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Facing the Storm

Facing the Storm

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Facing the Storm

282 pages
4 hours
Apr 24, 2017


Continuing after the events of Braving the Storm, Steve and the rest of his cabin mates adjust to living without power and working with the local community to survive while others want to take what is not theirs.
Apr 24, 2017

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Facing the Storm - Jennifer Brooks


Chapter 1

December 3rd, 6:45am, 78 days after the Blackout – The Cabin

Meghan jolted awake in bed, her heart racing. Her body was covered in a film of cold sweat, and she was panting. She’d had another nightmare. It was always the same one these days: she’s watching the cabin from behind a Plexiglas window, like she’s in a zoo. Two men sneak onto the property. She’s banging on the window to warn her cabin mates, but none of them hear her. Everyone leaves for their routine errands, and she’s screaming at them to stay. One of the men grabs Susan, knocks her unconscious, and runs into the cabin. The other holds a knife to Susan’s throat. Meghan bangs on the window harder, screaming herself hoarse. In the dream, she breaks the window and shoots at the man holding Susan with her bow, but she’s too late. Susan’s neck is sliced open and gushing blood down the front of her and all over the ground. She slumps over, and she is gone.

She looked around the room, not recognizing it for a moment. A brief relapse in memory wasn’t uncommon for her after these nightmares; she always expected to wake up in her old apartment in Pittsburgh, walk over to her home office, and start working on her computer. As she got her bearings and recognized the bedroom of the cabin, reality started to sink it. It wasn’t a nightmare, not really, she lamented. It was a memory. I killed a man. But at least Susan is actually alive. She was also thankful she didn’t have these dreams every night like she used to during the first couple weeks, though she suspected they’d never go away fully.

It had been almost three months since Superstorm Nicole pummeled the east coast of the United States. Many cities on the east coast, some places as far in as 50 miles, were reduced to piles of debris and waterlogged buildings. Downed power lines in these areas started a chain reaction that eventually resulted in the shutdown of the entire Eastern Grid with the exception of a few pocket cities with independent power stations. Half the country—from Florida to Maine and all the way west to Oklahoma—was without power, phones, or cell towers. The absence of electricity created some immediate issues, such as the inability to use credit cards, SNAP cards, or debit cards. It wasn’t long before hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, and banks in the Blackout and Storm Zones went under. Banks were worthless now, anyway; the Dollar crashed soon after the New York Stock Exchange closed a month into the Blackout. The Second Great Depression had begun and adversely impacted countries all around the globe.

Infrastructure quickly deteriorated once citizens realized they could not access their money. Stores were pillaged as people fought over the last of the supplies, and cities were quickly seized by gangs and militias as law enforcement officials were vastly outnumbered and could not keep up with the crime all around them. Many escaped the cities into wooded and rural areas, learning to live off the land. Others remained in their suburban communities and struggled to defend their homes. All anyone could do now was try to survive until the power came back on—though no one knew when that would be—and hope that the government had a plan to make this nightmare end someday.

Meghan’s boyfriend, Steve, owned the cabin, having inherited it from his grandfather years prior. When the Blackout happened, Meghan, Steve, and several of their friends came to the cabin to get out of the city before things got too dangerous. They soon learned that they hadn’t escaped danger completely, though, when two men tried to seize their property.

No one realized the men had been watching them from the forest for over a week, learning their routine. On a day when most of the group was away from the cabin while running routine errands, the thieves used the opportunity to their advantage. Meghan and their friends’ teenage daughter, Taylor, defended the group’s home from the marauders, killing them both in the process. Taylor’s mother, Susan, had sustained a neck laceration from the scuffle, but fortunately she had fully recovered. Meghan still avoided the spot in the woods where the two had been buried, a chill always running through her when she got too close. She could still see both of their faces so clearly, even though she had been several hundred feet away as she hid behind the tree line. She still saw their bodies slumped on the ground, still saw her arrow protruding from the one’s forehead and the gaping chest wound in the other from Taylor’s rifle. Those images would never, ever fade.

Meghan took a deep breath, inhaling the cool winter air perfumed with smoke from last night’s fire. The cabin was staying warm enough, considering there was no electric heater, but the morning chill was always a bit sharp until they got the chimney fire stoked. She pulled on her thick wool socks, trying to block the chill of the hardwood floor as she padded to the common area to build the fire back up.

As she tiptoed across the room, she checked in on Taylor. Meghan and her boyfriend, Steve, occupied one half of the bedroom, a thin bedsheet dividing their living space from Taylor’s. She immediately noticed Taylor’s irregular breathing, her jerky hand and leg movements, and that she was muttering under her breath. She was also having a nightmare. Taylor didn’t have the dreams as frequently as she used to, either, but they were just as surreal as Meghan’s when she got them.

Meghan kneeled down next to her, lightly shaking her shoulder. Tay-Bug? Sweetie? You’re having a bad dream.

Taylor’s eyes shot open, and she gasped. She looked around frantically until she got her bearings, and then she focused on Meghan’s face. She sighed. Thank you, she said.

Same one? Meghan asked.

Taylor nodded, sitting up. It’s always the same, she muttered. She knew that shooting the home invader was the only possible solution to the problem; he was barricaded in the house, and only Meghan and Taylor were there. If he would’ve still been in the cabin when everyone got back home, he could easily have shot them all before they got anywhere near the building. Luckily, he didn’t know Taylor had run from creek to help when she heard gun shots, so she had to take the opportunity to eliminate the threat. But still, to be 16 and to have killed a man…

Meghan sat next to her, putting her arm around her. We’re safe, Tay, she said reassuringly. They’re not coming back.

Taylor nodded. I know. I’m just sick of having this damned dream over and over.

So am I, trust me.

They sat in silence for a moment, their customary tradition after suffering these dreams. Taylor sighed, standing up. Well, I’m awake. Might as well get the fire started.

They both padded into the common area, trying not the wake the others. The other cabin’s bedroom was occupied by Taylor’s parents, Harry and Susan, as well as her two younger brothers, Jared and Ian. The rest of the group—Bryan, Tori, and Chloe—were sleeping in cots in the living room. Tori and Chloe had their own camper, but they’d had to move into the house a week ago; it had finally gotten cold enough that their nylon-walled popup camper couldn’t properly shield them from the cold temperature any longer, even with their solar-powered heater always running.

At this point, lighting a fire was second nature; they all used to struggle to get tinder lit off one match, but now they sometimes didn’t even need a match or a lighter. There were generally a few coals still hiding in the ashes which they would reignite as they cleaned the flue. They kept the ashes to make their own soap, and it was getting to a high enough quality that they might even be able to start trading bars of it for other goods. Now that it was colder out and a fire was often blazing, there would be plenty of ashes to make soap so long as they could trade for tallow from the dairy farmer.

Once they got the chimney fire lit, they would get the wood burning stove going. They were rationing their remaining coffee, and everyone had a small cup in the morning to get started. The whistle of the kettle was the house’s wake up alarm. Now that it stayed dark later in the morning, it was harder to wake up at a reasonable hour. There was no ignoring that whistle, though.

Taylor peeked outside the kitchenette window. It looks like it snowed last night, she whispered.

We should have your brothers collect snow for the rain barrels, Meghan suggested. As soon as everyone’s up we’ll have to check the thermometer. It doesn’t look that cold out; Chloe and Tori may be able to check the cone traps today. Fish were still in the deeper, warmer parts of the creek. The weirs they built in the autumn were too shallow and cold for fish to swim in them right now; they had to rely on the cone traps resting on the creek bed to get fresh fish. They had plenty of supplies stored in the cabinets and in the crawl spaces under the cabin, but they still liked to eat fresh meat whenever possible.

Tori began to stir. She peeked her head over her blanket. Good morning, she greeted, stretching. That fire feels good. It got kind of cold last night.

Meghan nodded. The bedroom wasn’t much better.

Where’s Chloe? Taylor asked.

Tori nodded towards the roof. It’s her watch, she explained. After the attack on the cabin, Steve and men from the nearby trading post constructed a watchtower on the roof of the cabin. They used to just patrol the perimeter, but then the men had attacked the front of the cabin in the few moments Meghan, the person on watch, had circled around the back. Now they had a 360 degree vantage point of both the perimeter and into the woods. They built the over watch next to the chimney which provided residual heat, and the solar powered heater from the camper was installed once Tori and Chloe moved into the cabin for the winter. Plastic flaps over the windows insulated the space enough to stay toasty, even on the coldest nights. They were thankful they lived so close to the junk-yard-turned-trading post and that they were friends with its proprietor, Old Bill, because they were able to get the supplies they needed to build the over watch so that they could continue defending their home in the dead of winter.

The kettle started rumbling, a sign that it would be done soon. Bryan sat up, rubbing his eyes. What time is it? he asked.

A little after 7, Taylor replied. Do you want coffee or tea?

Coffee, please, he responded, groaning as he stood. The cot wasn’t the most comfortable bed he’d ever slept on, and his old muscles and bones ached every morning until he stretched out. It was better than stepping on the floor, though.

The kettle’s whistle roared to life, signaling the start of the day. Stirring could be heard from both bedrooms, mattresses and floorboards creaking as everyone arose. The scent of coffee brewing in the French press filled the air, its invigorating aroma energizing them.

Harry popped his head out of his bedroom, greeting everyone. Hey, Bryan, just a heads up: in the middle of the night, Whiskers came into our bedroom and started scratching at the hatch to the crawl space, so I let her in there.

Bryan nodded. She probably heard another mouse. As the temperature dropped, more mice tried to make their way into the cabin to stay warm. Bryan’s cat had already caught four, and they were sure there would be more to come. They were all thankful they had a cat on hand to assist with keeping their food supply safe. Their provisions were all sealed in plastic tubs, but the mice would eventually find a way in. Hopefully she doesn’t leave the carcass at the foot of my bed again. I love her, but I could do without her gifts.

Steve walked out of the bedroom, fully clothed and ready to start the day. He’d heard Meghan speaking to Taylor after her nightmare, but he let them have their privacy; they had bonded over defending the cabin, and they were better at comforting each other than he ever would be.

Good morning, he greeted, retrieving a mug from the cupboard. What do you guys want for breakfast? Steve had been a chef for over two decades prior to the Blackout, so he cooked most of the cabin’s meals. We have a few eggs left, and this bread’s gonna turn soon if we don’t eat it. Egg sandwiches?

Sounds good to me, Meghan said. I’ll get out a jar of fruit. We haven’t had oranges in a while.

It wasn’t long before the group was sitting around the table together eating breakfast and planning out the day. Because so many tasks needed accomplished on a daily basis, it was helpful to get together and coordinate their efforts before they got started. Sitting together for a meal also made them a more cohesive group; keeping the lines of communication open was key to ensure everything worked smoothly in such cramped quarters.

It looks like it snowed last night, Chloe announced.

We checked the thermometer, Taylor added. It’s 35 degrees, so it’s going to melt soon.

We should collect snow for the rain barrels, Bryan suggested.

I’ll have the boys collect it once they’re ready to go out, Susan said. I’m sure they’ll be excited for a chance to play in the snow.

Do you think it’s warm enough out to check the fish traps? Meghan asked.

Chloe nodded. We’ll have to be careful walking in the snow, but we’ll make it to the traps.

It’s also militia day, Harry reminded them. Because there was no more actual law enforcement in their area, most residents from the nearby towns, as well as local farmers and others in the area, had banded together to defend their territory. Steve and Harry had enlisted once it was formed, and Taylor joined after the attack on the cabin. Harry was still anxious about his teenage daughter being a member, but she insisted on joining after the attack on the cabin.

Taylor nodded. It’s drills today, so we’ll be gone for a good part of the afternoon. The militia had a schedule during which members would gather and discuss local events as well as practice combat maneuvers. Learning to work together as a unified unit was essential to the group’s success, and it was a great supplement to what Steve had already taught her about combat and hunting. She had quickly become proficient with firearms once they arrived at the cabin thanks to learning how to hunt, so she soon earned the honor of being named one of the top mentors in the militia.

Steve began training his cabin mates in self-defense, a skill which became even more crucial after the attack. Taylor struggled at first; like most people pre-Blackout, she’d lived a mostly sedentary lifestyle, her free time spent playing video games or hanging out with friends. She had already gotten stronger thanks to helping out with hunting, fishing, and other tasks. The martial arts training enhanced this, making her young body limber and agile in ways she hadn’t thought possible.

Any updates to the radio newscast? Susan asked. There was still only one radio station coming through: a group of ham radio users whose sole purpose was to keep news broadcasting on at least one station on every band.

Meghan shook her head. I checked while Steve was getting breakfast ready. It’s the same broadcast that’s been playing for the last couple weeks, she responded.

Tori walked to the chimney, feeling a thick plastic sack hanging next to it. It was a solar shower which they hooked up inside the bathroom. Because it wasn’t warm outside, they heated the water by hanging it near the fire between washings. It was more economical this way; they could heat water on the wood burning stove, but that’d be a waste of their supplies. The water’s pretty warm. Anyone up for a shower?

Steve shook his head. I’ll wait until after drills, he replied. No sense in wasting the water now. Harry and Taylor nodded in agreement.

I’m going to wait until after we get the fish, Chloe said. I’ll need warmed up after that.

I’ll take a quick one, Meghan announced. She was still a bit shaken up after from her nightmare, and the warm water would be a great help to soothe her nerves. I’ll replace the water with more from the well once I’m done. It should be warm by the time everyone else is ready.

Sounds good, Susan agreed, collecting everyone’s plates and cups. I’ll get the dishes washed before I get the kids ready to play outside.

Chapter 2

December 3rd, 7:15am – Grove City, PA

Tom led the convoy into the now abandoned Grove City Outlets, keeping an eye out for other people as they approached their destination. Five vehicles followed his SUV: another SUV and four pickup trucks. A total of 21 militia members filled the vehicles with plenty of room for any supplies they found.

As they approached the off-ramp, Tom picked up the CB receiver. He was the leader of a militia based out of Slippery Rock, and he had to ensure everyone was clear on their part of the mission and what to do in the event of anything going wrong. The result of their expedition would affect the lives of hundreds of people within two colleges, a town, a camp, and others scattered around the area on farms and isolated properties.

We’re almost there, folks, he said over the radio. Team One, head to the nearest gas station and use the drill pump to fill canisters. Don’t get the diesel and the gasoline hoses or cans mixed up in haste! If they’re empty, move to the next station. Team Two, head over to the outdoor recreational store on the other side of the outlets and take whatever is left. Team Three, follow me to the outlet mall. Make sure at least three guards are on watch at all times. If there is any sign of trouble, let us know over the walkie talkies and head back to the rally point. We’ll be close behind.

Once they reached the first intersection off the exit, the teams parted ways. Tom led his group to the far end of the outlets, the building shielding his SUV and two of the trucks from the view of nearby hotels and houses. There was no way to know who was still living in this area, and he had to ensure they drew as little attention to themselves as possible. Fortunately the windows had been smashed during the initial post-Blackout pillaging, so accessing the stores stealthily wouldn’t be a problem.

Grove City Outlets was an outdoor mall with dozens of shops containing the latest brand-name and designer merchandise at a fraction of the cost. These discounted goods brought in multitudes of people—especially after both Great Recessions devastated the economy—who desired to radiate wealth but either didn’t possess the financial means to do so or just enjoyed to bargain shop. This area once thrived, bustling with those visiting its nearby shops, restaurants, and hotels, but it was now a ghost town. As soon as people realized that the Blackout was a long-term problem and that their credit cards and bank accounts were worthless, the entire area had been raided and picked apart by looters looking to hoard the last of the supplies. Luckily, most people didn’t think in the long-term, so many stores remained stocked with any goods that weren’t edible.

They quietly piled out of their vehicles, waiting for instructions. Okay, guys. I’d like two of you to guard the vehicles with me. The rest of you, we have a few wagons and baskets with us; I want you to load them up with anything that might be useful to our people. We’re not looking for designer goods; we’re looking for useful supplies: outerwear, backpacks, warm clothes for both adults and children, shoes and boots, toiletries, wind-up or solar powered devices, blankets, batteries, and so on. There are several stores that are known for high-quality products like soaps, waterproof boots, backpacks, and coats. He pointed out the storefronts that were their primary targets, the shop blessedly grouped together in the back corner. "Focus on those. Also search that high-tech gadget store as they usually had hand-crank and solar powered flashlights and lanterns, and they should have batteries. Grab as much merchandise as you can and bring it back here. Just pile it into the truck beds and go back in; we’ll worry about arranging it all when we get back to the rally point. Also make sure to check the back rooms. There may be food and drinks back there that no one took in the initial riots. If anyone sees any trouble our way, whistle three times so we know to get back to the vehicles quickly so we can get

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