Authors: Noah Mann
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Post-Apocalyptic, #survivalist, #prepper, #survival, #Preparation, #bug out, #post apocalypse, #apocalypse
“It’s here,” I said. “Isn’t it?”
Neil took a stuttered breath and nodded.
“In a cranberry bog, of all places. In Oregon. And if it’s there, it’s going to be everywhere.”
“Okay,” I said, my head spinning, but still trying to grasp the totality of the situation. “So it kills some crops—”
“No.” Neil shook his head. “Not some...
. Everything. It kills every single plant it comes in contact with. Not just crops. Trees, bushes, even damn weeds. And when the plants die, the animals aren’t far behind.”
“And the recovery time?” I asked, fearing what the answer would be.
“The Ag scientists were scared. One of them made it pretty clear he didn’t see any sort of recovery.”
We sat there in silence for a moment, staring at each other, me absorbing all that Neil had shared, and him waiting, just waiting, to let me process the same.
“It all comes tumbling down,” I said, recounting his earlier statement. “I understand what you meant now.”
“You can tell people there’s a shortage of rubber so they can’t have tires for their car. Or heating oil, so they’re going to have to throw extra logs on the fire instead of run the furnace. But you can’t tell them they’re going to go hungry. You can’t tell them they’re going to watch their children starve. No government has the guts to tell that truth. There’s a dam of denial built around what’s happening and it’s going to burst. When it does...”
It was part sermon, part indictment. And it was scaring the hell out of me.
“How is it possible that this isn’t news already?” I wondered aloud. “I mean, it’s not as sexy as a meteor hitting the earth, but the aftermath won’t be too different.”
“There are rumblings,” he told me. “I’m not the only one asking questions. Agencies are starting to lock down information. Even things that have nothing to do with this. They’re just getting ready for when everything
have to do with this. There’s enormous pressure on news agencies right now to hold damning stories.”
“But the shoot down...”
“That’s a gimme,” Neil said. “The power structure would rather have the population fixated on a horror like that than the real shit coming down the drain at everyone.”
This was as far from what I’d anticipated we’d talk about as anything could be. I’d expected some generally friendly jawing with my friend. Thought we might inhale some burgers and share a plate of onion rings. Not talk about the end of everything we’d come to know.
“Fletch,” Neil began, sliding the now chilled cup of coffee aside as he leaned on the table, “you have to get ready now. Really ready. This is all going to leak. It could be ten days, or ten hours, but the rumblings are going to become a roar, and when that happens it will be too late to prepare.”
“My getaway,” I said, that thread connected now. “You think we should head up there.”
I didn’t expect what Neil did next—he shook his head.
“You,” he corrected. “You have no encumbrance. No wife, no girlfriend, unless things have changed. Your parents are gone. No brothers or sisters. All you have to leave behind is a building, a bunch of trucks, and people who are good and dead no matter what you do.”
He smiled, and it seemed to me that he’d accepted some fate rolling toward him in slow-motion.
“I can’t leave my father,” Neil said.
His father—one hell of a man who I’d spent nearly as much time with as my own dad while growing up. Dieter Moore, or as I’d called him on every occasion we’ve been together,
Moore. Once he’d been a tank of a man. Strong, self-reliant. He’d give you a hand up, but not a handout. And now...now he sat wasting in a nursing home recliner, cancer chewing away at what was left of his insides. A year ago the doctors had given him six months to live, but the stubborn old man was flipping their educated approximations the bird by hanging on. Neil, I knew, could no more abandon his father and run for the hills with me than I could mine if he was still alive.
“Right now, Fletch, you have to stop thinking about me. About anything. You have to look past any distractions. While everyone else is still thinking the limit of this is paying more in the checkout line at the grocery store, you have to get ready. Before they get wise.”
But how the hell did someone get ready for this? This wasn’t running to the store to stock up on canned goods because a blizzard was coming. If what Neil was predicting was true, the Almighty might as well drop a rock from space on the planet and end everything quickly.
“Hey,” Neil said sharply. “What are you doing?”
He’d caught me. Mentally going to a dark place where giving up was an option.
“What did Macklin always yell at us?” Neil asked. “When we were beat down, by him, the other team, whatever? You remember what he’d scream at us?”
I did. No way I could ever forget the words of that lovely bastard.
“Life’s tough. Be tougher.”
He nodded, a sober smile creeping onto his face.
“You’re going to need to be as tough as you’ve ever been.”
He thought for a moment.
“I’ll take it when it comes.”
That was it. My friend had just come across the country to, among other things, say goodbye. He stood first, then I did. We came around the outdoor table and hugged each other in the cold. After a quick moment Neil stepped back. A sheen glistened his eyes slightly.
“I had to tell you,” Neil said. “I’m violating maybe a dozen laws doing this, but how’s that going to matter when it all hits the fan?”
“You don’t trust the phones either, do you?”
He shook his head.
“They’re listening. For key phrases. They’d be all over me,
you, an hour after we hung up.”
“I can’t believe this,” I said.
“A lot of people won’t. Then they’ll die.”
“Will it matter?” I asked. “If it’s like you say, with no recovery, then eventually...”
Eventually even those who’d prepared would turn to dust. There was only a finite amount of stored food on the planet. If the stuff that was processed and jammed into cans ran out, so would the cans.
But Neil held the trump card in this musing on futility. It was not a question of being tough where an absolute obstacle intervened, but it was a question of something beyond the plans, the preparations, the determination to survive.
“There’s always hope,” he said. “Someone might figure this out. After everything’s gone, in some bunker somewhere, maybe some genius kid with a chemistry set will put the pieces together.”
That was a hell of a thin hope for saving the human race.
“Where do you go from here, Neil?”
“Back to D.C.” he answered. “Back to the job. For a day. Then I’m outta there. I’m going to bring my dad to my place and...”
I nodded. Then I half chuckled, the rest a shocky gasp. Ten minutes ago a dear friend had shown up unannounced. Now I was saying goodbye, forever. And not just to him. To life as it was known.
“Don’t delay,” Neil said. “Don’t think you have time just because it’s relatively quiet. By the time they give the signal, it will be too late.”
He could tell by the look on my face he’d tossed me a curveball. With a helluva a lot of topspin.
“When the tipping point is inevitable, there’ll be a signal,” he explained. “So essential personnel will know to head for collection points. From there they’ll be transported to secure locations to carry on. Senators, representatives, other bureaucrats. Military leadership. They’ll all gather and keep what’s left of the country running. Until there’s nothing left to run.”
“What sort of signal?”
He shook his head.
“I don’t know. They don’t even know. This is longstanding protocol for emergencies that require the evacuation of the government. The principals are told to stay aware, and when the signal is given, there’ll be no mistaking it.”
“And everyone else?”
“It won’t matter,” he said, then took a slow breath and fixed a hard gaze upon me. “You’ve gotta hang on, Fletch. Okay? You have to. Stay alive.”
He stepped back.
“Take care of yourself.”
Then he was gone. Speeding out of the lot in his rental and down the street. I stood there in the chill for a moment, alone, wanting what had just transpired to be just some dream. Some waking hallucination. But when I looked back to the table we’d sat at, my friend’s cup of coffee was still there.
This was really happening.
ack at work I watched trucks roll in and out of the yard. I watched employees scurry about, performing their duties. Taking moments to socialize as everyone did occasionally during the day. These were people who depended upon me, and I upon them. Almost every single one of them was a friend. Not close like Neil, but we’d shared joy and sorrow together. Birthdays and funerals. I saw them five days out of seven, sometimes more.
And, most likely, they were all going to die if what Neil had told me was right.
I had to tell myself this. I had to force the folly of doubt from my thoughts. Neil would not have traveled across the country to tell me what he had unless he was certain. So I either had to accept it as an event sure to come and act accordingly, or simply wait for the inevitability to roll over me, and all those near me, like a rising tide, drowning us slowly, inch by inch.
I wanted to live. There had to be hope, if not at the moment then somewhere down the road. But for that to matter I had to be around. I had to survive. So that is what I chose to do.
Out the window of my office my gaze found two things—our small box truck and the five-hundred gallon towable diesel tank. The former we used to pick up and deliver smaller items to job sites, such as finished lumber and anything electronic or fragile that needed to be kept out of the elements. The latter would often be towed, fully filled, to job sites distant from convenient service stations so that equipment could be refueled easily and quickly. Now I saw both of these things as vital to my survival.
* * *
n a sense I was flying blind. I had experience in survival, the same anyone who hunted the woods of Montana did, or should. Somewhat more than those whose idea of hardship was surviving an outage caused by icy limbs snapping from trees and felling power lines. But how did one prepare for the extent of carrying on that Neil described would be necessary? How?
One step at a time
, I told myself.
As I’d shared with Neil, the MREs and other meager emergency supplies at my property were the extent of my preparation for unforeseen circumstances. I needed more. A lot more.
I’d driven by the store on the edge of town occasionally, never giving it more than a passing glance.
, it was called, and from the signage plastered inside its front windows it was clear that its clientele tended toward the tinfoil hat crowd. Guys who feared the end of days. Global pandemics. Solar storms.
Or citizens getting gunned down at checkpoints, or shot from the sky.
Who was wearing the tinfoil hat now?
A clerk named Eddie greeted me warmly and immediately offered assistance. I declined his help for the moment, sharing that I wanted to wander about for a while. This I did, focusing my attention on what I believed to be the most important items for my long-term survival—food and water. I studied the cost and makeup of entire pallets of stable food caches, cases and cases of canned foodstuffs combined to offer all that an individual or family would need to stay alive for six months, a year, two years. The desired survival time was limited only by how much one was willing to spend. I had already decided to use all the resources I had available. Doing so wasn’t difficult once you accepted that money would have little tangible meaning in a very short time.
When I was ready I approached Eddie and informed him there were three pallets of long-term food I would be getting. His eyes bugged a bit at the sizable order, and he asked me if I was certain I wanted that much. I deflected the inquiry with a lie. My company, I told him, was going to donate a large amount of stable food for relief efforts in Guatemala. A terrible landslide had recently poured down a valley there and the need to assist the survivors was obvious. In fact, I had already made a monetary donation for just this purpose. Now it seemed that might only offer short-term solace, since long-term was a concept about to lose most meaning for just about everyone. Day to day would be the mode of survival for those unprepared.
I was not going to be one of those.
With the food order out of the way I asked Eddie about water storage and filtration. There was a pond and feeder streams on my property, and a well that provided adequate supply. But I wanted to be ready in case something affected those, or the quality of what they offered. Eddie showed me powered filtration systems to remove most contaminants, and higher end models tailored to treat water with bacteria as well as other harmful impurities. He also described a gravity system, through which uncertain water would flow from an upper tank to a lower basin, passing through a series of natural and synthetic filters as it descended. Then he showed me smaller individual filters that one could use to sip directly from a body of water, no different than drinking through a straw. All these had advantages and disadvantages, he explained, and when he was done I told him I would take two of each. Again his eyes bugged a bit, and he commented that my compassion for the refugees was admirable.
Before I left I added a pallet of MREs to the order. Meals Ready to Eat, often called Meals Rarely Edible by soldiers in the field, for whom they’d been designed to sustain, were, to me, not bad at all. Many a hunting and camping trip I’d taken them along and been completely satisfied. Here and now, having them on hand could do no harm in addition to the larger cache I was building.
The box truck I’d brought from work was loaded by Eddie and another worker, forklift positioning the pallets and boxes, ties securing the load. I paid for the items, totaling just over $27,000, with a card that drew on my business credit line. If I was going all-in, there was no sense pretending there’d be a bill to pay come next month.