Sorry, you're on your own - part 2. Hope:
Chapter 1: Beginning again
Amanda Fleisher was not happy. She
was warm, and safe, and well fed. The 16 year old orphan was welcome in the "Adams" home. But as the snow increased, the days
shortened and the initial shock of losing both of her parents to violent deaths began to wear off. As days turned to weeks,
she was increasingly restless. She snapped at Bob and Nancy, sulked, and generally resented the state that the world was in.
Without television, email, school, or friends, she grudgingly helped prepare meals and wash dishes, but the rest of her time
was spent staring into the fire, or drowning hours in crossword puzzles. She claimed that there was nothing in the dozens
of books lining the family's shelves that interested her.
When Nancy mentioned seeing whether any friends who lived
nearby were still in the area, Amanda showed the first real smile in weeks. It was as if she suddenly realized that some small
portion of the world from before the tragedy might still exist. It was quickly decided that the household should reach out
to their nearest neighbors. Amanda wanted to immediately hike to Stagford. The village was only 12 miles away. It had over
100 residents including Amanda's maternal aunt and uncle, and several of her friends from high school. To the lonely girl
it sounded like paradise. Bob insisted that the first step would be for him to scout the route.
When Bob and Rob checked
the trap line that evening, they collected the traps along with the red squirrel found in one. There was enough food in the
house to last for some time and Bob wouldn't have time to both scout and run the trap line. He did not even consider letting
his ten year old son run the line by himself. Not in the state the world was in today.
The Adams' home was at the
end of a lane starting on the county road four miles to the south. At this crossroads a cluster of houses had accumulated
in the past hundred years. This hamlet (called Haven) lay only four miles from the Adam's cabin, eight miles from the village
of Stagford to the south and twelve from Millersville to the north. Haven would be the first area to investigate. It had been
three months since the lights went out. In all that time the family had not strayed more than three miles from home. Bob and
Nancy had reasoned that they would be safer in isolation than dealing with others. The experience with the looters who killed
Amanda's parents seemed to confirm that. But now it was clear that the time was right for trying to contact the rest of Amanda's
Dressing several hours before dawn in his combat gear, Bob's mind was filled with flashback images of night
combat, barking muzzle flashes and shadowed figures in motion. He hoped that he would never encounter that again. But he prepared
for it anyway. It was well below freezing so he dressed as warmly as he could while still maintaining mobility. He planned
to be outside all day.
Nancy, Rob, and Mandy each wished him luck as he filled his thermos with hot tea with lemon
juice and his pockets with the last of the venison jerky. He made sure that Nancy's SKS and two of the AR15s were loaded with
full 30 round magazines and that each had a cartridge chambered. If the house needed defending before he returned, all they
had to do was switch off the safety and start shooting. In addition, Nancy wore the Glock pistol found in the Fleisher's yard
with its full magazine of hollow points.
Bob would hear any shooting if he was within a few miles of home, and that
would bring him running back too. But there had been no sign of trouble since the fateful night three weeks ago. No fresh
foot prints had shown in the snow and Bob hadn't spotted any signs of other human beings as he checked the trap lines, and
tended the goat flock at what was left of the farm even though he had spent hours watching the roads and distant hillsides.
He made his way out of the house and traveled down the open road for the first quarter mile. He felt safe that far.
But as the road dipped downhill and curved to the right, he continued straight into the trees bypassing the remains of the
Fleisher's home and the fresh graves in the yard. He stopped as soon as he could see the farm and watched the barns and pastures
for several long minutes. He forced himself to check his watch and wait an additional fifteen minutes watching for any movement,
lights, or sound. When there were none he moved out of the trees to the goat shed.
The goats bleated to him when they
heard him enter their pasture. It was warm and sweet smelling inside the shed. They clustered around him seeking treats as
he shut himself inside. With quick use of the flashlight to conserve batteries he found the cold stool and bucket and quickly
milked the does. His own nanny goat was back here among the others now. That had eliminated the need to tether her. Instead
he had been letting the flock out to browse the pastures during the day, calling them back with the lure of grain and hay
and shutting them in the shed at night. He had a quick cup of the warm milk and left the rest of the pailful to freeze. He
would pick it up on the way back to the house in the evening.
After turning the snorting, nuzzling goats into the
pasture, Bob left the farm. He took a slight detour to glance at the big pine tree that had blown down. He had cached one
of the looter's AR15s and a full magazine of ammo under the trunk by scooping out the earth beneath it and reburying the plastic
wrapped package. As far as he could tell by predawn light, it still looked undisturbed.
There were only two houses
between the farm and the hamlet. Most of the roadside was occupied by the pastures and woodlots that had belonged to the Emmons.
He would bypass the houses for now. He wanted to be watching the crossroads when the sun came up. He thought his time would
be better spent watching several houses instead of just one at a time.
The hill top looking down at the crossroads
was cold and windy. But by dropping over the crest and crawling under some pines, he found a sheltered nook where he could
spread his ground cloth and drape his 3D leaf pattern poncho over himself as he looked down on the cluster of buildings. He
put chemical heater packs into the toe of each boot and another inside his shirt collar. They were left over from supplies
he had bought for hunting season. He knew that it would be a long cold vigil. It seemed like a good time to make use of them.
In the gathering light he could see seven houses, five garages, two barns and a shed. Three months ago they were occupied
by two retired couples, a widow with her disabled son, a bachelor, a couple with grown children, and two young families with
several children each. Only three of the seven homes showed smoke from their chimneys now.
Near one of the later,
the morning parade began shortly after pink dawn as three children ages 5 through 10 in housecoats and oversized boots went
in and out of a shed obviously serving as an outhouse. Their parents followed. This was the Hammond family. Virgil and Yolanda
were a few years younger than the Adams. She had gone to the same school as Bob and Nancy. Virgil had grown up in the neighboring
town but was a familiar face. He had been a truck driver, logger, and mechanic on and off for the last decade. Bob suspected
that if he had any spare pay, he smoked it. But with three kids, Virgil hadn't had much spare pay since Bob had known him.
Yolanda was a year younger, always a bit on the heavy side and the wrong person to cross. But they had always seemed happy
with each other and that's about the best anyone could hope for in this world.
Wood smoke drifted up from the three
chimneys and down the valley over the ribbon of snow covered pavement. There were tire tracks and drag marks in the road leading
to a tractor near the center of the village. A chain ran from the tractor to the base of a dead tree lying in the middle of
the road. Drag marks showed that it had been brought from the surrounding hillside whole after blowing down. An hour after
the parade the bachelor Zack Frye and the much older Delbert Abbott came out of the Abbott house and began working together
with hand saws to cut the limb wood to stove lengths. Stephen Baker (the other elderly man) and the entire Hammond family
joined them in mid morning. Bob saw Yo and the girls bring full pails into one of the barns and emerge carrying empty pails
There was no sign of activity in the other homes. Bob concluded that at least three households were working
together and keeping some sort of livestock. That was good to know. When the men were summoned inside at lunch time, Bob eased
back over the ridge top. He had been nearly still for five hours. Despite good gear his feet were painfully cold and it was
time to move. He decided to work his way home detouring to look at the houses that he had bypassed.
within tree cover he made his way cross country toward the first house. He passed several sets of human tracks and two old
sets of wheel tracks made by the tractor skidding out logs when he was within mile of Haven. Most of the fallen trees close
to the crossroads had been skidded to the village as firewood. But the tracks from the hamlet had stopped well short of where
the winding road reached the first house on the lane leading to Bob's cabin. That rental house had been occupied by several
tenants in the past few years. The latest had been a young couple with a lot of motorized toys. He recalled that a boat, an
ATV, and a snowmobile had all been stored on trailers in the back yard the last time he had driven by. Peering between the
bare trees he looked down on the house for a full hour as he quietly drank his still warm tea and chewed jerky. From 300 yards
away, he saw no sign of movement, but the door to the back porch was stuck where someone or something had shoved it open against
a snow drift. Since then, snow had blown in over the porch floor. No lights showed and there was no smoke from the chimney.
The boat and snowmobile were still there, but the ATV and its trailer were gone. Bob couldn't tell if there was a vehicle
in the garage or not. But someone had opened that porch door since it had snowed.
Bob decided to check the other house
first. Easing back into the woods, he crossed a fresh dog track, then another. He noted that he had not seen a deer track
all day. The dogs could be the reason why. The second house lay a fair distance off the road. You would mistake the driveway
for a seasonal logging road if you didn't know that a dark shingled house lay up the slope. That was probably the intent of
the Garrets. They were retirees who had built the place ten years ago. Bob had met them several times at town board meetings
and social functions. He suspected that the fiery old couple was probably doing well hunkered down in their home with solar
panels and indoor herb gardens.
He hit the driveway about halfway up the slope. Looking downhill toward the road he
could see a fairly large tree limb had come down across the driveway close to the road. That would add to the illusion that
the path was anything except a driveway. Nothing had disturbed the snow in the driveway except small squirrel feet hurrying
across the break in the trees. Bob paralleled the track to within sight of the house rather than cross that open space himself.
He could see a grey Volvo station wagon in the driveway with snow drifted against its wheels. There was more wind here than
lower in the valley. Over the next hour he circled the house at 100 yards, stopping to peer into the windows with his binoculars.
Then he circled it again from 75 yards away.
Finally he stepped into the head of the driveway and hollered to the
house. He forced himself to stand there in the open for five full minutes by his watch. By now he had decided that the couple
had headed south or moved in with other relatives elsewhere. But he felt that he had to make sure just in case they needed
food or anything else that he could provide.
He saw no trip wire or other evidence of occupation as he approached
the front door and knocked loudly. It occurred to him that they might be deaf and did not hear him from outside. Then with
a sudden sense of anxiety, he wondered if the band who had killed the other neighbors had been here before moving on to the
other houses. He tried the door and it swung open.
Chapter 2: House to house
The house was cold. It had
been unheated for some time, but he hollered a greeting again anyway. Only damp echoes answered him as he stepped into the
house with the rifle at ready. The downstairs was neatly ordered as if the owners had just stepped out for a few minutes.
But it was filled with the cold smell of wet paneling and the clinging dampness of disuse. He anxiously peered into each room
then made his way upstairs.
He found them in the bedroom. They were dead, but not in the way he had feared. This somehow
seemed more wholesome than the fate of the other neighbors, but still not as peaceful as death should have been. Their surroundings
told the story as well as any suicide note could have. She was in the bed with a dozen mostly empty bottles of pills on her
night stand. She had exhausted her prescriptions a month after the lights went out and gone to her rest after days or weeks
Her husband of 30 years had sat at the bedside with her waiting for the end to come. Piles of books, a
few dirty plates, and burnt out candle stubs surrounded the bedside chair. When her heart had failed, he laid the Bible he
had been reading beside her, perhaps after saying a few words over her, then he had removed a well worn Colt 1911 from his
bedside table, loaded three cartridges from the box he left open on top of the night stand and joined her. The magazine still
held two cartridges. The carpet held an amazing amount of frozen blood. Taking only the Colt and ammunition away with him,
Bob returned home.
In the morning,
the entire Adams household went to milk the goats and then cross lots through woods to the Garretts' home. With Nancy's help,
Bob carried the corpses outside wrapped in the bed coverings and bedroom carpet. The rest of the day was spent busting through
the frozen soil of the flower garden with a pick axe down to where a spade could be used to dig a common grave for the couple.
It was back breaking work to get below the frost line, but necessary. While Bob did that, the others took turns keeping watch
to make sure that no one approached unnoticed as he worked. When not on sentry duty, they searched the house for things they
It might be called stealing, but with no known next of kin to inherit the goods, Bob considered it payment
well earned in exchange for burial services. They decided to leave most of the limited food supply, clothing, and tools in
the house. It had an ornamental fireplace which could be used for heat if necessary. It also had passive solar heating that
had helped keep the pipes from freezing and the advantage of concealment which had already probably saved it from one band
of looters. The house would make a good emergency retreat should the Adams ever need to flee their home. This house could
serve as their shelter far better than a tent exposed to the weather.
Although not her fashion, there were several
coats and sets of boots that Amanda could use. Mrs. Garrett surely didn't need them any longer. At the least they would serve
Amanda well on the walk to Stagford. She also expressed an interest in the currency and jewelry found in the house. Seeing
as she had lost all of her own worldly possessions and any inheritance that might have come from her parents when their home
had burned, the Adams allowed her to take what she pleased. Should she ever have the opportunity to use currency again Mandy
would have $276 from the Garretts. She also selected several pieces of jewelry from a lacquered jewelry box on a bedroom dresser.
Bob had already told her that a pair of the AR15 rifles and half the ammunition that fit them were hers. He had not mentioned
that he and Nancy had decided that once things got back to normal Amanda should get the $25,000 in cash recovered from the
Bob claimed the .45 and the remaining 49 rounds of ammunition. Nancy appropriated a set of copper bottom
cookware, and Rob being inspired by a recent reading of Treasure Island, turned up a large steel carving knife and a wall
display of antique silver coins which was probably worth more than the paper currency Mandy happily tucked into the pocket
of her new baby blue down filled parka.
It seemed strange to her. A few weeks ago she couldn't have imagined wandering
around someone else's house and just helping herself to their belongings. Maybe they would haunt her, but somehow she knew
that the old couple had no use for their belongings any more. It only made sense for those in need to use them. Yet it was
bizarre even if it wasn't wrong. "Weird" was the word for it. It was all just so weird. She stood outside holding a gun while
a man buried the dead people who owned these things. And that man had shot the men who murdered her parents. That thought
made her burn with anger. She wanted to shoot them herself, not run away again like a frightened rabbit. But she had been
so different then.
The very first thing that Bob Adams had done the morning after her parents had been killed - before
they were even buried - was hand her a gun and show her how to make it shoot. The idea had terrified her until he had taken
her by the shoulders and firmly but gently explained that some of the men who had killed her parents might come back. If they
did, she would need to know how to kill them. That had turned off her tears like shutting off a faucet and she listened like
she had never listened before.
She knew now that when the little lever blocked the SKS trigger from being pulled back
that it was "Safe" and that she needed to move that safety out of the way to make it shoot. That, and to never point the end
where the bullet came out at anybody that she didn't want to kill was all that Mr. Adams had tried to teach her the first
day. Since then, Mrs. Adams had taught her to load and aim not only the SKS but the AR15 rifle she now carried. She knew that
she could hit a man sized target 50 long steps away and how to safely carry her rifle. She knew that her rifle carried 30
cartridges and that one would shoot each time she pulled the trigger when the safety was off. But she also knew that she might
need every one of them because this new world was a dangerous place.
It was a place she didn't want to be in. She
just wanted to be with her friends. To get back to the normal world where parents were alive and the lights came on. The Adams
were nice enough but the boy was half her age, and his parents were literally twice her age. They didn't understand her. She
just knew that if she could get to the village that school would still be going on. She never thought she'd miss school! But
just spending an hour chatting with Tammie and Vicky or even her cousin Brenda and her Aunt and Uncle Carter would help the
world make sense again. She was sure of it. She just had to get to Stagford.
The next day found Bob sore from
the digging. His palms were bruised from slamming the pick into frozen ground, and his shoulders ached from shoveling as he
made his way to milk the goat and then on to the rental house between Garrett's and Haven. Approaching just at dawn he settled
behind a fallen tree and put in the last of his boot heaters. It was colder today. The snow was squeaking so he knew that
the temperature was down in the single digits or below. Even with the last of the boot heaters, he was too cold to sit for
long. He was glad for his balaclava and camo stocking cap. He flexed his fingers inside his mittens and tucked his hands under
his armpits as dawn washed into the valley waking the trees from their huddled sleep. As sunlight warmed their branches the
trees thawed sending pops and creaks through the frozen woods. It made him think of Tolkien's Ents waking from slumber. Small
birds flitted among the branches searching for seeds or buds. A red squirrel clambered noisily over rough bark and leapt from
still branch to still branch leaving crazily swaying motion behind him.
After an hour the cold made Bob move. He had
seen no light or motion from within the house. He had seen no sign of human life this far from Haven. He began his walk around
the house retracing his footsteps from two days before. He crossed dog tracks going in the opposite direction from that he
had seen yesterday. This time there were four large sets of canine tracks. Moving closer he could see where those tracks went
down to the house and through the open door of the back porch.
Walking slowly Bob circled the house at +/- 75 yard
distance. No tracks except those of dogs came or went in the snow. It was possible that other tracks had blown full of snow,
but as far as he could tell no humans had entered or left the tenant house since it had snowed a week ago. Bob entered the
road and walked down to the driveway.
He shouted "Hello!" and forced himself to stay in the open for 5 minutes by
his watch to allow anyone inside to see him and know that he was not attacking them.
When the time ran out, Bob walked
around the house to the back door, half expecting to meet a timber wolf coming out. What he found was dog tracks coming and
going through the half open door to what remained of a couple big trash cans with the contents scattered all over the interior
of the enclosed porch. Stepping over the shredded trash Bob knocked on the back door and peered into the empty house. The
inside looked much like the porch. He let the door swing open on silent hinges. "Anybody home?"
No one answered him
as he stepped inside with his finger on the trigger. The door opened into a dining area. It was heaped with the remains of
a meal where every bit of food had been consumed but the plates not cleared. A pan with a crust of dried mashed potatoes frozen
to the bottom sat in the center of the table. The kitchen was worse. The sink was full of dirty dishes and cooking utensils.
Four pots occupied the burners of the stove. Each held the remains of soup or gravy or vegetables that had been warmed, served,
and left empty. The kitchen trash can overflowed and the counter was covered with a couple dozen empty cans. The cupboards
were open, and bare. Whoever had eaten here had either consumed every crumb or taken it away with them. The bedrooms were
in similar disarray with beds slept in but not remade. Dried muddy boot tracks filled the floors. A toilet had frozen and
split its bowl sending water and worse over the bathroom floor to refreeze. Whether the mess was the handiwork of the last
renters, the band of murderers, or other looters, Bob never found out. But there was little of value left behind. The place
had been stripped almost bare. There was still propane in the cook stove's tanks and a kitchen broom closet revealed a partial
bag of cat food. Bob took that away to supplement the feed of his dog Cooper and chickens with a handful per day in addition
to the scraps they lived on. He closed both doors behind him when he left, stopping just long enough to confirm that the fuel
tanks in the boat and snowmobile were empty.
As he milked the goats in the evening he decided it was time to make
contact with the people in the valley below.
Chapter 3: Haven
When Bob asked her if she thought he should
try to make contact with the residents of Haven, Nancy Adams was hesitant. Contact would alert others to their presence. She
didn't know the people in the village as well as she had known the nearer neighbors. There was not only the danger of inviting
an attack by thieves and looters, but also of contracting some contagious disease. A bout of flu could be deadly with no clinic
or drug store available.
It was when she thought of the children that Nancy realized that they would have to make
contact. Her family was probably far better off than anyone within miles. She had stocked extra groceries away against hard
times for years. Bob felt safe with a closet full of ammo. But it was a pantry full of canned goods that did it for her. It
was true that they were feeding an extra person now that Mandy had joined them, but most folks would be worse off. Not only
would contact with the village give Rob other children to play with for the first time in months, but they might be able to
help someone in need. Amanda really needed contact outside the household too. She just wasn't content playing board games
and taking care of the homestead. Months with just a few people since the lights went out was a lot harder for the popular
cheerleader to take than it might be for even other girls her own age. If any doubts remained, they vanished when Bob pointed
out that anyone approaching by road would have to pass through Haven before reaching their home. If the residents were friendly,
a neighborhood watch could be organized for early warning or even mutual defense.
As Bob test fired the .45, he
couldn't help but feel that he had been lucky. He knew that he had killed at least five men in the shootout a month before.
He knew that the odds of coming out unharmed against odds like that again were slim to none. So he figured anything that he
could do to tip the odds in his favor was well worth doing. He had resisted getting a handgun for years because having a pistol
permit would have put him on a list of gun owners. But no one was keeping a list now. It gave him some comfort to wear the
old Colt on his hip without having to carry a long arm every time he moved from room to room.
He had come home after
exploring the second house. He had planned to spend the next day grazing the goats, but when it began to snow Nancy decided
that they should go to the Garretts' and proceed to Haven in the morning. That way even if they ran into trouble in Haven,
anyone backtracking them would not be able to follow their foot prints to their home since the falling snow would cover their
Amanda wanted no part of spending a cold dark night at the Garretts'.
"That's just creepy!"
So with solemn instructions to stay indoors, keep the doors locked, and shoot anyone
forcing entry. Bob and Nancy decided to leave Rob and Amanda snug and warm, while they set out to make contact with the village
the next day. Both of the children knew how to shoot, the rifles were loaded, and they both knew the way to the Garrett house
if they needed help before morning. In addition, Cooper the Great Dane mix would make a formidable foe to anyone seeking unauthorized
Walking away in the softly falling snow, the couple was torn with mixed emotions. There was the added security
of knowing that if they ran into trouble from the settlement, the children would not be part of it. So while there was fear
at leaving their home, they also felt a guilty bit of giddy escapism to be child free for an evening.
circumstance, soft candlelight in an interior room and a shared sleeping bag made the chilly getaway a romantic rendezvous
complete with a bottle of wine from the Garrett's rack.
They woke late in the morning to bright sunlight on new
snow. The happy couple set out for the town hand-in-hand wearing solid colored clothing and carrying a basket of barter goods
gathered from the house where they had spent the night. The basket including wheat crackers and a jar of jam, a couple cans
of sardines packed in oil, and a few new candles.
Bob had seen no sentries or weapons in Haven. But he could not imagine
living in a village without some plan for community defense. He had planned to walk into the town carrying a white flag while
Nancy covered him. But she had argued against that and convinced him with two good points. First, she probably appeared less
threatening than he did; and second, he was a better long distance shot. So Bob found himself watching anxiously through his
scope while Nancy walked down the center of the road toward the men using a two-man saw to cut 24 inch chunks from the trunk
of the dead tree.
Nancy's SKS was slung on her right shoulder where it was out of her hands, but well within quick
reach. Bob knew that she had a round in the chamber and the safety was off. Her hands were filled with a picnic basket of
barter items. She was just beginning to wonder if she should call out to the men 70 yards away when Virgil Hammond heard her
footsteps and shouted "STRANGER!"
The children who had been scattered about the open area between houses ran for the doors. Two of those doors opened
before the children reached them as women with firearms came out. Virgil produced a sawed off single shot shotgun from beneath
his coat and trained it on Nancy who prudently stopped walking.
"It's just Nancy Adams, Virgil. Please point that
away from me."
The muzzle of the shotgun wavered. Virgil looked at, and behind Nancy, nervously searching for a threat. Bob pressed
his eye tight into his scope and leaned hard against the tree he had selected as a rest to steady his crosshairs on Virgil
Hammond's chest. Both men were momentarily out of breath. Nancy's heart was racing, but she held her ground.
are you alone?"
"Bob's in the trees, Virge. I told him that you'd be less likely to shoot me."
She forced a smile. Thinking "My God, what happened to him." She had known Virgil Hammond for 20 years as
kids growing up in the same neighborhood. But she barely recognized him. Was it just the new beard or had his jaw changed
shape? A crimson scar ran across the bridge of his nose, and when he spoke she could see that he was missing front teeth.
The shotgun muzzle dropped a few inches. Yolanda Hammond took a few steps forward momentarily forgetting that she
was supposed to be watching for an ambush. Virgil scanned the tree line seeing absolutely no one. For all he knew there were
a dozen cut throats waiting to rush in. But he saw nothing to give any indication of danger. So he let his shotgun muzzle
point to the ground and smiled a bearded gap toothed smile.
"O.k. tell him to come on in."
Nancy breathed a
sigh of relief with a genuine smile and waved Bob in. He waved back as he saw Yo Hammond hand the Winchester lever gun to
her husband, and begin to talk excitedly with Nancy. The two women had known each other in high school although a few years
In minutes, everyone was inside the Hammond's house seated around a table in the old Victorian's formal
dining room. Clotheslines full of drying laundry zigzagged back and forth across the ceiling around the edges of the room.
The old fireplace of white painted bricks was blazing with two foot sections of log, and a blackened kettle hung on an iron
hook that swung over the fire. Everyone had a cup of tea which Yo declared that she had been saving for a special occasion.
No one seemed to mind that it was an herb and orange peel flavor that none of them would have drank a few months ago.
Bob had surmised, the other families in the village had moved away shortly after the lights went out. Zack Frye, the village
bachelor, had moved in with the Abbotts who lived next door to conserve firewood. The Bakers and the Hammonds had also stayed
when their neighbors relocated. They had no idea that a band of looters had killed the Emmons and Fleishers less than 3 miles
away. Although they said that a stranger had walked through the town about a month ago. He had said that he was trying to
work his way to family who lived to the south. Virgil said that he didn't trust the fellow and had kept his 12 gauge within
reach at all times. Bob said that probably had saved the lives of everyone in the village. He thought to himself that the
lack of anything worth looting probably had helped keep them alive too. The risk-to-return ratio was just not right for the
attackers. Who knew? Maybe they even had a standard operation procedure to bypass settled areas and attack isolated homes.
In any case, the families in Haven seemed in good health except for minor sniffles.
The only serious injury that they
had encountered was when Virgil had lost 5 teeth coming home two nights after the lights went out. Without traffic lights
people were generally ignoring traffic laws. Someone had run the red light in Stagford and hit him head on as he turned onto
Main Street. The airbag had failed to deploy and he had literally taken the impact on his chin. The steering wheel had knocked
two teeth out and loosened three so that they eventually fell out too. He had walked the eight miles home despite blood and
bruises. They had borrowed the Abbott's a car to get to the hospital the next day. The hospital still had power from a generator
at that point and sent him home with pain killers, antibiotics, and an appointment with a dentist 50 miles away. The dentist
had told him to stay on soft food and said to come back when the lights came on so he could use his equipment. That was three
months ago and the lights weren't on yet.
The medicine was long gone, and the family was low on just about everything
else. The hamlet was entirely out of gasoline, but still had lots of home heating kerosene they could use in the diesel tractor.
It had only been 90 days since the lights went out. They were using woodstoves, outhouses, and ice boxes. It had taken just
90 days to slip back in time 90 years. Food was getting scarce and would get scarcer until the spring harvest, but the kids
insisted on showing Bob and Nancy the batch of fat piglets growing in the barn. A gaunt sow looked up mournfully from amid
four squealing shoats. The Hammonds had just brought home 300 pounds of hog feed the week before the lights went out. That
was almost gone but the sleek half grown hogs crowding each other in the pen were 200 pounds of high protein that would see
this community through until spring. One of the five was destined for slaughter as a Christmas feast next week and the Adam's
were eagerly invited to come and eat their fill. Nancy figured that was as generous an offer as anyone could be expected to
make in times like these.
She did not even try to barter the box of crackers and jar of raspberry jam she had brought
from the Garrett's place. Instead she just opened them and began to pass them out. Skipping herself and Bob she handed two
to each adult and four to each child leaving half the box behind when they left. She left the canned goods and candles with
the Hammonds too. She asked if they needed anything else. Virgil said no. But his wife said they were stretching their last
few books of matches because they didn't know when they could get more. Bob knew that he had thousands of matches at home.
He couldn't understand why everyone hadn't bought a thousand for a few dollars before the crunch. But, he knew that he had
plenty so he left two of the three books of matches he had in his pockets.
Bob and Nancy suddenly realized that they
had been chatting like a gaggle of geese for at least two hours and decide that they needed to check on the children at home
as soon as they could. That's when everyone seemed to start talking at once with just one more thing to say before the excitement
of a visit from outside the community came to an end. It took another 40 minutes and a promise to return the next day to say
As Virgil watched
the pair walk away he gave a long look at the rifles they carried. He would dearly love to have them in his hands. The old
single barrel Steven's he had cut down to handgun length (cutting off a bulged barrel) only held one shell at a time. And
he was none too certain that the old paper hulled shells he had would even fire.
As Bob and Nancy set out back
up their road they kept watch on their back trail. A mile from where they had left their hosts, Bob had intended to send Nancy
on while he hid himself and watched the road behind for 30 minutes. They had just halted standing hand in hand to look back,
when the faint echoes of distant popping sounds from up the mountain reached them.
Before Bob even realized that it
was the sound of distant gunfire Nancy had dropped the picnic basket in the snow and begun to run.
Experience told Bob that he could move faster with less gear too. He stripped off his coat as he ran. Nancy
raced up the road as Bob cut toward the house through the woods. Steep embankments and fallen trees hindered him. They had
over two miles to cover before reaching home. As they ran they heard the sound of Rob's 22 fire several times and the fast
crack-crack-crack of the AR15.
Nancy traveled faster than Bob but had to cover more ground as the road curved over
the hills. She felt tears well up inside her that she refused to let fall. If anyone was hurting her baby, they were not going
to find her with blurry vision when she shot them down. Bob's heart pounded and his breath hurt his throat as he pushed through
slapping limbs and scratching brush. They arrived within sight of the house almost simultaneously.
The first thing
Bob saw as he ran upslope toward the edge of his yard was a grey shape bounding through the yard. His mind immediately flashed
"deer" but he knew that was wrong. The shape was moving in short bounds. He heard the "CRACK-CRACK-CRACK!" of 223 cartridges
fired close by and heard the bullets snap through the air to his left.
As Nancy came up the driveway, she saw Amanda
Fleisher step out the front door and deliberately take aim at something in the front yard "CRACK-CRACK-CRACK!" The AR15's
muzzle flashed and Amanda's hair swung forward as her thin frame rocked back with the slight recoil. She shifted her footing
and fired again "CRACK-CRACK-CRACK!"
A sharp "KIY!" cut the air.
Bob saw the dog pile up face first in the
snow 50 yards inside the tree line. As he and Nancy came into full view of the house they saw that the yard of freshly fallen
white snow had been churned to a bloody froth of red sprinkled with feathers. The girl stood on the porch with the AR-15 at
the ready, scanning for targets. When she saw Bob and Nancy she wasn't sure whether she should be proud or embarrassed, but
brought pointed the muzzle up in a safe direction. Rob came out the door behind Amanda carrying spare magazines
Mom! Wolves attacked the chickens!"
The children had been inside when Cooper had begun to bark and put his feet against
the door. Going to the windows, the children had seen "at least 10 or 20 dogs" running down the flock of chickens. The dogs
had forced their way through the hen yard's wire fence. Some were running around and around inside the enclosure chasing the
panicked birds. Others ran down the hens who had managed to escape the through the rent in the wire the dogs made. Blood and
feathers seemed to be everywhere. Unwilling to let the slaughter continue, the children had let Cooper out only to see him
attacked by overwhelming odds. That's when they had started shooting. They had emptied the magazines of both their rifles.
Two dogs lay dead inside the hen yard and one inside the tree line. Only a single hen had survived the slaughter. Her white
feathers had given her the camouflage she needed to survive the slaughter.
Cooper returned after long minutes of calling
him. His black hide was streaked with saliva and blood. Most of it proved to be from others but he had received several deep
punctures around the throat. His heavy leather collar was scored deeply by claws and fangs. But he had received no life threatening
injury so long as the wounds did not get infected. Over the next few days Bob poured hydrogen peroxide into the wounds several
times a day to prevent that. The gashes eventually healed into bald scars on his big black hide.
After making sure
that he children were safe. Bob had made sure that the three feral dogs on the yard were dead by shooting each once in the
head with the 22. One still held a leg torn from a hen in its mouth. None of the dogs wore collars or tags but they had all
obviously once been domestic dogs. The children said that some of the pack had been smaller - looking more like coyotes.
But one was an enormous German shepherd. The three dead canines looked like some type of shepherd / husky mix, perhaps from
the same litter.
Unwilling to eat what was left of the dead chickens for fear of contracting something from the dog
saliva, Bob stripped off the feathers and hung the remaining portions of the dead birds in a feed bag high in a tree by throwing
a line over a branch and hoisting the bag up. The carcasses would be out of reach if the pack returned, but would freeze solid
to store until distributed to Cooper, a piece at a time. The lone surviving hen could not be coaxed from her perch high in
a Beech tree that night.
After the long run home and the shock of the event Bob just didn't have the energy to dispose
of the dog carcasses immediately. He made up his mind to leave them where they lay until morning. Instead he took the remainder
of the afternoon to walk with Rob to retrieve his coat. It and the picnic basket still lay where they had fallen. Bob was
glad to note that as far as he could tell, no one from the hamlet had made any attempt to follow him and Nancy.
half way back home they saw dog tracks over their own in the road. It gave Bob a momentary chill to think that the pack might
be shadowing them. Rob felt that the wolves (in his mind they were wolves) were stalking them. The rest of the walk home was
an anxious trip for the boy. But they made it home without incident to find a pot of chili simmering on the stove top. After
supper and scanning the shortwave stations, the family blew out their candles and went to bed. They had a hard time hearing
anything in English on the shortwave. Bob didn't understand why he couldn't pick up the Voice of America or military transmission
if nothing else. It made him wonder if the power outage really had been caused by a coordinated terrorist attack. He realized
that unless the BBC or similar station covered it, he would have no way of knowing if the nation were at war. For all he knew
DC had been nuked and a news blackout put in place to cover it up...
They were awakened by Cooper's barking. The big
dog paced the house going door to door and bellowing his deep-chested, window-shaking alarm.
Bob rolled out of bed
scooping up the .45 before putting his feet into the boots waiting at bedside. In T-shirt and sweat pants he hardly felt ready
to venture outside, but after assuring himself that the house was secure he used the flashlight to peer into the darkness
where snarls and growling filled the shadows. The pack was back, but amid the shadows there wasnt enough light to accurately
shoot inside the tree line. Stepping onto the front porch, he sent a quick double tap toward eyes reflecting back the weak
flashlight beam from the hen yard.
The animals dispersed for a moment but were soon back. He decided not to waste
his ammunition. He couldn't think of anything that would be in danger from them anyway as the hen was safely out of reach
and the cats had been absent for days. He would rather have the pack here than trying to get in the goat shed more than a
mile away. When the light of predawn began to lessen the gray, Bob was waiting with rifle in hand. But the pack had departed.
The morning light revealed what his ears had told him was happening in the night. Little of the fallen pack members remained.
Only fur and bloody snow showed where each of the three dogs had fallen. My God, thought Bob. If they can do that to three
carcasses in a night, what would they do to a child if they caught them outside?
Chapter 5: The Visit
and Nancy both regretted telling the people in Haven that they would return the next day. Now they were obligated to leave
home. But Amanda and Rob might have mutinied had they been denied a visit "to the outside world" any longer too.
family decided to go to Haven together. It would mean leaving their home unguarded. But the only alternative would be for
someone to stay behind and everyone agreed that no one should be left alone. No one should go outside alone even to get snow
for melting or firewood while the danger from the pack remained. No one would go unarmed when they did venture out either.
In addition, the goats could not be turned out to pasture unless guarded. They were simply too valuable to risk having them
torn to pieces.
After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, each family member packed a backpack of goods to share or barter
in Haven. They locked the house leaving Cooper inside to pull sentry duty and proceeded down the road to the goat barn. Amanda
took a long look at the blackened foundation of her former home as they passed.
When they reached the farm, they let
the goats out to pasture after morning milking and stayed with them for an hour. That gave the herd time to drink at the still
flowing stream and browse a little before getting shut back in the shed with a full hay rack. The weather was warm as they
made their way quickly down the road to Haven. The snow was beginning to melt and drip from the trees. By the time they returned
home the roadside ditches carried a noisy trickle of running snow melt.
The visit was an unqualified success. Everyone
was in good spirits as the family had a supper of hot soup when they returned home. The soup and a kettle of hot water were
waiting for them simmering on the top of the woodstove when they arrived. All was well in the house and Cooper was very glad
to see them.
Rob had spent the day playing with the Hammond children. He was a happy kid. He had exchanged two of
his toys for a pair of action figures from twelve year old Billy Hammond. So he was delighted not only with the play date,
but with new toys to bring home.
Nancy's gift of a fresh box of tea bags, and a quart jar of fresh goat milk was enjoyed
by all. The children quickly disposed of the milk at lunch time. They might not have cared for goat's milk before the crunch,
but after months with no milk at all, it tasted just fine to everyone. The mid-day meal was shared by almost everyone. Yolanda
had prepared a kettle of cabbage and potatoes boiled with ham bones. The Abbott/Frye household contributed a can of creamed
corn. Stephen Baker carried in a dish of baked beans for the communal table, and carried a plate back to his wife at home.
After the meal everyone went to the Bakers' house for tea.
Emily Baker was nearly bedridden with feet and ankles swollen
to double their normal size. She showed all the typical signs of progressive heart failure and confided that she had taken
several of her hoarded nitro pills for angina pain in the past few days. In Nancy's opinion, no one should be surprised when
she passed away, but no one in Haven had given up hope for her recovery either. They had wrapped her feet with elastic bandages
and encouraged her to rest with her feet up, but there wasn't much else they could do. Nancy gave her the small bottle of
aspirin from the first aide kit she carried in her daypack but knew that she needed medication to help release the fluid from
her tissues soon.
Nancy's shrewd eye for details had shown her that while most in the community were clean and healthy
they were on the verge of malnutrition. While she had helped prepare lunch she saw no evidence of food reserves to last more
than a few days. She mentioned to Bob that Yolanda had been somewhat overweight before the lights went out. In the three months
since she must have lost at least 30 pounds. In fact, every one of the adults showed signs of having slimmed down. Nancy decided
that she would take a hard look at her pantry and see what could be spared before their next visit.
As they talked
at home Bob brought up the idea of sharing the Emmons' goat herd with the others. If the herd needed to be guarded each day,
perhaps that duty and other care for the herd could be split among the households. Bob and Nancy agreed to discuss the option
with the others on their next visit.
Amanda had enjoyed the prospect of seeing new people, but what she found was
a far cry from what she had expected. The make up she had spent so much time putting on that morning was gaudily out of place
among the hanging hand washed laundry and windows hung with blankets to keep drafts out. Zack Frye had done a double take
when he first saw her. The sudden appearance of an unmarried near woman with jewelry, mascara, and eye shadow to the isolated,
longtime bachelor must have been a shock even though he was nearly ten years older than she was.
Amanda had enjoyed
listening to the conversations and had joined in an after tea game of scrabble at the Bakers' in the afternoon, but it was
a far cry from the reunion with friends and family she was looking forward to. It made her question just what she could expect
to find in Stagford after all.
While the children played and the women cooked indoors, Bob had worked with the men
of the community splitting the large chunks of wood with a maul and wedges. As they worked he told them about the pack of
dogs and the need to protect the children. The men questioned Bob in detail about the pack and even more about the band of
murderers. He told them everything he knew and when Zack expressed a desire to be better prepared and Virgil nodded assent,
Bob brought up the subject of mutual defense and asked how well armed they were.
Virgil carried his sawed off 12 gauge
and all eight shells he had for it everywhere he went. His wife used a 30-30 Winchester. There were two full twenty round
boxes of ammunition on hand for the Model 94. The Abbotts and Bakers each had 30-06 bolt action hunting rifles that had 60+
years of deer hunting to their credit. One was a Winchester, the other a Remington. The men hotly debated the merits of each
manufacturer. Between them they had "about twenty" 30-06 cartridges. So the six able bodied adults could wield a total
of three rifles and the single shot scattergun. Based on his own ammunition expenditure a month ago, Bob figured they would
be out of ammunition within the first minutes of a firefight. The good news was that he had the resources to resolve that
particular short coming.
His own collection of rifles included a scoped 30-06 on a custom Mauser action. Despite only
having one rifle chambered in the cartridge, Bob had 500 rounds of loaded ammunition and the capacity to reload 500 more when
the cases were empty. He decided that on his next visit he would bring the older men 100 cartridges each. The relatively slow
rate of fire for the bolt action rifles did not require a massive amount of ammunition. But by multiplying their supply, Bob
hoped to give them the firepower needed to drive off all but the most determined attackers. They were not strangers who he
needed to fear arming. They were an extension of his own defenses.
Bob owned a pair of 12 gauge shotguns. He had several
boxes of number four shot shells and a few of buckshot as well. He'd donate a box of each to Virgil for bird hunting and defense
It was agreed that four rapid shots or more would act as a summons to everyone who heard them. All haste
would be made to make an armed response with the assumption that 1-3 shots would be the norm for a hunting situation, but
that four or more shots spaced closely together would be likely only from a need for self defense.
Christmas was only
five days away; everyone had agreed to get together again then to celebrate with a community pig roast.
As the family
scanned the shortwave stations that evening they discussed next steps. Bob, Nancy, and Rob would have been content to stay
home until Christmas, but as much as she was grateful for the Adams' hospitality Amanda said that Christmas with her own family
would be the best thing that she could hope for.
Bob thought that the 12 miles to Stagford could be accomplished in
a single night, especially if they spent the night before in Haven. The girl had been through so much, Bob decided that he
would do all he could to try to reunite her with her remaining family before Christmas.
Before going to sleep that
night Amanda packed and repacked a backpack. It would be impractical to try to bring the suitcase she had brought from her
own home. But most of her belongings would fit into an ALICE pack. After a day at home to rest up, everyone would return to
Haven. If the residents of the Hamlet were agreeable, Bob and Amanda would press on from there trying to reach Stagford by
daylight. Nancy would have come too, but she was unwilling to leave Rob alone again even if he was welcome to stay with the
Chapter 6 The Walk:
The family spent the next day together, guarding the goats as they browsed
and looking forward to the next visit to Haven. Bob separated the ammunition he intended to leave in Haven into a daypack.
In addition, he repacked his backpack and a first aide kit for the walk to Stagford. His web-gear held four spare magazines
and he packed an additional four in his backpack. That gave him 180 rounds of ammunition, plus the .45 and it's 7 round magazine.
He decided to bring the entire remaining box of ammunition for the pistol as well.
Nancy spent a considerable amount
of time inventorying her pantry. She eventually selected a No. 10 can of alphabet soup mix, a three pound can of coffee creamer,
a plastic quart bottle of lemon juice, a five pound bag of flour, two quarts of apple sauce, a large canister of oatmeal,
and another of hot cocoa mix to donate to the community food stores. Bob felt warm and fuzzy when he stocked ammunition before
the lights went out. She didn't feel safe without a full pantry. It was pretty obvious to her that food was just as important
as weapons, maybe more so. You always had to eat but might never need the weapons.
She estimated that what remained
on the basement storage shelves was just enough to see the three of them through the six long months until they could count
on early harvesting from their garden. Any foraging of wild plants like leeks and berries, or of fish and game would stretch
those rations a little longer. After that, they would have to rely on the harvest and God's mercy with the weather.
heard the barks of the pack running prey that night but it was from down the valley. Well within earshot but a mile or more
away. Cooper would have really liked to go chase the sound of those barks drifting eerily to him on the wind. But the pack
did not come near.
The next day dawned warm and breezy with continued thawing. Bob insisted that everyone except Rob
wear the body armor taken from the looters and carry extra ammunition. Without making mention of it to Amanda, he included
half of the currency taken from the looters in his backpack as well. The walk to Haven and the morning stop at the farm were
quickly accomplished, although everyone was feeling the additional weight in their packs before the full four miles were accomplished.
They were eagerly welcomed back to Haven, especially when they unveiled their "Christmas gifts" and the freshly baked
soda bread that Nancy had baked in the Dutch oven the night before. As they enjoyed the communal meal over more tea and cocoa,
Bob broached his plan for sharing the goat flock duties and benefits.
Everyone agreed to communal ownership with each
household having the responsibility to milk and guard the herd twice per week except for the Baker's. That household only
had one member able to participate in the animals' care. Stephen Baker would assume responsibility for the herd each Sunday.
Whoever cared for the goats earned the right to keep the milk gathered that day and they agreed that any slaughtering would
be postponed until after kidding in the spring.
Virgil Hammond smiled with real warmth for the first time at the prospect
of sharing ownership of the herd. Although an honest man, he had been nearly desperate. He knew that even if he slaughtered
every pig in his barn, it would be barely enough food to carry his family through the winter and springtime. He hadn't told
anyone of his sleepless nights wondering how he would feed his family when the food was gone. He had wondered how he could
turn his neighbors away so that his kids wouldn't starve, and what he might have to do to keep food on the table after that.
Bob brought up the trip to Stagford next. Nancy and Rob were welcomed to spend the night in Haven. The Baker's had
an unused guest room they could sleep in. Zack decided to join Bob and Mandy in the long walk to Stagford. The tall blond
man had people he'd like to see in the village too. In addition, there was or had been, a pharmacy in the village. If it was
still in operation or even if it was closed but still had inventory on the shelves, Emily Baker needed prescription medicines
Besides the empty pill bottles, Zack was given a shopping wish list and all the cash that the community
could muster: $500 in currency (which Bob felt was useless) and several pieces of jewelry including a gold plated pocket watch,
chain and fob from the Bakers to barter with for the medication. If medicines were unavailable he was to bring back as much
food as he could.
Nancy and Rob would show the Hammonds how to care for the goats in the morning. If all went according
to plan, by noon the next day Amanda would be safely in Stagford with her Aunt and Uncle Carter. Bob and Zack would complete
their trading and be back to Haven by dawn the following day. Then Bob could walk home with Nancy and Rob, stopping on the
way to show Delbert Abbott and Steve Baker the routine care for the herd.
After a hot meal and best wishes, the three
travelers set out shortly after 4 PM. The day had continued to be warm for December. But as the sun set, the temperature dropped
toward freezing. The trio was glad to keep moving just to keep warm. Each carried a pair of baked potatoes in their jacket
pockets - not only for food, but also as a heat source to stave off cold fingertips.
Bob took point. He instructed
the others to watch for his hand signals and to stop when he did. He set out cross-country walking slowly and keeping to the
shadows. Traveling by road would doubtlessly have been faster. But so too would traveling in the daylight and he didn't think
either was worth the risk. The ground was mostly bare now which made walking easier and would leave less obvious tracks than
snow cover would have. By midnight they had covered over half the distance without incident. They had taken several breaks
as none of them was used to walking more than a mile at a time. With only a few miles to go and seven hours before dawn Bob
thought they deserved the luxury of 30 minutes rest. They were gathered together in a cluster of hardwoods near the top of
the hill overlooking Stagford when they heard a distant throb and Zack spotted the light.
It was unmistakably an ELECTRIC
light shining on a hillside a few miles away on the far side of the village. Bob asked the others if they wished to investigate.
He was curious but also eager to avoid trouble. He reasoned that if they did run into trouble, Zack was unarmed and Amanda
was a new shooter. While he would not rule out a cautious peak from a closer but still safe distance, he was inclined to leave
the mystery alone until he had safely deposited Amanda under someone else's care. He thought she was a good kid at heart.
Her moodiness was understandable given the circumstance. Indeed her attitude had already markedly improved with the prospect
of getting back among people she knew and loved, but Bob had concluded that the girl got on his nerves and he'd be happy to
get rid of her as soon as possible. Zack saw no need to go looking for trouble, and Amanda was eager only to get to Stagford,
so they decided to continue their quiet creeping along with an unaltered course. There was always the chance that people in
Stagford would know what the light source was. Someone with enough gasoline to still be operating a generator was probably
well known to everyone around them.
Fish Creek was the last natural barrier between them and the village. Bob preferred
to keep off the road and avoid the bridge so they crossed the 5 yard wide stream on the ice. Bob offered a thankful prayer
that there was no need to build a fire and dry anyone who had gone through the ice once they had completed the crossing. Clouds
drifted across a crescent moon as they discussed where to go next. The generator quit and the light went out as they discussed
their options. They could camp in the trees waiting for dawn before approaching the buildings, or advance to or into town.
Bob discouraged going in under cover of darkness. He expected to be shot by town watchmen or nervous homeowners if they tried
that. Zack and Amanda both wanted to get out of the wind and Bob refused to let them build a fire. So they compromised by
circling the town to its southern edge. From here they could advance though the 200 year old cemetery to the fields owned
by the volunteer fire company. There were several sheds here where the firemen held an annual fundraising fair. These were
empty 364 days per year.
Bob slipped his knife blade through the crack of one shed's door and lifted the hook and
eye latch. The door on the opposite end of the shed had a padlock. But the hook on the inside of this door was considered
security enough for an unused roulette wheel and assortment of milk cans for use as softball targets. The footsore travelers
slipped inside out of the wind and waited miserably for the pink light of day to tinge the horizon. As they waited, the smell
of the town hit them: sewage, urine, refuse, charcoal, burnt synthetics. If it smelled like this when everything was frozen,
what would it smell like come spring?
As soon as it was light enough to see well, they saw the source of the odor.
The fair grounds had become a dump, which had begun to spill over into the adjacent cemetery. The cemetery itself showed a
row of new graves.
When the sun broke the horizon, the travelers left their imperfect refuge and drifted into the
center of town. Under the dark traffic light in the center of the village was what remained of Virgil Hammond's truck. It
had been pushed to one side. The tires were gone and under the raised hood a gaping hole showed where the battery had been.
Several storefronts were smashed. The fire station of all places, had burned to the ground taking town hall and library with
it. The library would probably be missed much more than the town hall. Bob wondered idly what had become of the tax records
stored there. The restaurant's front window was boarded over with a sheet of plywood painted with large block letters spelling
out "CLOSED." A similar sign showed in the front window of the service station reading "NO GAS!"
Amanda hurriedly led the way toward her Uncle's home. A woman stepped out on her porch to shake a rug, stopped and
silently stared at the three of them as they walked down the center of Main Street. Vehicles lined the curbs. Some had windows
smashed out. Others lacked tires. A few had been burnt where they sat.
"Almost there." Mandy panted.
was almost trotting under the unfamiliar weight of a pack and rifle. They turned onto a side street and saw devastation.
house on one side of the street had been damaged by fire. The closely packed houses had caught one from the next until a fire
sometime in the past few months had run out of fuel. Six two-story homes had been lost in a single night. Amanda stopped in
her tracks. Her mouth fell open. The house she had hurried toward was no longer there.
7 The Town:
The trio stood uncertainly in the middle of the street as cold sunlight streaked through the open space
formerly filled with family homes. It illuminated charred timbers, melted siding, and twisted metal.
A muffled sound
reached Bob's ears. Looking around at the nearby homes, Bob spotted movement behind lace curtains in an intact home on the
opposite side of the street. Smoke came from a red brick chimney confirming that the home was occupied. Stepping onto the
deck, he knocked on the door. In a moment a gaunt middle-aged woman drew back the curtain without unlocking or opening the
"Good Morning Maam. Can you tell me where to find Tom Carter? I understand he lived across the street."
The woman blinked at Bob with uncertain frailty.
He continued, "I have his niece with me."
The woman drew back the curtain farther and peered toward the street. Behind him Amanda called "Aunt Jo!"
Joanne Carter opened the door and welcomed her niece inside with a raspy whispered welcome. She was genuinely happy
to see the girl. She was eager for news of her sister's family and had always been fond of Mandy. The conversation was interrupted
as the woman was wracked with deep coughing fits every few minutes. That was why she was awake before dawn and had seen the
group come down the street. A worn deck of playing cards showed a game of solitaire in progress on the kitchen table. That
was where the most light entered the house in the morning and so was where she played her game.
She explained that
after their home had burnt, they had moved into this vacant house. The owner's were spending the winter in Florida.
offered what she called "poor coffee" to them. It was poor coffee indeed. Bob knew at a glance that the grounds had been brewed
several times and the resulting warm liquid held only a tinge of color. Even that blanched out as Mrs. Carter poured a generous
splash of milk into the cup accepted by Zack.
Amanda's uncle emerged at the sound of voices wearing several days of
beard stubble but was also genuinely glad to see the girl. "Brenda will be glad to see you Mandy."
He pulled a loaf
of un-sliced bread from the dark refrigerator that was now operating as an icebox and sliced several slabs. These he slathered
them with butter and fried in a pan on the propane stove top. The resulting "toast" was warm and welcome by the travelers.
Zack accepted the coffee and seemed to enjoy it. Amanda completed the unpleasant task of informing her Aunt of her sister's
When Amanda had completed her story, including the fact that Bob had killed five of the men who had murdered
her family Mrs. Carter attached a claw-like hand to Bob's elbow with surprising strength. "You're a good man. Mr. Adams..."
She had intended to say more but her cough prevented her.
Tom Carter nodded his stern agreement. "Of course
you can stay with us Mandy. Your Aunt Jo could use the help around the place anyhow. I'm not home much during the day. I'm
part of the trash collection crew." Realizing that his guests weren't aware of how things in town had changed, he explained
"At first nobody cleaned up anything. There were trash piles a yard high in front of every house. The rats started to get
bad and George Rogers (the pharmacist) " he's the closest thing to a doctor we've got " he said we needed to get
that out of town or the rats would bring disease. So we began hauling chamber pots and such outside of town." He lowered
his voice, "Down by where the sick folk are buried. There's all kinds of sickness around these days. All kinds. Pneumonia,
stomach flu, you name it. Jo here has whooping cough according to George. Whooping cough in the 21st century!"
Amanda interrupted "Where's Brenda, Aunt Jo?" Her voice held a tinge of desperation as she asked for
her 17 year old cousin.
"Brenda will be glad to see you. She's working at the Durkee farm. They start milking at five."
"Milking?" Bob asked.
Tom Carter began talking again "Yep. They have over 300 head of Holstein. It takes
a lot of hands to milk three times a day."
Bob soaked that information in. Three hundred cattle were being milked. The winter feed in silos and trenches would
be enough to see the herd through the winter. There would be hay too. As long as the feed lasted, the cows could be milked.
And there would be beef too.
"We saw a light coming into town?" Zack's tone made it a question.
Mr. Carter nodded. "That would be the farm. Carl Durkee he's a smart one. He kills a dry cow each Saturday. He's traded the
beef for every drop of gasoline in town. Nobody is hungry. We've got beef, and milk, and butter. But nobody except old Carl
has gas for 20 miles! He's got near all the gold and silver by now too. He pays Brenda with milk and beef. She works hard
milking by hand, shoveling silage to the cows and shoveling manure out from behind them. That herd never goes outside. Old
Crusty Carl knows that if he ever let them out of his sight, some would go missing right quick."
That was the answer
to the food question then. Amanda would be safe from starvation at the Carters. And if the cattleman could be bargained with,
there would be food to bring back to Haven. All that remained was to investigate the pharmacy.
Pulling Amanda aside,
Bob gave her a large envelope with 100 one hundred dollar bills collected by the looters from God alone knows where.
is your inheritance Amanda. It's half the money that was on the looters I killed in your yard. I want you to keep it and the
rifle and ammunition. When I come to town again I'll bring you another rifle and the other half of the money."
Amanda did not answer immediately. She closed her eyes very slowly and they remained closed for a long moment. Bob
began to wonder if she had fallen asleep on her feet after walking all night. But she was processing the information and doing
her best to hold back tears. She wiped her eyes and covered her mouth with slim shaky fingers for a moment before speaking
in a very small voice that she fought to control from breaking into a sob.
"Oh, Mr. Adams- you're family has done
so much for me". I ... I want you to keep the other half of the money. It's the only way I have to repay you for everything
Now it was Bob's turn to be shocked and touched at the depth of the young woman's feelings.
After a moment
he said "I'll hold onto it for now. You may change your mind."
He was thinking to himself that he would hold the money for a year. The girl was nearly 17. He would hold the money
in trust until she was 18. By that time, it might be worth something again.
When Tom Carter pulled on his coat and
announced that he was going to get firewood. Bob followed him outside saying that he would lend a hand. Tom lead the way across
the street where he began to tear off and break up pieces of charred clap boards from the ruins of the damaged homes. Bob
could see that they had already salvaged what timber was suitable for rebuilding from two of the houses.
As they worked
Bob confirmed that the girl truly was welcome to stay with the Carters. Tom assured him that she would be welcome in any circumstances
but especially so now that she was orphaned and homeless. That was what Bob was hoping to hear, so when they returned inside
with armloads of splintered boards, Bob asked Zack if he was ready to head toward the pharmacy.
Zack was only too eager
to get farther away from the thin woman who coughed uncontrollably. The two men said their goodbyes to Amanda and her reunited
family and stepped out into the morning light.
Chapter 8: Civilization?
The Pharmacy was on Main Street,
between a dark auto parts store, and what had been a liquor store. Both had smashed store fronts full of broken glass. The
sign on the door to the pharmacy said "OPEN" and proved to be unlocked.
Within was something that Bob had not expected
to see: a shop that looked like it was conducting business as usual. Well at least almost as usual.
A kerosene lamp
hung over the counter at the back of the store. Its' century old milk glass globe sent soft light filtering downward over
the work space where George Rogers was slowly stirring sweet smelling syrup over a small gas burner. He wore his customary
white coat and remained clean shaven and immaculately groomed behind wire rimmed glasses. The contrast to what Bob looked
like after walking all night and not bathing for a week was startling. But Bob noticed that the proprietor was quicker to
look up at the sound of the door than he had been a few months before, and that he wore a shoulder holstered revolver under
his open lab coat.
"Good morning gentleman! How are things in Haven Mr. Frye? And with your family Mr. Adams?" George
Rogers smiled and relaxed at the sight of the men he knew well. Both had been regular customers over the years despite chain
stores springing up and driving independent pharmacies out of business left and right.
"Hello George. How's business?"
good, Bob. Too good. I've got more sick people than I've got help for. What can I do you for?"
"Nothing for me George,
I'm stuffed" Bob grinned.
Zack held out the three prescription bottles sent by the community at Haven.
know that you're not supposed to fill them for anyone except whose on the label"... Zack began.
George waved his hand
dismissively and disappeared into the back of the shop taking the lamp and pill bottles with him. As he searched his shelves
he nodded knowingly to Zack's description of Emily Baker's symptoms.
Bob took a closer look at what remained on the
shelves in the front of the store. Greeting cards, sun tan oil, and a few children's trinkets remained. What was not there
were over the counter medicines, bandages, disinfectants, hot water bottles, batteries or food of any kind.
returned with pills in two of the three bottles though neither was full.
"This is what was prescribed." He said.
"I have two other patients in town taking the same medication, so I've split my supply three ways and am sending a third with
He held up the other bottle and shook the six tablets it contained. "This one should help with Mrs. Baker's
fluid retention. Unfortunately, that is all I have left. As of the 1st of November I was told that shipments would be discontinued
until further notice".
He handed over the bottles and resumed his stirring.
"This is the last batch of cough
syrup I have ingredients for too. I'll add the last of my codeine to help them sleep. That's all I can do for them. I'll be
closing up shop Christmas Eve and heading south. I figure maybe I can get more inventory in the bigger cities. If I can, I'll
be back in a couple of weeks. If not" he shrugged "then I'll keep going until I get to my sister's place on the coast. Maybe
things are different there."
Zack laid out the money and jewelry on the counter. "I know you aren't going to get anything
from the insurance companies or the government for this bill, so..."
George looked the pile over. He picked up three
$50 bills. "That will cover the cost of the pills. Maybe it'll help buy some more too."
Motioning to the 1911 holstered
on Bob's hip the bespectacled chemist asked, "Is that a .45?"
George unholstered his Taurus revolver,
flipped open the cylinder, and turned the butt of the weapon forward so Bob could see that three of the six spots for cartridges
in the rotating cylinder were empty. The others showed the bases of unfired .45 ACP cartridges, the same chambering as the
semiautomatic pistol that Bob had picked up from the Barretts' bedroom.
"You wouldn't happen to have any ammo to sell
Bob thought of the prospect of George walking the 50+ miles to the capital and back again carrying a precious
cargo of antibiotics. He remembered having come to George months ago when Rob was sick and being sent away with double the
prescribed dose of medication because George knew that the family liked being prepared and would use the medication responsibly.
He thought about the coughing woman who he had been far too close to a few minutes before. He pulled out the box of cartridges
for the pistol, pocketed eight to refill the semiautomatics seven round magazine and chamber one, then handed the box with
the balance of cartridges across the counter.
When Bob refused payment, George said, "You don't know how generous
a gift you are giving. Carl Durkee has been collecting every bullet in the county.
In October he sold beef for $5
a pound. In November it went to $50 or two gallons of gasoline or diesel. He said that covered his labor costs for hiring
additional help to milk by hand. When people ran out of gas and money he began taking gold or silver in trade. The only other
thing he seems to want to trade for is food (which nobody has) or guns and ammo. Last I head, twenty cartridges would buy
a pound of beef, but that has probably gone up. It seems like the only people with enough to eat are the ones working for
"How many people does he have working for him?"
"Well, at least a dozen for sure. He drove to town last
month -DROVE - in that big black Cadillac that used to be Dick Hinckley's and said that he needed more help on the farm. He
hired eight teenage girls to work in the barn and around the house and offered to pay the deputy sheriffs to guard the herd.
Billy Terry is the only deputy who won't work for him. He works for the bank. Durkee keeps two deputies on duty at the front
gate all the time and I've heard that the other two patrol the farm on horseback day and night. Rumor says that Hinckley drove
up in that Cadillac and tried to buy the whole farm two weeks after the lights went out. Hinckley thought he owned the whole
town lock-stock-and-barrel. I guess he does own half of it on paper. But Dick came back with a busted nose and packed his
bags that night. Carl ended up with the Cadillac. Now he seems to enjoy playing Lord of the manor. It's a little too much
like an old west cattle baron for me ...if you know what I mean"
George's voice trailed off as he dropped three of the
fat little cartridges into his revolver and closed it with a solid thump. Bob looked from the revolver, to the oil lamp. He
thought of whooping cough and chamber pots, and one man cattleman controlling the community with the help of hired guns. He
watched the cold wind pick up a bit of old paper and roll it down the street. Yeah, he knew exactly what he meant.
Terry was 29 years old. He was the youngest son of an alcoholic father. His mother died young and the boy had learned to fend
for himself pretty quickly. There is something inside a person that might be called a spark of divinity. It is the call to
do good and uphold personal honor. Early in life most people learn to either respect it or ignore it. That choice shapes much
of who they turn out to be. Bill had walked the fine line and chosen the right path. Some of his siblings had delved into
drug use and sales to claw their way higher in the harsh world. Bill had turned to the other side of the law. He had worked
as a DARE officer, a teen counselor, and finally as a deputy Sheriff earning sergeants stripes faster than any other member
of the force in its 75 year history. When things went chaotic, he clung to what he knew. He saw himself as an agent of the
law more than any other roll in his life. So when things went sour he brought his wife and step children back to the rural
area of his own childhood - where the world was safer, cleaner, and saner - or so he thought. Lately things had been getting
He had taken up residence in a village apartment over the antique shop. It came with a coal burning parlor stove
and several hundred pounds of railroad coal in the building's basement that had been there for 20 years. In exchange for guarding
the antique shop they were living rent free. And they were finding more and more of the inventory useful as time went by.
The butter churn for instance - hand crank powered with wooden paddles inside a gallon jar churned butter faster than
any other churn in town. Although the salt to flavor it was almost gone, the butter was a nice luxury. In exchange for making
butter with milk their neighbors provided, the Terry's kept the buttermilk. Although it was a poor comparison to whole milk,
it was a whole lot better than no milk at all. The hand cranked ringer washer and clothes drying racks let his wife earn the
remainder of their food doing laundry for six families in town. She bartered her labor for meals and that helped keep body
and soul together. God would provide they told their children. And He had, so far. But with Carl Durkee taking over the town,
Bill wondered what was next. How long until a "Lincoln County War" started? And what side would he be on?
of Bob Adams on the bank steps was like a visit from the distant past. The men hadn't seen each other since Bill had pulled
his friend over and issued a warning instead of a citation for 46 MPH in a 35 zone several years ago. They had been childhood
friends but lost touch with family and career obligations.
When Bob stumbled on the top step, Bill wondered if he
had been shot. But he was only tired after having been awake more than 24 hours. He asked his old friend if he knew anywhere
in town that he could sleep for a few hours. Bill waved a hand expansively toward the interior or the bank and said "Anywhere
you like." The vault was only unlocked for an hour a day by the bank manager. The rest of the unheated building was unused.
The leather upholstered couch in the manager's office was less comfortable than the deep pile carpet on the floor.
So it was on the later that Bob stretched out and passed out for four solid hours. At lunch time he awoke to Bill kicking
his boot soles and announced lunch time. His attractive wife Natalie had brought roast beef sandwiches and buttermilk for
Bill. They were fantastic. It was the first time that Bob had met the family. He searched his day pack until he found MRE
accessory packets with enough gum for the kids to share and considered it small pay for the food they gave him.
they ate the men caught up on events in their life in the past years and finally what had brought them to this meeting. Bob
had just finished recounting why he had come to Stagford when Zack Frye came to the bank. He was smiling like a kid at Christmas.
In fact, it was nearly Christmas but that had little to do with the smile.
"I'm staying. Zack said bluntly.
He handed Bob the watch and the medication he had purchased that morning. "Selma Hyatt needs someone to help her out at the
Selma Hyatt was the twice divorced owner of the local tavern. Zack had spent more of his paycheck in that bar
than he had on all other living expenses combined before the lights went out. Bob wondered if there was a keg that remained
untapped in the establishment. In any case, Zack had made his choice and Bob was on his own for the return trip. He considered
a trip to the dairy farm before returning home. But decided that making Nancy worry and wait longer would be less than prudent.
He also didn't relish the idea of traveling alone. Instead, he said goodbye to Bill and his family after they refused his
offer of payment for lunch, and followed Zack back to the tavern at his request.
The only change that he noticed was
that each table held a centerpiece consisting of a glass bowl holding the wax and wicks of several candles that would be lit
after hours. Zack brought a several pound chunk of beef from the kitchen wrapped in a new trash bag. He had exchanged the
remaining cash from the village for it. Selma followed Zack out of the kitchen wearing a set of earrings that had come from
Haven and asked if she could get anything else for Bob offering: home brew, steak, stew, and ice-cream. Within a few minutes
he had exchanged 60 rounds of 308 for another steak that would flavor several gallons of stew and pound of butter.
intended to stop at the Carter's on the way out of town, but approaching the house he heard Amanda and her cousin chatting
excitedly as they worked together to bring more firewood inside. He heard Brenda say "...and everybody blamed the fire on
Brian, he's this guy who lived two houses down; not dork geeky, but; you know smart geeky but hot, anyway he's really smart
and had this little stove in his room from Science Fair that burned twigs and spun this thing and made a light bulb light,
anyway; everybody blamed him for the fire. But it was SO not his fault. It was really Tammy. You know Tammy. Well, she was
smoking pot and was so stoned that she passed out and set the bed on fire and ...";
Bob decided not to disturb the
cousins. The only thing faster than the way Amanda’s brain was soaking up 3 months of gossip was how fast her cousin
could deliver it.
He slipped quietly outside of town limits as the sun began to sink toward the horizon.
ice was not as firm as it had been but Bob thought he could cross Fish Creek without wet feet anyway. He stepped cautiously
onto the firmest looking ice, probing with his rifle butt ahead each step and moving around any ice that gave under the pressure.
A yard from shore the ice he stood on began to crack. He made one last spring to the safety of the embankment leaving a cracked
pan behind him. Whew. That had been close. The added weight of the beef and butter nearly sunk him. If it continued to thaw,
crossing the bridge would be the only option for the next trip to town.
He climbed rapidly through fields where hay
had been cut mere months before and looked back at the valley. The village lay nestled in the bottom with the creek looping
in a wide oxbow surrounding the village on three sides. 200 years ago that was probably what made the first settlers build
He could see workers busily dumping chamber pots on the river ice hoping that the water would carry the smell
away in the spring time. It would, but at what cost to the people who lived downstream? At least the refuse pile growing on
the fairgrounds was on the downstream side of this town.
When he reached the edge of the woodlot at the top of the
hill, Bob looked back again and this time he could look over the village to the slopes beyond. There the long red barns of
Carl Durkee's farm and its big yellow farm house splashed color on the bare brown of winter dried grass and hay stubble. With
his rifle scope on its highest power Bob could see people clustered at the gate where the farm lane ended on the county road.
There was a group of people there on both sides of the gate. On the outside were those from the village coming to barter for
their daily ration of beef or milk. Inside a pair of men carried rifles and two others worked with a beef quarter hanging
from a gambrel on the raised bucket of a large tractor. It was too far away for Bob to see who was there. He wondered if Zack
and Stella were getting provisions for the tavern. He wondered how Stella was paying for it all.
As he lowered the
rifle and turned to go, a movement caught his eye. He had left the town on the southern side, climbing the fields westward
to gain this vantage point before heading north toward home. The setting sun was at his back, leaving him in the shadow of
the trees while the rest of the world was still lit by the setting sun. That light spilling over the tree tops had caught
on something that reflected back. He put the rifle scope back to his eye and searched the area that had flashed at him. Had
that flash come from an old windshield? Discarded bottle? It could have been anything. The light was fading fast and the shadows
creeping over the village. He began to think that he had imagined the light when he saw movement again. This time it did not
flash. It was dull brown and green as the man with binoculars, stowed them in his pack. He was on the north end of the village,
nearly obstructed by a juniper bush he knelt behind. After stowing the binoculars, the man picked up an unusually long fully
stocked rifle (probably a Mosin Nagant) and slipped from bush to bush toward the village, pausing to let the shadows from
the setting sun overtake him before he went on.
"What kind of idiot would be a loner in a world like this" thought
Then he chuckled quietly to himself as he realized that he too was alone and out at night again. He shook his
head and began to trot toward home.
Chapter 9: The journey home
He occasionally came within sight
of the road as he cut cross country. A few homes had smoke coming from their chimneys, but most did not. He was surprised
that there was smoke coming from the chimney of a mobile home he passed about halfway home. He figured that anyone in a lightly
constructed (and poorly insulated) home would have relocated by now.
The return trip took considerably less time
than the cautious trip to town had. Bob felt that if he ran into trouble he could fade into the shadows or shoot back with
a lot more freedom than he could have with Zack and Amanda in tow. So he maintained a fast walk. He was moving so fast that
he didn't hear the sound of the pack until they crested a hill and poured into the same valley he was in. He was inside the
tree line so he could not see them. But the chorus of yips and yaps made by the running dogs told him that they were close
and heading in his direction.
He considered his options and then confirmed that his safety was off and that he
had a round in the chamber as he moved in a path that he hoped would intercept them. Shooting by moonlight would be tricky,
but he felt that he was more than a match for the pack of feral dogs. He still had plenty of ammo, and with 20 shots before
needing to switch mags, he felt he was equal to the challenge. He could at least thin their numbers and reduce the danger
of them attacking a child or goat.
The pack was moving fast. Within seconds he could hear sticks snap as whatever
they were chasing tore through brush at full speed ahead of them. They did not change direction as Bob stopped and peered
hard into the patchwork of moonlight and shadows. Trees, shrubs, fallen limbs, even high weeds and grass stubble conspired
together to piece together images that appeared solid one minute and intangible the next. But his ears did not fail him; the
sound let him track the packs; progress as they hurtled toward him. He caught just a glimpse of fast moving shapes in the
moonlight now and then.
Suddenly a dark shape bolted into an open space out of the blackness. Bob saw a powerful four
legged form plunge through the brush that had screened it from his view. For a moment he thought he had missed a streaking
rabbit and that the shape before him was a huge dog. But it was too big. Perhaps a bear? The four legged animal pounded the
frozen earth as it galloped. It was heavy necked with powerful shoulders. Whatever it was, it was coming toward him fast.
There was no game off limits these days. He aimed the rifle - barely able to discern the luminous sites and fired twice at
30 yards. The grunt and squeal told him then what he had hit. It was an unmistakably porcine sound. In the light of the second
muzzle flash he saw the pig somersault with a broken shoulder.
Bob didn't have time for pride or regret, the pack
was upon them before he came out of recoil. Partially checked by the sudden thunder of the rifle's reports, the dogs slowed
and swerved toward the hog. Two of the animals literally leapt on the still kicking hog and tried to find a grip with their
fangs. That raised them above their fellows. Bob fired as the dying pig tried to heave himself to his feet. The shots broke
one dog's back and the other's foreleg. There was no time for selecting individual targets now. The pack was maddened by the
squeals of the pig and scent of blood. The swirling mass of bodies growled and clawed and bit as Bob poured all 17 shots remaining
in his magazine into the crowded bodies just a few yards away. The last two rounds of tracer ammo alerting him to the impending
empty magazine. When he fired the last cartridge in the rifle, he let its; butt swing to the ground as he held the hot barrel
with his gloved left hand. With his right hand he drew the .45 and looked for anything still moving within sight. Something
scampered quickly away to the left.
The ringing in his ears gave way to a distant sounding whine. Bob racked the slide
and stepped forward to blow the brains out of a scrawny coyote cross struggling to get up.
There were five dead dogs
around the hog that Bob estimated at 300 pounds of dead weight. After a moment of pause to assure himself that he was no longer
in danger of attack, he swapped magazines in the rifle and laid it nearby. He prayed a brief thankful prayer while he worked
to quarter the hog's carcass. When he had separated each leg from the torso and dumped the guts, he ran a piece of paracord
from his pack through the hocks of the hind quarters and hung one as far up in a low limbed oak as high as he could climb.
In a similar fashion he hung the front legs and shoulders and finally the torso with cord through the rib cage. Then he picked
up the other hind leg and his rifle with first a grunt of effort then another prayer of thanksgiving. He carried the haunch
like some immense caveman's club on his shoulder for the few miles that remained.
He arrived at Haven before dawn
and knew Nancy was up by the candle light in the Baker's kitchen. His knock on the door was answered first by the muzzle of
the Glock then his wife's face peering out.
She was not alarmed at his blood on his clothes because the source was
obviously the haunch of raw pork he laid on the table with a smile. She hugged and kissed him despite the mess and welcomed
The entire house was awake waiting for him. They woke the Bakers and the Abotts to deliver the food and
medicines. Then they kept Bob awake until after breakfast asking and re-asking for details about everything he had seen and
heard in Stagford.
At last, as the sun cleared the rim of the valley and flooded the crowded kitchen with sunlight,
he gave the answer to the pharmacist's question. It was the same question in Nancy's eyes and on the minds of everyone in
What did the state of things in town mean for them?
"Theres hope, but we're still on our own."
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