Planning Pays Off - Chapter 1
Sven Denali jerked awake when the Oregon Scientific weather radio alarm went off. He fumbled on the bedside lamp and picked up the radio, trying to read the warning as his eyes adjusted to the light. He didn’t have to read it on the display. The announcer started speaking. Sven noticed the difference in tone from the usual broadcasts of tornadoes and blizzards. His voice was actually shaking.
“This is an announcement from the President of the United States of America.”
Sven swung his legs around and put his feet on the floor, fully awake now. “My fellow Americans,” came the president’s voice from the speaker. “Now is the time for all of us to pull together. We expect…”
The president’s words stopped and the weather radio squealed for a moment and then fell silent. At the same time, bright light flooded the bedroom from outside.
“Uh-oh!” Sven said under his breath and dove for the floor beside the bed, wrapping his arms around his head to protect it. Most of the glass from the windows when they shattered landed on the bed and floor. Only a little landed on his bare back. The reverse wave whistled, and Sven knew windows on the other side of the house were now in shards, too.
Sven waited for a little while longer and the ground shock shook the house. He heard something crash somewhere but couldn’t tell what it was. An interminable two minutes later, clad only in the boxer shorts he wore to bed, Sven slipped his feet into the sandals he kept by the bed, after shaking them clear of glass, grabbed the Colt 1911A1 .45 pistol and the Maglite six D-cell flashlight from the bedside table and headed for the basement of the house.
There was still some light coming through the ripped shades of the windows, but it was an eerie purplish and orange color. He turned on the bright flashlight and kept going. There was glass everywhere, as well as debris from the shaking the house had suffered from the blast waves.
The stairs to the basement were intact, though Sven had to put his weight against the upper door to get it open to have access to them. Sven was now a bit concerned the hatch to his fallout shelter might be difficult to open, too, Sven moved the cabinet hiding it from view, worked the combination of the safe door, and spun the opening handle.
Sven let out a sigh of relief as the heavy, counter-bounced door swung open easily at Sven’s steady push. Another couple of moments and Sven was inside the shelter, closing the door behind him. A flip of a switch and the shelter lights came on and he turned off the Maglite flashlight.
It took a few moments to calibrate a pen style radiation dosimeter and clip it to the Tyvek suit with a hood he put on, adding rubber boots, respirator, and rubber gloves, before opening the access door and going back into the basement, Colt and Maglite again in hand.
Instead of moving to the stairs of the basement, Sven moved to the outdoor entrance of the basement and opened it slowly and carefully. There was something lying on it, but he was able to push the slanted doors open and step out. It was a piece of his neighbor’s roof that had partially blocked the door.
Sven left the Maglite turned off as he walked around his house. There was enough of the purplish/orange light to be able to tell the house wasn’t going to be repairable. Not if what he thought was happening was really happening. The still forming mushroom cloud off to the east sure was a good indication it was. A nuclear attack on the US. The President was in the act of warning the population about it when it happened.
Sven turned off all the utilities where each one entered the house. Hearing cursing from someone nearby, Sven weighed the pros and cons of contacting the neighbors. He’d long ago made the decision to isolate himself and let everyone else cope the best they knew how. But he hesitated. What if…
The gunshots in the near distance decided him. “Follow the plan,” he voiced, and then turned and hurried back to the outside basement entrance. He realized he should have acted faster when his neighbor, Zander Smith, called over. “Is that you over there, Sven?”
A feeble beam of light accompanied the voice. It barely reached Sven, but there was enough light for Zander and his wife to see the white Tyvek suit, respirator, and Maglite. Sven was holding the Colt slightly behind his hip.
Glenda, Zander’s wife, screamed loudly when she saw Sven. “You better get out of here, whoever you are,” Zander said, taking Glenda into one arm. “Sven won’t like it, you messing with his stuff.”
“It’s me, Zander!” Sven said. There wasn’t anything coming from the sky at the moment so he lifted the respirator so the two could see his face.
“What are you doing? Why are you wearing that? And is that a gun?”
“No. Flashlight,” Sven said, turning the bright beam on. “This is the gun,” he added, holding it up.
Zander and Glenda shrank back from him.
“I suggest the two of you get in your basement and try to rig up some fallout protection,” Sven said and turned around to go down into the basement.
“What about you?” Zander asked. “Could you show us?”
Sven could have kicked himself. It just slipped out. “I’ve got shelter. There isn’t enough time…”
“You have a shelter?” Zander asked, the two now moving slowly toward him.
“For me,” Sven said, back up, watching the two.
“You have to let us in, man!” cried Zander. “If you have a shelter. It’s the only thing to do. Come on Glenda.” Zander took a much larger step forward.
Sven lifted the Colt. “I’m sorry,” he said. “There isn’t enough room or food for all of us.”
“You can’t do that!” Glenda was screaming and she pulled free from Zander, taking several more steps forward. “Take me in! I’ll do anything you want! There is enough for two, is’t there?”
“Glenda!” exclaimed Zander.
Before Sven could react, Zander was lifting the little pistol he had been clutching in his free hand in his pocket. Sven began to lift the Colt, but Zander didn’t shoot at him. He shot his wife in the back, the gun making very little noise.
“Crimeny!” Sven yelled, now with his gun pointed at Zander.
“Just two, right? Zander said, taking yet another step further. “You and me. We’re buddies. You’ll take me in, won’t you?”
“Not just no, but…” Sven didn’t finish the comment. Zander was shooting at him this time. Sven dived for the open basement doors and rolled down the steps after snapping off a quick shot at Zander.
Climbing to his feet, Sven ran to the shelter entrance, went through, and heaved it closed, yelping in pain when he put his shoulder against it to move it faster. A bullet hit the door and whined off somewhere in the shelter, but the door was closed and Sven spun the locking handle before Zander could get to it.
Sven reached over his right shoulder with his left hand after setting the Maglite down. The hand came away bloody. “That SOB shot me!” Sven leaned back against the shelter door and then slid down to a seated position, losing consciousness as he did so.
It wasn’t until he looked at his watch when he came to, did Sven realize he’d been out for over an hour. He groaned when he tried to use his right hand and arm to push himself up. He quit doing that and rolled over to his left, finally managing to get up.
There was total silence, except for his breathing, in the shelter. Concerned about his shoulder, Sven stripped again, taking enough time to look through the dosimeter. It was still on zero. There’d been no fallout while he was outside.
After a shower, Sven tried to get a look at the shoulder. Eventually he used a hand held mirror, along with the mirror in the tiny bathroom of the shelter, and got a look. There was a tiny puckered hole over the shoulder blade on his right side. There was a tiny spot of blood in the center of it. Despite an extensive first-aid kit, all Sven could do was apply a dab of triple anti-biotic ointment on it and cover it with a simple band-aid.
He moved his shoulder around. There was no restriction of movement, but the muscles were stiff. Sven wondered what was going on. He had a cheap AM/FM radio and connected it to an outside wire antenna, after un-grounding the wire. Only static could be heard on both bands. Disconnecting the antenna and grounding it once more, Sven went over to the door of the shelter and put his ear against it. He couldn’t hear anything, though there was an occasional vibration that Sven put off to distant nuclear detonation ground waves.
With nothing better to do, Sven went to one of the two bunks in the shelter, crawled into the lower one, rolled over, and went to sleep.
Glancing at his watch when he woke up, Sven noted the time. He’d either slept four hours and it was seven in the morning, or sixteen hours and it was seven in the evening of the day after the attack started. The way his bladder was feeling, Sven figured he’d been asleep the sixteen hours.
After going to the bathroom, despite his growling stomach, another indication it had been sixteen hours, Sven hooked up the little AM/FM radio. Static again. Possibly slightly less than before.
Turning to the CD V-717 remote reading survey meter, Sven checked for fallout. He smiled. Only about twelve roentgens per hour. Unless he got some from targets to his west, he should be able to leave the shelter in a few days. Satisfied there was nothing more to do, Sven prepared a meal, picked one of the paperback westerns he had stored in the shelter, and began to read.
That’s what he did for two weeks. Eat, sleep, read, and check the radio and radiation meter. There must have been some additional fallout from somewhere, for the level didn’t fall quite as quickly as Sven expected. He decided to just stay an entire two weeks, just because.
When he suited up again, in a Tyvek suit without a bullet hole, the radiation was under 0.05 R/hr. Nothing to worry about, as long as he was careful not to inhale any of the fallout, or carry it back into the shelter with him.
After pressing his ear against the shelter door and hearing nothing, Sven fastened the respirator into place and tried to spin the opener wheel. It moved a partial turn and stopped. Despite his best efforts, Sven couldn’t get the locking mechanism to unlock.
“Well, nuts!” Sven said. He walked across the shelter and crawled into the open end of a thirty-inch culvert. Wishing he had kneepads on, he made his way the full length of the culvert. Sven situated himself at the end of the culvert so he could release the doors above the pit that ended the culvert.
When he released the doors, sand began to fall into the pit. It took less than a minute and the sand quit falling. Shining the bright Maglite up to the bottom side of a sagging layer of grass, Sven got into the pit, pulled the Colt from his pocket, and stood up, pushing through the grass mat without any problems.
He did a quick full three-sixty to get a look around for possible trouble. Seeing nothing but damaged houses, his included, Sven climbed up out of the hole and got to his feet. Moving cautiously, he checked the houses closest to his for any sign of anyone. He found no one living. Whoever had gone through the houses scavenging for food didn’t seem to be around. There were plenty of dead bodies, both inside and outside, including Glenda’s.
Having seen plenty of death while in the service, he didn’t think too much about it until he realized that the body wasn’t where it had fallen when Zander shot her. There were some signs of depredation, but not from something that could have moved the body. She hadn’t died instantly.
Shaking his head, Sven looked over at the yard shed. It had collapsed into itself. Deciding to worry about it later, Sven went to the front door of his house. It hung loose. It had been closed and locked when Sven had gone to bed that fateful night. The scavengers had been in his house, too. As he had the other houses, Sven went through his own with the pistol up and ready. Also like the others, the fridge and pantry shelves had been cleaned out of everything edible at some point between the attack and now.
More curious now than worried about why the main door of the shelter wouldn’t open, Sven went down stairs to take a look there. That’s when he gagged and almost threw up in the respirator.
Zander was there, plus a couple more of the neighbors, dead. And they had all died badly, from the amount of blood showing on the walls, floor, and even ceiling of the basement. Not to mention the equally bloody axe, pick-mattock, and sledge hammer. Then Sven noticed the empty cartridge cases at the foot of the stairs.
The best explanation he could come up with was Zander, probably alone initially, had tried to break into the shelter door. That was why it wouldn’t open. The locking mechanism had kept the vault locked under the assault of the sledge hammer, pick-mattock, axe, and bullets, but couldn’t be opened due to the damage.
At some point, some of the neighbors tried to take over or just help. Something went wrong, probably panic, and they set on one another. Perhaps it was triggered by the scavengers. Perhaps they came later. Sven couldn’t tell and didn’t want to hang around the mess to try to figure it out. Seven people were dead at the entrance to his shelter, some having died horrible deaths.
When Sven turned to leave the basement, something caught his eye, near where the remains of Zander’s body lay. It was the tiny pistol he’d used. A Raven .25 ACP. That explained the fact that Sven wasn’t injured worse than he had been when shot with the diminutive round. Though it had served its purpose with Glenda, even if she didn’t die immediately.
Sven started to leave it where it lay, but turned around and picked it up. Never knew when another gun might come in handy. Even a Raven .25.
Next on the agenda was to check on the truck in the garage. The truck seemed to be just fine, but Sven couldn’t get the garage door open. Leaving it for the moment, Sven went back into the shelter the way he’d come out. Through the escape tunnel.
He didn’t bother to decontaminate, going straight in. With the respirator tilted back on the top of his head, Sven went through the small shelter and moved everything he was going to keep, slowly and painfully, through the tunnel, and piled it all outside, near the tunnel exit. Some things were a tight fit and difficult to handle going through the tunnel, but Sven kept at it and finally had what he wanted sitting beside the tunnel opening.
He did the same with things in the rest of the house, though there weren’t that many things he wanted from inside. The task done, Sven rested a while. When he got up out of the folding chair he moved once again to the garage. He tried a couple of other options to get the garage door open, but the frame was just too warped for the door to move.
“Well, nuts!” Sven exclaimed. He then went about loading a few things from the shelves in the garage into the back of his old Suburban in the dim light coming through the two windows in the garage. Then he lowered the two preloaded Thule cargo containers onto the roof rack of the Suburban and fastened them in place.
Next, Sven put the hitch mount cargo box in place and loaded it up with the last of the things he wanted from the garage. He hesitated then, but finally went back into the house and into the basement. There were a few things he wanted from there. He just hated to be around the gore.
After three trips he had everything, including the bloody tools. Those he placed in the roof cargo rack between the two Thule units. The other things went into back of the Suburban, through the right side passenger door.
Knowing he couldn’t put it off any longer, Sven got behind the wheel of the Suburban, crossed his fingers for a moment, and then turned the key to start it. He grinned when the diesel fired right up. It was a non-electronic diesel and he hadn’t been too worried about EMP, but it was good to know the engine would run.
Leaving the engine running, Sven got out, dug out a pair of large bolt cutters from the rear box and climbed up onto the bumper and grill guard on the front of the Suburban. It took only a couple of moments to cut the cable of the electric door opener, and then the two cables that connected to the counterbalance springs.
There was a terrible racket as the springs unwound and the door fell downward, only two inches, still in its tracks. After putting the bolt cutter away, Sven got back into the driver’s seat of the Suburban.
Putting the transmission in low, Sven eased the Suburban forward until the heavy bumper and brush guard was against the door. Giving the diesel just a bit more throttle, Sven began to push against the door. It was no match for the Suburban and began to crack and splinter as Sven kept going.
A bit further and the rollers jumped out of the tracks and the garage door fell, the upper panels slamming onto the hood and then sliding off. Sven winced. “There goes the paint!” he muttered. But he didn’t stop. He rolled right over the remains of the door onto the parking pad.
A few minutes later and he was backed up to the similar garage door in the yard shed. There was no way he could just cut the door loose the way he had the one in the garage. Things were just too jumbled up.
“Oh, well, I built the trailer to take it…” he said aloud and got into the rear cargo box again. Taking out a hitch mount winch, he slid it into place in the extension tube of the hitch on the cargo box and locked it into place.
With a grimace, Sven climbed up the access ladder on the rear of the Suburban and retrieved the bloody axe. At least he had his gloves on. It took only a few swings with the axe to make a hole in the door at one side so he could run the winch cable through, pull it around and snap the hook into the tow hook on the rear bumper.
He’d put the Suburban in four wheel drive when he was moving it, in anticipation of what he was ready to do. He eased the Suburban forward, felt the cable tension, and then pressed the accelerator a bit more. The Suburban sort of grunted, but eased forward amidst the screeching noises of the yard shed coming apart at the seams.
Then the Suburban surged forward and Sven brought it to a stop. He got out to look. Sure enough, the garage door and frame had finally pulled loose. But the shed had collapsed the rest of the way down onto the custom trailer that was inside.
Sven dragged the door out of the way, unhooked the winch and put it away, and inserted a pintle hitch into the hitch tube, locking it securely into place. He backed the Suburban up to the tandem wheeled trailer. There was just enough clearance for him to make contact with the trailer. He set the brake, hopped out, and connected the hitch ring of the trailer to the pintle hitch on the Suburban. He plugged up the wiring connection, and the fuel line from the tanks in the trailer, and then got back into the Suburban.
When he pulled forward the trailer eased out of the collapsing shed easily and Sven sighed with relief. The trailer wasn’t an absolute necessity, but he really wanted it with him on his upcoming journey.
Working very carefully, Sven loaded a few things from the remains of the shed onto the trailer, careful not to let the structure collapse on him. He finally looked around one last time, stripped off the protective equipment, shaking it off and putting it in the Suburban, and started to get behind the driver’s seat again.
The voice came out of the blue. “Put your hands up and step away from the rig, dude, and I won’t kill you.”
Sven did as requested, turning slightly so he could see who was talking. There were two of them. Both in their twenties, Sven thought. Both armed. One with a twenty-two caliber revolver, and the other a very dangerous looking semi-automatic. Sven was pretty sure it was a Hi-Point, but he wasn’t sure. Didn’t really make any difference. A 9mm bullet from it was just as dangerous as one from a Browning Hi-Power.
“You don’t need to do this,” Sven said slowly. He noted both men’s appearance. Both were suffering from radiation sickness, and probably malnutrition. “I’m willing to help…”
“Shut up!” screamed the man with the .22 revolver, waving the gun menacingly toward Sven.
The other said, “Let’s just kill him and take his stuff.” He held the pistol loosely in his hand, in classic on-the-side gangsta hold.
Sven had the sudden feeling that was just what the two were going to do. He had nothing else to lose. Sven dived to the men’s left, hitting the ground rolling, grabbing for the Colt in the small of the back holster.
Several shots rang out and Sven had to think for a moment to figure out if he’d been hit or not. It didn’t seem so, and both of the men were down. Still trying to sense if he’d been shot, Sven got up and walked carefully over to the two men. Revolver man was dead where he lay.
Sven kicked the gun out of his reach anyway, his eyes turning to the pistol packer. He wasn’t dead, but if Sven was any judge, and he was, it wouldn’t be long. And unless Sven put him out of his misery, it would be a painful death. Two of Sven’s rounds had hit him in the stomach, another in the thigh, which was what took him down.
Again Sven slid the gun away from possible access and then bent down to pick it up. It was, indeed, a Hi-Point 9mm. When Sven leaned down and began to go through the man’s pockets he screamed in pain. But Sven had three more magazines for the pistol, a partial box of ammunition, and no less than three knives.
As the glazed eyes of the moaning man looked on, Sven searched the other guy. Two fifty-round boxes of .22’s, and only two knives. But the revolver was a Ruger Single Six, and, like the other man’s, the knives were Cold Steel and Spyderco brands. “Wonder if they got a package deal,” went through Sven’s mind as he gathered everything up.
“What about me, mister?” groaned the wounded man.
“It’s simple, dude. You lost. You die. Now, if you want, I can put a bullet in the back of your head, or you can just lay there and die.”
There was enough attitude in him for the man to reply with a string of expletives. Sven got into the Suburban and drove away. He almost turned back when he saw the pack of dogs roaming near the entrance to his subdivision. They were a sorry looking bunch of dogs, and probably didn’t have long to live themselves, but if they picked up the smell of blood, and Sven thought they looked like they had, the gangsta still alive would die even harder than the stomach wound would cause.
Putting it out of his mind, Sven kept going, heading for where he knew he should have been at the time of the attack.
Planning Pays Off - Chapter 2
Sven reached over and adjusted the rifle leaning against the passenger seat to an easier position for him to grab and use if he needed to do so. He’d been careless at the house and could have wound up with another bullet hole in him, or as dead as the gangstas, his rig in their possession. It would be one thing to die and have a family get his stuff. But he wasn’t about to let lowlifes get it and use it to terrorize even more people.
If he had been able to implement Plan A, nothing that had happened the last two weeks or so would have occurred the same way. He would have been where he was now heading. Hopefully he could make it to his small retreat on Lake Wappapello north of Poplar Bluff, Missouri without any more encounters like the last one.
Nothing happened. At first. But he did have to change the route. His keychain radiation alarm began to chirp. Sven turned the rig around and retraced the route until the alarm stopped sounding. Sven took out a map to check his alternate route.
The best alternate would take him back into the fallout zone for a bit, but would then turn away from it. Probably. Depending on the actual fallout pattern. And there was no way for Sven to determine that, without going through it. The risk was too high. That meant an alternate to the alternate.
With the Yaesu FT-897D scanning the Amateur HF frequencies, Sven turned the Suburban south, rather than east. He hoped to be able to contact an Amateur with some information, as none of the broadcast stations seemed to be on the air. He’d had no contact, except the Gangstas, since the attack. All the radios had been silent, except for static. He had tested his equipment and everything seemed to have survived in the faraday cages he’d stored it in.
Sven kept edging east, when a road was available, but kept hitting the fallout line, and had to keep going more southward. He was beginning to get a bit worried that the retreat site might have taken much more fallout than he had thought would be likely.
There had been no real certainties when he was looking for the property. It was a toss up whether the empty silos associated with Whiteman Air Force base would be hit. It was almost a certainty that Whiteman would be. But that would be only two or three small devices. If whoever it was hit the empty missile silos, there would be much more fallout going southeast from them. Perhaps enough to keep the retreat off-limits for some time to come.
Sven put the possibilities out of his head and kept his attention on the road and his surroundings. If there were more bad guys, or even some good guys with too good of an opportunity, he could be attacked for his working vehicle.
He’d seen many others stranded on the road, though there had been only a couple of dead visible in one of them. Everyone had apparently sought shelter somewhere when their automobiles quit. Sven had no doubt it would have been much worse if the EMP had come during a morning or evening commute rather than so early in the morning.
Sven was getting hungry around five in the afternoon and began looking for a place to stop and eat, and perhaps lay over for the night. He was on a southeasterly course and the alarm began to sound again.
With a sigh, Sven turned around, intending to head back to the last place he could go more southward. Only a minute or so on the back trail and he saw two pickup trucks. For the first moments he thought they were stopped on the road, but he suddenly realized that he hadn’t seen them when he came past that point earlier.
Sven slowed down and came to a stop. The two pickups were slowly approaching. Whoever they were, they weren’t very smart. When they realized that the Suburban had come to a stop, several of the occupants in the beds of the pickups began firing. It settled one problem for Sven. He didn’t have to wonder if they were friendly or not.
Stepping out of the Suburban, Sven brought the PTR-91 with him. He had a Beta-C dual drum magazine in it and began to empty it toward the two trucks as they accelerated toward him. He must have had a lucky shot for one of the trucks immediately slowed down and rolled off the road, nose down in the ditch. The other one kept coming.
Sven got back into the Suburban, started it forward just enough to let the four-wheel drive engage, and then turned off the pavement. It was a rough ride, but the Suburban and trailer both made the transition from pavement to dirt through the ditch without trouble. The other truck immediately tried the same thing, and made it across the ditch, though with two less people in the bed of the truck than in there originally.
Keeping the speed up as much as he dared, and that was quite a bit, he was pulling away from the pickup when it slowed and stopped. Sven kept going, glancing in the rearview mirror from time to time.
The pursuing truck had turned around and was headed back toward the other. Fortunately the best route out of the pending ambush was to the south, away from the fallout, and Sven kept going until he could pick up a road.
When he got back onto pavement he stopped and did a quick walk around of the vehicle. There didn’t seem to be any damage until he got to the back of the trailer. There were a couple of bullet marks on the metal, but they’d been glancing blows along the side of the trailer and had only scratched the paint and dented the metal.
Sven hit the road again, looking for a likely place to stop, security the uppermost in his mind. He found a gravel road that led off the two lane highway fairly soon and turned off onto it. It went into a stand of trees and just sort of petered out. Sven managed to get the Suburban and trailer turned around in the tight space, and parked with the rig headed back the way they’d come into the trees.
Taking four of his passive infrared perimeter alarms from the Suburban, Sven set them around the camp area and turned them on. He went about setting up his tent and then prepared a quick meal, opening up an MRE and heating the entrée with the heater included in the package. He ate the side dishes and desert slowly, after he ate the entrée.
After going into the trees to dig a cat hole, just inside the range of the alarm system, he did his business, covered the hole and went back to the tent. The twilight was now darkness and Sven didn’t use a light when he rolled out the sleeping pad and then the bag. He stripped down and slid into the cotton liner already in the bag, setting the Colt within reach. The PTR was again loaded with a full drum. It was handy by the door of the tent. Sven closed his eyes and was soon asleep.
He slept well, though he did wake up a couple of times. There were no alarms, but Sven had the Colt in his hand when he left the tent to go to the bathroom and take a look around. Satisfied he was alone, Sven set about getting breakfast. It didn’t take long. When he had eaten and broken camp, he fired the Suburban up and left less than forty-five minutes from the time he had left the tent.
He was even with Joplin, Missouri. Sven stopped and hesitated. It wasn’t that far to Tulsa. He had family in Tulsa. But they should be either at the retreat or on their way, just like him.
He kept going, eastward again, feeling hopeful that the radiation alarm wouldn’t start sounding. He was a few miles south of where his retreat was on Wappapello Lake. More or less on a line with Poplar Bluff. He began to relax some when he picked up US 160 north of Branson. Though 160 would take him further south, Sven decided to stay on it unless there was an overwhelming reason to leave it. It meant he would have to cut north, either through Poplar Bluff, or take a route around it, to get to the retreat.
The look of the weather began to bother him. There’d been no immediate ‘Nuclear Winter,’ the way some scenarios had predicted. But it was suddenly uncommonly cold for this far south at this time of year. The sky had been hazy ever since Sven had left the shelter, but now real clouds were forming. It looked like it could be a really bad storm.
Trying to keep an eye on the storm that was building behind him, Sven almost didn’t see the roadblock ahead in time. He was on the west side of the small town where the 160 crossed an arm of Bull Shoals Lake.
Sven checked the rear view mirror when he came to a stop. Sure enough, he’d missed the blocking force. “They must have been on one of the side roads,” Sven muttered to himself. They were approaching slowly and Sven debated another minute to take a quick look at the map before he took his foot off the brake pedal and put it on the accelerator. He began moving forward again. He was in, essentially, a cul-de-sac. Any of the side roads would take him to a dead end or another roadblock, he was sure.
The blocking force stayed well behind when Sven stopped twenty-feet or so from the road block. He kept his hands up, in sight, after he opened the driver’s side door of the Suburban, and got out very slowly.
“Just passing through!” he called out, facing the roadblock. He hadn’t seen anyone, but felt like there were a dozen pairs of eyes on him. Finally a man stepped from behind one of the cars that made up the roadblock. He had a shotgun, the butt resting on his hip.
“This is a toll road now,” said the man. “Going either way. Once you passed through our line, you owed us.”
“How much? Will you take a check?”
The man didn’t like that, at all. The shotgun came down of his hip and was now held in two hands. “Not funny, guy. Not much humor left in the world. I’d be careful where you tried to dish it out. Now fork over five gallons of gas, or we’ll look things over and take what we want.”
“How about diesel?” Sven asked.
“Diesel is fine.”
“I’ll get it out of the trailer,” Sven said, and turned to go back to do it.
“Easy,” said the man, walking forward now to join Sven. “Okay. Any funny moves and you’re dead and we’re rich, from the look of your rig.”
Sven took the threat to heart. He lifted the lid of one of the side toolboxes of the trailer and pulled out a jerry can. He tried to hand it to the man, but the man backed up. “Set it down on the side of the road.”
After doing so, the man waved toward the roadblock and one of the cars began to move, being pushed manually by two more people.
“In your rig and get out of here. I’d suggest you don’t come back. Things are going to get tough and we have to take care of our families any way we can.”
Sven simply nodded, got into the Suburban and pulled through the gap in the roadblock. There were some people about in the small town, but they simply stared at Sven driving by, making no move to wave or speak.
When he reached the other side of the town, he drove through the gap already opened in that roadblock. “After all that,” Sven said aloud, “I hope the bridge is okay.” It was and Sven crossed it, vowing to himself to be more careful. He wasn’t sure if there had been anything he could have done. The roadblock had been placed well, and the blocking force knew what they were doing.
Shaking off the almost doom-like feeling, Sven continued on his way, at a slightly more sedate pace, watching carefully ahead. He did continue to take a glance in the rearview mirror, both to check on the approaching storm and to make sure he wasn’t be followed.
The town on the other side of the lake seemed to be abandoned. He saw no one, not even a stray dog, as he passed through the town at a moderate speed. He sighed in relief when he cleared the town and was on the open road again.
Stopping well before getting to each of the small towns he came to he would study the map and find a way around them on county roads. He even used some farm roads. The process, while apparently safer, was much more time consuming.
The storm caught up with him just outside of West Plains. He decided to wait it out in the Suburban, after finding a bare field adjacent to the highway where he could park. Sven turned off the engine of the Suburban and leaned the seat back to get comfortable, taking the Colt from the seat next to him to hold in his lap.
It was a fitful evening and night. The storm raged for hours. Every once in a while the keychain radiation alarm would sound, but only two or three chirps before it went silent again. Catching a lag in the storm, Sven got out and used the bathroom, getting back inside the truck just as the rain and hail began again.
He drank a bit of water and had a couple of handfuls of Gorp that he kept handy in the truck. It was still raining when Sven woke up the next morning. He hurriedly went to the bathroom in the rain after starting up the Suburban so it could warm up. The temperature had dropped significantly during the night and the rain was verging on freezing rain and sleet.
Another couple of handfuls of Gorp and a long drink of water, and Sven put the Suburban in gear and got back onto the road. The borrow ditches were full of water, sometimes covering the road two or three inches deep. Sven left US 160 west of West Plains and turned north, again wondering if he would run into heavy radiation further north.
The rain continued the entire time, actually turning to sleet as Sven went north. It quickly turned to heavy snow and Sven reduced his speed even more. He didn’t want to come up on one of the abandoned vehicles on US 67 and hit it due to lack of visibility.
The radiation alarm began to chirp, very slowly and Sven tensed up some. But he was only a few miles from crossing the Wappapello at the north end of the lake and turning back south to get to his retreat. He pressed on, keeping his speed low, but marginally faster.
When he crossed south of Greenville and turned back south on county roads the alarm slowed down more and finally quit beeping altogether. Sven breathed another sigh of relief. Another three hours of slow going on the back roads and Sven was near his retreat.
As soon as he saw the gate blocking the dirt track leading to his property Sven knew there was trouble ahead. The gate was standing wide open. Though not locked, the latch mechanism was rather complex. An animal couldn’t get it open and it sure wouldn’t open on its own. Someone had been to the property and was probably still there. There was room to turn the rig around and Sven did so, going back the way he’d come.
When he got to the spot he was headed, Sven pulled off the road through a small opening in the forest and parked in the clear area a quarter mile off the road. It was already late in the afternoon and the snow was lighter, but still coming down. Sven wasn’t in the mood to stay in the Suburban again, or set up a camp this close to the retreat.
A grim look on his face, Sven got out of the truck, pulled a pair of Carhartt bibs and a parka from the gear in the back and put them on. He shrugged into a combat harness of suspenders, belt, and pouches. He slipped the Colt into the holster on the belt, checked the six magazine pouches carrying magazines for it, and then checked the pouch of four twenty-round magazines for the PTR. He put the respirator that had been sitting on the passenger seat into a thigh bag.
With everything as it should be, with the truck and trailer covered with a camouflage tarp and the alarms set, Sven set off in the snow with the PTR-91 slung over his shoulder. He’d been all over this area on foot and knew exactly where he was going and how to get there unheard and unseen. The snow was actually an aid in his endeavor now.
It took him an hour to hike to the clearing where his retreat was situated. There were some signs of activity. He circled the entire area, looking for anyone that might be outside in the miserable weather. As expected, there wasn’t anyone out and about. He checked the locations of all the caches he had around the area. None had been disturbed.
Sven went back to the clearing and approached the plain looking concrete block structure that was the basis of his retreat. There was a thin column of smoke coming from the fireplace chimney. He watched for a little while as twilight deepened into full darkness, with only the whiteness of the snow allowing any visibility that deep into the forest.
Backing away from the clearing, Sven went to get one of the cached shovels nearby. The ground wasn’t frozen so it was easy to use his field knife to dig the thin layer of dirt from the shovel. It was a fiberglass handled shovel and the shovel head was well oiled and wrapped in plastic. It was in fine shape.
Shovel in hand, Sven moved to another spot, carefully checking his bearings. A few scoops with the shovel and a four inch plastic pipe came into view. The end was capped. Another two shovelfuls and a plastic ammo can was exposed. Sven opened it and took out a battery powered fan, and one of the six smoke grenades the box contained.
Sven slipped the cap off the pipe, pulled the pin of the grenade, set it just inside the pipe, turned on the fan, and set it so it would blow the smoke down the pipe. A little smoke was escaping, but not enough to matter. PTR ready in his hands, Sven moved to a position where he could see the chimney and the door of the retreat. He took a minute to put on the respirator.
It didn’t take long. Thick smoke came billowing out of the chimney and people came rushing out of the small building.
In a prone position, the PTR on the bi-pod, Sven aimed at the only person that came out of the building with a gun in his hand.
“Drop the gun and I won’t kill you!” shouted Sven.
Rubbing his eyes the man fired the pistol at the sound of Sven’s voice. Sven drilled him right in the center of the chest, turning the PTR on another of the four remaining people. “Surrender or die!” Sven yelled this time.
Though all tried to put their hands up, none could keep from coughing and rubbing their eyes. “Anyone else inside?” Sven asked as the small group moved further away from the smoke still billowing from the open door.
Before anyone could answer, another man came charging out through the door, a pump shotgun in his hands. Sven had to give him credit. The man was game. With tears streaming down his face, and moving at a dead run, he still managed to get off three rounds of twelve gauge buckshot toward Sven, before Sven shot him, again, a shot to the center of the chest.
If Sven had been standing, at least one of the loads of buckshot would have hit him.
“Don’t shoot any more, Mister! That’s all of them! We didn’t do nothing! They made us!”
Through the snow Sven finally made out that the remaining four were either women, or children. None were dressed for the weather, obviously. Sven got up and approached the group. “Don’t try anything or I’ll kill you like the others,” Sven said.
“We’re freezing, Mister!” said the same voice. Sven still wasn’t sure if it was a boy or a girl.
“Give me a minute and I’ll clear the smoke and we can go back inside. You’ll just have to stand it for a couple of minutes.” First grabbing up the two weapons the men had used, Sven ran back to pull the now empty smoke grenade from the pipe. He left the fan running.
Going to the building, Sven went inside carefully, the PTR at the ready. A quick look around in the heavy smoke and Sven went to a hanging cabinet, reached in and tripped a lock. The cabinet swung away from the wall, exposing an electrical panel. Sven flipped a breaker and the faint sound of a fan moving air could be heard.
When he went back outside, three of the group were huddled around the fourth. Sven stood there at the door, just watching, checking the inside of the building every few seconds. “Okay,” he finally said. “I think it’s clear enough to come back in. It’ll smell, but you should be able to stand it. It wasn’t teargas or anything. Just marking smoke.
The three helped the one and half carried what Sven could now see was a young woman, girl really, barely clothed. He grimaced. She probably was just about freezing. She was hustled inside and over by the fireplace. One of the other three grabbed a blanket from a pile on the floor and wrapped her in it.
“What now?” asked the woman after turning around from helping the other woman. And it was a woman, not a boy or girl. It was the same person that had spoken each time before. He got a good look at both of the others. There was another woman, and a boy of about fourteen or fifteen.
“Depends,” Sven said.
“You try to hurt my sister like the others did, I’ll kill you!” The boy was shivering, but stood tall when he made the threat.
“Your sister, you… all of you, have nothing to fear from me, as long as you don’t go trying to kill me like those other two. Now, who are you? Who were they? And why are you trespassing on my property?”
“You should know,” said the talky woman. “Those guys said they knew you.”
“Knew me?” Sven said, obviously surprised. Sven stepped back outside and took a better look at both of the men. He stepped back and started to go inside, but hesitated. He pushed the door open but didn’t enter.
“Where I can see you, if you please,” Sven said when he saw the brother, sister, and third woman, but not the talky one.
Obviously reluctantly, the woman moved into Sven’s line of sight. She held the fireplace poker in her hand.
“Now, now, now,” Sven said, going inside and taking the poker from her hand without a problem. “You’ll be a lot better off if you work with me, rather than against me. Now. I want some introductions and information.
“I’m Belinda Montgomery,” said the woman that had tried to ambush him. “That’s, Traven Gregory and his sister Elaine. And my sister, Pru Conrad.”
“Okay. I’ve got the names. What happened here?”
“What’s the relation between you and your sister, and Traven and Elaine?”
“Coincidence. They were in the car ahead of us on 67 when all the vehicles on the road stopped running.
“Probably EMP,” Traven interjected.
“Yes. I suppose,” said Belinda. “For whatever reason, the cars stopped and we all were standing around wondering what happened. We were just this side of Greenville. A bunch of us started walking toward the town, but then those two goons… Do you know them or not?”
“Unfortunately. A couple of hunters that ran across this place when I was here once. Not very nice guys. Didn’t like it when I sent them packing.”
“Well, anyway, we came up on them. Their truck had quit, too. But they were putting on hiking backpacks. They saw us, exchanged a look, and then pulled their guns. They were going to let let the others go, and make the four of us go with them. But Traven and Elaine’s parents objected and they shot them. Everyone else scattered, but we were too close to them to get away. They brought us here. We’ve been here ever since.” Belinda’s eyes dropped.
“They… Pru and I… Well, I guess you can guess. Why they didn’t turn on Elaine until tonight, I don’t know. We’ve all been expecting it. We were going to fight back, but…” Suddenly there were tears in her eyes. “One held a gun on us three and the other one started undressing Elaine. That’s when the smoke started.”
“I see. I’m sorry about your ordeal. How did you all survive this long? There wasn’t any food here.”
“The two guys had some camping food, and one would hunt every other day. He must have been good. He brought something back every time he went hunting or fishing.”
“Yeah. They were self-proclaimed expert hunters and fishermen. Maybe they were right. Moot point, now.”
“They gave us just enough to keep us going, Belinda continued, “but that’s all. Would it be all right if we ate something now? We are all starving.”
“Oh. Sure. Eat up.”
The blanket still around her, Elaine was given a bowl of plain meat soup before the others dished some up for themselves from the pot in the fireplace and sitting down at the steel table bolted to the floor in the center of the large room.
The four ate ravenously, filling their bowls three times each, as Sven stood there and watched, trying to figure out what he was going to do.
The same thing must have been on Belinda’s mind. Finally setting aside her bowl, she turned to look at Sven again. “What are you going to do with us?”
“I’m not going to do anything with you or to you. You’re on your own, as soon as I can get you out of here.”
Belinda looked startled. Sven’s reply hadn’t been what she was expecting. She didn’t really know what she was expecting, but that wasn’t it.
“Do you know what really happened?” Traven asked, also setting his bowl aside. “Gerald, the guy with the shotgun, said we had a nuclear war. But we haven’t seen or heard anything. Is it true?”
“I’m afraid so,” Sven replied. “Don’t really know how widespread, but I haven’t heard any broadcast radio or TV since the attack. No Amateur’s either. But there is less static now than there was. I expect to make contact any day now with other survivors.”
“But won’t we just die, anyway?” asked Pru. “People can’t survive a nuclear war.”
“Yes, they can,” said Traven and Sven almost together. “You have survived,” Sven continued as Traven fell silent. “It’s a matter of continuing to survive that is the crux of the matter. There are people out there more than willing to take advantage of others, because of it. But there are others that will be willing to help.”
“Which are you?” Belinda asked, her eyes watching Sven carefully.
“I’m neither,” Sven replied easily. “I’m not out to take advantage, but I don’t plan on being that much help to anyone but myself.”
“You helped us.” Those were the first words Sven had heard Elaine say. The blanket wrapped tightly around her, she, like Belinda, was watching Sven carefully.
“I helped myself get back my property. I didn’t do it for you. I didn’t even know you were here. I was prepared to kill everyone in here if they were all in it together.”
“But you didn’t,” Belinda said.
“No, of course not! I’m not going to shoot down unarmed innocents!”
“Okay. I accept that. But what are Traven and Elaine supposed to do. Pru and I might be able to make it home, if home is still there, but…”
“It’s not really my problem,” Sven said. “I plan on holing up here for a year or two, until things settle down, and then see what’s going on. This is my home now, since my house was destroyed in the attack.”
“Did you get fallout?” Traven asked. Sven nodded, but Belinda was speaking again.
“Just because you knew of this place like those two men doesn’t make it yours.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Sven replied. “Buying the land and building the retreat myself, does.”
“Oh,” Belinda said. “I thought… Doesn’t make any difference. If you won’t help Pru and me, you have to help Traven and Elaine.” She looked over at the brother and sister. “You have other family, don’t you?”
Elaine had started crying quietly. Traven answered. “No. An old aunt that lives in New York City. But they would have hit New York, for sure. If she isn’t dead, she’s having a hard time taking care of herself, much less us, if we could even get there and find her.”
Pru moved over and began to comfort her.
“You can’t just expect us to leave here, can you?” Belinda asked. “We don’t have proper clothes since the weather changed, and no more food, or even any way to…”
Sven cut her off. “I’m not going to make you just walk out of here. I can take you into the nearest town. Perhaps they can lend a hand.”
“And what if they can’t?” Belinda asked.
“There will be abandoned houses,” Sven replied. “You can live in one of them. Bound to be warm clothes just lying around.”
“What about food?” Belinda swung her arm around to encompass the other three. “None of us are hunters. We don’t have any guns. There is no way for us to feed ourselves.”
“I can let you have some guns.”
“We’re not shooters. More likely to shoot ourselves in the foot than an animal. We wouldn’t know how to prepare it, anyway. The two dressed all they game. Made us cook it. Just put it in the pot with water in the fireplace and boiled it until it was done. We don’t know how to live in the city without services, much less in the wilderness.”
“So I’m just supposed to take care of you out of the kindness of my heart? For how long? You think this situation is just going to blow over?”
“When you put it that way,” Belinda said, her voice soft rather than harsh, “I know it sounds unreasonable. But we’re just becoming to accept the fact of what happened. We didn’t know for sure what it was. I thought it was just two guys taking advantage of a situation.”
“I knew it was nuclear war,” Traven said. “The minute the car quit.”
“Okay,” Belinda replied. “So maybe we did have an inkling. But I don’t have a clue what to do, to be honest. Okay?” Belinda’s lower lip was trembling.
“For crying out loud,” Sven said, “Don’t start crying on me.” When her lip quit trembling immediately, Sven wondered if she was just playing him.
“We should just go take what we need,” Traven said. “Like the two scum did. We’re entitled. Give me a gun. I’ll take care of us.” He was looking at Sven.
“Taking from others because you have been taken from doesn’t make it right.” Sven studied the boy, wondering if it was just bravado, or if he really meant it.
“Well, we don’t have to take from people. Like you said, there will be stuff abandoned.”
It made Sven feel a bit better. But then he thought about what had happened in his own neighborhood while he was in the shelter. Everything edible that had been found had been taken. It was most likely the same, even in small towns. Perhaps even more likely.
“Crimeny!” Sven said finally. “How did I get myself into this?”
“Come on,” Traven said, rather insistently. “Give me a gun and some bullets and I’ll take my sister to town. We’ll make it on our own if you won’t help us.”
“Can’t let you do that, Sport,” Sven replied. “Not in the middle of the night, anyway. Just plan on staying tonight. I’ll figure out what to do with you in the morning. Right now, I need to go get my truck before something happens to it.”
“I’ll go with you,” Traven said.
“That’s all right. I can manage on your own.” Seeing the bottled up emotion in the boy’s face, having not been able to do anything to protect his sister or the other two women, Sven changed his mind.
“Though, on second thought, perhaps you should come with me. You know how to use a gun?”
“If you show me, I can,” Traven said quickly.
“I don’t think…” Belinda was saying when Traven cut her off.
“You aren’t my mother! I’ll do what I want!”
“Easy, boy,” Sven said. “She’s just trying to look out for you. Whether or not you need it. It’s your choice, as far as I’m concerned. You’re a man now, like it or not.”
Sven gave Belinda a hard look and she fell silent. “From what you’ve said, you don’t know how to use a gun, either.”
Belinda shook her head.
“Then you’ll get a lesson, too.”
“You’re going to give me a gun?” Belinda asked, her surprise evident.
“As long as you assure me you aren’t going to turn it on me. And be aware that you’re a lot better off with me here, alive, than without me.”
Belinda nodded. “Very well. You have my word.”
“Okay,” Sven said and then looked at Traven. “Come on, Traven. Grab that coat and come with me.”
Traven jumped to obey, not hesitating to shrug into the coat that had belonged to one of the men that had held them captive. Belinda, Pru, and Elaine watched as the man and boy went outside.
Sven pulled a Surefire G2 flashlight from a pouch on the belt and led the way to the exposed pipe and the fan still blowing air into it. He’d left the guns he’d taken off the two dead men there when he removed the smoke grenade.
“That’s how you got the smoke inside?” Traven asked. “You planned for something like this?”
“Yeah. I’m a planner. As you can see, planning pays off.” Turning off the fan, Sven put it away, re-capped the pipe and took a couple of moments to cover the hole again. “Which one you want? Pistol or shotgun?”
“I think I’d better take the pistol,” Traven said slowly. “I think the pistol. The shotgun might kick too much for me.”
“Good choice,” Sven said and began to show Traven the workings of the pistol. It was a nice Beretta 84FS Cheetah in .380 ACP. Checking the magazine to show Traven how to do it, Sven found it still held seven of a possible thirteen rounds.
A few minutes later, satisfied that Traven wouldn’t accidentally shoot himself or Sven, he led the boy back to the two dead mean, carrying the shovel. They’d need it later.
Traven watched as Sven searched the two bodies. He recovered two spare magazines for the Cheetah, and a holster. Traven slipped the Cheetah into the holster and put it on his belt.
There were an even dozen twenty-gauge shotgun shells with #6 bird shot.
“Let’s go in and give this to Belinda,” Sven said, moving then to the door of the building. “Uh… You first, Traven. I don’t exactly trust Belinda.”
Traven grinned. “But you’re going to give her a gun?”
“Yes. Should make her feel better about the situation. Don’t you think?”
Traven hefted the Cheetah. “Yeah. Yeah, I can see that.”
The two went in. Belinda was sitting at the table with Pru and Elaine. Elaine had gotten dressed while the two males were outside.
As he had with Traven, Sven went through a short gun handling course with Belinda on the Remington 870 20-guage shotgun. “Got it?” he asked finally as she worked the action a couple of time with the gun empty.
When she nodded, Sven said, “Load it up.”
He kept a careful eye on her when the gun was loaded. He noted that she’d put on the safety, just as he’d shown her. Still, he kept her in his peripheral vision until he and Traven were outside and the door closed behind them.
Once they were well away from the retreat building Sven relaxed. The snow was still coming down. Sven kept a sharp eye on Traven. If he’d been on short rations, that fact and the cold might get to him during the long hike.
But he trudged along beside Sven like a real trooper, occasionally putting his hands in his pockets, but usually swinging his arms in a stride to keep up with Sven’s long legs. He never once asked how far it was, but Sven was glad to get to the Suburban. The boy was starting to fade.
Traven was able to help roll the tarp up and stow it, but sagged tiredly when Sven had him get into the front passenger seat. “Man!” Traven said as Sven started up the Suburban, “you’ve got tons of stuff! And this is a cool rig!”
“Yeah. Like I said. I plan.” Sven got out of the forest and drove to the entrance to the property and pulled through. He got out and closed the gate and made sure the latch caught. When he got back into the Suburban Traven had fallen asleep in the warmth.
But Sven was pleased to see he woke right up, alert, when Sven opened the door to get in. Another few minutes and they were back at the retreat. The two got out and Sven set the alarms, and then joined Traven at the door of the building.
“Better announce yourself,” Sven said. “Belinda might be just a bit trigger happy.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Traven replied, then called out loudly. “Belinda! Its me and the guy! We’re back.
Sven leaned down and told Traven, “My name is Sven.”
“It’s me and Sven!” Traven yelled again.
“Okay, Okay!” Belinda said after she opened the door. “You don’t have to announce it to the world.”
“I don’t think that…” Sven started to say, but fell silent when Belinda gave him a sharp look. She was carrying the shotgun, he noted as he followed Traven into the room. He hesitated for just a moment, but then hung up the PTR on a coat hook by the door, taking off the combat harness to add it to the rack.
“Door’s locked,” he said. “I think you can put the shotgun away,” giving Belinda a pointed look. “You, too, Traven.”
Traven yawned, but carefully removed the pistol from the holster on his belt and put it on what served as the kitchen counter. After a moment’s hesitation, Belinda leaned the shotgun up in the corner.
“You’ll have to sleep on the floor,” she said. “I’m not going to ask Pru or Elaine to give up the bunks or the only blankets.”
“That’s okay,” Sven said. He was on the verge of gloating, when he went over to the rough hewn wooden shelving unit on the left side of the fireplace. He reached in and up, tripping a lock in the framework of the vertical member of the unit.
“I plan to sleep in a bunk. You’re all welcome to have one, too, if you want.” Sven was swinging open the secret door that gave access to the underground part of the retreat. Belinda started to protest, but didn’t voice it, watching Sven.
Traven stepped over and stared down the circular stairway. Sven reached past him and flipped up a light switch and more of the room below ground level came into view.
“You’ve got a secret room!” Traven finally said. With a huge grin on his face, Traven looked at Sven and added, “More planning?”
Sven grinned back. “Yeah. Planning pays off, if you ask me. Wake the other two and come on down.” He knew he was taking something of a chance turning his back on Belinda while she had access to the PTR, the Colt, the Cheetah, or the pump shotgun. But, a bit tense, Sven went down the staircase, Traven hard on his heels.
Traven began to look around, wide awake now. Belinda came down next, looking around, too. But her look was one of bewilderment, while Traven’s was one of excitement.
“You have a regular place here,” Belinda said. “Electrical power… A kitchen sink.”
Sven opened a door and Belinda looked in. “A real bathroom!” She looked at Sven, finally at a loss for words. Pru and Elaine were coming down the circular stairway, much the way Belinda had. Elaine headed directly to the bathroom and closed the door.
Traven was opening various cabinets and other doors, each new find drawing a “Wow!” from him.
“This has been here all this time and those two didn’t know about it?” Belinda asked.
“Actually, no. While Traven got the Suburban, I built this.” The humor was lost on Belinda.
“Sure. Funny. Ha. Ha. Why didn’t your friends know about this?”
“They were not my friends, I tell you!” Sven said, a bit more loudly and forcefully than he intended. Belinda took a quick step back.
“Look,” Sven said then, seeing the fear in the woman’s eyes, “I only know them because they came through here, hunting, right after I finished this place. I wanted it to look like a hunting cabin, and it does. That’s all they knew about. The hunting cabin part of the structure. And that because they were trespassing, not because I invited them up here.”
“Oh,” Belinda said. The stiffness seemed to slide right out of her for a moment, but suddenly she stiffened again, one hand going to her mouth. “You’re a survivalist!” She took another step backwards, apparently more fearful of a supposed survivalist than a pair of renegade hunters.
“Crimeny!” Sven said. “I’m a prepper. Yeah, survivalist by the old definition. Not the new one that includes bigotry, anti-social behavior, hatred of the government with the intention of overthrowing it. I made plans to deal with many possible emergency situations. Nuclear war was only one of them. One I thought was way down on the list of probables. In that, my planning was wrong.”
“I think you planned great!” Traven said.
“Well, I didn’t plan for you four.”
It didn’t dampen Trevan’s excitement.
Knowing exactly what he had in the retreat, after a short pause, Sven said, “Make yourselves at home. For the moment. But don’t get too comfortable.”
Belinda watched him as he went back upstairs to the hunting cabin. When he didn’t come back down immediately, she went up the circular stairway herself. When her head cleared the floor level she saw Sven picking up around the inside of the cabin. Straightening things up. He arranged the blankets on one of the four steel framed, steel mesh bunks and started to lie down.
“You’re not sleeping down here? Aren’t there enough bunks?” Belinda asked, taking another two steps upward.
“No. I need some time to myself to think. You all go to bed.”
Belinda simply watched him for several more moments, and then turned around and went back down the stairs. A bit later Sven got up and banked the fire in the fireplace. He could hear the others downstairs, still up, talking. Sven shook his head, laid back down and went to sleep much faster than he thought he would.
Planning Pays Off - Chapter 3
As it turned out, he didn’t have any better ideas the next morning when he woke up than he had when he went to sleep the previous night. Rather than possibly wake those in the retreat, Sven went outside and used the outhouse.
He was shivering when he came back inside. The snow had stopped, but the temperature had dropped even more, despite the cloud clover. It took a few minutes to get the fire going well again. Sven picked up one of the stainless steel buckets kept in the hunting cabin and filled it with water from the pitcher pump on the kitchen counter by the sink.
After pouring a bit of the water into the cast iron kettle on one of the swing arms of the fireplace, he swung the kettle over the now roaring flames. When the water was hot, he scrubbed out the kettle and dumped it down the kitchen drain, rinsed and drained it again, and then put it back on the swing arm. He filled it with water from the bucket and swung the kettle back over the flames.
The water was just getting hot when Belinda, Pru, Elaine, and Traven came upstairs. “Why are you heating water in the fireplace?” Traven asked. “There is hot water in the retreat. And how is that possible, anyway?”
“Don’t want to waste resources. Yeah, there’s hot water available, but I’ll eventually be out of fuel, except for wood.”
All four had the good grace to look sheepish, as each one had luxuriated during the long hot shower each took.
To change the subject, Traven asked, “Are we going hunting to get something for breakfast?”
“But there is plenty of fo..” Belinda started saying, but flushed and fell silent. There was plenty of food in the retreat. But Sven had a point. It would run out soon enough. Especially if the four of them stayed. It was obvious that Sven had created the retreat with more than one person in mind, but she had to wonder if the additional occupants would have brought their own supplies.
“No,” Sven said. “Go ahead and fix something for yourselves for breakfast. I want to get the bodies buried before they draw scavengers.”
Pru and Elaine looked a bit ill suddenly, when Sven mentioned the bodies.
“I’ll help,” Traven said immediately.
“Okay,” Sven said. “Let’s go.”
Traven hurriedly got into the oversize coat and stepped to the door. Before Sven had to remind him, Traven went over to the counter, picked up the Beretta Cheetah, and holstered it. Sven was doing the same, putting on the Carhatts he shed the night before, and then the combat harness. PTR in hand, Sven led the way outside, Belinda watching the two closely.
She shook her head, and then turned to the entrance to the retreat shelter. Going down stairs, with the other two following shortly after, Belinda set about investigating the retreat the way Traven had the night before. The only thing she’d seen when Traven had been exploring was the pantry with food stocks in it.
Frowning, she looked over the contents of the pantry, but smiled when she found a cook book suited for the types of stored food Sven had.
“You going to be okay?” Sven asked Traven shortly after they went out and began to drag the first body toward the forest.
Despite looking a bit green around the gills, Traven nodded and kept pulling on the man’s arm. Sven had the other arm. At a likely looking spot Sven stopped and dropped the dead man’s arm. “There is a pick-mattock in the rack on the Suburban. Would you go get it, please? Here’s the remote to turn off the alarms.”
Traven’s eyes widened in surprise when Sven gave him the remote with several keys hanging from its ring. “You trust me not to take off in it?”
“Can’t I?” Sven asked in return.
“Yes, of course you can.” A moment’s pause and Traven added, “Thanks.” Sven smiled at the boy. He was growing up very fast.
Sven had the dead man stripped by the time Traven got back with the pick-mattock. He looked a little green again at the sight of the stripped body. He handed the pick-mattock to Sven when he asked for it. Fortunately the rains before the snow had started had washed most of the blood from the handle. But the moist ground had frozen during the night a couple of inches deep.
Marking out a rectangle on the ground, Sven set aside the PTR-91 and began to use the pick end of the pick-mattock to break up the frozen surface of the ground. With a layer loosened, Sven took a rest while Traven shoveled out the loose material. They worked that way until Sven set the pick-mattock aside. “Deep enough for these scum,” he said.
Traven put down the shovel and helped Sven drag the body into the hole. They let it fall and didn’t bother to try to arrange it any better than it had landed. The two took turns filling the shallow grave.
“We going to say words or anything?” Traven asked Sven.
“I’m not. Do as you think best.”
Traven looked a bit uneasy, but finally just said, “Good riddance.”
Sven hid his smile and picked up the pick-mattock again. Before he started to use it, however, he put it down and took off the combat harness and heavy parka. He was working up a sweat using the tools. That was dangerous in this kind of weather.
When the second grave was ready, Sven and Traven moved the body. After a bit of hesitation, Traven pitched in and helped Sven strip the body. He asked, “What do we do with their stuff?”
“In my way of thinking, anyone that attacks me, and I manage to defeat, their belongings are the spoils of war and therefore I will take anything I want that is useful. It’s going to be a long time before industry gets back on its feet. Manufactured goods are going to be in short supply long before that. I don’t plan on wasting anything.”
“What about… well…” Traven held up the man’s wallet. “Money and stuff?”
“Take it. You can have it. I don’t think it’ll be worth much for a long time, if ever. But you just never know.”
Traven seemed to be thinking it over, and then finally tossed the wallet, still filled, over to the small pile of things from the other man. “I don’t think so,” he said. “You killed them. You should have their stuff.”
“Okay,” Sven replied. The two dragged the body over and let it fall into the grave, and then covered it up. Neither said anything when the grave was full. They just put their coats back on, gathered up everything, and went back to the hunting cabin slash retreat.
Sven wasn’t that surprised when breakfast was waiting for them, but it caught Traven by surprise. “Wow! Thanks! I’m starving! I thought I’d have to fix something myself.”
“Of course not,” Belinda said, putting her hand on Traven’s shoulder, but looking at Sven.
Sven added his thanks quietly, sat down, and ate at the table in the hunting cabin. The three women went back downstairs.
“Boy, this is good!” Traven said. “I thought I was going to starve with those guys. They just kept me around to bring in wood and stuff. I wish I’d had a gun then. They wouldn’t have hurt Pru or Belinda.” He put down his fork and looked down at the table, sightlessly.
“You did well, Traven. You did everything you could in the situation.”
“I don’t feel like it,” he said softly. “They were hurting Elaine when the smoke came. I didn’t even try anything then, just ran out with the others.”
“Give it some time. You’re a hard worker. Things will get better.”
“I don’t know if I can take care of the three of them, if we have to leave here,” Traven said, finally looking up at Sven. “Even with the pistol.”
“I understand, Traven. Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out so you won’t be responsible for them.”
“I’ll still be responsible for Elaine. She’s my sister. I have to take care of her, even if she is older.”
“Yeah,” Sven said. “Well, we’ll discuss it later. Finish your breakfast.”
Both fell silent and did as Sven had suggested. They took the dishes down to the retreat and washed them, at Sven’s insistence. “You don’t have to wait on us, me,” Sven said. “You’re not captives now.”
“As in, ‘you’re free to go. Don’t let the door hit you in the…’”
Sven shot an angry look over at Belinda. “I haven’t said anything like that!”
“Yes, you did. As much as saying that. You want us out of here.”
“Well, come on!” Sven said, standing with his hands on his hips. “Are you telling me that you’d rather stay here, rather than try to get hooked back up with civilization? There will be a recovery effort.”
“You think there is one now?” Belinda asked. She was standing aggressively, too.
“Well… No… Probably not yet… But…”
“If he doesn’t want us, I think we should just go,” Pru said, surprising her sister no end.
“What? This is the safest place around now. I don’t what happened to you to happen again.”
Sven sighed when Pru started crying and Belinda went over to comfort her. Elaine looked forlorn, ready to cry, too.
When Sven glanced at Traven, he was looking even younger than his fourteen years. Traven looked at Sven, and said, “If you really don’t want us to stay, I’ll take Elaine and we’ll go. Can I buy some supplies? I’ll have to work it off, sometime, but I will. I promise.”
“Crimeny!” Sven said. “I do not need this!” He closed his eyes, pressed his palms against the sides of his head, and then said. “Okay. You can all stay until you make your own decision to leave. But I don’t expect to have to take care of you. And I ask… demand… that you be conservative with the supplies and do some of the work around here.”
“I will! I promise!” Traven said immediately. He looked over at Elaine. “Come on, Elaine. You’ll be safe here. I can protect you now.”
Elaine bit her lower lip for a moment, and then nodded.
“What do you want me to do first?” Traven asked.
“Clean the guns. One at a time. Come on. I’ll get you the gun cleaning kit.” Sven went over to the only door in the retreat that Traven and the others hadn’t checked to see what was behind it. Primarily because the door was a vault door and locked.
Sven spun the knob back and forth and then pulled the door open and stepped in, Traven right behind him, his curiosity at high peak. Belinda found herself walking over to see what was behind the door that had been driving her nuts wondering what it was hiding.
“Holy moly!” Traven said after stepping inside behind Sven. “You got more guns and ammo than the police!”
“Not hardly,” Sven said.
“Sure looks like it to me, too,” Belinda added, also stepping inside for a look.
Sven looked a bit sour. “We’ll. I’m sort of a collector.”
“I’ll say!” Traven said then. He was careful not to touch any of the racked guns or stacked boxes and crates of ammunition, but he looked at each one carefully, noting brand, type, and caliber or gauge.
“Why do you need all these?” Belinda asked. “You can only shoot one at a time.”
Sven turned around and gave her a hard look. “True. And the rest of my family and friends that were supposed to show up here if trouble started, would only shoot one at a time, too. In self-defense. Defending this place and each other.”
“You… you have a family?” Belinda asked. “I didn’t think… You came alone… I…”
“Here’s the cleaning kit,” Traven. Take it upstairs and clean your Beretta and Belinda’s Remington pump. I’ll show you how.”
Belinda stepped back quickly when Traven took the cleaning kit and turned toward the door of the small walk-in closet sized room.
“I’m sorry,” Belinda said softly as Sven came out, closed the vault door and locked it. “I just didn’t think…”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Sven said harshly. “You’ve made your opinion of me clear enough. Think what you want. Come on, Traven.”
Belinda went over to sit with Pru and Elaine as Sven and Traven went upstairs. “I think I really stepped in it,” she told her sister.
“Yeah. I think you did, Sis. And for no good reason.”
Belinda looked sharply at her sister. “That’s harsh,” she said.
“Yes it is. For a reason.” She turned away from her sister and got up, going to the kitchen area of the large room to pretend to do something.
Elaine, uncomfortable with the situation, got up and went to the bunk she had used and began to make it up neatly.
Belinda continued to sit and ponder the situation. Had she really been that far out of line?
Traven watched closely as Sven showed him how to clean the various guns that had been used recently, and then went through the procedures himself.
“Okay. Very good,” Sven told Traven when the guns were all cleaned and reloaded. “Now, in my opinion, you don’t have to clean after every use, given only a couple of shots, but even if not used and exposed to severe weather, I like to clean them. Now. You up for some more work?”
Traven nodded eagerly.
“Take Belinda the shotgun, grab your coat, and I’ll meet you outside,” Sven said and got up. “I’ll put the cleaning gear away later.”
Traven hurried to do as asked and Sven put on the bibs and his coat, and went outside to wait for Traven. He was in no mood to see or talk to Belinda. He’d been doing a good job of keeping the rest of his family and friends out of his mind. If they showed up, they showed up. The agreement had been that everyone was on their own to get here. No one was supposed to go looking.
At least, not while the situation was on going. After things settled down, Sven had every intention of going looking for his brother and sister and their families, along with two old friends that were part of the small MAG Sven had finally set up.
When Traven came running out, Sven had to smile at the eagerness the youth showed.
“What are we going to do?” he asked immediately.
“Have some stuff to cache. Things I don’t want or need in the retreat right now, but want close and protected. I’m afraid it’s more shovel work.”
“That’s okay,” Trevan immediately said. “My dad said work was good for a person. And now I owe you, so I have to work as hard as I can.”
Sven had started toward the empty cache he planned to open up and fill. He stopped and turned to Trevan. “No, Trevan. You don’t owe me anything. The situation brought us together. I did what I would have done even if you and the women weren’t here. You help, pull your weight in general, and we’re just partners in this thing until we have to split up.”
“Oh,” Trevan was a bit subdued at first, but being called partner to someone who had what Sven had, even if only for a while, was too much to even dream for. He looked up at Sven’s face and smiled. “Okay. Partner.”
“That’s the way,” Sven replied, controlling the urge to ruffle Trevan’s rather unruly hair. Traven followed along side Sven, more than just lagging behind the way he had earlier, carrying the shovel.
They stopped and got another shovel. Sven explained to Traven the series of caches he had around the area, without going into too many details, or giving away the location of any of them.
When they reached the spot Sven was heading for, he took off his coat and combat harness, laid the PTR-91 on the coat, and began to swing the pick-mattock while Traven watched.
They both used shovels to dig out the loosened dirt. The hole wasn’t as large as the graves, so it quickly became a case of taking turns, using just the shovels once they got through the thin frozen layer. With a domed fiberglass lid was clear Sven said, “Let’s take a break and we’ll go get the trailer over here.”
Traven looked around. “You can get that trailer over here? I’ve got to see that!”
“Doubting Thomas!” Sven said and laughed.
After a short break, they walked back to the Suburban and got in. Sven started it up, and pulled down the track that led into the small compound. He turned into what looked just like the rest of the forest to Traven, but was a trail carefully prepared to not look like one. The route took them well around behind the cache they’d dug open.
Sven parked the trailer beside the cache and looked over at Traven with a grin.
“Wow! You really did it! But how do we get out, now?”
Sven laughed. “Still doubting. You’ll just have to wait and see again. Let’s get busy.”
Between them they removed the access hatch of the buried septic tank. “You’re smaller. Down you go. There’s a ladder for you to use.” Sven said, pointing at the opening.
Traven didn’t hesitate. He scampered down into the opening like a ground squirrel going into its den. “Wow,” Traven said. “It’s warm down here!” His voice rebounded inside the domed rectangle.
“Yep. Stay there by the opening. I want you to keep talking so I know you are getting enough oxygen.”
“What do I say?” Traven asked.
“Just anything. I can tell if your voice changes.”
“Okay. Can I sing or something? I can’t think of anything to say.”
“I don’t know if you can sing or not. Give it a shot.”