Day of N
Steven woke nearly twenty-five hours after getting his arm set and wound cauterized. As his eyes snapped open his first thought was 'I must be in hell'. The pain was beyond anything he could have imagined.
Fortunately, Gage saw his eyes pop open and moved over to him. "Mr. Korbal, are you OK?"
Steven shuddered as he forced himself to sit up. "No…" His voice croaked in some dryness.
He reached for the pill bottles off to the side of the bed, but Zeki got to them first. "How much do me gets you?"
"Two… two of each… need water too."
Zeki's left eyebrow went up as he opened the first pill bottle, "Hows does me get you two water?"
Vernon moved over giggling, "No, Zeek, he needs water also!"
Zeki blushed badly, "Oh, yous say the other word for too… Sorry Mr. Kobal." This caused a large burst of laughter from most of the other boys, further causing Zeki's face to flair red.
Steven managed a pain filled snort of humor, but reached out and lightly ruffled Zeki's thick brown hair, "Your English is getting better all the time Zeek. Don't worry about it. Remember, the only ones in here who can speak more than one language is you, me, Ramsey and Hunter, and you are the only one who knows four."
Zeki shot a big grin over at Steven as he reached over, grabbed his water bottle and squirted some into Steven's mouth. He quickly handed the man the two pills then squirted another shot of water into his mouth so he could more easily swallow. He followed the same procedure as soon as Vernon handed Steven two pills from the other bottle.
Steven tried to will the pills to work as he leaned back against the wall. "Is it me or is it really warm in here?"
"I think you have a fever," Hunter spoke with a great deal of concern, "but it is pretty hot and stuffy."
Steven said nothing as his eyes surveyed the scene. All the kids had their packs spread out and all the guns found upstairs were laid out with a couple of gun cleaning kits and gun oil next to them. The four backpacks found above were also empty and the stuff inside was set up on one of the shelves; while the tools and other odds and ends that had been stored down in the cellar had been totally gone through. Most of the useless stuff had been piled under the stairs. He also noted, with some humor, a set of old weights had been found and someone, almost certainly Angus, had set up a tiny work out area in the space between the two futons.
"I must have been out for a while. You guys have been busy."
"We were for a while, but the more we do the hotter it gets." Angus complained. "We even tried the radio, but only got static, so we turned it off. It was just a waste of batteries."
"What time is it… do we know?"
Hunter pointed to where the kids had hung up Zeki's wind up watch on a nail on the center support. "We do have a clock at least."
Steven started to stand only to see Vernon jump up and go over to the watch. He flipped on his flashlight so he could see it better. "It's six-forty."
Steven continued to stand, waving off the boys as he did so. "I got to take a leak, bad."
Hunter pointed over to Gage, "Open the bucket for him while Angus and I help him stand."
Steven started to argue about the assistance, but as pain rippled across his chest he realized he probably couldn't make it to a standing position without them. He looked around as he finally made it to a standing position, "Um, where…"
"Behind the sheet we hung up off the steps." Hunter stated as he guided the man over to the makeshift bathroom area with Angus' help.
"If it is almost seven in the morning…" Steven started only to be cut off by Angus.
"No sir, it's six-forty in the evening."
Steven felt his jaw drop open some as he tried to get the kids to back off. "I was out for over twenty-four hours?"
"Pretty much…" Gage stated as his nose crinkled at the smell coming out of the now open plastic bucket.
"Whoa…" Steven cringed as he once again tried to push the boys back, "Nasty smell we got going here."
"Sir, just go while we hold you up." Angus commanded. "You can barely stand."
Steven waved his good arm, "Guys I have to do both…"
"So we'll help you." Hunter responded while staying right next to the man. "You can't even stand, how do you expect to sit on a wobbly toilet set over a bucket?"
Steven eyed the seat as Gage sat it on the bucket and quickly backed away. "Where'd…?"
Angus grinned, "I took it off the toilet in the master bedroom once I realized we'd be down here for so long."
"Good thinking." He paused as he started to undo his pants.
"Sir," Angus stated firmly, "with all due respect, your aren't doing anything wrong by taking a dump in front of us since you need help and the longer this takes the more it will smell up the whole cellar."
Steven finally relented and did his business. As horrible and embarrassing as it was, he even had to get help wiping himself since the rib injury made moving his good hand back behind him too painful. It was with a great deal of relief when he finally pulled his pants back up, albeit with Angus' help.
Hunter gave Mr. Korbal a reassuring smile, "Sir, it's OK."
"No… no it's not… But thank you both for what you are doing for me and saying." He took a whiff of the air and cringed. "We need to replace this air or we'll all get sick…"
"How?" Devin asked with a great deal of fear. "If we open up we'll let radiation and stuff in, won't we?"
Steven chewed on his lip for several seconds. "Do we still have duct tape?"
"Like five rolls." Angus snorted and held up a large tube well over half full of rolls of the thick tape. "Whoever lived here was seriously Sam's Club happy. They bought everything it bulk."
"Which is a good thing 'cause we have like sixty-two rolls of toilet paper too," Gage added.
This got a burst of laughter out of Steven who had to cringe and clutch at his ribs briefly. "You all sure found the right house to seek shelter in." He glanced over at the watch on the wall, "So you are all sure it is almost nineteen hundred and not zero seven hundred?"
While most of the kids glanced over at Steven blankly, Zeki nodded, stood and moved over to his watch. "It be eighteen fifty-six Mr. Kobal."
Hunter's eyes flashed in sudden understanding, "He is using a twenty-four hour clock, guys."
Gage looked over with total confusion, "Twenty-four hour clock?"
Zeki looked back and smiled, "The time goes on after noon. Instead of telling it be one in the post noon time, it become thirteen, two become fourteen and so on. At midnight it start over. In my home country we never put AM or PM down like we does here in America. If we had a soccer game it would be on a twenty-four hour time on the list so we knows if it morning time or post noon time.
"It really made Mom crazy when you all told her we meet for scouts at four-fifteen. I had to have Mr. Kobal tell her it was after school, not four-fifteen in the morning like six times before she realized it was post noon time."
This got several giggles. Gage looked over, "Your mom really thought it was at four-fifteen in the morning?"
Zeki nodded, "It was the first time she see a twelve hour time system. At least by time I got my school schedule, she understand school was not eight-fifteen to three-fifteen in the morning, but she still stared at it and even counted all the hour it would be before she caught on."
Gage saw how serious Zeki was and burst out in a giggle fit.
"Well, at least you guys' spirits are pretty high." Steven wiped some sweat off his brow and glanced back up to the cellar door, "So guys, here is what we are going to do. As soon as it cools down outside, say about midnight to one, we are going to crack the door open and let the air exchange on its own. Since it is hot down here and heat rises, we will simply let the hot air go up as the cooler air comes down."
This sobered Gage's mood quickly, "What about radiation?"
Steven held up a finger to calm the kids. "Guys, radiation is not in the air, it is in particles that emit energy. After the hard rain most of these will be in the ground and even better, the really dangerous stuff has put out a great deal of its power and is breaking down. Now, I know there are some types of radiation that linger for decades, but that will be really close to the blast zones.
"Granted we would be better off with a nice air filter and air exchange system, but if we do it this way we will not kick up much dust, and if we use a shovel handle we can lift it up while we stay below ground. This way almost all the radiation will stay over us. We then wait until it feels cool down here and tape it back up. We do that for a few more days and then we can venture up for short periods, empty the waste buckets and get water from the inside pump… Just make sure we have a couple guns ready every time we open the cellar in case something or someone has moved in."
"Wouldn't we hear it if someone did, and don't we want to help them?" Devin asked with a great deal of concern.
Angus shook his head and answered for Steven, "Dude, people will be desperate and may be sick and contaminated and junk. We can't risk it. By waiting it out down here for a couple of weeks one of the things we are letting happen is the sick and crazy ones will die and we will be kind of safer."
Devin looked down as he saw Steven nod. "That is so mean…"
"This is the worst part of a nuclear war." Steven stated softly while edging forward so he could put his good hand on the boy's shoulder. "We have to protect ourselves from not only the radiation but from sickness, disease, polluted and poisonous water and, unfortunately, other humans who will be happy to slit your throat or worse, to take what you have.
"There are far too many out there right now who don't know one tenth of what each of you know. All they want to do is survive and the only way they can do so is take from others, since they have no clue how to get clean water, hunt, or even live without electricity. Do you realize how many people who live in cities have never had to cook over a fire and have never spent a single night without electricity? That is why people die when there is a power outage for more than a couple of days and the government does not get there to help. Now there is no government, so after three days those who lived though this will hit the streets and kill, loot and do whatever else they can think of to get a single can of food.
"Things will get even worse after a week since all the easy stuff will have been scavenged. People will move further out and will start shooting at each other. As things get worse, people will start killing for guns and other weapons. The only good thing, if one can call such a situation good, is most of these people will be killing themselves as they forage, loot and kill. If the radiation doesn't get them, thirst will. Contaminated water will cause sickness and death. Rain water will not be safe for weeks, if not months and most survivors will try to collect it off of things that are lying around which means radiation contamination."
Steven paused and looked over the kids as they all looked at him with wide eyes. "The last thing you need to seriously consider is no one can be trusted on sight. Military uniforms are durable so they will be worn by whoever finds them. Prisons will now be empty, and those who survived could easily have guard or even police uniforms on. Cops will have been killed and police stations will be looted, so badges will be in the hands of whoever found and wants to use them.
"By us waiting these first few weeks out, I am trying to keep you safe from this initial round of violence while having time to teach you everything from survival skills to some basic military tactics. I am very hopeful the three to four weeks we stay here will allow for some semblance of law and order to take hold, but even where it does, laws will be localized and vastly different from one area to the next, probably even one town to the next. Some places will be very wary of any strangers, even kids, while others may want to take you in then use you all as slave labor or worse."
"Won't anyplace be safe?" Ramsey wondered aloud.
"There will be some," Steven nodded, "and the more time that passes, the better it will probably get since people will figure out what areas are safe, and food starts getting produced again. There will also be pockets of the U.S. and state governments and militaries. They will need to first find a safe place to base operations out of, then consolidate power. They will move outward, but who knows how long that will take and there is a good chance some of these power bases will fight each other for control over important resources."
Steven once again rubbed Devin's shoulder as the boy started to cry. "The important thing is you all need to stick together. We'll give things a couple more days than try the old radio you guys found down here again. I bet by then there will be a couple of small radio stations on the air and the information will be far more accurate than it is now. Maybe we can start piecing together an accurate picture of what is out there, what happened, and what is going on before we have to leave and do our own searching for food."
Gage listened and shrugged as if what had happened didn't bother him nearly as much as it did the others. Without showing any real emotion, he opened up a can of spiced apples for Steven and even held it so the man could feed himself. Off to the side a few games were broken out and another candle lit so they could see a little better.
After a fourth game of Yahtzee, Hunter glanced over, noting Steven had fallen back asleep.
Hunter then handed the dice over to Gage and motioned he was not going to sit in on the next game. Instead, he moved over to the bed and put his hand on Steven's forehead. He let out a slight sigh of relief. His biggest fear was Mr. Korbal getting sick at this point. He knew if it happened the rest of them would be in danger, but the other options were not something he could live with. Moving a bit away from the clattering dice, he picked up one of the empty notebooks Devin had found upstairs and grabbed a pen.
'The day after the nukes hit…' he started to write then scratched it out and chewed on the end of his pen. After a few more seconds of thought, the pen went pack down to the paper.
'Day of N +1:
'The first bombs exploded in the distance just over 38 hours ago. There was no warning just a flash in the sky above and off to what I think was the west first, then the mushroom clouds were all around us. Were we lucky or are we the unlucky?
'Part of me thinks one thing the other part thinks the other way. I think I am scared, but I am not sure. Maybe if I had been in one of the blasts and had turned to ash it would be nicer, since I wouldn't care if I was scared or not. I'd be with God. But I live and Pastor Mike says we can't kill ourselves because that is a sin no one can repent, since you aren't alive to do so.
'I don't know… I think back to when Uncle Hank took his own life, after he lost his farm to the bank and Aunt Edith took my cousins back to Alabama. Would God really be so mean to not let him join Him after all that? One way or another I can't go down that road even though it kind of seems like a good option. For some stupid reason the others really look to me, even though I don't like it. If I killed myself it would be greedy in a way since I would be taking away one of their leaders. I would be taking that away from the others and that would be an extra sin. On the other hand, if I killed myself, I wouldn't have to worry about cancer eating me alive. I don't want to have to go through what Sid keeps dealing with.
'Of course, I wouldn't go through the chemo-therapy (huh, I wonder if that is one word or two. I know most of the time people just call it chemo…) Anyway, I'd just get sick and die since there can't be too many hospitals left and the radiation will give lots of people cancer and junk. No one would care if a 12-year-old came in with cancer, not after this. If anything it would be one less mouth to feed.
'The weird thing is, I'm not really mad at whoever blew up the world, I just want to know why. (Does that make me crazy? Probably, but what can I do about that now, or even before for that matter.) I guess knowing why would help me in some strange way. When we left for the bike trip there was the usual junk on the news, Some guy shot a couple of cops in KC, and there was the back and forth about too many guns in the U.S. again, but nothing sounded like a war was going to start, let alone a nuclear one. Nothing was said by Ram's dad when he met us for the first night of the bike trip up to the state park either. He was actually really nice to us and even bought us some marshmallows and chocolate so we could make s'mores over the campfire. When he left in the morning, there was no concern in his voice as he told us he would give us each ten bucks if we could make it to the park before 3:00… that sure doesn't sound like a guy who thinks a world war is about to happen.
'So what could have happened to piss someone off so bad, so fast, that he would kill off who knows how many millions… probably billions… of people. I bet God will have a very special punishment for whoever did this. I sure hope so.'
Hunter closed the notebook and glanced over at the others who had finally bored of rolling dice. Well, at least just rolling dice. Instead, they had broken out the Monopoly game that had been in the very bottom of the box of toys. Only he and Zeek were not gathered around the game. Zeki had moved off to the black futon and had started on one of the seven puzzles, setting it out on the dining room table Angus had almost single handedly hauled down the steep steps.
He glanced at the watch and noticed it was still two and a half hours or so until Steven said it would be OK to let some fresh air in. He briefly eyed the heavy door and thought about pushing up the time table, but to do so would be to break Steven's trust and the guy was not only an awesome scout leader, he was hurt and counting on them to do the right thing. Realizing this, Hunter quickly shook off the idea. They could live a couple more hours in the stuffy confines of the shelter, and if they opened it up every night, then it would not get this bad again.
With a shrug he picked up the pen and started to write again, only this time it was slower and better thought out.
'If anyone finds this sometime down the road and starts to read it they will think I have totally lost it. I haven't, at least not yet, so I figured I better be a bit more careful and not ramble so much.
'There are eight of us down in a cellar now. We have been here for a day and a half. We don't know whose house this was, but the bank was about to take it according to the signs. But, well, as Mr. K pointed out, the banks are probably a thing of the past, at least for quite a while and this place has everything we need to live for a while.
'Still, this cellar sucks. It's hot, stuffy, and the bathroom bucket really stinks up the place whenever we open it, so we all hold on for as long as we can. I almost peed my pants I held on for so long and I haven't seen two of the guys take a dump yet, so they have got to be in some pain by now.
"It has rained twice that we know of since we could hear the hail hitting the house above. Since we could hear it down here, it must have been real bad. I hope none of the windows busted out, but all of them had outside shutters and Mr. K. made sure we pulled them closed before we closed all the windows and taped them up so no dust could get in. We also stuck a big wad of towels and a bedspread up into the chimney. According to Mr. K. it is all about the dust. We don't want any.
'It is kind of strange. So far I have not heard one of us mention any family member other than mom and dad, and we only do that in passing. All of us have bothers and or sisters, and other than Zeek, we all have dogs or cats. Even Mr. K. has a dog, but we don't talk about them. I guess I want to remember them all alive, and I bet everyone else is thinking the same thing. Just a thought… is it wrong for me to miss my black lab, Midnight, more than my two brothers? Man I wish she was here to pet right now.
I have cried a few tears but nothing like I should. The world is gone, I don't know if I have a family and well, this really sucks. The real problem is the others keep looking to me. What do they expect, for that matter what do I expect out of me? I guess time will tell. Maybe I'll cry tomorrow or something.'
Hunter put the pen down and leaned his head back against the wall. He closed his eyes for a few seconds before he spoke. "Guys, I'm going to crash for a bit. Wake me up before we open the cellar. I want to feel the cool air!"
"Will do," Angus said as he rolled the dice and got his third double. As he put his piece in jail he muttered.
Devin grinned, "I think we know what your car piece feels like."
Angus snorted and looked around the cellar. "Yeah, this is kind of like a jail. Only we put ourselves in it. Man, are we really going to be able to stand being down here for days, then only being able to go upstairs for a couple of hours a day for another couple of weeks?"
Hunter yawned, "We'll have to, just think, it could be worse."
"Yeah," Vernon nodded, "we could be low on food and water."
"We could have been burned by the bombs." Zeki chimed in.
"How about being stuck outside or in a sewer, when all that rain and hail hit." Devin shuttered. "I bet some people drowned or got beaten up by hail."
Angus rolled his eyes, "We could be stuck done here without any light. That would really bite."
Gage cringed deeply knowing he would have bawled his eyes out if there was no light, still he added in his own thoughts. "There could have been rats down here."
Ramsey let out a deep breath, "I could be without my inhaler."
Hunter snickered as he adjusted a pillow behind his head, "As bad as all of that would be, what I was really thinking is we could be down here with girls."
The whole group broke out into "yuck", "eww", "gross", and "nasty" before they started giggling.
Steven, even though he was half out of it, cracked a smile and whispered so softly only Hunter heard him. "In a year or two remind the others they made those comments."