Trisha was back. Bill was relieved when she pulled in after being gone for over four hours. He wanted to be mad, in fact, he approached the car angry, then stopped and checked his emotions, she was back with John and that is all that mattered. The car was filled to the brim with goods, it was riding pretty low on its chassis, making Bill wonder just what did she buy?
“Howdy.” Bill said without any fanfare when Trisha finally shut off the car in the garage.
“You mad? You are, aren't you?”
She always could read him. Bill sighed heavily, “Let's just say I was growing concerned. Cable is down, the regular stations are broadcasting news of some fighting going on in Nebraska and even in Kansas City. You two weren't back and with the cell phones out...I was concerned.”
“We had guns. You knew we would be safe.”
Bill wanted to point out that other people had guns too, but eighteen years of marriage had taught him that pointing out every flaw, every problem with every statement, only led to more arguing. Besides, he was not mad, he told himself again. Instead, he said, “Holy Christ on a crutch, did you leave anything in the store?”
“Not much.” Trisha admitted sheepishly.
“Any money left?”
“Well, I kept the receipts in case we need to send the kids to college after all. I still have about twelve hundred.”
Bill didn't know precisely how much was in the 'college' fund, it was Trisha's idea to hold back some money for the kids education and she had an uncanny ability to know when Bill had any extra money. For years now she had hit him up for every ten, twenty or even more that he had in his wallet and vanquished it to the mysterious 'college fund' she kept for the children. He thought it had to be around ten thousand dollars. Some people would have been worried about having that much money in the house, but Bill wasn't, if Trisha hid the money so well he couldn't find it, and he had looked, then he was pretty sure it was not going to walk out the door with their television if a burglar came calling.
“Was that a lot?” Bill asked, fishing for a number to confirm his estimate.
“A very, very lot. I think this is the real deal Bill, not some minor terrorist attack. I think this could be Armageddon.”
Trisha was big on that church stuff too, Armageddon was something she seemed to live for. Bill went along with it, after all he had his quirks as well and her focus was preparation for the end, not only spiritual, but physical as well. The kids tended to follow Bill's outlook towards religion, which was using it as a safety net, an hour a week in a meeting house with people you generally liked was a small price to pay if Occam's logic ended up being correct.
“I got you something too,” said Trisha.
“You did? What? Gimme, gimme, gimme!” Bill said imitating John when he was two at Christmas, the statement had become a bit of a family inside joke with even John saying it when gifts were mentioned.
“Not until the car is unloaded. In fact, I got everyone something or three or four somethings. Once we get the stuff put away we can dole them out, or better maybe tonight after dinner we can have a Christmas in July sort of thing, to celebrate the end of days.”
Bill groaned, knowing how well that would go over with the kids if they knew they had gifts, they were like every other kid in the world and had the patience of Mayflies.
As they unloaded the car Trisha took select bags out herself and squirreled them away to the master bedroom, and she didn't mention any gifts to the kids. Almost nothing of what she had bought was perishable. The groceries were dried foods, like pasta, rice and beans or canned, mostly soups and fruits. Bill noticed that she had bought very few vegetables, which made sense, Trisha had stocked up on things not grown in Iowa. And then there was the toothpaste. Trisha had what looked like half a pallet of the stuff in the trunk.
“Why so much toothpaste?” He asked her as he hauled in yet another bag of the stuff.
“Barter. I figure things will hit the fan soon and we will not want to trade away food or ammo or clothing, so I bought toothpaste. Everyone will want it when they run out, so I got some. And a bag of toothbrushes too.”
Going through the bags, Bill found some full of underwear, socks and t-shirts too. Everyone had at least three new pairs of jeans and the kids all had new pajamas, though admittedly they were summer wear as the stores were not yet stocking stuff for the cold winter months.
Sorting out the goods took them another hour, with the toothpaste and other 'trade' goods going into the basement to be stored in the back room and the other things being placed wherever they would fit. A car load of goods was absorbed pretty comfortably in a house as large as theirs was. At the end of the day, Bill and the family were out on the back porch having a family dinner while Bill grilled up steaks.
“I called the propane company today, they said they should get out here tomorrow to top off the tank for us, even with the 'stay at home order.' I figure that will get us through the winter easy with the geothermal and solar array.” Bill said.
“Did you get ahold of Sun Brothers?” Trisha answered.
“No. I tried, and tried, no one picked up.” The land phone lines were still working. Bill had constructed his house four years ago and had installed geothermal heating when he put it up. Last year he had finally gotten enough money to put in a solar array on the south side of his property, it cost over twelve thousand dollars and had cut their electric bill in half. It also guaranteed that their house would almost never be without heat or cooling. Bill had ordered another panel to be installed this summer, it was due to in a week and Bill had tried to get in touch with someone at the company to see if it had shipped yet. He had already put in the wiring and a cement pad for the thing and the array was designed so it could be plugged into the existing power supply he had put in last year. Once it arrived he could assemble it, with the families help, and have it plugged in and working after a day or two. The idea had been to start selling the electricity back to the power company during the summer and effectively decrease their net electrical costs to zero. Most people would not spend that kind of money on something that would take about twenty-five years to pay off, but Bill had a dream to live off the grid and Trisha loved the idea too. Now, worst case, they could disconnect everything except the freezer and refrigerator and still have a little juice left over for another device or two. Still having both arrays would be better.
“We'll go black out at night when the neighbors lose their power right dad?” asked John.
Bill nodded, “Yeah, no sense advertising what we got. The basement should be okay for lights and stuff. Hey, Max what'd you and Trudy decide about the dog?”
“I like 'Rolf,' Trudy says 'Setsu.' 'Setsu' is a stupid name.”
“Is not! It's the warrior prince from 'Legends of Lotus Blossom,' it's a great name!” said Trudy, raising her voice. “What is a 'Rolf'? Just a stupid noise sound, not a warrior at all!”
The family then debated on what to name the mutt Max and Trudy had brought back from the Olson's farm that afternoon. The mutt in question, cradled in Trudy's arms, lifted his head wearily, took them all in and then lowered it to go back to sleep.
“He looks more like a 'Sleepy' to me,” said Trisha, which brought a chorus of moans from the family. They already had two dogs, named Dopey and Fargo, both names Trisha had given them, the rest of the family was united behind not giving her naming privileges on the new dog. “Hey, I'm just saying. We are all out here arguing and he is sleeping. That makes him wise, maybe 'Buddha' would be better?”
“No!” the family yelled together.
Bill reached into the cooler to pull out another beer while the family debated the dog names, eventually deciding a warrior prince was better than a random sound and settling on 'Setsu' of Manga fame. John and Claire shuffled the younger kids to bed around ten, as Bill had warned them all that they had a lot of work to do the next day. Trisha leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder.
"You scared?" she asked.
"We haven't seen anything yet, we don't know what is going on. There is talk of a disease somewhere, I don't like that no. A man can't fight a disease with guns, canned food and toothpaste."
"No, not that. It's Max and Sarah. I've seen you checking your phone ten times an hour. I heard you try and call them last night. And now the cell phones are all out. I know you must be thinking about going out there after him..." Bill put his finger on her lips, stopping her.
"I can't. Max would understand that I can't do that." Trisha made to protest, "No Trisha I've known him for a long time, and I know he would tell me to look after my family, just like I would tell him to take care of Sarah. I won't deny I had thoughts of heading out to Colorado, thoughts of going to get him. Now." Bill shrugged his shoulders, "Well we don't know anything do we? For all I know he is already dead."
"Oh Bill!" Trisha leaned over and embraced her husband, "I wish I could say he is okay that everything will be fine. I can't. I will pray for him and his family."
"Yeah, me too. Hopefully, they are on their way here. We better go catch the news, if there is any."
The couple went in off the deck arm in arm and into their living room. John was there and they could hear Claire yelling at Max to stay in bed and for Will to stop pestering him. The house had six bedrooms, Max and Will shared one room in the basement, John and each girl had their own rooms, which left one room free for guests. The two younger boys fought like all siblings, but Trisha's attempts to move them into separate rooms always ended in dismal failure. Bill had the tv on and tuned to a local station by the time Claire came upstairs.
"Thanks Claire." Trisha said to her daughter, "I appreciate it. Those boys! I never understand why they won't move into different rooms."
“Well, they like to complain. Living with each other is easier than living without each other. When Max hits fourteen, I bet they won't be together. Right now they would rather fight like some old married couple than cower under their covers alone.” said Claire.
The sounds of renewed yelling from the younger boys drifted up the stairs. Bill raised his eyebrows to Trisha, who nodded her head and said, “Let's see if the boys can work this one out on their own if they are not quiet in five minutes I'll go down there and put Will on the futon for the night, or threaten to.”
The four of them settled in to watch the local news. There were no national feeds, the local news said that cell phone coverage was sporadic now, but some towers had been taken by the state government for police and military use. All citizens, except those with critical job functions, were to stay home and use their land lines to call in any suspicious activity. Suspicious activity really boiled down to anyone stumbling around like they were on drugs. The chilling part was the announcer said if the person did not respond to verbal commands, like to 'stop' or answer simple questions the order was to shoot first and ask questions later. As horrible as that sounded the news that Denver had been bombed, using nuclear weapons was devastating. Trisha pulled Bill in firmly, watching his eyes as they watched the television. Something in his face seemed to flicker for a moment, a kind of recognition that things were worse than he feared. Bill's eyes grew watery, but he didn't turn from the television screen, he just wiped his arm over his face once and continued watching, his face growing harder as the news ticked by. There was news footage from an affiliate station in Kansas City, which had a helicopter fly towards Denver, it did not get close enough to see any damage. To Bill's eyes it looked like quite a large part of the city was intact, there were smoke plumes everywhere, and piles upon piles of auto wrecks as well. Then the footage showed a small town called 'Limon' Colorado. There was a mob of people there, tens of thousands, they were ambling slowly down highway seventy, when the crew got a close up the family could see the damage the people had taken, some of them looked dead. The camera lingered on the mob with the commentator pointing out that none of the people had packs or water bottles or food of any sort. Some footage later in the day showed the mob thirty miles east of Limon, still moving slowly, inexorably onward towards the Kansas border.
Parts of the internet were amazingly still working. The local news desk said that Iowa's server farms, built specifically to house two of the powerhouses in the computer industry were able to keep much of the internet up and running. The newscaster warned that most of the external websites were outdated copies from up to a week ago. The largest websites may have housed their data in Iowa, but the news still came from New York or San Diego or London. After mentioning this last location he said that London was not infected as was previously thought, the last update from Europe was that the United Kingdom had grounded all flights and closed all ports until the current wave of civil unrest had passed. The Britts had apparently used draconian measures to put down their own plague, including the 'shoot any suspicious people on sight' method, to eliminate suspect people. The governor of Iowa was taking no chances. Hence he issued the same order to all Iowans.
The Iowa National Guard was out in full force. All police, fire and medical personnel were required to not only report for duty but to stay at their work locations for the duration of the emergency. Also, the governor was calling for anyone with any military service to report to the nearest Guard compound immediately. To not do so would be grounds for arrest. A state of emergency had been declared and all non-essential personnel were ordered to stay in their houses until told otherwise. Anyone one leaving their home could be detained and or even shot on sight.
The news went on to repeat the earlier stories and Bill shut the television down and turned towards his family. “Tomorrow we are going out. I doubt the sheriff will be by every house in the county and we should be able to get the basement windows barred and fortify a few of the upstairs ones as well. I think we should all carry a pistol with us, at all times, just in case. Us four I mean, not the younger kids, though Will could take a twenty-two rifle if he wanted to. We got a couple months until it freezes, so we have to check to see if any vegetables we have could be grown and harvested in that timeframe. I think we might need all the food we can get before winter.”
John nodded, “Okay dad. Want me to sleep in the boy's room tonight, just in case?”
“Yeah, please. It would make me feel better anyway. Bring Fargo in with you, we'll keep Dopey up here and let him roam the house tonight.” said Bill.
“I'll sleep in Trudy's room too,” said Claire.
“Speaking of which we better try to get some sleep, you two say a few prayers tonight okay? Not just for God to watch out for us, but for our friends who might need it too.” Trisha didn't name Max and his family. However, they all knew that was who she was referring to.
After a round of good nights and some long, firm hugs, the children went off to bed and the parents retired to their bedroom. That night Bill and Trisha made love for the first time in weeks, the act had a desperate, fearful tinge to it that neither spoke of after reaching release.