Cowboy - Chapter 1

Jenny groggily reached for the telephone, trying to read the digital clock on the bedside table. It took a moment for her to focus, but finally she had it. 5:37 am. She picked up the telephone receiver, ready to rip into whoever was calling at this hour.

But when she heard the only words spoken she was suddenly wide awake. “Six lanterns,” and the phone clicked. It was enough message for Jenny to activate her emergency evacuation plan.

“Must be bad,” she thought as she climbed out of bed and went to her bedroom closet. “Six Lanterns!” It was the MAG’s threat assessment team’s take on Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. One if by sea, two if by land…

A one lantern warning was simply to be extra aware of what was going on. Six Lanterns was impending doom of one sort or another, with heading for the MAG’s retreat property advised.

Jenny hesitated for a moment. The weather had been marginal at best when she went to bed. Best be prepared for the worst. She put on silk long john over her underwear, added silk liner socks and then heavy wool socks. She added sturdy cotton blend khaki pants and shirt. A million things running through her head, Jenny sat down on the bench at the foot of her bed and put on her hiking boots.

Hesitating only a moment, Jenny went to the walk in closet again and opened the small free standing fire-resistant safe and took out everything it contained. Her grandfather’s pair of old Walther PPK .380 ACP pistols. One was in a small-of-the-back paddle holster. The other was in an ankle holster. She set them on the bed for a moment. There were twelve loaded spare magazines for the PPK’s, four of them in two paddle style two magazine pouches, two in an ankle double magazine pouch, plus six without pouches. They also went onto the bed.

One tube of gold American Eagle one-tenth ounce gold coins she opened, and after taking off her Orvis leather pants belt with the hidden zipper, thumbed the gold coins into the hidden compartment, zipped it up and put the belt back though the belt loops of her pants. Another tube of one-tenth ounce gold Eagles, two tubes of pre-1965 silver dimes, two tubes of pre-1965 silver quarters, and one tube of Silver Eagle one-ounce rounds went on the bed. So did a Spyderco Harpy pocket clip knife.

A cloth money belt with important papers and a disappointedly small amount of US currency she put on under her khaki shirt. The debit card she kept for emergencies she put in a shirt pocket. Jenny had a feeling it was going to see quite a bit of use.

She put the one PPK holster in the small of her back, with the two double magazine pouches to the left of the holster. The second PPK went on her ankle with the other two magazines on her opposite ankle. The Harpy was clipped inside her right hand pants pocket.

Taking her leather shoulder bag and her safari style jacket from the closet she put the items on the bed into the bag and put on the jacket, looping the bag strap over one shoulder.

Jenny closed and locked the safe. She checked on Craig and Julie. Both were still sleeping soundly. Working quickly Jenny loaded up the Subaru Outback with the plastic totes containing the family’s emergency supplies.

She took a pair of empty totes and emptied the refrigerator into them and added both to the others in the Subaru. From the small utility shed in the back yard, Jenny carried four five-gallon jerry cans of gasoline and a receiver hitch mount carrier to the SUV. After mounting the carrier she loaded up all four cans of gasoline.

Jenny started the SUV to let the interior warm up. Then she went to wake the children, eight year old Craig first. “We’re going camping, Sweetie,” she said as he came awake. His eyes brightened. He liked camping. “It’s cold, so wear your long johns.”

“Yes, Mother,” Craig said, already sensing the urgency in his mother’s voice before she spoke again.

“Please hurry,” she said, getting up off the bed where she’d been sitting. Jenny hurried to Julie’s room and began the difficult task of getting her five-year old up and moving at the early hour.

Jenny glanced at her watch a couple of times during the process. Even with the still half asleep Julie’s slow reactions, Jenny felt they were still doing okay on time. She helped Julie get dressed in her warm ‘camping clothes’ as her outdoor adventure clothes were called.

When the two entered the living room hand-in-hand, Craig was watching the television. It was an early morning children’s program. Everything seemed so normal, Jenny thought. Yet she’d received the call from the threat assessment team.

“Are we having breakfast, Mother?” Craig asked.

“On the road, Craig. Better turn that off so we can leave.”

“McDonalds!” Julie said, loudly.

“We’ll see,” Jenny said softly, tugging Julie’s hand gently to get her started toward the front door of the duplex she leased.

Craig followed along without a word, after using the remote to turn the television off.

Jenny got both children buckled in, and then grabbed the emergency shut off tool she’d put on the front seat of the Outback while loading the SUV.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Jenny told her children.

It was a bit more than a minute, but Jenny had all the utilities turned off in the house. Just in case.

Julie was getting a bit pouty when Jenny got back in the SUV. Craig asked, “Mother, is everything all right?”

“I don’t know, Craig. You know my friends… The ones we camped with that time? They think there is and I trust them to know.”

“We’re going to that special place we aren’t supposed to talk about?”

Jenny glanced at her very perceptive son in the rear view mirror. “Yes. We are. Just in case.”

Craig had been leaning to his left and forward so he could see his mother’s face in the rearview mirror. He sat back and tried to remember some of the things he’d heard when they’d been with the MAG, as his mother sometimes called the group of friends that went camping together sometimes.

Julie was getting fidgety when Jenny saw the McDonalds. It was open. She pulled into the drive through and quickly ordered breakfasts for all three of them. “Help your sister please,” Jenny told Craig as she pulled back onto the street, her own breakfast already forgotten.

They were seldom allowed to eat in the Outback, so Julie was considering it quite a treat. Craig helped her get her breakfast sandwich unwrapped and ready to eat. He put the straws in her juice and her milk cartons for her and then turned to his own breakfast, noting that his mother wasn’t eating.

Jenny was watching for a service station. The one she usually used wasn’t open yet, but down the street was an open-all-night station. She pulled in and used the debit card in the reader to fill the tank of the Outback. It didn’t take much, but she wanted a full load of fuel before she got out of town.

Next, Jenny stopped at a grocery store open all night. She took both children in with her and put Julie in the cart seat. “Craig,” Jenny asked, “Can you push a second cart for me?”

Eagerly Craig agreed. He was very careful to keep the cart out of the way of the few other shoppers in the store, and not run up on his mother’s heels.

Jenny walked the isles quickly. She was very selective in what she put in the cart, but when she did pick an item she put several in the cart. It was mostly canned entrees, canned fruit, and snack foods that Julie, and to a lesser extent, Craig liked. Craig’s cart was loaded lightly but full of paper products, particularly toilet paper, and feminine hygiene items.

When she saw the total bill Jenny flinched slightly, but knew there was enough in the debit card account to pay for everything. But it sure didn’t leave much in the account.

The sky was beginning to lighten in the east when Jenny turned the heavily laden Outback toward the MAG’s retreat. It was a good two hour drive. Jenny said a silent pray, “Please, God, let me get my children to a safe place before anything happens.”

Jenny waved at the truck that pulled up and stopped behind her at the gate at the end of the driveway to the retreat. “Do you know what it is?” she called back to Jim, the driver of the truck.

“No. Just got the emergency alert call and bugged-out,” Jim replied. “Go on through. I’ll lock the gate behind us,” he added.

Jenny opened the high security combination lock and rolled the gate sideways. She got back in the Outback and pulled through. She left enough clearance for Jim’s truck and waited until he was in and the gate locked again before she headed up the driveway that wound its way through the trees. Jenny was sure there was at least one, probably two, guards somewhere close, out of sight, watching the gate, but she didn’t see anyone. Which was good.

The guards at the entrance to the walled compound were evident. One stayed in the armored kiosk, shotgun at the ready, while the other, armed with a holstered pistol, checked Jenny’s ID against a list of MAG members. She motioned for her partner to open the gate and waved Jenny through. Jim pulled to a stop and began going through the same process.

There were already an even dozen vehicles in the large gravel surfaced parking lot when Jenny parked. “Angela!” Jenny said as the tall, statuesque woman approached. “Can you tell me what’s happening?”

“The assessment team believes there is a high chance of a terrorist nuclear attack sometime in the next three days. In the city.”

“The city! Why there? We’re nobody!”

“I don’t know,” Angela replied. “But Harvey is convinced.”

Jenny glanced at her watch. “I’d better call in and let them know at work I won’t be in for a few days.”

“Will that be a problem?” Angela asked.

“No. I work my own schedule. I just like to keep them informed when I’m not available for a specific time.” Jenny was a contract editor for an internet POD publisher.

Craig had unbuckled himself and exited the car when his mother had. He went around the Outback and began the process to get Julie out of her car seat while Jenny was talking to Angela. When Craig set her down on the parking lot Julie ran around and grabbed Jenny around one leg.

“Mommy!” she said adamantly, “I have to go potty!”

“Craig, would you mind taking her?”

“No, Mommy! You! Craig’s a boy!”

“Okay, Sweetheart,” Jenny said, holding back the sigh. She knew this day would come. Craig had always been good with Julie, but apparently some aspects of that were over. Taking Julie by the hand, June led her toward the retreat’s community building and the restrooms inside, Angela walking along side.

Craig needed to go, too, but he decided to wait until his mother came back. In the meantime, he began to take off the elastic cargo net holding down the items his mother had put in the roof rack of the Outback. He had to get a step stool from inside the SUV, but he was able to start unloading.

By the time Jenny brought Julie back to the Outback a small group had gathered, ready to help. “Sweetie,” Jenny said to Julie, squatting down to talk to her face-to-face, “You remember Callie? She helped take care of you when we camped like this the last time.”

Shyly, Julie nodded, and then took Callie’s hand. “I’ll take her over with the rest of the little ones,” she told Jenny. “You coming, too?” Callie asked Craig.

“I’m helping unload,” Craig said, standing tall.

“That’s all right,” Jenny said. “He’ll be fine.” It was all she could do not to send Craig with Callie and Julie, but the boy seemed to need to be doing something constructive. Jenny knew the feeling.

With Angela leading the way, everyone picked up a tote or other item in the Outback and headed for the community building. Jenny had a storage room assigned to her and everything from the Outback went into it, except for the fresh food. That went to the community kitchen. The fuel cans were labeled and added to the rest of the stored fuel kept inside a tall, earthbermed enclosure.

“I think that’s enough,” Jenny told Craig after he’d wrestled one of the medium sized totes all the way to the storage room. “I want you to get some of the smaller items.”

“Yes, Mother,” Craig replied, trying to catch his breath. Perhaps it was best if he did. The last thing he wanted to do was drop something. The next trip was one of the duffle bags of clothing. It was much easier to handle.

When everything was moved Jenny urged Craig to go play with the other youngsters. “Not the babies. Callie is the baby sitter. You can play with the older children.”

“I’ll go find them,” Craig said, relieved he didn’t have to help Callie. He hurried off to let the adults do what adults do. He saw a boy about his age and hurried over to join him.

“What do we need to do with the shelter?” Jenny asked Angela as the group that had helped her move began to break up.

“The shelter is ready,” Angela informed her. “Let’s go get you logged in. Rebecca is getting frantic. People aren’t showing up as quickly as she would like.” Angel laughed. “But Rebecca is always frantic about something.”

Jenny grinned. Angela had a point. It had been Rebecca that had gotten Jenny involved in the MAG. They’d met at a gun show when Jenny was looking for a knife with which to protect herself and they got to talking. It was some time before either admitted to being of a prepper’s mindset. Jenny bought the Harpy from Rebecca and they stayed in touch for a while. Once Rebecca thought Jenny was ready, she sponsored her for the MAG.

It had taken a couple of months to meet the key people that would have the say whether or not Jenny would become a member, and at what level she would be if she did become a member.

Everyone paid small monthly dues that paid for maintenance and upkeep at the retreat. There were several levels of buy in to the MAG, including the very basic. You brought camping gear and your own supplies and stayed in the campground area with access to a storage room, the community building, and the shelter in case of a CBRN event.

There were additional steps, up to and including a full member with your own small earth sheltered dome home, and full access to all the facilities. Some had brought in small manufactured homes. Others travel trailers or motor homes they left year round. Still others brought RV’s with them when they came. And some, like Jenny, only had money to pay the basic fees for access to the retreat and camped out at the retreat during the crises.

After Jenny logged in with Rebecca and they exchanged a few pleasantries, if their conversation could be called such, she went back to the Subaru and started it and drove to the tent camping area. When Craig saw he came running over. “I’ll help, Mother. You should have called me over.”

“Well, you’re here now. Let’s get the tent up and the rest of the camp arranged.”

“Do we set up the camp kitchen and chemical toilet?” Craig asked his mother a few minutes later.

Jenny hesitated. They could use the community facilities or set up their own. Or use both as circumstances dictated, Jenny thought. “We’ll set up our own and use them when it’s convenient. Use the community building for showers and regular meals. Speaking of which, I need to transfer enough food for a couple of days from our storage room to the community kitchen.”

“What about the fresh food, Mother?” Craig quickly asked.

“I don’t really count that,” Jenny replied. “It would be lost anyway.”

“I see. I’ll help you with the food,” Craig said.

Jenny started to say no, but having Craig close was a comfort. He was wise beyond his years, smart, and seemed to love to be doing something. “Okay, Sport. Zip up the tent and lets go.”

Knowing everything was safe where they were, Jenny and Craig didn’t bother putting any of the ancillary gear in the tent before leaving. It took Jenny a few minutes to transfer items from several of the plastic totes to a single one that she put on a set of hand trucks. Craig helped her get the trucks leaned backward and held the doors for her as she headed for the kitchen.

Maggie was on kitchen duty and signed in the food. “Going to really let us fancy up the red beans and rice and lentils most everyone else contributed.”

Jenny saw Craig turn up his nose. Lentils he loved. Red beans and rice were another story. Jenny kept foods they liked on hand. Particularly for Julie. She was a picky eater. Craig took the empty tote back to the storage room and Jenny went looking for Julie. She could be a handful and Jenny wanted to make sure Callie was doing okay.

When Jenny found the small group, playing in the playground near the community building she stopped before Julie could see her and watched. Callie was a real pro. The MAG was lucky to have her as a member. She was great with small children. It allowed parents to do what needed to be done without worrying about their children.

The older children, six to nine years old, also had an activities director to watch over them and keep them busy when they weren’t with their parents. Ten, eleven, and twelve year olds, too, had someone to keep an eye on them, and direct their activities. Teens were basically on their own, but expected to lend a hand with whatever needed to be done. They were given plenty of time for themselves.

Jenny eased away, going back to the family’s camp. She ran into Craig on the way. “Mother, Miss Marigold asked me to go to the community building library with some other kids. Is that okay?”

“Take your FRS radio,” Jenny said. “And get mine out, too. Should have already done that.”

“Yes, Mother,” Craig said, opening one of the camping equipment totes. He handed a radio to Jenny and fastened the other one to the belt of his pants.

“If you go off on your own, for any reason, I want to hear about it,” Jenny said. “You know the rules if something happens.”

“Yes, Mother.” Craig started to turn around and head for the community building, but stopped and turned back to his mother. “This is something bad, isn’t it, Mother? Not just a practice, like before.”

“I hope it turns out to be just practice,” Jenny replied. “But yes, this could be bad. If I’m not handy, do as Miss Marigold says. Okay?”

“Okay, Mother. But if you need me, just call me.”

Jenny managed to hold back her tears until Craig was on his way toward the community building again. But then two tears rolled down her cheeks. Since Craig’s father had died nearly sixteen months before, Craig had done everything he could to be the man of the house.

Even only eight, he seemed to understand, to a large degree, what the MAG was and why Jenny thought it necessary to be a part of it. It was a big help not needing to worry about Craig much. That allowed her the time she needed with Julie. And private time for herself.

She walked slowly after Craig, headed for the community building herself, to draw a work assignment. She needed something to keep her busy and thoughts off the potential problems ahead.

Thankfully, help was needed in the greenhouses. It was work that Jenny not only didn’t mind, but preferred. It made her feel like she was really contributing. In a long term scenario, God forbid, she would be a teacher, among other duties. Right now, for the short times she’d been at the retreat for practice drills, she hadn’t been able to use her professional skills.

When it was time for the noon meal, she went back to the community building and found first Julie, and then Craig, as the two groups came to the building for their lunches. Julie immediately began telling Jenny all about her morning activities. Craig sat quietly beside them, waiting for the call to form the serving line.

Jenny had to hand it to the people in charge of the community kitchen. They could work wonders with storage foods. There were the constant, normal sounds of a cafeteria in full swing for some time, and then Harvey Chambers, the man responsible for getting the MAG started called for attention.

Jenny gently shushed Julie, and turned to listen to Harvey. He looked grim. “Ladies and Gentlemen. The assessment team’s decision to call this alert is becoming more and more validated as we continue to get further information.”

“What information?” called out one of the diners. “There is nothing on the news.”

Harvey frowned. “There will be a time for questions at the end of the announcement. To continue, it is the team’s unanimous opinion that a nuclear strike is imminent. It was believed at first to be a terror strike. But further information indicates a strong possibility of a widespread attack on the United States by one or more hostile nations.”

There were gasps and sudden muted conversations as Harvey continued. “With the possibility of nuclear war we are implementing the nuclear attack plan. We still have quite a few people left to come in, so I’m asking everyone to double up on the duties. Everyone weapons qualified should report to James as soon as possible to get put in the rotation for security watch.”

Craig knew what that meant and looked over at his mother. She seemed to be taking it in stride. But it worried Craig. He knew she could shoot. She’d brought him with her once when she practiced here at the retreat. He accepted the fact that he was too young to be armed, just as his mother had told him, but she’d shown him how to be safe around her PPK pistols, and the guns here at the retreat.

Craig turned his attention back to Harvey. “Now, we all hope that this is a false alarm. We’ve had a couple of minor ones in the past, as most of you know. But please don’t treat this as such. The assessment team has many sources it accesses to come up with these warnings. They are hearing the same thing from many of them. If the team does get information that the danger is non-existent, or over, then the all clear will be announced and everyone can go home and forget about this event.

“As to the question about the sources of information, and the fact that the news doesn’t have them… We have people on the team very adept at reading between the lines of news stories. There are a few with contacts with unimpeachable in-the-know sources. And don’t ask who they are. I don’t know, and I wouldn’t tell you if I did know. But trust them. I do. Now please carry on.”

Jenny thought there were a couple more people that would have asked questions if Harvey hadn’t hurried off. She put it out of her mind and helped Julie finish up her lunch.

“I’ll take the stuff up to the trash, Mother. I know you have to go sign up for watch duties.”

“You caught that, did you?” Looking at Craig’s earnest face.

Craig nodded and began to gather their lunch things in preparation to taking them to the big waste cans and the cleanup station at the end of the cafeteria style serving counter.

“Okay, Craig. Thank you. I got you up very early this morning. After you are finished, I want you to go to the camp and lie down for a little while. I’ll be around with Julie to do the same thing in a little while.”

“Yes, Mother,” Craig replied, his hands full. He walked calmly toward the serving counter and Jenny sighed. With Julie propped on her hip, Jenny headed for the security station to get her assignment. She’d pick up her issue SKS and accoutrements when she went on duty.

But that wasn’t going to be until the next morning, fortunately. When she went back to the camp and unzipped the tent door as quietly as she could, Jenny found Craig lying on top of his sleeping bag, fast asleep.

Julie was nodding off herself, in Jenny’s arms. Jenny put her down on her little sleeping bag. Julie was instantly asleep, her arm going around her Teddy Bear that Craig had apparently set by the bag for her.

Jenny gave Julie a kiss on the forehead, and then did the same with Craig, before lying down herself for a much needed nap. She stirred once, when another MAG member stopped at the camping area and set up camp beside them.

When Jenny woke and glanced at her watch it was a little after four in the afternoon. She looked over at Julie’s sleeping bag, but Julie wasn’t there. Craig wasn’t on his bag, either. Jenny scrambled outside and then suddenly stopped. Craig was playing quietly with Julie.

Julie ran over to her mother when she saw her and said, “Craig said we needed to be real hush, so you could sleep. Did I hush enough for you, Mommy?”

“Yes, you did,” Jenny said, giving her daughter a big hug and kiss on the cheek. Jenny looked over at Craig and mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

Craig just smiled in return.

“Mommy, can I have a cookie?” Julie asked, looking intently at her mother’s face.

“Let’s see what they have for us at the community building,” Jenny said.

Julie let out a disappointed sigh, but took Jenny’s hand when Jenny stood up and held it out.

“Mother, is it all right if I go see what Donny and the other guys are doing?” Craig asked.

Jenny hesitated. But the camp was secure. Far more secure than her neighborhood in town. “You don’t want to come get a snack?”

“No, Mother. You said we would have to make things last, once before. I can skip this one.”

“Oh, dear!” whispered Jenny. “Such and observant little boy I have.” Again she hesitated but then said, “Go ahead. Keep your radio with you.” She looked up at the sky. “If any adults come by and tell you to get to the shelter, do you know what to do?”

Craig nodded eagerly. He pointed to the community building. “There, in the community building. There will be someone to show me where to go.”

“Very good, Craig. Go run and play now.”

Jenny and Julie made their way to the community building dining area again. “Just one, Sweetheart,” Jenny told Julie, before Julie could grab several of the cookies on a small platter. “And how about juice. There is apple, orange, and grapefruit.”

“Ew! Grapefruit! No, Mommy! I don’t like grapefruit.”

“How about the apple? You like apple.”

“Okay, Mommy. Apple is okay. It’s not yucky.”

The server on duty smiled at the two as Jenny took a box of apple juice from the bowl of ice containing beverages and Julie took one of the cookies. “You want some coffee?” She asked Jenny?”

“Thank you, no. Just a bottle of water.” Jenny picked up one of the bottles on the table after she’d given Julie her juice. “Let’s go sit down and enjoy these, shall we, Julie?”

Julie nodded, her mouth full of cookie and followed her mother to one of the tables. Angela saw them when she came into the building and went over to join mother and daughter. Jenny smiled, but it was a brief one. “Any more word on what is going on?”

Angela shook her head. “No. Harvey is really sweating it. This isn’t the same as the training. It’s much more tense. I keep going over and over what I have here, plus what I brought, and keep thinking of more things we might need, if this doesn’t turn out to be a false alarm.”

“We can only hope it is,” Jenny said, helping Julie get the straw in the juice box. “But I know what you mean. I keep thinking there is so much more that I could have done to get ready for this. So many of the people here are so much better prepared than I am.”

“But it is a MAG, don’t forget. You have everything we require for membership. You’re part of the group and can draw on the resources of the MAG as needed. I have no doubt you’ll earn your keep.”

Jenny nodded, keeping an eye on Julie. She was nibbling on her cookie, walking around and around the table next to theirs. “I just wish I could have contributed more to the common stocks.”

“Like I said,” Angela reiterated, “You’ve done everything and more to qualify for a spot here for you and your children.”

“Thank you. I just hope we can fulfill the obligations. I want my children to have a chance at a real life, no matter what happens.”

Before either could say anything else, they both saw Harvey come running into the building. He headed straight for the entrance of the shelter. Just then Angela’s beeper went off. “I’ve got to go. Something is happening,” she said and headed for the shelter entrance.

Several more people came running in, also headed for the shelter. Julie had stopped her trips around the table and stood watching. “Mommy?” she asked, turning to look at Jenny.

“It’s all right, Sweetie,” Jenny comforted her daughter. “Why don’t we go find Craig? Okay?”

“Okay, Mommy.”

Before they reached the outer door of the community building the alarms started sounding. Jenny hesitated, thinking about Craig. But there were others outside, keeping an eye on the children. And he did know what to do. And there was Julie to think about.

Jenny turned around and headed for the shelter entrance, after picking up Julie in her arms. Already the shelter entry team was at the doors, ushering people down the stairs, stopping each person to get their name and to allow the previous person to get down several steps before the next person followed.

Jennifer gave the woman her name, and Julie’s and told her that her son would be coming shortly.

Fully understanding the fear she saw in Jenny’s eyes about Craig, the woman said, “I’ll mark it. If he’s not here by the time we start slowing down I’ll get a search started. Please go on down. We don’t want to have to look for you and your daughter, too.”

Jenny went down to the air lock entry and was ushered through. Julie was starting to huff just a little, in preparation to starting to cry. Jenny quickly reassured her and took her over to the children’s area of the huge underground shelter. They found Julie’s labeled box and took out a couple of her favorite toys so she could play with something familiar. It had been part of the preparation process for the children.

Almost immediately she and a couple of others about her age began to play together and Jenny went over to be close to the entrance of the shelter to watch for Craig. She didn’t have to wait long. He came out of the air lock carrying Julie’s Teddy Bear.

“Oh, Craig! You shouldn’t have delayed getting her to bring back Teddy.”

“She sleeps better with it,” Craig replied. “I had plenty of time. You know I can run really fast.”

Jenny hugged Craig. “I know. I know. Thank you. Will you take it to our bunk area?”

“Sure, Mother.” Craig started to hurry away, but turned and asked, “Is this it, Mother?”

“I don’t know for sure,” Jenny said carefully. “Harvey and the others wouldn’t have brought us down here into the shelter, without telling us it was a drill, if there wasn’t something serious happening. When I find out, I’ll tell you. Okay?”

“Okay, Mother,” Craig said and headed for the sleeping areas of the shelter, carefully dodging around people as more and more came into the shelter.

Callie showed up a few minutes later, half out of breath, and took charge of the smaller children. Jenny hurried over to the Shelter Captain’s station, but suddenly slowed down. There were a dozen people milling around, obviously wanting the same thing. To find out what was going on.

Jenny decided to wait for the announcements that were sure to come. It is how things worked during the drills. There was no reason to believe that it would be any different now. The first announcement came just as Jenny decided to sit down where she could watch Julie. The announcement wasn’t about what was going on. It was a call for some helpers to move food from the community room kitchen to the shelter.

It was something to do and Jenny jumped at the chance. People were still straggling in from outside, but there was plenty of room to go up the stairs as the others came down. There wasn’t that much to move. Those in charge of the provisions never took out much more than would be consumed the next community meal. It was mostly some of the fresh foods that others had brought when they came to the MAG compound, just as Jenny had done herself.

The task done, Jenny went over and waited out of the way for the announcement of what was happening. It was bound to come soon, even if it was instructions to leave the shelter, the crisis being over.

But it wasn’t that, when the announcement came. “Listen up people,” came Harvey’s voice over the intercom system. He was in the EOC of the shelter. “We have some information for you. I’m afraid it isn’t good. There have been two confirmed nuclear strikes on the United States. One on Washington, D. C., using multiple warheads. The other is New York City, also with multiple hits.

“The information that we are getting indicates that there are many more targets being hit. New York and D.C. are the only two confirmed. And…” Harvey’s voice faded away and some mumbling was heard in the background.

Harvey’s voice was shaking when he continued. “There has just been an announcement on the NOAA Weather Radio that the United States is undergoing a massive nuclear strike. People are being told to enter the nearest, best shelter they can find. We are officially at war with China and Russia.

“I’ll give you additional reports as we get them. We’ve just lost outside communication. I suggest you get ready for shockwaves, in case there is an off target strike near us.”

The entire shelter had been deathly quiet, except for Harvey’s voice. But that ended when Harvey’s voice did. It was shear pandemonium. People shouted and screamed. Some moaned and groaned. A majority cried silently.

Jenny went to Julie and picked her up to hug tightly. She saw Craig coming and opened her other arm to take him into a hug, too. “Come now, quickly,” Jenny said. “We need to find a place to sit down on the floor, away from the walls.”

Most of the rest of the people were doing the same thing. A few looked befuddled, but the shelter Captain’s assistants went around and got everyone down on the floor. There was quiet conversation for the most part as people waited for something to happen.

It was some time before anything did. Several people had taken trips to the bathroom facilities and returned. But then everyone felt the minor tremor through the linoleum covered concrete floor.

The designated maintenance people were the only ones close enough to the air vents to hear the blast valves on them click closed just afterwards. They reported it to the EOC.

“We’ve just experienced a blast wave,” Harvey was saying. “That indicates a device has gone off relatively close by.” Again he was interrupted by some one, but he was back on the intercom almost immediately, his voice subtlety different when he announced, “We lost some of our outside cameras to EMP, but one of the ones working is showing a mushroom cloud to our northeast.”

There were immediate cries and more tears. Most of those in the shelter were from St. Louis. Jenny hugged her children to her and said a silent good-bye to her old life.

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