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Disaster In The Burbs chapters 5 and 6

Jerry D. Young Library

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Disaster In The ‘Burbs - Chapter 5

The snow kept coming, off and on, for three months. Over eight feet of accumulation, with drifts in places twenty feet high, kept everyone except Darlene snowed in. Well, Darlene and whomsoever she offered one of the four snowmobiles she’d salvaged well before the winter set in.

Bear and Jim, at Darlene’s suggestion, and the council’s approval during another town meeting to address the issue, moved more of the construction equipment to the tract that could be used for snow removal. Just plowing it would have put hard packed snow ten feet deep in peoples’ front yards, so the snow was loaded in a dump truck and dumped on the lots of those houses that still remained vacant and didn’t have a front fence.

They could only do enough to make movement around the tract doable. The road past the gate house was one of the places with a twenty-foot drift. There weren’t very many places anyone wanted to go, so no attempt was made to clear it, to conserve fuel.

The snows finally slowed in early February, though they continued, mostly as flurries. The skies had cleared except for the very highest and finest of debris, allowing a watery looking sunshine to reach the ground. Most of the tremendous amounts of moisture that the atmosphere had picked up due to the impacts, plus the evaporation because of the resultant heat, had finally been dropped as snow around the northern hemisphere as the temperatures fell and the air could no longer hold that moisture.

The lowest temperature Darlene saw on her weather instruments was ten below zero. But temperatures held around the zero mark for weeks after the snow had slowed to those occasional flurries. But with her greenhouse heated, and the increased sunshine, Darlene was able to double her production of greenhouse vegetables. Whereby came a problem.

Again it was centered around Jayne, along with a couple of her friends. Jayne believed that the fruits of Darlene’s labors should be the property of the group, by some reasoning only she understood, but couldn’t articulate.

There were half a dozen families nearly out of food, some having been on short rations for a month. The food that Darlene had contributed to the community coffers was almost all gone. A bit of it had gone to pay Bear, Jim, Craig, and Travis, the four men in the tract that had both the ability and willingness to do much of the hard work required by the community.

To complicate things, the Noodles had once again burned out their generator, leaving them without power, water, and heat. Rather than move in with one of the friends they had in the tract, Jayne had demanded, and received, permission to stay in the community building, since it had all the requisites for comfortable life in the winter. And, of course, until it ran out, a stash of food.

With production up, Darlene had started selling off some of her home canned goods, mostly for promises of labor when she wanted it, and the return of the empty jars. Jayne had refused, on Kevin’s behalf, to enter into any such arrangement. Again she demanded free access to the rest of the supplies in the community center, and Darlene’s supplies, stating that need outweighed any form of private ownership.

Nearly the entire population was in attendance of the town hall meeting that called to resolve the issue.

“We have to have food!” Jayne said as soon as Dr. James opened the meeting. “She…” Jayne continued, pointing at Darlene, “has it. She should be banned from the tract and her supplies distributed to those of us that need them the most.”

Pandemonium erupted, with people shouting their agreement or disagreement with Jayne’s statement. After a few minutes of angry exchanges, which Darlene stayed completely out of, silence finally fell, and all eyes turned to Darlene when she spoke.

“Okay, people, let me lay this out in simple terms. What is mine, is mine, to be done with as I see fit. I will defend it and myself if any attempt is made to take anything from me by force. Now, despite what has gone on, I am willing to provide a minimum amount of food, subsistence rations, for anyone that needs it. Through the council. I expect, in return, for the community to provide a labor pool, again, arranged through the council, to pursue my private ventures, once the opportunity comes for everyone to get out and fend for themselves again.

“I simply will not just give away what I worked and sweated for to accumulate over the years because some of you can’t control yourselves, and aren’t willing to work for your own subsistence. Anyone that wants to make a private deal, I will continue to do that. If you want a handout, see the council.”

There was continued silence when Darlene quit speaking. For a few moments, anyway. Then pandemonium erupted again. Darlene thought Dr. James was going to break his gavel, pounding it the way he was to get quiet.

He finally had his quiet. But before he could speak, Jayne did. “Preposterous! Someone should grab her before she can pull that gun and…”

“That’s enough!” Dr. James said, in a tone and volume not heard before from him. “It’s simple. We vote on Mrs. Carpenter’s offer. If it passes, it will be carried out. If not, further discussion will take place. Reasonable discussion. Without threats from any participant against any other. Now. Those in favor of Mrs. Carpenter’s offer please raise your hand.”

It wasn’t particularly close, the offer was accepted, but a disappointing large number of people didn’t raise their hand.

“I’ll have some food here first thing in the morning. Don’t expect surf and turf.” With that, Darlene left the community center as people began discussing the events of the past few minutes, and Dr. James tried to get quiet again so he could adjourn the meeting.

Darlene was a bit surprised that Bear, Jim, and Dr. James didn’t try to talk to her after the meeting. But since they didn’t, Darlene went ahead and got to work to prepare for the next day. She new exactly what she had stored, and where.

She moved several cases of home canned meat and vegetables to the living room, to make it easy to load into the truck the following morning. Then she went into the garage and carefully removed a panel in the wall connecting the shelter to the back wall of the garage. She worked her way slowly past the stacks of buckets and boxes crammed in the space head high.

It took her until midnight to get out what she wanted from the hidden compartment and put the panel back in place. She took a shower and went to bed, but tossed and turned the rest of the night. Restless and still tired when her alarm went off, Darlene dragged herself out of the comfortable bed and went about her morning routine. She was in no hurry to get to the community center. “Let them wait and worry,” she mumbled as she sipped tea and listened to the chatter on the Amateur radio. Her community wasn’t the only one suffering from problems, most of them related to the snow.

But she couldn’t wait for long. She was too anxious to see how things would go. Bear and Dr. James seemed to be waiting for her to come out of her house, for both showed up at her gate minutes after she carried out the first box of canning jars full of rabbit.

“We came to help load,” Dr. James said.

Just to get a bit of a dig in, Darlene said, “Not really that much to load. We’re not talking five course meals here. I said subsistence rations and I meant it. But, since you’re here, come on.”

Darlene opened the driveway gate and the two men joined her. “I’ll bring it out and you two can load it,” she said when they got to her entry porch.

“Not going to let us in, huh?” Bear said. He was grinning.

Darlene wasn’t. “Nope.”

As she handed the boxes and buckets out, Dr. James and Bear loaded them into her pickup truck. One of the common snow flurries was sprinkling the containers with a fine layer of, finally, white snow, but it was blown away as quickly as it landed. The temperature was in the single digits and the wind was picking up.

When Darlene handed the last container out, she reached inside the door, picked up her Marlin and a bandoleer and carried them out to the truck after locking the door and dropping the security shutter.

“Is that really necessary?” Dr. James asked, nodding at the rifle and ammunition she put in the front seat of the Chevy one-ton.

“Let’s hope not. Understand, Doc, that I am serious about protecting my goods and myself. You heard what Jayne said last night. To seize me and disarm me. Well, I’ll tell you now, I will go down fighting. And if there is any way, if I think I’m doomed, I’ll burn the house down with everything in it. Just for spite. That’s just the way I am.”

All the Doctor could do was nod in acknowledgement of her words. Bear and the Doctor climbed into the back of the truck with the supplies and Darlene headed for the community center.

There was a group waiting. Almost a mob, really, but not quite. There were plenty of hands to unload the truck and take it into the community center meeting room. Darlene, the rifle over one should and the bandoleer over the other stood by the table that the food was stacked on and under.

When a couple of people came up and started to open the boxes, Darlene, fire in her eye, said, “I don’t think so. The council will distribute this. Back off.” She ignored the name the woman called her and stood her ground.

When Dr. James came in he asked for quiet. “Come on, people! The food just got here. Give the council a few minutes to see what we have here and get things organized.”

Slowly the room emptied, except for the members of the council. Darlene wondered if anyone besides herself noticed Jim when he came in last. He had a handgun holstered on his hip, the same way Darlene did. Their eyes met and Jim winked at her. She smiled just slightly and gave a tiny nod.

Darlene turned to Bear and asked, “Would you help me set up the grinder?”

“Grinder?” Jayne asked. She been quiet up to that point, her eyes seldom leaving the boxes on the table.

“I have wheat,” Darlene replied. “It’s useable the way it is, but isn’t that palpable to most. I’ll grind it into flour so it can be baked into bread.”

“I don’t bake,” Jayne said.

“Okay,” was the only return comment.

Bear hoisted the heavy grinder onto the table and Darlene reached down and tightened the C-clamps to hold it in place. She pointed to one of the buckets. Can you open that one?” Darlene opened a box and handed him a bucket lid lifter.

Dr. James and the other council members were opening boxes and, with the lid lifter now, the buckets, taking a quick inventory.

“This is all?” Jayne asked finally. “And what kind of meat is that? If it’s meat?”

“Rabbit,” replied Darlene, “and fish.”

“And what is this? Rice? Beans? And that one?”

“Yes. Rice, beans, and lentils. In various combinations they’ll keep you going and stretch the meat and vegetables.”

“But you’ve been selling chicken and eggs and fresh vegetables and canned fruit. Where is it?”

“Paying customers only.”

“This is not acceptable!” Jayne said, her voice beginning to rise. “Dr. James! I demand she give us the best she has!”

Even her two friends on the council couldn’t quite accept the demand. “Come on, Jayne,” one of them said. “It’s food. It’ll get us through the winter. And then, I mean to tell you, I plan to have Harry out there every day looking for enough food to get us through the next winter. Regular food.”

When Jayne didn’t respond, Darlene told Dr. James, “You need to let people know they need containers to carry their portions. I don’t have enough to go around, and I probably wouldn’t get them back.”

“Bear?” the Doctor said, “Would you go out and tell them?”

“Sure, Doc.” Bear hurried toward the double doors of the entry into the meeting room and disappeared for several minutes.

Darlene, as she started using the Diamonte 525 grinder to convert the wheat kernels to flour, noticed Dr. James and the others setting out groups of jars. “I hope that isn’t what you plan to hand out for each person. What I brought today has to last everyone that gets it for a full week.”

“This for a week? For everyone?” Jayne was screeching. “I thought it was for today! This is unacceptable, I tell you! Unacceptable!”

“Well, it’s what you’ve got. And to tell you the truth, depending on how long this winter lasts, even I might not have enough for everyone.”

Dr. James looked at her sharply, and Jayne and the other two women had mouth hanging open stares on their faces.

“But… But… You have so much!” Jayne protested.

“But not unlimited supplies, I assure you. Now, I would suggest one pint jar of meat and one of fish for each person for the week. Three jars of vegetables, with rice and either beans or lentils filling out the menu. A cup of honey each. Some sugar, salt, and oil to make the other things useable.

“I almost didn’t bring any, but I can’t stand the thought of the children doing without, so, in addition to the honey there is some candy. The candy is for the children only. Three portions per, for the week.”

For once, Jayne stayed silent as the others began to rearrange what they had set out for distribution. “One more thing,” Darlene said, bringing an annoyed glance from her, “I want the jars and what containers I do provide, back. I don’t get them back, and there won’t be any more home canned goods.”

“How do we know this food is safe? You say you canned it yourself. What about botulism?” It was Jayne again.

“I’m a safe canner!” Darlene almost growled. “Go strictly by the book. The chances of botulism are tiny.”

With a nod from Dr. James, Jim went to open the doors to allow people in. On his own, he limited it to two families at a time. Darlene was kept busy grinding the wheat into flour, but she kept a weather eye on the distribution.

Darlene expected, and heard, a few complaints about both the selection and quantities available, but said nothing, knowing she wouldn’t particularly want to live on what she was providing, but knew she could and would if need be.

She was disappointed at the number of people that accepted the handouts. Only a handful declined to take anything other than some of the candy if they had children. It was a real treat for them and the parents voiced their appreciation, unlike the majority.

There were only a couple of cases of meat and vegetables left, but most of the second buckets each of the rice, beans, and lentils. Two-thirds of the buckets of honey and sugar, with several of the small bottles of canola oil, and a dozen of the small camper’s size salt shakers, made up the remainder.

The two women on the council hurried home to get containers and then got their shares. Jayne said, “I’ll take out my share and put the rest away, if the rest of you want to take off. You have the keys to the storeroom, Doctor?”

“Not on your life!” Darlene said. “You take yours now, like the rest. And then I’ll see that the remainder goes under lock and key.”

Jayne stomped off to her and Kevin’s living quarters in the community center, and returned with containers for her and Kevin’s portions. Kevin was with her and carried the items back with her.

“Well,” Dr. James said as he, Bear, and Jim helped Darlene close up the open containers. “That went relatively well. Jim, Bear? I noticed you didn’t take any.”

“Got what I need,” Jim said. “I pay my way. And, you didn’t take any, either.”

“I’m the same way. Darlene, I’d like to buy my portion. What is it worth?”

Darlene didn’t hesitate. “Easy. A full day’s work. And I’ll throw in a little fresh vegetables and some canned fruit. Add a couple jars of chicken.” Darlene thought he was going to refuse the extras, but after some hesitation, he nodded.

“Keep a good account. I’m not very good at remembering things like that.”

“Oh, be assured. I will. I have my tally book with what everyone owes me.” She took a slim leather bound book from her hip pocket and showed it to Dr. James and then put it back.

“Smart,” said Dr. James as he locked up the store room and put the key in his pocket.

Darlene started to pick up the box with the grain grinder in it, but Bear beat her to it and carried it out to the truck for her as Jim and the Doctor tagged along. All three noticed the heavier snow and higher wind.

“I think we did this just in time,” Jim said, studying the sky. “We’re in for another big blow unless I miss my guess.”

“I think you’re right, Jim,” Darlene said. She turned to the Doctor. “I’ll get your things together and bring them over to your house in a few minutes.”

“I can help,” Dr. James said, drawing a rather droll look from Darlene. “Or not,” he said.

Jim was right. It was a big blow. The worst of the winter. But it was also the last major storm of the winter. March brought warming temperatures and melting snow, though the process was slow. As soon as the snow melted under the large sheets of black plastic Darlene had staked down on her house lot and the vacant lot, she began to till the soil in anticipation of spring planting. The snow was still several feet deep everywhere except for her property.

Darlene didn’t stop with her regular garden plot. She tilled every unused foot of the back yard, front yard, and most of the area of the vacant lot.

The houses in the tract had been built to new ‘green’ standards in terms of insulation and energy efficient appliances. Darlene still had a full tanker of propane sitting on the lot when the last of the snow melted away.

Taking the standard payment of promised labor, she began to refill the residents’ tanks as they went empty one shortly after the other. Those houses where there were children ran out first.

With the distances that needed to be traveled for any purpose, Darlene hadn’t used the snowmobiles much, but she stored them for the summer under their covers on the vacant lot, as soon as she thought she could get the Chevy out of the tract.

She was the first one to brave it, while the snow was still around, and went to check the local area for any changes. There were some. Many buildings had their roofs inside. The thick, heavy snow pack had done in long-span roofs. Darlene was sure that if Bear and Jim hadn’t kept the community center’s roof clear of the snow it would have succumbed, too.

With an eye on future salvaging opportunities, Darlene went well past the points she’d gone before winter. There was still a lot to be salvaged, but the sub-zero temperatures had ruptured essentially all wet pack canned and bottled foods. Making a wide circle Darlene went back to the tract worried about there being enough food to go around again if some of the people in the tract didn’t contribute more to their long term survival than they had in the past.

Only a handful, including Bear, Jim, Craig, and Travis had made any attempt the year before to grow gardens. At least this year a handful of families were speaking about putting in gardens. If they had help. That would be her first priority. Second would be large stock and a means to keep it year round. It would take a tremendous number of rabbits, fish, and chicken to keep everyone in high grade protein. Large stock was the only way for long term success. And it just might not be doable.

When she made it back late that evening she found half a dozen people anxiously waiting outside her fence line. She used the remote to open the driveway gate and drove in, closing the gate behind her.

“What’s going on?” she asked, walking over to the group after she got out of the truck.

“You’re back!” someone called.

“Yes, I’m back,” Darlene said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

There was quite a bit of mumbling among the small group, but no one spoke up. One possibility of what they were doing suddenly came to her and she went cold, and then hot, suddenly livid at the prospect.

As casually as she could, which wasn’t very, Darlene said, “I hope no one was intending to enter my place, thinking I was gone for good. It would be very hazardous for their health. The old laws about not having deadly booby traps no longer apply. It would be a shame if someone lost their life looking for a can of beans, now, wouldn’t it?”

There were no replies and the crowd quickly broke up, everyone going their way. Except Dr. James. “I really hope you weren’t an active part of this,” Darlene said. She felt hurt that he was in the group.

“I was trying to get everyone to go away. What’s yours is yours. I just wasn’t having much success.”

Darlene felt a huge sense of relief, and sighed. “Looks like I’m going to have to hire a guard to watch the place when I leave.”

“You really don’t need to, do you? You think someone would actually try to get in?”

“Some people already tried, back last year. With things going to get as desperate as they are, I can almost guarantee an attempt in the future.”

“Desperate?” Dr. James asked. “Things should be much better now that winter is past us.”

“Got another coming up fast, Doc. And I wasn’t lying when I said I couldn’t support everyone for long term. If we don’t get people hustling, and I mean really hustling, we aren’t going to be as lucky as we were this past winter. People are going to die.”

“It wasn’t luck,” Dr. James said. “It was you that prevented any deaths.”

“Maybe. But I don’t plan to be as generous as I was.” She glared at the Doctor when he chuckled.

“Laugh if you want, but I mean it. When I don’t have much left, I’m going to take care of myself and the rest can go hang.”

“Okay. I’m sorry. What do you suggest we do?”

“Gardens, gardens, gardens. Can, can, can. Grow everything possible and home can it for the winter. Stay on reduced, though not subsistence, rations, as people working need more calories, to conserve just that much more for winter. Just had a thought. With so few people knowing how to home can, and the dearth of supplies, I think we’d better figure on freezing much of what we grow, rather than can.”

“How on earth do we do that? The freezers in these homes aren’t that large. And no one really has the electrical capacity to run them enough to actually freeze things from scratch.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of the means to freeze and store foods suitable for freezing. When can you give me some of those labor hours?”

“Pretty much any time. We’ve been very fortunate that there hasn’t been much illness or injury during all this. I have time on my hands.”

“Not any more,” Darlene replied. “Be ready to go tomorrow at nine. I’ve got a couple of projects that shouldn’t endanger your hands or eyesight.”

“You sure do look out for me,” Dr. James said with a smile.

“Yeah. Doctors are a valuable asset. Might need to trade you off for a milk cow this summer.” Darlene was actually smiling and the Doctor laughed.

“Funny. Okay. I’ll be ready.”

Darlene spent the evening with a map, regional yellow pages, her journal, and the laptop computer. She had plans printed out for the next several weeks that would keep busy anyone that wanted the benefits of working for her.

The first order of business was to get the equipment and supplies needed for everyone to garden. With the trailer behind the Chevy, and Dr. James riding shotgun, Darlene went on a salvaging frenzy. Dr. James, with another crash course in driving something he’d never driven before, transferred two Kubota estate tractors with gardening implements to the tract. One for her use and one for community use.

That got things started. With the most difficult work done mechanically, many of the residents, having learned their lesson, or at least some of it, took to the planting and then care of their gardens with real enthusiasm. Like Darlene, most put in a backyard garden and a front yard garden.

Darlene kept her non-hybrid seeds in reserve. There was no good reason not to use up all the hybrid seeds available first. When it came time, Darlene would plant the non-hybrid and collect the seeds for everyone to use.

With the initial flurry of activity in the gardens done, Darlene called in some of the labor obligations owed to here and continued the salvaging. When it came to food she took only half of what was collected, with a quarter going to the community coffers, and those that helped split the other quarter. Going on her salvage trips soon became a favored way to pay back the labor debts.

No so the wood cutting. Despite complaints about cutting more wood when she had quite a bit stacked, and what seemed like an unlimited amount of propane, Darlene put two crews together that weren’t likely to do more damage to themselves than the trees they were cutting down. When the vacant lot was filled up to the edges of the garden with cut, split, and stacked firewood, she kept the crews working in the coolness of the spring. The split wood was stored, covered, on several flatbed semi trailers that disappeared occasionally, usually when Darlene disappeared for a while.

Summer limped in, late and cool. Bear and Jim trained several people to drive semi tractor trailers and the salvage parties went long distances, with a couple of motorhomes along for people to stay out for several days at a time.

The majority of people, including Dr. James and even Bear, felt like things were going great and that even a winter like the previous one would be handled with ease. Only Jim seemed to notice how frenetic Darlene was to get things done and understand a little of why.

There were few dissenting votes when Darlene asked to buy all the empty houses and lots in the tract. Over Jayne’s objections, it was even agreed that she could have them for the things she had already contributed to the community so far that spring and early summer.

Craig, Travis, and two other workers, a husband and wife team, spent long, tiring hours putting up heavy fencing on two adjoining lots that didn’t have any. Then she had them gutting the houses, taking out most of the non-load-bearing walls. The heat system was left, along with a way to get water, but both were protected with stout enclosures.

When she and Bear showed up with a stock trailer of cattle and pigs, it became clear what the fences and converted houses were now. Barns and barnyards. Several semi trailer loads of hay, straw, and grain were brought to the tract and parked on another of Darlene’s unoccupied lots.

Darlene had cleared out every farm store and feed and grain business for miles. Concerned about snow accumulations, without the empty lots to dump it in, Darlene worked with Bear and Jim to cut a direct path to the park and lake. The snow would be dumped into the lake during the winter. In the summer the already fenced park would become the grazing grounds for the large stock.

An entire library’s content of farming and ranching books were obtained and three families agreed to take over the running of the ‘farm’ for Darlene, for a share of the production.

With the success she’d had with the rabbits, chicken, and fish, Darlene helped three of the families that had suffered the most the previous winter set up their own operations, providing the initial breeding animals for each of them. Again, in return for more labor from them.

With the gardens doing well, considering the cool temperatures and watery sunlight, people finally had eaten enough to feel comfortable, or more, and wanted to know Darlene’s plan to freeze the foods for storage.

“Geez!” Bear said, slapping himself in the head. “That’s so simple! Why didn’t I think of that?” Darlene and Dr. James, now quite comfortable behind the wheel of a big rig, parked four big reefer trailers along side the community center. All had propane powered refrigeration units and were quickly plumbed to the community center’s propane tank for stationary use.

“Figure one for refrigerator use, and one for deep freeze, with two spares. We picked up more oil and filters for the compressor engines. With luck, they’ll last for several years each if taken care of dutifully,” Darlene explained.

To Dr. James, Jim, and Bear, Darlene still looked worried about something. Finally, they managed to get her to sit down and talk to them.

“What’s going on, Darlene?” asked Bear. “You look like you’re still on pins and needles. The way we’re set up now, we shouldn’t have a problem this winter.”

“If we get to keep it,” Darlene replied.

“What on earth do you mean?” Dr. James asked.

“One of the small communities like ours about three hundred miles away suddenly went off the air. I’m afraid there is a rogue group out there somewhere preying on those that have managed to survive. If they show up here… There’s maybe ten guns in the place, besides what I have, and I can only shoot one… well… two, at a time. I don’t think I can defend us against a real attack by even moderately well armed small group.”

“You aren’t responsible for the security of this group alone,” Jim said. “I’m a part of that, too. Just never really brought it up before. I’ve got more than just the Glock on my hip.”

“And I’ll certainly lend a hand,” Bear said. “Defense of my family, and therefore this community is paramount, in my opinion. We’ve made a place for ourselves here. I aim to keep it.”

“I’m afraid… I could pass the ammunition, I suppose,” Dr. James said. “I don’t know if I could use a gun against another human being.”

“That’s okay,” Darlene said, rather surprising the others. “Not everyone is cut out to be a shooter, or even hunter, much less soldier.”

She looked at them in turn. “How many do you think would come forward and train to use a weapon and pull watch duty effectively?”

“I think there would be several if you lay it out to the others, the way you have us,” Bear said.

“I think it would be better if Doc brings it up, kind of on his own, at the next town hall meeting, without reference to me,” Darlene said.

“She’s got a point,” admitted Jim. “Though there are several more converts to her way of thinking, there is still a hard core element that if she says yea, they say nay, just to oppose her.”

“Okay. I can see that,” Dr. James said. “I’ll bring it up without mentioning Darlene.”

“The problem is going to be,” Bear said, “Arming people. I’ve got an old single shot shotgun my father left me, but that’s not really suitable to repel an attack by several people.”

“Take my word for it, giving everyone a gun that we can train to shoot is not a problem. Nor is ammunition.”

Jim was grinning. “I wondered who had hit the gun stores and pawn shops so methodically.”

“Matter of self defense that doesn’t seem to have worked,” Darlene replied. “No trouble locally, but just like gun control, before, no matter how much you suppress locally, there are always outsiders that are armed that pose a threat.”

“Too true,” Jim said. “So, we can effectively arm those we train. And Doc is going to broach the subject. What do we do if we don’t get any volunteers?”

“I don’t know about anyone else,” Darlene said, “but I hunker down and protect myself by every means available.”

“Wait a minute,” Dr. James suddenly said. “How will they, if there is a ‘they’, even know about us? Much less be able to find us? Our only contact with others has been by radio.”

“I’ve been very careful about communications for this very reason. But someone that listens for very long will pick up the occasional fact here and there, and if they have a keen mind, they can eventually come up with a location. I can’t say positively that there is a gang, or that they will show up, but if we don’t prepare, if they do, the majority of people here are doomed.”

“Okay. When do you think they might attack?” Jim asked.

“Just before winter sets in. I figure they’ve cleaned out the Coventry group during the winter and will march on, living on what they can salvage in areas where there are no survivors. But they’ll want to be somewhere for winter that has the resources to carry them through.

There could be other options for them, like setting up like we did initially, if they find a good spot with things they can salvage. But if they wait long, they won’t have time to set up themselves before winter sets in. They’ll most likely make for an established place. I’ve heard that once you taste the advantages of taking rather than working, the habit is hard to break, no matter what the possible consequences.”

“As much as I hate to say it,” Jim said, “But it could come down to a core group willing to do what’s necessary, and let the other’s suffer the consequences of doing nothing. Much as Darlene said she would do.” Looking at her he added, “But even a small cohesive group had a much better chance of triumphing than a lone person.”

“Point taken,” Darlene said. “Anyone that wants to join my personal efforts in this matter can. It would be so much better if the entire tract was behind it.”

“I’ll do my best,” Dr. James said.

Dr. James called for a town meeting two days hence. The majority of people showed up, wondering about the solemn tones that had been used when they were contacted.

He laid it all out for them. That the community fight as one, or everyone fight alone.”
“But we don’t even know they are coming?” protested Jayne. “And even if they do, wouldn’t it be better to bargain with them? Perhaps give them some supplies to make it through the winter somewhere around here? They should leave us alone if we do that. That would be so much more logical.”

There were some murmuring agreement voices. Darlene kept quiet. Anything she said would only be taken as a challenge and Jayne would fight all the harder. And no one in their right mind wanted to go into battle. Not even Darlene.

But four men stood up, and two women, saying they would help defend the place. Jim and Bear stood up behind the council table, and then Craig and Travis stood up. Darlene saw a couple more men start to rise, but a wife’s hand on the shoulder sat them back down before they could rise up all the way.

Darlene was pleased. It was a much better result than she expected. “Maybe I am too cynical,” she told herself.

Jayne then protested that women shouldn’t be expected to fight.

That’s when Darlene stepped forward and said, “I’m in.” Jayne didn’t voice an objection.

“We’d better go ahead and get an official vote on this,” Dr. James said.

Bear immediately said, “I move we form ourselves a militia.”

Dr. James reworded it slightly. “All those in favor of training and equipping a self-defense force please raise you hand.”

Several people counted the hands and shouted out the number. Dr. James asked for those opposed, since it was going to be close. Very close. The council was tied as well as the community. It was up to Dr. James. After a very long pause, he said. “I vote to raise the defense force.” He tapped the gavel on the sounding block and added, “Motion passes. Everyone interested please stay. The rest of you can go home.”

Jayne kept her seat as the other two women on the council, both her friends, hurried out. “Are you implying by your presence that you intend to participate in the defense force?” Jim asked.

“Of course not! But someone has to keep an eye on this. With her involved there is the possibility of some type of coup…”

“Get out,” Dr. James said. He was obviously angry. “If you are not going to arm yourself to defend your own life, let us that are willing to defend it for you get to business.”

With a huff Jayne got up and stomped out. A few seconds later he asked, “Okay. What now?”

“Jim,” Darlene said, “You seem to know what’s what. Why don’t you take charge.”

“Sure thing. Just like back in the Army,” he said with a smile. “How many of you have military experience?”

Everyone looked around at one another, but no one spoke up.”

“O Kay. That makes it simpler and harder at the same time. Simpler,” Jim said, “since you’re clean slates and don’t have to unlearn anything before you learn my way of doing things. And harder, because there are a lot of basics to learn that wouldn’t be necessary if there were some with experience. So be it. Tomorrow. At noon. Here at the community center. That’s all for now.”

With Darlene, Dr. James, Bear, and Jim staying behind, the others left.

“We have the start of an effective group,” Jim said when the door closed. “Everyone looked interested and willing. But not that dangerous eagerness of one just looking for the chance to kill someone.”

“When do you want to see the guns?” Darlene asked.

“Day after tomorrow. Tomorrow we just go over the tract and get everyone familiar with the strong points and weak points. I’ve got a lot of work to do tonight. I’ll see you all tomorrow, at Noon.”

Bear followed him out, the two talking earnestly. Darlene turned to Dr. James. “Well, Doc, you change your mind about just handing out ammunition?”

“In a sense. I’m not sure I could use a gun against a human being, but I want to have the option of the knowledge and equipment to do it, if I ever do decide to do it.”

“Good for you. With that, I leave you. Good night.”

Darlene headed for the door as Dr. James watched. He shook his head and turned back to the pad on the table in front of him when she left the room by the side door.

Pedaling the Paratrooper bike easily, Darlene went home. She wanted to go over the list of arms and ammunition she’d salvaged.


Disaster In The ‘Burbs - Chapter 6

Jim didn’t have the group do much PT. All were fairly fit and lean from the hard work and healthy diet. He was, like Darlene, a planner. With everyone fully cognizant of the ground they would be protecting, Jim said, “The reason I wanted to stress this so much is the fact that if an assault team makes it into the tract, and it goes house to house, we don’t have a chance. Most of the residents will die. I don’t plan on letting that happen. I want you to spend the rest of the day going over this tract on your own, or in teams, to decide what you would do if an enemy team tried to get in what have been pointed out as weak points. Tomorrow at nine. Here at the community center.”

Most of the others paired up, though Bear went out on his own. So did Darlene. She’d been all over the tract, but had only had a few thoughts about defending it completely. Most of her defense measures were concerned with her home.

That evening Darlene unlocked and went into the shelter. She went through the inventory of weapons and ammunition and set aside the ones she would take to the community center the next morning.

She was loading them up when Dr. James stopped on his way to the community center. He looked at the back of the pickup at the cases of ammunition and the carefully stacked long arms on soft blankets. “Did you really loot all of those from gun stores?”

“Not loot. Salvage. There’s a difference. But yes. And pawn shops, and some private residences, based on the stores’ 4473’s.”

“4473’s?” the Doctor asked as he slid into the passenger seat of the truck at Darlene’s hand motion.

“The purchase papers a person has to fill out and sign to buy a gun. The dealer keeps them pretty much forever, unless the BATFE comes through and takes possession of them.”

“I see. And you checked through all of them? To find more guns?”

“First I went through the stores’ sales records, referenced the 4473 form number for the gun I wanted, and then took the address off the form and went looking.”

“I see. Simple. If you know the procedure.”

“Yep. Here we are. You want to grab a case of the 5.56?”

“Uh… which one… Oh. I see. It’s on the case.”

“Yep, again.” Darlene grabbed four weapons and headed for the open door of the community center. The rest of the self-defense force was there. All hurried to help bring in the rest of the weapons and ammunition.

Other than Jim, Bear, and Dr. James, who had some idea of what Darlene might have, the others were amazed. “Got 5.56, 7.62x39, 7.62x51, 12-gauge, 9mm, and .45 ACP. Figured to keep it simple and semi-auto for the rifles and pistols, and pump shotguns. Military calibers and gauges only.” She listed the numbers of each of the different weapons she had.”

“Well, right off the bat, no 7.62x39,” Jim said. “No need to have more variations than necessary. Or magazines. That leaves out everything but M-16 pattern carbines, and the H&K-91or PTR-91 rifles. You have more of them and only a couple of each of the others. How you fixed on magazines for those two groups?”

“Good. Enough for several for each rifle. More, even.”

“Probably stick with the 870 pumps. Probably only two or three. You have more than that one?”

“Yep. Several.”

“What’s the magazine situation on the handguns? Especially the Berretta 92’s, Colt M-1911’s, and Glock 17’s & 21’s?”

“Again, plenty of each. There are a few extended magazines for the G17’s.”

“Won’t need them. Complicates things too much. Everyone will shoot each type of weapon and decide what’s best for you. Let’s load up and go down to lake.”

Everything was loaded back into Darlene’s pickup, and everyone climbed in the back. It was a short trip and Darlene stopped when Jim asked her to.

“Not the best range, and won’t do for training, but it’ll work to try the guns out. Just aim for the waterline on the far side of the lake. Let’s go through the safety rules.”

Jim kept it simple and soon was loading up a Bushmaster M-4 style carbine. Everyone shot it in turn. Then each of the other guns. Jim was watching carefully and had his mind made up what each person would probably want. He was right. Each one stated the weapon he or she wanted and they were the ones Jim thought they would pick.

There was an equal mix of the M-4 style carbines and HK-91/PTR-91 rifles, but the handguns ran the gamut. Only Dr. James wanted one of the shotguns.

“Okay,” Jim said, “Your choices are fine. We have good magazine interchangeability for the rifles, where it’s really important. The handguns don’t matter that much.” Jim turned to Darlene. “Would you take back what we don’t need and pick up what we do? Meet us back at the community center. Oh. Any load bearing gear? And cleaning gear?”

“All different kinds. I’ll bring something for each weapon.”

“Okay. You want some help?”

“I think so. Doc?”

A very surprised Dr. James got into the truck and rode back to Darlene’s house, getting out of the truck and following her into the garage carrying the guns that weren’t needed, after she opened the walk door security shutter. “In here,” she said, opening the first of the doors into the shelter.

“This… This is a shelter, isn’t it?” Dr. James asked.

“Yes, it is. And I expect you to keep it to yourself. Also what it now contains.” She opened the other door and stepped inside. Guns and ammunition, web and leather gear, and case after case of ammunition were stacked everywhere.

“You have enough for a small army here!” Dr. James exclaimed.

“Most of this isn’t suitable for an army. But I didn’t want it falling into hands that could turn it on me. And I wanted to preserve what I could. It still irks me I haven’t gone back and done a few historical salvage runs.”

“You intend to gather up historical materials?”

“Yes.” She looked over at him in the light from the LED fixtures. “Does that surprise you?”

“Actually. No, it doesn’t, believe it or not. You’re a very… unique… woman.”

“Yeah. Here.” She handed him a rifle, and then another. Be careful with them.”

With Dr. James carrying out the things that Darlene selected from the various stacks, they soon had what they needed and the two went to the community center. Everyone picked up their weapons of choice and went through the load bearing equipment, taking items appropriate to their choice of weapons.

She’d found several mall ninja people that had all kinds of military style gear for show. Some of it was even pretty good equipment. That’s what Darlene handed out. Jim soon had them stripping down their weapons and cleaning them thoroughly to get familiar with them.

Next came setting up the support equipment, getting each one comfortable in their individual gear arrangements. Darlene had brought several of the FRS radios she’d acquired and Jim issued everyone one of them and they set the frequencies they would use.

They broke at noon. Jim insisted that the weapons be locked up in the community center until they each had a chance to practice with them so there would be no accidents. “Tomorrow. Again at nine. We’ll go to the nearest safe range so figure out transport.”

“Not doing anything else today?” Bear asked.

“No,” Jim replied. “I and everyone else has chores to do. This is all extra, in addition to regular activities.” He said it more for the others’ benefit than Bear’s, and all got the message.

For three consecutive days the routine was the same. Shooting practice at a nearby spot that had an overpass ramp to act as a backstop. After that, everyone was told to keep their weapons and radio handy, and practice once a week with them, and practice defensive tactics together in the tract once a week.

Darlene looked much more relaxed once the self-defense force became a cohesive working group.

The summer turned out to be hardly summer at all, but a continuation of spring and an early fall. But the gardens had produced and the reefers were filling up nicely. When it was time to butcher the stock that wouldn’t winter over it was a community undertaking. At least for the most part. Children and their attendant teenage babysitters were exempted. A handful of others opted out of the operation, volunteering to do other duties. Even Kevin pitched in. Only Jayne refused to do anything during that time.

Kevin and Jayne were back in their own home, the generator finally replaced. All the small generators had been used hard, and most were replaced that summer with larger, propane fired generators that Darlene had found at another propane place. Still couldn’t run them continuously like Darlene could hers, but they would hold up better under use, and provided more power, to boot.

The snows started again, in late October, but weren’t as massive as the previous year’s first snows. There was only two feet on the ground at Thanksgiving, and the community had a real Thanksgiving Day feast, minus a few traditional food items. There was even a hotly contested touch football game played.

Darlene went home that evening feeling like her worries about a band of plunderers was misplaced. The major snows were just days away. She’d been taking a snowmobile out around the track ever since the snow started sticking. She could see any tracks in the fresh snow easily now. The only tracks she saw were animal tracks as animals repopulated from lesser damaged areas to territory lying unclaimed by any of their kind.

“Things might just go fine this winter!” she said softly as she fell asleep. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

There was contention in the group, many wanting to turn back to the last good place they’d settled for a while during the summer. An area not as salvaged out as some. But their leader was adamant. There was a prize for the taking not too far ahead of them. It was well worth some hardship to get to for wintering over.

There were thirty-nine of them. Twenty-five fighting men, eight women the men shared, and six minor children the women had managed to protect from the assaults of the men when drunk.

The smell of the side of beef roasting over a wood fire had traveled for miles on the light breeze that was blowing from the tract to where the group had camped the night before. Like dogs scenting a helpless animal of prey, the men’s noses twitched at the tantalizing smells. There was no longer any dissent. All were eager to move forward the next morning.

Even Darlene admitted it was sheer luck that she spotted the group approaching during one of her outside-the-tract snowmobile runs as she was coming back home. The snow had started again and any tracks would soon be covered. As soon as she saw them, they saw her, as they were looking for where the sounds of the snowmobile were coming from.

She gunned the snowmobile, but not before one of the men got off a lucky shot. She felt the fire in her leg, but leaned low and took up a zig-zag course, traveling as fast as she’d ever dared go before on the powerful machine.

Their usual method of scouting out a neighborhood or compound from a distance and then striking when the weaknesses were known now unusable, the leader called for an immediate attack, following the snowmobile trail. And the blood trail of lone spots of blood every few meters.

With a yell for the women to set up camp, the leader and the others dropped everything but weapons and ammunition and began to lope along the trail.

Darlene stopped when she was sure she was out of sight and used her FRS radio to notify Jim of the situation. Fighting off dizziness she waited where she was until the men came into sight. She gunned the snowmobile again, quickly out of sight once more, but not before another shot whizzed past her left ear.

“Geez!” she muttered and kept the snowmobile at a slow pace, to keep out of sight, yet temptingly close for the men to keep after her.

The big drift at the tract entrance was already four feet high with the snow that had already fallen. Darlene rode up and over it and almost ran over Jim. She swerved and stopped the snowmobile.

“They’re right behind me!” she said as she struggled off the snowmobile. She always carried her Marlin and the Redhawk when she was off the property, still more comfortable with them than she was the heavy PTR-91 she’d chosen as her tract defense weapon.

She brought the Marlin down off her back and limped up to the guardhouse, filling in Jim on what she’d seen. “There’s at least thirty of them. Men and women. But I don’t think any of the women are coming after me. Just the men.”

“I’ve got everyone lined up at the wall here by the street, with three people laying back as a last guard at the community center. Everyone is gathered there. A couple more people took radios and went out to watch the walls in other directions, just in case. People really pulled together when your radio call came in and said what was happening.”

“Okay, good.” Darlene blinked her eyes and swayed. Only then did Jim notice the blood running down the leg of her snowmobile suit.

“You’re hurt! I’ll get the Doc!”

Darlene grabbed his arm. “No! We need every gun on the line. It’ll wait.” Under her breath she added, “I hope.”

Leaning against the back of the guard shack, Darlene raised the Marlin up and levered a round into the chamber. She had to blink her eyes several times to get her vision to clear enough to take aim at the first figure to appear.

The men were spread in a long line, the slowest at the rear, here and there two abreast. Had the battle been the other way around, it would have been called a massacre. Since it was the bad guys that died it was simply a good defensive action.

The rest of the self-defense force had been ordered to wait until Jim gave the word to fire, but when Darlene fired first, they all rose up from behind the fence and cut loose. Jim knew it wasn’t particularly well aimed fire, considering the large number of rounds expended versus the number of holes in the dead, but it was still effective.

Darlene’s first three shots scored devastating hits on the three men in the lead of the attack. Her next shot went into the snow at her feet as she fell over sideways, unconscious.

Unlike Darlene, who had started at the front of the line, Jim took careful aim and began dropping the men at the rear of the group, from his position alongside the edge of the fence, on the side opposite the guardhouse from Darlene.

When all the attackers were down, Jim signaled and Bear and Travis, guns on point, went out to check the bodies. In a few minutes of tense silence Bear called out, “All dead.”

Jim yelled back, “Strip them of weapons any way and get back in here.” He turned to Craig and one of the women defenders nearest him on the fence. “Go get a couple more snowmobiles.”

Both jumped own off their perches that had been installed at several places along the wall and ran off, disappearing into the much harder snowfall that was coming down now.

Bear and Travis made it back to Jim about the time Craig and Colleen got there with the snowmobiles. With a gunner holding on tightly behind the drivers, Jim, Bear, and Craig, with the three others, took off to back track the attackers.

They found the women and children on the run away from the tract. They’d never even tried to set up a camp, choosing even the slightest chance of freedom over the surety of a vassal life with the men that had captured them.

Approaching quickly but cautiously, Jim cut in front of the tightly spaced group, the children surrounded by the women. It didn’t take long for Jim to determine the facts of the matter and get the group turned around, headed back to the safety of the tract.

They shied away from the bodies slowly being covered with snow, except for a quick step close to spit on a particularly hated abuser.

With assurance that all the adult males had been killed, Jim called all but one of his small force down off the wall. He wasn’t willing to leave the gate untended, just in case. The rather joyous group headed for the community building.

It was only after Dr. James had finished his quick examination of the women and children for immediate needs and communicable diseases did he ask about Darlene. Jim looked horrified suddenly.

“I forgot her! She’d been shot when she ran into them and was bleeding badly! She told me not to worry and joined into the fight.

Jim, Bear, and Dr. James rushed out of the community building, leaving the newcomers in the capable hands of the rest of the self-defense force, minus the one at the gate. And Darlene. They rode the snowmobiles faster than was safe, but they got to the guard shack in record time.

“Where is she?” Dr. James yelled.

“Here! Here!” Jim called. Darlene was almost covered by the snow, an ominous amount of it bright red beside her left thigh.

“Help me get her up,” Dr. James said. Her head lolled limply when they got her up. Between them and the snowmobiles, they got her to Dr. James house, then inside, and on the bed in the second bedroom.

“Bear! Get your wife! I need her. Jim. You keep an eye on things out there, will you? I don’t want anything going on while I work on her. She’s lost a lot of blood and the bullet is still in her.”

The two rushed off and Dr. James got Darlene’s snowmobile suit off, then her jeans, and covered her with a blanket, leaving the bullet wound uncovered. He noticed the healed bullet wound just inches from the new one, and then ran out of the room. He was coming back into the room with his medical bag when Julie Johanovitch came in.

She took a look, and with the practiced ease of the professional nurse that she was, began to assist Dr. James in his treatment of Darlene.

Two days later, while Dr. James was napping in a chair by her bedside, Darlene woke up with a groan. “Where am I? Did we get them all? I think I’ve been shot.” Her voice was weak, but Dr. James heard her. He stood up and pulled the stethoscope from around his neck and began to check her vitals.

“You’re in my second bedroom,” the Doctor explained as he continued to check her heart, despite her weak efforts to prevent him from putting the stethoscope on her chest. “We got them all. Brought in some badly used women and children. Yes, you’ve been shot. And if I’m any kind of doctor, you narrowly missed getting pneumonia, laying out there in the snow as long as you did, already weak from lost of blood.”

Darlene yanked the blanket back up to her chin when the Doctor finished what he was doing. “Can I have some water? My mouth feels like a desert.”

“Of course.” Dr. James helped her hold the glass from the bedside table to her lips when she quickly discovered she didn’t have the strength to do it alone.

“Uh… I need the bathroom now,” she said after swallowing only a few sips. “But there is no way…”

“I’ll get Julie to help you. Just hold it a minute.”

Julie was asleep on the sofa in Dr. James’ living room. He wakened her gently and she immediately came to. “What is it? How is she?”

“She needs to go to the bathroom. I… uh… don’t think it would be a good idea if I tried to help her.”

“Obviously not, Doctor.”

He waited out of the line of sight between the second bedroom and the bathroom until Julie called him back to the bedroom.

Darlene was back in the bed, blanket once again up to her chin. “When can I get out of here?”

“A few more days,” Dr. James said. “I’m not going to chance you coming down with something in your weakened condition.”

“Can’t you move me to my place and treat me there? I don’t like being in your house.”

“Mean’s you’d have to let me in, you know. Julie, too. You’ve been reluctant to have visitors.”

Darlene bit her lip. “Yeah… Okay… You and Julie can come in.”

“Need someone to help me move you besides Julie.”

“Okay, okay. Bear and Jim, too.”

“You go get them and I’ll get her presentable to move,” Julie said. “I’ll go get you something to wear from your bedroom.”

She really wanted to resist, but she was just too tired. “My keys are in my snowmobile suit. Oh, no! My animals!”

“Ah. Yes,” Julie said. “Well, you have to know. Bear has been taking care of them. We found your keys. But he hasn’t gone into the house.”

“Oh. Tell him I said thank you.”

Julie left the room and Darlene fell asleep before she returned, a bundle of clothing in her hands.

“Wake up, sleepyhead,” Julie crooned.

Darlene came around slowly. Fortunately she was slight and Julie was capable. Julie had her dressed in just a couple of minutes and called for Jim and Bear to come in. Taking her up in a fireman’s two-man chair carry, they moved her as gently as they could to her bedroom, with Julie leading and Dr. James following. Julie held the door as the two men took her through, and then shooed them out of the bedroom when they set her down on the edge of the bed.

Darlene was tired and hurting when she was finally ensconced comfortably in her bed. “Ok, Doctor,” Julie called, “You can come in now.”

Dr. James came in and gave Darlene another examination. She didn’t have the strength to resist. “That was almost too much for you,” he said. “I’m going to have Julie give you something for the pain and another dose of antibiotics. One of us will be close at all times. You’re not out of the woods yet.”

Darlene didn’t respond. She was already asleep. “Hold on the painkiller until she asks for it,” Dr. James said. “I don’t want to drug her up too much. I don’t think she particularly likes being treated at all.”

“She’s a very self-sufficient, capable woman,” Julie said, taking a paperback book from the pocket of her sweater. She sat down in the chair she moved to the head of the bed. “I’ll keep an eye on her for a while if you want to go get some real sleep.”

“Yeah. Probably should. I’m pretty tired, myself.” He let himself out, talked to Bear and Jim for a minute, and then went to his own home to get some sleep.

“You know,” Jim told Bear, “I think the Doc is rather taken with Darlene.”

“I’m coming to that conclusion, myself. What do you think she thinks about him?”

“I haven’t got a clue,” Jim replied, shaking his head. “She plays her cards close to the vest. I can’t read her very well about some things.” Jim laughed. “Of course, a few other things, there ain’t no doubt about it.”

Bear laughed too. “Too true.”

The two split up, to take care of some of the things that Darlene would be doing if she were able.

Dr. James and Julie found that Darlene was an excellent patient when asleep. Not so much when she was awake. Not that she was demanding, she wasn’t… Well, not demanding in terms of treatment and care, but she was having a difficult time not being out and about. Being in the know. She asked questions constantly about the state of this and that, and a few more things.

Dr. James released her much sooner than he would have anyone else. But he’d found her to be highly resilient, and after the first initial problems, she had recovered quickly from the effects of the wound and with the brush with pneumonia. Besides the fact that she was up and dressed, ready to go outside when Julie brought the doctor into the room to see her.

“You should still be in bed,” Dr. James said.

“I don’t want to be in bed. I’m tired of being in bed. What I need is to get up and do something. Check on my animals. Bear’s been doing it, in addition to taking care of his own family. Everyone needs to pull their own weight.”

Darlene shut up quickly, not willing to continue and let the Doctor and Julie see how winded the discourse had made her.

“Well, if I can’t stop you, at least follow my advice and take it easy. Eat heartily. And get plenty of rest. If you have a problem, any problem at all, sent someone to get me and get back into bed.”

“Okay, Doc. I’ve got it. Eat and sleep. That’s what I’ve been doing. What I need is some fresh air.”

“Okay. But I’m warning you,” Dr. James said, “I will not be happy if you wind up with pneumonia, despite my best efforts of preventing it.”

Discerning some real concern in his voice and manner, Darlene eased up a bit. “Okay, Doc. I promise. I’ll be careful and not over do it.”

“Good. Thank you. I guess I’ll leave you to your own devices for a while.”

Julie waited until she heard the front door close before she asked Darlene, “You ready to lay back down now?”

“Uh… Yeah. I think I will. I’ll check on the animals in a little while.”

“I thought you might. I’ll have lunch ready at noon. Try to be up by then.” Darlene was already asleep before Julie finished her sentence.

Julie left to see about her own family, but was back to prepare a hot lunch for Darlene when she woke up, shortly after one in the afternoon. Rather groggy, and occasionally leaning against the wall for support, Darlene followed her nose to the kitchen, the smell of the hearty stew causing her mouth to water.

“I’m afraid I tended to the greenhouse and picked a few fresh things to make your soup. Hope you don’t mind.” Julie glanced over at Darlene.

Darlene frowned for a brief instant. But what could she say. Bear and Julie, and even the Doctor, were doing the best they could to help her. She shouldn’t make it any more difficult that it already was.

“It’s okay. Everyone has to know about it by now, anyway, unless they’re dense as a rock.” She took a seat and let Julie fuss over her. Feeling much stronger, Darlene went out into the back yard and looked around.

Bear was there checking on Darlene’s small stock. “I hate to ask, Bear, since you’ve already done so much, but have you checked on the fish in the garage?”

“Sure did. Took a couple of days for it to dawn on me that you had to have a tank somewhere, since you have a constant supply of fresh fish. I wasn’t snooping, but I had to check, and found the tank in the garage. Man, those fish go crazy when they get fed worms.”

Darlene smiled. “Sure do.” She cut her trip outside short and went back inside, satisfied that Bear was more than capable of handling things, and, more importantly, willing.

It was a month before Darlene was back to her old self. Only it wasn’t quite her old self. She was a bit more open about things and invited all those that had helped out at her place over for dinner. She’d thought about trying to get them to take something in pay for what they’d done, but had enough sense to do the dinner, instead.

She even kept her cool when she found out that the newcomers were now ensconced in the remaining three houses that Darlene had bought from the community. “I guess we had to put them somewhere,” she said after the first flash of anger. “They getting enough to eat?”

Dr. James nodded. “We’re feeding them out of the community coffers that you were such a big help in providing. Even with a long winter, we should still make out okay.” Darlene nodded.

After the dinner, the others thanked Darlene and headed for their own homes. The snow was coming down hard and everyone wanted to get home before the streets became impassable until they could be cleared.

Dr. James was the last one, and even offered to help with the dishes. To his surprise, Darlene agreed. As they worked in the kitchen, Darlene said, “I was on the radio a lot while I was recuperating, and I think a couple of the nearer communities to us are willing to do some trading with us. There is still a lot of salvaging to do, but that won’t last forever, and though we are in pretty good shape for some things, growing stock feed is beyond our capabilities. At least at the moment. Plus we need to ensure genetic diversity in our stock, both large and small. We need additional breeding stock, all the way around.

“And biodiesel. We’re going to be dependant on it pretty soon. The existing fuel will run out. Besides, it’s getting old and I haven’t found any Pri-G or Pri-D to freshen it. If we can find some of those products we will have a lot more useable fuel, for a while.

“Some of the other communities have transitioned from barter and trade only, to a partial currency. Gold and silver coins. It looks like I may need to become a banker, too. I have quite a bit of gold and silver myself. I’m thinking about starting to pay people in precious metal coins, to get some in circulation in the community, so people here will be able to trade on an even footing with the other communities.”

“You’re always thinking, aren’t you?” Dr. James said as Darlene handed him a plate to dry.

“I guess so. My ex-husband didn’t care for the trait in me.” Darlene cut her eyes over to Dr. James and back just as quickly.

“I find it refreshing,” the Doctor said and then chuckled. “Most of the time.”

“I guess I can be rather off-putting at times…”

“I find it rather endearing…” Slowly Dr. James leaned down slightly, gently taking Darlene’s chin to turn her face toward his. She didn’t resist or object when he kissed her. In fact, after the first few moments, she was kissing back.

It was some time before Darlene put her hand on Dr. James chest and pushed him slightly away. “Doc… Brian. I’m kind of old fashioned. A kiss is one thing, but I’m not ready for anything else without a minister or justice of the peace being involved.”

Dr. James nodded. “I understand. I can wait.”

“Yeah. So can I. But finding a minister is top of the list of projects this spring.”

They turned back to finish the dishes, and when they were done, Dr. James went home.

It was a tough winter, even longer and colder than the previous winter, though with less snow. The atmosphere was drying out. The seas were withdrawing from the inroads they’d made on the worlds landmasses when the land borne ice had melted. That fresh water was again piling up in the far north and far south as snow and ice, lowering the sea levels over the years below what they were before the meteor strikes.

What had once been extreme winters were to be the norm for generations. Summers were cool, but there were summers. Warm enough and long enough for crops to grow. In the areas that were not encroached on by ice or permanent snow pack, life went on. Even in the ‘burbs.

End **************

Copyright 2008

Jerry D Young