May 5th cont.
Silas and the other Fort survivors had done a lot of work in just three days, most noticeable of which was the wall. A fat, concrete base five feet high rose from what had once been the sidewalk. Metal poles taken from street lights were embedded inside that wide base and railroad ties formed a secondary wall four feet high between them. There were folks with rifles walking along behind the heavy wooden blocks, visible only from the shoulders up.
They’d converted a square brick building that sat on the Fort property’s edge into a gatehouse by knocking out part of its front and back walls. The outer entry consisted of heavy-duty piping formed into a gate that parted in the middle to slide to either side while the back opening was blocked by a U-haul truck with a big square of metal mounted to its backside. The walls butted right up against the brickwork on the outside and the interior had been reinforced with yet more cement. Telephone poles laid on their sides surrounded the flat roof like a partially constructed log home and provided protection to more armed guards.
The parking lot of an auto body shop across the street had been surrounded by high chain link fence topped with barbed wire and a trio of men with rifles directed us to park there. Our Humvee and the van joined a dozen other vehicles in the lot before the three of us walked through the gate. The same trio of guards closed it from the inside.
Molly, Frank and I passed through the gatehouse and into the asphalt courtyard made by the Fort’s L-shape. Food was being passed through the cafeteria’s windows to a long line of survivors in varying levels of fitness.
I noticed the older woman and her shotgun carrying companion from the medical clinic among them and returned the wave she offered. Then Hope nearly tackled me in a fierce hug as her mother and father came up from behind.
Music was playing from a set of speakers perched on an open windowsill and numerous metal barrels had fires burning. The air was filled with the din of conversations; some jovial and others nearly shouting in anger. Plastic patio furniture was scattered about and many of the tables held water coolers with paper cups nearby. All in all the mood was more akin to a neighborhood block party than a gathering of post-apocalyptic survivors.
Jim Pritchered hobbled over with a cane to good-naturedly slap my shoulder. Mary and her boyfriend Lu offered waves from the chow line. Silas came over to thank us for coming. Olora studiously ignored us after Molly flipped her the bird.
Cleo the pagan witch and Jake Brown the former gunstore owner had apparently hooked up, walking hand in hand as they greeted us warmly. I smiled and arched an eyebrow as one of Jake’s arms encircled Cleo’s waist. The blush of embarrassment was worth its weight in gold.
“How’s the van working for you Jaeger?” He asked, mostly to pull attention off himself.
“Pretty good. Got some business to do with you after this is over.” I replied. “You like that Humvee?”
“Love it. Used it just a few days ago to get more stuff from my store as a matter of fact.”
Grinning, I nodded and patted his shoulder. “Good. I got another one and some assorted rifles I’d like to trade. Little surprise for you too.”
“Oh? Sounds like a plan.”
Cleo started to say something but Silas’s voice came booming over a megaphone in a squeal of feedback.
Wincing, he fiddled with the settings and tried again. “Better? Ok. Sorry about that.”
He stepped onto a makeshift podium made of stacked cinderblocks and scanned the crowd. Nearly two hundred living people turned to face him.
“I know some of you are nervous about being out after dark so I wanted to get started. Go ahead and stay in the food line but I’d appreciate everyone’s attention while you wait. We’ll keep serving food for a few more hours so eat your fill.” A pause as he scanned the crowd again, waiting until the last conversations died down and he had everyone’s attention before continuing.
“First of all, thanks for coming out. I realize it’s a big leap for some of you. That’s why I dangled free food out in front of you.” Another pause as sporadic chuckles and gaffs were given in reply.
Holding up his hands, Silas went on with a grin. “Got a few announcements to make before I hand this thing over to Wendy Adams. Over the next few weeks we’re going to be setting up some more chain link fencing around the old Clamshack’s parking lot just down the road. Every Friday from sunrise to sunset we’ll have guards posted down there and a trailer full of charged batteries you can use to recharge stuff for free. I’m hoping we can get a trading post of sorts established. Sorta like a Flea market.”
“Who’s gonna handle disagreements and deal with thieves?” Someone shouted.
Again Silas held up his hands. “Not us. Our security will only be there to watch out for Zoms so everyone can trade in peace. I don’t want to overcomplicate things. If you set up a stand there then you’re going to have to deal with stuff on your own. Our guns will only be pointing outwards unless a group gets uppity and starts shooting people at random.”
He waited then to see if anyone else had another question. Only nods and silence met his gaze.
“Ok. Next thing here is an offer. We’ve got room for another twenty people here at the Fort. If you’re interested, talk to Olora over there after the meeting.” Here he pointed to the Asian woman, who raised her hand and waved a few times.
“That’s all I’ve got for now so without further ado, I present to you Miss Wendy Adams.”
No one clapped as a fifty-something woman with shocking red hair and pale, freckled skin took Silas’s place. She shuffled a few sheets of paper before her and waved off the megaphone.
“Can you hear me in the back? Yes? Ok good. I really don’t want to use that thing.” A soft chuckle paused her speech before she looked down at her notes and began again.
“I am, or was at least, a meteorologist. Silas asked me to do a bit of research on what to expect over the coming months and years. Today’s sunrise confirmed the outlook I provided a few days ago.” Here she paused again, expression serious as she moved on to the next sheet of paper.
“Events such as Yellowstone’s eruption, though rare, have occurred in the past. So I've been able to make some conclusions based on historical evidence from those previous eruptions. I won’t bore you with a history lesson here but I’d be happy to talk more about the subject afterwards.” A deep breath, then she let us have it. “Today’s weather is pretty much the way it will be for the next six to ten years. Only colder and with less rain.”
The bad news hit everyone in the gut, leaving those gathered in stunned silence for a full minute before an eruption of shouts, questions and no small number of mournful cries filled the air.
Wendy stood ramrod straight through it all, weathering angry insults and senseless pleading with a stoic expression. She raised her hands after five minutes and waited for people to settle down before speaking again.
“I know you’re upset. Scared. Angry. I am too and you don’t know how much I wish I had been a plumber or something rather than a meteorologist. I’ve been crying since I told Silas the news. So please, don’t take this out on me. Do you want to know what’s going on and why?”
A few shouted yes. Others turned and started walking towards the gatehouse. Coping mechanisms are funny things.
“The initial period of darkness was caused by heavy particulate matter blown into the upper stratosphere during the eruption. In other words, it was mostly ash and small pieces of matter light enough to drift on winds. Gravity and the recent rains have pulled most of that heavier matter back down to earth, leaving gasses and droplets of sulfuric acid behind.”
A pause as she turned the page.
“So what’s happening now is those fine particles, gasses and other chemical elements are blocking the sun. The red skies are the result of the sun’s light reflecting off the trapped gasses and particles. According to data I’ve been able to find, the Earth’s temperatures will drop dramatically this year and into the next before less drastic decreases occur for the remainder of the volcanic winter.”
“How much colder?” Henry asked from his wheelchair.
“Between fifteen to twenty degrees Ferinheight. Then an additional few degrees over the following years. Somewhere around midway through the overall winter period, temperatures will begin to slowly rise a degree or two.”
More stunned silence, into which Wendy plunged with more bad news. “As dreadful as the temperature drops will be, the loss of rainfall will be nearly as bad. At least fifty percent less globally for the next two to four years.”
A single gunshot rang out from the group’s center, causing people to move away in rippling waves until a body lay slumped in the clearing created. There a woman’s corpse lay, a smoking gun in her hand. A crater had formed in the back of her head where the bullet exited, taking most of her vaporized brain matter with it.
There wasn’t much more to say or do after that. One woman’s suicide had summed up rather nicely what everyone there felt.
We were royally fucked.
Most folks left after the woman shot herself. Those of us that remained were less than festive. Molly and I got into the much shorter chow line until we received a heaping plateful of food, then proceeded to snarf down the grub with vigor. We hadn’t eaten all day. Once we’d eaten, Molly and Frank went back to the vehicles while I said my goodbyes and grabbed Jake Brown.
“Real party killer, aye Jaeger?” He asked as we walked across the street to where Molly waited.
I chuckled and nodded in agreement. “We sorta knew though. I told all of you at the asylum that we were in for a long, cold winter. Doesn’t change much. Lay in more firewood. Stockpile canned food. Grow what we can indoors using artificial light.”
We reached the Humvee a few moments later and Christmas came early for Jake when he spotted the .50 cal.
“Ho-ly shit Jaeger! Where did you…wait. I don’t wanna know.”
“It got busted up pretty bad but I figured you might be able to do something with it. There’s about five hundred rounds left in that ammo box. Plus all those mismatched rifles, their ammunition, and this other Humvee. I’m lookin to trade it all.”
“Well. I want to standardize as much as possible. Figured I’d go with 9 mil since it’s a pretty common caliber. Should be lots laying around. But I want good hardware Jake. Top of the line. Optics too. Five handguns. Five rifles. Spare parts. I’d also like a pair of .22s with silencers and subsonic ammo for sniping zombies.”
He nodded, hands caressing the big gun while his eyes went to a far away happy place. “I don’t really need the rifles you’ve got here. Or the Humvee for that matter. But I’ll take em. Should be able to work something out with Silas in trade for myself. You know what you want doesn’t come close to this stuff’s value, right? I’d like to think we’re friends after all we went through together. I’ve got no desire to take advantage of you in an unfair deal.”
I grinned and patted his back. “Oh I know. There’s something else I want from you. Knowledge.”
It was his turn to arch an eyebrow and give me a curious look.
“I want you to give me a list of what I need to load my own ammunition, then come by a few times and show me how its done.”
“Ah! I’ll do you one better. I’ve got all the equipment back at the shop. I’ll let you have it and the supplies necessary to keep you in good order for a long while. Well, actually let’s consider it a loan. The Fort’s already got reloading tools here so I didn’t see a need to bring my gear. You can borrow the hardware until I need it again some day.”
We shook on it and agreed to a day and time the following week, parting ways as Jake drove his new Humvee into the Fort’s protected courtyard while Molly, Frank and I headed home.