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Disaster In The Burbs chapters 3 and 4

Jerry D. Young Library

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



Disaster In The ‘Burbs - Chapter 3

‘It’ was a slow traveling, relatively small as large things of such nature go, totally unexpected, Near Earth Object, that no one knew was near Earth until two days before the sun began to break it up and the pieces started impacting earth like a gigantic shotgun blast of buck and ball.

The two days of warning probably caused as much panic and problems as would have occurred without it. People began dying literally minutes after the announcement of the pending impact came from the UN Secretary General in a world-wide broadcast at Noon, New York time. Some people with bad hearts that couldn’t stand the stress of the news just keeled over.

Right on the heels of that, came killings, from simple euthanasia to hard core murder, with almost as many reasons for the killings as there were killers. Including a large number of would be killers being killed when they tried to kill someone that didn’t like the idea of dying.

Darlene was working a temp job as an order picker in one of the remaining Electrical/Plumbing/HVAC warehouse operations in the area. It was going to be a pretty good placing, Darlene thought a couple of days after she’d taken the job. Since the warehouse was just about the only source of parts in the area, they were getting almost all of the existing business in the trades in the area. The pay was decent, the warehouse cool even in the worst of the summer heat, and her co-workers were a pretty good bunch.

So, when someone yelled at everyone in the warehouse to come the reception area to listen to the broadcast happening at that moment, and Darlene heard what was about to happen she said probably only the third bad word she’d ever uttered in her life.

“What do we do?” the receptionist asked.

“I’ll answer that,” said the General Manager of the large operation. “You keep working until we find out more.”

It seemed to have the opposite effect of what the GM wanted. The room was almost empty in two minutes. Only the GM, the receptionist, and Darlene were left in the room. The GM went on a cursing streak that lasted fully a minute and a half and had words in it that Darlene had never heard, much less knew the meaning of.

Finally he stopped, looked at Darlene and the receptionist, and said, softly. “Might as well go home until day after tomorrow. I expect you back at work when all this nonsense is over.”

The receptionist almost knocked her computer keyboard off the desk in her hurry to leave.

The GM looked at Darlene. “What about you?”

“I’ll wait until the panic in the streets calms down some. Last thing I want is to get run over on my bicycle by a frightened motorist trying to get home to his or her family.”

“Yeah. Real or not, that’s what is happening out there. You want a drink while you wait?”

Darlene shook her head and suddenly decided that maybe being out in traffic might just be better than being here with the GM now that his eyes were glinting. She turned and ran into the warehouse. Grabbing her work BOB off the Paratrooper bicycle and putting it on, Darlene then pulled her bike from the rack just inside the loading door. She looked around. The GM was just watching from the office door she’d just come through. He just stood there as Darlene put the feet to the pedals and sped away.

It had been an easy ride to and from the warehouse the two days she’d worked there. And just like her projection of the dangers, Darlene had to be very careful not to get hit by the high speed, uncontrolled traffic on the streets.

But she made it home all right. After carefully locking the garage, Darlene went inside and turned on the TV. She happened to have commercial power at the moment. Every station that wasn’t completely pre-programmed was carrying the news. Experts were hastily brought in to studios and were giving their opinion about the situation. That it was going to be a planet killer, or wouldn’t have much effect except for pretty meteor showers. The opinions ran the gamut. On just about every show, since it wasn’t politically correct to just stick with an opinion. Every side had to be given fair time.

Darlene watched calmly. At least outwardly so. Inside she was wracking her brain to try to figure out what else she could do to prepare for the event. If the things did hit, and she happened to be at ground zero of one of them, there wasn’t much she could do to prevent or avoid it.

If one hit close, her shelter would give her some protection, but not as much as an underground one. Not enough time to do that. Probably every piece of earth moving equipment is already in use.

If a hit was at some distance, she had a good chance of surviving the impact itself. The aftermath wasn’t a sure thing.

If any and all impacts were well away from her, the odds went up for surviving the event, as did surviving the early post impact timeframe. Long term… She was as ready as she had been able to provide for.

Thoughts of going to get a ‘few more things’ crossed her mind, but she weighed the pros and cons and the cons won out. Too big a risk for too small a reward. Best to batten down the hatches immediately and go with the flow, no matter what happened.

Darlene got up, did a couple loads of laundry that needed doing, made herself a bit of lunch, worked in the garden, orchards, and greenhouse, and then checked the TV again. Same ol’ same ‘ol.

A good supper, long bath, and one last check of the TV before going to bed. At least there was consensus that there would be no impacts before approximately five in the evening the following day, New York time. The initial impacts, if there were any, would be on the dark side of the world.

Darlene went to bed, and surprisingly, fell right to sleep.

She was up early the next morning and checked the news again. The opinions weren’t quite as wide spread. Yes, there would be impacts, but they would all be small. No, the planet wouldn’t be destroyed completely, but human kind still might perish.

Darlene spent the day tidying up things, especially outdoors. She didn’t want anything blowing away if she could help it. She readied the shelter, though there wasn’t that much to be done.

By five New York time, like billions of others that had a TV, Darlene was in front of it, to see what could be seen, if anything.

“There was something,” the particular on-camera newswoman said, pointing up into the dark sky of central China. “There! There’s another!”

The screen went white for a moment, and then another news reader came on, also out in the open, pointing at the many streaks showing up in the sky.

Another white screen and the anchor man came on. He was in the network’s offices. “I’m sorry, Ladies and Gentlemen. We seem to be losing contact with our crews as the earth turns into this onslaught of extraterrestrial material slowly but surely. We hope to have…”

The screen went white and then black. When nothing happened for several seconds, Darlene tried another channel. It went black almost immediately. Communications were failing faster than she could switch channels. Finally she just turned the TV off, looked at her watch, and then went outside into the twilight that would soon be full dark.

Darlene checked her fence gates. Locked tight. She triggered the security remote and the security shutters on the doors and windows began to close, except for the walkway door into the garage from the driveway. Taking the lawn chair she’d left out when putting things away earlier, she put it on the driveway where she could look east.

Sipping from a glass of iced tea, she talked to a couple of the neighbors that had come outside themselves and saw her sitting there.

“How can you just sit there?” asked Mandy Benson. She was Darlene’s west side neighbor. They knew one another enough to carry on a conversation, but that was about it. The only real dealings Darlene had had with Mandy and Archibald Benson was about the fences, such a long time ago, it seemed like now.

“Nothing I can do,” Darlene said with a shrug. “We get hit or we don’t.”

There was a long period of silence as more and more people came out to watch for the impending impacts. Assuming there would be some. For some reason the majority of those people close came over to stand around Darlene’s driveway gate.

“How long are you going to wait?” someone asked, directing the question to Darlene. It was someone she didn’t know from down the block.

“Just until I see one in the sky, or see an impact.” The words were barely out of Darlene’s mouth when the eastern skyline lit up. “Like that,” Darlene added. “I’m going inside. I suggest the rest of you do, too.”

Calmly Darlene got up, folded the chair, picked up the iced tea from the driveway, and turned to the garage. The others erupted into panic as one streak of light zoomed over their heads with a screaming sound.

Darlene opened the door into the garage, closed the security door after she closed the regular door, set the chair aside, and went into the shelter, locking the two heavy wood and steel doors behind her. One at the outside entrance and the other at the entrance from the baffled entry hall. She was sealed in.

With only one battery powered LED light glowing, Darlene went to her knees, looked up at the ceiling of the shelter, brought her hands together, and then began to pray, her words barely audible.

The long prayer done, Darlene got into one of the four bunks in the shelter and laid down, wrapping herself in the blanket that was on the bunk. She turned to face the wall and waited, eyes closed, for whatever might come.

Darlene felt the shelter shake many times, one time violently. After what seemed an eternity, but was actually only three hours, the shocks stopped.

She tried one of the security cameras that had a feed into the shelter. It faced the street in front of the house, and several houses across the street from her. Everything looked fine, except for it being very dark, even at night. The commercial power was off again. She tried a camera that pointed east. She could see more of the sky. Such as it was. Just one ugly blackness all the way to the horizon. She could see the reflections of flames on the bottom of the dust cloud.

Checking the remote reading radiation meter, Darlene discovered that there was only background radiation. Then she looked at the weather panel. Ad first she thought everything was normal, but when the display changed to outside temperature she gasped. It was almost one hundred and fifty degrees outside, while still only seventy-one inside.

Determined to stay inside until the temperature came down, Darlene fixed another glass of iced tea, and sat down at the counter that held the computer, radios, weather instrument, and inside air quality monitors.

The CO2 level was still within limits but rising slowly. She didn’t have a headache yet. Opening up the laptop computer, Darlene did some reading of the various prep information she’d gathered from the internet and boned up on CO2.

It would be some time before she needed to hang CO2 absorption blankets, and more time than that before adding oxygen from the bottles stashed between the back wall of the shelter and the garage wall. The absorption blankets and oxygen equipment had been the hardest items to get for the shelter, and the most expensive items. Though she’d had to fudge the truth a little, and eat light for a couple of months, she’d managed to get them.

When the CO2 alarm sounded, Darlene was starting to get a headache. She put up the curtains and waited for the CO2 to drop. It did, slowly, but steadily. The oxygen level was down, but still adequate. The humidity was up so Darlene turned on the small de-humidifier in the shelter. The temperature inside the shelter was up to seventy-three degrees. Outside temperature down ten degrees to one forty.

Over the next couple of days Darlene napped for a while when she added oxygen to the shelter or hung fresh absorption blankets, as it gave her time to get some real sleep without worrying about the shelter environment for a few hours.

She didn’t even think about going outside until the outside temperature was down below one hundred twenty. When it had fallen that low, Darlene transferred the various atmospheric sensors to an isolation cabinet she’d made from an acrylic fish tank and a few parts from Radio Shack.

Opening a small valve, Darlene turned on the small fan that drew air from outside, through the isolation tank, and back outside. The sensor changed readings slightly, but, to Darlene’s great relief, oxygen, CO2, and carbon monoxide were within safe limits.

Still, when she stripped down and put on a lightweight Tyvek coverall with attached booties and hood, Darlene donned a respirator, too. Hesitating only a moment, Darlene wrapped the gun belt with the holstered Redhawk around her waist and buckled it in place. There had been no indications of hard radiation, but she made sure she had her pocket alarm in her pocket before she went outside.

Hesitating a moment, Darlene then opened the sealed door to the entry hall, and locked and sealed it behind her. Next she opened the door into the garage. She stopped there and looked around in the light from the bright six D-cell Maglight flashlight. So far, so good. A few things had been jostled about by the ground shocks, but nothing critical was damaged.

Crossing her fingers, Darlene tried the security door remote. The walk through door shutter began to open. “Yes!” Darlene said. There was still power in the battery bank for the house. There were some dead fish, and the water level was low in the fish tank.

Darlene stepped out into the faint light and looked around. There was enough light to see so she slipped the flashlight into a deep pocket in the coveralls. She made a circle around the house. Only on the east side did anything look amiss. The wall of the house and the roof looked different, somehow, and the trees in the orchard had shriveled leaves on their east facing sides.

The rabbits were dead in their hutches. There didn’t seem to be many worms, but there were some.

Next Darlene went out into the street and began to check neighbors’ houses. She stopped after the sixth house full of bodies. There had been a couple of bodies out on lawns and in the street, but their faces were so badly blistered from the flash that must have occurred, and the heat afterwards, she couldn’t tell who they were, even if she might have known them.

Lightning began to flash and Darlene felt a hot breeze. It looked like it would storm.

Turning around, Darlene went back to the garage. After taking out the dead fish and taking them out to the garden spot, she drained the tank down until the remaining fish were flapping around in an inch or so of water. Darlene activated the well pump and refilled the fish tank.

Just be before she went into the shelter, Darlene lifted the respirator and took a deep breath. The air smelled of char and heat and dead fish, and was hot in her lungs, but she didn’t pass out or feel ill. She took another breath just to be sure and then went in, sealing the doors behind her again, ready to take some pure oxygen to flush her lungs if she did react.

She monitored herself for several long minutes, but felt no ill effects from having breathed the outside air. Then, bathed in sweat from the heat outside, she stripped off the coverall and stepped into the shower in the small bathroom in one corner of the shelter.

Refreshed, Darlene fixed a bite to eat, checked the air in the shelter again, and laid down for a nap. That heat had just sucked the strength out of her.

When she woke, Darlene began scanning the Amateur Radio bands. Nothing but static at the moment. With as much particulate matter as was obviously in the air, and the possibility of electrical phenomena in the turbulent atmosphere, such as the heavy lightning, she really wasn’t expecting anything for several more days.

She slipped into a routine similar to that she’d followed before going outside. Before she explored further she wanted the outside temperature to come down more, and hopefully some of the dust to drift out of the atmosphere. She would still need a dust mask and goggles, but hopefully she wouldn’t need the respirator.

Keeping an eye on the outside by the cameras and monitor, Darlene saw the sky lighten just a bit every day, with light to heavy rain coming every day or so. It was washing some of the atmospheric contamination out of the sky, but Darlene decided it would be years, if not decades, before it all back down on the ground. Darlene said a little prayer to ask that there be enough sunlight for gardens to grow.

Nine days after the fact, with the temperature outside a bearable ninety-five degrees, Darlene dressed for the heat, armed herself, and went to check more of the housing tract. She’d tried the car and it had started right up, but she didn’t want to use it yet. Partly because of the dust, but also because she could see and go places on her bike she couldn’t if in the car.

There was enough light to see, and Darlene could easily tell where the sun was, but things were a long way from normal.

The bodies she found were highly desiccated. The extreme heat had dried them out before they could begin to decompose. Even those that had died inside were mummified, for the most part.

It took her three days to check every house in the tract that she could get into. If the place was locked up tight she left it as it was. Only those houses that had at least one door unlocked would she enter. She kept a log of what she found, including bodies. Something would have to be done about them, but there was no way she could handle it on her own.

It was eerie riding the bicycle around. It was almost totally silent. No birdsongs, traffic sounds, insects chirping. Nothing. Except for the thunder. That came often, often loud enough to hurt Darlene’s ears. Whenever she heard thunder, even if she didn’t see lightning first, she found overhead shelter. The lightning was horrific and the thunder just as bad. The rains came down in sheets, hot and muddy still.

Darlene finally took the Subaru out of the garage and left the tract to see what might lie outside of it. More of the same, mostly, she discovered. And then she found the first survivor besides herself.

It was a young woman and when she saw the Subaru she ran into the large C-store she’d been standing in front of. Darlene pulled into the parking lot and stopped. When she got out the Redhawk was in the holster on her belt, and she gripped the Marlin in her right hand.

“Hello!” Darlene called, opening the door a fraction. “Hello! Are you there? I’m not going to hurt you. Come on out!”

“Are you a girl?” came a quivering voice.

“Yes, I am,” Darlene answered, opening the door a bit more.

“Are there any guys with you? I won’t come out if there are any guys with you.”

“No. I’m alone. Are you all right?”

Slowly the woman stepped around the corner of the stores walk-in cooler. When she didn’t see anyone besides Darlene she ran forward and hugged Darlene before Darlene could react.

“Hey! Hey! It’s okay. You’re all right now. What happened here? How did you survive? What’s your name?”

“Milly.” That was all for a few moments. Then Milly stepped away from Darlene and took a look out the door of the store.

“You really alone?”

“I am. Can you tell me what’s been going on? How did you survive?”

“I was on late shift. I saw the things in the sky. And then it got even darker than night and really hot. I got in the walk-in cooler with a couple of the customers. But they didn’t stay. They talked about it and said they were going to make a run for it. I never saw them again.

“I just stayed in the cooler, drinking the drinks and water and eating the sandwiches.” Her nose turned up for a moment. “The toilet wouldn’t work and I used one of the plastic buckets from the fast food part of the store to go to the bathroom. It stinks.”

Milly seemed calmer, but she suddenly tensed. “Two days ago I was out looking around. Two guys chased me, but I got away and hid. They just kept looking and looking and looking and telling me what they were going to do to me when they caught me. They’re still around here somewhere. That’s why I hid when I saw you.”

“We are for a fact, still around,” came a voice from behind Darlene. “And there are two now, Harry. We each get one.”

“Yeah. And then the other one.” Both men laughed.

Darlene didn’t hesitate. She knew she couldn’t afford to. Survivors like these two would make living in the new world untenable. Moving quickly and fluidly, Darlene spun around, raising the Marlin to her shoulder at the same time. As soon as the front sight touch human form she fired and worked the lever, and continued to swing the gun in an arc.

She heard a shot that wasn’t her gun, and then her sights were crossing over another human form. Again she fired. The first man had gone down immediately. This second one, hit in the shoulder was able to fire his pistol again.

Darlene felt a burning sensation on her left leg, but had worked the lever of the Marlin again automatically and drew another bead. That heavy .44 Magnum hollow point slug took the top of the man’s head off from the nose up.

Darlene didn’t realize Milly was screaming and screaming again until the action was over. She went over to Milly and put her arm over her shoulders, turning her away from the carnage of the two men. The first man had taken the hollow point at the base of his throat, into the spine, half decapitating him.

“Milly,” Darlene said, “Wait right here. I need to check them.”

“Are they dead?” asked Milly, keeping her face toward the front door.

“Oh, yeah. They’re dead. These were the two after you?”


Darlene picked up both pistols, and then checked the bodies for magazines. Both had two for their respective weapons. The first one had a wicked looking Spyderco CO8 Harpy hawk bill serrated folding blade knife. The second had a more conventional knife, but it was
razor sharp. She wiped the blood off the things on the shooter’s pants and then went back to join Milly.

“Milly, do you know if any of your family survived?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been afraid to leave here in case it gets hot again. It was so hot I could barely stand it.”

Darlene looked back at the two dead men. Both their faces and hands were badly blistered. How they suffered that and survived for as long as they did, Darlene wasn’t sure.

“Come on. You’re going with me,” Darlene told Milly and headed out the door.

“Will you take me home?”

“I will. We’ll see if your family is okay. If they aren’t, don’t worry, you can stay with me.”

A subdued Milly followed Darlene out to the Subaru. She gave directions to Darlene on how to get to her house. Milly, like Darlene, wasn’t holding out much hope for her family, and it showed when they got there. “Will you look?” Milly asked Darlene.

“Okay. You sit here and I’ll check.” The front door of the house was unlocked and Darlene went inside. It was the same as so many others. People in poses of trying get away from the heat. In the tub, presumably with running water at the time. In front of the open doors of refrigerators and freezers.

Darlene stripped blankets and sheets off a couple of the beds and covered the bodies. She went outside and called to Milly. “Milly, I’ve covered the bodies. I want you to come in and get some clothes and things to bring with you to my place.”

It was like a recalcitrant child delaying going to school to get Milly in the house. When she did go inside, she grabbed things as quickly as she could and ran back out to the Subaru, clutching everything in her arms to her chest. Darlene looked for and found a suitcase. She took it outside and helped Milly get her things inside, and then close the case.

Darlene decided she’d done enough for the day and drove home, not seeing another soul.

Milly didn’t even question the fact that Darlene had electricity and running water. She just took advantage of them to bathe and change clothes, then eat the meal Darlene prepared. Darlene set her up in one of the bedrooms and suggested she get some sleep.

“It’s so hot!” Milly complained when she went into the bedroom.

“Yes, I guess it is,” Darlene said. She’d been sleeping in the shelter, since it was several degrees cooler, and she felt
secure there. She wasn’t quite ready to let Milly know about it.

“Come on into the living room. It has a ceiling fan. You can sleep on the sofa under it.”

Milly eagerly followed and Darlene turned the fan on. It was probably as much psychological, as the fan merely stirred the eighty-five degree air.

When it was full dark again, Darlene closed all the security shutters and prepared for bed herself, luxuriating under the cool shower spray for several minutes.

Darlene was up at her normal time the next morning and opened up the house. It was still hot, but the temperature had dropped another three degrees, to eighty-two degrees. She prepared a breakfast, but Milly was still sleeping soundly. Darlene didn’t have the heart to wake her, trying to imagine the terror the young woman had endured those many days alone in the C-store’s cooler, and then hiding from the two men.

Suddenly Darlene was wondering why she didn’t feel bad about having taken two lives. Especially now, when the population of earth may have fallen by ninety-percent or more. “But scum is scum, no matter how many people are living or dead,” she said to the window as she looked out on the back yard.

When Milly began to scream, Darlene ran into the living room and took the frightened girl into her arms. “Easy, Milly. You’re okay. You’re safe with me.”

It took a couple of minutes, but Milly calmed down and then hurriedly went to the bathroom, after looking around the room and getting her bearings. Darlene went back into the kitchen and Darlene followed a few minutes later, still in her pajamas.

After warming up Milly’s breakfast she gave her the plate and watched as she fiddled with the food, eating very little of it.

“Milly,” Darlene said when Milly pushed the plate back and stretched, “You need to finish that up. We don’t have food to spare and can’t afford to waste any. And you’ll need your strength to…”

“You’re not my mother! You can’t tell me what to do. I’m an adult.” Milly reached over and flipped the plate off the counter, staring at Darlene.

Darlene held her temper and cleaned up the mess before she spoke. “Milly, if you expect to live under my roof, you will follow my rules.”

“Fine. Didn’t ask for help and don’t need help. I’ll take my stuff and get out of your hair, you mean old woman!”

“Milly, don’t be like…”

Milly wasn’t listening she stomped out of the kitchen and went to the room Darlene had intended her sleep in. Five minutes later she came out, carrying the suitcase. “Give me some food!” she demanded. “I’m leaving.”

“Well, young lady, if you want to leave you may do so, but I’m not wasting any of my food on you. There’s plenty out there for the taking, if the heat hasn’t ruined it.”

Darlene didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want Milly out on her own. If the first contacts were any indication, the post apocalypse world was going to be a dangerous place in which to live. But there was no way Milly was going to act like a spoiled thirteen year old in Darlene’s house. She was an adult and needed to act like one.

After those few minutes of thought, Darlene went to the front door and looked out to see if Milly might not just be trying to worry her, by pretending to leave.

“Nope,” Darlene said. She saw Milly across the street trying to get the neighbor’s car started. Darlene just watched. Finally Milly had the car started, backed out of the driveway and took off, screeching the tires when she floored the accelerator. The engine was running rough at first, but Darlene heard it settle down before Milly made the corner. Milly took the first corner on two wheels, and Darlene heard more squealing tires as Milly made her way out of the subdivision.

Hurt and annoyed both, Darlene wiped away tears that had started to roll down her cheeks. “It is her life. She’s entitled to do what she wants with it.”

A moment later Darlene straightened up and said, “Quit feeling sorry for yourself! Time to go do some more exploring. If Milly survived, there are almost certainly others in the area.”

There were, but it took Darlene several days to find them. There were individuals here and there, and a couple of families that had made it. All had similar experiences and had suffered much more than Darlene had in her shelter. Deep basements, bank vaults, walk in coolers like Milly used… All had given just enough protection to save lives, but the survivors had all suffered terribly from the heat.

Many were desperate for water and Darlene began hitting every little and large store she passed to pick up bottles of water and easily digested foods, such as simple soups. Until the survivors she found had recuperated enough to fend for themselves, Darlene made a regular round checking on them and handing out the food she got at stores.

Finally, after a month, those that Darlene had found and helped, began helping themselves. Then Darlene decided to check the hospital. She’d thought of it several times before, but had put it out of her mind. It was going to be a bad situation, and Darlene knew it.

But she went, and discovered a group of survivors at the hospital numbering more than the total of individuals and family she’d already found. A total of fifty-four had survived in the deep basement shelter of the hospital. And they weren’t all patients and staff of the hospital. It was some time before Darlene found out the details, but when she saw Kevin and Jayne Noodles she had an uneasy feeling that things had not been pleasant or easy.

At least the group was organized, to a degree. Thanks to one Dr. Brian James, who had simply taken charge and run the shelter. But there was only a degree of cooperation. There were many that had disagreed with Dr. James and made their disagreement known often and loudly, Darlene discovered.

There were essentially three groups at the hospital. The largest being the one Dr. James led with most of the staff of the hospital and the few patients that had survived willingly following.

The second was a small group, apparently with no real leader, but including Kevin and Jayne, that had caused all sorts of trouble for the Doctor from the time they arrived and demanded entry till the time Darlene showed up.

The third group was about a third of the total group. They were leaderless as well, and tended to back, as a group, first the Doctor, and then the malcontents, as each subject came up for debate.

Forays had been taken in the area around the hospital and food and water obtained, but everyone was still staying at the hospital, many in the shelter, with only a small handful of Dr. James’ group doing the foraging and gathering of supplies for the others.

They also were responsible for clearing the dead from the hospital and burying them. A construction project nearby had a backhoe that one of the men could operate, so the burial wasn’t that difficult. Just heart rending.

As soon as Jayne saw Darlene, with her skin still as smooth and untouched as before the impacts, she became almost hysterical. Jayne’s once beautiful skin was as red and blistered as the rest of those that had endured the one-hundred-forty degree heat in the shelter during the worst of the heat outside. Unlike Darlene’s sealed shelter, the hospital shelter had to bring in outside air, even when it was the hottest, to breathe.

Dr. James came over and, with Kevin’s help, got Jayne calmed down. It took a
Valium to get Jayne to calm down and shut up.”

“You know her?” Dr. James asked Darlene when he walked over to her after dealing with Jayne. Darlene had made herself scarce, to lessen the stress on Jayne while the Doctor was talking to her.

“We used to be next-door neighbors,” Darlene replied. We still live in the same subdivision, but not next door to each other.”

“That’s probably a good thing,” said the Doctor with a chuckle. “She seems to think you caused all this trouble.”

“I’m not surprised,” Darlene said, a wry smile curving her lips. “She’s hasn’t liked me from the day I moved in. It had been her best friend’s house before I moved in. She blamed me for her leaving, too.”

“I see. And may I ask how you have managed to survive, with so little physical ailments?”

“I have a shelter at my house,” Darlene said, having immediately trusted Dr. James after talking to him upon her arrival. “Sealed myself in. The temperature inside never got above eighty.”

“But CO2?”

“I had absorption material and medical oxygen to supplement the original air content of the shelter.”

“Wow. You sound like you were expecting this.”

“Not this specifically, though it was one of the things I considered when I built the shelter.”

“So. Are you one of those survivalists out to overthrow the government? Kind of a moot point now, I’d venture to say.”

The Doctor noted the annoyance in Darlene’s face. “I was not, and am not, one of those “Survivalists” you hear… heard about in the media before all this. I prepared for hard times, not the overthrow of the government. I don’t plan to start my own country. Or church, for that matter.”

“Sore spot, I take it.” The Doctor was smiling.

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“So. You know how to survive. What do you suggest we do?”

“Oh, no! I’m not getting involved in this group. I’ve got my hands full trying to get the other survivors I’ve found to deal with things on their own.”

Dr. James was surprised. “You mean there are others, besides those of us in the hospital?”

“Yes. Didn’t you know?”

Dr. James shook his head. “I just assumed we were the only ones, and we barely made it at that.”

“Others had basements. There was one family stayed in a bank vault. And several people took up residence in store walk-in cooers.”

“Oh. I see. So we really need to get organized, with this many people to see to, and no help coming.”

“Don’t really know if there will be any help,” Darlene said slowly. “I haven’t been able to raise anyone on Amateur Radio. If we survived, I’m sure there are others. Some areas probably weren’t nearly as badly affected as we were.” There was a pause and then Darlene added. “Of course, there are bound to be huge areas where no one survived.”

“That, I’m sure of. Now, what should we do?”

Darlene sighed. “The basics. I imagine the sewer will stop up, if it hasn’t already. Need to dig temporary latrines. Send out salvage parties to keep supplied with food and water. You have medical supplies, I would think.”

Dr. James smiled and nodded.

“But all of you can’t stay here. There are countless houses in the area that are vacant. Or will be when the bodies are removed and buried. I suggest people take up residence in homes near useable water supplies, plant gardens, and salvage everything edible in the entire area of operations. The homes need to have fireplaces or wood stoves, and teams shou…”

“Fireplaces and wood stoves? In this heat?”

“This won’t last. I don’t know when it will happen, but sometime in the mid-term to long-term future, all the debris in the air is going to trigger swing to colder temperatures. Perhaps even an ice age.”

“I thought it would stay hot. Greenhouse gasses and all.”

“It might. That’s one theory. I happen to believe the lack of sunlight will have a bigger impact than the extra greenhouse gases produced.”

“I see.”

“And…” Darlene said, a bit reluctantly, “You might want to think about arming some of the people. I’ve already run into survivors that aren’t playing by societies rules.”

“Yeah. I noticed the pistol you carry.”

“It’s a double action revolver, not a pistol. But that’s beside the point. Yes. I do. And I intend to keep carrying it all the time, for the foreseeable future. I’ll not have survived this event to be taken or killed by someone that thinks there are no more rules and they can do anything they please without worrying about consequences.”

“You are quite adamant about this,” the Doctor said, studying Darlene’s face.

“I am. Anyone that doesn’t like it can just stay away from me.” She looked the Doctor right in the eyes when she said it.

He nodded. “I understand. Don’t really approve, but you are too valuable a resource to run off.”

“Now look! I am not a resource for you! You have plenty of people to take care of business. I suggest you go about doing it.”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to make you angry. Look. You’ve already given advice worth its weight in gold. Just try to keep in contact. I think all the survivors in this area are going to have to get along and cooperate if any of us are to survive very long.”

Somewhat mollified, Darlene nodded. “I’ll keep in touch. And leave you with one warning. Look out for Jayne Noodles. She’s trouble.”

“Funny. That’s one of the things she said about you.”

“I bet. Probably the mildest thing she said.”

“It was, actually.”

“I’ll try to get by every few days to see how you’re doing here.” She held out her hand and the Doctor shook it.

“Thank you for doing what you are,” he said, and then turned when someone called his name.

Darlene made an unobtrusive exit, her mind full of possibilities and potential problems. She was seeing more problems that positive possibilities. With what she’d learned in the past hour or so, Darlene made it a point to stop at the first store she came to and filled the rear of the Subaru with foods suitable for long term storage, and many other items of use for long term survival. For herself.

The slightly haphazard way she’d been gathering things for others had to come to an end. Salvage must be planned and carried out carefully. But she wasn’t going to disadvantage herself totally for the sake of others.

On the way home Darlene stopped at the big park that lay between her subdivision and the next. It had a large lake. Darlene was relieved to see that, though the high heat had evaporated significant amounts of the water, the rains had replenished it somewhat from the last time she’d checked.

Darlene did a great deal of thinking that evening, late into the night. Of course she would help, where she could, but she wasn’t going to give up her independence to take care of people that had made no preparations for anything, much less the event they were in the process of surviving.


Disaster In The ‘Burbs - Chapter 4

Well aware that processed foods would eventually run out, Darlene included rabbits and chickens in her search for long term supplies. She decided to go to the place where she’d bought her first set of breeder rabbits.

It was a gruesome sight. Most of the rabbits were dead in their hutches. But Darlene found several, rather skinny, rabbits running loose around the place. The only thing she could figure was that the owner had turned loose several to fend for themselves. Probably his favorites.

The rabbits were all docile and Darlene didn’t have much trouble picking them up and putting them in cages she found stacked by the hutches. She gave all of them water and some feed, which they devoured with relish. Darlene loaded all the rabbit feed and as well as all of the paraphernalia the dead owner had to raise rabbits on a large scale that she didn’t already have.

It took her a week of looking in the area to find any live chickens. She wasn’t sure how they had survived the event, but they obviously had. Then she spotted the open crawlspace under the two-story house. When she approached that was where the chickens bolted to. Apparently the crawlspace had been adequate shelter for at least some of the chickens. Not all had survived, as there were dead chickens here and there on the property.

Darlene blocked the entrance to the crawlspace and then looked around the small farm. Everything she would need to capture and carry the chickens was there. She left as the light faded. She got the rabbits she’d found in her hutches, ate a light supper, secured the house, and went to bed.

She was up before daylight the next day and on the way to get the chickens. It was light when she arrived. It took an hour to rig an enclosed pen at the crawlspace opening. When it was done, Darlene donned one of her Tyvek coveralls, added a dust mask and goggles, grabbed the Maglight six D-cell flashlight, and wiggled under the house. She turned and adjusted the pen for a tight fight.

It took four times as long as she expected, and she wound up losing three of the birds, but when she finished up, Darlene had two roosters, seventeen hens, and a good thirty chicks. It was deafening in the Subaru on the way back home. With the chickens in their new home, Darlene went back and stripped the small farm of its chicken raising equipment, and all the feed and supplements she could find.

It took her a week to get the rear of the Subaru cleaned thoroughly enough to eliminate the chicken smell. But she was again well fixed for small stock meat production, as well as eggs.

The temperatures had continued to drop, reaching normal for the area several weeks after the impacts. Darlene finally made contact with several Amateur Radio Operators using her unlicensed equipment. There were many survivors, spread out all around the world, though she made only one contact in the areas of Russia, China, and all of Africa. It seems that area took a second round of hits twenty-four hours after the first impacts.

Eastern Europe had been hit with the second round, too, but there were only a handful of additional hits in Western Europe and the Atlantic Ocean.

Australia had been peppered, but with the low population density, there was a higher percentage of survivors.

All-in-all, North, Central, and South America had fared fairly well, if eight-five percent loss of life instead of ninety-five percent could even be called that.

But the information told Darlene what she was desperate to know. There wouldn’t be any help coming from outside the US. It and every other nation was going to be on its own for a very long time.

Between dozens of impact generated tsunamis in every ocean, and enough heat generated by the impacts to melt Northern Hemisphere land locked ice and most of the ice on Antarctica, coastlines around the world had changed. Entire coastal cities and populations had been wiped off the face of the world. The world’s oceans were almost forty feet higher than normal already, and rising. But that was about to change.

With the fresh water influx to the North Atlantic, the Gulf Stream sank. And the temperature didn’t stop dropping when it reached normal in any part of the world. It should have stayed in the high seventies where Darlene was. But the thermometer kept dropping a degree or so every few days as the tremendous rains continued on a near daily basis.

Darlene was never quite sure why the exodus from the hospital ended up in her little domain, when it happened. Perhaps it was because that is where Jayne and Kevin lived. They essentially led the way. Darlene didn’t think the Noodles were any happier about it than she was.

But people began filtering in, taking up residence in the vacant homes. Even many of those survivors that Darlene had found individually got the word and moved in. Most just stacked the bodies from their new homes two or three houses down, if it was empty. When she saw it, Darlene immediately found Dr. James. It wasn’t hard. He’d taken the house next to Darlene.

“We have to do something about the bodies,” she told him.

Dr. James rubbed his forehead. “I know. I told the people that, but no one wants to do it.”

The two were standing by Dr. James walk gate. When a voice came from behind Darlene she jumped and her hand went to the Redhawk revolver on her hip.

“Geez! Bear! Don’t do that!” she exclaimed when she turned around and saw who it was. Bear and his family had managed to survive on their own. Like Darlene, Bear had a good shelter. But it didn’t include the air monitoring and handling options Darlene’s did. He and the family had suffered from the heat as much as the others, despite being well prepared.

“I’ll do it,” Bear said. “I can run a backhoe. We just have to find one around here.”

“There’s one at the hospital,” Dr. James said.

Almost as one voice, Darlene and Bear each said, “That’s too far.” Darlene continued. “Can’t afford to waste the fuel. There won’t be any new fuel for a long time. At least, not in this area.”

“She’s right. There’s bound to be something close,” Bear added.

“I’ll go looking. Even as desiccated as they are, we don’t want the bodies out in the open. Eventually dogs and other animals that survived will start feeding on them. That’s just not a good thing, any way you look at it.”

With her own words in her mind, Darlene took the Paratrooper bicycle on the search. She picked an area that she hadn’t already been through, knowing there were no construction projects going on it those areas.

It didn’t take as long as she thought it would. A mile and a half toward the edge of town a new mall was going in. There was any type of equipment they might need. After getting back to her house she took the Subaru out of the garage and went to get Bear. He and his family had taken the house the other side of the Noodles old lot.

Darlene took it upon herself to make the decision to bury the dead at the mall building site. It would use fewer resources to move the bodies that far than moving the backhoe. Plus there wasn’t a really good place within the development to bury them. There’d already been objections to the plan on that basis.

So Bear began to dig the hole and Darlene went to find volunteers to move the bodies. She didn’t have much luck. It came down to her and Dr. James. With Bear’s help they got one of the dump trucks at the construction site started and the two used it to move the bodies.

Darlene loaned the Doctor a facemask and a pair of leather gloves. Equipped the same way the nasty work commenced. There could be no gentleness to it, with just the two of them working. They had to swing the bodies back and forth a couple of times to get the momentum to toss them up to the front of the dump truck body.

Dr. James and Darlene were thankful for the cooler temperatures. They didn’t stop when the regular afternoon rain came. Darlene shivered once, but put it off to the strain of handling the bodies.

It took three full days to get all the bodies inside the walled development moved and buried. That included quite a few animal carcasses in addition to the human. It was all Darlene could do to make herself handle the several babies and toddlers that had perished. Those got special handling. They were set gently down in the dump truck right at the rear, and then laid carefully down in the mass grave.

Darlene kept to herself for several days after that. But the needs of the community intruded again, bringing her out of the doldrums handling the bodies had caused. Dr. James was ringing the walk gate buzzer and Darlene went out to meet him.

“Now what?” she asked, seeing the sheepish look on the Doctor’s face. “More problems?”

Dr. James nodded. “People are telling me the sewer is backing up. Most people are hauling water from the lake and flushing toilets with it, but they’re backed up now.”

“Well, for goodness sake! I told you they needed to dig latrines or build outhouses! Without commercial power the sewer system won’t work!”

“Some of them just don’t want to do that. They want power back and sewer.”

“Not going to happen. At least, not for a long time. We might eventually get septic tanks and drainage fields put in for everyone, but that’ll take months and a lot of cooperation.”

“I’ll tell them it’s backyard outhouses for now. Uh… What do you think about getting the water turned back on.”

“Crimeny, Doc! Don’t you listen? No electricity, no water! Until we can find someone to put in a local well, and get a pump and tank, and a generator to run it… It’s hauling from the lake, or drive your own.”

“Drive your own?” Dr. James’ brow was furrowed in confusion.

Darlene winced. She should have let that slip. “Well, if they can find the parts, the water table isn’t that far down, and they can drive a well. It’s what I did.”

She let Dr. James through the gate and walked over to the water feature just off the walkway.

“That’s just a fountain, isn’t it?”

Darlene shook her head. “I did that so no one would bother me about it. It’s only an inch and a quarter well. It would handle one house, but that’s all. The lake is still the best source of water. Though… rather than boil it for drinking water…” She gave Dr. James a sharp look. “People are boiling the water from the lake, aren’t they?”

“Well… They’re supposed to be. I’ve had a couple of cases of bad diarrhea that might be caused by bad water.”

Darlene looked down at the ground for a long moment. “Okay. This water is good. I had it tested and I don’t think the impacts would have changed that. Anyone that wants clean drinking water can come get it.” She frowned at the Doctor. “But only at certain times of the day. I’m not going to have people in the yard messing around when I’m not here, or at all hours of the day when I am here.

“You tell them they have to provide their own containers and fill them between six AM and seven AM in the morning, and six and seven in the evening. If I’m not here some of those times, they’ll just have to wait until I am here.”

“That seems reasonable.”

“Don’t bet on some of the others thinking that.”

Darlene was right. People started showing up as soon as word got around. Darlene went ahead and let those with containers fill them, but refused to turn loose any of her garden buckets for anyone to use.

Then Kevin and Jayne showed up. “I knew you were doing something against the CC&R’s,” Jayne said. She stopped outside the fence and motioned at Kevin. “Give her the jugs. We’d better not get sick because of this water,” Jayne added.

Darlene had made no move to come over to the fence to get the milk jugs from Kevin. “You’ll have to pump it yourself.”

“Figures!” Jayne hissed. “Do it, Kevin.”

A quiet and obedient Kevin did that when Darlene used the remote to unlock the gate. As it was, Darlene wound up holding the jugs in place for Kevin to use the pump to fill them. He couldn’t do both.

“From now on, it’s six to seven, morning and evening,” Darlene said as Kevin went back through the gate.

“You haven’t changed since all this, have you?” Jayne asked. “Still the superior little witch that wants to make her own rules and have everybody else live by them. Even carry a gun to make sure everyone follows along.”

Darlene was livid, but she stayed where she was and swallowed the angry comment she was about to make. “Think what you want, Jayne. You always do.”

Chin up, Jayne stalked off, Kevin following docilely. Darlene went into the house to cool down, muttering to herself as she went.

Not much of Darlene’s garden had survived the days of high heat. She was using the tiller on it to mix in the remains when she heard the bell ring that she’d fastened to the walk gate to her property.

“Now what?” she asked. Darlene glanced at her watch. It was ten in the morning. Long after everyone that wanted water was supposed to be getting it. She went around the house and stepped through the side gate. Darlene saw the Doctor, Bear, and three other men.

Darlene walked over, but made no move to open the gate. “What is it?” she asked.

“We have another problem,” the Doctor said. “Garbage is starting to pile up and…”

“For crying out loud! Just get a couple of guys to start up a garbage truck, load it up, compress the load and dump it at the dump. What’s hard about that?”

Bear looked a bit sheepish. “Well, when you put it like that, nothing. We were talking about digging a hole and burying it here, using pickup trucks to gather it up.”

“That’s not at all efficient,” Darlene said.

“No, it isn’t that’s why we came to you,” said one of the other men. One she didn’t know. “Everybody says you always have an idea.”

“Yeah, I have ideas, all right. But you don’t want to hear some of them right at this moment.”

“Come on, guys,” Bear said. “I think I can figure out a garbage truck if we can find one.” The group started to move away.

Darlene thought Dr. James was going to stay and say something else to her, but he shook his head and went with the others.

Later that day Darlene got on her bicycle and rode around the tract. Sure enough, there was Bear, driving the garbage truck, with the Doctor and one other man pitching the bags of trash and garbage up into the hopper. Every few stops Bear dumped the hopper into the tank and ran the ram to compress the load.

Darlene stopped. “Dr. James, you shouldn’t be doing this! You’re way too valuable to the community to catch something from handling this stuff, to straining your back, or something equally debilitating.” She looked at the other man. “No offense.”

The man smiled and replied. “None taken. I happen to agree with you. But no one else would volunteer to do it.”

Darlene suddenly took a closer look at the man. “Are you… Are you Jim Haynes? The well driller?”

The man smiled and nodded. “Well, I don’t really consider myself a real well driller. I jet in shallow wells for garden irrigation and for farmers to fill their water tanks out in the fields.”

“You were the one I talked to and suggested I use a drive point to get water.”

“Yeah! I remember that now! What did you ever do?”

“Drove two of them, as a matter of fact. The one everyone is using and…” Her eyes suddenly cut to the Doctor. He was smiling slightly at her inadvertent slip about having a second well.

She looked back at Jim. “Yeah. It worked fine.” Suddenly excited, Darlene asked, “You still have the equipment to do it? Jet in wells?”

“Well, sure. But I don’t have any materials. Things were so tough before this happened I quit stocking strainers, pipe, and fittings.”

“But you could drill wells for the houses here, if we got you the materials?”

“Sure. Probably wouldn’t need but one well for four or five houses, if the water flow is good.”

Bear had left the truck and was listening in.

“Both of mine pump really easy and there is a full spout of water with every stroke.” Darlene’s face fell. “But we’d have to get pumps… And they’d need electricity…”

“It’s doable,” Jim interjected. “I know there are still some pumps where I was buying them for resell. We’d just need to find some portable generators. People would have to limit their water use to a couple of periods a day, so the generators wouldn’t have to run all the time. You’d be able to get water, have light, cool down the fridge and freezer…”

Jim was getting excited. But his face suddenly fell. “But… Gee… I feel like a heel… But I have to figure a way to get food and stuff. Things are getting hard to find. Some of the ones without families are going far and wide to gather things up, but they want to get paid for them. I… I’d need to get paid for the work I do, to buy food, since I wouldn’t be able to go out salvaging.”

“That’s understandable,” Bear said. “I kind of feel the same way. I think the community should pitch in and help the ones that are working for the good of the community. Like us, doing the garbage.”

“I don’t mind doing it,” Dr. James said. “And I certainly won’t refuse to treat someone if they don’t have any money. What can we really buy with it, anyway?”

“Nothing. At the moment,” Darlene said. “It would pretty much just be trade goods for services, services for services, and services for goods, and goods for other goods. After that… Well… there is something… But it’s too early to talk about it. I’m certainly willing to contribute to the community coffers, and to pay individuals for any work they do for me.”

“What do you say, Jim?” asked Dr. James. “If we get food for you in trade, and we can get the materials, you’d do the wells?”


“The sooner the better, then,” Darlene said. “This getting water from my hand pump is already getting really old. Half of them expect me to pump it for them. Even had one ask me to carry the bucket back for them.”

“I guess we need to get some kind of formal organization going to get this done,” Bear said. “A community council of sorts. A council in charge of a town meeting.”

“Anyone even tries to resurrect the old CC&R’s and I’m out. I mean it! This place had so many restrictions you wouldn’t believe it.”

“But you’d participate?” Dr. James asked.

“Sure she will, won’t you, Darlene?” Bear asked.

“Actually,” said Jim, “I think she should be nominated for council chair, assuming we’ll do a vote and all.”

“Not on your life!” Darlene said. “I’m not about to get involved in a mess like that. I’ll go along, as long as things are well thought out and reasonable. And don’t impact me much. I’ll contribute to the community coffer, like I said before, but I’m not going to carry this place just because of a few people not wanting to lift a finger of their own.”

“You’re talking about Jayne Noodles,” Dr. James said.

“That’s one of them, for sure.”

“She likes to throw her weight around and has a negative opinion about just about everything,” Jim said.

“Yeah.” Bear agreed, too.

“If I keep her out of your hair, you’ll consider participating?” asked Dr. James.

Darlene hesitated, but finally nodded. “You keep her out of my hair and I’ll participate. But not as an elected official! Just as a citizen with her own opinions to contribute.”

That seemed to settle the matter. Bear headed back to get in the cab of the garbage truck, and the Doctor and Jim went to the next house to pick up their trash. Darlene got back on her bike and took off. All three of the others thought a similar thought. Like Darlene was on a mission.

They weren’t wrong. Darlene went home, got the Marlin and a bandoleer of ammunition to add to the Redhawk she always carried, and headed for the entrance of the development at a rapid pace on the Paratrooper bicycle. Her first stop was at a Chevy/GMC dealership. She looked the vehicles over and picked a one-ton, crew-cab, four-wheel-drive, diesel powered pickup truck. It was all decked out for heavy off road use, with a heavy bumper and winch, and auxillary lights pointed in every direction.

It took a few minutes to find the keys, and then Darlene got in the truck and started it up. The engine rattled for a few moments but settled down immediately. Darlene checked the fuel gauge and frowned. Less than an eighth of a tank. But suddenly she grinned. The sticker on the window had listed as an option two fuel tanks, the main tank fairly large. One-eighth of it should get done what she wanted.

With the bicycle in the bed of the truck Darlene headed for the tool rental place just down the road. She was a bit bruised afterwards, but had a portable generator loaded into the back of the truck a little while later. The place sold tools, as well as rented them. After going through what was available, Darlene put together a large toolbox full of hand tools.

She had to unload part of it to get the box up into the bed of the truck, but she managed, reloaded the toolbox, and then tied it and the generator off with load straps so they couldn’t slide around on the coated bed.

Another short distance and she pulled into a service station that sold on road diesel fuel. It took her a solid four hours to figure out the wiring for the pump stations and the generator and get them hooked together so she could pump fuel.

After getting the pumps working she filled up both fuel tanks of the truck, and then disconnected the generator, leaving the leads she’d brought out of the wiring box where they were so it wouldn’t take long to hook back up.

Next stop was a welding supply shop. She’d read her share of PAW fiction and knew how to get past difficult obstacles to get to what was wanted. With a cutting torch set secured in the bed of the truck, and several extra bottles of acetylene and plenty of oxygen bottles, along with some other items, Darlene went salvaging.

First salvaging stop was the closest coin shop. All she needed to get into it was an eight pound sledgehammer, and a few healthy swings. She didn’t go out of her way to destroy anything, but she was determined to get into the display cases and the large free standing safe in the back room of the store.

The display cases were easy. A pry bar was all that was needed. Darlene was selective. Only pre-1965 US silver coins, and gold coins of all types. When she had those in the truck she tackled the safe. Several blows of the sledgehammer didn’t open it, though it sure wrecked the lock mechanism.

After thanking her father silently for having taught her ‘boy stuff,’ when she was in her teens, Darlene put on cutting goggles, rolled the wheeled cart with the cutting torch into the shop and cut the lock off the safe. A few blows of the sledge and the guts of the mechanism fell into the safe and she was able to jiggle the locking studs so she could open the door. She was glad she’d taken the time. That was where the good stuff was. Like many others, the coin shop owner had held onto the majority of his precious metals. They were in the safe.

She left the high value non-precious metal numismatic coins for later collection by a history team she fully intended to organize, and took the precious metal bullion coins, rounds, and bars.

A gun store was down the street and she hit it next. Darlene worked until midnight and then found a store with some food left and ate a midnight snack. After a long nap in the locked up truck, she went to her next destination. She took another break the next morning, and then got right to it. By the time she pulled in to her house the next night just before midnight, the bed of the truck, and the U-haul trailer she was pulling, were loaded down with guns, ammunition, gold, platinum, and silver.

The guns and ammo were the volume. The precious metals were the major value, though Darlene was pretty sure the guns and ammo would eventually have a great deal of value, too. By daybreak everything was stored away. She hadn’t noticed the ladder on each side of her front fence during the night, but she saw it that morning as people began to approach for the morning water run. They must have found ladders somewhere that first evening or morning after so they could get to her well.

Darlene took her time looking over the house. Sure enough, there were signs of where someone had tried to get in. But they hadn’t tried very hard, for the security shutters on every door and widow showed only minor scratches.

She unlocked the front walk gate and let the people in. They were very quiet, staring at Darlene’s dirty, disheveled appearance. Especially standing there with the Marlin slung over one shoulder and the ammunition bandoleer over the other, and the big revolver on her hip. She just stood there and watched as one person or family after another got water. The last ones to show up were Jayne and Kevin, Bear and his wife Julie, Jim, and Dr. James.

“You been rolling around in a pig sty?” Jayne asked coldly as Kevin pumped and Jim held the milk bottle for him. “Where have you been?” Jayne then asked when Darlene made no response to Jayne’s first question.

“I’m a bit curious about that, myself,” Dr. James said. “We thought something happened to you.” His voice was more than a bit chiding.

“I’m a big girl, Doc. Don’t need a keeper. I go where I want, when I want, how I want, and for the reasons I have.”

Not until Jayne and Kevin were up the sidewalk quite a distance did she relax. “If you must know,” she told Dr. James, “I simply went shopping.”

“For what? Coal?” asked Jim with a laugh.

Darlene smiled. “That’s on the next trip.”

“I see you got a new ride in the process,” Bear said, pumping for Jim, and then for his wife, and finally, for the Doctor.

“Did for a fact,” Darlene said rather cheerfully. “Got a good deal on it, too. Now, since everyone has the water, I’m going to excuse myself, take down the ladders, and then go clean up and take a long nap. I don’t expect to be disturbed by anyone or anything.” She started to turn away, toward the house, but turned back.

Her demeanor was no longer light or her words bantering. “It would probably be best if I never find out who tried to get into my house. I might just take punitive action on whoever did it.” With that, Darlene walked toward the house, triggering the security remote to open the front door security shutter, and then lock the gate behind the others when they went their separate ways with their water.

For the next seven days Darlene disappeared after the morning water haul, and got back just before the afternoon water haul. On that seventh day Dr. James told her that things were set up to for a town meeting to elect a community council to lead it.

“Let me know how it goes,” Darlene said and turned away.

“Come on, Darlene! Participate at least enough to show up.” Darlene heard the humor in the Doctor’s voice when he added, “You wouldn’t want to get elected in absentia, would you?”

Darlene growled slightly and turned back. “I’ll be there. Where and when?”

“Tomorrow at noon, in the community center.”

“Okay. Like I said, I’ll be there.”

Other than a couple of the older teens and the children the teens were babysitting, everyone that had moved into the tract, plus a few that were living outside the tract, but nearby, showed up.

Darlene had to admit, Dr. James had a great speaking voice and manner. He held the group spellbound as he expounded on what was needed for the community to persevere and prosper. One of those things being the need for cooperative community action, strictly a democratic town hall meeting directed by a small council with a chairman and secretary.

Jim called out, “I nominate you, Doc, for chairperson.”

“I second,” Bear said.

“I move we elect Dr. James to the position of chairman of the council by acclimation,” Darlene found herself saying, and began to clap her hands. Bear and Jim joined right in and in a few moments well over eighty percent were clapping.

Darlene stepped up and rapped the tabletop with her knuckles. “Dr. James is elected Chair of the Council by acclimation.” She turned to him and said, “It’s all yours now, Doc.”

“We’ll open the nominations for secretary of the Council now. Any nominations. Every one was looking around at everyone else.

Suddenly Darlene heard Kevin’s voice. “I nominate my wife, Jayne.”

There was a second offered after a short pause, and then silence. “For lack of other nominations, I move we elect Jayne by acclimation,” Dr. James said, keeping his eyes well away from Darlene.

A beaming Jayne made her way up to the table beside Dr. James. She sat down and slid the notepad and pencil that was on the table near her. She flipped open the notepad and began to write.

“Better vote on how many council members before we start nominating, hadn’t we?” Bear asked.

Several people shouted out numbers, but the majority number was five.

“Can I see a show of hands for five members on the council?”

Darlene looked around at the group and had to agree with Dr. James when he said, “Motion carried. There will be five additional members of the board. That gives us an uneven number so there shouldn’t be any deadlocks. Now, the floor is open to nominations for the five council member positions.”

Bear and Jim both called out Darlene’s name. After glaring at both of them when they seconded each other’s nomination, she stepped up, raised her voice, and said, “I respectfully decline the nomination, and nominate Bear… that is, Randy Johanovitch and Jim Haynes.”

“One nomination to a person,” Jayne said.

“Oh, I think we can be pretty lax on some of Robert’s Rules. Other nominations, please.”

There were only five nominations in total, so all were elected by acclimation.

Dr. James tapped the table. “Okay people! The elections are over. I think we council members should talk to all of you and get some idea of what we need and want to do. We can have a town hall meeting this Friday afternoon. Does someone so motion?”

“I so motion,” someone called out.

People began to separate into small groups. Darlene suddenly noticed that Jayne was talking animatedly to two of the women that had been elected to the council. They were out of earshot, but Darlene could tell that Jayne was giving them an earful. “Probably about me,” she whispered, “From the looks the three are giving me.”

Darlene turned around. Doc, Jim, and Bear were talking together. The seventh man on the council was talking to a small group of people that had gathered around him.

“Oh,” Darlene said, stepping up close to Dr. James, “You have so much trouble on your hands. I should have nominated you for King. Would have been easier. You have my best wishes.”

Darlene left the three men and went home on her bicycle to get a little additional rest. The salvage work she’d been doing was tiring, and there were still the small stock, orchard, and greenhouse to take care of.

Again she made herself scarce for the next few days, continuing her salvage work alone. She’d added loose diamonds to her list of things to look for, but only a very narrow category. 1.0 to 1.1 carat, round brilliant cut, VVS 1 or better clarity, E or better color, with an attached GIA certificate. She didn’t find all that many, but there were some in a few of the upscale jewelry stores. She also picked up a few other things in the stores, but the diamonds were the targeted items.

Come Friday morning, Dr. James, Bear, and Jim hung around the gate as everyone else got their morning water supply. Darlene acknowledged their presence with a nod, but none of the three made any effort to engage her in conversation.

At least, not until they had their water containers filled and set back outside the fence. Darlene was in the process of locking the gate when Dr. James said, “Can you hold on a minute, Darlene? We need to talk to you.”

With a deep sigh Darlene leaned against the fence and asked, “Okay. What now?”

“We’ve… The council members,” Bear said, “have talked to everyone else about what the council should be doing. Except you. We need your opinions for the town hall meeting this afternoon.”

“You pretty well know what I believe,” Darlene replied.

“In a haphazard way,” Dr. James said. “We’d kind of like a… oh… ‘official’ list from you. We value your opinions and expertise.”

“Yeah. Right,” Darlene scoffed. “Okay. Give me a few minutes and I’ll go over my own notes and write out a list of the things I’ve been hoping to do. Will you be at the community center?” The question was directed at Dr. James.

He nodded.

“Give me an hour,” Darlene said. With that, the men picked up their water buckets and split up. Darlene went back into the house and turned on her laptop. She’d been keeping notes, as she’d told Dr. James and the others, about various projects she wanted to do, or see done. She rewrote the list, leaving out the more random thoughts about the projects, adding only the gist of the project.

Considerably less than an hour after their conversation, Darlene rode her bicycle down to the community center with the printed list in the backpack she took with her everywhere. She found all three men, Ed Hastings the fourth man on the council, plus Jayne and the other two women on the council going over each other’s notes.

Ignoring Jayne, which was returned in kind, Darlene handed her three page list to Dr. James, turned, and started to leave.

“Don’t you want to go over these and explain?” the Doctor asked.

“I think they’re self-explanatory. At least enough so to figure out if you want to pursue them or not.”

“Will you be at the meeting?” Bear asked.

Jayne did speak up then. “It’s not required.”

Darlene had already decided she wasn’t going to go, but Jayne’s words changed her mind. “Of course I will.” With that she left before anyone could say anything else to her. As she went out the front door of the community center she was sure there was an argument going on among the council members.

She spent the rest of the day working at her place, harvesting from the gardens and orchards, and canning much of the produce. She was running out of places to store things. Her third bedroom was almost floor to ceiling with stored items.

Well before time for the town hall meeting, Darlene finished up what she was doing, took a shower, and dressed in fresh clothes. With a small smile on her face, she wrapped the gun belt around her waist and settled the Redhawk in the holster again. Small pack on her back, Darlene got the bicycle out of the garage and headed into what she was sure would be a fray.

It was. The meeting, with almost three quarters of the tract’s residence in the audience, started off fairly well. Many people had come up with good ideas. Along with some ridiculous ones. All were discussed and either noted for future action, or dismissed out of hand.

Many of those dismissed seemed to have personal meaning for Jayne. She was frowning and getting visibly upset as item after item she voted for, was voted down, usually by a four to three margin, with Dr. James having to break deadlock after deadlock.

Darlene was beginning to get a little annoyed that not a single one of her suggestions had been addressed. But that changed in the blink of an eye. She recognized the printed list she’d given Dr. James.

Jayne immediately called for the meeting to adjourn so the council could consider the things they’d already gone over. It was voted down immediately.

She then called to handle the remaining agenda items in closed session. Again her suggestion was voted down.

“Okay,” Dr. James said, “We have a package of suggestions from Darlene Carpenter.” The room fell silent, as opposed to the constant murmurs that had been coming from the audience regularly.

Dr. James read the list. After he stopped, in the slight pause before anyone else could speak, Bear said, “I move we adopt all of these suggestions as goals for the community and pursue them as quickly as we can.”

“Objection!” Jayne said. “We handled each of the other suggestions individually. I move we consider these in the same way. Put it to an open community vote.”

“All those that believe these suggestions be considered as a package, raise your hand.” Then, “All those that believe these suggestions be considered one-by-one, raise your hand.”

It was close. One-by-one won out by three votes. Dr. James read off the first of Darlene’s suggestions. It was to install septic tanks for the houses. Put on the to-do list.

Put in water wells, pumps, and generators. Put on the to-do list.

Require everyone to have a garden. Some major discussion on it. Put on the to-do list, with exceptions.

Set up an organized salvaging operation. Put on the to-do list.

Set up a community coffer and come up with reasonable assessments and payments for doing the community projects. Private projects would be on a one-to-one basis. A great deal of discussion. Tabled for future consideration.

There were additional items on the list, but the hour was getting late and everyone was ready to go get water and then go home. The remaining items on Darlene’s list were tabled for future consideration.

Darlene hurried home to get ready for the onslaught of those getting water from her well. Things had gone rather better than she thought they would. Jayne’s constant negativism, especially if the subject had any connection to Darlene, was not well received by the majority.

“But,” Darlene warned herself, “She does have a small power base and intends to make my life miserable.”

As they had that morning, Dr. James, Bear, and Jim hung around until the others had their water and had left.

“That went fairly well,” Dr. James said, smiling.

“Not as well as it could have,” Bear said. “But not bad.”

Jim didn’t comment on the meeting directly. He did say, “Darlene, I hate to ask, but I’m going to need help getting the things for the wells.”

“That should be handled, by rights,” Darlene said, “by the community salvage teams.” She paused. “But, if it goes the way I think it will, I’ll help you the best I can.”

“Thanks, Darlene. Now I have to figure out how much to charge.”

“Can’t help you there, Jim. You’ll have to make your own deals with each person or head of household.”

Jim sighed. “That Noodles woman told me her well would be my first one. And since she’s on the council, the council would pay out of the public coffers.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Darlene said.

Dr. James’ face fell. “I didn’t know that. That’s not going to happen. Each household that wants a well will have to pay for it on their own. If we let even one person do something like that the council will be paying for everything.”

“And,” Bear interjected, “You know good and well that setting and collecting assessments is going to be a real pain.”

“And you wondered why I didn’t want to participate!” Darlene said with a small laugh. Then, seriously, she added, “But, unless Jayne gets a say and demands my entire property, you won’t have a problem collecting from me. Give me a reasonable assessment and I’ll fork it right over, to get things started. Maybe it’ll influence a few. Though I’d just as soon how much of what I contribute not be public knowledge. Only that I did contribute.”

“That might be difficult, but we’ll try,” Dr. James said. “To be honest, I really don’t know how to make such an assessment. I’m not comfortable with Jayne’s suggestion of those with the most give, and those that have very little be exempted.”

“You start that, you have the same situation you mentioned, Doc. No one will admit to having anything, and will want to receive everything they can from those that obviously have. Like me.”

“Just how much do you have?” Dr. James asked. He realized his casual comment wasn’t taken casually by Darlene immediately. She darted him a disappointed look, spun on her heel, and marched, back straight and stiff, to her
front door. She went in and the security shutter started downward.

“Man, you stepped in it that time, Doc,” Bear said.

“I hope to tell ya’” added Jim.

“I’m afraid you’re right,” admitted Dr. James. “I wasn’t really asking. Not really. Just curious. Like the rest.”

“You don’t want to be considered, ‘like the rest’ in her eyes. She doesn’t think too much of most of them. She was prepared for this to a great degree and none of the rest of us were. Why should she even try to help? We didn’t help ourselves when we could, the way she did.” It was a long speech for Bear.

“You really need to straighten this out, Doc,” Jim said.

With a sad nod, Dr. James agreed. The three split up and headed back to their homes.

The next day, during the morning drinking water run, Darlene took Jim aside. “As soon as you can, come back here and we’ll start looking for what you need to start jetting in some wells.”

“Okay, Darlene. And thanks. I know you don’t really have to do this.”

“I want to. You’ve been one of the few really doing everything you can to make things better for everyone.”

“Well… I don’t know about how helpful I’ve been. But I do try. Okay. I’ll be back in half an hour or so.”

Like Jim, Darlene had gone through the yellow pages looking for possible suppliers of the necessary components to get people water supplies.

It took all day, and they had to stop at several establishments all over the city, and some quite a ways out of it, but they found what they needed for Jim to get started. Which he did that very next day.

One of his friends forked over some canned goods and Jim jetted in the thirty foot well, hooked up a pump, plumbed it to the house piping, and hooked the pump to a generator. Long
extension cords were run inside to power up a few electrical items for the times the generator was running to operate the water pump.

That transaction broke the ice and others began to make offers of various goods or services to get their own water and power system installed. There were several cases where one well and generator worked for two adjacent homes, which greatly stretched the number of houses that could get the water and power.

Jim made it a point to give Darlene some of what he collected, despite her protestations, for the help she had provided. Finally Darlene accepted, realizing it was another precedent that needed to be set.

Jim didn’t turn Jayne into a friend when he continued to refuse to put her a system in, and bill the council. Eventually Kevin went to him and made the arrangements, forking over the now standard amount of canned and packaged food.

After two weeks of work Jim had everyone water in their home, and at least a little bit of electrical power on an intermittent basis. Jayne was one of the ones that tried to run the generator constantly and ruined the generator that Jim had provided. When she demanded Jim replace it with a new one, Jim declined. Jayne and Kevin were on their own to get a replacement.

The water systems were a double edged sword. With running water people again tried to use the flush toilets, with the same result they’d had before. The city sewers simply weren’t going to work in the foreseeable future.

Jim, with a couple of the other men that had started helping him, including Bear, started correcting the situation by installing individual septic systems for each house. Again Darlene, now a very skilled locator and salvager, helped round up the materials needed.

Bear loaded the prefab septic tanks onto a delivery truck, and then unloaded them into the hole he’d dug for that system. The sewer line from the house to the city sewer was cut and plumbed into the tank, and a leech field was installed using leech pipe and plenty of gravel.

The first installation was at Darlene’s. The systems went in as fast as Darlene could find new sources of the materials. Again Jayne was a problem. She didn’t want the front yard disturbed. “Put it in the back yard,” she insisted.

Kevin finally managed to get it through her head that the new septic system had to go where the existing sewer pipe could connect to it. Due to the hassles, their system was one of the last to go in. Again with a request to bill the council. Kevin paid up after a day’s salvaging on his own.

The other problem the water systems caused was a drastically higher need for gasoline to fuel the generators. Every system had included two five-gallon jerry cans of gasoline to get the systems going. Many people ran through what they had without consideration of where they’d get more.

Darlene’s spirit of free enterprise stepped in again to fill the need. While she’d been fueling up regularly at the same station she’d used the first time, she’d made no provisions to supply the tract.

She hired two men desperate to feed their families to run the station for her, dispensing gasoline and diesel from the pumps, which were all now connected to a larger generator. The generator was on wheels and could be moved to another station when the first one ran dry.

Darlene kept ten-percent of what was taken in and let the two guys split the rest. Again, most of the payment was in salvaged food and other products. Just about every family was now regularly salvaging on their own. Dr. James’ attempts to set up organized salvaging for the community, as Darlene had suggested, came to naught.

One day not long after she’d made fuel easily available, she was taking a tour of the tract to see how the septic systems were going, and suddenly noticed that just about every driveway had some type of
new vehicle in it. Often two or three. Only the biggest, best, most expensive cars, trucks, and SUV’s.

“Can’t say much, I guess,” Darlene told herself. “I did the same.” It just seemed a waste to her. She only used the Chevy one-ton to haul things that wouldn’t fit in the Subaru. And she used the Paratrooper bicycle for most trips in the tract or close by when she didn’t need to carry something that wouldn’t fit in her pack.

Darlene also discovered that the easy pickings for salvaging were long gone. All the stores and other local establishments had been picked over. Mostly haphazardly. Darlene started her own campaign of organized salvage of the picked over places. With a couple of people helping her for a percentage, she began gathering up everything left that could have any conceivable use later on.

The two people helping her only helped her load. They were dropped off when she was ready to unload the truck and the
trailer she used for salvage. Darlene didn’t want anyone to know where she was storing the stuff. It wasn’t at her house. There just wasn’t room.

There was a self storage facility some distance away. She was able to get the gate open without too much trouble and chose half a dozen of the larger empty units to begin storing her salvage in. Darlene put her own chain and lock on the gate of the storage facility to keep any casual visitors out.

Only things that extreme heat or cold could hurt did she take home to store. The second bedroom of the three in the house was beginning to fill. Everything else, with few exceptions, went into one of the storage rooms.

The temperatures the last few days had been in the mid-sixties. Quite comfortable. And the skies seemed to have a bit less contamination in them now, though they were in no way clear. The garden, even the greenhouse, had suffered some due to the lack of light.

At the next town hall meeting, which she reluctantly attended, again in
self-defense, Darlene noticed the many flashes of light out in the audience. She looked a little closer. Seemed like every woman there was loaded down with jewelry. And the way it was reflecting the light coming through the windows, it was the real thing. “SUV’s aren’t the only thing being salvaged, I guess,” Darlene told herself. Then she smiled slightly. “No different than me. I’m just not wearing much of what I took.”

Suddenly she felt a chill and looked back at the door. Several people were coming in. A breezed followed them in. Darlene realized it was much cooler than any since before the impacts. “This is not good,” she said softly.

Things seemed to be going well for the community and the town hall meeting went quickly. Just before Dr. James was ready to adjourn the meeting, Darlene raised her hand.

“Chair recognizes Darlene Carpenter.”

“I hate to bring this up, but I think we’re in for a severe winter. Probably well past time to start thinking of getting heat for everyone.”

“You have got to be kidding!” someone in the group called out. “It’s been hotter than you know what for months!”

“I feel an attempt to gouge the council and her fellow citizens with another crazy scheme,” Jayne said loudly.”

Darlene frowned and said, “Never mind. No one wants to think about it, no skin off my nose.”

She was almost out the door when she heard the gavel that had been located for Dr. James to use, and a hurried. “Meeting adjourned.”

Dr. James, Bear, and Jim caught up with her before she got inside her house.

“Darlene! Wait! We want to talk to you.”

Darlene almost went inside. She knew she was being overly sensitive. If it had only been Jayne’s remark, Darlene probably would have pressed the matter. But with the other comments, accepted by so many of the others, the head in the sand attitude had really gotten under her skin.

“Okay,” she said as she turned around and walked back down to the front fence. “What?”

“What you were saying…” Dr. James said. “Well… It’s so hard to believe that…”

Darlene started to head back for the house. “Let me rephrase that,” Dr. James said. Darlene faced the three men again.

“Could you explain further what you were talking about earlier?”

“There are theories that after a strike, or series of strikes like we took, there would be a period of very high temps.”

“We sure had that,” Bear said.

“Yes we did. And there are theories that the high temperatures would last for many years. They haven’t. Which brings me to another theory. The one that says as the temperatures slowly drop due to minimal sunlight reaching the earth. That, though the cloud cover can hold the temperatures up for a while because of slower than usual loss of heat to space, the lack of sunlight will over ride that and temperatures will drop.”

“They have done that,” Jim chimed in.

“A lot. A whole lot. Several degrees below normal. Around the entire earth.”

“You’re not saying a mini-ice age, much less a full scale ice-age, are you?” asked Dr. James.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. At the very least, very severe winters, probably starting with this one, and a year without summer. I’m not as confident of a
mini-ice age or full ice-age.”

“We don’t need anything else to worry about,” Dr. James said, looking down at the ground.

“Then don’t,” Darlene replied. “I was just trying to give the council the benefit of my opinions, just as I was asked.”

“We did ask,” Jim said to Dr. James.

“Of course we did,” Dr. James replied, looking at Darlene. “And we welcome them. But just like the high heat… What can we possibly do if there is even just a really severe winter. There’s no natural gas, and the small generators we have won’t run
electric heaters. Even if we could find enough fuel.”

“There has to be a way,” Jim said.

“Wood, of course,” Bear said. “We can install wood stoves in the houses and cut wood. We have an entire national forest we can cut down for firewood.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to take it that far,” Darlene replied. “And unless I miss my guess, we would be hard pressed to get enough wood cut for everyone for the winter, even if we could find and install, safely, mind you, wood heating and cooking stoves in every house.

“But there is an alternative. Every house, I think, in this entire suburb is on natural gas.”

“Of which there is none,” Dr. James said.

“Give me a chance, will you?” Darlene asked sharply. “Most appliances that use natural gas can be converted to propane. Most of the rural area uses propane. It shouldn’t be that hard to acquire
propane tanks for everyone, and convert heaters, hot water heaters, and cook stoves to propane. There should be enough electrical power to run the blowers on the heaters. Again, it would have to be just for a few hours in the morning, and a couple in the evening. Low thermostat settings, and everyone wears a sweater inside the house.”

“I had thought about getting small propane heaters that mount on the small tanks, but what you’re talking about would be much better,” Jim said.

“Count me in,” Bear said, “No matter what anyone else does. But we need to think about wood heat for everybody in the future. The propane won’t hold out forever.”

“My thought exactly,” Darlene said. “I have instructions on how to convert in my laptop. I’ll print them out. Between them, and what we can learn at a propane dealership, we should be able to train at least two or three people to do the conversions.”

The others were nodding. Darlene started speaking again. “You guys decide who is going to do what. I’ll take it on myself to provide the propane. Free of charge for the first fill of each tank. After that, it’ll cost if I provide the fuel. That isn’t saying anyone else can’t get propane on their own. Competition is a good thing, in my opinion.”

The others nodded again, not surprised at Darlene’s introduction of financial aspects into the discussion.

During the last week of October, when everything had been gathered up to convert the appliances, people began to wonder if Darlene might be right. The temperature had continued to fall, every day. It was now in the forties and keeping warm at night meant lots of blankets.

Darlene, with two others helping her again, had a semi trailer load of five-hundred gallon propane tanks at the tract, along with two ten-wheel delivery trucks. With Bear helping with a mobile crane, the tanks were unloaded and set at each house, and then filled, in three days.

A three thousand gallon commercial tank Darlene found was placed in her yard, and a fifteen hundred gallon tank placed at the community building.

The process of converting the appliances began, but it went slowly. Again, Darlene’s were done first as an example.

Unlike the conversion from propane to natural gas, where existing orifices could be drilled out for use, new orifices had to be found and installed. There just simply weren’t enough of them to go around. New, propane fired, appliances were taken off showroom floors and out of warehouses and installed in several of the homes, after the natural gas appliances were removed.

While the work was on going, Darlene moved a pair of propane fired whole
house generators from the propane place and installed them in her back yard. Bear moved them with the portable crane, as he had the propane tank. He was now the only one that knew for sure what Darlene had in her back yard.

She plumbed the generators in and wired them up, leaving the original system in place for back up, with the hundred pound bottles connected. Darlene had made sure that her commercial tank had a wet leg so she could fill the smaller bottles and tanks. Darlene’s house was now in basically the same shape, in terms of utilities, as before the meteor strikes.

The third large generator that the propane supply had she took to the community center and installed it so they would have electrical power, as well as heat, running water, and sewer. Darlene did a salvage run to gather up maintenance items for the three generators, to keep them running for years of moderate use. They should last as long as the propane held out, if they weren’t abused.

During a town meeting to fill everyone in on the progress being made, Darlene brought up some
new business. “I’d like to buy the vacant lot next to me,” she said when she’d been recognized by Dr. James.

Several called out, “Just use it! Nobody else is!”

It was one time that Jayne and Darlene agreed on something. Jayne immediately said, “She must pay for it. It’s community property by default.”

“But she’s already given the community all the stuff to get the community center back up to speed. That should be enough,” said someone else.

“I want to pay for it, separately,” Darlene said. “I want free and clear title so there won’t be any questions about it later.”

“What do you want it for?” Jayne asked.

“Personal business,” replied Darlene coldly.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dr. James said. “All those in favor of
selling the property to Darlene, raise your hand.”

There were only a few dissenting votes. “Now, about how much?” Jayne asked. “That is very valuable property we’re talking about. And with cash not worth much of anything, we’re going to need to come to some equitable form of payment.”

“I’m willing to add to the community coffers the amount of food an average person would eat in a year under current circumstances.”

“You have that much?” Jayne asked. She looked livid.

“Have or can get,” Darlene said easily.

“That sure would let us pay for things the community wants done, but no one will volunteer to do,” said Jim. “Let’s vote on it. Doc.”

“All those in favor of accepting the offered payment raise your hand, please.” It was another case of only two or three negative votes.

“Has the council decided on any recommendations for the amount of contribution each resident is going to give to the community? I’d like to get it out of the way so I know what I have available going into the winter.”

There was a lot of discussion among the group.

“Order. Order.” Dr. James said, tapping the gavel a couple of times on its sound block to get silence and attention back to the council table.

Jayne spoke up as soon as she could be heard. “I move that those that have prospered by the events of the past many weeks should contribute their fair share, which should distributed to those of us that have worked tirelessly to make this community a better place to live, at the detriment of our own situations.” She was glaring at Darlene.

Again pandemonium broke out and Dr. James banged his gavel, much louder this time. “Quiet, please! Quiet! This is something that must be discussed!”

“No discussion,” Jayne yelled. “I call for a vote!”

“Vote!” “Vote!” “Vote!” rang out from all over the room.

Dr. James looked over at Darlene and gave a small shrug. Darlene was standing there, arms crossed, watching the crowd. Suddenly she spoke up. “Listen, people! Listen! I have something to say before you have a vote.”

“There is to be no discussion!” Jayne yelled out.

“It won’t be,” Darlene said firmly. Silence fell at her statement, and Darlene made her statement. It was short. “All of you thinking of voting for this, remember that you might be on the other end of that food chain in the future. Those willing to accept such spoils of banditry don’t care who it comes from, as long as it’s not from them, but to them.”

Darlene dropped her arms to her side and headed for the door.

“Aren’t you staying to see how the vote turns out?” called someone from the audience group.

Darlene looked at the man, and then surveyed the entire group, and the council members at their table. “It doesn’t matter to me,” she said. “Either way it doesn’t affect me. Everything will be fine, or I will be gone, with my goods, my lot a scorched and salted piece of ground.”

“You can’t do that!”

Darlene didn’t respond. She continued out the door and went home. Angrier and more disappointed than at any time in her life that she could remember.

It was a half an hour before the walkway gate buzzer sounded. She looked through the peephole of the door. “The Three Musketeers again,” she muttered upon seeing Dr. James, Bear, and Jim.

She went out to talk to them. Bear spoke before the others did. “It was close. But Noodles lost. The vote was not for the haves to give to the have-nots. Every one is to give one month of food for one person to the community for community works.”

The three men looked at Darlene expectantly. After a few moments she asked, “What? You expect me to comment? I meant what I said. It doesn’t matter to me. Anyone that tries to take what I’ve built here without my permission will be dealt with harshly. If there is a significant attempt, I’ll leave, just like I said I would.”

“Please don’t be hasty,” Dr. James said. “Give us a chance to work on a situation before you make rash decisions.”

“I’ll do as I please, within the bounds of common sense. My common sense. Not the group’s, if it has any at all. But I don’t want to see bad things happen here. I’ll do my part. The part I decide I should do. The community will have thirteen months of food for one person tomorrow. Figure out how you’re going to store it and protect it.”

With that she turned and went back inside. The three didn’t try to stop her this time.

“That is one ticked off lady!” Bear said.

“I think, with good reason,” added Jim.

Dr. James said only, “I’ll see you guys in the morning.” He turned and headed for his house. The other two followed suit, each man keeping his thoughts to himself.

The next morning Darlene spent the early hours loading the pickup with twenty-six boxes. Each held a decent amount of food for two weeks for one person. It was mostly things she’d salvaged early on. She wasn’t ready for it to be known her resources for animal protein. No one, other than Bear, except possibly Dr. James, even knew she had the chickens. The Doctor might have heard them and figured out they were in her back yard. She doubted anyone else would think so, unless she gave it away in some way.

Stopping at the community center she found all the council members there, including Jayne and Dr. James. “I’ve got it,” Darlene announced. “Where do you want it?”

Jayne, an angry frown pasted on her face didn’t say anything, though Darlene was sure she wanted to. “Here, I guess,” Dr. James said. “We can put it in the storeroom and keep it locked. Come on, Bear, Jim. Let’s get it unloaded.”

Darlene stayed out of the way and let the three men move the boxes. When Bear said, “Man, you should see that Jayne! Oohing and ahing over every box. How it should be more. About how she…” he could have kicked himself and shut up quickly, grabbing another box without looking at Darlene.

“Don’t worry,” Jim said. “Doc’s got the only keys.”

“Not a worry in my head. Once it’s in the council’s hands, it’s yours to do with as you please. Of course, I would be very disappointed if it was just handed out to those that asked for it, the way Jayne wanted to do.”

“That isn’t going to happen,” Dr. James said, hearing what she said as he came out for another box.”

When the truck was unloaded Darlene asked the three men, “You guys know where Craig and Travis are this morning?”

“I think they’re putting up a
clothes line for the Hostens,” Bear said. “You have some work? I would sure like to build up my stocks for winter, considering what you think about the winter coming. Finding food now out in the world is getting really hard. My last food salvaging trip wasn’t very successful.”

“As a matter of fact, I can use all the useful help I can get. Sure, Bear.”

“I’m in, if that’s okay,” Jim said.

The two men looked at Dr. James. Darlene spoke before he said anything. “He needs to be careful of his hands. This is going to be some rough work.”

“Now you tell me,” Bear said with a laugh.

“I’m going to have to risk them. Like the others, I don’t have enough to get me through the winter.”

“Well… There is something you can do that shouldn’t endanger your hands. Meet me at my place. I’m going to go see if Travis and Craig will be available.”

When Dr. James, Bear, and Jim showed up Darlene told them, “Travis and Craig are tied up for another day, so it’s just going to be us.” She loaded a Colman cooler into the back of the truck. There was already a five-gallon water cooler in the truck. So were Darlene’s wood cutting tools.

“Uh-oh,” Bear said with a grin. “I may have spoken at the wrong time.”

Dr. James climbed into the front bucket seat of the truck and Bear and Jim took the
crew cab seat.

They rode in silence until Darlene pulled into one of the propane suppliers on the far side of the city. Everyone climbed out and Darlene said. “Okay, Doc. I’ve got five delivery trucks already filled up for future use. I want you to drive them to my vacant lot and park them. We’ll be back with a load of wood and drop you off again. That okay?”

“Uh… Maybe you better wait a minute and let me see if I can get the thing in gear. I’m never driven anything this big.”

Darlene, Bear, and Jim watched with some amusement as Dr. James got the feel of the smallest of the three trucks. He finally turned toward the gate after a few start and stop attempts. He sounded the horn and took the truck out on the road.

“I guess he’s got it,” Darlene said. “Let’s go. Don’t want to keep him waiting too long.”

Bear grabbed the front passenger seat and Jim took the rear seat. It wasn’t very far to the first place Darlene had wood already cut and ready to load.

“You’ve been at this before, haven’t you?” Bear asked on seeing the neatly stacked
firewood covered with a tarp.

“Yeah. Wasn’t sure it would still be here. Let’s load up.”

It didn’t take long to fill the trailer and the bed of the truck, using a bucket brigade approach and tossing the pieces of wood from one to the other. Darlene caught up with the slow moving propane truck just before he turned into the tract.

Darlene pulled the pickup and trailer to another section of the empty yard while Dr. James parked the propane delivery truck next to the two already on the lot. As she, Bear, and Jim began to unload the firewood, Dr. James walked over to watch and ask, “Are you sure you want seven trucks full of propane sitting next to your house?”

“I’m not so sure,” Bear said. He was in the house on the other side of the vacant lot from Darlene.

“They won’t be there long. I plan on moving them to a
secure location. Parking them here is just temporary.”

“Why didn’t you just have me park them where you want them long term?” Dr. James asked.

Darlene just gave him a look.

“Oh,” he said. Bear and Jim laughed.

“Okay. Time to go get another load each,” Darlene said a few minutes later. “And Doc, we won’t be back as quickly this time. Just hang loose until we get back, okay?”

Dr. James nodded and climbed into the pickup.

They moved three of the five propane trucks that day, and hauled three pickup and trailer loads of firewood, of which the last load had to be cut. It was all standing dead wood and would make good firewood without needing much drying time.

Over the next week, the other two propane delivery trucks were moved, first to the tract, and then Darlene moved them to the
storage yard. There didn’t seem to have been any activity other than hers at the storage yard. She moved two of the three trucks already from the vacant lot, leaving just one on the lot for use that winter without having to go get one. Beside it was parked a ten-wheel plus tag axle liquid fuel tanker with a split load of gasoline and diesel for easy access that winter, too.

With Craig and Travis helping in addition to Bear and Jim, using five chainsaws, a tremendous amount of firewood was cut, moved, and covered, with several more cords still in the forest to dry, also covered. There wasn’t another tarp to be found anywhere.

Temperatures were now below freezing and the first snow came on November 1st. It was a dirty, grimy, grayish color, but it was snow. The midday sky was as dark as late twilight and the wind was light.

Darlene sat down at her communications and computer desk and turned on her Yaesu Amateur radio transceiver and began
checking in with the list of contacts she had built up over the months.

When she turned the radio off late that evening, just before she went to bed, the ominous feeling she’d felt days before was now worse. Just about everyone she talked to in the Northern Hemisphere either had been receiving snow for the last few days, or it was just starting. North to South, East to West, the entire US was getting snow or the threat of it. The further south, the snow started a bit later, and was a bit less, but it was snowing all the way down in the Gulf of Mexico.

A shiver went down her back despite the cozy warmth of her house. If this was a sign of things to come, the small community was in for some bad times.

Click here to read chapters 5 and 6