The Hermit Chapter 1


The Hermit - Chapter 1

Neal Grant watched silently as the cemetery workers began to fill the graves of his entire family. It was just him now. Alone. Something he’d never been before. First his parents and siblings. Then his wife and three wonderful children. All that was gone forever, now. All dead at the same time because of a drunk driver and a foggy road.

He’d been told countless times since the accident how lucky he’d been. Neal didn’t see it that way. He should have died with the rest of the members of his family. Almost had. And had given up in the hospital when he came to and was given the news about the multi-car accident that had taken his family that fall day.

But the doctors and nurses hadn’t given up and he survived. It would be another six months before he was back to his old, physical, self. Neal knew he’d never be the same mentally. Turning toward the waiting limousine, Neal walked slowly toward it through the falling snow, leaning heavily on the cane that supported the left side of his body.

The driver, huddled in his great coat, opened the passenger door and then closed it after Neal worked his way inside. When Mark was back inside, Neal finally spoke. “Home, I suppose, Mark.”

The limo was already running and Mark put it in gear. But before he reached the exit of the cemetery, Neal spoke again. “Never mind home, Mark. Take me to the office.”

Concerned about his boss, Mark asked, “Are you sure, Sir? You’ve only been out of the hospital for a few hours.”

“I’m sure, Mark. I just don’t want to go home right now.”

Mark looked at Neal in the rearview mirror for a moment, but turned the car toward downtown St. Louis, without protesting further. He pulled into the parking garage, stopping right at the elevators and hurried around to help Mark out of the limo. He pressed the elevator call button and waited until Neal was in the elevator and on his way up to his offices on the top floor.

He took the car for service and cleaning, and then parked it again in the garage, ready for Neal when he did decide to go home.

The office staff gathered around Neal like, in his thoughts only, not voiced, a bunch of mother hens. He waved them away politely and went into his office, collapsing back into the heavy leather office chair with a grunt of pain.

Neal just sat there, looking out the window, hands tented under his chin, lost in thought. It was suddenly after five in the afternoon and the staff gathered at the open office door.

“Sir?” Cathleen O’Connor said rather tentatively.

“Yes, Cathleen?” Neal asked, turning the chair around to face the door.

“It’s five o’clock sir. Would you like me to notify Mark you’re ready to go?” It was said hopefully.

“No. Just close up shop and I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ve a little more to do before I go home.”

Reluctantly the small office staff left the office, worried more about their boss than any would say. When he was sure the staff was gone, Neal buzzed Mark. Eagerly Mark answered. “Ready to go sir?”

“No, Mark. I won’t need you this evening. And feel free to sleep in tomorrow morning. I won’t need you until late morning, if then.”

All Mark could do was say, “Yes Sir.”

Next Neal called home and told the housekeeper that he wouldn’t be home and she could leave until the next day.

It was another hour before Neal got up from the chair and hobbled to the bathroom that was part of his personal office suite. The suite included a bedroom for workday pick me up naps. That’s where Neal spent the night, unwilling to go home to a house without his family.

The one thought of suicide had come and passed shortly after the doctors told about his family. There was no way he was going to risk not seeing them in the afterlife, so suicide was out of the question.

But what was he going to do for the rest of his natural life? Everything he’d done his entire life had been preparing for a family, or having a family. What did all the possessions and wealth mean now, with no one with whom to share them?

The thoughts, and the pain, caused Neal to toss and turn all night, despite the comfortable mattress. He kept spare clothes in the bedroom and was able to dress in fresh clothing the next morning. Neal even had coffee going for the staff when they arrived just before nine.

Ignoring the donuts that were a morning tradition in the office, Neal nodded a hello and left the office without a word. He took the elevator down to street level, and again leaning heavily on his new cane, began walking toward a nearby breakfast place. Despite not having any appetite he knew he had to eat. At least enough to keep alive.

He was automatically polite to service people. It had been drilled into him since birth that being rich didn’t mean you were better than anyone else. It only meant you had more money than most. Nothing less, nothing more.

Pushing away his plate, breakfast only half eaten, Neal asked for the check and left the restaurant still feeling restless, and more than somewhat useless. Instead of turning back toward the office, Neal turned the other way and began to limp along aimlessly. Noting one of the small shops lining the sidewalk Neal had to smile. The shop was tiny, nestled amongst the other major stores in the area. Rather like a small cave in the side of a mountain.

“That’s what I ought to do,” Neal said to himself, a tiny element of his usual ready humor coming to the fore. “Become a hermit. Fondle my gold in the back of a cave. Live out my years in seclusion, until the end.”

Perhaps it was fate, destiny, or just a coincidence. One of the regularly seen and ignored people on the street carrying a “The End Of The World Is Near!” sign passed by just then. And Neal noticed that the shop that reminded him of a cave was, in fact, a coin shop.

On impulse, Neal went in, having to stop, press a button, and wait for the owner of the shop to release the door lock. He had a bit of trouble with the heavy door, which was on a heavy-duty closer, but Neal made it in without any further injury.

“And what can I do for you sir?” asked the elderly gentleman behind the glass display counter. Neal felt his eyes widen slightly at the sight of what seemed to be a very large pistol in a holster on the rather frail looking man.

“Gold,” Neal said. “I was thinking of buying some gold.”

“Numismatic coins or bullion?” asked the man.

“I… don’t know,” Neal replied. “What’s the difference?”

Patiently the store owner explained the difference between numismatic coins and bullion coins. “Numismatic gold coins,” he said, “have a value over and above the value of the gold they contain due to rarity of the specific type of coin, age, special circumstances of the coin, and other factors that have nothing to do with the gold itself.

“Bullion coins, on the other hand, are priced simply on the amount of gold in the coin, based on the spot quotes of the gold market. They can vary from day to day, even hour to hour. Numismatic coins are held for their uniqueness. Bullion coins are held for their immediate value.”

“I think I want bullion coins then. Something that I would spend if things were different.” Neal didn’t say different how. He was still thinking of life as a miser, not spending anything, just counting the coins.

“I have a selection. You prefer American Eagles, Canadian Maple Leaves, or South African Kruggerrands? I have a few of each in one-ten ounce, one-quarter ounce, one-half ounce, and one-ounce denominations.”

“Let’s keep it American,” Neal said rather automatically. He was a firm believer in supporting the US economy in any way he could.

“How many of each do you want?” the man asked.

“I don’t know. How many of the Eagles do you have?”


“No. All of them.”

The man’s eyes widened in surprise. It took him a couple of minutes to check his actual inventory and calculate the value. He told Neal the number of each type of coin and the total value, without ever bringing all the coins out at once. “That is a great deal of money, Sir. Are you sure you are prepared to pay for all of them?”

“You take American Express?” Neal asked, reaching into the inside breast pocket of his suit coat. He brought out a slim vertical wallet and handed the shop owner the card. “It’s platinum, if that makes a difference.”

“Trust it like a bank. For now, anyway.” The man took the card, but before he swiped it through the machine he asked Neal, “Are you sure you want this purchase on the books? Could raise a few eyebrows down the line.”

“Really? How?” Neal asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

“Well, in some circles, there are people that believe there will be another gold recall. If they know you have it, through financial records, they’ll look until they find it or take it out of your hide in some way.”

“Oh. Don’t think much of our government, do you?”

The man simply smiled. “Do you?”

“Of course I…” Neal started to firmly state that he did. But did he really?

Instead, Neal asked, “Do you sell mostly for cash?”

The owner nodded. “Gold bullion and pre-1965 US silver coins both. Most of the numismatic stuff is on a card or check. People want a record of their ownership for insurance reasons.”

“What’s this about pre-1965 silver coins?” Neal found himself asking.

“Those that aren’t numismatic quality, for various reasons, are simply bought and sold for their silver bullion value. You’ll hear different amounts for a one-thousand-dollar face value bag. From seven-hundred-fifteen ounces to seven-hundred-twenty ounces of silver content, depending on the degree of wear of the coins. Originally they contained seven-hundred-twenty-three and a fraction ounces.

“I don’t sell many bags, mostly a roll of dimes, quarters, or halves, here and there.”

“What about silver dollars?” Neal asked, remembering that his father had given him a couple when Neal was only a boy.

“Different situation in a way. The proportion of silver in them is the same as it is in the other coins, but they contain a bit more, in relation to the other silver coins. They are not directly exchangeable between one another. Dollars don’t have exactly ten dimes’ worth of silver in them. They have more. Same with quarters and halves. There were a few forty percent silver dollars minted in the seventies, as were some forty percent halves. I’d stay away from them.

And then there are the US Silver Eagle one-ounce silver rounds, too. Personally, I’d skip the silver dollars and go with the one-ounce rounds if I was going to get silver bullion coins. When the balloon goes up I think they’ll be easier to use for trade.”

“Really?” Neal couldn’t help it. This was interesting. “What balloon?”

“The end of the world balloon. I don’t use the rather graphic term some people use. Some call it TEOTWAWKI, or the end of the world as we know it, or even some sticklers, TEOCAWKI, the end of civilization as we know it. If the world is destroyed, not much way to survive. If it’s just civilization, then all bets are off. People will survive and eventually triumph over whatever adversity does actually happen. Aren’t you one of them preppers, getting ready for the end, if you don’t mind me asking? Some of them are kinda touchy about the situation.”

“No. I’ve never thought anything about it,” Neal said, “I just saw your shop and thought about gold.”

Neal suddenly realized that the end of civilization was what had actually happened to him. The loss of his family was the equivalent of all civilization to him. Family was what his world orbited around.

Neal usually had cash on him, and did now, but it was nowhere near enough to pay for the gold. And now, silver, that he was going to add to the order. Just because. “Let me go get the cash. How much more for a couple of bags of the pre-1965 silver coins, and oh… say… a hundred of the Silver Eagles? Do you have that many?”

“No, but I can get them for you by Thursday… No… That’s Christmas. Friday.”

“Double the order for the gold coins and get them when you get the silver, and make it a thousand of the Silver eagles and add a bag of halves and one of dollars, too. I’ll be back in a little while for this first purchase of gold coins.”

The door clicked as Neal stepped up to it and he went outside. One of the banks he used regularly was down the street and over two. Neal hesitated, and almost called Mark to come get him, but gritted his teeth and continued walking. He needed to exercise the leg. The therapist had told him to use it, but only to a moderate pain level. Too much was as bad as too little. Neal decided to edge it up to almost too much.

Neal was exhausted when he got back to the office just before noon, and it showed. The staff flitted around and he finally agreed to lie down for a while before he had some lunch. There was a small safe for important papers in his office. Neal locked the plastic tubes of gold coins inside before he went to the bedroom and took a needed rest.

Mark was in the office when Neal woke up and checked for messages from the staff. There were messages of condolence from business acquaintances. The few friends he had on his own had already offered theirs the day before.

After Mark asked him if he wanted to be driven somewhere to lunch, Neal asked him to come into the office. “Mark, I’m not going out for lunch. But I do have a project for you.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“I need you to go to the house and help Mrs. Bairns start taking down the Christmas decorations. We didn’t have a chance to wrap any presents. We were going to do that today,” Neal said, steeling himself at the memory of the Christmas planning he and his wife had done just hours before the accident.

“The receipts for everything are there in the study. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding them. Take everything back and give the money to the Salvation Army.”

“But, Sir! Don’t you think…”

“Please Mark. This is what I want to do.”

Mark sighed slightly and nodded. “Yes, Sir. I’ll take care of it.”

The words of the coin shop owner, whose name Neal still didn’t know, came back to him. Neal made himself comfortable at his desk and opened up Windows Internet Explorer to his company home page. He called up Yahoo! and typed TEOTWAWKI into the search bar.

“Holy Mackerel!” Neal said softly. There were thousands of hits indicated. An experienced internet user, Neal began to surf, one thing leading to another. He popped up a Word window and began making notes of things he wanted to investigate more thoroughly, after he’d gone where this chase was taking him.

Again he ushered his staff out of the office and to their homes at quitting time. He would stay at the office again. And again he didn’t get much sleep. This time, however, it was due to the late hours he put in on the internet.

The next morning he made several decisions that would affect the rest of his life. He committed himself to the solitary, hermit-like lifestyle. He couldn’t really say he was going to be a miser. At least not yet.

It took virtually no time at all to reconcile his wish to join his family, with making preparations to survive the balloon going up, or TEOTWAWKI, or TEOCAWKI, or any other way you wanted to describe the changes that a not so small group of people were forecasting for the world in the not so distant future. He would have to join his family after making the best try possible of extending his life. They wouldn’t want him to be with them otherwise.

The decisions made, Neal set about making them facts. First was the house. “Mrs. Bairns,” he said on the telephone the next morning, “I have a project for you. And be assured, when the project is done, you will be taken care of just as if I had died with the rest of the family.”

Clueless as to what she could do to bring her employer out of the mood he was in, Mrs. Bairns simply did as she was told. Using her own judgment she packed up everything she thought might be a keepsake for a man like Neal. She had a roomful of items when she was finished, and realized she’d kept things that she would keep, but that Neal probably had no interest in. She went through the room and reduced the contents by half. She was crying when she finished and simply couldn’t reduce it any more.

As instructed, Mark made arrangements to have the items packed up and put into climate controlled long term storage. Like Mrs. Bairns, Mark could think of nothing to help Neal in his time of mental pain, except carry out his wishes to the best of his ability.

Personal items that weren’t keepsakes were given to charity. Neal had a few clothes and other personal items brought to the office bedroom. The rest went to charity. The house was listed on the market as furnished.

With the soft market, and Neal’s intention of getting rid of it quickly with as little hassle as possible, the price was lowball and absolutely firm. Less than a month later and a buyer put the money in escrow for immediate closure.

Neal set up a trust for Mrs. Bairns so she wouldn’t have to try and find another position. With the rest of the money from the sale of the house and property, and the money returned from the trusts he’d set up for his family members, Neal set up trust funds and lifetime annuities for himself, using companies with at least one-hundred years of successful business, and had highly diversified investments. Companies that had survived the depressions and recessions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He might become a hermit, and even miserly in the future, but learning to be prepared, he was finding out, often meant making sure one had options. As many as possible in many cases.

He began to look for a place to live. He couldn’t live in the office for long. For one thing, it wasn’t a legal residence, for another, the business would soon be sold, anyway. With his soon to be hermit existence in mind, Neal had the same real estate agent that handled the sale of the house begin looking for a small, out of the way place, well outside the city.

Knowing the probabilities of actually finding a property with a hermit’s cave on it, he specified property with an undeveloped cave anyway, and began making arrangements to sell the business. He also quit having his hair trimmed weekly and shaving daily. If he was going to be a hermit he needed to start looking the part.

He made similar arrangements for his office staff and Mark that he’d made for Mrs. Bairns. All were young enough to seek out and find other gainful employment, but reading more and more of the internet sites advocating preparedness, Neal thought it only fair to set them up so he wouldn’t feel responsible for them if something did happen.

Neal was good at what he did, and his competitors were eager to pick up his client list. It didn’t take long for the business to sell. Mark’s last duty was to transport Neal from the office to a small residential motel. Mark had already taken care of the arrangements to store what goods Neal still had in another climate controlled storage unit, taking only his clothes and a few personal effects to the motel.

Mark had been with Neal for a long time and it was difficult to say good-bye. In addition to the trust he’d set up for him, Neal gave Mark a generous bonus check, and just as they shook hands, Neal reached into one pant’s pocket and pulled out one of the Gold Eagles he’d taken to carrying around. It was a full ounce coin. He handed it to Mark and said, “I hope this brings you good luck, Mark. I can’t thank you properly, but, Thank you.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you. If you ever need me, you know where to find me.”

Neal nodded and the two men turned away, both a little saddened, but both determined to secure their futures, each in their own way.

Much to his surprise, the real estate agent called less than two months into the search for the property for Neal. “Mr. Grant, I think I’ve found something you might be interested in checking.”

A time and place was set for them to meet. The limo had gone with the business so Neal met Joe Sherman outside of Sullivan, Missouri still driving his classic Corvette. “I don’t think that will make it up to where we need to go,” said the real estate agent.

“I plan to pick something else up,” Neal said, locking the door of the Corvette and walking over to the agent’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. “Is it all right if I ride up with you?”

The man smiled. “Not much choice. Hop in.”

Neal, still hampered with the cane and not quite healed leg, did so, with a grunt of pain as he settled himself in the vehicle. He was careful to take note of the terrain and the roads as they traveled out of Sullivan and into the surrounding countryside.

They left the paved roads and were on a gravel road deep in the forest. Finally they stopped at a dirt track. The way was barred by a gate, a simple horizontal pipe, swiveled at one end and locked at the other, on identical heavy steel posts. There were trees growing thickly right up to the edges of the gate.


Jim, the real estate agent got out and unlocked the gate. He drove through, leaving the gate open. “Not much further,” Jim said. “You said you wanted as remote as possible, with a cave. This is about as remote as you can find around here. You’ve got State Forest on three sides of you, and you saw where we came in. The gravel road just loops back to the main road a couple of miles past the gate.”

“And there is a cave?” Neal asked.

“There is. You said undeveloped. I hope you don’t want to develop this one. It’s not much of a cave, the way some are in this area. I don’t think you’d do well opening it up as a commercial operation.”

“No intent of doing that,” Neal said, and left it at that when Jim looked over at him.

Jim stopped the Cherokee and both men got out, Neal hobbling a bit on the cane. “Not much to it,” Jim said, standing in front of the vehicle. “There is just under twenty-five acres of second growth forest, on rolling terrain. A couple of bluffs. No services available, though you could bring in electrical power for a couple hundred thousand.”

Neal took it as the humor it was, despite being perfectly capable of paying such a price. But he didn’t want commercial power. He did want water and sewer, but on-site would be fine for them. If it was doable. Neal asked as much.

“I’ve handled other properties in the area and a well and septic system were no problem on any of them. I see no reason this would be different, though to make sure you might want to bring in a well driller and plumber to give you official confirmation.”

“Let’s see the cave,” Neal said.

Jim looked at Neal’s leg and said, “I’m not sure you will be able to navigate the terrain. It’s back a ways on the property and on one of the steeper areas.”

“I’ll make it,” Neal replied.

Jim got a topographical map and a compass from the Cherokee and led the way, checking map and compass several times on the short trip. Neal declined a helping hand on the jaunt, making it on his own devices, despite the pain.

Neal took a moment to catch his breath on the small ledge in front of the cave opening. It wasn’t at all what he pictured as the entrance to a miser’s cave, but it sure enough was a cave entrance. There was heavy vegetation hanging down over the entrance, growing out of the short bluff in which the cave was located.

There was a trickle of water coming under the vines. It flowed, or rather oozed, over the rocks, down the face of the bluff to the slope below the bluff and disappeared in the woods. Jim saw Neal looking that way and said, “It’s just a trickle for the most part, I’m told, unless we have a rainy year, and then it flows perhaps twice as much, down a shallow ravine off the property and into a creek on State property. It’s not even on the map for more than just down the slope.”

“I see,” Neal said, and then took the flashlight he’d brought from his pocket and moved the hanging vines aside with his cane. Jim handed Neal a key and Neal unlocked the padlock securing the heavy door placed there years ago, when the area was logged, to keep out kids for safety’s sake.

Neal struggled, but got the door open a bit. He looked into the cave. He had to duck slightly, and really watch his footing for the bare rock outside the door was a bit slick with damp leaves. But, aside from the trickle of water off on the lower slope of the cave floor, once Neal got inside the cave, the floor was dry, with only a little dust that had blown into the cave through the small cracks in the wooden door. There were no signs of bats or any other wildlife having used the cave.

Going in about ten feet the entrance opened up slightly. The floor rose, but the roof rose slightly faster. There was a nearly right angle turn in the cave, and it narrowed down again, still climbing, finally opening into a much larger room. The room was perhaps forty feet long, ten feet high, and varied from ten feet wide to twenty feet. There were two smaller openings at the far end of the room.

Neal shone the light down the passage from which the little trickle of water was coming. It tapered down to nothing, the water coming from a small fracture in the distant wall, perhaps fifteen feet in.

The second passage slowly curved out of sight getting narrower and lower the further in the light shone. Neal, wasn’t ready to explore further and turned around. Jim was waiting for him at the entrance. He hadn’t come in with Neal.

“Sorry,” Jim said when Neal came back out into the sunlight and relocked the cave door. “I thought I’d be able to go in. I’m a little more claustrophobic than I thought. Is it what you were hoping for?”

“Not exactly,” Neal replied. “But it will do. I’ll take it for the stated price.” Neal didn’t want to dicker. He wanted the property as soon as he could take title.

It took Neal some time to make it back to Jim’s Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jim was glancing at his watch from time to time. Neal climbed into the passenger seat of the Cherokee gratefully and rode silently as Jim took him back to his Corvette.

Neal had to wait until he got back to the residence motel before he could take a pain pill, but he did so forthwith and lay down to rest his leg, hoping he hadn’t set back the healing process by overdoing it getting to the cave. He fell asleep with a smile on his face, the pain medication taking affect and the memory of his cave in his thoughts.

He rested for a couple of days, doing research on a suitable vehicle for a miser living in a cave preparing for the end of civilization, as he was beginning to think of his future. With the money to buy anything he wanted off the showroom floor, or order from a manufacturer, Neal decided to heed the advice he found on the preparedness sites.

The big stickler was whether to consider EMP. If he didn’t, the choices really opened up. If he considered a stand alone HEMP attack, or a general nuclear attack with or without HEMP weapons, then there was a risk of the disablement of electronics in vehicles as well as other electronics connected to long antennas, long control cables, or an electrical grid. There was still a lot of uncertainty about how much effect EMP’s would have.

The second major decision was whether to go with a diesel or gasoline engine. Both were available with and without possibly EMP sensitive electronic controls. Neal mulled it over in his mind for a couple more days and then made his decision.

Neal pinned down the basic make as GM. The Suburban model. The vehicle would be a highly customized creation, though it would use as many stock Chevy/GMC parts as possible to make it easily repairable.

It would take a year to build what he wanted, Neal found out. He needed something in the interim. Neal appreciated quality and function and found a factory option that suited him, at least temporarily.

The Mercedes Benz G55 AMG wasn’t the largest of SUV’s, for sure, nor the smallest. It was rather boxy, not at all sexy. It did have power to spare, and fairly unique among factory available SUV’s, all three differentials had lockers. It would go anywhere Neal was likely to want to go until he got his custom creature. Or EMP took out the electronics, or gasoline became unavailable.

Some aftermarket equipment and accessories and he was good to go. The sale of the Corvette and the other three family vehicles paid for the fully equipped Mercedes-Benz and bought the base vehicle that would be customized. Neal would decide later whether he would sell the G55 AMG to finish paying for the new vehicle.

Neal’s next order of business was to get utilities set up on the new property. Two wells went in, at Neal’s insistence, despite the quality and quantity of the water coming from the first one.

The plumber installed a septic system close to the spot Neal intended to build a small cabin. Another, larger system was installed on the lowest point of the property that had good drainage, so if he decided to build something anywhere else on the property, the septic system would be ready, and there would be no need for septic pumps to get the raw sewage to the treatment system, even if he put in a basement. Or, left unspoken, if he put in a conventional bathroom in the cave.

One of the wells was on the highest point of the property and a solar powered pump filled an underground storage tank, with runoff from the tank into a large pond that Neal had constructed. The pond was carefully located so any runoff from it would follow the natural path that connected it to small amount of runoff from the spring in the cave. Pressure water was supplied by a solar powered pump in the storage tank, with a large pressure storage tank.

The second well also had an attendant underground storage tank, but the top of the well was in a concealed, buried concrete chamber in which the solar pump, solar PV panels and mounts, batteries, and controller, and a pressure pump were stored for future use. The batteries were dry store types, with the acid needed to activate them also stored.

For electrical power, Neal did much as he had with the water. A concealed concrete pit was constructed and solar panels, mounts, batteries, battery acid, controllers, and a distribution system were store for future use. For immediate use, a single multi-panel array was installed on a metal mast that was painted in camouflage colors, which carried the array above the forest canopy. The batteries and controller were in yet another concealed concrete pit with several heavy extension cords to tap into the power.

Twice Neal went to the property after he got the G55 AMG and just walked over the land, staying out of the difficult areas. He learned something very useful for the cave living, miserly hermit he was to become.

There was a great deal of game in the forests. At different times he saw rabbits, squirrels, deer, and turkey. There were also predators. Fox, coyote, and bobcat. There were myriad game and non-game birds. Dove, grouse, pheasant, and quail game birds. There were more crows than Neal cared to count

He made a few inquiries at the Missouri Department of Conservation and learned that the area was reputed to have a few black bears, and at least enough cougar to maintain a viable reproductive population. “Do not, under any circumstances,” said the agent, “except true life and death, kill any of these animals. The penalties will be harsh.”

Neal made a few more inquiries. Migratory birds and waterfowl were hunted in the area, on the local streams and lakes, though the harvest was much smaller than it was on the larger lakes and on the Mississippi.

“I should learn to hunt and fish,” Neal decided after his investigative trip. He decided to get a hunting gun before he took the required hunter safety course. So he went shopping. Essentially clueless, Neal did some research on the internet. He wasn’t finding what he wanted. There were special guns for this, that, and the other, but no multi-purpose hunt anything guns. Neal made a trip to the Cabela’s in Hazlewood, Missouri and asked for help.

He got plenty of it. And found that, in fact, there was something similar to what he wanted. Not at all common in the US, there were a series of guns seen in Europe that would do what he wanted.

Combination guns with two barrels, one rifled and one shotgun.

Drillings with three barrels, usually two side-by-side shotgun with a rifle barrel below, but that wasn’t an absolute. There seemed to be a German name for every combination and configuration of drillings.

Four barrel vierlings, again usually two side by side shotgun barrels with over and under rifle barrels of different calibers. Again, that was the general configuration. Other four barrel vierlings existed including all shotgun barrels and all rifle barrels and every combination in between.

And the rarest of all one-off production firearms, the five-barrel funfling. Just about any practical combination was available. For a price and a wait. A very high price and a very long wait.

But the collector weapons specialist said, “Give me a few minutes and I’ll see what I can find. Kreighoff, Heym, and Hofer all usually have something in stock, though none may be exactly what you want.”

Neal looked around the rest of the store while he waited and found a few intriguing things. Things that he wasn’t looking for, but the sight of which gave him ideas. An hour later the clerk found Neal and took him back to his office.

“Okay. I have to tell you I didn’t have much luck for what you want. Common American chamberings to hunt anything in Missouri. Found one Kreighoff drilling double 12 gauge over .30-’06, and a Heym Veirling in side by side 3” 20 gauge with .308 over .22 Hornet. That’s close, but you said you wanted twelve gauge.”

The man winced. “There is one other option, that would fit perfectly, but… well, to be honest, it’s an incomplete gun.”

Neal was shaking his head. He didn’t have the skills to finish making a gun. But the clerk quickly continued. “It’s certainly functional. And it is finished in terms that it has a brilliant blue finish, but it is completely unadorned. The original buyer is… was… a master engraver. He was going to engrave it himself.

“It’s a Hofer, and it will be months before he can get on it to complete it himself. And, it is a bit over powered for Missouri. The man wanted the ultimate gun for everything in the world except the African Big Five. He was going to do a second gun for that capability.

“You don’t need much more than a .308 or .30-’06 for Missouri big game. The funfling is a .375 H&H Magnum over .308 Winchester over .22 Hornet, with 12 gauge 3 ½ inch magnum side by side barrels. It would actually take lion and leopard of the African Big Five, but would be marginal on elephant, rhino, and water buffalo. Though they too, have fallen to the .375 H&H Magnum You just don’t have that second big bore rifle follow up shot that is sometime needed.”

“But it is available?” Neal asked.

“Reluctantly, yes. But even without the engraving and gold and silver inlay the engraver was going to do himself it’s thirty-one thousand. It would be worth over a hundred thousand if completed the way the original customer envisioned. It’s a shame what happened to him. Died in that horrible multi-car accident last fall between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A chill ran down Neal’s spine. That was some coincidence. “I’ll take it, as is.” Neal took out his American Express Platinum Card. “When can I pick it up?”

“Two weeks,” said the clerk, taking the card without a second thought. “By the way, I know that Andrew had contracted to have custom ammunition made for it, including specially drawn 12 gauge 3 ½ inch magnum brass cases. He was also talking about field reloading tools for the rifle cartridges and well as the shot shells.

“There was to be a glass topped black walnut and leather case for the gun, several rounds of ammunition, a custom cleaning kit, and the reloading tools and components. There were to be custom leather field cases for all of it, too.”

“If you can connect me with those providers, I’d like to complete the collection. And do you know an engraver whose work is quality enough for such a gun?”

“I think so. He’s retired, but might come out of retirement for this.”

Two weeks later Neal had the gun. Two months later he had all the ammunition and accoutrements. But the engraver decided not to do the engraving. He didn’t feel he could do it justice, with the slight palsy he had in his hands now.

Neal decided, after seeing the gun, that it didn’t really need any engraving, but deserved it. With the clerk’s help at Cabela’s, he found an up and coming engraver and sent the gun off to have, not the elaborate game scenes the original engraver had envisioned, but a simple geometric design, inlaid with silver and gold. After seeing the design the engraver came up with, Neal approved it, and six months later had the finished gun in his hands. Just in time for the fall hunting seasons in Missouri.

Neal hadn’t been idle in the mean time. A factory built Tumbleweed Tiny House, the Lusby 120 square foot model, was delivered, set up, and connected to the off-grid water, sewer, and power. The heater was charcoal briquette or wood fired and Neal laid in a large supply of both, which he stored on the pallets on which they came, covered securely with tarps, near the door of the house. Telephone service was cellular, and TV and Internet was a small dish satellite system.

Neal could not find a propane tank larger than one-thousand gallons, to supply the cook top in the Lusby. So he ordered three of them, from three different propane companies, and had them installed at different times. All three of them were underground tanks, with independent lines run to the Lusby. All three were also stubbed off underground, with valves and plugs on the end of the lines, for future use. The cook top was kept supplied from a pair of one-hundred pound tanks, with ten tanks in reserve.

Using the Hofer funfling, Neal found he enjoyed the solitude of the forests, streams, and lakes of the area while hunting, and doing a bit of fishing. He thought about life and death, the past and the future. And made more plans.

The funfling was all he could ask for in a hunting gun, but, according to the prep sites, it was very likely he might need to defend himself physically in the future. After much research on the internet, and several visits to gun shops more defense oriented than Cabela’s excellent hunting guns selection, Neal tried a variety of highly touted combat suitable guns. Rifles, pistols, and shotguns.

The main carry pistol choice was easy for Neal. He tried the Glock 21 once and decided on it immediately, already having chosen to use a high capacity .45 ACP pistol as a personal defense weapon. He picked up a couple and plenty of magazines.

As a backup he got the Glock 30 which used the same magazines the Glock 21 did. For last ditch, hideout use, Neal picked up two Bond Arms Company .45 ACP derringers.

The shotgun issue was a bit more difficult. The choice was between a Remington semi-auto 11-87P with ghost-ring sights and a Benelli M-4 semiauto equipped similarly. The fact that he could have a ventilated Poly-choke mounted on the Remington a bit more easily swung the deal for him. He bought two and sent the barrels off to Poly-choke for the choke installations. Neal ordered pistol grip shoulder stocks for them and managed to install them himself, much to his delight.

The real stickler was a primary combat rifle. Since it would be him alone, without the support weapons a US soldier had to do what the M-4 5.56mm x 45mm carbine cartridge wouldn’t do well or at all, Neal decided to get something in a more versatile .308 Winchester/7.62mm x 51mm NATO compatible weapon. But which one?

There were significant pros for each of the available MBR’s. M1A/M14 clone, AR-10 and clones, FN/FAL and clones, HK-91 and clones, and AK-47 style rifles in .308. There was one more that really intrigued him, especially after finding, buying, and reading a copy of Mel Tappan’s “Survival Guns”. The Berretta BM-59 series of rifles. It had most of the pros that each of the others had one or two of, plus a couple more. The major con was availability of the rifles, and especially magazines.

But when you have money to melt, many, though certainly not all, problems can be overcome. One of the gun shop owners from which he’d bought several of his new firearms was more than willing to do the legwork to find what Neal decided he wanted.

In the end, after three months of searching, and a great deal of money, Neal owned two nearly pristine BM-59 semi-auto rifles, and two very good BM-59 rifles, all with the tri-compensator, bipod, pistol grip stock, and bayonet lug, with a total of two-hundred and twelve 20-round Berretta factory magazines. There were almost twenty-five pounds of spare parts to keep the rifles serviceable for many years.

His maternal grandfather having been a master machinist, Neal knew that for the right amount of money, the right talent with the right tools could make just about anything. Neal bought twenty Beta C-Mag 100-round .308 dual drum magazines originally configured for the M1A and M14 clones, and had replacement magazine towers made for them so he could use them in the BM-59’s.

Another step taken to bring the BM-59’s into the 21st Century, was a set of picatinny rails mounted on a receiver adapter the machinist made, that still left the stripper clip charger useable, and allowed the use of easily mounted accessories.

The same machinist made bayonet attachments for the Remington 11-87P’s that would allow the use of a BM-59 bayonet, of which he had several. The bayonets were included in the parts set he bought for the rifles. The attachment also had three short pieces of picatinny rail attached. One piece on each side of the magazine tube and one below, for attachment of combat lights or lasers.

The shotguns and BM-59’s were full size weapons. Neal felt the need for something compact he could use for short range fire from a moving vehicle. He wanted more firepower than a pistol, but didn’t want the hassles of full automatic weapons, such as a submachine gun. Which would be pistol caliber anyway. The remaining option was the one Neal chose. A semi-auto bull-pup carbine in .223/5.56mm x 45mm. Namely, a pair of Steyr AUG’s. with several Beta C-Mag 100-round dual drums in addition to plenty of 30-round and 42-round box magazines.

And because Neal could see the tactical advantage of having a real long range rifle, and a short and medium range anti-material weapon, he plunked down the money and bought a scoped Barrett M82A1 .50 BMG semi-auto rifle with plenty of magazines and ammunition.

Deciding he had enough weapons and ammunition for self-defense, having bought cases of each caliber and gauge of ammunition when he bought the firearms, at least for the moment, Neal decided he’d better get them secured better than he had them at the moment.

There really was no room in the tiny Lusby plan cabin for a gun safe, so Neal made arrangements to get the protection he wanted. He had to get three smaller gun safes to put in the cave, as a large one would have been impossible to get into it. He rented a compact battery powered pallet handler to make it easier. As it was, there were a couple of close calls getting the three crated safes, and three independent vault doors that he bought from the same company, down the narrow ledge and into the cave by himself after they had been dropped off at the Lusby by the delivery company.

It took two weeks for Neal to recover enough to do much else but eat, sleep, and do research on the internet. But he had more plans to implement when the time had passed. He’d had a lengthy debate with himself over whether he should bring in outside contractors, even from a distance, to work on the cave, or do it all himself. It would certainly be slower if he did it all, but it would be good skills training for living alone the rest of his life. And no one would know about the cave. Which was the deciding factor.

With hard copy books bought on-line, and more research on the Internet, Neal began the process of turning the cave into a permanent home for a miserly hermit. There was no reason not to be comfortable, he decided, and began the process of building a structure within the cave, much like the Tumbleweed Tiny House Lusby, though bigger.


It was heavily insulated and had the same charcoal/wood burning fireplace heater the Lusby had. Though he managed the construction over several months, running the utility lines from the cave to the various off-grid utility connections Neal found was impractical for him to do alone. So was setting the three vault doors into the openings he’d been able to construct for them by himself. And there were a couple more projects he wanted done that he couldn’t handle alone.

He knew what to do, and had the equipment and supplies with which to do the job. What he needed was labor. Instead of even going to St. Louis, Neal went to Kansas City to find three out of work men willing to live in a rental motorhome Neal would provide for the time it would take for them to do the manual labor for him.

Neal wasn’t too worried about them ever coming back to haunt him. All three were barely sober enough to do the simple labor, and Neal had brought them out one night, when all three were drunk and sleeping it off in the motorhome, which he drove, towing the G55 AMG on a trailer behind it.

He took them back the same way, paid a cleaning service to clean up the motorhome before he returned it, and then went home to his new, fully functional, very secure, cave of a home. Neal left his cane behind for the first time since he’d started using it after the accident when he took the G55 AUG in to pick up his new vehicle.

It had started life as a brand-spanking-new, fully accessorized, three-quarter ton, four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Suburban. Though he wanted to be able to drive it whether there was an EMP attack or not, Neal also wanted the use of all the other modern electronics incorporated into the Suburban, even if they might be destroyed at some distant point in the future by EMP. The new Suburban, with the custom work done to it provided Neal with the best of both worlds.

The body shell of the Suburban had been removed in its entirety and sent to a customizing shop. It was stripped down to the treated sheet metal. A complete roll cage was built inside, as were some special compartments. A high capacity rack was built onto the exterior of the roof, and then the entire assembly treated again for long life.

The additional wiring and piping that other specialist shops need was installed for the improvements and accessories Neal had mandated. Nex,t the shell was insulated and lined with Level III fabric armor and new leather upholstery was installed over the linings.

All the fixed glass was replaced with thick bullet resistant lexan panels. That included the rear door assembly, which was a custom creation. The bottom half of the gate would open downward or open in two sections, one to each side. The upper section would open upward together with the lexan panel, but the panel would open separately, as well.

Another change in the structure of the rear body was the incorporation of a conformal, partially inlet, high efficiency cyclone air pre-filter on the driver’s side. The outlet was routed as a conformal contoured pipe along the roof rack to the front of the roofline where it was turned downward, following the windshield post, to the engine compartment.

In a similar fashion, insulated exhaust pipes were conformed into the bodywork behind the rear passenger doors, run up to the just above the roof rack and turned outward, to keep the exhaust as far from anything on the roof as possible.

All the original outside air intakes were blocked and a CBRN filter system installed to provide clean interior air under dangerous conditions. It was mounted on the roof and piped to the normal HVAC vents. A cyclone air pre-filter like the one for engine air was piped from the right rear of the Suburban to the CBRN filter system air intake.

The lift glass in the doors was replaced with thicker, specially coated glass that was bullet resistant, but not to the degree of the fixed glass, with heavier duty electric window lifts installed.

The factory dash was removed and a fully customized one installed, which included complete faraday cage protection for all the factory electronics, which were going to be relocated, with space for the aftermarket additions that the electrical shop would install.

The original front bucket seats were re-installed, as were the matching second row bucket seats. The third optional bench seat was deleted to have the maximum storage space.

The body work was primed and then painted in several steps, using a dull grey/dull tan scheme that had various shades of light to medium grays and tans feathered into each other. The windows got matching appliqués.

The body was very difficult to identify as anything except a large expanse of colors, except for the driver’s side window, front passenger window, and windshield, which couldn’t legally have the appliqués. But there were cloth shades in the same color scheme incorporated into the roof rack that could be pulled down to cover the windshield and those windows when the vehicle wasn’t in motion.

With that work done, the body shell had been sent to the other shops in turn, and the custom dash and then the lighting and electronics installed and tested.

While all that was being done the chassis work was, too. The entire original drive train and chassis was sold for parts. A completely new, two-ton class heavy-duty frame and chassis was constructed to carry the new drive train and customized body.

The chassis incorporated five separate diesel fuel tanks, which would give the completed vehicle an un-refueled range of over three thousand miles. All were coated with self-repairing interior linings to seal any leaks caused by punctures.

The chassis was the support structure for the drive train and suspension. The two-ton capacity portal axles provided significant ground clearance, without raising the center of gravity significantly, which most other lift systems did.

They were attached with heavy-duty hangers using a dual coil-spring-in-a-spring, four shock absorber suspension, with wrap-over preventers. Both axles were hydraulic steering axles, with tire-air adjustment system plumbing and huge disk brakes. The axle differentials had hydraulic lockers, as did the transfer case. The tires were run-flat types, on double bead-lock wheels. The front and rear drivelines had remote actuated disconnects in them so the vehicle could be towed without problems.

There were four steering modes available with the front and rear steering axles. Regular front steer for highway and regular off-road use. Next, there was four-wheel steer in which the rear tires were turned in the opposite direction from the front, resulting in the rear wheels following in the same track as the front wheels.

There was a crab-steer mode in which all four wheels turned in the same direction so the vehicle could go at an angle sideways. Finally, the rear wheels could be steered independently from the front wheels, allowing extremely tight maneuvering.

Other than conventional steering, the steering modes had a limited speed range. Four-wheel steering was available at speeds under fifteen miles an hour. Crab-steer and independent rear-wheel steer were limited to less than five miles per hour.

The power train started with a new GM 6.5L diesel crate engine. It was mechanically injected, to be operable in an EMP environment, with a non-electronic six-speed automatic transmission coupled to it through a heavy-duty torque converter.

The set up would generate, conservatively, three-hundred and fifty horsepower, with plenty of torque, with good response at all speeds due to the supercharger, which Neal preferred to the optional turbocharger. Oversize mufflers were mounted to the chassis. The exhaust pipes on the bodywork would be connected when the body was mounted.

The engine carried an air compressor, A/C compressor, power steering pump, twelve volt DC generator as opposed to an alternator, a 110/220v AC generator, an old board welding alternator, and a hydraulic pump. Pressure tanks for the air compressor and an oil tank for the hydraulic pump were built into the frame, as were mounts for two large deep cycle batteries. The AC generator was on an electric clutch so it could be kept off unless AC power was needed.

The engine didn’t need a starting battery, as it used a well muffled air starter. In a worst case scenario, with no air pressure already stored for some reason, there were both a 12vdc air compressor and a manual air pump to build up initial pressure.

An oversize radiator was mounted directly to the frame, along with coolers for engine oil, transmission fluid, and the air conditioning condenser.

All grease points on the chassis and running gear, that didn’t rotate, were run to four common greasing points, one at each corner of the chassis. All axle and chassis breathers had snorkel lines attached. They would be run up to the engine compartment and secured when the bodywork was re-installed.

Rock rails were a part of the chassis extensions to the sides. They were extended up and over, to protect the wheel well sheet metal. A double layer of lengths of high tensile chain were fastened to the rock rails over the wheels to offer some protection for the tires from projectiles.

The shop fabricated front and rear bumpers, again to Neal’s specifications of features he seen on the internet. There were permanent mount front and rear twelve-thousand pound hydraulic winches, front and rear two-inch receiver hitches, outlets for compressed air and hydraulic power.

The front bumper also carried a spare tire, tow bar, and a knock down roller similar in style to those on World War Two half tracks. There were toolboxes built into the front bumper for winch accessories and recovery equipment. Brush bars and headlight protectors also carried additional lighting.

The rear bumper carried twin swing away half racks for another spare tire, pioneer tools, a Hi-Lift jack, and three jerry can carriers. A pair of built-in toolboxes in the bumper carried small items.

One set of modifications that had stumped all the workers were the airlines run to the head lights, tail lights, and a whole set of them set at the bottom of the outside of the windshield. All the outlets had flattened tips. The air would come out in a fan shape.

When Neal drove up in the G55 AMG, he literally did not see the customized Suburban parked at the side of the shop. The owner had drawn down the shades on front door windows and windshield. Matt was grinning when Neal got out of the Mercedes and asked, “Where is it?” Matt simply pointed.

Once he knew it was there, it wasn’t all that difficult to see, against the background of the shop wall, but it sure tended to elude the eye with the paint scheme it carried. “I’m going to have to run several auxiliary lights all the time just to not be run over on the roads,” Neal said, his grin matching Matt’s.

“Okay,” Neal said. “Let’s go inside and settle up.”

Matt was eager to do so. Things were tough and he needed the cash. The economy was turning worse every day and customizing cars, vans, and trucks were getting low on the list of hard strapped consumers’ needs.

“If there is ever anything else you want done, you be sure and let me know,” Matt said as they shook hands after Neal had paid him.

“Actually, I was wondering about a tandem wheel utility trailer to carry bulky cargo, with some fuel tanks to extend the range of the rig even more. High clearance and the same tires and all.”

“Consider it done,” Matt said eagerly. “I’ll get started on it as soon as you fax me the spec’s.”

Neal nodded and walked over to the Suburban after Matt gave him the keys and three identical remotes. The engine was running, the AC on, and the doors unlocked when Neal got to it, a huge grin on his face. After retracting the window shades, Neal climbed up into the Suburban and looked things over. Everything in the forward section was just as he’d requested.

He got out, opened and looked in each of the other side doors, and then the rear doors. Only some time in use would tell, but Neal was as certain as he could be that the rig would perform just as he’d wanted.

Making sure he had plenty of lights on, Neal took the truck on a test run around town. While not quite the rocket off the line the G55 AMG was, the Suburban could hold its own in both high speed, and stop and go traffic.

When he got back to the shop, he asked Matt, “Do you happen to know anyone in the market for a fully equipped, used, Mercedes top of the line SUV? I don’t think I’ll be needing it now.”

“You know,” Matt said with a snap of his fingers, “I just might. If you want to leave it and the keys here, I’ll get ahold of the guy and see. How much are you asking?”

Matt whistled when he heard the amount. “I don’t know. I’ll ask, anyway.”

Neal went back home and two days later Matt called him. “The guy wants it.” Neal could hear the wonder in his voice. “I think the cost being more than a Hummer was actually a selling point to this guy. He loves his toys.”

A few days later Neal went back to St. Louis and met the buyer at Matt’s shop. The man had a cashier’s check for the total amount Neal had asked. Matt looked on in amazement as the check changed hands and the two men went their separate ways. The buyer out to load the G55 AMG on a trailer behind an H1 Hummer, and Neal, with Matt, into the shop. Neal had a set of computer generated drawings and a list of specifications for the trailer.

“It shall be done,” Matt said, after looking over the drawings and specifications. “So,” he continued, “how is the Suburban doing?”

“That creature is doing even better than I’d hoped. I have to drive very defensively, however, because it is actually difficult to see on the road.”

“Yeah. But just think in the woods. You could sit just out side of it and a deer might walk right up to it. Into it, even!” Matt laughed and Neal joined him.

“I don’t think so,” Neal said, “but it’s a humorous thought.” Again the two men shook hands and Matt turned to start work on Neal’s new trailer, and Neal to go to the bank and cash the check.

The amount, equal to what Neal had originally paid for the G55 AMG, before equipping it, more than paid for the Suburban. He was financially in the same spot as he’d been when he started the process. Except, of course, for the inflation, which was becoming rampant.

Rather than putting the money in the bank he used, Neal did what he was doing as a matter of course. He converted the cash to gold, silver, and prep goods before the cash lost more of its value. Then he went back to his miserly hermit’s cave. He didn’t leave again until he got the call from Matt that the trailer was ready.

When Neal went into the city to pick up the trailer, he was amazed at the changes that had taken place in just those few weeks. There were many more closed down businesses, their doors and windows boarded over, than he ever remembered seeing.

Neal noticed the look on Matt’s face as soon as he entered the office of the shop. “What’s up, Matt? You don’t look good.”

“Kind of short rations lately. And Neal… about the cost of the trailer… materials went up. A lot. And my labor… with the inflation… I went ahead and finished it…”

“Don’t worry, Matt. I’ll pay for value received,” Neal said. “How much, factoring in everything?”

Matt hesitated, but then handed Neal an itemized list. “I know it is much more than we agreed on, but my family…”

“It’s all right, Matt. Not a problem. Let’s go down to my bank and get you cash. I would suggest you spend it as quickly as you can, on necessities, before it looses even more value. It’s what I’m doing.”

Neal looked over the trailer and was as pleased with it as he had been with the Suburban. They hooked it up and Neal headed for his bank.

A very relieved look on his face when Neal dropped him off back at the shop, Matt said. “Thanks, Neal. You really didn’t have to do this. I would have honored our agreement.”

“I know. But the agreement implied value for value. I believe we each got equal value out of the deal.” Matt nodded and Neal drove away.

Stopping in Sullivan to pick up his mail at the mail service business he used to receive his regular mail and packages, Neal was pleased to see the large order he’d placed for prep items was in. Having the trailer made it much easier to handle the shipment than loading it into the back of the Suburban.

When he got home, he unloaded the trailer and moved everything to the cave, using the powered pallet handler he had wound up buying to use permanently for moving goods to and from the cave safely.

He had ramps to get the pallet carrier over the door lip of the vault door he’d installed just behind the original door. Neal’s judicious use of an electric jack hammer had smoothed the floor of the cave enough for the powered pallet handler to maneuver from the front entrance through the essentially unchanged passage to the main room, which was now securely blocked by a second vault door.

It, too, had a set of ramps and Neal took the load into the main room and began to unload it, taking some of the items through the third vault door, which secured the passage that led from the main room of the cave. It was essentially just a long narrow passage that tapered down to nothing another hundred feet into the bluff.

It was completely dry and had plenty of ventilation, the air coming from the front entrance, through the hidden, baffled vents Neal had incorporated into the vault door framing, leaving the far end of the passage through what had at one time had been another spring outlet. Now it carried only a steady flow of air out of the cave, including smoke from the heater in the house and an open fire

Neal’s small, low-rpm diesel generator used to charge the batteries when the sun couldn’t keep up with use was located right by the air outlet. It seemed to receive plenty of engine and cooling air, and the exhaust, piped into the outlet, never backed up. Neal had tried to find where the opening, or openings, were on the surface, with the generator running, but had never found them. There was, perhaps, just a hint of diesel exhaust in the air at several places on the property, but Neal wasn’t sure that they weren’t just his imagination.

Neal began to pay a bit more attention to the news on television, and on the Internet news sites. He’d had a general idea of the slow failing of the economy, but the news now was sounding, for those news agencies, not just gloomy, but like there was a downright possibility of catastrophic collapse.

With everything set up the way he’d envisioned, Neal found himself taking on a true miserly way. He extended his stocks of freeze-dried, dehydrated, and shelf-stable foods to a thirty year supply for himself. But Neal also found himself placing a large order to Walton Feed for Super Pails of basic staples.

He would never be able to eat all of it in an entire lifetime, but he just couldn’t stop buying, in that miserly way, partly triggered by the refusal to loose any value of the deposits to his checking accounts from the annuities. He only quit buying the staples when there was no more room in the storage passageway.

He picked up another, smaller, gun safe, putting it into the storage room, rather than the main room where his other safes were, to hold his increasing stock of gold and silver bullion coins. Neal went so far as to hide the entrance to the storage room with a large, movable cabinet.

It was the two-year anniversary of the accident in which he’d lost his family, and began turning into a hermit and a miser. And prepper. There were tears in his eyes when he went to bed.

But he felt fine when he got up the next morning and went hunting before he had breakfast. He always went some ways into the State Forrest to hunt, to leave the game close to him alone, in case he ever needed it. He kept salt and mineral blocks out on his property and did a little judicious planting of appropriate feed for many of the animals.

Along with the specific planting for the animals, Neal started a guerrilla garden, by planting many self-propagating vegetables here and there throughout the forest, wherever he thought they would grow. He left them to their own devices after planting them, and harvested what grew, not worrying about the loss of any given plant.

He did the same with fruit trees, planting several varieties. There were black walnut trees, hickory trees, strawberries, blackberries, and roses, with their annual crop of rose hips, growing wild in the forest. He spread a few seed around from each of them, to increase production, but again, let nature determine how well they did.

Along with two quail, a rabbit, and a squirrel, Neal took home a few potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, and stalks of asparagus that morning. It was only after he’d cleaned the game and fixed breakfast that he turned on the satellite television to watch the news while he ate.

It was worse than 1929. The US stock and bond markets were crashing, despite safeguards. And, despite the recent flee from the dollar by many nations, other markets began crashing on the heels of the US markets.

Gold went from just under one-thousand dollars an ounce spot price, to over two-thousand dollars an ounce in just four hours.

The New York Stock Exchange cut off trading at noon. By four pm New York time, runs on the banks by panicked people getting cash out stopped when all the banks were closed by executive order.

Neal continued to watch into the night, feeling very little emotion. He finally went to bed, wondering what the next day would bring.

Up early, Neal found out. More of the same. The New York Stock Exchange was only open fifteen minutes before it was closed down again, with all sellers and no buyers. The banks reopened about noon local time in the different time zones, but, again by executive order, withdrawals were limited to five-hundred dollars total and safe deposit boxes were off-limits.

Neal shook his head, and curiosity getting the best of him, called each of his trust fund managers. He got the same reply from each one. They were holding what they had, with the belief, which Neal agreed with, that the economy would recover and the prime investments that the trusts were holding would once again be the best investments possible. All had hedged and despite paper losses of value, the sound investments were still sound.

He would even continue to get the life annuity payments. They just wouldn’t be worth as much due to the runaway inflation that seemed likely to come. Neal put down the cell phone and went back to watching television, still unmoved by what he was seeing.


For a year, once a month, Neal collected his mail, and traveled into St. Louis to take out the latest deposits of the annuities, leaving only a minimum balance to keep the accounts open. He had to start showing his ID again, with his long hair and full beard, he looked much different than he had when the accounts were set up. He immediately converted the dollars into goods.

He’d get a good meal, stay in a motel for the night, and then go shopping the next day for quality goods that would have long service lives. Going back to Sullivan, just before heading back to the cave, he would pick up some fresh foods, if they were available, with the rest of the cash, leaving only the reserve he kept, for cash fixable emergencies only. The amount of the reserve was growing each month as the value of the dollar continued to drop, but the reserve increases barely kept the same purchase value.

When the anniversary of the crash rolled around again, one day after the third anniversary of the loss of his family, Neal compared things as they were now to what they were then. Besides his hair and beard being longer, and the cave being full, things were, for him, much the same. He still hunted every two or three days, picked nuts, fruits, berries, and vegetables from the naturally occurring growth he’d enhanced with his guerrilla plantings.

Neal was seeing a drop in the game population in the State Forest, and a slight increase on his property. He decided the additional hunting the State Forest was getting was reducing the populations significantly, while driving some game onto his protected land, with his feeding, salting, and improved animal habitat efforts he’d learned about from Missouri Department of Conservation. Though he didn’t know anyone that might ask him to hunt, he did have the land posted. Not with ‘No Hunting’ signs, but with ‘Hunting by Permission Only’, with his cellular phone number and his Sullivan mail address on the signs.

He’d never had a call or letter requesting any permissions, and had not seen any evidence of hunting incursions, until just recently. Perhaps, because it wasn’t strictly ruled out, hunters that saw the signs may have respected them more than simple ‘No Hunting’ signs. Perhaps because the State lands had been of sufficient resources that hunters didn’t need to take advantage of his small game refuge.

The funfling was a great hunting weapon, but lacked seriously as a self defense weapon. Neal took to carrying one of the Glock 21’s religiously, all the time he was outside the cave. Than included the time he spent in the Lusby tiny house, which was considerable, and while hunting, just in case he ran into a hunter that wasn’t willing to follow the rules, and might make trouble.

He ran into the first hunter he’d ever seen while out hunting, and it was on State land. Neal was out for a turkey for Christmas dinner and was at one of his many selected hunting spots he’d developed over the few years he’d been hunting.

He heard movement in the forest and knew immediately it wasn’t a game animal. He stayed still and watched in the direction of the sound. Sure enough, a few minutes later, two men carrying shotguns came into view. Neal noted immediately that neither man was wearing the required hunter orange clothing. Both were in complete camouflage, including their shotguns.

Neal hunkered down and stayed quiet, hoping the men wouldn’t see his him due to his orange clothing. They seemed more inclined to continue on their way than look around, for game, or anything else.

He was back in hunting mode when he heard more sounds coming from where the men had appeared, though not nearly as much. In only a few seconds a man appeared. He was in a game and wildlife protection officer’s uniform.

Neal whistled lightly and the man turned toward Neal immediately. The funfling cradled in one arm, Neal waved with his free hand. The officer immediately began approaching Neal and asked all the standard questions about what he was doing, despite, Neal thought, the fact was rather obvious. He asked Neal for his licenses, permits, and guns, checked them and handed them back.

His duties toward Neal taken care of, the officer then asked, “Have you seen two men moving through this area? Full camo, shotguns?

Neal described them and pointed the officer in the direction they had been traveling when he last saw them. “Be careful,” the officer said. “Those two can be pretty ornery. They’ve always poached some, for their own use. Now they are taking anything and everything they can to sell, due to the hard times.”

Nodding, Neal said, “Ill be careful. You, too.”

The two men shook hands and the officer headed off on the track of the poachers. Neal called it a day and went back to the house. He did a bit of on-line research and purchasing. He headed for Cabela’s the next day.

When he came back, Neal set up several game trail cameras. A few days later, he went in to Sullivan and picked up a package from an on-line source. He set out the trip flares in tactical locations on the property that humans would probably use, but not animals.

Neal had set things up with night photoflash cameras, rather than low-light-level cameras, so anyone tripping them would know it from the flash. The same thing with the trip flares. They were flash flares, not sound flares. He didn’t want to disturb the animals very much, just trespassers and potential poachers.

It was about all he could do to secure the area. Try to scare any timid souls off. Neal didn’t think it would really be a deterrent to serious poachers. He added the signs he’d also bought to the mounts where his ‘Hunting By Permission Only’ were. They were ‘No Trespassing’ signs and by posting them, Neal had some legal recourse in case something happened.

He began spending more time in the cabin, carefully returning the approach to the cave entrance to its normal appearance. Though he’d been careful to lay down thick plywood on which to run the powered pallet handler, a distinct trail was beginning to appear.

Neal went hunting again the day before Christmas. It was snowing lightly and Neal didn’t really care if he got a bird for Christmas dinner or not. He had one duck left from a duck hunting trip earlier in the season. He was just enjoying being out in the weather. He loved the snow. Had loved playing with his family whenever they got one of the occasional seasonal falls.

Shaking off the sudden melancholy, Neal eased into his preferred turkey ambush spot on State land. One of the local flocks used the path thirty feet away to and from their watering and feeding points.

Settled in, Neal found himself nodding off, as he sat on the seat of the hunting bucket he’d brought with him. His quality clothing kept him comfortable in the dropping temperature and snow. The slight sounds of the flock of turkeys approaching brought Neal to attention and he brought the funfling up in readiness. Two minutes and one shot later Neal was walking up to the small turkey he’d shot. He’d let the bigger ones go. He liked turkey, but didn’t like eating it for a week at a time, which he would have to do if he’d bagged one of the bigger birds.

Slinging the funfling, Neal picked up the turkey and headed for home, whistling tunelessly as he walked, thinking about the world situation. After the worldwide economic breakdown, many countries were looking for ways to turn their citizens’ thoughts from their domestic problems. One of the ways was political adventuring in foreign places.

While the US was slowly reducing its overseas presence, other countries, most notably France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Japan, India, Russia, and China, were extending their presence in various parts of the world.

In the Middle East, a new Persian Empire was forming, with Iran at its core.

The explosion in gold prices, and other monetary hedges, like investment diamonds, had resulted in a set of small wars in South Africa, over ownership and control of those resources. In the process, several of the major producers, huge underground operations, were damaged to the point of inoperability.

South Africa was in the midst of civil war, and having border skirmishes with several entities that would like to take over the country for its resources, and to avenge ancient wrongs, real or perceived. Being white in the country meant you had a target on your back. Even larger white migrations began to occur, many of the white South African farmers, ranchers, and business people going to Australia, under new emigration guidelines established because of the situation. Australia was coming out of its drought, and the economy was beginning to expand, one of the few places where it was happening.

With increasingly bad weather everywhere else, Russia, China, an India were all turning loose some of their gold stocks to get badly needed grains from the few places still producing exportable amounts. The influx of the gold into the system more than made up for the loss of the South African production and the gold price was actually dropping slowly, as more and more international transactions were being calculated in ounces of gold rather than dollars, euros, yen, yuan, or Swiss francs.

Neal suspected that the United States government leaders had the same idea as Russia, China, and India. Not gold for grain, but gold for oil. Not at all surprised, Neal watched, just after the new year’s start, the live Presidential broadcast of the announcement of a new recall of gold, silver, platinum, palladium, and rhodium in industrial, commercial and private hands. This time the recall included all but small working amounts for industrial and commercial users. Further usage would have to be on a government approved as needed bases, the precious metals purchased from the government at a price fixed by the government.

The recall this time also included numismatic coins, though with the assurance they would not be melted down, but held as a bullion reserve, leaving true bullion to be used any way the government wanted.

Neal felt sorry for all those people that had tried to get a hedge for themselves, but had used credit cards or left some other paper trail of the purchases. They would lose it all. The announcement had not said what the buy back price would be, but Neal suspected it would be far less than the average price of precious metals the last few years. There would probably be hundreds of coins shops and Internet dealers go out of business, ruined financially buy the recall.

He had no qualms about not turning his in. Thanks to the information the coin dealer where he’d made his first purchase had given him, none of the precious metals he owned were traceable, except for just a few that he wanted to have to allay any suspicion when he did use some. He’d willingly lose a couple ounces to convince the authorities that, yes, he’d bought some, but not much, and here’s what’s left.

Waiting a week, to make it look good, Neal went in to St. Louis, to one of the official collection stations. He wasn’t at all surprised that though the London Spot price was at $1,200.00 per ounce, the government was giving $500.00 per ounce for the first ten ounces, and $250.00 per ounce over that. There was no New York spot. Trading in precious metals was now illegal for Americans.

More than one person was escorted out by the large contingent of police there to handle problems. Neal saw people crying as they gave up collections of numismatic coins, getting what was only a token payment in relation to the actual value of the coins on the open market.

Gritting his teeth, Neal, when he finally got up to the window, took his voucher for the twenty-seven one-tenth ounce Gold Eagles he turned in. They weren’t even giving out cash. Only the vouchers that were to be taken to the individuals regular bank, where a deposit for the amount would be recorded.

A week later Neal wasn’t at all surprised to see the President giving another speech, this one about resisting or not complying with the gold recall being a major crime, with resisting it with a firearm being a capital offense. Apparently people were resisting. With firearms. Only a few reports made the news, and then the issue was no longer discussed.

A week after that a bill to ban all firearms except those especially suitable for hunting was rushed through both houses of Congress, passing by only one vote in each house, and signed into law, effective immediately. The determination of suitability for hunting was left in the hands of BATFE field agents. There was a huge outcry and the legal proceedings were started to strike down the law.

Neal suddenly smiled. He had paperwork that all the traceable firearms he had purchased had been sold off slowly, starting a year after he bought them. He had the Bills of Sale to prove it.

Of course, over that same time period he’d picked up a few other firearms with a clear paper trail that it wouldn’t bother him to turn in, especially if they were bought back and not just confiscated. With firearms suitable for hunting exempted he even had a good chance of keeping a couple of them. Fortunately he didn’t have to risk the funfling.

He had a bill of sale from one Mathew McConnell, of Houston, Texas, indicating a sale price of $75,000. That amount had been deposited, in cash, on the day after the bill of sale was dated. All the hidden weapons had been done the same way, with funds matching the amounts of the bills of sale being deposited in Neal’s main bank within a few days of the date on one of the Bills of Sale. Many of those Bills of Sale matched dates of gun shows that Neal could have been attending. He actually had attended a couple of them.

Neal called the St. Louis office of the BATFE and asked what he should do. No collection points had been indicated in the days following the passage of the law. The round up was being done house-to-house by BATFE agents with 4473 forms in hand.

“I have a shipping address in Sullivan,” Neal explained. “I’m way out in the boondocks. I’m not sure your agents can find where I am. Can I just bring in my guns?”

The woman was adamant and demanded precise directions to Neal’s physical location. Two days later two black Suburbans arrived and four agents got out of each one. Neal was working in one of the three three-sided log sheds with metal roofs that had been part of the construction projects done by the laborers from Kansas City.

“Can I help you?” Neal asked, careful to keep his hands in sight

“BATFE! Keep your hands in sight! Turn around and lean against the wall!” barked the man in the lead. “Why are you out here, all alone?” asked the leader of the group.

“Lost my family a few years ago. I guess I’ve turned into something of a hermit.”

“Where’s your cave?” asked one of the other men.

Fortunately none of them could see the startled flash in his eyes at the accuracy of the flippant remark. He managed something of a sick smile and replied, “Yeah, right.” The others laughed.

Neal was thoroughly searched, as the other agents began searching the tiny cabin and the shed.

“If this is about the guns I can get…” Neal started to say over his shoulder, but cut off his words when he was jabbed over a kidney with the muzzle of an MP-5 submachinegun.

A “Shut Up!” came with the jab and Neal decided he’d follow orders. That little jab had hurt all out of proportion to its minimal motion.

They looked for hours, including two hours using metal detectors around the house and grounds. They found the working well pit and there was a flurry of activity around it for several minutes, including climbing into the water tank through the access hatch. Neal was finally asked, “Why the pit and tank?”

“I wasn’t here early on. The well was put in long before the house. The well pump only pumps a little bit. I needed the tank to have enough useable water. And I was afraid of vandalism. And besides, the well driller said it was safer to have everything in the pit to avoid freezing in a situation like out here.”

It seemed to satisfy them and they quit looking around the property, now more concerned with the paperwork they’d found in a small fire safe in one of the cabinets in the house than in the actual guns and small amount of ammunition they’d found stuck in nooks and crannies inside. They never even found any of the propane tanks.

After a while of matching receipts and Form 4473’s to the guns they found, they began to question Neal about the Bills of Sale of the other guns for which they had Form 4473’s.

Neal just shrugged and said, “I got hooked for a while, but I don’t have room for all of those and with the profit I made, I couldn’t pass up the sales. I’m a CPA. I know the importance of documentation. Didn’t the new owners register the guns?”

“Apparently not,” said the leader of the group, looking hard at Neal.

“Not even one of them? They all said they would. I was really careful about whom I sold to. Did the best I could to make sure they weren’t terrorists or criminals. They all had people vouch for them.”

“They would,” said one of the other agents, “to get some of these items. Looks like you made a killing. So to speak.” He wasn’t smiling.

The leader glared at the other man for a moment, and then finally motioned for Neal to turn around and put his hands down by his sides.

“Okay,” the man said. “The two bolt action rifles are sniper rifles. You can’t keep them and no compensation. The double barrel shotgun is a weapon of terror. You can’t keep it, either, nor be compensated for it. The two revolvers are concealable weapons. You can’t have them, but you will be compensated for them. Twenty-five dollars apiece.

Neal figured he’d better show some emotion when he heard the price he was being given for guns worth two to three hundred dollars. The agents would be expecting it. Neal didn’t have to fake it. “That’s all? I mean I got them at bargain prices, but they were both over two-hundred dollars!”

“Take it up with the Attorney General.” The others laughed.

The leader chuckled at his own joke, then quit smiling and said, “The two over and under combination guns are legal. They are obviously only suited for hunting. You can keep them.” He wrote out the voucher for the two revolvers and handed it to Neal.

With that, they gathered up the other guns and the paperwork, got back into the black Suburbans and took off. Neal watched them go, his face expressionless. Finally he picked up the old, but serviceable Savage 24 .22 Hornet over 20 gauge combo, and the recent model Charles Daly Superior Over/Under 12 gauge over .30-’06 from the ground where the agents had carelessly dropped them.

Neal took the two guns inside and leaned one in each of the nooks where he kept them, wondering how many people were being treated the way he’d just been treated. The news had indicated that there was some resistance to the gun confiscation, but there had been no reports lately. Neal assumed they were being suppressed.

He called the gun shop he used the most in St. Louis. There was a recorded message that the store was closed until further notice.

He checked the internet. All the gun related sites he’d occasionally visited were down. A few had notification pages saying so. Many of the addresses just showed a ‘Can’t find’ message. A similar check for some of the preparedness sites resulted in the same finding. Some of the milder of the sites were still up, but the hardcore preparation sites were down. So were the prep supplier sites. Neal wondered what other activities were going on that were unreported.

Neal didn’t even approach the cave, much less go in, for weeks, wondering if the BATFE might be keeping an eye on him, because of the history of the weapons he’d bought early on. He stayed in the Lusby, hunting, fishing, and foraging almost every day, maintaining his hermit status. Neal missed using the Hofer, using the two combination guns instead.

He would go into Sullivan every two to three weeks to buy a few basics, and some fresh foods, using the debit card from one of his banks. Many places were no longer taking credit cards, but would take debit cards since they got the money into their accounts immediately. The shelves weren’t anywhere near as full as they had been only six months before. Food supplies, Neal decided, were one of the things not being talked about in the Main Stream Media. What was available now cost three times what it had six months previous.

For that reason, Neal let the balance in that bank rise a bit intentionally. He waited a full two months before he went in to St. Louis and drew down all three bank accounts of cash, leaving the slightly higher balance in the one.

The money wasn’t worth much, and most of it went to refuel the tanks in the Suburban and the trailer. The rest went for a pair of chainsaws and the accoutrements, including a large stock of bar oil and two-cycle engine oil, plus several jerry cans of gasoline, which he treated with Pri-G.

With the amounts of wood he was using, Neal had been buying what he needed. He’d decided, to help maintain the hermit image, and for actual practical reasons, to judiciously cut his own firewood, getting permits to take marked trees from the State Forest.

One of the impulse buys at Cabela’s on that first trip came in very handy. He’d bought the deluxe game cart, knowing how difficult it would be to get a deer home from hunting on State land, since he walked there and didn’t drive. He’d used it a few times for its intended purpose, but the seven-hundred pound capacity of its dual wheels made it quite useful to move the firewood he cut in remote areas to wherever he’d parked the Suburban and trailer.

He could easily have maneuvered the Suburban alone to most of the places where he cut the wood, with its independent rear wheel steering capability. But the trailer complicated that. And he really didn’t want to leave a lot of vehicle tracks on the property.

Concerned about diesel fuel and gasoline availability, Neal began considering, again, as he had several times in the past, having diesel fuel tanks installed, much as he had the propane tanks. But having a large propane tank in a remote area was one thing. It didn’t raise many eyebrows. Buying and installing, and then filling, large diesel tanks more than likely would. Neal didn’t want that much attention brought to the property, the same decision he’d made each time before. But the situation was pressing, and he came up with another plan.

Neal went to St. Louis on one of his banking and buying runs and stopped in to see Matt. The shop and grounds had a different look to it. Rather than the fancy custom rigs in various states of completion, only relatively old vehicles were visible.

Going into the office, Neal found Matt on the telephone, ordering parts for the vehicle up on one of the lifts in the garage area. Matt held up a finger, a big grin on his face, and finished the telephone conversation. He rose and shook Neal’s hand. “It’s great to see you, Neal. Been a long time.”

“Yeah. What’s going on here?”

Matt’s smile faded. “Work. Not getting any custom work. Lot’s of old vehicle repair jobs. Mostly people wanting things done on the cheap. It’s a struggle, but I’m making it.”

“I see. Any chance of working a pair of custom fuel trailers into the queue?”

Matt’s smile was back. If I can get the materials, you betcha. I could even get Tim back for a while. He’s struggling, too. But I have to tell you, Neal, that it’s going to have to be cash up front. I don’t have the spare cash to carry the parts and all until the thing is done.”

“I understand,” Neal said. “I expected that.” He handed Matt a bundle of hundreds, almost the total amount of his bank withdrawals on this trip. “That enough to get started?”


“I’ll say it is!” Matt replied. “Okay if I take labor out of it as I go along, along with the parts purchases?”

“Absolutely. You can do this pretty slow if you need to. I can pay about that much each month for the next three months, say.”

“Yeah. That will be better. Some of this work I’m doing, if I don’t do it, people may actually starve. I don’t want to cut them off.”

“That’s good, Matt. You’re a good guy.”

They discussed the project for a few minutes and then Neal left, satisfied he’d have what he wanted in several weeks, four month’s tops. He hoped that would be soon enough to be able to get the fuel to fill the mobile storage tanks.

After giving Matt the money for the trailers, Neal had enough to top off the tanks in the Suburban and cargo trailer there in St. Louis, and get a few fresh food items in Sullivan on the way back.

Neal wasn’t idle during the time the tanks were being built. Buying, rather than renting a Bobcat 5600T utility work machine with bucket, fork, and backhoe attachments, he picked a place with terrain to make it easy to do what he wanted. Using the new equipment Neal dug out the toe of a slope and constructed a retaining wall to hold the rest of the slope in place, getting and using laborers from Kansas City the same way he had before.

The retaining wall contained drainage measures to carry all run off from the slope around and past the cut.

With a combination of trees he cut on State property, and on his own property, surplus used power poles, used steel beams and pipes from junk yards, dozens of sheets of new and used galvanized roofing panels, and a whole lot of sheet plastic, Neal roofed over the cut he’d made. He maintained the contour of the original slope, and covered it all back up with the material he dug out, creating irregular triangle shaped tunnel.

Neal built concrete block ends for the tunnel and then bermed earth against them, using more retaining wall blocks to make near vertical walls on each side of the approaches to the heavy-duty rollup doors installed in each end wall.

The facility was basically in the middle of nowhere on the property, with no signs of it being other than the slope, except for the two access points. Neal had carefully removed all signs of the activity of building the thing. Only if one stumbled onto to them would the air vents on the slope, camouflaged by carefully placed rock formations, be discovered. The PV panels mounted on tall, camouflaged poles, were more visible, but still not obvious.

He parked the first of the new fuel trailers inside after he picked it up nine weeks after he’d contacted Matt. It had taken several trips to the various local towns to get the tank trailer filled. Almost all stations were limiting fuel purchases. But when he was done, Neal had nine-hundred gallons of Pri-D stabilized diesel, one-hundred gallons of Pri-G stabilized gasoline, and several cases of lubricants in almost hidden storage.

Six weeks later and he had another, identical, trailer of stabilized fuel in storage. The tanks on the Suburban and the cargo trailer were also full when he parked the Suburban by the house that cold mid-November day, having left the cargo trailer with the tank trailers in the tunnel. Much of the rest of the space in the tunnel was taken up with pallets of miscellaneous equipment and supplies.

Thanksgiving passed again, as it always did, and Neal had the melancholies as the anniversary of the death of his family approached. Satisfied that he was not being watched, he finally went back into the cave for the first time in months and locked himself in.

Tears in his eyes, Neal fell asleep the evening of that anniversary and then slept through The End Of Civilization As We Know It.

Feeling gloomy because of the memories of his missing family, Neal didn’t bother to turn on the TV or get on the Internet for several days, just puttering around the cave, which was slowly cheering him up. No one could ask for a nicer miserly hermit’s cave, he decided.

Finally, after a week, feeling much better, Neal turned on the TV to see what new situations were being reported on the news.

“That’s funny,” Neal said. The TV screen was just white noise. He tried another channel. Same thing. Neal checked the connections for the satellite dish box and TV and couldn’t find anything wrong.

Firing up his laptop, Neal decided to see if he could find out what was wrong with satellite TV. He couldn’t get a connection. “Well, Criminey!” Neal said, rather annoyed. He was going to have to go check the dish. A deer had pushed it over once. “Probably happened again,” he said aloud, glancing over at one of the outside camera monitors. It was snowing heavily and there seemed to be quite a bit on the ground. “Could be the snow, too,” Neal said aloud. “Might be too much for the dish heater.”

Hating the fact that he would be leaving tracks, Neal bundled up and went outside. The dish was fine and clear of snow. Neal traipsed up to the Lusby and went inside. Everything was normal. He closed and locked the door again and went back to the cave. He stopped on the way to look up at the several different radio antennas mounted in the trees on the top of the bluff. All seemed fine.

Neal only started to become alarmed when he got back in the cave and hooked up the outside antenna for the AM/FM radio and turned it on. And got nothing but static on every channel. “What is going on?” he asked himself, switching to a shortwave radio, reconnecting its grounded antenna lead to the radio. Nothing there, either. Same on the Amateur radio bands. Even the frequencies for Time Standard Signals were silent.

Trying the NOAA radio next, he found the same slight hissing of dead air. “This is not good,” Neal said, sitting back for a moment to think. After a few minutes, Neal turned on and tuned up his unlicensed Amateur Radio station. He set the same frequency on the transceiver as he did on one of the independent broadband receivers and keyed the mike.

The signal strength meter jumped and Neal’s “Test, test, test,” sounded eerily on the receiving radio. The radios and antennas were working. Bundling up again, Neal went outside once more, this time going over to the Suburban. He tried his cell phone on the way. No signal. Suddenly remembering his keychain radiation alarm he pulled it out and looked at it. It was not signaling by sight or sound. There was no radiation. At least not where he was.

Neal took the camouflage custom made car cover he’d paid an awning company to make for him off the Suburban and stowed it away. Neal got into the truck and started it up with the remote. It fired right up and Neal tried its radios. The same result as the cave radios. Nothing. Neal looked over at the blue On-star button. He’d never used it, though he kept up the subscription, it being paid automatically out of one of his checking accounts, the same way the auto insurance was.

A press of the button and several moments of waiting for a response, Neal turned off the Suburban and then sat there in the driver’s seat, thinking. Something was going on. It was obvious. Neal suspected a HEMP attack at the very least. All of his gear was operated in an EMP safe manner, and the Suburban electronics were in the faraday cages, so they had likely survived. It wasn’t his equipment failing. There were no electronic emissions to be received.

It suddenly hit Neal. He really was a hermit now. Before it had all been pretend. He’d had his connections with the rest of the world at his fingertips all the time, through the telephone, Internet, and television.

They were no more. At least not for a while, depending on what had actually happened.

Neal took mental stock of his situation. He had food for years. The 2,700 gallons of propane in the underground tanks would last decades. Even the twelve one-hundred-pound capacity tanks would last years.

There was 1,800 gallons of stabilized diesel in the two tank trailers, plus another two-hundred in the cargo trailer, and fifty in cans. Two-hundred gallons of stabilized gasoline in the tank trailers, fifty gallons in the cargo trailer and fifty more gallons in jerry cans. How long the fuels would last was entirely dependent on how much Neal drove and used gasoline powered equipment. There were oil products for years.

There were thirty cords of cut and stacked firewood under cover, and three-hundred 20-pound bags of premium charcoal briquettes for the furnace/fireplaces in the Lusby and cave.

Essentially unlimited amounts of water were available from the two wells, and sanitation was more than covered by the two treatment systems, with unlimited back up by use of chemical toilets in storage.

There was plenty of game and fish in the local forests, streams, and lakes. Or had been. Neal couldn’t know that for certain, now.

Neal had the means with which to protect himself in any small scale encounter, with thousands of rounds of ammunition available and replacement components for reloading the cases several times each.

And of course the black powder arms that BATFE had never even questioned Neal about, since none of them were papered.

Yes. Neal was in good shape. But he was totally clueless about the rest of the world. It took an hour for Neal to come to the conclusion he needed to go into the outside world and see if he could gather any information on what was happening.

It took another hour for Neal to decide what to take and get the Suburban loaded and ready. Careful to do as good of a job of removing his tracks to and from the cave, Neal hoped the continuing heavy snow would completely wipe them out shortly.

Neal left his property, not knowing what he might find out in the real world, if anything.



Click here to read Chapter 2