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It is me, Jessica.
Joanne got sick. Some kind of respiratory infection. Had it been me, I might have been down for a few days and then bounced back. But at Joanne’s age, this is something different.
HAM Guy went on the local nets at the five in the afternoon ‘group’ meeting, asking if anyone had antibiotics. A guy in the city HAM Guy knew came back and said he might be able to arrange a trade with one of the local gangs. Our HAM Guy said he would talk to Jack and get back to the city guy tomorrow at the seven in the morning HAM group meeting.
Jack put out the word to the neighborhood that he would take one of the remaining gang trucks and go to the city to see what he could find or trade for antibiotics. He asked for volunteers. I should not be surprised, but nearly all the men and a few women, including Rae, volunteered. There were so many that Jack decided to take two of the trucks, fill them up from the other trucks’ tanks, and use the rest of the fuel for trade with some other things.
Jack picked combat vets who were most physically capable. If they had to ‘hump’ it back from the city, it would be a three-day ‘hump’ assuming a hard ten miles a day with their packs, water, food, ammo, and weapons. Diary, it is funny to think about that. Dad used to drop me off at school and then drive to the factory in the city another twenty-five minutes down the road. Now by foot, it is a three-day ‘hard hump.’
It has been four days since Jack and his team of nine men left.
HAM Guy reported he heard from the city guy, and they had gotten to the city three days ago.
Joanne has gone from bad to worse. She is coughing a lot. So hard that her face sometimes turns red. She has a fever. The chills. Sometimes, she seems delusional. We are doing everything we can to keep her comfortable, but it does not seem to be working.
Kathy, one of the women Jack and his assault team freed, was a pharmacist before the power went out. Kathy made up some herbal tea that seemed to help some. I am afraid it is not enough. We need Jack and his team to return with the antibiotics and soon.
Dad and I were at the Miller’s, mucking out one of the barns with Billy, Olive, and Daisy, when I asked Billy about homeschooling. He asked why, and I told him Rae wanted to start a school in the neighborhood and had said how important education was. Diary, honestly, it never occurred to me the importance of education till Rae spoke about it. I always thought school was a drag, my friends were more important than some dumb numbers, long dead guys with bad hair and bad poetry or plays, planets and stars millions of miles away, things so small we need a microscope to see, and how to formulate a sentence correctly. Compared to other languages, English is really dumb. Until now, our social media connections seemed more important.
Rae said in her Southern accent,
“Honey, I may have been raised in a single wide, never attended one of them fancy universities, but I am far from ignorant. My grandpappy and momma made sure I studied hard and got good marks, or there’d be a whipping.”
Diary, I am not sure what a ‘whippin’ is, but it does not sound pleasant.
Rae said it was our responsibility to ensure the next generation did not slide back into ignorance. Back in the Dark Ages where only a small elite group was allowed to be educated and used that power over those who were not. Using leeches to try to cure the black plague or other means of bloodletting. Okay, I do recall leeches do have some practical medical uses, I get it. But to become so ignorant, we think the weather is ruled by unseen gods that require sacrifices of vestal virgins thrown into a volcano for rain? Thankfully, we don’t have any volcanoes around here.
Billy told Mrs. Miller what I had said, and she said she would like to meet Rae and maybe even help Rae to establish a school in our neighborhood. Diary, I do not know why, but I offered my help to teach. Mrs. Miller smiled at me and said I was a ‘remarkable’ young lady, whatever that means.
The next day, Mrs. Miller and Billy showed up at our door. I took them to meet Rae. Mrs. Miller and Rae hit it off. They talked at a rapid pace about how to set up a school, what to teach, how to teach it, and more. Being basically ignored, Billy and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. Diary, it was so strange to be walking with a boy, both of us with rifles slung over our shoulders, and suddenly we were holding hands! It just happened! I did not look, but I could almost feel our neighbor’s eyes looking out their windows to see what was going on and smiling. Diary, I am blushing even now!
When Billy and I got back, Mrs. Miller and Rae had a pointed outline for the neighborhood school on several sheets of paper. They would put out word of the need for someone in the neighborhood who had experience in teaching some subjects. The draft outlined curriculum had the usual subjects: reading, writing, math, sciences, and history, but a few I was not expecting, like first aid, gardening, fire starting, and even marksmanship.
I was shocked to find I was on the outline to teach reading and writing, and I was to be Jack’s assistant teaching marksmanship! No worries, Diary. After all, I am a ‘natural.’
Other after-school activities were a few sports, art, horseback riding, and some really out-there ones like chess, card games, and drama. I might join the drama club.
Mrs. Miller and Rae think it will take another few weeks, maybe even months, to get the number of teachers per class size, develop a curriculum, and we can find books!
Diary, I am kinda excited to be able to teach!
They are back.
But not all of them.
And they look like they have been through hell.
But they brought back a number of medical supplies and ‘broad-spectrum antibiotics,’ whatever those are. Kathy gave Joeanne a ‘bolus’ of antibiotics and did the math for the dosage Joeanne would have to take for at least a week. A few hours later, Joeanne’s fever broke, and she seemed more comfortable. Kathy said it was ‘promising,’ but Joeanne was still not out of the ‘woods.’ Time would tell.
Some of the team went home to their families. Jack asked if he and the two remaining guys could get some hot water from us to clean up and a bite to eat, and then they would sit down and tell us all what happened. Here is what he told us
They drove to the bridge with the roadblock on the near end. An ‘open-air market’ had sprung up with people coming to trade things. There, they met the ‘sheriff’ of the market, Andy. Jack said Andy seemed reasonable but also shifty enough that he did not trust him. Jack and his team fully ‘kitted’ out with weapons and tactical gear might have had something to do with it. Andy and his deputies did what they could to keep things from outright lawlessness but at the same time did what they did to keep themselves ‘comfortable.’ Like the roadblock. They seemed to have no problem taking advantage of those to pay to pass. More so if they could not pay, but that stream of ‘revenue’ seemed to have dried up when winter set in with the occasional snow and colder temperatures.
Since then, Andy had introduced a ‘trading’ tax on all those who traded at the ‘market.’ Andy and his ‘deputies’ would patrol the market, even double taxing those they did not like, which was nearly everyone. Jack said there was a tension in the air when Andy and his ‘deputies’ were about.
Jack waited till twilight and drove slowly across the bridge with their lights out. Halfway to the city, they pulled off the road into the woods to make camp for the night. At pre-dawn twilight, they had a cold meal, broke camp, and continued on to the city slowly with lights off. When they reached the city, they hid the trucks in a warehouse on the edge of the city.
To move faster, Jack opted for him and the team to strip down to the bare ‘minimum’ of gear, hiding their other gear and provisions at the far end of the warehouse from the trucks. And, of course, the things to use for trade for medical supplies and antibiotics.
At seven in the morning, Jack and the team went to a location the city HAM guy told Jack to go to and used a handheld radio to communicate with him.
They used predetermined phrases and names for ‘OPSEC.’ Once identities were verified, the team formed up and went to the city HAM guy’s location. It was only a few blocks, but it seemed to take forever.
The streets were littered with vehicles in different states of destruction. Some were burned out. Others appeared to have been in violent collisions with other vehicles. More than a few had a few to dozens of bullet holes in them, the sides or windshields. Jack did not bother to check the fuel tanks. A few vehicles that were not burned out, the gas caps were flipped open. Likely, all the tanks have been drained long ago.
Nearly all the shops, stores, and residences had been subject to some kind of destruction. Windows busted out. Signs of looting. One building suffered a massive fire. One building’s entire front, from the ground to the top floor, collapsed. Trash littered the streets like leaves in the fall.
There were bodies in different stages of decomposition as well. A few wore military-like uniforms, most of which had no name tapes or rank, but one had a language and rank Jack did not recognize. That is when they came up to what looked like a tracked military vehicle on its side. The entire front end had been blown off.
The city HAM guy’s place was a small apartment building where the entrance and the two floors above should have looked like they were hit with artillery fire. Same with one of the upper corners of the building. The concrete face was pockmarked with bullet strikes. Jack questioned if the building would come down at any time.
They went to the back loading dock to a massive steel door. Jack knocked a series of knocks in a particular order and waited. After a few minutes, he tried again. This time, the door opened.
A short, thin, balding man with thick glasses and a hoodie greeted them with a nervous smile. Once in, he closed the door, and a small cube-like LED lantern illuminated what looked like the utility section of the apartment building. He then secured the door with a heavy steel crossbar and two rebar rods into holes that had been drilled into the floor. He picked up the lantern and led them through the utility section to a set of dark stairs. As they went, he explained the apartment building was abandoned except for him. During the first three days, most people went about as normal as they could with the power out. When food in refrigerators had gone bad, toilets began to back up, no water, things started to go bad. Food riots at the grocery stores. Armed robberies for food and bottled water. By the second week, some were taking the risk to venture out for food and water. By the third week, between the shootings and the lack of fresh water people were beginning to die in numbers.
Jack noted the mute stench, like a port-o-potty that needed emptying, as they made their way toward the top floor. The city guy mentioned the smell was the worst on the lowest two floors. Not so much to notice on the top floor.
About the fourth week, some military groups came in with heavy weapons, and things got even worse as they slugged it out with total disregard for the local populace. Jack asked if he knew who they were. He just shook his head. He was not about to go out and ask with bullets flying and things exploding. The HAM nets were of no use. They were an absolute mess, with some claiming it was the UN. Others, the Chinese, the Russians, the North Koreans. More than a few said it was a civil war. No one really knew.
Once in his apartment on the top floor, the city HAM guy said he knew our HAM Guy for years, part of the same local HAM club. For his ‘services,’ Jack gave him two pounds of dried beef jerky, a pound of coffee, and a bag of Halloween treats our HAM guy promised. After that, the city HAM guy relaxed a bit. He said things had settled down quite a bit once winter set in. Those who remained more concentrated on staying home and warm as much as they could. He would use his radio to contact the gang to arrange the meeting during the HAM noon group meeting.
The city HAM guy had a setup like our HAM Guy: different radios, different antennas on the roof, a solar array, and several deep-cycle batteries. He had a rain catchment system on the roof that drained directly into water buckets in his apartment, where he would then filter the water.
City ‘HAM’ guy came up on the local nets at the noon group meeting, arranged the meeting with the gang, and radioed our ‘HAM’ guy of Jack and the team’s arrival to the city and that all was well.
Jack and the team went immediately to the meeting place, a city park a few blocks away.
As they made their way in ‘formation,’ they saw a few people looking out from unbroken windows on the upper floors of a few buildings that were not as damaged, one man ranting and raving while he staggard down the street with a baseball bat, and a woman and child. The people in the windows just watched the team go. The man ignored them and continued on talking to no one about how he tried to warn them about 5G, plastics in the water, Army lab-grown attack dogs of unusual size, and planet X. The woman and child, seeing Jack and his team, ran.
Jack and two others would go to the actual meeting with the supplies for trade. The rest would position themselves around the meeting area in ‘tactical’ positions for what Jack stated was ‘maximum gross application of violence,’ whatever that means. If things looked like they were going bad, Jack and the other two would drop to the ground, and the others were to ‘light them up.’
The gang arrived later, seven of them in a mix of leather coats, light winter jackets or football team jackets, boots and high tops, tactical gear, and weapons. Their leader laughed at Jack and noted he and his two men were ‘outnumbered.’ Jack shrugged and said,
“Maybe. But you are surrounded,” and a red laser dot suddenly appeared on the leader’s chest.
The leader looked down, saw the laser red dot on his chest, chuckled and said, “Right. We are here to trade.”
They spent the next half hour haggling back and forth. What the gang leader did not know is Jack was trading for everything for the most he could get. Jack did not want to have to haul anything he brought back. So, for fuel, jerky, candy, and coffee, they got a good amount of medical supplies and antibiotics.
When the deals were done, the gang leader gave Jack a long look and then stated they were not from around the city. Jack said nothing, but the gang leader asked Jack how things were outside the city.
Jack was mostly honest with him. Lack of medical supplies and antibiotics. No electricity or running water. No heat except what they could burn. He told him about the gang attacking remote homes and farms. The captivity and abuse of women. To Jack’s surprise, the leader said, “Slavers,” in disgust and spat on the ground. They did not allow that kind of thing.
After a long moment, Jack offered his hand to the gang leader and said, “Perhaps we could deal more in the future.”
“Perhaps,” the gang leader responded taking Jack’s hand and shaking once. He gave Jack a smile and chuckled, and he and his gang turned and walked away.
Jack wanted to get back on the road and as far from the city before nightfall when things went ‘sideways.’
They picked up their other gear and provisions from the other site when they went to get the trucks and got ambushed. In the first few seconds, two of the team went down. The rest took cover. Despite the close range and element of surprise, their attackers seemed more of the ‘spray and pray’ method tactics than effective fire. Jack and the rest of the team returned fire with effect, taking out at least three attackers, and the others hid behind the trucks. Unfortunately for them, unless they were crouched down behind the engine blocks or tires, one of Jack’s men had a rifle of a heavier caliber and enough punch to go through the doors, wounding two others. Knowing they had limited ammunition, Jack took out an HME, lit it, called for covering fire, and tossed it under one of the trucks. It exploded and also set off the fuel tank in a massive fireball. The two explosions ended the ambush.
Once the dust and debris had settled, Jack and the rest of the team, at the ‘ready,’ circled around the wreck and the other truck. There was no one or nothing to salvage behind the truck that exploded. The other truck had damage to its front end and was on fire. They found two bodies several feet from the front end of the truck. Jack could not tell if they were male or female, they were so badly twisted and mangled from the explosions. They were able to take four magazines off of them and two rifles. Jack was called over to the rear of the truck. There a young girl was sprawled out on the floor. The right side of her body was badly burned and smoldering. Her breathing was labored. She was crying out of her remaining eye. Jack could tell she was pretty a few minutes ago. After a moment of them looking at each other, he knelt down next to her and said, “I can only end the pain.”
She seemed to understand and made a weak nod of her head and sobbed. He stood up, unholstered his pistol.
“I am sorry.”
Aimed and squeezed the trigger.
Jack and the remaining team regrouped, took inventory of their supplies, loaded full magazines, and took a moment of silence for those who had died. All of them.
None of them liked the idea of leaving their comrades in arms behind, but it could not be helped.
Then they set out to ‘hump’ it back home.
At the bridge Andy demanded half of what Jack had returned with, despite Jack pre-trading fuel for passage back before they left for the city.
What Andy did not know was Jack left two of his team, a ‘rear guard,’ hidden in the woods outside the market for ‘insurance.’ Jack told the ‘rear guard’ to come up on their handheld radios at the same times of day as the HAM guys’ group meetings and listen for their pre-designated code word transmissions for when they were at the bridge and ready to come back. The ‘Rear guard’ was to set themselves up for an ambush, if needed when the team came across the bridge to the roadblock.
Andy was the only one with any combat experience. The other ‘deputies’ were men who stood around, looking big and bad in their tactical gear. Jack’s ‘rear guard’ took out half of the ‘deputies’ in the first seconds of the firefight. Jack and the others attacked from the front.
Andy and two other ‘deputies’ survived. Arms and legs bounded, Jack tossed them off the bridge to the river rapids 300 feet below.
The people at the market cheered as they watched on.
Diary, I am not sure how I feel about that.
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1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.
He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.