Back to Our Beginning by C.L. Scholey by C.L. Scholey - Read Online

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Summary

Earth is under assault. Mother Nature is striking back. Tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, and massive flooding attack the world in a horrendous blow killing three quarters of the world's population. High temperatures broil certain areas whereas others are struck with sudden freezing. Amidst the chaos a woman, her three daughters and two friends try to make sense of it all as they battle for existence in a world run amok. A safe haven in the mines up north is found after death and loss plague the survivors. The twenty-first century no longer exists. Time has become a game of survival. The seasons battle for dominance amidst the destruction. Life on Earth as we know it is no more.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781633556836
List price: $2.99
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Back to Our Beginning - C.L. Scholey

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patience.

Prologue

We’re gonna die!

The woman looked at her filthy, panic-stricken, fifteen-year-old daughter. Sardonically, she thought if she had a nickel for every time she’d heard that in the last five months she’d be rich. Not that it would matter, money was useless. Alarmingly, her daughter could be right. The predictability of their demise seemed a foreboding ‘when,’ more often than not of late.

The crumbling dirt was collapsing around them at an apocalyptic rate. Falling on their heads, into their eyes. The hole wasn’t nearly deep enough to protect them; there were no supports, no bracing materials. The sides were crumbling with rapid intensity. Tiny stones tumbled down the dirt.

The hole was situated in an abandoned house missing a roof and an entire side of its structure, the walls had already been leaning inwards precariously. The hole had been dug into the floor of the kitchen, likely out of desperation by its previous owners when the storms advanced months ago. Hopes of survival were vague; Tansy had seen the family’s remains, scattered about the ramshackle property.

Can I cry now, Mommy? whimpered a petite three year old. She was being held by her nineteen-year-old sister. The child’s forlorn gaze fastened onto her mother.

No, Michaela, Tansy said sternly. We’ll not cry, we’ll not die; we will sit and wait until this storm abates.

No they wouldn’t cry. What had tears gotten them? Nothing. No one would listen or care.

No one was left to care; her husband was cold in his grave. The others lost to them. No one could hear their screams of terror or their cries from hopelessness. Everyone was alone in this nightmare. She glanced at her hands, filthy from brushing the dirt and grime away, encrusted from scavenging through debris. Her clothing was ripped, shredded and stained so badly a beggar wouldn’t be caught dead in them.

Dirt crumbled in around them, pooling ominously at their feet, ankles, calves and knees, rising steadily. The advancing dirt held a new threat, as if the tornado wasn’t enough to terrify them sufficiently. They could see the debris through the cracks in the floorboards overhead swirling, small explosions popping like hand grenades, lightning crackling as thunderous bolts sent from Hell.

Will we see daddy in Heaven? Michaela asked. Her deep brown eyes gave Tansy a moment’s pause at the hopefulness. Tansy’s chest tightened with her unreleased sobs the child remembered her father; a wonderful man who had loved them all so dearly, he had died for them, his last unconditional gift to them.

No, daddy liked heavy metal; they don’t play heavy metal in Heaven, only hymns. He’d rather go somewhere else, her fifteen-year-old sister, Shanie, answered in a scornful voice. She tugged at a leg freeing it momentarily, only to have it re-buried. Her hands tried to steady her movements by clutching at the side of the collapsing wall; she succeeded in only loosening more dirt falling rapidly as the sides shook and crumbled.

Of course they do, Emmy snapped. If God didn’t like heavy metal he wouldn’t have given someone the gift to create it.

Gift?

Even under the circumstances, Tansy was hard-pressed not to snort the word. It was no gift to be carrying her last child as the floorboards vibrated from a too-loud stereo as her husband turned into a dancing fool using his broom from the work shed to strum on, definitely not in time to the music. At the time, she thought that was a nightmare. But this, now, was the real nightmare.

Living and breathing death plagued them. Perhaps their perseverance finally waned. Perhaps their shelter would be their burial plot. That they’d die together offered no comfort. A seething anger engulfed Tansy, burning rage like bile rose within her throat. Not now. Not this time, Mother Nature couldn’t have her children. She’d taken the lives of too many mothers’ children.

Down, Tansy screamed as floorboards were ripped off over their heads. Michaela was plastered to the ground, sinking into the rising dirt as her sisters toppled onto her, while their mother tried to shield them. Dirt mixed with tears as they tried not to choke, not to scream, gasping for meager amounts of air filtered through dirty cloths held over noses and mouths, battling asphyxia as rolling waves of smoky dust invaded their lungs. Falling debris, dirt and stones, pelted them from above, the storm screaming from all around.

Would it never stop? The agony of loss. The terror of the uncertain? Wasn’t it enough they spent every moment in a terrified state, hungering for their survival? Tansy tried not to scream as she felt her body being dragged away from her children. Her arms buried up to her elbows in the dirt, she dug her knees in and gritted her teeth. But just as she thought that she would be sucked into oblivion, the pulling ceased.

The breath from her lungs expelled in a whoosh. An eerie silence loomed. For now. The storm would be back, it would come back again and again. Mother Nature had turned into a relentless killer.

Let’s move, Tansy commanded.

They stood on wobbly legs as Tansy climbed out of the hole that was half filled with dirt and stone; she shuddered at the thought of almost being buried alive. Perhaps it was a combination of the hole and the weight of the dirt that had saved them.

Most of the house was gone; what once remained standing stood no more, pieces were everywhere. She lifted Michaela, cuddling her for a brief moment, brushing off some of the clinging dirt while giving her a quick inspection for any new hurts or cuts. Satisfied no fresh pains adorned the small body, she shifted the child off to the side as Shanie reached for her hand. Together they tugged Emmy out.

Well, you look like crap, Mom, Emmy offered with a lopsided grin, trying to make light of the situation; though her mother could see the small woman before her trembling, her courage was rewarding. Once more they had cheated death. Tansy would savor her victory, their victory. They were by no means finished.

Tansy could hardly make out the contours of Emmy’s slender face—it was so caked in mud. Her hair was clumped and grimy.

Right back at you, babe, Tansy replied.

They needed shelter. Most of the housing had been torn away by the horrendous tornadoes and hurricanes that plagued the earth. Flooding throughout was astronomical as well as deadly they had been reminded not so long ago. Their losses still tragic and traumatic. Night was falling fast, nipping at their heels like the hunger in their bellies and the cold harshness of March.

Hey, dinner, Shanie remarked. She held a scrawny dead black squirrel by the tail.

Oh no. Not squirrel again, Michaela cried out.

It’s still warm. Shanie smiled and swung the squirrel by its tail.

Five months ago Tansy would have demanded she drop the filthy thing and go wash her hands. Five months ago, her daughter never would have touched it to begin with. This is what they’d been reduced to. Pathetic creatures with barely a hope for survival. Scrounging as animals, hungering for even the sustenance rodents would provide. At least tonight they’d have a little something to offer their hungry bellies.

Chapter 1

Five months previously

It’s just a little weed, Mom, Shanie screamed. She stormed into her room, scowling, long blond hair flying like a whip, slamming the door behind her. The force shook the house and cracked one of the door’s hinges.

Well, it’ll be just one little kick in the ass, Tansy yelled. She slapped the palm of her hand against the locked wooden door.

I know my rights.

Not one judge with a teenager would convict me. Tansy threw the comment over her shoulder as she marched down the hall and then down the oak staircase.

Tansy couldn’t believe it. She knew Shanie was having some difficulties at school: fitting in, grades, a few arguments with friends and others, not friendly. Her behavior over the last year had deteriorated so horrendously, sometimes Tansy wondered if the child was hers and not some intergalactic space creature intent on sabotaging their home life. Shanie seemed oblivious to consequences, or uncaring.

Everything came so easily to her older sister. Good grades, good behavior. Emmy was an amazing young woman. She’d never behaved in this manner. She was responsible about everything.

Tansy’s warm thoughts about her oldest evaporated as a large bang reverberated off the wall upstairs to thump onto the ceiling. Obviously her darling middle child had thrown a shoe at the wall.

Not—one—damn—judge, Tansy muttered between clenched teeth, keeping a tenacious hold on her temper.

She looked down and released her death grip on the newspaper. Counting backwards from ten to one she took in a calming breath. Then counted one to ten. Another bang against the wall thumped from upstairs; her grip once more tightened. She heard the front door open.

Hi, honey. How was your day? Her husband, Shane, waltzed into the spacious dining room sporting their youngest daughter on his shoulders.

Do not grow up, Tansy commanded, then gave a stern look up at Michaela.

That good? Shane chuckled and set the child on her feet after she kissed her mother. Michaela raced off.

What’s up, honey? Shane sat down opposite his wife and clutched her hand.

Your child is a nightmare.

No need to divulge which child. Shanie had been the subject of many discussions. Many sleepless nights. He ran his hand through his short hair in a familiar way and offered his wife a sheepish little-boy grin.

She comes by it honestly.

Drugs, Tansy said. No other explanation. Shane’s look darkened; he was up striding for the stairs, taking them two at a time. Tansy knew this wasn’t something he would condone nor tolerate; this wasn’t something to be kept from him, she needed his support. Tansy waited, tensing. She didn’t wait for long.

Shanie, open the door, Shane yelled.

No. A defiant, smugly safe reply.

I’m warning you. A heated command, the door handle rattled ominously.

No.

Now! The ‘or else’ implied command was followed shortly by an ear-shattering crash.

Daddy, my door. A high-pitched squeal, tinged with regret and a small amount of fear.

The yelling followed, lots of it. All by Shane. Threats, groundings, possible bodily harm was insinuated at loud levels, punctuated by noisy pacing. It continued for a good ten minutes, then silence. Quiet weeping and loud, female snuffling followed.

When Shane thundered back downstairs his face was grim. He held in his hand a computer mouse and the base of the phone still attached to the phone jack, a pink cell phone and brand new IPod. He thumped angrily into a chair and pulled out a small metal pipe. He plunked it down on the table followed by a crushed box of cigarettes.

She’s smoking, too? Tansy asked, incredulous.

Shane raised his eyebrows at her and smiled indulgently. The weed was hidden at the bottom of this pack. You smoke it with this pipe.

You’re the one who said she comes by it honestly, Tansy said. What’re we going to do about her? She doesn’t listen to either of us. She’s defiant, angry and unruly about even small issues. When I ask her what’s wrong she says I wouldn’t understand or care. She shuts me out at every turn. When did we become the enemy? I feel so helpless and frustrated...and...

Angry?

Damn right I’m angry. We’re good parents. I’m a good mother. Why doesn’t she see that? All she sees is if I ask her to watch Michaela for me. She’s not my built-in babysitter you know, Tansy said in a voice dripping with sarcasm. We give her everything, she continued to rant, rising from the table to do some pacing of her own.

Finally, she crumpled back onto her seat. Her anger spent, shoulders drooping.

Shane crouched before her chair. Taking her hands in his, he smiled at her.

This too shall pass.

She groaned, her head rolling back to look up at the ceiling.

Yeah, like the mother of all gallstones, she muttered, allowing her head to drop forward.

He chuckled, winked at her, dropped a fast kiss onto the top of her head then made his way to the living room. Tansy knew she’d find father and daughter curled up companionably in the easy chair. Both laughing over the antics of ‘Swiper’ the fox. She moved off into the kitchen to make herself some Earl Grey tea, decided on an orange vodka and crème de cacao martini instead and began a tossed salad with rolls to serve with the steaks she had marinating for dinner.

* * * *

Later that evening, well after Mike—the nickname for their three-year-old daughter—went to bed, husband and wife curled up together on the living room couch. The news of late had been disturbing. Astronomical storms developing into fierce hurricanes in some areas and tornadoes in others had the entire Middle East in a state of pandemic emergency. Earthquakes rocked their countries into rubble, while volcanic activity escalated into gigantic proportions.

Tsunamis struck, eroding shorelines, battering the helpless and those unsuspecting. No one knew or could predict where a storm would hit next; some appeared out of thin air, struck violently, retreat and struck, leaving guessing in a quandary. Citizens remained vulnerable to the next assault, cut off from the rest of the world.

Rumors floated of a weapon of mass destruction, a laser, its molecules manipulated into an excited energy state; its precise wave lengths directed toward satellites. These unsubstantiated rumors hinted at terrorist attacks run amok. Rumors insisting the weapon had turned the earth into a volatile state.

Graphic pictures from satellites appeared on every station. With the mounting destruction, people were evacuated into neighboring countries; the volume of people became too great. Borders closed, causing panic among the citizens. Deaths surpassed hundreds of thousands until calculations were abandoned. Mass grave sites were constructed then destroyed by fierce weather conditions leading to disease as the exposed remains rotted in the open. Soon the neighboring countries became plagued with the same violent destruction.

People ran out of places to flee. The army, marines, navy and nations leaders were forced to admit defeat. They pulled their people out, saving as many as was humanly possible, then fled, leaving behind the numerous unfortunates. Advanced technology through ‘Big Brother’ allowed any and all to witness the horror via satellite—an unwelcome intruder in their homes, though many succumbed to the morbid fascination of watching a person’s last breath. The storms were too irregular. People were resigned to watch the tragedies unfold before their eyes, sickened at such loss, and an uneasy fear of what was coming their way.

People were buried alive as dirt and mud avalanches assaulted them while they tried fleeing to higher ground to avoid the rapidly rising waters. Drowning victims’ lifeless bodies caressed the turbid shoreline or floated adrift flooded roadways. Drifting bodies, humans, animals and sea creatures washed inland. Sharks swimming confused through residential streets struck those unaware.

Help couldn’t come. People around the world were just as helpless and seemed to be facing the same danger. The storms were heading out to sea, grounding all flights, docking seaworthy vessels. An evil threat of nature advancing on polite society, and there were few answers to the alarming questions. The nation’s governments did their best to assure the people the storms would run their course before coming into contact with the rest of the world. If not, they wouldn’t strike with the same magnitude and destruction seen overseas; they couldn’t possibly enter farther inland. The people were guaranteed a plan of evacuation was in place on the slight off-chance minimal destruction might occur. People wondered where they could be evacuated to. Where exactly was safe above or below ground with the high winds, lava, fires and severe flooding? In short, there were no assurances.

Shane, Tansy said in an uneasy voice. He tightened his arms around her. Will we be okay? She looked at him as he smiled at her; she could see the worry etched in his troubled eyes.

Everything will be fine, babe, don’t worry.

Maddeningly, it had been his reply to everything for as long as she’d known him, twenty-one wonderful years. They’d met when he moved in with his family across the street from her when she was fourteen. That very day she’d been told by her mother she’d never have children because of an accident when she was young, too young to remember.

She’d raced from her mother in a disbelieving frenzy to curl into a ball at the base of her favorite tree in a deeply wooded area. Weeping her heart out and crying at the unfairness of life. She’d always had high hopes of a fulfilling career, many children to love and nurture; she wanted it all. Now who would she share her dreams with, who’d share their dreams with her?

Everything will be fine, said a deep, calming voice; an awkward hand patted her shoulder. A warm, large body sat next to hers. She looked over and stared into beautiful blue eyes full of concern. The young man then draped an arm around her shoulders. His blond hair ruffled in the warm summer breeze. He offered her an enchanting smile.

How do you know? she whispered, captivated. His hand reached for and clutched her hand, pulling her closer.

Because I’m here now, he replied. His voice so full of sincerity and truth she’d believed him.

Love at first sight was an astounding occurrence. It was as if life stood still in the uniqueness of the event. The two became inseparable afterwards, spending every spare moment together. Everything had been alright for a time and then turned frighteningly wrong. At sixteen, Tansy became the mother of a miracle. One she would’ve liked a little later in life, though thankfully her parents were ecstatic, thinking they’d never see a grandchild. Emmy, short for Emily May entered the world at six pounds even.

Her proud father, Shane, barely eighteen, acted like he’d done all the hard work, floating through the hospital corridors handing out chocolate cigars to complete strangers with the caption; It’s a girl, written in pink.

Tansy was overwhelmed. She was never supposed to have children. Yet here she was, this pink squalling mass of...poop, spit-up, and some smell Tansy couldn’t seem to put a finger to. Although Tansy was elated at having a child, she was so young.

Tansy looked at the baby a bit fearfully; the baby gave her a direct stare in return.

Don’t think I can do this, do you? No response. Well, what did she expect...an amusing anecdote? I can do anything, Tansy answered her own question as her child nursed, and moments later mother and child formed an unbreakable bond.

Looking at Shane in the dim light of the living room while the gas fireplace flickered invitingly before them, Tansy smiled. Shane was right, they were home, they were all together, safe. It was all she needed. Shane turned off the disturbing images on the television, arose from the couch; they locked hands and walked upstairs.

They went to the first door and peered in. They smiled at Emmy, back for a visit from University. She was sitting comfortably, writing an essay in her easy chair, with her laptop. She smiled at them, blew a fast kiss then became reabsorbed in her work. Just starting her second year she was home for Thanksgiving. On the honor roll and having earned a scholarship, she was a bright young woman on her way to a bright future.

The next, recently-repaired, door opened to reveal a room so messy a pig would’ve been aghast at the sight. Sprawled sound asleep on her bed, Shanie was lying amidst a pile of dirty and clean clothes. A bag of half-eaten potato chips lay at her bare feet, curdled chocolate milk on a side table. She rolled over, muttered something about a boy with a nice ass and settled again on a soft sigh. Shane turned off her television and unplugged her video games for the night.

Her parents offered each other supporting looks, closed the door and made their way to Michaela’s room. Their youngest daughter lay surrounded by a multitude of stuffed animals, picture books and the latest numerous toys on the market, her room full to bursting. Her angelic face peaceful in the soft moonlight bathing the room. Tansy reached out and smoothed back a long lock of sweet smelling, chestnut hair and placed a kiss on her sleeping baby’s brow. Shane did the same, then pulled her princess covers up under her chin, tucking her beloved rag doll in beside her.

Neither adult noticed the subtle movement of the tree branches outside the darkened room window as they tapped at the house as if in warning. The last few leaves of fall drifted to the ground in a spiral motion, only to be picked up and captured by the wind, sailing into the moon’s illuminated sky.

Smiling adoringly at his wife, Shane took her hand in his and embraced her. Keeping his wife pressed possessively to his side, the young couple made their way to their room and went to bed.

Chapter 2

Mom, hey Mom, Shanie yelled, running into the house, slamming the door on a gust of boisterous wind determined to make its way indoors.

It was the last day before the Thanksgiving long weekend. It was shortly after lunch. Tansy stood sorting socks at the kitchen table, she loathed this job. She looked at them in disgust. It appeared the proverbial sock fairy was at it again, too many without matches. She groaned. She didn’t have time for this; she was supposed to be writing out a quarterly review that was already past due. As it was, she was running late her wrist automatically twisting to reveal the time indicated on her watch. The turkey was in the oven cooking early and would need basting; she’d just have to freeze it for later. If she could keep Shane out of it, she thought with fond annoyance.

Must you slam the door? And why are you home so early?

Mom, really, you’re not going to hurt the socks’ feelings by scowling at them, Shanie said.

I thought I could intimidate them into telling me where the other wayward truants are, she replied, indicating the growing pile with a bit of frustration. Speaking of truants... Tansy gave her a direct stare, brows lifted with meaning.

Shanie rolled her eyes then came directly to the point. They closed the school.

For Thanksgiving? Tansy asked, shooting her a quizzical glance.

I think for good, Shanie stated with a dramatic flair. Tansy’s hand stilled. She looked at her daughter waiting for a punchline. When none came, she gathered her thoughts and asked as calmly as she could, What do you mean, you think for good?

Explaining on the way, Shanie took her mother’s hand leading her into the living room. An announcement came over the PA, we were to head straight home, not bother with our lockers. Not to stop to talk to our friends, just go home. The principal said we weren’t to return for any reason. He told us to turn on the news channel the minute we got home and find our parents. At first we thought it was a bomb scare, but on the way home I saw people rushing around like crazy, there’re some creepy clouds in the sky.

Shanie grabbed the remote to click on the television and both watched as the scene unfolded. Words like; Roads closed, State of emergency, resounded throughout the room from a frantic anchorman, his plea to the public to seek shelter, help their neighbors, friends. Remain calm.

Tansy perched on the edge of the couch. She watched devastated as half of Florida seemed to be covered in torrential water, hurricanes like never before battering the state from all sides mercilessly. At another flash through satellite, Mexico was gone—just gone, barren ocean where it once sat. Tips of buildings could barely be made out over rolling white-capped waves, a frightening testimony of what once was. Another flash and six tornadoes were battering Texas, another three bashing Missouri, hurling homes and property into oblivion.

Unsure what the next flash from satellite was, the announcer assured them they were looking at Arizona, a massive ball of dust storm so intense those caught unaware perished from asphyxiation. Another flash, California seemed an inferno of billowing flames, rolling up lethally from the ground. Volcanic eruptions spewed instant death from Yellow Stone Park. Image after image assaulted them.

Tansy could hear the newscaster’s harried voice ringing in her ears, battering her mind, urging everyone to seek shelter. Grab any survival kit they had stored and stay put. Do not venture outside.

Shane, Mike, Tansy whimpered.

She jumped from the couch and headed to the front door, grabbed her purse, spilling its contents onto a nearby table, snatching up her car keys.

No, it’s too dangerous, Shanie cried out.

At that moment, Shane stormed through the front door, his normal continence gone, his face ashen, a crying Michaela clutched in his arms. Tansy flew to them and reached for her daughter.

Shane. Tansy clutched at his jacket panicking.

"I know. It’s bedlam out there. I tried to call, but the phones aren’t working, my cell phone wouldn’t get reception. I had to leave the car in the middle of the highway; traffic’s backed up for miles. When I got to the preschool, Mike was crying off to the side alone; parents were racing, screaming for their kids. The teacher abandoned her class to get her own children. One woman stayed, thank heavens she doesn’t have a family or all the kids would’ve been left alone.

"Christ, can you imagine an entire class of children three and under left unsupervised? Toddlers, infants abandoned. If the other teacher hadn’t sworn she’d stay, a few of us parents would’ve grabbed some of the children to bring home with us.

"News of the storms is just hitting the airwaves; at least, what stations are left and not annihilated it happened so fast. Like a damned plague of locusts. They must’ve known; somebody had to have seen it coming. But we weren’t warned because of the fear of mass panic.

"But that’s what we have now. People are terrified of the unknown; they’re racing for the stores to grab food and supplies. No one’s bothering to pay for anything; they’re just grabbing and running, the employees alongside them. Shopping carts, wagons, bags, all are filled and people are racing down the street with what they’ve stolen...in broad bloody daylight!

What police are left can’t control the volume of hysteria; a few were knocked to the ground for their weapons. Some of the police are using their weapons to steal alongside the civilians. Everyone is saying it’s as bad here as it was overseas. They haven’t guessed at the death toll, but states and provinces are missing. Missing, Tansy. How the hell do you lose an entire province or state?

But how could they keep something like this from the public? We need time to find shelter; why did they wait so long? Why weren’t we informed weeks ago this was going to happen when we could’ve prepared ourselves? Tansy cried out. Shane grabbed her hard, holding her closer; he looked her intently in the eyes.

Because there is no shelter, babe.

What’re you saying, Daddy? They turned to see Emmy standing on the stairs shaking. Shane released his wife and strode over to his eldest; he pulled her tiny frame close.

The borders are closed from the States. People are trying to flee to Canada but it won’t help; it’s just as bad here. Our people are fleeing to the States; no one knows where to go. The Garden City Skyway is on the verge of collapse; the Peace Bridge is gone, it collapsed while crowded. I heard someone say Niagara Falls is flooding from the volume of water pressure. Shane gathered his entire family into his arms. The storms are here; they didn’t lessen in intensity. Tornadoes are destroying anything on land. Hurricanes are raging in the oceans. Earthquakes are rocking California, British Columbia, Washington. There’s no rhyme or reason where they’re hitting; we’ve nowhere to run. The oceans and waterways are advancing on us in an army of typhoons.

Tansy shoved Michaela into Shane’s arms and fled to the kitchen. Her family followed, shocked into silence as she raced from here to there filling any container she could find with the water surging from both taps. She pulled the half-filled water bottle from the cooler, intending on filling it to the brim, and mentally noted there were two more full ones in the basement, and a stack of water bottles in the garage.

Tansy, Shane began brokenly.

Hurry, she yelled. Before the water is contaminated. We need to get to the basement. Inland, we’re in more danger from the storms aboveground than below. We need to build a barricade; we need food, blankets and flashlights. Help me find the candles and batteries. We need warm clothing, blankets, towels, matches.... Her voice trailed off as she threw open cupboards and drawers. Hearing only silence behind her, she spun around. No one had moved. We will not sit and wait to die. We’ll fight for every breath. Now move!

They sprang into action to raid the freezer and refrigerator of its contents including condiments, flour, sugar, salt and spices from the cupboards. Because it was the holiday, Tansy shopped early in light of the company coming, her neighbors. Always wanting to be one step ahead, for every step she seemed behind, her pantry was loaded with canned goods, treats for the children, a twenty pound sack of potatoes, a huge bag of carrots, fresh vegetables, hors d’oeuvres, the frozen remains of half a butchered cow and pig with frozen vegetables. Different types of loaves of bread lay in the freezer. It would all have to be moved.

They grabbed pots, pans, blankets, a can opener, towels, dishcloths, soap, cups, dishes, utensils, matches, candles, newspaper and old flyers for fuel, garbage bags, shower curtains and picnic table coverings, plastic to aid against the wet weather approaching.

To occupy her, Tansy sent Mike upstairs to her room for her rag doll and a few other toys and books.

Tansy, I’m going outside for the tarp off the boat. If the ceiling’s ripped off we may need it. Remember to grab what you can from the medicine cabinet, and the first-aid kit, and pull down those fire extinguishers. I’ll help drag down some mattresses and small pieces of furniture when I come back in, and don’t forget the hibachi, we haven’t used all the propane since camping last month, and the tent and camping supplies. We can set the tent up under the stairwell, Shane yelled and dashed outside while Tansy and the girls began throwing supplies into any carry-on they found.

They raced the items up and down the cement stairs. With intuition aiding her desperation, Tansy grabbed large rocks from inside the fish tank and the numerous special ones she had scattered about the house to build a circle in the basement. They’d need to contain the fire they’d have to start for warmth by defining an area. More were found outside. Once done she returned indoors with the backyard foremost in her mind. They might have time to gather the many sticks of autumn littering the backyard from windstorms she and the girls hadn’t had time to rake.

* * * *

Tansy heard a commotion from outside. Shane came crashing through the front door followed, on foot, by their neighbor, Sam Market. Sam was a robust, burly man of fifty-nine and a good friend, it was his family invited to their Thanksgiving dinner. Sam grabbed Shane by the arm, pulled him to his feet, hauling him back outside where yelling and screaming could be heard as though a large mass had gathered.

Tansy stood for a moment too stunned to move, mouth agape, wondering what could be happening. She’d never seen Shane fight. Was Shane actually fighting? Emmy’s scream jarred her back into reality. Shanie had raced for the living room where a shattering of glass was heard. Tansy sprinted to her daughter, when reaching the living room there stood Shanie, her great-grandfather’s rifle held under one arm while she fumbled with a piece of jagged wood. When Emmy had been born, her great-grandfather had recently died and left the old rifle to Shane. Tansy hated weapons, not wanting it around her child. As a compromise, Shane placed it in a sealed glass case, the proverbial ship in a bottle. He couldn’t bear to part with something his granddad had loved.

Shanie, what on earth? Tansy said.

A snap sounded to reveal a secret door holding shells. Removing them, Shanie loaded one into the barrel, slid it into place, and then clutched the weapon. She turned to her mother, smiling triumphantly. Bet you didn’t know about that. She moved off toward the door.

Shanie was unsuccessful at dodging past Tansy who grabbed her by the arm and spun her around. Shanie, about to protest, had the weapon jerked from her hands. Tansy scooped up a frightened Michaela from the stairs and gave her to Emmy, passing a few of the toys the child had gathered to Shanie. She propelled Shanie in her sister’s direction.

Emmy, take your sisters and those other bags and go hide in the basement.

But, Shanie protested.

Go, now.

Leaving no room for argument, the girls headed for the basement as Tansy strode for the battered front door. Stepping through the open doorway holding the rifle, Tansy was horrified to see Shane, and Sam Market; they were fighting, with others she wasn’t sure she knew. Her eyes grew wide as Chris, Sam’s boisterous fifteen-year-old son, whacked a balding man on the head with what looked like Shanie’s tennis racket. And, oh my God, is that old Mrs. Mason on some man’s back? That’s it, it’s happened, I’m in the Twilight Zone.

Without thinking how and why her front yard had turned into a war zone, Tansy raised the barrel of the gun into the air and fired. Next thing she knew she was on her ass, her shoulder aching like hell. What was that Shane said years ago about a kickback?

Everyone stopped moving. Shane strode toward Tansy; he helped her up and took his weapon into his hands looking confidant.

Everyone needs to calm down, Sam boomed. The disgruntled people milling about sectioned off into different groups, when Shane shifted his rifle pointedly at a certain belligerent few.

You got a basement. I need the tarp to protect my family, a man yelled, trying to disengage old Mrs. Mason from his shirt collar.

It don’t belong to you, it’s ours. You’re a stinking thief, Shanie shouted, appearing at her mother’s elbow.

Does not. Her mother corrected her grammar out of habit, though still dazed from the shock of the blast. She absently rubbed at her sore butt.

That’s what I said, Shanie replied. So back off you scum-sucking dirt bag, she howled at the man, her fist waving in enthusiasm.

Shanie, you don’t address your elders as ‘dirt bag,’ her father scolded. "But I can. He gave her a conspiratorial wink.

Emmy and Michaela joined them outside, terrified from hearing the gun blast and stood by their father.

Listen up, Sam yelled. He came to stand beside Shane and his family. Those with basements might be persuaded to accept other families if you have stuff to offer in exchange. Stealing won’t solve anything. Fighting won’t help anyone. Try to come to some kind of an agreement with each other peacefully.

You mean a bribe, shouted an angry woman.

I think he means share and compromise, Shane corrected.

If you don’t have a basement why not take supplies to the church? It has a huge basement, Emmy said.

As if a light went on inside the people’s heads, they started to disperse. Most realizing that they should grab what belongings they had and head to not just shelter, but to a place of spiritual safety and comfort.

You’re welcome to join my family. After all there’s safety in numbers, Shane offered Sam. It might be more of a comfort not to wait this out alone.

You’re right, buddy, Sam answered; he reached over to tousle his son’s hair and tweaked Michaela’s nose.

If we are, we best gather our things quickly, Sam’s wife said with urgency. Her weathered face glanced to the sky where gray storm clouds were rolling in. Rain began to spit down on them, gaining in intensity with each passing moment.

* * * *

Darkness settled by late afternoon. The small band of eight sat drinking instant coffee and hot chocolate with marshmallows in ceramic mugs around oil-filled lanterns Shane had pulled off the knick-knack shelves in the living room. Tansy had bought a few at garage sales after Shane’s mother gave her the ones she received from her own mother. Shane preferred the variety of battery operated lights they took camping but wanted to save them in case of an emergency. Tansy had looked at him dismayed. This was an emergency. Wouldn’t they be back to normal before long? Disasters had befallen countries throughout the centuries, things always settled down to normal after a while.

* * * *

Sam reported the streets were deserted on the way back, everyone taking shelter as the wind picked up and the harder rain began to fall. Walnut-sized hail bounced on the pavement of the streets and sidewalks causing the family to hurry to their destination. Both families were huddled in the basement, sitting on cushions lying atop plastic covers scattered around the tiny fire that burned brightly against the gloom, surrounded in mismatched-sized rocks keeping it contained. The double-hand-sized fire gave off little smoke, small tendrils found their way out through numerous cracks.

Shane and Sam had stapled the boat’s tarp to the ceiling. A storm was battering the windows and doors upstairs as if an angry mob were trying to break in. They lived in an older home, high on a hill, the roadways meandering down toward town, and didn’t have any windows in their basement. An old coal chute had been bricked over eons ago. They could hear the occasional shattering of glass coming from upstairs. Continuous large explosions sounded as lightning struck. Thunder crashed loud enough to make them feel the entire house move.

I guess this means no math test on Tuesday, Chris said.

I would’ve preferred the math test, Shanie said.

Boy you’re scared, Chris said.

I’m not scared. I’m stuck in an old leaking basement with you. What’s that god-awful smell?

Chris turned crimson. A strong odor of cologne wafted from his direction.

That’s enough, Shane said. "We might be down here for a while so we