The follow-up to our first scenario, more apocalyptic happenings and another decision making scenario for you to game plan. Thanks to all those who commented on the previous entry--I took the general consensus and used it to guide Jack's decisions.
If you're new to You Took Away Tomorrow, you can find the initial introduction here, and the first scenario here. Enjoy the new entry!
Chapter 2: Shopping Spree
Jack braked hard, swerving into the shopping center’s parking lot.
“Calm down, Rourke—Fiona does the school pickup thing every day. She can handle it today,” he told himself.
Jack went first for the gas station – there were no lines at the pump, and he would have a few moments to gather his thoughts. He unlocked the pistol safe he had installed inside the truck’s arm rest, removed the 9mm S&W Shield that he kept inside, sliding the inside the waistband holster into place, and untucking his dress shirt to cover it. A spare magazine went into his back left pocket. Like many times in the past, he was glad to have a pistol close by and the license to legally carry it concealed.
While he waited for the gas pump to accept his credit card, Jack fired off another text message to his wife: “Made it to the grocery store. Stopping for supplies. Be home soon.” The card went through, and Jack began pumping.
Hustling into the gas station, Jack bought four red, 2.5 gallon plastic cans, eight flats of the bottled water stacked high right next to the shop’s door and two 25 gallon propane tanks. One of the attendants helped him carry the water flats out, sliding them into place in the back of the Tacoma’s camper shell covered bed. After topping off his tank, Jack filled up each of the gas cans and collected the propane tanks from the attendant, slipping him a $10 bill for his help.
“Got Porter. Traffic is a mess. Almost home. Be safe.”
Jack sighed in relief.
He hopped into the Tacoma, taking a minute to think through his next move. The gas station stop had taken just under ten minutes. Ten minutes in the grocery store and ten minutes in the hardware store, give or take, were reasonable enough targets. Any longer than that and Jack felt he was pushing it in terms of hitting a mass exodus of traffic of people racing to pick up kids from school and get home after leaving work early. Besides, it wasn’t like he was going to casually browse—he was going to get in and get out, fast.
He went for the grocery store first, guessing that it would be the first place to get swamped by the panic rush. Jack grabbed a cart, rushing into the store, moving with urgency but without trying to look too frantic. The grocery store was certainly busier than usual, with several customers noticeably speed walking around the store, carts loaded with non-perishables, but not yet all out pandemonium.
Jack made a beeline to the canned goods aisle, sweeping stacks of canned meats, stews, chilis, baked beans and a wide variety of veggies into his cart. His next stop was the baking aisle, where he added bags of flour, boxes of dried milk, 1 pound containers of salt, a dozen bottles of honey and an armful of pre-packaged spice mixes. Third came a quick trip down the cleaning products aisle, where Jack added three gallon-sized containers of bleach and bottles of dish soap. On his way to checkout, Jack stopped by the store’s battery display, piling bulk packs of AAs and AAAs on-top of his food.
The shortest line to check out was four customers long, with two other customers with carts that were similarly loaded down with shelf stable foods. With so many individual items to scan, it took a long time for the teller to move through the line.
Waiting in line, Jack’s phone buzzed with two more text messages. One from Fiona—she was home, safe. And the other from Tyler “Tex”—he was on his way. Jacked fired off responses with an update on his position. He sent texts to Mike Blackwell and Kyle MacNab as well, looking to get an update on their locations.
Finally at the front of the line, Jack added several packages of Bic lighters to his order while the cashier rang him up. He forked over his credit card to pay and waited for it to run through. There was some kind of problem with the first attempt, so the cashier had him try to run the card again. After a full minute of waiting for the card to process, it was clear something was up.
“Is there a problem?” Jack asked the cashier.
“Not with your card, sir. It looks like something is wrong with our system…it’s timing out.”
The cashier called her manager over.
“Is your terminal out, too?” the manager asked, clearly stressed by the growing crowds in his store. He checked over the register screen quickly.
“It’s been fine all afternoon. It just stopped working all of a sudden,” the teller provided.
The manager scrolled through a few other screens before turning to Jack.
“I’m sorry, sir. It looks like our card processing system has gone down. If you want to step off the line, we can wait a few minutes and try again. Or, if you have cash or a check, we can accept that as payment.”
Jack reached for his wallet. He usually had some cash on his person—some dedicated for just-in-case use, and then some extra for regular use. He tallied the cash up--$190 in emergency cash, $65 in day-to-day cash—which would cover the groceries with additional to spare.
“Cash is fine,” Jack said, handing over the greenbacks.
He jogged out of the store to his truck, weaving the heavy cart through the vehicles that were starting to crowd the parking lot. A minivan nearly backed out of its parking spot into him. On the streets that ran alongside the shopping center, lines of traffic were starting to build. There was an accident at the intersection and a lone police officer on the scene.
Jack broke into a sweat tossing heavy grocery bags into the back of his truck, then paused to check the time again—it’d been 24 minutes since the last he’d checked. He was already past his total time goal for the both the grocery store and the hardware store. Jack weighed his options. The parking lot was fast filling up, drivers starting to get reckless. The card processing system was having troubles. But, Jack still wanted to try for the hardware store and saw no imminent threat to his safety. Traffic was getting bad, but traffic a traffic jam was unlikely to kill him. Jack grabbed the extra spare cash from his daily carry bag—an extra $100 in $20s—and jogged to the store, shooting Fiona a text along the way.
“Almost done – home soon.”
The hardware store was bustling, but not as busy as the grocery store. The greeter welcomed him to the store, and warned him that they were also having problems with their credit card system. With his budget constrained to cash on hand, Jack went for the gaps in his supplies over buying redundancy. He wanted some way to seal up his home up fairly airtight if it came to that, and found a 10x100-foot roll of construction grade plastic sheeting to do the job. That was $60. Two cartons of N95 masks and a box of contractor-grade trash bags and his budget was blown.
Jack checked out through the express lane, having only a fairly short wait. On his way out of the store, he checked the time. Eight minutes in the hardware store. Much better, he thought.
He loaded his final purchases into the back of his truck, fired up the Tacoma and left the shopping center, merging into the line of traffic on the road that led towards his house.
The lone police officer was doing his best to direct traffic around the accident at the intersection, but it was clear he was overwhelmed. The two smashed up cars were still in the middle of the intersection, the passengers looking shaken up while trying to exchange insurance information. One was holding a rag to a broken nose.
“One cop for an accident with injuries? They’ve got to be swamped,” Jack said to himself, checking his phone. A text from Kyle MacNab said he was on his alternate route, sixty miles out and stuck in bad traffic.
On the other side of the accident, traffic was going slowly, the roads were packed, but at least things were moving. It took Jack twenty five minutes on the normally quiet country road to make his way home—apparently Jack wasn’t the only one who knew about the shortcut. He could only imagine the chaos on the interstate.
Jack felt himself relax noticeably as he made the turn onto his quiet, forested street. The neighborhood was small and out of the way, a single dead end street with eight homes on large, multi-acre private lots. He checked the time. Roughly ninety minutes since he’d left work, and closing in on two hours since the attacks had hit.
Jack’s home sat second towards the end of the street, a welcome sight. It a was a single story brick home with a basement, built in the 80s but gutted and renovated on the inside by previous owners. An L-shaped driveway led to a detached two-car garage with an upstairs loft area. Jack had added a large storage shed in the spacious backyard.
Tex’s camper trailer, pulled by his old Chevy truck, was already parked alongside Jack’s home. Fiona, Tex and Porter were waiting in the front yard, waving to Jack as he pulled into the driveway.
“Who have we heard from?” Jack said, hugging his wife and son as he exited his pickup, Esme was inside with her and Tex’s children and Jack’s younger boy, Link.
“I got ahold of Mike, he was in the middle of a shift and would get a hold of Brooke and have her and the kids come on over here,” Tex said.
“Have we heard anything directly from Brooke? Anyone been able to get a hold of her?”
Fiona shook her head.
“No, but you know how bad she is about answering the phone. We did hear from Amy, though. She sent a text twenty minutes ago. She is on her way here,” Fiona said.
“Good. Kyle was out of town on an install job, and, as of about half an hour ago, was still sixty miles out and stuck in traffic. It’s probably a safe bet that he will be at least a couple hours from arriving.”
“Damn,” Tex said under his breath.
“So, what should we do?” Fiona asked.
“Have we heard any news? Any more details about the attacks?”
“Not much,” Tex said.
“I’ve had the news on since I got home—some of the news networks are down or others have rolled back to a local affiliate or secondary offices. I think most of them lost their main offices in the attacks. The story is mixed—some are reporting the attacks weren’t nuclear, others are saying they were. No one knows if the President or Vice President are alive. They’ve got talking heads talking about the line of successions—apparently, the Secretary of State is overseas for her visit to China and might be the next in line as Commander-in-Chief. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet. It’s a real mess.”
“Anyone talking about fallout?”
Fiona shook her head.
“Nothing, at least on the channels we’re getting in.”
“Crap,” Jack said “I’ve got to find that nuclear war manual I have. I can’t remember how far fallout usually travels. I think we’re outside of the danger zone for D.C., but I’m just not sure.”
“I know where it is, Dad,” Porter, who had been quiet, chimed in.
“Can you go grab it while Tex, mom and I unload my truck?”
“Yep—be right back.”
Jack, Fiona and Tex began to unload the contents of the last minute shopping spree, and a few minutes later, Porter returned with the 1980s vintage manual.
“Thanks, son,” Jack said, taking the manual and thumbing through its contents. Towards the middle, he found the section on fallout patterns. The book had several black and white illustrations of how fallout spread—long, teardrop shaped plumes downwind of the blast. The size of the cloud depended on the power of the blast—a 25 megaton nuke would generate a much larger cloud than a 1 megaton blast and so on. The illustrations also displayed estimated peak times for radiation exposure after the blast, with a gradual increase in time to peak exposure as the distance from ground zero grew.
“No mention of how big the bomb was, right?”
“Nada,” Tex said, unloading the last stack of water flats.
“That makes things tough. If we’re talking a 50 or 100 megaton bomb, then we might be on the outer edge of the fallout; if we’re talking smaller than that, then we should well outside danger zone. It looks like the wind patterns work in our favor, too. We’re south of the path. West Virginia and Kentucky look like they won’t be as lucky,” Jack said.
“So, what do you think?” Fiona asked.
“I think we’ll most likely be fine. Russia and China have big warheads; rogue states like Iran and North Korea, last I read, don’t have that level of tech—maybe a few megatons at best. And because just New York and D.C. were hit, and not a dozen other cities, I’m guessing it wasn’t Russia or China. Limited attacks, not an all out thermonuclear war.”
“That’s my vibe too,” Tex added.
“All right, quick game plan: I’ve got that little radiation meter keychain in my bug out bag; I will go grab it so we can monitor the radiation levels. Let’s get one of the radios and keep that on to see if they have any kind of updates. If we have time, we might want to harvest some of the stuff in the garden, too. We will get the windows boarded up and hunker down inside for a few days to be safe.”
“Porter and I will start harvesting,” Fiona volunteered, “What about the chickens?”
“How about the garage for now?”
“Sounds good. Tex, you up for some manual labor?”
“Yep—good thing I skipped my manicure this week.”
The four split up and went to work.
An hour later, they were tired but finished. The window boards had been successfully bolted into place, the garden picked of anything close to ripe and the chickens relocated to the garage. Porter’s keychain radiation meter showed zero abnormal radiation, so there was no worry about fallout yet.
Amy arrived, flustered, makeup smeared from tears, obviously stressed out, trying to call people on her cell phone and shooting off texts furiously.
“Just got a text in from Kyle, he says he’s making progress, but still far out, though. This is a total nightmare,” she said, coming in through the door and dropping her 72-hour kit on the floor of the entry way. The group greeted her warmly.
“Is there anything else we can bring in, Amy?” Tex asked.
“Ya, there is. I grabbed some stuff and threw it in the back of the Explorer—Kyle’s zombie bag, some of his guns, sleeping bags,” Amy said, collapsing onto one of the couches in the family room. Jack, Tex and Porter went to unload her SUV.
“Hey Amy, can you help me get some dinner together for everybody?” Fiona said, looking around their fridge.
“Dinner? Umm, I guess–let me send this text message off.”
Amy’s fingers flew across her smart phone’s virtual keypad with practiced ease. She hit send, but quickly received a network error. She checked her phone—no signal at all.
“Wait, I just had four bars!” she said, cursing under her breath.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asked, returning to the house with a load of gear.
“I have no cell signal at all. I’ve never had a problem at your house before.”
“Oh crap,” Jack said, putting the supplies down and checking his own phone. No bars. And he had a different cell company. Tex had done the same.
“No signal here, either.”
“Something knocked out the cell service,” Jack said.
“Wait, what?” Amy said.
“This isn’t normal—two cell networks both down at the same time. The government can shut down cell service in an emergency, or maybe something else could have taken them out.”
Fiona, Esme and Porter had joined them in the family room. Amy put her head in her hands, running it through her hair and growling in frustration.
“What else is going to happen today?”
As if in answer, the lights flickered, then went off for good.
“Oh no,” Porter said, the first to speak, his voice sounding weak and uncertain in the fading evening light. Fiona moved to comfort him. Jack checked his phone—though it still had no service, the smart phone was at least functioning, which meant that an electromagnetic pulse was probably not the likely cause of the outage.
“It’s ok Porter, just a regular old blackout—somebody probably crashed into a power pole. I was wondering what we were going to do for dinner, and this solves it—let’s get some of those steaks and burgers out of the freezer and have us a barbeque,” Jack said, trying to sound upbeat. The cell system failure followed up by a power outage had raised his suspicions, but he didn’t want to panic Amy or concern Porter any more.
“And ice cream for dessert?” Porter asked.
“Yep, all the ice cream you want, bud.”
Jack and Tex worked together on the grill, flipping over steaks and burgers. Amy played with the kids in the yard, and Fiona and Esme worked on a salad and ears of sweet corn in the kitchen. The gas line was still pressurized, which meant their stove and water heater were still up and running.
Hitting the barbeque was a jarring but welcome change of pace from the urgency of the rush home. It was hard to not be running around like a mad man, but for the moment, Jack felt like it was time to rest, wait and see how things developed. If the radiation started to climb, they would cover up the windows and doors from the inside of the house and hole up in the basement. As a precaution, everyone had already taken some potassium iodide.
“What do you think, man?” Tex asked “About the power outage and the cell phones?”
“It might be nothing, but I’m worried. Doesn’t make sense that the attacks would cause the stuff here to go out a few hours later—there’s got to be more going on,” Porter said, checking one of the steaks.
“Ya, muy bizzaro.”
An hour after dinner, a pound or two of steak and vegetables in their bellies, Tex and Jack sat in his office under the light of an LED lantern, talking through the game plan for what to do next. An FM radio in the corner relayed the little information that was available—most of it local, with reports of isolated mobs and violence breaking out around malls and shopping centers. The station claimed to be running on backup power—no grid for them, either. The radiation levels on the key chain meter were still normal.
“I’m worried about Kyle and the Blackwells—especially the Blackwells. They are a fifteen, maybe twenty minute drive from here normally, there’s no reason it should have taken them this long to get here, especially in bad traffic.”
“Mike was going into work—maybe he told Brooke to wait ‘till he finished up, then they would head over here?”
“Maybe. Doesn’t make sense, though. Given what their area is like under the rule of law, I’d send her and the kids over here at the first sign of trouble. The country is under attack, communications and the power grid are down now, cops are overwhelmed—it’s not going to take scum long to figure out they’ve got a chance to run wild.”
“I hear ya, man. What do you think we should do?”
“I’m not sure—think we should go check in on them.”
“Worst case, the roads are shut down and he has to ditch his vehicle and go on foot. I told him we would send out a search party if he wasn’t back by tomorrow morning—that’s still the plan, I think.”
Tex leaned back in his chair.
“I wouldn’t mind another run back to my place—if this is the end of the world and we are making our stand here, there’s some more stuff I’d like to pick up. Heck, I forgot my cowboy hat. I can’t survive the apocalypse without my damn hat!”
Both men laughed at that.
“I hear you, Tex. I know for a fact that Kyle has a bunch more gear we could use—Amy barely scratched the surface. Lower priority than getting our people together safely, but on the list for sure.”
“So, we’ve got a whole lot of errands to run, don’t we?”
“Looks like it—probably some errands we’re forgetting, too. The question is, what’s the timing? Do we roll out now, give the Blackwells a bit more time and wait ‘till later tonight or do we wait until tomorrow morning? And then who goes along for the ride? Both you and me go and we leave the women armed to the teeth? Just one of us? How should we split things up into separate trips—or do we try to do it all at once?”
“You’re forgetting the most important part, Rourke,” Tex chipped in with a half-smile.
“How armed and dangerous are we going to be?”
All righty tribe, what would you do in this situation? How would you respond? The characters actions in the next chapter will be based on your comments!