Castle Roland

Day of N

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 18

Published: 14 Jul 16

Day of N

Kyle Aarons

'Day of N +14'

'Once again I have gotten lazy and failed to write for a couple of days, but here it is 2:29 in the morning and I can't sleep. I am hoping by writing I can get tired again and get a few hours of sleep before we head out.

As embarrassing as it is, I got into a fist fight a couple of days ago with one of the older kids from Jennings. I won, kind of, but my knuckles still hurt and my lip needed a pair of stitches because I bit my lip, or it got punched into my teeth. I am not sure which. I also had to keep ice on my knee for the first night and it is still a little stiff.

On the other hand, the kids here in Jennings are now talking to us, and we even played horseshoes with a bunch of them and the ladies in the town got together and made a whole bunch of stuff out of apples since one of the train cars were full of them. We had something they called 'Apple Fest'. I'm kind of glad they did it, because even as much as I like apples, getting them for breakfast lunch and dinner the last three days has gotten a little much.

As it turns out there are 23 other kids who are between ten and sixteen in the town, but more are coming into the camp we helped to set up. So far eighty seven people have come into town and have been settled in the camp. Another 63 came in and have been allowed to settle inside the town since they were known. About half of those who have joined the town come came from a tiny little place down the road, the rest are from close by farms that are so badly weather damaged those who lived there didn't feel safe staying in them. As far as those coming into the camp, most saw the train moving around and lights at night as the town folk moved the trains off the tacks and started building a wall around Jennings out of train cars.

A few of those coming in were on the roads when the bombs fell, so we have five from Oklahoma, three from Texas, two from New Jersey, and two from Maine. The two from Maine, a grey haired man and his daughter, say they stayed in the back of an overturned Wal-Mart semi for most of the bad weather and ate what was in the back but both are pretty sick and have been put with four from a farm to the south who are also sick. The doctor here says she doesn't want the whole place getting sick, so as soon as anyone from outside of Jennings looks ill, they are moved to the quarantine tent. The clinic is only for those from in and around Jennings or to operate on those who need a hospital. Oh, and of course we are counted as part of Jennings, which doesn't seem real fair, but I guess they think we earned the right to be considered 'from Jennings' and no one is arguing.

Speaking of the clinic, Mr. K. is awake but very weak. Everyone says he will make a full recovery, but his arm may have some movement problems since his elbow healed wrong. The doctor and P.A. will not let any of us see him for more than an hour a day, because he wants to show us more stuff and they are worried it will prevent him for fighting off the last of the pneumonia. I hear Sheriff Will had to threaten to handcuff him to the bed yesterday…'

Hunter smiled as he thought of how the conversation had to have gone. Both Mr. K. and Sheriff Will were as tough and stubborn as they come, so it must have really been something. Hunter wished he could have watched and listened to the whole thing.

With a sigh he put the pen back to his journal and continued.

'We are pretty much part of the Jennings community and everyone knows us, everyone. I don't even know the name of half the people who nod to me and call me by name when I walk by, and when we help with security in and around the camp, the town adults make it clear to all newcomers we are to be treated with respect.

While this has helped us to make some friends with the kids in town, those who are coming in to the camp don't seem to like us and most appear to be spooked by the weapons we carry around. It's understandable, so am I. Still it seems a bit weird to be seen like we are quasi-police or something.

Zeki went out again with the train engine and pulled much of the back side of the train we took from the park rangers and managed to get it back here. This gave us a whole lot more food supplies since it was basically a food train. Much of it still has to be gone through, but we had to move two cars of milk and dump them since it was all bad and Zeki says it smelled really nasty. The men, along with Angus went back out with him yesterday and checked tracks to about thirty miles of here. They tried to get closer to Prairie Dog Park, but the Geiger counter moved up to over 100 counts per minute so they backed off.

They were able to look down into the park and said nothing was moving and the dam is gone. Off in the distance they say they could see Norton but it looked really bad. Angus said, even with the telescope he borrowed from one of the kids here, he didn't see any buildings fully standing and most looked like shells or just single walls poking up. It just makes me sick to think about it and sicker to think of all those who had their lives snuffed out for what? What did any of this accomplish?'

Hunter looked up at the ceiling and watched the flickering patterns of the lantern flame dance around for a couple of minutes. As much as he tried to think about other things his mind still wouldn't let go of the horror those in the cities and towns hit by the nuclear blasts. Finally his hand gripped the pen and he refocused on his attempt to tell his story.

'We had our first real argument between us yesterday. Angus wants to head home and make sure our town was really hit. Devin wants to go to Oberlin because we know his dad was going there, as was Vernon's dad.

Hank had to step in and put his foot down as some of the guys started getting really heated. I pretty much stayed out of it, though. I am not sure where I think we should go, and it really doesn't matter since my mom and dad could be anywhere at this point. I just need to try, need to go looking. The problem is, if my mom and dad are alive… I hope they are… They are certainly thinking the same thing I am. Until some kind of communications system is established we could be going in circles and never run into each other, but I have to try no matter how little sense it makes.

Hank made a good point, though. If Colby wasn't hit, our parents would go back there to see if we went home, no matter where they were at when the bombs hit. As he said, he knows he would and he would put money on our parents doing the same thing. Because of this I finally settled on going home, or trying to. I guess I should have jumped in sooner, because once I said we needed to try to go home the arguments stopped.

Speaking of Hank, he managed to get a drill unit from the town up the tracks and drilled another well, so the camp has a fresh water supply separate from the town's. I think it was God's will we managed to help him and save him and his kids. Hank is quickly becoming a backbone of all aspects of Jennings and his repair skills are amazing. There is nothing he can't fix. I managed to take a peek into his garage and noticed he was rebuilding a van and putting metal plates on it. I bet it is for us so we can try to go home.

As for the weather, we had another rainy day, but it cleared as night fell, but it is cold and the sun, when we get to see it, is tinged red and doesn't really put out as much heat as it should. It's got to be all the dust in the air. The radio station in Missouri says there have been a few more volcanic eruptions, which is only adding more dust to the air and probably killing off even more survivors. Word is lots of volcanoes in South America have become active again and there were some in Japan too.

The guy making the news reports continues to say he only reports things he can confirm, but since we are only getting information from Fort Bliss, and it is hit and miss, I don't know how this guy is getting more from halfway across the world. Still, it is news and Ram and Vern have started plotting things on a world map as the radio station announces them. If accurate, someone will need to come up with a brand new world map because lots of stuff has changed.

Speaking of Fort Bliss, El Paso may become the new capitol of the US after this, since the radio says the military is gaining more and more control down there and if the news is to be believed, there are more surviving units heading down there daily. The weird thing is, lots of the adults don't seem to want it, or at least don't like what they are hearing which seems weird to me. I keep hearing Sheriff Will talking to others about military dictatorships and stuff. It sounds kind of bad, but as long as someone is in charge and rebuilding it should be a good thing, right?'

Hunter closed his growing journal and blew out the lantern. He tossed and turned for several hours, getting a little rest but no real sleep. Part of him desperately wanted to see home while the other part was terrified of what he would see or find.

Two hours after sun up, Angus pulled off the road as they came up to the turnoff to get to the tiny town of Dresden. He glanced over to Hunter then back to the turnoff, "Want to check it out or keep going?"

Hunter shook his head and blinked a couple of times as he struggled to pull himself from the brink of taking a nap. He glanced around while he adjusted the resized body armor a few of the men and women in Jennings had been kind enough to make out of the adult armor from those on the doomed aircraft. With a yawn, he rolled his shoulders "How do they wear this stuff?"

"It fits them better and they are stronger than we are." Ramsey grumbled. "Remember, they could only do so much with resizing it, and like it or not, Mr. K. told us to get used to it and deal with it because it would save our lives sooner or later."

"Yeah, well, it's heavy and rubs me wrong." Devin complained.

Gage shrugged, "Come on guys it ain't so bad. Just think what it will be like when it gets hot again."

"Not much different than wearing football pads." Angus joined in with a snicker, then looked into the back of the van to make eye contact with Gage. "And yeah, those suck when it gets hot, so I am sure these vests will too. But just like football pads, if this thing protects me then I'll deal with it. Getting shot and having to get a bullet taken out of my chest with no hospitals and no pain medication would pretty much suck."

Angus' observation silenced any further complaints and even got a nod out of Vernon and Zeki. Satisfied the others were going to deal with the body armor, he turned back to Hunter, "So, do I continue on or do we go into Dresden?"

Hunter pointed down the road past the tiny hamlet. "Most of the people here came up to Jennings. This is pretty much a ghost town now. Besides, anyone who chooses to stay are going to have itchy trigger fingers. Let's just get closer to Colby and see what home looks like."

Angus glanced in the mirror as he pulled back onto the road. Less than two miles scrolled by on the odometer before he slowed again, this time to navigate around a rather nasty wreck. As he went by he looked at the three cars and one truck. "Looks like they were looted."

Hunter shrugged, "Very well may have been some of the guys from Jennings. Sheriff Will got people out fast to grab whatever was on the roads within fifteen miles of Jennings. He figured with everything cleaned out, looters and bandits would stay away. Besides, between what they found and the trains Zeek managed to haul in, Jennings should have enough supplies for several months. Like it or not, Mr. K. was right. There is, or was, valuable gas and other supplies in many of the cars and trucks out here. The problem is they are the first things people are going to go after. Cleaning out the valuables and giving the dead quick burials will help warn others they are under some kind of law, while preventing diseases for rotting bodies from spreading and hitting the town and new camp."

Gage slid forward and looked out the window, "Most cars on the road past the fifteen mile perimeter Jennings patrolled probably have stuff in them. It has only been about two weeks since we were hit. My dad used to say after the government went away anyone who ran out of food would go after the easiest things first.

"According to him and his buddies the first places people would go would be stores since most people are just too programmed to think about anything else. Once the stores were emptied, Dad figured people would try to find people to give them food.

"Once this didn't work, it would be kind of a free for all. After the panic and widespread looting died down, anyone left would start having to use their brains. Some would go after others, the weak, the old, rich stupid people, and people who are unarmed. This would lead to those who were stealing from others shooting at each other until it left only the most dangerous out on the roads. Dad said if the government stopped working he figured it would take about two months before gangs ruled the open roads.

"At the same time those who didn't go after the weak would start to go after stuff like any abandoned cars, office buildings, and finally houses. He said eventually the two sides would have to fight it out for order to be restored but he bet the people who stuck to looking for food and supplies in buildings and banded together to start making food would eventually win since they would be more organized and would have some kind of area to protect. Dad also said most people want and need some kind of law and order and would get tired of the shoot and loot crowd."

"Shoot and loot crowd?" Ramsey repeated with raised eyebrows.

"That's what Dad called the gangs," Gage growled defensively.

Vernon held up his hands, "Hey, it's a good a way of saying it as any. Just look at those Army guys. They went straight to shooting and looting even though they had all those supplies!"

"Those guys were just a group of thugs..." Devin started to say only to get cut off by Angus.

"Thugs or not, Vern's right. They went right after what they wanted, even though they had all the supplies they would need for months, probably years since there was only a few of them. They didn't even try to save the pilot. We did! Shoot and loot sounds pretty much right on the money as far as I am concerned."

Hearing others defend what his father had told him quickly calmed Gage. He even smiled a little. "Dad also told me if, or when, everything went bad to find a few people I could trust and to move fast. He said we should find a good base and grab as much as we could as fast as we could. He also made me promise to out think the average survivor, which he was positive wouldn't be very hard to do.

"He also said I should forget the stores and concentrate on warehouses and office buildings because they have soda machines and other vending machines. He also said to look for guns and ammo in places with security guards and the like, since many of them will have some stuff left behind or may have been forgotten in the confusion. If we were in a real city the first place he wanted me to go, after I got food, was storage places because with all the units there was sure to be guns, clothing, and things like silver and gold jewelry which could be used as money."

"The last thing Dad always warned me about was to say away from cars unless I absolutely had no other options because there would be dead or dying people who could make me sick. The other bad things about cars are they make good places for the shoot and loot people to set up in and ambush people from. On the other hand, one of his friends said houses would be the most dangerous since it would be hard to tell if anyone was inside or not. If there happened to be people inside, they would be quick to shoot at anyone trying to come in, even if it wasn't to steal things; while cop cars could be a good place to look for guns and first aid kits. So it is kind of confusing."

Ramsey eyed Gage skeptically, "Your dad and his friends really talked to you about stuff like this?"

"All the time." Gage stated with a bit of pride in his voice, clearly not realizing the others didn't exactly see this as a good thing.

Devin knew where the others were coming from but decided to defend Gage's dad. This was partially because he saw how happy Gage seemed to be when talking about his dad, and seeing Gage happy was pretty rare. However, another part of his brain figured there was the very real possibility he would have been better off if his own father had at least prepared him for the possibility of bad things happening. If his dad had, Devin guessed he would not be as scared now nor would he have frozen up on the train tracks the way he had a few days prior. "My dad never talked about anything bad happening. Now I kind of wished someone would have; maybe I wouldn't be so freaked out by all this."

Gage shook his head, "It helped some for sure, but this is way worse than anything I could have guessed at. I am pretty sure he didn't talk to me about things getting this bad because he knew it would have given me nightmares. Still, having had someone talk to me about what to do has helped a lot. I just wish I knew if he was alive or dead."

"I hear that!" Zeki sighed loudly. "If Mom is alive, I also wonder what her think about sending me to live in America now. The idea to send me here was to be safer."

"At least you're alive, Zeek," Ramsey reminded the boy. "Most kids our age are either dead or in way worse shape than we are."

"Being alive and staying alive and healthy are two totally different things though." Vernon warned. "For now we have food and didn't get any radiation, but soon we will have to start living off the land. Do you really think the seven of us will be able to do it?"

Hunter glanced into the back of the van and nodded, "Yeah, I do. One thing about what Gage's dad said is totally correct. People who survived this need friends. We already have that. The trust and friendship we have in each other makes us a lot stronger than seven kids who don't. We also have lots of skills and stuff going for us too. As long as we all stick together and do all the things Mr. K. taught us and warned us about, and add in what Gage's dad told him, we'll stay in pretty good shape."

After seeing the nervous looks of those in the back of the van, Hunter decided to cover the basics again. "Come on guys, none of us knows everything, but between us we have almost everything covered. What we don't know we are smart enough to learn.

"Just look at what Mr. K. already showed us! We know how to filter all water through dirt then boil it. We know we should stay away from all standing water and only get water from running rivers and streams. Plants such as dandelions can be eaten and will be around even if the summer is a cold one. There are lots of farm fields and some of the planted crops will survive. Open fields and gardens that aren't tended are fair game too.

"We already guessed we can't eat any sick looking animals but others should be OK. All we have to do is cut the meat on any we take down so there is still meat left close to all bones. We also can't eat any of the organs since radiation will collect in them. Five of us have gone hunting a couple of times with Mr. K. and Gage can shoot way better than the rest of us. Zeek, you already proved you are one of us, and I am sure you will pick it up quickly enough."

Gage shot Hunter a smirk, "I know how to hunt."

"Somehow, I figured as much." Hunter responded with a giggle.

Angus continued to keep his eyes on the road and the cars both on it and off to the side since Mr. Korbal had warned him over and over to look out for ambush spots. In fact what the man had told him and Hunter was right in line with what Gage was saying his dad had told him. Even though the information and warnings made him uneasy, hearing the information from two sources made it easier to believe.

The real problem now was the fact they were in a vehicle. Being in a van would get them around quickly, but also made them a target. With all this going on inside his head he decided it was best to join in the conversation rather than dwell on what he couldn't control. "I just wish we had a good answer on when we could fish for meals though."

"Me too," Devin nodded in total agreement. "Fishing is something I can do and actually like it. Besides, we all have collapsible poles in our packs and small tackle boxes."

"I don't." Zeki stated with a frown.

"Me neither." Gage shook his head. "I had my pole and tackle box in the scout trailer."

Devin held up a finger as he dug into the very bottom of his pack. "Yeah you do, I just never got a chance to give them to you." After nearly a minute and a half he pulled out two very lightweight ultra-strong collapsible composite fishing rods and a pair of backpacking tackle boxes complete with a top of the line fishing knives. "I was supposed to give these to you both when we got to the lake."

Zeki eyed the rod and knife with a great deal of surprise and some concern, "This look very expensive."

"Dad gets everyone in the troop good backpack poles and gear. It was supposed to be a surprise."

While the two newest members of the troop thanked Devin and had the others show them how to extend the poles and set up the reels, up front Angus rolled his eyes and whispered just loud enough for Hunter to hear. "Still trying to buy friends."

"Which is probably why he got elected as assistant patrol leader." Hunter responded quietly. "Remember all the new stuff his dad bought the troop just before the new election took place?"

Angus snorted, "How could I not. Half the stuff for the campout we were supposed to be on before some jerk decided to blow-up half the world is stuck on the scout trailer Devin's dad bought instead of with us. It's just real lucky we found replacements in the Army plane and from people in Jennings."

"No kidding." Hunter rolled his eyes, "All it did was make us lazy about packing properly."

Angus gave a light snicker, "No question about it. The scout trailer was a move away from everything Mr. K. was teaching us. Still, you're right; I voted for Devin as number two because of the trailer and other stuff his dad bought us. Without it he wouldn't have made my top four." Angus flashed a grin at Hunter, "So where was he on your list?"

"He wasn't. You were my first pick and Vern was my number two."

"What about three and four?"

Hunter's cheeks flared with some embarrassment, "I picked myself as number three and didn't put down a number four."

"Don't feel too bad, I put your name down in the number one and Devin in two, myself in three and my number four was Eric, who quit like a week after the elections, probably because his dad beat the crud out of him after he didn't get a leadership spot."

"I think his dad forced him out too. He would still be here if he had won." Hunter looked up at the roof with sad eyes, "But when Devin got in and Eric didn't his dad seemed really mad when he picked him up. I heard he had a black eye the next day in school too."

"So did I. Mr. Gregor is a jerk and was always mean to Eric. All the guy wanted was Eric's mom and a bottle of booze. I don't know why he every decided to adopt Eric and give him the last name of Gregor. He sure never liked him or even cared about him." Angus sighed. "One of the reasons I put Eric on the ballot at all was because I felt kind of bad for him."

Angus glanced over at Hunter. "Do you think he is alive?"

Hunter chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds before slowly shaking his head, "To be honest, even if Colby didn't get hit, I doubt his family had much food in the house. They were always getting food help from the church, and Mr. Gregor... well, if the bombs didn't get Eric, his dad probably beat him bloody or tossed him out by now. I bet Mr. Gregor would starve Eric before giving him any food that he, his daughter or Mrs. Gregor could eat. I never could figure out why the adults didn't do more to help Eric."

"Like what?" Angus demanded to know. "Eric always blamed something else when he got hurt and his mom always covered it up too. Even when pushed Eric never said what we all knew happened. Instead he would say it was a fight, a fall, a bike wreck..."

"Bike wreck, my butt!" Hunter grumbled, "Eric didn't even own a bike."

"Still, he said it and without anyone else seeing anything, what did you want someone to do?" Angus hardened as he once again slowed the van down as he neared the small town of Selden. "The real question I have is why did Eric's mom marry the jerkoff to begin with."

Angus pulled to a stop and pointed to the turnoff to the south to take them around the town since it sat right on the highway. "Go around or not?"

"When me take train around we no see nothing here, Angus." Zeki stated as he moved forward and looked out the front window. "Me know this place cause had to take side track an go out away then back and bridge on far side not look real good, but train make it OK."

Hunter took a deep breath, "No one from Selden came up to Jennings yet, so maybe we should see why and let anyone here know there is a safe place to go."

"Looks real quiet." Gage spoke in an edgy voice as he leaned forward to get a better look. "Too quiet if you ask me."

Vernon pulled out a set of binoculars and scanned the edge of the town. "I got a few damaged buildings and several with some fire damage, but no people or even movement. The top of the water tower looks badly damaged too. I don't even see any birds or dogs, nothing, Hunter. Gage may be right; something's off."

Hunter glanced into the back, "What do the rest of you think?"

Devin shrugged, "The mayor asked if we could get some school stuff, and Selden has a grade school..."

"They have a library too." Angus added, "So maybe we can find a book on edible plants."

"Yeah, and Luke lives here," Ramsey chimed in. "We should check on him."

"Luke hasn't come to a meeting in months." Vernon argued, "He wimped out after Mr. K. took us on our first real camping trip after the snow trip!"

"He's still on the roster and paid his dues to the troop help keep the scout hut up, Vern." Hunter responded. "You wouldn't say anything about someone missing meetings if Eric lived here."

"Yeah, well Mr. Gregor's needs his butt kicked a few times! Then maybe Eric would be allowed to come back. Besides, it's not Eric's fault his stepdad is a looser who drinks too much for him to ever pay his share of water and electricity to the hut fund." Vernon hissed. "Luke was just a merit badge hound, and after Mr. K. made getting them about really doing the work required, he got all stupid about it."

Devin shook his head. "Come on Vern! Luke's still one of us and most of us have spent the night with him. His dad has gone with us on a few trips when we needed an extra adult too. Plus he stayed with most of us, slept in our rooms and ate at our tables. It doesn't feel right not to check on him."

Angus let out a long breath. "Devin's right, Vern. We should make sure he is OK."

Gage shrugged having met the kid only a pair of times. "Hunter, maybe you should check for radiation while Angus finds us a place to hide the van. This will give us time to really look things over before we decide if it's a good idea to go in and check it out. I mean as long as it looks safe we should probably take a look. He seemed nice enough and his mom offered to let me stay over when my mom went on one of her business trips and even said they would drive me into Colby and pick me up so I could get to school."

Ramsey also spoke up while nodding at Gage. "That's the way she always is. I bet Mr. Korbal would feel better if we did what we could for everyone in the troop too. He always says we should look out for each other and have each other's backs."

Hunter glanced over to Vernon. "I know you're mad at him for not showing up any more, and not going on the canoe trip after he said he would, but you and him used to sleep in the same tent on most campouts!"

Vernon's shoulders dropped, "Yeah, OK, you're all right. Let's do this."

Hunter gave Vernon a reassuring grin as he pulled out the Geiger counter. He then pointed down the side road around the town. "Gus let's not get too close. Besides, Luke lives toward the southwest edge, so we should get as close as we can and walk in from there."

Without any hesitation, Angus pulled off the main road and drove around on the dirt road out away from Selden until he found a farmhouse with a large barn within eyeshot of the southern edge of the badly damaged settlement. Much like the town, nothing moved in or around the house or barn.

Angus carefully pulled into the muddy drive leading to the house, noting a section of the roof had fallen in and all the windows on the side facing the road were broken out. He also noticed a horribly hail damaged Chevy Avalanche sitting next to a large propane tank, while the house had a trio of kid-sized bikes laying on their side next to the formally nicely screened in porch. Now the only thing remaining was tatters of the screens hanging down and lightly flapping in the breeze. "What a mess!"

"Careful, Angus," Gage warned, "I can't see them leaving the truck here and they have kids so they will probably be protective and real skittish with strangers poking around. They have a full pile of wood and propane too so they very well may be here."

Gage continued to examine the surroundings then suddenly pointed off to the side where a swing set was in a heap, having blown against the house. "They may be down in the cellar. The swing set looks like it was shoved off the outside door so someone either went in or came out, and the way it looks…" Gage paused and studied the gouges on the door and the way the swing set was just off to the side of the cellar door. "Well, my guess is, it was pushed off from the inside cause there are scratches on the left side door and the whole set is all to the left side."

Hunter whistled slowly as his mind processed what Gage pointed out and combined it with what he was seeing. "Dude, you sure picked up on clues way better than I did!"

Gage shrugged and grinned, "Thank my dad."

"I think we have several times and just never realized it." Angus snickered nervously as he pulled the van around the back of the barn, so it could not be seen from the buildings on the outskirts of Selden before he shut down the engine. Finally he glanced over at Hunter, "I hate to say it, but this is really creepy. We are only like eighteen miles from Jennings according to the mileage on the dash. It's pretty nice out today. Why aren't people moving around?"

Hunter shook his head and stuck the Geiger counter out the window. After couple of minutes he shrugged, "It's up to ninety-one counts per minute here, but still below a hundred."

Devin looked over to the farm house without much concern, "It was high in Jennings this morning at over eighty, so it isn't all that much higher."

Hunter kept his eye on the Geiger counter for several more seconds while he spoke. "Mr. K. and Mr. Daniels, the science teacher at Jennings's high school, said it would probably go up and down quite a bit over the next several months as dust came down and wind blew stuff around. Mr. Daniels even told me some radiation made it to the US from Japan after the tidal wave damaged their nuclear plant a couple years ago, so some radiation will probably make it here all the way from China! It'll be a year or more before things are pretty stable and even then big storms will pick up some junk and blow it around, especially from big cities that were hit with many big bombs."

Angus snorted, "If you are trying to make me feel better, it ain't working."

"Feel better, no. But at least knowing what we have to deal with and why makes it a little less scary for me." Hunter responded while keeping his eye on the meter. Finally satisfied the reading was accurate he put the detector back in its case. "Both Mr. K. and Mr. Daniels said if it goes above a hundred, we need to get inside and wait it out for a while and we are pretty close so I'll keep checking it every hour or so."

"Don't you think they are just being careful?" Devin wondered aloud. "I mean they had to set the number somewhere, right?"

"Mr. K. put the number at a hundred counts per minute from the start, Devin." Vernon reminded the youngster. "The woman at the health clinic in Jennings thought one hundred was too high, so no, I don't think they were being careful."

"Agreed," Hunter responded without any hesitation. "Remember Mr. K.'s job was to find a way to reduce radiation after a nuclear attack, so if anyone should know what's a safe number it would be him. Besides, if he was being a little safe, who are we to argue? I don't know about you, Devin, but I don't want to get sick and have my hair fall out."

This only got a gulp out of Devin, who couldn't help but run a hand through his hair.

With a smirk on his face, Angus pulled out his assault rifle and checked the clip before looking over to Hunter, "So how do you want to do this?"

Hunter glanced over to Gage, "You seem to have the best feel for this sort of thing so what do you think?"

Gage glanced at the others and realized they all felt pretty much the same way. Rather surprised by the trust placed in him, he grinned as he grabbed his assault rifle. "Well, I think a couple of us ought to stay with the van since all our stuff is in it. I know my dad would say the rest of us should secure the area, meaning we check the house and barn so we control our surroundings and have options if something goes bad."

Devin was the first to speak after a couple of uneasy seconds of silence. "You must have a very interesting dad, Gage."

A true smirk crossed Gage's face as the left side of his mouth twisted upwards, "Yeah... I wish you could all meet him."

"Hopefully we will one day." Angus responded with total sincerity. "So who stays with the van?"

Ramsey held up his hand. "Until I get more used to this body armor and all the weight, I better be one of the ones to hang back. My asthma doesn't like all this cool wet weather as it is."

Devin held up his hand a moment later. "I'll hang back with Ram. He's good with a gun and I can help keep watch for him. The idea of all this moving around with a gun still makes me nervous and I really don't want to endanger any of you again like I did on the tracks."

Vernon looked over to Gage, "I'll help check the farm, but I'll hang back here too. If anyone was paying any kind of attention they saw us turn off and come down this way, so I think it would be better if two of us who are willing to shoot to guard our extra gear."

Devin shot Vernon a quick dirty look, but kept his mouth shut. This was partially because he saw both Angus and Ramsey nod, and to some extent because he knew he really wasn't sure if he could handle a gunfight like the others seemed to be able to do.

Hunter quickly turned back to Gage, "OK, looks like you have five us here and four for going into Selden."

Gage nodded and slipped a couple of extra clips into his vest while putting an extra 203 grenade in the front pocket. Finally he pointed over to Angus and Vernon. "Once we clear the barn, stay inside and cover us as we move to the house. If you see anything, fire a warning shot just like we did at the train so it will alert us and let whoever is inside know we have backup. I will move up to the cellar doors and knock them back off quick."

"Also remember, if you do shoot to pick up your brass. Sheriff Will says they can reload ammo, but we will need the brass so they can do it. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to learn how to reload, even though Dad and his buddies did it once in a while."

Gage looked over to Hunter, "Go with a pistol and Zeek, you just keep your shotgun ready. I know you are jittery with it, but Sheriff Will and Hank both took you shooting and say you are good so we know you are not scared of it anymore."

"Me not want to shoot no one, but you say too, me will."

"No one wants to shoot anyone." Hunter assured Zeki. "This is doubly true here since we are trying to help whoever lives here and let them know about Jennings."

Gage nodded in agreement as me moved toward the barn. "Dad said to be ready, but never to start a fight, just make sure to finish all fights I get into."

"The more I hear, the more I want to meet him." Angus grinned as he yanked on the barn side door. As soon as the door opened the smell of animal waste hit him hard.

Behind him Gage winced and jerked his head back. "Holy crap it smells bad in there!"

"Pigs," Angus stated before even looking, "and no one has mucked the place in a while." He glanced back. "Guys, pigs are already mean and if they haven't been fed this could be nasty, cause they will eat each other and after a couple of weeks if they are still alive and they bite us if given the chance, which would be bad with all the pig crap in there."

"OK, that is just disgusting." Gage shuddered.

Hunter gave Gage a friendly shove, "Hey we actually found something that bothers the ice boy!"

"Ice boy?" Gage looked over with a confused frown.

"Something Hank said about you," Vernon laughed. "He said you must have ice in your veins to be able to be in and handle gunfights without them bothering you like they do us."

"It was meant as a compliment," Hunter added, "but both he and Sheriff Will are worried about you."

"Yeah, Sheriff Will talked to me the first night in his house." Gage grumbled. "He wanted to find out if someone hurt me or something. I bet he told some of you to try to find out too since he didn't find out what he wanted to know, but seemed to forget about it. If he did, don't go there. It's done and over with. I'm fine."

Hunter reached over and squeezed Gage's shoulder. "You're right, both him and Hank asked me, Ram, and Angus to see what we could find out, but we aren't going to push. It's up to you. We're your friends no matter what Gage, so if you ever change your mind we're here." Hunter stated firmly, while Angus patted Gage on the other shoulder and nodded in agreement.

Gage looked down and clenched his fists but quickly rebounded. He pointed to the door. "How about I not go in there and we call it good for now. Cause pigs and stuff really..."

Angus gave Gage another pat on the back. "Let Hunter and me take care of this. I'm a farm boy and he has helped out many times."

"Fine with me!" Vernon quickly nodded. "The smell coming out of there is like totally gross!"

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