The rest of the deer was quartered and hung from the porch rafters to keep cool until needed.

Nov. 11- Spent the day fleshing the deer hide and coating it in salt. Hopefully it will dry cure. The cats have returned home to clean up any scraps the dogs left on the ground and are far too interested in the hanging quarters! Venison tenderloins with garlic and carrots for dinner, oh my!

Nov. 12 – Cats have ruined the deer hide. The little buggers can climb better than I thought. I can’t blame them though. They are hungry. We don’t see chipmunks close to the house any more.

The Emmons and Fleishers gladly accepted venison (the front shoulders). I asked whether they had any gasoline to spare, but they both said no. Ike Emmons sent home a handful of wormer pills for the nanny goat. He said she’d probably need them once a month. Fleishers have a diesel truck and had already drained all of Eric’s heavy equipment to run the truck to town looking for more fuel. Eric said that the filling station has run dry of both gas and diesel!
He barely had enough diesel to get home with the truck. They had electric heat so they can’t even drain their heating oil for the truck. I told them that I could loan them a few gallons from our oil tank so they have it for an emergency.

If the station is out of fuel WE need to REALLY conserve! God only knows when we will be able to get more. Nancy and I decided that the +/- twenty gallons left will be used strictly for the generator and no more frequently than twice a week to refill the water, bathe and do laundry at that.

Gert Fleisher sent home a box of kids’ books that their daughter had out grown. They said that they found them while searching the attic for holiday candles. Cleaning out the hidden corners is a good idea. We’ll have to do that too. I know we have some candles packed away in the Christmas stuff.

I invited them for dinner on Sunday and told them to bring a load of laundry and that the shower would be available. I thought their daughter Amanda was going to cry when she realized that she’d have a hot shower to wash her hair.

We had snow again, but it didn’t stick. Even without the boiler running the woodstove is keeping the house toasty, but we are going to need a lot more wood than usual.

Thick venison stew with barley instead of the usual soup for lunch, and pancakes for supper.

Nov. 13 - Saturday – Scrambled eggs and venison steaks for breakfast instead of oatmeal. The hens are down to 1 or 2 eggs per week. No bugs left for them to forage and greens are getting scarce for them. The goat has worked her way through the garden weeds, and lawn edges. We have to move her tether a couple times of day so that she can browse.

We spent the day at rest and reading. Can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of “Jacob’s trouble” written about in the book of Revelations.

I decided to sort through all books in the den. Everyone ended up with several to read or re-read. “What is this world coming to”, “Patriots”, and “Arctic Adventure” for me. I hope it’s going to be a warm winter. We are taking turns reading the Little House series out loud after supper. It’s ironic how much we have in common with the 19th century these days.

Buried among the books we found many papers that are of little value now, but can be used to kindle fires. I never thought I’d miss the weekly stack of newspapers to recycle! But it is harder to coax the fire to life in the morning without a ready supply of newspapers to ignite the kindling.

Supper tonight was ribs, new potatoes, and carrots roasted in the stove coals wrapped in foil. What a cook! Nancy decided that we better wash and save the foil to be used again.

Nov. 14 – The Fleishers came for dinner. It was good to have visitors. We’ve been on our own for a solid two weeks. Nancy made pot roast with mashed potatoes, carrots, and the Emmons brought desert of the “no-bake” chocolate oatmeal cookies that Amanda had made in gratitude for use of the hot tap water. I bet we’ll be eating more of those soon. Eric brought a bottle of red wine for after dinner drinks. Which if know him, must have been a very sincere gesture of thanks. Eric polished off what was left in the time it took Gert and Mandy to shower.

After dinner we fired the generator for a last bath day. We powered the washing machine, boiler and pump. So we all had had hot showers, clean clothes, full water tanks (and every pot in the house). We even kept the tub full after showers to flush with. Water is going to be a chore without the help of the pump and we won’t have the pump if we don’t have gas for the generator.

We were just walking the Fleishers out and shutting down the generator when we heard a barrage of rifle shots from down the valley. That is not uncommon, but these were far more than the average hunter/poacher. It sounded like full auto fire with a shotgun thrown in. Either a whole group of shooters was wiping out the flock of turkeys, or something else was going on. I've decided to keep the lamps unlit tonight, and plan to go out after dark to see if I can find out what happened. It might be nothing at all, but I can’t shake the feeling that someone is in serious trouble. I hope that the generator noise didn’t carry as far as the sound of those shots did.

Sorry - Chapter 3:

Bob peered at the house through the 3-9X magnification rifle scope. It did little for light gathering, but at high power it let him peer into the lighted room from 150 yards away like he was at the windowpane. He could see a man he didn’t know reading beside a kerosene lamp. Just because he had heard shots and didn’t recognize him didn’t mean the stranger was hostile. Bob just had to wait. The smell of cooking and something else he didn’t place right away drifted to him. Smoke poured from the chimney as long minutes passed.

Another lamp was lit inside illuminating a room upstairs. There were several people moving around throwing shadows on the curtains. Occasional voices drifted through the walls but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.

Suddenly a match flared and a cigarette glowed red in the shadows outside the house. He screwed his eye into the scope and looked hard into the darkness. He could just make out a dim figure leaning against the corner between house and porch.

The front door was flung open throwing lamplight and noise into the yard. He could see the fireplace blazing and men sitting at the table inside. Maybe they had come to buy goats like he had. Maybe they had traded rifles for them. A man stepped through the doorway zipping a woodland camo field jacket and let the spring slam the door closed again. He paused on the steps, and pulled on his gloves against the cold. He picked up a rifle that had been leaning against the wall just outside the front door. Holy Crap! How had he missed that? Bob saw a half dozen black carbines leaning against the wall to the right of the door.

Who ever was inside, they felt secure. They also knew enough about weapons to avoid frosting and thawing their rifles every time they went in and out of the cold. The rifles were definitely in the AR15/M16 family. Bob didn’t know the technical differences but he knew that they weren’t cheap. Who the heck were these guys?


After slipping the rifle sling over his shoulder, Larry Pulaski leaned over the rail and said something crude to the Karl Larson as he smoked in the shadows. They chuckled quietly before Larry stepped off the porch and walked down the driveway toward the road (directly away from Bob). As the man reached the pavement, Bob saw another figure began to move in the trees on the far side of the road. That was way too close for comfort. Not only had Bob missed seeing the guard at the steps, he had no idea there was a man at the end of the driveway. The second sentry stood, passed a smock or poncho to the man from inside, and exchanged a few words as they switched places. Taking a seat inside the tree line on the far side of the road Larry called out to the sentry he had relieved “Take in another piece. It’s almost gone.”

Ken Anderson waved his reply and slung his AR15 carbine over his shoulder as he crossed the yard. He waved to the smoking door guard and angled toward the barn and Bob.

Bob felt like the sentry was coming right at him, but he was heading to the barn. As he opened the front door, several goats trotted away from the shed into the pastured woodland where Bob lay hiding. Once he was inside the barn the relieved sentry turned on a flashlight to find his way.

In the woods Bob thought, “Whoever they are, they’re well supplied – they still have cigarettes and batteries.”

The beam cut through the darkness inside the barn and sent rods of bright electric light into the darkness. The effect was like a disco ball as the moving light poured from dozens of holes in the walls as he moved inside. By shifting his position slightly, Bob could see through the pasture into what had been the dark interior of the barn just to the left of the house.

Holding the light in his mouth Ken walked to a hanging hulk that showed dark hair on one side and glistening red on the other. He used a sheath knife to sever a front shoulder and leg from the goat carcass hanging from a rafter. It was already missing the tenderloins and back quarters.

That was the other smell that Bob couldn’t place at first. Mixed with the smell of the goat yard and billy musk was the smell of spilled blood and fresh offal. Ken carried the goat leg in his left hand by the foreleg, his carbine was slung over his shoulder and as he maneuvered to slip the knife back into its sheath, he looked down. The beam of the flashlight still in his mouth swept the barn floor illuminating a sight far more focused in the nine power scope than Bob wanted it to be.

After the screen door banged shut on the house. Bob realized that it was a good thing that the rifle’s safety was on, because his gloved finger was clenched tight against the trigger. His breath came back in insanely loud gulps that he could not control. He didn’t know how long he had been holding his breath or how long his eyes had been closed trying to shut out the horror of what darkness hid again in the barn. In the instant that the light had swung over the floor of the shed he had seen what had become of the old couple who owned the farm. Ike and Hannah Emmons lay with open eyes staring into eternity and the backs of their heads blown wide open by the impact of bullets at close range.

Click here for Chapters 4 through 7