Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Neighbors

Jerry D. Young Library

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

Neighbors - Chapter 1

Hank Smith was a prepper. But he was a prepper with a problem. He lived on a cul-de-sac road. Which was good. The bad part of it was it was on a hill. Which would normally be good, but in this case, it put him in full view of the approach to the cul-de-sac and of most of his neighbors.

Pretty much nothing went on in the small neighborhood that didn’t get noticed by the neighbors. It was common knowledge that he had a large garden. It was terraced on the slope from his front door to the cul-de-sac circle drive. And his PV solar panels were right there on the south-facing roof, which faced the road, too. Everyone knew he had them. The shallow well with hand pump and gas engine garden pump was also in plain sight.

And his regular hauls of firewood didn’t go unnoticed. The smoke from his chimney was easily visible. At least several of the neighbors also had wood fireplaces.

Most of his prep supplies, fortunately, had been brought in using the Suburban and unloaded in the garage with the door down. But now, Hank wanted to make some more improvements to his preps. A greenhouse with rabbit hutches and fish tanks, decent CBRNE shelter, a generator, and large fuel tanks.

Now, the shelter would be either in the basement or a freestanding one in the backyard, where the greenhouse would be. Ditto the fuel tanks, a large diesel fuel tank, small gasoline tank, and a one-thousand gallon propane tank in addition to the five-hundred gallon tank he now had. The generator needed to go on the west side of the house.

Then there were the blackberry brambles he was already planting around the sides and back perimeter of his property. The fourth side, the front side facing the street, would soon have a nice, relatively unobtrusive metal security fence.

Hank was sure no one would object to his improvements. The problem was the fact that they knew at all. It didn’t take much imagination to foresee where the neighbors would head for in a serious emergency. Hank’s place. Hank needed to do something to get the community prepared for some of the things he was preparing for, so they wouldn’t depend on his visible resources to take care of them.

It was some time before he came up with the idea. It was sparked by a chat conversation at one of the Prepper Forums of which he was a member. The idea of a Neighborhood Watch was brought up and Hank had a sudden insight. What about a Neighborhood CERT organization? Not necessarily affiliated with the National CERT organization, but just a small, local, neighborhood version.

Hank thought some more about the idea. He needed something that people would be concerned enough about to take some steps to protect themselves from, or otherwise prepare for. The area was actually not too prone to disasters. Which was good. Except there was no obvious need for the Neighborhood Action Team.

But then, in the news, came a good opportunity. Bird flu was in the news again. Hank sat down at his computer later the night he saw the news program and wrote a short letter asking for volunteers to set up a quarantine for the cul-de-sac, in case the bird flu, or other dangers, threatened the safety of the neighborhood residents.

The ‘or other dangers’ was the key to eventually getting people aware of, and willing to prepare for, some of the things Hank was. So Hank went door to door, leaving the letters on house doorsteps. He wanted just a bit of shock value, that being the fact that he’d been able to just walk up to everyone’s front door to deliver the letters.

He’d asked for a meeting of his cul-de-sac neighbors in the nearest of the development’s small community centers. He went ahead and booked the meeting room, and crossed his fingers.

On the appointed day and at the appointed time, Hank was in the meeting room, preparing a pot of coffee and some other refreshments he paid for out of his pocket. At ten minutes after seven, Hank was getting discouraged. No one had shown up yet.

But that changed quickly. Half a dozen of his neighbors came walking in together, already chatting about the letter. Making sure to introduce himself to those he didn’t know, and re-introducing himself to those he was only on a nodding of the head basis with, Hank went around the room, encouraging everyone to get a cup of coffee or tea, or a cold drink.

Finally he called everyone to attention and asked them to be seated. Never a very good public speaker, Hank hemmed and hawed a bit, but finally got down to business. “Now that you all are aware of who I am, I wanted to thank you for coming. And to tell you I’m scared. Scared of the bird flu that was in the news a few days ago.

“The report stated that there would be quarantines. I’m worried about that. How do we keep potentially infected people out, and get out to get food?”

There was some murmuring and then Pete Gladstone raised his hand and began to speak. “We actually have it pretty easy in the cul-de-sac. Just block the entrance here on Carson Street and people couldn’t get in without traipsing all the way around and going through the woods. And with the ravines… well… that would be difficult.”

“But who would do it? And what about food for that long of a time?” Hank asked.

Rather tentatively Elizabeth Montoya raised her hand. She waited until Hank nodded at her before she spoke. “Juan and I keep a good pantry. But it’s only good for a couple of weeks. What would we do if we couldn’t go out before the food ran out?”

“Just buy more,” said Fred Cummings. “I usually pick up something at the store on the way home, but Hank has a point. I think I’ll buy some extra… Though… more than a couple of weeks…”

“That’s a lot of food just sitting around.” That came from Bren Jackson. “I do okay, but buying up food that might just spoil before it’s needed is expensive.”

“What about a food bank for the neighborhood?” Hank asked then. He’d been waiting for the time to suggest it.

“A food bank?” asked another of the neighbors. “We’re not some group of hardship cases that need a community food bank to make it.” He sounded rather angry at the suggestion. Of course, Henry Block always sounded angry.

“Just for emergencies,” Hank replied. “Like if someone didn’t make it to the store before the quarantine was started. Maybe add some of those masks that are being recommended, too.”

“Yeah. What if we decide to do this and whoever is keeping this food bank decides to keep it for themselves?” Again an angry sounding Henry questioned the idea.

“You wouldn’t do that,” Hank said. “I doubt any of the others would, either.”

“Of course I wouldn’t,” Henry almost shouted. “But…” He looked around, but didn’t continue.

“Well, if you are so high and mighty,” Elizabeth said, “you should be the one to keep it.”

“Hey, now! I’m not…” Henry’s protests fell on deaf ears as several of the others agreed with Elizabeth.

“I vote for Henry to keep the food bank!”

“Henry is the Man!”

“Way to go, Henry!”

Henry frowned, and growled a bit, but sat back in his chair without any further protest. He’d keep the food bank.

“Well, what should we give to the food bank,” Bren asked. “I know what I like, but others might not like it.”

“I think any good, shelf stable food… Canned goods, Mac & Cheese, rice, beans, stuff like that. And the masks,” Hank said quickly. “Things you eat normally. You might be the one that needs a bit to tide them over.”

There was some murmuring amongst spouses and those sitting close to one another.

First to declare themselves was Bren. “Okay. I’m in.” He turned to Henry. “I’ll bring over a box of stuff next time the wife and I go shopping.”

Henry nodded. The others began to follow suit.

Hank was pleased. He decided not to press his luck on expanding the role of the team. “How about we get together next month and see how things look. Maybe talk to some of the others that aren’t here to see if they’d like to participate.”

People started to get up, nodding or voicing their agreement. With the group gone, Hank turned to begin clearing the coffee and other things. It didn’t take long and he went out to the Suburban and went the short distance home, thinking that the plan was off to a decent start.

And it was. Better than Hank had hoped. Henry called him three days later complaining about the amount of things people were dropping off. There were many paper sacks, as well as plastic ones, and a variety of sizes of boxes.

And Henry questioned why Hank hadn’t brought anything over, especially since it was Hank’s idea in the first place.

“I haven’t been shopping since the meeting,” Hank quickly replied. “I’ll be by tomorrow with some things.”

The thought that he wouldn’t need to add anything to the stockpile was obviously a bad one. He was going to have to contribute at least some, to make things look good. So Hank made a special stop at Wal-Mart, a place he usually avoided. It occurred to Hank that he really needed to keep Henry, the hard sell, on his good side. Stopping to look at some of the plastic storage containers, he was disappointed in the selection. Not of sizes or quantities. They had dozen of different sizes an plenty of them. But of quality.

Hank was a heavy-duty kind of guy. He wanted heavy-duty totes. He happened to cut through one of the automotive aisles and came to a quick stop when he saw the Rubbermaid brand Action Packers. They were available in eight gallon, twenty-four gallon, thirty-five gallon, and forty-eight gallon sizes.

After thinking about it a bit, Hank rejected the eight-gallon as too small, and the thirty-five gallon and forty-eight gallon containers as too large and heavy to move when loaded. He took all the twenty-four gallon Action Packers the store had. A total of six.

He dropped the containers and the food and household items off at Henry’s that afternoon. Henry was pleasantly pleased with the totes. They stacked neatly in his basement and stored a lot of stuff in a relatively small space. Hank helped Henry transfer the goods from the various bags and cardboard boxes the others had dropped off to the totes.

“Toilet paper?” Henry asked when Hank brought in a large multi-pack from the Suburban. It was the last item. Henry shrugged and set it on top of the totes. “I hope everyone remembers what they brought, ‘cause I sure don’t have a clue anymore.”

“I don’t really think it matters much,” Hank said carefully. “This is kind of for anyone that needs it, not necessarily the person that brought something specific. The things I brought are certainly that way.”

“Including the toilet paper?” Henry asked with a grin.

“Even the toilet paper,” Hank replied, pleased that Henry was taking this so well. “Thanks for storing the stuff for us, Henry. I don’t think the group could have picked a better person for it.”

Henry actually blushed slightly under his tan. “Well… I do try to do my part. This is a good neighborhood. I want to keep it that way.”

“Me, too,” Hank said with feeling. Henry walked Hank out to the Suburban and watched him drive away.

The month passed, without incident. There were more people at the second meeting than at the first. Word had gone around the entire cul-de-sac section of the development. There was quite a bit of talking going on when Hank called for quiet.

“I guess the first order of business is to find out from Henry where we stand on food and protective masks. Henry?”

Henry reluctantly stood up. “Uh… well… let’s see. We have three of the totes full of canned food. One full of food packaged in boxes, and one with the masks and stuff like that. Some people brought antiseptic hand cleaner, too. The sixth tote is still empty.”

“That’s good,” Hank said. “Thanks Henry.”

Henry sat down. As soon as he did, Bren Jackson stood up and said, “That bird flu thing kind of fizzled out. Just a scare. I think we should take back what we gave and forget about this.”

It really disappointed Hank, but before he could say anything, one of the people that were new at this meeting said, “But it’s still a risk. From what Elizabeth told me, this food bank thing is a good idea. Not just for the flu. What about what’s going on in eastern Europe now?”

“Oh, come on, Arty!” It was Bren again. “You really think that thing with Russia and Georgia is going to affect us here? Get real!”

Fred Cummings spoke up next. “I don’t know about that, but we’ve got the prison not too far away. I worry about Angie and my two girls if there is a breakout.”

There were some more murmurs. Bren frowned and spoke again. “That’s about as likely to happen as the Russians coming over here. And what does it have to do with some spare food supplies?”

“I wouldn’t want Angie to go out if there’s been a breakout at the prison. I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to start up a Neighborhood Watch program. Could we kind of do all of it together?”

That was the kind of thing Hank wanted to hear. “I like that idea. With it just me at my place, if something happens when I’m not home… Well… I worry about that, too.”

Elizabeth looked around. “Well, we all kind of keep an eye on each other’s places, already. Do we really need a Neighborhood Watch?”

“Would people be armed?” It was another of the people that hadn’t been at the first meeting. Stage Johnson, sitting beside his wife, Sue

“No,” Bren said adamantly. “If we do it, just walkie-talkies and flashlights. I don’t want a bunch of people running around my place with guns.”

“I don’t see any reason for the Neighborhood watch to be armed,” Hank said slowly. He’d decided in a split second to let the arming of the residents go for another, more suitable time. “I do like the idea of the Watch, though. I’m willing to put in a couple of hours a week.”

More murmuring, but no one addressed the situation. Hank, thinking on his feet, quickly continued. “We could get things set up and do actual patrols for a few nights, and then once a month or so to keep everyone trained. Only put out the patrol if something… like the prison break, happens.”

“I can see that,” Henry said, again surprising Hank. “I’m in for a couple hours a week, and then the once a month practices.”

Elizabeth, with her husband Juan this time, talked quietly for a moment, and then Juan raised his hand. Hank nodded at him and Juan spoke. “I will do what needs to be done to protect my family, and the neighborhood, too. I’m in.”

There were several more that spoke up then, stating much the same thing. Finally, almost everyone turned to look at Bren. He reddened, and said, “Okay! Okay! I’m in! But I don’t want this turned into a ghost hunt with everyone carrying a gun.”

“Perhaps you’d set things up with the county law enforcement and kind of be in charge of the Watch portion of our Neighborhood Action Team,” Hank said.

Much like Henry’s reaction to being put in charge of a task, Bren resisted, but finally accepted the task.

Hank quickly brought the meeting to an end. He didn’t want too many things going on too fast. Let the group slowly start taking responsibility for their own well-being, one step at a time.

Wondering when the good luck would end, Hank, with Bren more or less in charge, helped get the Neighborhood Watch program set up. He put in more than the two hours a week he said, often taking a walk around the cul-de-sac even when none were scheduled. More than once another of the residents saw him and would walk with him.

The continuation of the Watch Program, at least for some time, was ensured when three year old Lacy Cook wandered away from home and was found within minutes of calls going out to the other residents. Those that had been walking the neighborhood had learned all the little cubbyholes a youngster, or potential thief, might use to hide.

The meeting after that happened, every household in the cul-de-sac was represented. Everyone contributed to the food bank, and there were plenty of volunteers to maintain the Watch. Hank furnished another six totes that were soon full of not only food, but additional masks, disinfectants, and such. Henry rearranged his basement without protest to accommodate the additional goods.

The only real problem, for Hank, was the fact that everyone was even more aware than in the past what their neighbors were doing. It was the talk of the Monthly Meeting after Hank had the fuel tanks and whole house generator installed.

“What’s up, Hank?” asked Elizabeth, the usual spokesperson for her and Juan. “Someone told me you put in big gasoline tanks. Isn’t that a big fire danger?”

“I put in a diesel tank,” Hank said, not mentioning the fact that there was also a five-hundred-gallon gasoline tank in addition to the three-thousand-gallon diesel tank. “Underground,” Hank continued. “Same with the new propane tank. It’s underground, too.”

“What do you need all that fuel for, anyway?” Henry’s angry voice was back.

“My Suburban is diesel. I don’t like paying the fuel price at the pump. I can pick and choose my times to buy, when it’s at least a little cheaper than other times. It’s not much, but I figure I can save a couple hundred dollars a year in fuel costs. Not much, but better than nothing. Same with the propane tank. I can add to it when the price is lower, and run through the times when it’s higher. I can tell you that neither of the tanks is anywhere near full. Fuel is expensive right now. I’m just waiting for the right time to add a bit more to them.”

The last was the straight truth. Hank was waiting for an expected drop in prices before he filled the three new tanks.

Henry looked satisfied with the explanation. So did the others, though Hank noticed the curious look that Pete Gladstone gave him. But the questions weren’t over.

“That thing at the side of the house?” Bren asked. “Is that a new kind of air conditioner? It’s a lot bigger than normal.”

“It’s a standby generator,” Hank said, rather reluctantly.

“For your whole house?” asked Elizabeth. “I thought one like that would be the size of a small building.”

Pete spoke up this time. “No. I doubt it is a whole house generator. It would be bigger. But not as big as a building. Probably just some key circuits. Huh, Hank?”

Hank nodded. “That’s right.”

“Wow!” Mike Christianson said. “That’s cool! Can Jenny and the kids come over when the power goes out? My little one is terrified of the dark and of storms.”

Several more, some of them not joking at all, asked similar questions. A disappointed Hank started to try to come up with reasons why they couldn’t. Pete came to his rescue.

“Now, come on, people! We can’t all go to Hank’s. He wouldn’t have room. And it’s not his responsibility. What we ought to do, is get a generator for the community building. We could all go there if there is a power outage. I didn’t used to worry about them here, much, but I watched a program a couple of weeks ago about how tenuous the power grid is. It’s scary.”

“What would it cost to do that?” Elizabeth asked. “How about your home system, Hank? Would you tell us how much it cost?”

Reluctantly, Hank told them the total price.

There were several whistles, but then again, there were some thoughtful nods. Not everyone thought the cost out of line with the benefits. Hank continued. “It would take one three times the size to run the key circuits at the community center, I think. But if we all kicked in, it wouldn’t be that much each. Just a bit for fuel on a monthly basis to keep the generator tested and ready.”

“That’s still a lot of money, since the power doesn’t go out here. We haven’t had a power outage since just after the development opened. And that was some idiot running into the main transformer. Not likely to happen again. They put a heavy barrier around it.” Bren didn’t sound happy.

“I don’t know,” Henry said, finally adding his thoughts about the situation. “I’m more inclined to get one of the smaller units myself. For the fridge, freezer, and heater. Plus a few lights. I saw that same program Pete did. They were talking about the likelihood of rolling brownouts and scheduled blackouts if something isn’t done to upgrade the grid.”

“I don’t think we could really take care of one at our house,” Elizabeth said slowly. “It would be great if we had the Community Center available. Our house isn’t really designed to be lived in without heating and air conditioning. Could we get one large enough to run the air conditioner in the Community Center?”

“That would be quite a bit more expensive,” Pete said.

Hank nodded. “We’d have to talk to the developers. They might or might not let us install a genset. But who knows? Maybe they’d chip in some and ask the other residents to do so as well, since they will be getting the benefit of the set up. Elizabeth, would you and Juan be willing to talk to the developers?”

Elizabeth looked surprised, but after a couple of words with Juan, she nodded. “Okay. We’ll see about it this coming week.”

That was the end of the official meeting, but three couples stayed behind and talked to Hank about his generator. They were each thinking about getting one, after what was discussed at the meeting.

“Oh, we’ll pay a share for the community center, if that goes through,” said Hadley Cousins. “But I’d like to have a small one for us. Lois is on insulin and I’ve been worried for a long time about keeping it refrigerated if the power goes out.”

A few more questions about sources and prices, the three couples left and Hank cleaned up the meeting room before going home, not totally happy with the way things had gone, but not as worried as he had been about people coming to his house during an event.

Things changed little over the next three months. The developers had adamantly refused to install a generator at any of the three community centers in the large development. Even after Elizabeth put together a petition drive to get it done at the residents’ expense, the plan was refused. But several of Hank’s neighbors installed small generators for themselves, and several more bought portable generators to use if needed.

There was some reluctance by those that now had their own generators to the idea Hank proposed for the neighborhood to buy two good portables for shared use by those that might need them during blackouts. The two units would be transferred from house to house of those needing power for a few hours at a time to run refrigerators, freezers, and in one case, charge the batteries of a mobility limited person’s powered chair.

Several people were trained on the use of the generators and two sets of heavy drop cords were purchased with the generators so power could be provided in the houses as needed. Again Henry came through and allowed the generators, fuel cans, and accessories to be stored at his place, in his expansive garage.

Another month passed and the situation between Russia and Georgia seemed to have resolved itself, and no bird flu had appeared. Nor had there been a breakout at the prison, or a power outage. A few people grumbled somewhat at the expenses they’d laid out, for no apparent reason.

The main thing that concerned people was the price of fuel, which had dropped from record highs, but was again going up, and was in rather short supply. Several people openly congratulated Hank for his foresight. But the trend was to sell off the things recently purchased and drop the now regular Watch patrols.

Then Elizabeth asked a key question just as the meeting, no decisions made, was wrapping up. It was addressed to Hank, intending to be private, but several people heard her and turned back to see what Hank would say. As those behind turned back, those in front turned around to see what was going on. Most of those at the meeting were still there when Hank answered the question that Elizabeth had asked.

Namely, “Hank… Juan and I would like to talk to you about your garden. I know you do very well with it by yourself… but we were wondering, if we helped you with it, could we get some of the produce? Things in the grocery stores are so expensive now, if you can even find it. And some of it doesn’t seem to be very safe anymore.”

Hank was caught by surprise. He looked over at all the people waiting for his answer. Thinking more quickly than he thought he ever had before, it suddenly came to Hank. “I might consider that, but what about the open area down near the entry to the cul-de-sac. There’s a good five acres there. Would make a great community garden. There’s even time right now to get some late crops in.”

The meeting resumed unofficially and the discussion began. There were pros and cons to the idea, and most of them were voiced. In the end, it was decided that those interested would get with Hank and start the garden, without asking the developers about it. And in addition, anyone that wanted to help Hank with his personal garden would get a portion of what was produced until the community garden came in.

It wasn’t quite what Hank had wanted, but it was better than most of the options he’d come up with. His idea of getting the neighborhood in the cul-de-sac essentially self-sufficient, so he could be so, on his own, simply didn’t seem to be workable. Everything was just too out in the open. He was a member of the community and would need to do his share, for the community, no matter how prepared he was.

So, with that in mind, Hank made a few purchases that he’d been putting off, but had been contemplating for some time. First he picked up an old, four-wheel-drive pickup truck to use at the ‘farm,’ as it was being called. Along with the truck, from the same tinker/handyman, Hank bought four older model, but heavy-duty rebuilt rototillers.

The man that supplied Hank with the manure he put on his garden agreed to supply the community garden with it as well. He was increasing his herds and needed a place to get rid of it. For free.

The gardening of the ‘farm’ started off pretty slowly, but more and more people decided to pitch in for a share, as grocery prices continued to rise. Hank furnished the heirloom seeds for most of the plants that were going to be for the community. People gardening for themselves in the area used what they wanted, those being mostly hybrids.

Probably half of those helping at the farm also helped Hank with his huge garden, and then in the greenhouse when he bought and had it constructed. He seemed to be the trend setter, for four more people in the cul-de-sac put in greenhouses. Though Hank’s was the only one with provisions for raising worms, rabbits, and fish, though he had no stock at the moment.

After the initial harvests from the community farm were taken home by those working the farm were proved to be excellent quality, a neighborhood picnic seemed to just set itself up. It turned into an impromptu meeting and additional actions that might be taken to help everyone in the cul-de-sac were discussed.

A little tentatively Hank suggested that a portion of the field be planted in winter wheat that fall. Of course, the questions started.

“How are we going to harvest it? Don’t you need a combine?”

“Yeah. That. But even if we get it harvested, how do we use it?”

All the questions revolved around those two situations. Hank raised a hand and said, “As for harvesting, we can either hire it done by machine, or do it the old way, by hand. We’re only talking about an acre.”

Then, though he hated to, he added, “And I have a wheat grinder that could be used to make the flour.”

“I’ve got one, too,” Pete said. “But I think they should be backups to one the group buys. A Diamont 525 with a couple extra sets of burrs would last several lifetimes, and wouldn’t be that much for any one person if everyone pitched in.”

There was much discussion, but a decision was put off until the next scheduled meeting.


As it turned out, besides the high prices of wheat products, the shortages of them was suddenly of keen interest to those in the cul-de-sac. It was a unanimous decision to plant the wheat and buy a grinder and the manual harvesting tools. Everyone would be responsible for their own reusable flour containers.

This time it was Pete that was tagged for the responsibility of holding the equipment and being in charge of the specialized operation.

Though it had taken over eighteen months to get to the point the cul-de-sac was, when the troubles began, Hank was satisfied that he wouldn’t be responsible for the entire group. He would help where he could, at his own expense, but the threat of people trying to take what was his was now remote. At least in the cul-de-sac. Word had gone around the rest of the development and there were some remarks made about people heading there in times of trouble. Hank’s personal worry was now the whole cul-de-sac neighborhood’s worry. And it was the topic of the meeting just coming to order.

“Hank, you got all this started,” Bren said. “What are we going to do about those people that want to come here because of what we have? I’m doggoned if I’m going to give up my stuff and the stuff the community has worked so hard to get. I never imagined it when all this first came up, but we set up pretty good here, for bad times. Like what’s happening in the cities now.”

“Yeah, Hank,” asked Elizabeth. “What do we do, now? What we’ve done has made us a target.”

Before Hank could think of anything reasonable to say, Henry spoke up. “Well, I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to get my Father’s old World War II rifle out and clean it up. The rest of you made me responsible for our food supplies and I intend to protect them. Any way I have to.”

“Oh, no! Not guns! Please?”

Hank didn’t see who said it, but there were approving murmurs. Pete spoke up again. “Look. If we keep the cul-de-sac entry blocked, I don’t think we’ll have much trouble. We can make this a gated community without much work.”

That hadn’t occurred to Hank. Just blocking the road with a couple of vehicles had been his thought.

“Can we do that?” asked Elizabeth. “It would be better than just shooting someone.”

Hank said nothing as other people spoke up.

“Still might need a gun or two to convince someone the gate is there for a reason.”

“We need to do this without guns. I won’t have a gun in the house.” That was from the same woman that had spoken out against guns. Sara Stevens. She and her husband Steven had three small children.

“Well, some of us are hunters and shooters. We have guns. I can understand someone not wanting to have one in the house, and not even want to defend themselves with one. Got no problem with that, if they do their share some other way. This neighborhood is something kind of special. Look at all we’ve accomplished. It must be good. Other people want it.” It was a long and impassioned speech by Henry.

“Could we try to get the rest of the development to do the same things we’ve done? That way they won’t need our stuff.” It was Bren.

Hank couldn’t completely hide his slight smile. His own thoughts were now the community thoughts. “I think that’s a good idea,” he quickly said. “How about we do the gate now, while trying to get other people into the prepared mindset, and hold off on openly arming ourselves.”

There were a couple of knowing looks. There were some people that would be going armed in the cul-de-sac, but with concealed weapons.

“Yeah,” Bren said. “I vote for that. “The more people that are prepared, the better.”

“I’ll check on what’s needed for a gate that will do what we need done,” Pete said. “Uh… Who should I tell? It’s going to take at least some money. How much do we have in the treasury?”

Everyone looked at Elizabeth. She’d become the designated treasurer of the group. “About twenty-five hundred. Everyone has really been pitching in lately.”

“That won’t be enough,” Pete said, “I’m sure. But it is a very good start. Still need to know who to ask for permission to get it started. The sooner the better.”

“As much as I hate committees,” said Henry, “this is probably the time for one.”

There were some groans, but Bren spoke up. “I’ll serve. And Pete, you should be on the committee, since you’re doing the initial leg work. Henry, how about you?”

“Sure. I have some ideas on what we should do.”

Juan raised his hands. “I know construction. I’ll be on the committee.”

“These guys are all too gung ho,” Sara said. “Steven will be on the committee so things don’t get too outrageous.” It seemed to be news to her husband, but Steven, well trained, quickly nodded his head.

“That should be enough, I would think,” Hank said when no one else moved to volunteer. “I’ll work on something like I did with us, for the whole development. Try to get a meeting set up to get people thinking about the future and the troubles we’re looking at.”

“You did a good job with us,” Elizabeth said, with a laugh. “I’m beginning to understand why. Before, you’d have had a bunch of leeches at your door if something happened. Now we all pull together.”

“I can’t say that it wasn’t part of the reason I did what I did.”

“Well, I, like Elizabeth, am glad you did,” Bren said.

There were more calls of appreciation and Hank quickly brought the meeting to a close, scheduling the first gate committee meeting for a week hence. Pete was sure that would give enough time for him to get the necessary information.

Hank met with the gate committee the following Sunday. There was good news and bad news. The gate itself wasn’t going to be a problem, money-wise or construction-wise. The problem was there really needed to be a set of wing walls built to prevent difficult, but doable, access around the gate. No vehicles could get by, the sharp drop into one of the many ravines on one side, and the equally sharp rise on the other saw to that, but people on foot wouldn’t have any problems.

Pete had already talked to the developers. There would be no help from them. They’d even discouraged the gate, but there really wasn’t much they could do about it, or the walls, if the neighborhood chose to put them in.

After much discussion, the decision was put off until the next regular meeting. Hank wasn’t the only one rather annoyed at the amount of non-cul-de-sac traffic coming in, taking the roundabout, and leaving. The neighborhood was being checked out by other members of the development.

That was the first thing brought up when the scheduled meeting was called to order.

“We have to stop this increased traffic!” Sara said. “My youngest was almost hit by one of them when the driver was looking all around, not paying any attention to the road.”

It was quite a difference from Sara’s reaction the previous meeting. “We should go ahead and put in the gate and wait on the walls.”

Of course there were questions about “What walls?” and Pete quickly filled everyone in on what the committee had learned.

Again it was Elizabeth that spoke up first. “Juan and I have done some concrete block work. What if everyone pitches in and we build the walls ourselves? Just pay for the components?”

“Sí,” Juan said, “I can do most of the work, but will need help with the concrete and mixing mortar and carrying the blocks.”

Several people chimed in to say they would help, including Sara’s husband Steven.

Finally the question was asked about how much it was going to cost, even if the community did the work.

There were a few in-drawn breaths, and a few nearly silent whistles at the amount. But the neighbors in the cul-de-sac had learned to work together. Pledges of amounts of money ranging from a few dollars, to several hundred, began to be voiced.

Elizabeth was hastily scribbling down the amounts. When silence fell, she said, “That should be enough. With just a little left over for the next project.”

There was applause and congratulations and people thanking those that had pledged money. Hank held up his hand for silence. “Okay. We’ll get started on it as soon as possible. The gate first, since it will be custom built, and then the walls. Everyone that can, and wants to help with the walls, get with Juan and Pete and set up a work schedule.”

That was pretty much it for the meeting. A few lingered to talk to Juan and Pete. Hank stayed and did the cleanup after everyone had left, feeling better than he had in a while. The sense of urgency was lessening, with the plan for the gate and walls being approved.

The economy was tanking and the world political situation was getting worse. So was the weather, and due to it, food availability was dropping as prices rose. The big problem now was the Russians again talking nuclear attacks on Poland, if the US missile shield was installed. Hank was still well aware of the Chinese growing their military, and rapidly running out of resources to feed their growing population.

Iran and North Korea were both silent at the moment, but either could turn up the threat of nuclear weapons use. And India and Pakistan, also both calm for the moment, was global nuclear war just waiting to be triggered.

Hank finally made the decision to harden the basement rather than build a free standing or underground bunker. It would cost about the same, and be a bit more difficult, but the advantages of everything at hand, and less visibility to the neighbors, made the decision for him.

After buying a small trailer just big enough to haul the components he needed a bit at a time, Hank began the construction by laying down a foundation four feet from the wall of his walk out basement. He began stacking retaining wall blocks and filling in the space between them and the basement wall with dry sand.

With large diameter pipes set into the wall at the windows, and a column supported metal arch for the doorway, Hank finished off the top of the wall with solid blocks. The window pipes and door arch would be filled with the sandbags Hank filled with the last of the sand he’d brought to the property. They would be kept in the yard shed until needed.

While building the wall, each load of materials had included those needed to put in a column supported solid block filled drop ceiling in one quarter of the basement and sand filled block walls to enclose that area of the basement.

Only one thickness of block was used, as the basement floor of the house was nothing to brag about. Hank didn’t want to crack it with concentrated weight. Between the new, thick, outside wall, and the filled block walls, Hank figured he had enough protection factor on the sides. He did bring in another load of sand and bags to put it in, to provide for a layer of sandbags on the floor inside the house over the basement shelter area to provide more protection overhead.

The cul-de-sac had become a group of close-knit neighbors over the months of slow preparations that Hank had guided. He was feeling a bit guilty about having a shelter too small to take everyone. But he just couldn’t afford it, and didn’t know how to bring up the subject of a community shelter to the group.

He didn’t have to. The mortar in the wing walls at the now gated entrance was hardly dry when Pete brought up the subject of shelter at the first meeting after the gate and walls were finished.

Basically, an explanation of what had been done was given at the meeting, and it was about to break up when Pete spoke. “Uh… I’ve got something I’d like to discuss with everyone.”

There were groans and comments about “Please! Don’t ask for more money!”

Pete almost sat down and let it go, but the worsening world situation was bothering him as much as it was Hank. And when he mentioned it, several people also expressed concern. “That kind of leads to what I’d like to see the group do. Figure out a way to have fallout shelter for everyone.

“I’m planning on building one for my family…” Naturally the calls that people would just come to his house occurred and were laughed about. But Pete stayed serious. “I could take some of the kids, but I couldn’t take anywhere close to everyone. The community needs to have a shelter to take those that don’t have their own shelters, and for anyone visiting that wouldn’t all fit in a home shelter, if you had one.”

“You’re scaring the kids,” Sara said.

“Scaring me, too,” Rebecca said. “Juan and I have been talking about this, too. We’ve discussed a home shelter, but they are really expensive.”

“I didn’t know you could still buy them,” said someone. “Not since the sixties.”

“Oh,” Hank said, “There are several companies out there that will install a manufactured shelter, or build one in place. But it shouldn’t be too expensive to build a shelter in the basement. Everyone has basements in the cul-de-sac, don’t they?”

People looked around at one another. There were plenty of nods, and no contradicting statements.

“But I wouldn’t know what to do,” Fred Cummings said, “Even if we had a shelter. And wouldn’t one in the basement be awful crowded? I’ve seen those old Civil Defense drawings. They showed people in shelters with no standing room. Hardly any room to move at all. And what about a bathroom? I think I’d rather be in a community shelter with others that do know what to do and how to handle things.”

“Pete, you and Hank seem to know the most,” Bren said. “Is it practical to build a shelter for all… or at least most of us, if some have their own shelter?”

“Again, money would be an issue. And in this case, space would be, too. I’m not sure where we could put it,” Hank said.

“What about the ravine behind us?” asked Henry. “Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to build something there? It would already be underground, and that would be best, wouldn’t it?”

“What if it rains?” asked Juan. “Wouldn’t the shelter flood?”

“Actually,” Hank said, looking thoughtful, “That ravine was cut in three places on the property and gravity drains put in to divert the water so it wouldn’t erode any more. I haven’t seen any water in the ravine since they did that not long after I moved in. We’d probably put diversion pipes around the shelter, just in case, though.”

“So it might be possible?” Pete asked. “Building it there would really cut down on the dirt work, and that would be a big part of the cost. We’d want to really build it watertight, with good drainage, just in case. But I don’t know… I’d have to talk to Angie… We might be willing to put the money we were going to use to build our shelter into the community shelter.”

“We’d put in some, too,” Rebecca said. Juan was nodding.

“I’d be willing to pitch in, too,” Hank said. “Let’s see. How many are there of us?”

A roll call was done and Elizabeth added up the numbers in each family. “Sixty-two people in the twenty families.” She looked disappointed. “That would take a big shelter, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah. Pretty big,” Hank said. “Ten square feet per person is the minimum allowed in government sponsored fallout shelters, with a minimum height of six and a half feet. The height wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t see all of us in a building with only six hundred twenty square feet. More like sixty-two hundred square feet. A hundred square feet per person. But that could include interior storage space and all that, too.”

“But like Pete said,” Frank said, “What about visitors that might be here during something like that?”

“Call it a hundred people, and ten-thousand square feet,” Pete said immediately. “If we square up the sides of the ravine, the building could be fifty feet wide, two-hundred feet long. It would take a lot of columns to support the roof. And the dirt we take from the sides of the ravine to make that space should be enough to cover it with at least three feet of earth.”

“You have any idea what that would cost?” asked Sara. “Our house is only thirty-two hundred square feet and… well… It cost in the mid-three figures. A ten-thousand square foot building would cost a million or more!”

“Not anywhere near,” Henry said. “I don’t plan to help pay for gold faucets and granite countertops. It’ll just be open space enclosed in concrete, wouldn’t it?” He looked at Pete and then Hank.

“Something like that,” Hank said. “Probably a series of wood framed walls inside, giving each family a private enclosed area, plus shared common room, baths, kitchen, and storage areas. Say thirty twelve-by-fifteen rooms for our residents, plus what visitors might be at anyone’s given household at the time we had to use the shelter. Including hallway space, that would take up seventy-two hundred square feet, leaving approximately twenty-eight hundred for the common use rooms.”

There was much discussion among families and friends. Hank let it go on for several minutes, and then said, “What if we have the committee look into what it would cost, and what kind of time frame we would be looking at? I don’t think we should waste much time on this. If we do it, we need to do it pretty quick.”

It was unanimous. Hank and the committee would start the next day on the plans for the shelter.


Due to the increasing sense of urgency everyone was feeling, Hank called for a meeting only two weeks later. He laid out the details and the costs. There were sighs of dismay. Far from a million dollars, but still over a hundred thousand for the shell.

“What about the inside? Wiring and plumbing and all?” asked Bren.

“We’d do that ourselves as time and money permit,” Pete said. “Juan has his contractor’s license now, so we could legally do it.”

“We would do it at my cost,” Juan said. “I’d have receipts for everything.”

“Five thousand per family up front,” Hank said. “Then whatever you want to spend on your family’s room and contribute toward the common areas.”

With only one family member in attendance for the most part, spouses had to go home to talk to the other half of the relationship before committing five-thousand plus dollars to the project.

But the answers were all back by the following day. Work would start the following Wednesday.

Hank’s attempts to energize the rest of the development had fallen on mostly deaf ears. But a handful of people living outside the cul-de-sac asked to talk to the group at their next meeting. A project like the community fallout shelter couldn’t be kept secret. And it wasn’t.

Three people, representing three families and one individual, attended the first meeting after the shelter work started. All three looked nervous. There had been many hard looks turned their way since they had arrived.

“Okay, people. This is Gwen Chandler, Stan Jenkins, and Gene…” Hank stumbled on the name and Gene spoke up.

“Descartes.”

“Gene Descartes,” Hank said, pretty much getting the pronunciation correct. “They represent a total of nine people, in four families.”

“And just what is it you want?” Sara asked, her narrow eyes even more narrow than usual.

“A place in your shelter if the worst happens,” Gwen said. “We’ve heard that it only costs five-thousand to buy in. That’s not much more than building one of those tiny things in your basement that Civil Defense had plans for. And with a group, it would be safer.”

“You expect to just pay five-thousand and have a place here? Just like that?” Henry was showing his anger again. “We’ve built up what we’ve got with not only money, but sweat and blood equity. It’s not just the shelter we’re building. We’ve got community gardens, and stored food, a Neighborhood Watch, all done by us, there in the cul-de-sac. I say no. Not for just the five-thousand.”

Several murmured agreement and the three people looked a bit forlorn. Hank spoke up again, having talked to the three intently before the meeting. “Now, that is five-thousand per family. Even the single guy… Can’t remember his name, would contribute five-thousand, plus five thousand from the other three families. They’d each get a room for their money.”

Apparently some of the neighborhood had thought it was five-thousand for all of them. Different murmurs began.

“Would they bring their own supplies?” Elizabeth asked. “To contribute to the community supplies?”

“Yes, yes we would!” Stan Jenkins said quickly. “And I’m willing to chip in another five-thousand dollars for the community fund, if you’ll let me and my family come here if things get bad.”

“I’m a good gardener,” said Gene. “I grow and harvest non-hybrid seeds. And if we ever need to defend the community, I have the means to do my part.”

“All of our group do,” Stan said. “We’re all hunters and sport shooters. A couple of us have military service experience.”

More murmurs.

“And this is all of you? We have to keep some space open for our extended families,” Fred said. “If we let them in, we can’t let anyone else but our own families in.”

“You guys go on home, and let us discuss this,” Henry said.

The three looked startled, but left the community center without a word.

“Okay,” Hank said, wondering if he was being a bit too open, “one thing that will affect the decision… I have a shelter in my basement. I won’t be taking up one of the rooms in the community shelter. That leaves more space for other’s families. But I’ll contribute an equal portion, to have use of the facilities.”

There were some surprised expressions, but many didn’t look surprised at all at Hank’s admission. Another person, William Reynolds and his wife Julie, had been at all the meetings, but had said very little to anyone. He’d been contributing their basic share without protest. He raised his hand and Hank acknowledged him.

“We have a shelter in our basement, too. That would be another of the rooms that would be available for families. Like Hank there, I’d like to contribute so the space would be available if some of my family is here when it happens.”

More surprised looks, and then a quick round of yeses, agreeing to both Hank and William’s plans.

It was Elizabeth that finally stood up and said, “I think we’re in agreement, aren’t we? Let those four families come here, as long as they contribute their fair share.”

There were a couple of dissenters, but the majority agreed. “I have Stan’s phone number,” Hank said. “I’ll call him after the meeting and tell him they are in. And make arrangements to get their contributions. Now. Anything else for tonight?”

There wasn’t and the group broke up. Again Hank cleaned up the community meeting room they were using and went home, satisfied he’d done everything he could to protect not only his own preparations, but those of the cul-de-sac community as well.

It took only a few minutes to contact the newest members of the group and let them know they would be included if the shelter had to be used, when it was finished. All promised to bring by their portion of the shelter money, and some supplies for the common stores.

Heavy rains the next week delayed the construction, but proved out the fact that only minimal drainage and waterproofing efforts would be needed to keep the shelter dry. But two days after the rain stopped the construction began. Since only the shell was being built initially, it went quickly.

The ravine bottom where the shelter was going in was widened and the earth stockpiled. A monolithic pour for the foundations and floor was made in one long eighteen hour day. Construction stopped to allow the concrete to cure.

Despite worsening tensions in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East, and the worry these caused to the residents, Juan insisted they wait the full time required for the concrete to be set to allow the installation of the reinforced block walls.

Even though several of the residents pitched in to help with the raising of the walls, as they had with the wing walls at the gate, Juan used his crews to speed things up significantly. Finally the four walls were completed, with entrances on each end of the building, and the reinforced block columns to support the roof were in place.

Sturdy forms were built for the concrete roof and rebar fashioned and put into place. Another monolithic pour and the main work was done. It would be another two weeks before the dirt from the ravine expansion could be moved and spread on the roof of the shelter, using half a dozen skid steer loaders to avoid the much heavier weight of larger equipment on the roof.

During the wait time, people began moving supplies and equipment into the enclosure, and those with the skills began building their room to suit themselves. Most didn’t bother with any kind of kitchen in their room, but many added a closet sized cubby to hold a chemical toilet to supplement the chemical toilets in the common area bathrooms. A large trench had been dug for the future disposal of the chemical toilet waste.

Water was brought in for storage in fifteen-gallon drums and Reliance seven-gallon water totes. The Reliance totes had a spigot and would be used to draw water from as needed, and then would be refilled from the drums. The simple sinks would drain gray water into the drains that kept the ravine from flooding. The simple shower stalls used SunShower type bags, to be filled with warm water heated in the kitchen for bathing. That water drained into the ravine drains, too.

A moderate sized generator was purchased, along with a large diesel fuel tank, to supply the shelter with minimal electrical outlets. The main reason for the power unit was to provide electricity for the only sophisticated utility in the shelter. That was a series of CBRNE air filtration units to maintain adequate clean air circulation inside the shelter. Each had a back-up battery and could be pumped by hand, but it was very labor intensive. The generator was insisted upon by every person that tried the hand pump feature of the filters before installation.

Cooking would be done on camp stoves, as the air system provided adequate ventilation to do so, allowing a very low cost kitchen.

Two large refrigerators were installed, powered by the generator, that would be filled with the residents’ fresh foods when they came to the shelter, and then to keep things like milk chilled for safety. Two freezers were installed, too. Again, to take the frozen food that residents brought when they cleaned out their home freezers.

Though each family was responsible for constructing their own room, delineated by marks on the floor and ceiling, a construction crew formed early on in the process and just built the rooms one after the other, without regard for ownership. All the materials had been purchased together, and everyone found it just easier for those with the skills and tools to do one thing to do that, while the rest did whatever they could to help and perform other tasks.

The shelter was completed two weeks before Thanksgiving of that year. Just about the time the snows started. Snow wasn’t unknown that early in the year, but never had there been a blizzard that early in living memory.

There was much speculation that the several years without evidence of sunspots was an indication of reduced solar radiation, and the cooler than normal previous summer and the hard winter that was setting in.

It wasn’t really certain that the community would have celebrated Thanksgiving Day in the shelter, had the conditions not been so bad, or not. But the fact was that during the last meeting, which were now taking place in the shelter, the idea was brought up and seemed to develop on its own.

The families outside the cul-de-sac that were now a part of the community were contacted and invited. They all attended, as did the residents of the cul-de-sac, the first time some of the people had met others.

The day acted as a basic test of the facilities, and they were found to be adequate, but definitely not luxurious. An immediate need was discovered. The babies and small children needed an area where they could be taken care of and kept entertained during active times, separate from the rest of those in the shelter.

But the day went well, and everyone headed home after the day’s activities, to catch the ends of the football games and other regular Thanksgiving Day activities. A couple of people stayed behind to help Hank clean up, but he quickly sent them packing to enjoy the benefits of American life during a holiday.

The work done, Hank shut down the generator and walked through the dark, silent shelter, using one of the dozens of wind up flashlights that had been acquired for use in the shelter when the LED lights wired to a battery bank were turned off to conserve power.

He was smiling when he went home a few minutes later.


The weather was the main topic of news through Christmas and New Years. But things returned to somewhat normal conditions after that, leading toward a late spring. Then, civilization, as the small community knew it, ended.




Neighbors - Chapter 2

There was warning, of a sort. But it was all rhetoric, by the leaders of half a dozen nations. Accusations, counter accusations, warnings and counter warnings. It was enough for Hank to move his stored sandbags to fill the basement windows and doorway, and cover the house floor over the shelter. Then, when it happened, it happened quickly.

Russia launched tactical nuclear missiles against the newly installed anti-missile defenses that the US had installed in Poland. That seemed to be the trigger for all else that happened. The US retaliated in kind. India and Pakistan attacked each other with their nuclear arsenals, China moved on Taiwan and the US intervened.

Israel was hammered by everything the Arab and Muslim coalition in the Mid East could throw against them, including the thought to be a few years away nuclear capability that Iran had developed. There were additional nuclear devices used against Israel. Suicide bombers driving nondescript vehicles with tactical warheads in the trunks.

But Israel went down fighting. All four-hundred plus of her nuclear devices were delivered to the enemy, three-hundred eighty-seven of them successfully.

At first, it looked like China would back off from the Taiwanese invasion, but when Taiwan not only defended its shores, but launched their own conventional missile attack against the Chinese troop buildup on the mainland, China began dropping nukes on the island, and the two US Fleets in the area.

Every one with nuclear capability was drawn into the conflict on one side or the other. It was what had been feared since the beginning of the Cold War. Global Thermonuclear War.


Hank’s first knowledge of the start of the war was when his NOAA All Hazards Alert radio squealed and instructions on how to build expedient fallout shelters was given. He didn’t hesitate. He got up from his desk at work, put his head in his boss’ office and said, “I’m out of here. I suggest you duck and cover. I’ll check in after this is all over.”

Sam Smith just looked at Hank blankly. Hank shook his head and ran for his Suburban. He had taken to carrying a lot of cash stashed on his person and in the Suburban, with the intent to pick up last minute items in case the worst happened.

Thinking about it for merely seconds, upon seeing the crowds rushing into the store he was stopping at, Hank turned around and headed home at the fastest speed that was safe. There were already people from the cul-de-sac heading for the shelter.

Thinking of the four families living in other areas of the development, Hank thought for another couple of seconds, ran down the steps into the basement and grabbed what he considered his combat gear, and went back upstairs.

He thought about taking the Suburban down to the gate, but quickly dismissed that idea. It was better off inside the garage. Hank broke into a shuffling run and made it to the gate in a couple of minutes. A resident was just pulling up. It was Elizabeth. Her eyes wide, she looked at the heavily armed Hank, then used her card key to open the gate. She drove through without a word to Hank.

There was a steady stream of residents returning to the cul-de-sac. Then the first non-member of the group pulled up to the gate. “Let me in! I know you have a big shelter!”

Hank didn’t have time to think about it. When the man thrust a pistol out of the driver’s window Hank automatically dropped the muzzle of his PTR-91 slightly and pulled the trigger. The round went through the window opening and struck the driver in the throat. The pistol dropped from his left hand as both hands went to his ruined throat.

Hank stood there in shock for over a minute. But then Juan drove up in his construction truck. Juan went pale despite his dark complexion when he got out of the truck and ran over to Hank, catching sight of the blood spattered inside of the windshield of the car blocking the way.

“Come on, Hank, my friend! Snap out of it! Help me push the car…”

Hank shook his head, as if shaking off a heavy load, and ran with Juan over to the dead man’s car. Hank reached through the window and shoved the man over on the seat. Fortunately the car was still in gear and Hank was able to shift it into neutral without having to get in and step on the brake.

He and Juan pushed and the car rolled away down the slight slope, to come to rest in the ditch that paralleled the entrance to the gate. Pete drove up and waited for Juan to get into his truck, open the gate and drive through before he followed suit. “I’ll be back to help!” he called through the open passenger window to Hank. Hank nodded, relieved.

There were no more interlopers for a while as resident after resident came home. Hank thought about just leaving the gate open, but after mentioning it to Pete, who was back, armed to the teeth, the decision was made to keep it closed and open it only when the person was identified.

William and Julie showed up a bit later, both armed. They waved at Hank and Pete, and then took up prone positions nearby to back the two men up. At ten minutes till noon, the sky went brilliant white in the direction of the city’s airport. Hank and Pete dove behind the block wing walls of the gate. Pete and Julie covered their heads and stayed where they were.

The pressure of the shock wave pressed the air from their lungs and the sound, beyond loud, hurt their ears. Then the shock wave reversal sucked the remaining air from them. All four gasped for breath and shook their heads, trying to get rid of the ringing noise.

Quick looks showed the ugly mushroom cloud beginning to grow in the distance. Pete had to wait a few moments to collect himself, but Hank got back up and went to the gate. He tried his key. The gate wouldn’t open. “EMP,” he called to the others and unlatched the manual gate release.

A convoy showed up a few minutes later, three vehicles with a total of five trailers being pulled. It was the residents from outside the cul-de-sac that had bought into the shelter. “We lost one vehicle to EMP,” yelled Stan Jenkins. “But we got everything transferred to the rest of the rigs.”

Hank nodded and opened the gate manually. He noted the shoulder holstered handgun that Stan wore as he drove through the gate. His wife appeared to be armed, too. It was the same in the other two fully loaded vehicles. Hank didn’t know what they were bringing, but was sure whatever the vehicles and trailers contained would be of use to the community. Definitely the firepower.

That was the last of the vehicles that showed up. More residents straggled in on foot, moving as quickly as they could. Non-residents showed up, too. But the presence of four armed people at the gate turned them away without any real confrontation.

Juan came trotting down the street toward the gate. “Elizabeth and a couple more took headcount. All here but nine.”

“Thanks, Juan,” Hank said. “I’d totally lost track.” He looked up as dust began to rain down. “Into your shelters!” he yelled. “Wash off before you go in.”

Pete, William, Julie, and Juan all took off as fast as they could run. Hank looked toward the approach street and saw the Stevens family approaching. Sara was carrying the baby, Steven the next oldest, and holding the hand of their third child.

“Hurry!” Hank yelled, seeing a rather large group of people approaching from the other direction. He opened the gate and ran to meet the Stevens. He swept up Bradley and all three adults ran full tilt toward the gate. So did the approaching group.

Hank and the Stevens made it first, but not by much. As the family headed for the shelter, Bradley once again on his own feet, Hank turned and locked the gate just as the mob reached it. Hank turned and ran, hearing shots behind him. He began to zig-zag, but took a round high in his back in his left shoulder. He went sprawling, hitting the ground hard.

But gunfire erupted from in front of him and he pushed to his feet, and continued toward his house as his neighbors covered his back. Elizabeth and Juan met him there and urged him to go to the community shelter. But he refused. “No. Mine. You all will need all the space you can get.”

“I’ll stay with him,” said a woman running up to the three as the rest of the neighbors headed for the shelter. “I’m a Para-Medic.” She motioned with her thumb at the large pack on her back. “My medical kit.”

Between them, the three got Hank into his basement. Elizabeth and Juan headed back to the community shelter as the woman helped Hank get off his combat harness and shirt.

“This doesn’t look too bad,” said the woman and shrugged out of the pack straps.

Hank was silent, except for some grunts and groans as the woman worked on the wound. “Bullet went through. I think it probably chipped the collarbone. I’d X-ray it if I could, but it shouldn’t be a problem, anyway.” She taped bandages over the entrance and exit wounds.

“Who are you?” Hank finally asked as the woman turned and looked around until she found the basement bathroom in the shelter so she could wash up.

“Bernie Hawthorne. Bernie. Short for Bernice.”

“Oh. I thought Bernie was a guy.”

“Not in this lifetime. We both are contaminated and need to shower off before we go into the shelter. You have something I can wear? My other gear is in the other shelter.”

Moving slowly from the pain and the stiffness of the wound, Hank found a trunk in one corner of the basement. “I think this stuff should fit you. Might be a little storage smell on them.”

Bernie opened the trunk. It was filled with women’s clothing. She didn’t ask where they were from. She picked out something and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

Hank, picked up the PTR-91 and walked over to one of the basement windows facing the cul-de-sac entrance. He was none too soon. Though it hurt, he opened the window, lifted the PTR to his shoulder and fired off a round. One of the men trying to climb the gate fell back, screaming, though Hank couldn’t hear it.

Hank decided someone else was keeping an eye on the gate from where they were. Another person fell and the group at the gate broke and ran. Except for four. It was Bren, his wife, and two children. They walked up to the gate and waved.

Bernie came out of the bathroom wearing a jump suit and Hank turned to her. “I need to go let the last people in before I shower.”

“Oh, no you don’t!”

“Oh, yes, I do!” Hank said and headed for the basement stairs. Hank didn’t hear what Bernie said, but he suspected it wasn’t very nice.

There was suddenly a pistol in her hand, but she didn’t point it at Hank. Instead, she said, “Then lets go and get back.” She led the way up the stairs.

Hank fumbled a magazine out of one of the pouches on the battle vest and into a pocket. He new he couldn’t get the vest on again for a while. But with a full magazine in the PTR and one in his pocket, he decided he was okay.

Hank followed Bernie all the way to the gate. He looked around once and saw Pete wave from one of his basement windows. He had a view of the gate, too, just not as good at the one from Hank’s basement.

“The keys… My left pocket…” Hank couldn’t get the key ring out of his pocket.

Bernie reached in and pulled out the key and used it in the lock on the gate. She’d barely swung it open enough for Bren and his family to slip through when they were charged by some of the group hiding out of sight in the plantings along the wing walls. Bren and family, unlike Sara’s family, were bundled up in raincoats and hats to keep the fallout off their skin.

Hank lifted the PTR, but Bernie was much faster. She fired half a dozen rounds in few seconds and the small group dove back to their scant cover. With the gate locked again, and Bren and his family on the run toward the community shelter, Hank and Bernie began to go up the street backwards, keeping an eye on the gate. At least one person had shot at Bernie when she fired on the group.

But no one tried anything and Bernie and Hank went back into the house, then the basement. Without a word, Bernie fetched another garment from the trunk and went into the bathroom again.

When she came out a few minutes later, she had to help Hank get up and into the bathroom. She left him there. It was a long several minutes before he came back out, with a towel around his waist. Bernie had dry bandages ready and quickly replaced the water soaked ones.

Finally, she helped Hank into the shelter, and into a bunk. He was out like a light.


Hank came too several hours later and groaned when he shifted positions. He saw Bernie sitting at the small table in the kitchen area of the shelter, reading something.

Hearing the groan, Bernie looked over at the bunk and stood. “I want to check your wound,” she told Hank.

He nodded and managed to stand up on wobbly legs. Bernie turned around as the towel dropped to the floor. She heard Hank open the locker at the end of the bunk. A couple of minutes later Hank walked over to the table, wearing a pair of jeans.

“Wow,” Hank said. “Didn’t think a little wound like this would hammer me so bad.”

“One never knows,” replied Bernie. She peeled the tape and bandages from the entrance and exit wounds and cleaned the area again with alcohol pads. A few minutes later and fresh bandages were in place.

“You’re pretty good. And fast,” Hank said, getting to his feet again. He went over to the locker and took out a shirt. He put it on and buttoned it. “What have I missed?” he asked Bernie, going over to the small table against one wall. It held communication gear and a remote reading radiation survey meter.

“Do you know if the radiation is still going up or down?” Hank asked.

As Bernie spoke, Hank noticed the pad next to the meter. “I’ve been recording the levels…”

“I see. Peaked while I was asleep and falling now.” There was an old fire resistant file cabinet next to the table. Hank opened a t drawer and took out a laptop computer.

“You have TOM’s spreadsheet for calculating shelter stay time?” Bernie asked, walking over to look over Hank’s shoulder as he sat down and opened up the computer.

“Yep. Assuming no more hits close enough to add new fallout…” Hank typed some numbers into the spreadsheet when it opened and then continued. “We’re in for five weeks or so before we can spend much time outside. Can go out to check after a week, and we’ll need to sleep in the shelter for several months. But the five weeks will get us past the worst of it.”

Bernie nodded. “I’m going to take a nap.”

Hank nodded and turned back to the computer.


The first week passed slowly. By the seventh day Hank was able to raise both Pete in his basement shelter, and those in the community shelter on the FRS radios each had. Pete and family were doing fine. Several people in the community shelter that had been caught in the fallout on their way home were beginning to show some of the effects of radiation sickness.

Bernie talked it over with Hank, and the two decided that Bernie should move to the community shelter to help with the ill. So both suited up in protective gear and left Hank’s shelter and house, Bernie carrying her medical pack.

Both were glad they were wearing respirators when they checked at the gate into the cul-de-sac. There were more bodies, already decomposing, than they’d left after the gunfight that resulted in Hank’s injury.

“Must have been a fight among those trying to get in,” Hank said, his voice slightly muffled despite the voice amplifier in the respirator.

“We need to do something with these bodies…” Bernie said.

Hank marveled at the calm tone of her voice. “But not now,” he replied. “The radiation level is still too high to spend more than a few minutes out here.”

Bernie nodded and they headed for the community shelter. To their surprise, there were three bodies outside the west entrance. No mention had been made about an attack on the shelter. But there were two rifles, a shotgun, and three handguns laying beside the bodies. There were marks on the outer entrance door that indicated the three had hammered at the door, trying to get in.

“Let’s check the east side,” Hank told Bernie and she nodded. It was the same scene, only with five dead, all carrying arms.

“We’re staying out too long,” Hank said. “Let’s move the bodies at the west entrance and get you inside.”

The two hurried back to the west entrance and dragged the bodies clear of the door. Hank pressed the intercom button beside the outer door, but nothing happened. After trying twice more, Hank took the FRS radio from his belt and keyed it.

There was an immediate response. “Hank, we’ve been waiting for you. It was Bren.”

“We’re at the west outer door. “We tried the intercom, but no one answered.”

“I’ll be right out to let you in.”

A few moments later and the door locking mechanism clanked, but the door didn’t open. “You back inside?” Hank asked on the radio.

“Yep. Come on in.”

Hank pushed on the heavy door and stepped inside the hallway that was part of the airlock entry to the shelter. Bernie was right behind him. Hank closed and locked the door and the two went to the inner door on the right side of the hall at the far end. It stood open.

Before they went into the shelter proper, Hank and Bernie took off their protective equipment and hung it up on pegs in the wall there for that purpose.

Elisabeth snagged Bernie and the two headed to look in on those suffering from radiation sickness. Hank stepped over to Bren and Henry. “Did you know there were bodies at both entrances?”

“I told you I heard something,” Bren said to Henry. “And that the intercom wasn’t working.”

“Must have been them,” Henry said. “We’re all accounted for, so it must have been people trying to break in.”

“I think so,” Hank said. “All of them were armed. Didn’t have any supplies or anything, just their guns. There are several bodies down at the gate, too. I guess a few managed to get in.”

“We didn’t kill anyone, after the ruckus at the gate,” Bren said.

“It looks like they beat on the door, and when no one came and they couldn’t break in, they just gave up and let the radiation take them. If they were out during the worst of it, it wouldn’t have taken long.”

“What should we do?” Bren asked.

“Once the radiation falls, we’ll clean up what’s left of the bodies,” Hank replied.

Bren looked sick. Henry didn’t look all that good, either, at the suggestion.

“I think I’ll gather up the weapons though. No need to leave them for someone else to use against us,” Hank said then.

“You want some of us to suit up and help?” Henry obviously wasn’t too enthusiastic about the idea, but he made the suggestion, anyway. And look greatly relieved when Hank shook his head.

“No need to expose anyone else. If everything else is okay, I’m going back out and get the job done.”

“Hank,” Henry said as Hank turned toward the shelter inner door.

Hank turned back. “I just wanted to say… Well… Thanks for pushing us in the direction you did. Most of us, if not all, would be like those people out there. Dead.”

“I’ll add my thanks to that,” Bren said. “I was reluctant at first, but you were right, all down the line.” Bren held out his hand and Hank shook it. Then Henry did the same. A bit uncomfortable now, Hank hurried to the shelter entrance. He suited up and left the shelter. Bren went out into the hallway and relocked the outer shelter door.

Hank started to gather up the weapons from the three at that entrance of the shelter, but decided it would be much easier, and faster, if he got his garden cart to carry everything in just one trip.

Hurrying, Hank got the cart out of the garden shed and made the rounds of the two entrances of the shelter and the gate. He kept the PTR-91 slung over his shoulder while at the gate. By the time he left the cart with the weapons, ammunition, and accoutrements in the garage the wound in his shoulder was aching and he was sick to his stomach. Some of the bodies were already well into decomposition. Others had been ravaged by hungry animals, probably pets turned loose when the attack began.

Hank quickly unsuited and took a cleansing shower. The warm water helped wash away the feelings as well as any contamination he might have picked up. Still, he didn’t eat anything until the following day.

Another three weeks passed before Pete, Hank, and two teams of three each from the shelter went out to move the dead bodies and do a survey of the area. All had at least tyvek overalls, dust masks, goggles, and gloves. Those with respirators were tasked with the job of handling the bodies while the others kept a guard and looked around the rest of the neighborhood.

It took several hours, even using Hank’s four heavy-duty rototillers to help, to dig the single large grave. But, finally, all the bodies were under four feet of earth cover just outside the cul-de-sac.

Two more weeks and outside work began in earnest. There were still small patches of thin snow here and there in areas sheltered from the weak spring sun, but lot after lot was decontaminated thoroughly, using Hank’s well and irrigation pump. It took all the garden hoses in the cul-de-sac to reach the furthest house, and the water flow wasn’t great, but the job got done.

Most went armed during the work, despite a few protests against the idea. But with the arms collected from those that had tried to force their way inside the shelter, everyone that wanted a gun, got one. Hank kept only one of the recovered weapons himself, since he had most of what he wanted anyway.

It was a sweet little Beretta Tomcat .32 ACP. Only three magazines, but the woman that he’d recovered it from had been carrying two full fifty-round boxes of ammunition, plus over half of another. She had carried it in a Galco Pushup model belt holster that Hank took to wearing whenever he was out of bed, the holster and pistol carried in the small of his back.

With getting a bit of a late start, and the continuing coolness of spring, most attention was turned to getting the various gardens and greenhouses planted. But Hank, Pete, Henry, and Juan took it upon themselves to start an area census and do a little salvaging for critical supplies and for things that would go bad anyway, if not used within relatively short time spans.

First they located everyone in the rest of their development that had survived the attack. There weren’t many. None had any type of long term supplies, or preparedness gear. They had lived after the attack in expedient shelters in their basements, going out as necessary to take food from wherever they could find it.

The decision was made to move them to the houses nearest the cul-de-sac, after cleaning them up. It would make helping them easier, and easier for them to work inside the cul-de-sac. None of them would take any of the arms Hank offered.

The next order of business was to strip the strip malls that lined both sides of the road leading into the rural development. It took days to get everything they wanted, or were asked to look for by those not going on the salvage trips. The biggest triumphs were two loaded grocery trucks stopped at one of the grocery stores. Neither had even been opened when the attack came.

With no luck getting either of the semi trucks started, everything was moved two trailer loads at a time, using Hank’s trailer and Suburban, and Juan’s work truck and tandem-wheel flatbed trailer.

They continued their salvage operations without any problems, finally getting one semi truck to run. They were able to use it to recover the two semi box trailers they’d emptied and then use the trailers to accumulate things in before taking a full load back to the cul-de-sac to unload there. Most of the items went into the community shelter and various garages that had room in them.

The fuel tanks in the two competing service stations were all approximately half-full of fuel. It took the team several days to locate enough fuel tank trailers and a three-phase generator to power the fuel pumps so they could transfer all the fuel from the tanks to the tankers. As each tanker was loaded, it was delivered to the cul-de-sac and parked in an out of the way place, keeping them as far from the houses as possible.

The team made a special trip to the nearest propane dealer and filled all the delivery tank trucks they had. There was one semi with dual tanks that delivered to the facility, and five of the ten wheel home delivery trucks. All were moved to the cul-de-sac, and like the liquid fuel tankers, parked well away from the houses.

They began running out of space to park semi trailers, and the shelter was full, as well. That was about the time that they began to meet with resistance on their salvage trips. Determined to fill the community center before they gave up the salvage operation, the team continued their task, but began to be much more careful.

The original team of Hank, Henry, Pete, Bren, and Juan became the scouts and guards for the others that now drove the vehicles and loaded up the goods the team found. Finally, with Hank shot in the right leg, and Juan with a bullet crease just above his right ear, the cul-de-sac and the area just outside of it closed ranks and prepared for the worst.

It was Bernie that came up with the idea to provide better protection to those outside the cul-de-sac and the bulging community center. “I drove heavy equipment summers to work my way through college,” she told Hank when she mentioned her idea and he doubted the group’s ability to do it.

So, after Bernice showed Juan, who already had some experience, and Henry, who was eager to learn, especially from Bernie, how to handle some of the key pieces of equipment, they went and ‘borrowed’ it from the contractor that was doing some highway re-construction just five miles from the development.

Juan, who had used a backhoe before, drove a large excavator to the cul-de-sac and began to dig a shallow trench where Bernie indicated. Henry was moving all the dump trailers from the construction project over and parking them in the trench, separated by about three feet. The bottoms of the trailers were just at ground level.

After moving a front end loader, Henry began to take the dirt from the windrow Juan was making with the excavator and filled in the trench, putting the remaining dirt in the emplaced trailers. With the row of trailers in position, Juan began digging a trench a few feet away from the trailers, on the outward side. All that dirt went into the trailers. Each trailer full of dirt then had two or three fighting positions dug in and sand bagged.

More sand-bagged positions were created in the area between each pair of trailers. A gap large enough to allow a wide vehicle through was left, and a heavy gate built and installed. The deep ditch outside the line of trailers would be the first line of defense, under the guns of those in the firing positions.

If those attacking had adequate forces to get past the trailers, the next line of defense would be the cul-de-sac gate and wing walls. Non-combatants would take cover in the shelter.

Hank, who had been a roving guard, mounted on a four-wheeler that one of the residents contributed, during the construction activities brought up emplacing a full-time guard at the wall. He or she would sound the alarm if anyone showed up.

“That wall won’t do any good if people are allowed to just walk in before we know their intentions.”

Between the original cul-de-sac residents, those outside the cul-de-sac that had joined up before the attack, and those that had been found and taken in after the attack, a guard force of eighteen men, women, and older teens was organized. There would be six four-hour shifts, round the clock, manning the gate.

The ravines and heavy woods were considered safe enough during the day, as there was plenty of activity in the back yards of most of the houses, as people tended gardens and used outdoor grills for preparing food. Some families had decided to use outhouses and were constantly aware of what was going on in their small area of woods.

The rest had chosen to continue using the chemical toilets from the shelter, plus extras brought from a camping supply store. When the defenses had been completed, Juan had dug a pit and installed a septic tank with drainage field, with the help of the others. The chemical toilets would be emptied into the community septic tank.

Several people questioned all the extra work, and especially so many people going around armed. Their questions quickly faded away when three vehicles, two cars and a pickup truck, pulled to a stop at the outer gate. Elizabeth was on guard duty and sounded the alarm as soon as she saw the approach.

Hank showed up on the four-wheeler, and Juan came running up, in fear for his wife’s safety.

“What can we do for you’all?” asked Hank.

“Just out and about, looking for supplies,” said the obvious leader. He’d been driving the pickup, and just had the ‘I’m in charge here’ aura. “You seemed to have something to hide here. What’s with all the barricades?”

“Just protecting what we have,” Hank said evenly. “There are quite a few of us and we’re barely making it, food wise, so I suggest you leave and don’t come back.”

“Aw! Come on! Be sociable. How about a tour of the place. Maybe we can do some business.”

Uncertain, Hank asked, “What kind of business?”

“You give us what we want, and we give you something in return.”

“I don’t know,” Hank said, thinking rapidly. The group of people were beginning to spread out. “It would be up to the individuals whether or not they wanted to trade away their goods. What kinds of things to you want, specifically. And would pay with what?”

“Well, now, that depends, Ol’ Son…” He was fast. Faster than Hank would ever hope to be. But Juan, a closet Cowboy Action Shooter, was faster, by just enough.

The man’s pistol cleared the holster hidden just behind his hip. Juan had his Colt SAA .45 Colt out and three rounds fired before the other man pulled the trigger of his gun. Juan’s bullets all entered the man’s chest. The man’s bullet hit the ground between his feet.

Hank, still on the four-wheeler, unslung his PTR-91, but the battle was already over by the time he was ready to shoot. He decided then and there he’d be a lot more ready in a similar situation. Juan had undoubtedly saved his life with the quick draw and accurate shooting.

The rest of the armed neighbors that had taken up their positions, just as planned, made short work of the rest of the gang. Not a single neighbor was hurt, and everyone of the gang died with multiple gunshot wounds.

The firing stopped and the neighbors looked around at the dead and at each other. “A few of you check the rear perimeter, in case some are trying to infiltrate while we’re occupied here,” Hank yelled.

Getting off the four-wheeler, Hank hobbled over to Juan, who was just standing there, the single action revolver pointed down alongside his leg. Juan was staring at the boy of the dead gang member. “I never killed anyone before,” Juan said softly. “I never even shot at anyone before. It was all against a timer at a paper target.”

“You saved me, for sure, Juan,” Hank said. “Probably several others, by your quick action. Thank you.”

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Juan said then, going ashen.

He stumbled away and Elizabeth went over to him as Hank turned to take a look at the carnage.

“What do we do with them?” someone asked.

“Strip everything useful off the bodies and out of the vehicles. We’ll dig another grave, with the excavator. And this time, we put up a sign. Boot Hill. And leave an empty grave, ready for the next one. Maybe it’ll make some others think twice.”

No one moved toward the bodies. Limping badly Hank began the process of inspecting the bodies and taking weapons, ammunition, and accoutrements, along with whatever else there was of use to the community. Finally, a couple of the others began to help.

It was a somber group that went to their homes late that afternoon. Another hard job was at hand for most of them. Explaining to the children, kept safe in the shelter, what had gone on. And why.

The eclectic accumulation of weapons, ammunition, and accoutrements was divided up among those that wanted them. Several additional people opted to take a weapon, that hadn’t before. The lessons being learned were hard ones, but made a real impression.

Hank again took only one of the weapons. No one else really wanted it, anyway. One of the Model 2900 Trillings imported for a while by Armsport. It was a three barrel shotgun, similar to a drilling, but no where near the quality of most drillings. The action was sound, however, and Hank cut the barrels down to just past the forearm. The butt stock was cut down and contoured to pistol grip form.

When Juan saw Hank carrying it stuck in his belt in cross draw fashion, he offered to make a holster for it. Juan made all his own leather gear for Cowboy Action Shooting, and picked up a few bucks extra making custom gear for other shooter. In addition to the holster, Juan made up two six-shell ready loops so Hank could carry twelve extra shells for the gun.

Though a constant radio watch was maintained, and contacts had been made, there had been none close by. Shortly after the harvests began, one of the pre-teens monitoring the radio while baby sitting suddenly perked up. The signal was a strong one. Someone was talking to another person that Angie couldn’t hear.

Calling for one of the other teens to watch the kids, Angie ran to find Hank. He was making rounds on the four-wheeler, giving advice and helping where he could with the harvest of the community garden and his huge garden, while keeping an eye on the woods around the cul-de-sac.

“Mr. Smith! Mr. Smith!” Angie called, running up to the four-wheeler. “Some one on the radio. I think they’re close! Talking to someone I couldn’t hear!”

“Okay, Angie! Thanks. Would you get Henry, Pete, and Elisabeth for me, please. You don’t have to run.”

Angie ran anyway. The three requested co-leaders of the community showed up a couple of minutes after Hank got to the radio. They were followed by about half of the rest of the population, Angie’s loud explanations heard by many more than the ones to whom they were intended.

Hank listened to the one-ended conversation. He paled, as did the other adults that could hear the radio. The strong voice on the radio was giving battle orders to someone.

“You think it’s military?” asked Bren.

Henry spoke first. “They wouldn’t be using an amateur frequency. They have encoded radios.”

“I agree,” Hank said. “I think it is a gang of some sort. Trying to take over a community, probably much like ours.”

Several people began to utter their concerns, but were quickly hushed. The final words out of the radio, before it fell silent, was, “Go! Go! Go! No survivors!” Everyone waited for quite some time, and Hank began to scan the same band, in case the gang had changed frequencies. But he didn’t find anything else.

“We need to discuss this,” Hank said quietly. “But this evening. We need to get on with the harvest.”

People turned away, talking quietly among themselves. Henry, Pete, Elisabeth, Stan, and Bren lagged behind to talk to Hank. But Hank was thinking and limped past them without even seeing them.

They watched silently, following Hank outside, as he got on the four-wheeler and headed for the gate. “He’s surveying the defenses,” Henry said.

“I hope he comes up with some ideas,” Bren said. “That didn’t sound good at all. A bunch of yahoos is one thing, like we’ve come up against already. That sounded like those people knew what they were doing.”


The meeting began as an uproar and got worse as Hank tried to get everyone’s attention. Hank finally gave up and sat down. It was a good ten minutes before the group seemed to have argued itself silent. All heads turned to Hank when he stood up again.

“Okay. We have a potential problem. We need to decide what to do. I take it the word has spread to everyone that there is a much more organized gang out there than what we’ve faced in the past. A gang we might have trouble handling, given the small amount of information we have.”

There were nods and a few calls to do this or that. Hank’s expression went hard when Sara, barely able to get out and around due to the radiation sickness that had decimated her family spoke up. Only she and Steven were ambulatory, and very weak. Bernie was keeping the three children alive, but barely. She had told Hank privately that they stood little chance of recovery.

“We should try and contact them,” Sara said. “Offer them some food and fuel to leave us alone.” There were a few murmurs of support of the idea.

Hank was adamant. “If that becomes the plan, you’all will have to do it without me. I’ll pack my Suburban and trailer and go. Appeasement doesn’t work for long. It only gives a group a better insight into the group making the offer.”

“I’m with you, Hank,” Henry said. He was angry again. “My dad fought in World War II because the world tried to appease Hitler instead of taking him on when he was still weak. No appeasement!”

There were some supporting Henry and Hank, but the overwhelming majority of the community was still undecided.

“Well… What do we do if we don’t try to make a peace with them?” asked one of the others.

“We seek them out and do as much damage to them as possible,” Hank replied. “Then we let them chase us back here and catch them in an ambush.”

“That’s crazy!” shouted Steven, Sara’s husband. “We’ll just get people killed and then lead them right to our door step!”

Bren spoke up then, a bit reluctantly. “He’s got a point, Hank. Do we really want to lead them back to us? If we just stay quiet, maybe they won’t discover us.”

“You’re forgetting Chap Hunniker. He knows where we are and what we have. If that gang catches him, or even anyone with whom he’s trading goods, the word will get back to the gang. It’s only a matter of time before they come looking for us.” Hank’s words had a profound affect on many of the members of the group.

Chap Hunniker had showed up one day, offering to trade salt for food and fuel. Salt was one of the items that neither Hank, nor any of the others, had stocked up enough for the long term. He would show up about once a month with another mule load of salt and empty panniers on two other mules. He left each time with his two five-gallon cans full of gasoline, and food stuffs on the other mules. He was closed mouth about where he was trading. He didn’t want the community doing their own trading, leaving him without a way to make a living.

Though he provided a needed service, no one trusted him. He would talk to save his own hide.

There was silence for a long time. Hank finally spoke again. “Let me see what kind of plan I can come up and we’ll vote on it the next meeting. Hopefully, if the group has just taken over a place, they may not be on the warpath again for a while. Hopefully we’ll have time to find them and do something before they find us.”

As the meeting broke up, Hank signaled for several people to stay behind. “I’m going to need your help and support on this, if you are in agreement with me,” he told the small group that was the de-facto government of the community. All nodded and then went to their own homes to think about the situation.

Hank, after surveying the entire property they were trying to protect, went home and got out his laptop. Over the years of visiting prep web sites, he’d saved a tremendous amount of information. He spent most of the night reviewing anything about fortifications.

Finally, with a few ideas in his head, Hank went to bed.


As he woke slowly the next morning, the plans for the community defenses finalized itself in his mind. As soon as he had eaten breakfast, he set out on the four-wheeler and did another complete survey of the property, making sketches on a large pad as he went.

The harvest was still going strong, and Hank waited for the late afternoon before he brought his team together and went over what he had planned. Just about all of them had a suggestion or two, amidst a steady stream of questions that Hank answered in detail.

“Where are we going to get the stuff?” Elisabeth asked.

“Juan will know, I’m sure,” Hank said. “But Home Depot and Builders Mart should have much of it. The Farm Store, too. And we can get the bentonite at the big golf course. I’m sure they use it to seal their water hazards.”

“Going to be a lot of work,” Pete said. “I think we should go ahead and put a couple of people on the preliminaries. Digging the fortifications, mainly. And send someone to try and locate the gang. Someone that won’t get caught.”

“I’ll bring it up at the meeting,” Hank said. “Just to check, we’re all in favor of the plan. There are going to be several that don’t like it at all.”

“I see it as the best possibility to save ourselves, if that outfit tries anything,” Elisabeth said.

The meeting that evening started much like the last one. A raucous mass of sound with little meaning. But it quieted down when Hank stood up. He spent all of twenty minutes outlining the plan of action, and the increased fortifications the team wanted to do.

There was silence at first, when Hank sat down. Then murmurs as family members talked it over with each other and with those sitting near them in the community building. Silence fell again. Sara was the first one to speak up.

“If trying to cooperate with the gang is out, I say we pack up and leave, lock, stock, and barrel. We have all the trailers just sitting, and enough trucks to pull them, if we make several trips.”

“Where would we go, that has the advantages this place does?” someone ask.

Sara shook her head. “I don’t know. We’d have to research that.”

Hank looked over at the door suddenly, seeing some movement out of the corner of his eyes. It was Juan. He was on gate watch. Stepping around him, Chap Hunniker came into the room.

“Hank, Chap wants to talk to you. From what he told me, the whole community might want to hear it direct from him.”

Hank nodded and motioned for Chap to come up to the table behind which Hank was sitting, facing the group.

“What’s on your mind, Chap?” Hank asked.

“You guys are in big trouble. If I was you, I’d pack up and leave. Right now.”

There was an uproar, but Hank lifted a hand and quiet resumed. “Why?” Hank asked Chap.

“There’s a big gang out there gunning for you. They… Uh… found out about your place here and aim to hit it after the harvest is done so they can take it all. They ain’t very nice folks, let me tell you.” Chap rubbed his jaw. It showed the effects of being roundly beaten for the information he’d given the gang leader. Even though Chap had told all he knew, right off the bat. The leader wanted to make sure Chap had given up everything.

“I just want to trade for a few supplies and take off for safer parts. I hear the National Guard is getting their act together, cross state. I’m heading for them.”

“And when did you plan on telling us about the National Guard, Chap?” asked Pete. “That could make a big difference in what happens from now on.”

“Don’t matter here,” Chap said, shrugging. “They aren’t going anywhere until spring. Supposed to have fuel and stuff they need then.”

It was a disappointment. “Can’t we get them on the radio and ask for help?” asked Sara.

“Done been tried,” Chap said. “The last place tried it. They were turned down flat. Everyone is on their own until the National Guard can mobilize properly. At least that’s what the guys there told me. That was after Gustav… that’s the head guy of the gang… contacted them and told them to surrender… or else. The idiots chose to fight.”

“And just how did you managed to get yourself caught?” Hank suddenly asked.

Chap turned red. “I tried to save my stuff. Couldn’t get away fast enough when the group decided to fight.”

“Chap, why don’t you hang around for a bit? We might want to ask you some more questions.”

Chap didn’t look happy, but seeing several of the group standing near the door, he found an out of the way place and sat down.

“All right,” Hank said, looking out at the crowd. “Those that want to go should make their plans. Those of us staying need to know how many people we can count on for the battle that looks inevitable.”

There was pandemonium for a few moments, but it quickly quieted as Hank held up his hand. “I plan to stay and fight for what we’ve done here. If we weather this, and the National Guard will be around later, we should be safe for a long time. Those of you that run… well… you’ll be on your own, open to attacks by any small force.”

“That’s not fair!” cried Sara. “Everyone should help those of us that are going to leave!” She looked around and saw only a few faces that seemed to support her. Most of those looked away when their eyes met hers.

She slumped back in the chair. “I guess we’re staying,” she said softly.

That was enough to kill the idea in any of the others that had been thinking about joining her in an exodus.

“We need to get started on a plan,” Hank said. “And we need a volunteer for a dangerous job. We need someone to go keep an eye on this gang, and warn us when they get ready to make a move on the community here.”

People looked around at one another in dead silence. At least for a few moments. Finally Stan stood up and said, “I’m your man, Hank.” His wife put a hand on his arm to urge him to sit down.

“Got to, Honey. These folks took us in. With all we had, I don’t think we would have survived long without their help.” Stan’s wife nodded and her hands went to her lap, clasped tightly together.

“Okay,” Hank said. “Hang around for a few minutes, those that have ideas for increasing our defenses. The rest of you might as well go home and get some rest. The harvest is going to be done short handed, as many of the able bodies will be working on whatever defenses we can come up with.”

Only Elisabeth and Juan, Pete, Bren, Henry, and Stan stayed behind. Stan caught Chap by the back of his jacket when he started to ease out of the room. “I think we may have some more questions for you.”

“You got no right to hold me! There ain’t no laws now!” Chap lunged once, but Stan had a tight hold on him.

“There are still laws. The natural, inalienable rights and laws that good people observe automatically. Now sit down over there and shut up until we ask you something.”

It is a sad sight to see a grown man pout, but that was what the small group saw when Chap sat down.

“We’d better grill Chap before we loose him,” Stan told the group, speaking softly.

“I know. We can’t make his stay,” Hank replied. The group discussed for a moment the information they needed to get from Chap, and then Hank stepped over in front of him.

Chap flinched a bit. “We’re not going to hurt you. And we’re not going to keep you here for the battle to come. We just want some additional information.”

“I don’t know nothin’ more!” protested Chap.

“You probably know more than you think you know,” Pete said. “Like… How many are there in the gang?”

“They’ll kill me if I help you,” whined Chap.

“They’ll kill you if they catch you again anyway, Chap,” Hank said. “They’ll just assume you helped us.”

Chap groaned. “Okay! Okay! You are probably right. And you’ll let me go after I tell you what I know?”

“You have my word,” Hank said. Chap saw the looks on Henry’s and Stan’s faces and shuddered slightly.

“How many in the gang?” prompted Pete.

“There’s about forty when I left. Plus maybe twenty… twenty-five women. All but a couple of them are pretty much just slaves. Aren’t any kids that I saw.”

The number of men was a blow. Hank and the others looked at each other. “There has to be a way,” Pete said. “There’s always a way.”

“Not always,” Chap said. He got a glare from every one of the others and shrank back in his chair.

“What that means…” Hank said, but another glance at Chap and his voice trailed away.

“I ain’t going to tell no one,” Chap protested.

“You aren’t because you aren’t going to know,” Hank said. And then he and the others grilled Chap for almost an hour getting much more information from him than he knew he had, just as Pete had said.

It did not sound good. It would take a daring plan, well executed, and at least some luck, for the residents of the cul-de-sac to survive what was coming. The planning group broke up at midnight that night, with no set plan, but scheduled to consider things again after everyone got a night’s sleep.

At noon the next day, with the majority of the people in the cul-de-sac harvesting and processing food, Hank and his handful of advisors met again. Stan was equipped with supplies for a month, a bicycle, and bicycle toddler trailer to haul the supplies. He left the compound, headed for the small farm where the gang was now, according to Chap.

Chap was nowhere to be found. But that didn’t deter the others. They’d gleaned as much from him as they were likely to get. And the night of sleep, though short, had allowed each of the group to come up with some ideas on how to increase their defenses and defeat the gang.

Once the idea of going after the gang was put to rest, the group turned to the defense of the cul-de-sac. It was quickly decided to keep the children and teens in the shelter, with the majority of the women on top of it, keeping watch on the woods. Though it made it easier to come through them, the removal of much of the brush that had grown willy-nilly among the trees to be used for firewood, allowed the women to see deep into the growth. They would have to deal with any infiltrators coming through the woods.

Hank explained his idea on how to cope with the Caterpillar D-10 dozer that Chap had said the gang used to breach fortifications. There was much discussion on whether it would work or not, but the decision was made to do it.

“I wish we had something better than Oliver’s .300 Winchester Magnum to snipe with,” Hank said during a break. “You can see several places on the approach from my house. More from the roof.”

“Actually, I’ve been meaning to bring it up…” Pete said, a bit awkwardly for him. “I’ve got a Barrett M82A1 rifle with scope that uses the fifty caliber Browning Machinegun round. I’ve only shot it a couple of times… and… I don’t know if I could be a sniper. Seeing faces close up with the scope and just… killing them… in cold blood…”

“If you can show me how to use it,” Henry said immediately, “I can do what has to be done. My conscious won’t bother me a bit.”

Peter looked relieved. He knew the Barrett could be a key component of their defense, but just hadn’t wanted to be the one to use it the way it should be used.

“I’ve got something for you to do,” Hank told Peter. “I want you in charge of the tank… er… dozer trap. And Juan, you’re the best on the heavy equipment. Help Pete first, and then you’ll start digging with the excavator.”

Hank turned to Bren. “You think you can run the small grader well enough to put a slope on the ditch in front of the trailers?”

Bren nodded. “I’m sure I can. But why?”

“I’ll come to that,” Hank said, the ideas the others had offered coalescing into a workable plan. “Elisabeth, I need you and a couple of others to go in after some other things. Pete gets priority of the equipment, but I want you to gather up the rest of the supplies we need while he gets the parts for the tank trap.”

Elisabeth nodded. Hank filled them in on his plan. There was much skepticism, but Hank’s plan was the best any of them could think of. The individuals set off to do as asked. Hank got on the four-wheeler and went out to survey the locations for the additional fortifications.



Neighbors - Chapter 3

It was a worry-filled and rather frenetic two weeks. Everyone except the children and their care givers worked from before sunup to after sundown. Some, using equipment with lights on it, worked late into the nights.

But by the time that Stan gave the coded radio signal that the gang was on the move, Hank was satisfied that the community had done everything it could do to prepare for the coming attack. That didn’t keep him from checking and rechecking each portion of the defense time and again. He made sure that each person knew their part of the plan and would fulfill it to the best of their ability.

Sadly, during that time, Sara and Steven’s children died, one after the other, from the radiation they had picked up getting to the cul-de-sac right after the attack. Sara simply fell apart and Bernie had her on anti-depressants and tranquilizers. Steven, on the other hand, always quiet, put in every minute he could stay awake helping with the defenses.

When Stan radioed that the gang was turning up the road that led to the development, Hank shook hands with the members of the team that would be going out to attack the gang after they passed a certain point. Hank wanted the gang fighting on two fronts.

Juan ran out to the excavator and began to dig on the existing trench he’d dug during the two weeks. It was down the approach road at it’s narrowest point between two arms of the woods. He worked slowly. He didn’t want to go too far. The point was to have an area that was very difficult to cross, but look like there hadn’t been time to finish the trench.

The others took their places in the cul-de-sac and on the defensive fortifications. Suddenly there was a loud sound behind them. Hank turned to look. Henry was on the roof of Hank’s house, in a sandbag emplacement, with Peter’s Barrett .50 BMG.

Hank couldn’t tell if Henry was doing any good, but he would fire a shot or two every few minutes. He turned to look at Pete, who was standing beside him. “You sure about this Pete? We might still have time to rig a remote release.”

“No, we don’t. I rigged the thing, I’ll remove the props.” Pete left the cover of the earth berm created with the dirt from the trench Juan was digging and slipped into a hole in the ground at the far left corner of the excavator.

Juan’s second job, after going with Pete, Elisabeth, and a crew to pick up steel road plates from an area of the nearby city that was doing road work at the start of the attack, had been to dig a very large hole just next to the forest.

He’d carefully peeled up the sod, setting it out of the way, and dug the hole. Pete used a dump truck to move the dirt to create other fighting positions away from the hole. Using highline poles from the power company storage yard, the plates had been lowered in two rows, with one edge on the bare dirt at the edge of the hole, and the other edge supported by the highline poles cut to length. When there was a row along each edge of the hole, a third row was placed, overlapping the other two rows slightly, covering the hole completely.

Very carefully the sod had been replaced over the steel plates, camouflaging the hole almost completely. The hope was, that the driver of the D-10 Cat dozer wouldn’t recognize the fact that something was amiss in his haste to knock over the semi trailers that would be placed on the cul-de-sac side of the hole right at the last minute. Chap had said the cat skinner dearly loved running the dozer over people and knocking down impromptu fortifications.

Inside the hole, Peter very carefully removed the horizontal braces that tied the vertical poles together, leaving only the weight of the plates on the poles holding them in place. He scrambled up out of the hole, breathed a sigh of relief and signaled Hank. He ran to one of the two semis parked just inside the line of partially buried trailers. Pete and another man would drive the trucks and park them and their box trailers near the hole when the attackers could see them. Hopefully it would help convince the dozer driver that the area of the hole was solid ground that Juan simply had not had time to dig a trench through.

To make it even more a likely target, Peter, the other truck driver, and Steven would take up defensive positions at the trailers. According to Chap, the driver wouldn’t be able to resist the target.

The Barrett boomed again and Hank saw the D-10 Caterpillar lurch into view. The cab area and engine area both had heavy steel plates welded in place to protect the driver and the engine from rifle fire.

Men began to come into view walking behind the dozer and a large four-wheel-drive pickup truck. The pickup suddenly stooped, just after the Barrett boomed again. A white flag suddenly appeared and three men started to walk forward.

“Should I take them out?” Henry asked through the radio.

“Negative!” Hank immediately replied. “I won’t violate a white flag parley. Unless they do. If they gun me down, take them out.”

Hank started to get on the four-wheeler and go out to meet the three men as they approached, but decided he’d do this on his own two feet, despite the limp. He moved past the excavator, which Juan had abandoned and taken up a defensive position, as per the plan, and walked toward the three men.

When they stopped, Hank did, too. They were at least thirty feet apart. Hank didn’t wait for some type of ultimatum from them. “Turn around and leave and we’ll let you go,” Hank said loudly.

The three men all laughed. “Not a chance, farm boy,” said, by Chap’s description, Gustav, the leader of the gang. “You walk away and we’ll let you live.”

“I guess we have a battle to fight then,” Hank said. He started to turn around and walk away, but out of the corner of his eyes he saw movement. He dove to the ground as a shot sounded behind him. Then the Barrett boomed and one of the men went down. The one carrying the white flag. The gang leader and other man took off running, firing over their shoulders.

Hank’s men tried, but they weren’t trained soldiers. Not a single bullet hit the running men. They made it back to the cover of the dozer, which again began to move. Thankfully, it moved toward the two semi rigs parked to the west of the excavator. Hank ran, the best he could, back to the excavator and took up a position with his PTR-91.

The gang followed close behind the dozer until they were exposed to the fire from the two men on the berm along the trench on the far east side. They took prone positions and waited for the dozer to do the job it had done so well before.

Knowing it would do little good, but wanting the antagonizing effect on the catskinner, Hank and the others kept firing at the dozer cab, the rounds bouncing off with loud twangs. The man saw the telltale signs that something wasn’t right with the ground right in front of him, but it was too late.

The poles held the plates up for just a fraction of a second when the weight of the dozer began to come onto them, but it was enough for the Cat to get to the balance point. When the poles and plates collapsed, it was all at once. The dozer nosed down into the hole, at a slight angle. The grousers on the tracks of the dozer could get no purchase on the steel plate in the moments that the driver had to get it into reverse.

Steel on steel screamed and the dozer slid over on it’s side, into the bottom of the hole, unable to move.

Rather than stay and fight at that point, Hank motioned all of those at the trench and hole to fall back to the line of partially buried dump truck trailers. All were careful to use the narrow path through the barbed wire tangle foot emplaced in front of the trench that was in front of the trailers. They crossed the walkways over the ditch and paused to pull them up.

By that time the attacking gang began to run forward, the amazement of the loss of the dozer having stalled them for moments.

Hank made a motion with his hand and water sprays from the construction site water truck shot over the trailers and wetted the ground in front of the trailers. The tangle foot, the paths between them, and the new sloped area in front of the ditch itself all got a light sprinkling of water.

Finally able to get a sense of the numbers of attackers, either Chap had lied or simply not known the real numbers, Hank warned the women at the shelter to keep an eye out for infiltrators. There were at least fifty men in front of Hank, and if there were that many, there were probably more.

Henry continued to fire when he had a target, which wasn’t often. The battle bogged down into trading shots between the attackers behind the berm of the new trench and Hank’s people in and behind the fortified dump trailers. Then, one after another, Hank motioned for his small group to go down and not get up until signaled again. Soon only Hank and Steven were firing.

Things happened quickly then. The gang leader gave an order, and his men scrambled over the berm and headed for the gaps in the tangle foot only a hundred feet away. There they got a huge surprise. All had wondered about the water sprays, but none guessed they were simply moistening the bentonite sprinkled over the paths through the tangle foot, and on the entire slope leading down to the ditch. Which was now filled with water. And though it couldn’t be seen, concertina lay beneath the water.

First one man hit the slippery, slimy path and went down hard, falling to his left into the tangle foot. Hank and Steven kept their heads down, just watching, as attacker after attack tried to get to the trailers. But bentonite, when wet, swells up and turns slimy. Any misstep, or any step on a slope, and it was almost impossible to stand up on the stuff if one wasn’t wearing spiked shoes.

Twenty men went down on the flat. At least thirteen made it to the edge of the slope to the ditch and with a single step onto it, slid right into the water, and became entangled in the concertina. Most drowned. The rest were killed, as were those caught on the flat paths and tangle foot, when all of Hank’s men rose again and began to fire at the hapless attackers.

Many turned to run back to the other ditch and the berm, but the group that Hank had seen off that morning had made their way around and come up from behind the attackers, killing the half dozen or so that had stayed back to guard the equipment. Trapped between the berm and the line of trailers, every last one of the attackers went down, dead or mortally wounded.

Only after the sound of the battle out front died away did Hank and the others hear the shots coming from the cul-de-sac. Steven was the first to run that way, closely followed by Juan and Pete. Hank hobbled after them as quickly as he could.

It was over when he got there. After a careful survey of the woods, another seven dead attackers were found. There were signs that at least a couple had been injured, but there were no live gang members to be found.

Bernie, medical pack on her back, slung her rifle over one shoulder and went to check on the injured out in front of the cul-de-sac. The defenders had not gotten off without taking some wounds, though no one died. It was a near thing with a few of them, but Bernie brought them through.

As soon as it was clear that the danger was over, Stan headed back to the gang’s last conquest. It didn’t take much to get control of the small farm from the five women that were part of the gang that had been left behind to control the captive women. Stan made himself scarce when the former captives took care of their guards.

A week later, with more bodies in Boot Hill, and the first early snow falling, Hank said goodbye to the woman that had become the leader of the captive women. They were going to stay at the other farm and make a go of it there until the National Guard showed up, hopefully the next spring. In the meantime, the cul-de-sac community would lend a hand with personnel and supplies to get the women through.

Steven stood with Sara a few feet away to say goodbye. With the children dead, and the anguish of it all, Sara was going to go to the farm, to get away from the memories. Steven would stay at the cul-de-sac. He would be the newest member of the small standing defensive force the cul-de-sac had agreed should be maintained, despite the danger of a major attack now gone.

“What do you think, Hank?” Henry asked, walking up to him as the small group headed to the farm with the first load of supplies. “National Guard going to be a good thing, or bad?”

“I talked to the Commanding General for this area the other day. They are reaching out as they can. Things will come back. It’s just going to be a long time.” Hank turned to look at Henry. “It helps when you have good neighbors.”

End ********

Copyright 2008


_________________
Jerry D Young