Is The Mail Here Yet? - Chapter 2


Is The Mail Here Yet? - Chapter 2

Things stayed more or less normal. Which meant they kept getting worse. The world’s weather and the world political situation. But nothing happened that directly affected the Prescotts, until the end of the semester at Ray’s college.

The president had a special news briefing the evening before Ray planned on leaving for home. He asked for the help of everyone in the nation to try and locate anyone with any knowledge of several nuclear devices that DHS had evidence had been smuggled into the United States by terrorists.

The request was too little and too late. Eight nuclear devices were detonated by terrorists the next morning, just after 10:00 am EDT. Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles on the west coast; Chicago and Houston in the north and south of the country; and New York, and Washington, D. C. on the east coast.

These were not the small, easily concealable suitcase nukes most thought the terrorists had. They were old Russian ballistic missile warheads, estimated, much later, to be in the five-megaton range or larger. All had been smuggled in by sea and detonated on the water.

The eighth device was different. It was much lower yield, and was a high altitude burst. From the significant effects, the experts believed it was a high technology device produced specifically as an EMP warhead. It was launched just after the other ground burst devices went off, from a small container ship off the east coast.

The Air Force was unable to destroy the missile, despite being able to track it from shortly after launch. They were able to sink the ship before the two jets that had been scrambled toward the launch point went down. The two jets sent after the missile were caught in the blast wave of the EMP bomb. The pulse would have taken them down, anyway.

Ray had one of the few vehicles in the middle of the country that didn’t die from the mid-continent EMP burst. He had to do some fancy driving to avoid those vehicles that suddenly lost power, and, as often as not, the ability to be steered when the power steering died with the engine.

Worried about the truck being commandeered by the Highway Patrol or local Sheriff’s deputies, Ray quickly got off the Interstate and found a place to stop where there weren’t any other vehicles and check his road atlas.

After picking out a route that would, hopefully, avoid as many potential commandeering authorities as possible, Ray fired up the truck and head toward home again, this time on the back roads. He maintained a slow, steady pace, both to avoid the occasional stopped vehicle that always seemed to be just around the next bend in the road, and to conserve fuel.

At first he saw a few people on foot, which he managed to get past without being stopped or running over anyone. But after the first hour or so, most of the people that were stranded on the road had walked to somewhere away from the roads.

He saw quite a few people at every major highway junction. He learned quickly to backtrack a ways and find another route around those junctions. Ray gritted his teeth and kept going. “There is no way I can help all of them,” he thought to himself. “All that will happen if I stop is I will lose all my supplies and probably won’t get back home. Mom will kill me.”

So, controlling his normal instinct to stop and help, Ray continued on the back roads, avoiding contact with anyone. He was pretty sure he got shot at once. Perhaps more than once, but he never saw the shooter or shooters.

He kept glancing at the RadDetect key fob on his keying, but it neither lit up nor sounded off. He was okay as far as fallout, at least for now. The only thing he was certain of was the EMP strike. Ray had tried the radio numerous times but all he got was static. There was no news of what else might have happened. He just knew he wanted to be home with his family.

As darkness began to fall it began to get eerie. The dark was darker than normal. There were no faint glows off in the distance where the city lights would be reflecting from the clouds. Worried about fallout, since he didn’t know the extent of the attack, Ray decided to drive through the night. Only occasionally did he see light of any kind, none of which were another vehicle.

He traveled throughout the night, stopping only to go to the bathroom. Though he had plenty of food in the truck, he didn’t feel like eating anything. The knot of worry in the pit of his stomach about his family was too big. Every so often he said a prayer for their safety.

Ray needn’t have worried. When the lights went out at work and the computer died, despite being on a UPS, Hadley didn’t hesitate. He hurried out to the parking lot without a word to anyone and tried to unlock the G55 AMG with the remote. It wouldn’t unlock.

He fumbled with the key to unlock the vehicle, put the key in and tried the starter. The engine cranked, but wouldn’t catch. “Has to be EMP,” he thought to himself as he opened the rear hatch and grabbed his Bug-Out Bag (BOB). Hadley locked the vehicle manually. He thought the remote was probably working, but not the circuitry in the SUV.

He resisted the urge to run, but began quickly making his way back to the house to meet up with Regina and Gina. People were milling around, asking what was going on. Hadley ignored them and kept going, praying that the rest of his family was all right.

Gina started to do essentially the same thing as her father had done when the lights went out. Go out to the parking lot and start on her way home. But the teacher was adamant that the students stay at their desks until official word came from the office.

Hadley and Regina had taken steps if something like that happened. Gina pulled out the permission slip she always kept handy. It said, in essence, in the event of an emergency, Gina was to be allowed to leave the school grounds at her discretion. There was a copy in the office, too.

Gina showed the slip to her teacher, but she just waved it away. Resolutely, knowing what she should do in the circumstances, simply ran out of the room before Mrs. Huntley could stop her.

There were quite a few people out in the hallways, discussing what was going on. And she wasn’t the only one going to the parking lots. Both the teachers’ lot and the student lots. The battery on the remote for the Jeep had died long ago and Gina unlocked the Jeep with the key just as always. She tried the engine, without much hope, understanding what the sudden blackout probably meant.

The first two times she tried, the engine wouldn’t start. On the third try it caught and began to run, though roughly. Several people, mostly students, but with a teacher or two in the mix, began running toward her.

Gina didn’t waste any time. She put the Jeep in low and gunned the engine. She thought she had made a mistake when the engine stuttered, but it caught again and the wheels chirped as she sped off, thankful she always parked with the nose of the Jeep pointed out.

Those running after her quickly stopped as she shifted gears and took the turn out of the parking lot on two wheels. Gina quickly slowed down to a safer speed. Like Ray, Gina had to weave in and out of vehicles stopped on the streets.

She managed to get to the house without further incident. When she ran into the house, calling, “Mom! Mom!” Regina grabbed her in a tight hug and said yet another prayer.

“That was quick,” Regina said. “How did you get here so fast? My car won’t start.”

“The Jeep did, just barely. It isn’t running right, but it got me here. Any word from Dad or Ray?”

Her lips in a tight line, Regina shook her head. “We just have to trust they will make it. We have to concentrate on getting ready to go to the retreat.”

There wasn’t that much to do. For the most part the game carts were loaded and ready. Regina had been taking the other necessary steps in preparation of Bugging-Out to the Retreat. Hoping against hope that Hadley’s G55 AMG was still working, Regina and Gina waited anxiously for Hadley to get there. If he wasn’t by the predetermined designated time to leave, the two of them would head for the retreat on their own.

They were about ready to try and load the contents of the game carts into the Jeep when Hadley came striding up. With quick hugs all around, Hadley told Gina to start the Jeep before they started transferring things from the carts to the back of the Jeep. The empty carts would be folded up and put on the roof rack.

It was well they tried to start the Jeep. It simply wouldn’t start. The starter would grind and grind, but the engine wouldn’t even try to start. There were tears in Gina’s eyes. “I shouldn’t have stopped the motor! It was running before.”

“It’s okay, Baby,” Hadley said, using the pet name for her he hadn’t used for years. He hugged her again and then took a quick breath. “Chances are it wouldn’t have run much longer, anyway. Let’s get things finished and head for the hills.”

Hadley ran to shut off the generator manually and shut off the propane to it, and Regina cut the main breakers as a precaution. Gina used the wrench hanging on the natural gas meter to turn it off. The water was turned off and the lines opened to let as much water out of them as possible. RV antifreeze was added to the drains. There was no telling when they might get back. If the house had to go through the next winter they didn’t want things freezing up and bursting.

Gina was waiting with the game carts and the back packs on the driveway, with the checklist for evacuation in her hand. She began to read down it when her parents ran up to her. One of the three replied to each of the points on the card. The only unanswered one was Ray’s whereabouts. The three huddled for a moment, said a prayer to see him safely to the retreat, and then Hadley turned the fourth game cart, which was still empty, upside down on his and the three of them headed for the retreat at a moderate walking pace, pulling the carts behind them.

“Do you think the Lyons are doing the same thing?” Gina asked as they turned the corner onto the main street in their development.

“I’m sure they are,” Hadley said. “They’ve been at this longer than we have. But we can’t worry about them too much. We have ourselves to think about.” He had one of the CDV-715 survey meters setting on top of the tarped load of the game cart and checked it regularly.

“Anything?” Regina asked.

“Not yet. Let’s just hope it was just one EMP blast. I was out in the open the entire way home from work and didn’t see or hear any close detonations, fortunately.”

The first person to ask them what they were doing looked rather stunned when Hadley gave the cover story of heading for the hills to camp out during the crisis, since there wasn’t any electricity.

“Don’t you think it will be back on?” the man asked, a woman gripping his arm tightly as they stood on the sidewalk.

“No,” was the one word answer Hadley gave. The three had slowed, but not stopped walking when the man asked the question. They picked the speed back up when the man suddenly noticed the holsters on Regina’s and Hadley’s hips.

“Are those guns?” the man half yelled. “I’m going to report you!” followed the family as they hurried away.

When they were well away from the inquisitor, Hadley said, “Regina, I think we’d better put jackets on, even though we don’t need them. I want the handguns handy, but they are already drawing too much attention.”

They all stopped to allow the Regina and Hadley to don light windbreakers. They were long enough to cover the holstered weapons, but not so heavy to cause Regina or Hadley to overheat.

They were questioned several times, much as the first man had. Hadley gave the same answer each time. They were going to camp out during the crisis in the woods outside of town. It seemed to give some people the same idea. Several of them hurried back into their houses, apparently to get their camping gear to do the same thing.

Afraid to push things too hard, for fear of running out of energy before they got to the retreat, the family took several short breaks. Their packs all had hydration bladders so they were able to sip water on the way.

They reached the site of the first cache, but didn’t really need anything from it, so left it alone. The spot had been chosen, in part, because it was close to a good spot to shelter if fallout started. There was a long drainage tunnel under the road that they could use as shelter, as long as it wasn’t raining really hard.

Even at that, since they planned to use the two e-tools they had with them to block one end of the tunnel completely, and the other end partially, they could still use the tunnel if some rain came. Hadley and Ray had stashed a small platform nearby that could be put in the tunnel for them to sit on, above the very bottom of the culvert, even if some water was running through.

They set up camp as it was getting dark. They ate an MRE each, and Gina got set to keep watch until Regina took over, and then Hadley for the rest of the night. They were well away from the road and had no trouble during the night, though they heard several people still walking on the road, headed toward the city.

Up and on the way again shortly after daylight the next morning, they found people every so often that were staying with their stalled vehicles, waiting for help. Twice, because there were babies or small children involved, the family shared some of their water with stranded people. It wasn’t a hardship. They kept their own canteens and containers and replenished them from the first stream they came to, using one of the water purifiers they carried.

Finally they cut away from the main roads and were on county back roads. They didn’t see anyone, though there was the occasional abandoned vehicle. They passed the second cache, again needing nothing from it, but camping nearby.

According to their plan, they circled around slightly, going somewhat past the retreat, and then turning back toward it. Now the story, if they needed to give one, was they’d been camping and where headed back to the city.

Ray reached the retreat late the second day of travel. He’d had to stop for a while to take a catnap, despite his resolve to drive through. He had taken a side road and found a hiding spot in a small copse of woods for his nap.

He was disappointed when his family wasn’t at the retreat. But Stanley was there. He came out of his motorhome when Ray pulled into the compound and stopped.

“What’cha doing here now, Ray? I wasn’t expecting anyone to come up for two or three more weeks.”

“Don’t you know?” Ray asked, incredulously.

“Know what?”

“The President asked people for information on some nukes they thought had been smuggled into the country two nights ago. Then just about everything electrical went dead yesterday morning. I think it was a high altitude EMP blast, so I headed straight here from school. I haven’t been able to get anything on the radio since.”

“You don’t say? Didn’t notice anything. My generator works okay. Charged up the rig’s batteries just this morning.”

“That’s good,” Ray said. “Let’s get the retreat opened up, in case there where more nukes and we get fallout. My family should be here… soon, I hope.

“Stanley,” Ray said, suddenly noticing the manufactured housing units had been installed. “When did the houses show up?”

“Three weeks ago. Man, that crew was a bunch of griping misfits. Complained the whole time about being out in the boonies.

It didn’t take long to get the retreat opened up and the ventilation system started to air it out. It sat for long periods closed up and the air could get a bit stale.

Ray checked all the operating systems. Everything was as it should be. He fired up the shortwave receiver and was pleased to hear some activity. The radios in the shelter had survived the EMP, as had all the other electrical systems.

The biggest concern was for the PV panels. Ray checked the current flow to the battery bank from the solar panels. They were being charged. The panels had survived.

Next Ray checked the houses out. “Have the Lyons been up since the houses were installed?” he asked Stanley.

“Nope. You’re the first since late last fall. You ought to check them out. Lot nicer than I thought they would be.”

Ray did so, with Stanley giving him the nickel tour. Ray kept looking outside, hoping to see his family coming through the gate.

“Have you tried the motors on your truck and the motorhome?” Ray asked.

“No. Should I?” Stanley asked.

“I would. EMP can fry vehicle electronics.”

“Didn’t know that. Don’t know what EMP is, either. But no matter. If you say I should try them, I will.”

Ray waited outside as Stanley went into his small motorhome. The engine growled a bit, but it started. It was understandable since it hadn’t been started in several months. The old Chevy LUV pickup truck Stanley drove started right up.

“Okay,” Ray said when Stanley got out of the truck. “That’s good. Maybe Dad’s G55 AMG is running.” But his face fell. If it was, the family would have been here the day before.

Ray looked at his watch and yawned. He was tired. He’d take a quick nap, and if the rest of the family wasn’t at the retreat when he woke up, and there was no fallout, he’d go looking for them.

Three hours later he woke up and started to go looking for his family. But he hesitated. The plans the family had made called for anyone making it to the retreat to stay at the retreat, until it was determined that it was safe. Everyone in the family knew what to do. They would be doing it.

Despite the plans, Ray pulled out of the gate of the retreat compound and began to back track the path that his family should be traveling the next morning. Three miles from the retreat he found them. They all looked exhausted. The hugs lasted for long, expressive moments.

Regina and Gina didn’t protest when Hadley and Ray loaded up the game carts onto Ray’s things that were still in the truck while they climbed into the rear seat of the crew cab truck and relaxed.

“You know you shouldn’t have come looking for us,” Hadley chided Ray as he drove back to the compound.

“I know. But… With no fallout or anything, I thought it would be safe. And I didn’t want you guys out there in the open any longer than necessary.”

“It’s all right,” Regina said from the rear seat. “This time.” She smiled then. “But we proved we could do it. We would have made this last stretch by early afternoon. And you made it from school,” Regina added, reaching forward to touch Ray’s shoulder.

“I take it the other rigs wouldn’t run. You think it’s EMP, Dad?” Ray asked.

“Almost has to be. Have you heard anything about… anything? Are the radios in the shelter working?”

“They work. There are people talking outside the US. Most of what I heard wasn’t in English.”

“Could you tell if any more devices went off?”

“I never saw anything on the way, and my alarm never went off.”

“Ours either,” Hadley replied as they pulled into the retreat compound. “Aren’t the Lyons here?”

“Haven’t seen them,” Ray said. “Stanley hasn’t either. But notice the houses. We don’t have to stay in the shelter if there isn’t any fallout. Maybe this was just the EMP attack.”

“Let’s hope so. Systems all working?”

“Good,” Gina said from the rear seat. “I’m due a long hot bath.”

“And I’m right behind you,” Regina said.

Hadley laughed. “Ok. You two got dibs on the baths and showers. Ray and I will get things unloaded and unpacked, and then it’s my turn.”

That evening, with the family all together at the dining table in the dining room in the manufactured housing unit, the family held hands and said another prayer of thanks. Then tore into the meal that Ray had prepared while the others were getting cleaned up and settled in.

The Lyons hadn’t shown up the next morning so the family had a meeting. With Ray’s truck and Stanley’s LUV working, and still no fallout, it was decided to explore both routes into the retreat and see if Frank and Karen were stranded somewhere.

Hadley would ride with Stanley in the LUV and Regina would go with Ray in his pickup. Gina would hold down the fort. They tried the handheld radios that had been stored in the shelter. They worked just fine, but didn’t have the range to get talk between town and the retreat. They were short range radios purchased to use in and around the retreat compound.

But Hadley and Regina both took one. They at least had short range comms. The two parties headed out, leaving Gina looking a bit forlorn and lonely.

They traveled slowly, so they could watch the sides of the roads for any signs of the wayward couple. Besides, it saved fuel, reduced the chance of being spotted, and allowed for reaction time if they did come upon someone besides the Lyons.


It seemed like an empty world up in the forest, but as each team reached major roads they began to see evidence of people. Twice Ray drove past vehicles that were being worked on. At one there were two horses tied up to the car being repaired. Ray and Regina waved and passed on by both times.

Stanley and Hadley ran into a similar situation, but the two men working on the tricked out pickup truck stepped out and waved their arms to stop Stanley. “Hey there buddy,” said one to Stanley through the open window. “We need you to tow us into town.”

Hadley leaned over and spoke out the window to the two men. “We’re looking for someone. We’ll be glad to come back in a little while and give you a hand.”

“Now there,” said the other man, leaning down on the edge of the door, “my buddy here said we need a tow. That means now.” He pulled a Colt .45 pistol from a holster in the small of his back.

“Just be thankful we don’t take you’re measly little truck and leave you stranded on the side of the road.”

Hadley could see Stanley steeling himself to floor the accelerator and take off, but Hadley put his hand on Stanley’s shoulder. “Okay. No need for violence,” Hadley said. He exited the LUV and guided Stanley into position in front of the two men’s truck.

The one man stayed out of the way, the Colt semiauto in his hand. The other man got a tow strap from the toolbox built into the truck’s front bumper and helped Hadley get the two vehicles hooked together.

The man with the gun pointed at Hadley. “You. In the back of the truck.” Hadley started to get into the back of the LUV, but the man stopped him. “No. Back of our truck. Don’t want you where you can do anything.”

When Hadley was in the back of the pickup, the man with the gun got into the LUV beside Stanley and the other man got behind the wheel of the stalled truck. Stanley took up the slack in the tow strap and then followed the instructions of the man with the gun to get to a garage on the outskirts of town.

Still holding the gun at the ready, the man ushered Hadley out of the back of the pickup and into the cab of the LUV. “You two are really lucky I don’t just shoot you. Now get out of here and don’t even think about trying to get revenge.” He held up the pistol. “I’ll blow you away.”

Stanley was furious as he drove away from the garage. “Take it easy,” Hadley said. “I’m sure they’ll get their comeuppance at some point in time.”

“I don’t like having a gun held on me. Never did, never will,” Stanley said through clenched teeth.

“I understand,” Hadley replied, “I’m not too fond of the feeling, myself. At least I was able to keep an eye out for the Lyons. No sign of them, and if they’d come this way, it is the route they would have taken. Get us back on main, and well finish the route.”

Once Hadley thought he saw someone on a horse in the distance behind them, but didn’t think anything about it. They made it to the Lyons’ house just as Ray and Regina drove up. Ray pulled onto the driveway and Stanley stopped on the street.

“Anything?” Hadley asked. Regina shook her head.

The two walked up to the house and Hadley knocked. “Hey! Frank! It’s Hadley! You guys in there?”

Hadley’s hand went to the pistol on his hip, under the light jacket he wore, when there were noises in the house, but no vocal response. He waved Regina back and reached for the door knob. The Glock came out of the holster as the door suddenly flew open.

But Hadley slid it back into the holster when he saw Frank. “Frank! Are you okay?”

Frank didn’t look okay to Hadley. He was unshaven, his clothes disheveled, and the gun in his hand was shaking. Gently, Hadley took the gun from Frank.

“What’s going on, Frank?” Regina asked. “Where’s Karen?”

Frank stepped out of the way and Regina hurried inside, her nose wrinkling with the smell. Frank stepped in behind her and led her to the master bedroom.

“Oh, my Lord,” Regina whispered. She’d found Karen, in her nightgown, huddled on the floor in a corner of the walk-in closet.

Anger was her first reaction and she turned on Frank. But seeing the look on his face and hearing his words, the anger faded and she knelt down beside Karen.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Frank said. “When I made it back from work on foot, I found her here, just like this. She’ll ask for water, and will go to the bathroom on her own. She’ll eat if I feed her. But she just huddles there. I can’t get her to get dressed or even get up, unless she needs to go to the bathroom. She’s been like that since the power went off and the generator came on.”

Ray came running into the house. “Dad! Dad! Trouble outside!”

“Stay with them,” Hadley told Regina and hurried after his son, who was already running back outside.

Hadley slid to a stop on the front stoop, beside Ray. There were two men in uniform, on horseback, talking to Stanley. It was much more argument than it was a discussion.

“What authority gives you the right to take my truck?” Stanley asked loudly.

“Mayor declared martial law. We’re commandeering all operating vehicles for city use,” said one of the men. He swung down off his horse. “Now, don’t get all knotted up, there.”

“Don’t Stanley!” Hadley said, taking a step off the stoop, when he saw Stanley make a move to draw the pistol under his left arm.

But both officers drew their own handguns and the one still on horseback covered Hadley and Ray as the other one covered Stanley. But Stanley, after just a moment’s hesitation, continued the motion he had started and pulled the revolver from the holster under his left arm.

“Oh, no!” moaned Hadley when the officer shot Stanley point blank before Stanley’s revolver cleared his jacket. Then he stiffened, anger flooding his system when the officer stepped forward to Stanley where he’d gone down, pointed his pistol at Stanley’s head and fired again.

“You didn’t have to do that!” Hadley yelled, taking two steps further out onto the lawn. “He was down!”

Both officers were holding their guns on Hadley. “Shut up and back up. You want a piece of this we’ll give it to you. We’re commandeering this vehicle and that’s a fact. We’d have given him a receipt.”

The second officer laughed and the first gave him a hard look. “Grab the reins of my horse and get going. I’ll get the truck.” Suddenly he looked over at Ray’s truck, and his eyes narrowed.

“Does that one run?” he asked. “Looks old enough.”

Before Hadley could react Ray was speaking. “Nope. I thought the same thing. Been trying. Won’t even turn over.”

The officer looked skeptical as his partner rode away, leading the second horse. Ray suddenly added, “Give it a try. You’ll see.”

Looking more than a bit tempted, the officer, still holding his drawn gun on Hadley, finally shook his head, and moved over to the LUV. Moving quickly he jumped into the open door of the truck, had it started and was pulling away by the time Hadley got his gun out. But Hadley didn’t shoot.

He did turn angry eyes on his son. “Ray, why in the world did you tell him to try it. What if he had?”

Ray smiled. “It wouldn’t have even turned over, like I told him. I flipped the security switch when I got out of the truck. It’s habit with me now.”

“Oh. Well… Okay.” Suddenly he had Ray in a bear hug. He released him and then turned toward the street. “I’d better check on Stanley.”

“I’ll go with you,” Ray said.

“You don’t have to,” Hadley said. “This isn’t going to be pleasant.”

“It’ll take the two of us to move him, Dad. This may become common. I might as well get through it now.”

The two walked slowly out to the street. There was no question about whether or not Stanley was dead. There was a huge pool of blood around his head, and a smaller one beside his chest. His eyes were open and vacant, lifeless.

When Ray suddenly went to his knees and began to retch, Hadley was only a few seconds behind him. Neither saw Regina watching them from the door of the house, her face showing sympathy for their plight. She’d seen the execution.

After several minutes the two climbed to their feet and Hadley took the rest of the steps needed to reach Stanley, bend down, and close his eyes. “Let’s get a blanket or sheet or something,” Hadley said, standing back up.

He saw Regina leaning against the door frame and shook his head. She turned away, tears falling slowly. Stanley had come so far since his time of trouble. It wasn’t fair he die like this.

Hadley waited with the body as Ray went in and asked his mother to help him find a sheet. They just stripped one from the bed in the spare bedroom and Ray took it back outside. He looked around when he didn’t see his father, wishing he had a handgun. The HK-416 was in the pickup. He hadn’t thought about that when he told the officer to try to start it.

But there his father was suddenly, carrying two shovels. “Let’s cover him and then dig the grave. No need to move him twice,” Hadley told his son. With a nod Ray took the shovel Hadley handed him and followed him back around the house.

It took a couple of hours to get a grave deep enough to suit Hadley. During that time Regina was working with Karen, trying to bring her out of the almost catatonic state she was in. She and Frank seemed to be having some success. Karen was beginning to respond, at least a little, to their soothing talk.

Ray came in and asked Frank to help move Stanley. When the two left, Karen seemed to snap out of it, much to Regina’s surprise and relief.

“I need to take a shower,” Karen said, and began to climb to her feet. She looked at Regina and asked, “Could you fix me something to eat?”

Smiling, her relief showing, Regina replied. “Of course, Karen. Soup?”

Karen nodded and left the walk-in closet and turned toward the bedroom en-suite bath. Her steps light, Regina headed for the kitchen. Less than a minute later she was running back to the bedroom, after hearing a gunshot from that direction.

She nearly passed out in shock when she ran into the bedroom and saw Karen crumpled at the foot of the bed, a pool of blood forming near where she’d dropped the gun after putting it to her temple and pulling the trigger.

Hadley, Ray, and Frank came running in the house, having heard the gunshot as well.

“No! No! No!” Frank cried and he fell to his knees and brought his wife’s body to his chest.

“She said she wanted a shower and some food. I was only gone a minute,” Regina said, beginning to cry on Hadley’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry Frank! I’m sorry. It was only a minute…”

“It’s not your fault, Regina,” Hadley said softly.

Ray turned and left, deciding he’d be of more use digging another grave than staying with them in the bedroom.

Frank rocked back and forth with Karen in his arms for a long time. Hadley finally went to one knee and gently disengaged her from Frank’s clasp. As soon as Hadley had Frank away from the body, Regina flipped the coverlet off the bed and covered Karen with it.

Hadley took Frank out into the living room to continue to console him. Regina couldn’t stay with the body. She hurried outside to find Ray. Silently, she picked up the other shovel and began to help Ray dig. Ray didn’t know what to say, so he just kept digging.

It was a sad group of people that climbed into Ray’s truck just before dark. Stanley and Karen were both buried, with words said over them by Hadley. The Lyons’ supplies were loaded into the back of the pickup. Hadley drove, with Frank silent in the front passenger seat.

Ray and Regina rode on the bench seat of the crew cab, keeping an alert eye out for anyone that might see them and try to follow. Hadley took an even more roundabout route than usual.

Everyone in the truck could hear the relief in Gina’s voice when Regina called her on the walky-talky when they got into range. “We’ll be there in a few minutes, if you want to get the gate,” Regina told her.

Just as they’d heard her relief, Gina heard the sadness in her mother’s tone and didn’t ask any questions. She hurried out to the gate and rolled it sideways to let the truck in and then rolled it closed and relocked it.

Regina was the first out of the truck and she grabbed Gina in a tight hug and then led her off to one side to explain what had happened.

“We’ll unload in the morning,” Hadley said as he, Ray, and finally Frank, got out of the truck.

“Your house is all ready for you, Mr. Lyons,” Ray said. “I’ll show you where everything is.”

“Thanks,” Hadley mouthed to his son as Ray led Frank toward the manufactured housing unit. Hadley went to talk to Gina and Regina. The three were talking quietly in the dining area of their unit when Ray came in and hung up his jacket and put the HK-416 in the closet.

“I offered to fix him some supper,” Ray said, joining the others at the table. “But he said he wasn’t hungry. I’m not either, to be honest.”

“I don’t think any of us are,” Regina said quietly.

Ray could see the fresh tear tracks on his mother’s face. They mirrored those on Gina’s. “I’ll take the first watch, if that’s okay,” he said.

“Do you think we need to keep a watch?” Regina asked Hadley.

“Probably not… But just in case… Ray and I can handle it tonight. You two get some sleep. Things will look brighter in the morning.”

“I’m too tired to argue,” Regina replied.

“I can take a turn,” Gina said, but Hadley shook his head. “Not tonight. We’ll all be doing our share of late watches, unless things get much better than they are now.”

With that the family split up, Gina going to her bedroom, and Regina to hers and Hadley’s. “I’ll be over at midnight, son,” Hadley told Ray when he took down his jacket again in readiness to go to the shelter where the major security equipment was. The lines were laid for the hook ups in the housing unit, but nothing was connected yet.

When Hadley didn’t show up for breakfast the next morning, Ray went to the shelter to check on him. Ray found Hadley engrossed in the shortwave program he was listening to. “Go tell the others,” Hadley to Ray. “I’m getting some information on what is going on.”

Ray ran back to the house and then back to the shelter, followed by Regina and Gina. The three huddled around Hadley as he fine tuned the radio. “The BBC,” Hadley said in explanation.

Breakfast forgotten, the family listened enraptured to the broadcast. It was the first real information they had heard.

When the broadcast started over, Hadley went to the 12 volt TV in the shelter and turned it on. He tried the satellite dish first, but there was no signal. Connecting the local antenna, he found two stations operating. There were cries of joy. One of the stations was in the city, and the other from some distance away that they were occasionally able to get.

They watched as essentially the same information as the BBC had broadcast was given on the TV, with some camera shots of the affected areas.

“I just thought,” Hadley suddenly said. “Frank will want to hear this. Ray?”

“Sure Dad. I’ll go get him.”

Ray ran out again, this time to Frank’s house. He knocked several times, but got no answer. He ran back to the shelter and told Hadley. “I couldn’t raise him.”

“Probably still sleeping,” Regina said. “He was exhausted, physically and mentally.”

Hadley hesitated a moment, but then nodded. “We’ll give it till noon, and then wake him if he isn’t up. He needs to know what is going on.”

The family finally knew of the terrorists’ nuclear attacks around the country. All breathed a sigh of relief that there would be no fallout where they were. But the destruction and death toll was horrific. Millions had died outright, millions more had serious to minor injuries. Every burn bed in the nation was filled, as was every other type of hospital bed.

The President had declared martial law and there were travel restrictions being enforced. No one was to be allowed to travel more than twenty-five miles from their homes during the period of martial law, without special documentation as to need.

Everyone outside the directly affected areas were encouraged to conserve and share resources until something could be done about getting production and distribution resources up and running again. That applied most importantly to water and food, with fuel for emergency operations only.

State governments were meeting to figure out what to do within their states, and the Federal government, what there was left of it, was meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, to do the same thing.

With the stories beginning to repeat, Regina urged her family back to the house to eat what was now a cold breakfast. Ray lagged behind to make the connections so they could continue to watch TV in the house, after he made the connections there.

Fortunately, Hadley and Regina had made arrangements for the housing unit to be furnished on a turnkey basis. The Lyons had done the same. So with the connection made in the shelter, Ray made the similar one at the house, and they had TV. Ray turned it on and tuned to the local station, and then went to join the others at breakfast.

The story of how the station had made it through the last few days was being told, and they half listened to it while they ate. “Has it only been four days?” Regina asked.

“Seems like forever already,” Ray replied.

“Yeah. Me, too,” added Gina. “What are we going to do? Stay here or go back home?”

“There was no mention of the city services being back on,” said Hadley. He looked over at Regina.

“I think we should stay here for a while. But I’m a little worried about the house.”

“We can’t get caught coming and going,” Ray said. “They’ll take my truck and probably our supplies, too. I think if we go, we should stay.”

“That leaves the retreat vulnerable, with Stanley… gone,” Regina said.

“Mr. Lyons might not want to go back yet,” Gina added rather tentatively.

“That’s true,” Hadley said. “I’m not so sure he should be isolated on his own right now, though. Speaking of which, I don’t think we should wait until noon. I’m going over to wake him up. Maybe knowing that the rest of the world is still out there will help him.”

Ray and Gina gathered up the dishes and did them while Regina became more familiar with the place. She’d only given things a cursory look the evening before, having taken her shower and gone to bed shortly after arriving.

She knew immediately something was wrong when Hadley came in a few minutes later. It was the look on his face. “Oh, no! Frank didn’t…”

“A whole bottle of Karen’s sleeping pills,” Hadley said and sat down heavily in one of the chairs in the living room.

Regina sat down on the arm of the chair and touched Hadley’s shoulder. Ray and Gina came in from the kitchen. No one said anything for a long time. Finally Hadley got up and looked over at Ray. “Ray, I hate to ask, but…”

“It’s okay, Dad. I’ll get the shovels.”

Regina went with Hadley back to the other housing unit and helped him get Frank ready for the grave. There wasn’t much to do. They talked it over for just a couple of minutes about taking him in to the city, but decided the risks outweighed any benefits. Hadley showed Regina the letter Frank had left on the kitchen table.

She read it and handed it back to Hadley. He carefully folded it and put it inside his shirt pocket and buttoned it in. “What are we going to do?” Regina asked.


“I’m not about to lay claim to the house, but we might as well take anything we want or need. Eventually someone else will, if we don’t.” His eyes brightened somewhat. “Some of the supplies… We can turn them in, or hand them out ourselves. As far as what is here, at the retreat, we just keep the note and bring it out if anybody ever brings it up.

“Since Frank wanted to get the property out of his name, and we put the whole property in our names with the agreement that half was still his, there shouldn’t be any problem with it. It’s legally ours, the way Frank wanted to do it. Neither of them has family. It’s doubtful if anything will come of it.”

“Just doesn’t feel right,” Regina protested.

Hadley shook his head. “No, it doesn’t. But nothing about this situation does.”

With the body wrapped in a sheet, Hadley went to get Ray and one of the game carts. It made it much easier moving the body than just carrying it the way they had Stanley and Karen. It was late afternoon when the grave was filled in and Hadley again said a prayer over a victim of the attack. For that is what the family considered it. All because of the terrorist attacks.

For a week the family stayed at the retreat, watching the news on TV and listening to the radio. More and more stations were coming back on the air as the equipment that was destroyed by the EMP was replaced or repaired.

Only when the local TV station started showing the National Guard coming into the city and reestablishing order from the gangster like control the Mayor and his police force had instituted did they talk about leaving.

The decision made, the family took a day to secure the retreat, with Stanley’s, Frank’s, and Karen’s IDs in hand, which they’d taken from the bodies in Frank’s and Stanley’s case, and from her purse in Karen’s case.

They went directly home and checked the house. It was untouched. Swinging by the Lyons, after unloading the truck, they loaded up what they wanted and took it home. The last load they took to City Hall and asked for someone in charge. Gina and Ray waited with the truck.

A haggard looking Captain received them in the Mayor’s office. “What is it this time? They steal some gas or food?”

“They?” Hadley asked.

“The Mayor and his thugs.”

“Murder, actually,” Hadley said, handing over Stanley’s ID. They took his LUV truck after shooting him. The officer shot him, and when he was down on the ground, put another bullet in the back of his head. We buried him behind the house where these people lived.” He handed over the other ID’s.

“They kill them, too?” asked the Captain.

“No. Karen couldn’t deal with things, I guess, and killed herself. We buried her and took Frank…” There was a tiny hesitation, but the Captain didn’t notice. “home with us. He took a bottle of Nancy’s sleeping pills. We buried him up in the forest where we were camping out.”

“I see,” was all the Captain said.

“We brought some food and things that the Lyons had at their place. I think they would want someone to use them in this crisis.”

“Why didn’t you just keep them? That’s what most folks would do. Take it and not say anything.”

“It wouldn’t be right,” Regina said.

“Back to Stanley,” the Captain said then. “Can you identify the man or men that killed him?”

“If I see them again, I’m sure I could,” Hadley replied.

“We’ve got a few of the group in the jail. If you have a minute I’d like you to take a look.”

Hadley nodded in reply. “Anything else we need to do about the Lyons?”

“Not much to be done, unless you know next of kin.”

This time Hadley shook his head. Regina said, “Neither of the Lyons had family. Stanley had… maybe has… a daughter. She was in Los Angeles…”

“We’ll file the deaths. If anyone shows up, someone will deal with it then.” In a louder voice the Captain said, “Lieutenant, take these people down to the lockup and see if they can spot that killer we have in there.”

“Yes, sir!” the Lieutenant said, standing at the door. Hadley and Regina followed him out.

“And take the supplies off their hands that they brought in.”

“Yes, sir,” the Lieutenant said again. He showed them the way down to the city jail in the basement of City Hall. There was no formal line up. Hadley just walked down the line of cells and pointed to two men. “That one killed Stanley, and this one watched.”

“Okay,” said the Lieutenant and marked something on the clipboard he was carrying. He looked at the prisoner that Hadley had said had killed Stanley. “One more notch on that gun belt of yours. Say your prayers. The Lord is coming to take you away. When you hang.”

“The Mayor! The Mayor told us we had immunity because it was martial law.”

“The Mayor was wrong and will pay the same price you will,” the lieutenant told the man. There was a loud moan from a cell nearby. “The Mayor… rather, ex-Mayor of the city.” The Lieutenant followed Hadley and Regina out to the truck, picking up three soldiers as they went.

He whistled when he saw the cardboard boxes and of food and water. “These’ll be appreciated, he said. He eyed the fuel tank in the bed of the truck. But the Captain hadn’t said anything about fuel.

It took just a few minutes to unload the truck, and Hadley had Ray get them home as quickly as possible without breaking the law. When they were home and in private, Regina asked Hadley, “You think there will be some repercussions on us?”

“I don’t think so,” Hadley replied. “The National Guard seems to be trying to do the best they can under the circumstances. I think we’re okay. We really didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Neither did Stanley or Karen or Frank…” Regina’s words faded away as the tears came again. Hadley held her until she stepped back. “If you’ll get the generator going, and have one of the kids turn on the natural gas, I’ll see about getting us some food.”

Things slowly returned to normal. The City had access to some of the Guard’s generators and had the water and sewer going within a month. The Prescotts ran their generator for a couple hours a day. The power came back two months later. It too was available only for two hours in the morning and evening for a long time.

Food and fuel once again became available, in rationed quantities. The parts for all three of the other Prescotts’ vehicles came in and Ray installed them that summer. When Ray ordered the parts, he ordered two extra sets each. Either it wasn’t a problem, or it slipped through the cracks, since all six sets of electronics came in. One set of spares went in a faraday cage in each vehicle. The others were stored at the retreat, in the shelter.

One day a tow truck with Stanley’s Chevy LUV pick up in tow stopped at the house. Ray signed the papers for it and the driver disconnected it, leaving the small pickup behind.

“Why’d they bring it here?” Ray asked his father when Hadley got home that evening from work. “I guess we’re the only contact point they had. We’ve got it. Might as well use it.”

Long distance travel was still restricted, and with fuel rationed, Ray quit using his truck, except for going in once a week for his ration of diesel fuel. Hadley did the same with the G55 AMG. Once both were full of fuel, the family only used the LUV, Jeep and the E350 to do everything in town. All four fuel rations went to those three vehicles, giving them plenty for what traveling they were doing.

Time came for Gina to visit the college. She would be going to the same one Ray was. It was something of a hassle to get permission and fuel permits to allow the trip. Regina went with her, using the Jeep.

Though it was early for Ray to go back, he went when Regina and Gina did, towing the Jeep to save the fuel, which is one of the reasons they were able to get the permits. He showed Gina around the campus. Regina went on the tour as well, not having been able to do it when she had brought Ray for his initial visit.

Ray had made arrangements before he left the previous fall to rent the same room he had during his first year. With the probable lack of renters, as quite a few of those that planned to attend the school would not make it, Regina was able to work a deal on an apartment for Gina as well, with a substantial savings over renting them individually.

Gina and Regina went back home and Ray found a job he could continue to do after school started. Being early, before the school year started, he was able to get a good one.

Phone service was intermittent, as the system was being worked on constantly, and cell phone service was non-existent. The wireless companies were getting service up locally in the major cities first. It would be a long time before long distance became common again, especially for cell phones.

Hadley and Regina found someone they could trust to live at the Retreat and take care of it. They had to pay a nominal amount of cash, a spot in the shelter if ever needed, plus the use of the motorhome, for the retired Marine vet and his wife to not only keep an eye on the place, but start a regular garden and specialty and year round crops in the green house.

As soon as the preparedness supply businesses opened up again, Regina and Hadley replaced all the items they’d used, and added a few more. Things with China didn’t look good. Information coming out two years after the terrorist attack indicated a near nuclear confrontation with the Chinese the day after the nukes went off in the US.

Attitudes had changed somewhat. Preparedness was in again. Or at least as much as it had been in the 1950’s and early ‘60’s. Besides the small group of quality preparedness suppliers, many more had opened up again, much as they had in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s during the initial ‘survivalist’ movement. But prices were high. It was no easier to prepare now than it had been before the terror attack.

An area west of St. Louis, Missouri was voted in as the new permanent seat of the United States Federal Government. Since it was all new facilities, and times were rather tough, the government complex was much more streamlined than Washington, D. C. The District of Columbia as a separate entity was disbanded and the property returned to Virginia and Maryland, to come under their respective state government controls.

The UN, with much of New York City a nuclear mess, moved to expanded headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. It was interesting to note that there wasn’t as much competition to become a UN delegate or a support person at the new UN as there was when it was in New York City. With the massive recovery operations going on in the US there was little money left to go to the UN. The US kept its permanent seat on the Security Council, and continued to participate, but the UN slowly began to loose what effectiveness it had up to that time.

The political northeast began to loose much of its influence as time passed and politicians from around the country were exposed to the values of the middle of the country.

The Mississippi had been a major transportation route since the Louisiana purchase made it a part of the US. With the destruction of five ocean, Gulf, and lake seaports, the Mississippi became even more important to the nation. Though imports did come through other ports on all three coasts, New Orleans and the Mississippi River began to carry fully one half of all imports.

As Russia and the Republics once again turned to Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist communistic forms of government and began to rearm, China increased her buildup of military forces, including militarizing space. The new USSR was right behind, and the US, lagging by at least two years, attempted to catch up. The term ‘Star Wars Gap’ was heard often in the US as they lay under the gun of space based weapons of the USSR and China.

Only around the new Capital Complex were there effective anti-missile systems to protect against the quick delivery weapons in space.

One positive aspect of the terror attack and subsequent losses, particularly to the electrical infrastructure of the US, power production and distribution systems were rebuilt and/or modified to new, EMP resistant standards. In addition, government, industry, and commerce took steps to protect critical operating resources from EMP. Much of the preparations were the protected storage of replacement parts, in lieu of the very difficult, if not impossible task of hardening many items to withstand EMP.

Just over two years after the terror attack, the US announced their own plans to put military hardware into space, to bring about parity with the new USSR and China. A few weeks later, China announced that Taiwan would again come under the authority of Beijing. The USSR announced they would side with China in the matter.

The US began moving three Aircraft Carrier Groups to the area. It was far too little, far too late. The US had lost it strategic edge. China pulled the trigger of the nuclear gun and the battle was on.

The US had gone to a launch-on-warning status shortly after China placed the first nuclear warheads in space. The computer program that analyzed the various signals from the monitors that watched for submarine, surface, and space launched missiles did its job admirably. Less than a minute after China released her space-based warheads on the US, the US missile fleet was being launched and ready aircraft were leaving the ground, with the still undetected submarine nuclear missiles held in reserve.

Despite several non-aggression pacts, and military co-operation agreements, the new USSR turned on China, and China on the USSR. Less than an hour later, as other governments learned of the attacks, those with nuclear weapons, other than the big three, decided they’d better use them before their enemies used theirs on them.

All the known players launched. The Middle East became a glass slag pool for the most part. India and Pakistan laid waste to one another. Great Britain joined the fray, on the US side, taking retaliatory hits from both the USSR and China.

Much to everyone’s surprise, France, too, decided to join the battle. It was never quite clear if it was intentional or not, but many of France’s warheads landed in Germany, not quite making it to the USSR.

A very much larger surprise was the fact that the reunited Germany had pulled off a Manhattan Project of their own over the last few years. They had a small nuclear arsenal. Old grudges die hard. Most of their warheads went into the USSR. Several impacted on France. Whether the ones on France would have been launched if France hadn’t attacked Germany is still unknown. But each attacked the other.

Japan had done much as Germany had. In secret, they developed nuclear weapons of their own. They launched on China and both Koreas. The Koreas were exchanging warheads of their own, medium range missiles having been put in South Korea by the US only months before. Belatedly, North Korea and China retaliated.

Argentina, Venezuela, and Brazil had all developed, bought, or stolen nuclear capability and used it all, too. None of the devices left the continent. Though there weren’t that many, there were enough to destroy every major city.

Apparently China had designs on the entire Pacific, including Australia. When they launched on the US and USSR, Australia lost all her major cities from Chinese missiles, too. So did Japan, just after their launch on China.

South Africa eliminated several competitors for control of all of Africa. Some country, identity unknown, took out Cape Town and Port Elizabeth afterwards. Most of Africa became territorial again, with much ethnic and internecine warfare taking place not long after the outside interference stopped.

Canada took several hits when China attacked the US from space. It is believed that Mexico had an agreement, much like China’s agreements with the USSR, that Mexico would be allowed to take over the Southwestern US, if they offered no resistance to China taking over Canada, the Northwest and Central areas of the US, leaving the Eastern Seaboard for the USSR.

Mexico’s deal with China worked about as well as the one with the USSR. China hit Mexico City with a nuke. When things started to settle down and pre-positioned troops started to march on the US southern border, a US submarine peppered northern Mexico with small nukes, and Mexico City three small ones, in addition to what China had done.

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