Total Survivalist Blog: advertisers

Today I am pleased to bring you a chapter from

Stacey’s Quest

to sample for free.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

-Chapter Eight-

    Stacey awoke the next morning before the sun, sticking her arm out of the covers to explore the day. It was cold and damp, but not as bad as she had endured previously. The window was definitely dark, and she questioned if it was middle of the night or early morning. Her bladder told her that it must be morning, and outside she heard the continuing, soft patter of the rain. To be sure, she went to the window to check.

    A little light came through the clouds, making her figure that morning was imminent, and she could see that the snow was nearly gone, with only a few small drifts remaining where they had been impassable even the day before.

    The question was going back to bed or leaving her room. After the contentious interactions with her family the past days, she really didn’t want to be around her mother or grandmother. But she did want to be around Erica, stuck on the couch, or even Robert. Finally, compromise was the order of the day, so she silently slipped out of her room across to his. Peering down the hall, there was no light or sound, so the others must still be asleep.

    “Robert, are you awake?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Did you sleep last night?”

    “Not very good. What’s wrong with mom and grandma?”

    “I don’t know, maybe they’re just upset by this more than us.”

    “How can they get that old and be so unprepared for a little inconvenience?”

    “It’s more than a little inconvenience, it could be that our whole world has changed.”

    “Do you really think so?”

    “Do you really think things are just going back to normal?”

    Silence.

    “I don’t know, either, Robert. I don’t know what is happening, but I’ve stopped believing that everything is just going to be like it was before. We have to be ready to face the unknown, just in case it doesn’t.”

    “What do you mean by that?”

    “I don’t know, that’s what bothers me the most. I don’t know what I might have to do.”

    A little more light came in his window, so it was definitely morning now, and somebody had just gone out the back door.

    “We better get up, Robert.”

    “Yeah, I have to go.”

    At least now she had protection from being double teamed by her mother and grandmother, and the siblings walked down the hall together. Only Erica was there, on the couch, wrapped in a blanket. Stacey reached out for her hand, finding it cold.

    “Good morning, Erica. How did you sleep?”

    “Not very good, it was cold after the fire went down.”

    “Why didn’t you come in my room?”

    Erica looked around. “I didn’t want to upset your grandmother, she doesn’t want me here.”

    “Did she say that?”

    “She and your mother talked down there. They know that there is not enough of anything for you guys, let alone with me here, and they are worried about taking care of you first. I thought about sneaking out during the night and going to the church.”

    Stacey squeezed her hand. “Don’t, because then I would have to go out alone to find you and something might happen to me. You wouldn’t want that on your conscience, now would you?”

    “No.”

    “Go in my room, the bed is probably still warm and you can get some more sleep.”

    “Thanks.”

    They heard the sound of the back door.

    “Hurry, before they get back.”

    Erica took her blanket with her.

    “Good morning, mom, grandma.”

    “Good morning. Stacey, why don’t you put some water on the fire to make coffee. We might as well have drinks even if we don’t have food. The pitcher is full, on the table. Robert, you can build the fire.”

    “Okay, mom.”

    By the time she returned with the pan of water, Robert had a small fire burning,  waiting until a sizable area of hot flame before setting the pan on it.

    “Where is your friend?” Grandmother asked.

    “She was cold, so I told her to go lay in my bed.”

    Mother and grandmother looked at each other, saying nothing, so they all sat in silence until the water steamed, then each took a cup of hot water. The two older women added coffee.

    Grandmother spoke after her first sip. “It is barely raining out now, and the sky looks like it will clear today. I want us to go to the church and for you to place those letters before people return.”

    “Yes, grandma.”

    “And your friend will go with us.”

    “She is coming back here, though. I won’t abandon her at a shelter.”

    Her mother and grandmother looked at each other.

    “Erica doesn’t know what happened to her family, or if they are ever coming back. I won’t abandon her.”

    “We’ll see, Stacey. We don’t have enough food or anything, they will supply the shelters first before they start to bring things to people’s houses, so she would actually be a lot better off there.” Her mother quietly said.

    “Then maybe we should all go there together.”

    “We talked about that last night, and it is a distinct possibility that we might do that. For now, you and Erica go with your grandmother and do the things that you said you would do. We will discuss the rest later.”

    “All right, I’ll do it.”

    “What about me?” Robert asked.

    “You’ll stay here with me and Tootie to keep house.”   

    “Okay.”

    Stacey couldn’t decide whether his tone of voice was relief or disappointment.

    “Maybe there will be supply trucks there already so you can bring us food, I don’t think there is anything left in the house except for a cake mix.” Her mother really did sound optimistic.

    “Let’s hope so, mom.”

    “Yes, it is about time they got to work. I’m surprised that the police weren’t by yesterday to check on houses. I’m sure that they are out rounding up the ruffians that come from the woodwork every time there is a little crisis.”

    “Yes, grandma.”

    “Well, the rain is almost stopped, shouldn’t you be getting ready to go? Mom, I’ll get you a raincoat so you don’t get a chill. Stacey, you should get Erica up so that she is ready.”

    “Thank you, Heather.”

    “Yes, mom.”

    Erica was already asleep, so Stacey gently lifted off the top blanket to try to find clothes and her raincoat in the dim light without waking her.

    “What’s going on, Stac?”

    “We’re going to the church so that I can repent for my sins.”

    “Oh.”

    “You’re going, too. All my clothes are on top of you, so get yourself up and you might as well change.”

    “Okay.”

    With Erica up, they pulled the blanket off to look at her clothes.

    “You’ve got lots of cool stuff, Stacey.”

    “Yeah, lots of stuff, but not much practical for a walk on a cold, wet day like today.”

    Erica held up a clear plastic, hooded poncho with printed, bright flowers on it. “This is nice, can I use it?”

    Stacey hadn’t seen that for years, it was from when she was about twelve. “Sure, Erica, if you want.”

    “Oh, thanks.”

    Layers ended up being the order of the day. After a complete change of clothes, the two girls emerged from the bedroom ready to go.

    Her grandmother had on an ill fitting, long raincoat of her father’s, but it would do the job nicely.

    It wasn’t such a dark day after all when they stepped out of the house. There was still mist in the air, no real rain, with the temperature probably close to fifty, and the clouds looked like they were breaking up. Under other circumstances, it could be a fun break from winter weather, almost what her father might call ‘Indian Summer’, though she wasn’t quite sure what that meant.

    Grandmother had to use her cane, walking slower than each girl liked, so they quietly walked on either side of her, matching pace, also ready to catch her should she slip or try to fall.

    Stacey held the letters of apology and dutifully carried one up to each of the two neighboring houses she had entered, placing the envelopes, which also held the checks for damages, inside the screen doors. A glance at McCaffery’s house caused her to momentarily reflect if a prayer might be more appropriate there.

    Then they turned left at the street toward the church and her grandmother’s house.

    It really was nice to be out, even on this gloomy day, and under other circumstances, Stacey and Erica might have been running, laughing, and kicking in puddles. Now, the dreary day, combined with the grave mood of her grandmother, made for a somber procession. That plus the snail’s pace that they went, every step slowly calculated to match to old woman’s.

    To the next corner, bypassing the closest path so that she could leave the last letter. All along the way, seeing not a sign of other people in the houses or on the street. After coming back from her deposit, Stacey looked hard further down for anyone. Far down, she thought there was movement in front of a house more than a block away, but wasn’t sure.

    They backtracked a little to Henderson Avenue, where they could see the steeple in the distance. Under normal circumstances, this was a five minute walk. It took them at least a half hour.

    Earlier in the year, on Easter, her family had accompanied her grandmother to church. That was a beautiful spring day, with the grass green, flowers in bloom, birds singing and bees flying from flower to flower to catch the nectar. She had not paid attention to the goings on, wearing her bright, new, spring dress and catching the beauty of the new season.

    Now, on this wet, autumn day, when free conversation with her friend was not possible, she studied grandma. The old woman walked steadily on, step after step, but her face told of the pain that every step brought. She carefully and deliberately placed the cane with her right hand to alleviate her hip pain somewhat, and Stacey tried to watch from her expression which side it was.

    Grandmother’s lips seemed to be moving, too, and even though she tried not to stare, Stacey couldn’t help focusing on them. Her eyes stayed straight forward anyway, so it probably didn’t matter.

    After a while, as they stepped up the curb after crossing a street, little whispers came out from slightly labored breathing. Her grandmother was saying the rosary.

    A wave of feelings swept through Stacey. In the past, she had never really thought about who her grandmother was, always this old lady who seemed harsh most of the time, and who would reward her with money and things if she made the request with the proper, humble attitude. And always very conscious about how things might appear, because the political implications of a bad story or bad press could be ruinous. Most important was to think about how the future opportunity could be affected by every decision.

    So here she was, obviously in pain, doing something well beyond what she should be doing, for Stacey’s sake, assuaging her pain by saying the rosary.    

    They came to another street, the church nearby.

    Stacey did what she realized she should have done when they left the house, taking her grandmother’s elbow to help her with the step. “Let me help you, grandma. Your cane might slip, why don’t you hold onto my elbow instead?”

    Grandmother took the elbow, hanging the cane on her wrist for safekeeping. “Thank you.”

    Despite her earlier feelings about both of her elders and the situation, her grandmother’s grip brought a good feeling to her now and she smiled. They walked the rest of the short distance arm in arm, then up the steps of the church.   

    “The shelter is in the basement.” Erica said. “The entrance is around to the side.”

    “I know that, I just want to go in to make an offering since I missed on Sunday.”

    They continued up the steps, through the heavy door, and once inside, her grandmother let go of the elbow to use her cane as she strolled up the aisle.

    Stacey never liked church, and now found it most intimidating. The great, stone columns and ornate altar reminded her of something Gothic, Middle Ages. Even more now, with the only light that which entered through the stained glass windows, and the chilling cold inside, it was more intimidating than usual. She stood just inside the doorway watching her grandmother, the only person in the great church, slowly go to the front, genuflect, then turn to the left to walk along in front of the benches.

    “We should go up with her.” Erica whispered.

    “Why?” Stacey feared something.

    “It’s the right thing to do.”

    “Why?” She really didn’t want to enter the cavernous chamber.

    Erica pulled at her sleeve. “Just because, come on.”

    Hesitantly, Stacey followed her lead, walking slightly behind her friend. At the front of the church, before the altar, Erica genuflected and crossed herself. Stacey followed suit, then they walked to the side, where her grandmother stood in front of a stand that was supposed to hold many candles, but was empty. They passed right under the imposing statue of Saint Gabriel, whose intimidating gaze and large staff now frightened Stacey, who gripped Erica’s arm.

    Grandmother knelt in front of the candle stand, and as they approached, they could hear her pray quietly, too soft to understand the words. They knelt to her right.

    The thought of McCafferys again crossed Stacey’s mind, and she silently asked for Saint Gabriel to look after them, especially the children. Just for an instant, the idea flashed that perhaps they had seen the future, and whether their demise might have been intentional. She shook her head to cast the thought away.

    Finally grandmother stood, reaching to grasp Erica’s shoulder to help herself up. “I left an offering, but there were no candles to light.”

    Erica gripped her hand. “I’m sure it’s all right.”

    Grandmother smiled at her, Stacey was dumbfounded.

    “Are you coming, child?”

    Silently, Stacey stood to walk beside her grandmother, now holding Erica’s arm in lieu of using the cane. At the back of the church, before opening the door, she turned and genuflected while crossing herself, waiting for the girls to do the same before rising.

    Down the steps and around to the side to the door that led to the basement, both girls held her elbows on these steeper stairs.

    Candles lit the massive room, as large as the church above it, with pillars set regularly for strength. Even though it was dreary outside, and more so in the church above, the lighting here was so dim that they could barely recognize individuals from the moving mass.

    There were other things about it that gave Stacey instant revulsion. The air had heaviness to it, musty, even more damp than the mist through which they walked. And, as Erica had described, a foul odor permeated it, a mix of body odor, human waste, maybe something bad cooking, and something that she couldn’t identify.

    Plus the sound, not voices, but a low, heavy, mournful rumble, a mixture of wet coughing, heavy breathing, and quiet, depressing utterances not like a conversation, more like a low, chanted, mournful prayer.

    It was a little bit warmer than the outside, though with the heavy atmosphere, outside seemed much more comfortable.

    Stacey wanted to run away immediately, and maybe cry. Her grandmother led them on.

    Inside now, as her eyes adjusted to the dim candle light, was even more depressing. People mostly sat arm to arm without room to lie down in many places, and in others, a person would be supine, often with someone sitting, holding their head off the floor. Most did not have blankets. Some tables stood, mostly with people laying on them as well.

    “Where is Father Frank?” Her grandmother asked an older lady sitting with her back to a pillar.

    “Oh, Naomi, are you all right? He is in the kitchen.”

    “I’m fine, Elizabeth. Thank you.”

    “Are you coming here to stay?”   

    “No, just to see Father Frank.” She turned away before any other questions could be asked.

    They carefully stepped between the bodies, many slumped over, who Stacey hoped were sleeping. Occasionally in the darkness, they would step on a finger or kick an outstretched leg, which only seemed to bring the response of withdrawing the offending extremity.

    At the far end of the basement was a serving counter and her grandmother led them through a swinging door at the end. More candles lit the inside of this room, which revealed itself as a kitchen. In the middle, a large blue flame heated a pot stirred by a woman using a long, wooden spoon. They didn’t hesitate to study the situation, walking past to where a small group stood in the back corner.

    “Naomi, are you well?” The young priest stepped toward them to shake her grandmother’s hand.

    “Thank you, Father, yes, I am well. We came here to the church to see if we could provide any assistance.”

    Stacey frowned, turning to her grandmother.

    “Thank you, we are having a difficult time, as you can see. Yesterday, people started with this cough, which you can tell now has spread completely through the flock. We isolated the worse cases in the classrooms, but I fear for them.”

    “I see that you have food.”

    “The men are going out to enter private homes for food, we are not finding sufficient. The local store is completely pilfered. What you see cooking is dry dog food with some vegetables and meat, which will provide one small, midday meal for the people.”

    “Have you heard of what is happening and why no one comes to assist us?”

    “Not a word, Naomi, not a word. When I saw you, I first had hopes that you might know something.”

    “No, Father, nor have I heard about why we don’t get help. I assumed that it was just because of the storm, but after the weather cleared the lack of response is inexcusable.”

    “I don’t know how much longer we will be able to go on. Four people have died here, two early on from exposure that we could not save, and two from illness since then. Many are ill, and diarrhea is spreading faster than the cough. We desperately need help.”

    She reached out to take his hand. “I have nothing to provide, Father, but tell the men to go to my house and freely take anything that they can use.”

    “Thank you, Naomi. Now, you should depart before you catch something as well.”

    “Is there anything else I can do?”

    “No, just pray for all of us.”

    Grandmother turned out of the kitchen.

    Stacey looked at the boiling cauldron, seeing pieces of dark meat coming to the top and wondering just what it was.

    They slowly made their way through the crowd, grandmother seemingly oblivious and Stacey very conscious of the foul air and ominous coughing that surrounded them. She reached up to lift her shirt collar over her nose and mouth to breathe through.

    The outside couldn’t come fast enough, and she wanted to run up the stairs, pulling her grandmother as fast as she could go.

    “Stacey, I think you are forgiven. This doesn’t give you the right to go breaking willey nilley into people’s personal property, but under the circumstances, I think that your actions were permissible.”

    “Thank you, grandma.”   

    She stopped. “Don’t thank me for sanctioning your actions, I still disapprove. After seeing the suffering downstairs and hearing the words of Father Frank, I just think that your infractions are forgiven. That does not mean that they are acceptable, only forgiven.”

    Stacey really could not understand the difference. “Yes, grandma.”

    She turned to Erica. “And you, child, shall stay with us. There is already sufficient suffering down there, it would be wrong of us to add more burden to their already overtaxed load.”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “Where are the authorities? Why don’t they do something to help us?”

    “I don’t know, grandma.”

    She just shook her head.

    Even more slowly than before, they walked their return trip. The mist had completely stopped, and now the clouds began to break up, letting rays of sunshine through here and there to bathe the ground.

    But if the atmosphere lightened, her grandmother’s spirit seemed to deflate. The woman took each step as though it was a burden to go on, and her praying was louder, audible, with each Hail Mary understandable, especially the words ending in s and th,  making it sound like she made hisses at them as they walked.

    She also made no effort to use her cane, locking arms with a girl on either side of herself.

    As they passed the first block, her praying stopped and she seemed to be carrying on a conversation with herself.

    “Stacey.”

    “Yes, grandma.”

    “When we get up here, I want you to go into my house and see if there is any food which we can use. I had a few things in the freezer and I offered everything to Father Frank, but I don’t think it would be wrong for us to keep some for ourselves.”

    “Yes, grandma.”

    “Please get my jewelry case, too. It has all the things that your grandfather gave me and many of them are quite valuable.”

    “Yes, grandma.”

    “Erica, you can help her. Everything else we will leave for the church.”   

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    It really was turning into a magnificent day, and moving clouds allowed a warm sunbeam to bathe them as it passed by. The sidewalk was dry except for a few standing puddles, and Stacey wished it was a sign of spring, knowing that it was a temporary respite from a winter that had not even yet arrived. Even her grandmother’s step seemed to lighten with the sunbeam.

    They crossed the next street to turn to the house, when her grandmother pulled them to a sudden halt.   

    “Oh, no.”

    Stacey changed her focus from her grandmother to ahead, up the street. Two men could be seen coming out of her grandmother’s house, carrying things to put in a shopping cart on the sidewalk.

    “My things, they’re taking my things.” She released the girls and started to step ahead.

    Stacey grabbed her arm. “Grandma, no.”

    “They’re taking my things, after I gave them to the church, they’re taking my things.”

    The men paid them no heed as one carried out the jewelry case, dumping it onto the growing pile in the cart.

    “My jewelry.”

    “No, grandma, stop.”

    The older woman could not pull herself away from the two girls, so they  just stood there watching.    

    Stacey’s mind raced, trying to decide what they should do. She reached to her pocket, for the first time today realizing that she wore the raincoat and not the now-dirty white jacket containing the pistol. Against the two big men, the girls and her grandmother were helpless, and could only be hurt if they tried to defend her property.

    She also thought back to what Mathias had said. Use the gun to defend herself, for personal protection. There were only three shots, no more. When those were gone, it was just a rock. Only use it at close range where a hit was assured, and don’t use it without a determination to kill. This situation met none of those criteria and now it was up to her to keep it that way.

    “Grandma, we need to go.”

    “But they took my jewelry, they’re taking all my things. Where are the police? How can they let this happen? Where is my security company? Why don’t they call the police to protect my house?”

    “Grandma, nothing works now, there is no phone and I don’t have any idea where the police are.”

    “Hey, get away from my things.” She yelled, trying to take another step toward her house.

    Stacey and Erica held her back. “Grandma, no. We have to leave.”

    One of the men took notice and stepped toward them. Fear momentarily went through Stacey’s mind of the last attack, and she didn’t think that a Mathias would come to protect them now.

    He stopped after the first step to throw something toward them, which landed far short and proved to be one of her grandmother’s broaches. “Get out of here.”

    Stacey stepped up a few feet to collect the broach, which opened to show a much younger picture of her grandmother and grandfather.

    Grandmother just stood there, watching, as Stacey again took her arm.

    The other man came by and grabbed the first one’s arm as he prepared to throw something else, which he then dropped onto the load, their words inaudible. The two went back into the house.

    Her grandmother quietly sobbed, taking the broach and clutching it in her fist. “I shouldn’t have wanted to keep any of it after I gave it away. Now no one gets it.”

    “Come on, grandma, let’s go.”

    Slowly they turned back down the street and then onto Henderson again. Much more slowly than before, with her grandmother leaning heavily on both of them now, clutching the broach and sobbing.

    More clouds cleared as the sky became mostly sunny, with the chasing sunbeams becoming chasing cloud shadows, and warmer, comfortable. Under different circumstances, a glorious break.

    Not for them, they plodded on.

    On the horizon, a black smoke plume rose in the far distance. Stacey thought about the fire on the first day and stopped to look around. Off toward the mall rose another smoke plume, this one with a wide base of black, gray and white smoke. There were others, too, in different directions.

    “What’s wrong, Stacey?” Erica asked.

    “Look around.”     “What is it?”

    “Fires, the city is burning.”

    “Why are there so many?”

    “I don’t know. That big one might be the same one we saw the when we walked from the mall. The others I don’t know.”

    “Why are there so many?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “They’re burning the dead.” Grandmother said.

    “What?”     “They might be burning the dead. If they don’t dispose of the bodies soon after they die, it can spread disease. They might be burning the dead.”

    They studied again, seeing others far in the distance, discovering more every time they looked. The nearest to them appeared to be only blocks away.

    “Where’s the fire department?” Erica asked.

    “They’re not working, just like everyone else.” Grandmother said quietly. “Nothing is functioning, the savages are taking over.”

    “What, grandma?”     “The savage beast in all of us. As soon as you lose the structure and restraining force of a civilized society, the savages come out. That’s why you broke into those houses, you wouldn’t normally do that, would you?”

    “No.”

    “No, normally you would be restrained by the laws of society, and if not that, by the threat of incarceration, and if not that, by the police themselves, who would catch you, and the judicial system, which would punish you for your crime. That is how a civilized society works.

    “All my life, I have worked to build and support a civilized society where all people are treated well and equally, and our system of rules maintains order. We worked to protect the weakest from the stronger, and share the wealth from the greediest to the less fortunate. All my life.”

    She shook her head, her voice becoming distant, shaky. “I fear that it is all coming apart now. Without the bounds of strong government enforcement, the natural inclination of mankind is for the strong to prey upon the weak. All my life I worked to forestall this day, and I don’t even know why it is happening.”

    “Grandma, don’t you think they will get control again?”

    She held out her hand in a sweeping circle, her voice even softer. “Look out there, the city is burning. People are looting and probably killing. The weak are preyed upon by the strong. Those men knew that we were no threat to them, they laughed at us.     “In another time, in my life time, they would have been severely punished for just showing me disrespect. Now, they take my things and laugh at me while they do it.”

    She held out the broach. “They mock me by throwing Manny’s picture at me.”

    Stacey thought she would just fall down there, wondering to herself how they could get her home if she gave up. Fortunately, her grandmother started walking toward their home, the girls taking her arms to assist her. Stacey felt her pocket for the gun.

    The weak were preyed upon by the strong, and all of them certainly qualified as the weak. Those boys hadn’t even threatened them with the gun, they didn’t have to. The girls outnumbered them, and that didn’t matter, they just folded at the threat of force.

    The strong preyed upon the weak. She was small, Erica even smaller. Robert was no force to contend with, she could still beat him up.

    The weak were preyed upon by the strong. She swore to herself that never again would she be a victim. Those men laughed at her weakness. Her grandmother slunk away in defeat to let those men pillage her house at will, her whole life, helpless. Her grandmother, once almost a matriarch of city politics, a powerful force to be contended with.

    The strong preyed upon the weak. Mathias was old, those boys could have easily killed him with their bare hands, but he showed strength by his actions. He showed confidence to take on three of them alone, with a shovel.

    She didn’t go to church much, but she remember a story from one of the times that she did go that absolutely fascinated her, the story of Sampson. In the story, Sampson defeated an army with the jawbone of an ass. At the time, she had no idea that was a donkey, her picture was much different and she asked grandmother about it after the service. Grandmother had laughed at her terminology, explaining to her that he used the jawbone of a horse to kill (smite was the word she used) his enemies. Stacey remembered this.

    With his weapon, he defeated an enemy much stronger than himself. The weapon made him strong, the weapon equalized him to them. Sampson didn’t defeat them, the jawbone did.

    Grandmother was defeated. Everything she had lived for and done lay in the past. She depended on the services of others to take care of and protect her, and now they failed her. She believed in the party and the system, and they also failed her. Stacey looked upon her grandmother with pity, gripping tighter onto her arm.

    At that moment, she swore an oath to herself, never again would she be weak, never again would she lay her fate to the mercy of others. Henceforth, she would be strong and take care of herself, so that others weaker than herself would turn to her for protection. Never again would she not carry that gun.

Follow the link to read the rest of Stacey’s Quest