By: David L. Souers

Chapter 15


Nine days post wave, and one day post Christmas. Jimmy and Gary were cutting the lengths of slabwood into pieces, that would fit into the big wood stove, with the bow saw that Jimmy had found at the swap meet. They had a pack of twelve extra blades for it, so they had elected to save the chainsaw and it’s invaluable supplies for the heavier work that would present itself when the slabwood ran out, and they would be forced to cut down large sized trees and make them small enough to fit into the stove. Slabs were easy cutting, and as Danielle had laughingly told the pair, “This way the wood will warm you guys twice!” The girls had laughed a lot louder than the guys at that funny little joke.

The two worked well together, one would saw the slabs for a while, and the other would finagle them loose from the pile, and stack the cut pieces. Every half hour or so, they would switch jobs and continue to make the pile of cut up pieces grow.

Christmas had been great! Danielle and Ellen had a goose in the oven quite early, and the wonderful odor that it sent throughout the whole house, kept their mouths watering for hours at the prospect of a traditional Christmas dinner. Needless to say, they had a wonderful time, and even managed to exchange some small gifts that evening.

Danielle got a new bridle, bit and reins from Gary, and a pair of riding boots from her parents. Jimmy thought he saw a tear in her eye as she thanked them all. Gary got a hunting knife, and a goose down coat.

“Now that’s what I call a pair of perfect gifts. Thanks a million.”

Jimmy got a Swiss army knife from the kids, and a crossbow pistol with a dozen quarrels from Ellen. Looking at his son-in-law, he commented, “Yours aren’t any more perfect than mine.” They all had a good laugh at that one.

“I don’t know if I want to open mine, or not.”

Jimmy’s eyes showed his surprise. “Why not Ellen? You don’t even know what you’re getting.”

“I’m just afraid that this might be my last good Christmas, and I want to savor it.”

“Honey, just open your gifts, I’ll make sure you make out just fine in the years to come.”

With a tentative nod of her head, she slowly removed the decorative paper from the small package, and gave a small gasp of surprise when she saw the beautiful pendant watch with its delicate gold chain.

“It’s a self winding watch, so you will always have the time, if you wear it every day.”

“Oh Jimmy, I just love it. It’s so delicate and pretty. I think that it’s the nicest thing you’ve ever given me.”

“OK mom, that’s enough of that mushy stuff, it’s time to see what we got you.”

Taking the much larger and softer package from her daughter, she opened it to find a soft cuddly bunny suit, complete with attached feet, and a petite hood.

“That should keep you warm at nights mom.”

“It sure will Hon, but how will your dad ever figure out how to collect his reward for that nice watch that he gave me tonight?”

The whole group had broken up at that remark. It was one of the best Christmas’ they’d ever had.

Working the saw with still undiminished enthusiasm, Jimmy saw a couple of strangers coming out of the woods behind the barn. His voice was a warning, as he reached for his, ever present, .44 magnum. “Gary, behind you.”

“Hold on Jimmy. Let’s see what they want.”

“OK Gary, but be careful.”

As the pair approached, Gary could see that were in poor shape. “What can I do for you people?

”Mister, what can we do to earn some food? We haven’t eaten for days, and we can’t go much farther.”

“Jimmy, they sure do look bad. We’ve got this big basket of buns, and I wasn’t looking forward to moving all of that wood up to the house with that cart of yours. Let’s make a deal with them, OK?”

Feeding the man and woman first, they found out, between bites, that the pair had come south from a large town about forty miles to the north over the last seven days. Three hours later, the work was finished, and they had moved on.

Their chances of survival were much enhanced by the small bag that they now carried. Homemade buns, fishing hooks, line, and two books of matches, were perhaps the things that would make the difference as they tried to make their way to the gulf coast where her daughter had a home.

It became commonplace to see refugees in singles and small groups trudging down the road in front of the house. Occasionally a few would hail the house, wanting to exchange labor for food, and some of the less disreputable ones were given food and a job cutting the slabwood and stacking it by the house, but the vast majority just shuffled past the house, looking neither left or right, like an endless train of animated bodies. Danielle remarked to no one in particular one day, “Shock is going to kill as many as starvation.” The property lines from the back pasture, to the front of the house at the edge of the road, was patrolled by the Rotties, and those refugees that were animated and hostile were definitely not inclined to mess with them. As an added precaution, several weapons were placed at strategic locations in the house, readily accessible at a moments notice.

Sheriff Brownlee showed up around noon on New Years day. It had been snowing, on and off, for the past week, and the temperatures were more like those that you’d expect to see in Minnesota. Riding over to the farm on his ancient John Deere tractor must have been torture for the old man. They had to literally pry the old double-barreled shotgun from his hands and help him into the house.

“Sit down, right here by the stove, and I’ll get you a cup of hot tea.

“That’d be nice, Miss Danielle, real nice.”

“Whatever has you out in such terrible weather? Is something wrong in town?”

Half an hour later, they had a pretty good picture of town life, as it was now. Desperate, starving, and freezing, the Wanderers, as the sheriff called them, had reached the point that no one could hold them back. Jake’s brother Willy had been raided out at his farm.

“They hit old Willy on the head, and tied up both of his boys! By the time we found them, the place had been stripped of food, weapons, livestock, clothing, and anything else that could be carried away. Jake put them up at the feed store. That way they’d have a roof over their heads, and they could help to guard the store at the same time.”

Noticing the weapons by the door, he commented, “Stay alert for trouble. It took me three hours to get here today, so you can’t depend on anyone but yourselves if something comes up. It’s bad, and it’s only going to get worse, I’d wager. If it ever thaws out again, we’re gonna have to get out and bury or burn those bodies that are laying along the road. I must have seen fifty between here and town, and I’ll wager that there must be lots more under the snowdrifts. Some of them are in really bad shape. I’d like to think it was from the animals working on them, but I’m afraid the survivors are doing some of the work themselves, if you follow my drift.

“You didn’t nearly freeze yourself just to tell us about Willy. What else is happening sheriff?”

“I was just getting to that Missy. I think my missus has a touch of pneumonia. She ain’t doing very well at all.”

Within minutes Danielle was handing him a big plastic bag with several smaller bags of herbs, and a couple of small bottles of oils and elixirs that would, hopefully, help his wife recover.

“Each item has it’s own instructions. Follow them closely, and remember that herbal remedies work slower than the modern medicines, so be sure to give it the extra time that it needs to work.”

After having a big bowl of hot, leftover, goose bone and noodle soup with a generous slice of homemade bread on the side, sheriff Brownlee climbed on the old tractor, and they handed him the bag of medicine and his twelve gauge shotgun. He turned the old tractor back down the drive, and turned to the left, back towards town. Thankfully, the wind blown snow was now hitting his bowed back, and with a little luck, would do so all of the way back to his home.

While sitting around the table after supper that night, they tried to find out what was happening to the rest of the country, and the world too, if they could.

The little generator was purring just outside of the back porch, and the guys had managed to attach the antenna to the side of the porch roof where they could simply reach out the door and turn it in any direction that they desired. The all important grounding device was a long bar of iron that had been driven through two feet of frozen ground, and then down into the soft red clay for several more feet.

They clamped the grounding cable to it, with a couple of hose clamps, and called it a system.

Slowly turning the big vernier dial on the front of the set, Jimmy thought he heard a voice buried under the, always present static.

“Gary, try turning the antenna around for me.”

As he spun the pipe, the voice seemed to jump out at them.

“Happy New Year.”

Grabbing the mike, Jimmy depressed the big red plastic button on the base of the microphone and yelled back, “Happy New Year!”

Ten minutes later, as the signal faded into oblivion, they had a frightening picture of the American Midwest. The Chicago area in particular was just history.

Sam, the radio operator, was suffering from starvation, and the extreme cold. He was nearly out of fuel for his generator, and had informed them that this would be his last message. Speaking in a monotone voice, he filled them in on what was going on around him.

“The blizzard hit two days after the power died, and hasn’t really stopped since then for more than an hour or two at a time. Sometimes, I can see some of the big buildings downtown, and they are nothing but burned out hulks. The snow is piled up against them so deep that a couple of floors are just gone from sight. You would not believe the riots we had! There must be millions of bodies out there. New Years, yes. Happy, no!

Later that night, Danielle opened a three year old, five-gallon bottle of her homemade pomegranate wine, and they all had a glass or two. Each of them went to bed that night hoping for a better new year.