I'd Rather be Dead chapter 2


I’d Rather Be Dead - Chapter 2



Sherrie and Aaron looked at one another in the faint light from the windows. The standby generator kicked on and the lights on the emergency circuits came back on. “Try the phone,” Aaron said.

Sherrie picked up the kitchen wall phone receiver, listened a moment and hung it back up, shaking her head.

“Okay. We just follow our plan,” Aaron said. “I’ll get the utilities shut off.”

“I’ll start moving the fresh food to the shelter,” Sherrie said. Husband and wife hesitated long enough to give each other a quick reassuring hug and then hurried off to implement their nuclear attack emergency plan.

Twenty minutes later they were in the shelter, each step of the plan having been followed and checked off the laminated copy on its clipboard at the entrance of the shelter. “Aaron? Brian and Michelle and the baby… David and Bridgette…” She was trying, not quite successfully, to not cry.

“It’s a big risk,” Aaron said softly.

“I think we should take it,” Sherrie said just as softly. “I don’t think I will be able to stand it knowing we didn’t even try.”

“All right. You stay here. I’ll go…”

“Not on your life!” Sherrie declared. “We’re going together!”

Aaron knew better than argue the point. He was spinning the dial of the gun safe in the shelter. He took out Sherrie’s pistol belt and handed it to her. She fastened it around her waist and then checked the Glock 21SF, racking the slide to chamber a round from the magazine as Aaron did the same with his.

She put the gun back in the holster and took her carbine from Aaron when he handed it to her. Picking up his rifle, Aaron handed Sherrie a musette bag of magazines for her carbine and took a similar bag of magazines for his rifle. After closing and locking the gun safe, the two headed for the shelter entrance. Again they took the time to lock the shelter and slide the cabinet that hid the door back into place.

Using flashlights to make their way through the dark basement, the two went upstairs and then into the garage. Sherrie got into the driver’s seat of the Suburban, crossed her fingers for a moment and then turned the key to start the diesel engine. She grinned and put the truck in reverse when the engine turned and caught without a hitch.

Aaron was using the manual lift to open the overhead garage door. As soon as Sherrie had backed the Suburban out of the garage, he closed the door and ran to the passenger door of the truck and climbed in.

There were people out in their yards, in the twilight asking each other what was wrong. Aaron rolled down his window and yelled to them. “Get in your basements! We under attack with nuclear weapons!”

“I don’t think they believe you,” Sherrie said, driving carefully to avoid vehicles stopped in the street and the people milling around.

Both saw others trying to start cars that wouldn’t start. One man stepped in front of the Suburban with his hand up to stop them.

“What do you want?” Aaron asked, his head out the passenger window.

“I want to know why your rig works and mine doesn’t. Something is going on and I plan to find out what.”

“We’re in the middle of a nuclear war,” Aaron said and nodded at Sherrie. The guy had to hustle to get out of the way. He was cursing Sherrie as she drove away.

It didn’t take long to get to Brian’s and Michelle’s. The house was dark and they ran around to the shelter. They found Brian still moving things from the open back door of the house to the shelter.

“Are you guys all right?” Brian asked.

“Yeah. You?” Aaron replied.

“Just wanted to get a few more things into the shelter. You staying with us?”

Aaron shook his head. “Just wanted to check on you. And we’re going to go see if we can convince Bridgette and David to come to our shelter.”

Sherrie was inside the shelter talking to Michelle, helping her get the baby settled. “You have the radio so you can talk to us if you need to talk to us. You going to be okay?”

A very scared Michelle nodded. “I think so. Thanks to you.” Michelle was suddenly hugging Sherrie and Sherrie had to use a little strength to break the grip.

“It’s okay, Michelle. Just stay in the shelter and follow the instructions if the papers we gave you. And call if you need. On the radio. I need to go.”

Michelle nodded, tears in her eyes, as Sherrie turned and ran back outside.

“Ready?” Aaron asked when Sherrie joined him and Brian. She nodded, barely visible in the dark. Aaron looked over at Brian. “I’d keep the lights off while you move stuff. And don’t wait too long before locking the place down. You don’t want to have come this far and have someone take the shelter from you.”

Brian’s suddenly pale face was visible in the growing darkness. “Criminey! I didn’t think about that. “There’s nothing else critical. I’m locking the house and then locking us in the shelter.” He held out his hand to Aaron. “Thanks buddy. You’ve probably saved our lives with your help.”

Aaron shook Brian’s hand and then he and Sherrie ran back to the Suburban. Sherrie drove again, so Aaron could handle any problems that might crop up. He reached over and flipped a switch on the custom console between the Suburban’s bucket seats. The street in front of them lit up like daylight, startling several people with the glare.

It was the same thing over and over again on the way to the Kingsley’s. Disabled cars on the street, people milling around, sometimes trying to get Sherrie to stop the Suburban. “Don’t just run over anyone,” Aaron said, “But don’t come to a full stop.” Sherrie did as Aaron suggested.

Only once did Aaron show a gun. It was when a man stepped in front of them, both his hands up in the air to motion them to stop. One of the hands held a pistol of some sort. Aaron lifted the rifle, stock folded, so the man could see it.

Though Sherrie had slowed, she didn’t stop and the man moved out of the way, slowly. He didn’t fire, so Aaron didn’t either, though the slack was out of the trigger pull.

David was in front of his house, with a flashlight, arguing with one of his neighbors. Sherrie came to a stop in the driveway and Aaron got out. “What’s going on?”

“Stevie boy here thinks he’s going to get in my basement,” David said. When he looked at Aaron and saw the rifle in his hands, a shocked look twisted his features and he took a step back.

“Okay! Okay!” said Steve, his hands going up in the air. “You’ll be sorry!” After backing up a couple of steps, he then turned and ran off into the darkness.

“Where’s Bridgette?” Aaron asked. “Get her and come on. We have a shelter and need to get into it.”

“You have a shelter?” A look of relief came across David’s face for a moment, but he was suddenly shaking his head.

“No. We’ll die anyway. I’m not leaving my house to looters.” His voice faded. “Besides, Bridgette took a sleeping pill and went to bed early. She doesn’t even know…”

“Sherrie!” Aaron called over to the Suburban. “Go in with David and help get Bridgette up. Grab a few things and let’s get this show on the road. I’ll watch the Suburban.”

Sherrie got out of the truck and ran to the open front door of the house, not waiting for David.

“She’s got a gun, too!” David exclaimed. “But it won’t matter. We aren’t going.”

“Let me make it easy for you, David,” Aaron said. “If you don’t come voluntarily, I’ll shoot you in the leg and take you there when you pass out from the pain.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” David replied.

Aaron chambered a round in the rifle. “Don’t test me, David. You and Bridgette are our friends. We aim to see that you come through this with us.”

David stared at Aaron for long moments and then turned and ran toward the house, flashlight beam bouncing erratically. Aaron moved over closer to the Suburban, reached in and started it. He flipped the auxiliary light switch, lighting up the driveway and front of the house.

People were beginning to gather around. Aaron swung the stock of the rifle around and it latched into place. He held the rifle at the ready.

“What’s happening?” asked one man, who had stopped several yards away at the sight of the rifle. “The power is off and…”

Before he could continue the sky turned bright as day. Brighter. Someone screamed. “I’m blind! I’m blind!”

Aaron caught only a tiny bit of the bright flash in the corners of his eyes, and still he had a hard time seeing for a few moments. The brightness faded and the first ugly sight of a rising mushroom cloud became visible.

“Down! Down! Everyone get down!” Aaron screamed and dove down to the ground at the edge of the pavement, the curb of the street better protection than none. He didn’t know how many followed his advice, but he knew not everyone had when he was slammed in the back by a body flying through the air, caught in the blast wave of the nuclear detonation some twenty-five miles away.

Aaron held his position, until the reverse wave came and went. Then he bounded up and looked around. There wasn’t a person standing. He turned to the Suburban to get out the first-aid kit, but stopped when David and Sherrie came out of the house, supporting Bridgette between them. David had a suitcase in his other hand.

David ran back toward the house after tossing the suitcase into the door of the Suburban when Aaron opened it. It was only when he reached for the Suburban did Aaron realize that the blast wave had shifted the Suburban sideways, and partly around. He could see the skid marks in the light of the bright auxiliary lamps. The ground began to shake. It only lasted a few moments.

“David! Come back here!” Aaron yelled, as he helped Sherrie get an only partially conscious Bridgette into the back seat of the Suburban. But David was already back in the house. Bridgette was secured in her seat, and Sherrie was buckled in the driver’s seat of the truck again when David came running back out of the house, two more huge suitcases dragging behind him.

Rather than arguing, Aaron opened the back of the Suburban and helped David load the cases. Aaron closed the hatch and both men entered the Suburban on the passenger side, Aaron in front, and David beside his wife in the second row seat.

“Go!” Aaron said, and Sherrie put the truck in reverse. She had to steer around several bodies lying on the ground. She cut a look at Aaron, but he shook his head, so she didn’t stop. Aaron thought he heard at least one shot as they drove away into the eerie darkness, headed at an angle toward the still rising mushroom cloud.

There were as many people on the street now as before, but many of them were dead from being thrown about by the blast wave, or hit by debris picked up by the blast. Sherrie weaved her way around them. Aaron could see the tears on her cheeks, but she kept going.

This time when someone with a gun tried to stop them, there wasn’t just one, there were two, both armed. Aaron didn’t hesitate when both men leveled handguns at the truck and yelled out for Sherrie to stop. He lifted the rifle and thrust it outside, firing half a dozen rounds in the general direction of the two men.

Both bolted, with one of them falling almost immediately after the first step as Aaron fired. There was no additional trouble on the way to their house, though there were still people out, staring at the ominous mushroom cloud.

Aaron wanted to scream out at them to get into any shelter they could find, but knew it was useless. Only a few of the houses had basements, and even in them, with the fallout they were sure to get, the likelihood was that they would receive a fatal dose of radiation.

“Kill the lights,” Aaron said when they turned onto their street, as he reached over and turned off the auxiliary lights.

Sherrie did so, but slowed to almost a crawl before her eyes adjusted to the darkness. “I don’t want us to be any more visible than necessary when we stop,” Aaron explained to Sherrie.

He was out and had the garage door open as quickly as possible when Sherrie stopped in front of the garage door. He stood and waited for her to drive the truck inside. Looking around he didn’t see anyone observing as he closed and then locked the heavy metal garage security door.

David hadn’t said a word on the trip and was still silent as he and Aaron carried a sleeping Bridgette into the house, down the stairs, and into the shelter that Sherrie had run ahead and opened. She’d gone back into the basement to hold a light so Aaron and David could see.

“I’ve been down here how many times and never knew…” David said as he entered the shelter from the basement. “What’s that noise?”

Sherrie turned the flashlight off and put it on a counter as she went over to the communications console. “Survey meter. Fallout has started. Come on. I’ll get Bridgette settled if you get her on one of the bunks.”

David paled again at the mention of the fallout. He and Aaron moved to the small alcove behind a curtain that Sherrie held back out of the way. There were four bunks, two on each side of the doorway opening. Bridgette was put in one of the lower bunks and Aaron and David stepped into the main room of the shelter as Sherrie moved to Bridgette’s bunk, to get her more comfortably settled in.

The shelter shook slightly. David had his hands out at waist level, balancing himself. “Earthquake?” he asked.

“Another detonation, close. I hope we’re giving as good as we’re getting,” Aaron said. He put the rifle and carbine in the gun safe.

“Oh my Lord!” David suddenly said, more collapsing into one of the chairs at the small table in the middle of the shelter than sitting down. “Nuclear war! What do we do?”

“We’re doing what needs to be done,” Aaron said, sitting down across the table from David. “We’re in a good shelter and have plenty of food and other supplies. We simply wait it out.”

“But we can’t stay in here forever! When we go out we’ll die! Why did you make me come here?” It was a true wail. Elbows on the table, head in his hands, David began to cry.

“David! David! Look at me!” Finally David lifted his head and looked at Aaron. “We won’t die when we leave the shelter. At least, as long as some other survivor doesn’t kill us for our supplies. Now listen to me. You need to straighten up and act like a man. You have a wife to care for, and with your presence here, there will be more work. I expect you to do some of it.”


“No buts! You will help out. So will Bridgette. Now we need to prepare for that eventuality. She’s not going to even know where she is when she wakes up. It’s going to be terrifying for her at first. She’s bound to have a similar reaction as you have, considering your pre-war inclinations. Now shape up. Your wife is going to need you.”

David hastily wiped his eyes and then bit his lip for a few moments, seeming to draw strength from the pain.

“Come on. Let me show you the bathroom,” Aaron said, getting up from the chair. He walked over to another curtained alcove and slid the curtain to one side. It was a tiny, but normal bathroom, with shower stall, toilet, and small hand basin with faucet, the floor two steps up from the shelter floor.

“How…” David asked, turning to look from the bathroom to Aaron.

“There are two tanks under the bathroom floor. One for black water, one for gray. We pump the gray water from the bathroom and the kitchen sink up where it will spread out on the garden. The black water and waste is pumped to a small septic system I put in, illegally, in the back yard. Both can go into the regular sewer, but I don’t expect it will work for long without power.”

David looked up at the several LED light fixtures. “How do we have electricity? I thought it was out?”

“Battery bank,” Aaron explain. “The batteries are kept fully charged by commercial power. Last for several days without recharge. There is a back up generator we can run directly for power, and to charge the batteries. Plus there are solar panels to charge them when there is enough sunlight. I don’t want to run the genset right now. For a variety of reasons.” Aaron didn’t go into them.

David nodded his head. Aaron decided to show him some of the rest of the shelter, to keep him mind occupied for the moment. It didn’t take long. The shelter was large, for a private home shelter, but not that large.

It seemed to calm David down to know how the place was laid out and set up to operate. “How long have you had this?” he asked after the tour.

“The shelter space was built in when we had the house built. Didn’t cost us that much more and it was included in the financing, though the lender wasn’t aware of it. We slowly added features and supplies. Pretty much completed the stocking process about a year ago. Not long before our cruise. We just rotate consumables into daily life and replace what we use.”

Suddenly David jerked, standing straight up. “Brian and Michelle! What about…”

Aaron was pleased that his friend had thought of their other mutual friend. “Take it easy, David. They are fine. We checked on them before we went to get you and Bridgette. They built a shelter over the past few months and stocked it.”

“They did? They did that and the pool house? So much for the pool house now, though. Won’t be much swimming. Assuming we live.”

Aaron smiled. “The pool house is the shelter. Just thick walls and ceiling.”

“But that must have been horrendously expensive! How could they possibly have afforded it?”

“Brian, Sherrie, and I did most of the work, excluding the concrete. He paid the pros for that work. Got a loan from the credit union for the pool and ‘pool house.’ Added significantly to the value to the house, apparently. His taxes went up, anyway.”

“You did that for them?” David’s voice was rather neutral.

“You remember that night when Bridgette didn’t want to talk about such things and said she’d rather be dead than live after something like this? And then months later, when we started to talk about it on the golf course. You’d changed some of your investments, if I recall correctly.”

David’s shoulders slumped. “I guess I can’t be jealous. Bridgette and I made it pretty clear we wouldn’t prepare, didn’t we?”

Aaron could only nod.

“So why did you come get us? After our attitudes?”

“You and Bridgette are our friends. We have the space and supplies. How could we not?”

There were more tears in David’s eyes as he looked at Aaron. He quickly wiped them away when Sherrie called to him. “Bridgette is coming around, I think.”

Even before she was fully awake Bridgette knew something was wrong and let out a long, frightened scream.

David held her shoulders down so she wouldn’t pop up and bang her head on the upper bunk. “Sweetie! It’s me. Everything is okay. You’re safe.”

Bridgette quit struggling and opened her eyes. “David? Where am I?” Her eyes were scanning the small room with its four bunks and four large lockers at the far end. “How did I get here? What’s going on? David?”

Sherrie stepped out and closed the curtain to give the couple some privacy. There were gasps and several small screams, and then a much louder, longer, agonizing scream from Bridgette.

Sherrie rummaged through one of the bags David had carried in. She found Bridgette’s medication and went back to the curtain door of the bunkroom. She knocked and handed the plastic bag and a glass of water to David. Bridget was crying the entire time.

It was many minutes before David came out of the bunkroom. He was pale and shaking. “I’m sorry,” he said, his words barely audible.

“It’s okay, David. It’s a shock to all of us.”

“I gave her another sleeping pill. Perhaps in the morning she’ll be a little more rational. I think I’ll lie down and try to get some sleep if there isn’t something you need me to do?”


“No,” Aaron said. “Go right ahead.”

“Do you want me to take her to the bathroom when she needs to go, or do you think it would be better if you did it?” Sherrie asked.

“I’ll do it,” David said and went back to the bunkroom, closing the curtain behind him.

“You want to lie down for a while, Sherrie?” Aaron asked. “I’m going to be up for quite a while, monitoring the fallout and…” Aaron left the rest unsaid. The potential problems that might crop up.

“Okay,” Sherrie replied. “I doubt I’ll sleep, but if I do, wake me up when you want some sleep, or if something happens.”

“I will, Sweetheart,” Aaron said. They shared a kiss and a hug, and then Sherrie went to a second bunkroom, set up identically to the one David and Bridgette were in.

Aaron took a seat at the communications console and checked the remote reading survey meter. Radiation was up to fifty-one roentgen per hour already. He was very tempted to connect a radio to one of the outside antennas, but abandoned the thought almost as soon as he had it. There was no way there would be any signals getting through the ionized atmosphere. And there was the real risk of EMP coming into the shelter though the antenna lead if he took it off the grounding strip and connected it to a radio. Better to wait.

Aaron noted the time and reading when the radiation peaked, not long after midnight and again an hour later. Two hundred forty-nine roentgens an hour after the peak. He plugged the numbers in the old laptop computer kept in the shelter.

He turned around when David guided Bridgette to the bathroom and back. She said not a word on the trip. Aaron went back to watching the radiation meter and reading the nuclear attack action plan he and Sherrie had developed.

The Excel program was close to the money on how the radiation would fall. The reading at seven AM was just under 25 r/hr. Sherrie came out of the second bunkroom and went straight to the bathroom.

“I’m sorry, Honey,” she said, coming over to him to give him a quick kiss. “I never thought I’d sleep through the night.”

“’S’okay,” Aaron replied, stifling a huge yawn. “I want to take a quick look around, get some breakfast, and then some sleep.”

“What’s the radiation level?” Sherrie immediately asked.

“Under 25. Five minutes won’t hurt me, and I really want to make sure the place is secure.”

Reluctantly, Sherrie nodded. It needed to be done. “I’ll get out a tyvek coverall and the respirator and all.”

Aaron nodded, yawned again, and took a dosimeter from a rack on the console. He checked it, and then zeroed it with the dosimeter charger. He clipped it on his shirt pocket and stood up.

Sherrie helped him into his protective gear and taped up the glove and boots to seal out fallout particles. She handed him his gun belt, which he taken off before he put on the coverall, and a direct reading survey meter. “Be careful,” Sherrie said and closed the shelter door behind him when he left.

She waited for Aaron, counting the minutes. David came out of the bunkroom and asked, “What’s going on?”

“Aaron went out to take a look around,” Sherrie replied.

“He’s out there in the radiation? Won’t that kill him?” David went pale and then added, “I’ll go out and…” David said, but Sherrie cut him off.

“The radiation has dropped to a safe level for an excursion of a few minutes duration. He’ll only be out a couple more minutes. And you’d have to suit up and then decontaminate. Not worth the effort. As long as everything goes okay.”

David waited even more anxiously than Sherrie for Aaron to come back in. He didn’t understand the situation and was thinking about things based on years of assumed to be true misinformation.

A little over a minute later Aaron’s voice came over the intercom box by the door. “Okay. Let me in.”

Sherrie quickly unlatched the door and let Aaron in. He’d decontaminated and taken off the protective equipment in the basement. Sherrie was looking at him expectantly.

“Everything is fine,” Aaron said. “Greenhouse is okay, and so is the yard shed. House doesn’t show any signs of damage. Can’t say the same for the neighborhood. I think we got lucky.”

“What do you mean?” Sherrie asked.

David, too, wanted more information.

“The Albertson’s house,” Aaron said, then added, for David’s benefit, “Three houses down, has burned to the ground. And…” Aaron closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. “And there are a few bodies out. I checked our closest neighbors, but no one answered my knocks or calls. I didn’t try to go in.

“Except Kevin. He was working on his car on his driveway. I tried to tell him what was going on, but he just shrugged his shoulders and kept working.”

“Aaron! He’ll be dead in a few days if he doesn’t take shelter!” Sherrie exclaimed.

“It’s too late for him,” Aaron said, taking a seat rather heavily. “He said he’s been working on the car since midnight, when it wouldn’t start, for him to go to his graveyard shift job.”

Sherrie looked at Aaron helplessly. Kevin was one of those barely socially functional people that have to live in a real world they don’t quite understand. Aaron had often helped him with some little problem. Occasionally, when he was mowing his yard, he would come over and mow the lawn for Aaron, without asking or asking for anything in return.

Bridgette came out of the bunkroom then and all thoughts of Kevin were gone. Bridgette was wild eyed and frantic to get out of the shelter.

“Let me out! I want to die! You can’t keep me in here! It won’t make any difference anyway.” The last was said wearily, as she wound down, David having taken her in his arms to protect her from herself, and from harming someone.

“Please, Bridgette! Calm down!” David said.

Rather more soothingly, Sherrie tried. “Come Bridgette. I’m going to prepare breakfast in a few minutes. Why don’t we get your makeup bag and get you in some fresh clothes and ready for the day? What’cha say?”

Bridgette just hung her head and cried. David was able to get her to sit down, but she slumped over the table, her head on crossed arms.

“I’ll… I guess I’ll start breakfast,” Sherrie finally said and turned to the kitchen area of the shelter. Bridgette continued to sob.

It didn’t take Sherrie long to prepare their breakfast. It was cereal with milk from the fresh foods moved to the shelter the day before. Sherrie set David’s and Aaron’s bowls before them at the table and then pulled up another chair to sit by Bridgette, two of the bowls of cereal at hand.

“How about just a few bites of cereal, Bridgette. It’s granola. I know you like granola. You always hav…”

Bridgette swept an arm across the table, knocking the two bowls of cereal to the floor with what could on be called a growl.

“Oh, Bridgette,” Sherrie said softly.

David had jumped to clean up the mess, but Aaron said, “Let Sherrie do it. David, you and I are going to take Bridgette out and give her what she wants. Death.”

Aaron!” Sherrie cried from her knees. She scrambled up.

David, let out a small, drawn out, “No…”

Bridgette jumped up. “Yes! Yes. I must die! It’s nuclear war. No one can live!” Suddenly Bridgette grabbed one of the table knives that Sherrie had set the table with, out of habit, and stabbed sideways, catching David square in the chest. He staggered back into the wall, in pain, but not severely hurt.

Bridgette, eyes wild, lunged at Aaron. Aaron was too quick for her. He grabbed her wrist and had it up behind he back in a painful hold before she could react. She whimpered in pain and Sherrie again said Aaron’s name forcefully. “Aaron! You can’t!”

Aaron was marching Bridgette to the door of the shelter. “Sherrie! Open the door.”

“No. I won’t!” Sherrie said, her eyes pleading with her husband not to do this. Then she saw him wink ever so slightly and began to relax. Even decided to play along.

“Yes. I guess you’re right. We can’t have this in the shelter for the next two weeks.” Sherrie went to the door and opened it.

David, still gasping for breath, straightened up and moved toward Aaron. “No, Aaron! She’ll stop! She’ll be okay! I’ll give her another sleeping pill! Please don’t kill her!”

Her steps willing at first, Aaron had to use a bit of force to get Bridgette out into the basement. Sherrie and David followed, David still begging Aaron not to kill Bridgette.

Aaron gave Bridgette a small shove away from him and pulled his holstered Glock. He racked the slide to feed a cartridge into the chamber, and then lifted the gun and pointed it at Bridgette’s forehead.

Sherrie had grabbed David’s hand to restrain him when he took a step toward Aaron. “Let him try this,” she whispered into David’s ear, standing on tiptoe and pulling him down somewhat so she could.

“Do you really want to die, Bridgette? Right here? Right now? Because you sure can. I’ll pull this trigger and kill you where you stand rather than put up with your attitude in the shelter, or let you go out there and be killed so savagely you’ll be begging for death again.”

Aaron took a step forward, the gun steady, pointed at her forehead. Bridgette was staring at the gun. “Well, Bridgette? What’s it going to be?” Aaron asked. “Life or death? Right here, and right now. You either die here, right now, or you go into the shelter ready to pursue the life that God, in all his mercy, has granted you, when millions of others have died. What is it? Life? Or death?”

Aaron had been taking tiny steps forward as he spoke. He had the gun pressed against her forehead now, and he saw her eyes cross trying to look at it. When her eyes closed and she started to faint, Aaron managed to grab here. David ran over and helped Aaron get her back into the shelter, and then into the bunk again.

“I’ll give her another sleeping pill,” David said, reaching for the small bag of her medications on the other bunk.

“No David,” Aaron said. “She needs to come out of this on her own. Drugging her won’t help. We have to resolve this today. It is going to be two weeks before we can stay outside for more than a few minutes at a time. We’ll all be in the same shape she is, if we let her continue.”

“You wouldn’t… You wouldn’t really kill her… Would you?” David asked.

“No,” Aaron said. “But I will let her take her own life. If she goes out there, the radiation will kill her, if she isn’t attacked and then killed before the radiation can do the job.” Aaron sat down to eat his cereal and Sherrie cleaned up the mess on the floor before she prepared another bowl for herself.

“Wonder how Brian, Michelle, and the baby are doing?” she asked softly so only Aaron could hear.

“Probably better than us,” Aaron replied, reaching out to pat and then squeeze Sherrie’s left hand. “It’s been over twelve hours. The regular schedule we agreed on was to try contacts at noon each day, until we make contact and set up another schedule. I’ll take one of the FRS radios out and hook it up to the long wire and see if Brian is doing the same thing.”

“Perhaps I should do it,” Sherrie said. “You’ve already been out.”

“No. Not yet. I’ll do it.” Aaron finished his cereal and rinsed the bowl out at the bar sink that acted as the kitchen sink. “I’m going to lie down for…”

Bridgette and David came out of the bunkroom. “I’m sorry,” Bridgette said softly, and went to the bathroom. Aaron hesitated, but went into the other bunkroom and swung into one of the lower bunks.

When Bridgette came out of the bathroom she went back to the bunkroom she and David were using. Sherrie was waiting anxiously, but Bridgette came back out in fresh clothes in just the matter of a few minutes.

“Breakfast?” Sherrie asked, her fingers crossed behind her back in hope.

Bridgette nodded and sat down next to David and took his hand in hers. Sherrie and David finished their interrupted breakfasts as Bridgette ate her own, slowly. But she ate it all and then helped Sherrie do the few dishes there were to do and put in the cabinets over the kitchen counter.

“Would you…” Bridgette started to say to Sherrie, hesitated, and then continued, “Would you show me around? What’s what? What I should do and shouldn’t do?”

Sherrie gave Bridgette a quick, hard hug, and said, “Sure. Not a lot to see, do, or even not do.”

David, for something to do, sat down at the communications console and took a good look at the gear there. He found the manuals for the various pieces of equipment and began to read as Sherrie and Bridgette talked softly behind him, and Aaron slept.

Aaron was up before noon and tried to contact Brian. No luck. The other three were waiting when he came back inside and shook his head. “But there is no reason to worry. He may be reluctant to go outside, or connect an outside antenna to any of his radios. It’s still early.

Aaron had seen Bridgette’s eyes cut to him, then away. But she was watching him like David and Sherrie when he explained about Brian. It was Bridgette that served Aaron one of the sandwiches that she and Sherrie had made for lunch.

When he said, “Thank you, Bridgette,” a weight seemed to have lifted from her shoulders.

It was the third day after the attack when Aaron made contact with Brian. It was a huge relief to hear that the three were doing fine. It was much as Aaron had thought. Brian had been reluctant to expose himself, or the radio, until the radiation had come down more. Brian had a reading of just under one roentgen per hour. Aaron’s meter was showing just over one. Still to high for anyone to go out without very good reason.

But both decided to risk the pair of FRS radios, and the fairly slim chance of more EMP, and hook the radios up to simple wire antennas outside their shelters so they could stay in touch.

Life went on in the shelters for the two weeks. Meals, sleep, and monitoring the radiation level. Sherrie and David had moved all their old DVD’s to the shelter, and the two couples had a movie night three times during the two weeks. Other than that, reading, monitoring the shortwave Aaron hooked to an outside antenna after the first full week in the shelter, sleeping, and eating, were the routine.

When the remote reading meter dropped below 0.10 r/hr, Aaron and David suited up in protective gear and went outside to decontaminate around the house. Aaron and Sherrie’s preparations made it easy.

A two-inch irrigation well for the garden had been drilled and Aaron had a gasoline engine driven pump for it, in addition to the electric motor. Though the generator was running to provide power inside the house for Sherrie and Bridgette, it wasn’t powerful enough to start the electric pump on the well. Aaron fired up the gasoline engine pump. It was equipped with fire hose couplings and David and Aaron used one-and-one-half inch fire hoses to wash the fallout particles down off the house, then off the grass to the storm sewer on the street.

That worked for the front and sides of the house where there was grass. Worked well on the greenhouse, yard shed, and grassy areas in back of the house. The garden was something else. That took hours of shovel work, over many days, to remove the top inch of soil of the garden, put it in wheelbarrows, and then bury it deeply at the back corner of the lot.

While Aaron and David were decontaminating the garden, still in their protective gear, Bridgette was helping Sherrie in the greenhouse, recovering all the plants that hadn’t died from lack of care or of radiation, and replanting those that had. Bridgette seemed to have a knack for the greenhouse work and the two of them had it ship shape long before the garden was. But the work was finally done and the garden planted.

The work on the house, in the garden and greenhouse done, the grisly task of cleaning up the bodies of the dead began. Bridgette simply couldn’t help. She would go almost comatose when the subject was even brought up.

But the work had to be done. There was already some predation of the decomposing bodies by carnivorous animals that had survived the radiation. They’d managed to ignore the faint odor while working around the house, but the smell was now untenable.

There was no way to dig individual graves. Aaron and David went down to an equipment rental place and Aaron drove a loader backhoe to the neighborhood and the two men suited up again, with respirators, for the task of digging a series of slit trenches, and moving the bodies in the loader bucket from where they were to the graves.

It was heart wrenching work, and Sherrie had to give it up, too. She and Bridgette found other things to do, including helping Brian decontaminate his and Michelle’s place after being dropped off there by Aaron so they wouldn’t have to experience the burial process in the Greenbrooks’ neighborhood. Michelle was only allowed out for a few minutes a day, and the baby not at all.

With Brian’s place shipshape, he went to help David and Aaron. When that neighborhood was clear of bodies the three men decided to do Brian’s. But as they were talking about it, a different decision was made.

All six, plus the baby, were in Brian’s shelter when Aaron suddenly asked, “Brian, how would you and Michelle feel about moving?”

“Moving where?” Brian asked. “And how?”

“Next to me and Sherrie. You, too, David. Bridgette. The houses on either side of me are empty. Need a thorough decontamination and cleaning, but if we’re all together, it is going to be so much easier to prove food for everyone, and protection. And I’ve been in both houses. Like ours, they both have fire places and can be heated with wood.”

“We just cleaned this place,” Michelle said.

“He has a point, Honey,” Brian said. “Aaron is taking a big risk leaving his place empty to come over here and help. What if some other survivors decide they deserve the place more than they do? It won’t likely happen if someone is there all the time. And we need to help with the garden and greenhouse. We could do a garden here, but without water…”

There was more discussion, but Brian and Michelle agreed to move in next to Aaron and Sherrie. David refused to commit until he checked his and Bridgette’s house. It was a very sad group that came back from there. The house, what hadn’t burned, was trashed. Apparently several of David’s and Bridgette’s neighbors had decided their house had the best basement and tried to shelter there.

There were signs of a regular gun battle, with empty cartridge cases all over the place, along with several bodies, including several women and children. Aaron and David were able to shield Bridgette from the worst of it, but she insisted on going inside and recovering a few things.

It made the decision to move easy for David and Bridgette. Michelle and Brian moved in with the other four for the duration, so no one would be left alone while the work was being done. It took three days using the Suburban and a trailer they found at one of the houses near Brian’s to get everything Michelle wanted moved immediately, for fear of losing it.

The decontamination work on the other two houses began the following day. Again Michelle was regulated to Mom duties, and preparing lunches and keeping cold water available for the five working.

David and Bridgette, suited up again, went through several of the nearby houses to get additional items, and replacements for some of the items in their new house they didn’t like. But finally, after three weeks of very hard work, the three families were settled.

Work on the garden and in the greenhouse had continued, and the back yards of both of the other houses were tilled and planted, in addition to Aaron’s and Sherrie’s garden. Not quite comfortable taking either Brian or David with him, and leaving the others at the houses for protection, Aaron decided it best if he and Sherrie did the reconnaissance work of looking for other survivors and items that would enhance the group’s ability to survive the future.

It was some time before they found other survivors, but they were lucky enough to find several tame rabbits living on their own in the basement of their former owners’ house. Rabbits, hutches, and paraphernalia were all moved to the group of houses and set up in one of the garages of a fourth house that had been cleaned for use as barn and storage.

Aaron was on the outlook for chickens and they ran the perimeter of town and managed to find more than they could handle. They collected, with difficulty, a couple of roosters and several hens. Enough fencing was scavenged to make a chicken pen, putting the coops in the second car slot of the two-car garage where the rabbits were.


Aaron and Sherrie found another place that had kept rabbits, but they were all dead. The worm beds under the hutches were fine, as where the hutches. Both were moved to the rabbit garage. The worms would be additional food for the chickens, if needed.

Michelle came running out of Aaron’s and Sherrie’s house, yelling. “Hey! I found somebody on the radio! Come quick!”

The other five came running from the various tasks they were doing under the constantly hazy sky. It hadn’t rained since the attack. Aaron almost fell going down the basement stairs and made himself calm down, and slow down, the rest of the way to the shelter.

“There!” Michelle said moments later. “That’s the frequency! I talked to them a little.”

Aaron picked up the microphone of the transceiver and keyed it. “Hello. This is Aaron Greenbrook. Is there anyone there?”

The speaker boomed and Aaron adjusted the volume for a lower, but clearer, sound level. “Hello! Thank God! There are other survivors! We thought we were the only ones,” came a female voice.

“No. There are more of us. Six and a baby here. But there have to be more. Where are you, approximately?”

There was silence for a moment. “My husband doesn’t want me to give you our location.”

“Understood,” Aaron said. “Have to be careful. We haven’t had any trouble yet, but we’ve grouped together for security. Can you tell me who you are?”

“Kelly Adamson, my husband Frank, my two sisters and their husbands and children, and two other people we took in.”

“Well, Kelly, it’s good to talk to you. I’d like to set up a regular radio schedule with you if that’s okay.”

Again silence. “Must be talking it over,” Sherrie whispered to the others.

“Frank says okay. What times?”

“Say, right about this time, on the hour, every day. Or every other day?”
“Okay. Every other day. That’s one o’clock my time,” Kelly said. “This frequency?”

“Yes.” Aaron named two other frequencies, just in case the conditions didn’t favor the one they were on.

It was a happy set of survivors that went back to work after the radio conversation. It was good to know, other than just have the belief, that others had made it and were doing well.

With the garden, greenhouse, rabbits, and chickens producing, the decision was made to extend their area of operations and look for additional survivors, as well as salvage anything they could to make life easier. Particularly food and fuel.

Plumbing supplies were located and water run from Aaron’s irrigation well to the other two houses. A home water system pump was installed large enough to supply the three houses with water, but that the generator would start and run. There was running water each morning, noon, and evening for two hours each time period.

The loader backhoe got a lot of use those few days, for septic systems were put into each front yard and the sewer lines from the houses were disconnected from the city sewer and attached to the septic tanks. All three houses were equipped with water and sewer.

“What about firewood?” Brian asked one day when a cold, hard rain kept everyone indoors at Aaron’s and Sherrie’s, sitting around the fireplace. “If there is a nuclear winter like I read about, we’re going to need a lot of firewood.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Aaron said. We could go to the forest and cut some, but it won’t be seasoned until next year. Certainly would burn, but at increased risk of creosote. What I was thinking, was we go to an abandoned neighborhood close, and start taking it apart for the wood to burn. We can stay closer to home that way. And there area plenty of abandoned buildings.”

“I like it!” David said. “Be quicker and easier and use less fuel.”

“I don’t know,” Brian said. “Doesn’t seem right. I haven’t had much problem with taking things we found, but destroying a whole house…”

David’s voice was harsh when he said, “My house was burned down! For no good reason! At least, if we use what we harvest, there is some justification.”

“I guess it isn’t like the owners are going to come back and complain,” Brian said. “I’m okay with it.” He looked over at Michelle. She was feeding the baby, but nodded in agreement.

The rest looked at Bridgette. She shrugged and said, “I’m okay either way.”

“I say we do it,” Sherrie said.

So, with salvaged chainsaws and other tools, a supply of former house parts was built up for winter use in the fireplaces. It was well that they started when they did. Fall came early, and winter wasn’t far behind. There were some losses in the gardens, but the three families, working in Aaron’s and Sherrie’s outdoor, wood fired kitchen, managed to put up over five-hundred jars of food, in varying sizes.

Not only were the fruits and vegetables from the gardens and Aaron’s and Sherrie’s small orchard, but the rabbits and chickens were culled and the meat and broth canned as well. The canned goods would be used as needed, keeping the LTS food that was left in reserve. The primary food supply would be from continued production of the rabbits, chickens, and from the greenhouse, as long as they could keep it warm enough with the wood heater in it.

As winter settled in, so did the group of survivors. Simple things were cooked in the fireplaces in each house, but a normal day found the main meal of the day being prepared in the outdoor kitchen at Aaron’s and Sherrie’s house and eaten in their dining room.

The outdoor kitchen was no longer technically outdoor. When Aaron had designed the house he had incorporated the means to enclose the outdoor kitchen area with screen panels for summer, and insulated panels for winter use. The use of the wood cooking stove and hot water heater was adequate to keep the space warm enough to work in.

A few more radio contacts were made, but no one close. At least, no one that would give their location. One of the contacts made Aaron a bit nervous when he heard Michelle talking to the man at the other site. There were too many questions about the group’s situation. Aaron shook his head when Michelle started to answer a request to get together.

Michelle hastily got up and let Aaron have the mike. “This is Aaron Greenbrook. Say you’re looking for a meet and greet?”

“That’s right. Looking to doing some trading, if we can. The lady was telling me you have rabbit meat, chicken meat and eggs. Fresh vegetables. Would really look forward to getting some of that.”

It just didn’t sound right to Aaron. “Where do you want to meet?” Aaron asked.

“The lady was just about to give me your location. Why don’t you do that and we’ll come to you. Save you the fuel of coming here.”

“Oh, I think meeting in a neutral place would be advisable. How far are you from Rolla?”

“Rolla? I thought…” The voice stopped for a few seconds, and then returned, a bit rougher sounding. “Rolla is a stretch for us. Thought you were closer to Jeff City.”

“That would be a stretch for us, but if you have some good things to trade, we’d still be interested.” Aaron unkeyed the mike and said to Michelle. “Get the others. I think we have a problem.” Michelle hurried away.

“What are you offering up in trade?” Aaron keyed the mike and asked.

“Well, now, that just depends on what you have,” replied the man.

“Like you mentioned. Some fresh and home canned vegetables and meat. Not many eggs. We use those. Do you have fuel? We could sure use some fuel.”

“Not for trade, no,” said the man. “Is that all you have? How many of you are there?”

“Just a few families,” Aaron replied. The others were coming into the shelter and Aaron made a keep quiet motion of his finger across his lips.

“I thought the woman said there were only a few of you.” The exasperation was obvious in the man’s voice.

David, Bridget, Sherrie, and Brian all looked at Michelle. She colored slightly and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry!”

“That’s right, just a few families. How about your place? How many survived where you are?”

There was no answer. After several seconds Aaron keyed the mike and said, “Hello. Anyone there?”

There was no answer and Aaron set the microphone down.

“I’m sorry,” Michelle said aloud. There were tears in her eyes.

Aaron shook his head. “It’s okay, Michelle. No harm done, I think. I tried to give the idea we were further away than he thought, and that there were more of us. If they were planning something nefarious, I think we have time to get ready for it, now, in case they do figure out where we are.”

“What do you mean?” Bridgette asked. Something nefarious?”

“Such as raiding us, taking our equipment and supplies, killing the guys, and taking us women as slaves,” Sherrie replied.

Michelle and Bridgette paled. Brian and David looked worried. Only Aaron showed little emotion to Sherrie’s remark. It was something they had talked about long ago and decided how to handle.

“I think we need to get everyone brought up to speed on self defense, and defense of the property,” Aaron said, eyeing Bridgette as he did so.

He could see the reluctance as soon as he said it.

“Bridgette, it will be for your protection, as well as all of us and what we have here.”

“There have been so many deaths…” Bridgette’s voice was soft. But she steeled herself and said, “But I don’t want to die. Not any more. I don’t know how much good I’ll be… But I’ll try.”

Next Aaron looked at Michelle. “I’ll do anything to protect little Jason!” Her voice was quavering, but her resolve was obvious.

David and Brian both indicated their willingness.

So, for those few days after the radio contact, Aaron put the other two couples through basic training on weapons handling, and the tactics they would use if attacked at their small community, or when someone was out scouting and looking for salvage.

Bridgette’s first attempt to shoot a handgun, a Ruger .22/45 that Aaron had, convinced everyone, including Bridgette, that she would be better off with the Ruger 10/22 .22 LR rifle in Aaron’s small arsenal.

Michelle and Brian opted for a pair of Bushmaster M-4 clones, and David, discovering to his surprise that he was a pretty good shot and liked shooting, took a rifle like Aaron used himself. A Fulton Armory semi-auto M-14 clone. Sherrie was happy with her Bushmaster M-4. Brian showed some affinity for a handgun and got Aaron’s old, inherited, GI issue Colt 1911A1. The other three simply weren’t cut out for handgun usage. It meant they had to keep their long guns at hand all the time, but after a week of prompting from Aaron and Sherrie, all started doing so religiously.

It was shortly after the training when they made their first face-to-face contact with local survivors.

Michelle was the first to notice them. She was outside her and Brian’s house, letting Jason get some open-air play time and saw two men walk around the far corner of their group’s street.

“Aaron!” she called, grabbing Jason and her carbine, and running toward Aaron’s and Sherrie’s house to get to the shelter with the baby, her assigned spot in case of trouble.

With a head motion, she indicated the people as she passed Aaron coming outside. The others went to their assigned positions to support Aaron, who had the lead in any contact scenario.

After looking around and seeing everyone taking their spots, Aaron started walking down the street toward the two men that had stopped when Michelle yelled. Aaron saw several more people come into view behind the first two, who were now walking toward Aaron. His heart fell, knowing that if the group was even remotely adequately armed, there was no hope for his group. But then he recognized the fact that there were several women in the group behind the two men, and of the group, there was only the sight of perhaps three long arms, besides the ones the two men were carrying.

Aaron stopped and let the two men come the rest of the way to him. Those behind the men stayed where they were. Both men had their long guns slung and Aaron made a point of doing the same, though he carefully moved the flap of the holster that held the Glock to give free access to it, if necessary.

The two men stopped twenty feet from Aaron. “Hello,” said one, rather loudly. He cleared his throat and spoke again, his voice a bit lower. “Hello. I’m Conrad Hillinggame. This is my son-in-law, Richard.” With a nod behind him, he added, “And that’s my family and a few friends banded together for protection.”

“Aaron Greenbrook. How can I help you?”

“Well, we saw your smoke and were hoping to camp for a few days nearby. We’re about out of food and need to try to salvage some. And some gasoline. We have a couple of vehicles that run, for the little ones, but we’re almost out of gas, too.”

“Can you assure me there won’t be any trouble?”

“Best I can, Mr. Greenbrook.”

“Give me a minute to check with my people.” Aaron turned around and trotted back to his house. He called the others over and explained the situation.

“I think we should,” Michelle said. “If they have small children…”

That was the consensus. So was the suggestion of letting them use the houses on the street facing theirs.

So the Hillinggame clan moved in across the street, taking five houses to accommodate them all. After some more discussion, Aaron and the others agreed to trade some of the home canned goods and a little gasoline to Hillinggame for his people to dismantle several more houses to provide firewood for Aaron’s group, using their own tools and equipment.

The Hillinggame group was not well organized. Aaron and the others realized the first day to deal only with Hillinggame or his son-in-law, or they would have people coming over for every little thing. It was bad enough that they were constantly drawing water from the frost-proof hydrant on the front of Aaron’s house.

There were requests to borrow just about everything imaginable from all the members. Aaron finally insisted that Hillinggame be the sole contact for the group. Everything had to come through him, except for drawing the water.

Aaron discovered that those in the group were using the flush toilets, hauling water to them, but all the toilets were soon backed up. Then they began using the bathroom here and there outside and in other houses. He insisted they dig latrines.

After two weeks, and the destruction of one of the houses the group was using due to an untended fire inside the house, Aaron talked it over with Sherrie, Brian, Michelle, David, and Bridgette. The talk didn’t take long. Despite their delight in there being other survivors, this particular bunch was going to eat them out of house and home, if not physically destroy the whole community by carelessness. Aaron was to ask Hillinggame to move on.

It did not go well. The clan had it good where they were and knew it. Conrad Hillinggame protested. In his words, “It’s a free country. We can live anywhere we want. We’re staying.”

Aaron cut the water supply off, drawing instant ire of the clan. “You can’t do that!” Conrad insisted. “We have children and babies that need that water.”

“You were managing before you got here. You can manage again. We’re not required to provide you with anything. We’ve given you food and fuel, and more than a generous helping of hospitality, and you’ve only produced perhaps one cord of useable firewood.”

“You’ll be sorry you did this!” Conrad said, his features distorting and his voice cold. Aaron almost drew his Glock when Conrad made a move Aaron took as threatening.

“I don’t like threats,” Aaron said, just as coldly. “You and your clan pack up and get out of here. You’ve got two days.”

Aaron wasn’t really sure what he and his group could do to get rid of the clan if they didn’t go voluntarily. But he didn’t have to come up with a plan. Though they took a full three days to actually leave, the clan started getting ready the day after Aaron gave his ultimatum.

Though Aaron didn’t believe Conrad in the least, when he told Aaron they would need more gasoline to go, Aaron gave them another five gallons, adding half of the can to each of the two old cars that were used to haul the children and much of the group’s possessions.

Each of the three families watched from the porches of their houses as the group left, strung out in a long line, with little organization that Aaron could determine.

For three nights Aaron stayed up, worried that there might be some retaliation. Worried that Conrad would follow through on his threat. But nothing happened and the group went back to their normal routine.

The greenhouse, rabbits, and chickens kept them going that winter and into spring. The snow had just melted away around the houses when a man came walking up the street, a backpack and rifle on his back. Aaron was in the process of tilling up the front yard of Brian’s and Michelle’s house so they could put in additional garden that summer. Aaron looked up to see the man within a hundred feet of the yard.

Quickly Aaron killed the tiller and lifted one of the group’s FRS radios to his lips to sound an alert. With a quick glance over at the porch, Aaron decided not to go for his rifle leaning against the railing. He had the Glock on his hip and if anything happened it would have to do. The others should be getting into position to cover him with long arms, anyway.

“Hello,” Aaron said when the man was a bit closer. “How can I help you?”

“Passing through. Heard the motor and came to see who might have gas left.”

“A little, yes. Don’t think we can trade any, though.”

“As you can see, I’m walking,” replied the man.

To Aaron the laugh sounded forced. There was just something about the man that Aaron didn’t like. I could be, Aaron decided, the fact the man was well on the chubby side. Aaron and the rest of the group had all lost weight from pre-attack levels, though all had been rather trim, anyway.

“We can share a meal, though,” Aaron said, “in return for information about the outside world.”

“Sounds fair enough,” said the man. “I’m Ted Burke, by the way.” He didn’t put out his hand to shake Aaron’s. Instead he turned toward the middle house, Aaron’s and Sherrie’s. That sent bells ringing in the back of his mind. How would he know which house they would be eating in?

“Let me give my wife a little notice. You know how women are.”

The man frowned, but stopped at the small porch. “Sure. I guess so.”

Aaron went inside. Sherrie was standing near the living room window, out of sight. “I don’t like it,” Aaron said quickly. Go let the other’s know to stay out of sight, but ready. Then, if you could put together a couple of sandwiches, and stay loose, we’ll see what happens.”

Sherrie nodded and lifted the FRS radio to her lips. But Aaron shook his head. “He… They… might have FRS radios.”

Sherrie nodded again and headed for the back of the house. Aaron turned to the door and opened it, to find Ted already coming up the steps. “Come on in,” Aaron said, not liking it, but going with the hurried plan. “You can drop your gear there in the corner.”

The man took off the backpack and set it down. Aaron could see the man hesitate about taking the rifle off his shoulder, but he did, leaning it upright in the corner. “Come on in to the living room and have a seat. My wife should be back shortly.”

“Where’d she go?” asked Ted. It was obvious he didn’t like the fact that she’d left.

“Out to the root cellar to get a couple of potatoes,” Aaron replied easily. He was sitting much like Ted. On the edge of the seat so he could draw the Glock quickly if he needed to.

“So,” Aaron said, to make conversation and gain some time for the others to get into position, “Where’d you come from, and where are you headed?”

“Oh, been about. Don’t really know where I’ll go from here.”

“What kind of news can you pass on? Do you know of any other survivors close?”


“Not too much, I’m afraid,” replied Ted. “Haven’t run into many people since I left… home. This area is pretty deserted from what I have found. We’re lucky we found you. I mean I found you.”

“We?” Aaron had picked up the slip. He was reaching for the Glock. Ted saw the move and reached for his own pistol.

“Easy there!” came Sherrie’s voice from the kitchen doorway. She had her carbine pointed at Ted.

Ted began to curse as Aaron reached over and took the pistol from his hand. When Aaron saw the others of his group begin to come in he said, “Brian, David, Bridgette, take up positions outside. Keep a lookout. I don’t think he’s alone.”

“You’d best let me go and we’ll let bygones be bygones,” Ted said, standing up slowly, his hands held to his sides. “You do anything I don’t like and my people will kill you all, including the baby.”

“You seem to know a little about us,” Aaron said. He’d seen Sherrie jump at the mention of the baby. Michelle was still down in the shelter with him.

“Mouthy gentleman we ran across with a group. Had a lot of bad things to say about you before we let him and his group go, minus a few, and hungry.”

“Minus a few?” Aaron asked.

“A couple tried to fight. They died. Actually had a couple want to join us. Took them right in. Could make the offer to you, but… I doubt you’d take me up on it.”

Aaron didn’t like the way the man was standing easy, despite two guns held on him. “Down on the floor. Spread eagled.”

Ted didn’t like it at all. “I’m telling you, things will go easier if you just let me go.”

“Down,” Aaron replied, motioning with his Glock.

Ted got on the floor as instructed. “Sherrie, shoot him in the head if he makes a move. I’m going to search him.” Sherrie took a step forward and held the carbine muzzle close to Ted’s head. Aaron very carefully began to search Ted.

He was glad he did when he found and removed two additional handguns, and three knives

“I am so going to kill you and take your wife for this!” Ted growled.

He started to get up but Aaron said, “Stay right there.” He looked over at Sherrie. “Get some zip-ties.”

Sherrie disappeared for a few seconds and then returned, a pair of long zip-ties in her hand. She handed them to Aaron.

Aaron went down to one knee as Sherrie held her carbine on Ted again. Ted resisted the movement, but Aaron got his hands together and the zip-tie around them and locked. Aaron stood up and told Sherrie, “Take up a position by the window. I’m going to get him up and get him outside. We’ll see how it goes from there. Shoot him if he tries anything.”

A tightlipped and obviously scared Sherrie nodded and carefully moved around the two to take up her position, keeping the carbine pointed at Ted.

“Okay, Ted,” Aaron said. “Up. Slowly and carefully.”

Anger burning in his eyes Ted did so. He was simply waiting for the right opportunity. The humiliation of being caught and tied up was infuriating. “You’re a dead man, I’m telling you. One last chance. Cut me loose and we’ll leave.”

“You’ll leave anyway,” Aaron said, assuming a calm demeanor, despite his fear.

With Ted a few feet in front of him, Aaron went out into the street and yelled, “I’ve got Ted under a dozen guns. If you want him to live, someone better come get him and we’ll discuss…”

There was the sound of a shot, and Ted dropped to the ground. Aaron did, too. “Thanks for the opportunity, mister! Give us some food and gas and we’ll leave you alone.”

It was only then that Aaron realized that one of his own people had shot, not at Aaron, but at Ted, killing him, from the amount of blood now pooling around his head.

“No food, no gasoline!” Aaron yelled back. “Leave and live!”

Another shot came and this one was aimed at Aaron. It missed, but sparked the pavement right beside him. Aaron didn’t hesitate. He scrambled up and ran a zig-zag course to the nearest cover. The corner of his house.

Several more shots sounded from down the road. With only his pistol, Aaron felt helpless. But then more shots came, and screams and yells from where the attackers were. Several people ran toward Aaron. They were firing behind them. One after another they fell, long before they were in Aaron’s accurate pistol range.

He heard Sherrie fire twice through the open door. There were several shots from Bridgette’s carbine, too. Aaron couldn’t figure out why Brian and David weren’t shooting. Finally after another flurry of shots, and all the people that had run into view down, Aaron heard David’s voice call to him, not from his assigned position, but from down the street. “Aaron! Sherrie! Bridgette! Don’t shoot! It’s me, David, and Brian! We’re coming up!”

To Aaron’s surprise David and Brian marched a half a dozen people up the street at gun point, two of them women.

“Sherrie, more zip-ties,” Aaron said, stepping from behind the corner of the house. Sherrie didn’t reply but was soon back at the door.

“Here, Aaron,” she said, reaching out to Aaron while staying under the cover of the doorway framing. Aaron took them and went to meet Brian and David and their captives, picking up his rifle from where it leaned against the porch.

There was silence as the hands of the captives were tied behind their backs. At least two of the men were bleeding from minor wounds. All stood silently as David, his eyes bright with excitement explained what had occurred.

“I know we were supposed to stay in our positions,” David began, “but we saw some movement down the road when you and the guy went inside the house. I went to investigate and found the group, in the midst of an argument among themselves.

“They weren’t paying any attention to the house, except for one guy with a scoped rifle. I knew Brian and I could take them if we could surprise them so I went to get Brian, staying low. We got into position just about the time you brought the guy out and hollered.

“I’ve got to say, it surprised the you know what out of me when the guy with the scoped rifle aimed and fired. I shot him, but I was too late. I thought he’d got you for sure, Aaron. Brian and I started firing from cover and the group just suddenly erupted into a gun battle among themselves. I don’t think any of them knew Brian and I were anywhere close.

“But some of them finally realized that we were there and started shooting at us and running away. These threw down their guns and put their hands up. I almost just shot them where they stood, but I saw you then and didn’t.”

Aaron looked over at Brian. He was holding steady, but was pale as a ghost. “What are we going to do with them?” Brian asked.

It was a question on everyone’s mind.

“Do they have much with them?” Aaron asked.

“Didn’t look like it, but I didn’t take a close look,” David said.

Aaron turned to the captives. “Where’s your camp?” Silence.

“Are there any more of you out there somewhere?” Still silence.

“Okay,” Aaron said after the last two questions. “Get them over by the porch of the house, sitting down. I’m going to go check things myself, see if I can find a camp. Give them water, one at a time, if they ask for it. If I’m not back in an hour, kill them.”

Brian gasped, but David just nodded.

“You won’t find anything,” said one of the women.

“Really?” Aaron asked. “Why?”

“There’s nothing out there. Just what we carried with us. Ted made us come down here from Jefferson City after that other group told him about your setup here.”

“Are there more out there?” Aaron asked again, speaking directly to the woman.

“No.” She hung her head. “The ones you didn’t kill, we killed ourselves.” She suddenly lunged at one of the men. “You killed Harry! I’m going to kill you!”

David dragged the woman away from the man as she screamed in anger. “You’ll never have me! I’ll kill myself first!”

“That’s enough!” Aaron said. It was pretty obvious that the small group of people weren’t all that fond of one another. He looked at David. “I’ll be back in less than an hour if there’s nothing there. If I’m not, you’ll know they lied. Kill them, just like I said.”

David nodded and Brian looked sick. Rifle over one shoulder, Glock in hand, Aaron started walking down the street as David ushered the captives to the porch of Aaron’s and Sherrie’s house.

It didn’t take any skill to find where the attacking group had stopped to wait for Ted to call them in. There wasn’t really even a camp. Just backpacks sitting here and there. Mindful of the time, Aaron went through the packs. Just the minimums to make a hard trip here. Only a little food left. But lots of ammunition. There were the right number of packs for the number of living and dead of the attacking group.

Aaron checked the bodies of the dead and gathered weapons and ammunition from them, adding it to the pile he’d taken from the packs. After hesitating for a few moments, Aaron came to a decision. He went back to the packs, emptied them out completely and then, using the worst of the goods, put six light packs together, with enough equipment for the six captives, and all the food that was left.

He went back to the house and called his group together. They stood close to the captives, but out of whispered earshot. “Here’s what I want to do,” Aaron said. “I put together six light packs for them, including all the food from all the packs. I say we let them go, with one .22 rifle for hunting. And instructions not to come back.”

“I think I like your idea of just shooting them,” David said, his voice cold, his hard eyes on the captives as he spoke.

“Oh, David! No!” Michelle said, holding her baby close.

“No, on that idea,” Brian said, his words coming immediately after Michelle had spoken.

“I agree,” Sherrie said. “We can’t just kill them in cold blood. With only one rifle among them, they shouldn’t be a danger to us.”

“I agree with David,” Bridgette suddenly said. “Just kill them. They would have us.”

It surprised all of them, including David.

“Uh… I might have been a little harsh,” David said slowly. Killing them while they were attacking us, I didn’t have a problem with. I’m not sure I could execute them.”

“Whatever,” Bridgette said then, with a shrug of her shoulders.

“If it is agreed then, let’s get them up and out of here,” Aaron said. He waited for nods all around before he went over to address the captives.

“Okay, people. We’re going to turn you loose, with enough gear for the six of you, and all your own food supplies. We’ll include the single shot .22 somebody had, and a box of .22’s.”

There were immediate cries of despair.

“That’s not enough!”

“Where will we go?”

“Just a single shot .22! What if we’re attacked?”

“Let me stay here,” one of the women said, starting to cry. “I’ll be your slave! I don’t want to go back out there!”

Aaron turned a cold shoulder to the group. “Get them up. Don’t untie them until we’re at their gear. Sherrie, you and Bridgette take up positions again. Michelle, back into the shelter with the baby, in case this goes wrong.”

He, David, and Brian help the captives to their feet as the women took their assigned positions. With the one woman still crying, and a couple of the men muttering angrily, Aaron, Brian, and David marched them back down the road to their belongings.

“This is all?” asked one of the men when Aaron pointed out the six backpacks and single-shot .22 rifle.

“That’s all. Come back and we’ll kill you on sight,” David said, his voice as cold as his look.”

“But what about my husband’s stuff?” asked one of the women.

“Yeah. That other stuff, too. It’s ours! You can’t just take it from us!”

“Spoils of war,” Aaron said. “Keep it up and you get nothing but the clothes on your backs. If we continue to let you live.”

With little more said, Brian cut the zip-ties loose, and the six began to shoulder their packs. There were quiet, but intense words, between two of the men over who would carry the rifle. A decision was made and everyone lined up to head down the street, away from the three standing ready.

They weren’t ready enough. Not being experienced in such things, the pat downs that Brian had done had not been that thorough, especially the women’s. Aaron, Brian, and David were starting to relax when the woman that had cried, seemed to stumble, and one of the men moved to help her.

It was only when the pistol came up and fired did Aaron, Brian, and David realize what was happening. Brian went down before any of the three could react, but Aaron and David began to fire as the man fired again and again.

But three shots were all he got off. Aaron’s return fire had put him down. David kept firing until all six of the group lay dead on the ground. Then he went to his knees and dropped the rifle. “I’m hit,” he said softly and fell over to one side.

Aaron stood there for a long moment, stunned at the turn of events. Then he ran up the street, yelling. “Get the first-aid kit! Get the first-aid kit! Brian and David have been shot!”

He turned around and went back to the fallen men upon seeing Sherrie react to his call. Aaron checked Brian first and was relieved to see him starting to turn over and groan where he lay on the ground. “I’m okay,” Brian said through teeth clenched from the pain. “Check David.”

Aaron went over to David and began to check for the wound. Only when he got David turned over on his back did he see the bullet entry point, low and on the right side of David’s pelvis. There had been no exit wound in the back. The bullet was still in David.

Sherrie and Bridgette came running up to them, Sherrie carrying the large first-aid kit awkwardly. Bridgette dropped her Ruger 10/22 and knelt beside David, tears in her eyes. “Bridgette, press here where I am while I get into the first-aid kit!”

Bridgette replaced Aaron’s hand with both of hers, putting her weight on her arms to stop the pulsing blood coming from the would.

“Take care of Brian,” Aaron told Sherrie, pulling the first-aid kit within reach. He reached to one of the external pockets, where he knew a blood stopper military trauma bandage was located. He applied the bandage to the wound, Bridgette helping him get the bandage wrapped around David’s hips. The motion brought a grunt of pain from David.

Aaron looked at Bridgette. “Can you go get the stretcher from the basement?”

Bridgette wiped more tears from her eyes and nodded. Then she was gone, running in the ground eating lope of tall, slender people in a hurry.

“How is he?” Brian asked, lying on his back as Sherrie cut away the left leg of his jeans to get at the wound high on his thigh.

“It’s going to be close,” Aaron said. “What do you have here, Sherrie?”

“Bullet went through. Don’t think it hit a bone. Lot’s of blood, but none spurting. I don’t think it hit an artery, just veins.”

Aaron helped Sherrie apply two of the blood stopper trauma bandages to Brian’s leg. One on the entrance wound, and one on the larger, more jagged exit wound. Then Bridgette was back with the stretcher, panting for breath.

Sherrie, at Brian’s insistence, moved over to help Aaron and Bridgette get David onto the stretcher. “I’ll be all right!” Brian insisted again. “Take care of David!”

With Aaron at the head of the stretcher and Bridgette and Sherrie at the other end, they moved as fast as they could toward Aaron’s and Sherrie’s house. It took all their strength, but finally were at the garage. After setting down the stretcher, Aaron ran inside the garage through the side door and opened the vehicle door.

He pulled a worktable from the rack that held it and opened it up. Bridgette and Sherrie helped Aaron lift the stretcher to the table. Aaron checked for a pulse and found one. Faint, but there. “I need the first-aid kit,” he said. The two women ran off again.

Bridgette was back quickly with the first-aid kit. She dragged a rolling toolbox close and opened the first-aid kit on it for easy access by Aaron.

The first bandage was soaked through with blood and Aaron applied another, this one a similar bandage, but without the blood clotter ingredient. David hadn’t stirred in some time and was getting pale.

“Aaron?” Bridgette asked, looking at him.

“I don’t know, Bridgette,” Aaron said softly. “My first-aid classes didn’t really cover injuries of this magnitude. I’ve checked his pelvis the best I can. I don’t think anything is broken in there, but I do think the bullet is lodged. If we can control the bleeding, and then get plenty of fluids into him, he has a good chance.”

Bridgette nodded. “Can we move him into the house? I don’t like him being out here in the garage.”

“Of course, Bridgette. As soon as Sherrie gets back. I’ll go ahead and set up another table in the living room.”

Bridgette held David’s hand while Aaron pulled another of the work tables from its rack and took it inside to set up. When came back to the garage, Sherrie was helping Brian inside. He was pale and obviously in pain, but gamely continued, taking the steps up to the kitchen from the garage slowly, with Sherrie supporting him.

Sherrie got Brian settled in Aaron’s recliner and then ran down to the shelter to get Michelle. Sherrie explained what had happened and then the two women hurried back upstairs. Michelle went to the recliner and began fussing around Brian.

Sherrie hurried back to the garage, and she, Bridgette, and Aaron maneuvered David and the stretcher into the house and put him on the table in the living room. David let out a loud groan and opened his eyes.

“Oh, man! That hurts! I got shot, didn’t I?”

“You sure did, buddy,” Aaron replied, studying David’s face closely. He was still pale, but not quite as bad as he had been. Aaron dug into the first-aid kit again and took out a ditty bag filled with bottles of medication.

“I’ve got Tylenol 3,” Aaron said. “You think you can take it okay?”

“I have before,” David replied.

Aaron shook out two of the tablets, hesitated, and then added a third. Bridgette was already getting a glass of water for him. Aaron helped David sit up enough to take the medicine and a drink of water.

“I need you to drink some of this when I get it mixed up,” Aaron said, showing David the package of re-hydration mix he took out of the first-aid kit. You aren’t dehydrated, but we need to bulk up your blood and since we don’t have any IV’s, this is the only way I know to build up blood quickly. This and beef broth.”

“Yuck!” David said.

“You’ll take it and like it,” Bridgette said, taking the packed of re-hydration salts from Aaron and heading for the kitchen again, with David’s glass. She was back a few minutes later with the glass, filled with the solution.


Again Aaron helped David sit up enough to drink the liquid. “Need you to get some rest, now,” Aaron said, taking the pillow Sherrie had brought from one of the bedrooms. He put it under David’s head to make him a bit more comfortable. Aaron helped Sherrie flip a blanket over him to keep him warm and reduce the possibility of shock. Aaron was more than a little surprised that David hadn’t gone into shock deeper than he had.

“Keep an eye on his breathing, Bridgette,” Aaron said as he walked into the dining room area to get a chair for her.

Aaron went over to the recliner where Brian was sitting. “How you doing, Brian?”

“Hurts. A lot.”

Aaron nodded and went through the same procedure he had with David. Michelle hurried to the kitchen for water when Aaron took out the Tylenol 3 and handed Brian two of them. After Brian had taken the medicine, Aaron checked the bandages. They seemed to have stopped the bleeding. Only a tiny spot of blood showed on the surface of the bandage on the exit wound.

“Aaron?” Bridgette suddenly said, looking over at him and Brian. “Aaron, I don’t think David is breathing.”

Aaron spun around and checked David. He felt for a pulse, but found none. He began CPR, with Sherrie joining him to provide the breathing, but after what seemed an interminable amount of time Aaron had to stop. David had not responded in any way.

Tears in his eyes, Aaron looked at Bridgette. She was still holding David’s hand. “I’m sorry, Bridgette. He’s not responding and I just can’t go on. It’s been over ten minutes…”

“Ten minutes?” Bridgette asked.

Sherrie put an arm over Bridgette’s shoulders. “Honey, this long, even with CPR… There would be brain damage…”

Bridgette began to cry again, quietly, holding David’s hand in both of hers. Aaron and Sherrie exchanged looks and just let her cry for a little while.

Sherrie took the baby from Michelle and kept an eye on Bridgette as Aaron and Michelle got Brian up and moved him to the spare bedroom to make him more comfortable. With Brian settled, Michelle at his side, Sherrie took the baby in and handed him to Michelle and then went back to Bridgette, with Aaron.

“Bridgette,” Aaron said softly.

After a few moments Bridgette looked up at Aaron, tears still streaming down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Bridgette,” Aaron said. “I did everything I knew to do.”

“I know, Aaron. What should we do, now?”

Aaron covered David’s face with the blanket and Sherrie gently disengaged David’s hand from Bridgette’s, and took her out of the room.

Aaron was sitting on the sofa, his head on his hands when Sherrie came back into the living room. Bridgette was lying down on the sofa in the basement family room. For a few minutes Sherrie sat beside Aaron while he cried quietly for the loss of his friend, and his inability to have prevented it.

But finally Aaron stirred. “I’ll go get the grave dug. I don’t think we should wait on this,” he told Sherrie.

She nodded. “I’ll get him ready.”

“Are you sure?” Aaron asked.


Aaron headed out of the house, going to the loader backhoe parked with the other equipment they’d collected over the months, as it was needed. It didn’t take long to dig the grave for David, and not that much longer to dig a slit trench for the dead attackers.

After taking the time to search the bodies and gathering everything of use, Aaron simply used the bucket of the loader backhoe to scoop up the bodies and dump them in the slit trench and cover them back up.

Aaron loaded the items he’d taken from the bodies into the loader bucket and went back to his house. He unloaded the things and put them in the garage for the moment.

It was a struggle for Sherrie to handle one end of the stretcher by herself, with Aaron on the other end, but she managed. The two set the stretcher in the loader bucket. Sherrie tossed some things into the bucket at the end of the stretcher and Aaron took the body to the grave as Sherrie walked along side.

It wasn’t pleasant nor elegant getting David from the stretcher into the grave. Aaron took the sheet Sherrie handed him and spread it out in the bottom of the grave. There was nothing to do but for Aaron to wrap his arms around David’s chest from behind and drag him down the slope he’d left to the bottom of the grave. It took a couple of minutes to get David positioned and wrapped in the sheet.

The two walked back to their house to get Bridgette. Michelle followed along slowly behind the others as they walked to the gravesite behind the house David and Bridgette had been using.

Aaron took a small bible from his hip pocket and read a few words over the body. “Bridgette,” Aaron asked, “Do you want to say a few words?”

Bridgette just shook her head and turned away. Michelle walked back to Sherrie’s and Aaron’s house with her. Sherrie waited for Aaron to fire up the loader and fill the grave. She stayed with him as he parked the loader backhoe and then walked back to the house.

Aaron checked on Brian. Michelle made a quiet motion. Brian was asleep, the sleeping baby cradled in his arms. Aaron nodded and backed out of the room quietly. He and Sherrie went into the basement. Bridgette was sitting on the sofa, sobbing. Sherrie sat down beside her and took Bridgette into her arms to comfort her.

Aaron, at a loss, went back upstairs and into the garage to sort through the attackers’ things, for something to do. He made three piles. One of things he’d throw away, one of things the group would keep and use, and a third, of things that they would trade off if they ever had the chance.

That task done, Aaron went out to the gardens and did a little work. He decided not to start the roto-tiller again. Its noisiness just didn’t seem to be right, in the circumstances. Aaron went inside at dark. Michelle, with the baby propped on her hip, was helping Sherrie with supper preparation in the outdoor kitchen.

It was a somber meal. Bridgette ate very little. None of them ate all that much. Except for the baby. Michelle had become adept at taking care of him under post attack conditions. The baby food grinder and reusable diapers and cleansing towels meant a bit more work, but that was better than doing without.

Sherrie took Aaron aside after the two cleared the table. “Michelle is going to stay over with Brian and the baby, tonight. I’m going to see if Bridgette will stay, too. I hate for her to be in her house, alone, this soon after…”

Aaron nodded, and Sherrie went to talk to Bridgette. No one stayed up very late. All were exhausted from the day’s events, physically and emotionally. When Sherrie slipped under the bed clothes to join Aaron, she started to cry. Aaron hugged her to him and the two cried together until both fell asleep.

It was a somber three days as Bridgette and the other’s grieved David’s loss. But life had to go on. To help out Michelle with the baby and with Brian out of commission for a while, Bridgette moved into their house to lend a hand. Helping with the baby seemed to be the high point of Bridgette’s day.

She did her other work automatically, but quietly. The times with the baby were the only times any of the others saw her smile.

There was plenty of work to keep everyone busy, especially with the loss of two able-bodied people to do it. But Brian finally was back on his feet, able to look after the baby, and do a bit of work in the green house. He was back at almost full speed by the time the regular gardens were ready for harvest.

There was more to put up for the winter, even without David there to help. Everyone except the baby worked late hours day after day to get the harvest in and either canned, or put in the root cellar that had been installed.

Thanksgiving was a somber event, despite the tremendous harvest. The fears of a nuclear winter were fading as the weather had been well within the normal extremes for the last twelve months.

Christmas, on the other hand, was a joyous time, not just for the basic reason of the holiday, but because it was the day that the Missouri National Guard came to town, doing a census, medical inspection, and voluntary evacuation.

The commander of the expedition was vocal in his praise of the group, and their rugged persistence in having made it through the attack and months following. Those in charge of handing out needed supplies were amazed that the group needed very little of what the convoy carried. Additional salt and sugar, canning lids, and some meat other than rabbit or chicken.

When Major Fontaine asked if anyone wanted to be evacuated, he was a little surprised when Bridgette stepped forward. “I would. If you have a camp where I can do something productive.”

Aaron, Sherrie, Brian, and Michelle weren’t that surprised at her choice. She was only going through the motions.

“Pretty much everyone works,” the Major said. “Not a work camp, mind you, but people doing what they can to help out in an organized way.”

Bridgette nodded. “Who do I see?”

“Lieutenant Martha Chambers. She’s in charge of evacuees.”

Bridgette nodded and walked off to find the Lieutenant.

“Anyone else?” the Major asked.

The four looked around at each other, but none made a move to indicate their wish to leave.

“Very well, then. There will be regular patrols through. They will be accompanied by various reputable traders so you will be able to get some of the limited commercial goods that are available, as well as agricultural products that you can’t produce yourselves. There will be doctor, dentist, ophthalmologist, and OBGYN with the groups as well. Pay what you can for their services, between you and them.”

“Do you have communications?” the Major asked.

“Yes, sir, we do,” Aaron said. “High frequency Amateur radio.”

The Major gave Aaron a list of frequencies that the National Guard monitored. “If you have an emergency, call us and we’ll do what we can. Not many helicopters left flying, but if one is available and it is deemed appropriate, one will be dispatched for extreme medical emergencies.”

Aaron nodded. “Anything else we can do for you?” asked the Major.

“Salvage,” Aaron asked. “We’ve done a limited amount of it, partly because of fear of repercussions, but also because of the brigands that have shown up from time to time.”

“Not many of them left. This area isn’t scheduled to be mined for some time. Don’t be destructive, but take what you need where you find it obviously abandoned. Everyone seems to be going armed outside the few safe cities. I’d advise you continue to carry, but be very careful how you use them. There is law in the land, and criminals will be punished, but we can’t be everywhere, all the time. Try to capture any transgressors alive and hold them for one of our patrols. Document what happened, and if it’s a clear cut case you won’t be bothered with much legalities. If it is marginal, you’ll have to defend your actions in court. Not something you want to have to do.”

“Thank you, Major. We won’t keep you. We know you have others to visit.”

“We do, sir. And it is I who wish to thank you. You’ve done well for yourselves. And that means for the country. The more of your type of people we find, the more I think this country will come back stronger than ever.”

With that the Major turned on his heel and walked back to his command vehicle. The four went back to stand in Aaron’s and Sherrie’s yard to wait for the items they’d requested to be delivered. They didn’t have to wait long. The supply sergeant and two of his helpers came up carrying several boxes. Bridgette was with them.

The soldiers set the goods down on the porch and left after Aaron signed for them. “I only have a few minutes,” Bridgette said, in passing, as she went over to Brian’s and Michelle’s house. She came back a few minutes later carrying the two suitcases she and David had brought with them after the attack started.

She set them down and shared hugs with the four adults, and a quiet moment with the baby. The baby began to cry and Michelle took him back, tears in her own eyes.

“I want to thank you two for saving me,” Bridgette told Sherrie and Aaron. “And David, for as long as I had him after the attack. I’m sorry I didn’t learn earlier. I might have been able to prevent what happened to David. Good-bye.”

Bridgette turned and picked up the bags, and walked resolutely to join the convoy as engines fired up all along the line. The last the group saw of their friend was as she was helped into one of the trucks carrying evacuees.

“You think she’ll be okay?” Sherrie asked Aaron, holding his hand and leaning against him slightly.

“I think so. She’s learned much, and her attitudes have changed. Going to miss her,” Aaron said.

“We all are. But it’s probably for the best,” Sherrie said. “She should be able to find someone that will suit her and settle down again, helping out wherever she can.”

“What did the doc say about your thigh, Brian?” Aaron asked.

“Said it was fine. You guys did great. But I’m glad there will be medical help available now. Michelle is pregnant again.”

After the congratulations were over, Sherrie cleared her throat. “I’m glad, too, because I’m pregnant, too.”

Aaron gave his wife a surprised look, but suddenly grinned and took her into a bear hug before Michelle could. “I guess life is getting back to normal,” he said.

Copyright 2008
Jerry D Young