Saturday, December 19, 2009

Remnant, Chapter 4


Saturday morning
October Twenty-First

“Hey, Dad. Couldn’t sleep again?” Carl said as the creak of his door woke me, startling me for a moment. Buck and Ada both popped up and hurried over to Carl for a morning scratch. Buck looked for something in Carl’s room to steal, and then bring him, which was one of his favorite dog games.

“Nope. What time is it?” I asked, noting it seemed still dark outside.

“Five-thirty. John and I are working the morning shift at the Community Center. Starts at six.”


“Yep. The kids seem to like me but they’re all over John.”

“Good for you guys. You have a talent there.”

“Thanks. We’re making breakfast today. Can I take your car?”

“Sure. You might need the four wheel drive.”

“Are they going to plow if it’s deep?”

“Arterials only. We’re short on diesel…or will be unless we get things ironed out.”

“What about the side streets?”

“That’s going to be up to the neighborhoods. We don’t have the resources to do all the streets, and there aren’t that many cars running. People are conserving. We’ll take care of the feeders to the train lines, roads to the schools and hospitals, nothing outside the core areas.”

“But it’s OK for me to use the car?”

“Yeah. Blue pass. Don’t forget.”

“Right. ‘Community Center Staff.’”

“Yep. Don’t forget to put it in four-by.”

“K thanks. I better get going.”

“Brush teeth and wash up first.”

“Yep. I have a dentist appointment on Monday.”

“Me, too.”

“Where are the keys?” He asked as he loaded up his toothbrush.

“On the hook,” I said as I got up out of the chair. I heard Carl brush as I opened the west curtains, looking out toward the barn, Alan and Ron’s homes, and a good foot and a half of new snow.

“How’s it look?” Carl asked after he finished up.

“Deep. I wanted to get some pruning done on the fruit trees down south. Not going to happen.”

“You never seem to have a problem finding something to keep yourself busy.”

“And everybody else, you didn’t say.”

“Figured it was a little early to take a shot at you,” he grinned as he grabbed his daypack. I’d had each of our extended family members put together a miniature emergency kit, designed primarily to get them back ‘home.’ All of us now of course had larger backpacks as well…the get out of Dodge pack.

“Many thanks,” I said. “Hey, drop this at the store for the day shift sentries,” I said as I handed him some scones that Kelly and Marie had made.

“K. See you at two.”

“Or sooner. Mom and I might pop by later.”

“On foot?”

“We’ll find a way. Might take the pickup since it’s ethanol powered. We’ve gotta go anyway though I think. Aren’t Kelly and Marie babysitting later?”

“Yeah, I think so. Libby, too.”

“Drive safe.”

“Always,” he said as he closed the back door. I watched him through the darkness as he slogged along, both dogs quite happily bounding through the new snowfall, to the makeshift carport that held the little Ford Escape that replaced my big Expedition. The hybrid Escape was better on gas than anything else available at the time, but I sometimes missed the heft of the big SUV. I did however; truly hate the grey-brown-dark green camouflage paint on the little thing. It was the County’s idea of ‘blending in.’ I thought it looked silly.

Carl drove the little SUV out of the carport, then remembered the gate, and had to get out to open it. Before he took two steps, I saw John slog past him to it, pushing it open through the snow, and in a few moments, they were gone. I decided to make some tea. The dogs decided they wanted ‘in.’

After water was on to boil on the electric range, I lit up the woodstove, noting that it was only fifty-two degrees inside. No wonder I was chilly.  At six, I decided to try to catch the morning news. I knew that there was a fair chance that the TV station might be up and running. A year ago we had seventy-five channels available. Today, we had one…most of the time, that is. Three radio stations though…some of the time. And one on FM. Always forgot about that one.

“…six oh-five, October Twenty-First. Thank you for joining us this morning on Television Spokane.  If you’ve looked outside this morning, you’ll see that we have our fifth official snowfall of the fall season, this one is expected to continue until eight a.m. local time, according to Air Force meteorologist Archie Brennan at his Mica Peak weather radar station. Archie? Is that right?” the newscaster, a twenty-something guy, was just a little too perky for Saturday morning this early. Maybe he was drinking real coffee in that mug, I thought.

“Yes, sir, Bryan. More tomorrow most likely.”

“Thanks, Arch. We’ll join you at twenty-five past for the complete weather forecast.”

“See you then, sir,” the impossibly young Air Force meteorologist replied to the stationary remote camera.

“Our winter weather conditions are obviously affecting essential transit, and will continue to do so until main streets to the Central Lines are cleared. Metro road crews are already out plowing the arterials at this hour, and expect to be working through the morning. A reminder, neighborhoods are responsible for clearing or packing side streets for at least single-vehicle passage.”

“In local news overnight, Metro emergency response teams report that two additional deaths have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning due to faulty ventilation…” the broadcaster then repeated for the umpteenth time, the guidelines for indoor heat sources and the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. We probably had a statistic lurking somewhere on how many people had died of CO poisoning since the Domino. It was dozens, certainly I knew. 

I poured my tea, and sweetened it with the fireweed honey that Don Pauliano had traded for…then tuned my head back into the broadcast.

“Metro Interim Administrator Peter Wolfson in a press release today announced that weekly commercial air travel service to Spokane would resume in early November. National Airlines, the recent amalgamation of most major American carriers based in Denver and Salt Lake, has already resumed service in the central U.S., the Southwest, and in the Canadian Territories.”

“And who, Pete, do you expect to have money to go on a commercial plane?” I asked the TV. I knew that this was part of ‘recovery’, but that it was also a double-edged sword. Part of our ‘success’ if it could be called that, was our isolation. More contact was more exposure to the flu or its mutation; more meddling from the Federals. Maybe that’s what I was worrying about. 

“…confirmation that the Metro shipment of biomatter electric generating units were destroyed in an attack on the California-bound transport by unknown forces. All personnel, including rail engineers and Northwest Command soldiers, are reported as killed in action. This shipment was the first shipment to Central California as part of a contract for continuing out-of-season food shipments to the Inland Northwest. No comments have been released by Metro Administration on how this loss affects projected food supplies over the coming months…”

“Not well, as anyone with a brain could figure…” I said to the radio.

“From the Seattle Zone, word that the Navy dredging operation has been completed from Edmonds south to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, where ships stranded by the uplift of the bottom of Puget Sound have been sitting since the Domino. Navy crews and shipyard workers have been returning two mothballed aircraft carriers—the USS Ranger and USS Constellation--to operational status, and preparing more than two dozen other ships to relocate to the Bellingham Naval Yard. Rear Admiral Louis Edwards refused to comment on the potential to restore the Bremerton Yard to operation, but dredge workers who have been working since March on the salvage effort commented that the channel has required almost daily work to maintain a sea lane, and that after the salvage of the stranded vessels is complete, the Navy will likely abandon the channel. Sixteen men were lost last month on a dredge that overturned in rough seas, bringing the death toll of the operation to twenty-nine.”

“Finally, in Walla Walla today, Governor Hall is expected to announce the final phase for repairs to the former Bonneville Power Administration network, including restoration of control operations and electrification of large areas of the Northwest lost in the Domino and in the Third War. Substantial portions of both Washington and Oregon remain without electricity, and exports of power from remaining operational dams have been impossible. This as you know resulted in massive cascading brownouts throughout the American Southwest this past summer. FEMA officials estimate that deaths due to hyperthermia and lack of potable water in the region exceeded twenty-five thousand, but cannot be confirmed…”

“Hey, hon,” Karen said. “Breakfast ready?” she said as she hugged me from behind and kissed my neck.

“Nope, but we have eggs, and eggs. And Spam. And some cheese.”

“You haven’t eaten yet?”

“Nope. Carl woke me up when he left for the Center. Just made tea and got the fire going. Omelet?” I asked as I poured her some tea.

“Sure. I’ll go get dressed. You going to plow today?”

“I’ve been toying with the idea, yes. You reading my mind again?”

“I know you like playing on your tractor.”


“Do you think you’re mended up enough for that?” Karen said as she wrapped her hands around the coffee cup, and I stirred in some honey.

“Yeah, I still get a stitch in my side though. That’s supposed to be ‘normal’ though. So they say.”

“None of that phony Spam for me though. But a scone and some of the plum jam would be good.”

“As you wish. Dress warmly.”

“So I see. How cold?”

“Twenty-six, a little while ago.”


After breakfast, Karen roused our sleepy daughter to remind her of her babysitting shift at the community center, where Carl and John were hopefully cooking up a storm for the orphan population, which hovered around twenty, but sometimes grew to double that depending on in-migration and rates of adoption. Marie and Libby would also go for a four-hour stint, while Karen had this weekend off.

The orphan issue was on my part, utterly unforeseen. Too many variables came into play to predict it, although in hindsight, I should’ve at least thought of it once.  A more-or-less complete collapse of the health care system we’d become accustomed to, or perhaps more correctly, a reversion to a third-world standard of available medical care; the devastating effect of the Guangdong Flu; exposure to weather; substance abuse.  We survivors found ourselves serving as ‘Uncles’ and ‘Aunties’ and ‘cousins’ to children that ranged from days old to teenagers. We tried to work at least a few hours a week at our local center, and found that the continuity of familiar faces helped the kids adjust. Many children had already been adopted, and we thought that by this time, we were on the down slope of the problem. There were fewer kids being brought in or being dropped off. I hoped that this was a good sign. 

The downside was the percentage of children with serious medical conditions, mental or emotional issues that proved in many cases, impossible for lay people to deal with.  It was certainly more than I could deal with for any extended period. I was finding myself more fragile than I thought I used to be. Perhaps my age was catching up with me. Perhaps, I’d just seen too much.

“Babe, are you going to drive us over later?” Karen asked.

“Was planning on it. But five of us aren’t going to fit in the pickup.”

“How about Alan’s truck?”

“How ‘bout you ask him. I know he’s OK on diesel for now, hasn’t used his allotment by a long-shot.”

“That way you can plow and not have to shuttle us around.”

“That’s OK, I’d like to go over later.”

“We’re leaving at quarter to ten if you’re ready.”

“I’ll do my best,” I said as I gave her a kiss and buttoned up my coat.

Outside, the little tractor was parked on the far side of the garage in another carport, built of one-inch diameter PVC pipe in a half arch, with a heavy brown military tarp for covering. I should have built something like this years ago, I decided as I fired up the ancient four banger. I moved slowly, trying and not succeeding to work the beast without any pain in my side. I decided that I needed to get used to it.

With a few minutes of warm-up, I had cleared out the driveway, the path to the barn, root cellar and the paths to Alan and Ron’s places. An hour later, I’d moved north up our street and then made a swipe at all the streets that surrounded our block. I cleaned out the driveways of all of the houses that folks were living in on all four streets, too and turned down breakfast cakes and tea on several occasions. I did have a Pauliano coffee at Joe’s though, where he was out getting his turkeys, pigs and chickens fed.  

“How’s Joan today?”

“Arthritis is bothering her.  You hear anything about medicines coming any time soon?”

“Not much. I’ll see what I can find out for you though.”

“You healing up all right? You look a dang site better than the last time we saw you,” Joe said, his Italian accent more pronounced than usual. They’d visited me the day after I made it home. I was still pretty much horizontal at that point.

“I’m getting better. Didn’t hurt to plow at least. Well, not much anyway.”

“Gettin’ old’s not for sissies.”

“You got that right. Are you getting what you need from Alan and Ron?”

“They’re good boys. They’re doing just fine by us. Some of that arthritis medicine sure would be good though.”

“I’ll check into it. Let you know today.”

“Appreciate it.”

“I better get moving or I’ll be in trouble with the missus,” I said as I handed him the heavy mug. ‘Darn that was good bourbon,’ I thought to myself.

“Thanks, Rick. Your pig’s lookin’ good. Should dress out nice.”

“Thanks, Joe. I’ll be in touch,” I said as I started up the tractor. It wasn’t like Joe to hammer anything home like the arthritis medicine that Joan had had to use to keep pain in check. It must be getting bad.

I drove back home and found Alan’s truck in my driveway. He must have circled around from the north I decided, while I was looping the block on the other end.  I backed the little Ford into it’s garage and shut it down, remembering to use the quick-disconnect on the battery and shut off the fuel.

“Mornin’” I said to Alan, clad today in insulated Carhartt bibs.

“Howdy. Thanks for doing the roads. You up to it?”

“Doin’ OK. Better than sitting on my butt.”

“I see you’re traveling dangerously,” he said, looking at me a little funny.


“Sidearm. Haven’t seen you without one since what, January?”

“Completely forgot it. I must be slipping.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell my sister.”

“Thanks. I’ll…oh, too late,” I said, looking over my brother-in-laws’ shoulder. Karen was holding my ancient .45 in its holster, by her pinky finger. One of our hand-held radios was in the other.

“Forget something?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“I better check you before you go out the door like I did with the kids in grade school.”

“Might not hurt,” I said as Alan chuckled.

“You OK?” Karen asked.

“Yes, for the umpteenth time,” I said with a little irritation. “Everyone waiting on me?”  I noticed that Libby, Marie and Kelly were in the idling truck already, and waved at them.

“Ten more minutes and we would be. Do you want to get cleaned up before we go?”

“Absolutely. Give me a couple minutes,” I said. “Hon, got a sec?” I asked quietly as I headed to the house.

“For you, all day,” she said as we went into the house. “What’s up?”

“Joe. He made it a point, like hammered on it, that Joan needs some arthritis meds. I don’t think she’s able to get around without something like the over-the-counter stuff from the old days. Do we have anything stashed away?”

“Yeah, some anyway. Mom used some during the summer but nothing lately. You clean up and I’ll go check. I know Joan’s hip was getting to be a problem before the War, especially when it was cold.”

“K. Be right back.”

I changed out of the somewhat grubby flannel lined jeans and two layers of work shirts, washed up and pulled on clean jeans and a rag wool sweater that I’d looked forward to wearing again, once I’d lost twenty pounds. I’d done that and then some, now down thirty-five pounds from my pre-War weight. I also managed to fit into a whole lot of jeans and slacks that I’d stored for far too long. I’d noted a few days before I weighed five pounds more than I did when I married Karen. It was good in a way to not be packing the extra pounds around. Tough way to do it though….

“Find something that will work?” I asked Karen, seeing that she had three boxes of something.

“Naproxen, two boxes. Two boxes of celecoxib.”

“Cool. That’s the stuff I used when my hip was bugging me, right?”

“The naproxen. I didn’t know you had six boxes of each downstairs though.”

“It was on sale.”

“Sure it was,” she said, knowing all too well that my ‘it was on sale’ statement was really, ‘I’m buying it just in case.’

“I hope that’ll help Joan. You ready?”

“Yep. Let me get my book bag though. I have some pop-up books for the nursery.”

“K. Dogs inside?”

“Yeah, I don’t think they’re all that thrilled with the idea of being out most of the day.”

“K,” I said, making sure both were inside, and that hey had enough water. “I need to call downtown before we go.”

“You better, or the weekend shift will come looking for you,” Karen said.

A few minutes later, I was at Joe’s door, and received many thanks in return.

“I’ll see if I can find more. We have more at the house, but that won’t last forever.”

“Thank you Rick. And may God bless you.”

“He has already, Joe. And you, too.”

“He has at that,” he said as I shook his hand.


  1. First, I love your stories - I just finished shattered and had to really search to find this - thank you for posting it online!

    I don't know if this has been pointed out to you, but about a third of the way down you wrote:
    “And who, Pete, do you expect to have money to go on a commercial plane?” I asked the TV.

    Then a paragraph later you wrote:
    “Not well, as anyone with a brain could figure…” I said to the radio.

    It switches from TV to radio - but he didn't turn off the TV or turn on the radio. FWIW.

  2. “Gettin’ old’s not for sissies” I am 59 years old and absolutely making this my motto


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