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Disaster In The Burbs

Jerry D. Young Library

Home | The Keys to the Kingdom | What is the Password

Disaster In The ‘Burbs - Chapter 1

Darlene wrestled the polymer barrel onto its stand beside the other five. A whole house cistern would have been so much better, but she hadn’t been able to get a variance to install one. The particular suburb she lived in was like that. Even with water shortages in the news almost every day, they wouldn’t let her, or anyone else, install a cistern. At least they didn’t deny her the barrels. Possibly because she hadn’t mentioned them to anyone. Darlene smiled as the thought crossed her mind.

It had taken some careful planning and design work to get the gutter and downspout system installed so it would come to a single discharge into the first water barrel. There was a diverter just above the barrel and a trash filter just above that. The six barrels were connected together at the bottom, with a long frost proof faucet in another tee in the pipe.

Darlene worked the rest of the day building the thickly insulated enclosure for the barrels. She didn’t want them to freeze in the winter. With the job done, Darlene stepped back and looked at the total package. “Not bad, if I do say so myself,” she said. The custom gutters and downspouts matched the color of the house nicely, as did the paint on the wooden, foam insulation board lined, enclosure. Now all she needed was some rain.

Tired, but happy, Darlene went back into the house, ready for a light supper, a shower, and some sleep. She needed to go in early to work the next morning and was tired from the past two days of working on the house and lot.

Early the next morning, dressed in one of her office outfits, Darlene grabbed her BOB and went outside to the five year old Subaru she had bought after selling the new Lexus that became hers in the divorce. The Lexus had been Steven’s idea of an appropriate car for his wife. And he had the money to pay for it.

She set the BOB in the back of the Subaru next to the tote that contained emergency equipment for the Subaru. It also held some supplies if she got stranded for some reason and decided to stay with the Subaru rather than try to make it home using the BOB and the folded up Montague Paratrooper bicycle next to the tote.

Getting in and starting up the Subaru, Darlene looked at the house and smiled. She’d caught a good deal and picked the house up from a seller desperate to sell. He even financed the small balance remaining after she put down a whopping down payment, using the money she’d received from the divorce for her share of the house she and Steven had lived in while married.

The house, though it boasted three bedrooms, two baths, and a two car garage, was very compact, with all the rooms, except the kitchen, on the very small size. Over all it was less than half the square footage of Steven’s not quite mansion. She sure didn’t miss keeping that house clean.

The house had been just what she was looking for. It was in a gated community. Though the house was relatively small, the lot was large, so the house was set well back from the street, but still left lots of backyard.

There were no alleys, so all the utilities were out in the street. The back of the property was fenced with an eight-foot high chain link fence, with green colored slats in the weave. Plenty of privacy from the back door neighbor.

Though the development hadn’t included side fences the way they had the rear fences, many in the community had put in their own. A few even had decorative front fences. Darlene had already made arrangements with both side neighbors to put in privacy fences between her and them, on a shared cost basis. They would match the rear fence, with privacy slats in the fence from the back fence up to the point even with the front of the houses. The decorative front fence would wrap around and meet the chain link fence. Short fences, also with privacy slats, would connect the side fences with the corners of the house, a gate on each side.

The smile still on her face, Darlene pulled out of the driveway and headed for the gate of the small subdivision. There were for sale signs here and there, for houses, vehicles, and various ‘toys,’ such as boats, quads, and snowmobiles. Times were getting really tough. That was part of the reason she’d ‘downsized’ her life, after being ‘downsized’ out of the marriage at Steven’s insistence. Well, more Roberta’s insistence, as Steven had seemed to be fine with having both a wife and a mistress. Though she would have left the marriage, anyway, when she found out about Roberta, Steven filed first.

Darlene would have liked to have just told Steven to stick the divorce settlement, but couldn’t bring herself to give him that satisfaction. He would have jumped on the offer. As it was, he fought tooth and nail to get out from under as much of the divorce settlement he could.

Waving at Bear, the guard at the gate, Darlene slipped her sunglasses on and pulled out onto the main street through this section of the city’s large suburban tract. Glancing at the clock in the Subaru, she slowed down after merging into traffic. No need to hurry. She was still plenty early.

It took another fifteen minutes to get to the offices of Blain and Sons Rock & Iron Works. She parked under ‘her’ tree, and went to open up the office. When Stanley Blain and his boys, Ricky and Ted, got there, the coffee was brewing, the donuts were set out, and the payroll was finished, the checks ready for Stanley’s signature.

“Hey, Beautiful!” Stanley said as he poured himself a cup of coffee, when do you want us to start on that fencing for you? Things are slow. Be a good time to do it.” He leaned against the reception counter and took a sip of coffee. The boys grabbed handfuls of donuts and disappeared into the shop.

“I’m on a budget, Stanley. No money at the moment for the fences.”

“Yeah. How about the neighbors? I’d be willing to do it if they can pay their shares and wait on yours for a while.”

“Oh, Stanley… I don’t know. I don’t like owing. I’m out of debt, except for the house payment and don’t want to add any. Not the way the world is going right now.”

“Well, considering that, a woman alone, fences would be comforting, I would think.” He gave Darlene a wink and headed back to the shop after the boys. Work was slow, but they still had some jobs to do.

Darlene shook her head. Stanley was right. Even in the gated community, security fencing would make her feel better. And the Association had already approved the side fences and a decorative front fence on her lot. She had to grin again. The Association members had been happy with the decorative fence. She had presented it as such, but in reality it was also a security fence. Just a very good looking one. Stanley had a good eye for design.

The front fence planned would be a low rock wall with wrought iron between rock posts. There’d be a remote control wrought iron gate for both the driveway and the walkway. Darlene was getting the fencing at cost plus from Stanley. Making up her mind to talk to her neighbors that evening, Darlene set about her work.

The next morning a delighted Darlene spoke to Stanley as soon as he came in the door of the office. “That fencing? The neighbors want to do it. And the riots have decided them to get fences on the other side of their houses, and a front fence each, too. Nothing like mine, but it’s paying work.”

“Good work, Beautiful. With the company discount and work finder’s fee, you aren’t going to owe all that much.”

“I didn’t do it to get a finder’s fee, Stanley!”

“I know that. But I don’t want to lose you. You’re about the only woman that will put up with me in the office. Ever since you came to work here, I haven’t had a misquoted order, lost shipment of material, or late paychecks. I want you safe and sound in that house of yours.”


“We’ll start as soon as the granite countertop is finished for the Cushman house. I wish I could bring back a crew, but I just can’t justify it right now.”

There was no arguing with him once he’d made up his mind. His head was as hard as the rocks and iron he worked with. Darlene was going to have her fencing. Much sooner than planned.

“Okay, Stanley. Thanks.”

“Sure thing, Beautiful.” Stanley headed back into the shop and left Darlene to her work.

Darlene kept an eye on the TV in the office for news updates as she processed invoices. Things were tough all over and getting tougher. During her lunch break, Darlene checked her bank account balance over the Internet and made a few calculations, based on the new, lower cost of the fencing.

Knowing the money she was earning was loosing value every minute she held it, Darlene decided to up the speed she was preparing her home for the even worse times she thought were coming.

A project she’d been saving for, a small propane powered automatic generator, backed by a small solar power system for critical electrical circuits, would now be top priority. The automatic start generator produced 3.4 kilowatts of power, was in a very quiet enclosure, and used two 20-pound propane tanks, thereby negating the need to try and get a variance for a permanent propane tank. Which she was very unlikely to get.

She would get longer hoses for the propane bottle connections so she could use one-hundred pound tanks for much longer running time before refueling. There was no specific restriction against them, and what the Association didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. She planned to get three of the one hundred pound tanks, to keep two connected and one to rotate into the filling rotation.

The power distribution cable with GFCI outlets would be replaced with a regular automatic transfer switch that would interface with the solar power system.

The solar power system would be the costlier of the two units, using a few 315-watt RWE-Schott 48-volt solar panels, a Xantrex/Trace inverter set up, and six Surrette 8-volt batteries. The use of solar panels wasn’t clearly defined in the Association CC&R’s, and at least one tenant in the subdivision had been denied a variance for a large array system for its ‘unsightliness.’ With the back of the house facing the south, giving perfect light for the panels, they wouldn’t be in sight from the street anyway. Again, what the Association didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

Using the company buying power, as Stanley encouraged her to do, she ordered the components. It almost cleaned out her account, but she had just been paid and hadn’t deposited that check yet. She’d have money to live on, but that was about it for a while.

The following weekend Darlene got back to work on one of her ongoing projects that she’d let go for the time as she was puting the water barrel system put in. She’d picked up another six 8”x8”x16” concrete blocks, a sack of mortar mix, and a few sacks of QuickCrete.

Darlene was turning the second bay of the two bay garage into a storm and fallout shelter. It was a basic box built of the concrete blocks mortared together and filled with the QuickCrete mixed, like the mortar, in a wheelbarrow parked in the garage. The blocks had rebar every layer and every other concrete filled vertical cavity in the blocks.

When she got to that point, the roof of 4”x6” beams spaced every 12”, covered with two layers of ” plywood, would have solid concrete blocks mortared into place, again with rebar tying the roof together with the walls.

Darlene started building it right after she’d moved in. Now, what she considered the back wall of the shelter was complete, with the side walls stepped from the full height of that wall to the floor. The back wall was two-feet from the side wall of the garage. The end wall facing the garage door almost touched it. The other end wall was two feet from the back wall of the garage. That two feet of space around two sides of the shelter would be boxed in with removable panels, for secure storage.

To have room to access the top of the shelter to install the roof, the inside roof height was only six feet. The inside open area would be six feet wide by sixteen feet long, not counting the space in the baffle wall at the entrance. Darlene normally did six to twelve blocks each weekend, scoring the concrete already in place and treating it to get a good seal with the fresh concrete she added to the blocks she placed on that lift.

With the six blocks in place, the mortar and concrete setting up, Darlene started another project that would take a little while. A more distant project was a greenhouse built against the back wall of the garage. She wanted a well installed before the greenhouse went up around it.

Hiring the work done would draw too much attention. The water table in the area was only eight or nine feet down, and a local that jetted shallow wells in told Darlene that driving a screen point and pipe down twenty-five to thirty feet would get her at least some water.

She considered hiring him to do it, but again, it wasn’t something she wanted broadcast to the neighbors. So, with the five-foot, inch and a quarter screen point, five five-foot lengths of inch and a quarter threaded galvanized pipe, drive rated couplings, a drive cap, a can of pipe dope, two pipe wrenches, and the old driver that Jim, the well driller, had rented to her, Darlene set to work.

The point went into the soil quickly and easily. She added a joint of pipe, put the drive cap on it, and managed to get the driver over the pipe. She got that section driven almost three feet deep, giving the pipe a right hand turn every little bit to keep the joint tight, before she simply gave out, her arms like rubber. Besides, she didn’t want the dull thumping sound to last long enough to get the neighbors curious.

The parts for the backup electrical system came in as Stanley was wrapping up the fencing job. Darlene hired Stanley’s boys to help with the installation of the solar panels and the batteries. Very heavy batteries. Between the instructions that came with the equipment, and some research on the internet, Darlene had the system up and running two weeks after the fence was finished.

As riots in the city became more commonplace, nearly every weekend now, as prices of food and fuel went up, Stanley’s business began to boom. Residential areas were being hit as well as the downtown area. Those that had much of anything to protect, wanted the protection.

Stanley gave Darlene a small raise, and a generous bonus when residents in the same gated community Darlene lived in came to the shop to see about similar fencing. The company name plate was on the fence and Stanly got a total of fifteen more orders in the community

Darlene took the money she’d been saving up for a greenhouse, put it with the bonus, and got a greenhouse one size larger than she’d planned. She wasn’t ready to put it up yet, but with inflation running nine percent, she didn’t want to hang onto the money very long.

With the raise, and the over time Darlene was now getting, she upped her preps even more. Using the various swap papers and classifieds, Darlene began shopping for something to protect herself with. Her father had been a shooter, but her brothers got the few guns he’d had when he died.

Prices were high, despite the economy. At least, some of them were. Wanting something soon, Darlene set her sights a bit lower than she had initially. And, it turned out, a bit more PC than the ‘black’ rifles and semiauto pistols she’d been considering. The need for long range shooting was limited, in her circumstances, so she decided to forgo that requirement and look for something powerful, even if short range.

She found the ad in one of the shopper magazines. A woman was selling off her recently deceased husband’s small collection of guns. No prices were given with the listing of the firearms. Only two caught her eye. A Marlin 1894 stainless steel lever action rifle in .44 Magnum and a Ruger Redhawk, also in .44 Magnum, with five and a half inch barrel, also in stainless steel.

Her father had owned one of the Rugers at one time, but had sold it before he died. Darlene had shot it a couple of times with full power .44 Magnums and hadn’t liked it very much. But with .44 Specials, it was a different story. The Ruger and Marlin both used the .44 Magnum and .44 Special interchangeably. The magnums wouldn’t be any problem at all in the rifle, but she could keep the Redhawk loaded with .44 Specials, but still use the magnums in it if needed.

Darlene didn’t waste any time, going to the address straight from the grocery store where she’d found the paper. It didn’t take long to cut a deal. The woman threw in all the accoutrements her husband had for the two guns. Along with the Marlin and Ruger, Darlene got a pair of western style leather bandoleers, each with sixty loops for the .44 cartridges, and a leather gun belt and holster for the Ruger that had six pouches containing speed loaders for the Redhawk.

She took the guns to the local range that Sunday and tried them out. The rifle was fine, but the grips of the Redhawk were too large for her hands. They were custom grips and Darlene was able to order a set of Pachmayr Decelerator grips for it, that would fit her hands much better and perhaps make the use of magnum shells a bit more comfortable.

Darlene picked up three five-hundred-round cases each of .44 Special and .44 Magnum before leaving the range shop. Feeling much more capable of protecting herself and her home, Darlene went home and put in a couple of hours on the shelter and the well before she called it a day, ate supper, took a shower, and went to bed.

That was what her life was like for the rest of the summer. After the heat wave early, that had probably been part of the cause of the riots, since there had been brown-outs and black-outs, the summer had finished up fairly mild, and the rioting had pretty much disappeared. But no matter where you went in the city and even out in the suburbs where Darlene lived, tensions were high. An announcement that it would be a hard winter, with shortages of heating oil, propane, and natural gas, had people growling and grumbling about not only the availability, but the nearly tripling of cost.

Darlene had been buying a one-hundred pound propane tank and two forty pounders each paycheck since she got the three for the generator. Her house was on natural gas, but if the flow stopped, she wanted to be able to use campers’ style inside-safe propane heaters to keep enough heat in the house to avoid the pipes freezing, and run a camping stove to cook on.

At work, Darlene was having to deal with delinquent accounts on a regular basis. Stanley was getting the work, but people weren’t wanting to pay the going price. And Stanley had kept his prices as low as he could and still make a decent profit. The business began to slow down even faster than it had picked up. Without the riots keeping peoples interest up in securing their homes, fences were secondary to fuel and food.

Food prices were rising every month, for a variety of reasons, which really didn’t matter too much to those unable to afford the limited amount that was available. People just knew that the shelves were more empty than full, and the prices were the highest on record.

Darlene saw the handwriting on the wall. She didn’t make Stanley hem and haw for a while before he had to tell her he had to let her go. She went into his office after finishing the payroll for that week to give Stanley the checks to sign and to talk to him.

“Stanley, you have to cut expenses. You can no longer afford me. You’re down to one crew, plus you and the boys. You’ll have to do the office work yourself, to save money.”

Stanley sighed. “Aw, Beautiful, I’m trying to find a way to keep you on. It’s just… You see the books…”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Stanley, I don’t work here anymore, after today. It’ll help if you give me a pink slip showing a layoff, rather than me just quitting. That way I can, maybe, get some unemployment, if I can’t find another job right away.”

“If things turn around, will you come back? You’re the best thing that’s happened to this place in a long time.”

“I will if I can, Stanley. I promise. If I’ve found a permanent position, it wouldn’t be right to leave them to come back here.”

“I understand,” Stanley replied, with a rather larger sigh.

Fighting back tears, Darlene went back to the reception desk and began making notes about how she did her work. What she did, when, and why. At the end of the day, after she gathered up her few things in the office, she stepped into Stanley’s office to say good-bye.

He nodded, stood up and gave Darlene an awkward hug, and handed her an envelope he’d been turning around and around in his hands when she entered.

“Something you need me to mail on my way home?” Darlene asked with a smile. It wasn’t an unusual errand for her to do.

“No. No, Beautiful. It’s your severance.”

“I got my check,” Darlene replied.

“No. This is in addition to you final check. Here.”

Darlene set the box down with her things in it and opened the unsealed envelope. “Oh, Stanley! You can’t afford this!” She tried to hand the check back to him and he sought the protection of his desk between them.

“Yes, I can. No go on before one of us starts crying.” Stanley sat down and dropped his eyes to the desktop.

“Thank you, Stanley,” Darlene finally said, adding the envelope and check to the box she picked up before she turned and left, tears slowly rolling down her cheeks.

It certainly wasn’t like she couldn’t use the money. She could. She only had enough left in the bank to pay the rent and eat for the rest of the month. The check would allow her to pay off the house, since there were only three double payments more to get the deed. She’d been paying double the agreed upon rate from day one.

She took care of that task the following day, and then had the Subaru serviced and bought the supplies to have it done five more times, fearful she wouldn’t be able to afford it later, and even wondering if the supplies would even be available later. She bought the place out of the oil she used, as well as the filters.

Darlene went home and looked around the place, making decisions on what to use the rest of the money, before it lost value. Other than some for emergencies, and immediate future needs, she intended to invest all the rest of it in a manner to make the coming times easier.

Besides the greenhouse, she wanted a regular garden. The previous owner had grown a small one in the back yard and Darlene intended to do the same, on a larger scale. To make it as efficient as possible, Darlene checked the yellow pages for small engine repair shops and went looking for a good used rototiller.

She came back not only with a Troy-built rototiller, but almost everything else she needed in the way of hand tools to put in a garden. The only things the little shop didn’t have, rather surprisingly, were fuel cans. After unloading the tiller and the tools, Darlene attached the small basket carrier that plugged into the Subaru’s receiver hitch and went to get jerry cans and fill them up.

It took her several trips to get all the fuel she felt she could afford, and picked up spare parts for the tiller, to boot, including oil, sparkplugs, and drive belts, storing everything in the existing yard shed near the back fence that had come with the house.

Darlene held onto enough of the money to buy the remaining supplies to finish the shelter. The rest went to a plan that she decided was better not to ask the Association about. There were plenty of rabbit breeders around, and Darlene had no problem getting hutches, a buck and three does. Having read on the internet about raising fish in a barrel, she searched the internet to find the information.

After reading through it, she went to the closest farm supply place, which wasn’t very close at all, and bought the largest polymer stock tank she and the clerk could shoehorn into the back of the Subaru with the hatch open.

When she got home she quickly backed the Subaru into the open bay of the garage and unloaded the tank. No need to advertise to anyone passing on the street. She waited until she had set up a worm farm under the rabbit hutches before she filled the tank with water and stocked it with tilapia fish. The fish would be fed the worms that fed on the rabbit droppings.

The last of the money went for the materials to build a chicken coop and tractor, though she didn’t assemble it, much less get chickens. That, even under current circumstances, would bring the Association down on her.

With winter coming on, and no job, Darlene put up the greenhouse, with a little free help from Stanley and his sons. She quickly got a garden started in the greenhouse, and then tilled the ground in the back yard that would be a garden the next spring. She wanted it tilled so it would absorb all the moisture they received during the winter.

With a few of her planned projects still pending, Darlene went looking for work, signing up with the temporary service that had placed her at Stanley’s, where he’d hired her direct, after the required time with the temp service.

She got some work, but not much. But since she was getting some, she got no unemployment benefits. Feeling guilty about the large severance check Stanley had given her, she volunteered to do the payroll, the most difficult of programs for Stanley to use, for no pay. Strictly volunteer.

Stanley protested, a little, but finally accepted her offer. Having let the last crew go, for lack of work, it was only Stanley and the boys now. Though the amount of work wouldn’t support two crews, it kept Stanley and the boys busy six days a week. Stanley, despite not being very good at the paperwork the business generated, didn’t have time, either.

Darlene slipped in a little more work than just payroll. Neither she nor Stanley said anything about it. With only twenty to thirty hours a week through the temp service, Darlene still had plenty of time to do the work for Stanley, and still work on her prep projects.

With only enough income to buy groceries and a little gasoline for the Subaru so she stayed mobile, most of the prep work was minor stuff. Work in the greenhouse, and taking care of the rabbits and fish. The worms pretty much took care of themselves.

One other thing she did was set up her sewing machine and get back into practice sewing by making several items of clothing for herself with the fabric she had on hand.

Going from the wife of a moderately wealthy man to a single woman on her own wasn’t as much of a shock to her system as it would be to some. She’d grown up in a family that had to make due during her formative years, and the lessons had stayed with Darlene.

She watched as neighbors held yard sales in the development, selling anything and everything they could, to help make ends meet as prices kept going up quickly, and salaries went up slowly, if at all.

Along with the yard sales she was seeing, Darlene also saw ‘For Sale’ signs going up in the yards of several of the houses in the development. Times were really getting tough. Then the blackouts started in earnest. There had been occasional blackouts and brownouts during the summer, but with winter coming on, the expectation had been they wouldn’t occur again until spring, after the last two-hour blackout the week before.

They didn’t bother Darlene much. The solar power system was working like a charm and kept her refrigerator, freezer, furnace, computer, and a few lights going. Other than the monthly exercising of the generator, Darlene had not used it since she’d installed it. It was quiet enough not to alert the neighbors to its presence, but Darlene decided not to run it unless the battery bank got too low for efficient operation.

Darlene, having read much of the PAW fiction on the internet, made sure that no light showed when the commercial power was off. Besides the fiction she’d read, there had been several incidents reported in the local news of generators being stolen, and accounts of aggressive neighbors in some places demanding the use of someone else’s generator because they needed it worse than the generator owner.

Preferring to keep a low profile, Darlene made it appear she was in the same boat as all her neighbors. It would be hard to steal her generator, but she didn’t want the neighbors on her doorstep asking to run an extension cord to their house, or to store frozen food in her freezer.

She was particularly careful after talking to Jayne Noodle and her husband, Kevin, her east side neighbors, one evening when both drove up at the same moment and spent a few minutes talking through the fence.

Jayne was complaining about the blackouts and, because of them, loss of some meat in her freezer. She came right out and said, “I sure wish there was someone close with one of those electrical makers. I’d be first in line to store some things from the freezer in theirs. I think they would have an obligation to do it, don’t you?”

“Gee, I don’t know, Jayne. Don’t you think they’d have their own problems to deal with when the power is out?”

“Well, probably. But it would be the neighborly thing to do,” Jayne replied.

Darlene bit her lip to avoid saying anything else. She did decide to jibe her neighbor just a bit, though. “Are you guys considering getting one?”

“Heavens, no! They’re noisy and people steal them. We aren’t about to put up with that kind of aggravation and risk. I do wish someone would get one close though.” Jayne grinned. “But not to close to have to listen to that noise. Though… What about you? You going to go out and splurge so I can keep the steaks frozen? Maybe I could stand the sound.”

“I’m afraid I couldn’t afford it now. I’m not getting much work,” replied Darlene, not willing to lie, but not willing to tell Jayne that she already had a generator.

A week later, it was announced that there would be rolling blackouts scheduled for the foreseeable future. That was bad in and of itself, but without power, the overwhelming majority of tenants in the tract were not able to run their heating systems, since the natural gas heaters were electronically controlled. Three days before Christmas the natural gas was cut off for the first time. The district had been cut off to provide the limited supply of natural gas to colder areas. The temperature the first night was right at freezing. Even when the power was on, those heating with natural gas didn’t have heat, for lack of natural gas.

Propane and kerosene portable heaters disappeared almost over night, just had generators when the blackouts were scheduled. The small portable bottles of propane were gone shortly after the propane heaters, and the larger tanks, the 20’s, 30’s, and 40 pounders shortly after that. Propane was still available and Darlene filled the two 20 pounders she’d emptied after their initial purchase.

To top it off, California was deep in the midst of a drought, along with many other places, and fresh foods were becoming scarce. Foreign imports, especially from South America, while available on the docks, weren’t being shipped in due to the high price of transport, which would have put the cost of the imports out of reach of many Americans, anyway.

Unusual for winter, especially in twenty degree weather, a riot broke out at one of the big chain grocery stores in the city. It seemed to be a spark. Grocery stores all over the area had rioters out front, protesting both high prices and lack of availability for even basic foodstuffs. Three stores had the doors broken after they were locked due to the riots, and people made off with what food was available.

Even the store Darlene and many of the others in the subdivision used was mobbed. And it wasn’t inter-city gangs, or ethnic minorities that did it. It was the suburbanites in the area. Darlene was at home, watching the news, when that incident occurred. A news team happened to be close when it started and were filming people leaving the shop in droves, carrying things in their hands. Darlene sat up suddenly. One of the looters looked like Jayne!

Stepping out her front door, Darlene looked to see if Jayne’s car was at home. Jayne and Kevin had the bad habit of leaving their garage doors open. Neither of their vehicles was there. It could have been Jayne in that TV clip. Darlene shook her head and went into the house.

It was perhaps an hour later when the walk gate alarm went off. Darlene jumped up and took a look outside. It was Jayne walking up the walkway to Darlene’s front door. She was carrying a grocery bag in one hand, holding her coat closed against the cold weather with the other.

Darlene stepped outside. “Jayne? What’s going on?”

“I… uh… bought some things without paying attention to what I was picking up. Things Kevin and I don’t eat. I was checking to see if you wanted them. Perhaps had some good steak or even ground beef you’d mind trading for.”

“Gee, Jayne,” Darlene said carefully, “I don’t eat much beef any more. I don’t think I have any in the freezer.”

“Would you check?” I hate to see food go to waste. And if you don’t eat it much any more, it would only be right for me to take it off your hands.”

Reluctantly Darlene said, “I’ll check.”

Darlene didn’t know how to prevent it when Jayne followed her into the house when Darlene turned and went inside. “Oh, my! It’s warm in here!” Jayne immediately said. Darlene hastily went into the kitchen, opened the freezer door grabbed her last one pound package of ground beef, and closed the door, loudly, immediately coming back into the living room.

Jayne was looking around. When she looked back at Darlene after seeing the enclosed space safe propane heater sitting in the hallway, facing the living room, there was a mixture of suspicion, anger, and even a little hurt, in her eyes. “You have a propane heater! Kevin and I were too late to get one.” It was much more an accusation than it was simple statement.

Darlene nodded. “Here. I did have some ground beef left.”

Jayne took it, and thrust the grocery bag at Darlene, and turned toward the front door. As she stormed out, she said, loudly, “You should be ashamed! It’s just not fair!”

Stunned slightly at the vehemence in Jayne’s voice, Darlene hurriedly closed and locked the front door. Then she looked in the grocery bag. Suddenly she shook her head. A jar of cocktail onions and two cans of clam juice. Darlene thought to herself, “She didn’t even know what to loot! Gee Whiz! I wonder if she even looked to see what she was grabbing?”

Shaking her head, Darlene carried the items into the kitchen and put them away. She didn’t know when she’d ever use them, but she wasn’t going to throw them away. To take her mind off things, Darlene went out to the greenhouse to do a little work. But first she activated the remote controls for the driveway gate and the sidewalk gate. She should have been locking them anyway, but for sure they would be locked from now on when not being used.

Things just kept getting worse for most. Darlene was doing well, with enough income to keep fuel in the Subaru, and pay the gas, electric, telephone, and cablevision bills, and still keep a bit of cash available for emergencies.

Many in the tract weren’t doing anywhere that well. At least three families she was aware of had just walked off from their houses, unable to pay the mortgage, and provide the necessities. There were hopes that spring would bring better times. Congress was working on a comprehensive plan to get the economy under control, and do something about the shortages of critical items.

One of the early steps taken was the recall of all bullion gold, silver, platinum, palladium, and rhodium in private and commercial hands. Darlene smiled when she heard the announcement and unconsciously touched the belt she was wearing with her jeans. It had a zippered compartment in it that contained a few of the US Gold Eagle one-tenth-ounce coins she had.

After the divorce, Darlene had sold all the jewelry that Steven had bought for her and liked her to wear so he could show her and it off. The money had all gone into the bullion coin purchases, made at various coin dealers with cash, and without names. She wouldn’t be turning in any of what she held.

The enforcement of the recall was hit and miss. So much of the precious metals had been sold without records that tracking them down was difficult and the government didn’t spend too much trying to enforce it. Not only were individuals refusing to pony up the goods, some sellers turned in a bit, to make it look good, and then did a land market business buying and selling on the black market.

The next thing the government did was institute price and wage controls. Fully a third of what was available of just about every commodity went into the black market that sprang up overnight.

Things were now harder to get, at the controlled prices, than before the controls. And since there was a real shortage of the items, the black market prices were sky high. But at least some people had the money to buy, for the black market was a going concern. What little she bought, Darlene bought at the regular outlets, paying the controlled prices. When something was available.

It so happened a shipment of food was scheduled at the closest grocery store one Friday. Darlene had been riding the Paratrooper bicycle whenever the winter weather permitted and the distance wasn’t beyond her ability. She took the bicycle when she went to the story early that Friday. There was already a line to get in, and Darlene locked up the bike and took her place at the end.

Jayne, who had been giving Darlene the cold shoulder since the incident in Darlene’s house, drove up right after Darlene and got in line behind her, without speaking to her. Darlene decided to try to mend fences, so to speak, and to break the ice, said, “It’s nice to have the power and the natural gas back on for a few days, isn’t it? And a shipment of food. I feel blessed.”

“Well, I don’t. This is America. I shouldn’t be standing in line to get a loaf of bread and a can of tuna!”

“Why don’t you shut up?” said the woman in front of Darlene. “You ought to be thankful you’re getting anything at all. Look at you. Dressed to the nines, and I saw that Mercedes you drove up in. Spare me the indignation. I’m surprised you aren’t buying on the black market, a hoity-toity woman like you.”

Darlene thought Jayne was going to explode and attack the woman. But when the woman mentioned the black market, it seemed to sap Jayne’s anger and trigger her curiosity. “I heard about the black market on the news, but that’s just in the city center isn’t it? Cigarettes and booze?”

“Honey, you need to get out more. See that guy standing over there by the closed down pizza place?” The woman nodded her head in the direction to one side of the line. “That’s the black market, at least today. What ever they’ve got here in the store, he probably has three times that much. But he isn’t selling it for the price control price, I can guarantee you. Believe you me, if I had the juice, I’d be buying from him.”

“Really?” Jayne asked, her eyes on the man with interest. “Excuse me.” With that, Jayne left the line and headed for pizza shop. Darlene watched her neighbor talk to the man for a few seconds and then go into the shop. The windows were all covered on the inside with newspaper.

Darlene still had not made it to the front of the line when Jayne came out of the pizza place carrying two grocery bags. The way she was carrying them they looked to be full. Darlene just shook her head and took another step forward as the woman in front of her was allowed into the store.

Darlene, when it came her turn, picked up only a few things. For three reasons. She felt a bit awkward taking some of the limited stock that was available, didn’t have much money to spare, and there wasn’t that much to buy, anyway.

After strapping the cotton grocery bags she’d brought with her to the bicycle, she unlocked it, climbed on, and pedaled home. The next week Darlene arrived earlier than she had for the first rationed delivery.

There was less there at the start than when she’d been allowed in the previous week. She just couldn’t bring herself to take any of the food. There were several women there with children. Buying what she wanted would be taking that food out of those children’s mouths. At least that was the way Darlene looked at it.

What she did take was several of the free community newspapers from the racks in the entryway of the store. As she left the supermarket Darlene saw Jayne’s car at one of the small shops in a nearby strip mall. Though she couldn’t really tell for sure, the man standing outside the closed down beauty shop looked to be the same one at the pizza shop the previous week.

She was sure of it when she and Jayne arrived home at the same time. Jayne pulled up to the one of the garage doors and stopped the car. She took out two paper grocery bags and hurried into the house with them.

After storing the bike in the garage, Darlene went inside and fixed herself a cup of tea to help warm up some. Though she was dressed well for the weather, riding into the wind on the way back from the store had chilled her face, and even her hands through the gloves she wore.

Sitting down at the kitchen table with the mug of hot tea, Darlene opened up the first of the three community papers she’d picked up. It was sad. People were trying to sell all manner of things, some Darlene was sure they really didn’t want to.

She had some specifics in mind and quickly went through the papers. There were only a couple of submissions that fit her wants. People who had chickens wanted to keep them. There were plenty of entries for people selling eggs and dressed chickens, but only the two for live chickens. She filed away the information for future use.

The weather broke the next week, and Darlene tilled the outside garden again, getting it ready for planting. Her cell phone rang perhaps twenty minutes into the work. It was Jayne. “Is that you making all that noise?”

“Uh… Well… I’m tilling my garden, but…”

“I’m reporting this to the Association!” Jayne said and hung up.

Barely finished cleaning up after the chore was done, the buzzer for the front gate rang. Darlene looked outside and saw the Association president, Jake Harlan, the secretary, Brenda Coombs, and Jayne standing at the gate. The buzzer went off three times in rapid succession before Darlene could get to the door to go outside.

When she got to the walk gate she made no move to open it. “What can I do for you?” she asked through the tall spiked bars of the gate.

“We need to come in and talk to you,” Jake said. “There’s been a complaint.”

“We can talk here,” replied Darlene coldly. “I take it that this is about the rototiller.”

“You have no right to make that much noise,” Jayne said. “It’s against the CC&R’s.”

“I’m afraid she’s right,” Brenda said. “I have a copy of the CC&R’s right here and it says…”

“I know what it says,” Darlene said, cutting Brenda off. “It says that no nuisance noise over… I don’t know, several decibels, I can’t remember exactly how many, but it’s moot. I was not generating nuisance noise. The noise is being produced by an accepted activity. Namely, gardening. It’s exempt from the noise rules, unless it is in the dangerous level. Which the tiller isn’t.”

“Let me see that book!” Jayne said. But Jake took it before Jayne could.

After a minute of silence as Jake read the applicable section, Jake snapped the book closed and turned to Jayne. “She’s within the rules.” He turned away and headed for his car. Brenda went with him.

“I’m sorry the noise bothers you, Jayne. I’ll try to limit it to times when your gone.”

“Well, I guess if you can’t afford to feed yourself, you have to make do. Look at you. You’re wearing suspenders just to hold up your pants! How much weight have you lost?”

“I’m doing okay,” Darlene replied.

“Of course you are, dear. You just go right ahead and use that noisy machine. I’d hate for you to starve to death.”

Jayne went down the sidewalk and turned into her own walk gate.

Darlene had to hide a smile. Despite the condescending tone and words, Darlene’s deliberate wearing of her old ‘fat clothes’ had done what she intended. Disguised the fact that she was, in fact, maintaining her weight and not losing any the way many people were. Darlene had noticed that even Jayne, with her black market purchases of food, had lost a bit off her already slender frame.

Going back into the house, Darlene decided to go ahead and keep the tiller use to times when Jayne was not home, if at all possible. The less Jayne thought about Darlene, the better.


Disaster In The ‘Burbs - Chapter 2

Spring went well and Darlene’s garden flourished, as did the greenhouse garden. Her rabbits were breeding nicely, as were the fish. She had the freezer full of rabbit, fish, and vegetables. To earn a bit of extra money, she began taking her excess to a local farmers’ market that had sprung up during the hard times.

She turned the money right around and invested in dwarf fruit trees for the back yard. Before she planted any in the front yard, which was on her mind, she went to see Jake and Brenda to see if planting trees in the front yards was against the CC&R’s. It wasn’t. In fact, it was encouraged.

Of course, Darlene knew Jake was talking about stately shade trees and beautiful ornamentals. But the CC&R’s didn’t specify what kind of trees. Darlene bought several more fruit trees, plus a few nut trees, for the front yard.

Jane watered the garden and newly planted trees heavily, when needed, using the collected rain water and water from the hand pump on the well she’d driven. The yard sprinklers were on city water. When summer rolled around, with only a few showers during the spring, water rationing was in effect before July 4th and Darlene quit watering the lawn. She continued to water the garden and trees with water from the hand pump.

She watered by hand, carrying the water in buckets, and did it only in the early hours of the day, to get maximum effect of the water, and to reduce the chance of someone thinking she was breaking the rationing rules.

Someone turned her in, anyway, when her trees in the front yard continued to do well during the heat while others in the development withered in the one-hundred-plus temperatures. Again she found Jake, Brenda, and Jayne at her walk gate one afternoon. In addition to them, there was a city water department truck parked behind Jake’s Cadillac, the worker leaning against it, apart from the others.

“Now what?” Darlene asked, letting her annoyance show.

“You’ve been watering against the rules,” Jayne said before Jake could speak.

“No, I haven’t,” Darlene said, keeping her voice even.

“Well, we’ll just find out,” Jake said and turned to the water department employee. “Read her meter.”

“Sure thing, bud,” said the man. His name tag read Clyde. He looked at Darlene and said. “Sorry lady. We haven’t seen anything amiss in our patrols, but we have to check citizen complaints.”

Darlene nodded and the man knelt down at the edge of the fence and pulled the water meter lid. After writing down the meter reading he replace the meter housing lid and stood up.

“Well?” Jayne demanded.

“I have her records. She’s used less water the last two months than she did last year when there were no restrictions.” Clyde turned to look at Darlene. “Sorry, Lady. Had to check. Keep up whatever you’re doing. Your lawn may be dying, but your trees sure do look good. Wish my thumb was that green.”

Darlene nodded at Clyde, who was getting in his truck. She looked back at Jake, Brenda, and Jayne. “Well? I’m waiting for the apology.”

Jayne stormed off without saying anything. Jake and Brenda looked sheepish, but didn’t say anything. They just turned and went to Jake’s car.

Realizing she was pushing her luck, Darlene started hauling water from outside the rationed area, a couple of five-gallon buckets at a time, to water the trees in the front yard. She made sure she was seen handling the buckets at the car.

She continued to add more water from the well at night, and continued to water the trees in the back yard and the garden and greenhouse from the hand pump. With the situation the way it was, Darlene let her grass grow a bit higher before she cut it, and didn’t water it at all, just to keep up appearances that she was conserving water, not violating the rationing plan.

Darlene found it highly annoying that she was actually conserving more water than most, but had to hide the fact due to the petty antics of Jayne.

The price and wage controls, the precious metals recall, and all the other efforts Congress was making were not doing much to help the economy recover. Darlene was barely making it, money wise, with the small amount of temp work she was getting. But due to her well thought out preps, she was eating well enough, and making the utility payments. At least she only had to pay for what she used, utility wise, with all the blackouts, natural gas shortages, and limited water use keeping those bills down significantly from what they were before the crisis.

With August temperatures hovering between ninety-five and one-o-five, tempers rose similarly. More riots broke out. The suburbs were no long immune. Darlene’s didn’t have trouble until late in the month. But when it came, it was bad. Darlene lived well back in the development, and had no idea the riot was going on the next street over. The houses were well insulated.

She happened to look outside, to see if perhaps the ten percent chance of rain might be bringing in some clouds. She didn’t see clouds, she saw smoke and reflected light from fires. Darlene used the telephone to call 911 to report what was going on and then hung up. She ran to her bedroom, strapped on the gun belt with the Redhawk, and threw one of the bandoleers over her left shoulder.

Picking up the Marlin 1894 she ran back to the front door. Before she could turn off the living room light the light went out. She flipped the switch down, anyway. If it was a temporary outage she didn’t want to become back lighted if it came back on.

Slipping outside cautiously she wished for a moment the rifle wasn’t stainless steel. It was picking up the ambient light. Darlene crouched down behind the planter to her left. The first modification Darlene had made after signing the papers for the house was to build two planter boxes, one on each side of the front door of the house.

They were tall, coming up even with the bottoms of the house windows. Rather than flowers, she had planted strawberries in them, as both a decorative plant and for the berries. She could still see out the windows, but could crouch or lie down and be behind the mass of the wide planters if someone ever took a shot at the house.

Since there was a decent slope toward the street from the house, someone would have to climb on top of a tall vehicle to get a shot over the planters into the space usually protected by them.

The second addition to the house were security shutters. They wouldn’t stop high powered rifle rounds but would keep any rocks or Molotov cocktails from being thrown into the house. The circuit controlling them was on emergency power and Darlene used the security remote to close them. Darlene checked the water hose connected to a frost proof hydrant in the front wall of the house. She turned on the faucet, to fill the hoses, and laid the pistol grip nozzle handy. If needed she could spray down any fires that might be started.

The entire tract seemed to be without electricity. Darlene kept a sharp watch from her cover and saw the rioting group turn the corner and come onto her street. Flashlights waving, the rioters were throwing rocks at every house they passed. Darlene heard the sounds of glass breaking.

Then a different light flared. Someone had lighted the wick on a Molotov cocktail. A streak of flame trailed behind the jar filled with gasoline as it flew through the air toward the house three down from Darlene, on the other side of the street.

Out of the corner of her eyes Darlene caught a flash of light from Jayne and Kevin’s entry porch. The two were standing in the entry watching the rioters approach, shining a flashlight toward them.

“Get back inside, you two!” Darlene whispered. Though there was no way for them to have heard her, the couple did turn and go inside. But not before the rioters had spotted the flashlight beam.

The mob’s attention turned to the Noodle’s house. Rocks began to fly. Unlike Darlene’s gates, the Noodles had not put remote control locks on them. A dozen people opened and ran through the gates, getting close enough to really pepper the house with rocks. Windows began to shatter and Darlene was sure she heard Jayne scream.

When Darlene saw the flicker from a lighter in the process of igniting the wick of another Molotov cocktail, she raised the Marlin to her shoulder. But she was too late. The man with the jar of gasoline with a lighted wick ran through the walk gate and threw the Molotov cocktail through the Noodle’s shattered living room window.

Flames immediately shot out of the window and Darlene heard Jayne scream again. Another Molotov cocktail was being readied, but not for the Noodles house. This one would be thrown at Darlene’s house. The mob was moving toward her gates.

Despite the precautions she had taken, Darlene wasn’t going to risk a Molotov cocktail. She stood up, the Marlin at her shoulder. “Throw that and you’ll die!” she yelled at the mob. She triggered a shot into the ground at the rioter’s feet. The mob began to break up and run in all directions at the sound of the shot. The man with the Molotov cocktail tossed it just over the fence and went running with the others.

The wailing sirens of fire trucks and police cars were finally beginning to get closer. Hurriedly Darlene took off the gun belt and the bandoleer, carefully hiding them under the strawberry plants in the planter. Grabbing her garden hose, she ran out and started spraying water on the grass in the front yard that was now blazing.

She looked over and saw Kevin and Jayne standing near their front fence, watching their house go up in flames. Kevin was holding Jayne tightly, her face buried in his shoulder. Darlene felt for them, but she had her hands full with the gasoline fed grass fire.

The Noodle’s house was fully involved when a fire department pumper showed up and laid lines down from the hydrant just down the street. By that time Darlene had the grass fire out and was pouring what water she could from her garden hose on the end of the Noodle’s house that faced her house.

There were two reasons. One was to actually try and suppress the fire any way she could, the other was to prevent as much buildup of heat on the end of her house facing the fire. She didn’t want radiant heat catching her house on fire.

Neither Kevin or Jayne came over to talk to her. They stayed by their front fence and watched the fire take their house. When the fire department had the blaze under control, Darlene went over to talk to them. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “Why don’t you come over to the house and sit down. It’s going to be a while before the fire department finishes up.”

“No, thank you,” Kevin said. “We have the insurance agent coming, and a rental car is being delivered. We’ll get a hotel room for now.” Jayne just glared at Darlene as if the situation was her fault.

Darlene didn’t argue. She went back to her yard and watched the activity. It wasn’t long before the police started taking statements and the media showed up. When the officer talked to Darlene she told what she knew, leaving out the shot she had taken.

“Several people have reported a shot about the time, or just after the house next door was set afire and your yard caught fire.” The officer had her notebook out and was taking notes.

Darlene replied carefully. “Yes. I think so. I heard something. I think it made the guy drop the gasoline bomb just over the fence rather than try to throw it at my house.”

“Do you have any idea who fired the shot? One of the tenants or a rioter?”

“I couldn’t tell,” Darlene said. “I’m just thankful someone did. My house might be in the same condition as the Noodles’ home.”

“Somehow, I don’t think so,” the officer replied. “You have pretty good security. Good fences, security shutters. Probably saved you rather than the gun shot.”

Darlene just nodded. Suddenly thinking about Bear, she asked, “How did they get in? Bear should have been on duty. He’s really careful about letting non-residents into the community.”

The officer flipped back through her notebook. “That would be… Let’s see… Randy Jo… Johon…”

Johanovich. They J sounds like a Y.”

“Johanovich. “Yes. He was on duty. From statements by witnesses, he was attacked while talking to a resident coming into the tract. He was beaten rather badly. Ambulance took him to County General.”

“Oh my goodness! Was anyone else hurt?”

“Some glass cuts from broken windows and bruises from rocks. Thank you…” The officer checked her notes again. “Mrs. Carpenter.”

“Sure. No problem. What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”

“You’ll have to take that up with the current administration.”

“Oh.” Darlene was a bit taken aback by the officer’s vehemence. Darlene went back to her entry porch and watched the activity in the area. The power was still off. She declined to comment when one of the TV news reporters called out to her.

The reporters hit a gold mine with Jayne. Darlene watched as she talked to reporter after reporter. Finally, after the fire department rolled up their hoses and departed, Darlene picked up the Marlin, bandoleer, and gun belt and went inside. After she made sure everything was locked tight, with the security shutters down, Darlene turned on the TV in the kitchen. It was on one of the emergency circuits and was receiving power from the solar electric system.

She watched the late news, switching from one to another as each had its coverage of the riot and fires. Jayne’s ravings about how bad things were and their misfortune was on every station. Finally Darlene went to bed, there being nothing else she could think of to do.

The power was still off when she got up the next morning. As she had breakfast she watched the news. The power outage had been just the one subdivision. The main transformer feeding the tract had been shot several times until it shorted out.

As more information came out, it turned out that several houses that were attacked where no one was at home were entered, easy to grab valuables taken, and the house trashed or set afire. She saw Jayne’s interviews again. Finally, she turned off the TV, picked up her cell phone and dialed the County General Hospital information number, and asked about Bear.

She found out he was there, no longer in intensive care, and could have visitors. Though only a casual acquaintance through their contact at the gate to the tract, Darlene felt a kinship with him.

The hospital was some distance away, but Darlene took her bike, anyway, stopping at the only flower shop still open between her house and the hospital. A different guard was at the security kiosk. A different company entirely.

With a small plant in hand, Darlene went up to Bear’s room when she found out from the emergency room where he was. It was a four-bed ward. Darlene knocked at entered the open door. The first two beds in the room had the privacy curtains closed, but the third one was open. It was Bear.

“Oh, Bear!” Darlene exclaimed softly. His face was black and blue, and swollen badly. His ribs were wrapped. He had an oxygen cannula feeding oxygen to his nostrils, and two IV bags dripping something into his left arm.

“Mrs. Carpenter. What are you doing here? Are you all right? Were you hurt last night? I tried to…”

“Hush, Bear. Don’t excite yourself. I know it can’t be good for you. And I’m fine. I came by to see how you were. Brought you a plant.”

“You came to see me? Why?”

“Because you tried your best to protect us and paid a terrible price for it. I’m thankful you’re going to be okay. You are going to be okay, aren’t you?”

Bear nodded in response to the question, but said, “I didn’t do a very good job of protecting you. I heard they burned several houses, and trashed more.”

“Yeah. But don’t worry about it, Bear. It’s not your fault. You just take it easy and get well.” Darlene put the potted plant on the small table beside the bed.

“I wish more people thought the way you did.” Bear looked forlorn, Darlene suddenly realized.

“What? I’m sure everyone…”

“Not everyone. The Noodles are suing the security company I work for, and me personally, for what happened to them. A lawyer served the papers on me early this morning. I could lose everything I’ve worked so hard to get for my family. We’re barely making it, as it is. I don’t know how I’m going to pay the hospital bills. The company doesn’t have very good insurance.”

“Oh, Bear! I’m sorry. I can’t imagine anyone blaming you.”

“I think that’s just the way they are. Always in a hurry to get through the gate, and never a word or wave of recognition. Not like you. You stop and wait patiently when I’m checking someone. Stop some times just to say hello.”

“Sure others did the same as I?”

“Oh, there are others… were others, that were nice. But most were like the Noodles, always in a hurry and not very nice, in my opinion.”

“I’m sorry, Bear. I didn’t know.”

“Not your problem, Mrs. Carpenter. A lot of the guys have told me it’s just part of the job. There are just a lot of people out there like that.”

“Well, I’m glad you don’t consider me one of them.” A nurse came in and ushered Darlene out after that. “Get well soon, Bear,” Darlene said as she left the room.

As summer turned to fall, and Darlene started getting a bit more work, she discovered that several other people, at Jayne’s urging, had filed lawsuits over the riots. It turned out, that beside Bear and the security company, the Association was being sued, the security company that installed the Noodles’ fire and burglary alarm, and even Stanley, as installer of the fencing, all were named in the class action suit.

She saw Jayne one time shortly after the fire, when she and Kevin were allowed to go into the house and recover a few things. Darlene stayed in her house and managed not to tell them what she thought of what they were doing.

A month later, as she was leaving for work, she saw Jayne’s Mercedes and Kevin’s Cadillac SUV parked at one of the few vacant houses in the tract that had never sold. There was a delivery truck parked on the street and furniture was being moved into the house.

Darlene’s heart fell. She’d hoped, rather shamefully in her own eyes, that she’d seen the last of Jayne. But it appeared they were moving back into the tract. “At least not next door to me,” she muttered and drove on.

The Noodles burned out shell was demolished before Christmas and the lot prepped for a new house to go up the next spring. Darlene found out after Christmas that the class action lawsuit had been settled quickly out of court.

Between the security company and the Association, something was worked out with the residents named in the suit. Darlene didn’t find out the details, but it appeared that the arrangement included at least some suspended mortgage payments.

Stanley, the alarm company, and Bear weren’t required to pay anything, but all had some significant attorneys’ fees for representation in the settlement. In Darlene’s eyes, Bear was the biggest victim of the riots. Not only had he been beaten badly, racked up huge medical and attorney bills, he lost his job with the security company.

While he was recovering, and then looking for work, Darlene kept the family supplied with some food from her miniature truck garden. Frozen rabbit and fish, fresh vegetables, and even a little fresh fruit from the first of the fruit trees to start bearing. That was in addition to what she was selling at the Farmer’s Market.

Darlene wouldn’t sell from the house. Not only was it against CC&R’s, it put her too much in the limelight. As far as she knew, no one knew about her greenhouse, well, water barrels, rear orchard, or any of the security features of the house and grounds.

Jayne and the Association knew she had a garden, but not how big, and would soon realize that the trees growing in the front yard were, in fact, fruit and nut trees, not decoratives. That was the most she wanted known. People knowing you had, when they didn’t have, was just asking for trouble.

Even the sewing that she was getting was arranged at the Farmer’s Market, with Darlene making deliveries. No one showed up at the house for the work, so the Association didn’t know about that little business, either.

Her tax rebate from her full time work the previous year was just enough to pay the self-employment taxes she’d had working as a temp. Feeling a bit guilty about not reporting her additional income, Darlene counted up what she’d saved from the sales at the Farmers’ Market. It would be enough to do another project.

While she had natural gas heat… some of the time… and the propane heaters for when the natural gas was off, she didn’t have a long term solution for heat. Having done research on the Internet, Darlene knew what she wanted. And had just enough money to get it. It was another item not really addressed by the CC&R’s, so Darlene decided to buy the multi-fuel outside furnace and install everything except the final connections at the furnace.

Though it could be put into action after a few minutes of work, it wasn’t going to be connected and therefore couldn’t be considered in use, if an issue was made of it. It turned out the unit was more expensive than her old pricing had shown, so she had to put off the installation. That would come as quickly as she got enough money together. In the meantime, the bit of money that was left, Darlene used to buy a good used chainsaw and accessories at the same place she’d picked up the rototiller.

The shop owner showed her how to use and service it, and then directed her to the National Forest office to get a wood cutting permit. Whenever she wasn’t doing something else, she began cutting a Subaru load of wood and taking it home to store for when it might be needed.

As winter drew close, and the blackouts and natural gas cut-offs continued, Darlene kept saving up what she could to finish the furnace installation, except for those last connections. She was working a steady temp job, making a good wage at it, and made it through the winter in decent shape, though with the snow in the mountains, she had to give up cutting wood for a while. The Subaru was a good all weather, bad road vehicle, but it wasn’t a hard core off-road vehicle, so she didn’t tempt fate going where she might get stuck.

By spring, Darlene had the installation completed to the point she wanted and started saving for another project. Carrying the water for trees in the front of the house was getting annoying, but Darlene knew water was critical for their good growth. She had two options. Drive another well in the front yard and use lengths of four inch pipe she could move easily to distribute the water from the hand pump to the trees, the way she did the garden and the trees in the back yard. Or get a pump her limited electrical system could handle when the power was off.

When she was looking for pumps, she realized unlike the furnace, which had gone up, the solar pump she needed had gone down, and the small pressure pump had stayed the same price. She decided to do both projects. She waited until she had the money in the bank, and then ordered both pumps and the materials to hook them up, and the parts to drive another well, plus another hand pump.

She still wanted to maintain as low of a profile as possible. Darlene decided to camouflage the well and hand pump as a decorative water feature. As she had the first driven well, Darlene took her time, driving the well just two or three feet a day, covering the thing up with the water feature materials when she wasn’t driving the well.

When she was finished, late June, she put a tapped check valve on the pipe, then a short length of pipe, and finally topped it off with the new hand pitcher pump. Small valves were attached to each of the check valve tapped openings. One was above the stopper and one below.

Rather than digging the water feature down into the ground, Darlene installed it above ground and very artistically, she thought, piled rocks around it she got for free from Stanley. She primed the pump with a bit of water, both valves turned off on the check valve. With the pump primed, Darlene filled the little pond with fresh well water.

Setting the solar powered fountain pump in the pond, she ran the waterfall hose to the top valve in the check valve and connected. She opened the valve, turned on the pump, and watched as a small stream of water began to pour from the pump spout into the pond. Those that couldn’t figure it out would assume the hand pitcher pump was just as decorative as the pond water feature.

If or when she needed to use the pump, she merely had to close the top valve in the check valve, close the bottom one, and pump away. In the winter she would shut everything down, open both of the small valves so the water would drain back into the pond and well, respectively, so nothing would freeze. She had an alternate source of water for the front yard if she ever needed it.

When the other pumps came in, and Darlene had picked up a small fiberglass water tank from the farm supply store, she plumbed the two pumps and wired them up.

The solar powered pump solar panel went on the roof beside the other panels. The batteries and controller were connected and a protective box built around them in the corner of the greenhouse. The pump was connected through another tapped check valve with small valves attached, and then the outlet was connected through a tee with a valve on the side, and the hand pump was reconnected, through yet another tapped check valve. Just above the second check valve was a gate valve.

After priming the hand pump, Darlene pumped until she got water out of the hand pump and then closed the check valve. She turned on the pump and let it flow out of the valve on the tee to check it. When she knew it was working, Darlene shut the pump off and plumbed the outlet from the valve through a tee and second valve to the water tank. A float switch was added, the wires connected to the pump wiring to shut it off when the fiberglass tank was full. Off the side of the tee, a hose bib was added. The float switch had a by pass on it to over ride the switch so the pump could be run when the tank was full.

Darlene could fill the tank, or shut off that valve, open the hose bib, and flip the float switch bypass to run water directly from the well to where ever she wanted to run her large diameter garden hoses.

On the other end of the tank she plumbed the small Gould BF03S self-contained jet pump. The pressure tank was part of the pump body and didn’t require a separate pressure tank. Darlene added a tee to the outlet, putting hose bibs in each outlet. One was connected to the house water system by running a length of garden hose with female connectors on each end to the frost proof hydrant through the wall of the house.

Darlene drew 110 volt AC power for the pump from one of the lightly loaded emergency circuits. As long as there wasn’t much other load, even the solar power system would run the pump.

To get water into the house, Darlene could turn off the city water valve, open the hose bib on the pump and the frost proof hydrant. The little BF03S would kick in when the pressure dropped and draw water from the fiberglass tank. When the water level in the tank fell, the solar pump would refill it.

Rather than run down the batteries if a lot of water was needed, the generator could be started to run the Goulds pressure pump for as long as needed to water to the trees in the front yard, as well as the rear garden and orchard. No more carrying water in buckets, unless she needed to do so to camouflage the fact that she had the pumps.

Darlene did like options. And she used just about every one that summer to keep the greenhouse, outside garden, both orchards, and the strawberries in the planters watered well enough for them to do well.

It was a relief not to have Jayne next door, but Jayne drove by Darlene’s house arriving and leaving her new home. Every time Darlene saw her, Darlene waved, but Jayne would just lift her chin and go past, ignoring her. But a couple of times when Darlene was out of sight, but saw Jayne go by, Jayne would slow and study the place before continuing. For whatever reason, Jayne sure seemed to have it in for Darlene, if Darlene was any judge.

People seemed to have adjusted to the new way of life many of them had to lead. Cutting back to bare bones everything that could be. Selling off everything that wasn’t absolutely needed, or an historical heirloom. Eating meat only every few days. Standing in lines to get a few groceries. Buying from the black market those things that couldn’t be found in the legal markets.

Every state in the union, and just about every major city in each of those states, plus a few smaller towns, had riots every so often. They seemed no longer protest riots, but ‘grab what you can to eat or make a dollar from’ looting excuses. There had not been another riot in the area of the suburbs where Darlene lived, but it would surprise no one if another occurred. They were happing regularly in other parts of the suburbs and in the city proper.

Darlene didn’t know what else to do. She had cut back wherever she could, invested in things that saved money or made money, and looked for any and all work she could get. She hadn’t cut her hair in months. Her shiny black hair was almost down to her waist. Facials and pedicures were out of the question, though she had really enjoyed them when Steven encouraged her to get them.

Every spare penny went into preps for the long term, because Darlene was convinced this was not a temporary situation the way some people did. She also believed it could get worse, despite many people saying ‘It just can’t get any worse than this!’ But it did.

The US wasn’t the only nation going through some trials and tribulations. The depression had spread worldwide. Many countries were even worse off than the US. And like the depression in the late twenties, early thirties of the previous century, this depression was looking like it was going to take a war to break it. And more than one country was itching to start things off.

Darlene had done everything her financial situation allowed, based on everything she’d learned on the Internet and from Stanley while she worked for him, to be ready for what she was going through, and worse.

When it happened, on a late July day, it was definitely worse, but no country actually started it.

Click here to read chapters 3 and 4