Original Work Tales of the Chernyi - Steven Stone

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by DKR, Jun 18, 2012.

  1. DKR

    DKR Raconteur of the first stripe

    I'm embarrassed! I thought I'd posted this earlier - and had not.

    This is the opening story for the new book "Tales of the Chernyi" and the shortest. Set in the World of the Chernyi, it starts with a look at the First Strike! on the east coast. The stories found in the book were prompted by reader feedback looking for stories set in new areas and a look at the future - a future in the World of the Chernyi....


    Friday, Day One

    Mashing the 'Enter' button, a sigh escaped his lips. The after action report was done and so was he. The operating system upgrade had gone flawlessly - until the idiot in a satellite office decided he was both smarter and more versed in the correct startup procedures, despite having a printed - and vetted, procedure in hand.

    The resulting crash had nearly taken the network all the way down, but he'd managed to stay ahead of the issue, finally getting everything squared away just before start of business. He couldn't stop the client from hiring whoever they wanted - their business, their brother in law. What he could do, and had just finished doing, was to tell the client just why they needed to find another contractor for their future server work.

    He was whipped. A glance at the clock showed it was just before four on a Friday afternoon; he'd been at it since late last night. The nap he'd taken around noon helped, but he was just plain beat. Now he had a choice, fight the traffic or grab a bite to eat and crash in his office.

    He'd picked this office for one reason, it was quiet. One wall was a cheerful flat beige painted over concrete, the outside of the elevator shaft. One wall was shared with the janitor's closet, the other, a supply room. The hall dead ended just past his door. Perfect. He could kick a wedge under his door, roll out his sleeping mat, dive into the fleece bag and sleep until ten or eleven, by then the traffic would be non-existent and he could fly back to his little cottage.

    In the common break room, he filled his water jugs for the refrigerator and wondered if anyone was still in the building. The tower was virtually deserted by four and the construction one floor up rarely lasted past ten in the morning. He snorted. "Luxury" apartments. The building had been partly vacant since it was completed years before, so how turning the 11th floor into four semi-penthouse apartments would provide more revenue was beyond him. He didn't care, the rent was cheap and the location wasn't too bad, Summerville being close, but not too close to a real business center in the state.

    Octavia and the children still lived in the Highlands of North Carolina, just outside of Lake Toxaway. They weren't divorced, or even separated, legally, anyway. She just refused to move out of the hills into the city. While he was active duty, she had followed along with him from one Air Force Base to another. After he retired, she moved back to the hills and onto an old farmstead, insisting he could work from home and still be with the family. He couldn't gainsay her choice; she'd worked hard for years, saving the money to buy her property.

    And maybe that could work, at some point. Being self-employed meant long hours and a constant fight with clients for timely payment. He knew this current project would be another battle of 'he said - she said' over the screw-up and demand for full payment.

    He shook his head. They'd settled on a long distance relationship - he'd drive home every other weekend. It wasn't a bad drive, just over 250 miles, and mostly on Interstate 25. Usually home in less than five hours, it had become almost routine. He put the water in the little fridge, next to the sandwich well past worth eating and several candy bars, his one weakness.

    He sat wondering if he should try to drive home later in the night, or just bag it and spend the night here and see what the morning brought... He felt, rather than heard a massive double 'thump' and before he could even ask himself what the hell that had been, several ceiling tiles popped out of their frames, heading for the floor. He ducked under his desk just as the lights flared and went out.

    "Son of a... Again?" The construction crew had knocked the lights out so many times in the last few months; he'd been forced to install a large UPS system for his computer - a system that now sat in the dark forlornly beeping away, as if asking for help. Cursing, he reached for the hand flash he kept clipped on the side of the desk. The light showed less damage than he first thought. Two tiles were on the floor, three other hung drunkenly from the overhead. He set the tiles to one side, reached down, cutting off the UPS system and pulling the plug. No sense in it getting fried if the power was restored in the usual way. Badly.

    Opening the door, he walked down to the cross hallway where he heard someone shouting for help. Following the cries to a corner office, he discovered man sitting in a pile of shattered glass, holding his face - blood streaming over his fingers. Not bothering to ask what had happened, he ran back to the break room, grabbed the first aid kit and an open bottle of water.

    Back in the office, he said, "Can you stand?"

    The man looked up, small pieces of glass stickling out of his face, a blank look showing his level of shock.

    Using the kit, he swept the desk clear, and then opening the case, removed and donned a pair of gloves. Reaching out, he said, "Give me your hand, I'll help you."

    Helping the man stand, he then had the man lay on the desk, using the water to flush the blood away from the wounds, allowing him a good look. "Not as bad as I thought," then aloud he said, "Not too bad mate, hang on and I'll pull out that glass." It was the work of the few minutes to remove the small shards and then to dress and bandage the bleeders. By the time he finished, the man was starting to get his color back.

    "Tell you what, a couple of those are deep enough, you should think about getting a stitch or two."

    The man sat up, "No, thanks. I think I'll be fine now. Besides, if all this happened here," he said waving his hand around, "the hospitals will be buried in injured." He looked up again, sticking out his hand, "Thanks to you, friend. Name's George, George Hampton."

    He shook George's hand. "Steve Stone. I have the office just down around the corner."

    "Ah. We all thought you were a vampire or something. Don't you work mostly at night?"

    Steve laughed, "I do computer work, which means a lot of late nights, yes." A frown furrowed his brow, while pulling off the gloves he asked "What happened? I head a couple of thumps and then the lights went out. I thought the apes," he pointed upwards, "had done their magic again."

    "No. I saw a bright flash, got up to see what might have caused it and the window blew in. Speaking of which," George stood up and walked across the glass, and looked outside. "Holy ****! Just about every window is blown out in the building across the street."

    "Sonic booms will do that. Question is - what caused the sonic boom?"

    George shrugged, and then turned. "I've got to get going, this may have damaged my house! Look, thanks for the help. I'll try to steer any of my company computer work to you, if that will help."

    Steve handed him a business card and told him to change the bandages that night, before he hit the rack. George just waved and was out the door.

    Once he was alone, he simply said, "Good luck with that, George. Good luck with that." With the power out, the traffic signals would be out as well, so the normal late Friday traffic snarl would be a disaster in it's own right. He glanced at his watch, it was past five, and the sun would be down in an hour or so. Then things would get scary.

    Back in his office, he put on his headlamp and began to systematically strip his office of things he would need - sleeping gear, food, water and his Pelican case. These went on his tool handcart, then up the stairwell. He'd gotten friendly with the building manager, so he had a key for roof access. He would spend the night out on the roof, and then see how well the traffic had dropped out.

    Once his cart was on the roof, he went back and grabbed several cardboard cartons he'd stashed in the stairwell landing below the roof hatch. These would provide some padding, if needed; he could the boxes to make a rude shelter as well. Once he had his gear squared away, he wandered over to look down on the street below. The street immediately in front of the tower was empty, reinforcing his notion that Friday was a good day to leave early. The parking structure across the street looked almost empty as well.

    Dinner would be simple. He boiled some water on his little alcohol stove, dropping a packet of MRE 'Roast Beef with Vegetables' in the pot to heat. He normally kept a case of the damn things in the office, something to eat if he missed dinner on a late work session. Tonight would be no different.

    As he waited for the food to warm, he looked at the rest of the package to see what would be dinner. Then it heard it... Horns honking, and then the screams. Running to the parapet, he looked down, and to his horror, in the last rays of the fading sun, he saw water. "Oh. My. God. Has the Pinopolis dam failed?" he wondered aloud. Then the true horror struck him, the water was flowing from the south...


    In the time it had taken for his mad dashes up and down the stairs, the water had climbed enough to swallow the three level parking garage. Bits of flotsam wandered up the street, once a small puddle of burning material showed the water had gotten up past the sixth floor, but the flow seemed to be slowing.

    He used the light from his hand flash to cut and make two large 'bags' from the plastic netting he grabbed from the 11th floor. He guessed it was some kind of safety barrier; the garish orange color had caught his eye. These bags he filled with empty soda bottles - he'd taken the entire trash can, and wired the tops of the bags together with the CAT 5 cable he pulled from his office. The contents of his file cabinets, desk and several boxes now lay scattered on the rooftop near at hand. He wrapped his sleeping mat in plastic trash bags, and wired it, the Pelican case and the bags to make a raft of sorts. If the water crested over the top of his building, he would at least try and survive.

    Checking his watch, he saw that it was only 10 PM - it seemed like a lifetime had gone by. His hand flash showed the water was now just up to the eighth floor, pouring into the shattered windows, but he could see the flow had almost stopped - the bits of wreckage he could see in the water just floated, moving slowly, if at all. His check at midnight brought relief, the water was going down, and the flow was headed back to the south.

    more to follow....
    kom78 and Sapper John like this.
  2. DKR

    DKR Raconteur of the first stripe

    next part
    Saturday, Day Two

    He couldn't eat - there was no hunger, just despair. The loss of life would incalculable, not just locally, but all up and down the Eastern seaboard. He awoke to the sun shining in his face, he must have fallen asleep during the night, the cardboard boxes making a rude mattress. He wandered over to look in the street below.

    The street was littered with debris, but no bodies that he could see. Thankful for that small blessing, he pondered what to do - it was just past six AM. There was water still draining away, something he wasn't sure about. He decided to check on his van. It was in the parking structure, sure to be a total loss, but he did have some items in it that might be useful. The trip down the stairs was eerie, the water had stained the concrete and smell was indescribable. The ground floor was missing all of its windows, but he was still careful where he put his feet. He propped the stairwell door open with a bit of trash that had lodged in the corner and started across the street.

    He found his little van at the end of the second level, wedged between a compact car and a truck. The windows were gone - expected after being under almost 80 feet of water. The door opened easily, a surprise, his tool boxes and other gear were still inside. He decided to pull everything out, then sort through it before hauling anything all the way back to the roof. His two meter mobile rig was a loss, the salt water would have killed it outright - he could see where the rust was already starting. His tool box, a Pelican case, he was happy to see, hadn't leaked, his Carhart coat was soaked, but otherwise fine. Nothing else of any real use had survived, he took the old-school tire iron, it would make a decent pry bar if needed. Finally, he cut and removed the seat belts. The webbing could be of use. Everything in hand, he started the walk back upstairs.

    He closed the door, then once on the roof, he jammed a pipe through the door handle and the roof mounted air handler frame. He'd stopped on the way back up and used the tire iron to open a vending machine and empty out the water and sport drink bottles. The food machine had a few good items left at the top, the water had only been a couple of feet deep on the floor. Now secure, with a good amount of food and water, he decided to wait and see what happened. In the meantime he could look at what he had at hand and what he would take with him - once he left.

    He couldn't put his finger on it, but seemed to remember that a tsunami could have secondary waves, sometimes bigger than the initial flood. Or not. He was willing to take an extra day, just in case. With his small monocular in hand, he climbed up on the air handler, and then scanned the horizon, looking for movement. Nothing. The air was heavy, before long it had become misty, no doubt a side effect of the flooding. He sat and stripped several pieces of the CAT 5 cable, splicing them together, tying one end to the frame, dropping the other end to the rooftop. While working at the task, he would stop and scan all around, even the birds seemed to have fled.

    Back on the roof, he took his little Icom R2 radio set from the case and hooked the rude antenna to the connector, then turned it on, setting it to scan the AM broadcast band. Nothing. That was no surprise, he would check again tonight. WWVA should be on at 1170Khz, he'd check other clear channel frequencies as well.

    Making a bucket out of a cardboard box and a trash bag, he filled it out of the air handler. The water was clear at first, so rising out his jacket and the seat belt webbing several times was possible, by the time he was done, the water streaming from the pipe had become a bit murky, so he tossed that overboard, and then hung the jacket and webbing to dry in the sunshine.

    The little stove reheated his Beef and Vegis, with the coffee, it made a good noontime meal. He carefully saved the outer PVC wrapper and other food items from the MRE, dinner would come soon enough. By now, he had sorted out how to carry the things he would take. Using a carpenter pencil from the tool kit, he stood against the access door and with his arm in the air, made a mark down the one side of his torso. Repeated and measured, he had a good measurement for his real body width.

    Within the hour, his little hacksaw had rendered a rounded, square plastic frame from the carpet guard normally sitting under his desk. He sat this against his folding handcart, making a mark where the frame of the cart came together at the handle. His second cut took less time. The large black marker soon outlined the wheel locations and the edge of the cart frame. His little electric drill managed to make several holes before the battery failed. Tossing that aside, he enlarged the holes, and then used the hacksaw blade to turn those into slots - just large enough for the webbing to pass through. The rattail file soon smoothed the slots and he was done for the moment.

    Standing atop the air handler for another look, he saw a thin column of smoke, far away to the West. He could only hope that meant someone was signaling for help. "I can hope anyway," he said. Octavia and the children were fine, he knew that. High in the rugged hills of North Carolina, they were surrounded by both the rugged terrain and a lot of kinfolk, some barely one generation away from being hill people.

    Before it was time to think of dinner, he had laced and sewn the webbing on the handcart frame making a decent platform for carrying a good sized load. A waist belt was held together in front with two seatbelt buckles and a carabineer from his tool box, the shoulder straps were comfortable, and he could adjust them to a limited extent. Now came the problem of just what to take along.

    Two, one liter bottles from his office became canteens. Using more of the CAT 5 cable, he laced together a set of holders, with loops that he could hook to his belt if needed. The janitor's closet gave up a bottle half full of bleach, that went into a 8 oz milk bottle - this would go on the frame. The handcart offered a shelf, so the smaller of the Pelican cases would sit on that. Next came his sleeping mat and fleece bag, wrapped up in heavy trash bags, then wrapped again. Now certain that another tsunami was out of the picture, he re-laced and trimmed the plastic bags into a square with double sides and bottom. This would hold the rest of his MREs - inside of yet another plastic trash bag.

    He'd briefly considered using the trash can for everything, but he just couldn't pass on the proven water resistance of the Pelican case. Besides, the trash can was an odd shape, wider on the top than bottom, his mesh bag he could lace tighter as he ate the food. On top, he would place his Carhart jacket, rolled tightly and secured with some Velcro cable restraints. His normal office attire would stay behind, the Carhart painter pants and heavy shirt he would wear, his skivy roll and a spare set of socks would ride in the case. The clothing normally stayed in his file cabinet, in case he had to pull cable - now it had really paid off. The rain jacket would cover everything, a dull green, it would help hide the orange mesh.

    His alcohol stove, first aid kit, and other small items would also go in the hard plastic case, should he have to drop and run, the case would provide the bare necessities to continue. He wrapped the last of the webbing around the Pelican container, just in case - if nothing else, if that was all he had, the webbing would make a good shoulder strap. The sun was starting to set before he was finished. Walking around on the rooftop with his improvised ruck gave him the chance to make a couple of small adjustments; he wanted to take off at first light tomorrow with no fussing at the last minute.

    He waited until ten PM, and then tried the radio again. He got WWVA, a solid signal. What he heard was enough to start him crying. China was gone, as was India, Pakistan had nuked what was left. South America had taken a massive strike, obliterating most of Brazil and Ecuador. That explained the tsunami, what wasn't said was how bad the East coast had been hit. The entire broadcast was filled with 'stay calm, the Feds are all over it' messages. It soon became apparent to him that most, if not a good majority of the government types in D.C. had gotten a warning and fled well in advance of the tsunami. How well that would play with any of the survivors was yet to be seen.

    Sunday, Day Three

    He woke with the sun. A few clouds were scattered across the sky, turning from crimson to red to pink as the sunshine flooded across the desolate landscape. Something struck him then and he did something he hadn't done since leaving home ages ago. He prayed. He didn't know if Providence or just luck had caused him to make the decision to stay the night, but it never hurt to say thanks.

    After reliving himself, it was time to go. He'd put the rest of the things he would leave behind in a cardboard box, and these were left on the landing below the entrance. He hefted the load up onto his back and began. Wearing the headlamp to free up his hands, the pocket flash rode on the outside of his right thigh, in the little pocket that Carhart put there for no discernable reason.

    Back on 'his' floor, he took the time to go to the janitor's closet and retrieve a long mop handle. Thick and about six feet in length, it would serve to probe ahead on any standing water he was forced to cross - warning of holes or hidden debris that could injure him. And it never hurt to have a big stick in case he ran into any freaked out wildlife.

    The trip down the stairwell was rapid, but he could see where mold was already forming. Out on the street, he headed East - he'd hit the Interstate at some point. Normally, that journey was short, in his van with little traffic - today he would be happy just to find the highway and make some progress North. He hit the first blockage before he had covered even three blocks.

    The debris had wedged between two concrete buildings, a mix of utility poles, cars and shattered remains of other buildings. Mud or silt made it solid and over ten feet tall. He didn't get angry, just turned and went back to the last intersection, heading North a block and looked down that road. He could see it was open and so headed East once more. This zig-zag travel went on far longer than he thought it would. It seemed every concrete building had become an anchor for the masses of debris in the flood waters.

    By noon, he was ready to call a halt and eat something. With road signs gone, and his maps a sodden mass of pulp rotting in the remains of his van, he guessed he'd progressed maybe two miles. Maybe. Finding a clean, dry spot, he dropped his 'ruck' and sat with his feet propped up on the load. "Well, old son," he said, "this may take a while." He ate one of the powerbars from the vending machine and a granola bar. The water tasted good. He made a mental note to keep an eye out for any bottled water that might have survived.

    After a full half hour break, he saddled up and pressed on. He was soon out of the commercial district and had a band of industrial buildings to pass before he hit the highway. He ran into few blockages, and the roads were mostly free of debris, but he still had to pay attention to where he put his feet. Much of the area had been scoured clean by the floodwaters, stumps of utility poles stood upright, bits of this and that snagged on the splintered tops. Squares of what he assumed to be foundations testified to the velocity of the water.

    At some point he would hit a real band of debris, dropped when the water slowed, or retreated. That would be the challenge; he could only hope that the highway remained clear. The clouds started to build and breeze came up, a welcome relief. With no hat, he'd tied a bandana over his head, but a hat brim and a pair of sunglasses would be more than nice. His musing was interrupted by the appearance of a canyon in the road ahead.

    Dropping the ruck, he pulled the little monocular out of his shirt pocket and scanned the area. He'd been right the first time. It was a canyon. The water had gouged out a massive North to South canyon. A bad guess would put it at over 100 feet wide and he wasn't stupid enough to walk up to see how deep it was. A glance at his watch showed it was almost three PM, so he took another break.

    "Okay. Go North or South? The ocean is South, so stands to reason, it will only get deeper or wider - or both, to the South. So, North it is." That emptied the first 'canteen', so he really needed to keep an eye out for more water. He stood and walked back to the intersection, taking a moment to use the sun to orient himself. "Better add a compass to the list of things to watch for," he thought, "and a steak dinner while you're at it." He pressed on, checking with his monocular at each intersection to see of the New Grand Canyon had disappeared.

    His wandering led him into what looked like what had once been a residential area. With nothing but frame buildings, the water had taken away everything - leaving only dirt and the pieces of the road. At what had to have been a major roadway, he could see nothing but pavement and dirt, so he turned East once more. He was making good time, if wandering around in zig-zags was 'good'. He came upon what had to have been a power substation, or at least the remains of one. The transformers had remained bolted to their foundations, and as an anchor, had accumulated a mass of debris. He dropped his ruck and wandered around to the upstream side of the mass. Piles of wood, broken bits of trees and autos were mounded on the one side of the station.

    He took the time to examine the autos he could reach without climbing. Some were crushed, barely recognizable as an auto, others seemed whole - ready to drive even. He spotted one with a compass on the windshield, but when he looked closely, the card in the housing was frozen. He popped the trunks on the ones where he could open a door, the third one held a surprise - a case of unopened water bottles! He carefully cracked the top and sniffed - no odor. A taste showed no salt water had entered. He sat the mass of bottles away from the debris pile. Held together by their plastic wrapping, he was careful not to drop any of the precious water.

    Checking several other autos gave him nothing of use, he decided to pop one last trunk and discovered a shower curtain. Full of oddball colors, it was both undamaged in the wrapper and made of thick vinyl - a real find. That went out next to the water. "Be nice to find a bicycle or a cart, eh?" he said aloud. Encouraged, he checked the last couple he could safely reach. The very last trunk he was going to try opened slowly, it was filled almost solid. He picked through the mass of sodden contents carefully - it gave up a plastic milk crate, a ton of clothes, and a backpack.

    Sitting on the crate, he pondered the pack. This was personal. It had belonged to a living person, who now could be anywhere or even dead. Had it been a child's style pack - it would have gone back in the trunk without a second thought. Since it was an old, and well worn ALICE ruck, it might contain anything, or nothing of use. He spent a good fifteen minutes thinking, before he finally opened it.

    The first side pocket held a skivvy roll, inside of a zip bag. The contents were obviously wet. He set these aside. The other side pocket held a well used Esbit stove, a small pot and a plastic match safe. The matches were dry. Opening the stove showed four tabs still safe in their factory wrap. He took a deep breath and opened the middle pocket. It held a military canteen sitting inside a metal cup. Treasures all.

    Opening the main compartment, he found a mass of what might have been dirty laundry. As he spread out the clothing, it was now plainly dirty laundry; even the drawers were nasty looking. He couldn't reconcile the camping gear and the laundry. He shook his head. He set the ruck and other items he wanted aside and went back to see what else the trunk held. More clothing, and a white plastic bag. The bag was marked with the name of a well known local charity - inside the bag he found a wad of what looked like advertising brochures and a newspaper. Nothing to end the mystery - perhaps the owner was on the way to donate some items?

    In the end, it was of no matter. He needed the items, the owner was both unknown and possibly dead, and so the living must live on. He did look in the glove box to see if the owner's name was on any paperwork, he could at least try and thank the person, perhaps offer something of value in the future... The auto was registered to an LLC, one he was familiar with for running a local homeless shelter - he'd even donated to the organization in the past. "Well then, Steve, looks like your bread has been brought back on the water after all." He had about an hour of day light left, and he would need to organize these finds, so he found a nice clean concrete foundation to sleep on.

    Dinner was a tasty Bean and Rice burrito, with hot sauce and tortillas. Using his ruck as a pole, he rigged the shower curtain as a shelter and rolled out his sleeping mat, trusting to luck that his sleep would be uneventful. He spent some time cruising the shortwave bands with the little R-2. Using the headset, the batteries should be good for another 30 or forty hours. He was happy he'd taken the time.

    The Voice of Russia reported most of Europe had survived, at least physically. They reported riots in most major cites and the loss of utilities because of the damage caused by the rioters. Switching over the AM band, he set the radio to scan in one kHz steps, hoping to catch something. WWVA was off the air, or at least not broadcasting. XERF, out of Mexico, was broadcasting music, of all things. He heard a couple of faint stations, but they were so weak as to be nearly unintelligible - the few words he did catch added nothing to what he already knew - things were bad all over.

    Monday, Day Four

    He slept late. The clouds now blocked most of the sunshine; his watch accused him of sleeping until almost 8 AM. The day before must have been more tiring than he had wanted to admit to himself. He'd stopped running after his parachute accident. No longer Airborne qualified, he crossed over into computer-electronics, a move that provided the training he used to make his living - well, up to a couple of days ago anyway. He took the stairs, walked everywhere he could and generally tried to stay in shape. He grinned to himself - "Your Airborne days were a long time ago mi amigo. Time to get cracking!"

    His load was notably heavier, but he could live with that - water was important. Once he hit the road and got far enough north, there would be plenty of streams and rivers to supply his needs, he just had to get well past the saltwater flood area. That would take a day or two - if the highway was open, if the road wasn't broken in too many places, if, if, if.

    His luck held, and before noon, he could see the Interstate. "Damn, two and half days just to cover less than ten miles," he said aloud. "Hope it goes faster than this!" He ate a candy bar and another power bar while he walked. The roadway was surprisingly clear of debris, perhaps the water found a ready path and carried everything long as it drained back to the ocean. His next major landmark would be the exit for Highway 15. Setting a goal for each part of the journey would be important, but he held no illusions that he would make twenty miles before dark.

    The interchange under the Interstate was jammed with debris, and he was not going anywhere near it. Gaining the roadway was almost painless and he took the time to reconfigure his load. By shifting the ruck and unstrapping the bottom of his carrier, he was able to spread the cart wheels fully, raise the cart handle and now pull the load behind him.

    That joy lasted less than an hour. The load was top heavy and it seemed like every bump would threaten to topple the load on its side. No problem, any time spent now fixing the problem would be paid back many times over as he traveled. He took the rucksack off the cart, then dropped the Pelican case inside. This allowed the milk crate with his water to sit on the cart shelf, shower curtain covering the water. Then came his bedroll, coat and the bag of food. The raincoat still sat on top over everything - he had no doubt that he would need that and soon. Tonight he would rig the carrier belt to the ALICE to keep it from rocking around. No big for now, but over time, he knew from past experience, it would be a big and painful deal.

    Now he could really go, at least three miles an hour, perhaps a bit more. Nightfall found him short of the exit he set as a goal, but at least closer. That offered a bright spot to counter the rain, a steady, windless drizzle. He could live with that, the wind could chill him, and that was never good. He rigged a shelter using his cart and a roadside reflector pole - that left him enough room to sit up and 'cook' dinner. Tonight would be Sloppy Joes and bread, the remains of the MRE would be breakfast. This left him with ten meals and a handful of other power and candy bars.

    He settled for sleeping on top of his mat - it was closed cell foam, with his jacket as a cover. While not quite fully Spring, it wasn't all that cold. As he drifted off to sleep, he tried to sort out how far he could get before he ran out of food. He had set his empty water bottles under the run off from his shelter - they would be full soon enough.

    Tuesday, Day Five

    He awoke to the sound of birds. The sky was clear, and he quickly put the tops on the water bottles. His shoes had not fully dried overnight, his socks were still damp. He wrestled with letting his shoes dry fully before starting or going right away. He settled for taking the time to carefully repack everything and balance the cart as best he could. He put his wet clothes on top and by the time he put his shoes on, they seemed 'dry' or at least dry enough to start.

    He ate as he walked, the hip strap on the ruck making a huge difference. He checked his watch as he passed mile marker. By noon, everything was dry but him. He used the socks he had on to wipe himself down - then put on all dry things. He had made really good time, but it was a pace he knew was impossible to keep. He settled on twenty miles a day as a goal, knowing that he would be lucky to keep even that pace every day. Plus, when he hit the debris front, he had no idea of how long it would take to get past that, figuring he would hit that tomorrow. He also decided to take a bit and at least look briefly at any debris caught under road bridges to see if a bicycle or other bit of useful stuff could be gleaned.

    The half hour break over, he took a good drink and started again. He'd put his undershirt on over his head, the lack of a hat was becoming a matter of concern. Another reason the see what might be found in the wreckage of autos. He took a minute to kick himself for not looking in glove boxes and under the seats of the cars he had opened to check the trunks. "Oh well, old son, live and learn." He'd made his mind up that scavenging from debris piles was fine, but he would stay away from any whole buildings or undamaged areas. Not sense in taking what could still be used by a surviving owner - if the building was whole - there was a good chance so was the owner.

    He would look first in any vehicles to ensure no remains were inside - those with bodies had to be off limits. At some point, an authority would be by to determine who had died inside, and make a roll. Or, at least he hoped things would get that organized. As he mused over this, and other ponderous things, like the lack of a hat, he crested a small rise.

    Below him the road disappeared. He stopped and dug his monocular of his pocket and considered his options. Another canyon? He walked across the medium and checked the other side of the roadway. That looked whole. "What the hell," he muttered. There was only one way to check, so pulling the cart he walked slowly down the middle of the road keeping alert. He stuck with his pole on every step, hoping that any hollow sound would alert him in time to turn back.

    The damage reveled itself as a collapsed bridge over what had once been a creek, now much larger. He took the time to look at his side, the bridge segment on this side looked whole, piers intact. He crossed quickly, then looked back to see what, if anything had been trapped under the bridges. Nothing - everything had washed through. Shrugging, he pressed on, this time paying more attention to each side of the road. He didn't want any sudden and potentially fatal surprises. When the median flattened out, he switched sides again. As stupid as it sounded, he was going to walk on the south-bound lanes. He wanted to see any vehicles coming before they came up on him. Both sides of the road had been scoured flat - and the salt water would kill the grass. Next year, this would be a desert.

    He passed two more bridges, both whole and free of any debris. The third, an over pass, had trapped several 18 wheelers and a mound of autos. As before, most were crushed masses of metal, and two held remains. Perhaps they had been caught as the tsunami advanced and were trapped... Staying to the outside of main mass of debris, he looked through several autos, finding nothing of interest. One had a bank bag, and by the weight, must have held a lot of currency. Now, it was just so much paper and junk metal. He left it in the vehicle.

    He inspected the cab of one of the big rigs - from the outside, it was empty. When he opened the door, water streamed out, clearly the flood waters had been deep, even this far north. The interior was dark, and stank with the smell of salt water. He found a small suitcase, this he tossed out the door. In a box he found a layer of small cans with peel open tops. The bits of paper floating in the box indicated he'd found some food. Now encouraged, he dug thru the rest of the sodden mess, blankets - these went out the door. The mattress in the sleeping portion was soaked, a heavy mass of ..,something, foam maybe. Under the mattress he found a small door inset into the bed frame.

    He opened it and used his hand flash to se what it might hold. He really couldn't see inside, so he pulled the soggy mattress out the door, then took the time to move the cans of food - he hoped - out as well. Finally clear, he looked into the void under the bed frame. He saw some objects in the trapped water. He pulled them out and sat them on the bed frame. Each was sealed in very heavy gauge PVC or vinyl. Black PVC. Some were square, others oddly shaped and heavy. He took one long package out, empting the void. It took several minutes to get them all outside. Carrying the food cans, he put them in his crate. The thickest blanket went across the hood of a nearby wreak - sitting out in the bright sunshine.

    The suitcase went next to the cart. He went back inside and removed the odd packages, setting them off to one side. Going back, one last search of the cab rewarded him with a pair of sunglasses, still in the case and a floppy boonie hat. He'd hit a jackpot. The food alone had been worth the time to search. Back outside, he looked closely at the blanket, while a funky odor came from the material; he thought that might rinse out. It looked like wool. That would be just the thing to keep him warm, once he nit the highlands.

    The suitcase opened easily, full of neatly folded clothing, he found two pairs of wool socks, a pair of jeans and a denim shirt. The tags showed they would fit! The small shaving kit was nice, full of disposable razors, and soap. The bottle of what looked like Aspirin was a loss, the contents soggy powder. He tossed that aside. A small travel sized container of Ibuprofen had kept its seal - the pills rattled when he shook the tube. He put these treasures in the crate or out to dry.

    Now to the odd packages. No fool, he put a bandana over his mouth and nose before cutting the first package. The tiny slit spilled out a white powder. He tossed the package into the mass of debris, disgusted. The second, larger, square package spilled out a green leafy cargo - this went with the first. The small, heavy package had cardboard inside, he cut it all the way open and was delighted when the mass of shiny brass cartridges spilled out. That meant this package; he cut it open, held a pistol. Sure enough, he soon had a Smith and Wesson .357 in his hand. The other packages gave up a single shot shotgun and two boxes of shells.

    "Looks like someone had a bit of a side business," he said aloud. Checking the tags on the rig, they showed it to be registered in New Jersey. The driver must have seen running drugs South and guns back up North. "And now you have something for you as well!" His voice echoed slightly under the bridge. The clothing and blanket had dried enough to be added to the cart and he was on his way. The hat went over his t-shirt sunshield nicely and the glasses rinsed clean and scratch-free. Things were finally looking up.

    The shotgun went into a dry trash bag and was rolled up in the blanket. The pistol presented an issue. With no holster to carry it, the pistol was both awkward and heavy. He finally settled for putting it in the raincoat, loaded. The extra rounds went into a sock, then into the ruck side pocket.

    Back on the road again, his watch showed he had at best another good hour of daylight to travel. The road itself was starting to get covered in debris, mostly heavy stuff, metal and such. Based on this covering, he knew tomorrow he would likely hit the main mass of debris, and probably a massive one at that. As he crested each small rise or hill, he took a minute to scan the area ahead with his small scope, just as the sun was setting; he saw it - not another hill, but a mass of debris, so large he couldn't estimate its height. Looking around, he decided this was good a place as any to stay the night.

    Again, he rigged a shelter with the cart and this time, his mop handle. The weapons went under the cover with him and his sleeping mat. It was good choice, he awoke to the sound of rain hitting his curtain. He could just sit up and still be under cover. He wanted to think for a bit, so he fired off the Esbit stove using a tab to boil up a nearly full canteen cup of water. He made a packet of coffee, pouring it into his smaller pot, topped off the canteen cup and crushed two cracker packets into the water. Using a sugar and cream packet in the coffee and a second set in the 'porridge' he ate breakfast - hoping the rain would let up or even stop.

    When the rain showed no sign of letting up, he acquiesced to his fate and packed up. The hat and raincoat helped, but he knew before the day was out, he would be soaked through and through. Everything squared away, he made his way toward the blockage before him. The closer he got to the dam, the more debris covered the road. Now he had to use his mop handle to push his way, and he knew that soon he would have to carry everything. That moment came quickly. It took him just under 30 minutes to re-rig his carrier and while it was much heavier, once past the barrier, he could pull it behind once again.

    The wall before looked like an equal mix of smashed wooden buildings, small cars, the odd truck and masses of unidentifiable bits. At least a dozen feet tall here, he had no idea how far it extended beyond this point, and was at a loss on how to get over it in one piece. With no gloves or leather boots, the mass was impassable without serious injury. It looked as though his luck had just run out.

    With the rain, he couldn't see very far off to each side. As he stood there, sun setting, rain dripping off everything, cold and hungry - it finally hit him. One of those earth shattering, once in a lifetime, soul deep epiphanies that men rarely experience. He shouted out - "Steven J. Stone, you are a complete and total dumbass!"

    He'd spent the last five years trying to make an IT business out of nothing. Undercut from abroad and screwed at home - five years on and he really had nothing to show for all his sweat, tears and most damning - the time spent away from a loving wife and two great sons. It took the world coming to an end for him to pry his head out of the up & locked position and realize that. He dropped the carrier and sat on the crate, curing for a good twenty minutes.

    With that out of his system, he stood and looked at the mass of debris in front of him. Shouting, he declared - "Screw you, you wall of crap. I will win, I will overcome! I have opposable thumbs, you don't stand a chance!" Pounding on the edge of the debris with his mop handle, he finally turned and walked away, carrier over one shoulder.

    Wednesday, Day Six

    He woke to clear skies and birds singing.

    The retreat had lasted only to the first small ridge he'd passed earlier. In the strange light of a dying sun and his hand flash, he'd pulled two sheets of galvanized metal roofing to the side of the road, building a crude shelter, at least good enough to keep the rain off. Rolling out his mat, and covered with the coat, he fell into a dreamless sleep.

    The wind was light but from the North, and dry. He could see quite some distance East and West - the monocular giving a sharp image now. He took the time to make a hot breakfast, then setting all of his wet items out on the metal sheets to dry. Dressed in the jeans and denim shirt salvaged earlier, the ruck on his back with the Pelican case and pistol in one side pocket, he took off to the West, putting the rising sun to his back.

    He would walk at least a half an hour in each direction to see if there was a break or thinning of the debris wall. He had to struggle through a mix of downed trees, standing trees and bits of debris hiding in the thick, but still flat, grass. By staying just on the South side of the small ridge he was able to make a good distance before his time was up. Nothing. The wall seemed to not as tall, but the debris spilled out in front of it for some distance. Given what he had covered, just getting the real edge of the debris field would be hell. Turning back gave him no joy.

    Stopping to drink his fill at the highway, he then pressed on to the West. Here the trees seemed naturally thin. At least not as thick. In less than twenty minutes, he spotted the gap in the debris wall. His scope showed that it wasn't a thin spot, it was a gap. Why?

    The answer came in another few minutes of humping through what was now merely thick underbrush - he was looking at Grand Canyon, the Sequel. Using the scope, it finally dawned on him, the gap was a natural stream bed, now much larger and likely deeper. No matter - it was his ticket North. The watch declared it to be only 9AM by the time he checked on his gear. The sun had dried everything. So, once more and with practiced hands, everything was rolled, rigged and squared away. Now slower, loaded and careful, the mop handle nee walking staff proved a real godsend.

    Approaching the edge of the gash in the earth, he saw that the very edge was held together by a thick mat of grass and tree roots. Working his way up to the debris wall, it took less than an hour of slow steps, jumping from wrecked car to solid piles of trees to pass through the wall of remains, and come out on the other side. He followed the streambed until a shelf of rock provided a solid exit route. Back on top, he discovered another world. Here and there some debris was stuck in the trees, and a few were knocked over, the end of the flooded area was in sight.

    By noon, he was standing back on the Interstate, looking North. He was too excited to eat, so he pressed on. An hour later, common sense and a very loud growl from his stomach caused a halt. Sitting in the shade of a tree, lunch was a pleasure. More must lie ahead, but surely the worst was behind him. The flood had reached this far, but just. Now anything that lay ahead would be bearable - he was on the way home.

    Re-rigging for towing, the load he pulled was lighter - the soaked clothing and blanket were fully dry, and thanks to the rain, very well rinsed. This time he walked in the Northbound lanes, assured no one could come up from behind. As the sun angled to the West, he caught a glint off in the trees a bit. Ready for a short break, he dropped his cart handle, and with tire iron in hand, went to see what was shining.

    The van was whole and free of remains. How it got here didn't matter - for sitting on the rear of the van was a bicycle carrier, and on that carrier were two bicycles! One bike, nearest the body of the van, had been badly damaged when the van came to rest against the tree, the other was, thankfully, whole. It took but a moment to free the bike and give it the once over.

    The wheels turned freely, but he could see rust forming on the rims already. Removing the undamaged rim and tire from the other bike, he set these with the freed bike. Unlocked, the van opened with no problem. A small toolset in a seat bag, a hand pump, and a set of what turned out to be wire baskets completed his treasure hunt. The baskets would fit the rear rack on the bicycle. The glove box held only sodden paper, so there was no way to determine who owned the van or the bikes. Under the passenger seat, he found a bottle of synthetic oil and a zipped bag of washcloths. It took two trips, but he soon had everything back at the road.

    Now he could make miles an hour, not miles a day. The bagged items went in the baskets, the cart carrier on top of that, with the crate holding everything down. The rolled blanket/shotgun and jacket went on the handlebars. Leaving the pull open cans on the top of the crate, he took the time to adjust the seat height and pour some of the oil over the chain.

    The wind his face was pure joy. He needed to find someplace secure to work on the bike a bit and desperately needed a map. The absolute last thing he wanted to do was to pass through Columbia. Or any large town for that matter. Not knowing the situation, the last thing he wanted was to be detained for some ******** charge, or get robbed at gunpoint. Folks in South Carolina were a mellow lot, another reason to love the area - but with things this far out of kilter, there was no telling what a person might do. To avoid that, and getting lost, a map was going to be critical. He thought going out west, past Lake Murray might work, but that was just a guess.

    Peddling for under an hour brought him to an exit, and sitting on a small hill, a lone gas station. Stopping for a moment, he decided to see if anyone was home and if he could use the shop for a bit. The pistol, tucked into his waistband at the small of back provided at least the illusion of security as he approached the building. Walking the bicycle allowed him to approach slowly and shout several times - "Anyone home? Hello?"

    He could see the place had been ransacked. Just before he went to turn away, the unmistakable sound of a shotgun racking stopped him cold. He wasn't afraid - if whoever held the weapon was going to shoot him, he'd be on the ground bleeding by now. "Hello? I want to use the shop to work on my bike. I have some food to trade for the use of the tools."

    The man that stepped out was disheveled, not really dirty, just looked like hell. "What's that pilgrim? You say you have some food?"

    Steve gave him a smile. "Yes, sir. If you are the owner of this place, I have a couple of cans of food to trade you for the use of your shop. Nothing else. Are you the owner?"

    "Don't be the fool. Would I be here if I wasn't the owner?"

    "Can't rightly say, cousin. I'm from upcounty, Lake Toxaway. Got caught down South on business I had to do there. Just trying to get back home to the family is all."

    The man lowered the shotgun. "The hell you say! How did you survive the flood?"

    Steve took a chance, "The finger of God is all I can offer by way of explanation. My business took me to a high rise. The power went out, most folks ran off. I went to the roof to take a look at what was going about. Here I am six days on. The Lord's been good to me, cousin, will you?" Close enough, how the man would take to the story would decide his fate.

    "Well, if the good Lord thought to save your sorry ass, I ain't going to do otherwise. Name's Ned."

    "Thanks kindly, Ned. I'm Steve, Steve Stone. Mind if I show you what I've at hand to trade?" That got a wave. Putting down the kickstand, he was careful not to show his back to Ned, at least, not yet. "I have three cans of food. Labels are off, but there are undamaged. Good enough for a couple of hours in your shop?"

    "What all you got planned?"

    "I need to strip the bikes running gear - it got soaked in salt water. I don't take care of it soon, I'll be back to walking. So, use of a workbench, a wrench and if I can, a bit of grease."

    "Two cans will be enough. You eat the other. I'll open all three, take what I want, you get leftovers."

    Laughing, he said, "Ned, that's right fair as can be. I appreciate the deal."

    "Well then, come on. Daylights a wasting." Ned turned and walked back inside. Steve followed - he had no real choice, and Ned seemed nice enough. Time would tell on that.

    The shop was not exactly spotless, well organized, and fairly clean - better than he'd hoped for. The bike was empted and on the bench, upside down in very little time. As he worked, Ned sat by the door, looking at the three cans, deep in thought.

    Once the rims were off, it took little time to pull the axels and bearings. The crank and chain were free soon after. "Ned, do you have a solvent cleaning tank or pan I can use?"

    "Over in the corner, help yourself to the tools and such. Care to tell me what it was like?"

    "Tell you what, I tell you my story, you tell me what's been up here for the last week. Fair enough?"

    "Yup. And it looks like you get peaches for dinner." Ned held up a can.

    Steve wiped his hands on a piece of waste, and sat on an overturned bucket. The peaches went down in a couple of gulps - hungry wouldn't describe his belly right now, but he had to get the bike fixed and be on his way. Hunger wasn't something new. Done, he walked back to the bench and put the parts into a deep pan and sloshed solvent over the lot, letting it drain back to the reservoir. As he cleaned and wiped each piece to ensure all the salt was gone, he told of his wanderings to the debris pile from hell. Stripping the rims and tires took a bit longer.

    Ned was mostly silent, grunting once in a while, clearly enthralled with his story. By the time Steve was finished with the axels, bottom bracket and head tube, it was getting dark. "Mind if I show some light?"

    Ned's answer was laconic. "Help yourself, everything else pretty much been robed - light won't make no never-mind." He gave a wicked grin, "Robbed everything 'cept for the gasoline and diesel. I'm ready this time. They come back, I'm waiting."

    "So, just what did happen?" He was careful to dry everything before slathering each part in grease. The rear axel and rim took a lot longer - he had to break down the cassette and pull the cogs apart, then clean, grease and reassemble the entire assembly prior to putting it and the axel back into the rim.

    Ned finally started on his tale, in between bites of Vienna sausage and what looked like potted meat. "Heard a couple booms, thought the Air Force Jonnies up from Myrtle Beach was at it again." He took a deep breath. "Then the electric went out. 'Bout an hour later all kinds of cars come flying up the road, and I mean fast. When the first one stopped here, the driver was babbling about a flood of some kind, end of the world - crazy talk."

    Ned took the time to spit. "Then the bastard demanded gasoline. No electric, I couldn't sell him any. Anyway, he took off in a big hurry. The next bunch had guns." That gob of phlegm hit the drive. "When they couldn't get gas, they tore the place up and give me a beating." An eerie laugh punctuated the gloom.

    "Sum of bitches headed South. Hope they was drown. Anyway, most the local folks here, they took off up North. Musta heard something on the radio. Dunno. Been keeping an eye the place since. My son should be along anytime soon. Lives down Orangeburg way. Must be all the crazies..."

    "No doubt, Ned. No doubt." Steve kept his mouth shut. The bike was almost together; just the chain needed some attention. Left in the solvent tank, he dried it, gave it a coat of the light synthetic oil. Wiping out the cleaning pan, he put the chain in it. "Ned, can I get a little of your hypoid oil, say, 90 weight?"

    "Agin the back wall, open the door, you'll see the tank."

    With the chain covered, he carried the pan to the far end of the apron. Steve then took a bucket, dropping in bits of paper, rags and a piece of scrap wood, from a pallet perhaps. "Ned, I'm going to light this off to heat the oil and really coat the chain. Okay?"

    "Thought I was the only one knew that trick. Someone taught you good, son."

    "Yup. My father-in-law, Clyde P. Munroe. A man of many talents and as kind as the day is long - and then some." He lit off the trash using a splash of solvent to encourage the burning. When the pan started to give off smoke, he used a rag and pulled it off the bucket. The fire died out almost immediately. Setting the pan on the workbench, he shut of his headlamp and joined Ned looking out into the dark.

    The sky was full of fireworks, shooting stars and a moon with what looked like a large chunk missing. "Odd looking moon. Haven't seen it before this. Something new?

    Ned stirred, "Saw it afore the clouds moved in. Mark of the Devil, that's for certain. Some folks say the Judgment is acoming. Maybe soon."

    Steve was careful in his reply. "All the more reason for me to hurry on home. Ned, I want to stay away from most the towns between here and home - where I can. Any chance you might have any kind of a map I can look at?"

    "Back wall of the office, some fella from the Capitol give me a bunch of tourist stuff. Seem to remember a kind of map on some of it. Help yourself, nobody I do business with cares for it or needs it."

    "Thanks." It took a few minutes, but he found the brochures - and they did have several pages of maps. Not a lot of detail but did show most all of the major roads and State highways. Better than he had anyway. He folded several together, just in case. Better one too many...

    The oil had cooled off, wiping the chain and getting it back on the bike was simple enough. His watch showed just past nine. With any luck he could travel some distance by the light of the nearly full moon, then find a spot to sleep in the daylight. As he was loading up the bike, Ned walked into the shop holding a handful of bungee cords.

    "Here, use these, work better than that funny blue wire ya got now."

    Wheeling the bike out on the drive, he looked back at Ned. "Thanks kindly for the use of your shop and tools. Best be on my way."

    Ned just looked at him, a broken man standing in the moonlight. "Go up the road, there's a farm road exit. Go East a ways on the dirt track. You'll find a good place to camp. I'd get off the Interstate by Pond Branch road. Head West, go out past the lake, hook back up the Interstate there. Good fishing up that way."

    Steve nodded. "Ned, it took me six days to get this far. Your son was likely just behind me. Tell him I said hello, eh?"

    "I'll do that pilgrim. I'll do just that."

    Steve was less than a mile away when he heard the single gunshot. Ned had gone to talk with his son after all.

    more to follow...
    kom78 and Sapper John like this.
  3. DKR

    DKR Raconteur of the first stripe

    part 3

    Thursday, Day Seven

    When the morning dawned, he took the time to move his camp deeper into the woodland. Ned was right, he needed rest, a couple of good meals. He would start back at close to sundown. With any luck he could get 80 or more miles along before it got too light to travel. He couldn't do anything to help Ned now, but the old mans kindness had given him a fighting chance to get home. He sure as hell wasn't going to waste that chance.

    Finding the Pond Branch exit had been the easy part. Finding a good spot to stop for the day would be much more difficult. Not seeing any road traffic was nice at first, but as he got deeper in the settled parts of the county, it became unnerving. The moon was providing more than enough light to ride in the middle of the road. Passing the small homes near the road was easy; the bike was all but silent, just the slight buzz from the knobby tires betrayed his passage. He'd packed the freewheel with grease, so even while coasting, he was able to ghost by buildings.

    Friday, Day Eight

    His route took him just past the edge of two smaller settlements, late at night. Going away from those clusters of buildings, he was forced to follow a State road, one that might have traffic. Small farms were scattered everywhere, he couldn't be certain that any woodlands would be safe to camp in. As the sun started to brighten the eastern sky, he made the decision to keep going, at least until he was past the lake. Crossing the three small bridges seemed simple, but once he was just north of the lake, he heard a motor behind him. Trusting to luck, he just kept peddling.

    The truck was going slowly, as it passed him the driver stared. Steve just gave a jaunty wave, hoping the man would keep going. The truck continued on, stopping at an intersection ahead. Steve took the time to stop and make a show of getting a drink of water. The truck eventually turned, heading away to the west.

    Taking a good look around before mounting the bike, Steve saw it. The monocular confirmed it - the house sat quite a ways back from the road, but just behind it, on a tower, sat a three-element Tribander. A Ham. Almost without a thought, he jumped on his bike and peddled up the driveway, stopping well before the house. With a weeks worth of beard, mismatched clothing and a rummage sale sitting on his bike, he would have to be - careful at least.

    He stepped away from the bike and put his hands up to his mouth. "Hello. Hello the house."

    The door opened a crack, the voice was curt - "Got nothing for a begger. Go away!"

    "My name is Steve, Kilo Fox Zero Delta Zed X-ray. Just looking for news. Left my rig at home." It was getting easier and easier to lie. A very bad habit to fall into.

    Now the door opened, a face behind the screen demanded, "What was that?"

    "Name's Steve, Kilo. Fox. Zero. Delta. Zed. X-ray. I was just looking for news. Left my rig at home. Been out to the lake for a fishing and camping vacation."

    "Go 'round back."

    Shrugging, he pushed the bicycle behind the house. There he found a nice back yard, with a large picnic table and grill sitting on a cement patio. He parked the bike, grabbed a bottle of water and sat down. He put his hat and sunglasses to one end of the table. His hair was short, so no need to comb it. He took a long drink of water and just sat there. Either the man would come out or not.

    Hearing the back door open, he pasted a big smile on his face. "Sorry for looking so grubby. Been out to the lake for the last week or so, had to cut my vacation short when I fell in and lost my fishing outfit. Been a hell of a week, now seems there's no electricity and something's gone amiss. Was hoping you might could fill me in a bit."

    The man was older, bald, with a paunch. He came out and set on the steps. "What exactly do you want to know?"

    "Well the electricity is out; I could see that from the lake. Been out for a while. Why? The Co-op is pretty good about repairs. Any news on the bands?"

    His answer was interesting. "Some folks say a UFO hit us; others say an asteroid hit the moon. Don't know anything for sure and the damn Government ain't saying anything. New service came up on WWV, called itself SKYSPOT, military outfit. Calling out potential Rockfall from bits of the moon."

    "That would explain the moon anyway. Any problems between here and Lake Toxaway? That's where I'm headed."

    "Well, Steve, I'd say you had some bad luck in picking the time to take some vacation."

    "Fishing was good enough though."

    "I'll take it the callsign wasn't a lie, rolled off your tongue too easy. The rest of your story is as pure a line of bull as I've heard in a while. I may be old, but I ain't stupid. Want to try again?"

    Steve heard the truck drive past; it had a rattle that had to be unique. "You win, friend. I was down in Summerville when the flood hit - I was lucky enough to get up on a building and live through it. Walked most the way back - found this bike yesterday - hope to get back to Lake Toxaway next day to two. You can check my QTH in the database against my callsign and name - which really is Steve Stone - I can show you my driver's license if you want..." The man stood and walked back inside. Steve heard the door lock slide closed.

    He just sat. Needing to take a break anyway and let that truck keep going - he would take off in a few more minutes if nothing else. The man opened the door and walked out. "OK, Steve, you check out. Now, I told you what I could. How about you tell me about the situation down South?"

    That took about an hour. Finally, and with a big yawn, Steve said, "Sorry, been riding all night trying to avoid any contact. Don't know what's going on. Trying to stay out of any cities or towns. Just want to get back home."

    "Can't say as I blame you, all hell been breaking loose from what I can hear. With the electricity out, some folks been looting local stores. That's why I gave you the stink eye - you look like a rolling junkyard."

    "I've had to scrounge what I can, where I can. Always out of debris piles, by the way, and any cars with remains, I leave those cars alone. But I had to have something to live on."

    "Don't blame you, don't rightly know if I could have gotten this far." He stopped to pat his ample belly. "Anyway, nothing is going on North of here - you should have no roadblocks or that, the police are busy keeping the things in the Capitol under control - more or less."

    Steve couldn't keep the yawn hidden. "Thanks for the information, friend. You know of anyplace nearby, off the road, I can get some sleep and be a least a little bit safe?"

    The man looked at Steve intently. "Yes. Out past the garage, there's a small grove of trees. You can sleep there. Just be gone by morning."

    "I'll leave at sunset. I really think, at least for now, traveling at night on the road is a little bit safer. Could I bother you for some water? I would like to wash up and shave, like you said, my bike looks bad enough, I don't need to look the part of potential looter, eh?"

    That earned a laugh. "There's a hose bib on the back of the garage. Help yourself. See you at sundown." With that, the man went back inside.

    Rigging the hose was easy, the cold shower a good way to get really clean, if primitive. Shaving by the Braille method, he suffered only a couple of small cuts. Taking the time to rinse out his clothes, he knew they would dry as he slept. After ensuring the area was clean, he soon found the cluster of trees. The man was right, he was blocked from sight on all sides, as was soon deep asleep.

    The watch beeping woke him up. Groggy, so stiff it hurt to move, he took a long drink to wash down the Ibuprofen. That would help, a little anyway. By now he had a routine, the bike was quickly loaded, with a bag holding a Meatball dinner sitting on top of the milk crate. He stopped at the patio, knocking on the door, before stepping back.

    The door opened. "You leaving now?"

    "Not quite. If you don't mind, I'd really like to use your table to eat dinner. Be nice to have a real seat."

    That earned a laugh. "Hot or cold?"

    "Hot, I have an MRE meatball dinner planned."

    "Go ahead and use the grill. Hold on," he stepped away from the door. He walked out the door, a long-necked lighter in hand. "I'll light the grill off for you."

    A small attached burner soon made short work of bringing his small pot of water to a boil. The pouch of meatballs barely fit in the pot, but it could be turned and heat evenly.

    "Steve, is that the only pot you have?"

    "Well, I also have a canteen cup. The small pot works fine with my alcohol stove, so it's something I'm used to dealing with for cooking."

    "I see. If I may ask, how big is that blue tarp?"

    "At least ten by twelve. Why?"

    "Hang on." The man went into the garage, and Steve heard some banging noises. Minutes later he returned. There were some items in his hands. These, he sat on the grass. "How about a trade? Your blue tarp for this stuff? I'm going to need a large tarp later this summer."

    'This stuff' turned out to be a smaller green colored tarp, an old and battered cook kit of some kind and a rolled up piece of canvas. The green tarp was a win right away. "What's the cook set?"

    "An old Ranger cook set; has two pots with bails and the lid can be used as a fry pan." He opened the set and put a length of metal into the lid, showing how it could pass as a fry pan. Steve could see a couple of plastic cups and utensils. "The kids used this in Scouts way back when. Just clutter today."

    "I see. The canvas?" Rolled out it looked like a square with a triangle on each end. "A shelter half! Haven't seen one of those in years."

    "I'll assume the roll on the front of your bike is a blanket. This will be as waterproof as the plastic bag and at least make it look like you really were out camping."

    "That's a lot for my tarp."

    "Seems fair to me, I need a bigger tarp and I get some junk out of the garage."

    "In that case - done." He waited until dinner was over and he cleaned up. "Seeing as how you might be in a trading mood - any chance you have an old two meter HT I could trade for?"

    That was a surprise. "What do you have to trade with, Steve?"

    "A shotgun." That brought a shocked expression. "Single shot. I have it rolled up in my blanket. Figure you might want that a lot more than a tarp if things get bad out here."

    "You would be right. I'll be right back." The man went back inside.

    Steve had wanted to ask his name or callsign, but if he wouldn't offer, Steve wasn't going to ask - some folks had odd ideas about privacy. Anticipating he could trade, he unloaded the blanket and removed the shotgun, leaving broken down into three pieces. The blanket and coat went into the shelter half like it was made to carry them. Now with a single, albeit somewhat fatter roll on his handle bars, the bike looked a bit more presentable.

    The man retuned with a cardboard box. Sitting out an HT, he added several other items. Steve saw it was an Icom T7A dual bander, a lighter plug power cord, a small plastic box and a hand microphone. A box of AA batteries sat next to the radio. "The battery pack was new last year, this," he held up the small box, "is the AA battery pack. It all works just fine, I have a card showing the CTCSS codes on the back of the battery pack."

    Steve picked up the shotgun and assembled the barrel, receiver and hand guard. He broke it open and handed it over. "Twelve gauge, 3 inch magnum capable. External hammer means no need for a safety. Push the lever next to the hammer to open and reload." He shrugged. "Put in a shell, pull back the hammer and it's ready to fire. Nice and simple. Very little to break."

    "Nice weapon. Looks like I might be a tad short on my end."

    Steve smiled. It had been obvious the man had no weapons in the house shortly after he'd arrived. And to be fair for himself, the weapon was far more valuable than the radio. The radio he could do without. The shotgun, well that might be another matter all together.

    Back into the garage again, more banging, this time the man came out with a large antenna and another, smaller cardboard box. The box went on the table, the antenna, that he stuck to the rear of Steve's bike. "5/8th wave gain antenna, mag mount. Enough cable to reach the handle bars and then some." Opening the box, "ATS 505, does single side band well enough to copy some traffic. Runs on double As."

    Steve nodded. "Altogether look fair enough for me, you?"

    The man nodded.

    "You got any shells you can use for this?" Steve had to ask, even if he knew the answer.

    "No." Almost a whisper.

    "I got some, almost a full box, double ought and slugs, mixed."

    "What are you going to want for the shells?"

    "Baseball cap and some heavy leather gloves. If you have a couple of empty two liter soda bottles, I think we can make a trade."

    The two liter bottles, full of water, allowed him to drop all the little 20 oz bottles that took up so much space. The cookset fit into the crate, now with two sets of gloves inside, it didn't rattle. Between the baskets and some bit of stuffing, everything went into the racks, allowing the ALICE ruck to sit on top of the crate. The antenna made an exclamation point to the entire rig.

    Now he felt free, no weight on his back, he could really stand and peddle if needed, knowing everything was secure on the bike. Time to leave. "Well, friend, thanks for the trading, makes my life a lot better."

    "I feel like I got the better part of the deal, Steve."

    "That's the way it should be. Now when I get further up the road, I can give my family a call on the 07/67 repeater and let them know I'm on the way home. So, I feel like I got the better part of the deal."

    "If you get back this way, stop by for a visit."

    Steve had to smile. It would be a very long time before he would leave the hills, and if he had the choice, that would be a very long time indeed. "Same to you. I need to go now." Without looking back, he headed off North.

    It would be another long night, but he was finally able to hit the repeater and to his delight, his younger son JC answered. He continued to peddle the night away, every mile he covered was a mile closer to home.

    Saturday, Day Nine

    Sitting in the pickup truck with Octavia and JJ was a dream come true. She had driven down to pick him up and finish his journey without having to fight his way up the hills to get home.

    On the trip back, his beautiful wife asked the magic question - "Ready to stay at home now?"

    "Funny you should ask that. I had a bit of an epiphany on the way home..."


    And so ends the beginning.

    The book looks at six people, six stories, some set in the warm aftermath of the First Strike, others, six to ten years later on. All new characters, all new stories, new locations. Same fun stuff.

    The series has a website, Home - World of the Chërnyi - with sample chapters and links to where Amazon sells the Kindle version of the books. There is a contact form there as well.

    Looking forward to your replies/feedback/comments.


    kom78 and Sapper John like this.
  4. Sapper John

    Sapper John Analog Monkey in a Digital World

    Wow DKR,what a story. I could actually visualize what you were describing.Interesting and riveting tale.Some of the best books I have ever read I have found right here on Survival Monkey. Thanks for sharing your work with us. It is much appreciated!
  5. DKR

    DKR Raconteur of the first stripe


    Thanks for the kind words. Each explores different aspects of reacting to a disaster, and how folks might handle just such a wide scale disruption.

    The book has 6 stores.
    Steven Stone - posted here. Improvised gear saves his bacon. So, for the reader, don't sweat having a ton of money to buy "survival gear' go with what you can find.

    The others are:
    Jim Mead - what do you do when traveling away from home and the SHTF?

    Octavia Adairia Munroe Stone - A clever woman. (Yes, Steve's wife)

    Lyle Elkins - set six years into the future after the First Strike, society is different. Hams will like this one.

    Mike Hardesty - Everybody has a new way to make a living, even in the (restored) Republic of Texas. A who done it, with a twist.

    Sethur Silver - An orphan from Before. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    If you have picked up a copy - thanks! I have a 'comment/feedback' link at the WoC website I posted earlier. I'd like to hear from you!

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