(These chapters had no editing. Sorry, but they were deleted.)
“You don’t know who to call even if you fix it. “Johnathan Harmon, M.D. flinched at the sound of his wife’s voice echoing loudly across the dim, carpet-less living room and he put a hand to his chest, trying to get his breath back.
“Sorry.“ Sounding anything but. He smiled at her, thinking she’d finally gained a little weight in the month they’d spent hiding in their home together, was probably half his 240, with hair still mostly brown instead of his salt and pepper. She looked good for 58. He hadn’t been as lucky, looked rough for being the same age.
“You did that a’purpose. “ He accused with a grin in his voice, and Anne nodded, brown eyes twinkling above fine age lines as she set the large blue quilt she was knitting on the recliner’s matching brown end table.
“Had to. You look so sad. “John nodded, turning back to the only window in their large, two story farmhouse that wasn’t covered in layers of thick plastic and he took off his glasses and laid them on the cord he really didn’t know how to repair, aged blue eyes frowning at the discovery channel special going on in their muddy front yard.
Their neighbor’s dog had collapsed and died near the barn yesterday, the Collie’s beautiful coat bloody from what was probably a gunshot, and the carcass was now a carpet of swarming, mutated ants, their bloated bodies twitching with effort and obvious communication as they struggled to move the rotting food.
Backdropped by a view of the rocky mountains that was now hazy from the layer of grit in the darkening sky, the foraging ants were the size of a quarter, the biggest he had seen around here, their bodies constantly changing from all the radiation and chemicals they were getting from the carrion. All nests were getting regular doses of contaminated miracle-grow and he hated to see what it was doing to the snakes and spiders. Once nature finished cleaning up, leaving only bones, these predator’s would move onto other food sources, like people, and though only time would tell, he was sure their bites would be poison. Radiation sickness would just be the next in a long line of dangerous viruses to mutate but it would make tuberculosis and bird flu seem harmless.
His eyes went over rangeland covered in prairie grass that was permanently bent from the winds onslaught, fields ready for a planting season that would never come, sickly looking choke berry bushes. Everything had changed. It had been 38 years since they were in the army, medic’s at the same mash unit in vietnam, and now he had to remember what had kept him alive then so they could use it now.
“We need to pack up and go, dear heart. The weather’s not as bad now that almost two months have passed. We’ve cleaned out the reserves we had.“ He set his glasses on the broken radio, not looking at her but sure he’d caught her off guard. He didn’t know yet where they would end up, or if they would even be able to make the trip. It definitely wouldn’t be a blow off. He only knew their hometown of Rawlins, the place they had both been born, was no longer safe, and even if it was, the temperatures were still falling, were below freezing right now. They couldn’t stay here much longer or they’d stay forever.
The lonely echo of his wife’s shoes on the bare wood floor as she moved toward him had John wondering what it sounded like as it floated down to the dark, flooded tunnels of their barricaded basement. Was it a dinner bell to those open Darkways and everything that might now be calling that nasty area home? They heard noises sometimes, never sure if it was the moment they would have to defend themselves. They never went down there, didn’t take down the boards he’d sealed it up with, only hammered the nails back in regularly, but they did occasionally tense and look that way, and he was glad she knew how to use both the shotgun and the rifle he kept by her chair. Not that firearms would be very effective against sewer rats.
“But why, John? We get along here.”
“Because we’ve seen no signs of anyone coming to save us. We have to do for ourselves. And, because of the basement.”
“Scratch..sniff. Sniff.” As if to prove his point, they heard the curious, hungry rodents clearly. The grates at the other end of their treeless grazing land kept out the bigger problems but the rat populations had come in by the hundreds after the war and they’d sealed off the unused parts of their one story, 2 bedroom farmhouse. The rodents were big, much too wide to get under the floors but their pups wouldn’t be and John expected to start seeing them in big numbers soon, considering they could have a litter a month.
“Where would we go? Other than those men with the guns, we ain’t seen a healthy person in nigh on two weeks.” John forced his hand away from his aching stomach, sad blue eyes still on the yard, vaguely wishing the dusk sun would finish setting and hide the view so she didn’t see it and get upset.
“Johnnie?” The thought of leaving their home had not occurred to her, was scary, and though he felt it too, it wasn’t strong enough to get him to change his mind. She had to see things his way this time. Her life depended on it.
“To NORAD, for starters. We’ll surrender to the Draft.” The graying sawbones said firmly, almost sure they’d find little at the Colorado complex. That world had moved on.
“What if it’s all like here, or worse? “She asked, referring to the dead pets, dead police, dead crops, and of course, dead friends and neighbors they had known all their lives. The horrors were still fresh for her, especially the memory of passing the neighbor's wrecked truck on the two lane, dirt road to their farm, both doors open, bullet holes in the windshield as they flew passed, returning from their burning office to avoid the panic gripping their town, their country. She’d wanted to stop but there hadn’t been a reason to. The elderly couple was dead, their brains leaking onto the road.
“We’ll have to do some searching. Other healthy survivors are out there. I know it doesn’t seem that way when you look out the window but there are. We just have to find them. “
“But, we’re old, they won’t want us. Shouldn’t we just stay here?“ It broke his heart to tell her no but he did. Had to.
“That, my dear Anne, is exactly what most people will do, and they’ll die. What the weather and disease don’t take, the gangs and starvation will. All these threats are lessened when humanity comes together. Despite its flaws, humankind is not better off without society.” He looked into her frightened brown eyes and when she leaned toward him, tan slacks rustling, he gently surrounded her with his strong arms, hoping she wouldn’t notice his racing pulse.
“You’re a Nurse, I’m a Doctor. It’s wrong of us to hide and deny them our help. They need us more now than ever. “ He kissed her wrinkled forehead, smile at her. “Our age won’t matter, except to make us more valuable because of all our experience. “ He played his trump card without guilt, knowing her inability to catch pregnant,(which he believed to be his fault) would keep her from arguing more. Suddenly sorry he’d never talked to her about adopting, John ignored the pain in his gut, looked at her with doubtless blue eyes.
“There’s a lot of kids out there too, Anna, kids that are alone and hurting. They need us. Trust me, my Anna, I do this for you.“
“I do, Johnnie. You know that. I always have. “ He nodded, gritting his teeth against a wave of pain deep in his guts.
“Good. We’ll leave this week.” She pulled herself together, turning her head, and John tensed, expecting a bad reaction as her eyes lingered on the cloudy, gruesome scene outside. She shuddered and he opened his mouth to comfort her.
“I never did like that damn dog. Barked too much. “ Anna went back to her knitting, leaving him with a shocked look on his lightly bearded face and a smile in his heart. Even after all these years, she was still capable of surprising him, and he was happier than he could say that they had survived the actual war together. There was no one he’d rather be with.
A while later, John was still at the window, big ants,(and their dinner) gone, the freezing rain returning for yet another round. His mind was still on his wife of 37 years, on the half truths he had told her. He never lied but often left things out and this time it was something huge. He would tell her soon, though. She had a right to know that this next year together would probably be the last. John sighed. He had to get her to some kind of safety and he had to do it now, knew she would refuse to go if he told her why they were really leaving.
Movement in the dimness caught his eye, mostly because they saw so little of it now, and he froze, watching a shadow slip across their driveway, staying to the long line of dying bushes around the edge of the long porch. They had seen a lot of radiation victims after the War, most in the early stages where travel was still possible, and he tensed, expecting one of the walking dead, but it was a young girl, tall and thin with dirty black curls under goggles and a long muddy coat that came to her black boots. Should he call to her? She looked healthy, normal.
Before he could decide, the girl turned toward the window, saw him. Her eyes widened in fear, panicked feet slipping on muddy debris, and then she was gone, disappearing into the hazy darkness. John started to go to the door anyway and had to sit back down in the hard chair, grimacing at another sharp lance of burning pain. He rubbed his swollen stomach, wishing the pills would hurry. He needed a lab that still had power so he could run some basic tests. It would be easier to plan his wife’s future if he knew how long he had before the cancer took him.
John sighed again. He would insist, something he didn’t usually do, and they would leave shortly, in the next day or two. He wouldn’t stop until he found someone to look after his sweet, gentle mate. She would never last out in this hard, new World alone.
Looking away from a missed ornament of a gaudy, grinning reindeer laying under the couch, Anne tied the last knot of string on the dark brown blanket, trying not to frown as she began to put away the supplies. She didn’t look at her husband, didn’t need to see it to know he was in pain and gunny sacking to keep her from knowing. Again. He could try to distract her with talk of kids all he wanted and she did feel a bit of regret that she’d never been able to bare him a son, hadn’t wanted to take in one that wasn’t theirs, but it didn’t keep her sharp eyes from noticing things. Something was wrong.
His eating and sleeping habits had changed drastically and she had seen the empty pill bottles in the trash. He was protecting her from it, like he always did with the bad stuff, and while she would do what he wanted and pretend she had no clue, she knew what she knew. He was sick and looking for a place to leave her. He wanted to be alone when he died, had said it many times, claiming it would hurt too much to say goodbye, and while she would do anything for him, she simply couldn't do that. Leaving him alone to die would be a betrayal of their life together and now, after all that had happened, any betrayal of life was wrong. When they went, it would be together.