Sunday, February 20, 2011

For The Greater Good 15


CHAPTER FIFTEEN


    The truck’s exhaust tunes produced a solid baritone sound as they drove further inside West Virginia. Everyone felt a huge burden lifted from their shoulders as they all felt safe and secure. Brenda, Emmy and Rosa talked and giggled in the front seat, as Rick drove and thought about their new home. Hal and Thomas were leading the group in an old rag-top Jeep. Rick chuckled to himself, thinking about Thomas’s face when he came back from checking out the results of their attack on the gang. After Thomas told Hal and the guards about what he found, they all looked at him in a very different way, and comments made to him by the youthful guards were followed by, ‘Sir.’

    “How far did Hal say we have to go?” Brenda asked.

    “He said, we are going to a town called Davis, which is about fifty miles from the border, so we have about ten more miles to go.” Rick replied, and added, “Are you feeling ok?”

    “Oh yeah, better than I have in months...actually Rick, I’m feeling better than I have in my entire life.” Brenda said, smiling and then leaning over the girls, gave him a kiss on the cheek.

    The two car caravan slowed as they entered Davis. Hal, driving the Jeep in the lead, went slowly through the tiny town, with it’s one non-working red light. There were people in Davis, and they didn’t look like they were half dead rag-tag stragglers, these folks looked for all intents and purposes, like normal healthy friendly people, waving to the truck and the Jeep.   

    The Jeep kept moving through the mountain town of Davis, continuing for about another five miles. The sign read, Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge and Resort, as they turned onto the smooth asphalt road, following it for another mile or so. Hal led them to a group of quaint cabins nestled in the woods and stopped.

    Opening the door and stepping out, Hal spread his arms, “Well Rick, here ya go.” He said, smiling.

    Everyone piled out of the truck and stretched their legs.

    “Why don’t y’all take a couple of days to relax and shake the road dust off,” Hal said, and then continued, “this was a resort…and a busy one too. They were undergoing some remodeling so it was pretty empty on that day. You’ve pretty much got it to yourselves. Over there, “he pointed through the woods to a large conference center, “is the main building.”

    “This is so nice.” Christine commented as Brenda nodded her agreement.

    “It is beautiful here isn’t it?” Hal said proudly. “Come here I want to show you something.” He said, walking along the road until coming to a clearing. He pointed to the mountains in the near distance, “There is a ski resort.” The mountains had lines clearly etched down its side showing the trails. “This is a nice valley, you’ll like it here.” Hal turned to Rick and Paul, “I’ll talk to the committee about y’all.”

    “Committee?” Rick asked.

    “Yeah, we have a committee for letting people into our community. I don’t think there will be any issues as my wife is on the committee…hell, she runs it.” He said, chuckling. “Now after we get y’all approved, then I’ll be back and go over what we are all about. If you like what we’re doing, then you‘re free to join us, if not, then you’re free to leave…simple as that.” 

    “Fair enough.” Rick said, as Brenda came alongside and put her arm around his shoulder.

    “I’m going to need your truck for right now, if that’s alright with you.” Hal said, not really asking, as much as a statement.

    Rick nodded, “Go ahead, we won’t be needing it for a couple of days, I guess.” He said and handed the keys to Thomas. Paul and Thomas unhooked the trailer, as everyone removed the foods and packs from the truck bed.

    “Hal, do we need to worry about…you know, cockroaches?” Rick asked.

    “Not here, and we want to keep it that way too,” he said, and then added, “Y’all can sleep safe tonight.” Hal and Thomas shook everyone’s hand, and then left.

    The beauty and serenity of the mountain valley seemed to drain all of the anxiety from the group. Paul and Christine chose their cabin, Rick, Brenda and the kids took the other. “I’m going to dust the cabin before we start using it.” Brenda said. Christine followed, as they worked as a team, first on one cabin and then moving to the other. 

    Both cabins had a hand operated rusty metal water pump and barbeque fire pits. Rick and Paul found stacks of firewood beneath the raised porches; they filled water pots and started fires in the cook pits. Rick set out the things needed to start dinner on the picnic table. Rosa came over and began to make their meal.

    “What are you doing?” Rick asked.

    “I’m making dinner.” She replied.

    “No you’re not…not right now Rosa.” He said. “I want you to play.”

    Rosa looked at him, not really understanding, “But…”

    “Listen, you have gone through a lot. There’s plenty of time to grow up, so for right now I’d like for you to be a kid, and not a grown-up, understand?”

    Rosa smiled and hugged Rick, “Thank you.”

    Emmy called out from behind the cabin, “Rosie…come on let’s play.” She had found the cabins small playground, which was an old swing set and sliding board.

    Rick and Paul began cooking dinner. “What do you think these guys are doing?” Paul asked, referring to Hal and his community.

    “I don’t know, I guess we’ll find out in a couple of days, right?” Rick replied.        

    “I guess we will,” he said, looking at Rick and then asked, “Why did you give up the truck?”

    Rick sighed, “I don’t know, I guess it seemed the right thing to do,” he said, and then added, “I’ve known Hal for a few years and I’ve never had any reason to question his motives.” He said and added, “But then again, I only knew him online, not in person…” He let his words trail off.

    Brenda and Christine had the cabins cleaned out as Rick and Paul had dinner finished. They all ate at the picnic table and split up to their respective bungalow.

    “Rick would you get some water heated, I want to get the girls bathed.” Brenda asked.

    He nodded, filling the pots and adding wood to the fire. The inside of the cabin was austere and built for a larger group. Brenda found some candles and kerosene lamps; evidently power outages in this area weren’t all that uncommon. The glow of the lanterns and candles cast a warm golden aura inside the natural wood finished cabin. The girls were deciding amongst themselves which bedroom would be theirs, they chose a small room with one large bed. The two were fast becoming sisters and friends.

    Brenda and Rick stood back and watched the girls. Emmy had a marvelous childlike imagination and excitement, as Rosa seemed more reserved and adult than she was, they were blending well.

    Rick brought in the two pots of water, dumping them into the bathtub. Emmy and Rosa tiptoed into the steaming hot water; Rick went out and brought in a pot of cold water to temper the hot water if needed. Brenda washed the girl’s hair and added some of her conditioner; they were having a marvelous time bonding. Drying off and wearing Ricks t-shirt’s the girl’s kissed Rick and Brenda good night and went to bed, they were exhausted and snuggled with one another, quickly falling fast asleep.

    Rick had more water on the fire and brought it for Brenda. “Rick, come here.” She called behind the closed bathroom door.

    Opening the door, the steam from the hot water and cool air made the mirrors and his eyeglasses fog up. The candles set on the sink and along the rim of the tub gave a soft glow. Brenda looked so seductive and beautiful, “Well, are you coming in?” She asked.

    It took Rick a nanosecond to have his clothes off and sitting in the tub behind her. Handing him a bath cloth, she asked, “Would you wash my back?” He obliged happily, washing and massaging her back and neck.

    “What are you thinking?” He quietly asked her, his mouth just off of her ear.

    “Right now, I not thinking anything, except how lucky we are.” She said, slowly turning around and facing him, “Words just can’t describe how fortunate we are to be together and in this place.” 

    He kissed her, and then took off the green cord bracelet that Melissa had given him, followed by his wedding band, setting them on the floor.

    “Why did you do that?” Brenda asked.

    “As much as I love them both and I will never forget them…from here on out, it’s you only.” He said, and kissed her.

    The sun broke over the mountains surrounding the peaceful valley. Having slept in past his usual 4am internal alarm clock wake up, Rick snuggled closer to Brenda. She turned over and hugged him. Getting out of bed and facing the world, would be slower today. Hearing commotion downstairs, Rick and Brenda dressed and found Emmy and Rosa up and already starting their day’s fun.

    “I want to do some laundry today, so if you could string up some line, I’d appreciate it.” Brenda asked.

    Rosa came up to Brenda, not saying anything, her face projected her question.

    “Of course you can help, Rosa.” Brenda read her like a book.

    Rosa smiled and said, “Emmy and I were talking,” she said, pausing nervously, “we don’t know what to call you and Mr. Rick.”

    “What do you want to call us?” Brenda asked.

    “Mommy and Poppa.” Emmy interjected excitedly.

    “I’d be so honored for you to call me Mommy. “ Brenda said, her emotions well, her eyes filled with tears as she wiped them from her eyes.

    Rick stood off to the side listening. “Poppa, eh?”

    The girls stood together, their arms wrapped around Brenda as they looked at Rick.

    “That sounds fine…really fine,” He said smiling, “can I join this love fest?” He chuckled, wrapping his arms around his family.

    After simple oatmeal and coffee breakfast, Rick and Paul met outside. The girls played on the swings while Brenda and Christine chatted inside.

    Paul looked at Rick and said, “Christine and I have decided that we are going to have a baby.”

    “Hey congratulations…but I already knew that.”

    “What?”

    “Yeah, Brenda told me back at Peppers place,” Rick said, chuckling, “You’re done for pal.” They laughed. “If Christine doesn’t have anything planned for you to do, then we should check this place out.”

    “Naw, I’ve done my job.” He said, smiling. The two went into Rick and Brenda’s cabin. “Hey hon, Rick and I are going to scout out the area.” Paul said to Christine, his Baltimore slang spilling out.

    “Sure, Brenda and the girls and I are going to see what’s over at the Conference Center.” She said, and added, “Do you need anything?”

    Paul shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t think so.”

    “Did you get that line up for me?” Brenda asked Rick.

    “Oops, I’ll get right on that.” Rick replied absentmindedly, and then went about that task. Feeling somewhat guilty about not helping with the laundry, Rick and Paul decided to hang around and help out, making short work with the minimal amount of clothing everyone had. 

    Rick and Paul walked down the one lane road towards one of the maintenance shops nearby. The women surprised them as they rode by on the bikes, heading to the main building. Emmy and Rosa hollering and waving as Brenda and Christine pedaled.

    The maintenance shed was unlocked. It was hard to see inside the dark building, until they opened one of the large garage doors. Paul went to a green six wheeled vehicle and looked it over. The Gator looked perfect, until Paul tried to start the diesel powered utility vehicle. The battery slowly turned the engine over once, and then died.

    Rick and Paul took the battery out of a tractor, which wouldn’t start, possibly due to EMP damage, and jump started the Gator. The diesel engine purred noisily, sending its black exhaust into the building. Paul drove the vehicle out of the shed and around the parking lot, getting the feel for its operation and handling. Rick jumped into the passenger seat and the pair drove off towards the main building. Walking into the spacious foyer of the Conference Center felt strange, as in times past there would be someone behind the front desk asking about your reservation. The emptiness was unnatural.

    The women were in the Gift shop off to the side, Rick and Paul heard their laughing and chatter, and followed the voices.

    Inside the girls had pink Canaan Valley sweatshirts on, Brenda and Christine both had similar sweatshirts draped across their arms, and a couple for their men. Brenda had a plastic bag with small tubes of toothpaste, toothbrushes for the girls and hand lotion.

    Rick looked at Brenda and shook his head, “Here we are…the end of the world, and you’re shopping.” He said, laughing as did the others.

    “Here let me see if this fits you.” Brenda said, holding up a sweatshirt across Rick’s chest. Christine did the same with Paul. “We haven’t gone into the kitchen yet.” Brenda said.

    Rick gave her a questioning glance.

    “It’s spooky.” She said softly and unapologetically.

    Rick and Paul left the gift shop, the girls followed, and they headed towards the kitchen. Inside the expansive white tiled and dimly lit kitchen, they saw the unused stainless steel commercial sized food processing machines. Along one wall sat racks of canned goods. “Wow, look at the size of these cans.” Paul commented. “One would feed us all.” He said, moving some of the #10 sized cans around, checking their contents.

    “Poppa,” Rosa said, moving next to Rick, “Can I make dinner tonight?”

    He looked at his daughter, her bright smile and olive complexion framed by the coal black hair, which was now in a pony tail. “What would you like to make?” He replied.

    “Hmmm…tortillas, beans and rice.” Rosa said.

    “Sure.” He said, hugging her.

    Rosa went to the storage rack and gathered what she needed to make the tortillas, Rick helped her carry flour and lard back to the Gator. They all stood at the entrance of the Conference Center, the girls wanted to ride in the Gator, Brenda and Christine wanted to ride around the facility, hopefully glimpsing some wildlife. Paul drove the Gator back to the cabin. Rounding a curve in the road, he suddenly stopped the vehicle in the middle of the road. All eyes were on the mountains which ringed the valley behind them.

    “Holy Crap.” Rick exclaimed, looking at a line of huge white windmills spinning slowly along a distant horizon.

    “Wow, those are cool.” Paul said, and added, “I wonder if they work?” He asked.

    “I doubt it…I would think that the EMP would have taken them out.” Rick replied, “We’ll ask Hal when we see him.”

    They left in silence, both men thinking about the possibilities of having electricity again, but not getting their hopes up about it. Rosa started cooking the beans as Emmy hung onto her side, helping and being taught by her older sister about cooking.

    Paul and Rick sat on the front porch, feet propped on the railing and relaxing. “Oh, I forgot about something.” Rick said, plopping his chair down and heading into this cabin. He returned a moment later with a plastic bag filled with cigars. “I saved these for a special time,” he said, opening the bag and smelling its contents, “these are Cubans…want one?” He asked.

    Rick and Paul sat on the porch and smoked their cigars. The day was perfect, blue skies with puffy white clouds, temperatures approaching ninety, and no worries.

    Brenda and Christine rode up on the bikes, looking like any tourists before that day, with the exception of the AR-15’s slung across their backs. “We saw a deer.” Christine exclaimed to Paul.

    “Just one, but at least now we know some might have lived.” Brenda added.

    The group settled in to their rest area comfortably. They relaxed, played games, ate, slept and talked about Irene and Pepper, Lisa and Glen. Their talk was less than optimistic when it came to the country and what lay ahead for their nation.

    Hal drove up in the Jeep around noon on their second day. Walking up to the group who were sitting on the porch relaxing, he greeted them. “Well, what do y’all think of this place?”

    “Hal, it’s beautiful here.” Christine commented, as everyone nodded their agreements.

    “Good, I’m glad you’re resting and feeling well.” he said, pausing and then continuing with the purpose of his visit, “This evening we are having a dinner in town, and y’all are invited. I’d like to introduce you to our community.”

    “Should I wear a suit and tie?” Rick joked.

    Hal chuckled, “Naw, I think those days are pretty much over.” He said, and added, “I see you found a Gator. Those are pretty good vehicles…do you think you can drive it to town?” He asked.

    “I don’t see why we couldn’t…we’ve got a half tank of diesel.” Paul replied.

    “Good, why don’t you all show up about five pm…dinner is at six. We’ll meet in the Elementary schoolhouse.” Hal said, and then climbed into the Jeep and headed out.

    “Crap, I forgot to ask him about those windmills.” Rick said, snapping his fingers.

    They spent the rest of the day riding around in the Gator, visiting the local sights of the resort. Later that day, with everyone anxiously anticipating their meeting, the group loaded up into the utility vehicle and drove to town. Paul was behind the wheel as the Gator slowly moved along, passing by signage for other resorts and a small strip mall. Brenda and Christine pointed out a ski apparel sport store, and talked about their families need for winter clothing, even though it was still summer.

    Finding the school wasn’t hard as there were only a dozen or so buildings in the town, and most of those were set along Main Street. The two story bricked structure with its baseball diamond and children’s playground, was picture neat. The front door was covered with a white portico and a twin colonnade, typical architecture of the era. The parking lot had more tractors than trucks or any other vehicles; they found a spot next to three electric utility company trucks, and walked inside.

    Opening the front door, the smell of food cooking lead them down the hall to the schools cafeteria. Hal stood outside the door and greeted them, he seemed as anxious as they were. Greeting everyone, Hal said, “Everybody is excited to meet y’all. Let’s go in.” He turned and opened one side of the double doors.

    The group started in and then stopped, surprised and amazed at the burning fluorescent lights which illuminated the cafeteria.

    “You’ve got electricity!” Rick exclaimed.

    “We sure do, but only in a few places.” Hal replied, smiling proudly.

    Inside the cafeteria mingled about twenty to thirty people, mostly in small groups conversing amongst themselves. Rick noticed that most of the people didn’t have weapons. Their group still carried weapons, and it felt somewhat strange being as well armed as they were. Hal led the group to the dining tables and introduced them to his wife Mary Beth.

    “It’s a pleasure to meet you all.” She said, shaking everyone’s hand, including Emmy and Rosa. “Now, make yourself at home, we’ll have dinner in a bit.” She said, with a sweet southern drawl, and then went into the kitchen.

    They sat at the table and as the small groups broke up, people would come over and introduce themselves before they sat down. Finally everyone was seated; Hal stood and gave an introduction, welcoming them to their community. He motioned for Rick to say a few words. 

    Rick stood and made direct eye contact with everyone. “I just want to say thank you for all of your hospitality. We are overwhelmed by the beauty of this valley and I hope that we can be a contribution to your community.” He said and took his seat next to Brenda.

    Brenda looked at him, and commented, “I didn’t know public speaking was one of your forte’s.” she said, nudging him in the side. “You might have some politician in you.” She said, knowing how he felt about politics, and the people who took up that line of work.

    Rick smirked at her, “Ha ha.” He replied, and then leaned over and whispered into her ear, “I’ll deal with you later, missy.” He said smiling.

    Brenda then whispered back, smiling, “Promise?” 

    The cafeteria was stifling hot. A few large standing fans whirred along the sides, blowing the summer heat around rather noisily. On the tables were pitchers of ice water, the first ice they had since that day. The food arrived, steaming piles of tomato sauced spaghetti, and fresh baked bread. Everyone piled the pasta onto their plates, but before eating they waited momentarily as a blessing was said. Rick looked down the table at Emmy and Rosa, they were eating like this was their last meal. Nudging Brenda, she smiled at the girl’s appetite.

    Rick looked across the table at Hal, “So, how did you get the lights turned on?” He asked.

    “Did you see those windmills on Backbone Mountain?” He replied.

    “Yeah I did, they are amazing. I would have thought that the EMP would have taken them out.” Rick said.

    “Not the windmills themselves. They are designed to withstand up to two hundred and fifty thousand volt lightning strikes. It’s all of the stuff in-between that has to be repaired, and as you can see, we’re doing just that.” He said, smiling and continued, “We have forty four wind units, and when everything is plugged in properly we can provide enough electricity for about 25,000 homes, which is about sixty six megawatts.”

    “Nice.” Rick commented.

    “Well, let me explain what we’re all about here.” Hal said, the cafeteria grew silent everyone listening closely. “As you can see, we are a pretty close knit and closed community. We get together every Friday evening for meetings and a dinner.”

    “Today’s Friday?” Paul asked.

    Hal smiled and nodded. “Yeah, it’s Friday.” He replied, and then continued, “So, what we are trying to do is to keep this area closed off to the outside while we get everything set up.” He paused and thought about how to proceed, looking at Rick he added, “We know that folks will want to come here, especially after they find out we have electricity, but we’re not ready for that yet.”

    “Rick, here is what we can offer you…” Mary Beth said, “We will give you both a house and land, in turn you all work for the community.” Mary Beth said, and then continued, “We all have our jobs, and we all work our gardens. Your garden and the food you produce is what you’ll eat…there aren’t any Wal-Marts any more.” She said smiling. “Now, we’ll help you with processing of your food, so you don’t have to worry about that. I do want to say that we will have a phenomenal crop this year. I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s enough food in storage from the vacant homes to last us all through the winter and into next year. We will use the majority of what’s in the ground now as seed for next years planting.” She said smiling, and added, “We should have enough seed to plant half the state.” She said, exaggerating and chuckling at their fortune.

    Rick smiled and thought about Mary Beth’s comments. “So, you’re going to give us a house, with land, right?” He said, surprised and amazed at the offer.

    “That’s right, and we’ll help you get your first crop in the ground. Since that day, there is a lot of vacant property. We’re no different than any other community; we’ve had a lot of deaths.” She stated, and looked at Brenda, “Brenda, you’re a nurse, right?”

    Brenda nodded.

    “We have just turned on the power to the hospital at Elkins, normally the hospital people would be here, but with the power on, they are getting everything organized this week. I know you’ll be more than welcome to help out there.” She said, and turned to Christine, “I understand that you are a teacher.”

    “Yes, middle school math.” Christine replied.

    “Excellent. This is our school.” Mary Beth said, motioning to the building, “Our children stay here five days and nights a week. This gives the adults the time to focus on their jobs. We have a lot of blended families, as some children survived while their parents didn’t, and vice-versa. We are trying our best to take care of these kids, but it’s tough as you can imagine. Your job will be here at the school, teaching and caring for kids.”

    Christine smiled and nodded, looking forward to the challenge.

    “Paul, you’re good with computers right?” Hal asked.

    “Yes, software system management.” He replied.

    “Good…in time we’ll be able to use those skills. Right now we’re trying to get the computers pieced back together. We have some of the high school kids in Elkins working on those issues.” He paused momentarily, and then turned to Rick, “You know, you all are the only ones here who have had any combat experience.”

    “I wouldn’t call what we went through combat.” Rick commented.

    “It’s more than we’ve had. Rick, we need you to take over the security for our area.” Hal said, and added, “I am an electrical engineer, my real job is with these fellows, “He said pointing to the six men sitting alongside, in their blue coveralls, “we’re moving forward with the power distribution now, and I can’t be in two places at once.”

    Rick nodded as he listened to Hal.

    “I am in charge of Routes 50 and 55. Both of these routes come into this area from Winchester and Front Royal. We have twenty four young men on security duty, twelve on each road…you’ll be in charge of both areas. Basically, it boils down to this, you can do whatever you feel is required to keep them off of us, until we’re ready.”

    Rick nodded his understanding, turning to Mary Beth, “You said, that you are getting this area ready…ready for what?”

    “People,” She said succinctly, and then added, “We want everyone to have a place to live, and the ability to grow their own food. No welfare and no permanent refugees, understand?”

    Rick nodded. Brenda reached her hand beneath the table, grabbing his thigh gently, a signal that she was excited about the proposition.

    “So, you’ll do the security and screen people that might come up the road…like we did with you.” Hal said, summarizing his duties. Before he could say anything more, one of the engineers spoke. “Rick, you’ll make sure you keep the niggers, queers and Jews outta here, right?”

    Rick’s eyes grew wide at the comment. “I’m sorry, what did you just say?”

    “I said, that you’ll make sure that the niggers, queers and Jews are kept out of here.” The man replied, slowly and distinctly. 

    Rick couldn’t believe what he was hearing, his anger started brewing.

    “What…you don’t agree with that?” The man said.

    “No I don’t. As a matter of fact, hell no!” He said angrily, and started to get up.

    Mary Beth exhaled loudly, “Thank God.” She said. The rest of the room visibly relaxed, relieved with Rick’s reaction.

    Rick paused before grabbing the team and heading out of there, “What do you mean by that?”

    “We don’t believe that either Rick, it was a test.” Hal said, and added, “We don’t want that line of thinking here. That might have been acceptable years ago, but not now. We believe that folks should be judged by their merit, not the color of their skin or what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms.” Hal commented. “That doesn’t mean that we seek out those kind of people, or give them special treatment, but we’re not going to turn them away if they can contribute.”

    Rick settled back into his seat, and took a deep breath. “A test, huh?”

    “Yeah, you passed both tests. The first one was with your truck.” Hal said smiling.

    “The truck?” Rick replied.

    “Yeah, we need to see how you are with your stuff.” Hal said, and added, “Jimmy’s been working on your truck for the past couple of days.” He said and pointed to a group of fellows sitting across from the engineers.

    “I replaced the glass and patched the bullet holes. It’s in pretty good shape, but won’t do you much good this winter as it’s only two wheel drive. We get a lot of snow up here, so you really need four-wheel drive.” Jimmy said, smiling.

    “Well, what do you say Rick?” Hal asked.

    Rick looked at his team, everyone nodded yes. Turing to Hal and Mary Beth, “We’ll do it.”

    The room erupted in applause, and the dinner meeting broke up. Everyone came over and shook their hands and gave friendly welcoming hugs.

Hal bear hugged both Rick and Paul. “I have something else for you Rick. “He said, and turned to Brenda and Christine, “If you ladies will excuse us, we’ll be out for a little while. Mary Beth will bring you up to speed on where to get some clothes and answer any other questions you might have.” He said, turning to Mary Beth, “We’re going over to Herb’s for a bit.” 

    Rick and Paul slung their rifles and followed Hal. Leaving the school they walked a block over to Main Street and then down along the line of empty retail stores. Hal stopped in front of one with an aged wood sign on the wall that read, Herb’s Gun Room. Hal lifted a large heavy bundle of keys from deep inside his coveralls pocket, and unlocking the three dead bolts, he opened the door. The gun shop was pitch black inside. “Hold on for a minute.” Hal said, finding a gas lantern on the counter and lit it. The lantern’s light grew slowly until it gave off an almost blinding light.

    “Well, this is Herb’s.” He said, “There’s not much here now, weapon wise, however, there are plenty of parts and tools. Rick, I know that you like to work on guns, this shop will a big help for you and those boys guarding the roads.”

    Rick and Paul looked around the empty retail area, the gun racks empty as were the shelves which held ammunition. “What happened to the guns?” Rick asked.

    “National Guard came in and took what few that Herb had, along with the ammunition.” He said, and added,” I don’t want to see any National Guard in our community, you understand?”

    Rick nodded. “So what happened to Herb?”

    “Herb had a heart attack, at least that’s what we think. I don’t think the radiation killed him.” He paused momentarily, “We found him sitting in that chair over there, holding that picture of him and his brother.” Hal motioned to a corner of the store where a number of chairs were arranged around a small black pot-belly wood stove. One of the chairs had a black and white framed photo lying on the seat. “This was where we all used to hang out.” Hal said chuckling, and pointed to a hand carved wood sign which hung off the ceiling, ‘Liars Club.’

    Rick and Paul chuckled, imaging a time when their lives centered on nothing more important than hunting or college football. “This shop looks like it’s been around for a long time.” Rick commented.

    “For as long as I can remember it’s been here, and I’ve lived in this area for over thirty years.” Hal replied.

    Paul stepped over and picked up the photograph. “Which one is Herb?’ He asked, handing the time worn image to Hal.

    Hal looked at the photograph and smiled, “He’s the young one. The older one was his brother Lynn. Do you see the date on this picture?” Hal commented, showing Rick and Paul the handwritten date. “This was taken a month before Lynn was killed at Pearl Harbor.” Hal paused and continued, “Herb never forgot his brother or Pearl Harbor.”

    Rick took out a pack of cigarettes and offered Paul one. Hal nodded as Rick offered him one also. The three lit their smokes, knocking their ashes in a converted artillery shell ashtray.

    “Don’t say anything to Mary Beth about this, ok?” Hal asked “I quit these things a long time ago, but every now and then I give in.” He said, smiling. “Here let me show you something else.” He led them through a set of double swinging doors into the shop area. Holding the gas light up to illuminate the entire room, “This is his shop. There’s a milling machine, a small lathe and drill press.” He said, pointing to the rear of the organized work area. “On the wall, you’ll find spare parts, and shop manuals, Herb was pretty organized and very meticulous.” Hal turned around and set the lantern on top of a large green safe. “There’s a bit of a mystery about Herb.” Hal commented.

    “In what way?” Rick asked, and then started poking around in the parts bins.

    “Well, I guess I should start from the beginning. Herb Jess was a Marine, Korean War veteran. When he came back he started this shop. He always held, what some folks would have said at that time was crazy or conspiracy theories. Anyway, Herb was the one who got me thinking about the possibility of something happening, like a nuclear attack on this country.” Hal said, bringing up his past, “Anyway, a few years ago, I would see Herb at the range with M1 Garands and AR-15’s. He would take them, fire a couple of rounds, make some notes on a hang tag and then leave.”

    Rick had pulled a box of parts off the shelf, taking out one of two dozen long tubes and examining them. He looked over at Hal, “So, what’s mysterious about that?” He asked.

    “Well, he never had any Garands or AR-15’s on the rack for sale.” Hal replied.

    “Hmmm, that’s interesting.” Rick commented, “The first two rows of parts here are Garand parts.” He said, holding up an operating rod, “This op rod isn’t something you’d keep around if you didn’t do work on Garands.” He said, setting the part back into the bin and putting the bin back into its place on the parts wall.

    Paul also poked around some of the parts. “This is a bolt group from an AR-15.” He said, holding up the assembly. “Did you check his house?” Paul asked.

    “Yeah, we checked everything, house, garage, basement and attic. If he hid those weapons, then we might not ever find them.”

    “What about the basement here?” Paul asked.

    “There’s no basement here, just concrete slab and rock.” Hal replied.

    “Interesting.” Rick commented, and then added, “Do you think there could be some weapons in that safe?”

    “That’s a good question. We don’t have the combination for it. I’ve tried every combination I could think of, birth dates for Herb, Lynn and Herb’s wife Glenda. I’ve tried all of the holidays and even Pearl Harbor day.” Hal replied, “I was going to have someone come over and blast open the safe, but I just don’t have the time for it now. It’s your mystery now.” He said and handed the keys to Rick, “It’s your shop, so do with it what you will.”

    Rick held the keys in his open palm, “You’re giving me this shop? Wow….I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

    “I’ll have the power turned on for you in a few days. We don’t have power on for individual homes, just the infrastructure to get us going. You’ll need power to work on weapons.” Hal said. “One thing I’d like to add. Those boys on the front lines haven’t seen any action. They have as distorted view of combat; I hope you’ll set them straight about that.”

    “I’ll take care of them Hal.” Rick said.

    “I know you will Rick, I don’t have any worries about that.” Hal said and then added, “Well, I’ll pick you all up tomorrow morning after breakfast and we’ll go look at some houses.”

    Rick and Paul nodded, and then turned off the lantern, locked up the shop and went back to the school. The rest of the group were terribly excited about finding their new homes, and talked non stop all the way back to the resort about what they’d like. Rick and Paul didn’t say much on the drive, both into their own thoughts over the security of the community.

    That night after the girls had gone to bed, Rick and Brenda sat on the sofa by the fireplace. The soft glow and crackling wood made for a cozy setting. They held each other and chatted.

    “Are you excited about tomorrow?” Rick asked.

    “Very much so.” Brenda said, and paused, “I know that we’ll take whatever’s available, I just want a place where we can call our own. The girl’s are excited about starting school and meeting other kid’s.” She looked at Rick, her green eye’s sparkling in the firelight, “I hope that the trauma they both went through will disappear.”

    “I do too.” Rick said, pulling Brenda closer, snuggling with each other as the fire slowly died.

    The next morning started off busily. Breakfast was followed by loading their packs. Hal drove up in the truck, and Rick and Paul attached the trailer loaded with their bikes.

    “There are two properties that I think you might like. Fortunately they are both close to one another and close to town.” He said, driving off slowly. They drove about a mile from the resort and Hal turned off the main road onto a graveled single lane road, the truck splashed through drying mud puddles from the late night brief downpour. Hal stopped the truck in front of two driveways, one on each side of the road. They all got out of the truck as Hal looked at the notes given him by the Relocation Committee. “Ok, the one in front of us was the Anderson place, it is a three bedroom split level with garage and unfinished basement. You’ll also notice that they have a couple of acres of garden.” Hal turned and pointed across the road, “That was the Renquist home, two bedrooms, garage and a finished basement. They also have about two acres of garden. Now, both of these places have free gas…but you don’t have electricity to run your well pumps.”

    “Free gas?” Rick asked.

    “Yeah free gas, here in this part of the state there are huge deposits of coal underground. With those deposits are pockets of natural gas, some people have gas wells on their property which they tap into. You both have gas wells.” Hal replied, “We have some generators over at Jimmy’s Garage, now, there aren’t enough for everybody to have one, but maybe you can work out a sharing arrangement to draw water.”

    Rick looked at Brenda, who looked at Christine, who in turn looked at Paul. “Well?” Rick asked laughing.

    “We should take the two bedroom.” Christine said, “After all, you have the girls.”

    “That’s fine with me…Brenda?” He asked.

    Brenda and Paul nodded their agreement.

    “Now just keep in mind, the houses are yours, so if the roof leaks don’t come complaining to me.” Hal said, laughing. “I’ll leave the truck with you Rick. Paul I’m going to let you have my Jeep. I just need a ride back to the school.” Hal said.

    “Wow, thanks Hal, what are you going to drive?” Paul asked.

    “Jimmy has another truck fixed up for me.” Hal replied, and added, “Four wheel drive, crew cab and a winch.” He said, smiling broadly at the expectation of his new pick up.

    The group spent the next hour unloading the truck at the two residences. Rick took Hal back to the school and returned to find a tractor with a large farm trailer, parked on the road between their driveways. Getting out of the truck he greeted the two men. Paul, Christine and Brenda walked down the driveway towards them.

    “Hello! I’m James and this is Bert.” James said, extending his hand to Rick.

    Rick introduced himself, Paul, Brenda and Christine.

    “We’re with the Farming and Food Committee. Normally we don’t come out on Saturday’s, but since you all are just getting moved in, we thought we’d stop over and explain how we do things.” James said, and then continued, “What we do is to help you manage your crops and get you started on your processing.”

    Rick and the group nodded, listening intently.

    “First of all, the crops in both of your gardens are staring to ripen. Based on the size of both plots, there’s no way that you’ll be able to eat everything before they spoil, right?”

    Rick nodded, “Sure, I guess. I mean, we just got in and haven’t had a chance to walk through to see what’s planted.”

    “Good, let’s do that now.” He said, and then led the group over to Paul’s garden. “You have a lot of corn Paul. Now I want you to see this.” He said, holding a head tall stalk, “There are six ears on this stalk. Most of the time, you’d be fortunate to get two to four. So, your production is about thirty to fifty percent higher than normal. Pretty good, eh?”

    “Yeah.” Paul replied excitedly.

    “So can you eat forty or fifty ears per day?” Bert joked.

    Paul’s eyes grew wide thinking about the question. “No, I don’t think I could more than two or three a day.”

    “He’s just messing with you Paul.” James said, and smiled, “What you’ll do is to pick your crops on a daily basis. You can put them in baskets which we’ll provide for you. Just set them out along the road by your mailbox, and we’ll pick them up daily.” James said, and explained, “We have trucks and a bus that go to Elkins every day. We’ll put your crops on the transport and will give you back canned or dehydrated foods.”

    “Really?” Paul replied, surprised.

    “Yeah, we have a bunch of folks in Elkins that process the foods. Mostly they are Mormons that have canning capacity. We also have a fabrication shop that has electricity and they are trying to build some canning equipment.”

    “What do we owe you for this?” Rick asked.

    “Nothing…oh we’ll take some off the top for schools and the hospital and for your boys on the front lines, but mainly this is part of the community structure. Keep in mind, that the more you give, the more you’ll receive back.”  They walked over to Paul’s bean rows. James bent down and lifted a heavy pod laden bush off the ground. “These beans are loaded, you could probably fill a bushel basket and not go ten feet.”

    The four stood amazed at the crops.

    “I’m going to get some stakes and mark off some rows. The rows that I mark off are for seed crops. You should just let them alone until it’s time to gather the seeds, ok?” James and Bert led the group back to the tractor. They handed them a dozen wood bushel baskets each. They also had six baskets of food items, which they handed out. “This should get you started with your basic food stuffs. Now, there will be shortages on some items in time, so you should try to conserve as much as you can. If there are items that you need specifically, like, “He paused, blushing slightly, “feminine products, then you can go to the Save-Mart in town and ask for them.”

    “Is the Save-Mart where Mary Beth said we’d get clothes?” Brenda asked.

    “Same place.” Bert replied, and added, “The bus that will carry you to your hospital job in Elkins also hauls our produce.” He said, chuckling.

    “How did you know I’ll work at the hospital?” Brenda asked.

    “This is a small town. “James said smiling.

    “Where did you get all this stuff?” Rick asked.

   “I guess Hal didn’t explain that to you did he?” James replied and continued, “When we first started, the Real Estate Committee did a census and found out who made it through that day, and who didn’t. Those places that were vacant were identified and then the Assets Committee came in and took everything of value for the community, food, medicine, generators, weapons and clothes. They also took all of the personal items like photographs and stuff like that, and put those in storage. All of the items that have value will be redistributed as needed.” James took a deep breath and then added, “We hope that in time, we’ll have an economy and everybody can be on their own again, like the old days.” He said and smiled, sadly.

    “Sounds like you have a committee for about everything.” Rick commented.

    James laughed, “Yeah well, that’s just a fancy title for one or two people. By the way, you head up the Security Committee.” He said, laughing loudly.

    “You said that you usually don’t do this on a Saturday, is there a schedule that everybody goes by?” Paul asked.

    “Well, Monday through Friday are your jobs. Saturday and Sunday are yours. Friday night the committees meet at the school to discuss the week’s events. Saturday night we have a pot luck at the school and if we’re lucky maybe someone will bring a guitar or a fiddle. Sunday, you rest and you’ll be glad for it too…this is a lot of work.” He said, and added, “Except for you and Paul. Security is 24/7, and I want to tell you that we are all very glad and grateful you’re here.” James said.

    “Hal said that we could get a generator from Jimmy’s Garage and that we could hook it up to get water.” Rick said, and paused, “I don’t know how to do that…I’d really appreciate it if someone could tell me how or show me.”

    “Not a problem, actually I’m glad you asked…sure would hate to see you ruin your pump or the generator doing it wrong. I’ll let one of the engineers know that you need some help.” James said. “As a matter of fact, I’ll stop by Jimmies on my way back and let him know you’ll be by to get one.”

    “James…Bert, we really appreciate what you’re doing for us.” Rick said shaking their hands. Everyone gathered their groceries and baskets and went to their homes.

    Rick walked into the house for the first time. He immediately liked the place. Brenda led him around, showing off the bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms-there were two, and the back patio. The view of the mountains with the windmills twisting in the breeze was beautiful. Their front yard was the garden and a view of Paul and Christine’s home with a panorama of the ski slope mountains to the east. “Brenda, does it get any better than this?”

    “Not in my lifetime.” She said, hugging him. “And to think we had to go through hell to get here.”

    “Yeah.” Rick commented solemnly, his thoughts about their security came to mind.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing, I’m just concerned about being in charge of protecting this community…I mean, there’s so much riding on my shoulders now.” He said, and added, “What if I can’t do it?”

    Brenda held him tightly, “You’ll do fine babe, I know you will.”

    Rick nodded, grateful that she had confidence in him, he was still unsure. Rick gathered the girls and headed off to the garden, each with a bushel basket in hand. Brenda went through the house, cleaning and inventorying. It took Rick and the girls a few hours to fill most of the baskets and set them by the road. When they finished, he let the girls go to play. Paul and Christine brought out some filled baskets of corn and green beans. The three stood along the graveled road.

    “Well, what do you think of this place?” Rick asked them.

    “I love it Rick, I really do.” Christine said and then left to pick some more crops.

    “What so you think about their system?” Rick asked Paul.

    “Well, to be honest about it, I thought with all of the ‘committees’ that is sounds almost socialist. But, now that I understand the overall structure and their goal to be self sufficient and eventually have a free market economy. I can see that this will work…if everybody does what they’re supposed to.” Paul said.

    “Yeah, I agree.” Rick said, and added, “I’m concerned about my role here. I want to head over to the line tomorrow and meet our guys.”

    “I found some topographic maps in the house, come on over and let’s see what the area looks like.” Paul said. Rick followed him into his home and down to the basement.

    “Paul, you’ve got a cool basement.” Rick said, rolling a cue ball across the pool table in the finished basement. Paul spread out the detailed maps on the pool table, finding the sectional that covered both Route 50 and Route 55, they studied their respective areas. “That’s a huge area to cover.” Rick said.

    “No kidding.” Paul replied.

    “There’s a million places those cockroaches could get through if they really wanted to.”

    Paul nodded.

    “Alright, let’s go meet our guys at first light tomorrow.” Rick said, and then added, “I need some sleep.” He said, stretching his tired muscles.

    Walking up the graveled drive to his home, the corn leaves rustled in the evening breeze and his boots crunched the stones, it was the only sound he heard. It was peaceful and calming. Rick hoped it would last forever, but deep inside he feared that it wouldn’t. Rick went to bed dirty and tired, making a mental note to get the generator from Jimmie on Monday.

    It seemed that he had slept only a few minutes. Sitting up, and looking at his watch he saw it was almost 5 am. Dressing quietly, he leaned over and gave Brenda a goodbye kiss, she smiled and then turned back over, as she was in no hurry to get up. Rick smiled down at her sleeping form, it was as if they had been together for years instead of a month or so.

    Paul was waiting for Rick by their mailboxes, cup of coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other. He had a stainless thermos and handed it to Rick. “Christine made some coffee, have some.” Paul quietly said, still half asleep.

    The pair drove off in the early morning dawn. The town streets were deserted as they passed through and traveled along the twisting, winding road. Some of the low areas had a layer of fog as the morning sun started to warm up the high mountains. It took less than an hour for them to reach the guards

    Parking the truck in the middle of the road, Rick and Paul stood at the empty roadblock. Smoke from the campfire filtered through the trees. “Hey, where are you guys?” Rick called loudly.

    They heard the boys talk and scamper to meet them. It was evident that they had just rolled out of their sleeping bags. All six, their hair askew from just waking, wandered out as they were glad to meet Rick and Paul again.

    Rick could have started off by yelling about their not being anyone on guard duty and rightly so. However, he held off. “So, does anyone have any coffee?” He asked, settling his anger and frustration down inside.

    “We’ll make some for you Mr. Rick.” A young guard said, stretching and wiping the sleep from his eyes.

    “Come on, let’s go down to your camp fire.” Rick said, and led the fellows to the smoky fire. The boys, actually young men, sat around the fire, hands out warming them in the cool morning, they were now wide eyed, unsure of what to expect. The coffee started to boil in the blue enameled pot, and it was passed around. “So now, how’s life here?”

    “It’s boring.” One man uttered.

    “Boring, huh?” Rick replied, rubbing his two day beard. “Why don’t we start off by you all telling me your names.”

    They introduced themselves, one at a time. “David,” the one who bored said. “Winston, Brent, Charlie, Jared.” They said.

    “You’re Thomas, right?” Rick said to the last man.

    He nodded.

    “Ok…so do you know why I’m here?” He asked.

    “You’re in charge of us and the guys over on 55, right?” Winston said.

    “That’s right. I’m in charge of Routes 50 and 55…and twenty four of you all. But do you know what our overall objective is?” Rick asked, making direct eye contact with each man.

    “We’re to keep people out, right?” Thomas said, his voice indicated that he was unsure the answer.

    Rick sighed and shook his head no, “Ok, let’s start from the beginning, alright? We have a community…a society so to speak. We want that community to grow. Now, there are some on the outside that would like nothing more than to kill all of you…take our food, and everything else we’re trying to build.” He said, pausing and then added, “Look at this.” Rick took a stick and in the dirt drew a circle about six inches round, and then made a larger circle about three feet around the smaller one. “This is us,” He pointed to the small circle, “and this is everyone else. Now, within this large circle are good folks and cockroaches.”

    The boy’s chuckled at his term.

    “Eventually those cockroaches will come here. Right now, we’re not convenient, and they don’t know that we’ve got food and electricity.” He said, and continued, “So, my job is to make sure that you are trained and prepared for when they come after us.”

    The guards sat up, now understanding the larger picture.

    “Most of their attacks come at night. They have fully automatic weapons, grenades and RPG’s…and we have hunting rifles and shotguns.” He said, forecasting an implied warning to his men. “So, grab your weapons and let’s see what you’ve got.” Rick poured out the dregs of his coffee on the fire and walked back to the road.

    Paul stood by the truck, Rick joined him and waited for the guys to exit the woods. One at a time they walked over to the truck.

    “David, let me see your weapon.” Rick said.

    David handed him his lever action deer rifle. “It’s a 30-30. I used this when I went hunting with my Dad.” David said proudly.

    Rick looked the rifle over, and handed it back. “Did you hunt much?”

    “Yeah, I think we all hunted deer and squirrels, it was kind of expected here.” He said smiling.

    Rick went through each man’s weapon and their history with them. “Well it looks like we have three 30-30’s, two 30.06’s and a 12 gauge shotgun…and about 200 rounds of ammo between all of you.” He looked at Winston, “You are the only one with a scope, how accurate is your rifle?”

    “Not very.” Winston replied and added, “The first couple of shots are fine, but after that they go all over the place. My Dad wanted to get it to Herb, but…” his voice trailed off.

    “Do you have a dollar bill?” He asked, not wanting to get into the pain of reliving that day. Winston dug out his wallet and pulled a wrinkled bill out and handed it over. Rick took his rifle and the dollar and tried to slip it between the rifles barrel and stock. “Here is your problem.” He said, as everyone peered over trying to see what he was doing. “This bill should slide easily between the stock and barrel, but it hangs up. That means your barrel is rubbing. Now when you fire a couple of rounds, the barrel will move because it gets heated, and that makes your rounds have a different impact point. When we get back to town, I’ll take this to the shop and fix it for you.”

    “Thanks Sir.” Winston replied.

    Rick looked at the ground and saw empty brown steel cases scattered around. “What happened to those AK’s that I left with you all the other day?”

    “They’re over there.” Jared said pointing to the three assault rifles propped against a tree.

    “So, I guess that you all wanted to see what fully automatic is like, right?” Rick looked at each man, silently making his point.

    “Mr. Martin, we all just wanted to see what they shot like, and well, before we knew it, they were out of ammo.”

    Rick nodded, and as best as he could muster, restrained his anger. “Alright, I didn’t say anything about not having the roadblock manned, but come on you guys! Those AK’s were the only full auto weapons that you have.” Rick took a deep breath, and looked at his team, he could read the shame on their faces. “Ok, let’s drop it, but you have to understand that you are going up against guys with much better weapons and a lot of ammo.” Rick walked away from the roadblock towards Winchester, with everyone following. No one spoke.

    The roadblock was situated at top of the ridge behind an S-curve. The group walked to the edge of the ridge and stopped. Rick looked at the valley spread out below, Winchester sat off in the hazy distance about ten miles away. Their road paralleled the mountain on a steep grade down towards the valley floor. “Does anyone have a pair of binoculars?” Rick asked.

    No one said anything.

    “No binoculars?” He said, and sighed. “Ok, Winston, let me see your rifle.”

    Winston handed Rick the rifle and watched as he scanned the valley below through the rifle scope.   

    “This is a good place to build a bunker. You have an excellent view of anyone coming up the road…so no surprises.” Rick walked off the side of the road and marked an area with his boot. “Here is how I want you to build this,” He said, drawing into the dirt how he wanted them to build a roofed and walled bunker.

    “Why do we need a roof?” Thomas asked.

    “In case one of them gets close enough to toss a grenade, understand?” He replied.

    One by one they started to grasp exactly what their boss wanted to do. An air of excitement grew amongst the group.

    “Ok, so let’s get our tools and get started.” Rick said.

    “We don’t have any tools.” Charlie replied.

    “No tools?” Rick shook his head, he wasn’t angry with them, just frustrated with the situation. “Alright, the next group comes here tomorrow right?”

    They nodded.

    “Ok, so I’ll bring some tools and all twelve of us will get this place squared away.” He said, and then asked, “What do you do if someone gets hurt? How do you get back to town?”

    Nobody said anything.

    “Shit…ok, so we need to get a vehicle to keep here. Paul, I’m going to assume that Route 55 is no different, so we’ll double up on tools and I’ll talk to Jimmie about two extra vehicles.” He said to Paul. “Now, when was the last time you had anybody, besides us that came through here?”

    “It was a couple days before y’all came.” Jared said.

    “Who were they, and what did you all do?” Rick asked.

    “There was a group of four adults and two kids. They looked pretty beat up and ragged, so we turned them back.” Thomas replied. “We were told, no refugees.”

    “We are not going to do that any longer, understand?” Rick commanded, and then added, “If someone is wounded, we’ll take them to the hospital. Now, that’s not to say that they are accepted into our community, but we just can’t in good conscience turn people away if they’re hurt.”

    “What if they all want to go to the hospital?” Winston asked.

    “We’ll explain that this is the choice they have at this time, and we’ll be firm, and not mean about it. Also, if they want to make their camp along this slope, “Rick pointed to the area directly beneath them, “that will be ok, we’ll give them some protection.”

    Everyone understood and accepted the change of direction.

    “Alright, Paul and I are going to head over to meet the guys at 55. I’ll be back, hopefully tomorrow with some tools…keep your heads about you, ok?”

    Rick and Paul left 50 and drove across the mountain towards 55. “You were pretty quiet back there.” Rick said to Paul.

    “I was just listening and thinking about the guys at 55.” Paul said, and then asked, “What do you really think about this?”

    “Honestly?”

    “Yeah.”

    “I think we’re screwed.” Rick said solemnly.


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