Earth’s Survivors Weekly Serial presentation – 5

EARTH’S SURVIVORS

Earth’s Survivors is copyright © 2016 Dell Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.

Cover Art © Copyright 2016 Wendell Sweet

Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet

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LEGAL

This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

This novel is Copyright © 2016 Wendell Sweet and his assignee Andrea Scroggs. Dell Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.

Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.

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THREE

Joel and Haley

The Tug Hill Plateau

Early Morning

The camp was a makeshift place off an old logging trail. It was dry under the pines where they had set up camp, but the logging road had flooded over, the water had receded, and now the road was a quagmire of mud steaming in the early morning sun.

They had encountered no major obstacles on the way in. Joel knew the way. The road was cracked in a few places, flooded in a few others, but only a few inches of water. The major stuff had held off until they had arrived and settled in.

The last few days had bought rain, snow, and what felt like earthquakes or explosions far away. Heavy vibrations they could feel through the pine needle covered ground. No one was sure what they really were, but they were all worried about it.

They had made up their minds late last night, when the rains had stopped to get out of the woods, but the two new trucks they had driven in would not start. Joel’s old truck turned over and started fine. They had spent most of the sunrise checking over the two trucks, but they found nothing wrong with them. The batteries were up, the starters turned over, but they would not fire. There was no spark at the plug. Scott and Glenn who were both mechanics were puzzled over what could be causing it.

“If we go, most of you will get stuck in the back of my truck… No other way for it,” Joel said.

They had spent a great deal of the last few days wondering what was going on in the world. Twice, slow moving cargo planes had overflown them. They had seen no markings on the wings, but they had both been painted the olive drab of army equipment. The battery powered radio they had listened to had stopped working. Their wristwatches, cell phones, the two trucks, all dead. The had wondered about a Nuclear blast, maybe that was what had happened to the electronics.

Scott nodded. “Maybe that is the deal though. Your truck is old, no electronic brain… Maybe we could find another like it… Or two.”

“If it was a nuke, would it knock out electronics like that? And wouldn’t we all be sick right now?” Amber asked.

“Not necessarily… If it was it wasn’t close, so it would just depend on which way the wind was blowing,” Haley said. “Electronics? I have heard that, but I don’t know. Makes me wish I paid attention to all of that apocalypse stuff on the internet.”

“A dirty bomb… I think that’s what they called it, but it could have been that meteor… I think I read once that a near miss could be as bad as a direct hit. Mess things up the same as a nuclear bomb.” Glenn shrugged.

“But they said that would miss us completely,” Ed threw in.

Dave nodded, “Maybe it didn’t. Wouldn’t be the first time they said something that turned out to be bullshit.”

“What? You don’t trust your own government,” Amber asked in mock surprise.

“Yeah… Well, either way we’re back to sticking it out here or going back to Watertown to see what’s going on… Or somewhere else for that matter,” Joel threw out after a few moments of silence.

“I say we go back… Maybe the guard is there, or has been there.,” Amber said.

“Can’t hide out up here forever,” Ed agreed.

“We’ll run out of food… At the least we have to stock back up,” Scott added.

Glenn nodded. “With more too… We don’t know how long this is going to be.”

“Or if it still is,” Haley added.

“There is that too,” Glenn agreed.

“At the least then we should go back and stock up. I mean if no one is there, we can stock up, come back here if it’s bad and decide what to do… Get on with the old life if there is someone there,” Terry said.

“Who wants the front seat… Two,” Joel asked.

“Probably the girls,” Dave said.

“Why is that,” Haley asked.

“What?” Dave asked.

“Why the girls,” She shook her head before he answered. “Well, I’m not a girl. I’m a woman. It was a rough road to become a woman, and I don’t want to be called a girl.”

“Hey… Peace. I didn’t mean anything by it,” Dave said.

The silence held for a few minutes.

“Well, let’s get this place picked up… I guess store everything in the other two trucks… Maybe we’ll come back for them,” Joel said.

“Maybe not,” Glenn added. “So bring what you want to keep, only make it a small amount.”

Joel nodded.

A half hour later Joel drove the old truck down the logging road, sticking to four wheel drive and the sides of the road where he could. Twice he had had to make everyone get out and then take a run at a particularly bad section of road before they all climbed in once more. It was late morning before they found route 177. A short time later they found route 11 and headed back toward the small city of Watertown.

Watertown: Joel and Haley

Late Afternoon

The city was a mess. Buildings toppled, streets blocked off with debris, no power and no people out on the streets that they had seen. It had taken most of the early afternoon to work their way back to Jacob’s Superette. They had all wondered more than once why they were bothering to go back there. A place to start, Joel had finally decided, and everyone had agreed. If they had not left that is probably where they would still be, riding out this disaster.

Joel had wheeled the truck up next to the closed doors and they had all climbed out of the truck. The doors were closed and reinforced from the inside. Twice they had seen movement behind the stacks and pallets that had been used to barricade the wide and tall front windows, but no one had opened the doors or answered their calls. They had finally decided that even if they did open the doors they didn’t want to be there. There were plenty of other places in the city that could offer as much, maybe even more.

“We need better weapons,” Haley said as Joel drove. She had changed from the back to the front as they were leaving the market. She sat in the center, Glenn on the other side of her.

“Why?” Glenn asked.

“Because that place creeped me out. Who doesn’t open up to let someone in? Why did they close it all off? What if they have weapons and decided that not answering us wasn’t good enough? What if they had opened up on us? We wouldn’t be discussing this now, that’s for sure.”

“Jesus,” Glenn said.

“Yeah,” Haley said.

“Creeped me out too,” Glenn agreed. “Guess we can’t pretend the whole thing’s going to be fine any longer.”

“Guess not,” Joel agreed.

“Haley is right then… Better get ourselves to a place where we can stock up… Get some trucks, guns and get out of here.”

“What about that wholesale place out across from the mall,” Joel asked.

“Might be the same, but we can try it. Probably have what we need,” Haley agreed.

“Better let the others know,” Glenn told her. Haley turned, slide the rear window of Joel’s truck open and Amber leaned near. A second later she closed the slider and watched as Joel slowly picked his way through the downtown streets and headed for the outskirts of the city.

The Outskirts of the city: The Mall

Against all odds the outskirts of the city seemed completely deserted. At least at first glance. The wholesale place was deserted, the doors barred, chained and locked. A little work with the tire iron from Joel’s truck freed up the chains and a nudge from the nose of his truck shattered the heavy glass doors. Joel and Ed pulled the doors aside and Joel drove the truck in, crunching over the safety glass.

“Might be safer inside,” Glenn said as Joel turned the truck around, narrowly missing one check out aisle and faced back toward the doors.

“I think we’re stuck here for the night,“ Joel said. Stock up, get whatever else we need in the morning and head out. Little gun shop across the street… Truck dealership over at the mall across the street… Should be easy to get what we need.” He levered the door handle and stepped down to the ground.

“Company,” Dave said as Joel turned toward the opening.

“Seven or eight… Came out of that strip mall entrance way across the street,” Terry added.

Joel turned to Haley. “Shotguns… Rifles in the sporting goods’ area.” She nodded as she and Amber sprinted toward the middle of the store.

Company:

The small crowd of people was armed, Joel saw, long before they actually reached the wide street and crossed over into their parking lot. Behind him, in the store, he had heard the sound of breaking glass several times. Presumably Haley and Amber breaking open display cases.

“Think they can see us in here?” he asked.

“Probably too dark,” Glenn answered as Haley and Amber came back with their arms loaded down with high powered rifles and shotguns.

“Careful,” Haley said, her breath coming fast. “These are loaded.” A small line of blood ran away from one knuckle as she passed Joel a rifle that looked like it would be more at home in a war.

“You’re hurt,” Joel said.

Haley laughed. “Just glass from a case… It’s nothing.”

“Not a girl,” Joel said

“Or even close,” Haley agreed with a smile. She stepped close to the front of the entrance way, still deep in shadow, but just behind the shattered doors.

There were a dozen of them when they came to a stop just thirty feet away from the doors. Women and kids, the old man and a younger guy hanging toward the back. The two men and three of the women were armed.

“We know you’re in there,” The lead man shouted out. He was an older man, short silver hair, thin, the ragged remains of a suit hanging from his shoulders. “We don’t want trouble… Just company… Safety… The nights are pretty bad now. I guess you know.” He made to step forward again.

“No… Right there is fine,” Haley said.

The man stopped. “I told you, we come in peace.” The man said as she stepped from the shadows. Scott moved out with her and a second later Amber and Joel joined her. Joel motioned to the rest to stay inside.

“Every bad alien movie I ever saw started just exactly that way,” Haley said.

“Is that what you think?” The man asked. “Aliens? Well, I’m no alien… I don’t know what happened but I don’t think it was alien, or aliens, unless you count the meteor that might or might not have hit us. And I’m obviously not one of the gangs or I wouldn’t be out here in the daylight talking to you.”

The silence held a long time.

“You hear me?” The older man said.

“I heard you,” Haley agreed. “What do you mean one of the gangs? Not one of the gangs?”

The man laughed. A short hard laugh that had nothing to do with amusement at all. “Are you serious?”

“If I wasn’t serious I wouldn’t have asked,” Haley told him.

“But… Okay… Why can’t we do this in there? Look at what I have here… A handful of scared mothers with a few children. The young guy at the back is okay. Why don’t we do this in there. I don’t like being out in the open. It’s just the gangs we have to worry about.” He looked off in all directions as he talked.

Haley looked over the group and then over at Joel. “Nothing we can’t deal with,” Joel agreed. Her eye’s met Amber’s and then Scott’s. They both nodded. “So you know, there are more of us inside. Don’t be stupid.”

“Wouldn’t think of it,” The old man agreed. “John,” he said.

Haley just nodded and motioned him forward.

Early evening

They were all gathered around a small fire that Glenn had started for heat and light. The nights were still cold. Glenn had built the fire in an empty fifty five gallon drum they had rolled out from the back. It the smoke detectors had still been working they would have had trouble, but as it was the smoke just gathered high up in the steel rafters and found it’s way to the outside from there.

“What do you know,” John asked. “That might be a better place to start.”

“Practically nothing,” Glenn answered. “We all met downtown a few days back… Earth quake… Meteor. Everything wrecked and no answers.”

John nodded. “Okay,” He rested his head in his hands for a moment, and then looked up. His eyes were red; the bags under his eyes bruised and heavy. “The second. It happened overnight, the first, the end of the first. I don’t know what it was, anymore than you do, but I suspect the meteor they said would miss us didn’t. Maybe that started a whole chain of events. So, aliens? No. I think our own government did us in though. I can see your view too, because there is something alien about it. About the way we would view it, the way you would view it. Yesterday the planes came over. Big Cargo planes. Sprayed blue stuff over the entire city. We thought for sure we were done right then, but whatever that was it didn’t kill us, didn’t seem to do anything to us… But I wonder, I really do…” He seemed to zone out for a second.

“John?” Glenn asked quietly.

He laughed. “Sorry. I need sleep. Sleep is what I need. Gangs,” he took a deep breath. “This city, most of the cities I’ve been hearing about on the CB are controlled by Gangs now. They’re out all night rounding us up. The other survivors…” He frowned heavily. “I’ll be straight, not much use for other men… ‘Less they think like them. Not much use for the children either. Women, gas, cash,” he laughed again. “They seem to think a day will come when it will all be worth something again.”

“You don’t?” Haley asked.

“I don’t,” John agreed. “I think somebody mucked up badly… I can’t believe it was all an accident. Washington? Dead. L.A.? Dead. New York? Dead as well. There have been reports of the President being killed. In the end the Secret Service deserted him. The few that remained fled. The whole thing fell apart. And it’s no better in other countries from what I have heard on the CB. Some of it could be exaggerated… Could be fear talking… But I don’t think so. I think most of it is absolute truth. I think it all failed and we’re on our own. That’s what I think.”

Haley looked over as Amber sprang to her feet and walked away into the darkness of the store. “I’ll be back,” Haley said. She got up and followed.

“I appreciate the truth, John,” Joel said.

John nodded. “Upset us too. Nothing for it that I can see.”

“Where are you from,” Joel asked.

“Rochester… Haven’t heard much from it except there is a glow to the west… Could be they still have power there.”

“Hey inside!” This from the parking lot that was now edging quickly toward twilight.

“Shit,” Scott said. “Forgot all about that.” He jumped to his feet and headed to the opening, Joel right behind him.

“Guess we’ll have to post a guard or something,” Joel agreed. He stared out at two small groups that stood in the darkness looking around at the deepening shadows. Scott spoke.

“What is it you want?” Scott asked.

“What is it we want? Are you kidding me? We want in there, out of the cold, the night.” The guy was tall and dirty looking in the darkening light, but Scott supposed they all probably looked a little rough. “Talking like that ain’t gonna get you in here,” Scott told him. “In fact it will get you an invitation to hit the road.”

A woman who was leading the second group, off to the right of the first group spoke up. “Look, man. We’re all on edge right now. We just want to share your shelter. Manny is not so good with diplomacy.”

“Manny?” Scott asked.

She nodded to the other group, “Manuel… Manny.

“These groups ain’t bad,” John said from beyond the doorway, hidden in the shadows.

“You vouch for them?” Joel asked.

“No… I won’t go that far. I will say I have seen them around… They are not part of the gangs that are all over the place at night in the city. Not these two.”

“Good enough for me… Ed? Scott? Anyone else have an objection?”

“We’ll just watch them kind of close,” Dave said.”

“Okay… Well, somebody better go get Amber and Haley… Just to be safe.” He turned back to the parking lot and the two waiting groups. “Slow,” he called out. “Slow and keep those rifles pointed down.”

March 6th

Watertown: The Mall

Joel and Haley

Morning

Amber had risen early to the smell of hot food. A few of the women had begun cooking sometime before dawn, and plates were filled with food. Eggs, sausages, toast made over the fire. Burgers, canned ham and more. The store was stocked with all sorts of food. Some of it was going bad, but much of it had stayed preserved in the freezers and coolers. No one had been inside so the cold air had lasted longer without doors opening and closing every two minutes. When would she have a chance to eat real eggs again, Amber asked herself as she devoured the food. She looked over at Haley who was eating as fast as she was.

“Pigs,” Haley agreed. She laughed. “I had no idea how hungry I was.”

“Man oh man. Me either,” Amber agreed.

“It is good,” Manny grinned from nearby. Amber gave him a smile and went back to eating. The conversation ebbed and swelled around them. What to do, where to go.

They had posted guards all night long, and although there were gunshots further away, and a few fires they could see burning back in the city, the night had passed uneventfully.

Their small group had finally decided to go towards Rochester, New York. Glenn had said that he felt that it may be their best bet, due to the fact that there were no large military bases very close to it, and the lake levels would be low for a while, so there should be no flooding.

“It’s probably dead center of the two major fault lines, and it’s further away from the Saint Lawrence,” he had ventured.

They had discussed Syracuse, which was much closer, but rejected it when Terry had pointed out that the finger lakes could easily flood the whole area.

Glenn had agreed, and recalled several articles that had been written about the supposed newly discovered fault lines that crisscrossed the finger lakes.

Haley had pointed out that Watertown had its own military base and reminded them of the new facility that had been under construction in the old caves under the city. More reason to wonder why the military wasn’t here.

“That whole complex is probably under water by now,” Glenn opinioned.

“I agree,” Scott had thrown in. “I worked there last year. It’s nowhere completely sealed up, couldn’t be. There are parts that might be okay, but if there was anyone other than a small staff down there I would be surprised. I don’t see how they could get out of there if they are there. Fort Drum would be a better bet for help.”

“And that didn’t happen,” Joel reminded, bringing the conversation full circle.

Glenn said that he felt the facility was probably destroyed, and had gone on to explain his own belief that anyone in there was either dead or trapped permanently.

“The Black River runs through that entire series of caves, even under most of the city itself. I can’t say for a fact, but I think what most likely would happen is that at least part of the cave system would collapse. They’re done for, if they’re there at all,” he had said.

In the end they had finally decided on Rochester, and they were now discussing how to get there. They had decided, at Terry’s suggestion, to use four wheel drive vehicles of some sort, and Haley had suggested that she and Joel check out the Jeep dealership across the street at the mall to see what they had on the lot.

She had also pointed out that there were several other car dealers in the same area, and if they couldn’t find what they wanted there, they would only have a short walk to another lot to find something suitable.

“If any of it runs,” Scott had added.

“Running as of yesterday,” Manny threw in. “I drove one back into the city to get my family.”

“Didn’t run for us the other day,” Joel added.

“Didn’t for me either,” Manny agreed. “CB said they thought some sort of nuclear bomb, or the meteor.”

“The meteor could have done it?” Amber asked.

“I don’t know, but they seem to think so… CB, they all think they are gods of knowledge.”

They were now discussing how many vehicles they would need, and how many people Joel and Haley would need to drive them back.

“I’m sure,” Terry continued, “that I can get a couple of the others guys to go with us.”

Glenn spoke up. “I really think then, that we ought to approach everyone else and find out who wants to go. They may not want to. We have to accept that you know.”

“He’s right,” Joel agreed, “they may not. How many of them do you know?” he asked of the small group.

“It’s a fairly tight community,” Haley said. “I’m not from here. I mean, the city seems big, the locals not so much. Very small tight knit community.”

“She’s right,” Glenn added. “I’ll go… Terry?” He turned back to Joel. “You too. Let’s go see who we got.“

“I don’t know that they’ll all want to go. I’ve already seen a few leave, and we lost a couple of people this morning,” Amber added.

“She’s right about that,” Glenn agreed, “I saw a couple of people hanging back talking together and they ended up leaving. I guess they aren’t convinced that we should leave. I can’t say I blame them really, the whole thing probably hasn’t even sunk in yet.”

“Well, let’s go see who’s left, and who wants to go then,” Joel decided. “No sense deciding this until we know for sure.”

“You mean if they don’t want to go, you’re not going?” Terry asked.

“No,” Joel said calmly. “I’m going, period.”

“Maybe we should decide right now if all of us want to go,” Glenn said. He looked around at the small assembled group, letting his eyes stop on Ed Weston.

“Ed, Dave?” Glenn asked.

“I’m in,” Ed replied, “I can’t see any reason to stay here, and I think you may be right, Glenn. I’m not so sure this is a safe place to be.” He seemed to be slightly out of sync, Glenn thought, but he answered quickly, and decisively nonetheless.

“I’m in too,” Dave said. “But what if we get to Rochester and it’s the same as here?”

“That’s a chance we’ll have to take,” Glenn replied. “In fact, I wouldn’t doubt that there is damage. My only argument is that it may be safer than here. It’s built on higher ground. It’s also a much larger city, and I think that would increase our chances of finding other people. Maybe it would allow us to get a little more insight, or information, on what happened. Who knows, they may still have power, or some form of police, hell, maybe the television stations there are still working. We don’t know, and the only way we will know is to go and find out. One thing is for certain though, Rochester is definitely built on higher ground than Watertown is. If that lake does rise, I would rather be there than here.”

Glenn looked around at the small group, and then continued.

“So, if we’re all in agreement, I guess we better go talk to the others and see how many of them are going with us, agreed” he asked turning to Haley. “You and Joel will have an idea of how many trucks we are going to need; get some drivers… How long you figure, an hour or so? I mean to get ready to go.”

“It will probably be a good three hours before we get what we need and get back,” Haley replied after a quick look at Joel who nodded.

“I think you better do the talking, Glenn,” Joel said, “They know you better than they know me, and if we’re going to get out of here today we better get our asses in gear too.”

With that the small group walked to the front of the store, where the other people had congregated by the shattered doors.

“Folks,” Glenn said as he held his hands over his head to get them to quiet down, “I’d like to talk to you.”

Most of the people there either knew Glenn, or knew of him, and they had an idea of what was coming, as most of them had been standing around listening when the conversation had first turned to leaving. They turned expectantly towards Glenn now, and waited for him to begin to speak.

“As most of you know,” Glenn began, “I’m in favor of leaving Watertown. I think you’ve all heard my reasons so I won’t go into them, but what I would like to let you know, is that if we’re going to go, and the eight of us are,” Glenn lowered his hands and gestured to include the group of people that stood around and near him, “we need to know if any of you are going to come along.”

No one answered for a few seconds. Glenn was about to begin speaking, if only to break the oppressive silence, when someone finally did. It was not what he had expected however.

“Hey? Who died and left you the boss,” a young teenager in the small group yelled out.

The young man stepped forward. His long stringy, dirty hair hung into his eyes, and he pushed it away with the back of his hand as he glared at Glenn.

“I never said I was the boss of anything,” Glenn replied quietly. “At least I don’t recall saying it.” Glenn stared calmly back at the young man.

“Well you’re the ones been doing all the talking. Who are you to say what we should or shouldn’t be doing? And how come I never heard about no fuckin’ fault line, huh?”

“Maybe if you could read,” a young man said from behind him, as he also stepped out of the small group, “you would know. It was in the paper just a few weeks ago. And if you went to school you probably would have learned about it there too. I never heard him say anything about being in charge either, but they were the ones who decided to at least do something. We were all standing around out here with our fingers up our asses before they showed up. What is it; do you still think somebody is going to show up and save us?”

The two young men were now facing each other, and the small group around them seemed to be waiting to see what would happen next.

“Listen,” Joel said as he stepped towards them. “This isn’t the time or place for this sort of crap: If you don’t want to be here fine. Nobody said you had to go anywhere. Glenn simply asked you if you wanted to go.” Joel paused as he stared at the two young men. “Sounds more as if you’ve got some sort of problem with authority. If so, that’s something you’ll have to deal with on your own time. The fact is that we can’t stay here, and we’ve decided we’re going. It’s an invitation for you to join us, but you can stay right here for all I care.”

“Oh yeah?” the kid glared at Joel.

“Look,” Joel replied, staring back, “If you have some real objections state them: Otherwise shut up, listen, or hit the road.”

“I’m outta here. Screw you people,” the young man said as he glared at Joel, and the others from the small group that had moved up beside him. “You guys do what you want, I’m leaving,” he finished. He pushed his dirty hair from his eyes once more as he turned and walked out of the store.

“Listen!” Joel said, raising his voice. “I don’t think we all have to start acting like a bunch of morons. We’re all in this together, why don’t you just listen to what Glenn has to say, and then you can decide.”

The other young man lowered the hands he had raised, and turned back towards Glenn expectantly. The rest of the crowd, realizing that the confrontation was over, and they weren’t going to see a fight, turned their attention back to Glenn. Glenn waited for them to quiet before he resumed talking.

“Let me make this clear,” Glenn said as he began to speak quietly. “I don’t want to lead anyone. All I really care about is getting out of here, same as most of you.”

Haley watched as Glenn spoke, and thought, kind of late for that, Glenn. She had noticed that everyone had seemed to gravitate to Glenn earlier when he had begun to speak. He had that kind of personality, she supposed. They also seemed to be drawn to Joel, and more than a few had asked her what her feelings were about the situation. Are we leading? She asked herself, as she turned her attention back to Glenn.

“What we have to know,” Glenn was saying, “is who wants to come with us.”

“Where will we go?” an older man asked as Glenn paused. Glenn explained their choice, and why they had made it as the group listened.

“Now, there are eight of us, and we need to know how many cars we’re going to need to get us all there. Joel and Haley are going over to the Jeep dealership and try to find us some four wheelers that will fit the bill. New if they will run, older ones if they won’t.”

“Ain’t that stealing?” someone asked.

“Not as I see it,” Glenn replied. “As I see it, they don’t belong to anyone anymore. I mean… Anyone see any police? Or really, if you think of it, has anyone seen anybody at all in authority?” he waited briefly, before continuing, half expecting the young kid to pop back in the door and say, Nobody ‘cept you, you old bastard. When he didn’t Glenn was relieved, and once again began speaking.

“No, I think being arrested for car theft is the least of our problems. I ain’t saying it wasn’t a good thought to bring up, but I’m not too worried about that at all. What I am worried about… The main thing right now anyway, is to get this show on the road before it gets much later,” Glenn said, and paused. “So, if no one has any real objections, I’d like a show of hands so we can figure out who’s going and who’s staying.”

With no discussion, five members of the dwindling group, among them the young man who had been involved in the earlier argument, turned and walked to the far side of the wide double front doors, shaking their heads as they went. The remaining people began, slowly at first, with glances at their neighbors, to raise their hands.

“Don’t just raise your hand if you’re not sure, or just because the guy standing next to you did,” Glenn said. “You have to be sure, and you should know that we may not make it. We don’t have the slightest idea what we’re going to run into on the way, or even if we’ll get there. So you better be sure, because once we go we ain’t coming back. So who’s positive?”

Several hands that had been up went down, and their owners quickly gravitated to the smaller group that had begun to form by the front doors.

Glenn looked at the young dark-haired kid he had been sure would end up with them, and then at Joel, who shrugged his shoulders and said, “Go figure.”

Four remained waiting.

“Okay then,” Joel said, “I guess we’ll only need three cars. Who wants to go with Haley and me?” There were two women and the older man who had spoken earlier.

“I’ll go,” one of the young women said, stepping forward. The older man stepped forward as well and volunteered.

“I don’t think we need both of you,” Haley said. “Jan,” she said speaking to the woman who had stepped forward first, “if you want to come, let’s get going.”

The woman followed Haley and Joel out the front doors, as the older man walked over to Glenn.

“Let’s go back to the rear” Glenn said in a low voice as he leaned closer to Scott. “I’m not so sure I want to stand up here and discuss our plans, if you catch my drift.”

“My thought exactly,” Scott said, as they walked towards the rear of the store.

Scott, Glenn, and Dave, rested up against a wide cooler at the back of the store as Glenn spoke. The two young women, Lilly and Gina, both of whom were in their late teens, stood nearby with the older man who Glenn knew as John Bolton, a retired city Councilman from the Rochester area. He had been leading one of the groups that had come in yesterday. Bolton had retired and moved to Watertown to escape the crime in Rochester. He would definitely be an asset, Glenn thought.

“Ed?” Glenn asked. “We’re going to need some other things before we go. I think maybe a couple more rifles, some camping gear, you know, things like that. If I make up a quick list, I was thinking maybe you and Gina might not mind getting it together, would you?”

“Sure,” Ed replied, “you a little concerned about that group up front?”

Glenn leveled his eyes at Ed. “Them and any others like them. I’m not so sure they can be trusted. I saw Brad Saser in the crowd there, and he had a gun of some sort stuffed into his waist band.”

“I saw that too,” Dave said, and then went on. “Did you see the way he tensed up when it looked like those two kids were going to get into it?” Dave finished.

“Yes,” Glenn replied, “I did, and it’s something I thought of earlier. I saw some others carrying guns, when we were down to the Square. I don’t much like it, but I think we have to have our own, even if only to play it safe. I mean rifles and shotguns are fine, but it doesn’t appear it’s just the gangs we have to worry about. Looks like the good guys ain’t all good guys.”

“I agree,” John said. “I spent a good deal of time in Rochester, and I took to carrying a gun with me wherever I went. I think, especially now, since we don’t seem to have any police to protect us, it’s the only smart thing to do.”

“I agree,” Scott said.

The others in the small group murmured their agreement along with him.

“Dave?” Glenn said, as he looked at him, “We’re also going to need some canned goods. Maybe some bottled water, soda, canned meats. How about you and Lilly start getting that together. Be sure to stick to the canned stuff, and toss in some basic medical stuff, you know aspirin, bandage, whatever you think we might need.” Dave nodded his head and left with Lilly. Glenn scrawled a quick list for Ed and Gina, and sent them on their way. The three remaining men watched them walk off, and then Glenn said,

“Scott? Did you see any state maps up front, at the checkouts?”

“I believe I did,” he replied, as he walked away to get one.

Scott glanced over at the group of people, who were still huddled by the front doors, as he picked up several maps and headed back to the rear of the store. They were all huddled together to one side of the front doors, talking in low whispers, and more than a few of them had turned his way as he picked up the maps.

Glenn and John were sitting on the rail of a long meat counter, talking, and drinking a couple of beers when Scott returned.

“They’re still cold if you get ’em from the back,” Glenn said as Scott approached.

Scott reached into the cooler and snagged one of the beers from the back of the cooler, where ice had formed on the condenser unit. It hadn’t completely melted in the cool interior of the store. He took a long drink of the cool liquid. Probably won’t be drinking too many cold beers anymore, he thought. He reached into the cooler fished out a six pack from the back, and carried it over to the two men who were still talking. Glenn and John both helped themselves to another beer as Scott spoke.

“Group up front is still there, and they eyeballed me pretty good when I went up to get the maps.”

“It’s probably a good thing we’re leaving,” John said. John had been in the crowd at the front of the store earlier and hadn’t liked the way the conversation had been going. “There’s a couple of loony’s in that crowd, and I’m just as glad they’re not with us.”

“I feel about the same,” Glenn said.

Scott opened one of the maps, and spread it over the glass top of the meat case.

“John thinks the best way is probably Route 3,” Glenn said.

“It cuts around the lake,” John explained, picking up the conversation. “If it’s true, what Glenn suspects about the fault line, it may be a tough way to go. But you’ve got to consider the other route, and I don’t think that’s a good choice at all. If we don’t go 3, we’re stuck with Route 81 to Syracuse, and the Thruway west from there. I think we all made up our minds to avoid Syracuse, so that leaves Route 3. That will take us into Route 104, and if we take that west it will bring us into Rochester. Of course there’s still the lake to contend with.”

“I don’t think the lake is a problem,” Glenn said, “the fault line runs across the basin of the Great lakes. If it did shift, it would be a problem we might have to face down the line, but that would only be if we try to go farther west.”

“If it shifted, let’s say it did for the sake of argument, there’s no real way to know at this point anyway, we could have one hell of a big river splitting the whole eastern end of the continent, from Canada, all the way down to the Gulf coast somewhere. I know, I already been beatin’ on that horse, but I think it’s the most likely explanation. I read about it, what could happen if the fault were somehow triggered, in an article in the paper a few years back. It may seem a bit far-fetched, but there’s a lot of fact to back it up. The lakes would drop at first, and then they would level out as the new river fills up, and begin to rise again. That’s a basic way of putting it I guess, but that’s the gist of it. Right now though, if that lake really is dropping, we shouldn’t have too much trouble getting into Rochester.”

“You don’t think the road will be busted up, or flooded?” Scott asked.

“I doubt it’ll be flooded,” John replied, “if the lake is dropping, that should keep the road dry. I’m not so sure it won’t be broken up some though, and we may run into some stalled traffic I suppose, but being as it was night time, the traffic shouldn’t be too awful bad, and Four Wheel Drive should get us around the worst of it anyhow.”

“I’d say it’s a much better bet than Route 81 and the Thruway,” Glenn said. “The traffic is pretty damn heavy there all the time.”

“Tell me about it.” Scott said, “I came down eighty-one on my way here the day I met you guys. I was out in Adams working that day, just happened to come in to the city. Nothing but Army trucks and traffic bumper to bumper.”

“Well then,” Glenn said, “that decides that. John, what do you think our chances are, when we get there, of finding it still standing?”

John shrugged his shoulders as he replied. “Good as any, I guess, there’s no real way to tell. I don’t think the damage here was caused by the meteor, I think we all agree it was most likely an earthquake, but that doesn’t mean Rochester’s still standing. And it says nothing about what’s beyond Rochester.”

The other two men nodded in agreement. He was right, Scott realized, as he pulled another beer from the plastic collar that held it. They would simply have to get there before they knew. He sat beside them on the small rail drinking the semi-cold beer.

A short time later a loud commotion at the front of the store, caught their attention.

“Shit,” Scott said as the three of them hurried in the direction of the front of the store, “What the hell’s up now?” …

………………………………

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