Monday, June 14, 2010

Parts Five and Six

Part Six: The Walls We Build

Here I lay, staring at these bland, colorless walls. I don’t know if they are protecting us or if they are to be our tomb. I’m a little sick but mostly just nerves I think … well, better start at the beginning, or at least the beginning of the latest episode in our lives.

Reading over what I’ve written, it’s not like I have much else to do at the moment, I see that the last page I left off at was after one of the early bombing runs. That night was a long one filled with lots of emotions not the least of which was an almost helpless anger and depression that left me so tired I almost couldn’t accomplish the task that I had set for myself the next day. If it hadn’t been for Nydia and the baby kicking away inside me I don’t know where I would have gone from that point.

But get up and get going I did, though at a much later start than I had intended. After all of the destruction in the night it was almost surreal to step outside and hear the owls screeching and the squirrels barking in complaint. That and the buzz of some wasps I had disturbed in the eaves of the house were all I heard. It was a glorious day if you want to know the truth. The humidity was running about ten percent lower than it normally did and it actually felt a bit cool after being cooped up in the poorly ventilated shelter.

I would have looked ridiculous and completely out of place … like some grotesque Gothic whale … had I worn my black nightwear. Instead I dressed in extremely faded jeans, the knee of which I’d had to recently patch and a threadbare t-shirt advertising Coppertone suntan lotion. Nydia thought the picture of the dog pulling the little girl’s bathing suit bottom down was hysterically funny for some reason and I had to remind her several times to not be so loud. I hadn’t really wanted to bring her but I didn’t see a choice. I was going too far from the house and wouldn’t be able to get to her very quickly if something went wrong. One of my worst nightmares up to that point had been leaving the house for whatever reason only to come back and find her gone, taken by some stranger or because she wandered away looking for me despite my order for her to stay locked in the house.

I brought along my large garden cart so I could either pull her if she grew tired or in case we found something worth salvaging for ourselves … assuming we didn’t run into anyone who objected. First I went across the street, determined to see if the man and wife were still there.

The house was one of the oldest on the street and sat well back from the road, hidden behind huge azalea bushes, old orange trees from the former groves that covered this area, and a fence full of confederate jasmine choked off by saw briars. I put on my gardening gloves and was finally able to tear out enough of the fast growing and noxious vines that I could push the gate open far enough to get the cart and Nydia in with me.

Remembering there was a possibility of booby traps I was extremely slow and cautious. I made it to the porch and was looking through the windows when I noticed a piece of paper wedged between the wall and one of the decorative shutters. I carefully pulled it out and a key fell into my hand. I read the note and could only shake my head.


To whom it may concern – we ain’t coming back here so we hear by give you permisshun to take what you need. But if you are steel here we feel awful sorry for you because you didn’t get out in time. It is too late for you. They will send a big bomb to Macdill soon and there isn’t anythang anyone can do about it. Live good wile you can because soon you will meet your maker. Signed The Trasks


Well, I had been speaking to Mr. and Mrs. Trask. At least I finally had a name for them though that did nothing to ease the fear the short letter had generated. I kept trying to tell myself they were just loony but I couldn’t quite bring myself to completely discount their warning.

It took me forever to ease into the house but when I did there wasn’t exactly the treasure trove I had expected to find. On the other hand I may very well have found the greatest treasure of the day, only time will tell for sure.

The rooms were a maze of hoarded newspapers, magazines and books. I could move around in the rooms, but just barely. The kitchen was enough to gag me and I left that room much faster than I had entered it. Then in a back bedroom I found another type of hoarding. It looked like one or the other of them had a fondness for salvaging but it was the oddest method of storage I could have ever imagined. There were white plastic garbage bags, the kind with the yellow plastic strings ties at the top, stacked floor to ceiling, nearly filling the entire room. On each bag was written an address in black marker. I recognized all of the street names I saw. Almost afraid to but too curious not to I untied one and peered inside. Linens. I opened another bag from another address. Linens. I opened another. Linens again. I opened the fourth expected linens and instead found more bags. Gently opening these bags I found yarn in one, a couple of rag rugs in another, and the other small bag held two brand new packages of women’s hygiene products. I grabbed that stuff and put it in the cart and covered it with the rag rugs. I didn’t need it then but I knew I’d need it soon.

The volume of white kitchen garbage bags was overwhelming and I decided to leave it and come back later after I had checked the rest of neighborhood. That’s when I caught a glimpse of another, smaller house behind the one I was in. I walked around back and discovered the small house was actually a large workshop. Still being cautious I tried to open the door to find it locked. I looked at the key in my hand and taking a chance found that the lock used the same key as the house.

The workshop was completely different from the house. The house had looked like it belonged on one of those reality shows where the messiest homes were redecorated and tidied up by professional organizers. The workshop looked like it belonged to someone suffering a compulsive cleaning disorder. There were tools all over the walls hanging on peg board. Everything was neatly labeled and organized by tool type and size. There were a couple of empty spots as if those particular tools had been taken down and were in use. Where there wasn’t pegboard there were drawers and trays, also neatly labeled with their contents. There was an old spice rack that held jars of nails and screws, separated by type and length. As a matter of fact the shop was so neat I had an uncontrollable urge to mess it up just to keep it from being so perfect.

The only clashing note was a big box sitting right in the middle of the floor where it couldn’t be missed. Not knowing quite what to make of the out of place box but as curious as a cat to see what was in it I stopped one more time and gave a prayer that I wasn’t about to blow us up by falling for some Pandora-like box bomb. Once I got it open I suffered a huge let down. The box was just a case of bags. In disgust I rose to go and then I turned back for another look because something about those bags rang a bell. Then I figured it out, they were sand bags … empty ones but sand bags nonetheless. I grabbed a stack of them to use in case I found salvage that would be easier to move that way.

Then I left the property having accomplished my main goal of seeing if anyone was still living there and finally got back to the road. I thought to myself, “Well that was an hour wasted.” Nydia wanted to ride in the cart so I had her hop in and hoped I wouldn’t have to run pulling the cart because even though she wasn’t all that heavy she certainly added to the amount of strength I had to exert to move it. I had to stop frequently even though it wasn’t that far to the other end of the street and even going slow I was wringing wet from sweat and already sore through my back.

The first five houses I stopped to investigate were stripped or ransacked. I stopped looking for food after a few houses as obviously people had been a lot worse off than us but I did find some spices and seasonings. It wasn’t much but it was something. I also found a closet full of metal hangers in one house, probably left by someone that got most of their clothes done at the dry cleaners. I didn’t know what I was going to use them for but I was determined to not come back empty handed.

The sixth house looked like someone had been living in it in the recent past but how they were living was disgusting. I don’t know if it was the property owners or a squatter. No one was living in it at that moment however. I could tell from the … er, evidence … left in a bucket in the bathroom. I made sure Nydia stayed by the front door while I did a quick inspection. Everything was so foul in there I doubt I would have taken anything anyway even if there had been something worth taking.

As I slipped from house to house I began to notice that most of them had doors missing on the inside, some even had cabinet doors missing in the kitchen and bathrooms. I found out why in the back of one of the houses and then started noticing even more evidence. People had started to dismantle bits and pieces of their houses to burn. I don’t know if it was leftover from when it had been cooler or a more likely scenario being they were using the small fires to cook over or to boil water over.

I looked at the large oak trees that grew in the neighborhood and saw where many smaller branches and limbs had been taken out, some by sawing but most look like they’d simply been ripped or broken out. There was very little tree debris on the ground. Either someone was still collecting it or there just wasn’t any left to fall for a while.

I was about ready to give up when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned too fast and everything went fuzzy as my blood pressure couldn’t keep up with me. I sat down rather quickly nearly turning an ankle in the process. It was the one that never quite wanted to heal from where I fell getting in and out of the barn. I was shaking my head trying to clear my vision and groping for the LCP at the same time when a voice said, “Pity you. I know me and my girl have it bad but at least I’m not pregnant.”

Standing near the edge of the house I had meant to enter next was a woman and a girl that looked to be three or four years old than Nydia. Still flustered I said, “Well … it just … sort of worked out this way.”

“I hear you. Look, we’ve been all up and down this street three or four times, there really isn’t anything left. And personally, I’m throwing in the towel. I’ve heard that there are pick up locations for refugees and that’s where I’m heading. They are supposed to resettle you someplace else with a room and board.”

“Yeah? At what price?” I asked curious even though I knew for a fact I would not leave.

“Don’t know. Don’t care at this point either. If we stay here we’ll be killed in the bombing, starve, or possibly worse. The looters haven’t been around this way for a while but when things get lean where ever they have moved on to they’ll be back just to see if they missed anything … assuming there are any buildings left standing by that point.”

I gave a noncommittal “Mmmm.”

“We’re going. If you’re smart you’ll get some things together and go out to the highway and follow it until you get directed to a pick up point. They might even take pity on you in your condition and you’ll get better treatment.”

I started to reply but she was already turning away, pulling a child’s toy wagon loaded with what was likely all of their worldly possessions and moving in the general direction of US41. She did throw one last cautionary note over her shoulder. “Be careful if you go the next street over. There are some mean rats in a couple of the houses and the feral cats are even worse. Most of the dogs have been killed and eaten but I heard one last night some place close by. Oh, and some of the houses at the end of the road there aren’t safe to enter; the ceilings have come down and they’ve got black mold growing all over the place inside.”

Not that I would have accepted but she never even brought up the idea of traveling together for safety. The only weapon I saw was a wooden bat that had had all sorts of sharp things driven into it so that it looked more like a Medieval mace but then again, I never pulled my hand out of the pocket where it was wrapped around the little LCP. Who knows what she might have had hidden. I never saw the woman and girl again so I hope they made it someplace safe in time.

I didn’t just take the woman’s word for it and checked the houses all the same. She hadn’t been lying. Most of the houses looked like they had been stripped clean. Except I did find things here and there … bobby pins, a ball made of rubber bands, a couple of packets of Sweet-n-low, a coffee can of landscaping spikes, some empty cans I could flatten and use for something eventually, a brand new and unopened tube of Liquid Nails.

The sun was now high in the sky and Nydia was saying that she was hungry. I was simply spent, even more depressed than when I had awoken after my restless sleep. I turned us around to head back home mentally preparing myself for going back to the Trask house and looking through those garbage bags some more and that in turn made me think about the note they had left.

They hadn’t said it outright but there had been speculation on the radio of how soon other places beside NYC would be bombed with nuclear weapons. Most people seemed surprised that we hadn’t dissolved into complete thermonuclear war involving the whole world. I had to puke after listening to it for a while and then just had to pass it on to Larger Shoulders than mine since I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it. Or could I?

It was then I remembered what some of them had been saying about “expedient fallout shelters.”

I remembered that term from some of the really old civil defense books that had belonged to my parents and after we had returned to our house, and I had put Nydia down in front of a plate of fresh fruit and veggies I pulled from my container garden, I went looking for those books. I’m not librarian neat when it comes to my books but it usually only takes me a few minutes to find something and this was no exception. I grabbed the books and carried them upstairs so that Nydia could take a nap and give me some peace and quiet to study.

It didn’t take me long to see that most of the shelters simply were beyond my ability to build. Some of them required a basement. A lot of them required digging underground and/or cutting and hauling logs. At the very least many of them required some type of ditch or trench and none of that was at my disposal. Briefly disappointed I took another look at one that called an outdoor ridge pole shelter made of logs and dirt. I began to wonder really what made a good fallout shelter and did a little more indepth reading, completely turning my plans for the day upside down, but I think it was worth it in the long run.

First off there are three main types of radiation emitted from fallout; alpha, beta, and gamma. That seemed simple enough until I began to understand the difference. Though the alpha particles were dangerous if you ingested them or something like that; on the other hand those emissions were the easiest to protect yourself from because even a piece of paper could block them.

The beta particles were a little trickier. According to the books I read even the worst beta emissions will be blocked by 3 cm of aluminum. Well, I didn’t have two and a half inch aluminum sheets, nor could I have carried them even if I had had them. But, I figured by scrounging and salvaging I could come up with enough aluminum panels and doors that I might be able to get some protection and some would be better than nothing. Beta particles could also burn you if not washed or brushed off quickly. You could avoid that by traveling in the particles.

The worst stuff however was the gamma emissions. They really aren’t emissions per se; they are rays and that makes them much stronger than just floating particles. All the books that had anything on fallout in them said that it was the gamma rays that the shelters needed to be designed to protect us from but that dense material like concrete, steel, and dirt could do that.

And that’s when I thought about the sand bags. A picture began to form in my head. I knew I could do it, it wouldn’t be pretty, but I could definitely do it. It would mean making a awful mess of the house but if … if … I decided it was worth it and suddenly I had a new lease on life, a project, a goal. I felt empowered again because I was doing something proactive and not just reactive. I also rationalized that a bunker would certainly be more protection if the bombs got closer.

I took a quick nap late in the afternoon while Nydia played with some rocks and things that she had collected while we were out. I’d already washed them off and she’d never been one to stick stuff in her mouth so even though they were a little small I wasn’t too worried and allowed myself to drift off for a few moments.

I woke up when Nydia touched my arm saying she’d heard something outside. I don’t know what it was that she heard because I never saw anything but it was a good time to get up anyway. I fed her and we went through our routine of me tucking her in and her objecting to me working outside. She finally gave in and fell asleep and I changed into my night gear and headed outside, bringing a tube of graphite with me to take care of the squeaky wheel on the garden cart. I didn’t think anyone was around but I wasn’t taking any chances I didn’t have to.

I was back and forth between the Trask place and ours so many times I lost count. First I emptied out the workshop, taking not only the case of sand bags but just about everything else that wasn’t nailed down and some that was. While I loaded and unloaded things between trips across the road I gave serious thought to the different layers of my bunker.

First where would the bunker be? That was easy enough; I would convert our hiding area into a fallout shelter. It was hidden as close to the center of the house as I could get it except for the master bathroom. I had already built in the sanitation facilities and the water storage capacity. We also had enough room down there now to get around without having to sit knee-to-knee. I just needed to increase the thickness of the walls. Doing that on the inside of the bunker was out of the question; we would have lost too much space though I did decide to push everything we could up against the walls in there which would give us more floor space and act as more sound proofing if nothing else. It meant I would need to build some shelving but with the stuff from the Trask’s workshop it could be done.

Next came the plan for how to thicken the walls of the bunker. I definitely wanted to use the sand bags, but how? And should the sand bags be the only layer or should I go ahead and try to find some aluminum panels?

I had almost given up on the aluminum panel idea and convinced myself that the sand bags would be enough when I ran my shoulder into a post on the Trask house’s back porch. It was hard enough to startle me and I kicked out, my toe connecting with … the aluminum pole of their sun awning. I looked up and actually smiled. Maybe finding enough aluminum panels wasn’t going to be as hard as I had thought it would. Before I had looked up and realized how many houses on this block had some type of aluminum canopy I had thought I would have to resort to dismantling things like breaker panel doors, HVAC system boxes, AC ducts, sheds, and the like. But with so many carports and covered lanais, well it was going to be easier than I had thought.

The Trask’s canopy was the easiest to take down because it was one of those old timey ones that could be dropped to prevent it from being ripped apart during high winds. The side that connected to the house was hinged so all I had to do was take the safety bolt out and then crank the poles down. The rest was easier said than done. I had to figure out how to take the pins out of the hinges and then drop the canopy the rest of the way to the ground. When it finally fell it ripped the last hinge off of the house and made a horrific clang as it came down. Then came the fun of disconnecting each panel from the frame it was attached to.

I had emptied the workshop and gotten the canopy half dismantled when I had to give it up. I was exhausted and the baby had shifted and was laying right on a nerve in my back. I went back to the house, to bed, got up briefly to tend to Nydia, took another cat nap and then got back to work. I did this for five days, often with Nydia helping me during the daylight hours, before I was satisfied with the amount of aluminum and sand bags.

I didn’t just pile up the materials; I laid them as I went. It gave me a chance to come in out of the weather which was turning nastier – broiling sun, suffocating humidity, with several tropical thunderstorms on top of it – and it kept me motivated as I saw my plan coming to life. I started with the roof of our shelter. Instead of trying to nail something to the “ceiling” I simply laid it down on the floor above us. I overlapped sections of the aluminum panels and anything else aluminum I happened to run across that was easy to salvage. It wasn’t 3cm of aluminum but there was over an inch by the time I had finished. On top of the aluminum I laid the sand bags. I also sandbagged all of the upstairs windows (except for the false dormer window) and then did my best to hold them in place by nailing towing straps around them. The straps were another piece of useful junk I found in the back of a truck in the garage of an abandoned house.

Sandbagging the windows meant giving up my solar dehydrator so I had to rebuild it outside on rollers so that I could bring it in every night. I wouldn’t have bothered but I was still convinced that I couldn’t afford to waste any food sources. The good news was the kudzu I found two streets over while checking out a pool awning was growing faster than we could have ever depleted it. It wasn’t my favorite wild edible but it is a versatile one. Momma even had a book dedicated to kudzu recipes. You can make salads, stewed roots, pickled flowers, jelly, syrup, tea, fried kudzu, quiche, ground kudzu root, casseroles, corn bread, thickening for sauces or apple pie, boiled like turnip greens or spinach, kudzu tofu, cake flour but I didn’t have time to try them all and do a lot of experimenting; mostly I simply ate it in with my other salad greens. It filled the hollow spaces and meant I had to worry less about what was coming up in my containers.

After I had finished upstairs I used the same strategy for our shelter walls. I ran out of sandbags three-quarters of the way through so I resorted to using the kitchen garbage bags from inside the Trask house. That meant emptying them to do it which meant carting a bunch of stuff to the house and just dumping it my former bedroom to keep it out of sight and at least temporarily out of mind. The mess in the house was depressing me but I felt I had no choice. If anyone ever finds us here they’ll think I’ve run crazy but such is life in these days and times.

The garbage bags were nowhere near as good as the sand bags when it came to stacking them. They also weren’t as thick which meant that they tore quite easily no matter how careful I was. To combat this I would tack the bottom of a tarp about six inches up from the bottom of the floor. Then I would lay the first and second row of sand filled garbage bags against the wall. I would then draw up the tarp from the bottom, nailing it in place with roofing nails to form a “pocket” that held the bags in place. I did this all the way up the wall two or three layers of bags at a time.

I know I must be crazy but I hated the way it looked so I used some of the bedspreads I had found in the garbage bags to hide the sand bag walls like giant curtains. That too looked ridiculous but it was better than nothing in my opinion, not that I get to see it now.

To protect the well I disconnected the solar cells and brought them in and then covered the small well house with a tarp and then covered the tarp with a three feet thick dirt mound. After suffering through two wash outs from rain I covered the dirt with blocks of sod and then threw an old canvas painter’s cloth over that and held it in place with paving stones I had ripped out of the neighbor’s drive way. It stood out for a couple of days until the tall grass stood back up and after that it just reminded me of a very large ant mound.

The tropical storms were making it harder for me to charge the batteries that kept our lights working and it also made it impossible to leave my garden containers outside as much as I had. When it wasn’t raining I gathered all of the stuff from the edible landscaping and tried to keep the weeds at bay. The weeds and lawn were winning and I had gotten to the point I just didn’t care; I was just that tired. I spent the rainy times moving absolutely everything I could into our bunker and trying to figure out a way to cook in there without suffocating us.

Again using a diagram I had found in a book and several air conditioning filters, the good kind and not the fuzzy blue ones, I built a ventilation system. There was already a couple of AC ducts in the spaces that I had included in the bunker. It was a down and dirty version of what I had seen diagramed but I felt it would work as long as I was careful. The weak point of our bunker was the block glass window in the bathroom. I’d already covered the outside of the house where the bathroom was with sandbags and luckily it was in the back of the house so it wasn’t easily seen. On the inside where the drop down shutter had been before I removed it I simply screwed in place several air conditioning drip pans one on top of the other … those pans the AC units sit in to prevent water damage in case they leak … and then covered that with two sheets of the thickest plywood I had been able to salvage. I reset the shutter but had to use a two by for to attach the hinges to so that the shutter would lay flat against the new material. Not perfect but not bad I think.

I was losing weight. I knew it but no matter how much fat I tried to add to my diet I would work the calories off faster than I could ingest them. Someone looking at me would have said that I was “all baby” and the baby in question was riding very, very low. I knew I didn’t have much time left. I explained to Nydia the best I could what was going to happen soon but it meant very little to her. All she could understand was that the baby would be here soon.

I went into overdrive. I hauled in three more water heaters for water storage and would have brought in a couple more but there simply wasn’t room. I did refill the waterbob in the tub with water from the well and that gave us another 100 gallons which meant we could at least use the wash pan I had put in the shower stall every once in a while without guilt … at least I hoped so.

I took down and reversed our solar security lights so that while the panels were still outside on the back of the house, the wires ran inside the house providing lights to a makeshift greenhouse. I had no idea if that would work but I figured it was worth a try since the bulbs in them were the new fluorescent bulbs required by the Green Codes.

I also took the time to build a homemade fallout meter that I found in some papers that Mateo had copied from a PDF he found on the internet. I saw his tightly scrawled notes in the sidelines suggesting common materials that would match what was called for in the diagram. It is called a Kearney Fallout Meter or KFM and I haven’t a clue if the thing really works or not despite the fact that I followed the instructions for building it to the last jot and tittle.

Nydia and I spent as much time outdoors as we did in. Anything that even remotely could be considered food I would collect and try to preserve for storage. I brought all of my herbs in and hung them on strings throughout the whole house. It dispersed the musty odor that had begun to creep into every corner; I think it was primarily because of the sand bags. As I noticed new plants being ready to harvest I felt blessed that I could add some new items to our diet. My little fig trees were producing a bumper crop, the more I picked the more that ripened. The pumpkins and winter squash that I had all but given up on gave me a small crop and I only lost two to some kind of varmint before I figured out how to cage them off with narrow rabbit wire cages on spikes that were run into the ground.

I set an animal trap out there thinking it was something coming up out of the swamp like a raccoon or a rat but when I went out the next day I found it to be a good sized wild rabbit. I hid it quickly from Nydia so she wouldn’t refuse to eat “Thumper” and dinner that night included the first fresh meat that we’d had in months. I kicked myself for having not tried this before and for several mornings running I found something highly irritated at being caught to make a pot of stew with. It felt like I had plugged a hole and both Nydia and I ate like a couple of pigs while it lasted.

My bush beans were beginning their die-and-dry phase and rather than worry that they would mildew because of how wet the weather had turned I pulled whole plants up out of the pots they had been growing in and hung them upside down by their roots on clothes line that I strung in the garage. In that oven like atmosphere it didn’t take them long to dry out and I pulled the pods off and threw them in onion bags and hung them up in our shelter.

My limes, lemons and limons I pulled and spent a whole night preserving flesh, juice, and peel over a hot fire on the outdoor grill. For some reason my canning pears hadn’t done very well, probably from the constant shock of the bombing in the area plus the funky weather we’d been having but I did manage to get a few before they rotted from their blossom end. In fact a lot of the domestic fruit was doing poorly while the wild or indigenous varieties did much better. The problem was the domestic fruits were better for preserving and the wild fruit was much better for eating fresh.

My grapes only produced a few small bunches. I fed most of them to Nydia in her meals since I already had a lot of raisins in our food storage. The handful of fresh grapes that I ate nearly crossed my eyes with their tartness. The pineapples that came up were smaller than in years past but beggars can’t be choosers. The guava tree was nothing but a runt to begin with so the lone fruit off of it wasn’t much of a surprise but I was disappointed that my carambola tree hadn’t done better; I love star fruit and had always gotten a bumper crop in the past.

It went on like that … soursops and governor’s plums did well, pomegranate bushes only so-so … my pitomba and acerola wouldn’t stop producing while the papaya and mango trees just wouldn’t cooperate after their first big push … I almost had to run to keep up with how fast the kudzu was growing but nearly missed the one lone small bunch of green grapes that hid amongst the vines on the arbor … the ratty wild blackberries gave me gallon after gallon of berries while my blueberry shrubs were pretty and green but fruitless.

One late afternoon, while rain pelted the windows, I sat down and figured it all out. I could stop right there and between what we had in food storage and the fresh stuff I had been bringing in I thought that Nydia and I could last a good 18 months, longer if we were able to survive on whole grains and dried beans alone. We might not be our healthiest at the end of that time period but it could be done so long as I could breast feed the baby. But on the other hand that would also be close to suicidal because there was no guarantee that I could restock before everything was used up; things might not be back to normal – I already doubted they would be in my lifetime – a garden could fail or any number of other problems. So even though I was dead dog tired I traipsed out back and Nydia and I began to drag the container garden in one more time while what little light came through the still very cloudy sky faded to nothing. Not even the moon did more but occasionally peep out for a few seconds here and there.

We had brought the last pot in when Nydia took it into her head that she wanted to play. It was definitely too dark to play safely and I wanted to her to come inside and get ready for bed … we’d started sleeping in the shelter full time despite how hot and stuffy it could get. She on the other hand had something completely different in mind. She knew I wasn’t exactly light on my feet and was teasing me by playing her version of tag-your-it and squealing in delight when I would miss her. She finally made the mistake of getting too close, or I got lucky, and I grabbed her around the middle and held tight. I opened my mouth to let her have it when it was like an enormous spotlight had been focused on the front of the house. The house created a gigantic shadow that we stood in the middle of but we still had to cover out eyes.

Nydia screamed in fright and on instinct I covered her eyes with my hand dropped to the ground with her under me. I smelled something that reminded me of scorched boiled greens and knew that it was no spotlight. I counted off ten seconds then cracked my eyes a little only to find that the night seemed even darker than it had before.

I got to my feet and still protecting Nydia and my stomach the best I could we got to the house doing a fair imitation of a couple of deformed crabs. Entering our shelter from above was no longer optimal after I laid the aluminum panels and sandbags on the floor upstairs so I had built a new entry way. I wrenched the stove away from the wall revealing a crawl space that I really hated.

Trying to deal with a nearly frozen Nydia I told her in a jovial voice, “Come on Alice, in the rabbit hole you go.” I gave her a gentle push to start her and as soon as I saw that she was crawling to the living space I told her, “Get you dolly and Nonny will be there in just a moment love.”

I stood up and there was a terrible wrenching pain across my back. I thought I had pulled a muscle at some point but I couldn’t let it stop me. I dropped the security doors back down over the French door and then slid a wooden box I had built in front of the glass. I took straps and strung them through eye bolts crisscrossing them as I went. When I was finished the wooden box looked like an alien shoe with odd laces. It was the best I could come up with to try and secure the last exterior opening on the house.

I kept waiting for a blast or shock wave but when it finally came it merely buffeted the house a little like a minor hurricane wind, not at all like what I was expecting. I looked around one last time, beginning to shake, and realized there was nothing more that I could do. I backed into the “rabbit hole” and manhandled the stove back in place. As I backed down the narrow entrance I realized there was light coming from some place behind me and when I was able to sit up I saw that Nydia had been aiming her little flashlight into the tunnel trying to guide me in.

I grabbed her and kissed her and we held each other for several minutes. The shock was wearing off and Nydia started to cry and then it started getting worse. I had planned for this as well. I washed her face and finally coaxed her to drink a small glass of juice. Hidden in the juice was some cold medicine that never failed to make her groggy. I rocked her and made up a story of some silly princess searching for a prince that could bake the perfect cookie. She grew calmer and eventually sleepy. She was fully asleep in twenty minutes. I undressed her and put her in her bed but it was no easy task; my back shrieked again in protest.

I didn’t know what else to do. Everything was clean and in its place. It would be hours before I dared considered preparing a meal. Nydia, for her own good, was asleep so I didn’t have her as a distraction. I finally sat at our makeshift table and put my heads in my hands and simply started praying. I don’t know how long it was before I realized that every time my back would sing out my stomach would tense and it was some time past that that I allowed myself to accept the reality that I was really and truly in labor.

I don’t know whether it was the shock of the event or whether it was coincidental to something that was bound to happen anyway but rather than be hysterical at the prospects of what I was about to endure a strange calmness settled over me. I got the stop watch out of my labor items and was gratified to find that contrary to my fears generated by some of the things I had read, an EMP had not stopped it from working. Of course the fact that I had stored the few electronic items that I was most worried about inside an old microwave oven could have helped as well. I had read it in some fiction book when I was growing up and it had always stuck in my head. Hopefully I’ll live to find out whether I was smart or lucky.

With the stop watch I could tell that my contractions were nowhere near regular. The first two I timed were only three minutes apart, then it jumped to fifteen minutes then to five then to eight then back down to four. I went nearly three hours of this before they settled in at five minutes apart and holding. When I had first started timing them I just sat at the table but my stomach would push against the table during a contraction and it felt like my pelvis was splitting so I thought to lay down to see if that helped. That actually made it worse because my back began to ache and I got nauseous. I finally got up and simply started pacing the shelter as quietly as I could. Every once in a while a good strong contraction would have me leaning on something trying to get the pressure to leave my back alone.

If any male ever reads this journal I’m sure this next part may turn him a little green and if it does just too bad. It takes two to make a baby, it should take two to have one. But Mateo isn’t here so I can only hope that I’m turning someone a little green down the road in mild retribution for having to go through this all by myself.

The books had said to not become a slave to the stop watch, stay hydrated and to try and relax. Well personally during the middle of a couple of those contractions I could have gleefully slapped whoever wrote the silly books. For every glass of water I drank I had to go to the bathroom three times and relaxing was completely out of the question. I wasn’t hysterical I was just … well when you are worried that your world is about to end in a thermonuclear conflagration it isn’t exactly easy to relax.

One time I didn’t make it to the bathroom before my legs were covered in a mucusy wetness. I noted the date and time that my water broke in a medical chart I had started to keep track of things in case it got so bad I lost my place in what was supposed to come next. Let me tell you after that it felt like the baby was using a sledge hammer on my lower parts during every contraction. I got nauseous all over again and spent some time having contractions while I worshipped at the porcelain throne.

I fell into a rhythm – walk, trying to think of good things and good times, that creeping feeling when the contraction starts, then hold on and try and breath through sensation that peeks to pain and then gradually releases, catch my breath and then start walking again. That lasted until the contractions started getting closer to two minutes apart and that’s when it felt like I was being turned inside out with every contraction.

I guess that is what they called the “transition phase.” That is an understatement designed to fool the unwary. I would have given just about anything to have another adult with me during that time. It hurt so bad I was scared. I crawled into the bathroom dragging the bag of stuff that Mateo and I had started gathering back … too long ago. My emotions are still right at the surface and its better if I don’t think about it too much.

I don’t know how long transition lasted; it could have been minutes, it could have been hours. I couldn’t tell, it was dark and I kept losing track of things as I went somewhere else to try and concentrate around the pain.

Up to that point I’d been doing pretty good about being quiet. The last thing I needed was a frightened child to deal with. But surprisingly that isn’t what I got.

I came back to myself after a particularly bad contraction, it felt like it lasted a lifetime, to feel a damp wash rag being put on my forehead.

“Nydia, please … gooooo … oooo … go back to bed darling. Nonny … Nonny is … hmmmmmm … is just not feeling so … ooooooo.”

“Is it the baby Nonny? Is the baby trying to come out of your tummy?” Maybe she had internalized some of the things I had explained to her.

Breathing deeply as I could, already feeling another contraction building I whimpered, “Please Nydia, go lay back down for …. ooooo ….” I didn’t get to finish what I was saying before I was carried off again by the pain.

I picked that moment to start crying, though thank goodness I wasn’t sobbing very hard. “Poor Nonny. Poor Nonny. That baby is bad.”

I tried to tell her it wasn’t the baby it was that I’d never had a baby before and wasn’t sure whether I was doing it right. Where on earth that came from I don’t know but it seemed to make sense to her childish mind. “Oh … like riding a bike?”

That did get a snort of laughter from me but that was probably the last coherent thing I did for a while. I was starting to feel the urge to push which meant I needed to get dressed … or undressed as the case was … to facilitate things. I also crawled into the shower stall. Nydia didn’t understand this and I wasn’t about to explain about the blood and fluid even had I had the breath to do it.

I finally wound up on my hands and knees rocking through the worst of it. It felt like my insides were bulging out where they had no business bulging out from. Suddenly I needed to sit up and I did so with surprisingly little effort. This baby wanted out and it was giving me the wherewithal to do it.

No man is every going to be able to understand the sensation but it is something like trying to blow a watermelon out of a drinking straw. I’d read all the warnings about breathing through the contractions so that you won’t tear your perineum. I had some grotesque picture in my mind of being ripped open so no matter how badly I wanted to push hard every other contraction I tried to not give in. The stinging finally caused me to shriek.

“Nonny!!!”

But I couldn’t calm her down. I’d felt the baby’s head leave my body. I did what the book said and tried to feel if the cord was around the neck but all I felt was slippery baby and then the next contraction hit me and it felt like Godzilla was trying to crawl out of my body. After that it went very quickly. So quickly I nearly didn’t catch him before he hit the floor.

I slid back against the wall of the shower ultimately wind up laying flat on my back with the baby on my stomach. I scrabbled around in the bag and found the sucker thing and got all of the gunk out of his nose and mouth and let me tell you, that was something he did not in the least appreciate. I would have given anything to just lay there but I couldn’t because it wasn’t over yet.

I had to clamp the umbilical cord in two places and then cut it. By then I was feeling the urge to push again but it was a different kind of push. This was where the placenta came out. I haven’t run a fever or bled to excess so I’m going to assume it all came out and nothing has been left inside me to become septic.

I was in the middle of trying to take care of myself when the cheeky little devil latched on for the first time. Babies without teeth should not bite but it’s been a real trip to convince him that he should have better manners that what he does.

Nydia was just as in shock as I was but she still went and got my clothes and some of my women’s things while I cleaned up myself, the baby, and the shower stall. The shower stall was the least of my worries so all I did was give it a rinse while I cleaned myself up and told Nydia to stay out of it until I could do a better job. I did have the presence of mind to pour a little vinegar down the drain but that was the extent of what I could do at that point. I bagged and tied the placenta and then sealed it in a bucket I’d found the presence of mine to station near while I was stocking the shelter.

I was sore and had gone from a feeling of unbelievable euphoria to one of complete exhaustion. I’d lost all track of time and there was no way for me to tell whether it was day or night. I had no idea what was going on outside but I didn’t smell smoke – all I really smelled was my own lack of deodorant. For all I knew the house could have fallen on top of us. I still don’t know for sure but it would seem that I would have noticed a problem with the ceiling if it had.

I pointed Nydia in the direction of the tote that held some food that she could get into … mostly leftovers from the carepackages and some stale packages of crackers and pretzels that I’d been hiding for a long time for just this eventuality. I told her she could count out three items and use one of the plastic spoons and napkin packages in there as well, and that she was to put her trash in the ziploc bag in the tote when she was finished and to wipe her hands with the baby wipes. After that she could open the present I had for her in there.

“Present?!”

“Yes. You are a big sister now and I thought it would be … be … goodness I’m sorry for yawning in your face Sweetie but Nonny is very, very tired. Play with your present and let Nonny rest for a little while. OK? And don’t go out … don’t …” Looking at me with huge eyes she shook her head emphatically and said she would stay right here.

After she assured herself that all was well she got her snacks and I watched her through slitted eyes until she finished and woke up briefly at her squeal of delight to find a box of odds and ends that I had actually been saving for her good behavior treasure box, something we used to do before everything fell apart. Crayons, a small coloring book, a small stuffed animal, a new outfit and bottle for her dolly, a couple of packages of sugarless safety pops, and a few other little odds and ends kept her enthralled and let me get my first real sleep in a while.

“Nonny … Nonny … he’s snorting like a pig. I think he’s hungry.”

My eyes popped open and indeed it did sound like I had a piglet rooting around in the bed with me. That was the start of our new routine. Nydia would watch fascinated while the baby nursed and then I would pay some attention to her and then I would move around and try to keep some semblance of cleanliness and order in our shelter.

Sanitation has been my primary challenge. Cleaning the shower stall required more water than I had anticipated but it was still better than had I been forced to deal with lot of bloody bedding. And macho man’s diapers are no treat either. It has been almost three weeks and I’m nearly out of the disposable ones … and the space to deal with the used ones.

Lack of sunlight is beginning to affect us, Nydia worse than me. I give her the same liquid vitamins that I horded for the baby but it just isn’t as good as the real thing. I just don’t know what to do.

See, I’m in a quandry. I can’t positively say that it is safe to go out or not. The KFM … the radiation meter … has never come off of zero. I don’t understand it. There was the bright flash of light from the south. That’s the right direction for MacDill. Then there was … well, I guess it was anyway … the concussion or percussion … well, it was the blast wave from whatever it was. It stirred things up pretty good but nothing like I expected it to. The trees whipped and sawed, the wind was fierce, but no buildings were knocked down, it didn’t even rip off any of our shingles as far as I could tell. I didn’t hear any windows breaking. The house didn’t creak and grown like it was thinking about falling over. Nothing makes sense.

But I also have a problem. I can’t get any radio reception. I don’t know if that means that there are no signals to receive or if it is because of all of the dirt and stuff all around our shelter.

I’m scared to death to make the wrong decision. If it was just me I’d risk it with no question. But there is the baby and Nydia to consider. Why should they suffer from my decision? But on the other hand we have to know because we can’t stay hidden here forever. Sanitation is a problem and we are using water faster than I expected as well. Lack of light will also make us all sick pretty soon too.

One week. I’m giving it one more week. When that week is up … I’ll face it when it gets here. For now all we have are these walls between us and possible doom.




Part Six: The Walls We Build

Here I lay, staring at these bland, colorless walls. I don’t know if they are protecting us or if they are to be our tomb. I’m a little sick but mostly just nerves I think … well, better start at the beginning, or at least the beginning of the latest episode in our lives.

Reading over what I’ve written, it’s not like I have much else to do at the moment, I see that the last page I left off at was after one of the early bombing runs. That night was a long one filled with lots of emotions not the least of which was an almost helpless anger and depression that left me so tired I almost couldn’t accomplish the task that I had set for myself the next day. If it hadn’t been for Nydia and the baby kicking away inside me I don’t know where I would have gone from that point.

But get up and get going I did, though at a much later start than I had intended. After all of the destruction in the night it was almost surreal to step outside and hear the owls screeching and the squirrels barking in complaint. That and the buzz of some wasps I had disturbed in the eaves of the house were all I heard. It was a glorious day if you want to know the truth. The humidity was running about ten percent lower than it normally did and it actually felt a bit cool after being cooped up in the poorly ventilated shelter.

I would have looked ridiculous and completely out of place … like some grotesque Gothic whale … had I worn my black nightwear. Instead I dressed in extremely faded jeans, the knee of which I’d had to recently patch and a threadbare t-shirt advertising Coppertone suntan lotion. Nydia thought the picture of the dog pulling the little girl’s bathing suit bottom down was hysterically funny for some reason and I had to remind her several times to not be so loud. I hadn’t really wanted to bring her but I didn’t see a choice. I was going too far from the house and wouldn’t be able to get to her very quickly if something went wrong. One of my worst nightmares up to that point had been leaving the house for whatever reason only to come back and find her gone, taken by some stranger or because she wandered away looking for me despite my order for her to stay locked in the house.

I brought along my large garden cart so I could either pull her if she grew tired or in case we found something worth salvaging for ourselves … assuming we didn’t run into anyone who objected. First I went across the street, determined to see if the man and wife were still there.

The house was one of the oldest on the street and sat well back from the road, hidden behind huge azalea bushes, old orange trees from the former groves that covered this area, and a fence full of confederate jasmine choked off by saw briars. I put on my gardening gloves and was finally able to tear out enough of the fast growing and noxious vines that I could push the gate open far enough to get the cart and Nydia in with me.

Remembering there was a possibility of booby traps I was extremely slow and cautious. I made it to the porch and was looking through the windows when I noticed a piece of paper wedged between the wall and one of the decorative shutters. I carefully pulled it out and a key fell into my hand. I read the note and could only shake my head.


To whom it may concern – we ain’t coming back here so we hear by give you permisshun to take what you need. But if you are steel here we feel awful sorry for you because you didn’t get out in time. It is too late for you. They will send a big bomb to Macdill soon and there isn’t anythang anyone can do about it. Live good wile you can because soon you will meet your maker. Signed The Trasks


Well, I had been speaking to Mr. and Mrs. Trask. At least I finally had a name for them though that did nothing to ease the fear the short letter had generated. I kept trying to tell myself they were just loony but I couldn’t quite bring myself to completely discount their warning.

It took me forever to ease into the house but when I did there wasn’t exactly the treasure trove I had expected to find. On the other hand I may very well have found the greatest treasure of the day, only time will tell for sure.

The rooms were a maze of hoarded newspapers, magazines and books. I could move around in the rooms, but just barely. The kitchen was enough to gag me and I left that room much faster than I had entered it. Then in a back bedroom I found another type of hoarding. It looked like one or the other of them had a fondness for salvaging but it was the oddest method of storage I could have ever imagined. There were white plastic garbage bags, the kind with the yellow plastic strings ties at the top, stacked floor to ceiling, nearly filling the entire room. On each bag was written an address in black marker. I recognized all of the street names I saw. Almost afraid to but too curious not to I untied one and peered inside. Linens. I opened another bag from another address. Linens. I opened another. Linens again. I opened the fourth expected linens and instead found more bags. Gently opening these bags I found yarn in one, a couple of rag rugs in another, and the other small bag held two brand new packages of women’s hygiene products. I grabbed that stuff and put it in the cart and covered it with the rag rugs. I didn’t need it then but I knew I’d need it soon.

The volume of white kitchen garbage bags was overwhelming and I decided to leave it and come back later after I had checked the rest of neighborhood. That’s when I caught a glimpse of another, smaller house behind the one I was in. I walked around back and discovered the small house was actually a large workshop. Still being cautious I tried to open the door to find it locked. I looked at the key in my hand and taking a chance found that the lock used the same key as the house.

The workshop was completely different from the house. The house had looked like it belonged on one of those reality shows where the messiest homes were redecorated and tidied up by professional organizers. The workshop looked like it belonged to someone suffering a compulsive cleaning disorder. There were tools all over the walls hanging on peg board. Everything was neatly labeled and organized by tool type and size. There were a couple of empty spots as if those particular tools had been taken down and were in use. Where there wasn’t pegboard there were drawers and trays, also neatly labeled with their contents. There was an old spice rack that held jars of nails and screws, separated by type and length. As a matter of fact the shop was so neat I had an uncontrollable urge to mess it up just to keep it from being so perfect.

The only clashing note was a big box sitting right in the middle of the floor where it couldn’t be missed. Not knowing quite what to make of the out of place box but as curious as a cat to see what was in it I stopped one more time and gave a prayer that I wasn’t about to blow us up by falling for some Pandora-like box bomb. Once I got it open I suffered a huge let down. The box was just a case of bags. In disgust I rose to go and then I turned back for another look because something about those bags rang a bell. Then I figured it out, they were sand bags … empty ones but sand bags nonetheless. I grabbed a stack of them to use in case I found salvage that would be easier to move that way.

Then I left the property having accomplished my main goal of seeing if anyone was still living there and finally got back to the road. I thought to myself, “Well that was an hour wasted.” Nydia wanted to ride in the cart so I had her hop in and hoped I wouldn’t have to run pulling the cart because even though she wasn’t all that heavy she certainly added to the amount of strength I had to exert to move it. I had to stop frequently even though it wasn’t that far to the other end of the street and even going slow I was wringing wet from sweat and already sore through my back.

The first five houses I stopped to investigate were stripped or ransacked. I stopped looking for food after a few houses as obviously people had been a lot worse off than us but I did find some spices and seasonings. It wasn’t much but it was something. I also found a closet full of metal hangers in one house, probably left by someone that got most of their clothes done at the dry cleaners. I didn’t know what I was going to use them for but I was determined to not come back empty handed.

The sixth house looked like someone had been living in it in the recent past but how they were living was disgusting. I don’t know if it was the property owners or a squatter. No one was living in it at that moment however. I could tell from the … er, evidence … left in a bucket in the bathroom. I made sure Nydia stayed by the front door while I did a quick inspection. Everything was so foul in there I doubt I would have taken anything anyway even if there had been something worth taking.

As I slipped from house to house I began to notice that most of them had doors missing on the inside, some even had cabinet doors missing in the kitchen and bathrooms. I found out why in the back of one of the houses and then started noticing even more evidence. People had started to dismantle bits and pieces of their houses to burn. I don’t know if it was leftover from when it had been cooler or a more likely scenario being they were using the small fires to cook over or to boil water over.

I looked at the large oak trees that grew in the neighborhood and saw where many smaller branches and limbs had been taken out, some by sawing but most look like they’d simply been ripped or broken out. There was very little tree debris on the ground. Either someone was still collecting it or there just wasn’t any left to fall for a while.

I was about ready to give up when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned too fast and everything went fuzzy as my blood pressure couldn’t keep up with me. I sat down rather quickly nearly turning an ankle in the process. It was the one that never quite wanted to heal from where I fell getting in and out of the barn. I was shaking my head trying to clear my vision and groping for the LCP at the same time when a voice said, “Pity you. I know me and my girl have it bad but at least I’m not pregnant.”

Standing near the edge of the house I had meant to enter next was a woman and a girl that looked to be three or four years old than Nydia. Still flustered I said, “Well … it just … sort of worked out this way.”

“I hear you. Look, we’ve been all up and down this street three or four times, there really isn’t anything left. And personally, I’m throwing in the towel. I’ve heard that there are pick up locations for refugees and that’s where I’m heading. They are supposed to resettle you someplace else with a room and board.”

“Yeah? At what price?” I asked curious even though I knew for a fact I would not leave.

“Don’t know. Don’t care at this point either. If we stay here we’ll be killed in the bombing, starve, or possibly worse. The looters haven’t been around this way for a while but when things get lean where ever they have moved on to they’ll be back just to see if they missed anything … assuming there are any buildings left standing by that point.”

I gave a noncommittal “Mmmm.”

“We’re going. If you’re smart you’ll get some things together and go out to the highway and follow it until you get directed to a pick up point. They might even take pity on you in your condition and you’ll get better treatment.”

I started to reply but she was already turning away, pulling a child’s toy wagon loaded with what was likely all of their worldly possessions and moving in the general direction of US41. She did throw one last cautionary note over her shoulder. “Be careful if you go the next street over. There are some mean rats in a couple of the houses and the feral cats are even worse. Most of the dogs have been killed and eaten but I heard one last night some place close by. Oh, and some of the houses at the end of the road there aren’t safe to enter; the ceilings have come down and they’ve got black mold growing all over the place inside.”

Not that I would have accepted but she never even brought up the idea of traveling together for safety. The only weapon I saw was a wooden bat that had had all sorts of sharp things driven into it so that it looked more like a Medieval mace but then again, I never pulled my hand out of the pocket where it was wrapped around the little LCP. Who knows what she might have had hidden. I never saw the woman and girl again so I hope they made it someplace safe in time.

I didn’t just take the woman’s word for it and checked the houses all the same. She hadn’t been lying. Most of the houses looked like they had been stripped clean. Except I did find things here and there … bobby pins, a ball made of rubber bands, a couple of packets of Sweet-n-low, a coffee can of landscaping spikes, some empty cans I could flatten and use for something eventually, a brand new and unopened tube of Liquid Nails.

The sun was now high in the sky and Nydia was saying that she was hungry. I was simply spent, even more depressed than when I had awoken after my restless sleep. I turned us around to head back home mentally preparing myself for going back to the Trask house and looking through those garbage bags some more and that in turn made me think about the note they had left.

They hadn’t said it outright but there had been speculation on the radio of how soon other places beside NYC would be bombed with nuclear weapons. Most people seemed surprised that we hadn’t dissolved into complete thermonuclear war involving the whole world. I had to puke after listening to it for a while and then just had to pass it on to Larger Shoulders than mine since I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it. Or could I?

It was then I remembered what some of them had been saying about “expedient fallout shelters.”

I remembered that term from some of the really old civil defense books that had belonged to my parents and after we had returned to our house, and I had put Nydia down in front of a plate of fresh fruit and veggies I pulled from my container garden, I went looking for those books. I’m not librarian neat when it comes to my books but it usually only takes me a few minutes to find something and this was no exception. I grabbed the books and carried them upstairs so that Nydia could take a nap and give me some peace and quiet to study.

It didn’t take me long to see that most of the shelters simply were beyond my ability to build. Some of them required a basement. A lot of them required digging underground and/or cutting and hauling logs. At the very least many of them required some type of ditch or trench and none of that was at my disposal. Briefly disappointed I took another look at one that called an outdoor ridge pole shelter made of logs and dirt. I began to wonder really what made a good fallout shelter and did a little more indepth reading, completely turning my plans for the day upside down, but I think it was worth it in the long run.

First off there are three main types of radiation emitted from fallout; alpha, beta, and gamma. That seemed simple enough until I began to understand the difference. Though the alpha particles were dangerous if you ingested them or something like that; on the other hand those emissions were the easiest to protect yourself from because even a piece of paper could block them.

The beta particles were a little trickier. According to the books I read even the worst beta emissions will be blocked by 3 cm of aluminum. Well, I didn’t have two and a half inch aluminum sheets, nor could I have carried them even if I had had them. But, I figured by scrounging and salvaging I could come up with enough aluminum panels and doors that I might be able to get some protection and some would be better than nothing. Beta particles could also burn you if not washed or brushed off quickly. You could avoid that by traveling in the particles.

The worst stuff however was the gamma emissions. They really aren’t emissions per se; they are rays and that makes them much stronger than just floating particles. All the books that had anything on fallout in them said that it was the gamma rays that the shelters needed to be designed to protect us from but that dense material like concrete, steel, and dirt could do that.

And that’s when I thought about the sand bags. A picture began to form in my head. I knew I could do it, it wouldn’t be pretty, but I could definitely do it. It would mean making a awful mess of the house but if … if … I decided it was worth it and suddenly I had a new lease on life, a project, a goal. I felt empowered again because I was doing something proactive and not just reactive. I also rationalized that a bunker would certainly be more protection if the bombs got closer.

I took a quick nap late in the afternoon while Nydia played with some rocks and things that she had collected while we were out. I’d already washed them off and she’d never been one to stick stuff in her mouth so even though they were a little small I wasn’t too worried and allowed myself to drift off for a few moments.

I woke up when Nydia touched my arm saying she’d heard something outside. I don’t know what it was that she heard because I never saw anything but it was a good time to get up anyway. I fed her and we went through our routine of me tucking her in and her objecting to me working outside. She finally gave in and fell asleep and I changed into my night gear and headed outside, bringing a tube of graphite with me to take care of the squeaky wheel on the garden cart. I didn’t think anyone was around but I wasn’t taking any chances I didn’t have to.

I was back and forth between the Trask place and ours so many times I lost count. First I emptied out the workshop, taking not only the case of sand bags but just about everything else that wasn’t nailed down and some that was. While I loaded and unloaded things between trips across the road I gave serious thought to the different layers of my bunker.

First where would the bunker be? That was easy enough; I would convert our hiding area into a fallout shelter. It was hidden as close to the center of the house as I could get it except for the master bathroom. I had already built in the sanitation facilities and the water storage capacity. We also had enough room down there now to get around without having to sit knee-to-knee. I just needed to increase the thickness of the walls. Doing that on the inside of the bunker was out of the question; we would have lost too much space though I did decide to push everything we could up against the walls in there which would give us more floor space and act as more sound proofing if nothing else. It meant I would need to build some shelving but with the stuff from the Trask’s workshop it could be done.

Next came the plan for how to thicken the walls of the bunker. I definitely wanted to use the sand bags, but how? And should the sand bags be the only layer or should I go ahead and try to find some aluminum panels?

I had almost given up on the aluminum panel idea and convinced myself that the sand bags would be enough when I ran my shoulder into a post on the Trask house’s back porch. It was hard enough to startle me and I kicked out, my toe connecting with … the aluminum pole of their sun awning. I looked up and actually smiled. Maybe finding enough aluminum panels wasn’t going to be as hard as I had thought it would. Before I had looked up and realized how many houses on this block had some type of aluminum canopy I had thought I would have to resort to dismantling things like breaker panel doors, HVAC system boxes, AC ducts, sheds, and the like. But with so many carports and covered lanais, well it was going to be easier than I had thought.

The Trask’s canopy was the easiest to take down because it was one of those old timey ones that could be dropped to prevent it from being ripped apart during high winds. The side that connected to the house was hinged so all I had to do was take the safety bolt out and then crank the poles down. The rest was easier said than done. I had to figure out how to take the pins out of the hinges and then drop the canopy the rest of the way to the ground. When it finally fell it ripped the last hinge off of the house and made a horrific clang as it came down. Then came the fun of disconnecting each panel from the frame it was attached to.

I had emptied the workshop and gotten the canopy half dismantled when I had to give it up. I was exhausted and the baby had shifted and was laying right on a nerve in my back. I went back to the house, to bed, got up briefly to tend to Nydia, took another cat nap and then got back to work. I did this for five days, often with Nydia helping me during the daylight hours, before I was satisfied with the amount of aluminum and sand bags.

I didn’t just pile up the materials; I laid them as I went. It gave me a chance to come in out of the weather which was turning nastier – broiling sun, suffocating humidity, with several tropical thunderstorms on top of it – and it kept me motivated as I saw my plan coming to life. I started with the roof of our shelter. Instead of trying to nail something to the “ceiling” I simply laid it down on the floor above us. I overlapped sections of the aluminum panels and anything else aluminum I happened to run across that was easy to salvage. It wasn’t 3cm of aluminum but there was over an inch by the time I had finished. On top of the aluminum I laid the sand bags. I also sandbagged all of the upstairs windows (except for the false dormer window) and then did my best to hold them in place by nailing towing straps around them. The straps were another piece of useful junk I found in the back of a truck in the garage of an abandoned house.

Sandbagging the windows meant giving up my solar dehydrator so I had to rebuild it outside on rollers so that I could bring it in every night. I wouldn’t have bothered but I was still convinced that I couldn’t afford to waste any food sources. The good news was the kudzu I found two streets over while checking out a pool awning was growing faster than we could have ever depleted it. It wasn’t my favorite wild edible but it is a versatile one. Momma even had a book dedicated to kudzu recipes. You can make salads, stewed roots, pickled flowers, jelly, syrup, tea, fried kudzu, quiche, ground kudzu root, casseroles, corn bread, thickening for sauces or apple pie, boiled like turnip greens or spinach, kudzu tofu, cake flour but I didn’t have time to try them all and do a lot of experimenting; mostly I simply ate it in with my other salad greens. It filled the hollow spaces and meant I had to worry less about what was coming up in my containers.

After I had finished upstairs I used the same strategy for our shelter walls. I ran out of sandbags three-quarters of the way through so I resorted to using the kitchen garbage bags from inside the Trask house. That meant emptying them to do it which meant carting a bunch of stuff to the house and just dumping it my former bedroom to keep it out of sight and at least temporarily out of mind. The mess in the house was depressing me but I felt I had no choice. If anyone ever finds us here they’ll think I’ve run crazy but such is life in these days and times.

The garbage bags were nowhere near as good as the sand bags when it came to stacking them. They also weren’t as thick which meant that they tore quite easily no matter how careful I was. To combat this I would tack the bottom of a tarp about six inches up from the bottom of the floor. Then I would lay the first and second row of sand filled garbage bags against the wall. I would then draw up the tarp from the bottom, nailing it in place with roofing nails to form a “pocket” that held the bags in place. I did this all the way up the wall two or three layers of bags at a time.

I know I must be crazy but I hated the way it looked so I used some of the bedspreads I had found in the garbage bags to hide the sand bag walls like giant curtains. That too looked ridiculous but it was better than nothing in my opinion, not that I get to see it now.

To protect the well I disconnected the solar cells and brought them in and then covered the small well house with a tarp and then covered the tarp with a three feet thick dirt mound. After suffering through two wash outs from rain I covered the dirt with blocks of sod and then threw an old canvas painter’s cloth over that and held it in place with paving stones I had ripped out of the neighbor’s drive way. It stood out for a couple of days until the tall grass stood back up and after that it just reminded me of a very large ant mound.

The tropical storms were making it harder for me to charge the batteries that kept our lights working and it also made it impossible to leave my garden containers outside as much as I had. When it wasn’t raining I gathered all of the stuff from the edible landscaping and tried to keep the weeds at bay. The weeds and lawn were winning and I had gotten to the point I just didn’t care; I was just that tired. I spent the rainy times moving absolutely everything I could into our bunker and trying to figure out a way to cook in there without suffocating us.

Again using a diagram I had found in a book and several air conditioning filters, the good kind and not the fuzzy blue ones, I built a ventilation system. There was already a couple of AC ducts in the spaces that I had included in the bunker. It was a down and dirty version of what I had seen diagramed but I felt it would work as long as I was careful. The weak point of our bunker was the block glass window in the bathroom. I’d already covered the outside of the house where the bathroom was with sandbags and luckily it was in the back of the house so it wasn’t easily seen. On the inside where the drop down shutter had been before I removed it I simply screwed in place several air conditioning drip pans one on top of the other … those pans the AC units sit in to prevent water damage in case they leak … and then covered that with two sheets of the thickest plywood I had been able to salvage. I reset the shutter but had to use a two by for to attach the hinges to so that the shutter would lay flat against the new material. Not perfect but not bad I think.

I was losing weight. I knew it but no matter how much fat I tried to add to my diet I would work the calories off faster than I could ingest them. Someone looking at me would have said that I was “all baby” and the baby in question was riding very, very low. I knew I didn’t have much time left. I explained to Nydia the best I could what was going to happen soon but it meant very little to her. All she could understand was that the baby would be here soon.

I went into overdrive. I hauled in three more water heaters for water storage and would have brought in a couple more but there simply wasn’t room. I did refill the waterbob in the tub with water from the well and that gave us another 100 gallons which meant we could at least use the wash pan I had put in the shower stall every once in a while without guilt … at least I hoped so.

I took down and reversed our solar security lights so that while the panels were still outside on the back of the house, the wires ran inside the house providing lights to a makeshift greenhouse. I had no idea if that would work but I figured it was worth a try since the bulbs in them were the new fluorescent bulbs required by the Green Codes.

I also took the time to build a homemade fallout meter that I found in some papers that Mateo had copied from a PDF he found on the internet. I saw his tightly scrawled notes in the sidelines suggesting common materials that would match what was called for in the diagram. It is called a Kearney Fallout Meter or KFM and I haven’t a clue if the thing really works or not despite the fact that I followed the instructions for building it to the last jot and tittle.

Nydia and I spent as much time outdoors as we did in. Anything that even remotely could be considered food I would collect and try to preserve for storage. I brought all of my herbs in and hung them on strings throughout the whole house. It dispersed the musty odor that had begun to creep into every corner; I think it was primarily because of the sand bags. As I noticed new plants being ready to harvest I felt blessed that I could add some new items to our diet. My little fig trees were producing a bumper crop, the more I picked the more that ripened. The pumpkins and winter squash that I had all but given up on gave me a small crop and I only lost two to some kind of varmint before I figured out how to cage them off with narrow rabbit wire cages on spikes that were run into the ground.

I set an animal trap out there thinking it was something coming up out of the swamp like a raccoon or a rat but when I went out the next day I found it to be a good sized wild rabbit. I hid it quickly from Nydia so she wouldn’t refuse to eat “Thumper” and dinner that night included the first fresh meat that we’d had in months. I kicked myself for having not tried this before and for several mornings running I found something highly irritated at being caught to make a pot of stew with. It felt like I had plugged a hole and both Nydia and I ate like a couple of pigs while it lasted.

My bush beans were beginning their die-and-dry phase and rather than worry that they would mildew because of how wet the weather had turned I pulled whole plants up out of the pots they had been growing in and hung them upside down by their roots on clothes line that I strung in the garage. In that oven like atmosphere it didn’t take them long to dry out and I pulled the pods off and threw them in onion bags and hung them up in our shelter.

My limes, lemons and limons I pulled and spent a whole night preserving flesh, juice, and peel over a hot fire on the outdoor grill. For some reason my canning pears hadn’t done very well, probably from the constant shock of the bombing in the area plus the funky weather we’d been having but I did manage to get a few before they rotted from their blossom end. In fact a lot of the domestic fruit was doing poorly while the wild or indigenous varieties did much better. The problem was the domestic fruits were better for preserving and the wild fruit was much better for eating fresh.

My grapes only produced a few small bunches. I fed most of them to Nydia in her meals since I already had a lot of raisins in our food storage. The handful of fresh grapes that I ate nearly crossed my eyes with their tartness. The pineapples that came up were smaller than in years past but beggars can’t be choosers. The guava tree was nothing but a runt to begin with so the lone fruit off of it wasn’t much of a surprise but I was disappointed that my carambola tree hadn’t done better; I love star fruit and had always gotten a bumper crop in the past.

It went on like that … soursops and governor’s plums did well, pomegranate bushes only so-so … my pitomba and acerola wouldn’t stop producing while the papaya and mango trees just wouldn’t cooperate after their first big push … I almost had to run to keep up with how fast the kudzu was growing but nearly missed the one lone small bunch of green grapes that hid amongst the vines on the arbor … the ratty wild blackberries gave me gallon after gallon of berries while my blueberry shrubs were pretty and green but fruitless.

One late afternoon, while rain pelted the windows, I sat down and figured it all out. I could stop right there and between what we had in food storage and the fresh stuff I had been bringing in I thought that Nydia and I could last a good 18 months, longer if we were able to survive on whole grains and dried beans alone. We might not be our healthiest at the end of that time period but it could be done so long as I could breast feed the baby. But on the other hand that would also be close to suicidal because there was no guarantee that I could restock before everything was used up; things might not be back to normal – I already doubted they would be in my lifetime – a garden could fail or any number of other problems. So even though I was dead dog tired I traipsed out back and Nydia and I began to drag the container garden in one more time while what little light came through the still very cloudy sky faded to nothing. Not even the moon did more but occasionally peep out for a few seconds here and there.

We had brought the last pot in when Nydia took it into her head that she wanted to play. It was definitely too dark to play safely and I wanted to her to come inside and get ready for bed … we’d started sleeping in the shelter full time despite how hot and stuffy it could get. She on the other hand had something completely different in mind. She knew I wasn’t exactly light on my feet and was teasing me by playing her version of tag-your-it and squealing in delight when I would miss her. She finally made the mistake of getting too close, or I got lucky, and I grabbed her around the middle and held tight. I opened my mouth to let her have it when it was like an enormous spotlight had been focused on the front of the house. The house created a gigantic shadow that we stood in the middle of but we still had to cover out eyes.

Nydia screamed in fright and on instinct I covered her eyes with my hand dropped to the ground with her under me. I smelled something that reminded me of scorched boiled greens and knew that it was no spotlight. I counted off ten seconds then cracked my eyes a little only to find that the night seemed even darker than it had before.

I got to my feet and still protecting Nydia and my stomach the best I could we got to the house doing a fair imitation of a couple of deformed crabs. Entering our shelter from above was no longer optimal after I laid the aluminum panels and sandbags on the floor upstairs so I had built a new entry way. I wrenched the stove away from the wall revealing a crawl space that I really hated.

Trying to deal with a nearly frozen Nydia I told her in a jovial voice, “Come on Alice, in the rabbit hole you go.” I gave her a gentle push to start her and as soon as I saw that she was crawling to the living space I told her, “Get you dolly and Nonny will be there in just a moment love.”

I stood up and there was a terrible wrenching pain across my back. I thought I had pulled a muscle at some point but I couldn’t let it stop me. I dropped the security doors back down over the French door and then slid a wooden box I had built in front of the glass. I took straps and strung them through eye bolts crisscrossing them as I went. When I was finished the wooden box looked like an alien shoe with odd laces. It was the best I could come up with to try and secure the last exterior opening on the house.

I kept waiting for a blast or shock wave but when it finally came it merely buffeted the house a little like a minor hurricane wind, not at all like what I was expecting. I looked around one last time, beginning to shake, and realized there was nothing more that I could do. I backed into the “rabbit hole” and manhandled the stove back in place. As I backed down the narrow entrance I realized there was light coming from some place behind me and when I was able to sit up I saw that Nydia had been aiming her little flashlight into the tunnel trying to guide me in.

I grabbed her and kissed her and we held each other for several minutes. The shock was wearing off and Nydia started to cry and then it started getting worse. I had planned for this as well. I washed her face and finally coaxed her to drink a small glass of juice. Hidden in the juice was some cold medicine that never failed to make her groggy. I rocked her and made up a story of some silly princess searching for a prince that could bake the perfect cookie. She grew calmer and eventually sleepy. She was fully asleep in twenty minutes. I undressed her and put her in her bed but it was no easy task; my back shrieked again in protest.

I didn’t know what else to do. Everything was clean and in its place. It would be hours before I dared considered preparing a meal. Nydia, for her own good, was asleep so I didn’t have her as a distraction. I finally sat at our makeshift table and put my heads in my hands and simply started praying. I don’t know how long it was before I realized that every time my back would sing out my stomach would tense and it was some time past that that I allowed myself to accept the reality that I was really and truly in labor.

I don’t know whether it was the shock of the event or whether it was coincidental to something that was bound to happen anyway but rather than be hysterical at the prospects of what I was about to endure a strange calmness settled over me. I got the stop watch out of my labor items and was gratified to find that contrary to my fears generated by some of the things I had read, an EMP had not stopped it from working. Of course the fact that I had stored the few electronic items that I was most worried about inside an old microwave oven could have helped as well. I had read it in some fiction book when I was growing up and it had always stuck in my head. Hopefully I’ll live to find out whether I was smart or lucky.

With the stop watch I could tell that my contractions were nowhere near regular. The first two I timed were only three minutes apart, then it jumped to fifteen minutes then to five then to eight then back down to four. I went nearly three hours of this before they settled in at five minutes apart and holding. When I had first started timing them I just sat at the table but my stomach would push against the table during a contraction and it felt like my pelvis was splitting so I thought to lay down to see if that helped. That actually made it worse because my back began to ache and I got nauseous. I finally got up and simply started pacing the shelter as quietly as I could. Every once in a while a good strong contraction would have me leaning on something trying to get the pressure to leave my back alone.

If any male ever reads this journal I’m sure this next part may turn him a little green and if it does just too bad. It takes two to make a baby, it should take two to have one. But Mateo isn’t here so I can only hope that I’m turning someone a little green down the road in mild retribution for having to go through this all by myself.

The books had said to not become a slave to the stop watch, stay hydrated and to try and relax. Well personally during the middle of a couple of those contractions I could have gleefully slapped whoever wrote the silly books. For every glass of water I drank I had to go to the bathroom three times and relaxing was completely out of the question. I wasn’t hysterical I was just … well when you are worried that your world is about to end in a thermonuclear conflagration it isn’t exactly easy to relax.

One time I didn’t make it to the bathroom before my legs were covered in a mucusy wetness. I noted the date and time that my water broke in a medical chart I had started to keep track of things in case it got so bad I lost my place in what was supposed to come next. Let me tell you after that it felt like the baby was using a sledge hammer on my lower parts during every contraction. I got nauseous all over again and spent some time having contractions while I worshipped at the porcelain throne.

I fell into a rhythm – walk, trying to think of good things and good times, that creeping feeling when the contraction starts, then hold on and try and breath through sensation that peeks to pain and then gradually releases, catch my breath and then start walking again. That lasted until the contractions started getting closer to two minutes apart and that’s when it felt like I was being turned inside out with every contraction.

I guess that is what they called the “transition phase.” That is an understatement designed to fool the unwary. I would have given just about anything to have another adult with me during that time. It hurt so bad I was scared. I crawled into the bathroom dragging the bag of stuff that Mateo and I had started gathering back … too long ago. My emotions are still right at the surface and its better if I don’t think about it too much.

I don’t know how long transition lasted; it could have been minutes, it could have been hours. I couldn’t tell, it was dark and I kept losing track of things as I went somewhere else to try and concentrate around the pain.

Up to that point I’d been doing pretty good about being quiet. The last thing I needed was a frightened child to deal with. But surprisingly that isn’t what I got.

I came back to myself after a particularly bad contraction, it felt like it lasted a lifetime, to feel a damp wash rag being put on my forehead.

“Nydia, please … gooooo … oooo … go back to bed darling. Nonny … Nonny is … hmmmmmm … is just not feeling so … ooooooo.”

“Is it the baby Nonny? Is the baby trying to come out of your tummy?” Maybe she had internalized some of the things I had explained to her.

Breathing deeply as I could, already feeling another contraction building I whimpered, “Please Nydia, go lay back down for …. ooooo ….” I didn’t get to finish what I was saying before I was carried off again by the pain.

I picked that moment to start crying, though thank goodness I wasn’t sobbing very hard. “Poor Nonny. Poor Nonny. That baby is bad.”

I tried to tell her it wasn’t the baby it was that I’d never had a baby before and wasn’t sure whether I was doing it right. Where on earth that came from I don’t know but it seemed to make sense to her childish mind. “Oh … like riding a bike?”

That did get a snort of laughter from me but that was probably the last coherent thing I did for a while. I was starting to feel the urge to push which meant I needed to get dressed … or undressed as the case was … to facilitate things. I also crawled into the shower stall. Nydia didn’t understand this and I wasn’t about to explain about the blood and fluid even had I had the breath to do it.

I finally wound up on my hands and knees rocking through the worst of it. It felt like my insides were bulging out where they had no business bulging out from. Suddenly I needed to sit up and I did so with surprisingly little effort. This baby wanted out and it was giving me the wherewithal to do it.

No man is every going to be able to understand the sensation but it is something like trying to blow a watermelon out of a drinking straw. I’d read all the warnings about breathing through the contractions so that you won’t tear your perineum. I had some grotesque picture in my mind of being ripped open so no matter how badly I wanted to push hard every other contraction I tried to not give in. The stinging finally caused me to shriek.

“Nonny!!!”

But I couldn’t calm her down. I’d felt the baby’s head leave my body. I did what the book said and tried to feel if the cord was around the neck but all I felt was slippery baby and then the next contraction hit me and it felt like Godzilla was trying to crawl out of my body. After that it went very quickly. So quickly I nearly didn’t catch him before he hit the floor.

I slid back against the wall of the shower ultimately wind up laying flat on my back with the baby on my stomach. I scrabbled around in the bag and found the sucker thing and got all of the gunk out of his nose and mouth and let me tell you, that was something he did not in the least appreciate. I would have given anything to just lay there but I couldn’t because it wasn’t over yet.

I had to clamp the umbilical cord in two places and then cut it. By then I was feeling the urge to push again but it was a different kind of push. This was where the placenta came out. I haven’t run a fever or bled to excess so I’m going to assume it all came out and nothing has been left inside me to become septic.

I was in the middle of trying to take care of myself when the cheeky little devil latched on for the first time. Babies without teeth should not bite but it’s been a real trip to convince him that he should have better manners that what he does.

Nydia was just as in shock as I was but she still went and got my clothes and some of my women’s things while I cleaned up myself, the baby, and the shower stall. The shower stall was the least of my worries so all I did was give it a rinse while I cleaned myself up and told Nydia to stay out of it until I could do a better job. I did have the presence of mind to pour a little vinegar down the drain but that was the extent of what I could do at that point. I bagged and tied the placenta and then sealed it in a bucket I’d found the presence of mine to station near while I was stocking the shelter.

I was sore and had gone from a feeling of unbelievable euphoria to one of complete exhaustion. I’d lost all track of time and there was no way for me to tell whether it was day or night. I had no idea what was going on outside but I didn’t smell smoke – all I really smelled was my own lack of deodorant. For all I knew the house could have fallen on top of us. I still don’t know for sure but it would seem that I would have noticed a problem with the ceiling if it had.

I pointed Nydia in the direction of the tote that held some food that she could get into … mostly leftovers from the carepackages and some stale packages of crackers and pretzels that I’d been hiding for a long time for just this eventuality. I told her she could count out three items and use one of the plastic spoons and napkin packages in there as well, and that she was to put her trash in the ziploc bag in the tote when she was finished and to wipe her hands with the baby wipes. After that she could open the present I had for her in there.

“Present?!”

“Yes. You are a big sister now and I thought it would be … be … goodness I’m sorry for yawning in your face Sweetie but Nonny is very, very tired. Play with your present and let Nonny rest for a little while. OK? And don’t go out … don’t …” Looking at me with huge eyes she shook her head emphatically and said she would stay right here.

After she assured herself that all was well she got her snacks and I watched her through slitted eyes until she finished and woke up briefly at her squeal of delight to find a box of odds and ends that I had actually been saving for her good behavior treasure box, something we used to do before everything fell apart. Crayons, a small coloring book, a small stuffed animal, a new outfit and bottle for her dolly, a couple of packages of sugarless safety pops, and a few other little odds and ends kept her enthralled and let me get my first real sleep in a while.

“Nonny … Nonny … he’s snorting like a pig. I think he’s hungry.”

My eyes popped open and indeed it did sound like I had a piglet rooting around in the bed with me. That was the start of our new routine. Nydia would watch fascinated while the baby nursed and then I would pay some attention to her and then I would move around and try to keep some semblance of cleanliness and order in our shelter.

Sanitation has been my primary challenge. Cleaning the shower stall required more water than I had anticipated but it was still better than had I been forced to deal with lot of bloody bedding. And macho man’s diapers are no treat either. It has been almost three weeks and I’m nearly out of the disposable ones … and the space to deal with the used ones.

Lack of sunlight is beginning to affect us, Nydia worse than me. I give her the same liquid vitamins that I horded for the baby but it just isn’t as good as the real thing. I just don’t know what to do.

See, I’m in a quandry. I can’t positively say that it is safe to go out or not. The KFM … the radiation meter … has never come off of zero. I don’t understand it. There was the bright flash of light from the south. That’s the right direction for MacDill. Then there was … well, I guess it was anyway … the concussion or percussion … well, it was the blast wave from whatever it was. It stirred things up pretty good but nothing like I expected it to. The trees whipped and sawed, the wind was fierce, but no buildings were knocked down, it didn’t even rip off any of our shingles as far as I could tell. I didn’t hear any windows breaking. The house didn’t creak and grown like it was thinking about falling over. Nothing makes sense.

But I also have a problem. I can’t get any radio reception. I don’t know if that means that there are no signals to receive or if it is because of all of the dirt and stuff all around our shelter.

I’m scared to death to make the wrong decision. If it was just me I’d risk it with no question. But there is the baby and Nydia to consider. Why should they suffer from my decision? But on the other hand we have to know because we can’t stay hidden here forever. Sanitation is a problem and we are using water faster than I expected as well. Lack of light will also make us all sick pretty soon too.

One week. I’m giving it one more week. When that week is up … I’ll face it when it gets here. For now all we have are these walls between us and possible doom.





Six: Where’s My Ruby Slippers?

I came up here to check and I think the explosions have finally stopped for a while. This is the third time we’ve been attacked like this and I have already had as much as I want to take of it. Nydia is finally asleep and I’m going to let her be; I’m going to sit up here for a while longer and try to pull myself together. I’ve made a circuit of the house and not much new has been damaged thank God but I’m still rattled. I’ve left the trap door open so I’ll hear Nydia if she wakes. I just need to escape the claustrophobia and rank smell of fear for a while. And going back down that ladder is beyond my back for now as well. It feels like I have a bowling ball wedged between my hip bones.

I would have written before now … should have written this down before now … but all of my energy has been focused on completely my plans and just making it hour by hour without my fear choking the life from me. The last time I wrote it helped me to gain some perspective and get my thoughts in order. This time I hope to conquer my fear and find a path forward. Maybe I should have taken the chance and gotten out while I could but I still don’t know how I would have made it there with the dangers to be found on the road. A very pregnant woman all alone with only a small girl child? God protect me from ever even having to imagine what our fate could have been.

Within a week of my last entry I found out that I really was an innocent when it came to war, was being the operative word here. Reading about it in textbooks or seeing old movie reels doesn’t begin to touch the reality of experiencing it firsthand. After everything we have gone through I thought I was hardened, prepared. I was wrong. How many more times am I going to be faced with my newest level of naiveté? You always think “this is as bad as it gets.” Wrong. Don’t fool yourself, it can always get worse.

A low slung boat, the kind that used to run drugs between Florida and the islands, was able to avoid detection and sneak into the Port of Tampa. Witnesses say that by the time it was identified it was too late; it ran full speed into the fuel depot. It wouldn’t have done near as much damage as it did except that it had been loaded with a large quantity of high explosives and that in turn set off a chain reaction with some additional sabotage on shore.

Radio broadcasts said that the terrorist blew himself up and that his co-conspirators were quickly captured. I don’t know whether to believe that or not. The last time I saw Greg was right after the port explosion and he reminded me of something my dad used to say, “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” A veritable feast of propaganda is offered up every day on the two remaining public radio stations. I’m told it was on billboards, carried by FVB members on placards, and on leaflets passed out with ration books … not that we have any of that going on around here these days. It’s all feel-good-about-this-administration type stuff and that the FVB are your friends and just believe in us and we’ll keep you safe and your way of life on the upswing. You don’t see the military very often; I’ve probably seen them as much as anyone left around here. You still see busloads of the FVB troops in their strange blue overalls and recently the rumors about UN troops operating on US soil has been proven as well. In the beginning they were only here as “observers” but when the UN building … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the same time the Port of Tampa explosions were going on the same type of crew had tried to do the same thing to the waterside of MacDill AFB. But attacking a civilian port is a different animal than trying to attack an active and heavily fortified military base. A squad of Marines who were in town for a training exhibition, in cooperation with a Coast Guard LR1 and two Defender class boats, blew the semi-sub drug runner out of the water killing all on board several miles from shore. It was a wakeup call for locals and the government; or it was for a lot of people, there are probably people with their heads in the sand even now. I’ve lost what little confidence I had left in the average human’s intelligence. The loss of my innocence has left in its wake a heavy cynicism and a loss of confidence in my own species.

Overnight the country went from being on a quasi-war footing that was mostly talk and warnings couched in hyperbole to being on a real one that required a crackdown on the public and most personal freedoms. The President’s Administration rapidly lost what little popular support it had left. The NAACP and a lot of other so-called civil rights groups nearly strangled on their own screams and efforts to be heard over all the other noise. Rights? What rights? We are at war and it isn’t just talk. And it isn’t just a bunch of infighting between ideological groups that can’t get along. Threats have manifested themselves into action.

Looks like everyone wants a piece of us these days and this Administration seems to be dealing more with the President’s self esteem issues than with the reality facing our nation. We have a president that was voted in, not by overwhelming numbers, but because people were ready for a change. Unfortunately the change was to an administration that was a product of the good times when what you wanted was there to get. Their responses to the economic and geopolitical stresses this country faces has been naive to irresponsible and ill thought out to absolutely criminal in scope. And now we haven’t heard a peep out of them offering any solace or guidance. For all I know not a one of them even breathes anymore but I won’t ruminate on the consequences of that just yet.

Now add into that mess the personal problems of some of the members of this administration and you’ve got a catastrophe that is three-quarters in the starting gate. Or should I make that three-quarters out of the starting gate? There have been calls for over a week for some kind of response to what has been happening and nary a peep has been uttered by anyone above the Press Secretary. Even before this past week rumors were rampant … behind the scenes tantrums that bordered on the neurotic, rumors of a mistress quickly hushed up only to resurface again and again, chest pains leading to strong warnings of coronary artery disease, stories of loud family discord fueled primarily by a teenage daughter rebelling against public expectations and emotionally cold parental figures. But that stuff is what you would see in the tabloid magazines and may or may not be true. What is scary are the stories of doctors being called into the family’s quarters to administer sedatives; the doctor calls confirmed with squirreled out photos and muffled recordings of phone calls. What isn’t known is who in the family the drugs were for. There are other unsubstantiated stories of emotional problems as well.

As it stands now the President and his Administration control the civil troops but I’m not so certain that they control the military any longer. The President is the Commander-in-Chief but his competency to hold the job is a question mark. The time for questionable diplomatic efforts is at an end. War has reached our shores. No hiding behind the drapes either and that appears to be what he is doing.

It has been since Pearl Harbor, and before that the US Civil War, that an actual war has been fought on US soil. There has been things called “war” – the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror – but true war has not visited this country’s continental territory in over 150 years. It is a lot for people to wrap their heads around, even me.

And the war we are in is like no other we have ever fought. There is no one single enemy with a single cause. Our enemies fight each other as often as they try and battle us. The fact that they work at cross purposes to one another so much is probably the only reason we haven’t been eaten alive yet. All along our Southern Border, into the Gulf and for a ways up both the western and eastern coastlines we are being attacked by a coalition of Central and South American countries whose primary stated goal is uniting the Americas into one Spanish Confederation similar to the original European Union model only more politically aligned under some type of board of directors. Om the other hand their actions tell another story. Leaders are settling old grievances, taking revenge, and destabilizing and dividing rather than uniting. I don’t believe the players have the ability to share anything much less power the likes of which they are after and that will be their downfall; but they’ll do a great deal of damage until they fail.

Not every country down that way is on board with the plan. Coast Rica, Argentina, and Columbia are big stand outs but they have so many problems of their own at home that they can do little in the way to stop what is happening. Social pressures and poverty has caused Guatemala to explode into another vicious civil war. Cartels based in nearly every country down there behave more like warlords preying on locals since war has shut down their normal drug trafficking routes; army commanders shoot any soldier caught with drugs since an army high on drugs is useless.

Mexico’s stance in the war depends on who you talk to and on which day of the week. The Mexican President and his family were blown up by a drug lord so no one really knows who’s in charge down there these days. One day it will be some general, the next it will be a charismatic populist, and another it will be some anarchist that has gotten a taste for power who is trying to consolidate his position. Up is down and down is sideways; the country is a politically and socially chaotic mess.

Refugees from all points south drive through Mexico like locusts and were literally stampeding across the borders of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California trying to escape the armies pouring through their own countries. The states were beginning to collapse and the President wasn’t sending any federal troops to help. Homeland Security was handicapped at the top by the political appointment trying to play both ends with wild swings that more often than not put the American citizen under a jack boot and not those who put our way of life at risk.

Too many special interest groups vied for attention never realizing that this administration’s answer to everything was procrastination so it could be blamed on someone else or be put off until it was someone else’s problem. Besides it is … was … an election year. The war is already bringing with it a suggestion that elections will be “delayed.” When asked how long the only answer offered was “for as long as it takes.”

The refugees brought with them hunger and disease, especially things like dysentery and cholera. There were riots when the few charities authorized and willing to serve this influx ran out of food and water. Then the illegal refugees started setting up squatters’ camps, destroying local farms and ranches in their search for food and shelter. That quickly degenerated into armed Mexican militias occupying US soil when the feds refused to take action to support local law enforcement efforts.

This Administration even tried to bring federal charges against several law enforcement departments in Texas and Arizona and even tried to have some LEOs arrested for murder for defending themselves against assassination attempts. Homeland Sercurity threatened to charge ranchers with premeditated murder if they set up traps and shooting blinds on their property to protect their families and their livelihoods from being destroyed by the interlopers.

Then the Texas governor decided he’d had enough after a hospital had all but burned to the ground during a riot when staff tried to quarantine a Mexican National that came in with symptoms of TB. The governor called in the Texas Air National Guard made up of battled hardened veterans home on leave from the Middle East. Then the Arizona governor added the Arizona National Guard. Militia groups from all four states added their support and, using lethal force, began to push the swarm of armed refugees back across the US-Mexico border.

The Pentagon finally got fed up and did an end run around Congress. They gathered evidence that the Spanish Coalition forces were instigating much of the civilian problems and were supplying weaponry. Also, they captured spies that carried information that Fort Bliss had been targeted for a major assault and as a result, that basically militarized the southern border of the US without a directive from Congress or the President. It was an amazing thing to hear about on the radio, unprecedented in this time period. That is why I begin to wonder if the Commander-in-Chief is really in command, it really does look like the Pentagon and the state Governors did an end run around the Executive Branch of the government … and were allowed to get away with it.

But our national and international woes do not end there. In the Pacific Northwest and in Alaska there were a lot of assets absconded with by people of both Chinese and Russian connections masquerading as fishing fleets. The outflow stopped when those states took a page from the playbook of states along the southern border and allowed their militias and National Guard troops to take matters in hand. Rumors had it that off-duty or on-leave federal troops often went along on patrols to “observe” but in reality were training and leading some of the civilian teams.

The Midwest and Northeast of the country were primarily battling Islamic jihadist. The religious violence has begun to spread and encompass many enclaves of Islamic communities. Here in Tampa, Temple Terrace had a very large Islamic community, reportedly with some sleeper cells in it. Most of the community was peaceable but enough of them were not that Homeland Security stepped in, added by local law enforcement and troops from MacDill when the protests expanded and the violence increased significantly. It got bloody which has essentially turned the whole community into extremists out for revenge. Large numbers of men from the Islamic community have been rounded up and put into what amounts to internment camps; guilty until proven innocent because even if they did not personally participate in the violence they harbored and protected the people who had.

All of this didn’t happen overnight. I spent the week immediately after the port explosions inventorying and consolidating what was still in the house and garage and finalizing (or so I thought) the extension of our “hidden” space. I thought the walk-in pantry was going to add a lot of room but by the time I moved more food supplies in there it was no better than a coat closet.

I have been constantly exhausted because the new demands on my energy are on top of the ones that already existed – Nydia, water gathering, taking care of our daily needs, the gardening such as it was. I’ve gotten to the point I don’t even have time to miss Mateo except in my dreams. I could also see I was losing weight which in my condition was a bad thing. Had the baby not continued to move around I would have been even more worried than I was. I made sure to take what prenatal vitamins I had – they are all gone now which is yet another reason why the edible landscaping is so important – and I increased my fats and fluids where I could, but it has not been easy considering that we are living on bulk food storage for over 50% of our diet, most of it dried.

Nydia is growing up, losing the “baby look” and doesn’t even look like a toddler much anymore. She is my shadow and my helper. She’s already memorized the names of all the tools I use and can count to twelve consistently. I’m not sure Mateo will recognize her when … if … when he comes home. When … it has to be when; I can’t let the “if” in.

The end of that week saw me doing pretty much what I had done every night up to that point. Nydia and I had gotten up late in the morning. After making sure the house was still secure and the shutters and window coverings were still in place, I fixed a hearty brunch that would hold us until a later dinner all the while trying to make sure no odor escaped to alert anyone that we still had food and fuel to cook it with. Then I went to work on the inside chores and whatever projects I had going.

As darkness descended I got Nydia ready for bed by playing quietly with her for a short while then reading her a chapter out of some book; that night I think it was Little Women. Sometimes it was Anne of Green Gables, some nights she would pick Elsie Dinsmore. She seemed to be only able to handle the Little House on the Prairie series so long as Pa wasn’t mentioned too often. That tells me she still misses Mateo even if she can’t verbalize it.

After I tucked her in I told her I had to work for a while longer but for her it was time to go to sleep.

“Nonny, don’t go.”

“I have work to do Precious. I’ll try to not be long.”

“The dark is scary,” she whispered.

“Oh Baby Doll, you have your flashlight,” I reminded her as I pointed to the wind up flashlight I had hung on a nail beside her bed. “And you know that God is with you even if you can’t see Him. God is bigger than the boogeyman, remember?”

She hunched her shoulders and we proceeded to have the same conversation we have had nearly every third night. “Why Nonny? Why do you have to go? I don’t like it.”

“I’m not going far and I won’t be long, Sugar. Just downstairs and into the yard for a while.”

“But why Nonny?”

“Because God gave me a special commission when he put you in my care. And this baby too. I have to tend the plants to make sure we have food.”

“We have all the boxes and cans.”

“The boxes and cans won’t last forever Sweet Heart and it isn’t good for us if that is the only kind of food we have to eat. We need fresh food. And we also need water, and that doesn’t come in boxes or cans.”

She gave a short but defeated pout. “But the boogermans are out there. What if the boogermans get you?”

“I’m always careful Nydia. God watches over me too just like He watches over you … even in the dark … even when there are scary people around.”

“Why can’t I come?! I’ll help. I’ll carry the basket just like I did today.”

“Because this is the time for children to be in their beds and getting their rest so that they can grow up strong and healthy.”

Then she got a sly look on her face like she’d just thought of an argument I couldn’t beat. “But the baby isn’t in bed. The baby is a children so the baby needs to be in bed too.”

“Nydia,” I said warningly, growing weary of the repeat argument that always seemed to take the same old paths. “This isn’t going to work. You are going to stay in bed and you will go to sleep. I love you and I’m doing this for you and the baby and because it is my responsibility since I’m the grown up. It can’t be play time all of the time. Right now is my work time and it is your sleep time. The longer you argue the later I am going to be starting my work which means the longer it is going to be before I can come to bed with you.”

After lots of hugs and kisses and promises to be as quick as possible Nydia finally collapsed and went to sleep, even if it was unwillingly. She really is a good helper despite being extremely strong willed on occasion but she doesn’t just sit around all day acting like a little priss and that is something I really appreciate right now. In history I read stories of three year olds helping to build log cabins, helping to tend the garden, getting water from the creek or well, and being responsible for chores with the animals. I always had a hard time understanding how the people of long ago could do that to such young children … children who were little more than babies … but now I understand it. It is because for the family to survive they had no choice. For everyone to eat, everyone had to work. But it is a frightening commentary to realize we are returning to those days in this country.

Yes, I do know God is with me but I also know He expects me to use the good sense He gifted me with. I put on dark clothes, black socks, tennis shoes that I had stained dark brown with some of Mateo’s old shoe polish, tied a dark scarf over my head, and then topped the whole outfit with a dark green canvas apron with pockets that my mother used to keep for gardening. As hot as it was I turned up the collar on the shirt and made sure the long sleeves were rolled down and buttoned. The last thing I wanted to do was get eaten alive by the skeeters and other biting insects that come out at night.

Before heading outside I took another look at my list of things to do. I saw I had two water barrels that I needed to refill. That would mean several trips to the swamp’s edge so that I could strain enough water to put into the sand filter in the kitchen because I had emptied the rain barrels last night, hoping that the gray sky had presaged more rain. Unfortunately if there was rain in the clouds it passed us by.

I also needed to bring up a few items from the barn which would mean climbing through the back window again. I grabbed my allen wrench, work gloves, and the WD40 and stuck them in my left apron pocket. In my right apron pocket I stuck the little LCP that I keep fully loaded and that had been Daddy’s along with the three extra magazines for it. The rifle was better at long distances … and each time I think about it I still feel heavy hearted for what I had to do to those men … but the LCP is much smaller, lighter, and is easier for me to carry concealed while I do my night time chores. I picked up the Tupperware container I use as a compost bucket to keep the roaches from finding the refuse, squirted WD40 on the back door hinges, unlocked all of the mechanisms and then carefully moved the blackout curtains and squeezed through as best I could. I locked the deadbolt behind me and headed first to the barn.

After I finally managed to open and then squeeze myself up and over the window sill I went straight to the compost barrels, emptied my container, and turned the barrels a few times. I have run out of planting medium so the compost is going to be essential to us being able to continue gardening with any success. About the only fertilizer that I have left is the big fifty-pound bags of citrus fertilizer that the neighbors gave to us before they left for Georgia. Bending down and being very careful so that no one could see my lighted pen, I made a note that I needed to add fertilizing the trees to my gardening calendar. It is something that Mateo had taken care of and that I had forgotten about needing to do.

After passing everything on my list out of the window it was time to get myself out of there. It was harder to climb out than it was to climb in. I wasn’t even as big then as I am now and it was like dragging another person through the window with me, which I guess it is if you think about it. I run around with bruises on my sides and high up on my stomach where I’m constantly trying to fit into places I shouldn’t be trying to fit. That night the stump I had rolled over to use as a step stool outside of the barn wobbled and caused me to land badly. My ankle wrenched, gave out, and I came down right on top of a large saw brier vine, the thorns easily penetrating my pants and ramming straight into my knee. It was everything I could do to keep from screaming in pain. God save me if labor is like that.

I detached the vine by yanking it out of my skin and then hobbled to the corner of the barn and did what any upset pregnant woman in my situation would do – I pitched a royal fit, all be it a quiet one, shed a few tears, blew my nose and then got back to work. I’m the type that prefers to pull the bandaid off quickly and get it over with. The quick sharp pain ends quickly while the slow pull seems deliberately torturous.

I gathered the supplies I had pushed out of the window and hobbled back to the house. It took quite a few trips and then I thumped myself in the head for not using the wheel barrow. At least I thought to take the dolly and use it to move the five gallon buckets back up to the house as I filled them from the swamp and poured them through the screen to get the muck out and into clean buckets. These I left on the porch with the supplies that I would bring in later.

My back was killing me and I hadn’t even started on the actual gardening yet, such as it was. The okra had bloomed like crazy in the rear flower beds but they didn’t look like tall flowers any longer now that the pods were filling out. I gathered those up first thing, careful to avoid the spines. The cowpea vines were also ready to pick. Fortunately my live-catch cages and chicken wire had discouraged whatever had been getting into the stuff that I couldn’t grow in containers and bring in at night and I was able to get nearly a half bushel of peas that I had let dry on the vine.

Then it was on to my other edible landscaping in the rest of the yard. We aren’t doing too badly if I do say so myself, at least when it comes to fruit. But that is only because I started the project well in advance of ever needing it and have some experience at it. I imagine people who just now started learning to garden have a huge learning curve to get through. Of course it would be different if Mateo was here as his appetites are as big as his personality but with it only being Nydia and I we can live on a more meat restricted diet with no consequences as long as I make sure and get protein from other sources.

There was a little bit of everything in the basket by the time I was through gathering what was ripe: two large pomegranates, a hand full of prickly pears, some lemons and Persian limes, the first fig of the season, nearly four cups of Surinam cherries, a few guava that I added to the ones already drying so they could be ground into paste, and a small pineapple that had somehow escaped whatever critter had been using my plant beds as a buffet.

The good harvest put me in a better mood and I was able to ignore the throbbing of my knee as I headed to the larger trees … where I met the enemy. Blasted raccoons. A mother and her kits had taken up residence in the mango tree and I don’t know who was more scared me or them. I squealed and yelped as I tried to step back only to have my ankle complain badly.

I was about to cry again when I all but stopped breathing. “Hush up. You want to lose ‘em? Stand still and I’ll catch ‘em. I have dibs on the female but I’ll split the kits with you. They’ll fatten up nicely and feeding them will get the wild taste out of the flesh.”

From over the fence and out of the bushes I saw a long pole that had a noose on the end of it slowly reach up into the tree. Quick as lightening they had the mother raccoon and was pulling her out of the tree and into a cage. A skinny and nimble man suddenly hopped off the top of the fence where he must have been sitting still as a panther for me not to have seen him and quick as you please he’d scooped up the four kits with what looked like a dog catcher’s net. It was the “crazy” couple from across the road.

The man silently offered me two of the kits but, gripping the LCP in my pocket I said, “Oh, I couldn’t do that. You did all of the work and caught them, they should be yours. You did call dibs.”

The female half of the couple came to the fence bars as her husband climbed back over and spoke quietly. “That’s mighty neighborly. You could have said since they were on your land they belonged to you. But really … we’ve been trying to catch her for near a week now and have chased her up and down the block. We weren’t going to trespass but after a week you hate to give up the work you put into the chase.”

Never having experienced dealing with someone that potentially deranged I was careful in my replies. “I imagine you wouldn’t. How have other people in the neighborhood been handling it?”

The man just snorted and grunted as he tied the kits in a poke sack. His wife was obviously the talker of the pair. “Ain’t too many left and those that is are more foolish than even the mister and I had given them credit for being. A few of them have done a little salvaging here and there but mostly they be sitting around waiting for someone to come rescue them. Ain’t gonna happen. My bones tell me trouble is brewing. And speaking of brewing, you ain’t far from popping are you? This ain’t your first is it?”

“Um, yes.”

“Oh. Well. It ain’t gonna be pretty but you better get it through your head that you’re gonna have it at home and probably on your lonesome since they took your man off. Unless you done took up with some of them swampers.”

“No. Absolutely … uh …”

She gave a cackle, “Aw, I was just funning with you. I’ve been watching you since you came to take care of your man’s house and then stayed when the little girl got handed to him. I knew you wasn’t like what some of the old cows around here said you was. And you ain’t got a half bad head on your shoulders either. Done better than we expected that’s for sure. Well, it was nice talking with you but we don’t have time for company much and need to be about our business.”

The man tipped his hat and they both faded into the night leaving me flabbergasted and speechless. They were worse than Greg and that was saying something. Of course all three of them have disappeared now but … there I go again, getting ahead of myself.

I did notice that any branches that hung outside of our property line had been completely stripped of fruit and that included the mango tree as well as the Asian pears, the Governor’s Plum thicket, and my papayas. I decided that it would be useless to say anything but I was going to have to be more vigilant about what was “mine.” Call me the one that is crazy but so long as they stayed out of the yard and Nydia and I weren’t starving I decided I could afford to be generous this time but not from here on out.

I carried on weeding and tending the best I could and thought about the project I was planning and how necessary it was going to be. The electricity hadn’t been on in a while and I was using the solar power to the water pump as sparingly as I could. The quieter the neighborhood became the louder the pump was going to sound when I kicked it on. But as worrisome as the water situation was that wasn’t the main thing I was concerned about at that moment.

Preserving the harvest; that was the title of one of my favorite books. I loved the picture on the cover of the copy that my mother had bought for me the Christmas I was thirteen. But I wouldn’t be using any of those recipes for a while. I still had five five-gallon buckets of white sugar in the garage plus the stuff in mylar bags out in the barn but that wouldn’t last long if I had to can all of the fruit. And I couldn’t can the fruit if I didn’t have a stove to can on. With the electric off I was down to using the propane camp stove and if I had to use my propane supply to can everything with that would run out before I was through as well. Even my dehydrators were electric. However I had run across a design in one of my dad’s old books of how to build a dehydrator right into a sunny window and I decided that was exactly what was needed and I’d be building two to start with. One would go into the spare bedroom beside the hidden bonus room and a smaller, removable one would be built for the bonus room window.

The reason why I picked those two windows was because they had that film on them that let you see out but no one else see in. Mateo had installed it trying to keep the upstairs rooms from getting so hot but it never really worked. It gave privacy and a little UV protection but that was it, the heat just kept on rolling in since the windows were sunny more often than not. Even if it took longer to dry a tray of fruit or veggies it was still better than anything else I had. My concern wasn’t that it wouldn’t work but that I would be drawing bugs into the house. I addressed that concern by keeping everything scrupulously clean, leaving out cups of borax as bug bait, and using screens from a couple of the downstairs windows, protected by the storm shutters, to box everything in with.

I tramped up the stairs that night beyond exhausted but with a plan firmly in place. I said my prayers and I don’t even think I dreamed of how things used to be while I slept. The next day started out the same as usual but the ending of that day was another type of beginning.

It took me most of the day to make the window dehydrators and they wouldn’t pass the test for Better Homes & Gardens but I was … and am … rather proud of them. The one in the guest bedroom was first and after I slid the trays of sliced fruit in place the room slowly filled with the almost overpowering smell of a tropical fruit salad. I realized that I had to add a layer of cheesecloth under the last tray to catch all of the dripping juice or I was going to have a horrible mess. I also wound up having to hang peppermint from my herb garden to keep the ants at bay. It gives the room an odd minty-juicy smell that I haven’t decided whether I like or not.

My plan for the night was very light. I was sore and tired and the baby was being a pistol and kicked me in the bladder so hard once that I had to run for the bathroom or embarrass myself. I nearly didn’t make it in time because I was limping on the ankle, now swollen since I’d been on it more than off it when it should have been the other way around. My list included checking for any ripe fruit or veggies that needed to be harvested and to run some more buckets of water through the sand filter.

Nydia was so happy to hear that it was going to be a short night that she went to sleep before I’d finished tucking her in. Shaking my head I went about my business. The harvesting was first and went quickly since I’d taken anything close to being ripe the night before. I only caught two caterpillars and they were on vines that had already given all they had to give.

I was in the middle of bringing up the second bucket of water when I vaguely heard thunder in the distance. I took a second to smile and thank God for the coming rain … trying to show a little confidence even though in my heart I knew that it was just as possible for any storm to bypass us yet again. However my confidence grew as the thunder grew closer.

But then as I was pouring the last bucket through the screen to strain out the big particles I realized that the “thunder” had the oddest quality to it. Then there was a screaming overhead and I looked up to see what I recognized as a squadron of fighter jets flying low and directly overhead streaking in the direction of MacDill. I’d seen this before but not the planes so low. The house occasionally fell into the training flight path of whatever was going on at the air force base.

Then I heard a deeper rumble giving me a sense that whatever was making the noise was going slower than the planes that had just flown over my head. However it seemed to come from much higher in the sky. I stepped off the porch even further and tried to see what was making the noise. Then a whistling noise and …

The explosion was so loud that I felt it before the actual shock wave reached me. I curled into a ball on instinct and then realized what I was doing and ran inside to Nydia. The explosions continued though they seemed to be occurring further away.

Nydia was screaming by the time I got to her. “Nonny! Nonny! Nonny! Nonny!” She was barely breathing between syllables. I grabbed her and down we went to the only place I could think of to retreat to, the pantry closet in the center of the house. I knew it wasn’t really safe and could in fact be a death trap all too easily. Nydia was so hysterical that I gave her some allergy medicine that knocked her out. I can’t really remember what I thought about during that time. I held Nydia and my brain seemed to freeze in the off position. I know I prayed but what I said in those prayers is completely lost to me.

The bombs fell off and on for over almost three hours. They seemed to come in waves. About what turned out to mid way through there was a truly horrific explosion that felt like it was going to bring the house down on top of us.

It had been over an hour since the last explosion and I knew I needed to find out what had happened. The first thing I realized was that I was going to need a secondary exit out of the pantry because I was so shaky climbing out that I nearly fell twice. But climb out I did, leaving Nydia still in her drugged sleep. The house was dark upstairs except in the guest room where the morning sun filtered through the dehydrator box; the blackout curtains that I had laid across it had fallen to the floor and the fan in the room was hanging by its wires. I couldn’t fix it right then so I simply took it down and capped off the wires in case of an unexpected power surge. I tucked the LCP in my pocket and vowed that it would become my constant companion from that point forward. I’d finally learned my lesson that sometimes things happen just too fast to give you the time to go looking for protection.

Downstairs the damage was worse. The block glass window of the master bathroom had a couple of blocks that were damaged on the outside but not all the way through. The ceramic tiles on the inside of the shower on that wall had also come loose from the green board underneath. One of the master bedroom windows was also shattered and glass crunched under my feet. This was despite the metal storm shutter still in place. My best guess is that the percussion must have bowed the shutter just enough that it touched the window and the vibration went through breaking the glass.

Pictures had fallen off the wall in several places and the family room smelled strongly of soot and a fine dusting of it layered anything that was close to the fireplace. Again, there doesn’t appear to have been any structural damage to the chimney, it was just the percussion knocked stuff in the flue down causing the mess. The LCP came out of my pocket and stayed in my hand.

Stepping outside I smelled smoke and something that burnt the hair inside my nose and everything looked smoggy. There was moss, dirt, and small twigs all over the screen that surrounds the pool and lanai. The screened door was more difficult to open than it should have been, like it had shifted in its frame. I still haven’t been able to fix that. Whatever shifted it was so small that it escapes my eye and my ability to fix it.

The backyard wasn’t too bad but there was a tree down behind the barn, one that Mateo had meant to cut down because it had been dead long enough that its root system had started to decay, making it a prime material for a high wind to knock over. The explosions had done what the last tropical storm had not. It blocked the rear sliding door but it’s been a low priority for me to deal with.

A crunch of small limbs had me turning around fast enough to feel bile climbing up my throat. The man from across the street was there but his hands were empty, palms up, and held away from his body.

For the first time I heard his gravel laden voice. “Good.” He nodded his head in approval. “Learning to be smart.” Then he pointed to the acerola bush, heavy with berries that had ripened in the night. “My wife,” he said then swallowed like it was difficult to talk. “Lost some blood. Needs some sweet. Them bushes, good for Vitamin C.”

I finally noticed that there was a dark stain on his shirt. “Oh. Oh! Of … of course. Does she need …” I asked and took a step forward.

He stepped away from me and looked like he was going to run so I stopped. When I stopped he stopped but he still had the look of a buck thinking about running off into the thicket.

“No. Don’t owe no one. I’ll pay …”

“No. You … um … you cleaned the raccoons out of the mango tree for me. Let’s call it even at that.”

He gave me a look but seemed to relax. Then he nodded his head. But it wasn’t until I backed up that he came forward and bent down at the bush and pulled a couple of cupfuls off and put them in his cap.

I wasn’t going to leave him free access to the back of the house but I wasn’t sure how to strike up a conversation with the man either. He was the one that spoke next however.

“Saw this on the Ho Chi Minh. Rolling thunder.”

After a moment trying to think where I’d heard that phrase before I asked, “Carpet bombing? Are you saying that was what happened last night?”

He nodded. “Demoralization of the enemy. Damages infrastructure. Softens ‘em up. Used US41 as an aerial map. Somebody don’t like us none. Radio says MacDill got hit by bombers that came out of Mexico some place.”

I was still processing the information when with effort he stood up and turned to leave. He stopped nodded his head and then said, “Got a tree across your drive. Wires down all over but they ain’t hot. Stay quiet and out of the way as much as you can. Don’t go night creeping either. Looks like our boys took down at least one bomber. Likely to have some troop movement around here soon. Stay away from them boys. Men in war time … they ain’t gonna be in the mood to be gentleman.”

He limped off at a ground eating pace, staying in the lee of the bushes and trees as much as possible.

I gave it a minute and then cautiously followed him around to see what the front yard held. There was a tree across the driveway, but it was outside the gate, not inside. A tall old oak, weathered and beaten by over a hundred hurricane seasons, had had the top blown out of it by … by some type of metal … thing … landing on it. I stood there trying to figure out what it was when the man turned one last time, pointed at the mess, and said, “Part of a fuselage. Xian H-6K.”

Fuselage I understood but it wasn’t until much later, after overhearing some of the personnel from MacDill, that I realized Xian H-6K was a type of aircraft, specifically a Chinese bomber. That ripped it. The Chinese had now officially committed acts of aggression against the US, or they had sold an aircraft to a country which had.

I took the neighbor’s advice and played least in sight. That was unlike most everyone else in the area who headed to the highway to try and waylay the military in search of answers … and apparently food, fuel, and medical attention as well. No aid was given and everyone returned empty handed and disgruntled. What did they expect? This wasn’t the air show, this was war. The last thing I wanted to do was get in the way of the military personnel doing their job and sure as heck didn’t want to draw the attention of men two and three times my size walking around with automatic weapons.

I went in and checked on Nydia off and on between putting my container garden out in the sun until she finally awoke. She was fine until she remembered what had happened in the night and then it took me physically picking her up and taking her outside before she began to calm down and believe me that everything was over with … for now. We picked up fruit that had been knocked down, small branches, raked up leaves … it all went into rolling trash cans, the contents of which I would transfer to the compost barrels in the barn as soon as it was safe to do so.

Nydia refused to leave my side even if it meant traipsing back and forth in the heat and humidity. She was literally gripping my apron strings like I was going to get away from her or something. Once or twice a small patrol of military personnel drove down the road but I didn’t do anything to draw their attention. The first time it happened I even caught myself crouching down in the bushes and staying perfectly still like an animal that was trying to hide her young. The third time I must have done something that caught their notice because a young man waved. I caught Nydia waving back which made me decide it was time to turn our attention to the backyard.

After a quick snack that passed for breakfast and an early lunch we carried buckets of water until my arms felt like they were going to fall off. I worried that the swamp water would be contaminated sooner or later and I wanted to be as prepared as possible. Since there was so much noise out at the road as crews came in to clear out downed trees to get to the debris of the plane that I found out later had disintegrated in mid-air I decided to risk running the well pump. I panicked for a moment when it wouldn’t kick on but it was only the contactors where some ants had gotten up in them. A quick brush with an emery board cleaned them right up and the circuit could be made again. I filled every empty container in the house, the water bobs that had been empty for weeks and all of the extra barrels as well.

I turned the well off after I had refilled the pool (which is our bath water primarily now that I am beginning to run low of the floating chlorinators) and disconnected the solar panels and rolled them back to the house. We’d been unmolested the whole time we were in the backyard and I was beginning to feel calmer and more secure. I had just finished using a limb lopper and a handsaw to take off all the brush that I could from a particularly large limb that had blown in from a large oak in the neighbor’s yard. I was down to the main branch and was trying to roll it so I could use the ax to cut it up for firewood. A crunch on leaves and small twigs was the only warning I got.

“Ma’am wait, let me do … whoa, you’re really big!”

I turned sharply trying to grab for the ax at the same time while pulling Nydia behind me. She gave a loud squeak and came so willingly she nearly took us both to the ground. The owner of the voice jumped nearly as much as I did when I picked up the ax and he took two good sized steps backwards. Standing there trying to put his eyes back in his head was a young man that looked barely old enough to need to shave more than a couple of times a month. I started backing towards the house when he said, “Uh, wait, it’s … it’s OK. Totally. Uh. Let me get Sgt. Tag. She’ll know what to do.”

Then an amused female voice coming around the side of the house said, “Decker, what have I said about using my name in vain after you’ve gone off by yourself?”

The young man named Decker jumped even worse than he had when I’d picked up the ax and in a voice that cracked a couple of octaves before it settled down he said, “But Sarge, I’m scaring her … and the little girl too. I just wanted …”

“Yes Decker, you’re one bad dude and all the girlies run screaming,” she responded with amused resignation. “If you wouldn’t insist on trying to play Prince Charming every time I turn around you wouldn’t have these problems.” She laughed again as the young man turned painfully red in embarrassment. Then in a voice even my dad would have envied she called out, “Traina! Fontaine! Back here!” When the two men in question came … and at a run … she continued, “ Help Decker deal with that and then get back to the one by the gate.” Turning to me she asked, “Ma’am, are you in need of a medic?”

Rather blown away by this woman I still managed to say, “No thank you. We’re fine.”

“You’re sure? Capt. Masters is eager for something to do.”

Not quite sure what to make of the offer I told her, “The people down the road could probably use his attention.”

In a voice heavy with sarcasm she replied, “Oh, he’s spent the morning down there. What’s wrong with them is beyond even the Captain’s ability to fix.”

Obviously Sgt. “Tag” had a low opinion of the people from the subdivision and wasn’t afraid to show it. The limb was dealt with in minutes once the men had started the chainsaws they were carrying. After the noise was over with and the wood stacked, all three men went back to the front giving me a polite tip of their heads as they passed.

“That tree top is in the way of the crane that will be brought in shortly. After the wood is cleared the big equipment will come in. We’ll try not to damage your gate but there are no guarantees.”

I nodded my head in understanding.

“Look, you don’t have to answer. This isn’t an interrogation but … have you got someone? Family? Friend?” she asked pointing to my belly. “We know the FVB has already been through here.”

Unwillingly I answered, “We’ll be OK.”

“I’ll take that as a no then.” When I didn’t respond she sighed and continued, “I’ve been authorized to disseminate some care packages. If you won’t take anything for yourself at least let me leave you a few for your little girl. They have c-a-n-d-y in them.”

The fact that she spelled “candy” rather than say it out loud surprised me. She must have read it on my face because she barked a laugh and said, “Mine might all be teens now but I remember what it was like. I also remember what it was like to be as far along as you look. Independence is one thing, but take my advice and don’t turn this down. Help is going to come few and far between times from here on out, especially the kind that doesn’t come with strings attached. Take what I’m able to offer and let the Captain have a look at you. It could make a difference.”

Long story short I swallowed my pride long enough to be open to an unexpected blessing. In the words of Capt. Masters, “You are in better shape than you should be considering the circumstances.” Then I was encouraged to get adequate rest, adequate calories of healthy food, and to give up the heavy lifting. Good advice and well meant but hard for me to apply in the days that followed.

I hope the soft-hearted Private Decker has someone like Sgt. Tag … I found out Tag is short for Taglione …for the duration of this war, if not he is going to be puppy food before this is all over with. He spent his breaks cutting wood from the blown out tree top into chunks small enough for me to use in the charcoal grill that he thought I used to cook on. No one really razed him about it, at least not within my hearing, but I did see some of the men give each other good natured eye rolls when he’d pop up and run a barrow full back to a pile he started near the back corner of the house. He even built a lean-to out of palm fronds and some old kite string he dug out of the tree branches.

I did accept the care packages and they’ve been a real bonus to our pantry stock. In addition to the “c-a-n-d-y” there were little squeeze packets of peanut butter and honey, individually wrapped crackers, tuna with packets of mayo and relish, drink packets for water like lemonade and Tang, boxes of raisins, spreadable cheese, and sundry other “energy food” that could be eaten without benefit of cooking. They also gave me a case of shelf stable milk that came in juice box size containers.

I tried to give Sgt. Tag and Pvt. Decker a couple of mangoes but they both said it was against regulations. I guess it is to prevent bribery but it goes against the grain to accept something for nothing. Maybe that is one of the lessons I’m supposed to be learning through all of this, that there are times in life when you must be able to accept help of strangers.

Mostly I’m just learning how vulnerable I am and it is an uncomfortable realization. There was a repeat of the “carpet bombing” a week after the first one. It wasn’t quite so close as the first one but no less traumatizing since a lot of people had convinced themselves that it could only have been a one off event. It was after the second bombing that the PSAs starting being broadcast on the radio. It was almost three days straight of nothing but lessons on how to survive: how to treat water, how to recognize edible wild plants, how to build a shelter, how to determine whether a building was safe to enter, how to find water when there didn’t appear to be any, how to take care of the sick and injured or dying without the benefit of any medical training, etc.

Then on the fourth day the message took an ominous turn that had me sitting down at the kitchen table and just staring at the radio. There was a call for a general evacuation of Tampa. If people had someone they could go to out of the area that was not living in another major metropolitan area they were being encouraged to make the trip. And later that same day came a notice that for people with proof they had family to take them in but no way to get there, a bus service was being set up … seats to be offered by lottery.

I knew right then that someone knew something that I didn’t. The only thing I could think of was nuclear or biological threats. For a while I tried to think about how to get to Bea’s family but then I realized I could get stuck on the road between here and there and be much worse off than if I tried to make a stand of it here. Certainly the horror of the road wouldn’t be made any less so if I was to go into labor with no roof over my head. And I had no idea how much food Bea’s family had or even if they were still in a position to take us in.

The decision was gut-wrenching but I decided to stick it out here. Not knowing what the threat was I had to prepare the best way I could. There wasn’t much lumber left in the barn and I didn’t want to destroy the inside of the house because they wouldn’t make our protection any better and would actually make our living environment worse. I said to heck with what people would think and I went salvaging at the two abandoned houses of our neighbors.

Most of the interior doors at both houses were intact and I was lucky they were solid core doors as well from when they had been in fashion a few years back. I popped them out of their hinges as quick as I could. I could strap five doors at a time to the dolly and brought them back to the patio, door knobs and all. Between the two houses I wound up with a few over thirty doors. Not all of them were the same width but that actually proved helpful.

Next I swiped the hot water tanks. That was a trip. I had to wait until it was dark before I could get them home because I couldn’t lift them over the fence. Nydia was exhausted but refused to leave me so I decided to call it a night after bringing in my garden containers, filling several five gallon buckets with water, and hauling everything inside.

I got Nydia to sleep pretty quickly that night by telling her I wasn’t going outside. But I didn’t just go to bed either. I knew that I was going to have to expand our hiding space on the ground floor and there wasn’t going to be a easy or pretty way to do it. I hated to do it but after thinking about it all day I was going to have to seal off the master bathroom and walk in closets since they were adjacent to the pantry and then somehow cut a hole through the pantry wall to access the area. Instead of going directly into the bathroom I decided to go through the walk in closet that Nydia used to use as her sleeping area. This would save me from compromising any of the pipes in the bathroom and from having to cut through the concrete board that the walls in there were made of.

I spent most of the rest of the night taking measurements and drawing on the walls in chalk outlining what I wanted to do. I was smart enough to hook the recharger for the power drill into the inverter before collapsing. I fell into a dreamless sleep only to wake up to one of those emergency broadcast signals on the radio. I nearly wet myself trying to get up and grab Nydia before I heard, “Had this been an actual emergency …” I nearly threw the cursed radio out of the window before laying my head down and having a cry.

That day was spent sealing the doors into the bathroom and the walk in closet. Before screwing them into their doorframes I moved all of the doors and the two hot water tanks into the closet as well as a bucket full of self-taping nails. If I hadn’t remembered to charge the battery packs I don’t know how I would have managed it in the state I was in. It was hot and close as well as dark.

After screwing the two doors shut I took the doorknobs off moved furniture in front of them so that they weren’t obvious. The dresser and mirror completely covered one of the doors and a bookcase from the family room was used to cover the other one. Then I went upstairs and climbed down into the pantry and the hard work really started.

During a short break where I fed Nydia I counted off what I had accomplished thus far and determined that making a plan is a whole lot easier than executing it, especially when you were on your own. The only comment of interest came from Nydia. “Will Poppy get mad?” I told her no since we were doing it to be safe and that seemed to be that. Honestly I was surprised at her question because she rarely will bring up the subject of Mateo on her own.

On all the walls except those in the bathroom I hung the doors like paneling. The master bathroom was the only room that had an exterior door and it was also the only place we could get any natural lighting. There was a diamond of block glass that acted as the window. I did not want to give up that light until we had to so I took the hinges that I had removed from the salvaged doors several thicknesses of what little plywood I had left and made a “shutter” that I could lift or lower as the need arose.

I knew that the ceilings were already thicker than normal because Mateo had told me that when he moved into the house he hired someone to take care of the squeaky upstairs. They pulled the old floor up, added solid insulation and then nailed down this thick flooring that added another layer of insulation and added sound proofing. I’m still not sure that is going to be enough so I plan on more salvaging. I pray no one stops me for being a looter.

The salvaged hot water tanks have become more water storage; the spigots at the bottom are perfect for draining the water as needed. I moved every bit of our remaining food into the walk-in closets after treating the area with a little borax after I saw a couple of palmetto bugs, otherwise known as Florida’s state bird. Bugs belong outside where things can eat them, not inside where I have to worry about finding them in my bed.

I also stuffed any potential entrances with steel wool brillo pads. I like mice even less than I like Palmetto bugs and that is saying something.

I still feel claustrophobic when Nydia and I are down there but there is no helping that. Even with the solar garden lights I always feel like I’m inside a mausoleum. Ventilation isn’t the best either. I figured out a way to take a floor fan and get it running using the solar charged battery system but if we are forced to hide down there for any length of time I’m not sure how long the batteries will last. When I tried cooking down there … let’s just say it isn’t an experiment I’m eager to repeat for a while yet.

Nydia loves the space. If it didn’t get so hot with the trap door shut she’d stay down there all the time. I guess it makes her feel safe, and honestly that is what I’m doing all of this for. I’ve made it as homey as I can, bringing in all of the valuables I wouldn’t want to lose, books, family pictures and what equipment I don’t use daily. Even enlarging our “hidden” space this much, with everything crammed in there it is hard not to bump into something every time I turn around.

The thicker walls also makes it harder for me to get a good radio signal so to listen to the radio I have to be upstairs or outside of the hidden space. The space is far from perfect and may not mean anything if we have a dirty bomb fall anywhere near the vicinity but at least I’ll be able to stand before God and Mateo and say, “I did the best I could and I never stopped trying.”

Day before yesterday I just sat down and had a short melt down. It wasn’t all because I was tired either. I’m glad that Nydia was playing happily “in our hole in the ground” and didn’t see my reaction to the news that came over the radio.

New York City, more specifically the UN complex, had been targeted with a nuclear bomb. It was then I found out that DC had long been evacuated and our government and top military officials had found their own holes and gotten into them. I can’t begin to imagine the loss of life … both the innocent and the not so innocent. There had been no public speech released by the President. The only information from civilian sources was a brief announcement from the President’s Press Secretary that the President would be releasing a statement shortly … only shortly never arrived. I don’t know what is going on in that arena. It would be nice to know who is steering the ship but it isn’t necessary to my survival at the moment.

I haven’t seen the people from across the street since the radio announcement of NYC getting hit. I don’t know if they are still there but it doesn’t feel like it. I’ve seen other people in the neighborhood leaving by foot, following what is left of the training tracks. The whole city feels like it is dying. I know that is an exaggeration but that is how I feel, the sense that things give me. On the other hand, the fewer people I have to compete with for a limited number of resources the better.

Last night’s bombing episode was a terrifying experience in realizing just how quickly I might find myself standing before Judgment. This time when the emergency broad cast signal sounded it was for real. I was outside bringing in the last of the plants when I heard the radio crackle from the kitchen. That burst of sound is unforgettable. I push the dolly in front of my, slamming the door shut behind me. Then I dropped the roll down door. I was half way up the stairs when I had to stop and grab my stomach. A stitch in my side told me I was in danger of hurting myself or the baby. I got into the hidden bonus room only to find the trap door open and Nydia trying to drag her bedding down the ladder with her. She had been listening to the radio I had left on the TV tray. She hates the emergency broadcast signal.

“Go Baby!” I told her. “Just get down and out of the way. Nonny is going to drop some stuff down.”

“But my dolly!! I can’t find her!”

“Now Nydia!” I told her sharply.

I turned to see the doll half way between her bed and the trap door. I dropped it down with the rest of her bedding and then tossed down the two back packs (1 large and heavy and one light weight and child-sized) I kept ready to go. There wasn’t time for anything else which made me realize if we want to use that space then we need to move what little bit remains out of the upstairs and only have a small basic supply up here.

It was a long night. Sometimes there was no break in the rumbling but I realized too that if the planes continued to fly like that it was unlikely that the nuclear option had been used … this time.

And now I’ve poured it all out yet again and where has it gotten me? The bombs have still fallen, we’re still at war, defending against those who seek to take away our way of life. I still don’t understand why things have to be this way and I’m still alone.

Or am I? It is so easy in the good times to have faith; in the bad times it is all too easy to forget your faith and give up. Mateo and I were watching a show on TV – it feels like forever ago – on the cycles within civilizations. You start at “Freedom” but at some point those enjoying freedom forget its cost and begin to take it for granted. When that happens society slips into a state of apathy. This is even encouraged by some because it allows them to do their deeds without questions. Eventually the society finds itself in bondage, sometimes to foreign powers but just as often to their own home grown tyrants and social debauchery.

Sometimes at that point a society is completely destroyed never to exist again. That is a worrisome thought after the last few days. But there can also be a move into a stage called humility, where they become humbled realizing what was lost and the value of it. From that stage society moves into rejuvenation and revival at which point they begin to experience freedom again.

I hope there is a way for the people in this country to avoid the bondage stage but I’m not sure that I believe that change will truly happen without it. This war … and you might as well add famine and disease as well … is touching us all. But I have a feeling things could be worse, will get worse before they get better.

When rumors of UN troops taking over resource centers and trying to block our own military from accessing them begin to make their way into mainstream media broadcasts you have to step back and come to terms that the world as we knew it may never return, at least not in my lifetime. Sometimes I wonder where Mateo is but not too often. It hurts too much. I caught his scent on a shirt in his closet the other day and it took my breath away. I miss him so much but I’m not ready to deal with the fact that he may never return.

All I can do is all I can do and time is proving that this is a lot that I can do. Later today I’ll go outside and see if the bombing has left anything viable on the trees to ripen. I know there are a few things from the containers that need to be picked. I’ll switch out the trays on the dehydrators, I’ll treat water for us to drink and I’ll try and get a little washing done. That will have to be enough for the rest of the day. Tomorrow, as soon as I make sure there won’t be any troops in the area, I’m going to take Nydia and we are going to see what there is left along our road. I need to have a better idea of what is happening but nine will get you ten I won’t like what I find.