Low Budget

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Post Apocalypse,

Desc: Fantasy Story: After a debilitating accident I retire for a life on the road...for a while

Have you ever had that odd thought about what's the worst thing that could happen to you that day? It was a Friday that ';exceeded expectations'. I was at the head of the line at the county reclamation site, dropping off defunct servers and battery backup units. I had a big eighty-pound rack-mount server carcass in my hands and had just bumped the rear door of my jeep closed with my hip. A big, black Ford Explorer roared across the parking lot, clipped my right hip and smashed into my old soldier of a Jeep Wrangler. I felt the snap as my hip gave way and passed out before I hit the ground.

I was of two minds about waking up and not being dead. I sure hurt like hell. My right hip, thigh and lower back were in a constant spasm. I'd never known pain like that before. I scrabbled for the cord and pushed the obvious button to let someone at the nurse's station know that I'd awakened. Soon a big lady in whites came in, saw that I was in shock, white faced and trying to breathe then rushed out, hopefully to get someone that had enough authority to get me some pain meds. I didn't see who it was, but someone's hands injected a teeny little syringe of something into my I.V. drip. The relief was so sudden and complete that I passed out.

It took me several days to piece together the story. Old man Zimmerman of Zimmerman Ford wrong-footed his Explorer, smashed my hip and destroyed my faithful old Jeep. The server chassis severed my left hand just above the wrist when I hit the ground and my weight slammed it down even harder. A patient advocate was in the process of getting me out of my apartment lease, as it had two stories and a connecting set of stairs; totally unsuitable to me. My medical bills were totally covered by the county as I'd been performing a function for my employer at the time of the injury. Workman's Comp, you know. The surgeons that had opened me up had found that the hip joint was so badly degraded that a new one was put in and part of my pelvis was re-sectioned. A negligence suit against the hospital was in process due to my not being on an analgesic pump upon awakening. The notation on the doctor's orders was plain as day yet it was ignored by the nursing staff. I requested that a suit be filed against the Zimmerman family for a replacement vehicle and 'damages'.

Things had been pretty well taken care of before I got out of the hospital. I got a visit from grandpa Zimmerman himself asking what I wanted to settle the suit. I thought for a while while he fidgeted in the chair. "I'll tell you what. I'm going to have to retire with this hip the way it is. I figure that I'll look for a small used camper. I need a pickup to haul it. It'll have to be an automatic, be wired for a trailer and have a good hitch, like a Reese. I'm not financially prepared to quit right now because of my credit card. You give me a hundred and twenty thousand, which should net me about eighty thousand dollars after taxes and a pickup in good condition then I'll call it quits. I don't care what model year the truck is or even how it looks--just so that it's in prime mechanical condition, from wheels on up. I'll need that much money to keep going until social security kicks in."

He smiled, relieved. "No problem. I'll have my service guys strip down a F-250 to the frame and build it back out. We'll put an engine in it good for a hundred thousand miles." We shook hands on it.

I got out of the hospital after an eight week stay. I was sure glad that I didn't have to pay for it! At over a thousand dollars a day plus the surgery I couldn't see how anyone could afford a serious injury without insurance. My right leg was two inches shorter than my left and I kept trying to pick things up with my missing left hand. Bummer. I was using a walking, or zimmer frame to get around. I was told that I would only need it for a month or two but I'd always walk with a limp, and wouldn't handle stairs well. By the end of each day my back was on fire due to the different lengths of my legs

I was surprised when Blue Cross kicked in with eight thousand six hundred bucks for the loss of a hand. After thinking about it I considered it an insult. How the hell would that cover rehab or the loss of earning power?

My apartment had been stripped down and the contents put into a twenty-foot long storage cube. It resided behind the building where I'd been working. I really had to quit as the three-story building had no elevator. The last thing my advocate did was to help me file for social security and medical disability with the government. My next task was to find a place to stay. I took my new dark green pickup to Walgreens where I bought one of each local newspaper. I sat down with a cup of coffee and a crummy plastic-tasting danish at Burger King while I tried to find a used small ';house trailer' or ';camping trailer'.

I spotted an advertisement for an old nineteen-foot-long travel trailer for nine hundred bucks, ';as found', at a farm near Shabbona. I located the place on my map and took a trip, checkbook in hand. I found an old farm house that looked like it was going to fall over at any moment. The barn behind it was in worse shape. I managed to get up the porch stairs and knocked. Soon a bent-over old lady that must have been in her nineties answered the door.

She ushered me in and we shared some coffee. She told me the story of the trailer. Her nephew had bought it and had it re-conditioned as it was pretty old. He'd gone to Afghanistan in 2002 and never came back. She needed to get rid of it before going into a supported living center. We went out to the barn to take a look. We threw open the barn doors. I saw a big, curved something under a canvas tarp. She helped me pull the tarp off. It looked like an Airstream! I slowly walked around the thing. It said "El Rey" on the nose. Boy, this thing was old! It was made in 1957 according to the plate near the door. She offered me the keys. I unlocked the door and pulled myself inside. It was cozy but it had all the comforts of home including a heater, air conditioner, water tank, shower, china toilet, king-sized bed, double sink, stove, oven, refrigerator and microwave. It was rigged for 110 Volts and LP Gas, including the lights. I was hooked. The thing was in immaculate condition. The floors had been taken up and re-done, the inner walls had been torn down and re-insulated. The windows were replaced with thermopane units. I turned to her and asked "Are you sure that you want to part with this for only nine hundred?"

She nodded a little bird nod. "I just want shut of it as it reminds me of losing Jimmy." I shrugged my shoulders and made out a check to her. She handed me the title and kissed my cheek. I smiled and gave her a gentle little hug--no rib crackers, here.

It had been on jacks for about ten years. I got it down on the tires and they held. Good news! I backed the pickup up to the hitch and settled it down over the ball, then locked it down and fastened the chains. I stored the jacks in the bed of the truck, plugged in the trailer lights and headed back to Geneva. I swapped the two fifteen pound propane tanks with thirty pound units and had them filled. The tires got replaced and the hubs were greased. I called a couple friends of mine to help transfer the stuff I was keeping from the storage cube to the trailer. There sure was a lot of stuff that didn't fit! Only about a third of my kitchen stuff fit. I stored my pots and pans in the oven. Jim had installed a demand hot water heater. It was great--as long as you were plugged into 110V mains! There was a rear hatch door accessible from the outside. That held the sewage hose, the water hose and the heavy electrical cord for city services. I bought a factory reconditioned Generac 8KW generator that was quiet as hell--after I had an after-market muffler to it. I had a little ';porch' welded to the rear of the trailer to hold the generator, a spare gasoline can, a little barbecue grill, some 'campaign furniture' and a spare propane tank.

I bought a "Woodall's" trailer park guide at a local book store. Each evening I spent some time hilighting parks that charged less than ten bucks a night, had fresh water and electricity. During the day I sorted through my posessions and filled storage bins with things I wanted to keep. I bought a wall-mount for my flat-screen monitor/tv and set up my computer near it. I had the big king-sized bed cut down to a standard so my bedding would fit. Storage bins of clothing and shoes went into the two feet of freed-up space. I had to spring for a new mattress, however.

The court case against the hospital finally came to a conclusion. I made twenty-four thousand dollars out of it, tax free as it was a penalty judgement.

I sold my electronics lab that I had packed away for four thousand bucks. I took a hit on it but I had no way to store it. Besides, soldering is a two-handed operation. I really hated to lose my oscilloscope, frequency generator and ten-digit counter. Damn! My parts collection alone was worth well over twenty eight hundred bucks. After my friends went through what remained in the storage container for helping me out, I hauled the rest to Goodwill and disposed of the container.

I finally broke the umbilical I had with my old boss and took off down the road. My benefits were set up for direct deposit. I had a new, cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone, my debts were paid and I was a free spirit. A bit damaged, I grant you, but freer than most.

With a thirty-gallon water tank I was able to camp on the cheap, at truck stops and Wal-Mart parking lots. (Wal-Marts seem to have a policy in place that lets people over-night a day or two on their property if the campers don't park close to the building and if they buy something in return for the privilege.) I had the equipment to tap into wireless networks so a short trip into a motel or a restaurant parking lot got me free occasional online services. This let met keep up with my online reading and posting. (Typing had become a stone cold bitch. I had been a 90-WPM typist. Try that after losing a hand.) I shopped at Mexican markets and dollar stores because the prices were right. I drifted West, then South-West.

National parks are free but you can't stay there forever. They don't want you staying in one park over a month. They get kind of testy about it, too.

I realized that I could profit from an economy of scale and bought a small 1.5x3x3 cubic foot propane-fired deep freeze. It went out on the 'back porch' and was well-padlocked. At first I checked it daily when on the road to make sure that the wind hadn't blown out the flame. After a while I learned to trust its engineers. They did a pretty good job on it. I began buying family packs of meat and breaking them down into portions, then freezing them in baggies.

I was getting along better on my new hip and shortened leg. I had a cobbler screw a block to the right heel of my favorite shoes. I was learning how to cope with a stub rather than a left hand. The callus was stiffening up nicely. I was about ready to get a pincer mounted. I remember as a kid the local post office had hired an older guy named Art. He had lost a hand in the Korean war. He had a pincer in its place and did pretty well with it.

My social security and SSD (disability) started coming in. I breathed a lot easier after that. I didn't have to worry about where my next meal was coming from. I had an income of over a thousand dollars a month and just over a hundred thousand in the bank as a cushion. With direct deposit and electronic banking I was set. I still needed a post office box for things like insurance and income tax purposes. After a bit of research on ye olde internet I chose a residence state with no state income tax--Wyoming. I made arrangements with a Mailboxes Etcetera shop in Cheyenne to box up and trans-ship the contents of my box to me anywhere in the U.S. While there I changed my residence and got a new driver's license.

My expenses were gasoline, insurance on the pickup and the trailer, LP gas, food, black water (sewage) dump stations, vehicle maintenance and the cell phone. Occasionally I'd stop in a town with a Merry Maids or some such service and have them clean the trailer while I did the laundry or sat outside on a folding chair, reading a book.

Due South of Cheyenne on 25 lay Longmont, Colorado where the nearest Camping World RV supply store lay. I stumped up and down the aisles picking up things that weren't available at your usual hardware store or supermarket. I picked up a big laminated map book that focused on the state and national parks which allowed camping, some free and some not. They also had a KOA map. (Kampgrounds of America) If I wanted a full service place that's where I'd head. They were regularly inspected for compliance, cleanliness and quality. The Woodall's star system was a pretty good guide, but they could go a few years between inspections.

I joined the Good Sam club. They provide roadside assistance and insurance designed around the needs of campers. The membership paid for itself with my reduced insurance rate.

Camper retirees are an odd folk. You see the same people over and over again and build friendships. We'd share a six of beer and play pinochle or euchre, and part for the night or for the month. Sometimes we'd synchronize our destinations or where we'd winter over. There were some places in Texas that catered to rolling retirees. You could even buy a place down there with a big enclosure attached to a small house designed for a big class-A motor home. They were well beyond my reach, though.

I've had a few bad habits that I've tried to break, such as using paper plates and bowls rather than washing my dishes. I've eliminated going to bars for my liquor as well as eliminating consuming soda pop. I've gone from "Oscar" to something like "Felix". (Anyone remember the Odd couple? Felix was a neat freak.) The trouble was my life was getting pretty damned repetitious. I'd been on the road for four years. Everything was starting to look the same, dammit.

I found an old abandoned ranch-style farm house near Valley Mills, Texas-- a "suburb" of Waco Texas. There were green scrub trees everywhere and the land rolled. It definitely wasn't flat. The driveway was overgrown and it looked like nobody had lived there for half a century. The building was in fairly good shape but the windows were broken out and the roof was in serious trouble. The well was dry. I investigated the place and found that it could be had for about thirty-two thousand dollars in back taxes, including the twenty acres it sat on. I bought it. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I had a well dug for eight thousand dollars. It was a two thousand foot deep well. It tapped an underground river that the geologist said wouldn't dry up unless Yellowstone blew the hell out of the west coast. The roof cost me thirty five hundred bucks and the windows cost about twelve hundred. I had a two thousand pound LP gas tank put in and a guy with a bull dozer cleaned up the driveway. I bought a gas stove and a reconditioned 20KW Generac generator that ran off of the LP gas tank. It didn't cost me much to have a garage tacked to the side of the house, and a door cut into the kitchen. A stock tank finished off my purchases. I figured that if I provided the water the wild stock and game would come. I got a new driver's license and a Texas resident's hunting license. I had my mail re-directed. That took a while. I leased a dumpster and hired two guys to carry the old bedding and assorted trash out of the place. There were a few old good pieces of furniture left. There remained a small table, two chairs and an overstuffed leather chair. They needed a good cleaning and some oil, but they were mechanically fine. I had a carpenter re-finish the floors and clean up the kitchen cabinets. It looked like a place where I could live. I painted the inside of the place myself.

Altogether it cost me about half my savings--Fifty thousand bucks. It was a beautiful early May morning when I got the title in my hands. By the middle of July the place was ready for me to move in.

The place had four bedrooms and three bathrooms, all on one floor. I transplanted the trailer's air conditioner to my bedroom window and moved the demand water-heater to the house's plumbing too. I pretty well stripped the trailer's kitchen to rebuild the house kitchen. The place needed re-wiring and re-plumbing but that could wait its turn. It all still worked. I bought a kitchen table with chairs, a bedroom set with a chest of drawers, a desk for the computer, a couch and some book shelves. I had it all delivered and installed because I didn't do furniture moving very well any more. Furniture is damned expensive. I was out about eight thousand bucks.

An old mutt showed up one day. I petted her and she settled right down and went to sleep next to my chair. I added a big bag of dog food to the weekly grocery run. I made sure to keep a big water dish available, filled with clean water daily.

I sold the trailer for thirteen grand as is. I found a guy that collected old Airstream-style travel trailers and made his day. He damned well made mine too. I almost lost it when he offered thirteen thousand. I was expecting thirteen hundred!

Early that October I got a certified letter. Mrs. Anderson, the lady that I'd bought the trailer from, had passed away. I was listed in her will as her sole heir. After all the taxes, legal bills and bullshit had settled I was mailed a check for sixty-eight thousand bucks. I fount it remarkable that she even remembered me.

Since my bank account was flush again I decided to buy a fairly large window unit air conditioner and had it installed in a living room window so that it could cool both that room and the kitchen. It required a new line to the generator. That motivated me to get the house wiring re-done. (I bought a washer and a gas dryer too, because standing around watching the dryer go ';round and ';round at the laundry-mat is as mind-numbing as watching television.)

The place was going to be pretty much unlivable for a while, so I put out a full bag of dog food, made sure the electrician knew to keep the doggy water bowl full and spent a few weeks travelling.

There was a local Amtrak station and I took advantage of it. I packed a bag with two rollers on the bottom and headed South to San Antonio. I did the tourist thing and had a blast, even though I got gouged pretty good on the hotel bill. I bought a thirty buck month-long pass for VIA, the extensive bus service that connects the whole city. You needed a damned good map to figure out where you were and where the transfer stations linked the routes, but it sure beat walking or a taxi.

I had an ulterior motive for going to San Antonio. The hospital complex. I called ahead for an appointment and got my prosthetic pincer fitted and installed. It hurt at first as the calluses I'd developed didn't match the stress points of the sleeve but I'd adapt.

By the time I sat down on the Amtrak seat I was happy to be headed for home. After I drove up and got out of the truck Millie (the dog) about licked me to death. I loved up on her until she calmed down a little then headed inside to relax. Crap. I had to strip out the refrigerator's contents and bring in the groceries that I'd bought in town. I had a garden cart with four big fat tires that I used to move stuff around. I kept it in a corner of the kitchen. That thing sure made hauling in the groceries easier. Hauling out the garbage went a lot easier, too, as well as moving wet laundry around.

It was a humid climate, make no mistake about that. The early mornings were comfortable, though. I disliked being a meal for mosquitoes so I usually sat in front of a fan while outside to keep the pesky little bastards at bay. I finally got smart and had a guy with two hands screen in the front porch.

I still didn't have internet or a land-line phone, so I didn't have the luxury of getting EarthNet, because it requires a land-line for transmitting. Most weekends I went into town to a little coffee and pastry shop that had WiFi. I'd upload what I'd written, download things to read and pay my bills, all on-line. I stopped in at the Baylor University library or the Waco library to do research for my stories. The local library didn't have much in the way of computer services but my card got me into the city library just fine. You have to love reciprocal services.

I played the radio a lot. There were a lot of stations out of Waco. I refused to even try to get television reception. I was happy living in the ';60s at home ( except for my computer).

I put out a salt and mineral block near the stock tank. Sure enough, I started seeing hoof prints around it.

I figured that if I ever did manage to take a deer I'd have to have some method of picking it up and getting it on the truck. I was in Texas. I saw Gin-pole hoists everywhere. It was a dead-stupid reach to get the truck bed modified to support a Gin-pole. (It's an A-frame hoist that anchors at the rear of the truck bed and uses an electric winch to move anything your truck body can handle. They're used for moving engine blocks, oil-well pipe, big pumps--you name it.)

I had two firearms. One was a sawed-off .410 double-barreled shotgun that I'd cut off the stock to a pistol grip. That was my snake gun. Whenever I was outside I carried it on a sling around my neck, hanging by my right pants pocket. I carried a handful of shells for it, too. BB shot. It did one hell of a number on rattlesnakes. Texas grows BIG rattlesnakes. My other weapon was a Savage bolt-action .22 magnum rifle with iron sights. I had roughed up the front and rear sights a bit and applied a bit of bright pink enamel--the kind you use on model cars and such. It made it a lot easier to aim near dusk and dawn.

[Please don't put down the .22 magnum. It boasts roughly 1/4 the delivered energy of a 5.56 NATO round in a lot smaller package, when you look at comparative bullet weights. You can carry enough rounds for an extended battle in one coat pocket. The .223 Remington with a 36 grain bullet delivers 3750 ft/sec and 1524 Joules, while the .22 Magnum with a 40 grain bullet delivers 1910 ft/sec and 439 Joules. Those are the Wikipedia figures. Anyway, back to the story... ]

It was late December.

I sent away for a starlight monocle that fit on a headband and a few batteries for it. It amplified low level light to a point where it was useful to human vision. Then I started putting together my hide. I'd read about an old-time way to set up a ground stand and wanted to give it a try. First I needed a location that had the stock tank in view yet had a hill or rise behind it. I found the angle, then backed off eighty yards. There I planted two logs on end, one two feet long, one four feet long. The long log got buried by a foot, between the short log and the stock tank, two feet from the short log. There. I had a seat and a shooting rest. Next I buried a cleaned-out oil can to the lip, just between the logs. If I covered up with a blanket like a poncho and ran a little smudge fire I'd not only stay warm but I wouldn't stink of ';human'. I planned to stay out from midnight to just after dawn. I had some cedar bark and hickory bark for the smudge. I had an old Italian military wool blanket that I'd picked up somewhere. I packed a couple sandwiches, a canteen of water, my rifle, night sight, the tree bark for the smudge, a lighter, a nylon rope, a small tarp, a sheath knife and the blanket all in a frame pack, then set the alarm for midnight.

I put a new battery in the night sight and walked out the door with it on. I stood still at the foot of the porch and took it in. It was hard to believe that it was a moonless night. It was a bit chilly so I got moving. I walked to my ground set and laid everything out. I started a little fire in the oil can then threw in a little damp punk wood to bank it a bit. I slung the blanket around me and turned off the night sight to save the battery. I had a spare on me but didn't want to make any metal-on-metal noises. I slung one corner of the blanket over my rifle to keep any dew from forming on it I carefully checked my left shirt pocket to make sure my spare shells were there. Overhead the stars disappeared and reappeared as the clouds floated by in the night.

I was getting stiff, so I popped a couple Advil with some water. (Once you have hip surgery, you always carry some pain medication.) I switched on the night scope and got a surprise. There were three cattle out there, drinking and licking the salt block! I had no way of taking a picture to identify them but none were longhorns. My place wasn't fenced so who knows where the hell they came from. Soon they moved off. It was about an hour and a half before dawn.

A stag and three does came out of the brush. He had five points from what I could make out. I waited until he had dipped his head to drink before I eased the rifle into position, freed the safety and made my shot. He was 3/4 facing me so I aimed for the top of the neck, behind the head. That log rest made it easy. He dropped like a rock. The does scampered. I stood up, packed everything packable, shouldered the pack, picked up my rifle and walked to the stock tank. He wasn't moving or breathing. I rolled him onto the tarp and used my rope to haul him away from the stock tank by twenty yards or so. I got him off the tarp, then sliced his throat to bleed out, cut out his tarsal glands, removed his wedding tackle and severed his anus from the body. Then I zipped open the belly cavity, reached in to sever the esophagus and rolled the guts out. It sounds easier than it is. There's a lot of tugging and mess involved. It has to be done right away, though, or the body won't cool down for a while and the flesh will quickly begin to rot. (It does anyway, but at a much slower pace when the flesh is cool.)

By the time I was done I was about head-to-toe covered in blood. I rolled the carcass onto the tarp, picked up the rifle and pack, then started trudging back to the house, dragging that deer behind me. I got it out to where I could back the truck up to it then headed over to the house to get the water hose out. I put the rifle and pack on the porch, stripped off and proceeded to hose myself down with cold water. My teeth were damned well chattering by the time I was done but I wouldn't be tracking blood all over the house.

After I dressed and warmed up I cleaned my rifle and put most everything away. I got the deer carcass loaded on the truck and took it into town to have a butcher cut it down and package it for me. I smiled all the way to town, thinking about grilled venison. It had been dead about four hours when I delivered it. That's about as fresh as you're going to get. He immediately had his guys haul it in and hung it in the cooler to finish chilling down and bleeding out. I traded him the skin and a rear quarter for the job. He told me that I could pick it up in two weeks, packaged and frozen. I gave him a twenty buck tip and took off.

I headed for downtown Waco and the Sheriff's office. I reported the three cattle that I'd seen that night visiting my stock tank and confirmed that I was golden with my hunter's license and taking the deer on my property. He told me to be damned careful because javelina had been spotted in the area and they would probably shrug off anything short of a 30.06. That got my attention right away. I headed off for a gun store to see what they carried made by Savage Arms Co. I picked up an FP-110 rifle in 30.06 with a Weaver red-dot scope designed for night work and a mean-assed Glock .357 magnum pistol. They sold me a shoulder holster for the pistol and I bought some range time to get familiar with it. I switched to a leather holster because the nylon slowed down my draw too much. I sprang for a half case of ammunition for each firearm as well. Since I was already in town I slipped everything behind the seat and did my weekly shopping. By the time I was finished the night had caught up to me. I was tired. I carefully drove home where I stowed away all the groceries and brought my new firearms into the house. Millie must have gotten into the offal from the deer as I spotted a bit of blood around her muzzle. I shrugged. She'd been scavenging long before I showed up. I hoped that she gotten the liver. I washed up and headed for bed early.

That started me getting up early--about five. There wasn't much classical on the radio but there was an NPR station hosted by Baylor University. Millie and I had more than our fair share of venison that winter. I brought down several more deer and kept the chest freezer full. We had a touch of snow in December and January but it didn't last long. After a while I stopped seeing the cattle at the tank. Occasionally I saw hoof prints in the mud near the tank that didn't match the usual suspects. They were pointy and dug into the mud. I realized that the sheriff hadn't been blowing smoke. Those were pig sign. After that I was quite conscientious about packing that pistol. I picked up a couple fifty-pound bags of cracked corn at a local feed store and started baiting them. I picked off two before I stopped seeing their prints. It made the sheriff happy. They made good smoked bacon too. I had to buy a bigger chest freezer. It was three feet by four feet by six feet long. Before I bought the thing I made sure that it would run off of LP gas so that its load wouldn't drag down the generator. It wasn't a bottomless source of Amp-Hours. 20 KWH was its rating. Period. I filled that freezer over about six weeks.

Late that spring I got a phone call.

"Where the hell are you?"

"What the fuck? Who is this?"

"Who do you think it is you idiot? Who did you sell all your camping gear to?"

"TREVOR? Well, goddamn! How's the high school principal gig working out for you?"

"It isn't. I ';m quitting. I'm retiring at the end of the month."

"You want to visit?"

"That's what I called for, asshole. Now to repeat, where are you?"

"Umm, about thirty miles West of Waco, Texas."

"Oh my God. You haven't turned into a Branch Kevorkian, have you?"

"Aww, hell no. I got tired of being on the road and bought an old ranch house. I've got it fixed up pretty well too, if you don't like television."

"Well, hell! Count me in."
"Good. Bring your wife too. I've even got flush toilets and electricity."

"Hot damn, Jethro!"
"Feed me your cell number." I scratched it down on the shopping list.

"I'll go get a cheap GPS and some furniture for one of the bedrooms. You get a GPS if you don't have one, and I'll call you with my coordinates."

"Gotcha."

I turned and looked at the dog.

"Well, Millie, It looks like we're going to have visitors."

"Woof." She beat her tail against the rug a few times then laid her head down and took a nap.

"You're smarter than I am, dog. It's nothing to really get worked up over, is it?"

no answer.

The next day I headed into town to get a bedroom set and a couple more chairs for the porch on order. Back at my place I checked to make sure I had three matching cups, glasses, plates and bowls. Ya gotta love Corelle--just buy it by the piece at Target, or HEB in Texas. I sat and thought about what I was missing here. I couldn't help myself. I admit it, I flat out panicked. Oh shit! I needed another small window air-conditioner installed in that bedroom, towels, toilet paper, a shower curtain and cleaning supplies in the second bathroom ... A female was about to hit the place. Now, I'm no slob, but a United States female doesn't seem to be happy unless she smells lemon fresh SOMETHING. That's what television will do to ya. Damned idiot boxes. I invested in an industrial metered deodorizer and a gallon of citrus for it. I'd turn it on when I heard their car on the gravel. I knew it would chase the poor dog out the door. I thought seriously about joining her. Personally, I prefer the smell of Lysol from a brown glass bottle and bleach for clean. That's honest. I hired a Merry Maids team to come give the place a search-and-destroy, including the windows and to wipe down the walls. I bought a cheap GPS, recorded the numbers off the unit and called them in to Trevor. I also gave him instructions on how to get to my place from Dallas or Ft. Worth. I went deer and javelina hunting again that night. This time I wanted a female.

Hmph. No such luck. I smiled and composed an email to Trevor describing the snake problem and the javelina problem. I'd send it the next time I had a connection. I suppose that I had the vain hope that she would have second thoughts. Then I realized that I had no chance. She was the wife of a Civil War reenactor and no doubt regularly pulled off ticks and slept in a tent. This would be like a Holiday Inn to her.

I geared up with my snake shotgun then Millie and I took a walk around the property. I wondered why I only found two big diamond-backs in the brush. Back at the house I checked under the porch and around the foundation. I didn't find any of the nasty bastards. That was unusual.

I decided to chill out. It wasn't my responsibility to pander to visitors. If they didn't like the way I lived then the Best Western was thirty-odd miles down the road. I wouldn't go into full field mode and stop showering, but I wouldn't go out of my way to pretty anything else up.

I had a dinner of celery and cream cheese then went to bed.

It was Field Day when I got Trevor's call. That's when a lot of ham radio enthusiasts do their best to operate in primitive ';field' conditions to operate a generalized ';mesh' communications structure around the world. I kept busy transcribing all the contacts that I could hear. Next year, I intended to have a license and a transciever. It was a hell of a lot of fun.

The dog was walking around kind of ';stiff-legged' and was spooked as hell. Just as Trevor drove up I heard:

"Holy Hell. Holy Hell. A category nine earthquake just occured just West of Memphis! The city's in flames!"

Another voice came over the air "Paducah Kentucky just dissapeared. There's a trench that looks like it's ten miles wide. The Mississippi's pouring into it."

"Most of Chicago just slid into Lake Michigan."

"What looks like a volcano just erupted in Yellowstone."

"The ground just crumbled under San Francisco and Los Angeles. They're gone--just gone!"

The air was confused for several days until the news settled down. A cinder cone was building over North West Wyoming and part of Montana. Parts of the mid-west all along the Mississippi River were either gone or quickly becoming that way. Most of California was Missing in Action.

I admit though hind-sight that I over-reacted It must have been all those end-of-the-world-as-you-know-it stories I'd read. (and written) I immediately called in a refill order on my LP gas tank and ordered five more filled tanks to be plumbed in to expand my gas farm. I quickly explained to Trevor what I'd heard then headed into town to buy as much gold in bar and coin as well as silver coinage that I could before the news got out. I bought out three big jewelry stores before the news spread and all hell broke loose. I bought as many flats of canned fruits, pulses, barley and vegetables as my truck would hold, then raped a local sporting goods store for hunting coveralls, boots and ammunition. Trevor had sat his wife down, read her the riot act about their home not being there along with the rest of the county and headed out to scavenge for medical supplies.

You see, Trevor portrayed a battlefield doctor at civil war reenactments. It was like "I'm not a doctor but I stayed at a Holiday Inn!", but it was the best we had. His historical research made up for a lot. He raided veterinary supply stores for masks, gloves, betaidiene scrubbies, other surgical supplies, analgesics, syringes, injectable antibiotics and bandages. After I dumped my load in the garage I headed back out for kerosene lanterns and five-gallon containers of kerosene. I filled the bed of the truck with them. The butcher had several hundred pounds of beef and pork packaged and frozen. I bought him out. The boxes filled the truck bed to the lip. He wasn't concerned--he had a kill shop and could quickly butcher and package more. The next day I went out again. I bought the biggest LP-gas-fired chest freezer that I could find and a thousand pounds of wheat flour and rice right off the loading dock at HEB. I knew a guy that had chickens. I traded him fift bucks for two dozen chickens and a rooster. Trevor and I went noisily nuts putting together a chicken coop. We used rain gutters to build watering trays. I bought bales of hay to spread out for nesting material. I bought two truckloads of mixed ground grain for the birds. We had to scrounge corrugated steel sheet to make a rat-proof granary.

Trevor's Wife, Kathy, was hitting the web in town ordering gardening supplies, seeds and local growing guides. When I saw what she'd ordered I got busy ordering irrigation supplies, wheelbarrows, rakes, hoes, canning kettles, mason jars, lids, pectin, hundreds of pounds of sugar and un-iodized salt. I got a line on pink salt (nitrated salt for meat preservation) and ordered a thousand pounds, a sausage filler and eight hundred feet of sausage casing. We had to build a smoke-house, pronto.

We all sat around the kitchen table and looked at each other. We were beat to hell. It had been a horrible week of scavenging and preparation. I groaned and leaned forward to hold my head. "We've got to block the road. Foragers."

Trevor replied, "Oh, shit. They'll be on us like locusts as soon as someone figures out what we've been doing."

Kathy said "Don't expect that someone hasn't noticed already. We need to lock things down quickly."

I agreed, then thought about the buildings. I said, "We don't even have horses, or fodder for them. We'll need steers and pigs too. We need stables, mangers and feed lofts. We're going to have to expand until we find a stable configuration." I looked Trevor in the eye. "Who do you trust. Call them in." I grinned. "Tell them to bring anything not nailed down. If they can pry anything up, bring that too!"

Trevor got busy making phone calls while Kathy and I got busy making lists. Not much would grow for a couple years if the ash came our way. We could bring rail car loads of food and fodder to the Amtrak rail heading four miles away. The rail lines led South into Mexico. They were already growing a hell of a lot of our produce.

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