It Isnt How Much, Its If At All A Vignette


It Isn’t How Much, It’s If At All – A Vignette

Paul Savage looked on in awe at the total hysteria in his small grocery store. People were fighting over cans of soup and bottles of water. He tried to intervene in a couple of them, but when the women he tried to separate both turned on him, hammering him with the cans they were fighting over, he just backed off and let them pummel each other.

He caught a moment when there was no one trying to come into the store and he locked the doors and closed the security shutters. Less than a minute later three people were knocking on the shutters, wanting in.

It was all Paul could do to keep a person from coming in when he let one out with the goods they’d bought. He suspected many of those he let out didn’t get away from the still growing crowd with their purchases intact.

Finally, there were no customers left in the store, only employees. Paul gathered them together and said, “You have fifteen minutes to get one cart load of what you want. Consider what you are taking as your last paycheck, until things turn around. I suggest you go out the back way.”

The scramble that ensued was almost as bad as that the customers had been having. Paul shook his head, more than a little upset with his employees for acting just as the customers had.

“I guess when it comes down to it,” Paul said to himself, “They are just customers, now.” To a person, the carts they took out to their vehicles were mounded over. And like the other customers, not all made it to their vehicles with their cart still loaded.

Ignoring the hammering and banging on the security shutters, Paul took a quick mental inventory of what was left in the store. He loaded five carts and took them in the back, covering them up with all the empty boxes that hadn’t been taken out, compressed, and bound for pick up by a recycling service.

Then Paul went back to the front of the store. He emptied the cash registers, triggered the security shutters, and ran to the back of the store, blocking the access from within the store by parking the forklift in front of it.

It didn’t take long before Paul heard the glass breaking and the sound of many people running amuck in the store, taking anything they could get away with without someone else taking it from them.

There were a few tries at the doors to the back storeroom. Paul decided that the doors were going to fail and he went into the small office in one corner of the room, turned off the lights, and took out a revolver from a desk drawer.

When the doors were ripped free, a dozen people clambered over the forklift and began going through the boxes that still had goods in them. A few started through the boxes piled over Paul’s hidden shopping carts, but soon gave up when all they found was empty cartons. Paul breathed a sigh of relief they quit when they had.

Once someone tried to get into the office, and Paul held up his Smith & Wesson revolver so the light coming through the small inside window the office boasted would shine off of it. It was enough to get the person to leave the door alone.

Paul called 911 and was put on hold. Using his cell phone, Paul called his insurance agent. He was put on hold there, too. After about twenty minutes Paul hung up both telephones and eased out of the office room into the storage room and took a cautious look around, fearful there might be someone hiding and waiting to jump him.

But no one did. He moved the forklift and walked through the smashed doors into the store proper. It was ransacked even more than it had been initially. All the food and water was gone, as was the pet food. Paul wondered how much of it would wind up for human consumption. Much of the rest of the store was simply trashed for no good reason. There were dry goods and hardware in the aisles. Where there were aisles. Some of the shelves had even been pushed over onto others. The cash registers were all busted open and on the floor in pieces.

Occasionally a person would come in, take a look around, and then leave, ignoring Paul as he cleaned up. It was well after dark when Paul backed his pickup to the rear loading dock and transferred the contents of the five shopping carts to the bed of the truck. He threw a tarp over the small load to conceal it and moved his truck back around to the front of the store.

It took him a few minutes to lock up. There was someone approaching his pickup when Paul came out. “I don’t suppose there is anything left, is there?” The man asked.

Paul was cautious, but the man made no threatening moves and there were no obvious weapons. “I’m afraid not,” he told the man. “The mob cleaned me out.”

With a sigh the man said, “I should have reacted earlier. I never thought this could happen in America.”

Without warning the man had a pistol in his hand, aimed at Paul’s chest. “But I didn’t, so I’m going to do this the hard way. You look like a clever fellow. I just bet you kept a few things back for yourself. So just back away from the truck and I’ll be on my why with your goods, but I’ll leave you alive if you don’t interfere.”

Paul was furious. The man had the drop on him cold. There was nothing he could do except let the man take the truck or die trying to stop him. Paul decided to let the man take the truck. He had one trick up his sleeve that might turn the tables if he lived long enough to use it.

“Keys,” the man said, holding out his left hand toward Paul. “Easy there,” the man said as Paul reached into the right front pocket of his slacks. Paul had a bad habit of leaving a key in the truck, in the cup holder, to start and run the truck with, keeping the remote opener and starter in his pocket so he couldn’t lock his keys in the truck. But he’d put that starting key in his pocket, worried about someone taking the truck while he was locking up. It was well he did.

It was the starting key he pulled out of his pocket and carefully tossed to the man. “Cheapskate, huh? No remote.” Paul just shrugged. The man moved over to the truck, never taking his eyes from Paul.

“I really should just shoot you, you know,” the man said, slipping into the cab of the truck after unlocking the door with the key. Paul tensed up, expecting the man to do exactly what he’d said. But Paul was still alive when the man put the truck in gear after starting it. The man had put the gun down on the other bucket seat of the custom truck when he put both hands on the wheel and gunned the engine, trying to speed away.

Paul reached into his right front pocket again and triggered the remote starter to shut off the engine and the panic button to sound the anti-theft system in the truck. He reached behind his back and pulled the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum from an inside-the-waistband holster.

He ran the few steps it took to get him up even with the driver’s door of the truck, the .357 magnum trained on the man through the closed window. “Out,” Paul said.

The man slowly opened the door and started to reach for the pistol on the other bucket seat. “I don’t think so,” Paul replied coldly. “Out,” he said again, adding, “Slowly.”

“I should have just killed you,” the man said, his voice sharp as a razor.

“Yeah. Probably,” replied Paul. “But you didn’t so I’m giving you the same opportunity. “Walk away and live.”

The man turned without further conversation and started to walk away slowly. Paul hopped into the truck and restarted it. The one look down to the dash was enough to give the man the chance to roll to the ground and draw a back-up gun from an ankle holster and begin firing at Paul.

The holes appearing in the windshield startled Paul and he hit the accelerator harder than he’d intended, trying to get his gun back into his hand after having done the exact same thing the man had done. Namely setting it down on the other bucket seat.

The surprise was the attacker’s undoing. Paul had run over him before he even realized it. A bit sick to his stomach, Paul stopped the truck, got out, and cautiously approached the body lying in the parking lot. Paul had picked up his .357 magnum, but he didn’t need it. The man had died of a crushed skull, not having made a sound.

Paul started to turn away and just leave, but quickly turned back, telling the world, “Things are different now.” He searched the man and recovered two magazines for the 1911A1 clone the man had used initially; the hideout gun, which was another 1911A1 clone, only a compact model. There was one spare short magazine for it.

He checked the man’s wallet and got his name from the driver’s license. He was from out of state. One Alex Grange, from Texas. Paul started to take the money from the wallet, but just couldn’t do it. He tossed the wallet back down on the body, went to his truck, and headed home, driving cautiously, berating himself the entire way for letting the situation with the man escalate the way it had. He should have been more observant and careful.

When he got home, Paul stopped with the lights out on the truck and looked his house over. Everything seemed normal, so he drove up to the left hand garage door and opened it with the remote. The exterior lights had come on at his approach, and the garage opener light when the garage door started opening.

The outdoor lights went out, and Paul flipped the switch for the overhead lights for the garage before the garage opener light cycled off. He unloaded the truck, adding the supplies he’d brought from the store to those in his basement shelter.

Slowly unwinding from the tension the encounter with the man had created, he stripped both of Alex’s guns. They were nothing special, just good clones of a classic. After cleaning them and reloading the magazines, Paul put them in his gun safe in the basement.

He wasn’t hungry, and went to bed after securing the house for the night, wondering what the morning would bring.

It brought more of the same. China was threatening a nuclear attack on the United States if the US didn’t stand down from the US Navy’s high speed steaming toward Taiwan, to help counter the invasion Mainland China was conducting.

There was panic all over the US, as people, many with only a day’s worth of food in their houses and apartments, scrambled to stock up supplies and locate shelter space. Of course, there were the normal protests in Washington, D. C. and elsewhere protesting any US action, and other groups advocating a first strike.

Knowing there was little left in the store that people would want, Paul stayed home that morning, reading the paper and watching the news. There simply was no good news at all. The stock and bond markets plunged, precious metals prices tripled, fuel prices went up by four, and banks had runs on cash withdrawals, which sparked their own set of violent protests.

In that morning’s paper there were printed guidelines about how to build expedient fallout shelters and what foods and other items to stock for a two week stay in case of the worst. There was a very short list of possible shelter sites in the area.

Restless, Paul finally decided to go down to the store and see if there was something else he should do. He dressed in his ‘off duty’ clothes, instead of one of his regular at-work suit and tie ensembles. After closing the security shutters on all his windows and doors, he left.

When he got to the store he found signs of more pandemonium. Alex Grange’s body was gone, but there were three others lying near the torn open security shutters on the front doors of the store.

It looked like someone had hooked a chain to the shutters, with the other end attached to a vehicle, and just yanked them half off their tracks. There were still people going in and out. Even a few carried out odds and ends. Paul shook his head and turned the truck toward his insurance agent’s office.

He pulled into a service station, surprised there was no line. He discovered why when someone from the station began placing letters on the sign board. “No Gas” Paul just drove on through and continued on his way to his insurance agent.

Lucie Gwentannon was at her office, and she looked like she’d been there all since yesterday.

“Lucie,” Paul said when he entered the office. “You don’t look good.”

“Paul. Your store,” she said gruffly, not acknowledging his comment. “I saw it when I came in this morning. I’m afraid there isn’t much I can do at the moment. Corporate has put a hold on all payoffs of all claims.”

“I see. For the duration?”

Lucie nodded. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s out of my hands.”

“I suspected as much. You should go home, bolt the doors, and stay out of sight until this situation resolves itself.”

“I can’t. I have to stay and answer people’s questions.”

“Well, don’t take any chances. There are going to be people that are not going to be happy with the insurance situation.”

“I know,” Lucie replied. “But there isn’t much I can do about it, other than explain.”

Paul left, wondering if Lucie would be all right. But he couldn’t save the world. People were going to have to look out for themselves. Deciding he could spare just a bit more fuel, he drove around the town, just to see what was happening.

Just as he’d seen on the news, there was a long line at all three banks in town. Apparently they were still distributing cash from accounts, but from the angry discussions going on between those leaving the bank, they were being limited to a set amount. Apparently the ATM’s had restrictions on them, too, from the reactions of people pulling away from them. That had been the same on the news reports.

The schools were closed. The mall was still open. Paul locked up the truck and went inside. Things seemed calmer in the mall than elsewhere in town. People were quiet, moving quickly, almost furtively. Paul was amazed at some of the things he saw people buying. Either they were totally clueless, or they had very strange ideas on what supplies were going to be important if the worst happened.

Paul stopped by the only gun store in town next. There was a line at its door, too. The owner of the store saw Paul looking in the window and made a slight motion with his right hand. Paul caught it, smiled slightly, and nodded. He went around to the back door of the shop and the owner, John Hagglend let him in.

“Thanks John. How’s biz?”

John smiled a grim smile. “Best I ever had. But it could be the last. You’d better get what you want while you can. I’m holding prices to 150% of what they were for my regular customers. Cash only.”

“I understand. I wasn’t planning on buying anything. Just wanted to see how you and the store were doing.”

“I’m surprised you aren’t standing guard at your place. It has to be a mob scene.”

“Worse,” Paul told John. “Riot yesterday evening. They took everything edible. The security shutters were ripped off and people were still going in and out. Not going to risk my life for a few pieces of hardware.”

“Man! I’m sorry to hear that!” John said. “At least here we can go armed. We’re only letting two people in the store at a time. You sure you don’t want to get a few things? This may be your last chance.”

“How’s your ammunition supply?” Paul asked.

“Dwindling rapidly,” John replied. “Have five 200-round cases of that Winchester White Box 147gr .308 FMJ you favor. Ditto on the Winchester .45 ACP 230gr FMJ.

“I’ll take the thousand rounds of .308 and six hundred of the .45 ACP. Say. Do you still have that Bond Arms .45 ACP derringer?”

“I do. You want it, too?”

“Yes. And better give me a thousand 12 gauge shotgun shells. Two hundred each, slug, double ought buck, number four buck; and a hundred each, number two shot, number four shot, number six shot, and number seven and a half shot. Let me see how much money I have on me.” Paul took out his wallet and began counting. He tended to carry quite a bit of cash, never having been one to trust ATM’s very much.

John came back with the total price and the derringer. Paul whistled and kept counting, as John grinned. “There you go,” Paul said, handing John the money. “Don't spend it all in one place, as they say.”

“You just did,” John replied with a laugh. “Come on. I’ll help you get the ammunition out to your truck.” It took three trips and the rear bench seat of Paul’s crew cab truck was loaded down.

The two men shook hands at Paul’s truck. “Keep your powder dry,” John said and Paul laughed. “I’ll do that. You do the same.”

Paul pulled away, with many of the people waiting outside the store giving him what sure looked like evil looks to him. Deciding to head for the other side of town, to see how things were over there, Paul took residential streets, just to check them, too.

There was little movement in the areas through which he traveled. The few people he saw outside their home scurried inside when they saw him. “Fear,” Paul told himself. “People are afraid. Terrified.”

He slowed one time, catching a glimpse of two men wielding shovels, digging a trench along side a house, putting the soil against the foundation. “Someone is thinking, at least.”

Paul entered the new business section on the west side of town, where the new growth was. It was just the same as the older business section. Only one bank, so far, but it was mobbed. So was the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.

Seeing one fuel station with a line, Paul slipped in behind the last car and checked the various radios mounted in the truck while he waited for the line to move. The situation was the talk of the land, it seemed. Shortwave, Amateur, commercial broadcast, even some of the business band radio users were talking about it over their radios. Paul shook his head and moved forward, just a few seconds after the vehicle in front of him moved. Still, the man behind him had laid on his horn when Paul didn’t ride the car’s bumper.

Deciding it wasn’t worth the hassles, Paul pulled out of line and went a bit further west on the main street. The new chain grocery store was open, to Paul’s surprise. He pulled into the parking lot and got out of the truck. As he walked up, a woman in a store vest came up to him.

“Sir, unless you have kids, or your significant other is expecting, you will not be allowed to buy anything here.”

Paul nodded and went back to his truck. As he pulled out, what had happened at his store began happening at the chain store. The patiently waiting customs were no longer patient. Paul couldn’t know for sure, but suspected that the store had just run out of food and the manager had tried locking the doors.

Already having had the experience, Paul took off in a hurry when gunshots rang out. He continued to drive slowly, nearly being hit several times by vehicles speeding by. Reaching the western outskirts of town, Paul U-turned and began heading for home, taking another route, to see what else was going on.

Paul turned down one of the commercial streets and pulled into the big box home improvement store. It, too, was busy, though not packed the way the grocery stores, fuel stations, and banks were.

“You look awful calm, Paul,” said Marsha Nelson, the greeter at the store. “Considering everything going on.”

“Don’t see any need to panic. Just a bunch of talk at the moment,” Paul replied. “Looks like you’re getting plenty of business, despite the situation.”

“Because of it,” corrected Marsha. “Don’t know what people are going to do with all the sheet plastic and duct tape they’re buying, but I guess if it gives them comfort, who am I to complain.”

“Plastic and duct tape,” Paul replied, shaking his head. “Useful if they add plenty of dirt to the mix.”

“You think they’ll really do it?” Marsha asked. A little fear was suddenly evident in her expression.

“I don’t know, Marsha. I don’t know. But if you have a basement, I think I’d be getting it ready. There were instructions in the morning paper.”

“Really?” Marsha asked. “I don’t get the paper.”

“Really,” Paul replied. “There is a box outside the store, actually,”

Marsha simply walked out the doors of the store as two other people came in. Paul saw her get a paper from the dispenser, and then continue walking on out into the parking lot. He debated a few minutes if there was something he should buy, since he was there, but turned and left when two people started arguing over a staple gun with which to put up plastic on their windows.

It occurred to Paul that the regional hospital might need a hand, so he headed that way. He was surprised that the hospital parking lot wasn’t very full. It was listed in the paper as a possible sheltering site.

One of the hospital security guards caught up to Paul shortly after he’d left the truck well out of the way in the parking lot.

“Sir, we are not letting anyone into the shelter at this moment. And I feel obligated to tell you that only women with children will be admitted if it comes to that. I suggest you begin looking for alternate shelter space.”

Paul noted that two other security guards were staying back, ready to help if needed.


“Actually, I came to volunteer. I thought the staff might need some help getting things ready.”

“Oh, really?” the guard asked, obviously not believing Paul.

“Really. Let’s see… You can ask Mary Jones. She knows me. She’ll vouch for me. Name is Paul Savage.”

The guard lifted a walky-talky to his lips as he stepped further away from Paul. All Paul could hear were squeals and pops. He didn’t know how the man was carrying on a conversation. But he must have managed, for, with a disgruntled look, he motioned Paul forward toward the hospital entrance and hurried away toward another vehicle pulling into the parking lot.

Paul smiled and nodded to the other two guards, who acknowledged with reciprocal nods. When Paul went into the hospital he saw Mary talking at the nurses’ station.

“Okay,” Mary said, not really looking that happy to see Paul. “Are you really here to help, or just get in the way?”

“You wound me!” Paul said, feigning dismay.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Come on. And Paul. Seriously. The guard told you we’d be taking on women with children. No matter how much you help, I can’t and won’t get you in the hospital’s shelter.”

“I know,” Paul replied. “I just need something to do. My store was trashed and looted. I don’t want to just sit home and wait for it. If it happens. My gut feeling is that it will.”

“You always think ‘IT’ will happen. Don’t say you don’t.” They came up to man in coveralls standing in front of the elevator, obviously waiting for it. “Dwayne, this is Paul Savage. Put him to work. It’s all right if he gets dirty.”

“That’s good,” replied Dwayne. “Those cots haven’t been touched in years. Going to be filthy when we’re done.”

Mary walked away when the elevator doors opened and Dwayne and Paul stepped in. “You know we’re not going to have a space in the shelter, I hope.”

Paul nodded. “What are you going to do, if it happens?”

“I’ll be just outside of it, making sure no one tries to get in that isn’t supposed to.” Dwayne looked grim.

“By yourself?”

“No. A couple of the hospital guards will be here with me. It’s better shelter than none, outside of the actual shelter, but there is only room for four or five of us and our supplies. Don’t get any ideas.”

“I’m good. I know where I’ll go if it happens.”

“Okay, then. Here’s the storeroom.” Dwayne took a pair of filter masks out of his hip pocket and handed Paul one. Paul put on the mask and followed Dwayne into the storeroom.

Paul lost track of time. The two of them worked for hours cleaning, setting up, and prepping cots in the sub basement of the hospital, using nearly every single inch of space not taken up by the mechanical apparatus of the hospital.

Five small niches were set up as emergency toilets, using tarps for walls and doors and a five-gallon bucket with a toilet seat for the toilet. Several thirty-gallon plastic drums with removable tops were brought down to hold the waste from the buckets when they were filled.

“What about water?” Paul asked at one point.

“We use the pressure system until it fails, and then I turn off the water meter and we start draining the lines. There’s a lot of water trapped in the plumbing, hot water heaters and such. They’ll access those in here.”

“Food?” Paul asked.

Dwayne sighed. “We’ll bring down everything that will keep when it happens. Bust open the vending machines and bring that stuff, too. The plan then is to have the cooks go up in rotation and fix quick meals from the fresh food that is left.”

“Ouch,” Paul said softly.”

“Yeah,” Dwayne replied. The two fell silent then, and continued to work.

They worked until after five and went upstairs to take a break, get some food, and check on the situation. There wasn’t much change, except no one in either government was talking. It was all speculation by the talking heads on the news networks.

Speculation came to an end when the power suddenly went out in the hospital. There were yells and screams until the hospital’s emergency generator kicked in and powered up critical electrical circuits.

Mary had just come up to the two men when the power went out.

“That’s just what we need,” Mary lamented. “A power outage in all of this.”

“Mary,” Paul said gently, “I don’t think that’s just simple power outage.”

“But…” In the midst of Mary’s question the building shook and dust danced in the half light provided by the generator.

“Oh my Lord,” Mary said. “They are bombing us!”

Paul, usually a stickler for accuracy didn’t correct Mary. Instead he followed her and helped begin moving patients from the first two floors to the basement shelter.

Mary had tears in her eyes when she said, “We can’t get everyone in the shelter! Not even the patients. What are we going to do?”

“This is a six story building, Mary. Move everyone on three down, into the shelter. Move those on five and six to the fourth floor. Into the rooms around the atrium.”

“But why? They’ll just die,” Mary said. Dwayne was listening closely.

“It’s the next best shelter. Distance provides shelter, as well as mass. You simply don’t have any other option,” Paul said calmly.

“Dwayne?” Mary asked.

“He seems to know what he’s talking about.”

With Dwayne’s assurance, Mary began giving out orders in a calm voice. Questions were quickly answered and the second evacuation from the fifth and sixth floors to the fourth began in conjunction with the moves from the third, second, and first floor to the basement.

Paul was simply one grunt worker among several that helped. They left the medical end of it to those qualified and just carried patients they were told to move on gurneys and then went back for another.

Dwayne answered a radio call from one of the guards. It was getting desperate outside the entrances of the hospital. Dwayne cursed for a minute and then said. “I’ve got to go help them. You…”

“I’ll go with you,” Paul said. He lifted his light jacket hem and showed Dwayne the Smith & Wesson revolver and six speed loaders straddling his belt in the small of his back.

“Come on, then.” The two men ran for the emergency entrance of the hospital, which was having the worst of it.

When Dwayne and Paul got there, two of the hospital guards were holding guns on the people inside the airlock entrance of the emergency room. One of the guards was near tears. “They just won’t stop!” he cried. “I don’t want to shoot anyone!”

“No one does,” Paul said, stepping toward the doors, people on the opposite side pressing against the locked doors. “Women with children only!” Paul yelled, trying to be heard above the clamor.

“Let us in!” yelled back one of the three men in the forefront of the group.

“Women with children only!” Paul yelled again and showed the revolver.

The man that had yelled suddenly had a pistol in his hand. He couldn’t back up enough to raise it at arms length, and simply pressed the muzzle against the glass of the door and pulled the trigger.

“Sheesh!” yelled Paul as he stepped back and raised the Smith & Wesson. The man’s gun had jammed, the action hampered by having slipped partially through the broken glass. His eyes went wide and he screamed in terror as Paul lined up the sights and slowly squeezed the trigger of the revolver.

The man fell against the door, but didn’t go down, held up by the crush of people behind him. Another shot rang out, from behind Paul. It was the scared guard. He started firing into the crowd, which tried to scramble back, hampered by those behind them. His wild shots didn’t hit anyone, just punching holes in the glass doors up high.

Dwayne tackled the guard and got his pistol before he could get off more than three shots. But they were enough to trigger even more escalation of the violence. Someone else in the crowd had a gun and began to use it as the crowd in the air lock finally were able to start pushing their way outside.

Paul stood his ground, searching the crowd for the person with the gun. Catching sight of the revolver being lifted, Paul fired again, but the glass deflected the bullet enough to cause it to miss the target. Paul fired again, through the rough hole that the first bullet had created and the man turned and fled, as those that had been his shield ran away, but he made only a couple of steps before going down, Paul’s second shot having been accurate enough to enter a lung.

“Get these doors secured, Dwayne said, turning loose of the guard he’d tackled and taking his pistol from him.

Paul stepped into the air lock and recovered the dead man’s gun. He didn’t appear to have a spare magazine for the small .32 ACP. Paul did the same thing with the other man, taking the Ruger revolver and a half dozen spare .38 Special rounds from his pocket as he died where he lay.

The two guards were waiting for Paul to come back in. He waved for them to bring the security shutters down and yelled to Dwayne. “I’ll do what I can out here.”

Dwayne acknowledged Paul’s help with a half salute and turned back to his duties.

Paul reloaded the two empty chambers in the cylinder of his Smith & Wesson with two of the .38 Specials he’d recovered, and did the same with the dead man’s own revolver. After checking the .32 for the number of rounds, there were six more in the magazine, he put it in his right front pocket and holstered his own revolver, carrying the Ruger as he headed for the main entrance of the hospital.

It was a bit more under control than the emergency entrance had been. The four guards manning the door were letting people in, one or two at a time, following the policy Mary had set of only children, women with children, and pregnant women.

But tempers were flaring as families became separated. A shot rang out and one of the guards went down. Paul moved over to one side of the doors so he would be out of the line of fire of the guards and looked for the man in the crowd that had fired.

He caught sight of the person. It was a woman, and he hesitated, but when she fired again he shot her. She went down without a sound and those in the crowd started milling around. Paul heard a shot and stucco fragments spattered the side of his face when the bullet flew past his head and hit the wall.

Again Paul fired, but missed; trying to make sure he didn’t accidentally hit another person near the one with the gun. But he fired again, this time with more success. But the first miss cost him a bullet going through his right leg.

“Sheesh! That hurts!” he yelled, stepping forward, still able to walk. He backed the crowd off, brandishing the Ruger. A couple of quick checks and he had both the guns from those he’d shot. Again one revolver and one small automatic. No spare ammunition that he could find in the quick pat down he did. He dropped them in a pocket.

He saw a woman, with two children huddling against her legs and motioned her forward. The guards let them in and Paul motioned for another small family. The woman, crying, kissed her husband, took the lone child in hand and moved forward, as Paul kept the revolver pointed near, but not at the man.

Paul suddenly blinked his eyes. There was something… “Fallout!” he yelled. “Fallout!” He hurriedly urged another woman, obviously pregnant, forward. Another woman stepped forward and said, “I’m pregnant, too.”

“You don’t look it,” Paul replied.

“Just found out,” she replied.

Paul simply didn’t believe her. “Wait. If there is room, they’ll let you in.”

Her move caught Paul completely off guard. The woman whirled around, doing a high kick, which caught Paul on his right shoulder. The Ruger flew from his hand and he went down when she side kicked his wounded leg.

But she was unable to do anything else. Someone inside the hospital lobby shot her. Paul managed to get back to his feet, motioning for those about to come outside to help him back. He picked up the Ruger, and motioned for more children.

“I suggest any of you that aren’t female and pregnant, or with children, head for better shelter. That’s fallout folks,” he said as he gestured to the granular dust that was falling as the light faded.

The crowd began to break up, leaving only a few more women and children, with a couple of men still saying good-bye. Paul stepped up to the doors, looked inside, and gave Dwayne a small wave, calling out. “I’m out of here! Good luck!”

“Good luck and thanks!” Dwayne called back as he helped one of the smaller children going through the entrance avoid some glass.

Paul was limping as he headed for his truck. His thigh was really stinging. It never occurred to him to try and have it dressed at the hospital, with everything going on. He’d do it at home.

He saw several men and a couple of women watching him and hurried up his pace. Fortunately they waited too long to start after him. He was in the truck and had it moving before they got to it. “Look for shelter, you idiots!” he yelled.

Fearing being followed, despite the fallout coming down, Paul took a round about way back to his house. He was gritting his teeth when he got there and parked the truck in the garage. His leg hurt even more as he unloaded his belt and pockets and then undressed in the garage. He tossed the fallout contaminated clothes in a bin in the garage to be dealt with later.

He took a thorough shower in the mudroom bathroom adjacent to the garage. His automatic generator had kicked in when the power went out, and Paul turned the valves that switched from city water to his well before he went into the shower.

He checked the wound the best he could. It had been a twenty-two rim fire bullet that hit him and went right through the outer edge of his leg, traveling just under the skin, the entrance and exit holes about two inches from one another.

Paul avoided getting blood from the oozing wound on the towels as he dried off. Gathering up the contents from his clothes he went into the basement naked, set the things aside and took down one of his first aid kits.

Grunting and wincing in pain occasionally, Paul cleaned the wound and then bandaged both holes in his leg. He started a cycle of antibiotics he had stored and then went upstairs to get dressed. Dressed, he took three painful trips up and down the stairs to take the fresh food from the kitchen down to the basement and then, finally, checked the dosimeter he’d clipped to his pocket that morning before leaving the house.

Holding it up to sight through it at one of the overhead lights in the basement he read the dosimeter with a sigh of relief. Since the fallout had started he’d only received just under one roentgen. Nothing to worry about as long as he didn’t need to go out again until after the radiation level had peaked and then fallen to an acceptable level.

Paul hooked back up and tried various communication devices, including the satellite TV. Nothing anywhere except static. He checked the remote reading radiation survey meter. It was reading 5 r and eased up a fraction as he was looking. Paul sighed, and foregoing supper, lay down on the sofa and went to sleep.

It was a very boring, but mostly uneventful, stay in the shelter those long weeks. Only once was the boredom broken. The security system sounded off once, two weeks into the shelter stay. Someone was trying to get past the security shutters. Paul went upstairs with the Smith & Wesson holstered and a Remington 11-87 12 gauge police shotgun in his hands.

He said nothing, tracking whoever it was around the house as they tried each of the shutters. Paul waited quite a while before he went back downstairs after the noises stopped.

The rest of the time Paul read, listened to music, watched DVD’s, worked on the computer, and exercised, getting his right thigh back in top shape as it healed. He studied the basic plans he had for the recovery effort that he hoped would occur after the fallout danger lessened.

Paul didn’t push the limits. He began to hear people on the Amateur Radio in various parts of the country three weeks into the event, the static having slowly died out. People were already out and about where there had been no fallout. He kept silent, just monitoring the various frequencies he found that had fairly consistent traffic.

The morning after the night the local radiation had fallen below 0.1r Paul suited up in his decontamination gear and went outside to look around the neighborhood. There was little to decontaminate at his place. There had been several rains during the last few weeks and Paul had designed the landscaping to facilitate decontamination. The rains had washed everything from the house and around the house, to the city’s storm sewer, deep underground.

After checking to make sure the entire lot was clean enough to be out and about in, Paul checked his closest neighbors’ houses one by one. Paul’s house was one of the few that had a basement in the area, and it wasn’t common knowledge that he did, having been one of the first in the development. That lack of knowledge Paul was sure why he hadn’t had any neighbors knocking on his door to be let in the way it had been at the hospital.

Several of his neighbors were nowhere to be found, their houses sitting silently, no one at home. Three of the four empty ones didn’t even lock their doors. The cabinets and refrigerator doors were open. Paul wondered if the families had taken the goods when they left, or the person that had tried to get into Paul’s house had done the taking.

The fourth empty house had been entered by force. Again there was no food to be found. The other side-by-side neighbors were in their house, the bodies each in what Paul assumed were their own beds, a bullet hole in their forehead. From the looks of it the father had killed all the family, and then shot himself, though Paul couldn’t find a gun. Probably taken by the same person or persons that had taken the food out of the other houses.

Paul cautiously crossed the street to check the neighbors’ houses that faced his. Two more empty, abandoned houses, with no food left. The third house was still locked up, but when Paul saw the dozen or so bullet holes in the front door, he forced it open. He had to shove the door open against the body lying against it, after he’d broken the lock.

He found another dead family. Actually, Paul thought it was probably three families that had all come together to try and survive. The back door was intact. But like the other houses, there was no food left. Checking each of the many bodies beginning to decompose, Paul decided that they had been attacked, with some killed, but with the survivors running off the attackers, simply to die a few days later of dehydration, since there were only a few water bottles in evidence and city water had been off from the start.

The toilets were all full, the tanks empty, unable to flush the stool. Paul was thankful for his respirator for that as much as for the dead bodies.

Paul had had enough for one day. He went home, decontaminated, and laid down for a nap. He wasn’t up to eat anything after what he’d seen.

He took two weeks checking the rest of the small development in which he lived. He found not one single living soul. There were more violent deaths, some deaths from radiation, more murder/suicides, and not a scrap of food in any of the houses. Someone had cleaned them all out of what little any of them might have had.

The situation was getting to Paul. He’d expected far more survivors. Finally he resolved to go to the hospital and see how that group had fared. He didn’t wear his protective gear, but he did take it with him. And he went heavily armed, having seen the violence that had been visited upon people might have been able to survive, if left alone.

Not until he made the turn into the hospital property did he see any signs of life. There were more cars than had been there when he’d left during the fallout. All of them were older models, he noticed. The EMP hadn’t bothered his non-electronic diesel powered pickup. It apparently had some of the newer vehicles. Either that or there just wasn’t any fuel.

Paul parked as close to the main entrance as he could get, and set the special security system the truck had. He’d only used it in practice before. Hopefully it would work as designed. A working vehicle, with fuel, was likely worth killing over, and definitely worth stealing to many people.

He made it up the steps to the main entrance before he was challenged.


“Hold it there, Mister. Identify yourself and someone that might be here that can confirm it.”

“I’m Paul Savage. Mary Jones can verify it. So can Dwayne.”

Paul heard a handy-talky squelch break and the guard whispering. After a minute or so, Paul saw Mary coming out of the hospital. At first she seemed just the way she always was, but as she got closer, and Paul started forward, he got a better look.

She still had most of her hair, but there were patches missing. Her gums were just a bit bloody when she smiled in relief at seeing Paul. Her skin was pale and she looked much thinner than was normal for even her.

“You made it,” she said, stopping just before him.

Paul nodded. “Mary, you don’t look good. Are you going to be all right? I’d say you had a pretty good dose of radiation.”

Mary sighed. “It is noticeable, isn’t it? Some of us are trying to pretend it isn’t. You look well.”

“Yeah. The leg healed all right.”

“Leg? What about your leg?”

“Oh. I guess you wouldn’t know. I got shot that night. Just a twenty-two. Went right through, just under the skin.”

“Oh, Paul! No.”

“No big deal.” Paul did a quick jig step. “See. I can still dance. Now fill me in. What happened here? You should have had more than adequate fallout protection in the hospital basement and on the fourth floor.”

Paul followed Mary as she started walking slowly back to the building entrance. The bodies and broken glass was gone. Plywood was up where the glass wasn’t.

“I suppose so. But several of us didn’t stay in the two shelter areas. Emergency surgery, premie babies, injuries from fights. There just seemed to be one thing after another that we had to take care of. Poor Dwayne. He insisted on helping each time, to allow someone else to stay in the shelter. He died the first month.”

“I’m sorry,” Paul replied. “He was a good guy.”

“Yes, he was. I think, if he hadn’t made that first run for food supplies, he wouldn’t have received a fatal dose.”

“Wasn’t there enough food?”

“For two weeks. But we weren’t strict enough when we handed out food early on. People took more than their shares. On top of that, when the meter showed we would need to stay longer, Dwayne took it upon himself to go looking for food. They found enough abandoned houses with a little food in each. Enough to get us all through on short rations.”

“Even shorter for you, I bet,” Paul said.

“I needed to lose some weight, anyway,” Mary said, trying for a laugh. It didn’t work. “And what makes it worse is we didn’t really need all of it. We lost half the patients to one cause or another. Ran out of meds. Ran out of fuel for the generator. The food isn’t going to waste, but Dwayne could have waited and then gone. He might have lived.”

Paul shook his head. “I’ve been listening to the Amateurs and some other news sources, but there isn’t much information, other than there are survivors all over. Have you heard anything through your network?”

It was Mary’s turn to shake her head. “We’ve heard nothing from the town council, county, state, or much less, the feds. I guess we’re on our on. How are we going to manage, Paul? You’ve always seemed up on things like this. And you came through it all right.”

“Mary,” Paul said cautiously, “I’ll help where I can, but I can’t support all these people.”

“Paul, why would I expect you to support all of us? I’m just looking for some help. You have a good head on your shoulders, or you wouldn’t have survived.”

“Of course I’ll do what I can to help,” Paul quickly said, annoyed with himself for his initial comment. “Water is critical. How are you doing on it?”

“With the losses, okay. Dwayne never told anyone how to find out how much is left. So we could be out now, for all I know.”

“Okay. Water, for sure. Food. How many day’s worth do you have left?”

“For just us, seven. But there have been several men that left families here during the fallout come back, after having survived own their own. Four days, including them.”

Paul couldn’t help it. He let out a long, soft whistle. “That is going to be hard. Other survivors have been stripping houses of food where I live. We’re going to need a team to do the same thing. Or, better yet…” Paul’s words faded away as a thought struck him. “I’ve got an idea. Can you get people to go out looking around here for food? People that will bring it back and not eat if on the spot?”

“That’s a good point, Paul. I know there are some that will do all they can, like you. But we’ve got a cross section of people here. Not all of them are going to be thinking of anyone except themselves, and perhaps their families.”

“All I can say is use your best judgment. I need one capable person to go with me. Someone you trust implicitly.”

“Does it need to be a male?” Mary asked.

Paul shook his head. Just someone that can drive my truck that I can trust not to take off with it.”

“I think Margaret could do it. Just how different from ordinary is your truck?”

Paul smiled. “Not that much. It does have an automatic transmission.”

“Then I’m sure Margaret could do it. I’ll go find her.”

Wanting to kick himself for not having thought of the idea earlier, Paul waited anxiously for Mary to show up with Margaret. It wasn’t long. A woman as haggard looking as Mary was walking beside her.

“Margaret, this is Paul,” Mary said in introduction.

Paul shook Margaret’s hand when she offered, being careful. Her hands looked so frail.

“Mary said you needed me to drive your truck for you?”

“If I find what I’m looking for, yes.”

“Should I go now, or wait until you find it and come get me?”

“Now. If I find it, I want to bring it back immediately,” Paul said, even as he turned toward the doors of the hospital.

“I guess I’ll be back later,” Margaret told Mary, following Paul.

“Can you tell me what it is you’re looking for?” Margaret asked Paul when they got into the truck.

“Food for everyone for at least a couple of weeks,” Paul replied. “I don’t want to jinx it.”

Margaret chuckled, but sat back in the passenger bucket seat of the truck and rode along silently.

Paul headed directly out of town, toward the nearest Interstate access. He had to do some weaving in and out of stalled cars, but there weren’t very many when he got on the Interstate and headed north.

Saying a prayer or two, Paul watched for one particular vehicle. He was berating himself again and again for not having remembered it before. His store was restocked with fresh food three times a week and shelf stable foods twice a week, with no deliveries on Saturday or Sunday.

The driver of the dry goods supply truck had a girlfriend in town and usually came in the evening before the day of his delivery. That truck should be somewhere close to town. And that was just the truck for re-supplying his store. All the other stores were supplied by truck. There could be other food trucks close, on the Interstate, if they hadn’t already been found by someone else.

The first potential truck Paul saw on the southbound lanes was a Wal-Mart delivery truck. When he went passed and found a place to turn around and come back to it, the fact that it was empty was immediately apparent. The rear doors of the trailer stood wide open. Only empty pallets were inside. Out side, when they got a bit closer, were three severely ravaged bodies.

Paul turned the truck around and they kept looking, Margaret now understanding what it was Paul was looking for.

There were several unmarked trucks that Paul decided he would check later. He saw the grocery delivery truck that delivered to the other privately owned grocery store. It, too, had been broken in to and the food taken.

Fearing the worst, Paul kept going. He stopped once at a tanker truck semi rig. Both the lead trailer and pup were full. He wasn’t sure which tank held which fuel, but there was definitely diesel and gasoline in the tanks. Between fuel and food, food was the more immediate demand.

Checking the cab of the truck he took the keys he found in the ignition. He tried the starter. It starter whizzed, but the engine wouldn’t catch. That would make it marginally less likely to be taken before Paul could find a working tractor and get back to it.

Paul was about to give up on his delivery truck. But as he approached one, intending to turn around just past it, he recognized the cab. It was the delivery truck for his store. All the other stores used their own trucks, with their name on them, or got deliveries from wholesalers that did the same.

The distributor that Paul used for his shelf stable food hired an independent truck and trailer rig. It was unmarked, except for it legal markings. Paul crossed his fingers for a moment before he went past it and looked at the trailer doors. Closed and locked. He went past the pup. Also closed and locked.

“Yes!” Paul said, delighted with the find. There was no sign of the driver anywhere around. Or anyone else, for that matter. Like the first truck he’d found, this one had the keys still in the ignition. He turned the key part way and checked the fuel gauges. Plenty of fuel.

So far, so good. Paul turned the key the rest of the way and the engine started. He’d been sweating that, too. The driver of the truck, also the owner, was a diesel mechanic before he was a driver and knew diesel engines. Like Paul’s own engine, the one in the delivery semi wasn’t electronic.

“Aren’t you going to look inside?” Margaret asked Paul when he climbed down out of the truck and walked over to where she was standing.

Paul shook his head. “Nope. Seals are intact. No reason to think anything is missing. As soon as I get air up we’ll head for the hospital. But I wonder where the driver is. He’d turned off the key, and the engine runs. Why wouldn’t he have kept going?”

Just for something to do, Paul checked the few vehicles that were nearby. All were abandoned, some with keys, some without. There was the abandoned article here and there, but nothing worth taking. Paul already considered abandoned goods fair game. If it wasn’t obvious that someone was coming back for it, and Paul could use it, he was going to take it.

Paul found out why the truck was still where it was. The driver’s body was off in the ditch, beside two burned out cars. The driver hadn’t died helping with the fire. He’d been shot. Several times. Whoever had done it certainly hadn’t a clue as to what was in the truck. They wouldn’t have left it.

It was getting dark when the two pulled into the hospital parking lot. The hospital had an electric forklift. It only had enough juice in the battery to unload the pup. But there were plenty of willing hands to unload the full trailer by hand and take the contents to the hospital kitchen, and two rooms designated as storage rooms.

After they were empty, Paul moved the trailers some distance away and unhooked the lead trailer from the tractor. He wanted that fuel truck and left his pickup with Margaret at the hospital, heading back to the Interstate.

The truck and fuel trailers were still there when they got back to the site. It took almost two hours to get the semi trucks switched and the trailers ready for transport. Paul, dead tired, got the fuel back to the hospital shortly after midnight. He took Mary up on her offer to use one of the hospital beds to sleep in for the rest of the night.

For two weeks Paul did the same thing. He salvaged food, fuel, and other items he found on the Interstate, stopping and checking each of the abandoned trucks for anything useful. Though there might have been more to be found, Paul quit going out when he got into his first gun battle. With odds of at least five to his one, Paul turned the semi around and high tailed it for town.

After a long discussion with Mary, it was decided not to do any more salvage outside of town, since it was becoming dangerous. Paul’s request to continue, with several armed guards going with him was refused.

With diesel for the semi truck, as well as the hospital generator, and gasoline for some of the private vehicles, the situation at the hospital changed quickly. Against Paul’s recommendation, anyone with an operating vehicle that wanted to leave would get five days of food per person, and a full tank of fuel, be it diesel or gasoline.

Unhappy with what was happening, Paul kept helping at the hospital, taking charge of salvaging two large green houses and erecting them on the hospital grounds. He searched the other stripped stores that might have seeds and gathered enough to put in the greenhouse gardens without dipping into his personal cache of open pollinated seeds.

The small lake on the hospital grounds that was used as part of the air conditioning system would provide irrigation water. Paul found a pump and hooked it up, and then ran a line to the greenhouses.

There’d been enough bottled water in the trucks that Paul had recovered that drinking water didn’t become critical before Paul was able to rig another pump system at the lake, to feed the hospital. At least the first floor of the hospital. The pump wasn’t capable of lifting the water above the first floor. The hospital already had a treatment system in place, put in three years previously, for the town water hadn’t been anything to brag about the last few years.

Paul decided to take a rest, and stayed home for three days after setting up the water system. When he went back to the hospital he was stopped at the entrance to the parking lot by a man in military uniform.

“What’s going on?” Paul asked, handing over his driver’s license when asked.

“National Guard is now in charge under martial law ordered by the president.” The guardsman handed Paul back his license and asked, “How have you been making it since the attack?”

Leery as always about revealing his preps, Paul said, “I found a basement to hide out in until people started coming out. I’ve been helping out here. I just took a couple of days off after a big project because of my leg. I got shot the evening of the attack.”

“I see. Well, the hospital is off limits to able bodied personnel. Only the sick and those with special needs are allowed in, if you aren’t a regular hospital employee.

“It’s probably lucky you weren’t here when we set up. All running vehicles we found were commandeered. You’ll be lucky if the Colonel doesn’t take it anyway, when he sees it. It’s a sweet looking rig for a situation like this.”

“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind,” Paul replied.

The Guardsman kept talking.

“If you need food, there is a store open on each side of town. All food is being rationed.”

When the Guardsman told Paul the location of the store on this end of town he frowned. “That’s my store! I need to go check this out.”

Paul immediately headed for his store, but calmed down enough to turn around and go home. He put the truck in the garage and took his mountain bike down off the hooks in the garage wall where he hung it up for storage.

After checking the tires and the function of the brakes and shifters, Paul pushed it outside, closed the garage door and then pedaled toward his store, a bit calmer now.

But his ire began to rise again when he got close to the store. There was a short line of people, many of which he recognized as some of his regular customers. Most exchanged a quick greeting with him after he parked his bike and locked it, and went up the line.

“Sorry mister,” said one of the two Guardsmen, one a woman, that stood at port arms in the entrance of the store. “No cutting in line.”

“I’d like to talk to whoever is in charge. This happens to be my store.”

The female Guardsman keyed the mike on her radio and spoke into it. She wore an ear piece so Paul couldn’t hear the response from the person she told Paul was here, ‘claiming’ to be the store owner.

A minute or so later a Lieutenant showed up. “What’s this about an owner?” he barked.

“That would be me,” Paul said, stepping forward.

“Well, that’s nice and all, assuming it’s true, but it makes no difference. The property has been commandeered for the duration as a distribution point of food and supplies for this half of the town. I suggest you go to the city hall and register, get your chit for food, and come back and get in line.” The Lieutenant turned around and went back into the store.

Paul was trying to decide what he was going to do when the female Guardsman whispered to him, “Don’t buck the system. It isn’t worth it.”

He looked at her for several long moments, but she said nothing else and kept her face turned toward the line of people waiting their turn in the store. Controlling his anger, that just wouldn’t fade, Paul turned around and went to his bicycle.

He cycled to the city hall and found it another pair of National Guardsmen barring the doors. “I’m here to register,” Paul said. “They told me to come here at the grocery store.”

One of the guards stepped aside and pointed down the hallway. “Third door on the left.”

Before Paul could enter, the second guard asked, “You armed?”

Knowing they would find the Smith & Wesson if they did any kind of search he admitted to having it.

“Turn it over. You’ll get it back when you come out.”

The anger going up a notch, bordering on seething, Paul handed the Guardsman the revolver. He didn’t offer up the speed loaders and they didn’t inquire about them. Paul still had the Derringer that he had stuffed inside the top of his sock on the inside of his left ankle.

They let him go in, one of them watching him until he turned into the designated office. It was a relatively painless process. Paul filled out one of the decades old post disaster postal notice of address cards. He had his driver’s license and passport on him so there were only a few questions.

Paul didn’t lie, but he was very careful how he stated the truth.

Yes, he was armed. The Guardsmen had his revolver.

Yes, he had a place to stay, but there were no commercial utilities. He was using camping equipment.

Yes, he had a source of water, at the hospital. Or did have. Since he couldn’t use it any more he’d have to go to the river and filter enough for his needs.

Yes, he had some food. He’d helped the hospital find food and they’d given him some for helping.

Since he wasn’t asked he didn’t mention his water well, the type and quantity of his weapons or food. Paul wasn’t sure what he would have said if he had been asked. He was given, of all things, a numbered ticket of the type used for prize drawings at events.

“Don’t loose it or abuse it in some way, or you don’t get food. Any reason you can’t work on the recovery?”

“I got shot the day of the attack. In the thigh. It causes me some trouble,” Paul replied. Again, truthfully, but somewhat incomplete.

“You can work at some of the jobs, I imagine. Next door down the hall.”

Paul carefully put the ticket stub in his wallet and walked out of the office, turned left, and went into the next one.

“A live one! Good,” said the Guardsman, a Lieutenant. “Anything debilitating?” he asked.

“Well,” Paul said, “it would be better if a doctor looked at me and determined that. I got shot in the leg the day of the attack and…”


The jovialness the guardsman had exhibited initially was gone in an instant. “If a doctor looks at you and declares you fit to any significant degree, you will be very sorry you didn’t speak up here.”

“Well, I’m sure I can do something to help. I am the owner of…”

The Guardsman cut him off. “I don’t care what you own. You’ll do what you’re told, and like it, or you’ll go to the subsistence camp for dissenters.”

“Subsistence camp? Dissenters?” Paul’s eyes narrowed and the anger came rushing back.

A tight lipped smile was on the Guardsman’s face when he said. “Yes. You refuse to help, you will be placed in custody, given subsistence rations, and forced to do all the menial, nasty, little jobs required due to the situation.”

“I see,” Paul said, controlling his anger very carefully. The Guardsman was wearing a sidearm. It wasn’t in the normal flap holster, but an open top speed draw style holster. Paul had the feeling that the man could and would draw and fire accurately if Paul made a threatening move.

“Put me down for basic labor,” Paul said. “I’m probably too stupid to do anything else.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. If I hear of you causing any problems, smart guy, I’ll make your life miserable. The first thing to go will be half your rations.”

“I thought they were subsistence rations.”

“Relative term, when I need it to be. Let’s see what needs to be done. Well, well, well. Seems the hospital needs bed pan emptiers. That should suit your abilities just fine, don’t you think?”

“If you think so, of course. At least it isn’t a menial, nasty, little job,” Paul said through clenched teeth.

“Be at the hospital at five am in the morning for work…” The guardsman looked at the screen of his laptop computer. “… Mr. Paul Savage. I’ll be checking on you. The computer says you’re armed. You might want to turn that gun in, for your own safety.”

Paul turned and walked out of the office, and then out of the building, saying nothing to anyone. He held out his hand at the main doors of the City Hall and one of the Guardsmen handed him back the Smith & Wesson revolver.

Paul was past seething in anger. For survivors of a nuclear attack to be treated the way they were obviously being treated, by their own military, was infuriating. Back on his bicycle, Paul pedaled home, various plans forming and then being discarded in his mind. The Lieutenant had thought he was giving Paul a punishment job, but being in the hospital would give him a chance to make plans based on a much larger picture of what was going on.

Paul decided to play it by ear for a few days before he decided what his ultimate decision would be. When he bicycled up to the hospital parking lot the next morning at four-thirty, and gave his name to the Guardsman on duty, the woman checked her clipboard and waved him on through.

There were two guards at the main entrance and one of them, too, checked a clipboard for his name. “You need to see Mary Jones. She’s the administrator. You go…”

“I know where her office is,” Paul said quietly.

“Very good,” the Guardsman said. “Be there and back in twenty minutes or less, with your job orders, or we come looking for you. You don’t want us to have to look for you.”

Paul nodded and headed for the stairs. Only one elevator was working and it was reserved for patients and staff accompanying them only.

Mary’s office door was open when Paul got there. She had her head down, looking over some papers. Paul knocked and she looked up.

“Oh, Paul! You’re all right!” She stood up and came around the desk in a hurry to give Paul a hard hug.

“What’s going on, Mary? I stayed home for two days and everything is changed.”

Mary withdrew and sat down behind her desk again, motioning for Paul to take a seat across the desk from her. “They just showed up that first morning you weren’t here. Colonel Yates and his command. They took over everything. Took most of the food you found us, and the fuel, leaving only enough for one day’s operation at a time.

“They’re registering everyone, and assigning work details. And those that resist are put in a camp outside of town. People that have gone out there to try to get relatives released say it’s terrible. Hard labor and almost no food.”

“So I gathered,” Paul said, telling Mary what he’d been through the day before. “Now, before I get into some serious trouble, let me have the assignment sheet so I can go down and satisfy the goons.”

“Oh, Paul!” Mary said when she shuffled through the papers and then picked up one of them. “Bedpan duty? I mean it is an honorable job, and has to be done, but they are using it as punishment.”

“So be it,” Paul said. He stood up and took the paper when Mary held it out. “Let me get situated and then I’ll talk to you again.”

Mary nodded and Paul hurried off to see the two guards and show them his work order. “They’re doing a good job with communicating information from one point to another locally,” Paul thought to himself as he went down the stairs.

The two guards laughed when they saw what he was scheduled to be doing for the next ten hours. Paul just smiled patiently and took the work order back and folded it so he could slip it into his shirt pocket.

He found the nurse in charge of collecting the bedpans and began the nasty job. At least there was a supply of protective aprons, gloves, and filter masks, though the masks didn’t do much for the smell.

Paul worked diligently and soon was caught up. Telling the nurse in charge he was taking a break, he went up to Mary’s office again, closing the door after he went in. She filled him in on everything she knew about the Colonel and his operation.

“And you haven’t had any contact with his superiors? No mention of who he reports to?”

Mary shook her head.

“And all you have seen is Humvees and trucks?”

Again may nodded.

“Okay. Keep your eyes and ears open for anything else. I’ve got a hinky feeling about this set up.”

“Be careful, Paul. There are rumors people are dying.”

“I know.” Paul went back to work, doing a bit of exploring in the hospital each time he was caught up. There wasn’t that much to do, though all the patients had to use the bedpans, since the septic system had quit working. Paul’s bedpans included the 5-gallon bucket toilets the staff was using, too.

Shortly after three that afternoon, Paul checked in with the current guards at the hospital entrance and then left. He decided to check the food ration process and headed for what was once his grocery store.

He went to the back of the short line, his ID ticket held handy. He was passed into the store with no problem and handed a hand basket, being told he was limited to ten items, no two alike.

Paul made his choices, with a plan in mind, and went to the check out stand to have his selections checked. There was no charge for the items, which surprised Paul, but he didn’t comment on it.

“Bring a bag or pack of your own next time,” the Guardsman said. “We’re about out of grocery bags. You can’t come back for three days.”

Paul hung the handles of the bag on the handlebars of the bike and then took a rather scenic route home. He did much the same the next several days, going to the other side of the town to check it out. It was the same situation. Paul dropped off the supplies he’d received with a family that need the help, that Mary had told him about.

He had to work six days, but did get the seventh off. That day he bicycled out to the interment camp to get a look for himself. From what he could see from just outside the double fence, the place was a mess. Everyone of the inmates was dirty and slumped with the weariness of the ages upon their backs.

Paul circled the camp, took a few pictures with his digital camera, and then went home. It was another two weeks of working at the hospital, keeping his nose clean, before he found an Amateur Radio contact that could relay a message to what the Amateur was sure was a good military contact.

Two days later, on an agreed upon frequency, Paul talked to one Colonel James Patterson of the State National Guard. When the conversation was finished, Paul had a rather wolfish grin on his face. Things were about to take a turn for the better in town.

Paul was ready for the arrival of Colonel Patterson’s men when they showed up at the hospital, ready to do battle. Paul had warned Mary, and the hospital staff had the patients in as protected positions as possible.

When he heard the first encounters between Colonel Patterson’s group and Colonel Yates people, Paul went on the prowl, the .357 magnum in his hand. It was relatively easy to get the drop on the guards inside the hospital and then those at the doors, as they were all atuned to the action outside.

When Colonel Paterson came striding into the hospital Paul had six of the Guardsmen sitting on the floor with their hands fastened behind them with zip ties.

“Savage?” asked the Colonel, coming directly to Paul.

“Yes, sir.” Paul said and shook the Colonel’s hand when the Colonel extended it to him.

“Thank you for your information. We knew we had a rogue element in the state, but with communications the way they are, we haven’t been able to pin the location down. Until your contact. We should have everyone in custody within the hour. Be assured that the perpetrators will be punished. You can have your town back.”

“Can we expect much support from the state now?” Paul asked. “Food and fuel, mostly.”

“Sadly, sir, I am afraid not. Our thrust must be to the cities, where people are dying daily from starvation and disease. Rural areas are proving themselves capable of subsisting on their own. You will need to continue to do that here.”

“We’ve salvaged some goods… Is it all right to continue to do that?”

“Locally, yes. Don’t encroach on any other area’s territory. I don’t know how much might be left, but you are welcome to try. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have my duty to perform.”

Paul nodded and the Colonel strode off, followed by the captured Guardsmen, under the guns of Colonel Patterson’s people. And that was it. As suddenly as they’d been there, the renegade National Guard unit was gone, and things returned to normal. Normal for post nuclear war times.

Paul went back to helping keep the hospital going, using it as the local trading post. All the long-term care patients had died. The staff that survived were dealing with the usual injuries and ailments of an area returning to its rural roots, using what supplies they had left, could scrounge, or make.

The greenhouses were producing well. Paul talked the Colonel into giving back the stockpile of goods the rogue Guard unit had accumulated. With those situations in hand, and some additional salvage work to procure goods, Paul was instrumental in getting trade and barter started in the area.

It gave those with items of worth with a need for something else the ability to trade for or buy what was needed. There were some parties, like Paul himself, that had precious metals and were willing to use them to buy with, and accept in payment for goods.

A retailer at heart, Paul slowly accumulated the tiny surpluses that people had saved before the attack or produced afterwards, and opened up a store again, using an unused area of the hospital. It was no longer just a grocery store. He would take in anything that he thought he might be able to sell, often giving far more that what the item might be worth at the moment to those in dire need of what he had.

People were desperate for many things that simply weren’t available, at least at the moment. Paul always tried his best to come up with the item or an alternative, but he often had to say, as people offered more and more for what they felt they just had to have, “It’s not how much you’re willing to pay me, it’s a matter of my not having it at all.” Time passed, people adapted, and Paul had to say that less and less.

Copyright 2007
Jerry D Young