Day of N
While the kids moved more stuff from the house into the cellar, Steven sat off to the side and used the camp stove to cook the pot pies found in the freezer. Stuff like this had to be eaten first and with some added extra potatoes, carrots, peas and spices from the spice rack, he combined it all into a large casserole like dish. The problem was, with each passing moment the pain got worse, especially in his arm. As the makeshift dish cooked over the camp stove, Steven finally allowed Hunter and Angus to help him up on one of the two beds while he popped a pair of Tramadol Zeki had found upstairs.
The pain prescription had actually been for an animal, probably a dog judging by the name "Foxtrot" written on the bottle, but it was the same medication as was taken by humans and Steven knew it as a medic in his Army Ranger unit. He also downed a pair of amoxicillin, which had also been prescribed for the same animal. The problem was, two of the fourteen days of the antibiotic had already been taken. Still twelve days of antibiotics was better than none. If he could make it twelve days with these kids they would all stand a better chance of surviving.
The pair of futons out of the living room were the last two things brought down before Angus and Hunter listened to the thunder of the rapidly approaching storm and pulled the heavy storm cellar doors closed. Steven commanded everyone to tape plastic bags around and over it. As the last side of the cellar door was taped thunder could be heard outside, and it was loud enough for all of them to know the storm had to be right overhead. Moments later another loud boom rattled the house above and even though they were well underground the kids could hear rain and hail hitting the house above. While the storm raged in earnest above, the stove was put out and all the kids gathered around for a decent meal.
There was little talking at first as the kids looked around the cellar and ate. All of them had similar thoughts. First, they knew the eighteen by twenty-two foot area was going to be their home for several days, if not longer. Second, they realized those with them were all they knew they had to rely on, and finally each and every one of them hoped their families had found a similar spot to hole up in.
Several of the boys wiped tears out of their eyes a few times as the seriousness of the situation fully dawned on them. Their lives had changed, literally, in a flash. There would be no more Play Station parties, theater nights, or anything else, which would require electricity for quite some time, if ever. Friends and family were certainly dead, and it was probable parents and siblings were as well.
Hunter was the first to really break the silence, "Mr. Korbal, how come you knew it was going to rain like this?"
Steven took another bite of the concoction he had come up with and took a deep breath. "Technically it is classified, so I am not supposed to talk about it, but now I guess it doesn't matter." He managed a slight smile as all seven heads turned and gave him their undivided attention.
"As most of you know, my mom is a congresswoman from the state of South Carolina. What you probably don't know is she serves on a couple of very interesting committees. The first is one that oversees FEMA and disaster preparedness and response. The second committee deals with the environment. Since my mom has a Master's Degree in Meteorology she also helps out with things that deal with the National Weather Service and even climate change. One of the projects she worked on was to see if there was a way to counteract the widely held belief that a so-called nuclear winter would happen if there was ever a nuclear war."
"Nuclear winter?" Angus asked.
Hunter glanced over, "I read about it when I was doing my EMP study. It means that so much dust is sent up into the sky that it will block out the sun and drop the temperature of the whole planet by several degrees. The idea actually came from how the earth cooled off after a couple of big volcanic eruptions. I read that one year in the early 1800's there was actually a year without a summer because some volcano blew up. Crops failed and people starved."
"Very good, Hunter," Steven praised, "but a nuclear winter is actually far more complex. A volcanic eruption throws up ash, lots of carbon, and other natural stuff. But it falls from the sky fairly quickly and everything is back to normal within a year or two. A nuclear war tosses up a great deal more. In addition to dust, manmade stuff like bits of poisonous partials of asbestoses, chlorine gas, lead, arsenic, and even pesticides have all been sent high into the air. Making matters worse, there are now widespread fires burning around cities and probably into forests. This will only add more into the sky to block out the sun. A nuclear winter could last for many, many years."
"So now we colds to death?" Zeki whimpered.
"First off, Zeek, it will take time and there are things you all can do even if it starts to happen."
Vernon's brow crinkled as he spoke, "What things?"
"Well," Steven leaned back realizing the pills were actually starting to dull the pain, "if a real nuclear winter hits, you would all have to start moving south as soon as it was safe to do so. You still might want to. However, Mom helped the government come up with a way that might cut down on a nuclear winter. I was brought in as part of the project, since I have a degree in engineering and I think Mom wanted to make sure I didn't get an extra deployment to Afghanistan."
Devin's eyes went wide, "Really?
"Yeah… Not real fair to the other Army Rangers…" Steven sighed and took another bite of food, "But a mom in congress can twist some arms in the military and I'm sure Mom did so."
"I'm glad she did," Hunter smiled. "Otherwise you may not have become one of our scout masters."
"Me too!" both Ramsey and Gage said at the same time.
Angus nodded in total agreement but turned the discussion back to the secret project. "So you all came up with a way to stop this years-long winter?"
"We came up with an idea…" Steven closed his eyes as he fought the desire to stick with the oath he took not to reveal anything even remotely this classified, "And last I heard the big scientists finalized it into a real plan."
"So what is it?" Ramsey demanded to know.
"We thought over lots of things, but one kept coming up." Steven looked over the boys, "The biggest thing was to quickly get as much dust out of the sky before it went into the stratosphere, above where it rains. In order to do this, we needed to make it rain all over the world, and we also wanted it to rain really heavy here in the U.S."
Gage cocked his head to the side, "How do you make it rain worldwide?"
"By putting billions of gallons of water into the atmosphere in dozens of different locations," Steven glanced over the blank looks of the seven boys. "We figured we would fire a bunch of nukes into the oceans, big reservoirs, and even the great lakes…"
"You blew up more nukes to help?" Devin shouted in horror. "How does that help the world?"
Hunter held up his hand, almost like he was in a classroom. As soon as Steven nodded at him he spoke, "The water going into the air would make rain and it would knock most of the stuff out of the air fast and before it got too high, right?"
Steven eyed the boy with a degree of astonishment. "OK, you saw that like a thousand times faster than most of the scientists on the project…."
Angus glanced over at Hunter, "Again, this is why you are the patrol leader."
Ramsey reached over and patted Hunter on the shoulder, "No wonder you got to skip third and fifth grade."
Angus looked over at Ramsey, "He was going to skip again this next year too, if his mom and dad agreed."
Steven raised an eyebrow and looked over at Hunter, "First I heard about it, and I talk to your dad all the time."
"Cause I wasn't sure if I wanted to, so I asked people not to say anything. The only reason Angus knows is he is my best friend and my mom asked him to try to convince me to do it. They figured since Angus gets to scrimmage with the JV football team and even helps as the ball boy at the junior college, he'd be able to talk me into it." Hunter grumbled, "I'm already the smallest and youngest kid in the eighth grade. I don't even want to know how small I'd be going to…" He stopped himself before he said more.
Angus gave Hunter a light shove. "Come on dude, tell them!"
"Tell us what?" Devin insisted.
Angus grabbed Hunter, put him in a head lock and started tickling the boy. As Hunter burst out laughing and started struggling, Angus looked down. "I'm not going to stop until you tell them!"
After another thirty seconds Hunter finally gave up, in-between burst of laughter he managed to spit out, "They wanted me… to…. try a year at… the college! Now stop or I'll pee my pants!"
Angus gave Hunter one last hard tickle into his ribs before he released his friend. "He passed the GED and SAT a month ago."
Hunter wiped some tears out of his eyes as he shook his head and grinned at Angus, "That was not fair at all!"
"How do you think I felt when your mom told me you had gone to Manhattan, to take the test at the University of Kansas State? You didn't even tell anyone why you were gone for the whole week!"
"So that is where you went…" Devin eyed Hunter. "At least now I know why I had to take over as patrol leader and you missed the first scout outing since you joined like cub scouts over that weekend."
Hunter let out a long breath, "The principal and teachers kept giving me all this advanced class junk. I made the mistake of telling them they were boring and too easy when I was caught playing my PSP in a science lab. I even showed the teacher I knew what I was doing and the next thing I knew this professor from KSU showed up at my house and gave me a bunch of tests. A month later, Mom took me to KSU and dropped me off with the guy for the whole week. When I called you, Devin, I had just gotten out of my last GED test and was told by another professor they wanted me to stay a few more days, help me prepare for the SAT, and then arranged to give it to me, but I had to fly to Philadelphia to take it, since it had to be at a place that was giving one. I was tiny compared to all the others who were taking it…"
"And you got good grades?" Gage asked.
Angus looked at the ceiling when Hunter didn't respond. "He averaged a 778 on the GED which is like a 3.9 GPA."
"Holy crap!" Gage gasped. "So you are like a genius or something!"
With all eyes on him, Hunter glanced down, took the last bite of food on his paper plate and downed a healthy swig of water out of his canteen. "That's what everyone keeps saying."
"Sounds like you are to me," Steven stated with a great deal of respect. "The world is going to need people like you to help rebuild… So did you hear what your SAT scores were?"
Hunter eyed Angus and clenched his fist, knowing if he didn't tell Angus would. For a best friend the kid had a knack for not keeping anything a secret, especially if it was to brag about someone else. "Yeah, my Critical Reading was 763, Math was 771, but I only got a 695 on Writing."
"Only…" Steve shook his head in astonishment, "You scored like a good fifty points higher than me on every test and over a hundred more on your critical reading… Those kind of scores would get you in to Harvard or MIT… What, exactly, is your IQ?"
"KSU says 152, but I was kind of sick of testing by then, so I think I could have done better."
"Like 152 isn't already high enough." Angus chuckled. "You already got an offer to join Mensa."
"I'm not one of those geeks," Hunter barked out forcefully then grinned rather impishly "Remember, I'm the only one down here who doesn't even have extra flashlight batteries."
This got a round of giggles and even caused Steven to chuckle softly.
Hunter leaned back on one of the futons as he shook his head, "Besides, it's all done now. I bet there isn't even a KSU anymore." He then looked back at Steven, "So you all did some sort of computer tests to see where the best places were blow up a bunch of water?
"Something along those lines," Steven admitted. "I know part of the so called stimulus package was actually to build a few more nuke missile sites in secret, so the barrage could be launched right after the initial waves of nukes blasted us back to the Stone Age. We even put a couple of them to wipe out the big floating piles of trash in the Pacific and Atlantic, just to clean up some of the garbage so what was left of the human race would have less problems of the past to deal with. We also targeted major lakes across the western US, since they would become radiation tainted and would kill those who tried to use them for drinking water. This way the water in them would go up, fall back down and wash the air. At least such was the plan.
"Most of the secret missiles tasked to do this were hidden here in Kansas, with some in Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. Did any of you see a wave of missiles head out right after the nuclear strike happened?"
Zeki pointed to Angus, "He see them and show us!"
"They were supposed to be set to launch approximately ten minutes after the last big barrage of nukes were to hit. One of the reasons I ended up here is I decided to get out of the program after we set it all up and I was at one of the secret missile sites only a hundred miles from here. I got tired of thinking about doom and gloom all the time. Besides, I got a nice severance check from the company I was assigned to as a military liaison. I really didn't want to go back to the Army and had some cash. I also kind of liked the quiet life outside of the big cities I have lived in all my life, so I figured if I could get a job out here, I'd be able to start a new life, especially since I got my grandmother's house about twenty miles north of Colby."
Steven then shot a sincere grin over to Vernon, "I bounced around from town to town for over two weeks, spiraling out from my grandmother's birth home, looking for something to support me. So when you saw me at the electronics shop applying for a job in my military uniform and asked if I had ever thought about helping out a scout troop I jumped at the chance. Working with you kids has been great and way more fun than I ever expected."
Vernon shrugged as the other kids all looked at him. "We just lost Mr. Drammer and Sid's dad was talking about backing out for a while because of Sid's cancer. I saw Mr. Korbal and the military stuff and figured he would be a good replacement and could teach us some neat stuff."
"You were right," Hunter nodded, then looked back at Steven. "Scouts got way better after you joined and we started doing more short trips and stuff."
Steven kind of chuckled, "To be honest, I don't think I would have gotten the job had Vern not asked me, since I was an outsider and all… As a matter of fact, right after Vern left, Bruce told me he would give me a shot if I would help you all out, saying the kids could use a military guy to teach them how to be real Americans… So I went to Kansas City, got my training to become a scout leader, and came back. Bruce hired me the second he found out I had been accepted to help."
Steven winced as he moved his arm, "Until I met you all that first night, I never saw myself as a kid person."
"You'd make a great dad," Angus stated seriously.
While the others all nodded and murmured in total agreement, Steven found himself blinking out a couple of tears. "Thanks guys, but you may have some different feelings after what I am about to ask you to do."
"What?" Angus asked with a concerned frown. "We'll do anything you want!"
Steven lowered his head and pointed to his arm. "This is never going to heal like this. I want…need… a few of you to hold me down while one of you straightens out my arm and splints it. It will only get infected and nasty if you all don't do this. If we get it straight, I probably won't be able to use it properly ever again but at least there is a chance it will heal. If it doesn't heal…"
Hunter gulped as he realized what Steven was saying. "If it doesn't heal we will have to cut it off, won't we?"
Steven glanced over at Hunter and gave a sharp nod.
Looks of horror and disgust flashed across the faces of all of the others. Angus was the first to stand. "Tell me what you need."
Steven talked the kids through what needed to be done and then found a small garden spade with a wooden handle, put it in his mouth and bit down. "Just do it as fast as you can Hunter!" he hissed from around the handle.
A moment later the twelve-year-old patrol leader gave a sharp tug on Steven's arm and pulled it straight. Both Gage and Vernon had to puke into a bucket, while Ramsey and Devin had to force bile back down their throats, as the sounds of Steven's scream coupled with the crunching of the busted bones being forced to go straight, all but echoed in the confined cellar.
Fortunately, for all concerned, Steven quickly blacked out. This made the rest of Hunter's task a great deal easier. As soon as the broken bones sank out of sight within the arm, he grabbed the hot metal rod that had been set over the camp stove and pressed it into the wound. He then went to work first cooling the horrible burn with water and burn cream out of the first aid kit then moved on to bandaging and splinting the wound. He realized as he did so, if it did heal, Mr. Korbal would probably never be able to use his elbow again. He also noticed the temporary reopening of the wound had sprayed his shirt with blood. He shuddered.
With tears in his eyes Hunter tied the last makeshift splint on and slid back. He quickly yanked off his blood stained tee-shirt, tossed it off to the side, and used one of the bowls of water Zeki had filled to wash off. After several minutes of silence Hunter stood, dumped the bloody water into the vomit bucket, added in his shirt and screwed the lid on. He then took a deep breath and looked over at the others. "This stays over here and we use it for pee and poop. Cover it as soon as you're done. We only have three buckets with lids, so we will have to pretty much fill this up before we start on the next one. We need to make sure the stove is off too, since we aren't getting much, if any, fresh air in here."
A muffled clap of thunder stopped him from saying more. He looked up at the heavy cellar door then back to his patrol mates. "It'll probably get warm down here with all our body heat, so we should eat the fresh vegetables first before they go bad. We should also put out all but one candle for now. We only have a few boxes of them and then we will have to switch to flashlights."
As evening moved on to night no one said a word. The kids used another bowl of water to wash off some of the veggies and ate them in silence, occasionally glancing upward as thunder exploded above.
Zeki finally glanced down at his wind up watch and spoke. "It almost midnight… me wander what Mom and Dad are doing right now?"
"Wonder, not wander." Devin corrected Zeki softly as he took a deep breath and looked at the single candle as it flickered and cast weird shadows over the whole room. "Is anyone else wondering if our parents are alive?"
Hunter nodded, "I am… and if they are, will we see them again?"
"We have to go home as soon as we can…" Devin started to say only to be cut off by Ramsey.
"Hey, speak for yourself, my dad and Vern's dad are waiting for us up at the park. We need to go there first!"
"Guys," Angus barked forcefully, sensing an argument brewing. "Right now there are eight of us and we do what Mr. Korbal tells us. He is the closest thing any of us now have for a parent. Now he told us to keep watches just in case something happens. Zeek, you have the only working clock. All our phones and digital watches died. Make sure you wind it so we can keep track of days and we should put it where all of us can see it. Now, I suggest either Hunter or Devin should be awake at all times and they should each have someone else up with them."
Hunter nodded and glanced around the room as he finished off a carrot. "Agreed, but I'd like to make you the third for shift pulling, Gus, so each of us can get at least eight hours of sleep. We'll each take a four hour shift with someone else. "Ram, your breathing is not the greatest so I don't want you to take a watch. Instead, I want you to relax and get as much rest as you can. Take the other bed."
"But…" Ram spoke with a bit of a wheeze.
Angus sent a glare over at Ramsey silencing him. "Look, we know you're the other twelve-year-old here and you've been part of the troop for over a year, just like us other twelve-year-olds, but Hunter is in charge when Mr. Korbal isn't and it's pretty clear he ain't at the moment. We have to keep to leadership or we'll fall apart like third patrol did over the winter. The whole reason their winter trip didn't go well is because all of them wanted to take the lead when things went wrong. Half of them quit scouts over it and aren't even friends anymore. Well, we can't quit. We're all each of us has at the moment and we can't pick up a cell phone and have Mom and Dad pick us up.
"Plus, we may be stuck down here for a week or more. To make this work, we can only have one big boss and one backup and we elected Hunter and Devin."
Hunter glanced over to Ramsey, "When you sound better you can switch out with one of us so we can take a night off without a watch. In the meantime, try to do those breathing exercises and get some sleep. We don't want you to have to use your inhaler unless there is no other choice."
"Then what?" Zeki demanded to know.
Hunter glanced over at Mr. Korbal then back at Zeki. "Once we all get some good rest, we'll pull out everything we have and found, get it all cleaned as we can, and figure out who carries what. Right now it sounds like a heck of a rain, which is exactly what Mr. Korbal wanted and even helped to plan for. He may be the reason we live through this and we best all thank him for it when he wakes up."
Hunter then glanced up at the cellar door. "Hopefully, we'll be able to get out of here sooner rather than later. But, whenever we do, we'll have to be a team, 'cause everything we know is pretty much nothing right now."