"Syndemic Pandemic" - by: Jerry D Young May 14, 2020 18:25:52 GMT -6
Post by Dixie Bushcraft on May 14, 2020 18:25:52 GMT -6
JDY Fiction - Syndemic Pandemic
Syndemic Pandemic - Chapter 1
Ron Jackson slipped the three plastic tubes of silver coins into his pocket. The coin shop clerk had an uninterested look on his face. This was the fifth time in as many months that Ron had been in the shop to buy pre-1965 US silver dimes, quarters, and halves. Always a roll of each, without giving his name, and paid for with cash.
The next stop on his monthly shopping trip was the pharmacy. Though he used the same three coin shops to get identical orders of the silver coins each month, Ron was using a different pharmacy for each monthly purchase of over-the-counter medical supplies. The same with the grocery stores.
More than once a checkout clerk had commented on the quantities of the limited number of different items he bought. Ron paid with cash. No credit card, discount card, or membership card that would keep track of his purchases when he bought a half a cart of rice and topped it off with cans of beef, chicken, and tuna as his only purchase for the day.
There were many grocery stores in the city, and even hitting three each month, it would be a long time before he had to make a second trip to any one of them. Hopefully he would have his preps where he wanted them before then and he could buy just a regular selection of items to rotate out his preps and replace them with fresh.
When he arrived home after the shopping trip, Ron took everything down to the basement of his small two story, three bedroom, six bath house outside of the city. The basement was much larger than the footprint of the house and had been built as a disaster shelter from the start. It included plenty of storage space, including three actual storage rooms. And the attic was full height, with a load bearing floor for additional storage.
Ron smiled as he put away his purchases. The storage rooms were filling up nicely. It had been a long hard road to get to the point where he was now. There were several lean years as he worked on getting the initial phases of the homestead completed.
During those early phases Ron lived a frugal life, renting a room from an elderly couple to live in and a bay in a storage facility to hold his small initial purchases of preps. He was making excellent money working at one of the underground gold mines in the area. Every spare penny went into the homestead.
The land, considered remote, wasn’t very expensive. Ron developed the long range design and plans after the land was acquired and began the process to turn the property into the homestead of his dreams.
Like the land, the dirt work he hired done to contour several areas of the property, dig the excavation for the future basement of the house, and excavate for a swimming pool, didn’t cost all that much. The small two-person company was in dire need of the work and gave Ron a great deal. They basically threw in for free the work to excavate an area for fuel tanks to be installed.
One of the contoured areas was planted with hardy varieties of fruit and nut trees, the largest and most mature ones Ron could find.
Blackberry brambles and wild roses were planted alternately around the perimeter of the property. A section of heavy chain link fence would be installed every year until the dual barrier was completed.
Strawberry towers were constructed and planted, and an asparagus bed created and planted. A large open garden plot was tilled and Ron began the process of developing it with manure and compost brought in from a couple of the ranches in the area that needed a way to get rid of their animal wastes.
The installation of two wells and a large septic system were the next step. Once they were paid off, the work started on the construction of the basement. One step at a time it was constructed with provisions to build the house over it.
Once the basement shelter was finished the excavation was filled in around and over it, leaving the raised foundations for the house exposed. Ron moved out of the rented room and into the basement. Everything from the rented storage room was moved to the basement, except for some last ditch supplies that Ron moved into a much smaller and cheaper storage unit.
Ron had debated for a while which project to start next. With the open excavation for the pool beginning to deteriorate, it didn’t take long for him to decide to put in the pool. He’d known what he wanted for some time, and the excavation had been dug for the specific model.
With his fingers crossed, Ron had called the fiberglass pool manufacturer and asked about the forty by sixteen foot rectangular pool with shallow and deep areas. It was still available. Ron put in the order and breathed a sigh of relief.
It would be a month before the delivery and installation took place. During that time, Ron gathered the materials to construct an outdoor kitchen and living area. When the pool was installed, Ron hired the concrete installers to put the pool surround in, plus the large patio slab for the outdoor kitchen and living area.
It took him the rest of that summer to complete the pool house and cabana for the pool, and the outdoor kitchen and living area. While he was doing much of that work himself, he contracted for the fuel tanks he wanted to be delivered and installed in the excavation that was ready for them. Eight tanks were installed, three diesel, two gasoline, and three propane, with appropriate pumps and dispenser systems.
That next winter was a rest and recuperation period for Ron. He needed to rebuild the savings for the down payment on the house. He’d funded everything up to that point with the savings he’d acquired since first getting the job at the gold mine.
The house, however, would be financed. Ron had done some fast talking at the bank, describing what were actually security features of the house design as energy saving features. The Skousen exterior wall of steel frame construction with gravel fill was a heat sink, Ron had explained. The other security aspects of the house, such as the triple pane laminated glass windows and operating shutters, were also referred to as energy saving.
With the housing decline in full swing at the time, Ron didn’t have any trouble finding a contractor that would build the house just the way Ron wanted it. It took the summer to complete it, but the house was finished before the first snowfall of the winter.
Another recuperative winter led to the completion of all but one of the major components of the homestead. The outdoor kitchen and living area was roofed over and enclosed with large screen windows that could be covered with panels for severe weather.
Three green houses were erected, one over the pool, that connected with the pool house cabana that was part of the outdoor living area. The other two greenhouses were for food production. Both were pretty straight forward, except for the LED grow lights for use during low light level times. A small earth sheltered combination animal barn was constructed with fish tanks, worm beds, well ventilated rabbit hutches, enclosable area for honey bee hives, and a chicken house with fenced and roofed open area.
The final element of the homestead, that Ron was currently working on, was a large multi-use barn and workshop, also earth sheltered. It would include a four bay parking garage; two maintenance bays one with a work pit, and one with a lift; and three bays for workshops. The upper story and basement would be storage for the workshops. An attached pole barn would eventually be used for storage of other equipment Ron wanted to get for the homestead.
It had taken ten long years, but Ron was beginning to feel like he was at least approaching being adequately prepared for whatever fate might bring. Except romance.
He wasn’t ready for Mary Beth Higgins. She was a tall, leggy, brown haired, brown eyed, beauty that took a job as a rock crusher operator at the mine. She rode the same transport bus that took Ron to and from the mine from a parking lot on the edge of the city.
Ron couldn’t help but notice her. There were guys all around, each trying to talk to her on that first day. He just sat back and watched as she made it clear she wasn’t interested in any overtures. It took a first month before she was finally being left alone to her thoughts during the trips to and from the mine.
But then, on the first day of the new shift rotation, Mary Beth sat down beside Ron on the bus. “Mind if I sit here?”
“Of course not,” Ron replied. “Just surprised you want to. You usually sit back by yourself.”
“Yeah. Too many morons hitting on me. Finally got that stopped. But I’m not antisocial. I just like my privacy. You don’t seem the pressuring type. You haven’t even tried to talk to me.”
“Well,” Ron said slowly, “with your looks and all… I just figure you are way out of my league.”
A small smile curled Mary Beth’s lips. “Even a friendship?” She held out her right hand. “I’m Mary Beth Higgins.”
“Ron Jackson,” Ron replied, taking Mary Beth’s hand into his. She squeezed firmly and released the grip. “So. Why me?”
Again that small smile as she spoke. “Don’t really know. Mostly, I guess, because you weren’t after me.”
“What if I decide to do that?”
“I’ll deal with that if it happens. For the moment, just someone to talk to would be nice. I usually just read during the ride, but I don’t have anything good at the moment. Do you read?”
“Not as much as I’d like to,” Ron replied, truthfully. “Mostly manuals and do-it-yourself books. Some fiction. I read the… Uh. Probably wouldn’t be interested in that.”
“What? Something you can’t tell me? Playboy, maybe?”
Ron smiled. “Nope. Just something I doubt you’d be interested in.”
“Try me,” Mary Beth said. There was a real challenge in her voice.
Ron felt himself responding to it. “Well, I read prep and PAW fiction. Disaster stories. Things like that.”
“Really? What’s so special about those that you think I wouldn’t be interested?”
“Well… most of the people I know have no interest in them.”
“Or the things that they make you think about doing, in order to be ready for such things in real life?”
He couldn’t help it. Her words startled him and it showed. “Uh… well… yeah… sorta kinda.”
Mary Beth lowered her voice. “I bet you are a prepper, aren’t you?”
“You… uh… know the term?”
She nodded. “Yes. I’m a member of several forums and boards that have discussions about things like that.” Mary Beth mentioned a couple of the forums she was on.
“I’m on both of those, too!” Ron replied. “You won’t spread it around…”
“No more than I would want it spread that I’m a prepper.”
“You don’t have to worry about that with me. As far as I know, you are the only one that has any inkling I am. I’m not going to mention it to anyone. I’d really rather not discuss it at all, actually.”
“So, what do you want to talk about?”
Mary Beth laughed, the sound pleasant in Ron ears. He had to smile.
“You choose,” Ron said.
“What do you think about the new benefits package?”
Ron responded and a quiet conversation followed about the benefits, and then the workplace in general. It continued until they arrived at the mine and had to split up to go to their respective jobs.
With little expectation that Mary Beth would again choose to sit with him after the way he’d put her off about his preps, Ron took a seat on the bus and leaned back, intending to get a few minutes of sleep.
He opened his eyes when he felt a body slide onto the seat beside him. “Napping?” Mary Beth asked.
Ron nodded, and then, before he thought about it, said, “I didn’t really think you’d want to sit by me again after this morning.”
“Why’s that? It was interesting. You know how you feel about things and say so straightforwardly.”
“Didn’t sound pedantic and know it all?”
Mary Beth smiled and shook her head. “Not completely,” she said, stressing the ‘completely’ just a little.
Ron found himself laughing and in the midst of another conversation with the beautiful woman. This one was about the goings on in the small city that furnished much of the personnel for the mine.
The two continued to sit and talk on the rides for three weeks before Ron finally asked Mary Beth if she would go see a movie and have dinner with him.
“Oh. The adventurous type! Sure. I’d love to go with you. But Dutch.”
“I was going to spring…”
“I insist,” Mary Beth said, watching Ron carefully.
It seemed important to her, so Ron quickly nodded and said, “Okay. Sure.”
Mary Beth smiled and relaxed. “Thank you, Ron. I don’t think you’re one of those that think paying for an evening like we’re planning entitles you to more than a kiss on the cheek, but I’m not willing to take a chance. I like you and want things to work out so we’re friends before we go anywhere else.”
“You think there is a chance?” Ron asked, a bit wide eyed.
There was that little smile again. “Yes, Ron. I do think there is a chance. I don’t want to mess it up. I hope you don’t either.”
“Absolutely not! You just keep guiding me in how this stuff works and we’ll get along great.”
“Not a problem,” Mary Beth said softly. Then she laughed and the two were again in the middle of a discussion. This one about what movie and where to eat.
Things went well, and, as Mary Beth had implied, Ron got a quick kiss on the cheek before she went inside the apartment where she lived in an older part of the city.
Ron was debating where to bring up the subject of preparedness with Mary Beth one day as he waited on the transport bus for her to join him. He had to smile when he didn’t have the chance. When Mary Beth sat down, she was smiling. “I could use a little help our next days off. I’m going to rent a storage room and move some of my preps there. The apartment is stacked all over with totes of supplies. I can barely turn around in it.”
“Sure,” Ron replied. “I have a small rental room where I keep some supplies. And, if you want…”
Ron’s words trailed off.
“What were you going to say, Ron?” Mary Beth asked softly.
“Well… Perhaps it is too soon… But I thought… Perhaps you might want to store a few things at my place. I decided some time ago you have a place in the shelter, if the worst happens. I just haven’t found the right time to try and tell you.”
Ron’s eyes searched Mary Beth’s face for any sign of censure. Instead of censure, he saw a pleased expression. “Thank you, Ron,” she said. “That means a lot to me. I still want to have some supplies in a storage room, as well as at the apartment, but having a secure place to go if things get too bad here in the city would be a great relief to me. Yes. I would like to move a few things to your place.”
“Good. That makes me feel better.”
“It does me, too,” Mary Beth responded.
It took both days of their time off to get Mary Beth’s things moved. Rather than rent a second storage room, Mary Beth finally agreed to accept a key to the lock on Ron’s storage room, and store the supplies she wanted in the city, but not in the apartment, in the same storage room.
“I want you to feel like you can come out at any time, if you feel the need to get away from the city.” Ron dropped his eyes, but then looked at Mary Beth again. “I took the liberty of getting one of the bedrooms set up for your use.”
“Oh, Ron! That is so sweet! Thank you!” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “If it is all right, I’d like to bring a few additional things out. Besides the prep items.”
“Of course. You can consider the room yours. I put an exterior door latch set on it so you can keep it locked.” Ron handed Mary Beth three more keys. “This one is the back door key, and these are the bedroom door keys. Both of them. I didn’t keep one.”
Mary Beth looked at the keys for a moment. She handed Ron one of the bedroom door keys. “You might need to get in for some reason. Better keep one, just in case.”
“Okay. Thanks,” Ron replied, dropping the key into his pocket
Rather shyly, Ron showed Mary Beth around his homestead when she followed him out in her compact pickup truck loaded with the totes she wanted to store there.
“This is amazing, Ron!” Mary Beth said rather breathlessly. “You’ve done a great job. This is something I’ve only dreamed about.”
“Come on in the house. I’ll show you your room and we can bring up your stuff.” Ron led the way into the house and headed for the stairs. “I use the stairs for most things, but we’ll use the elevator to move your things.”
“You have an elevator in your house?” exclaimed Mary Beth.
Ron colored slightly. “Yeah. I plan on living here a long time. There will come a time, I’m afraid, when I won’t be able to navigate the stairs very well. So I decided to go ahead and put in the residential elevator now. Sure makes it easier taking things up and down, rather than carry them on the stairs.”
“This is great!” Mary Beth said when she saw the bedroom and attached bath. “I wasn’t expecting my own bathroom.”
“Each of the bedrooms has a bath and there is a hall bath down stairs, plus two in the basement. Come on. I’ll show you the rest of the house before we start unloading.”
Mary Beth followed Ron as he led her through the rest of the house. Then they went down into the basement. “Oh, my goodness! This is amazing!” Mary Beth looked around as Ron pointed out the features of the basement shelter.
“I noticed that it was a lot further down than a normal basement. And the stairs and elevator are shielded from the rest of the basement, aren’t they?”
Ron nodded. “It’s not real obvious. I’m surprised you noticed. Yeah. Had to have that shielded right angle for the entry to stop radiation coming in from above. The outside exit stairs are the same, with a barrier wall between them and the basement.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Mary Beth said, looking closely all around. “Do you have an escape tunnel, in case the exits are blocked?”
Ron smiled. “Of course. Over here.” Ron showed Mary Beth the entrance to the tunnel that led from the basement out some distance from the house. “It has a drop point at the end to let the soil fall down when you open a hatch. Then you can climb out and push through the sod.”
Moving over to one of the storage rooms, Ron pointed out the one rack of empty shelving. “Plenty of space for your totes.”
“Man, you weren’t kidding when you said you were stocked up. This has been some tour. But I guess we should move the things and then I’ll make us some lunch.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Ron protested. “I can make something. Or we can get something in the city.”
“I’d like to show off a little, Ron. Let you know how good a cook I am.”
“Well… I guess… You really don’t have to prove anything.”
“I know. I just want to.”
So Ron got the hand cart and they began moving the items from Mary Beth’s truck to the basement storage room and her bedroom. The cart and elevator made it much easier. With that work done, Ron turned Mary Beth loose in his kitchen while he sat at the counter and watched.
As she worked, Mary Beth asked Ron, “When do you think you’ll get rabbits, chickens, and fish?”
“I don’t have the time to care for them properly right now,” Ron said. “Probably try to get them just before things happen.” He laughed. “If it’s possible to figure out the right moment. Otherwise, I’ll try and get them just after things start, but before they are too bad. At least, I hope I can do that.”
“I’m going to have to learn how to convert live animals to meat on the table.” Mary Beth looked over at Ron. “Do you plan to hunt?”
“Some,” Ron replied. “I haven’t in a long while, but I can. And dress the carcass. Big game, which is the most likely out here, along with some small game and birds. I’ve been looking for a farm or ranch fairly close that is prep oriented where I can get beef and pork in the PAW.”
“Not interested in raising them yourself?”
Ron shook his head. “Not really. And I don’t like goats or sheep, which I probably could raise here. Depending on the actual disaster, I’d rather take a couple of deer or an elk every year to provide red meat.”
Mary Beth nodded. “I like venison, but I really prefer elk.”
“I did some with my dad when I was in my teens. Since he passed on, I haven’t gone. My mother sold his guns after he died. I don’t really have a good hunting gun at the moment. Just my defensive arms.”
“I have what we might need in that department,” Ron said.
Neither mentioned the ‘we’ that Ron used.
The two fell silent when Mary Beth served the lunch. Both were hungry and were occupied with their own thoughts as they ate.
“That was good!” Ron said finally, leaning back in his chair. “You are a good cook.”
“Thank you. I really am. I just don’t get much chance. I do need to pick up a couple of the available cookbooks for using storage foods. I think I could do okay, anyway, but better to have some additional ideas.”
“That’s a good idea,” Ron replied. “I’ve got some cooking reference works. Even some that include a few prep food recipes, but nothing specialized.”
“I’ll get something ordered next week.” Mary Beth began to clean up after the meal and Ron jumped up to help her. It took only a few minutes and Ron started the dishwasher as Mary Beth wiped down the counters.
“I guess I should be heading back,” Mary Beth said after a pause. “Thanks for the accommodations and the help, today, Ron. It makes me feel much better to know I can come here if the worst happens.”
“It was no problem. And knowing I’ll have some help with things makes me feel better, too.” Ron walked Mary Beth out to her truck and then watched as she entered and drove away. He sighed and turned back to the house, wondering if perhaps one day Mary Beth might be inclined to be more than friends.
Syndemic Pandemic - Chapter 2
Three months passed. Mary Beth and Ron went on several additional dates. They were becoming closer, but neither was quite ready to take the romance a step further. That was about the time when Ron began to notice a trend in news. He pointed it out to Mary Beth on a trip in to the mine.
Keeping his voice low, Ron said, “Have you noticed the number of reports of flu-like illnesses breaking out here and there?”
“I saw something on the news, but it was just one isolated incident,” Mary Beth replied.
“That’s the thing. I’ve seen several reports, and they are always isolated outbreaks. But there seem to be more and more of them. I posted on a couple of the prep forums about it. There were several responses. Mostly tin-foil hat speculation. But there were a couple that confirmed a problem in their area.”
“What did they say?” asked Mary Beth.
“That the doctors weren’t having much luck figuring out what it was. And it was turning out to be seventy percent fatal, even with the treatments they were trying. The thing is, there are outbreaks all over the US, as well as some overseas.”
“You think it is natural… or something else?”
“I’m worried it might be something else,” Ron said, his voice very low. “I know it sounds like tin-foil hat and conspiracy theory stuff, but I’m getting worried. It just seems to crop up with no warning in almost random areas. The two most common elements are that it is happening in schools and hospitals environments more than anywhere else.”
Mary Beth was leaning close, too, as she spoke. “You think it could happen here?”
Ron nodded and looked into Mary Beth’s eyes. “I do. With all the school aged children living at your apartment building, I’d like you to move out to my place. Start avoiding crowds. And take sanitation cautions. And if push comes to shove, rubber gloves and P-100 masks at work.”
“You’re really worried!”
Ron nodded. “I know there will be some ribbing, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.” Ron opened up his lunch box. “I brought masks and gloves.” He handed Mary Beth four of the masks and four pairs of exam gloves. “I’d like it if you kept these with you. Any indication of illness around you and on they go. That’s what I’m planning.”
“Okay. I will.”
Ron sighed in relief. “And moving?”
“Let me think about that,” Mary Beth replied. Both leaned back in their seats, to think.
That afternoon, when they met on the bus again, Mary Beth told Ron, “I’ve thought about what you said. If you are sure it is okay, I’m going to pick up a few things at the apartment and then head for your place. You sure it won’t be a problem?”
“Not a problem for me. And it sure would make me feel better.”
“Okay. I should be out around eight. I’ll bring a pizza or something.”
Ron nodded. He felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Mary Beth was becoming a major part of his life and he wanted to keep it that way.
It only took a few minutes to take Mary Beth’s suitcases and a couple of totes up to her bedroom when she arrived. They had the pizza in the living room, watching the news. There was only one mention of the outbreak. But it was yet another new one. When the news began to repeat, the two cleaned up after the meal and Mary Beth followed Ron down to the basement.
“I want to add this latest outbreak to the map,” Ron told her as they approached the command center area of the shelter. There were several large scale maps with overlays on the wall.
Mary Beth looked at the marks on the map. “All these are outbreaks?” she asked, more than a little stunned.
“Yes. Every report I get I mark. Some aren’t quite as clear cut as others, but I’m pretty sure all of them are related.”
Mary Beth shivered. “Thanks for letting me come out here.”
“Sure thing. You have the run of the place,” Ron told her. “I’m going to bed. Breakfast at five okay?”
Mary Beth nodded. “I think I’ll go up myself. Good night.”
A week later and the outbreaks were no longer isolated, and the situation was now mainstream news. The illness was spreading exponentially. And it was still unknown just what it was or how to counter it. The death toll was beginning to mount, overloading the mortuary facilities. That became worse when several embalmers in different area came down with the illness. Bodies were literally stacking up in morgues, waiting for burial facilities.
Ron and Mary Beth weren’t the only ones now sporting face masks and exam gloves at work. The mine officials were handing them out, knowing if an outbreak occurred at the mine it would be shut down immediately. Several operations with high concentrations of personnel had already been closed by official decree when the illness spread through their employees and was passed on to customers before it was obvious there was even a problem.
The effort was too little, too late. While there weren’t all that many infected early on, they were all in critical management positions. The mine owners shut down the mine operation on their own when there weren’t enough management people to operate safely.
On the bus, on the way home, Ron and Mary Beth, wearing their masks and gloves, saw and heard half a dozen people coughing and complaining about how they were feeling. It wasn’t their last trip to the mine, but it was the last one as employees.
After a short discussion, and then pulling a large portion of their checking account balances out of the banks they used, Ron and Mary Beth went on a shopping spree. When Ron’s rig was load down, they headed to his place to unload. Nothing was put away. Mary Beth took followed Ron back into the city and this time both vehicles were filled to overflowing with consumables. The shelves in many stores, particularly grocery stores, were emptying rapidly.
This time, when they unloaded, they stored everything away, including what they’d brought out the first time. After a late supper, with few words exchanged, the two went to their separate bedrooms and went to bed, exhausted emotionally and physically.
But both were up at their regular time the next morning. It was Mary Beth’s turn to make breakfast. While she did, Ron was listening to the local swap shop radio show. He put in a call asking for breeding rabbits, fish farming fish, and chickens. He already had worms. They’d been picked up in the fishing department of one of the stores visited the night before.
The listing had barely been broadcast when he got his first phone call. In all, he received seven calls, three about rabbits, three about chickens, and one about fish.
After breakfast, Ron and Mary Beth headed out to see what kind of deals they could make, if any. It was easier than either expected, for the most part. They managed to get three different genetic lines of rabbit bucks, and five lines of does. Ron and Mary Beth took home a total of four bucks and twenty does, the maximum that the hutches would handle.
They got the rabbits settled, watered, and fed, and then headed out again to look at the chickens. Three different breeds of roosters, and fifty chickens, also of various breeds, were in the chicken house by evening, split between laying chickens and the broody chickens and roosters, all also fed and watered.
The fish would have to wait a day. But the extra time let Ron add significantly to the large stocks of rabbit, chicken, and fish food he already had. He cleaned out two of the farm and ranch supply stores in the area.
The following day, Mary Beth went with him again, this time to pick up fish. They got a bit more than they bargained for. The man, elderly, wanted to get rid of his whole fish operation, including growing tanks, transport tanks, and associated equipment, plus additional fish food.
It was more than Ron wanted to pay. He’d really only wanted the fish. But Mary Beth mentioned selling the excess when things got bad, and Ron decided to take everything. It took two days to get everything moved, the fish in their new home, the feed put away, and the extra equipment stored under tarps where the pole barn would be.
“Well,” Ron said the following Saturday morning, “I guess we’re in the rabbit, fish, chicken, and egg business.” He set a collection basket half full of fresh eggs on the counter in the kitchen. “I mated four of the does, and left two eggs under the broody hens, and as far as I can tell, the fish are doing okay. I need to read up on the fish farming though. Just to refresh my memory.”
“I can’t believe we’ve done all this in just a matter of days,” Mary Beth said, putting the eggs over next to the refrigerator. “You want a couple of these for breakfast?”
Before he could answer, the telephone rang. Ron answered it and turned surprised eyes to Mary Beth. “Sure. I’ll come take a look,” Ron said and then hung up the phone.
Mary Beth lifted her eyebrows in question.
“Guy heard the listing the other day about the rabbits, chickens, and fish. He wants to know if I want some hogs, too.”
“I didn’t think you wanted any large stock,” Mary Beth replied. She cracked one of the fresh eggs into the frying pan.
“I wasn’t planning on it. Not any time soon, anyway. It would mean quite a bit more work for both of us. And I’d have to add some things to the homestead to handle the swine.”
“I’m willing to help. I do love my bacon,” Mary Beth said. “I think I can learn to help raise hogs.”
“We can go look after breakfast,” Ron said.
After talking with the guy, Ethan Manning, and seeing his operation, Ron told him, “I’m going to have to think about this for a couple of days. I’ve been laid off from the mine, and it would take a chunk of my savings to put in the hog fencing and another barn.”
“Tell you what,” Ethan said, “I have pretty much everything you need. I was planning on expanding the operation… I’ll sell you the fencing, troughs, and a couple field shelters, and give you all my runts for free to get you started. Can’t help you much with a barn. Don’t really take much.”
“How much?” Ron asked.
Ethan mentioned a price and Ron shook his head and began to turn away.
“Okay,” Ethan quickly said, “I’ll cut it by ten percent, and give you two sows and a boar in addition to the runts.”
“Deal,” Ron said, turning back to Ethan and holding out his hand. “I’ll get someone out here to move the stuff. I’ll need to leave the stock here until I have a place ready.”
Ethan had turned a little surly after making the deal. “Yeah. No problem. Just don’t be too long about it.”
“I won’t. Come on, Mary Beth. I need to make some arrangements.” Ron was on the cell phone, talking to one of his few friends in the area about getting some help when the cell phone lost signal.
“Well, nuts! If it is okay with you, I’d like to go by Xander’s and finish up the discussion.”
“Sure, Ron. I don’t mind.” She was trying her cell phone. It had no signal, either.
Twenty minutes later Ron pulled into the driveway of a small homestead, similar to Ron’s, though not quite as extensive. “Hey, Xander!”
“Hey, Ron. Did your cell phone quit? I’ve been trying to get back to you.”
“Wasn’t the phone. Just lost signal. How about you?”
“Same thing. I don’t know why. I’m in a really strong signal area.”
Ron and Mary Beth exchanged a quick look.
“What? You think this might be because of the flu or whatever it is?”
“I think it might,” Ron said. “By the way, this is Mary Beth Higgins. Mary Beth, Alexander Moorecroft, more commonly called Xander.”
“Hello, Xander,” Mary Beth said, shaking his hand when he offered it. She took out her bottle of hand sanitizer and squeezed a little into both their hands, before rubbing it in.
“Heard you was hooked up with a real beauty, Ron,” Xander said and smiled. “She’s smart, too.”
“Yeah. Uh… The reason I called,” Ron said after a moment’s hesitation, “was to see if you could help me move and install some swine farming materials.”
“Sure thing, man,” Xander said. “I need something to do. I got laid off.”
Jerry D Young
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06-29-2010, 01:39 PM
Jerry D Young
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“Same here,” Ron said. He looked at Mary Beth. “Xander works at another of the gold mines in the area.”
Looking back at Xander, Ron said, “I can pay you for your help…”
“No, no, no. I wasn’t angling to get paid for helping. Just commenting.”
“Well… We can talk about it. You know a couple more guys might want in on the deal?”
“I’ll say, especially if they get some pay out of it. My brother-in-law could use some work. He’d be okay. And Sue Smith is out of work, too. You know her.”
“Yeah. She worked at the mine for a while before going over to the dark side.”
“Okay. I’ll round them up. Where do we go?”
Ron gave Xander directions to Ethan’s place. “First thing in the morning?”
“We’ll be there. With bells on. Or, at least, gloves and work boots.”
“I’ll supply the exam gloves and masks,” Ron said, watching for Xander’s reaction.
“Okay. Good idea. Can’t be too careful these days. Nice to meet you Mary Beth.”
“Same here,” Mary Beth replied. She and Ron went back to the truck.
“Need to go in and stop at the Home Building Center and Farm & Ranch Supply,” Ron said as he got back on the highway. “If I’m going to do this, I plan on doing it right.”
For the rest of the day Ron wheeled and dealed, making arrangements not only for handling swine on a small scale, but a couple of milk cows, too. It would take a month, but when the project was finished, the new barn would be capable of handling a dozen full grown sows and a boar, with a farrowing area, stalls for six cows, with a milking area, and room for eight horses.
The large animal barn, like the smaller one and the workshop, would be earth sheltered with a basement and a second story useable for feed storage. A large portable shed would be delivered and used as a temporary shelter for the hogs. Once the barn was completed, the shed would be moved and used for additional storage.
Ron took a day and went to each of the three banks he used and cashed out his savings to fund the project. Half of it went to the project, a quarter to additional precious metals, and the final quarter Ron took as cash.
Three days after his transactions two of the banks closed, due to what was now an epidemic. Thousands of people around the world were now getting sick every day, with an increased death rate of eighty-eight percent, up because of the lack of facilities to care for the patients.
The only sure thing that had been discovered about the cause was it was a syndemic situation with two separate elements working together. One was viral and the other bacteriological. What one didn’t do to the body, the other did.
The following day the illness was declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization. Already local governments in just about every country were putting quarantines on whole sections of their jurisdictions, trying to keep the illness from spreading anymore than it already had.
Fearing such a move by the locals, Ron had made a point to get all of the materials needed for the new project delivered to the homestead. The excavations and concrete work were finished first. Then only Ron, Mary Beth, and the small crew Ron had gathered were exposed to each other.
Xander, along with his wife and two children, were housing Glenda’s brother Ralph; Sue Smith; and Sue’s brother Alvin in a pair of single wide trailers that Xander had bought and refinished to sell for a profit, but still had on the property.
The project was well underway when Mary Beth asked to talk to Ron about something important. “Ron, you know I have a sister. Ruby. I’m worried about her.”
“You want to bring her out here?” Ron asked.
“I know it would be an imposition…”
“No it wouldn’t,” Ron replied. “You think she’s clear of the illness?”
“I’m sure of it. She caught on early. She’s a nurse and was seeing what was happening about the time we did. Ruby’s been taking extreme care, double gloving, a mask all the time, and disinfecting religiously.”
“Where does she live? I don’t remember if you said,” Ron asked.
“Salt Lake City… But she’s here in the city right now…”
“Let’s go get her,” Ron said. He reached for his keys. Before he had them in his hand he was caught in a tight hug by Mary Beth.
“Thank you, Ron! This means a lot to me. We’ve had our differences, but Ruby is all the family I have left.”
“Sure thing. Oh. What’s she doing in the city? I’m surprised she was allowed to travel. Utah has had the borders closed for a couple of weeks now.”
“Between the shortage of law enforcement people, and a few bribes, she made it through. Came looking for me. She was afraid to call or use the internet, in case she was found out and put in one of the camps.”
“She believes the camps exist?”
“From what she said when I talked to her on the phone, yes, she does. I’ve been doubtful, but Ruby says she saw one first hand, from a distance, while she was coming this way.”
“Okay. We’d better hurry. Where is she now?”
“At the apartment building. That’s where she called me from. She went there thinking I still lived there. She’s terrified she’ll be picked up.”
Ron wasted no time getting into the city and to Mary Beth’s old apartment building. When Mary Beth got out of the truck to go inside and look for Ruby, a woman stepped out from behind some decorate plantings growing beside the building.
“Mary Beth!” she called out and ran toward her.
“Ruby!” The two shared a tight hug, but Mary Beth quickly asked Ruby where her car was.
Ron was standing beside the truck and heard Ruby tell Mary Beth, “Here in the parking lot. But I’m almost out of gas. I wasn’t sure I’d make it all the way when I couldn’t find anything open when I got close.”
Giving a slight whistle, Ron nodded his head toward a city police car cruising past. When it slowed down, Mary Beth grabbed Ruby’s arm and hurried her over to the truck. “Get in!”
“My stuff!” Ruby cried.
“Which car?” Ron quickly asked.
“There. The blue New Beetle.”
Ron drove over to it and Ruby and Mary Beth jumped out. It took only a few seconds to transfer everything from the car to the bed of the truck. Ruby and Mary Beth got back in and Ron headed for the edge of the city.
The police car had come back around and followed the truck for a while, but when it was obvious it was leaving town, the officer turned the car around and went back into the city. The rural area was on its own as far as he was concerned.
“Ruby, this is Ron. I’ve been staying out at his place since this started. For safety,” Mary Beth explained.
Ruby looked at Ron for a moment. “You two an item?”
Ron looked over at Mary Beth for a moment, wondering what she would say. It surprised him more than a little when she answered her sister. “Yes. We are an item. A little unconventional, but an item.”
“Oh. Okay. Are you sure we’ll be safe from things out here in the country? There have been reports about all sorts of crime going on everywhere. From murders on down the line to simple stealing food to eat.”
“Wait until you see the place. I think you’ll feel secure,” Mary Beth replied. “We have a few people helping with a project, but they are staying at another secure place. Not interacting with anyone but Ron and I.”
“Oh. And none of them are sick?”
“None. We all wear masks and gloves whenever they are around, and they do the same.”
“I see that you’re wearing them now. I used my last set yesterday,” Ruby said.
“We have plenty,” Ron said. He pulled up to the gate across the driveway and Mary Beth jumped out of the truck to open it and let the truck through. After she closed and locked it, she rejoined the two in the cab of the truck and Ron drove the rest of the way up to the buildings.
“Wow,” Ruby said, taking in the house and grouping of what looked like earth mounds at first that she finally recognized as earth sheltered structures when she got a good look at one. When Ron stopped the truck in front of the house, Ruby said, “I really need to get to the bathroom. Mary Beth?”
“Come on,” Mary Beth replied. “I’ll show you.”
“I’ll bring in her bags,” Ron said, and began to do so as the two women hurried inside. He was surprised at the weight of a couple of the bags, which weren’t conventional suitcases, but large back packs. One had a prominent red cross on it, signifying a medical kit. It took him two trips to get everything to the elevator, and then two from the elevator to the bedroom that Ruby would be using.
“This is some place you have here, Ron,” Ruby said, taking one of the packs from him. “I brought some clothes and stuff, but most of this is medical gear. I raided the supply rooms in the hospital where I was working when it was shut down for lack of personnel. I figured the stuff would be useful later. And I brought some prescription drugs… just in case I needed something besides money to bargain my way through.”
“Smart,” Ron said. “And useful. Since you didn’t get caught. Not sure I would have tried that.”
“Ruby has always been… adventurous,” Mary Beth said with a smile for her sister.
“Just seemed logical to me,” Ruby replied, shrugging her shoulders. “I have some things in an insulated bag. I’m sure the dry ice has evaporated. Need to get them to a refrigerator.”
“I’ll take them down to the basement,” Ron said.
Ruby was taking out a large insulated pouch from one of the bags. She handed it to Ron. “Should still be fine. The outside is still quite cool.”
Ron headed down to add the medications to the small refrigerator in the shelter that held other medical items needing refrigeration or freezing. Mary Beth began taking Ruby around the place to show her the features. Ron noticed that she didn’t offer much information on the emergency facilities in the basement, most notably the amount of supplies that Ron had, plus those she’d been adding up until the time they were laid off from the mine.
Exhausted from the several days of hide and seek travel, Ruby declined any supper and went up to her bedroom to go to bed.
Work was well underway on the barn the next day when Ruby got up. Mary Beth was in the kitchen preparing lunch for everyone when Ruby came in.
“How are you this morning?” Mary Beth asked.
“Oh, so much better! Thanks sis, for letting me come out here. I don’t know what I would have done.”
“You need to thank Ron. I’m just a guest here, myself.”
“Why? He obviously adores you. I can’t believe you sleep in separate bedrooms. There isn’t anything going on?”
Mary Beth shook her head. “I’m the one reluctant to change things. Ron has hinted around about marriage. I just don’t know. You know how independent I’ve always been.”
“Yes, I do. You’ve given up a lot to maintain that independence. Is it always worth it?”
“It always has been,” Mary Beth said slowly. “I’m not so sure about now. I like the sharing. Ron doesn’t insist on anything. We just naturally split up the things that need doing. Sometimes he cooks and does the dishes. Sometimes I do. I like being able to work outside, and don’t mind the domestic work when it needs doing. Ron is the same.”
“So? You ask him.”
Mary Beth sighed. “I don’t think so. End of conversation. Here comes the crew for their lunch.”
It was a lively meal, with everyone discussing how things were going on the building project. Ruby was introduced. Alvin and Ralph mostly concentrated on eating and on Ruby, while the others talked.
The radio was on, turned down low. But when Ron caught a bit of a news report he quickly hushed the others and went over to turn up the volume of the radio.
The newscaster’s voice was shaking slightly as he reported several instances of violence as the people in various quarantine areas tried to get out to look for food. Supplies were running out all over and those with supplies were doing all they could to keep them and avoid any chance of exposure to the highly contagious illness.
It was a somber group that went back to work, including Ruby. They might have been somber, and worried, but the work progressed steadily. But with the news about the riots, at least one person was staying at Xander’s place to keep an eye on things. If there was trouble, whichever person was there would radio for help.
Everyone except Ruby started carrying a sidearm, and kept a long arm handy to where they were working. Ruby didn’t seem to mind, but she just didn’t want a gun herself. Ron was a bit reluctant to give her one, anyway, since she had only shot firearms a couple of times, and that had been years ago. Until she could get some training, everyone was more comfortable with her being unarmed.
Every day that passed brought more news of the devastating effects of the pandemic. More and more of the infrastructure was going down, for lack of trained personnel to operate and maintain the systems.
The cell phones had been out for weeks when Ron’s and Xander’s places lost regular telephone service. The every other day runs in to keep the vehicles filled with gasoline came to an end when every station in the city went dry, pending additional deliveries. A couple of days later the electrical power went out.
Ron and Xander both cut off contact with everyone except each other. When the work on the barn was completed, even they stayed at their respective homesteads, keeping in touch by radio.
Both listened to the shortwave and the Amateur radio bands for hours at a time. The commercial shortwave stations were down to a tiny handful, and of those few that broadcast in English were reporting death and devastation all around them.
There were no longer enough able bodied to bury the dead. Often they were left where they died. Sometimes funeral pyres were attempted, with limited success. And it wasn’t just in rural areas where animal depredation occurred. Dogs and cats turned loose by their owners, or escaped on their own, were feeding on human cadavers, as were many of the predators turned loose by zoo employees when they could no longer care for the animals.
There were similar reports by the Amateur radio operators. Very few outside the US were on the air, but there were quite a few in the US. Those that were surviving had done much as Ron and Xander. They had taken precautions early on, maintained them throughout, and isolated themselves with stores of food and the means to protect them.
That was one thing that neither Ron nor Xander had needed to do. So far there had been no attempts to take what they had stored away for such times. But that was about to change.
Syndemic Pandemic - Chapter 3
Xander’s homestead was closer to the city, and much more accessible. As the weather turned bad in late October, he reported that a few people had started to turn up, asking for water, food, and medical help. Initially it was only those that had at least some knowledge Xander was fairly well prepared.
When he began to handout small portions of food, along with bottles of water, the word quickly got around and more and more people began to show up. Xander let Ron know that he was planning on cutting everyone off, since he had given out all the humanitarian supplies he’d accumulated for such an event.
“I’ll be over and set up on that ridge across the road,” Ron told Xander.
Mary Beth heard the conversation and looked at Ron with a worried look on her face. “I know you have to go,” she said, “But let me go with you. To watch your back.”
“I need you here to handle things if they come up while I’m gone.”
Mary Beth sighed. “Yes. I understand. Be careful.”
Ron gathered up what he wanted to take with him and had it loaded in the truck when Mary Beth and Ruby came out of the house. Before he could get into the truck Mary Beth had her arms around him in a tight hug, her head on his shoulder. “Be careful. I don’t want to lose you. I… I love you, Ron.”
Ron hugged back. “Don’t worry, Mary Beth. I love you too, and I plan to get back alive and well in order to pursue this line of thinking.”
Mary Beth stepped back and nodded.
Ron was careful to take the back roads to the point where he could climb up the back side of the ridge that faced the road and Xander’s place. He did a quick survey with binoculars and then hurriedly brought up a gun case and an ammunition can.
Working quickly, Ron had the Vigilance VR-1 semi-auto .338 Lapua Magnum sniper rifle set up and a loaded magazine inserted. Prone, with the gun up on its bipod, Ron brought a handheld radio up to his lips and keyed it.
“Yeah, Ron! You in place?”
“None too soon, friend. Things are getting ugly. Don’t know where they got the fuel, but there are half a dozen vehicles out front, all with armed occupants, plus another handful afoot with guns.
“I’ve told them that we didn’t have any more to give, but they want whatever we do have left. I started carrying a rifle to make the rounds of the property when I saw a couple of guys talking, and getting a couple of AK-47 clones loaded. They’ve disappeared on me. That’s when I called you. It’s worse now. You can see people at the gate, I assume.”
“Yes, I can. Xander, I can’t just start shooting…”
“I know. I’ve been tempted, but I can’t either. We’re set up, if they try to come in, but unless someone shoots, I’m not opening fire.”
“Try talking to them again. Let them know, without spelling it out, that you have help on the way.”
“That might just trigger them, Ron…”
“Exactly. If it gets dark with them out here… Well, I’ve got night vision, but it will still be a lot harder to control the situation in the dark.”
“Okay. I’m going to go talk to them again.”
“You have armor on?” Ron asked.
“Of course. Do what you think you need to. I don’t want my family hurt. And they will be if this mob gets through.”
“You got it, buddy,” Ron replied. He set the radio down so he could hear it and snugged the VR-1 up against his shoulder, aiming through the riflescope at what appeared to be a major instigator. Ron could see a stainless steel pistol tucked behind the man’s belt in the middle of his back.
Scanning the others, Ron picked out several more people with guns. They weren’t all men. But all of them were keeping the guns out of sight from the homestead, for the moment. Ron saw Xander standing well away from the gate, near a large rack of firewood.
When it happened, it happened quickly. Though Ron couldn’t hear what Xander was saying, it was obvious the crowd didn’t like it. Especially those with firearms. Half a dozen people actually took off, two on foot, and four in one of the cars parked here and there.
The guy with the stainless steel handgun was in the process of drawing it when someone else on the edge of the group fired at Xander. Ron saw Xander dive behind the firewood. Ron squeezed the trigger of the VR-1 and the guy with the pistol went down, the fast moving .338 slug going through backbone, internal organs, and breastbone killing the man instantly. There was little sound, for the suppressor on the end of the barrel worked as advertised.
Then Ron began to fire much as he had when he’d practiced with the rifle. From one target to another. Identify the fact that the person was armed and firing at the homestead. It was a long time before any of the mob realized that they were taking fire from behind them. Several, shooting from behind vehicles at the homestead switched to the other side and immediately came under fire from Xander’s group.
It was over almost as quickly as it started. Several people were running down the road, away from the battle. Ron put the scope on them one after the other, but there were no firearms in view, so he went back to glassing the area around the gate.
The radio squawked and Ron picked it up. “You okay up there, Ron?” It was Xander.
Ron breathed a sigh of relief. “Fine. How about you? I saw you take cover behind the firewood.”
“Yeah. Glad I did. But I took a round in the vest before I saw it coming. I’m okay, but it hurts like the ****ens. What do you think? Should I check while you overwatch, or you want to come down while I do?”
I think I’d better stick here, just in case,” Ron replied. He set the radio down again and put his eye up to the scope. He watched as Xander cautiously moved out from behind the rack of wood, his M1A rifle up and ready.
Every once in a while Ron would tense up slightly when Xander disappeared behind one of the vehicles. But each time he came back into view, usually with another gun he added to the pile he was accumulating by the gate.
Finally Xander lifted the radio to his lips again and Ron heard him say, “It’s all clear. Unless there is someone…”
Ron saw Xander drop the radio and spin around. He began running through the gate toward the house. The sound of several gunshots reached Ron.
Xander suddenly stopped and brought his rifle up to his shoulder. He fired several times and then ran out of Ron’s field of view. Ron waited tensely until Glenda radioed that things were okay.
Ron packed up the rifle and carried everything back to the pickup. He made sure his PTR-91 was ready and then drove along behind the ridge for some distance before he cut up and over it, to pick up the road. He stopped near the other vehicles at the gate and got out of the truck.
PTR-91 in hand, Ron took a quick look around. It made him a little ill to see what he’d wrought with the .338 Lapua. He shook his head and then moved toward the gate, radioing Glenda that he was approaching. Stooping to pick up the radio that Xander had dropped, Ron continued toward the house.
He came up short when he saw Ralph, Alvin, and Sue each dragging a body toward him. Each one had on a mask and gloves. Ron looked at Xander. He was shaking so hard he could barely hold the rifle.
“I screwed up, man! Big time,” Xander told Ron as Ron went up to him. “I was concentrating too hard on the gate. Five of them went around behind… They almost got Glenda and Sue… The kids…”
“Well, they didn’t,” Ron said. “And that is all that counts.
“Yeah. But it sure gave me the shakes.”
“It’s over now,” Ron replied. “We need to decide what to do with the bodies.”
Ralph and Alvin passed them as Ron and Xander went back to the gate. They began to discuss how to handle the bodies. Ralph and Alvin returned with the last two bodies and then joined the discussion.
“Can’t just leave them,” Ron said.
“Not here,” said Alvin. “But what if just drag them down the road a ways?”
“I don’t want the dogs, coyotes, and cougars drawn down that close to here.” Xander shook his head. “I’d like to be able to make a point to let people know they’re better off not messing with us, but I don’t quite know how.”
“Shallow graves near the road, with a “Boot Hill” sign,” Ron suggested.
“That might do it,” Ralph said. “You want me to get the tractor and backhoe, Xander?”
“I think so. And we’ll tow the vehicles there, too. I’ll get to work on making the sign. Alvin, can you and Glenda and Sue gather up everything that is usable? Oh. Ron, take a look at things. You can have whatever you want. We’ll keep the rest for trading later.”
“Okay,” Ron said. “I’ll hang around and help with the vehicles, too. But I need to let Mary Beth know how things turned out.”
As the others turned to do the tasks set for them, Ron went to his truck and called for Mary Beth on the Low Band Business Band radio. She answered immediately. “Are you all right? Was anyone hurt?”
“Just the bad guys,” Ron said. “Xander took a hit on the vest, but he’s okay. I’m going to help with the clean up before I leave.”
“Okay. Just let me know,” Mary Beth replied.
Alvin, Sue, and Glenda were waiting for him when Ron went over to look over the gear stripped from the dead. “Not much here I want,” Ron said. “I’ll take the Beretta Tomcat. I have one like it.”
They went over to the vehicles and went through them. Nothing of use in the vehicles, and all but two had bullet holes in strategic places and wouldn’t run. “I’m tempted to keep the Dodge truck,” Ron said. “You think Xander might want it, Glenda?”
“Take it. You deserve it. I’m not sure what would have happened if you hadn’t come to help.”
“Okay,” Ron said. “I’ll hook up to one of the destroyed vehicles and tow it down to where Ralph has the backhoe.”
“I’ll help you with the others after I help take this stuff inside,” Alvin said, picking up a few of the weapons piled on the ground.
It was nearly dark when Ron returned to his homestead the last time, after dropping Alvin off at Xander’s. He’d driven the Dodge truck up to Ron’s when they’d finished the work of burying the bodies and moving the other vehicles.
Mary Beth was waiting for Ron when he walked wearily up to the house; the gun case and ammo box in his hands. He barely managed to put them down before Mary Beth had him in a tight hug. “I was so scared!”
“It turned out fine. But we’re going to have to be on watch for something similar here. I’m working on a plan to try and head it off, but I’m not quite ready to voice it yet.”
When nothing else happened for several days, Ron contacted Xander and told him he was going looking for some cows, a bull, and several horses. “You want to go along?”
“Sure. I’d kind of like to get a better feel for the area now, after everything has happened. Can’t get Joe to answer the radio for two days. I’m afraid something as happened to him.”
“I’ll pick you up in the morning,” Ron said and set down the radio mike.
Ron went over security features of the homestead with Mary Beth and Ruby. It was old news for Mary Beth, but Ron wanted her to get a refresher as he taught Ruby what to do in case of trouble.
“It all boils down to keeping safe. I don’t expect either of you to try and protect the facility. If something happens, just lock down and go to the shelter. Call for help on the radio and I’ll come running. Probably with Xander and a couple of people from his place. The main thing is keep a good lookout. Don’t go away from the house very far by yourself, either of you. Keep the doors locked when you are inside.”
“Okay,” Ruby said. “I’ve got it. But when you have time, I want to learn to shoot a gun.”
Ron smiled. “Good. It will be soon. I’m glad you’ve come around.”
“Well, with the others nearly losing their lives, if hit me that I’m dependant on someone else. I don’t like the feeling.”
“Okay. I’m going to turn in. It could be a long day tomorrow.”
Xander was waiting for Ron the next morning in the chill air. “Starting to get cold at night, now,” Xander said when he was in the cab of Ron’s truck.
“I know. One of the reasons I want to go looking now,” Ron replied. He put the truck in gear and headed out onto the road. “There are two possible situations. One, that there are a lot of animals abandoned, and running around loose. The other is everything has been found and eaten already. I’m worried that it is the second possibility.”
“I know. I was thinking about that last night. I think we should have gone looking a month ago.”
“I was afraid of exposure to the illness; fifty-fifty situation in my mind. We’ll just have to see how things played out.”
It didn’t take long to get a taste of what they were to find all too often. There was a third situation that Ron hadn’t thought about. At the first farm they stopped at, they found the bloated corpses of three cows in a barn. The owner had died, without thinking about, or having the time to turn the animals out. It was Xander’s friend Joe.
“What a waste,” Xander muttered. He was glad he was wearing a face mask, even though it didn’t completely block the odors.
“Hadn’t counted on this,” Ron said. They looked around the place and Ron made a note that there was quite a bit of feed for the animals still in place.
The next place where the stopped it was the same. But as they got closer to the city, Ron’s second worry was evident. More rotting carcasses, but these had been poorly butchered, with much usable meat left behind because whoever had butchered the animals had no clue how to do it properly.
With a sinking feeling, Ron headed for the next place. It was the same. “The closer to the city we get, the more likely this is to be,” Ron said. “I think we’d better look the other way.”
“Should check on the mine property. There might still be some cattle loose on their grazing land.”
“Good idea. I didn’t want to have to run them down, but we might just have to,” Ron replied. Sometime later he turned off the road and drove up a long drive to another of the small local ranches and farms that dotted the area.
When they got out of the truck to look around, they were surprised to see someone peeking through the curtains of a window. Cautiously, Ron lifted his hands, letting the rifle hang from the sling. Xander hastily did the same. “We just want to talk!” Ron yelled at the house.
“You sick? You got any food?” came rather weak call from the front door, now held open a crack.
“Some,” Ron said. Xander looked over at him in surprise. “Can we come up and talk?”
“Bring the food up and put it down by the door and then back up.”
“You brought some food?” Xander whispered to Ron when he pulled a small ice chest from the bed of the pickup truck.
“Our lunch and some extra. Just for such an opportunity.”
“Leave your rifle behind,” came a call from the door.
Ron handed Xander the rifle and picked up the ice chest again. He took it up and set it on the porch right by the door. When he’d walked back a ways and turned around, the ice chest had been drawn into the house.
“We’re looking to buy some stock,” Ron said, not yelling, but his voice loud enough for the person to hear inside the house. Ron still wasn’t sure if it was a man or a woman.
“What makes you think I have stock?” came the voice.
“We’re checking everywhere,” Ron replied. “Mostly just finding butchered carcasses, or animals long dead.”
“What are you offering?” came the voice again, this time a bit muffled by the food in the speaker’s mouth. “Food? More food? Lots of it?”
“If that’s what you want, then that’s what you’ll get. We have some gold and silver or…”
“Can’t eat gold and silver. Never mind the rest. What will you give for a cow?”
Immediately Ron said, “A month’s worth of food for one person.”
“Not enough. And there are two of us.”
“A month for both. Give you two months for three cows.”
“How’d you know… Never mind. You go get the food and they’re yours.”
“We’ll be back in a little while,” Ron said. He and Xander got back into the truck and Ron drove away. “You aren’t even going to try and check to see if he really has the cows?” Xander asked.
“I think it is a woman. And I think they have the cows. Might not have them for long, unless I miss my guess. I figure the animals may be as close to starving as the people.”
“Well, it’s your call,” Xander replied.”
An hour later they were back, with several boxes of home canned food in Mason jars. “You’ll have to come out and take a look to check on the food,” Ron called to the house. He’d left the rifle in the cab of the truck, though he was wearing his pistol.
There was silence for a few moments, but then the front door of the house opened a bit more and an elderly woman stepped out. She held a double barrel shotgun in her hands as she approached the truck.
A motion of the shotgun and Xander and Ron backed away. The woman took a quick look in the back of the pickup. After a look at Ron, she reached in and opened a couple of the boxes. They were the original boxes the jars had come in, so the jars were protected. She lifted a random selection of jars to see what was in them.
“Okay. Move the food up to the house,” she said.
“What about the cows?” Xander asked.
“It’s okay. Let’s move the food.” Half a dozen trips later and the boxes were all setting just inside the door of the house.
The woman backed into the house, still holding the shotgun up. “Ok,” she said. “The animals are in the barn. Take whatever you want. You can even have the stock trailer. I can’t take care of them anymore or butcher them and they’re going to starve unless I just turn them loose. Didn’t want to do that.”
With that, the door closed and there was silence for a few moments. But a lowing sound came from the old ramshackle barn and Xander and Ron made for it. After their eyes adjusted to the dimness inside, they saw what Ron had bought for two months of food for two people.
“Man! I knew it! You got took, Ron.” Xander shook his head.
“Not so much, I think,” Ron replied, looking over the cow and yearling bull standing tiredly inside a haphazardly built fenced area. “Look at the cow. She’s with calf. And the bull is young. Both good things. And they may be on short rations, but they aren’t skin and bones like I feared. I’m satisfied.”
Jerry D Young
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06-29-2010, 01:40 PM
Jerry D Young
Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Reno, NV
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The cow lowed again and Ron stroked her on her face. The bull came over and nuzzled Ron. “I think they are more pets than anything,” Ron said. “At least for them,” he added when Xander looked at him.
“Bring the truck around. The trailer must be behind the barn.” Ron went to the door at the back of the barn and opened it. Sure enough, there was a trailer. It was a two stall horse trailer, rusty and run down looking. Ron checked it over. The tires had some weather cracking, but were up. Despite the rust, everything else seemed all right.
Ron guided Xander back until he could connect the trailer to the ball on the receiver hitch of the truck. He didn’t even have to change balls. The right one was already installed. Ron motioned to Xander and Xander pulled the trailer around to the front of the barn.
Though docile, for the most part, neither the cow nor the bull particularly wanted to go into the trailer. But after a while, and several handfuls of feed, they were both secured inside. Ron and Xander took the time to load what few sacks of feed there were, and four small bales of hay into the back of the truck.
Ron radioed ahead, and when they arrived back at the homestead, Mary Beth had the gate open. She closed and locked it after Ron drove onto the property. It was much easier to get the animals out of the trailer than it had been to get them in.
Ron guided them into the barn and led each into a large stall. He put some feed in the feed buckets and filled the watering buckets. A bit of hay was put in the hay racks and the animals settled right in.”
“She looks pregnant,” Mary Beth said, petting the cow. “How long until she births?”
“I don’t know,” Ron said sheepishly. “I didn’t think to ask. Have to do some reading up. Should be able to figure it out.”
“You think the bull is hers?” Ruby asked. “If it is, it can’t service Betsy here.”
Ron’s eyebrows arched slightly. “Betsy?”
“Got to have a name for a keeper,” Ruby said firmly. “The bull is just the bull.”
“In the cook pot this time next year,” Ron said. “Please don’t get attached.”
“Don’t worry,” Ruby said, grinning. “I like to eat too much. Nothing wrong with a nice juicy steak.”
It didn’t take long to unload the feed and hay from the back of the truck and add it to what Ron had bought when the barn had been completed.
The four left the barn and Xander and Ron headed out again, leaving the trailer attached to the truck. They headed for the mine properties up in the mountain where the mine’s ranch cattle were grazed.
“This isn’t going to work,” Xander said just before dark. Both men where sweating despite the chill settling already. And they were tired. They’d been searching for signs of the cattle on foot.
“Yeah,” Ron said, taking a long pull from his canteen. “I think horses first, and then we round up what we want. Assuming there are any. Five butchered animals don’t bode well for us finding more.”
“Worth the effort, though,” Xander said. “I might even try to take a couple home, myself.”
“That’s okay with me. As long as we can find them. Let’s go.”
For another week Ron was out hunting for horses, as well as keeping an eye out for a couple of cows that would be easier to buy than round up. He had no success until the eighth day. Going further back in the mountains than he’d been before he stopped the truck and grabbed his rifle when a man suddenly rose up from the ground and pointed a lever action rifle at him.
Xander, too, had his rifle in hand, ready to dive out of the truck, when the man spoke. “Hang loose, there, Dudes. What are you doing way up here?”
“Looking for horses and cattle,” Ron said.
“You aiming to do a little rustling?” the man asked, obviously suspicious. He lifted the gun more in line with Ron’s chest.
“No. No, we weren’t planning on rustling,” Ron quickly said. “We plan on paying. Already bought a couple head. Looking for a young bull and a couple of heifers. For milking and breeding. Some riding horses.”
“I see. Well, we’ve worked hard and long to keep what we have. Only one other group been up here and they wanted us to just give them some beeves, all butchered up and wrapped. Acted like we should even cook it for them. Didn’t take kindly to that. Had to put a couple rounds over their heads to get them out of here.
“Now, if you really are planning on buying what we may or may not have, what are you offering? And don’t even say cash. It won’t fly.”
“Gold?” Ron asked.
The man sighed. “Yeah. Some gold would be good. Can’t eat it though. Kind of like to get some food other than beef.”
“What would you want for two heifers and a young bull?”
“Make that four heifers and a bull,” Xander said. Ron looked at him, and then back at the man and nodded.
“Well, now,” said the guy. “Let me go talk this over with the guys and see what they have to say. Stay right here and don’t go wondering around. You’ve been under the gun for some time before you got here.”
Xander and Ron got jackets from the truck. It was getting cold. They waited for a full twenty minutes before the first man, and a second, came over the ridge and walked down to the truck.
“You got the goods on you?” asked the second man.
“Some gold. No food, of course. What do you have in mind?” Ron stood calmly. The second man looked a lot harder and meaner than the first one.
“Um… Gold was two grand an ounce before all this. Give us a half an ounce for each animal, in US coin. None of them Krugerrands. The cows aren’t heifers, but they’re good breeders. And here’s a list of food we want. That much for each animal.
“This include tack for the horses?”
The two men exchanged a glance, and then both nodded. “Not new, but serviceable,” replied the second man.
“We want five mares, a gelding, and a stallion,” Ron said, watching the second man closely. “Brood mares. All broken to ride. In addition to the cows and bull.”
“You want a lot,” the man said, is nostrils flaring and eyes narrowing.
“Can you do it, or not?” Ron asked. He noticed that Xander was looking a little nervous.
“Yeah. We can do it. But we’ll need a full ounce for the stallion, and an extra half an ounce for the mares, all together.”
“A roll of silver quarters,” the man said immediately.
“Ten one-ounce gold Eagles now, the other one and a half, and the silver when you deliver.” Ron looked the man square in the eyes. “I’m willing to trust you. On your word.”
“You really push, don’t you?” asked the second man. After a long, pregnant pause, the man nodded and said, “You have it.”
“Xander, give them directions to your place. I’m going to get the gold.”
Both the other men’s eyes stayed on Ron, even as Xander gave them directions. Ron was careful not to let the men see him take the leather change purse from his front pants pocket. He took out ten one ounce gold Eagles, and dropped the purse back into his pocket. He carried the coins in his hand back to Xander and the others. “Here you go,” Ron said. He handed the coins to the second man.
The man looked them over for a few moments, and then looked at Ron. “Good enough. We’ll be there tomorrow.”
Ron turned without another word and went back to the truck. Xander quickly followed. When they’d gone over another ridge, out of sight of the two men, Xander whistled softly and seemed to relax.
“Man,” he said, “I wasn’t sure we were going to get out of there! Especially when you said you had the gold with you.”
Ron smiled over at his friends. “Had to play hardball with them. Or they might have done something. Dealing strength to strength is almost always a better idea than trying to deal from a weaker stance. Whether either is true. It’s mostly appearances.”
“Yeah. Well, you had me convinced. I hope you did them, too. What will you do if they don’t come through?”
Ron looked at Xander for a long time before putting his eyes back on the terrain in front of them. “Get the gold back. Whatever it takes.”
Xander actually gulped, but didn’t say anything else as Ron drove him home. When Ron dropped Xander off, Ron said, “I’ll be here bright and early. Thanks for backing me today, Xander.”
“Uh… Yeah. Sure.”
Ron arrived at Xander’s at five the next morning. It wasn’t until noon when the two heavy duty pickups pulling long stock trailers arrived. It was the work of just a few minutes to unload two of the cows from one of the trailers.
“Follow me,” Ron told the leader of the four person group. It was the second man from the day before.
“We’re not dropping them all off here?” asked the man.
“Nope. Not too far from here, though.”
“I don’t like it.”
“No big deal,” Ron replied. “How about a roll of silver dimes for your trouble?”
“Still don’t like it… But okay. Lead on. And if you try to pull anything, I will kill you.”
“That’s fine. It’s mutual.” Ron turned his back and climbed into the cab of his truck.
Before he left, Ron had insisted that Ruby and Mary Beth remain out of sight when he returned with the stock. But they weren’t just out of sight. Mary Beth was in the armored cupola of the house, and Ruby, newly trained to handle a .30 M1 Carbine, was in the cupola of the small stock barn.
Ron was fairly sure that the man suspected as much, but neither said anything about it. The two cows and bull were put in the barn, after Betsy and the young bull were turned loose to roam the homestead, since it was fully fenced.
The horses were stabled, and like the cattle, fed and watered to settle them in. The tack was unloaded and stacked in the barn. It was about as Ron had suspected. Serviceable was a generous term for it. But he said nothing about it.
“Pull up to the garage and we can load the food. Here’s the other ounce and a half of gold, a roll of silver quarters, and a roll of silver dimes.” Ron took the coins out of his jacket pocket and handed them to the man.
Another few moments and eager hands were loading the pickup beds with the boxes of food that Mary Beth, Ruby, and Ron had packed up the night before. “Threw in a can of honey,” Ron said as the last box was loaded. “Thought it might sweeten you up a bit.”
There was a hint of a smile on the man’s face when he told his companions to get back in the trucks. There were no waves or looks backward when the men in the two vehicles left. Ron closed and locked the gate.
Over the next few days Ron, Mary Beth, and Ruby worked with the new animals to get them acclimated to their new home. Dissatisfied with the tack for the horses, Ron contacted Xander again and asked him to ride shotgun on a salvaging trip to get better tack and some veterinary supplies.
It was the first trip into the city proper since they’d quarantined themselves. They’d only been to the Farm & Ranch store on the edge of the city to get the feed after the barn was finished. Both men wore filter masks and rubber gloves. It was the coldest day yet and both men were dressed for it. Both were well armed, as well.
Being the western town that it was, Ron had no problem locating the tack he was looking for. There were several shops, one world renowned, all but one abandoned. Ron found what he wanted at the abandoned places and he and Xander loaded up the bed of the pickup with the new tack.
At the Farm and Ranch supply place, the one that still had employees, Ron was able to purchase the veterinary supplies he wanted. And they still had feed in stock. They’d received one last shipment after Ron had bought them out before. After discussing it with what turned out to be the owner of the store, Ron made a deal to buy most of the remaining feed, hay, and straw that they had.
The owner was willing to bargain, even taking promises for future delivery of food as partial payment for the things Ron purchased. Ron shelled out the gold and silver coins that were part of the deal and he and Xander headed out, looking for the means to transport the hay, straw, and feed.
So far the only people they’d seen were those at the farm and ranch supply. But as they drove through the downtown part of the small city, there were a few people out. Most just looked at the truck as Ron drove by. A few hurried to get out of sight.
When they reached the truck stop Ron was headed for, he had to smile ruefully. There set three hay trucks, each a 14-wheel flat bed truck with hay trailer. And they were loaded. Ron looked over at Xander. Xander just shook his head.
“What do you think, Xander?” Ron asked before getting out of the pickup.
“I say they are abandoned. There for the taking.”
“Yeah. But let’s check things out first.” With rifles in hand, the two left the pickup and moved cautiously toward the truck stop building. After a few minutes of looking around, they hadn’t found anyone. What they did find was that the place had been trashed inside. There wasn’t a bit of food or drink left in the store part of the truck stop. And much of the other merchandise was swept off the shelves and lay on the floor.
Ron shook his head. “Vandalism for vandalism’s sake. Let’s check the trucks.”
Another few minutes, and the grisly discovery of two bodies, one each in two of the hay trucks, and Ron and Xander decided the trucks were ready to roll. It took an hour to move the bodies and sanitize the cabs of the two trucks, using materials that were in the jumble of goods in the convenience store.
But before they headed back home, with Xander behind the wheel of one of the trucks, the two took the time to check all the other trucks on the property. They found several that would be useful. It was going to take several days to move everything they wanted from the truck stop to the two homesteads, but Ron and Xander decided it was worth the effort.
After dropping off the first hay truck at Ron’s, and loading up some of the food promised Efram at the farm and ranch supply, they picked up Sue and Alvin and took them along. They would drive the hay trucks, one up to Ron’s and the other to Xander’s, while Xander took another double flatbed semi to the farm and ranch store to get the things Ron had purchased.
They made it all in one trip, but Ron’s pickup was rather overloaded with the feed bags. Ron took Sue and Xander back home and then called it a day. Mary Beth had supper ready for him.
“Long day,” she said, sitting at the table with him while he ate.
“Yes. But highly productive. Not only did we find what we were looking for, we found quite a few other things that will be of use. Going to be some busy days ahead to get it all gathered up and brought up here. But I’m afraid if we wait, winter will catch up with us.”
“Wish I could be of more help,” Mary Beth said.
“You are a great help, Mary Beth. I don’t worry about things here with you here. Don’t know quite what I would do without you.”
Mary Beth smiled and let the subject drop. Ron would come around eventually, she was sure.
Even with Xander, Sue, and Alvin helping, they didn’t get all the abandoned equipment moved that Ron wanted. But they did get most of it. What they left behind wasn’t critical. When the snow got deep enough to stop the work, Xander had a semi with a fuel tank holding a mixed load of diesel and gasoline, and enough Pri-D and Pri-G to keep the fuel good until it was used up. That was in addition to the load of hay from the three trucks they’d found. A few other odds and ends would make life a little easier for the small homestead.
Ron, on the other hand, had significantly increased his capabilities. Not only did he have the hay, straw, and bagged feed, he had the equipment to handle it with ease. Ron had one set of double fuel tankers with diesel fuel, and a tanker truck with tank trailer. The truck held gasoline while the trailer was full of diesel. He also had plenty of with stabilizer.
The fuel had been a total surprise. The trucks had been at the truck stop. Ron couldn’t determine where they were from or where they were going. It was obvious they weren’t delivering to the truck stop. He suspected they’d been stolen and were being taken somewhere ‘safe’.
Ron had a couple of additional flat bed trucks, three bob trucks, a front end loader, tractor with backhoe and loader bucket, two forklifts, and three Bobcat skid steers with a multitude of attachments, seven full propane delivery trucks, two semis with reefer trailers, and sundry other items. All of it there for the taking.
Probably the best find, after the fuel, had been four loaded grocery store trucks abandoned on the Interstate at a truck pull off on the top of the pass west of the city. There were several dead in and around the trucks. At least two had been shot, the others apparently died from the illness.
There’d been little left edible in the one reefer trailer, but it would do to keep some food frozen when the time came. But there was a cost. People saw them taking the things. And it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Ron and the others had food. Ron had finalized his plan to try and avoid a confrontation like the one at Xander’s.
Syndemic Pandemic - Chapter 4
The plan was relatively simple. To avoid people showing up at the homestead, Ron intended to make some food available to those that needed it, in return for agreeing to work on a cooperative farm beginning the next spring.
So, after the first snow had mostly melted away, Ron went to the city and put up several notices that food would be available in three days, at a designated grocery store. Bring your own carriers.
With a generator mounted on a flatbed semi trailer, along with a large chest type freezer, and three repacked pallets from the food delivery trucks, Ron, with Xander and Alvin along for security, drove into the parking lot of the large grocery store right on the edge of the city.
At first the turn-out was rather disappointing to Ron. But as he began to hand out food, getting a signed barter slip promising a day of labor in return, people began to show up, obviously having waited to see what was going on.
Ron had been a little worried about being mobbed for the food, but things were peaceful. Though there weren’t many expressions of gratitude, and most of those receiving the food hurried away, there were a few that did thank Ron and reiterated their promise to work beginning the next spring.
Beginning to sweat a little, even in the cold weather, not so much from exertion as worry that he hadn’t brought enough food in, Ron finally sighed with relief when the last person hurried away with their ration of food. He still had a dozen portions left when he got back into the cab of the semi and the three headed home.
Between the wild game Ron was able to harvest, and additional ready to butcher beef from the Cowboys up on the mine property that Ron purchased, he was able to keep up the food deliveries, at least of meat, until mid summer when the first produce was obtained from the new cooperative farm.
Though there were slackers, most of those that had signed the barter slips, along with a few others, showed up when Ron posted the notices that the community farm was ready to begin operation.
It had been both easier and harder in some ways than Ron thought it might be. One of the easy things was that several people with farming and gardening experience had survived and were willing to help. Another easy thing was the availability of equipment. The hardest thing was not being able to use the equipment fully due to a lack of fuel. It would be a year or more before biodiesel could be produced. For the moment only the hardest work was done with the power equipment, using fuel that Ron provided. The rest was handwork, although there were two teams of horses available for some of the harder work that they didn’t want to waste fuel doing.
Another hard thing was getting the Cowboys, as they became known as, to contribute on a future payment basis. But Ryan, the leader, finally agreed to provide beef for future payment by labor or products from the farm. In a surprise move, he actually gave the farm three milk cows.
Ron’s swine had been quite productive, and with the contribution of six more sows and two boars for genetic diversity, the farm began swine farming. It was the same with the chickens. The brood hens had produced more than enough chickens to provide food as well as a starter flock for the farm.
During all the hustle and bustle of getting the farm going, Ron managed to ask Mary Beth to marry him. And she accepted. Only a few days later, Alvin, having worked quite a bit with Ruby over the weeks and months, asked Ruby to marry him. It took a few days, but she finally accepted. Alvin moved up to Ron’s, providing the homestead a bit of badly needed manpower.
The farm succeeded in producing barely enough that first summer to feed the remaining survivors, and provide enough to get them through the winter. But it was the turning point. The community, at least in and around the city, would not only survive, but thrive, as the farm continued to expand and grow after biodiesel began being produced.
After five years of acting as manager, and essentially owner, of the farm, Ron gave the operation over to the community as a co-op. Much of the equipment he’d gathered and taken to the homestead was turned over to the co-op for their use. Ron did keep enough of the equipment to ensure the easy working of the homestead.
He needed time to be at home, since Mary Beth was pregnant, and the homestead was steadily producing enough of a surplus that was now sold to those looking for an alternative to the food the co-op could produce.
It was never known for sure just what the illness was. It was simply known as the illness. It claimed almost ninety percent of the world’s population. Fortunately, for the remaining population, there were other people like Ron and Xander that managed to not only survive, but begin to bring back a modicum of civilization.
Jerry D Young
Jerry D Young