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The Eris War
Volume 1: The Dragon and the Crown
by Admiral Chaim G. Resh, USN detached
Book 2: This Devastated Land
Part 1: Deep Impact
Chapter 12: Cruel Summer
From the journal of Janet Parker*: Today is July 21, 2022. It’s probably around mid-afternoon – I’m not sure, because our digital watches aren’t working right. Maybe it has something to do with the EMPs from the hydrogen bombs used on New York City and Chicago. Rachel Yeats died last night. I don’t know what we’ll do when her poor husband calls us next. They were supposed to call us yesterday in the evening, but they never did. I wonder if they’re all right. My darling Thomas-cat is terribly ill. So is Adelle, his mother, though not nearly as much so as Tom. Maybe she, at least, has a chance to survive this horror. I hope so. If only one of us can live, I hope it is her, because she, and she alone, has the grace, the learning, and the intelligence to bear witness to what has happened here, and properly memorialize the rest of us. – On second thought, no, I wouldn’t wish such loneliness on her for the world. With her husband gone, her son’s death would leave her nothing to live for. But if I were pregnant with Tom’s child – would that be enough for her, if I lived also? Forgive me, I’m rambling again.
Jeanie . . . It’s so dreadfully quiet now. There are only four us left inside this hospital, and all of us, to one degree or another, are showing signs of illness. For all of me, there’s no one at all left outside it, at least anywhere within several hundred miles of hear. A couple of days ago I heard church bells ringing, so mournful and slow. It almost broke my heart to hear them then. I’d give nearly anything to hear them now, just to break the silence! I am not feeling well. I think I’ve got a fever, though not much – or else the digital thermometer isn’t working right. I keep hearing old songs playing in my head, over and over. Right now it’s “All I Have to do is Dream” by the Everly Brothers, which is way before my time, but I know it because it’s on one of Mom’s old CDs, one of those she got because she heard it on one of the records in her mom’s collection of those ancient 33-1/3 vinyl albums and tapes, and I played it, and it’s lovely. I wonder if this is what delirium is like? I am keeping this journal because – well, to paraphrase Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984, To the future or to the past, to a time when thought has a point to it, when men are likely to live and pass on their culture to children who will in turn beget grandchildren – to a time when it is known what happened here and what has been done cannot be undone, but can be survived: From the age of plague, from the age of universal death, from the age when even Big Brother is dead of some monstrous new artificial pathogen, from the age of the busted bubble of a former smug security about our future – greetings!** Oh, God, is that morbid, or what?! Why am I dwelling on such things, anyway? Is this the first sign that I’ve come down with one of those new epidemics myself? I don’t know what’s happening to my mind lately. I kept thinking of this as an 8-bed hospital. It isn’t – it’s an 8-room hospital, that is, eight rooms for patients, each room normally having four beds in it. That sounds like such a trivial error, doesn’t it? So why do I feel that it’s so horrible? It’s like going through puberty all over again – the silliest things become such Big Fucking Deals, you become swamped by emotions you didn’t even known you were capable of over absolutely nothing. (No, dear reader, I am not going to apologize for that rather mild Expletive Deleted – the situation we’re all in deserves far worse, so you may congratulate me for having so much ladylike self-control that I don’t use appropriate obscenities, the kind that would make sailors blush!)
*Entries from the journal of Janet Parker (deceased circa August 3, 2022 e.v.), for the retrieval of which in 2033 e.v. from the derelict ruins of the Eltonville Hospital in Eltonville, Maine, I am forever indebted to Steve Muñoz and Richard “Rat” Kelly. While everyone around her was dying of horrifying plagues, this courageous young woman, with no hope of rescue in sight, somehow held onto life long enough to record for posterity the last moments of the deaths of her friends, family members, and neighbors, as well as of her hometown, Eltonville, not one citizen of which is now known to be alive. Without her invaluable testimony, her gift to the future, set down in her almost archaically beautiful handwriting, we would never have known many of the details of what happened there, a town very like many other small American towns, most of whom surely perished in the aftermath of the Two-Day War in the same way as Eltonville. Her eloquent testimony here reveals, better than I ever could, what those last days of Eltonville and its people were like, how her loved ones and friends perished one by one, what it was like for them and for her with a terrible clarity that yet reveals the strength of the human spirit and in the human capacity for love and devotion to duty, even in the midst of what was rapidly becoming a mass grave. For that reason, I will let her tell the rest of this tale of the events of the last days of her town and those in it, and how others were affected by the news of it, as communicated by
her to them via shortwave radio, in her own words. In previous chapters, I have paraphrased from her journal as well as from information given to me by Joe Cabrini, et al., about the events in Eltonville and the deaths of those who lived here; in this one, it is only fitting that the ultimate source of so much of that information, Janet Parker, should be the one to tell the final tale. Nota bene: Janet, like her fiancé, Thomas Villemur, his parents, Adelle and Martin Villemur, Janet’s parents, Janet’s friend Jeanie Buckley, and Rachel Yeats, now rest in peace in Fort Sacramento’s Riverview Memorial Park Cemetery, a private cemetery occupying the four square blocks in Fort Sacramento bounded north and south by E and G Streets, and east and west by 8 th and 10th Streets. Brought out to New California from western Maine by the members of the same expedition that brought back to us Janet’s journal, they share this beautiful setting with others dear to us all, such as the late Carl Bedloe, and my likewise late daughter, Hannah, wife first of Aaron Montgomery Eisenstein, former CEO of Los Angeles County, and then of Stephen Yeats, Governor of New California, also now deceased. Before the Two-Day War, this part of Sacramento was occupied by St. Joseph’s Academy and other landmark buildings that were razed during the Occupation of the city by the gangs of criminals that held it for a year after the War, before the city was liberated by Steve Yeats and his people. Within a few days after the Battle for Sacramento, however, Steve, Al Norwich, and I decided to dedicate the burned-over desolation which the gangsters made of that area for a cemetery for those among Steve’s followers who died during that battle, as well as such remains of slaves who perished before it, during the Occupation, which could be found and transported to the new cemetery. A stunningly beautiful funeral home designed by state architect Charles Moakley, who was in his time widely hailed as the true heir of Frank Lloyd Wright, graces the northwestern corner of the park; it is flanked by an equally beautiful columbarium to the east and an elegant mausoleum on the west. The rest of the area is now about equally divided between open parkland and gravesites. (A second fourblock section of land bounded by 16th and 18th streets east and west, and by G and Eye Streets north and south, was eventually set aside then for interment of the remains of Old California’s last governor, John Wesley Peters, who died so bravely trying to defend his city from the marauders that invaded it right after the War; for those of New California’s leaders who died in the future; and for those of the members of the new nation-state’s armed forces, analogous to the pre-War military cemetery at Arlington, Virginia. Named Victory Memorial Park, this funeral park, commissioned in 2024, now contains the mortal remains of Monty Eisenstein, who died during his tenure as Los Angeles County’s Chief Executive Officer. However, the remains of Governor Yeats himself, though originally interred in Victory Memorial Park, were eventually, by order of Governor Bill Jamieson, Yeats’ successor, exhumed and then reburied, this time in Riverview Memorial, between the gravesite of his first wife, Rachel, and that of his second wife, Hannah, in Riverview Memorial Park. Should it be my lot to die here on Earth, since Arlington no longer exists, nor the cemetery where my first and second wives were buried, thanks to the War, I can’t think of a lovelier setting for my own final resting place than Riverview Memorial, resting among the Earthly remains of my good friends, my daughter, and those courageous people who, dying in Eltonville, yet left us a testament from which all the generations to come will benefit.) **Probably paraphrased from a passage on pp. 26-27 of a copy of 1984 found in the Eltonville Hospital by Richard Kelly during his exploration of Eltonville, part of the aforementioned expedition. According to Mr. Kelly, he found the book in the room which, apparently, was shared by Janet Parker and her fiancée, Tom Villemur, until his death, and which she continued to use until her own death a couple of weeks later. Similar copies of this book, a paperback edition published in 1981 by New American Library, are now on sale on the resurrected E-bay.com† for $25,000 or more in gold, because it is so rare. This rarity is due to the purges of this book, among many others, from school and public libraries initiated by the National Educational Association in 2003 in a zealous crusade aimed at “making learning resources everywhere conform with a politically correct standard” (that is, politically correct, as defined by them). The NEA, several light-years to the left of even the administration of thenPresident Al Gore, ended that crusade by gutting virtually every public-school library in the country, though, thanks to the courage of so many thousands of members of the National Association of Librarians, who in many cases actually had to do physical battle with squads of NEA zealots to keep the latter from entering their libraries and doing to them what they had already done in the public schools, the NEA did not succeed in doing much to the vast network of American public libraries.
Even so, from then on, numerous copies of books such as 1984 and Dante’s Divine Comedy, which have always been hated by far-right and far-left alike because of their unmerciful illumination of human evil, political and otherwise, began disappearing from public libraries all over the country. Presumably they were stolen by library patrons for their own libraries; NEA members masquerading as normal library patrons in order to pilfer those books and take them away to be clandestinely disposed of; or librarians fearful of what would happen to those books should they remain in the library, readily accessible by the public and therefore vulnerable to theft and vandalism. Regardless, very few copies of 1984 could be found at any price after the War, at least until such publishing houses as Gold Rush Press, founded by the late and very much lamented Carl Bedloe, began to print it in quantity again. †Now http://iwww.ebay.com. As this is a continuously updated commercial site rather than one containing material archived from the ancient, pre-space World Wide Web prior to the Two-Day War, it is not accessed via thttp://iwww.waybackwayback/.
At any rate, Rachel Yeats died last night. Me, Adelle (Tom’s mother, who is also just about my best girlfriend, especially now), and Jeanie Buckley (my Number Two best girlfriend), the one remaining nurse here at the hospital (all the others either went to work down in the tent hospital, or died at home, or something) wrapped Rachel’s poor, wasted body in her sheets, and, using her blanket for a combination stretcher and coffin, carried her out in the snow by the hospital’s back door (poor Tom wanted to help, but he wasn’t at all in shape to, so Adelle and I ordered him to stay in bed for now, he could help later). There was no way we could bury her, but we were able to scoop out a fairly deep trench in the snow, and we put the body, swaddled in her sheets and blanket like a mummy, into that trench. We covered her up with snow – it was like tucking a child into its bed, like when we buried those poor little things we found in the hospital kitchen a couple of days ago, she looked so peaceful, also like a child, a sleeping child – and then we said a service for her. It probably wasn’t a real great service, not like the ones Reverend Peters or Father McDonough gives – used to give – when members of their congregations die(d) (are Reverend Peters and Father McDonough still alive out there? Is anyone else in this town, besides those of us here in the hospital, still alive?) but it wasn’t too bad. Adelle read passages from the Old Testament, including my favorites, Ecclesiastes 3 and some of the Psalms, then some from Job, not one of my favorites, but God does work in mysterious ways, who am I to criticize? Then she read passages from the New Testament, including some from the four Gospels concerning the promise of redemption and the Resurrection for all those who believe in God – there were others, but that’s all I really remember. It’s getting hard to hold on to memories and thoughts now, so I’m writing this all down, as much of it as I can, as fast as I can, to make sure I don’t forget really important things. Anyway, we went back inside after that. Adelle and I helped Jeanie, who has been staying in the room Rachel was in, take Rachel’s bed out, roll it to the hospital’s front door, and push it outside into the snow, partly to cut down the chances that Jeanie might get what Rachel had (though you’d think that if she hasn’t by now, sleeping in the same room as Rachel was, she’s never going to!), and partly because looking at it in there is just too depressing. Then we waited for Joe to call from St. Albans. I dreaded having to tell Steve Yeats what had happened to Rachel, and when hours and hours had gone by and they didn’t call, I was so relieved, because obviously, for whatever reason, he and Joe wouldn’t be calling until the following day. It was just too late in the day, had to be after ten by then, and they’d never called that late. So I went to bed feeling a lot better – no matter how bad something is, if I can sleep on it at least once before having to deal seriously with it, I can handle it a lot better than I could have otherwise.
Well, we all – me, Thomas, Adelle, and Jeanie slept in this morning, not getting up until probably around 10 or 11 a.m. (I think. Damn – why did all our watches have to stop working?!* Anyway, make it before noon – it felt like before noon, so let’s go with that.) We got up – all but poor Thomas, who is really sick now, I’m scared for him, wondering what he has, if he’ll make it – and made breakfast for ourselves, such as it was, from the stuff Jeanie found yesterday afternoon in the hospital pantry and the cache Tom made a couple of days ago in the snow outside in back. As we were finishing up breakfast, I noticed the ‘call-waiting’ light on the radiophone was lit up to signal an incoming call. I took the call.
*The Appalachians, aided by distance, were in fact an effective barrier between towns on their western slopes such as Eltonville and the gigantic EMP from the 25+-megaton explosion of the ICBM that murdered New York City and that from the 50+-megaton burst that destroyed Washington, DC. This was not, however, true of the almost inconceivably greater EMP generated by the impact of the asteroid in the western Atlantic off the coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia with which the Two-Day War began. Survivors from all over the eastern portions of the U.S. and Canada as well as Greenland reported the permanent stoppage of digital clocks and watches of all kinds; the complete obliteration of all data on every sort of storage medium save ROM storage such as non-rewriteable CDs, bubblememory, etc.; fatal damage to all forms of electronic equipment such as computers and the electrical systems of automobiles, and so forth. Very few areas of that part of the continent escaped this nasty side-effect of that asteroid impact combined with the nuclear and thermonuclear blasts that devastated Washington, DC, New York City, Miami, and other major ports along the nation’s East Coast. Those that did generally did so by the grace of the land’s topography, such as certain bottom-land areas.
Of course, it was Joe Cabrini, calling from St. Albans. ‘Jan?’ Joe asked when I picked up the receiver. ‘Yes, it’s me. What happened there – you were supposed to call last night!” I blurted, before I could stop myself. (Among other things, my good judgment and selfcontrol seem to be slipping these last few days.) ‘It’s been Hell’s own bitch here, dear – Jan, I hate to tell you this, but we’ve got some bad news for you.’ ‘Oh?” ‘It’s gonna be a little longer getting over to you there than we thought. Reason we didn’t call is that yesterday afternoon the weather turned worse than it’s been since, uh, all of this started, and, well, there was this hailstorm, and it totaled the helicopter.’ ‘The helicopter – the one you were going to come over here in?’ ‘That’s the one.’ ‘Oh, no! How – how did it happen?’ I asked him, feeling my guts turn to ice. Without help from St. Albans, we simply couldn’t make it – and without that chopper, there was no way they could give us any substantive help. ‘Apparently, during the hailstorm the rotors iced up and cracked – it isn’t a military chopper, which might have come through okay. The rotors on civilian choppers aren’t built with the same margin of safety that they use for military helicopters, and the ones on this one sort of ate it. ‘We had two-three people go out to check on the chopper, to see if it was all right. They roped themselves together with nylon clothesline, with more clothesline going back to the hotel, so they could be sure to get back okay. Anyway, when they got out there where the chopper was parked, they found the rotors had shattered. They came back to the hotel and told everyone about it, and a lot of us went out there to look the situation over, see if we could salvage anything, but it was definitely a lost cause. It’ll be a long time before we can find new parts for it, and even if we had the parts, none of us really knows much about fixing the damned things when they get busted. Flying them is
something quite a few of us here can do, and we can maintain one in good condition if it starts that way, but fixing one, especially one that has this sort of damage . . . well, we’d probably have about the same kind of luck with that that I’d have trying to fix a witch’s broomstick that stopped flying. It’s all kind of a big black box, and whatever goes on inside that box is one big question mark, as far as any of us here are concerned. Except maybe Steve Yeats, but since we don’t have the parts, and couldn’t even begin to do anything about fixing it in this weather, as it is, even his chances of fixing it, at least for the foreseeable future, are about that of the proverbial snowball,’ he told me. ‘Anyway,’ he said, sounding like a tired, discouraged old man, rather than the young man full of pepper he actually is, ‘we all got back here late last night, tired to death and just about frozen solid. We all went to bed in front of the fire we had going in the big fireplace in the downstairs lounge, including Steve. That’s why we didn’t call – by the time we got back it was so late we figured you all would be asleep, best to wait until today to let you know what happened.’ I must have said something then, made some sound, though I don’t remember what, for he asked, “Hmm? Didn’t catch that.” “Oh, uh, nothing, just stifling a sneeze,” I said. “Hey, we don’t want you coming down sick, do we?” he said in a more light-hearted tone. “You feeling all right, Jan?” “I guess so. I’ll be all right.” I must not have sounded all right, though, for Joe, who seems to be preternaturally sensitive to tones of voice and their meaning, said, “Hey, buck up, kid. We’ll find some way to get to you one of these days! We’re not gonna leave you people there, all alone – maybe we can rig up a dog-sled or something. Keep the faith, kid – we’ll get there. You gotta believe it.” Now I was almost ready to start crying. I didn’t dare, though – I’d have poor, goodhearted Joe frantic if I did. Somehow keeping the tears back, I said, “I do, Joe. I know you will. It’s just been a strain here, that’s all.” “I can imagine! – How’s Rachel?” he said, switching topics with no warning. There was the oddest note in his voice, along with a tremendous intensity, as if the fate of worlds might hinge on the answer I gave. “I – she died, Joe,” I said, suddenly feeling very tired and very old. It was a relief to get it over with, like setting down a 200-pound weight I’d been carrying on my shoulders for two days. But now that I’d said it and couldn’t retract it, I couldn’t pretend any more that our situation – Tom’s, Adelle’s, Jeanie’s, mine – wasn’t about as bad as it could get. – Oh, it could get worse, all right, but the chances that it was going to get any better were just about zip, and I could no longer make myself believe things were otherwise. Here we were, holed up in a tiny little hospital in an isolated small town, almost all those who had lived here dead of fantastic plagues loosed by an incomprehensible disaster, we ourselves sick and probably soon to die, with no way to get to any place that was any better off, no way for others to come to us to give us help. And I could no longer hold in the tears for my parents. I’d done my best not to cry in front of the others, because morale is so important in a situation like this, and I didn’t want to make it any harder on the others here than it already was. But now I couldn’t do it any more, couldn’t keep from crying, couldn’t hold back the tears, which began to pour out of me in a flood, sheets of tears rolling down my cheeks with no letup rather than individual tears, sobbing so hard that it felt as if knives were turning in my chest. And on top of everything else, my tears were starting to fall on this journal, smudging words here and there. “ – Jan, can you hear me?” It was Joe Cabrini, his voice filled with alarm. “Jan, where are you?” “Oh – oh, Joe, I’m here, I just . . . it kind of all just got to me for a second or two,” I told him. “Here, wait, let me blow my nose . . .” I blew my nose with a tissue from the box Jeanie had providentially set next to the radiophone, then used another to wipe away my the tears and then try to blot the ones that had fallen on this journal. Somehow it helped to get myself under control. Taking up the
receiver again, I said, “It’s okay, Joe, I – it’s been quite a time here. I’m okay now, though.” “I can imagine. – I mean, you’ve been under a lot of stress. Most people would have cracked completely by now under that kind of stress. You must be one helluva strong lady to” [the next two lines are illegible due to moisture stains; then, starting a new paragraph, Janet writes:] “Oh, God, here comes Steve,” Joe said. “—Steve,” he said, his voice suddenly fading a bit because he had turned away from the receiver to talk with someone who had just entered the room, “you need to talk with Janet.” The next voice on the phone was Steve Yeats’: “Janet, what’s happening over there? Is – are you all right?” By now I had myself under satisfactory control again, and was able to say, without lapsing into the outburst I was so tempted to indulge in right then, “Steve, I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but Rachel –” “It’s all right, Janet, I . . . I already knew,” he said, his voice full of his own unshed tears. “Rachel’s dead, isn’t she?” he said. For the first time since I began talking with him, his voice was lifeless, monotonal, utterly devoid of hope – and so filled with certainty that it was as if he’d been here last night and had seen what had happened for himself. “Yes, she is,” I said. I think I stammered a little as I said it, taken aback by that ironclad certainty in his voice that left no room for doubt or hope. “How – er, we, we did what we could for her,” I said, hurrying to fill the potential gap in the conversation that my astonishment at that sudden change in him, and my curiosity over it, would otherwise have caused. “I know, Janet, I know . . .” And then he went on to tell me what had happened. They were coming back from that mess with the helicopter, Steve and Joe and the others who’d gone out to check on it, when Steve, who, up until then, had been optimistic about Rachel’s eventual recovery, suddenly felt a hand grasp his. Never mind that he, like the others, was wearing thick gloves (in his case, scavenged from a janitor’s closet in the hotel), it was as if someone’s naked hand had clasped his, palm-to-palm, and given it a gentle squeeze. He was so startled that for a moment he actually let go of the nylon clothesline that was the lifeline they’d all been following back from the chopper to the hotel. Looking around to see who it was, he saw Rachel, smiling, standing at his side. In a red dress with a full, flowing skirt – “the one she wore on our 30th wedding anniversary, Jan, I always loved it on her” – she was humming the melody to one of their favorite songs, the old Ben E. King tune “Stand by Me.” Then she said, “Steve, I knew you’d come back to me!” An instant later, she disappeared, her image and presence fading rapidly. And that’s when he knew she was gone. “I – I guess there’s not too much more to say,” Steve said. “Is she – did you bury her?” That flat certainty was gone from his voice, which, like a tire someone’s let the air out of, was no longer firm with that – yes, despair. Instead, it sounded shaky, the way a much older man or very sick one’s would. “Yes, well, sort of,” I told him. “We made a shroud for her out of her sheets, then rolled her up in a blanket, and put her out in the snow, which doesn’t look to be melting any time this side of doomsday. It’s like putting her into a deep freezer. “Soon as we can, Steve, we’ll dig her a proper grave, you can bet on that. We did say a service over her. She – she looked so peaceful then, as if she’d just fallen asleep. Her last minutes . . .” I wanted to tell him that what he’d seen out there last night, struggling back through the storm to the hotel, matched what we’d all seen Rachel do here before she died. I couldn’t, though – why, I don’t know. Maybe it was because it felt a little like desecrating a grave or something, telling the secrets of a dead woman. Except this was her husband – whose own words showed he’d seen the same thing at the same time we had, just from the other end!
Finally, evading the whole issue, I settled on: “She was at peace when she died, Steve. She said your name . . .” “I know she did, Janet. I know,” he said again, in a voice so dulled by grief that I feared he might not pull out of it, might have lost his will to live. But somehow he did, he knew what had happened to Rachel, our conversation now merely confirming that profound and terrible knowing. Then, collecting himself somewhat, his voice a little lighter than it had been before, he said, “Here, I’d better give you back to Joe – I, uh, have to go take care of something.” An instant later Joe was saying to me, “I’m back, Jan.” “Yes, Steve said he was going to give you the phone. Is he going to be all right?” I asked him. “Oh, shit – wait, there he goes, I can talk now.” Faintly, in the background, I heard a door close. “Jan, I’m very worried about our friend Steve,” Joe continued. “He’s started drinking again.” “What?! I heard he’d given up drinking and doing any kind of drugs years ago!” “Oh, he did, all right. But late last night, I found him in an empty lounge, here, and he had a bottle of Jack Daniels and a glass, and was drinking it neat. Not even any ice (we do have ice, some in the ’fridge and more outside for anybody who wants to go hack it out of the stuff lining the sidewalks and streets, of course). He was pretty well over the yardarm at that point – it had been so long since he’d had a drink that he wasn’t used to it, and after just a glass or two he was having trouble adding up two and two and coming up with four twice running, if you know what I mean.” “Oh, I do,” I said. “My dad [remainder of line and the line following indecipherable due to moisture stains]. What did you tell him?” “I asked him how the hell he knew Rachel was dead, and he said she’d come to him when we were all still outside, coming back from that fucking helicopter –” He actually snarled the word. I’d always thought before that expression, “snarling such-and-such-aword-or-phrase,” was just a literary device. No, it isn’t. The sound of his voice right then would have terrified a rabid grizzly bear, he was that angry and frustrated over what had happened to the helicopter. “—that fucking helicopter. I asked him what he meant. He told me pretty much what he just told you. He was so certain it was scary, Jan.” “I can imagine. You know what’s even scarier?” “What?” “When Rachel died last night, she did exactly what he described her as doing, singing this song, ‘Stand By Me,’ in a lovely but sort of spacey voice, held out her hand, said, ‘I knew you’d come back, Steve,’ and then died.” “Jesus Christ,” he said reverently. “I – that’s really something.” “Yes, it is,” I said. “When Steve told me what he’d experienced last night, I just about had kittens,” I said, laughing a little – it was so weird how shared emotions, such as awe or wonder or that prickle down the spine that is the general reaction to something spooky, could cut through all that fear and worry and depression, even a little, and get me to laugh. “I can guarantee that wasn’t out of a bottle!” “Okay, that makes me feel a little better. When you told me that Rachel had died, that’s when I first began to think Steve wasn’t going crazy, after all. Drunk, yes, but not crazy. When he told me last night he knew she’d died, I was afraid he was finally cracking under all this, that what happened to that chopper had put him over the edge. But he really did know – and that’s why he was drinking. It’s not good that he’s drinking again, mind, but the reason for it is something real, not a case of bad toys in the attic or something.” “ ‘Bad toys in the attic’,” I mused. (“Mused.” My, aren’t I getting to be quite the fancy-dancy writer, here! Well, who cares, anyway? It’s my journal and I’ll be affected if I want to. So there, dear reader. <Image of me with tongue stuck out, nyah-nyah-nyahneener-neener>) “My dad and I used to collect terms people use to mean ‘crazy’ or ‘retarded’ and that sort of thing,” I said. “I’ve heard ‘toys in the attic’ for it, before, but not ‘bad toys in the attic.’”
“Aw, that’s something my kid sister Carol came up with, to describe one of our neighbors who was more than a few cards shy of a full deck, everybody in our block used to avoid him whenever they could, because sometimes he’d get mad for no reason any of us could see and start throwing things at whoever was walking by. Anyway, I thought it was funny as hell at the time, so it stuck with me. Silly saying, but you know how it is.” “Hey, it got me to laughing, and before now I’d have sworn nothing in this world could do that for me!” “Hey, at least I’m good for something,” Now I was laughing even harder. “Joe,” I told him, “you’re definitely a remedy for what ails me right now – which is the whole damned world, so you’ve got to be a damned good remedy!” “Aw . . . I do try my best, Jan,” he said, clearly pleased, but, like men so often are, embarrassed over the praise. We swapped jokes and random chit-chat for a few minutes. Then he said, “I wish to God I knew what we’re gonna do about coming to get you people, get you out of there. I – I don’t think it’s hopeless. It’s just gonna take some time to figure a way to get there. Think you can hold on for awhile longer?” “I – sure,” I said. I thought anything but – as lousy as I was beginning to feel about then, I felt pretty sure I was coming down with one of those plagues, myself. But why tell Joe that? He wanted so much to help – and who knew, maybe he could help us, even now, with the helicopter trashed. “Don’t you worry,” I told him, “we can make it.” Then a thought struck me. “But just in case, Joe . . .” “What?” he said, that edge of alarm back in his voice. “Oh, just call it something like a life-insurance policy. If – God forbid, but it could happen, so let’s prepare for it, just in case – if something happens to us here, and you and Steve still want to come over here, maybe for Rachel’s remains or something, there’s a journal I’ve started keeping that you may want to pick up, too, because it tells a lot about what has happened to us, to Rachel and the Hamiltons and my family and Tom’s, and the town in general. It – it’d be kind of a memorial for all of them . . . for all of us.” “O – okay. A journal, you say?” “Yes. I found this unused notebook tucked inside a big file-drawer in the hospital office a couple of days ago, along with a stack of others just like it. Something that whoever orders office supplies for the hospital must have stocked not too long ago. There were plenty of ball-point pens with it, too. Now, if you ever need to look for it here – remember that diagram I had you draw the other day of the hospital layout?” “I sure do, Jan. Got it right here in my pocket,” he said. “Okay, the journal will either be in the room I’m in right now, you know, the one Rachel was in, or it’ll be in back in that same file-drawer where I originally found it.” I gave him a quick verbal sketch of the position of the file-cabinet in the hospital office. He already had the office marked on his diagram, so all he had to do was put an arrow or X or something at the southwest corner of that office. “It’s in the bottom drawer of that cabinet, which wouldn’t be locked. I might wrap it in plastic or something and leave it there, so if this weather keeps up and the office walls or ceiling are breached by storms, any water that gets into the drawer won’t hurt it. “Otherwise, like I say, it’ll be right here with me in this room I’m in now.” “What does it look like, Jan? You said it was a notebook?” “Well, I’m not sure what else to call it. It’s actually a sort of six-ring binder that holds lined pages that are pre-punched with holes for the rings, with ruled, aqua-blue, horizontal lines on both sides of each page. The binding is black leather, and it has the word ‘RECORD’ stamped on the front cover in gold. Like I said, it was with a bunch of others just like it – I think they were intended as transaction records for the accounting department, or purchasing, but under the circumstances I don’t think they’d begrudge me one of them, do you?” “If they do, doll, you just tell ’em old Joe, here’ll come clean their clocks for ’em,” he said, chuckling. “Okay – ‘black leather binding, look in filing cabinet in the southwest corner of the office or in room where Rachel was, may be wrapped in plastic or some
other waterproof covering’,” he said, confirming each phrase to himself as he took notes. “What about rats and mice?” he asked me. “They both like to gnaw on books – they can ruin somebody’s library in one hell of a hurry, you know.” “Tell you what: I’ll keep it in a plastic wrap except when I’m writing in it,” I told him. “We’ve got some Ziploc baggies in the cupboards here and there, and I think there may even be a rectangular Tupperware container with a lid I can put it in, then put the container into a big Ziploc bag. Rodents could be a problem, but I don’t think they’d pay any attention to something wrapped up in all that polyethylene.” “Probably not. – Okay, sounds good, Jan. Listen, I gotta go – I wanna check on Steve, and then later, we’re having a meeting, some of us, to decide what to do next, whether to try to get that chopper flying, or maybe find another, something. I’ll try calling tonight, okay?” “Sure. Er, do you think Steve’ll want to talk with us here again?” “I dunno, doll, I really don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I kinda hope he does, because it’d mean that he hasn’t fallen completely apart, that maybe he can come back from this . Otherwise, I don’t know what we’re gonna do. We’re all kinda fond of the old boy, as you may have gathered, and we don’t wanna lose him. Especially now – drunk or sober, the man’s a genius. Did you know that, Jan? You ask him just about anything, something in that brain of his goes ‘Click-click-click,’ and out comes an answer you can trust. And when that answer is ‘I don’t know,’ following it is some way to find out in a hurry. Right after all of – well, this, the war and all, right after it got started, he started showing the kids here (most of the fans here are under 23, which definitely puts me in Fuddy Country, far as they’re concerned, my being a wheezing old ancient of 26) – anyway, he started showing fans how to cook really good meals over an open fire, how to get safe water from snow, all sorts of things. So many of these kids are city-types who never before had any experience of what it’s like to have to rough it, and this is the first time they’ve ever been faced with real survival challenges. “See, when all this got started and the Grid went down, and with it all the lighting and power for every place that didn’t have a good generator and a lot of fuel for it, the way this hotel does, those kids were just about ready to go crazy, in absolute despair because they didn’t know how to do anything. So Steve quietly took them aside and had a sort of workshop to show people how to do the really necessary things – and also to draw out the ones who knew some of it, and have them teach the others! Turns out all of them had some sort of skill or knowledge of vital importance now, but they’d never had any idea of just how valuable it could be. When he got them to teach those things to each other, it made them feel so good to know what they had was needed by the rest of us that they completely forgot the panic they’d been in earlier, and got down to boogey with what really needed doing. After a couple of days of that, all the kids were completely over their funk, each of them had taken over – voluntarily, Jan, and you know how kids normally are about volunteering for anything remotely resembling work! – taken over one or more necessary chores, or teamed up with others on chores, again voluntarily, and we were just about as snug as a bug in buffalo-hide rug! And it was all Steve’s doing. “Jan, just about any of us would do anything for him if he asked! I’ve been a survivalist for years, so have my buddies and some of the others here, and while Steve doesn’t know nearly as much – yet, anyway – about a lot of the stuff we know how to do, especially when it comes to gunsmithing, gun-maintenance, and things like that, when it comes to food and water and hygiene and, God, you name it, all the things somebody has to keep track of in a community or nobody there is gonna have much of a chance of survival over the long haul, the guy is a walking, talking encyclopedia! An encyclopedia crossed with one of those superfast Cray computers, yet! Especially when it comes to medical stuff, nutrition, that sort of thing. We, me and my buddies, we know how to find stuff to eat in the woods. But how do you make sure you’ve got a balanced diet, with all the nutrition? What herbs do you look for? If you’re scavenging someplace for supplements, say, what do you want most of all? If somebody’s really sick, what supplements do you give them, for how long, in what doses? What medicines? How do you prevent and treat infections and epidemics – not just antibiotics, especially when it
comes to viruses, because antibiotics won’t touch them. You know, all that sort of thing. Like you said your fiancé’s mom knows about. Well, so’s Steve – maybe in a different way, and he’d be the last to claim he knows everything, or even most things, about stuff like that. But he knows how to get the information, or work it out himself from what he’s already got, you see. He even knows how to set up scientific-type testing of things like medications, what tissues you can use from your own body for that, such as blood or saliva, and what sort of animals, if you can catch them. “What I’m trying to say, Jan, is that we need this guy. We need Steve. It isn’t just that we like him – we do. A lot. I mean, I know a lot of people say he’s kind of a liberal and all that, but there ain’t no man in the whole world who’s just one thing. People are made up of thousands of different traits, no two people the same. So he votes liberal on some issues, so he votes conservative on others, which is kinda the way it is with all of us, you know?” Joe said, the words tumbling out of him like a man in love, trying to communicate to others just why his beloved is so wonderful. “Ordinarily, we survivalists, you know, we don’t take to people who aren’t real conservative on most things. But there’s something about Steve, something any of us would follow him through Hell and out the other side because of, and if we lose him, Jan, if we lose him, what we’ll have here won’t be a community at all. It’ll be a mob, one that fragments off in all sorts of directions, until the pieces are too little to make it on their own. “What I’m scared of is that now that Steve’s started drinking again, he’ll crawl so far into the bottle he’ll never come out again. And if he does . . .” He left it to my imagination to finish his sentence. “Can’t you keep booze away from him?” “I – you said your dad went through recovery, didn’t you?” “That’s right.” “So you probably have some experience with just how sneaky alcoholics can get, before they go through recovery, anyway. Hell, there’s probably liquor stashed all over this building. And they got a wine-cellar downstairs that won’t quit. We’d have to go over this whole place with a fine-tooth comb to find it all, and then we’d have to lock it up, and everyone who can handle the stuff would get mad – and I’d have to agree with them, why penalize people who aren’t giving anyone any problems just to keep the stuff away from one man? “And even then there’d be no way of keeping him from sneaking out into the town, here, and scavenging places like the supermarket across the way, the liquor store next to it, all sorts of places where he could find plenty of booze. And if he got really desperate, he might go the perfume-and-rubbing-alcohol route. You know about that? Methanol cocktails, that sort of thing?” “Dad never got that bad, but we heard a lot of stories about other people he knew. Methanol can kill people – dedicated winos sometimes die from drinking it, when they run out of other things to drink.” “That’s right. Jan, I don’t want Steve committing suicide by drinking aftershave lotion and Sterno and other methanol-based things, by accident or otherwise. I want to keep him alive, in as good a condition as I can. So I have to assume that he will drink – there are no recovery programs around here, and now that his wife is dead, he has no reason he can see not to drink, with so much of it around him – and what my job is, is to make sure that what he drinks is stuff his system can handle, at least if we make sure he takes his vitamins and eats right. Let him have his Jack Daniels, keep a ready supply of it – or maybe a better grade of whiskey, that ain’t the world’s best, I gotta admit – enough so he can drink himself to sleep each night, if he wants. And keep things like vodka away from him – that stuff’s like jet-fuel, burns right through you so fast you don’t know what hit you!” “Vodka? Dad always said that he drank screwdrivers more than anything else because he’d heard that there were no congeners in vodka like there are in whiskey, and it didn’t taste bad with orange juice, which at least gave him some nutrition.” “Yeah, well, that’s true about the orange juice, but the thing about whiskey-vs.vodka is a double-edged sword: sure, you can have bad reactions to the congeners in
whiskey, some people do, but even so, it don’t tear hell out of your system the way vodka does. Slower-burning, and a lot smoother.” “Live and learn,” I said. “I do remember that when Dad drank whiskey, he’d just get mellow, and then he’d nod off, and we’d get him upstairs to bed, no problem, but when he drank vodka, he’d get high-wired as hell, sometimes get argumentative and get in fights, and the next day, he had these hangovers like you wouldn’t believe!” “That’s right, Jan,” Joe said. In my mind’s eye I could see him, the way he’d described himself to me during some of our balls, carrot-red hair in a buzzcut, short, redblond, artist’s-cut beard, one gold earring in the left earlobe, nodding sagely, the wise old teacher (all of 8-9 years my senior! <G>) pleased with the student’s response. “That’s right. You can tell which is easier to take, which tears up the liver the worst, by just that sort of difference. “Anyway, no point in not letting Steve drink – and, in this case, drink what he seems to prefer, which is whiskey, thank God. I’m not gonna try to push the river – gonna let it go where it wants, which is downhill, but doing it my way, which is making sure he eats the way he should, gets his vitamins, all that good stuff.” “You make a wonderful friend, you know that, Joe?” I asked him. “Aw, like I said, Jan, we just can’t afford to lose this guy! – And besides, I like the man! We all do. Hate to lose him. – Okay, speaking of Steve, I’d better get back out there and see what he’s up to, make sure he’s okay. I’ll call you later, okay?” “Sure, Joe.” “And you be sure to call me if something goes wrong, even if you just need somebody to talk with. Hear me?” “I do, Joe. I sure will.” “That’s my girl! – Okay, doll, gotta go . . .” And he was off the air. [Passages dealing with routine matters eliminated here for the sake of brevity.*]
*Anyone who wishes to read the complete text of Janet Parker’s journal can find it at at iwww.earth/garcia/eastcoast/2022/Eltonville/janetparker/index.edu.htm. Copies are also on file in the libraries of most major terrestrial-origin universities and colonies; cf. ref. ISSBN 09-7a#-140586-X.]
July 21, 2022 (continued): My poor Thomas-cat isn’t doing well at all. His temperature is up to 103° -- I had Jeanie come check, just to make sure I wasn’t reading the damned digital thermometer wrong (and if that works, why the hell won’t our watches?) – and he’s becoming delirious, tossing and turning, trying to talk but only managing a series of disconnected words and phrases, such as “Where’s breakfast?” and “Tell Mom to take the cat off the stove” and “Did you forget to renew the subscription?”, things that make sense by themselves, in the right context, but don’t when they’re all strung together without any other context. We tried to get him to take some broth, but he couldn’t, spat it out as fast as we got it into him, acted nauseated when we kept trying, so we gave it up. He does take water, though – good thing, because his urine is becoming very dark. . . . [Passages dealing with routine matters removed – see note above.] . . . Oh, God, I don’t know what I’m going to do! Adelle just used a tonguedepressor to look in Tom’s mouth, and there are these big purple lesions all over his gums, cracking open and beginning to bleed! Tom isn’t conscious now, he’s fallen into a sort of stupor. Oh, Tom, Thomas, please live! You are my life – except for Adelle, I have no other family but you, now! You – [Next three lines illegible due to water-
spotting] myself together, dammit! Now that Jeanie’s come down sick, I can’t let myself go to pieces – besides Adelle, I’m the only one here still able to do anything much. Speaking of which, I’d better go check on Jeanie again. Back soon. – Oh, Lord, poor Jeanie – found her unconscious on the bathroom floor. She’d been trying to use the john, I guess, with that hellish diarrhea she has (she’s been in there all day, because it’s been so hard for Adelle and I to get her in and out of bed every five minutes the way she needs), and she fell off onto the floor, right into her own feces. Adelle and I cleaned her up and got her to bed. She isn’t conscious, just lies there, curled up into a ball, looks about half her normal size and age that way. In the last 12 hours she’s wasted away to nearly nothing, as if whatever she has is eating up her body’s tissues at warp-speed, then pouring what it doesn’t need out her colon. Yesterday she was a woman in her prime, full of vitality and zip and what my dad used to call ‘vinegar,’ and today she’s nearly a ghost, nearly nothing left of the real Jeanie. Also, her hair’s begun to fall out in patches, her pubic hair, the hair in her armpits, and her eyebrows as well as the hair on her head – this has to be one of the new plagues! Something really new. I’ve got to go to bed – I’m just about to pass out myself, I’m so tired. Adelle said she’d call me if anything happens, say, Jeanie takes a turn for the worse (or starts getting better? We can always hope), or Adelle needs something. July 22, 2022: Tom is dead. Oh, Thomas, what will I do without you? [Phrases illegible due to water-spots] Just helped Adelle take his body out in our bedding and put him in the snow next to Rachel, then came back and remade my bed with fresh linen (we do have plenty of that!). Tom died perhaps an hour before dawn this morning, which at these latitudes would make it around 4:00-4:30 a.m., something like that. When I finally got into bed last night – way after midnight, had to be, what with all Adelle and I had to do for poor Jeanie last night – Tom woke up. He rolled over toward me, took my hands in his, grasping them tightly, and said, very lucidly, as if there wasn’t a hint of fever in him, “Janet, always remember that I love you. Always remember how much I love you – you are my life, my everything.” Then his grip loosened, and he fell back onto his back and was soon sound asleep, snoring lightly. Looking back on it, it was as if he somehow knew he was going to die. But at the time, he actually seemed to look better. His color was better – I hadn’t yet turned off the Coleman I had in there – and he didn’t seem nearly as agitated. And like I said, when he’d said that to me, there wasn’t a sign of delirium in him. I felt his forehead – he briefly reached up to touch my hand, an affectionate touch, then his hand dropped back again – and it wasn’t anything like as hot as it had been. There were purple sores around his mouth, though, which hadn’t been there earlier – they’d only been inside his mouth. But there were just a few of them, and I didn’t think anything of it. When I woke up again, it was still completely dark, and stayed that way for another hour, at least (even with this terrible weather, you can tell when dawn comes, everything goes from pitch-black to charcoal-gray to light gray over a period of about ten minutes, and after that you can see fairly easily without a lantern or anything). At first, I wasn’t sure why, what had gone wrong, but then I realized I couldn’t hear Tom breathing. When I touched him, his body was already cool, becoming cold. He had no pulse, nothing. It took me only about half a minute to find the Coleman and the matches and get the lantern lit. When I did, I found that Tom’s body was covered everywhere with those horrible purple sores – like me, he’d been sleeping nude, tossing on enough to be decent when he got up, so I didn’t have to undress him. Most of the sores were cracked open and had wept quantities of blood and pus and other fluids at some point. His bowels and bladder had voided, of course; their contents on the sheets were strangely colored, dark red with streaks of green, bile-yellow, and purple in them, and they stank – not the normal smell of feces and urine, but more like some weird kind of industrial effluent, all mixed up with rotting vegetation and maybe a dead skunk thrown in for flavor.
I called out for Adelle. She came hurrying in, as if she’d only been waiting for me to call – like she knew. I could see tears streaking her face – we both must have looked a sight. Together we got Thomas’s body cleaned up and wrapped in a clean sheet and blanket from the linen cabinet in the room. His body was a dead weight – hah-hah, notice I am not laughing! – and Adelle rigged up a sort of travois with another sheet, tying Thomas’s wrapped-up body into the body of the sheet with stripes of cloth ripped from the clean parts of the sheets that had been on the bed. Then she knotted up the two corners of the travois-sheet at his feet, one each for her and me to use to pull the load down the hall and out the back door, into the snow. It worked very well. I asked Adelle where she’d learned that trick; smiling through her tears, she told me she’d learned it in the Girl Scouts when she was a girl, part of what she had to learn for her Woodcraft merit badge. (Oh, how I envy her! In 2005, same year I was born, the US government finally banned the Scouts, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts both, anywhere in this country because the Scouts refused to conform to the anti-discrimination laws protecting gays and lesbians, refusing to hire gay or lesbian scout-masters, bouncing anyone openly homosexual from the organization, that sort of thing. Big Fucking Deal. They were a private organization, it was their right to say who could and who couldn’t join them or become troop-leaders and that sort of thing! I missed it all, dammit! Who were they hurting, after all? If people weren’t happy about their policies, they could start their own damn scouting-type organizations, couldn’t they? Well, it’s a moot point now, isn’t it? Or maybe not even moot – not if there’s nobody left around to argue it, it can’t be.) We said a service over Thomas’s body like we did Rachel’s, Adelle and I holding hands while we used our free hands to read alternate passages from her Bible. Then, after saying a few prayers, we went back in to see how Jeanie was doing. Jeanie had actually rallied a little and was sitting up in bed, looking alarmed, when we came into her room. We tried to reassure her that things were okay, but she wasn’t having any of it. “What happened?” she insisted on asking, and wouldn’t stop until Adelle and I finally told her that Tom was dead and that we had buried him. I was amazed. Jeanie looked a million percent better than she did early this morning, before I got to bed, which was like a discarded rag doll. Her coloring was back, and she was able to put on a wrap and get out of bed so that she could sit up to take some broth and toast we made over the Coleman’s flame for her. Ever the born nurse, she tried to comfort us, cheer us up, and ended up making both Adelle and me smile at her efforts. Then the radiophone signaled an incoming call. It was Joe Cabrini, calling to see how we were. When I told him about Tom’s death, he sounded as if he were about ready to cry, himself. “Hang on, hon’, hang on, we’re gonna come get you, you just wait and see,” he told me. “Ya gotta hang on for ol’ Joe, okay?” I promised him I would – I’m sure he knew as well as I did how empty that promise is, considering his situation as well as the one we have here, but God knows, anything could happen, maybe there would be a miracle and they could come get us, and you don’t refuse a friend’s kindness, however thin it has to be – and then I asked him, “How’s Steve?” He told me that they – Steve’s fans, especially Joe’s buddies, the survivalists there – had teamed up to keep Steve busy, asking him what he thought about various practical issues, how to do this and that, even things they knew themselves, distracting him from the funk he was settling into. “He likes to solve problems,” Joe told me. “It’s an addiction, I think, like crossword-puzzle freaks – ask him to solve a problem, a pragmatic puzzle, you might say, and generally he’ll jump on it. We’ve got him straw-bossing some project or another right now, and we’ll try to keep him at it until he’s too tired to want to do much beyond go to sleep.” “Do you think it’ll keep him from drinking?” “No, but he’ll drink less the more he’s busy with something like that. I feel a little better about him, now – at least he’ll sit up and take notice of more than a bottle, and that’s something.” We chatted for a little longer, then signed off to save the batteries on this end.
After that Adelle and I gave Jeanie something of a checkup – she did seem a lot better than she had last night, at least in terms of her general level of energy, her clearheadedness, the fact that the diarrhea and peristaltic vomiting had stopped. Her hair was still coming out, though – almost half of it was gone on the right side of her head, there were at most about three hairs in each eyebrow, and on the left side of her head it looked clumpy, like a cat’s fur when it gets hot and he starts to shed. And her hands shook, just a little, but you could see it clearly even from a distance. Jeanie finished the broth and toast and said she felt tired, so we helped her get back to bed then. Adelle and I were both hopeful that she would continue to improve – maybe whatever she’d caught wasn’t as bad as the things that had killed Tom and Rachel and my parents and the Hamiltons, maybe she’d recover. Both Adelle and I weren’t feeling too bad, ourselves. Maybe the worst was over, we thought, maybe we could start planning for a future again. But then, about an hour ago – I think it’s around 5 p.m. or so now, judging from the light that gets through the clouds out there – Jeanie’s diarrhea came back, along with the vomiting. Now there wasn’t that much of it – she hadn’t eaten much at all earlier, and nothing last night and only a little bit during the day yesterday – but it was an odd color, and smelled funny, not like the stuff from Tom after he died, just weird. Her feces were stringy, and reddish-purple in color, like odd-colored string beans, would you believe, and her urine was a sort of magenta in color, with yellow-black bits floating in it. The stuff she vomited up was the same color as her feces, but just lumps in liquid, not those string-bean-like formations. And all of it smelled funny, like formaldehyde with benzoic acid and Pine Sol cleaner mixed in! She had to have been losing what was left of the electrolytes in her system, and was becoming more and more dehydrated by the minute – it was running out of her faster than we could ever have managed to put it back with IVs, even if there’d been any available. Adelle and I helped her into the bathroom and put her on the pot to take care of the problem at one end, and held a bowl for her to vomit into for the one the other end. Before, she’d been running at both ends, you could say. Now it was more like a limp walk – a little here, a little there. Seriously, it was as if the bug in her system had made her unload everything she could afford to, everything in her gastrointestinal tract, from one end to the other, and now was starting in on her insides again. And now she quickly relapsed back into the shape she was in last night, like a tired little rag-doll a child had lost somewhere. All the energy she’d suddenly seemed to have just a couple of hours before was gone, like air escaping from a leaky balloon. It didn’t take long until she fell unconscious. By that point both the diarrhea and the vomiting had stopped – nothing left in there, apparently – and after cleaning her off as best we could with sponges, Adelle and I bundled Jeanie up and got her into bed. Then we cleaned ourselves up with snowmelt we heated using the Colemans, found clean robes in the closet in the room adjacent to Jeanie’s, and pushed our two beds from our rooms into Jeanie’s. By then, Adelle and I were both almost too tired to make something to eat out of what was left of our little hoard of food, but we did manage to make a kind of soup with broth and crackers and whatever else we could scrounge. Then, after saying her prayers, Adelle got into her bed and soon was asleep. I’ve stayed up to write today’s entry – it’s probably about 8 or 9 in the evening here – and I’m just about ready to pass out. So I’ll just wrap this journal up in its nice little plastic jacket put it back in the file-cabinet where it lives when I’m not writing in it, and go to bed. See you in the morning, journal. July 23, 2022: Jeanie is dead. I woke up somewhere before dawn this morning. I could hear Jeanie crying out, crying for help, as if something was attacking her and she was trying to fight it off. It took me just a second or two to get out of bed and pull on a wrap and go over to her bed and find out what she needed. When I got to her side, she was threshing about in her bed, flailing her hands about as if trying to ward something off. The cries she’d been uttering that woke me up were now little more than gurgles and squeaks; a pinkish-green
foam was running from her mouth, down her neck, onto her shoulders and the bed beneath. Her skin – Adelle was already up, and had the Coleman lantern lit, so we could see quite well – Jeanie’s skin was mottled, old-looking, a bilious yellow undertone to her normally fair coloring, and there were blotches like liver-spots, dark reddish-brown, that stood out sharply against the jaundiced, much lighter areas around them, and the sclera of her eyes were so yellow I began to wonder just what was happening to her liver. Almost all of what was left of her hair lay in clumps on the pillow under her head; her eyebrows were completely gone. Adelle and I got her sitting up, and tried to clear her airway. But the more foam that dribbled out of her mouth, the more of it seemed to form in her throat, until it was strangling her. Suddenly, her eyes bugging far out of their sockets, she gagged several times, then went limp, her breathing stopped. Adelle grabbed a handful of tissue from a box of the things she’d providentially put on Jeanie’s nightstand and did what she could to soak up the foam in Jeanie’s mouth and airway. Then, letting Jeanie lie back down, she began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on her, straight out of the Red Cross manual on it, picture-perfect, while I tried CPR on Jeanie. It was no use. Jeanie was gone, strangled to death by all that bloody foam – had whatever it is she had started in on her lungs, or what? It was useless speculating – we didn’t have any way to do an autopsy on the body, and the syndrome as a whole was nothing either of us had ever even heard of before. To make a long story short, as we had for Tom, we cleaned up Jeanie’s body, wrapped her in bedding, made a travois out of a sheet and pulled the body down the hall and out the back door, to join Tom and Rachel there in the snow. We started to have a service, Adelle opening her Bible to read passages from it, but suddenly Adelle’s knees buckled and down she went, kneeling in the snow, looking astonished. Kneeling down beside her, I asked her what was wrong. She said she didn’t know, but somehow she couldn’t stay on her feet. I was able to help her back in through the hospital’s back door, where she could lie down on the floor, out of the biting cold and the snow and the damp. Then I went back to our room, the one that had been Jeanie’s and Rachel’s, rolled Adelle’s bed down the hall to where she was lying there, close to the kitchen. She was able to pull herself upright, into a sitting position, and then, with my help, grasping one of the front legs of the bed, she raised herself off the floor, leaned over the bed, and fell onto the bed. Her legs were still hanging off the bed, though; I helped her get the rest of the way into bed, covered her up, and rolled her back into our room. “You shouldn’t have bothered, dear,” she told me in a light, bubbly, somewhat spaced-out voice, as if she’d had a little too much champagne, as I got her back into our room and rolled the bed into its accustomed place, not far from the windows. She was chuckling a little, and smiling this strange smile, as if she knew something nobody else did. “You should have left me there – that much less work getting me outside, you know.” “Adelle! Don’t talk like that!” I exclaimed, before I could stop myself. “Oh, I’m sure it’ll be all right,” she told me in that same spacey voice. “It’ll all work out, you’ll see.” Then she went silent, her head falling back on the pillow and her eyes closing. Alarmed, I felt for her pulse. No problem, she had a good steady one, a little light, a little fast, about 65 beats per minute, but nothing really bad. Her breathing was light, steady, even, about 16 inhalations per minute. But her face – she looked like a wax doll, her skin as pale and blank as pure candlewax, almost no color in it, except for dark circles around her eyes, which I noticed now for the first time. Had they been there before? She hadn’t been feeling well these last few days, true, but alone of everyone but me and Jeanie, she’d been completely ambulatory at all times, able to do yeoman service tending to those who needed it, even me, when I had felt bad earlier. What was wrong with her? July 24, 2022:
I never had a clue. She never awakened again. When I got up this morning, I found that Adelle had died in the night. I was all alone. [Several paragraphs skipped because text is so blurred by water-damage and otherwise incoherent that it contributes nothing to the narrative.] Joe Cabrini called again this afternoon. I told him about Jeanie and Adelle, and that I was able to take Adelle’s body out into the snow by using her bed to carry her there. Joe kept telling me to hang on, hang on, they’d get over here one way or another to get me out of here, take me to St. Albans and have me stay with them. Somehow managing to stifle that “Yeah, right!” that kept threatening to erupt from my mouth – he really does care, he really is still hoping they can somehow rescue me, doesn’t want to let go of that hope until he’s forced to, I can’t bear to be sarcastic to him – I said something noncommittal and pleasant, then asked him how Steve was doing. According to Joe, Steve was so sunk in self-pity that a lot of the time it was impossible to get him to pull out of it even to take a meal. He told me that it was likely Steve wouldn’t be up for talking on the phone with me, but that was okay, the mood Steve was in it wouldn’t do me much good to talk with him, anyway. Then we got to talking about Topic A: What To Do If. I told Joe that if three days went by without a call from me, or me answering a call from him, he should assume I was gone, to give up any idea of coming to get me. He told me not to be silly, nothing was going to happen to me, but it was whistling past the graveyard, and he knew it as well as I did. I told him that it was likely they would indeed find some way to come get me, sooner or later, this was just in case, okay? He said okay, he understood – and I knew he understood exactly what I did, that the chances they would be able to come get me were about those of the proverbial snowball, as they say. He told me that he’d call at least once a day, and told me to call him if there was a problem, any time of day or night. By now, he said, he was sleeping by the radio, so even if he was asleep, the call-waiting buzzer he has on it would wake him up, no problem. I said I would call if anything came up. Then we signed off to save my batteries. Later: I just managed to bury Rachel. Went out into the snow, bundled up with everything I could find, found a shovel, started digging in the dirt a little farther away from the back door, to see how hard it was. It was very easy. I had forgotten that some of the personnel here had been digging up the soil for a garden there. Good black soil mixed with sandy loam, freshly turned, goes down at least three feet before it becomes compacted, not yet frozen solid by the snow above it. So I scraped away some of the snow in that area and dug a trench there about six feet long, 2-3 feet wide, about three feet deep, and rolled Rachel’s body into it. I covered her up with the dirt I’d shoveled out of the trench, then pushed snow over the grave to a depth of maybe two feet. If the weather holds, within a week or so her body and the dirt around it will be frozen solid. I’ll go back out there and bury the others, maybe in a couple of hours, after I’ve rested, or maybe tomorrow. But no later than tomorrow – it won’t be much longer until the ground there freezes solid. Joe called again this evening. He sounds worried. Not about Steve, but about me. I told him I was okay – then I broke down and started bawling like a baby, and all through it he kept doing what he could to comfort me, not making the mistake of trying to jolly me out of it, just letting me cry it out of my system. He told me, “Jan, you’ve lost your mom, your dad, the man you were going to marry, and two of your best friends, not to mention everyone else in your hometown, as far as you know. If you didn’t need to cry, you’d be a monster, or a robot. Go ahead and cry – it’s nature’s way of dealing with what’s gotta be a horrible emotional burden on you right now. You’ll sleep better tonight – believe me, I remember when my mom and her sister, my aunt, were killed in a wreck
on the Parkway, you know, the Long Island Parkway, it’s like a freeway going from the Hamptons all the way to Queens. Anyway, don’t ever let anybody tell you guys don’t cry, Jan – I spent the next week crying my eyes out, it seemed. Every time I turned around I’d run into something that reminded me of Mom and Aunt Laura, and it would start me crying all over again. Our minister dropped by every day to check on me and Dad and my brother and sister, and he told me, ‘Joe, don’t you feel bad about crying. It means you got a soul. Only people without souls don’t need to cry. Anybody calls you a sissy because you’re crying, laugh ’em off, because you know where they’re going when it’s their time to hang it up and go on to Judgment.’ I was about 13 then, and it was just right – Dad had too much to do arranging the funeral and all to notice me much right then, and my brother and sister, well, they were kids, and what the hell do kids know. But Reverend Pauls noticed, and he told me what I needed to hear right then, from someone like him: an authority figure of some kind, a man grown who’d been through it himself and knew what it was like. It was about the best thing anybody could’ve done for me right then. So I’ll be a Dutch Uncle to you now, the way Reverend Pauls was to me then, and tell you: if you need to cry, cry. It means you got a soul, hon’, nothing bad about it at all.” Smiling through my tears, I thanked him, and said it helped, it really did, which was true. What would I do without Joe or someone like him to talk to, even if it’s only by radio? Otherwise I’d be all alone now. He said he’d call in the morning, maybe around 10 or 11, and told me to eat something and get to sleep. We signed off, and then I had some broth and toast, sponged off with heated snowmelt, and got ready for bed. I’ll close for now, dear reader, and do a new entry in the morning – God, I am so tired! July 24, 2022: Bundled up and went scavenging. There’s a restaurant next door to the hospital, Leno’s, I’d forgotten all about it, we all did. Broke in through a window – wonder if the gendarmes’ll come to take me away, hah-hah? – cleaned all the glass shards out of it with my fist, after wrapping my hand completely in this heavy extra scarf I took with me, crawled in, and found a feast! Boxes and boxes in the back full of everything from canned meats and vegetables to sacks of brown sugar, flour, and oatmeal. Problem: several bodies on the floor in the kitchen and main dining area of the restaurant, somewhat gone over, as until I broke the windows the snow hadn’t had a chance to get in and do its work. Also, rotting meat and other food in the refrigerators and ovens and in other places. And there were dead rats everywhere – they were lying there in odd positions on the floor of every room in the place, looking as if they’d each died of something different than any of the others. I don’t think it was poison – their bodies had the weirdest things wrong with them, big purple sores like Tom had in and around his mouth and on his body, green pustules around their muzzles, other things. I didn’t touch any of them, or the human bodies, just emptied several boxes, filled them with what I wanted, pushed them out the back door, and from there took them back to the hospital, one at a time. There was even some white gas there in the back – I can use that in the Colemans, for light and for cooking. And there were batteries in there, too, in case the generator gives out or I run out of fuel for it, to keep the radio working. Just had a big lunch – Dinty Moore’s canned beef stew, rye bread slathered with margarine, canned corn, some lemonade (I found some bottled drinks in there, too). It gave me gas, but oh, does it feel good to be full again! God, I wish I’d thought of this about four days ago – we could all have eaten one hell of a lot better, and maybe the others wouldn’t have died if they’d had the strength that good food can give. Oh, Mom – Later: Went out in the back, got three trenches dug, one each for Jeanie, Adelle, Tom, got them safely buried. I’ll try to dig more later for Mom and Dad and the others. I’ll have to do it soon, though, because there was a dog, some sort of Husky, I think, come sniffing
around, trying to dig up the bodies – come to think of it, it might have been a wolf, or a coyote. I think I buried Tom and the other two deep enough to keep a wolf from digging them up before they freeze solid in the ground, which couldn’t be too much longer, but the others are all still above ground, including those two little kids. Well, I’ll do what I can. I wonder if there’s a gun here somewhere, just in case that was a wolf? Joe called right after I got back in – as I told him, his timing is impeccable. I told him about scavenging all that food, and he said, “See? You’re gonna make it, Jan! I tell ya, you’re just too tough and savvy to die now!” He’s such a dear. I kind of hope they are able to come get me – I’d like to get to know Joe, without hundreds of miles between us, I mean. – Now stop that, Jan! (she said, slapping herself on the wrist) Naughty! You’re a dirty old lady, you know that? And what would poor Tom think? Anyway, Joe told me that this mysterious person, a navy guy, an admiral, would you believe, had talked with him again by shortwave. According to Joe, this is the guy who was responsible for the creation of this country’s nuclear navy, would you believe, old Admiral Resh! Somehow he survived the War – they’re starting to call it that, or the Two-Day War, all caps, now – according to Joe, it was because he was on a ship on its way to Gitmo (sp? – the base we have in Cuba, Guanatano-something, but Joe calls it “Gitmo”) from Naples, Italy, of all places. So this admiral was aboard a nuclear carrier in the middle of the South Atlantic when the balloon went up, as Joe put it. He began broadcasting to anyone who could respond, such as ham radio operators, right after the War ended, which, according to the admiral, was on July 18, two days after it got started. Joe picked up the signal and they started talking. Well, according to the admiral, the War got started and was as bad as it was – I don’t know the details, but it was bad, Joe says – because of (a) the refusal of various governments, including the US, EU, and UN, to let the world know what was about to happen in time to enable people in the danger zone to get the hell out of the way of the incoming mail and (b) corruption and incompetence on the part of the US federal government and its agencies that had allowed the creation of those Maine dump-sites and the offshore dumping of toxic wastes that had added so much to the initial disaster of the asteroid strike. The admiral, who had access to highly classified information that almost no one else did, was responsible for leaking the news of what had really happened to the world, along with some of the astronomers and others who had tried to warn the world and had been confined by various governments to shut them up to “prevent panic,” and who managed to escape from wherever they were being held before the War and right after. Most of those leaks were in the form of short-wave radio broadcasts by the admiral and the others, who hoped that ham radio operators around the world would pick up the broadcasts and relay the information to their local communities. In other words, the bastards who were running this country knew what was going to happen, for at least a year, maybe two, before it did – and instead of telling us, the public, about it, so we could get ready for it, maybe keep it from happening, they folded their damned tents and stole quietly away to South America or South Africa or wherever, to spend the rest of their lives living in luxury, thanks to the gold and gemstones they took with them, and sneering at all us peons who bought the farm because of the War or, worse, lived through it, God damn them all to Hell! – I’m getting too worked up, time to tuck it in. Rant later, facts now. Anyway, Admiral Resh, according to Joe, also had something to do with keeping the War from going on any longer than it did. He probably literally saved the world, I’m not kidding. Joe isn’t sure just how – something to do with computer back-doors, that sort of thing. Beyond that I’m totally in the dark. Anyway, the admiral was on board this carrier en route from Naples to Cuba. They had just evacuated the US Navy base at Naples because of all these earthquakes they were having there, the Navy was worried that there was going to be an eruption of some kind, so they got everybody at the base, all the sailors and officers and their dependents, onto ships and moving toward Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Miami, I think that’s what Joe said, and when they were all out at sea Naples actually did erupt, a monster volcanic eruption that wiped out everything for miles and miles around it, just like what happened to Pompeii in 79 AD.
It was kind of a good thing that happened, because about ten days after that, that asteroid came down off Maine and the War started. All those people, especially Admiral Resh, are alive now because they had been evacuated from Naples in case of the eruption, and were out there when the real fireworks started going off. Anyway, they – Joe and Steve and the others there in St. Albans – have been talking with Admiral Resh at least once a day. Joe says maybe the admiral can have me airlifted out of here by Navy aircraft or something – I think that’s a little far-fetched, because those people must have more on their plate now, what with the War and all, than they could ever hope to take care of before the end of this century, but you know Joe, everhopeful. As I was saying, the admiral likes Joe and Steve, a lot, and they have had some fascinating conversations. During one of them, the admiral told Steve just why all this happened, or anyway why it was as bad as it was, and according to Joe, Steve just about went through the roof! All his family is dead, except maybe one of his daughters, and they still don’t know about her, and it’s all because of the bastards in our federal government. ’Nuff said. My hand’s beginning to cramp – God, do I miss my computer! I’m going to eat something and go to bed. See you in the morning, dear reader. July 25, 2022: Joe called again today. He said that according to Admiral Resh, all of us here in Eltonville were definitely exposed to a bunch of brand-new plagues, some genetically engineered, deliberately, by the Army, some completely unknown, a result of whatever went on in that damned toxic-waste dump that wasn’t supposed to exist there at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy! We knew this, dammit. But according to the admiral, no known cures exist for all but a handful of whatever pathogens are swarming around here and in so much of the rest of the East Coast now. I don’t care what Joe says – it isn’t gonna be much longer until one of them nails me. I haven’t felt good for days, though I’m still on my feet, and at times have these horrendous amounts of energy, like nothing I’ve ever felt before. But as many people as I’ve been around who’ve died of whatever-they-are these last few days, as many of their bodies as I’ve handled and buried, all those dead people and the rats in Leno’s, next door, you know it’s just a matter of time. I think I’d better put in as much time as I can these next few days praying. Adelle said her prayers every night, and she was one of the finest people I know. I know she’ll get to heaven, and of course Tom will be there with her. If I’m going to be able to join them [Last entry leaves off at the word “them,” resumes below] Oh, Lord, did I really do that, pass out and fall off my chair onto the floor? I must have been out for at least an hour or two, judging by the light. I’d better get back in bed. I feel so strange. July 26, 2022 I decided to try searching the bands, see if I could pick up anyone broadcasting, other hams or whoever. That may have been a mistake. Right off, I got: And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth . . . . (I went and copied it from Revelations in the Bible Adelle had, so I’d get it right – I can’t trust my memory any more, keep dropping stitches.) Some hellfire and damnation preacher ranting away. He sounded like he was sick unto death, himself, his voice
phlegmy and strange. Just what I needed! Then he started in about how all the sinners will go into the Lake of Fire and the Elect – does that mean the Saved? – will inherit the Earth and blah-blah-yatta-yatta, and I finally switched off the radio. Why use up the batteries for that? It’s fine to talk when Joe calls, or if I call him, but otherwise it’s sort of useless. Tried to bury the other bodies out there in the snow. Gave it up. I’m just not strong enough, and the ground out there under the snow is getting hard as concrete. Talked some more with Joe this afternoon. I asked him again about his being a survivalist. He told me that he and his friends are survivalists because they knew something like this might happen someday, via war or natural accident or whatever – history is full of examples of such things. But they are not members of hate-groups. And they all love Steve dearly, too. I believe him. I’ve never known anyone with a kinder voice. He’s a good man. I reminded him again, if I don’t call him and he can’t raise me for three days or more, assume I’m dead. This time he didn’t come right back with one of his “hold on, Jan” sermons – it’s pretty clear that short of a real miracle, they just aren’t going to get to me in time. Or ever. We kept talking for awhile, chatting, about this ’n’ that. Then we signed off, after he promised to call tomorrow. July 27, 2022: Too sick to do much today. I did get up to take a call from Joe, then ate something, went back to bed. Nothing to write home about today, as they say. July 28, 2022: While I can still walk, I’m going to wrap this journal up in the plastic wrapper I have it in and put it in the file cabinet. If I start feeling better, I can always take it out again, but just in case, I want to put it in there. That way, if – oh, hell, when “something” – the inevitable “something,” let’s be honest, when I die, it’ll be in a protected spot where they can find it, if they can get over here someday. [After July 28, there were no more entries. Joe Cabrini kept trying to raise Janet on the radiophone for another week, when he was finally forced to conclude that she had died; certainly, once she had become too sick to call or respond to calls, with no one there to help her prepare food and otherwise take care of herself, she couldn’t have lasted any longer than that. Eventually, on the basis of information given to Joe Cabrini and Steve Yeats by Janet Parker before her death, we were able to retrieve Janet’s journal, thanks to the courage and dedication of the aforementioned Richard Kelly, who, during a Fleet expedition to this area in 2033, found the derelict Eltonville Hospital and, in its front office, this journal, carefully put away by Janet Parker in the filing cabinet she had described for Joe Cabrini. Mr. Kelly also found the graves of Rachel Yeats, Tom and Adelle Villemur, and Jeanie Buckley that had somehow been dug by Janet before her death – the bodies were indeed deep enough that they hadn’t been dug up since by wild animals or dogs, probably because for three or four years, thanks to Nuclear Autumn, the ground there became completely frozen, hard as iron, locking the bodies tight into the soil of their graves. Though the ground did thaw later, by then, between the moisture locked into the soil and the depth of the earth Janet had managed to shovel over the bodies (she did much better than she thought; those bodies were at least four feet under the ground when Mr. Kelly found them!), there was no danger that they would be dug up or otherwise exposed to the elements. Somehow Mr. Kelly packed them out, all the way to a pickup-point many miles away, where a cargo helicopter met him to take the bodies back to one of our ships, and from there were taken by jet and other transportation to Fort Sacramento, where, as mentioned above, they were buried in a private ceremony, their death-notices being published after their interment in the Sacramento Bee.
[Janet’s remains were found, as well. She went into the same office where her journal was later found, made up a bed on the floor, and closed the door tightly. After doing so, apparently, she died. Wild animals did not manage to get into that office. One wonders, was she hungry, thirsty, waiting there to die? Was she comfortable? From examining her remains once they arrived in Fort Sacramento, pathologists conclude she had died of a mutant form of spinal meningitis, whose final stages entail complete unconsciousness on the part of the victim. So she may simply have gone to sleep and never woke up. One hopes so. After all her trials, she deserved a rest, and peace. [Of the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, Martin Villemur, and others mentioned in this and previous chapters, nothing was found save a few scattered bits and pieces, mostly jewelry such as rings or pins, pieces of mercury amalgam of the sort used in dental fillings, and a battery-operated cardiac pacemaker, apparently one that had been implanted in Mr. Hamilton’s chest around 2019, after a heart-attack. Nothing else of them remained. Those few momento mori of their passing were also taken back to Fort Sacramento and placed in a burial urn, which was in turn interred in the mausoleum at Riverview Memorial Park. [As far as the nature of the pathogens from which these good people died go, pathologists’ examination of the remains of the others, aside from Janet Parker, showed that each one died from something different than the others. The pathology report can be accessed at http:// iwww.earth/garcia/eastcoast/2033/NCDH/report0516a.htm, or via the New California Department of Health archives now stored at University of Providence, Cthulhu City Campus, Providence, Xoth-1. – CGR]