I’d kill a man for a nice piece of salmon right now.
About nine miles outside of Fort Hope, between a cemetery and Wills Pond, lives a man called West. He refused the relocation, preferring instead to live a hermetic lifestyle miles away from what passes for civilization these days. The Ensuring America’s Future Act, which if I remember correctly passed the Senate with a unanimous 13-0 vote, made this sort of thing illegal, but in practice no one who avoids relocation is pressed on it. I’ve never met West myself, but by all accounts he’s a pretty scrappy guy in his late 50s who was quite content living off the grid long before everything went to hell. He’s skilled with his hands, woodworking and metalworking and the like, but until just recently he wanted nothing to do with us. The Fort simply kept tabs on him as a matter of diligence.
Well, old West struck up a bargain with the Fort recently. He’s been running short on certain supplies and doesn’t have gasoline anymore to go looking for them in his truck, so in exchange for those supplies, he’s going to repair a bunch of our equipment, teach a number of classes, fabricate machine parts when we need them. I think it’s a pretty good deal, and I signed up immediately for an electrical course, in part to learn the material, but also because I just want to meet this dude, who sticks it out alone in the wilderness.
My little victory garden has yielded a nice bounty. Sugar snap peas and tomatoes are ready now, and the blueberry bushes aren’t yet picked clean. I took a bunch of the tomatoes over to a friend of mine to have then canned. Canning is going in in earnest now. We’ll get some fall crops and the greenhouses will help out a bit during the winter, but we’ve got to can what we have now. The less that we dive into the food rations the better. Last winter went deep into the negative with the food store, but we’re chalking that up to unpreparedness and don’t expect it to happen this year. The great thing about the victory gardens is that they’re one of the few things that are ours, meaning unrationed. You keep what you grow (minus the credits for the canning effort), and you can trade what you don’t want. I think eventually the capitalist spirit will return here in full force, but I agree that it’s not the best idea just yet.
On another note, I had to refill my scrip for indocin the other day. I’ve been taking one a day instead of the two a day that were recommended. The inventory says I have eight years on two a day, but I’m not taking any chances. If any of it is damaged, or it needs to be prescribed to someone else, that cuts into that eight years. We added a few bottles on a mule run to a CVS a few months back, but there’s no guarantee that this stuff stays fresh. Sky Fortress is supposed to looking into a location for a pharmaceutical plant, but I think something like that is way off given our current state.
There are things I miss about the weekend. Back before everything went to shit, I’d look forward to every Friday afternoon, when we’d finish for the week, head off to get a drink and something to eat, and then go home to enjoy the weekend. New movies came out on Fridays. As I grew older, fewer of them interested me, but it was nice to have that option. Recreation in general was centered around the weekend. Saturday afternoon baseball games. Sunday afternoon football. The bar scene. Plays and concerts. Working on pet projects around the house. Shopping for sales. Trying to jam as much leisure into two days until the work week came around on Monday.
My “weekend” now is Monday and Tuesday. I haven’t yet gotten used to it. Because everyone’s weekends are scattered (can’t possibly let everyone skip out on work for two days when the population is 800), there’s only about 120 people with the same weekend. There’s not a whole lot to do, so a lot of people end up working over those weekends, too, just to fill the time. I’m in a weekend basketball league, if one can call it that – it’s really just 15 guys who play a couple of 3-on-3 games, outside when weather permits, but usually in the gym. This fall we’re talking about a fort-wide flag football league; Chris Calhoun and I are working out the logistics. There are no more new movies. The fort has a huge library of films on disc, but no one gets together to watch them anymore.
This weekend, aside from hoops, I’m planning on weeding my victory garden and volunteering for/training at the hospital. It’s one of the more popular training programs, and it’s also one of the more important ones. I think it’s the responsibility of everyone to make themselves as useful as possible to the Fort. It’s our best shot at survival.
Today we went muling. That’s what we call it when we leave the Fort for a supply run. Because you end up carrying stuff on your back like a mule. The way it works is this: you go to a supply building and you talk to one of the quartermasters about something you want. If you have enough credit, and they have the item, they give it to you. If they don’t have the item, you can put in a request for it. The requests from our Fort and all of the other enclaves are uploaded into a big database, and most everybody has teams that go out muling to fulfill those requests. It can take a while. There’s still stuff that was requested during the first month here that is marked as “in transit” but hasn’t shown up here yet. It’s like a really slow version of UPS without any package tracking. You just have to hope that it’s on its way somehow.
We usually cover a particular street or a row of houses in a neighborhood. This is often some nasty business. When people die as quickly as they did, you run out of living people to take care of the dead. The federal disaster organizations gave up trying, leaving it to the locals, who gave up trying themselves in the later days. So it’s not uncommon to find dead bodies in various states, depending on how well-sealed their house was and which animals were able to get inside. Animals are always a concern, whether it’s rabid packs of dogs or rodent infestations, the two major sources of fun from the animal kingdom these days. And the houses *always* smell. It doesn’t matter if the windows have been left open since long before the relocation. There’s always something rotting, or something left behind.
Today was different, though, because we hit up a strip mall. Strip malls are mostly empty, because most people got too sick to die at work. The quote-unquote good stuff was looted long ago by people who didn’t know better and took things like watches and jewelry and left behind the stuff that would be useful.
This place was called the Watertower Plaza, but I didn’t see any water towers anywhere nearby. It was anchored, if you can consider a mini-mall to have anchor stores, by an office supply store, a supermarket, and a bookstore. We split into four person teams and took our assignments. My team got the slightly-upscale dollar store (everything was five dollars or less). It yielded nothing of significant value – some pocket flashlights, cheap toolsets, decks of cards, things like that. I did convince our team leader to grab all of the pool noodles and an entire bin of sports balls. Most of the other teams came up empty as well, taking a general inventory of what was available if a return trip was required. The supermarket yielded several thousand cans of food (and stunk to high heaven, from reports). The bookstore had suffered some sort of flood and books on the bottom two shelves were completely ruined, but all of the reference shelves were taken along with the fiction classics. The office supply store had cases and cases of useful stuff, but the big surprise was an indie pool supply store that had leased out a pretty small space between Lane Bryant and the salon. Aside from some solid chemicals, hoses, and water testing equipment, this guy had a ton of stuff squirreled away in the back that didn’t have anything to do with his business – rifles, a shortwave radio, cases of bottled water. Looks like he was expecting to survive the plague and that’s where he was storing his loot. He either lasted to the end or no one bothered to try looting the pool supply store, because there it all was, just sitting there. A lot of this stuff is useless – what are we going to use a shortwave radio for? – but a lot of it will come in handy.
The pet store was a complete disaster – dead birds, dead fish, dead reptiles, rotted food, shit everywhere. Ellen threw up and had to leave the place. It was marked as an important spot to return to, given the current state of the kennel, but no one was willing to help load stuff after what they saw in there.
The monthly caravan arrived from Sherwood Forest this weekend with a flatbed full of lumber, several hundred pounds of venison, and a ton of blueberries. Going the other way: salt, gasoline, glass panels, a refrigeration unit, and a big turbine for Niagara Station. It was hotter than hell this weekend but at least we had a breeze coming off the ocean. Up in Sherwood it was close to 100 degrees. Most of the folks kept in the shade or jumped in the lake. The Sherwood guys monopolized the golf course on Sunday. I didn’t have a tee time – I never seem to have one when they’re in town – but I did have a drink with Tim Keating. He said that the deer population has risen notably, but dog packs are still a problem, so they have to be very careful when they hunt. They also had an incident with a bear. It ended poorly for the bear and no one else, but they had to reinforce the fencing. Not sure why a bear would bother wandering into a populated area when there should be plenty of food in the wilderness.
It’s been one year since I moved to Fort Hope. Stuffed everything worth taking into a truck and headed East, towards the ocean and the promise of a new beginning. Brad Morse followed me in his truck. Later on we found out that Janet Calcaterra was from town, too. That made three, and in a town our size, three was a statistical anomaly. Hell, one was almost a statistical anomaly.
Everyone else was dead.
We started at Fort Hope with 881. Eleven died. Three arrived. Four were born. That’s 877. Sherwood Forest has less than half that. That’s what’s left of us. 1200 souls and 72,000 square miles of wilderness, farmland, decaying suburban sprawl, and cities filled with the dead.
They shot a dog today.