Day of N
Hunter glanced over, surprised the man was awake, but he still shot Steven a bit of a bewildered look then shrugged. "I'll let you remind them, sir."He then looked back to the others. "Guys, we wait till one, to open the door, no sooner."
Angus gave a quick nod and turned his attention back to the game. As usual, the second he showed support for Hunter none of the others even bothered to try to say anything.
While Hunter managed to drift off, the other six continued to roll dice move their pieces around the game board and chat. The conversation was strangely empty of any sustenance. There was no talk about plans for the future, no chatter about parents, no complaining about siblings, no stories about pets. For those who had been in the troop for several months to over a year, the conversation gravitated toward remembering past outings and some of the pranks, dumb and dangerous stunts, and silly mistakes they had done. This allowed those who were newer to get to know the others and ask questions, but stories ran dry after only an hour and a half. At the same time the game continued, yet no one was really into it, but none of them really wanted it to end. This somehow became an unspoken and unplanned decision to not go for blood by making deals with the others to get monopolies, and those who did get them out of sheer luck put off putting up hotels.
Time seemed to slow for those who were awake. All of them found themselves looking at the watch over and over. Willing the hour hand to work its way around to where they were allowed to open the cellar door. The moment the second hand on the watch rotated around and the hour hand centered on the one, Devin jumped up, "Mr. Korbal, Hunter, it's time!"
Hunter's eyes popped open and he cringed as he realized he had a bit of a headache and someone must have recently used the bucket 'cause the smell was pretty intense. Still, he jumped up and eyed the watch with a great deal of relief and even some excitement.
Steven was much slower but he managed to sit up. He had to fight not to let out a curse of pain, but even he had to admit he was a bit excited by the prospect of fresh air. However, his concern was squarely focused on the kids' safety. "OK, before we do this I want all lights, but one, out and that one is in the bathroom area. We don't want any light going up the steps since it could easily be seen through the windows. Secondly, we need to make sure our eyes are adjusted to the dark."
Gage quickly grabbed one of the flashlights, turned it on and moved behind the sheets where the bathroom was set up. Several of the kids eyed Gage, but nothing was said.
Steven even raised an eyebrow since he was surprised anyone would willingly volunteer to be in the last place to get any fresh air, but quickly focused back on the task at hand. He looked over at the weapons the kids had lined up against the wall. "Have you decided on who is going to carry what rifles?"
Hunter nodded, "Yeah. I'm taking the shotgun, Gage has the hunting rifle, Vern has one of the muskets, Angus and Ram each took a .22, and Devin has the old pistol since Vern loaded it for him."
Steven shook his head. "Devin, in the lower back of my pack pull open the zipper and pull out my towel and hygiene kit. There is a collapsible .22 in there."
"You aren't supposed to have a gun on a campout, Mr. Korbal." Devin stated with wide eyes.
"Yeah, so fire me." Steven grunted.
This got some giggles out of all of the kids.
Devin moved over and pulled out the butt of a gun. He looked it over then glanced back at Steven, "um, where is the rest?"
Ramsey started snickering as he moved over and took the weapon from Devin. "It's under the butt pad." He pulled off the plastic pad and quickly pulled out the gun barrel, center piece, and one of the two ten round magazines and put it together. "Dad bought one of these for everyone in my family."
Steven nodded his approval. "Ram, you take that and give Devin the regular .22. Devin I'll take the cap and ball pistol since there is no way I can shoot a rifle with my arm screwed up like it is, and I actually know how to reload one of these without Vern's help."
Steven then turned to Zeki while he took the offered pistol from Devin, "So you have the other musket?"
Zeki shook his head vigorously, "Me not shoot any guns. No know how."
"You need to learn." Steven commanded then looked over to Vernon, "You need to teach him how to load it. Once we get a chance to go outside for a while I'll help you teach him how to shoot it, but I have never loaded a musket before." He then glanced at the others, "Well, guys get your weapons and be ready. If someone is up there, we very well may have to defend ourselves."
As he waited, he glanced over at Zeki. "You'll have to be the one to open the door. Angus will unbar it, step well back, and you push it up with the rake end of the garden rake. Push it up through the stairs and stay under them so no one is in the way."
"In the way of what?" Angus asked with confusion on his face.
"Hunter." Steven responded without hesitation. "I want him on a knee aiming up the steps with a round chambered."
"Because you have the shotgun," Gage answered from the makeshift bathroom area. "It is the most dangerous close in weapon we have and even if someone is in body armor, it'll blow them back and get some into their face."
Steven shot a surprised look toward the hanging sheets. "Yeah, what Gage said."
Ramsey snickered again as he chambered a round in the .22. "I told you, he shoots with my dad all the time. I think he spends the night at my house more for shooting with my dad then to play video games with me."
"He is the one who keeps asking me over, Ram." Gage giggled.
"Cause none of his kids are as big a gun nut as you are and he doesn't like to shoot alone." Ramsey laughed, "Besides, it's been great for me since when I have a friend over, I get the big TV to game on."
Steven shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Interesting… it sounds like you were being used Gage."
"I don't care! I get to shoot like hundreds of rounds a weekend!"
This got another burst of giggles from most of the others, but Steven quickly sobered the mood. "The rest of you, I want your rifles pointed up the stairs, but spread out and make sure you are all aiming where there is no chance of you shooting each other."
He waited while everyone found a spot then took a minute to move them around so they had the best angles of fire while not endangering each other. Finally, he looked at Hunter, "You have the most dangerous spot so if there are problems, shoot first then roll toward me."
As soon as Hunter nodded his understanding Steven motioned for Angus to remove the hunk of 4x4 they had barred the door with and waited for the youngster to get back and take his firing position. "OK, Zeek push slowly. We don't want to disturb any more dust than we have to. Once it is open six to eight inches hold it and we'll see it this will work or not."
Zeki pushed up on the rake handle but was simply not strong enough to lift the heavy oak door. After three tries Angus shoulder his rife and moved beside the much smaller boy. "I'll help you."
Steven held up a finger and once again adjusted everyone so the best angles could be covered with one person removed from the firing arc. As soon as he was satisfied he gave Angus a nod.
This time the tape seal around the door made a tearing sound and the wooden section lifted upwards. It took less than thirty seconds for a down draft of cold air to flow in while the hotter air quickly started rolling out
Hunter, being the closest to the exchange of air, started shivering after only a minute, "Man, it must be awful chilly outside… and I am pretty sure it's raining. I think I can hear it."
"Part of it is how warm it got on us down here," Steven countered, "but you're right; it sure isn't a normal early June night outside."
A moment later a flash of light came through the cracked cellar door causing everyone to tighten their grips on their weapons, but a few seconds latter their racing hearts calmed as a rumble of distant thunder cascaded over the house.
Devin glanced back at Steven. "Sir, do you think it's been raining this whole time?"
Steven shrugged and cringed slightly, "I don't have a clue. If it has been, then we really screwed up on the project somewhere, 'cause the plan was to make lots of lines of storms so the fires around the cities would get wave after wave of rain, not one big long storm."
Angus' arms started to ache at the exertion of holding up the door with only a rake. "There sure ain't much we can do about it and the air feels great, but this is getting heavy!"
Steven pointed to Devin, "Give him a hand. It's pretty clear we don't have visitors at this point."
Three minutes later the door was gently lowered down, re-taped and barred again. Once everything was secure to Steven's standards he let out a sigh of relief, popped a couple more pain pills and took a healthy swig of water. "Much better, huh?"
"Yeah!" Gage came out from behind the bathroom sheets and re-lit one of the candles. "And does it ever smell better too! But when can we go up stairs for a while?"
Steven rubbed his chin for a few minutes, "We got enough rain that the air should be pretty clear and most of the radioactive particles will be out of the air, but we still need to give them more time to break down. Let's give it three more days then we'll take a quick walk around the house to check for damage, leaks and the like. But only for no more than an hour a day for each of you, and we do it during the daytime so we won't need any light. The last thing we want is to get careless and let light come from inside the house and attract attention."
With the air exchange complete, sleeping became much easier. Hunter took the first watch with Zeek, electing to help the boy on the puzzle. The puzzle was of some waterfall and a lake below. The problem they quickly ran into was the poor light. Only having two candles made it a great deal more difficult to see the slight cover variations of the water, and the reflections off it. Still, by the time their four hour shift ended, they had the edge done and the vast majority of the waterfall.
Devin looked it over and shook his head, "Gee, only a couple thousand pieces left to go."
Zeki snickered, "Which mean it should be about a thousand left after your turn awake."
Gage shook his head, "No thanks. I'll stick to drawing…" His words stopped in his throat as he noticed the table start to shake. A moment later, he found himself wobbling back and forth.
Zeki dove under the table and pulled at both Devin and Gage, "Earth shake!"
The eyes of the others popped open as several of the glass canning jars started to clank together and the futons and beds shook just enough to creep a few inches across the floor. Hunter grabbed onto the center support post and looked around with bewilderment, "Mr. Korbal?"
Before Steven could respond the shaking stopped just as suddenly as it had started.
Zeki, with Gage and Devin under the table with him, wiped tears out of his eyes. "Earth shake, not think we got them in Kansas!"
"We don't!" Angus stood and pushed some of the glass jars back from the edge of the shelves. He cringed at how close they came to loosing several days' worth of food. "Tornados, thunderstorms, blizzards, sure, earthquakes, no."
"In Turkey we had earth shakes." Zeki shivered in fear, "Me knows one when me feel one!"
Steven spoke up, "Zeek, there have been a few earthquakes in Kansas, but the largest was a 5.1 and it was way back in the 1800's. Part of what we did when we decided on where to place the missiles for the water shield project was to plot some of the most remote and seismically inactive areas since we were worried about a nuclear war causing fault line ruptures. If that was really an earthquake…"
"It be one…" Tears freely rolled down the boy's cheeks as he wrapped his arms around his knees and started rocking back and forth. "The Red Crescent pull me out… Me and me cousin were at lesson at mosque when big one got us in 2011. It be October 23rd, me got pulled out October 28th… Me cousin… They pull half of him off me… "
Ramsey frowned, "Half of him…?"
Zeki started bawling, "Big hunk a roof fell… landed on Imele… me know he… dead… but when me tried to … pull on him…. only got legs and stomach… rest was… under me… then rest of roof fell, me no able to move… Imele… him legs still on me…"
Gage wrapped his arms around Zeki while Devin closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. No one said anything for several seconds.
Things calmed and the several of the boys went back to sleep, including both Gage and Devin as they snuggled next to a badly shook up Zeki.
Just as everyone got organized after eating breakfast and Angus started a workout with the weights, the ground shook again. This one lasted for nearly a minute and caused small items to move from west to east across the floor. Both Hunter and Vernon reacted quickly to put their backs up against the shelving containing the glass jars of food, preventing them from tumbling to the ground and breaking.
As the last round faded, Steven finally flipped on a flashlight, giving everyone decent light, which in turn caused everyone to turn their head away from the light since their eyes were not used to it. When he finally spoke, his voice showed he was more than a little troubled by the idea of an earthquake when they were in a cellar. "Devin, stay with Zeek. The rest of you spread out and look for any damage. As dangerous as possible radiation exposure is, being buried down here is even worse in my book."
Before more could be said the ground shook again, not quite as bad as the latest one, but still enough to get a loud scream out of Zeki.
"The hell with this guys, up!" Steven forced himself to stand while grabbing Ramsey's inhaler and the two pill bottles with the hand of his injured arm and his pack with his other. Even as pain ripped into his side he pointed to the cellar door. "Grab your gear and as much food as you can take up and go, go now! Hunter, we need you up upstairs with the shotgun readied, just in case!"
Angus grabbed his and Zeki's backpack, tossing one over each shoulder, then put his arms around as many jars of food as he could. He quickly backed up the steps and used the back of his head to lift the door. Just as he tumbled out onto the floor of the house the shaking stopped.
Hunter, his pack over his left shoulder and shotgun over his right grabbed Mr. Korbal's arm and helped him up. His eyes darted around in a near panic as they reached the top of the stairs. While Steven moved to the side, dropped his pack and slid down a wall; Hunter quickly tossed his pack into a nearby corner and readied the shotgun. It took only moments for him to realize all the windows and doors had remained taped, but his finger still rested on the trigger as he started making his way through the house just to make sure.
Gage and Devin had to all but carry the petrified Zeki up the stairs. They were more than thankful the shaking had stopped, because it was a tight fit with their packs and the boy between them. Ramsey and Vernon were the last two up, and the first two to go back down to bring up more of the items from below.
Angus quickly hustled down to help, making sure they only got the important things like food, ammo and the like. On the fourth trip up, this one with a bed so Mr. Korbal could have a good place to rest, a fourth, much more powerful tremor hit. This one caused windows to crack, big furniture to move, bookcases to fall, and forced everyone to go down to a knee.
As the latest shaking stopped Steven, with a great deal of worry in his eyes, gazed in the direction of the open cellar, "You guys OK?"
Vernon and Ramsey's heads appeared looking more than a little sacred. They both nodded with extreme vigor, but couldn't make anything more than tight sounding squeaks come out of their mouths. A moment later Angus' voice came from below, "Some dirt fell on me, but I'm good. Nothing broke down here either, amazingly enough!"
The trio finished moving the bed up and helped Steven to lie back down before moving in the direction of the cellar again. Steven's voice stopped them. "We got enough up here to survive, guys. Hold off…"
His voice got caught in his throat as yet another quake hit. This one shattered windows from one end of the house to the other. The interesting thing about it was everyone could see the windows on the east side spider web and shatter first then it moved down the whole house taking windows as it went.
After nearly five minutes of constant movement, Hunter heard a groan over his head; he glanced up and noticed the ceiling starting to bulge. Pure instinct took over as Hunter dove and rolled out of the way just as the heavy gun safe fell through the floor and slammed into the back of the living room.
"Nice dive!" Gage shouted, only to get cut off by Devin.
"Dude! Roll toward us!"
Hunter didn't hesitate and quickly found himself thankful he hadn't as, moments later, the queen-sized bed slammed down right next to the safe.
Still shaking, he looked around and gave Devin a thumbs up while eyeing the fully intact bed.
As suddenly as it started, the shaking stopped. A light breeze blew through the shattered windows, bringing with it a light drizzle of moisture. No one said anything and other than the whistling of wind through broken window panes, the only other sound was Zeki's muffled sobs.
Hunter was first to say something, but his voice shook badly, even as he tried to smile. "Mr. Korbal has a big bed now. He won't have to use a kid's bed anymore if he doesn't want to." Hunter's attempt at humor was suddenly overpowered by reality. He then started to cry and hugging himself at how close he came to being crushed.
Several more minutes pasted before Hunter pulled himself together enough to take a more careful look around. Realizing Devin and Gage were getting wet while they held protectively onto Zeki and bits of glass covered all three, he moved over and spoke softly. "Guys, get away from the window. There is glass everywhere and we can't let ourselves get cold and wet."
Devin stood pulling a nearly catatonic Zeki up with him. "Gage, shake off and give me a hand."
Gage took half a dozen deep breaths before he too finally stood, moved off to the side, and shook most of the glass off. He then held Zeki so Devin could do the same. Finally, the two boys combined to shake and brush off Zeki before taking him toward the inner wall.
Vernon gulped but moved over to one of the windows. "I guess it's too late to worry about radiation now, huh?"
Steven shrugged, then eased himself over onto his side. "Yeah, but with any luck we should be safe enough… But man is it cold for a June day!"
Angus' eyes went wide and he quickly disappeared down the steps. A few minutes later he came back with the last musket, the tools and stuff to make musket balls, the extra caps for the pistol, and Zeki's watch. "It's like 9:20, but it is so dark out…"
Steven glanced out at the dark and gloomy morning. "Projections were it would rain in waves unless something else happened. There were a few possibilities that we calculated could cause this."
"Like what?" Hunter demanded to know.
"The first was the possibility of a second wave of nukes." Steven admitted. "Such an exchange would be seriously limited, but would still send up new plumes of dust and debris, clear the skies around them with massive heat waves and start a limited nuclear winter.
"The second was something we theorized, but that was about it. Some of the models of a massive nuclear exchange, like we seemed to have had, suggested the combined blasts would shake the whole planet and destabilized sections of the crust. This in turn could cause massive volcanic eruptions. If this actually happened, we would be in for a year or two without a summer like what happened back in the 1800s; but since little, if any, would get into the stratosphere, above where rain is possible, things would return to normal fairly quickly.
"The last is probably the most scary," Steven took a deep breath and let it out, not even caring how much discomfort this caused in his chest. "There was talk of what would happen if most of the nuclear power plants went critical. With no human interference most would do a full meltdown since they were most likely damaged by nukes. The fuel rods would melt, leak through the damaged containment vessels and become lava like, melting earth and rock until they hit groundwater. This would then cause massive underground steam explosions.
"In the worst cases steam vents would open up and spew geysers of steam, rock and radiation out. In other places the ground would heave upwards and then fall back down creating new lakes, but they would be totally full of radioactive water.
"In a few very lucky cases the material would melt all the way to the core and disperse in the magma under the crust. But even if this happened, the area around the nuclear plants would be Chernobyl like with fallout and radiation. No one would be able to live around them for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years.
"Still, the extra massive geysers of steam could have very well added to what we pumped into the atmosphere. If this actually happened then there could be millions more gallons of water in the atmosphere and well. We theorized if it happened, the radiation could be knocked down even quicker, but it will concentrate around cities even more, making intense radiation zones and finishing off all those who may have survived the first devastating attacks."
Steven chewed on his lip for a few seconds as he watched the reactions of the kids. Seeing they were following, were very interested, and not showing any extra fear, he continued. "Our models showed both a big positive and a major negative if the geyser theory came to pass." He glanced over at Hunter, "Which do you want first, the good or the bad?"
"The bad, Dad says to always hear the bad first. It makes the good seem even better."
Devin quickly agreed, "The bad, but shouldn't we be doing something to protect ourselves better?"
Steven looked around and slowly nodded. "Good point, we should get the wood, hammers and nails from downstairs and board up all the open windows except one on each side to the house. See if there are some hinges in all those cans of nails and crap where the tools are. Maybe we can build a few shutters or something. Just remember, if we get another tremor to get your butts upstairs and wait it out.
"Also we need make sure we are not over the cellar incase the floor gives out."
Hunter glanced over at the massive hole in the ceiling, "Shouldn't we maybe make sure there isn't anything heavy above us too?"
Steven eyed the hole, then the gun safe and the bed below it carefully. "We should, but it will be very dangerous. The top floor already has serious structural weaknesses."
Angus stood, "I'll do it…"
Steven quickly cut him off, "Gus, you are the heaviest kid here and the strongest. You should help get the wood up from downstairs while Gage and Vern should be the ones to go upstairs and make sure nothing is above us. But boys, take each footstep carefully. The last thing we want is you to fall through the floor."
Another tremor, this one much smaller, caused Gage to grab the handrail of the stairs leading to the second floor. He looked back, "Um…"
Steven shook his head, "Let's give it a few hours before we do the upstairs, especially as weak as the floor is. Gus, you and the others get up as much wood and nails as you can so we can block out the cold and rain. If you have to, break apart the wooden shelving down there so we have enough boards."
While the kids went to work Steven downed a couple more pills and continued telling them what he knew. "So I left off talking about the geysers adding more water into the atmosphere."
Hunter finished putting on a hinge into one of the bigger pieces of wood and nodded. "Yeah, we want the bad news first, 'cause any good news at this point needs to be the last thing we hear!"
Several of the others snickered and nodded in agreement. Steven glanced out at the heavy dark clouds and shivered slightly. "Well, there were two major down sides which kind of combine into one. The first is the steam explosions and geysers would create big sinkholes, and most of the structures above would fall in. This in turn would release any remaining radiation from the power plants and would produce huge deep lakes of incredibly concentrated radiation. Some of this water would leak into surrounding ground water and contaminate areas of aquifers. Fortunately, because earth and dirt are the best purifiers of radiation in water, the contamination wouldn't spread too far.
"The other secondary problem is flooding, since the extra moisture in the air will have to fall and with many dams and levees destroyed, flooding will certainly kill many who would have otherwise been safe. This will flood out many farm fields and kill livestock that survived the initial attack."
"So if aquifers get radiation, there would be no drinking water in those areas for a long time," Hunter cringed at the thought, "and even worse, there would be open radiation." He paused as he opened and closed his hand a few times and winced. "Man, how'd they ever do this kind of work without power tools, I only screwed in eight screws and my hand is already hurting."
Steven cocked his head to the side, "People who built places like this didn't know what they were missing, so they didn't think about it." he paused and nodded his approval as Hunter moved over to hold the makeshift shutter in place so Devin and Ramsey could secure it to the window frame. "On the plus side, at least you all helped in Cal's Eagle project to build those two trailer houses for homeless families so you know most the basics."
"Yeah." Hunter grunted with some disgust, "Problem is, I spent most of my time with the electricians and some time with the plumbers, so most of what I learned is now useless."
Steven quickly disagreed, "Son…" he stopped as he looked over at the others. When no one protested his calling Hunter 'son' he continued, "Look, Hunter, power may be out now, and the EMPs certainly took out most electronics… However, even though the lights may be off now, people will find ways to get them back on. Generators will still work; people will start using everything from wind power, to water wheels, to lawn mower engines to generate electricity where normal generators can't be found. Refrigerators will be needed to keep food cool and safe, if we are going to have a couple of cold summers and brutal winters, power will be needed to generate heat, and let's face it, no one wants to live in the dark when the technology is still around to make light.
"The skills you learned by helping to wire and plumb those trailers is something that will be incredibly useful as people start to rebuild."
"Right now I'd prefer to know how to cut wood like Angus and Vern." Hunter complained as he continued to hold the shutter in place while he watched Angus make a pretty decent straight cut with a wood saw on a 2x4. Hunter finally let go of the shutter as Devin patted him on the shoulder telling him the first couple of screws were in the frame and he could back away. "So what could possibly be good about the nuclear geyser thing?"
Steven paused and watched as Devin closed the shutter and tested the wooden dropdown latch. Noting it fit to the window very well, and blocked out the wind and the drizzle, he nodded in approval then turned back to Hunter. "The biggest advantage is with total core meltdowns, most of the radioactive material will be below ground, which will prevent wide spread contamination. Also, once people get used to where theses hot zones are, they will surely be marked and easily avoided by others. Eventually, survivors will simply mark those areas as dead zones and with any luck people will figure out ways to pour concrete, or something like it, into those holes, then make large radiation tombs which will allow for people to reclaim areas closer to where the power plants were instead of having hundreds of miles of area that my never be able to be inhabited.
"The biggest advantages, however, will come from how the spread of radiation from the bombs will now be limited and more localized. All this rain will knock all the fallout into the ground and cover much of it. Because of this, wind storms will not be able to pick up much radioactive dust and spread it out. Instead, the poisonous materials will stay close to the bomb blast sites which will enable crops to be produced without picking up stuff from contaminated soil. In the long term, those who are left will have larger areas to grow safe food."
While work continued to secure the house, over two dozen more tremors shook them, but none were as strong or lasted as long as the big two hours before. As darkness descended on the farmhouse and the temperatures dropped well below normal for a Kansas June night, the kids ate and decided to sleep close to each other, using body heat to stay warm, while the heaviest of the salvaged blankets were given to Steven who flatly refused to let any of the kids sleep with him, even though both Gage and Hunter offered.