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Planning Pays Off chapters 3 and 4

Jerry D. Young Library

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Planning Pays Off - Chapter 3

As it turned out, he didn’t have any better ideas the next morning when he woke up than he had when he went to sleep the previous night. Rather than possibly wake those in the retreat, Sven went outside and used the outhouse.

He was shivering when he came back inside. The snow had stopped, but the temperature had dropped even more, despite the cloud clover. It took a few minutes to get the fire going well again. Sven picked up one of the stainless steel buckets kept in the hunting cabin and filled it with water from the pitcher pump on the kitchen counter by the sink.

After pouring a bit of the water into the cast iron kettle on one of the swing arms of the fireplace, he swung the kettle over the now roaring flames. When the water was hot, he scrubbed out the kettle and dumped it down the kitchen drain, rinsed and drained it again, and then put it back on the swing arm. He filled it with water from the bucket and swung the kettle back over the flames.

The water was just getting hot when Belinda, Pru, Elaine, and Traven came upstairs. “Why are you heating water in the fireplace?” Traven asked. “There is hot water in the retreat. And how is that possible, anyway?”

“Don’t want to waste resources. Yeah, there’s hot water available, but I’ll eventually be out of fuel, except for wood.”

All four had the good grace to look sheepish, as each one had luxuriated during the long hot shower each took.

To change the subject, Traven asked, “Are we going hunting to get something for breakfast?”

“But there is plenty of fo..” Belinda started saying, but flushed and fell silent. There was plenty of food in the retreat. But Sven had a point. It would run out soon enough. Especially if the four of them stayed. It was obvious that Sven had created the retreat with more than one person in mind, but she had to wonder if the additional occupants would have brought their own supplies.

“No,” Sven said. “Go ahead and fix something for yourselves for breakfast. I want to get the bodies buried before they draw scavengers.”

Pru and Elaine looked a bit ill suddenly, when Sven mentioned the bodies.

“I’ll help,” Traven said immediately.

“Okay,” Sven said. “Let’s go.”

Traven hurriedly got into the oversize coat and stepped to the door. Before Sven had to remind him, Traven went over to the counter, picked up the Berretta Cheetah, and holstered it. Sven was doing the same, putting on the Carhatts he shed the night before, and then the combat harness. PTR in hand, Sven led the way outside, Belinda watching the two closely.

She shook her head, and then turned to the entrance to the retreat shelter. Going down stairs, with the other two following shortly after, Belinda set about investigating the retreat the way Traven had the night before. The only thing she’d seen when Traven had been exploring was the pantry with food stocks in it.

Frowning, she looked over the contents of the pantry, but smiled when she found a cook book suited for the types of stored food Sven had.

“You going to be okay?” Sven asked Traven shortly after they went out and began to drag the first body toward the forest.

Despite looking a bit green around the gills, Traven nodded and kept pulling on the man’s arm. Sven had the other arm. At a likely looking spot Sven stopped and dropped the dead man’s arm. “There is a pick-mattock in the rack on the Suburban. Would you go get it, please? Here’s the remote to turn off the alarms.”

Traven’s eyes widened in surprise when Sven gave him the remote with several keys hanging from its ring. “You trust me not to take off in it?”

“Can’t I?” Sven asked in return.

“Yes, of course you can.” A moment’s pause and Traven added, “Thanks.” Sven smiled at the boy. He was growing up very fast.

Sven had the dead man stripped by the time Traven got back with the pick-mattock. He looked a little green again at the sight of the stripped body. He handed the pick-mattock to Sven when he asked for it. Fortunately the rains before the snow had started had washed most of the blood from the handle. But the moist ground had frozen during the night a couple of inches deep.

Marking out a rectangle on the ground, Sven set aside the PTR-91 and began to use the pick end of the pick mattock to break up the frozen surface of the ground. With a layer loosened, Sven took a rest while Traven shoveled out the loose material. They worked that way until Sven set the pick-mattock aside. “Deep enough for these scum,” he said.

Traven put down the shovel and helped Sven drag the body into the hole. They let it fall and didn’t bother to try to arrange it any better than it had landed. The two took turns filling the shallow grave.

“We going to say words or anything?” Traven asked Sven.

“I’m not. Do as you think best.”

Traven looked a bit uneasy, but finally just said, “Good riddance.”

Sven hid his smile and picked up the pick-mattock again. Before he started to use it, however, he put it down and took off the combat harness and heavy parka. He was working up a sweat using the tools. That was dangerous in this kind of weather.

When the second grave was ready, Sven and Traven moved the body. After a bit of hesitation, Traven pitched in and helped Sven strip the body. He asked, “What do we do with their stuff?”

“In my way of thinking, anyone that attacks me, and I manage to defeat, their belongings are the spoils of war and therefore I will take anything I want that is useful. It’s going to be a long time before industry gets back on its feet. Manufactured goods are going to be in short supply long before that. I don’t plan on wasting anything.”

“What about… well…” Traven held up the man’s wallet. “Money and stuff?”

“Take it. You can have it. I don’t think it’ll be worth much for a long time, if ever. But you just never know.”

Traven seemed to be thinking it over, and then finally tossed the wallet, still filled, over to the small pile of things from the other man. “I don’t think so,” he said. “You killed them. You should have their stuff.”

“Okay,” Sven replied. The two dragged the body over and let it fall into the grave, and then covered it up. Neither said anything when the grave was full. They just put their coats back on, gathered up everything, and went back to the hunting cabin slash retreat.

Sven wasn’t that surprised when breakfast was waiting for them, but it caught Traven by surprise. “Wow! Thanks! I’m starving! I thought I’d have to fix something myself.”

“Of course not,” Belinda said, putting her hand on Traven’s shoulder, but looking at Sven.

Sven added his thanks quietly, sat down, and ate at the table in the hunting cabin. The three women went back downstairs.

“Boy, this is good!” Traven said. “I thought I was going to starve with those guys. They just kept me around to bring in wood and stuff. I wish I’d had a gun then. They wouldn’t have hurt Pru or Belinda.” He put down his fork and looked down at the table, sightlessly.

“You did well, Traven. You did everything you could in the situation.”

“I don’t feel like it,” he said softly. “They were hurting Elaine when the smoke came. I didn’t even try anything then, just ran out with the others.”

“Give it some time. You’re a hard worker. Things will get better.”

“I don’t know if I can take care of the three of them, if we have to leave here,” Traven said, finally looking up at Sven. “Even with the pistol.”

“I understand, Traven. Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out so you won’t be responsible for them.”

“I’ll still be responsible for Elaine. She’s my sister. I have to take care of her, even if she is older.”

“Yeah,” Sven said. “Well, we’ll discuss it later. Finish your breakfast.”

Both fell silent and did as Sven had suggested. They took the dishes down to the retreat and washed them, at Sven’s insistence. “You don’t have to wait on us, me,” Sven said. “You’re not captives now.”

“As in, ‘you’re free to go. Don’t let the door hit you in the…’”

Sven shot an angry look over at Belinda. “I haven’t said anything like that!”

“Yes, you did. As much as saying that. You want us out of here.”

“Well, come on!” Sven said, standing with his hands on his hips. “Are you telling me that you’d rather stay here, rather than try to get hooked back up with civilization? There will be a recovery effort.”

“You think there is one now?” Belinda asked. She was standing aggressively, too.

“Well… No… Probably not yet… But…”

“If he doesn’t want us, I think we should just go,” Pru said, surprising her sister no end.

“What? This is the safest place around now. I don’t what happened to you to happen again.”

Sven sighed when Pru started crying and Belinda went over to comfort her. Elaine looked forlorn, ready to cry, too.

When Sven glanced at Traven, he was looking even younger than his fourteen years. Traven looked at Sven, and said, “If you really don’t want us to stay, I’ll take Elaine and we’ll go. Can I buy some supplies? I’ll have to work it off, sometime, but I will. I promise.”

“Crimeny!” Sven said. “I do not need this!” He closed his eyes, pressed his palms against the sides of his head, and then said. “Okay. You can all stay until you make your own decision to leave. But I don’t expect to have to take care of you. And I ask… demand… that you be conservative with the supplies and do some of the work around here.”

“I will! I promise!” Traven said immediately. He looked over at Elaine. “Come on, Elaine. You’ll be safe here. I can protect you now.”

Elaine bit her lower lip for a moment, and then nodded.

“What do you want me to do first?” Traven asked.

“Clean the guns. One at a time. Come on. I’ll get you the gun cleaning kit.” Sven went over to the only door in the retreat that Traven and the others hadn’t checked to see what was behind it. Primarily because the door was a vault door and locked.

Sven spun the knob back and forth and then pulled the door open and stepped in, Traven right behind him, his curiosity at high peak. Belinda found herself walking over to see what was behind the door that had been driving her nuts wondering what it was hiding.

“Holy moly!” Traven said after stepping inside behind Sven. “You got more guns and ammo than the police!”

“Not hardly,” Sven said.

“Sure looks like it to me, too,” Belinda added, also stepping inside for a look.

Sven looked a bit sour. “We’ll. I’m sort of a collector.”

“I’ll say!” Traven said then. He was careful not to touch any of the racked guns or stacked boxes and crates of ammunition, but he looked at each one carefully, noting brand, type, and caliber or gauge.

“Why do you need all these?” Belinda asked. “You can only shoot one at a time.”

Sven turned around and gave her a hard look. “True. And the rest of my family and friends that were supposed to show up here if trouble started, would only shoot one at a time, too. In self-defense. Defending this place and each other.”

“You… you have a family?” Belinda asked. “I didn’t think… You came alone… I…”

“Here’s the cleaning kit,” Traven. Take it upstairs and clean your Berretta and Belinda’s Remington pump. I’ll show you how.”

Belinda stepped back quickly when Traven took the cleaning kit and turned toward the door of the small walk-in closet sized room.

“I’m sorry,” Belinda said softly as Sven came out, closed the vault door and locked it. “I just didn’t think…”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Sven said harshly. “You’ve made your opinion of me clear enough. Think what you want. Come on, Traven.”

Belinda went over to sit with Pru and Elaine as Sven and Traven went upstairs. “I think I really stepped in it,” she told her sister.

“Yeah. I think you did, Sis. And for no good reason.”

Belinda looked sharply at her sister. “That’s harsh,” she said.

“Yes it is. For a reason.” She turned away from her sister and got up, going to the kitchen area of the large room to pretend to do something.

Elaine, uncomfortable with the situation, got up and went to the bunk she had used and began to make it up neatly.

Belinda continued to sit and ponder the situation. Had she really been that far out of line?

Traven watched closely as Sven showed him how to clean the various guns that had been used recently, and then went through the procedures himself.

“Okay. Very good,” Sven told Traven when the guns were all cleaned and reloaded. “Now, in my opinion, you don’t have to clean after every use, given only a couple of shots, but even if not used and exposed to severe weather, I like to clean them. Now. You up for some more work?”

Traven nodded eagerly.

“Take Belinda the shotgun, grab your coat, and I’ll meet you outside,” Sven said and got up. “I’ll put the cleaning gear away later.”

Traven hurried to do as asked and Sven put on the bibs and his coat, and went outside to wait for Traven. He was in no mood to see or talk to Belinda. He’d been doing a good job of keeping the rest of his family and friends out of his mind. If they showed up, they showed up. The agreement had been that everyone was on their own to get here. No one was supposed to go looking.

At least, not while the situation was on going. After things settled down, Sven had every intention of going looking for his brother and sister and their families, along with two old friends that were part of the small MAG Sven had finally set up.

When Traven came running out, Sven had to smile at the eagerness the youth showed.

“What are we going to do?” he asked immediately.

“Have some stuff to cache. Things I don’t want or need in the retreat right now, but want close and protected. I’m afraid it’s more shovel work.”

“That’s okay,” Trevan immediately said. “My dad said work was good for a person. And now I owe you, so I have to work as hard as I can.”

Sven had started toward the empty cache he planned to open up and fill. He stopped and turned to Trevan. “No, Trevan. You don’t owe me anything. The situation brought us together. I did what I would have done even if you and the women weren’t here. You help, pull your weight in general, and we’re just partners in this thing until we have to split up.”

“Oh,” Trevan was a bit subdued at first, but being called partner to someone who had what Sven had, even if only for a while, was too much to even dream for. He looked up at Sven’s face and smiled. “Okay. Partner.”

“That’s the way,” Sven replied, controlling the urge to ruffle Trevan’s rather unruly hair. Traven followed along side Sven, more than just lagging behind the way he had earlier, carrying the shovel.

They stopped and got another shovel. Sven explained to Traven the series of caches he had around the area, without going into too many details, or giving away the location of any of them.

When they reached the spot Sven was heading for, he took off his coat and combat harness, laid the PTR-91 on the coat, and began to swing the pick-mattock while Traven watched.

They both used shovels to dig out the loosened dirt. The hole wasn’t as large as the graves, so it quickly became a case of taking turns, using just the shovels once they got through the thin frozen layer. With a domed fiberglass lid was clear Sven said, “Let’s take a break and we’ll go get the trailer over here.”

Traven looked around. “You can get that trailer over here? I’ve got to see that!”

“Doubting Thomas!” Sven said and laughed.

After a short break, they walked back to the Suburban and got in. Sven started it up, and pulled down the track that led into the small compound. He turned into what looked just like the rest of the forest to Traven, but was a trail carefully prepared to not look like one. The route took them well around behind the cache they’d dug open.

Sven parked the trailer beside the cache and looked over at Traven with a grin.

“Wow! You really did it! But how do we get out, now?”

Sven laughed. “Still doubting. You’ll just have to wait and see again. Let’s get busy.”

Between them they removed the access hatch of the buried septic tank. “You’re smaller. Down you go. There’s a ladder for you to use.” Sven said, pointing at the opening.

Traven didn’t hesitate. He scampered down into the opening like a ground squirrel going into its den. “Wow,” Traven said. “It’s warm down here!” His voice rebounded inside the domed rectangle.

“Yep. Stay there by the opening. I want you to keep talking so I know you are getting enough oxygen.”

“What do I say?” Traven asked.

“Just anything. I can tell if your voice changes.”

“Okay. Can I sing or something? I can’t think of anything to say.”

“I don’t know if you can sing or not. Give it a shot.”

“Funny,” Traven said in reply. He began to sing a popular tune. Even with the booming sound caused by the cavity he was in, he sounded pretty good to Sven. The singing stopped when Sven opened up one of the compartments of the trailer and handed a storage tote down through the hatch to Traven.

“What’s this?” Traven asked.

“Just some stuff I want to keep. That one is some of my clothing.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Sven kept handing down totes, Traven asking about each one. It was enough to keep Sven apprized of the boy’s condition. The movement was pulling down enough clean, cold air to avoid asphyxiation.”

“This one is heavy,” Sven said, maintaining his hold on the rope handle of the upper end as long as he could. He heard Traven groan when he took the full weight.

“What’s in this one? Lead?”

Sven had to grin. “Sort of. More ammunition.”

“Wow!” which seemed to be Traven’s favorite expression, came once again.

“There is an expression about ammunition I try to live by,” Sven said. “Buy it cheap and stack it deep.”

He heard Traven laugh down in the septic tank. That was the last item to be moved and Sven said, “Come on up. That’s it.”

Seeing the sweat on the boy’s face, Sven praised Traven for his hard work. And the boy had really worked at it. Sven told himself not to let Traven’s willingness and eagerness cause him to overwork the boy.

“I probably shouldn’t say too much about what we’ve been doing, huh?” Traven asked as he helped Sven close up the open compartment doors of the trailer, and the rear doors of the Suburban.

“I’d just as soon you don’t, Traven. I just have to ask you to trust me to do the correct thing. I’m not sure how the others will take some of my preparations.”

“You did the right thing about letting us stay. So sure. I trust you.”

It was a simple statement, but it meant much to Sven. The boy was right. Letting the small group stay with him, for the moment, was the right thing to do.

“Okay. Now you see how we get back to the retreat.” Sven put the Suburban in gear and weaved his way in and out of the trees to get back to the tracks he’d made coming in to the cache site.

“Okay. So you did it again,” Traven said, when Sven parked the Suburban. “Big deal. I’ll be able to do that after I get a chance to explore some more.” He was smiling at Traven’s triumphant look.

“Yeah. Right. Now let’s get cleaned up and see if we can find something good for lunch.”

Elaine, Pru, and Belinda had prepared a meal from the stores that were available in the retreat. Belinda was quiet as they ate, casting the occasional glance at Sven.

Finally, as Pr and Elaine cleared the table and began doing the dishes, and Traven went to the bathroom, Belinda spoke. “About earlier, Sven… I’m truly sorry. You were alone, and I just didn’t think about the losses you might have suffered.”

Sven met her look. “Forget it. It’s water under the bridge.”

Traven came out of the bathroom and Sven stood up. “I’m going hunting,” he told Traven, “to supplement the stores. You want to come along?”

“Sure!” Traven said. Then his face fell. “But I don’t think hunting with my pistol will work very good.”

“With enough practice, which we will get to, I promise, you will be able to. Though it still isn’t the best option.” Sven moved over to the vault and spun the combination knob. With the door open, Traven moved in right behind Sven.

As Traven and Sven discussed equipping Traven with a hunting gun, Belinda sighed and went to help her sister and Elaine with the domestic chores.

A few minutes later Sven and Traven left, after Sven carefully locked up the vault. Besides the pistol, Traven now had a Ruger 10/22 .22 rifle to use, with all the accoutrements. He also had a Motorola FRS radio he was to keep handy all the time.

Just before the pair left, Sven showed Belinda the radios and told her they would check in occasionally, since they would be gone for a while. She simply nodded and Sven and an eager Traven left to go rabbit and squirrel hunting.

Sven carried the PTR slung over his back, and had another of the retreat’s Ruger 10/22’s. “Don’t want to hunt close to the retreat, in case we really need the food.”

“I think the guy hunted just around here. He was never gone for very long,” Traven said.

“Well, we’re going to do it right. Hopefully there is still plenty of game, between them and the fallout.”

“Sven,” Traven asked somberly, “Do you think we got lethal doses, not being in the retreat when the fallout came?”

“None of you are showing any signs,” Sven replied, wanting to reassure the boy. “There was fallout north of here. I’m not sure there was any at all here. And if you stayed inside most of the time, the hunting cabin would have given you quite a bit of protection. It’s concrete block filled with mortar and the roof is six inches of concrete.”

“So maybe we’ll be okay?”

“I think so. Like I said, I haven’t seen any signs in any of you of radiation sickness. But talking about this reminded me. I need to get another set of solar panels put up. The batteries are getting low.”

“So that’s how you have electricity in the retreat!” Traven exclaimed.

Sven smiled. “Yes. There are panels on the roof. Just a few. You can’t see them from the ground, so, unless one were to climb up on top of the hunting cabin, you wouldn’t know they were there. There are just enough to keep a good charge on the batteries in the retreat so power would be available immediately if someone showed up.

“I thought about hooking it up to some LED lights in the cabin, but I was worried that people would wonder about that and start looking closer. If you really study the place, it’s fairly obvious that there is room on the fireplace end for the circular stairwell to be there. There were some other things I could have incorporated in the cabin to make it much more comfortable, but it was really just camouflage for the entrance to the retreat.”

“It is cool. You did a good job.”

“Yeah. It’s doing what I planned for it. Just not with the same people.”

“Your family, you mean.”

“Yes. And I’d rather not talk about them. We need to find a spot now and be quiet.” Sven took a couple of minutes to lead Traven through the procedure of sighting the Ruger and squeezing the trigger gently until the rifle fired, holding the sights steady in the process.

“You may or may not get anything, since you aren’t the one that sighted in the rifle. We’ll get around to doing that, along with some practice with your pistol.”

Traven beamed when Sven called the Cheetah ‘his,’ Traven’s, pistol.

Both found a downed tree or rock to sit on, a few feet apart, and began to watch the area closely. Sven noted that Traven did pretty good at staying still, but he needed more practice. Sven had decided that they might as well go back to the retreat when he caught Traven out of the corner of his eye lifting his Ruger 10/22 to his shoulder.

Careful to turn his head very slowly, Sven looked over. Traven fired and Sven looked in the direction the rifle was pointed. Sure enough, a gray squirrel was falling through the branches of the tree it had been moving around in.”

Traven looked over at Sven, a huge grin on his face. “I got him!” he whispered excitedly.

“You sure did. Let’s go get him.” Sven let Traven lead the way to the dead squirrel lying on the ground. It took him a few seconds to spot the squirrel as it had fallen into a patch of snow and gone below the surface.

“Careful, now, Traven,” Sven said, putting a hand out to stop him from reaching down to pick up the squirrel. “Two things. One, sometimes they are just stunned, or just slightly injured. You don’t want to just pick one up without being sure it’s dead. They’ll nail you good if you aren’t careful.

“And two. Always take a good look at the animal, looking for anything out of the ordinary, like patchy skin, sores or lesions, foam at the mouth… Anything that might indicate the animal is sick, diseased, or infested with parasites. The last thing you want, especially now, is to catch something from a squirrel.”

Traven nodded and watched as Sven bent down and brushed the snow away from the animal with a small branch he broke off the tree. “Eyes are open, and I don’t see any movement of its chest, so I it isn’t breathing. Nice clean looking fur, no foam at the mouth, or open sores anywhere. I think you got yourself a clean one.”

Traven reached down and picked the squirrel up by the tail. “Uh… Now what?” he asked, looking at Sven a bit uncertainly.

“If we were going to wait and try to get another or two, we’d just set this one in a handy place and take up a stand again. But since it is getting late, and I want to show you how to clean it, we’ll do that.”

Sven slowly field dressed the squirrel as Traven watched. Traven only got a bit pale at the sight and smell of a dead animal being butchered. “Now,” Sven said, holding the dressed squirrel out to Traven, “it’s ready to be cut up for cooking. In the future, we’ll probably start keeping the skins to tan, but I don’t want to get into that right now. It might not be necessary for a while, depending on… Well, what we can salvage from abandoned homes.”

Sven took a moment to lift the FRS radio to his lips and let them know at the retreat that he and Traven were on the way back.

The two were walking back, Sven letting Traven set the pace and the direction. He was pleased to note that Traven seemed to know the way back to the clearing.

“Isn’t that stealing?” Traven asked. “The salvaging?”

“Depends on how you look at it. I consider it mining for goods, just as you would mine for minerals. Just manufactured goods in places where they’ve been left behind. Now, what I plan to do, is only take things from places that are obviously no longer in use by the people that once owned them

“I would never take something from someone. Only abandoned things. If someone has something I do want, I trade for it or buy it. Unlike some that believe that their need, or even want, entitles them to take something from someone, I believe that a person is their own responsibility. If I didn’t plan for something, that doesn’t entitle me to take it from someone who did plan for it. If it’s out there for the taking, then I’ll take it. But if it’s marked in some way, or just obvious that it belongs to someone alive, I’ll leave it alone.”

Traven had been listening intently but still managed to lead them, without thinking about it, to the clearing. “You said buy things,” he said. “But you also said money probably isn’t worth anything.”

“I expect trading and bartering will be the primary type of commerce for a while. But something will become a recognized and accepted currency by most, simply because a currency makes exchanging goods so much easier. Before, some thought that ammunition, along with several other things will be that currency. Personally, while I have plenty of all those, I think real silver and gold coins will make a comeback as currency. At least, eventually, and for some things.”

“Wow,” Traven said softly. “Elaine and I… We don’t have anything to trade.”

“Sure you do,” Sven said. “For the moment, just your labor. But as you work, you’ll accumulate things that can be used in trade. And assuming you’ll be going on a salvage run or two, you should be able to find some tradable things for you and your sister, in addition to getting many of the things you want and need, just salvaging.”

“Oh. Okay. That makes me feel better.”

“Good. Here we are. You can clean the Ruger to get familiar with it, or wait, since you only shot it once. Whichever you do, stow it in the locker that goes with the bunk you’re using.”

“Okay. Thanks, Sven,” Traven said, ready to go inside. When it was obvious that Sven wasn’t coming in, Traven asked about it.

“I want to do a walk around the place. See if anyone has been around lately. It looks like snow again and it will cover any tracks that have been made. I’ll take you on a round sometime, but right now I want to get it done quickly. Okay?”

Traven nodded. “Sure. I’ll take this in.”
Sven handed Traven the Ruger he’d carried. “Hang my Ruger up on the hook inside the door. I’ll put it away when I get back.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You don’t have to call me ‘sir,’” Sven said. “Sven will do.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Traven went in, and Sven moved off to take a walk around the area.

It was full dark when he came back and went into the hunting cabin. Traven was sitting by the fireplace, reading the Ruger manual, when Sven came in.

“I started a fire,” Traven said. “I hope that’s okay. I’ll help cut some more wood. There is still a lot in the original pile.”

“Sure,” Sven replied. “It’s nice to have a fire.”

“Did you see anything out there?”

“Nope. Which is good. The snow just started. All of our tracks should be covered by morning.”

Traven nodded and Sven took off his Carhartt outerwear and hung it up, along with the PTR and combat harness.

Other than Traven’s eager explanation of the hunting trip to his sister, there was little talk during supper and just afterwards. Elaine had found the cabinet with the collection of DVD’s stored in the retreat and asked Sven about watching a movie.

“Sure,” he replied. “There’s popcorn, if you haven’t already found it.”

“We found it,” Belinda said, getting up to prepare it. She noted that Sven went upstairs before they had the movie ready. All she could do was sigh in exasperation. He was the most obstinate man she’d ever met, even considering the circumstances.

When she went upstairs a few minutes later with a bowl of the popcorn for him, she saw him already in the bunk he was using, apparently sound asleep. The fire was banked and the door to the outside was locked. She carried the popcorn back down and added it back to the big bowl the others were sharing.

Sven wasn’t asleep. Close, but not quite. He’d seen Belinda through slitted eyelids. He just couldn’t figure her out. With a sigh much like Belinda’s, he rolled over to face the wall and went to sleep.

The snow, while heavy during the night, had stopped the next morning when Sven got up and took a look outside. Everything looked pristine. If there had not just been a nuclear war, the effect would have been magnificent. But with the situation being what it was, the sight was simply noteworthy. Sven had wanted the tracks hidden, but hadn’t needed the deep snow that came.

Traven helped Sven get out another set of solar panels from the storage room in the retreat. But Sven asked Pru and Belinda to lend a hand getting the large, heavy panels up onto the roof and mounted. While they were moving the panels, Traven was clearing the roof of the cabin of snow.

Though Traven helped where he could, it was primarily the three adults that did the major portion of the work.

That was the way the next few days went, with everyone pitching in and helping Sven bring the cabin, retreat, and surrounding area up to its potential with stored items brought out and installed.

It began warming immediately after the last snowstorm, and by the time Sven had accomplished what he’d set out to do, there was only some snow left, in shaded areas on the north sides of things.

During the evening meal Sven brought up going on a trip to the nearest town to see what they could find out. Though Elaine, Pru, Belinda, and Traven to a small extent, had been listening for transmissions on the communications gear in the retreat, there had been no contacts with anyone in the immediate area.

All had been cheered, however, with the contacts they did make. Talking to other actual survivors of the war was much better than just accepting that they were out there somewhere.

At Sven’s announcement that he was going exploring the next day, Traven eagerly volunteered to go along.

“Sorry, sport. I want you here to keep an eye on the place.”

Somewhat disappointed, Sven’s trust in him to watch the place made up for it.

“I just need one other person to go to watch my back.” He was looking at Belinda. “You think you could do that?”

Belinda frowned. “Yes. I suppose I can. Do we really have to go?”

“You all need clothing, especially winter clothing. I’d like to find any food that is left that isn’t ruined, before it is ruined. I want to contact someone in the area if there is anyone. But I’ve already run into hostility before and it’s safer if I have someone backing me up.”

“I said I would do it,” Belinda said firmly.

“First thing in the morning after breakfast,” Sven said and got up. “I’m going to take a turn around the place.”

Traven started to ask to join, but decided that Sven probably wanted to be alone. Then he started to say something to Belinda, but seeing the look on his face decided not to. Instead, he went over to Elaine and tried to get a list of things she might want Sven to look for. But Elaine didn’t want to tell him. “I’ll tell Belinda. She can look for me.”

“Okay. Just trying to help.”

“I know. It’s just… it’s girl stuff… and you’re a boy…”

“I got it,” Traven said, reddening slightly. With nothing better to do, Traven found a book to read of the large selection in the bookcase covering one area of one wall. He went to his bunk and lay down, switching on the LED lamp over his head to have light to read by. It was a book Sven had suggested he read, considering the situation, so Traven opened up the copy of the “SAS Survival Handbook” and began to read. He fell asleep with the book open on his chest.

With the trailer parked in its spot beside the hunting cabin, and breakfast in their bellies, Sven and Belinda left the compound the next morning. She had the Remington 20 gauge pump and a pair of six-round leather shell holders with extra shells. She didn’t look particularly happy, but she wasn’t complaining, Sven was pleased to note.

Belinda stayed silent on the trip, until they got to the edge of the Greenville. “My lord! What could have happened?”

Sven stopped the Suburban and they both surveyed the remains of the small towns. “Looks like there was a fire and it got out of hand. I’ve got a feeling no one is here, but keep a sharp eye out.”

Traveling slowly, Sven drove down the main street of the small town, weaving between cars sitting in the street and the remains of some of the burned buildings that had fallen outward. Not everything was burned to the ground in the small business section of the town, but it was close.

“From the looks of the snow that is left here and there, I’d say this happened a long time ago. Probably right after or during the night of the attack. Something caught fire, they couldn’t get the equipment to run, and the fire just ran its course. Let’s drift through some of the residential sections and see if we can find anyone. Keep that shotgun handy,” Sven said.

They drove back and forth through the town, seeing nothing moving anywhere. Not even a stray dog. Having checked every street, Sven stopped at the far end of town. “Climb over,” Sven said, opening the driver’s door. “I want you to drive while I check a few things out,” he added as he stepped to the ground.

Belinda climbed over the custom console of the Suburban and settled behind the wheel. “Are you sure we should be doing this?”

“Yes,” Sven said. “Do you have a list of things to look for?”

Belinda reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper and gave it to Sven.

He saw the extent of the list and lifted his eyes to Belinda. “Okay… I’ll see what I can do.” With that, he turned and walked up to the house on that side of the street. He stopped on the porch and knocked, calling out loudly, “Hello! Anybody here?”

When there was no answer, Sven tried the door. It wasn’t locked and he went in, but came right back out. The smell was terrible. He went back to the Suburban to get a respirator.

“What’s the matter?” Belinda asked when he got close.

“Dead bodies decomposing. Couldn’t take the smell.” He opened the driver’s side passenger door and took out one of the respirators and showed it to Belinda.

“Maybe you should just skip the ones with bodies,” Belinda said, her face pale.

His voice sounding strange through the voicemitter of the respirator, Sven said, “I want to be methodical about this. Not miss anything important we can use.” He turned around and went back into the house.

Belinda was getting nervous, her eyes darting around in the silence. Sven had told her he’d be shutting off the engine whenever they stopped, unless there were indications of danger, to save fuel, so she’d turned it off when he went inside. It was eerie sitting there in a dead town with none of the usual noises present in normal times.

She started in surprise when she caught sight of Sven in the corner of her eyes as he came out of the house. She looked more closely and realized he was dragging a suitcase with one hand, and carrying several long objects under his other arm. The PTR was strapped across his back.

When he got close she discovered that the long objects were all guns of one sort or another. He put everything in the back of the Suburban and went into the house on the other side of the street.

They did the same thing well into the afternoon, with Belinda keeping watch and Sven salvaging what he could from the empty houses. The back of the Suburban was full when Sven said, looking as tired as he sounded, “That’s going to have to be it. Can you drive us back? I want to keep an eye out to see if someone tries to follow us. There were no signs in any of the houses that others had been in them since the attack, but I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Okay,” Belinda said and started up the Suburban again as Sven took off the respirator and dropped it behind the seat. “Was it… Was it bad?” she asked him, glancing at him for a moment before putting her eyes back on the road.

“Yeah. I can’t believe so many people just sat there and died. Oh, most of the houses were empty. A few of them showing that the occupants gathered up a few things and left in a hurry, but there where three where the people just… died… Without even trying to avoid it, from what I could see. Even a couple of obvious suicides. So pointless. If people had just planned for something like this…”

“I’m sorry,” Belinda said softly.

Sven shook his head. “Not your fault. It just bothers me that so many people died that probably didn’t have to.”

“Did you find what you were looking for?” she asked after several moments of silence.

“Yeah. Not everything on the list, but most of it. At least small quantities of it. There will be more when we come back. Though it’s been really cold, much of the canned food is still good, and almost all the packaged foods. I think a lot of it will still be good for several days. But I want to get it while we can. I think the winter is going to get a lot worse. Soon.”

“So we have to come back?” Belinda sounded resolved to the fact.

“Yes. And I think it’s best if it’s you and me. I’d just as soon Pru, and especially Traven and Elaine not have to experience this. If I find a couple of places with much stuff, I’ll bring Traven in to help me. He wants to pull his weight, as well as get some things he can trade so he feels like he’s making it on his own for him and Elaine.

Belinda started to protest, but stayed silent as Sven looked around and studied the mirror on the passenger side of the truck. He didn’t see anything and eased back in his seat after he got back into the Suburban after opening the gate for Belinda and then closing it behind her when she pulled the Suburban through.

Traven was waiting for them outside. Though he wasn’t just standing in the door. There was a rank of freshly split wood by the cabin and Traven was adding the last few pieces to it as Belinda drove up and stopped.

“Did you find anything?” he ask when he got over to the Suburban so he could look inside.

Sven managed a smile. “Yep. Sure did. And no trouble. You want to help me unload?”


“Let’s just take things into the cabin to sort out before we take anything into the retreat.”

Traven called to Elaine when he took the first box into the cabin. “Hey, Sis! Come help us unload!”

Elaine quickly joined her brother, and Pru came up a bit more sedately, but they all pitched in to unload the truck. Elaine caught Belinda by herself and whispered, “Did you find everything?”

“We’ll have to look. Sven did all the gathering, using the list you and Pru wrote up.”

“Oh. Okay.” Elaine went back to carrying boxes and shopping bags into the cabin. Sven made sure to take the various weapons in himself, despite Traven offering to do it three times.

“First things first. You’ll get your chance,” Sven told him.

Traven smiled and went back to work.

For the next week Belinda and Sven went into town every day to gather up things and make notes about things they couldn’t bring back with the Suburban. Sven left a few things in place for Elaine, Pru, and especially Traven to pick up on their turn in to help. It was all clean, abandoned housing. He made sure he checked every building first, before he let Belinda do any of the salvage work while he rested. There was no way to handle all the bodies, so he was just leaving them where they where if they were inside.

Belinda quit giving Sven questioning looks when he brought out an item that she couldn’t fathom the reason why he would want it. Each time she’d asked, he’d had a quite logical reason. “My mind just doesn’t work that way,” she told herself and quit asking.

Traven was ecstatic when he helped Sven clean out the house Sven stopped in front of when the two came in for the next to last trip. Not only were there clothes that fit him, but whoever the boy was that lived in the house, he had a sister about Elaine’s size. Traven took even more items for her than he did for himself. And he found plenty for himself.

It had been a well to do household before the war and the boy and girl had both been spoiled rotten in Sven’s judgment, if the possessions still in the house and garage were any indication.

That included a toy hauler already loaded with two quads and two dirt bikes. There were four mountain bikes on hangers in the garage. Another trailer carried four personal water craft. Yet a third trailer held four snowmobiles.

Sven and Traven hooked the trailer with the PWC’s on it to the Suburban, as that trailer had a trailer hitch on the rear bumper. The trailer with the quads and bikes was hooked to it.

“Good haul,” Sven said on the way back to the compound. “We’ll pick up the snowmobiles tomorrow. If we split down the middle, you still come out with some stuff to use and some to sell. Lucky that was the house we did on your trip.”

“Yeah,” Traven said, smiling. “About that. I have a feeling it wasn’t all just luck. So thanks.”

Sven didn’t look over, but he smiled slightly. “Sure.”

Planning Pays Off - Chapter 4

It was good they hadn’t waited to do the salvage operation. Two days after they brought in the last load, December fifteenth, the snow started falling and didn’t stop until they were snowed in under nine feet of snow.

“This is not normal,” Traven said, staring at the wall of snow in the open door of the hunting cabin. He’d had to use all his strength to push the door open against the fluffy snow. It was like something out of a cartoon or a comedy show. He closed the door and turned around to look at the others.

“We all might be here a bit longer than I planned,” Sven said dryly. “Don’t know if it’s global warming turning the corner or nuclear winter, but you’re right, Traven. This is not normal for this area. Not at all.”

“What do we do?” Elaine asked, more than a bit nervous. She moved over closer to Traven, Sven nodded, not to Pru or Belinda.

“We’ll be fine. This place was designed to hold more than this many for weeks. The only thing I’m worried about are the air intakes on the roof. And the chimney. They might just be covered. We wouldn’t know it yet if they are. I don’t want to build a fire until I’m sure the chimney and the air vents are clear.

Sven walked over to the open doorway to the stairwell. What the others thought was just a steel bar there for some reason, Sven moved and it opened out into a ladder going up to ceiling in the stairwell.

Sven worked the latches of the hatch and was suddenly covered in the snow that cascaded down on him from the roof. The others couldn’t help it. They started to laugh and Sven let out a mock growl before he climbed out onto the roof.

Traven was right behind him. They were in a snow cave of sorts. Sven was crouched down, swinging his arms and legs around wide, knocking more snow down the hatch or just packing it down when he could.

“This way,” Sven said. “Be careful not to step off the roof. We’ll see if the chimney is clear first.”

Traven and Sven swam, walked, and crawled through the snow to get to the chimney. Traven scraped his bare knuckles a bit when he reached forward one more time and found the chimney. He worked his way up and his head finally broke through the surface. Sven stood up beside him. There was almost a foot of snow bridged over the chimney and he cleared it away.

The two knocked the snow down the chimney.” Got it!” Traven called down to his sister. They can light the fire, now.”

Sven was clearing the snow from around the chimney and told Traven, “Go around it. There is an air intake on the far side, in the side of the chimney. Just some of the blocks with open spaces between them in the grout. Like these.”

Traven took a quick look at the chimney were Sven was pointing. The concrete blocks, though you couldn’t tell it from the ground, only had mortar at each end of the block. Most of the side was open to the inner part of the block. “Goes down to the HVAC system in the retreat,” Sven said.

“Neat!” Traven said and worked his way around, slugging and stomping his way through the snow. He hit a soft patch and his head disappeared for a moment, but popped right back up.

By the time both of them were back down in the cabin, their clothes were soaked through and they were shivering. “Should have geared up for that,” Sven told Traven as they both stood in front of the now roaring fire in the fireplace. “You go take a hot shower. I’ll take one after you’re finished.”

Traven didn’t argue. He hurried downstairs to do as instructed. Much to Sven’s surprise, Belinda had a blanket from his bunk and was throwing it over his shoulders. “That wasn’t very smart, you know. Besides the danger of falling, you both may wind up with pneumonia, going up there in shirt sleeves.”

“Yeah, I know,” Sven said. “It was dumb.” He hunched the blanket over his shoulders and put his hands out toward the fire. “I’ll be dressed properly when I go out to get more wood.”

“Pru and I will help. We have some outdoor clothing now. We should all be sharing all the work.”

“Yeah,” Sven said, “But I’m not a very good cook.”

“That’s okay,” Pru said. “I’ll do your cooking if you’ll do my wood chopping.”

Sven and Pru both laughed. Belinda didn’t, cutting a censuring look at her sister.

“Lighten up, Sis,” Pru said, seeing the look. “You know I’m more domestic than you are. I prefer the housework to the outside work.”

Sven kept his mouth shut, and his eyes on the fire. No way was he going to involve himself in a sisterly debate.

“I still believe that…”

Pru cut her sister off. “Leave it alone, Belinda. I’m going to continue to take care of this household. You want to go hunting and fishing for our food, I’ll not say a word. But I don’t want to do it. I’m going down to help Elaine with lunch. Let’s go, Elaine.”

“Okay. I’d rather do this work, too.”

“So much for the modern woman’s independence,” Belinda said, her voice full of disappointment.

It was a quiet breakfast a few minutes later, after Sven had taken a hot shower. Traven could feel the tension and, like Sven, kept his mouth shut. He wasn’t too surprised that Belinda bundled up and went with him and Sven when the began digging their way from the front door to the wood stacked along the side of the hunting cabin.

Despite her earlier words, Pru pitched in, as did Elaine. But neither went outside. Their job was to transfer the snow being dug out to the big kettle hanging in the fireplace to melt it down so it could be disposed of down the drain in the cabin’s sink.

By the time enough wood was brought in for several days, it was well after time for lunch. Belinda insisted on helping Elaine and Pru prepare it. Traven followed Sven’s lead and stayed in the hunting cabin and cleaned up the mess that had been made moving the snow from the door to the fireplace.

Two days later the battery bank was charge was getting low so Traven and Sven went back up onto the roof with Belinda to uncover the solar panels. It had been hoped enough snow would melt so they wouldn’t have to do the job. Instead, more snow fell both days, though nowhere near the nine feet of the first big snowfall.

Things settled down into a relatively peaceful routine of meals, clean up, and leisure activities. Traven continued going through Sven’s prep library as fast as he could read. Elaine tended to watch movies, but Pru and Belinda were teaching her to sew so they could tailor some of the recovered clothing for better fit.

Sven spent a lot of time at the communications desk, talking to other survivors that had access to Amateur radios. More and more people were finding each other on the radio and Sven was pinning two large maps, one of the US and one of the world, with information received through the radio. There was a pad with the pin numbers with the data for that location. There was still no word from anyone close. And no news about Sven’s family.

Fortunately Sven’s plans for post disaster operations were both effective and extensive. The five spent the winter snowed in. It was the following March before the snow had melted enough to get to the snowmobiles and Sven’s trailer, which had a gasoline tank for the gasoline powered items that Sven had. It was treated for storage, and when put in the snowmobiles, they fired right up.

“Okay,” Sven said the morning after everything had been tested out. “I’m going exploring tomorrow. Just the local area. I can’t believe anyone has been anywhere close, but I want to know for sure.”

Traven looked hopeful, but when Belinda said she was going, he knew he would be staying behind. Belinda hadn’t asked. She had stated. Sven didn’t argue, either. He could understand her need to get out and about. It was the same with him.

So, with two of the snowmobiles fueled and loaded with emergency supplies, and Sven and Belinda both equipped with radios, the two headed out to take a look at the post-war, post-winter, world.

They didn’t see much. Mostly just snow. Some few animal tracks in the surface of the snow. Mostly small animals. “I’ve got a feeling the deer population has been decimated,” Sven told Belinda when they stopped on coming across the frozen, desiccated carcass of a deer trapped in the snow. “And if there are any predators left, they are going to be very hungry. And aggressive. Keep an eye out.”

Belinda just nodded.

“This being the case,” Sven continued, “Lets go over to the lake at its closest point and she what’s what.”

Belinda nodded and gunned the snowmobile when Sven did his, keeping track with him slightly to one side. They almost drove right over it. The lake was still frozen over, and the ice was covered with snow.

“Crimeny!” Sven said as he rode the snowmobile in a wide loop to get back to the bank when he realized it.

“What’s the matter?” Belinda asked when Sven stopped and lifted his goggles.

“We just ran out over the lake. It’s frozen, but with the snow cover it might not be very thick in places. We could have fallen through.” Sven’s face was pale.

Belinda nodded. “That would have been bad.”

“Oh, yeah,” Sven replied quietly, then, after a pause, continued. “This arm of the lake isn’t very wide or deep. I’m thinking, with the chance of game pretty slim, we should start fishing to supplement the stored food. Let’s go a bit further south to look for a good place to start fishing.”

Belinda nodded, put her goggles back in place, and followed along with Sven as he turned to the south, staying near the edge of the lake, now that it was obvious where it was. He finally stopped at a likely looking spot, stopped the snowmobile, and got off. Belinda followed suit.

The lake had very little snow on it here, since there were opening in the forest on each side and much of the snow had been blown off by some of the high winds that had occurred during the winter.

Taking a Cold Steel Rifleman’s Tomahawk from the pack strapped on the back of the snowmobile, Sven carefully checked the ice at the very edge of the lake. Belinda noted his cautiousness as she watched what he was doing.

Sven kept trying to break through the ice, gingerly, as he moved out further on the lake. When he finally turned around and came back to the shore, Belinda could see a little color in his cheeks now and he didn’t look as worried.

“It’ll hold for some ice fishing for a while, I think. But there’ll have to be two people, with one on the bank all the time, with a rope connecting the fisher and the guard. If someone goes into the water, it’ll be bad.”

Belinda had to nod. It sounded logical. And she said so.

“Let’s get back to the retreat,” Sven said. He lifted the FRS radio to his lips and contacted Elaine, on radio watch, and told her they were coming back. She acknowledged and Sven fired up his snowmobile again. They were going straight back to the retreat compound and didn’t waste any time.

Both Sven’s and Belinda’s eyes were bright when they came to a stop at the compound. The run back had been sheer fun as they ran at high speed, weaving through the trees, Belinda locked on Sven’s machine like a wingman in a jet.

Both were ready for some food and a hot drink when they went inside. Traven hovered around as Pru and Elaine took care of those necessities. “What do you think?” Traven finally asked. “Anyone else out there?”

“I don’t think so, Traven,” Sven said, hanging up the Carhartts. “We didn’t see any signs of anyone. Even the game is going to be scarce. We went over to the lake and found a place to ice fish on the lake while it’s still frozen. Going to add fresh fish to the diet in lieu of fresh game. Whoever goes will need to take a shotgun, too, I guess. Could be some birds available, though probably not many.”

Traven nodded. It was obvious he’d be doing some of the fishing and would probably get a shotgun to go with the Ruger .22 and the Berretta .380. Satisfied, he went back to listen to the radio while Belinda and Sven ate and warmed up.

Sure enough, two days later, with Traven checked out on riding a snowmobile by himself, he and Sven headed for the lake for a day’s fishing. There would be a lot of prep and only some fishing the first time, but Sven intended to do it safely.

When they arrived at the chosen site, Sven and Traven went about setting up a secure place for the shore person to sit. The rope to the fisherman that would be fastened to a tree near the watcher, with another short rope fastened between the tree and the watcher to prevent the possibility of the watcher from advancing onto the ice inadvertently.

Roped to the tree, with Traven on shore in the watcher’s spot so he could reel Sven in if he went through the ice, Sven walked out onto the ice with the pick-mattock in hand. It took a while, since Sven didn’t want to take off his coat and couldn’t afford to overheat in it. He worked slowly, taking frequent rests.

But finally he had a hole in the ice and was much reassured when it became obvious the ice at this point was plenty thick to hold them without problem. Sven went back to shore, put away the pick-mattock, and un-strapped the fishing gear from the back of the snowmobile.

Traven watched as Sven rigged the line and then went back out on the ice. It was incredibly boring, Traven found, just waiting, on guard for predators, birds, and trouble on the ice.

But his and Sven’s patience paid off. Sven soon had three fish laying beside him on the ice. They switched positions and Traven got a turn on the ice. It was already getting late when Traven caught his one and only fish, but he was ecstatic when they went back to the retreat compound.

The two discussed ways to make things easier and safer, one being to make sure and secure everything out on the ice to another line going to shore. They couldn’t afford to lose any tools or anything else to the lake.

Belinda insisted on going the next day and Traven expected to be at the retreat again, but Sven surprised him when he said, “You and Traven go ahead. Traven knows the procedure at the lake so he’s in charge there until you get a couple of days of fishing under your belt.

Traven perked up and Belinda looked a bit aggravated, but didn’t protest. Traven made sure he had his newly acquired Remington 11-87 semi-auto 20-gauge shotgun, with twenty-six-inch barrel, along with the Ruger and Berretta when they left that morning.

Sven began the tiring task of digging the compound out from under the remaining snow.

The two returned at the end of the day with a total of seven nice fish for the table. It became routine, every few days to send a pair out to fish. Pru declined to go, but Elaine was willing. She went with either Belinda or Sven, as did Traven.

Belinda spent her days doing inside and outside work, insisting on doing everything that Sven was doing. Sven had to admit, there was no reason for her not to. She was physically able to do almost as much as he, and had a bit more stamina than Traven.

On the first really nice day, after the compound was clear, along with what the others discovered was an impromptu firing range, Sven took everyone to the vault to pick a weapon or weapons to use full time. Reluctantly Pru and Elaine both did so.

After the day long training session, Elaine was converted to a regular nimrod, and Pru was comfortable enough with her selection of a Ruger Mini-30 Ranch Rifle in 7.62 x 39 Russian to be considered as able to help defend herself, the others, and the retreat if it became necessary.

It was mid-April when Sven took the Suburban out of the forest to take a look around. Belinda was as ready as Sven to see what was going on in the outside world. Despite the now regular conversations with other groups of survivors, they still had not found anyone anywhere close to them.

They went back to Greenville first. Nothing had changed there. Sven turned around and went south to the next town. When they got to Wappapello, they found it much as they had Greenville the previous year. No sign of anyone anywhere. Some of the town had burned, but not to the extent of Greenville. But, as Sven and the others had at Greenville, someone or a group, had salvaged much of what was left in Wappapello. They turned around and went back to the retreat.

Sven was at a loss as to what to do. He knew the five of them could continue to live at the retreat for at least five years, using stored food alone. Longer if they could hunt much, fish, and grow a garden using the tools and seeds he had stored.

The others didn’t really know that and he didn’t tell them. They all could see that the food supplies in the retreat cabinets were running out. All had been hoping for contact with locals. Perhaps FEMA, though Sven’s expressed opinion of that organization quickly subdued any more comments about it.
“We have to decide what we’re going to do,” Sven said one day as they finished supper, shortly after the trip to Wappapello.

“I agree,” Belinda said immediately. “We can’t stay here forever. What if one of us gets sick? We need to rejoin civilization any way we can.”

The others waited for Sven to respond. He hesitated a moment, and then said. “Yes. That’s a good point. And I want to find out what happened to my family.”

“Well, from what we’ve heard on the radio, St. Louis was destroyed. Pru’s and my home probably was as well,” Belinda said. “I think we should go to Memphis. That’s the nearest city that we know has survivors around it.”

“Belinda, you heard some of the talk there. There’s a major turf war going on over the existing supplies. I have family in Tulsa. I say we go there,” Sven said.

“What about Little Rock?” Belinda asked. “I have business contacts there. That’s where we were coming from when the car quit. Maybe one of them can help us.”

“That’s a possibility for you two,” Sven said, indicating Belinda and Pru. He looked over at Traven and Elaine. “What about you two? You have an equal say in this.”

Traven spoke up immediately. “I’d rather go where you go. We don’t really have anyone…” Traven looked at his sister. “Sis? What about it? You want to go with Belinda and Pru, or with Sven?”

Elaine bit her lip, as she was prone to do when under stress. “I don’t know, Traven…”

Belinda spoke up again. “You should go with us. A young woman out in this mess… Even you, Traven, shouldn’t be going around armed, doing a man’s work, at your age.”

“It’s my choice,” Traven said, immediately angry. “And I’ll take care of my sister.” He looked at Elaine, and then back at Belinda. “Only if she really wants to go with you, we both will. It’s my duty to protect her until she gets married, now, and her husband can take care of her.”

“Married!” Exclaimed Belinda. “She’s only fifteen! She’s not getting married for a long time, yet. And you’re younger than she is. It isn’t your responsibility to take care of her. Not in a situation like this.” Belinda was adamant. “Pru and I can take care of her. When we get to Little Rock.”

“What if we go to Little Rock first,” Sven said. “Traven, you and Elaine can make a decision there.”

“You’ll let us go with you, if Elaine decides she wants to do that?” Traven asked.

Sven didn’t hesitate. There was no way he was going to give Traven any reason to think he didn’t have a place in the world. “Yes. Of course you can.”

“Then I say we do that,” Traven replied. “Elaine? Is that okay. Go to Little Rock and then decide?”

The others could tell she was thinking about it. She finally said, “Yes. Let’s do that. Maybe on the way another possibility will come up.”

It took a few days to get ready. In early anticipation of this day, Sven had made sure to acquire extra camping gear for the others during the salvage operation in Greenville. The Suburban, Suburban custom trailer, and one of the toy haulers were loaded up with the idea that only Sven would be coming back any time soon, with that a big if.

The retreat was cleaned up and locked down, the cabinet put back in place to hide the entrance. It didn’t take long to tidy up the hunting cabin to the condition it was in before the war. Shortly after nine in the morning of May first Sven put the Suburban in gear and the five survivors headed for Little Rock.

Click here to read chaters 5-7