“Everyone inside! Now!” My voice was hoarse but the volume and tone made up for it.
“Wh-” Jess started to say, but I cut her off, turning and pushing her towards the door.
“Now!” I yelled again.
Her transformation was instant. Her mother instincts kicked in; spurred by the concern in my voice. She turned and moved for the right patio door she had emerged from just seconds earlier, grabbing every child between her and the door and herding them through it regardless who they belonged to. Reaching out to grab Matthew’s arm from the side, she dragged him with her as she moved. He stumbled but caught his footing and helped usher his sister and the other kids indoors.
“We need to get inside, man,” I said to Michael. “We don’t know what those things are going to do and we don’t need to be out here. There’s nothing we can do from out here except be blinded. Come on.” I moved towards the door, pausing momentarily to pull the plug from the laptop, and bring it inside with me.
“Yeah, all right.” He looked around for his children, only following me inside after he spotted them milling around in the living room through the bay window.”
The living room of the six-bedroom beach house was fairly large as was the dining area. Like many others on the south end of the Outer Banks it had been specifically built to be a tourist rental; the idea being that many families would come together to rent it for a week at a time. Many of the standard items you would find in every home were either larger or more abundant. Three six foot couches were arranged around the living room with space still for two recliners, two coffee tables, and a gas fireplace that was disabled, presumably by the owners, for the summer months.
When the door shut behind Michael, the sheer volume of the three children and their unhappiness at being forced indoors were a cacophony compared to the pure silence that pervaded only minutes before.
“That’s enough! Hush up and sit down!” Jess said over the din of noise.
Their words were cut off midway by the look of seriousness on her face. She had this look sometimes; something in her eyes. Nothing else about her face seemed to change, but when she got that particular look you knew it was best to stop arguing and do as she said. It was somewhere between a don’t-make-me-come-over-there expression and a feral cat daring you to make a move. Just like it did with me, it worked on the kids. They looked about for a spot to sit; Ashley settling for a corner of the coffee table and the other two dropping into couches.
I got as far as the dining area on the west side of the large open room before my feet slowed and I stopped. Standing there in the middle of the room I wasn’t sure where to go next. I ran my hands through the scruff on my face, up the sides of my head, and interlaced my fingers over the top of my head, my shoulders dropping as the weight of my arms was held by my interlocked fingers. I breathed a loud sigh, puffing my cheeks and letting it out slowly as I worked to assemble my thoughts.
“Ok kids. We’ll make sense of this, but right now we can’t have you all running around all over the place. Just hang tight up here in the living room and we’ll figure this out together,” I said eventually.
“Can they go outside?” Jess asked, looking at me.
“No. Not right now,” Michael said. “They don’t need to be outdoors with those things in the sky. Matt,” he called to his son, “Go over there by the window.” He gestured to a chair farthest from the opening of the window, but still close enough to see out of it if you leaned just right. “Keep an eye on the sky every few minutes and let me know when you see those lines in the sky on that side of the house. Then let me know where they go. They’ll either continue west or they’ll move off in different directions at some point.”
“Ok Dad.” Matt walked across the dining room to the chair, and pulled up a seat, peeling back the blinds a bit to glance up at the sky, searching for the trails of the rockets.
Left to his own devices, Mason had picked his Kindle Fire back up and was touching the screen, lost once again in his own imagination and content to amuse himself with one of his games, Minecraft most likely.
“Mason,” I said. “Bring me your tablet for a minute.”
“Huh?” he said. “I’m just playing Minecraft.”
I smiled at him. “Relax son. I know. You haven’t done anything wrong. I just want to see something.”
Relieved at being acquitted from charges of teenage disobedience, he got up and brought over to me as I walked toward the dining room table and took a seat opposite Matt.
“Thanks son,” I said as I took it from him. “Go relax on the couch a minute. I’ll give it back to you in just a minute.”
“Honey?” Jess said questioningly. “What are you doing?” Her tone implied the unsaid portion of that sentence. It was something along the lines of there being rockets in the sky, an explosion to the north of us, and me taking time to check my Facebook messages.
“Just looking, hon. Where’s your phone? Bring it to me please.” My head was still down, looking at the screen on my son’s tablet. I checked the wi-fi settings and noticed a ton of remembered connections from previous locations he’d logged on from. One by one I cleared them out and pressed the scan for networks button. I noted the charge left on it at twenty three percent.
Jess put her phone down beside me on the table. I hadn’t seen her approach, so tied up was I in what I was doing.
“Where was it?” I asked her.
“Over on the railing beside the couch. Why? What are you doing?” The tone of irritation was replaced by one more serious. At least she didn’t think I was trying to play on Facebook, I thought to myself.
Satisfied at what I was seeing I took the time to power down the Kindle completely, placed it on the table and picked up Jess’ phone. She carried a Motorola Razr as her work and personal phone. It was the first smartphone I’d ever talked her into getting. I held the transparent rubber case in my hands, unlocked the screen, and performed the same task on her phone, with similar results. Her battery was at ninety-one percent charge. Not expecting any luck, I dialed my name from her phonebook and pressed the phone icon to initiate the call. I was immediately greeted with the “Call Ended” notification on screen. “Damn,” I said, but it was exactly what I had figured.
I looked for my phone, a Samsung Note 3 I carried everywhere with me. I remembered putting it on the window sill earlier; that being the only spot with a clear line of sight to the sky that was close to a wall receptacle. My eleven year old had cracked the house’s wi-fi password five minutes after we arrived, but the connection was too poor for me to stream music on so I’d plugged in my phone, enabled the 4G hotspot, and had been using my phone to connect my laptop outside to the internet. I asked Matt to pass it to me and caught it as he unplugged it from the wall charger and slid it across the table to me.
The screen didn’t wake up when I tapped the home button. It didn’t respond to the power button either. I didn’t bother checking the battery. I knew the battery was good. My phone is a battery hog anyway and using it as a hotspot drained it even more. The battery was near one-hundred percent though. I knew that because it had been on the charger in the truck for the entire six hour ride here and had been plugged in earlier to use the hotspot feature. The battery was fine. It was the rest of the phone that was dead.
My thoughts were interrupted by Michael’s frustrated voice as he closed the patio door and walked toward the dining room. I didn’t even notice he’d gone outside.
“I can’t reach Wendy. I can’t reach my guys. I can’t reach anyone. I don’t even get a message. No dial tone, no ringing. It just keeps saying call ended. Is your phone working?” He held his own phone in his right hand at his side. He carried a Note 3 identical to mine.
“Give me your phone,” I said to him, my hand extended.
As he came closer, I removed my Otterbox Defender case from my phone, pried the battery compartment off, and removed my battery. Performing the same procedure with his phone I swapped batteries, turned it over in my hand and pressed the power button. The blue light on top lit up and the phone started its boot cycle.
“Ok. That pretty much nails it,” I said to no one in particular.
“Enough!” Michael thundered, smacking the table in front of him, bringing the noise to an abrupt halt.
We all sat gathered at the large dining room table. Matt was still by his chair at the window, but had turned around to face the rest of us. He’d reported a few minutes earlier that the contrails were headed off as far to the west as he could see. At last sighting they were still headed in straight lines. Wherever they were headed was beyond our visible horizon. That was a small solace at least. The last few minutes had been full of restless chatter, the grumbling of the kids wanting to know what was going on and the adults likewise talking incessantly about the people they needed to call, things they needed to check on, wondering when the AC would come back on, wondering if the food would go bad, and other general chaotic thoughts that hit us when the power goes out. Michael’s soldier-voice had had the desired effect. We all hushed immediately.
“The electronics seal the deal,” I said after a moment’s silence, taking a drink from the ice-cold Coke I’d just rescued from freezing to death in the cooler.
I slid a notepad and pen I’d scrounged from the side of the refrigerator towards Jess. “If we come up with anything major, would you please make a note of it?” I asked her.
She took the pen and paper as it slid toward her, spinning it around and lying the pen on the table in front of her, saying nothing, her expression serious.
“Clarify,” said Michael turning his head towards me.
I cleared my throat and began slowly, conscious of how I tend to talk fast when my brain is running a hundred miles per hour. Its a conscious effort for me to slow down and talk without stuttering and without talking too fast. If I don’t make myself slow down I just have to repeat the entire thing over again, and again without stuttering through it. I do it almost automatically now, switching from conversational speaking to the tone I have to use when teaching classes or explain something when I get super-excited. I can’t shut my brain off, or make it focus on one thing at a time but I’ve learned that if I picture the sentence I’m about to say in my mind then it helps me slow down and makes me easier to understand.
“Your phone works,” I said, pointing to Michael. “Well the phone can’t call anyone, but the device still works at least. The electronics inside it are fine. So does Jess’ phone and so does Mason’s tablet.” I pointed over to Ashley. “Her tablet is fried. My laptop is fried and my phone is fried.”
“What does that mean?” Jess asked.
“It means that was a nuclear detonation we saw earlier.”
“No way!” Mason yelled, trying to jump out of his chair and run towards the door as if he could see it again simply by going outside.
“SIT DOWN!”Jess yelled, grabbing his arm and pulling him back into his seat. Mason was an incredibly bright child, but he had an incredibly short attention span. The moment the idea of seeing something you only saw in movies and on computer games popped into his head, any other thoughts were pushed out of his mind.
“Ow,” he complained. “I just wanted to see if.” The look his mother gave him silenced the rest of that sentence. The other kids sat up in their chairs. Apparently that look works on everyone, I thought to myself. It’s not just me. Hmm.
Dropping her hand, but not her gaze from Mason, she asked “How do you know that was a nuclear bomb? How could you possibly know that?”
“Because it’s the only thing that explains the electronics dying,” Michael said quietly, thinking to himself. “But it didn’t kill everything. A nuclear blast would have killed all the electronics if we were close enough, and if we were close enough to see it we’d have other things to deal with. Fallout and…” he gestured as if that would help call to mind the words he was looking for.
“Not necessarily,” I said, raising my hands. “I’ll explain.”
I started to stand up as I reached for a cigarette in my shirt pocket. I was about to go outside and talk from the door; a habit I’ve picked up because I don’t smoke in the house. I think better with a smoke. “Ha, I said laughing softly. Screw it.” I lit the cigarette and sat back down. It’s not like the owners of the rental house are likely to be able to say anything about it, I thought. I dropped the pack on the table and absentmindedly moved it about with my hands as I spoke, shifting it from one side to the other.
“That had to be a HEMP.” I spelled out the letters H-E-M-P, so as not to be confused with hemp. Jess’s brow raised and she started to say something.
“High-altitude Electromagnetic Pulse,” I explained. “Its basically a nuke detonated in the air. I have no idea how high it was in the atmosphere but it wasn’t as high as I’d have expected it to be if that was the only intended result.” I warmed to my topic, my words taking on a lecturer’s tone. “I did a lot of research on EMP when we started putting the Group together. The only thing we can’t realistically prepare for is a nuclear explosion. Remember? We talked about that.”
Jess nodded and I continued.
“Well the truth of it is, most of what we think we know about nuclear theory comes from Hollywood. Even the government is mostly misguided in their knowledge of what an EMP could do. There was a panel put together about three years ago, an international group of nuclear scientists that were tasked to write a paper to Congress, putting it in laymen’s terms. I got my hands on it, quite by accident actually, and did my own research.” I looked at Jess and said sarcastically, “I emailed the link to everyone in the Group but I’m guessing you ignored that one, right?” She didn’t even have the decency to blush. She just gestured with her hands in a rolling motion. That was sign language for “get on with it, Logan.”
“How much do you know about nuclear emp, Michael? I figure being in Special Forces, you’ve got to have a working knowledge of it I’d think.”
“Not much aside from the general information about what we have that’s hardened against it, which isn’t much,” he said.
“Ok, then I’ll back up a little bit. This is important and if I’m right, its going to define how we do things from here on out.”
Michael nodded and leaned back in his chair.
“There are two ways to drop a nuclear weapon on an enemy and cause damage. Either you want to blow up a lot of people and disperse radiation everywhere, in which case the EMP effect is just an added bonus, or you want to disrupt the electronics of a massive area, in which case the conventional explosion is just the added bonus. I guess technically there’s a third way to do it, and this might be what we just saw. You could detonate a nuclear device relatively low in the earth’s atmosphere; close enough the conventional explosion and radiation would do some damage, yet high enough the EMP would radiate outward significantly farther than with a ground detonation. That’s called HEMP.
I’m guessing, and mind you only guessing, that this was a mid-air explosion. If it had been on the ground we’d have seen a massive mushroom cloud. Since we didn’t, I’m assuming it was somewhat higher, though not stratospheric, which doesn’t make sense to me.”
“Why does that matter?” Jess asked.
“A guy by the name of William R Forstchen wrote a book a few years ago about a stratospheric nuclear explosion detonated over the North American Continent. It caused a lot of conversation in Washington, and caused a lot of the prepper community to rush out and start building faraday cages and buying 1960’s pickup trucks. As far as I know it’s the only novel in that genre Congress ever took seriously. The point is that if someone detonated a nuclear device over the USA, somewhere about Kansas, the resulting EMP would wipe out the entire continent.”
“How?” Ashley asked from across the table. “How could one bomb do that?”
“Because EMP is line of sight. You know you can only see a couple miles if you look off the porch balcony over the ocean here, right? I gestured to the deck and the ocean visible beyond it.
“Yeah. Ok,” she nodded. “That’s the horizon.
“Right,” I said. “Could you see farther if you were standing on top of the empire state building?”
“Yeah, you can, “Matt said. “Dad took us there one time. You can see like forever from up there.”
“Bingo,” I said. “That’s because the horizon is farther off the higher you go. Ok, so EMP is basically line of sight. It doesn’t affect the part of space above the earth’s atmosphere because it requires the atmosphere to make it work, but it shoots outward in every direction, three-hundred-and-degrees.” I gestured an exploding ball with my hands, spreading them apart bigger and bigger. If you detonated a nuclear device on the ground, the EMP would only travel a couple miles because that’s the horizon line. If you detonated one a hundred feet up, the EMP part would go a little farther. If you detonated one let’s say six miles up in the air, it would cover the whole continent. Basically that’s high enough that the signal could hit every major piece of equipment on the ground from that elevation. Make sense?”
Heads nodded around the table.
“If you can see it, then it can see you then.” Mason said. “Is that right?”
“Pretty much little man. That’s basically it. Just remember, our eyes can’t see forever in a straight line. There’s things that get in the way, and our vision just isn’t that good. So you’re on the right path, but just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it can’t reach you. It travels incredibly fast and travels as far across the earth as possible before the curvature of the earth makes it simply hit empty air and eventually go off harmlessly into space.
So now we’ve got the premise. Let me explain the part that Hollywood screws up. This is important. There are three components to an EMP blast. Scientists have called them E1, E2, and E3. The E1 part is the worst one. It happens in less than a thousandth of a second and moves at almost the speed of light. It’s basically pure gamma radiation.”
“Like the Hulk!” Mason said. “We’re not all gonna turn into the hulk right? Cause that might be kind of cool!”
I glanced at Michael, not able to help the grin that spread across my face. “You did one thing right,” I said.
Michael was shaking his head too. “What’s that?”
“Your son just made an eighties David Banner reference. That’s a plus in his book,” Jess said, not able to suppress her grin either.
“Thanks Matt. I needed a smile,” I said. “To answer your question, no. Gamma radiation has no effect on the human body. It passes right through you and you never even know it. In fact, I guess it just did a few minutes ago. What does matter though is that this is the part of the EMP that causes the most damage. It happens in a microsecond and it switches current so fast that no lightning protector on the market can protect against it. Surge protectors, lightning arrestors, none of those have any chance of stopping it, at least not commercially available stuff. I’ll leave out all the details for a minute. Let me explain the other parts. The E2 component happens right after the E1 part. It can be anywhere from one hundredth of a second to two seconds after the first pulse. This is basically the same effect that lightning has on things. When it strikes too close, things get fried. As far as electronics go, most things can be protected fairly easily from E2 except for the fact that it’s only a hundredth of a second behind the E1 pulse, meaning the first pulse already did massive damage to most internal circuits, so the E2 can be a lot worse than it would on its own. So, E1 really bad. E2 kinda bad. We on the same page so far?”
Nods around the table encouraged me to continue.
“The E3 component is another bad one. It can last anywhere from ten seconds to a few minutes. Just like the bomb part of the EMP throws building and dirt around, the E3 part of an EMP can basically hurl the earth’s magnetic field around like a football for a couple seconds. It literally hurls the magnetic field out of the way, comes on through, and then the magnetic field is restored naturally within a few minutes. You don’t feel or see anything, but it’s there. It’s pretty much the same effect as a massive solar storm, though a lot faster and a lot more powerful. This is the part that finishes off any power lines and power transformers.”
“Ok, you’ve basically said the same thing we already knew, except for the three components part. I’d never heard that,” said Michael.
“So, here’s the interesting part,’ I said.
“There’s a lot of science in it I don’t understand but there is an important thing to know. Absolutely anything tied to the electrical grid is probably fried. The voltage coming through those lines could have exceeded fifty-thousand volts in a microsecond. Any resistors would be overcharged and any capacitors would simply blow.” I made a sizzling sound as I gestured.
“However, anything not tied to the grid has a really good chance of being ok, depending on how big it is, how much of it is solid-state technology, and how much actual conductive wire is in it. Does your watch still work?” I asked Michael, pointing to the Casio he wore on his right wrist.
He glanced down at his watch and nodded. “Yeah. It seems fine.” He tapped it with his fingernail as if to be sure it wasn’t going to break right that second.
“Exactly,” I said. “It’s basically too small to be affected by the E1 phase. You weren’t close enough for the E2 phase and the E3 phase doesn’t affect it either because it’s not on the grid.”
Jess half-raised her hand and then asked a question. “Then why does my phone work and yours doesn’t? Shouldn’t they both work or neither of them work?”
“Mine was plugged into a wall charger,” I said resignedly. If it’s plugged in, you can assume it’s going to be worthless. The same thing happened to my laptop. It’s toast. Chances are the internal drives might be fine, but the sensitive electronics inside it were exposed to the grid because I had it plugged in to charge. So far, the only things we’ve lost were the things that were plugged into the wall chargers.”
“What about the vehicles?” Jess asked.
“That I don’t know. We need to go find out,” I said. “The basic premise of the E1 and E3 parts of the blast affect devices based on a lot of factors, like I mentioned before. Cars have a lot of wiring in them, but they’re also fairly shielded. Newer cars have a lot more plastic and a lot less metal on the outside, which means they have less shielding. I’d say anyone driving a 2015 model is probably dead in the water right now. They’re too computerized. Anything slightly older though has some chance of being protected. It’ll have more wiring, which isn’t good, but it’ll have less circuitry, which would be good. It’s going to be a coin toss according to my research. The truth is, no one has conducted a live HEMP test since 1962. We did one and Russia did two. All of our knowledge comes from the underground testing that’s been done since then and all my research agreed on the fact that the newer military grade nuclear weapons were all classified anyway, so the yields and the papers written by the top scientists on the matter had to leave that research out for national security purposes.”
“So what do we do now? Ashlee asked. “Are we stuck here? Do we go home? What’s going to happen?”
“One thing at a time, Ash,” her father replied. “Logan, go check on the trucks?”
“Roger that,” I agreed, standing up from the table. “Kids, stay upstairs and stay indoors. I want you all to help Jess.”
“Jess, anything in the refrigerator that’s critical, throw it back in the coolers. Condiments and accessories go in last, if at all. We’ve got to preserve what we can. Take it all out of the fridge and put it on the counter first. Only open the cooler when you have to. Ok?”
I could tell I was about to get hit with something, so I quickly said “I’m just trying to be sure we’re all on the same page, hon. No offense intended. I promise. It’s just that the ice is all we have and it’s critical right now. That reminds me. Kids!” I yelled loud enough they could all hear me. “No one goes into the coolers without an adult’s OK, all right? We’ll explain later.”
The kids nodded their assent and rose to help Jess. They weren’t happy about it but they weren’t overtly grumbling either. I decided to get moving before that changed.
1610 hrs EST
Michael was sighing with relief as he stood outside the door of his Toyota Tacoma. I had been upstairs a couple seconds longer talking to Jess and the kids so I didn’t hear the engine start when he cranked it, but I could see it was running now. I didn’t realize until that moment how worried I had been about that. At the sight of his idling engine a small part of me relaxed a little and I felt like I could breathe. At least we had one running vehicle. That was a start.
“Cross your fingers,” I said as I walked over towards my GMC Sierra Z71. It was a pickup I bought from a Pakistani fellow in Monroe last year. I saw it Thursday, went back on Friday, and drove it off the lot. It had been good to me ever since. It hadn’t let me down one time. Great move smart ass, I thought to myself. Nothing is as likely to encourage Murhpy to make an appearance as a comment like that!
“I can’t believe she’s running,” Michael said.
“Well, I said, we’re under the house, shielded by that huge monstrosity beside us,” I gestured to the enormous home to my right, “and apparently we’re lucky.”
The house beside ours truly was a rental house of monstrous proportions. It had to be designed for a group of thirty or more. It possessed three floors, wrap around balconies on all of them, and what I could see of it from our rental house showed what looked like an entire floor of nothing but bedrooms. It dwarfed our six-bedroom three story rental house on every dimension, and blocked a large portion of the view to the north. Maybe that and a little luck will be enough I said as I reached for the driver’s side door handle. It was unlocked and the windows were down because I hadn’t had a chance to move it from under the house where I’d parked it to unload earlier. The Tacoma had been pulled all the way under the house but my CB antenna prevented me from getting mine that far back under the house so the front end was sticking out, but it was still well blocked from the north.
I held my breath as I reached over the steering wheel and pushed the key all the way into the ignition. I make it a habit to pull it out enough to make that annoying dinger go off when I get out of the seat, so I only had to press it in a quarter inch. My heart stopped when I heard the ding ding ding sound. Apparently I’d forgotten to breathe too because a moment later I let out a great whoosh of breath. “Thank God,” I said out loud. “Now, please be good to me one more time, Lord.”
The sound of that 5.3 liter V8 had never sounded so good. She cranked in a half second, just like always, the deep throaty rumble from the exhaust the only sound to be heard. The engine itself was its normal silent purr.
“HOT DAMN!” I yelled as I shut the door and slammed my hand on the diamond plate aluminum workbox on the back. “WOOHOO! Thank you GOD!” I yelled to the heavens.
Michael laughed. As I turned around to look at him he was grinning from his inside his open truck door a few feet away. “I thought I was the only one.”
“Dude, I… you have no idea…” I stammered. “Thank god it runs.”
He looked over at my wife’s 2010 Jeep Wrangler, parked at the end of the lot. “Think we’ll be three for three?” he asked.
“I have no way to guess, man. Not gonna know until we try it.”
I let my engine idle a minute and walked over to Jess’ Jeep. Crawling inside I had to search for the keys. She always left them in the strangest places and never the same place twice. She might even have them with her upstairs in the house. I checked the ignition. Nope. Cup holder. Nope. Center console. “Ah ha!” I said. Wresting the key fob from a tangled mess of sunscreen, chap stick, random coins, and what appeared to be a single stick of spearmint gum still in its wrapper, I inserted it in the ignition switch, pressed the clutch, and crossed my fingers, that that was purely metaphorical, and turned the key as I murmured to the steering wheel “come on baby. Give me some love.”
I saw Michael raise up from his truck bed where he’d been leaning and head my way.
“Come on, girl,” I said again and turned the key.
I turned the key to the accessory position and tried the stereo, interior lights, and vents. No sign of life anywhere.
“She’s toast,” I said as he approached the driver’s door.
“That sucks man. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not that bad, really,” I replied. “We’ve got two running vehicles. That’s more than some folks can say.”
“Yup. Hey, speaking of that,” his face took on a thoughtful expression for a moment before he continued. “We should probably secure these vehicles asap now that you mention it. There’s a really good chance they’d be a valuable commodity right about now.”
“Oh. Shit!” I said excitedly. “I hadn’t thought about that yet, but you’re right.”
Regretfully, I started to pull the key from the ignition, and then stopped myself. Why bother? No one is stealing this one. I put it back in gear, left the key swaying from the ignition switch and closed the door; headed for my GMC to shut it down and lock it up.
I went over my options in my head. We didn’t really need three trucks anyway. Michael and his family would presumably be heading back to their home near Fort Bragg. Jess and Mason and I would be heading back to Albemarle and we didn’t need the problems of two vehicles. I wondered how much fuel was in the Jeep.
For the last few years I have been gently reminding her about fuel usage and traveling. I never let my truck get below half a tank, no matter where I was going or how close I was to home. I hoped she’d adopted the same practice. She takes being prepared pretty serious in some regards but in other things I think she just figures it’s not that critical. Hopefully she filled up once she was on the beach somewhere. I had filled up in Manteo at the Exxon near McDonalds, topping it off as high as possible. It was a habit I had forced myself to get into. I always fill the tank until it physically won’t hold anymore. I’ve got a twenty-five gallon tank according to the GMC manual, but I know from experience it actually holds about twenty-six and a quarter gallons before running out all over the ground. With my mileage and the air conditioner off that gives me another twenty miles or so before I’m running on fumes. A lot can happen in twenty miles.
“Hey, Mike!” I yelled from across the lot.
He pulled his head out of the cab of his truck where he had been leaned over inside. “Yeah. Sup?”
“What’s your gas situation look like? How you sitting on fuel?”
“Uh, lemme check.” He leaned back inside for a moment and stood backup, placing his left hand on the top of the truck and the other on his hip, a concerned look on his face. “I’m sitting on about half a tank right now.”
I looked under the house for something to use as a siphon. Ahead of us was a ten foot garden hose mounted to the pilings under the house. It was coiled on an old rust-covered hook next to a fish-cleaning station. That’ll do, pig, I thought to myself.
“Find a bucket, something semi-clean that we don’t need for drinking and that’s not clear plastic,” I said to him as I walked over to the garden hose and unscrewed it from the pipe fitting. Walking back to my truck I reached inside and rolled up the windows, locked the doors, and turned off the ignition. Pocketing the keys I shut the door and walked back to open the tool box on the back in the front of the bed. I kept a toolbag with all the common tools I needed as a network installer there. It was just small enough not to be a huge burden, but packed full of all the major stuff I’d need on a regular job without me having to dig through toolboxes. I grabbed my fiber shears from the black belt-pouch I kept hung on the side of it and cut the garden hose from ten feet to about six, then cut off the threaded end, leaving a hose of decent length.
When I put the tools away and turned back to Michael he was heading my way with a one gallon-ish toy bucket. Of course. Those things were all over the beach. Every store here on the beach sold them by the hundreds. After all, every kid liked building sand castles on the beach and we all know mom and dad aren’t going to think to purchase one for a dollar before leaving home, so they’ll spend five dollars on one here instead.
“Cute,” I said. “Ready to make a sand castle Mikey?”
“Bite me,” he said, grinning.
He passed me with the bucket and went over to the hot tub. I hadn’t even had a chance to notice we had a hot tub. Cool, I thought, we have a hot tub! You’re a fucking idiot, the voice in my head said to me. “Well,” I said out loud, “It WOULD have been fun.”
Michael pushed the lid off the hot tub, dunked it a couple times to rinse out the sand, and shook it off as best he could. Then he dried out the inside with his shirt tail.
“That’ll work,” I said. Making an extravagant show of grace I proffered the hose to him. “I’ll let you do the honors.”
“Did I say bite me already?”
“Get to work, windw licker,” I replied. I watched as he got the flow going from the Jeep’s gas tank to the bucket. Thankfully he knew what he was doing, and avoided getting a mouthful of gasoline in the process. Some people really don’t know how a siphon works. All you have to do is to get the liquid moving past the highest place in the hose and gravity and suction will do the rest. When the bucket was three quarters full he raised the hose above the fuel level inside the tank and the gas dripped to a stop.
“Jess!” I yelled up towards the kitchen window as I stepped a few feet in front of the house. I was only about ten feet from her as the crow flies and figured she could hear me. She really does hate that though; when I yell from outside at her inside the house at home. Once I yelled for her and when she came to the door I said something about getting me a Coke, just knowing it was going to push her buttons. “Watch this,” I said to a friend at the time as she opened the door. When she slammed the door I heard “asshole” from the other side of the glass. I fully expected her to simply walk back into the kitchen and that would be the end of it. Instead I was almost cold-cocked as a can of coke came whizzing through the air. The piling of the pergola was the only thing that saved my head. The can of Coke glanced off it, sprouted a leak, and then shot ice-cold carbonated stickiness all over both of us on the patio. Since that day I’ve always been careful when I call her from outside the house.
The sound of moving feet above me stopped and then paced towards the window. “What?” she yelled back through the glass.
“Find a funnel, any funnel, something with a hole about this size” I gestured with my hand, describing something about the circumference of my thumb. “Have one of the kids toss it down.”
A couple seconds later I moved over to the south side of the house as she tossed me a decent sized white plastic funnel. It looked like something used to strain used cooking grease.
“Perfect,” I yelled up. “Thank you!”
“Uh huh” was the reply I got as she walked back around the porch out of view.
That went smoothly I thought to myself, very very quietly.
With me holding the funnel and Michael siphoning the fuel in one gallon increments, it took about fifteen minutes to get the Toyota’s tank topped off.
Between my responsibilities every few minutes as master funnel holder, I used the time to check over things in the truck. There was good news and bad news.
The CB was fried. My wonderful Cobra 148 GTL was toasted. I’d purchased it a little over a year ago, just for a bug-out event, and it had worked flawlessly for me, right up until the event. I had another one at home, three-hundred-twenty-six miles away, sitting in a copper lined pelican case in the garage. It was a spare I’d purchased and tested out, just in case anything ever happened to my main rig.
It hadn’t been plugged in at the time but the four-foot tall Firestik antenna perched above the solid steel BackRack I’d installed specifically for the purpose of mounting it had to be the culprit. Antennas were, well they were antennas. They were designed specifically to attract signals. Even though the Firestik was only four-feet tall, it still had the same one-hundred-two inches of copper wire running in spiraled loops around the fiberglass center pole and dispersed along the coiled cable inside the cab of the truck. It performed its job flawlessly. It might as well have been a lightning rod saying “hit me hit me” to an EMP pulse.
I checked the fuse just to be certain, but no luck. The unit was fried. I had a backup unit, but I’d left it at home too. I had one with me and Jess hated carrying around anything she didn’t have to. I knew if I put it in her stuff she’d just put it in the floor board and it would get forgotten and covered in sand, so I’d left it out. If I’d packed it, even if it had been covered in sand in the floorboard, at least I’d have commo. Oh well, I thought. We can work around it.
My Garmin Nuvi was toasted too. It had been connected to the power-pole adapter, the one that ran direct to the battery, not to the ignition switch, to provide full time power even when the truck was off. Once again it had an external antenna for two-way GPS communication embedded in the six-foot copper power wire. Between having a lot of antenna-like copper and being almost exposed directly to the sky it didn’t surprise me that it was fried.
Michael dropped the bucket and coiled the hose inside it after he was finished with the fuel transfer. Apparently I’d been too interested in my truck’s electronics to notice when he’d returned with more fuel so he had simply finished the task himself. Master funnel holder indeed, I thought. Ha!
“What’s the prognosis?” He asked.
“The CB is fried and the GPS is fried. That’s all I’ve had time to check yet.”
“What’s next? We’ve got to put a plan together,” he said.
“Yeah,” I nodded my agreement as I spoke, my head down and hands on my hips. “We do. We do indeed. Let’s go upstairs and work it out with Jess.”
He nodded and shut and locked the doors of his truck. I unlocked mine long enough to reach behind the driver’s seat and remove the Rand McNally road atlas I always kept there. GPS was great, but nothing can fry a good old fashioned road map and they never run out of batteries. Hesitating at the door, I reached between the seats and grabbed my every day carry bag. I carried my EDC everywhere I went. Then I reached under the center console and removed the Bianchi holster I slid under there this morning before we left home. I didn’t want to have to try to wear a belt with these shorts today, but I brought everything anyway. No sense in having it unless you have it with you, right? Sighing, I closed and relocked the door. Almost as an afterthought I hit the lock button on the remote. It surprised me when the horn briefly honked and the lights flashed. Thanks Murphy, I thought sourly. My two hundred dollar CB and my hundred-fifty dollar GPS are fried but the six-dollar door remote works flawlessly. Bastard. Bag and atlas in hand, I went back upstairs to join the group.
When I returned upstairs Jess had the kids working on sorting non-refrigerator items into piles on the living room floor. A pile of condiments and other non-essential items littered the stove top and counter top behind her. In front of her were piles of silverware and utensils gathered from the various drawers around the kitchen.
“I figured I’d sort out what was already here in the house and set aside some of the more useful stuff,” she said as I approached the bar.
“Good thinking, hon. Awesome.” It really was. The idea wouldn’t have occurred to me. In front of her she had a set of utensils for everyone consisting of a butter knife a fork, a spoon, a steak knife, and to the side of that was another pile of unique items she had stacked together. I could see a manual can opener, one metal spatula, one plastic spatula, two pairs of medium sized tongs like might be used for picking up hot dogs or the like, and some other items.
“What’s the plan, Logan?” Her expression was serious now. “I’ve been up here keeping myself fairly calm, but I’m liable to lose it if you don’t tell me there’s a plan.” Her eyes were showing signs of starting to tear up.
“Heeeey. Relax honey.” I moved around the bar quickly to put my arms around her and hold her head close to my chest. Stroking her hair with my right hand as my left hand pulled her into me I whispered into her ear “Of course there’s a plan honey. We’re going to be fine. We’re all going to be fine. This is a bad situation, but we’ve been preparing for something just like this for a long time. Shhh. It’s ok.” I tried to instill confidence into my voice. It was true, I had been planning for an event such as this for a few years now. We were far more prepared than most people, though nowhere the level I’d like to have been. The to-do list was still almost as long as the already-done list, but some of the major stuff was covered. Our only problem now was deciding where to go from here and getting there. Rule of three, I thought to myself. Rule of three.
The rule of three was a simple military tactic I’d adopted after reading a book written by a retired Navy Seal. When faced with a difficult decision, or one with unknown factors, don’t get frozen by indecision. Come up with three options to circumvent the problem or succeed in your mission. No more than three. No less than three. When you have those three options, use the information at your disposal to pick the most logical one. What has the highest chance of success? What has the highest risk? Based on that criteria, make a decision and commit to it. You can always change the plan as conditions change, but not having a plan is often worse than having a bad one.
I had a plan. It wasn’t fully worked out, but I had one. It had been crawling around in my mind since the moment I recognized the situation for what it was. My mind had been set aside its own compartment for the last hour or more to address the problem; working out scenarios, considering options, thinking of what was wrong with some and discarding them as bad ideas. It’s a talent I’ve always had. I attribute my stutter in part to the way my brain works. I can think of a multitude of things at once and make progress on each of them. I can be balancing my checkbook with one part of my mind while carrying on a conversation with someone about something completely unrelated and be calculating the pitch of the rafters I’m about to put on my new chicken coop. I just couldn’t use my hands to perform a fourth task at the same time; at least not a task more complicated than holding a cup of coffee or lighting a cigarette. When I was in that mode, even tying my shoelaces required me to stop talking, but my mind kept on doing the math in the background. I’ve always thought that my stutter was my body’s way of trying to keep up with my mind. I simply haven’t mastered the concept of verbalizing two conversations at once. Talking out of my ass doesn’t count, or so I’m reminded every so often.
Jess pulled back from me slightly, her hands resting on my waist as I held mine on her shoulders, squeezing slightly to reassure her. Her eyes, still clouded by the mist of tears and starting to look reddish, stared up at me with a stern countenance. “Look at me and tell me we’re going to be OK,” she said. “Look me in the eye and convince me we’re going to get through this.”
God I love this woman, I thought. “Jess,” I said clearly but quietly, in a voice meant only for her, “we are going to get through this. We are going to be fine. You and Mason are going to be fine. That is my job. Do you understand? My job is to take care of you. My sole reason for existence is to protect you and to love you and I will do that with every breath I have in my body. Do you understand me? Look at me and tell me if you doubt anything I just said.” I meant it; with every fiber of my being I meant it. Only in that second, lost in her stern yet searching gaze, did I realize what that truly meant. The world was about to become a very nasty place, quite possibly for a long time. In the back of my mind I’d always considered the things one would have to do to make it through something like this; the changes a person would have to accept about themselves if they were to survive in a world gone mad. In that second it clicked. It went from being a consideration to a reality. Looking at my wife in that moment I came to two realizations. I would without a doubt do anything it took to keep her and Mason safe, and I would do anything in my power to prevent them from having to do those things themselves.
“Ok,” she whispered and then cleared her throat. “OK,” she said again, stronger this time. She pulled her hands from my waist and placed them together on my chest, thumping me slightly as if that settled the matter with her. “Ok. I believe you. Thank you. What’s the plan, Logan?”
The matter settled, I felt invigorated. This was the time to get my shit together and get things moving forward. I glanced at my watch. It was five minutes after five. It’s the beginning of summer so we’ve got a little over three hours of daylight left. We need to get on the move, I thought to myself.
“Super Friend!” I yelled across the room, not looking to see where Michael was.
“Yo,” was the reply from behind me.
Michael stood behind me, a Corona in his left hand and lowering his rucksack to the ground beside him with his right.
“You’re the military man here. You have a plan in mind?” I asked.
“I’ve got a few ideas, but my primary plan is getting the hell out of here and getting home. No offense.”
“None taken. That’s mine too. We agree on that. I read about three hours of daylight left. If we can come up with a plan, and hit the road in an hour or less, we can be back on the mainland before dark and we can figure the rest from there.”
“That works,” Micheal said. “You’ve been prepping a lot longer than I have. My skillset isn’t really designed for use on US soil, so the uniform doesn’t really grant me any special powers on this side of the pond. They issue my cape and utility belt when I deploy and I’m on vacation at the moment. You got a plan in that big grape of yours you call a noggin?”
“I think I do,” I said. “Kids, listen up.” I paused a few seconds to gather their collective attention. When they don’t immediately respond to your voice I’ve noticed that the uncomfortable silence that follows, if you let it, will get them to turn and pay attention.
“Come over here and sit down with us. You’re part of this. We’re all part of this. Just grab a chair, listen up while we figure it out, and don’t speak up unless you think of a major problem with something you hear. That work for you?”
“Yes sir,” came the immediate replies. Well, I thought to myself, it really must be the end of the world. Three kids just said “sir” at the end of a sentence without prompting. We’re all doomed. I resisted the urge to look outside for snowballs.
As we all gathered around the table I picked up the road atlas and flipped it open to our part of the state. Michael was on the far left corner seat at the table so I leaned over the corner closest to him. Jess took a chair to the right. I tapped out a cigarette and lit it, pointing with squinty eyes through the initial smoke haze, and tapped the lower area of the outer banks.
“We have three options for getting out of here. Let’s narrow them down. Option one is to take the northern route out through 158 into Currituck county. There’s one bridge out that way, four laned, and it’s through twenty five miles of beach traffic on Fourth of July weekend. It also means we have to travel through Moyock and Elizabeth City and eventually back into the Edenton area to get to where we want to go.” I traced the route with my fingers, tapping each city as I called them out.
“Option two is to take the southern end of the county out through 264, either by the new bridge landing on the south end of Mann’s Harbor, or the north end of Manns Harbor after traveling through Manteo. Both are almost equidistant, though coming in through the south end of Manns Harbor means we can take the four lane bridge, rather than a two-lane bridge. I like that idea marginally better. Option three is south, all the way down NC 12 through Rodanthe, Ocracoke, Hatteras, and all the associated villages. The road is two lane and there are at least two bridges I can remember along that route before we get to the first ferry. Both bridges are narrow two lanes. Then there’s the matter of dealing with the ferry. Is it running? What are the lines like?”
“Options one and two seem far-fetched and way out of our way, honey,” Jess interjected. “I just assumed you’d want to go home through 64 like we always do.”
“I agree,” I said. “I just wanted someone else to let me know if there was an advantage I was overlooking. There is a definite benefit to being able to come up from the south using the ferries, but I have absolutely zero confidence they’ll still be running. They’re old and they’re diesel, but they are by their nature always on open water. Any number of things could have happened to them or the cars on them.”
“Option two it is then, I’d say,” Michael said. He tapped the map in the vicinity of highway 64. “We all know this route, so it’s familiar. The only downside I see is that it’s the major tourist route to the banks, so it’ll be jammed with traffic. There’s no way around that as far as I know.”
“I had that same thought, but there’s only one thing that might be in our favor,” I said, smiling.
“What?” he asked.
“Ninety five percent of the people on the Outer Banks in the summer on a Saturday are working their ass off to get here, not get out of here. Based on the expected norms for the Golden Horde, we’ve got about forty-eight hours before people wise up. With the bridges here being the only way on or off these islands for most people, we need to be out of here in less than twelve if we have any hope of getting out in our own vehicles. Right now there’s no TV, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter, and as far as I know, no FM broadcasts, at least not down here. It may be fine in other places and we can find that out later. We’ll need to. For now though, we get out before people wake up and realize what’s going on. Remember, to most of the world, we’re in the same club as the guys with tin-hats that say the aliens are coming back to take us all home to worship the flying spaghetti monster.”
“I’m pretty sure you just mixed your metaphors there, dear,” my wife said, snickering.
I looked at her aghast, my mouth hanging open in exaggerated exclamation.
“Don’t be offended,” she said. “I just…”
“Offended, my ass,” I remarked. “I’m just freaking amazed you knew the flying spaghetti monster was a thing at all.”
“Smart ass!” She said, her grin almost but not quite gone. She punched my right arm. Hard. I didn’t let it show that it hurt. Like. Hell. Atta-boy for me.
“Ok,” Michael said, bringing attention back to the map where he was tapping two locations with his index and pinky fingers in an alternating pattern. “We take 64 out. Agreed. Which way do we take out and which way at the junction of 264?”
“We’re ok on gas and we’re ok on food and water supplies. We came packed for a week’s camping trip with food for a ton of people. We’re way on top from that standpoint. I don’t see any reason to go through Manteo. The bridge on North End is two lane anyway. The new bridge going to Manns Harbor is four laned, but it’s got a divider in the middle.
“Why does that matter?” Jess asked, brows furrowed in confusion.
“Because having four lanes to get around stalled cars damaged by the EMP would be great, but having that divider in the middle halves our options. There are only two lanes headed out. That’s the case on all three bridges between here and the mainland. We’ve got the causeway bridge, the Washington Baum bridge, and then the new bridge to deal with. The causeway bridge is only about a hundred feet long. Even if it were congested, I’d imagine local emergency response has gotten that bridge opened up by now. They’d know it’s a problem point. The Washington Baum bridge shouldn’t really be that much of a problem either. It has six lanes with no divider and the entire bridge is one constant rise and fall. Either you’re going up or you’re going down. There’s no flat areas to sit still. Even if cars were stalled, gravity and some common sense should eventually clear it for us with help from police and fire. The trick will be the new bridge. That could cause us an issue, but there’s no way out of here without crossing it except by boat and that means landing on the other side with no supplies and no wheels. No good. Agreed?”
They both nodded their heads in agreement.
“Ok, last point of discussion on travel then. Do we take East Lake to Columbia over the Alligator River Bridge or do we take our chances through Stumpy Point and Fairfield?”
“What’s your thought on it?” Michael asked me, walking over to the counter to grab another Corona that was sitting out. Jess had decided to leave most of the beer out of the coolers to make room for food. I guess Michael didn’t see the point in letting them go to waste. Might as well, I thought, and gestured for one. I don’t really like beer but on the rare occasion I have one, it’s always a Corona. Besides, this might be the last cold one I get for a long time.
“I’m not one-hundred percent sure.” I admitted. Indeed this thought had been going through my mind the last few minutes. The outer banks of North Carolina joined the mainland at Manns Harbor, but the major route inland through 64 had a few more bridges, the Alligator River being the longest and oldest of them. It was a two-lane dinosaur that connected Dare County to Tyrell County and provided the fastest route inland usually. The alternative was to go through Stumpy Point, an area aptly named. There was nothing there but a hundred miles of marsh, one two lane road built up from the marsh that ran through it, and absolute shit tons of wildlife. There were bear everywhere, red wolves all over the place, the occasional alligator spotted in the ditch banks, and nothing but the occasional residence for most of fifty miles through it. If something happened to one of the trucks and we were forced to walk, that is the last place I’d want to be when the lights were out.
“Everything from the survivalist standpoint,” I commented, placing my finger on the Alligator River Bridge, “says to avoid that route at all costs. You never use major highways if you can avoid it, always avoid other people, stay out of towns and cities, and avoid chokepoints as much as possible. Those are all the basic rules. We all know that. But the idea of breaking down anywhere within fifty miles of Stumpy Point.” I shrugged.
“Bears,” Jess said. “Lots of bears.”
“Exactly my thought,” I agreed. “In a vehicle, it’s the better route, but if we lost vehicular travel for any reason, I’d rather take my chances hoofing it on highway 64, at least at this point. Within two days, no. It’ll be a mad house. Right now, I’m hoping it’s only mildly crazy.”
“Then we take the bridge to Tyrell County,” Michael said.
Mason looked over at Matt and said quietly, “Whew. I didn’t wanna go the way with bears on it.”
“Ok. It’s settled,” I said.
“Ashley, Matt, and Mason.” I pointed towards the coolers and gear Jess had laid out earlier. “Start hauling that stuff downstairs. Leave the big coolers. Michael and I will get those, but you guys get the rest and do it fast, ok? We need to be out of here in,” I glanced at my watch. “Thirty minutes or so.”
The kids said nothing, perhaps sensing the seriousness of the situation. They rose from their chairs and started gathering items from the area Jess had laid out. Jess went over to the counter and started putting the silverware and utensils in Rubbermaid-style containers that looked like the ones designed to hold sandwich meats. She gave one to Matt to put with their gear and gave the other to Mason with instructions to put it downstairs by the truck.
Jess and I made our way downstairs to go through our suitcases and repack what needed to be packed. Michael did the same, heading off to his room at the end of the hall, three doors before our chosen room. I chose that time to tell her about the Jeep. She wasn’t happy about it, but agreed it made more sense to ride together. She didn’t want to be alone with Mason with me in another vehicle and my truck was the larger of the two. I left her with instructions to keep my Columbia shirts, two pair of shorts, one pair of sleep shorts, and the Wrangler camouflage pants I’d just bought the other week and to pack everything into one of the two small suitcases I brought. The Wranglers were urban camo, not any military variation, and they were well constructed. Wrangler made good work pants and they usually lasted me quite a while before getting relegated to garage-wear-only status. This pair might have to last a long time. She was going to go through her clothes and accessories and condense the full-size suitcase she’d brought into the other small one I wouldn’t be needing. It was going to be a tight fit regardless.
I brought my own truck to the beach for a couple reasons. First, Jess hates loud music. Every time we ride together I have to keep the stereo turned down or she complains of a headache. Me, I’m totally the opposite. My stereo has one volume setting; loud. When I bought the truck it had a stock stereo that wasn’t loud enough for me. My first stop in Detroit that week was to a stereo shop where I had it replaced with a new head unit, a ten inch subwoofer installed, and a 350-watt amplifier put in. I might be getting older, but I still liked my music loud. The second reason was because I smoke. Jess doesn’t and hates that I do, though she’s kind enough not to bug me about it too often, trusting that I have enough sense to know it’s bad for me and that either I’ll stop on my own or nature will stop me its way. I keep making resolutions to make New Year’s resolutions to quit. I only break the first resolution, never making the second resolution, therefore bypassing any shame in not sticking to a New Year’s resolution. It’s a sensible approach that leaves me feeling on only one front, not two.
Lastly, I simply love driving my truck. I hate to ride shotgun. I want my truck with my gear. I’d never fit the amount of bug-out gear I carry in my pickup in her Jeep. The laws of physics defy the possibility of it happening and I hate not being prepared for anything, so my truck has everything I need to survive. I carry five gallons of gas in a Gerry can, a case of bottled water, six days of sea rations, one long rifle, two pistols with two magazines each, a full box of ammunition for both the rifle and pistol, my EDC bag, and my bug-out-bag.
The only problem right now is deciding what to leave behind. In addition to all that gear, I’m also carrying a full truck-bed of vacation gear, two coolers, two utility boxes packed with such must-have amenities as the Keurig coffee maker my in-laws gave us, the ice-cream maker Jess has to have to make her signature grandmother’s homemade peach ice-cream recipe, half a dozen camp chairs, a beach umbrella, a fold-up ten-foot canopy, a Weber portable grill, four gas canisters for it, and a ton of other crap I had to make a list for or else risk forgetting some of it and being greeted with the wrath of my wife when I arrived. Yes, I fit all that in the back of a six-foot bed pickup. Ok technically I cheated and brought along the three-foot bumber-mount cargo rack for my wife’s Jeep. Looks like that might wind up coming in handy.
Leaving Jess to handle the packing upstairs I went downstairs to the truck to start deciding what I could leave behind. I don’t have the luxury of going through the normal procedure, which basically involves parking my truck in the middle of my driveway, opening all the doors, and stripping it completely, laying everything on the ground and repacking and reorganizing what I need for a particular trip.
I started my post-apocalyptic inspection in the truck bed. Looks like the day finally came, I thought to myself. Hope you’ve got your shit together, son. I stood there a moment trying to figure out how I was even going to get into the bed of the truck. It was literally piled to the tops of the side rails.
A lot of my gear serves double-duty. The day before I left for vacation, God was that yesterday? Anyway, the day before I left, I grabbed a bunch of the gear from the bug-out. I had three Army cots I’d picked up over the last couple years from surplus stores. Those were for the kids that were planning to come down. I figured I’d turn one of the bedrooms into a bunk room. Since they were bug-out gear as well, they were essential supplies I’d planned to need at home. The same goes for the Weber grill and four three-and-a-half fuel canisters. I looked them over, considering the size that portable grill’s carry bag took up in my truck compared to the benefit it would offer. That reminded me to be on the lookout for more of those propane fuel canisters. They were going to become hard to find if things stayed like they were now and I had a feeling they weren’t going to get better any time soon. The little tanks were only two-fifty each at any store, but they’ll be worth their weight in gold after about a week with no power.
The ten-foot canopy can go. I lugged it up from the bottom, it’s twelve-inch square four-foot long bag of course being on the very bottom because things would stack neatly on top of it. I tossed it out, hopped down and opened up the carry case. I stood it up long enough to disonnect the ten-foot square tarp cover. One hundred swuare feet of waterproof canvas would come in handy somewhere.
That done I returned to the task of cleaning the truck bed; tossing out trash as I went. One McDonald’s large coffee cup. Gone. One McDonald’s large coffee cup. Gone. One McDona… for Christ’s sake, how many coffee cups do I have back here?
The camp chairs were next. I selected the two newest ones that folded down nicely and seemed to have less wear then the others. All the rest went in the trash pile. One of them got stuck under the toolbox, it’s leg hung up on something, which made it halfway open up, which made the foot-rest portion smack me in the mouth when I yanked on it, which made me curse, which made me yank on it again while protecting my face this time. Eventually with some grumbling it came out, though not in any semblance of working order. No one needs damned foot rests on a camp chair anyway. Whose dumbass idea was that I wondered. I’m grumpy now.
I started on the toolbox next, tossing out some of the unrelated tools I either won’t likely need or have another set of at home. After years of having to lug tools back and forth between the shop and the truck I finally got smart and started buying duplicate tools for the shop. After two years I had a full set of duplicates inside the workshop and a full set that could stay in the truck. Thanks to that I had almost every hand tool I’d likely need right in this box. Sweet.
I kept a small bag of ropes of varying length, all the hand tools, some of the telecom tools, and any extension cords I came across, winding up with three of varying lengths.
On the passenger side, stuffed between the bottom of the toolbox and the horse stall mat I used for a bed cover was my commo box. I smiled to myself. “Atta-boooooy, Logan!” I grinned to myself. “Screw you, Murph.” I called him Murph sometimes. It’s a little nickname. We’re close like that.
After the truck bed I moved on to the cab. I came down here with the truck stocked both front and back but have two extra passengers going back and all their gear. Some of the gear could be moved to the back but if it rained, and it loved to rain here in the summer for absolutely no reason for all of about three minutes and then dry up and get humid as hell, the gear would mildew. I could fix that with trash bags from the house. All the suitcases could go in the back in garbage bags. We’d brought plenty and even if we hadn’t there were always three or four in my bug-out-bag for just such an occasion. Ok I’m lying. They were to craft makeshift ponchos, but they’d do perfectly fine for their intended use if needed.
With the truck as slimmed down as I could get it, I took a minute to check the electronics inside. My power pole was shot. The twelve-volt wiring had taken a surge from either the CB or the GPS frying. Anything plugged into it was also likely shot. Thankfully the direct run to the battery didn’t go through any of the truck’s circuitry except for a fuse panel. I checked the fuse panel under the dash, finding the lighter adapter’s ten-amp fuse blown. I replaced it with one from a kit I carried behind the driver’s seat. No joy. Still blown. I put the good fuse back in the pack of spares and tossed the old one. A brief look at the other fuses showed everything looked ok so far.
I turned on the key and checked the ignition-powered adapter. That one was still good. I moved my three-way non-fused splitter over to that connector and it lit up. Nice!
As I figured, anything connected to the lighter adapter was fried. In addition to the gear I knew about I only lost one phone charger usb thingy. Not a problem. I still had two usb-mini chargers that worked, one usb-micro, my spot beam charging cable, and the cables in my bug-out-bag and commo box. I was good as far as power went. Lastly I checked the two AC converters I had stuck behind the passenger’s seat. Both were good. One was an 85-amp thing I’d picked up from someone for free and just tossed in the truck. I never used it but it couldn’t hurt to have AC power. The other was a 400 amp two-port inverter that had a charge monitor that would detect low voltage in the truck’s battery and shut off if the battery went below 11.5 volts. Battery. Battery. What is tickling at the back of my mind about a battery?
I stood up for a moment, lit a cigarette, and hoped it would come to me. I absolutely hate it when this happens. Right there in the back of my mind is a perfectly great idea waiting to come out if I can just get to it. I’ve found over the years that sometimes it works if I just back up and look at everything in front of me. Something right near me or something I was doing made the thought start to tingle, so it’s somehow related to something I’m doing or was just doing.
What the hell is it? I looked around slowly, trying to let my mind do it’s own thing, with only the occasional whisper “battery” to give it a nudge in the right direction. I had batteries for the radios, spare rechargables for all kinds of things, the truck battery was fine…TRUCK BATTERY! Ah ha!
I squinted my eyes in an evil expression in the direction of the Wrangler, sitting over there in the grass all innocent-like as if it wasn’t hiding anything at all. Little bastard!
The Jeep itself is no good to me, but the Jeep’s battery probably is. There’s a chance the EMP would have damaged it, but not likely that it would have destroyed it. I marched purposefully towards the Jeep as if I was scolding it with my glare for trying to trick me. Raising the hood and grabbing my Gerber Diesel from my shorts pocket I went to work on the terminals. After a minute I had it loose and unbuckled from its restraints and was carrying it back towards the truck.
Not sure where to put it at first I settled on the passenger corner nearest the tailgate. That was as far from the toolbox and the gas can as I could get it. I figured if I wedged it under the toolbox it was liable to spark and either electrify me the first time I touched the toolbox or simply drain itself and be useless. Either way I didn’t want to find out.
Feeling better at having a spare battery, though not sure specifically why, I went back to the Jeep to search out any remaining useful items. I bogarted the carabiner Jess used for a key ring because no man can have enough carabiners. Give me ten carabiners and a rope and I can string a circus tent like nobody else. I’m lying to myself. I’ve never done that. I just say it and that makes it true. I’d just as likely craft a Gordian knot by mistake, end up tied up in it, and be eaten by carnivorous beavers. Remain hopeful, I say to myself and continue looking.
The center console rewarded me with chapstick in various stages of use. I’ll never understand women and chapstick. What makes one good one day and another better on another day? When men use chapstick we carry one. We use it until its gone or we lose it. We buy another. Men are simple.
Lastly, I went to the back of the Jeep and removed her bug-out-bag. Unlike the monolithic creation I carried, Jess carried a small “tactical molle backback” I’d picked up on Amazon two years ago. I had her a fully stocked three-day Army ACU assault pack at home, but this was the one she carried with her everyday. I’d forgotten to suggest she swap packs before coming on this trip, and by suggesting I mean gone into the house myself and swapped them out for her without saying anything. Grimacing as I picked it up, I wondered how it would hold up. I purchased them and then discarded them as an option for me even as an everyday-carry-bag due to the cheap plastic buckles. Mine broke within a day or two of carrying it. Nevertheless, she at least had a pack with her in the Jeep. Thank God for small favors. I’m still hoping we’re not going to need them, but time will tell.
That’s all I can do, I thought to myself. I’ve tossed the junk we don’t need, got a lot of spare crap we might want to keep, and basically have enough room to strap things down if I need to in the bed of the truck. It’ll have to do.
I tossed the commo box in the back of the truck between the center console and the rear-bench and headed back upstairs to check on the progres.
“Time to get moving, everyone. How are we coming along?” I asked as I reached the top of the third floor landing.
I’d passed our three small bags on the second story, so I knew Jess had the kids ready. The other bags beside them were Michael’s and his kid’s gear. They also looked a lot more condensed than I remembered when I saw them bringing them up the first time.
“We’re good here,” Micheal said from the dining room area. He and Jess were bent over coolers rearranging items. I saw packs of chicken legs and breasts being resorted into my thirty-five quart cooler from his giant ninety-quart fishing cooler. He’d brought tons of food, planning on cooking on the grill most of the week for the entire family, all still on ice when it arrived, so it was no big deal to move it back over from the fridge.
“I’m sending some of this food with your truck,” he said. “We’re going to be together on the road for a bit, but in case something happens to one of the vehicles or we get separated, we’ll both have a decent supply. There’s no reason we can’t get home on what we have here.”
Jess stood up and raised her hand, snapping her fingers. “Hey,” she said. “Pay attention kids. You too Logan.”
She pointed to the my blue cooler and Michael’s big cooler. “These two coolers are full of ice and they’re also full of water. They are NOT for drinking. You can drink the drinks from the coolers but do not put the ice or water from this cooler in your mouth for any reason, got it?” She looked around to confirm we were all nodding our assent. “There’s chicken in here and I don’t know how well they’re sealed, so the last thing we want is someone to get sick from drinking cooler water. The Yeti,” she pointed to the small white cooler, “has drinking water, soft drinks and some other stuff. If you need to you can drink that water and eat the ice. Just don’t go into it with dirty hands.” She had the audacity to look at me, rather than Mason when she said this last part. I raised my eyebrow in response. She did the same, raising hers even higher as if to silenty signify “Yes, I meant you!” I lowered my Spock-brow quickly and nodded my head in assent.
“Got it,” I said. “Are we ready?”
“Boys, Ashlee,” she gestured to them, “start taking everything down stairs and put it beside the truck it goes into. Your dad’s will get these last two coolers. They’re too heavy for you to lift.”
While Jess organized the kids moving the other gear downstairs, Michael and I made two trips with the coolers. Five minutes later we were all standng down beside the trucks, engines running. Mike and his kids piled into his Tacoma. Mason opened the third door on the driver’s side of my truck to pile in behind me and Jess mounted up on the passenger side.
“Where’s your shield, Jess?” I asked as I dropped my EDC bag on my driver’s seat and opened up the rear comparement of my Sabercat pack.
“It’s in my beach bag,” she said, pointing to the floor between her feet.
“Go ahead and put it on.” I said as I reached into the gap between the seats to retrieve my own Smith & Wesson Shield. Chambered in 9mm, this was a solid little gun. Jess and I carried the same one to be able to swap magazines between each other if needed.
I released the safety, checked the action, and dropped the magazine from the compact pistol, ejecting the round I kept in the chamber and putting it on the seat. I always carried with a full magazine plus one in the chamber. I passed the magazine over to her, then retrieved my spare seven-round magazine from my bag’s side pocket and passed that to her as well.
“You have both magazines for yours?”
“No,” she said sheepishly. At least she had the audacity to realize that was a mistake. I was lucky she carried it at all I supposed. I let it go. She had the extended magazine in hers now, just like I did. We always carried the highest-capacity magazine in the pistol and used the standard magazine as a backup.
“There’s two more magazines. That will give you fifteen more rounds if you need it.”
“You really don’t think we’ll need these do you, Logan?”
“Not yet, no. Not really,” I replied, “but it can’t hurt to be cautious.
I slid my shield, empty now, back into the gap between the driver’s bucket seat and the center console. It was a perfect truck holster and fit whatever pistol I stuck in there fairly snug.
I reached into the back section of my EDC bag and removed my Beretta PX4 Storm. It was one ugly-ass little bastard, but chambered in 9mm it held 17 rounds in the extended magazine with one in the pipe. I cycled the action once, chambering a round and dropped the mag to insert the cartridge I’d removed from my Shield a few moments earlier. Then I flipped up the center console and put my Sabercat bag in the middle of the seat, the two spare magazine pouches containing Beretta magazines nearest my side of the truck. I pulled my belt out of the center pouch along with my hip holster and slid them through the loops on my shorts, my hawaiian-print shirt untucked and making the process take longer than usual. Having one last second change of heart I removed the magazine from the PX4 and swapped for the one in the front pouch of the EDC bag.
“Mason, open the box beside you,” I gestured to the pelican case sitting to his right, “ and pass me two of the RCA radios, not the Midland ones. They’re the ones with the longer antennas.”
He worked the latches and retrieved the two radios from the pile of gear stored inside, and latched it back.
I turned to Michael. “Hey man,” I said as I extended a radio out to him. He took it and turned it on, the initial beep letting him know it was on.
“Keep it on channel one for now.” I said, as I spun my own volume knob up, feeling the power flick on and then hearing the beep of my own radio. I touched the PTT button for just a second and heard his radio squelch. We nodded at each other and turned to our respective vehicles; mine pointed out towards the road and his nosed under the house.
“You go first,” he said to me.
“Roger that.” I nodded to him and climbed in and shut the door behind me. For some reason the moment had a certain finality to it.