‘Just another day at work,' Bill thought to himself as he crawled into his old Ford Ranger. Of course, it was not ‘just another day’ anymore. The news had mentioned all sorts of problems lately, riots, drug crazed terrorist attacks, power outages. The worst of it was the power outages, nothing like losing your air conditioning in July in Iowa to make you appreciate the wonder of electricity.
Bill was worried too, the news said that there were riots in Denver and the last time he had heard from his friend Max was over a week ago, no phone calls, no emails, nothing. His parents also lived in a suburb of Denver, where Bill grew up and he could not get a call in to them either. He didn’t worry about his old man too much since retirement Bill’s dad had spent more time dragging his mom around camping than staying at home. Most of the time they were out of cell phone range too, what with the mountains they typically camped in. Max, on the other hand, had to work, which meant he was probably right in the thick of things when the rioting, or whatever was going on, started. Calls to Max’s home line just met with a “Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please hang up and try your call again” message. Very weird. Today he vowed to send more email messages and call and call until he got through to Max. It was Wednesday, if Bill did not get through today or tomorrow he was going to take Friday off and drive out to Denver over the weekend, National Guard be damned!
As a programmer Bill also succumbed to cruising the internet most days, he was a mild news junkie and the situation in his hometown had him concerned. His boss had to drag him in and speak with him about his internet usage yesterday, but understood that Bill was simply not going to be worth a shit until he had confirmation that his family and friends were okay.
As Bill drove into the city, he hit a traffic jam. ‘What the hell?' he thought to himself, ‘It's six-thirty!’ In the three years since, he had been driving this route he had never once hit traffic this far back. Cursing, he cutoff Jimmy Buffet mid-song so that he could listen to the radio. National Public Radio was funneled through a local station which sometimes did traffic updates for the poor suckers coming into work, usually only if there was a major accident. Bill caught the newscaster in mid sentence “…reasons there is no work today. Officials are asking everyone to remain home except for essential personnel only.” As Bill listened he could tell this was not ordinary alert, ‘Not go to work? That makes no sense.' As he thought about it, Bill had a scrotum tightening moment of anxiety that seemed to grow and grow. He was in the left hand lane of the highway and he came to a decision fairly quickly. He checked for oncoming traffic then shifted his truck into four-wheel drive and drove across the median and headed back home. He was about ten minutes away and as he drove he fumbled for his cell phone to call his wife.
Trisha woke to the ringing of the telephone. “Six-thirty!” she moaned, “Someone better have died!” She rolled over to Bill’s side of the bed on her hands and knees to prop herself over the half awake form of her semi-sleeping nine year old, Max, and answered the phone.
“Hey Trish, it's me. There is some kinda emergency, the authorities are saying for everyone not to go to work. Turn on the radio or TV and see what it is all about. I am gonna run by the market and load up on stuff before everyone beats me to it.”
At first Trisha was thrilled, she was behind on a big project at work, no work, meant the project would be delayed and her tardiness would be unnoticed, splendid timing! Then the realization of what was going on hit her. She stammered, “What? There has to be some mistake, no one is going to work?”
“Yeah nobody, that is what the radio is saying, no wait they said the national guard, police and medical personnel are to report to work as normal. You just stay put, I am gonna burn our checking account at the store. I will call ya if anything goes wrong. You call me if there is anything else. Get John up so he can help me put up the plastic sheeting around the vents and windows when I get home, okay?”
“Sha-sure, sure. See you soon. Be careful!”
“Careful? Of what? Nah, I get it; I will be. Love-ya-bye!”
“Love-ya-bye!” Trisha responded as Bill hung up the phone. That phrase had been one of their standbys for years and saying it added some normality to her life as she uttered those three little words.
Bill sped along at five miles an hour over the speed limit, not wanting to get stopped for a ticket, especially if the world was ending. ‘The flu,' he thought, ‘That has to be it, some goddamn extremist unleashed biologicals on us and it finally spread to Des Moines. God damn it! I knew I shoulda bought those cases of military rations off of eBay!'
He pulled into the local gas station to fill up his truck before heading to the grocery store, for good measure he also filled up both gas cans he kept in the pickup bed too. The town only had a small grocery store simply called ‘The Market.' It was not officially open until seven am, but the owner typically opened it up a half hour early. Bill was pleased to see that was the case today and he grabbed a cart on his way in.
“’Morning Earl!” Bill called out as he passed the register, “You hear there’s trouble? No one is supposed to go to work in Des Moines today?”
“Yeah, I heard,” responded the sixty-year-old owner of the Market, “You gonna stock up then? Clean me out?”
“If you don’t mind, better safe than sorry.”
Earl waved a withered hand, “No, I don’t mind money in my pocket and your family will eat the food anyway. This’ll might end up being good for business.”
Bill went up and down the aisle, first loading his cart up with canned goods, all the soups, beans and fruits it would hold, it totaled two hundred and twelve dollars. While Bill was ferrying his first load out to the truck, three more cars pulled up. He stashed the bags in his extended cab and went in for a second load, five more cars pulled up before he made it into the store. The second load he picked up canned sauces, a ton of pasta, three cans of coffee, cocoa and all the canned meats he could get. He topped it off by grabbing all the roasts out of the meat case. He was second in line at the register and as he stood there, the line grew and grew until there were at least a dozen people with full carts behind him. ‘Damn, I shoulda got that,' he thought as he noticed the man ahead of him buying bottled water, ‘I will fill up everything I can when I get home, in case the water shuts off.’
His second cart full totaled well over three hundred dollars. The parking lot was a nightmare by now, with dozens of people parked and trying to get into the little store. Still everyone was accommodating and polite, ‘This won’t last much longer.' Bill mused as he put the truck in gear and headed home.
He hit his garage door opener and was greeted by his wife and four of his five kids, who he set to bringing in all the groceries.
“How much?” his wife asked as she surveyed all the food.
“A little over five hundred.” Bill answered.
Trisha sighed visibly, “I hope this ain’t a drill because we are going to bounce our car payment this month.”
Bill pulled her close and kissed her, “No honey, something is wrong, something strange is going on. Can you get this? I want to bring your car in and top it off, plus fill anything else I can with gas as well.”
As he pulled more groceries out of the truck Bill’s oldest son, John said, “We got that barrel out back, want me to get it?”
“Oh yeah, sure, good idea.”
The ‘barrel’ was a fifty-five gallon heavy duty plastic barrel from a place Bill used to work over a decade before; it used to hold soap for cleaning the machinery at his job. Bill always thought it would make an excellent place to store a keg; cut off the top and throw in the keg and some ice and you had a tail gator’s dream. Only the dream was never realized. He had contemplated tossing it several times, but in the end it just sat in the sun outside whatever house he lived at and slowly turned from black to gray with the passing of the years. It was clean and had two stoppers which could be removed. This meant Bill had to take the truck in, instead of the car, but he doubted he could afford fifty-five gallons of gas anyway, still the station had taken his check before, so he would fill it as high as he could.
His son Will rode with him the two miles back into town and the gas station was not too busy yet, apparently Bill was staying just one step ahead of the rest of the people getting supplies. He put fifty gallons of gas into the barrel and paid with another check that was sure to bounce. ‘Well’ he thought, ‘either way we will use the gas, I guess.’
When he got back home Trisha was in the car with John. John had Bill's shotgun in the front seat with them. Trisha rolled down her window, getting ready to pull out of the garage as Bill pulled in. Her eyes were red and watery, as if she had been crying.
“I called Marcy up in Boone, the Wal-mart and grocery stores are still open up there. I am going with John to get what we can. I'm taking the college money, you better go watch the news, I can't talk about it right now.”
Bill looked over to John and said, “Was it your idea to bring a gun?”
“Good call. You should bring a pistol too, I don't think anybody is going to get mean yet, but it won't be long.” Bill laughed when John raised his shirt up to show the butt of a gun. To Trisha he said, “Buy everything you can get especially the stuff no one else is buying. And fill up the car too. I'll have Claire and Will help me with this. Where's Max?”
Trisha sniffed, “Still in bed, don't forget to give Trudy something to do. Don't leave her out.” This had been an ongoing argument lately; that Bill left the girls out of all his planning. He nodded his assent and Trisha left without another word.
“Good luck,” he called after the car, hoping everything would be okay. His remaining older children were standing in the garage, waiting for him.
Looking at Will he asked, “What's mom upset for?”
His daughter answered him, “They nuked Denver, two days ago from what the news says, and several cities on both coasts, New York, San Fransisco. The news says, well the news says they nuked Mexico City too, says the Mexicans asked us to.”
“What?! Hol-ee-shit! This isn't a drill: the shit really has hit the fan, somebody get Max up.” Thinking back to what his wife said, he pointed to Trudy, “Can you get Max up and make us breakfast?”
“I can only cook eggs. And coffee.”
“What's wrong with eggs and coffee?”
She nodded and headed into the house.
“All right you two we gotta get this barrel off of the truck and it is heavy, we cannot, I repeat, cannot afford to have anyone injured now. So what do you two think? How should be do it?”
An hour later they were eating cold eggs, warm toast and drinking hot coffee. The barrel of fuel was stowed in the attached garage and they were making plans to put anything useful from the outer storage shed into the garage and move all non-essential stuff into the shed. Protecting the 'good stuff' was Bill's primary goal.
“After this we get the shed rearranged and then get the guns laid out and cleaned. I am going to cut blocks for all the doors and seal over the basement windows with plywood, We need to fill everything we can find with water too and make sure all the camping gear is cleaned and ready to go. After that...fishing? We could see what we can catch to eat fresh.”
“Eww!” said Max, “I hate catfish!”
“You hate all fish, but you'll like it just fine if it is all we have to eat. Better than mice anyway.” Bill said.
“Mice? We won't have to eat mice dad!” said Trudy.
“Well, maybe not right away, there isn't enough meat on their little bones to do much with anyway is there? Say Will, do you think the Olson's still have any of those mutt pups left that they were trying to get rid of? I think an extra dog around here would be a good idea.”
“I can bike over there after we get done with the shed.” Will answered.
“Well, I was thinking maybe Max could go, maybe with Trudy? While we were doing the shed stuff.” The older two kids knew this was a way to get the younger kids out of the way, three people should be able to handle the shed reshuffling easily enough.
Will nodded his agreement to the plan then asked, “Dad, when will mom be home?”
“It depends on the deals she finds, I hope she is home soon. She's got your college money though, so maybe she will be awhile. Geez I hope they emptied the trunk out before they left.” Trisha was notorious for using the trunk as an enlarged purse, cramming it full of junk unless it was needed for something else.
“She did,” said Trudy, “We helped her while John was getting the guns.”
“Okay then let's get started. Good breakfast by the way Trudy. And you two wear your bike helmets and don't go taking the runt of the litter from the Olson's either! No matter how cute it is.”