Day of N
Just as everyone was heading in the direction of the farmhouse, a very strong wind hammered into all eight of them. They all had to turn their backs to it as bits of leaves, dirt and even pebbles pelted them. Once the wall of wind had past, every one of them noticed they had numerous small welts, some of which oozed blood.
Devin shuttered, "Are we going to die from radiation now?"
"No." Steven shook his head. "That was a blast wave of air. In a couple of minutes it will hit us from the opposite direction as the air flows back toward where the bomb exploded. The mushroom cloud is created by the way the air is forced out then comes rushing back to where it came from. The radiation will fall out of the sky, but it will take a while. We still have time, but as soon as you feel the wind come again turn your back to it and kneel or lay on your stomach with your hands covering your heads. I am actually surprised we got a blast wave this far away, though. With any luck, we may not get a backflow wave, but be ready for it just in case. Now get your butts moving! Don't wait for us!"
Taking a couple of moderately deep breaths, he watched as the other five quickly jumped on their bikes and made for the farmhouse. He then glanced back at his mangled bike. "Hunter, grab my saddle bags. They have flares, energy bars, a full thing of Tang drink mix, and a full inhaler for Ram in them."
Hunter quickly hustled over and grabbed the small side bags. "What happens when Ram runs out of stuff for his asthma?"
"He's got a new full canister and I have a brand new back-up…" Steven paused as he saw the look in Hunter's eyes, "But you're right to be concerned. We have to conserve it and make him try all the tricks to get over attacks on his own and try to avoid the triggers like lots of dust and pollen."
"From what I heard, he hasn't had an attack in over two weeks. His dad was talking to my mom about it yesterday morning. The only reason they let him come was his dad was going to meet us up at Prairie Dog State Park with Mr. Fillmore." Angus offered with some hope in his voice.
"His mom was still worried enough to make sure I had a spare, which I am now very glad she gave me." Steven remarked with clear concern in his voice, which he did his best to hide as he added, "We did the first 45 miles with no problems, so I hope he continues to be OK."
"Me too," Hunter let out a long breath. "Hopefully they have some extras at home too, 'cause I don't think they're going to be buying more any time soon."
Steve closed his eyes and made a show of gabbing at his ribs to cover the look he knew he would have in his eyes. The last thing he wanted to discuss was them going home. They had been lucky. The two day trip had put them in the middle of nowhere which was probably the only reason they were all alive at the moment. There was always a chance some of their folks, brothers and sisters had also survived, but the blast wave had come from the southwest, and if it had hit here with this much force, he knew in his heart it had to have hit much harder down in Colby. As he looked to the southwest he felt his heart sink as he realized a nuke my very well have hit the kids' home town… his grandparent's home, which he had inherited was probably gone as well, but at least it was several miles to the south of Colby… Not that he expected to live long enough to see if it still stood or not.
Steven's thoughts about his own rapidly deprecating health came to a quick end as he noted the other five boys were standing outside the small farmhouse. As soon as he got past the line of trees planted to form a wind brake around the home and grounds, he realized they were all looking at the front door, clearly not comfortable with entering a building they were not invited into. While part of him deeply respected they boys' attitudes, the need to get under shelter before the fallout hit was paramount. Even as much as it hurt to take a breath, he took in as much air as he could and spoke as loudly as his pain threshold allowed, "Guys, get inside!"
Vernon looked over, "It's got a lock on the screen door and a note that it was taken by the bank."
"Signed by my mom," Gage added with a note of disgust. "It's what she was sent here for."
"We need it more than the bank does," Steven responded forcefully. "See if any windows are unlocked, if not, break one out and jump in. You should be able to unlock it from the inside."
"We can't break in!" Ramsey gasped.
Steven rolled his eyes, "Guys, there is a time for being good citizens and a time for following the rules. Now is not one of those times…"
Gage moved over to a small side window and pushed. It slid upward without any problem. "My mom was sent here to take homes faster, since some of the local people didn't want to take property from friends. Let her get mad at me; after all, her banks own it." Before more could be said, he tossed his backpack inside and tumbled in right behind it.
Steven glanced over at the others, noting none of them looked comfortable with doing this. "As of right now money means nothing. It won't be good for anything but toilet paper. The wealth of the banks is gone, and the last thing anyone is going to worry about is some foreclosed on house getting broken into. Besides, I think Gage is right, since his mom is a bank vice president, she has as much right to use this place as anyone and she would sure expect Gage to use it if it will save his life."
He allowed Hunter to help him get closer to the door. As he did so, he read the posted notices about it being a bank owned property and warnings about law violations for unauthorized entry and vandalism. Next to it was a second note posted by the sheriff's office. He scanned it and raised an eyebrow. "There is an Auction set for next Thursday. The interesting thing about this posting is the auction was not for the house or the land, but what is inside."
Before Steven could fully read the rest of the paperwork taped behind the screen door, the inside door opened. Gage moved up and unlocked the screen door then stepped back. "It kind of looks like someone lives here..."
Steven lightly pushed Hunter off of him and in through the open door. "Find the cellar."
Hunter turned and nodded. "Guys get the bikes and get inside."
At the same time Steven saw an old pump handle well spigot and pointed. The pain of raising his arm almost dropped him to his knees, but he leaned against the doorframe for support. "Zeek, Ram, fill everything you can find that can hold water and cover that! Grab stuff out of the house if you have to! We don't want it to get fallout on it." The second he saw the boys knew what he was pointing at, he dropped his arm with a huge sigh of relief.
Out of reflex, Vernon entered as soon as Steven got out of the way and flipped the light switch. When nothing happened, he flipped it a couple more times.
Angus came in next and glanced over at the younger boy, "Dude, even if the bank left power on, there ain't none to be had. Those days are gone."
It took a moment to register that electricity was probably not something he would find again for quite some time. "Oh… so the microwave popcorn I brought isn't going to do us much good, huh?"
Zeki's head cocked to the side and stared at the boy, "How was you going to use a microwave on a camping trip?"
Even as bad as things were, several others burst out in chuckles as Vernon's mouth opened but no words came out.
Suddenly, Hunter's voice interrupted the brief moment of humor. "Found it guys. But is has steep steps and my flashlight is dead. It must have turned on when I stuck it in my pack this morning."
Steven sighed as several of the kids around him started to reach for their flashlights. "Save them, kids. Wait till we really need them. The EMP took out most electronics, so battery operated stuff is about all that will work."
"EMP?" Gage asked.
Hunter surprised everyone including Steven as he spoke up, "Electromagnetic Pulse. It happens when a nuclear bomb explodes or a large solar flare hits the Earth. It killed our phones, radios, car electronic systems, computers and lots of other stuff." He paused as he saw Steven staring at him. "My science project for the scout fair was going to be on sun spots and solar flares…"
Angus grinned, "Which is why you were elected as patrol leader; you got the brains!"
While several of the others nodded, Gage moved over to the open cellar door and looked down, shuddering in total dread. His fear of the dark was a closely held secret, but it had come close to coming out in the tent the night before. Fortunately he had been able to secretly turn on his flashlight in his sleeping bag and had kept it on all night. "So how do we see?"
Steven glanced over to Angus. "In the top left pouch of my pack I have a dozen tea candles and some strike anywhere matches. We'll use a couple of those until we figure out a better solution. There has to be candles or a lantern in this house somewhere."
"You carry candles for camping?" Vernon asked, partially to defect some attention away from himself and his bags of microwave popcorn.
"I carry candles everywhere." Steven informed the young scouts. "They are useful for light and to start fires when the wood is wet."
Devin chewed on the inside of his lip for a moment, "Wow, the flame on the candle would keep burning until the wood finally caught! Neat trick, Mr. Korbal."
'Survival,' Steven thought while giving Devin a quick grin to hide what he was thinking, 'I have to teach these kids everything I know before I get too weak to do so.' He quickly focused his attention on getting things better organized. "All of you use the bathroom outside now so we have time to figure out how we are going to do it in the cellar. Angus, you are going to have to help me down the steps, but you can't push on my ribs." He then turned to Zeki and Ramsey as they came back in after covering the well and hand pump with a plastic garbage bag Zeki had in his pack. Steven glanced out and noticed they put a couple of comforters they found in a closet over the bag and tied it into place. "You two, close, shutter, and lock all the windows and doors; also close the flue to the fireplace. The less radioactive particles we allow to get into the house the better off we will be. If we find any duct tape, tape around the door and all the windows to cut down on dust getting in."
He then turned to the others, "Devin, Hunter and Gage, we got really lucky. This house is fully furnished. Check it over from top to bottom. Anything you think might be even remotely useful get it down into the storm cellar. Food, anything edible, takes priority, since we don't have much left with us after eating dinner and breakfast. Vernon, get a couple of candles set up down there and get the bikes and all the packs stowed off to the side. Once I am down and out of the way, Angus can help you look through the cellar and wipe up as much dust and dirt as possible so there is nothing to aggravate Ram's asthma. It will get stuffy down there as it is. I don't know how much time we have, but we need to move fast. Once we see snow like flakes, or hear rain hitting the roof, we need to move down and wait it out."
"For how long?" Angus asked in a whisper.
"Until it has rained at least two times with a break in between, preferably three. I'll go over lots of other stuff once we are all below ground and relatively safe. For now, just try to understand, you all need as much fallout to be washed into the ground and given time to degrade as possible before you… we... come out and see what type of world we will be living in."
Gage quickly moved to the kitchen area since his first thoughts were on food and where it might be found. At first he was a little disappointed. The refrigerator was still cold, but everything inside had been removed save for a dozen Banquet potpies in the freezer section. There were a dozen cans of soup, thirteen cans of vegetables, and a four pack of mini raviolis on the shelf next to the oven. Under the sink he found cleaning stuff and some rubber gloves, which he took down in one massive armload.
His second trip focused on the cupboards. Above the stove he pulled out a big spice rack and several containers of chicken and beef bouillon cubes. The upper cabinet over the sink held a twin pack of Chips Ahoy cookies and a large case sized package of boxes of mac and cheese with the Sam's club sticker still on the case. The real find was behind the thirty-six boxes of mac and cheese though. Two full cases of drink pouches were stuffed up there, almost as if they were purposefully hidden. As he got a chair and pulled them down, he saw a sticky note on the top of the first case which read, "For Rachel's B-day". He looked at it with some momentary guilt, but hearing the others rummaging around and digging through other parts of the house spurred him to grab it all.
Once again he took it down and headed back wondering what good dry mac and cheese would do any of them. Still, food was food. His next stop proved a great deal more interesting. The small closet next to the kitchen was not a linen closet as he expected it to be. Instead it was a pantry three quarters full of homemade canned and dried foods. There were beets, tomatoes, carrots, pickles, dried peppers, and a few other things he couldn't identify. On the bottom shelf four large plastic bins ended up being stuffed full of sealed packages of homemade beef jerky, each with a different smell. He couldn't resist grabbing a hunk of the peppered jerky before he started moving it all down below.
Upstairs, Devin was not thrilled at all with what he saw. There was a master bedroom, and three much smaller ones. Two of the three were defiantly girls' rooms and the last was a combination study and guest room with a futon. He pulled off all the bedding out of the girls' rooms and took it down. As he did so, he noticed someone had found a couple of big candles, which were providing enough light to get around. Still, the cellar was quite big and thus the light didn't make it all the way to the edges. He tripped over a broom handle and almost fell.
Steven looked up from the corner where he was doing his best to find some position which was even borderline comfortable. He was failing and the pain was not dimming. "Watch it kiddo, we can't afford anyone else getting hurt."
Devin nodded as he set the pile of thick bedding down on a workbench. "There're lots of dolls and girls clothing, but nothing for us."
"Bring it down," Steven ordered. "If some of it fits you all can still use it."
"What?" Angus shouted in some disbelief, "Ain't no way I'm wearing girls' clothing!"
Steven's eyes narrowed, "So you would prefer to stay in pants you peed in and force the rest of us to smell you?"
Angus hung his head, "No, but…"
"But nothing," Steven cut him off sharply. "We packed for a two day trip and many of you went lighter than the list Mr. Jenkins and I put together for you because you didn't want to carry more than you had to on your bikes. You all thought you would get up to the state park and buy what you needed up there. I bet more than a few of you stuck some of the stuff we wanted you to carry in the back of the troop's trailer. I get it, but now we have to move forward with what we have since whatever is in that trailer is probably what Mr. Jenkins and the others are going to try to survive on. Already one of you has a flashlight that is dead because you didn't bring extra batteries. Again, it happens and it is water under the bridge. We have to move on.
"But now you need to forget about pride, modesty, and get over any and all embarrassment caused by you all doing things you would have never dreamed of before some moron decided to push the button. There are not going to be stores where you can go pick up a pack of batteries, there isn't a place you can stop at and pick up a bottle of water for a buck. From here on out, probably for many months, if not longer, what you do is all about surviving, and part of surviving is scrounging whatever you can find. If that means a few of you end up wearing panties for a few days rather than get rashes from wearing dirty boxers or briefs than that is exactly what you will do!"
Steven stopped talking and grabbed at his ribs. When he spoke again his voice was softer and distorted since it came through clenched teeth. "Now would one of you find a bathroom and see if they have something stronger than the ibuprofen that came with the first aid kit, please?"
Zeki stopped at the top of the steps and called down, "I'll find something, Mr. Kobal!"
Devin rolled his eyes and muttered, "Korbal, not Kobal, Zeek, come on already…" He rolled his eyes and tossed the filthy dust rag into a corner. "Not much down here except tools and gardening junk, but at least there are a few boxes of candles, a whole bunch of strike anywhere matches, a twenty-four package of batteries and an eight pack LED flashlights with batteries already in them, and a portable radio. I also found a camp stove with 10 bottles of fuel, and a couple of big plastic tubs with picnic stuff. We also have some fresh carrots, potatoes, and squash, but I don't know how long it will last since it is getting a bit soft to the touch." The boy pointed to a small cool storage spot under the stairs. "Oh, and the gas to the water heater is shut off like you told me, but it is full so we have about 30 gallons more water."
"Good job, Devin." Steven managed another quick grin to provide as much comfort as he could to the clearly rattled and worried boy.
Before Devin could head back up the stairs, Steven held up his hand to get the boy's attention. "Make sure we get any and all guns and weapons down here before we lock ourselves in. The world is not going to be a safe place after this."
The second Devin left the basement, Steven turned to look at Angus, "Look, the others are going to see you as a leader. You are the biggest and strongest. If you put on girl's clothing the others will as well. It isn't the end of the world. That is what is going on outside! You need to figure out if surviving this is more important than being caught in a pink sweater."
Angus dug into his pack and pulled out the one change of clothing he had taken for the overnight trip. He nodded his understanding but still fired a glare back at Mr. Korbal, saying nothing. Instead he went back up taking three stairs at a time, not bothering to even nod at the others who quickly moved out of his way. The moment he got to the top of the steps he looked for the first unopened door and headed through it, slamming the door behind him as he did so. "I'll go bare assed before I wear panties!" he fumed as he shucked his pants and boxers, used a little bit of water from his canteen to wash off, using his dirty pant leg as a wash cloth, and slipped on the clean the clothing.
As he threw his soiled clothing angrily on the floor, his eyes finally took in the fact he was in some kind of old junk room. There was an antique peddle powered sewing machine in one corner with dozens of old very dusty books stacked up on it. Off to the left were a couple of aged and cracked wooden boxes with wooden toys, games, and even a horseshoe set. Beside the toys and games was a pair of wooden cribs with a handmade-looking rocking horse complete with a small leather saddle between them. Opposite of the toys was an old wagon wheel, an anvil, complete with hammers and other tools. Behind the metal working equipment a very nicely made horsehair blanket hung on the wall.
He felt his anger start to evaporate as he moved over to the anvil and stroked his hand down the hair of the blanket. He was amazed none of the surprisingly soft fur fell out, but was very dusty, just like everything else in the room. "Nice…" he whispered slowly as the last of his small temper tantrum dimmed to a minor annoyance.
He took a deep breath and moved over to an old iron bound wooden chest with a huge keyhole in the front. He couldn't help but think of pirate treasure as he quickly moved over and lifted the lid. Although momentarily disappointed not to see piles of gold and jewelry, he still stared, a bit awestruck at the Confederate Army uniform half buried under mothballs. Curiosity overtook everything including the need to hurry. He knelt and pulled out the old grayish coat. It was not in the greatest shape, but didn't immediately fall apart. However, under the uniform coat was a Confederate saber, a ball and cap six-shooter and a pair of cloth wrapped muskets complete with the tools to make more musket balls, cans of black powder, and bags of wadding. Another tin held scores of pre-made caps.
Angus let out a long breath as he reached in and lifted the first rifle. As he unwrapped the cloth from around the barrel, he was somewhat surprised to find it looked to be in real good condition, and even had a light coat of oil on it. He ran his hand down the barrel with some confusion before his mind realized the wood and iron chest was just about the only thing in the whole room without dust on it, and the mothballs were pretty new. He dug deeper in the chest, finding some of the stuff was not nearly as old as he first thought.
Another look at the black powder verified his thoughts about these weapons being used once in a while, as the fifteen, one-pound cans were all fairly new looking and a half empty can set off to the side next to a powder horn which was not old at all. In fact the powder horn was plastic, and could be tilted to fill the front compartment with a premeasured amount of powder, which could be seen through the side if one looked closely enough. As he pulled out the second musket and the pistol he noticed there were several books on how to load, shoot, and even repair muskets along with a box full of old lead fishing weights and bullets which could easily be melted down to make more musket balls. There were also a couple of new style gun cleaning and repair kits stored on the other side.
By this time all thoughts over the conversation with Mr. Korbal had vanished. He tried to pick up the whole chest but it was just too heavy. Gritting his teeth, he pulled it away from the wall, knocking over a wooden coat stand, which in turn fell into a glass mirror causing it to shatter. The fall of the framed mirror continued the chain reaction, pulling a canvas cloth off the wall revealing a three foot by two foot cubbyhole. He cringed at the clatter, but felt his eyes go wide as he realized the canvas had been covering a hand pump. This one was real old but appeared to be decently maintained and had some newer parts on it. He scrambled over the broken glass and studied it as a couple of the other boys came running at the sound of the shattering glass.
Hunter was the first to arrive, carrying a shotgun in one hand, a hunting rifle in another and a backpack with a sleeping bag tied to the top on his back. "Hey, you OK?"
"Yeah," Angus looked up, "Looks like you found newer guns than me."
Hunter held up the pump twelve gauge, "Found three full boxes of ammo and a partial, so we have 89 rounds for this. Only found two boxes of twenty for the .308. There are also five boxes of 7.62 ammo and like six big boxes of .22 ammo but no guns for them."
Gage heard the comment as he entered the room, "If they are 7.62x51 rounds they can be shot out of the .308."
"How would you know, Newb?" Angus demanded to know.
"Cause he shoots with my dad and talks about guns all the time." Ramsey remarked as he started to enter the room. "If Gage says it will shoot a different type of bullet than it will."
Hunter eyed Gage for a moment, "So do you know how to shoot a rifle with a scope?"
Ramsey answered for Gage, "Yeah, he can, and he has even fired my dad's NATO FAL a few times so I know he can handle the weight and kick."
"You best stay out Ram," Hunter warned as Ramsey started to enter the room. "Lots of dust in here."
Ramsey stopped and even took a couple of steps back. "Anyway my dad's FAL fires 7.62x51 rounds."
Angus glanced over with a bit more respect for Gage as he spoke up. "Looks like you found a gun for the Newb. I know I have never fired anything that big."
Hunter shrugged as he handed over the rifle. "I left the rest of the ammo upstairs in the master bedroom. You may as well bring down the .22 stuff too. It's in the gun safe, but it was left unlocked. There is another backpack up there as well, but it was probably the mom's since it is purple."
Gage spoke as he turned, "I might take it… if I can fit it to me good enough. It's probably ten times better than the junk one Mom bought me, since she didn't think I would last a month in this troop. I also bet Mom probably paid someone to pick the lock on the gun safe so the auction could sell what was inside separate from the safe. I have heard her talk about stuff like that before."
"For a banker type who takes property as part of her job, she seems to fit in great here." Hunter remarked, "Lots of people actually like her."
He sighed, "She is always liked, no matter what we do or were we go. Now all I have to do is survive and make a few real friends."
"I think you're doing pretty good for the troop and town Newb." Angus grinned. "You'll get there!"
Hunter tried not to giggle at Gage's expression as the boy shook his head and moved to go up the steps.
Angus grinned but otherwise ignored Gage's frustrated reaction. "So, does anyone know how to shoot black powder?"
Vernon came in nodding his head and looked at the chest, "Oh, cool!" He ignored everything else as he knelt in front of the chest. "My dad would love these!"
Hunter looked over skeptically at the old muzzle loaded rifle Vernon was running his hand down as if he was petting it. "Does he know how to shoot them?"
"Yeah…" Vernon grinned widely, "So do I."
"Really?" Ramsey asked as he looked into the room to see what the latest commotion was about. "My dad has always wanted to learn. Must be kind a neat to be able to shoot something so old."
"Uh Huh!" Vernon spoke excitedly as he went on to explain. "Dad belongs to a civil war reenactment team. The last couple of years he let me come along as a drummer boy. It is really fun, 'cause some of the guys taught me how to load and shoot cannons and muskets. I even know how to make musket balls and stuff!"
"That's some cool shit!" Angus nodded in approval.
"Confederate or Union?" Hunter asked out of pure curiosity.
"Confederate!" Vernon smiled widely. "There are less of us than Union guys so we get to go to more battles and stuff." His smile faded, "We were supposed to go to a really big one in July, but I guess no chance of that now, huh."
"Probably not," Angus let out a long breath, "But if you really know how to use these then take one and as much powder and other stuff as you want. "I could read these books all day and probably not get how to use them without killing myself."
While Vernon started digging through the chest and selected the nicer of the two muskets for himself, Angus pointed toward the pump. "I think that is an inside well pump too."
Hunter moved over, carefully avoiding the broken glass. He looked at the attached plumbing and let out a large sigh of relief as he nodded, "Grandma's house has one of these." He reached in and pulled down on a lever. "It can pull water from a storage tank where rainwater runs into it or from the well. I just shut off the storage tank water so we won't bring in any rainwater. I bet this is kind of like my grandma's place. This part was built in line in the 1800's and then other parts were added on. The wood in here is even different than the rest of the house. At my grandma's place there is an old coal cellar…" he stamped on the floor just the other side of the pump and grinned as he heard a hollow thud. "Just like grandma's!"
Hunter then tried the pump handle. After the ninth pump water came out. "We have indoor water! We need to cover this up too, keep it safe, and let Mr. Korbal know!"
"You sure you shut off the right one?" Vernon asked while eyeing the cap and ball pistol.
"Power at Grandma's goes out a lot," Hunter stated with total certainty, "so I know exactly how these things work. The real problem at Grandma's is she has hers so it can be hooked to the shower, and someone has to pump while the other takes a shower. Man, is it ever cold too!"
Devin was next to enter the room. He had a full duffel bag over his left shoulder, a .22 rifle over his left, and a second, duplicate, .22 rifle in his left hand. "Hey, everyone OK? … Wow. Look at all this stuff."
Angus eyed the two smaller rifles. "Marlin 981Ts, same kind of rifle as Dad bought me for my tenth birthday. Where did you find them?"
"In the girls' rooms," Devin grinned. "They both have camping and fishing stuff along with backpacks too. I was going to grab those next."
"I'd have grabbed those first." Angus snorted.
"Mr. Korbal said to grab the clothing." Devin reminded Angus, but quickly switched the subject once he saw the boy snarl at him. "I bet there is enough room to take the beds down. I bet Mr. Korbal would be better off if we could at least get him a bed to sleep on."
Hunter nodded in agreement. "Let's get this stuff down in the cellar and it sounds like one of those rifles should go to you, Angus."
"I'll take one." The boy nodded enthusiastically.
Devin kind of shrugged. "I didn't find any bullets…"
"They're in the master bedroom." Hunter grinned then shouted, "Hey, newb, we found the .22's, make sure you grab the ammo for them!"
"I'm getting it!" Gage shouted in reply. "But we better be getting downstairs soon. There are dark clouds and lightning flashes to the west!"
"Let's get all of this down!" Hunter shouted as he jumped back up. "Then we should come back up, grab the games so we have something to do, and fill every pot, pan and bucket with water and take it down. As soon as the rain starts we go down and stay down!"