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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guest Post: Firestorm Chapter 2 , by Christopher Young


A battery powered alarm clock started  to beep on the bedside table. Chris rolled over, and tried to focus his eyes. It was 8 PM. His feet touched the floor, the carpet under his feet was reassuring. Too many times, it was only a dirt floor or the wrinkly tent bottom. After years of experience with covert operations, Chris had developed the floor test to see if he was in a civilized place or not. If the feet hit carpet, things were well with the world. The other test was the pillow test. If he could feel the steel frame of a pistol under the pillow, Chris didn't sleep as deeply or as restfully. Last night, he had left the pistol in the gunsafe in the closet. He knew he'd need a full night's sleep to get through the next 24 hours.

Without bothering to put on his eye glasses, Chris stumbled into the bathroom, and stood in front of the toilet. He could hear the furnace running, and feel the warm air coming out of the floor vents. "Wonder how much longer the utilities stay running?" Chris thought as he slipped off his underwear, and turned on the hot water in the shower. That's the other test of civilization -- if the showers are hot or cold. Might be his last hot shower for awhile.

After five or six minutes of letting the warm water wake him up, Chris started to mentally review the bug out list he had been preparing for the last several years. What to take with him, and what to leave behind.

The important stuff was already in totes near the door. A few items were mission specific, and would have to be recovered. But, all in good time. First, he needed to eat.

Chris's kitchen cabinets were nearly empty. There was no hunger in this trailer. Most of the food had been packed in the truck. A few last cans of soup, and ravioli remained. The television screen was black. The speaker was silent. Chris thought for several minutes. Might be just more of the same old. But, who can tell? Might be some tidbit of information that manages to sneak past the government information office. So, he tuned on the television.

It took about ten minutes to hitch the trailer to the back of Chris's Blazer. And about ten minutes to roll the barrel of gasoline out of the shed, and roll it onto the trailer. Then, half an hour to load the totes onto the trailer. Chris loosened the fitting on the gas grill, and put the propane bottle onto the trailer. Clever idea of Gomer's, to make the truck tri-fuel, and then he could use propane and diesel, too. Chris took the spare propane bottle out from the shed, and set it on the back seat of the blazer. He hooked up the flexible vapor line that came up from the floor. The propane feeding into the air stream would extend the range of the truck by many hundreds of miles. The specially programmed fuel computer interface would dispense only the amount of gasoline needed to keep the truck running. With propane coming in, the gasoline usage would be near to zero.

"Ah, that's good. Ready for bug out."  Chris thought as he took a last look at the neighborhood.

In the western end of Pennsylvania, Sam was just settling into his night sleep. Sam had gone about 20 miles due west of the parking lot where the FEMA was confiscating trucks. Not home yet, but Mama's gonna see me one day soon. The camouflage tent was doing its job. It was cold at night, but the closed cell foam pad and sleeping bag were cozy. Sam wasn't in shape like his old camping and hiking days, but at least he was a free man. Sam briefly wondered what happened to the other drivers at the parking lot. Well, he still had to get himself home.

Sam fell asleep to dreams of the good old days. When he was first married, driving short haul. Home to his family every night. The kids who loved to play games in the dining room after dinner, and sometimes fell asleep at the table. It was Sam's job to carry sleeping children to bed, and he did consider that an honor. Sam was as tough as nails with adults, but as gentle as a lamb with children. 

On Chris's television, the talking head reporter wasn't looking as wrinkle free, and dry cleaned as yesterday. Chris wondered what's with that? Might be that the stress and strain is starting to reach the elites? Well, the news cast droned on, and finally another talking head came into the picture. He remarked that News Anchor Joe Harrington wasn't looking his usual self. "No, Michael, I'm not" was the reply. Apparently, the looters had burned down his home, living in an apartment in the city of Houston TX, and so this was the only clothes left for him to wear. And they also burned down the dry cleaners, so his other suit was now ashes. A couple seconds of Michael on the screen revealed that he wasn't looking all that well, either. Much the same situation with Michael, he had been at the studio full time since the firestorm started. He hadn't been home to shave, or eat, or get clean clothes. They started to discuss the MREs that the military had provided, and which of the entrees they like the most. Apparently the spicy chicken was popular with the news room staff. Hope that the military could keep bringing more food, they only brought enough for the next meal.

Chris figured that the nation was really getting critical, if they couldn't find a suit of clothes for a news anchor man. The television signal was getting a bit weaker, and snow was appearing on the screen. The local news guy came on the screen for a few minutes in between the FEMA updates. Said that the station had lost its main power, and was transmitting on backup generator, and was only on about 1/10 of the transmitter power, due to fuel savings. They weren't sure how much fuel was in the generator fuel tanks, but they thought they would be on for a couple more days. The satellite downlinks were still in good shape, the satellites were solar and lithium battery powered, and had enough energy to last for several more years.

The phone on the wall rang. Chris glanced at the call ID, and said "Hi, Faith!" knowing that it was Gomer's ex wife on the line. Faith wanted to know if Chris was coming out today, as part of my emergency plan. Yep, such is the plan. Faith covered the phone, and was heard to snap something at another person on the other end of the phone. She came back to the line and said "Savannah wants to talk." Sure... so for a couple minutes Chris and Savannah made small talk. And Chris got to hear how things were going in first grade, and about riding the big yellow school bus. At age 6, Savannah just had to be talking on the phone to anyone. She had just come home from the doctor and might need eye glasses. Faith let her talk to all the tele marketers, and collection people. Savannah  was great at "the check's in the mail" and "I don't need Viagra, I'm only six!". After a few seconds, there was the sound of the phone being dropped, and two girls fighting. A voice some what distant from the phone said "Here, be a baby, and demand a turn." The next voice was Bobetta, 4, who is Savannah's younger sister. Chris spent the next couple minutes praising her for being dry all night, and learning how to go pee in the toilet. Finally, Faith came back on the phone. She said Gomer had cleared her for a visit, and she'd be there with the kids. Be sure to bring a couple Pepsi, hun?

Inwardly, Faith was cursing herself. She had drunk her last Pepsi the night before. Faith lived about five minutes walk from the corner store, and so it was easy enough to go to the store and buy another one. It also gave the girls a chance to get out of the apartment, and walk. They were so cramped, in the one bedroom apartment. Across the state, at that same moment, Chris was wondering if Faith would ever be able to buy another disposable diaper.

Another call to Bill, to see how things were going. Much the same. At the compound (jokingly named, after Waco) the power was on. The water was on, and everything else was much the same. Bill was enjoying his breakfast of fruit, nuts, and other healthy things. After a childhood of eating junk food and early adulthood of more junk food, Bill realized that he needed more nutrition. Out with the candy bars, and in with granola and fresh fruit. Bill had just walked the perimeter of his property with his binoculars, and a rifle over his shoulder. Came back feeling energized, and he was busy power weight lifting when Chris called. Bill says that Dave and the crew says hi. Dave is Bill's nephew. Married, his ex wife has four kids.

It wasn't long before Ernie knocked and Chris stepped out onto the porch to greet him.

"Sure, Ernie, I'll be ready as soon as I've had some breakfast," Chris said, thinking of the eggs and grits on the stove. Not familiar with grits, Chris had trusted someone's word that they were good energy food and had tried them. That was several years ago. Today, he thought some protien may help sustain him through the possibly long night ahead. A little salt pepper and margarine and they tasted quite fine.

Ernie nodded smartly and stepped off the porch. So much for an update, Chris muttered inwardly.

He'd long since accepted the fact that few people take note of all that goes on around them and process it looking for incongruent details. A slow passing convoy of 7-ton military trucks, for instance, might signal the reconnoitering Guard troops looking for occupied houses and their owners. Chris resigned himself to the great care he'd have to take over the next few hours as he watched Ernie walking back to his trailer.

It wasn't much longer before the sun was set and it was dark. And a couple minutes after that, the lights and television in the living room went dark. Sure enough, the power had been knocked out. People began to come out and check on each other. Chris could see the flash lights up and down the road. The sun was down over the horizon, and the night was dark and partly cloudy. No doubt most of the "day guards" were home in bed, and might not have yet noticed the power off.  Several times, cars full of Muslims had come to the park. But they had quietly kept driving when they saw armed guards outside.  One thing left to do.

On each of the front corners of Chris's trailer were 4 foot lengths of PVC pipe. It was an idea he'd had while talking over possibilities for stashing weapons, survival gear and other things so they couldn't easily be found. The trailer came with decorative columns, but Chris had replaced them with PVC tubing. Inside the northern length, Chris had stored a 12 gauge Remington Model 870 he'd had modified with a composite stock, magazine tube extension, twenty-two inch barrel,  holographic sight and flashlight mount in the foregrip. In the other was a .308 caliber Ranch Model Ruger Mini 30 with a low light scope and extra capacity magazines in one of the plastic tote boxes in the truck. Earlier, Chris had moved several under the driver's seat. Also under the seat were quick load tubes of various types of ammunition for the 870. It wasn't long before Chris had pulled the tubes down and accessed the weapons inside. Both had been encased in heavy plastic bags and the slid out with ease. Looking around again, Chris moved them to the front seat of the truck.

Thinking again of Faith, Chris went back into the trailer. Took all the soda pop off the shelf in the kitchen and carried it out, put it in the trailer. Probably be explosive sudsy by the time I get there, Chris thought. And then Chris got the cans of soda out of the refrigerator, and put them in the trailer also.

With a last look around, he pulled the cell from his belt and checked the signal strength. Good, back up generators had fired at each of the cell towers and the signal was better than with regular electric service. He punched the preset and Gomer answered before the first ring registered with Chris.

"Put one on ice for me, chief," he said simply and broke the connection after the agreed reply phrase. Hopefully some time before sunrise, he would be finishing a bottle of soda he knew Gomer would have on ice, power outage or not. Gotta love guys who play with LP for fun, he thought, thinking of the LP powered fridge Gomer had in the basement. God knew how long it would run before they ran out of LP. But, it would be longer than the neighbors had ice.

The last finishing touches included the fire department decals on the truck door, and the red light bar on top of the truck.

It was now 9 PM.