Chapter 1

In all of my life, most of the people I knew thought the world revolved around them even though they wouldn't admit it. When I was in high school, we never realized that teachers might have lives outside of the classroom. In college, I rarely gave my professors a second thought as to their lives in school much less away from it. I have to admit that I was one of those people. It wasn't that I didn't care, I just didn't think about it.

My interests in high school and college were involved in getting a degree and chasing girls. I managed the first and made a lot of effort on the second though with only a little success. By the time I graduated, I had a business degree and some experience with women. I was no Adonis but, at six feet tall and one hundred ninety pounds, I was acceptably built and my face didn't scare too many away. I had never met the "right one" in a dating situation but enjoyed looking and chasing any pretty girl.

I am Mark Dillard. My last name was the same as the department store name but there was no known relation. On March 17, 2011, I was at work in the Cumberland area in purchasing at Home Depot's headquarters. I had started almost a year ago when I graduated from Kennesaw State. My parents had a nice house and I lived in the basement paying rent though Mom and Dad repeatedly told me they didn't need the money. I knew they were right but felt it was morally right to pay them.

That Thursday, I was made aware of the events in Florida when our Orlando store suddenly ceased sending in the middle of a report. I had been receiving a report of my inventory area at the time. I tried to call and the call wouldn't go through. One of my co-workers rushed into our area and said, "Tune to CNN or Fox News. There is big trouble in Central Florida!" Suddenly, our office screen showed a news bulletin announcing a suspected nuclear explosion in central Florida. That centrally fed set, like all the others, began a feed of CNN.

[NOTE: I have no idea if Home Depot has any such thing or what network would be chosen. I have no knowledge of their policies. This is fiction. Let it go.]

I listened with detached interest but guessed that the Orlando store's personnel had other more pressing matters than to furnish me with a report. The preliminary reports were a nuclear explosion. Almost immediately, the earthquake split Florida with a massive inflow of ocean and gulf with a tsunami resulting. What little that was known and told was horrific. We had satellite coverage to our stores and lost everything south of Ocala. The CNN office in Miami sent a brief message before it was lost.

My company email started popping telling me that disaster plan "B" was in effect and instructing me to move to logistical planning to get materials shifted to central and south Florida. I was told to canvass stores in southern Georgia and northern Florida. On my own, I added southern Alabama stores treating the situation like a hurricane that hit southern and central Florida. We had no plan for exactly what happened but worked to get help moving in some reasonable way. I went home tired but having started the ball rolling with trailers of building materials and emergency equipment being loaded. I worked with two people from our traffic department to coordinate our activities.

My parents and I watched the news that evening. Things hadn't gotten better. Central and South Florida were totally devastated! The loss of life was in the millions. Tales of destruction from the Atlantic and Gulf tsunamis made what appeared to be a very bad situation even worse. It was rumored on the networks that the Bahamas had simply ceased to exist with everyone in the area down there presumed dead. Our government was reviewing the situation to plan effective rescue efforts. Air traffic was banned for all of Florida below Ocala and limited to and from north Florida.

The next morning, I went into work and met with my contacts in traffic. I found that shipments were not being allowed into Florida! I called the Ocala store and couldn't get through. Though we sent emails, none of us thought they would go anywhere. Friday was frustrating because we couldn't carry though our disaster plans because the government was stopping everything. I had a contact with GEMA and tried him. He told me that FEMA had control and, on orders from Washington, nothing was headed south. He hoped that Monday he would be able to get someone to see that the survivors would need help. He told me that he had twenty teams ready to go but they were refusing to authorize deployment! He admitted that he didn't understand the situation and was now pinning his hopes on Monday. I told the team my news and we all wilted. We knew there was something wrong but didn't know what it might be. We went home that afternoon having accomplished nothing.

It was a quiet weekend for me. I didn't have a date though went out with a few friends on Saturday night. Sunday morning, I went to church with my parents and had dinner with them. Then, I settled in to watch NASCAR but the race was steadily interrupted by frequent news reports. There was a virus, too. The reports said it was deadly and was spread by air. Later in the afternoon, I received a text advising me to stay home Monday and take "reasonable precautions." Mom didn't work but Dad decided to close up Monday and advised his people. He was a successful insurance guy with his own agency.

Over supper, we talked more about the situation. We decided to dispense with masks in the house. Our house's HVAC system had a HEPA filter and Dad felt safe inside. Outside, we would all wear masks, gloves, and goggles. We stayed home and inside all day. I watched news reports and played computer games. I exchanged emails with friends. Two reported feeling the first symptoms. Other than being bored, I felt fine.

Tuesday, I began to feel like I had a cold, which was an early symptom. Mom was feeling the same way though Dad was fine. By Tuesday afternoon, both of us were worse and Dad was really worried. He called Kennestone Hospital and was told they were taking no one else with symptoms. The person answering the phone confirmed that it, the slick flu, was deadly and widespread. Mom and I got worse. Thursday around lunchtime, we both felt better. An hour later, Mom went to sleep and slipped into a coma. Her breathing became worse and then stopped as she died. I truly felt better. Dad never had a symptom. We listened to the news that was quickly becoming sketchy. Dad and I looked at each other. He said, "Help as much as you can, Mark. I'm going to bury your mother in our backyard at her flowerbed. I will not send her body to be burned anonymously."

"I will help, Dad. I love her, too." I was still weak from being sick but we managed to dig a grave a little over four feet deep in back. I helped Dad carry her body out back wrapped in a blanket from their bed. He prayed over her grave with me. I left him there kneeling and crying. I went to my room and cried, too. I prayed that God would take her in His arms until we joined her in the fullness of time. It sounded good and I meant it. I wasn't sure how long that might be.

I never did go back to work. Dad didn't either. Other than helping Dad bury Mom, I needed time to recover my strength. By the time, I could move around in an acceptable manner, the world was vastly different. My father was different, too. He was listless. His employees no longer answered their phones or returned messages. We had noticed that our subdivision seemed vacant. Dad's parents had died in an auto accident and Mom's died of the virus. Death was everywhere and the world was fast becoming a lonely, empty place.

I always knew that he and Mom really had a love affair for their marriage but never realized how important each one was to the other. Dad just didn't want to do much of anything. By the next Sunday after I was reasonably healthy, we were starting to run out of food.

I went to our local store and found that, though it wasn't open for business, it was open and people had been going through the store and removing food for their benefit. I joined in the effort and filled the trunk of my car. As I left, I heard gunshots in the distance.

I came to another realization. There were some violent people out there and no police to stop them. Dad and I had been occasional hunters. I decided that going armed was not optional. I stopped at the local Walmart It was opened like the grocery store. I grabbed all the ammo for our rifles, shotguns, and pistols that I could find.

I arrived back home to find Dad drinking and crying silently in the living room. When I asked him to help me unload the car, he came out and helped me. He was concerned about the ammo and became more so after I told him of the gunshots that I had heard.

I said, "Dad, you haven't been out. The streets and stores are deserted but people are looting. There were no cops anywhere and I don't expect there will be any. The newscasts have told us that three percent is the survival rate. That fits what I have read on the Internet."

"I know, Son. It's hard to realize how fast we are devolving into lawlessness. I'll try to be better help from now on."

"Thanks, Dad. We will need to be a team and work together."

Dad was better from then on. By the middle of May, he could even talk about Mom. "Son, I apologize to you for my actions after the death of your mother. I wasn't ready for her to leave and took her death badly. You know we were childhood sweethearts?" I nodded.

"She was born a month after me and our parents' houses backed on each other. Our parents had become friends. Mary and I played together in the same crib and always were close. The longest parting was our first year of college. We transferred to be together after the first semester. We married that summer. She was my best friend long before we became lovers. It-it's hard to think of living without her by my side.

"The only disagreement we ever had was over who wanted to die first. Neither of us wanted to be left without the other. If you hadn't survived the virus, I couldn't have kept going and almost haven't anyway. It's been tough."

That confession startled me, as my dad has always been the quiet one. I knew they had been childhood sweethearts but not really aware of the extent of their relationship. I almost felt bad because I had only had two partially serious girlfriends and neither was ever going to be a wife to me even without considering the Day

Yes, that was what the newscasts had called the day of the explosion. It marked a major change in the world.

A couple of months have passed since the Day and the smell was almost overwhelming when we were outside. Dad and I talked about it knowing that it would be better but not soon. Mom's cousin had a cabin in north Georgia. After some discussion and preparation, we headed for it. We had been there many times before and knew where the hidden key was located. No one in either family answered phone calls and we received no responses to any of the messages we had left. It was time to go.

We would take both Dad's SUV and my car. We loaded them equally in case one had to be abandoned though most of the food was in the SUV, of course. We had filled the tanks of both vehicles and loaded two five gallon plastic cans in the back carrier rack of the SUV. We were armed. We had not had to use our weapons but had heard shooting far too often when we were outside scavenging.

Early in the morning, we pulled out and headed north on 575 hoping for a quiet trip. We stayed on it and then 515 to Ellijay and found it quiet and seemingly deserted. Leaving early, we had figured to be away from bad people before they were up. After 515, we followed US 76 to Blue Ridge. We went through Blue Ridge slowly. Dad knew people here having sold them insurance. We went by two houses but the smell inside them quickly drove us back to our vehicles.

When we got in our vehicles after the second stop, Dad said, "You take the lead. We'll head for Charles' cabin now. Be careful, Son." I nodded. We got inside our vehicles and headed out. I had rolled the windows in my car down to enjoy the fresh air and let me hear anything that might be heard whether good or bad. So far, I hadn't heard any noises that were human or machine.

We pulled into the drive and stopped at the front of the cabin. It looked and was deserted. We got out and scouted around. It looked no one had been here since late February or early March when Charles had last gone to check on it.

Inside, there was a slight layer of dust. We turned everything on and unloaded Dad's SUV and my car. Dad prepared lunch while I went down to the lake to look around. Across from the cabin, another cabin had burned down. Everything looked overgrown and deserted. It was very quiet with only animal noises and not many of those. I went back and sat on the porch. Dad brought lunch out and we ate the sandwiches and chips washed down with Cokes. I toasted Dad with my Coke and said, "You know that these won't last forever."

He nodded. "What is really scary is that we will run out of coffee." We both liked our coffee in the morning and even brought our maker and grinder with us since we usually bought beans to have a fresh roasted pot. I had picked up plenty of beans when I realized that there would be no more deliveries of coffee beans.

I said, "I'm afraid that there will be a number of things that will run out in the next few years, Dad. I guess we will have to plan ahead. It won't be just food either."

"That's true, Mark. If we are going to stay here or anywhere, we have to plan for the power outage. It will come at some point. No one is going to come fix downed lines. There won't be any more food or gasoline deliveries either.

"I like this place but we are going to have to look for a better place for our long-term living where we can generate our power without a gas generator. I really don't want to give up having power if we can manage to keep some going. Finally, any place we find has to be out of the way and defensible. Sooner or later, people will start roaming and looking for good, safe places. If we do a good job of looking and working, it will be good and safe. I don't want us killed for it or driven out. That means getting off the beaten track.

On that rather sobering note, we finished lunch. Dad suggested that we make plans about the house and our use of the lake. Cousin Charles had two boats, a pontoon and a fish and ski. I didn't see us doing much skiing but fishing had always been fun and might help feed us. The pontoon boat was slow but made for a steadier platform. Dad suggested that I go back down to the water and check out the boats while he went over the house. I nodded and headed back to the water.

I had grabbed the key to the boathouse and opened it. I checked out the fishing boat. Its batteries were on a trickle charger and it was ready to go. I went to the pontoon and its motor did nothing. The battery was dead. I got a charger and extension cord and hooked it up to let it get a charge for later use. I also checked out life jackets and fishing tackle while I was down there.

I spent the entire time looking out over the lake with one eye and listening with both ears trying to see or hear anything of people. I heard and saw no one. I tried to leave everything looking deserted when I went back to the cabin. I realized that this was ironic since I was looking for signs of activity but was trying to keep from showing any signs of our activity to other people.

A few days later, I had been down at the dock checking on our boats and looking out over the water. I was walking back to the cabin when I heard it.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Consensual / Romantic / Rape / Fiction / Post Apocalypse / Slow / Violent /