The Union Creek Journal

A Chronicle of Survival

Archive for the tag “the union creek journal”

Shock & Awe

The FEMA camp that had become General Wei’s headquarters was a hive of activity.  Wei sat on the rooftop of the former high school, an umbrella shading him from the warm May sun.  As he sipped a sweetened ice tea, Wei watched with approval as his own troops combined their efforts with the men under Lanigan’s command.  Surprisingly, despite the language barrier, the groups were working together quite effectively.  A handful of the Chinese U.N. troops were capable English translators.  Their abilities enabled the two groups to work together in a relatively seamless fashion.  None of the Americans spoke either Mandarin or Cantonese.

Read more…

Advertisements

Night Owl

The night sky was completely obliterated by clouds – not a single star could be seen; the thin slice of moon that would normally have been visible was entirely masked by fat, spring cumulus.  The darkness was nearly a tangible thing.  The feeling left Rick Milton nervous and twitchy.  It didn’t help that he was as afraid as he’d been any time in the last five months.  In addition to the darkness, the place where Rick found himself was giving him all kinds of bad vibes.  Rick’s skin glistened with cold sweat.  A steady tic had started in his right eye.  Rick’s hands were cold and the bottoms of his feet felt prickly.

Rick stopped in a stand of trees and took a deep breath.

What’s my problem, he wondered?  It’s not like I haven’t snuck into a hundred other places.  There was something about this place, Rick decided, that felt different from any other.  He couldn’t explain it.

From what Rick had seen in the daylight, the farm was well-defended.  He’d spotted numerous defenses as well as a guard station on a high hill.  Probing the place at night was a calculated risk.

As a cool droplet of perspiration ran down his spine, Rick shivered.  He had a feeling that there was much about this place that he hadn’t seen.  Rick was starting to reconsider his nighttime escapade.  As he turned it over in his mind, Rick figured that for every defensive placement or trap that he’d seen there was probably another that he had missed.  Stumbling around in the dark was, potentially, a great way to find those traps … and end up caught in them … or worse.

Rick found a fallen tree and sat down gingerly.  An owl hooted at him from a nearby branch.  Rick quietly opened a pack of beef jerky and tore off a piece with his teeth.  The act was painful.  Several of Rick’s teeth had started to rot.  His dental hygiene had not been the best over the last several months.  Toothpaste was rarely at the top of his list when he broke into a home or business.  Rick couldn’t recall the last time he’d run a toothbrush over his teeth let alone used dental floss.  His dentist would be very upset … if she only knew.

Had she survived?  Rick pictured her in her white lab coat – perhaps holed up in her dental office as looters broke down the door to look for anything of value – with her ever-present mask covering her face.  Rick chuckled.  The woman had always been such a bleeding-heart liberal.  She’d probably tried to reason with the looters.  Perhaps she had offered them a hand up to help themselves out.  Instead, Rick guessed, they had simply helped themselves … to whatever she had and, probably, to her as well.

Although, Rick avoided occupied buildings, he knew many looters did not.  They simply overwhelmed the inhabitants by numbers or force and took whatever they wanted.  Usually the men and children were killed and sold for meat, or left to starve if the looters weren’t connected with a meat market, and the older girls and women were raped before being either left for dead or sold.  Rape … pillage … burn … well, not always burn, but sometimes.  Most of his competitors were barbarians, Rick reflected.  He considered himself a gentleman by comparison.

Rick’s reflective mood carried him in the direction of his own family.  He hadn’t thought about his wife and kids for quite some time.  He hoped they were well.  Rick bore no ill will towards his wife for leaving him.  They had simply disagreed about the best way to survive –  leave for what Rick’s wife assumed was the relative safety of rural America or stay and hope to survive in a suburban area.

“I don’t think either of us was 100% right or wrong,” Rick murmured aloud.  “I hope they’re still alive.  I hope they haven’t been found by some greasy band of violent looters.”

The owl continued its incessant call.  Rick was tempted to shoot the owl to shut it up … until the still-rational portion of his brain kicked in and warned him that the shot would bring far more unwanted attention than the owl.

As he finished his jerky, Rick took a swig of water from his military surplus canteen and then relieved himself at the base of the tree where the owl sat.

The owl flapped its wings and flew off into the coal-black night.  Rick raised the middle finger on his left hand and pointed it in the general direction of the owl’s flight path.  As he did so, the package that had held his jerky fluttered to the ground.

April 7, 2015: Love is in the Air

We have the third small cabin nearly complete.  We dug the foundation and poured the concrete on the fourth.  While the cement cured, we framed up the four walls and built the roof trusses.  All that went into place yesterday.  Today we sided and insulated the place with materials gleaned from the house on the eastern part of our property.  We also installed the roof.  We haven’t rigged up a PV system for the house yet and we still need to put some finishing touches on the interior, but we made a lot of progress.

Terry and his family made a trek back to his place to check on the house.  Amazingly, there were no squatters and the house was pretty much as they left it.  There was some rodent and varmint damage but that’s to be expected in an unoccupied house in the winter – new normal or not.

Based on that discovery, Terry, Laura, Mike, Jenny and their kids are planning to move to Terry’s place.  It’s several miles away, but we’ll be able to communicate with the short-wave radios and both Terry and Mike are pretty handy with firearms so they won’t be entirely without defenses.  If they were attacked, we could probably be there in less than fifteen minutes.

I think they’ll be OK … I hope they’ll be OK.  I’m not particularly comfortable with them being that far away.  Furthermore, they have little beyond their shooting skills in place in terms of defenses.  Ultimately, it’s their choice but I’ve let Terry know how I feel.

Ariela and Mandy seem to be getting along very well.  They’ve both lost a lot as a result of the crash, in different ways, but they seem to find comfort in one another, nonetheless.  They are nearly inseparable and work very well as a team.  I spotted Ariela working with Mandy on some basic firearms safety and use yesterday evening.  Based on what I’ve been able to pick up from Mike, Mandy was anti-gun in the old normal, but after five months or so of exposure to the new normal, she has decided to embrace the way of the gun.  Ariela’s a perfect teacher for Mandy.  She’s female, so there’s no macho intimidation going on, and, after hearing about her training and combat experience, she’s definitely well-qualified to teach.

As far as I’m concerned, the more people we have who can safely and effectively handle weapons, the better.

Speaking of Mandy, I’ve noticed Sam giving her lots of attention too.  In my opinion, it’s way too soon after the death of her husband to be putting the moves on her, but she’s an adult.  I’m sure she’ll let Sam know if he steps over the line.

I think Levi might have a bit of a thing for Ariela.  Her crushed skull and eye patch don’t seem to be impediments to her allure.  The woman has a definite magnetism.  As much as he appears to be drawn to her, Levi also seems intimidated by her.  That’s understandable.  She’s strong (and getting stronger every day from what I’ve seen) and tough and probably the most military-minded of any of us.  That girl is hard core.  There are no two ways about it.  All I can say is, “watch out, Levi”.

Finally, in the love-is-in-bloom front, Heather is pregnant.  She and Joseph announced it just yesterday.  Talk about faith and hope … I’m not sure I would want to bring a child into this world the way it is now.  Maybe in this case, faith and hope overrode reason.  Of course, it could have also been all those cold winter nights.

On the not-so-lovely front …

The short-wave has been filled with chatter about the U.N. troops massing at Offutt.  There are a few rumors flying about, but no one seems to have ascertained their exact mission.  It’s definitely troubling to have that many troops so close.  When we started working to build up our farm as our “bug-out location”, it seemed to be the perfect blend of not too far and not too close.  Had we continued to live in the city, we would have been only about 100 miles away from the farm.  Having decided to make the move to the farm, I now wish it was several hundred miles away from the nearest city and, especially, the closest military base.

And, down to the very practical … we have three full rolls and four partial rolls of toilet paper left.

Nothing’s perfect … not even love.

Freeman Militia Center

Steve Johnson was beginning to wonder what he had gotten himself and his daughters into.  After four men rescued his daughters from a human auction, Steve and his three girls had decided to accept the group’s invitation to join them at the shelter where they lived.  In Steve’s mind, anything was better than the FEMA shelter where he and his family had lived for the last several months.

Upon their arrival at the location of the Freeman Militia Center or FMC, as it was called by most of the residents, it quickly became obvious that the place was the virtual opposite of the FEMA shelter.  The FEMA camp was a place where laziness was common – almost encouraged.  The FMC was a place only for those who were willing to work and work hard.  Peace, to a certain extent, was ensured by the U.N. guards at the FEMA camp, but the guards were corrupt and frequently took advantage of the residents.  At the FMC, one man – the owner of the farm where the FMC was located – and his deputies laid down strict guidelines and punishments, applicable to all.  The tense equilibrium of the FMC’s post-apocalyptic society was frequently interrupted by fights, stabbings and, every now and then, gunfire.  Rarely, however, were mala in se crimes committed – crimes that were morally wrong.

A fan of the Western genre, the camp reminded Steve of many of the movies he had watched growing up.  The FMC was not unlike a dusty, rowdy frontier town out of a Clint Eastwood or John Wayne movie.

Canvas military tents comprised most of the living quarters.  A few families had acquired their own smaller tents and lived together away from the larger collection of tents.  Steve and his girls arrived at the camp with little more than the clothes on their back.  They were housed in separate tents – Steve in one of several tents that housed mostly single men who lived in the camp and the girls in one of the few female-only tents.

With few marketable skills, Steve was assigned to work slaughtering livestock.  The girls were each assigned a job as well.  The two older girls were placed in the kitchen as cooks.  The youngest of the three sisters was appointed as a miller.  From 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening, she turned the crank on a manual grain mill grinding various grains into flour to be used in the bakery or kitchen.

Everyone in the camp had a job – regardless of age or ability.  The simple rule was, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”  The camp was a hard place but, on the whole, a fair place.

Justice was meted out as simply as the “no work, no eat” rule.  Theft was punished by requiring the individual to compensate his or her victim and then, as a preventive measure, thieves usually lost a finger or a hand, depending on the amount or value of what they had stolen.  The only official medical treatment offered to thieves after their amputation was cauterization.  As often as not, the cauterization resulted in an infection that, without proper treatment, could end in death.  Proper treatment was hard to come by.  There were very few repeat offenders.

Other crimes were met with similarly harsh penalties.  Rape and murder were punishable by death – usually by hanging or beheading.  Ammunition was too precious to waste on a rapist or murderer.

Interestingly, there had yet to be a single rape and only one murder in the nearly six months that the camp had been taking in refugees.  Everyone in camp was required to stop work and witness the hanging of the one murderer.

Fair fights were allowed to be settled between those involved.  An unfair fight could, however, end up with those on the more heavily balanced side facing fairly stiff penalties.  Disparity of force fights, where two or more individuals attacked a lesser number, were usually punished in a manner similar to theft.  To pull a knife or a gun on an unarmed opponent could result in an attempted murder charge.  Consequently, while fights were not infrequent, they were usually fair.

The founder of the FMC, Johnathan T. Hood, sat as mayor and sheriff.  Mayor Hood, as nearly everyone deferentially referred to him, was a former Marine Gunnery Sergeant.  He had seen action in nearly every conflict in which the United States had been involved during his twenty-year stint in the Marines.

Only Hood’s fellow Marines were allowed to call him Gunny.  Fewer still knew why Gunny Hood had started the FMC outside of a small town down in the very southeast corner of Nebraska where it butted up against Kansas and Missouri.

Despite his patriotism and service to his country, Hood had long bemoaned many of the policies of the U.S. government as well as the direction society in general had taken.  When he retired from the Marines, Hood returned to his native Nebraska and purchased the farms adjoining the family farm where he had grown up.  In all, Hood owned four sections of rich farm ground and mature timber.

After his elderly parents passed away, Hood was left with a large farm and neither anyone with whom to share it nor anyone to help him work the land.  Over a glass of single-malt scotch one evening, Hood hatched his plan.

Hood’s original idea was to develop his farm into a combination retreat and training facility for his Marine buddies.  The farm was plentifully populated by both large and small game.  The ten-acre pond, created by damming the creek that crossed the property, was stocked with fish and there was plenty of space to keep all sorts of necessary skills sharp.

After dozens of conversations over the course of the years, Hood’s plan changed.  The U.S. economy was sliding down a slippery slope and Hood’s friends convinced him that their money would be wisely spent developing the farm into a self-sustaining refuge from what might eventually result as the economy went off the deep end.

Now, nearly ten years later, Hood sat in a rocking chair on the front porch of his cabin at the top of the highest hill on the farm.  There were times when he found it hard to believe what the FMC had become.  It wasn’t exactly what he had envisioned when he had approached a dozen men and a couple women with whom he’d served in the Marines to propose that they join him in funding the development of the FMC.

Hood had never dreamed that military tents would dot the landscape of his farm.  He had never even considered that he would some day become the mayor and sheriff of what was essentially a small town.  Ten years ago, when he’d started all this, he’d imagined nothing more than a few of his closest friends and their families.

What had happened was quite different.  Hood had heard about or encountered others who were struggling to survive and had, selectively, offered shelter to what eventually added up to nearly 150 people.  Some were invited because of their skills.  Others were invited simply because Hood, or one of his deputies, had found a soft spot in their hearts for someone in need – someone who would fit into their society.

Occasionally an individual or group who just didn’t quite fit in would be invited to the FMC.  There were a few trouble-makers and a handful of folks that tried to work as little as possible.  Still, on the whole, Hood felt good about the little corner of civilization that he and his cohorts had carved from what was left of the world.

Hood had few regrets, but he was a realist.  This relative Utopia couldn’t last forever.

I Spy

Rick Milton watched in amazement as two military-style vehicles rolled up onto a small hill and raked a band of looters with withering fire from their turret-mounted machine guns.  Rick had never served in the military but he’d seen enough war movies to know that those two big guns were most likely pumping .50 caliber bullets into the vehicles and bodies of one of Rick’s chief rivals at a rate of about 450-500 rounds a minute.

Rick grinned, showing his rotting teeth, and pushed his shaggy, greasy hair out of his eyes.  It gave him great pleasure to see that particular group of people being cut to shreds.  They had been a thorn in his side for the last several weeks.  Twice in that same period of time, Rick had barely escaped with his life as he had run into these cut-throats while trying to loot in the same neighborhood.

His business plan had been pretty effective so far, Rick reflected.  First and foremost, he was alive.  His survival was actually in doubt for a brief period of time.  Rick recalled how he had killed a woman by shoving the handle of a spoon into her eye socket and how he had stripped his neighbor’s house bare, living off of what they had left behind for nearly a week.

Rick’s expansion plans had gone pretty smoothly for a while.  He found an old Toyota mini-truck just a few houses down the block from his own.  The pickup had been beefed up for off-roading  and converted to run on propane.  Unlike gas or diesel, propane was readily available.  Just about every house had a gas grill on the back deck.  Rick simply decoupled the grills’ tanks and tossed them into the back of his pickup when he hit a house with a LP grill.

The off-road capabilities of the Toyota had come in handy too.  Rick avoided highway, freeways and interstates like the plague – partially because the rotting bodies along the sides of these roads likely were infected with some kind of plague and partially to stay out of sight and out of mind of the larger operators.

There were some fairly large looting operations running around.  Some of them had military vehicles, like the crew cutting Rick’s rival to ribbons.  Others had horses pulling carts or wagons.  A few rode around on motorcycles and ATV’s.  They would strike quickly, load up the beds on the side-by-side UTV’s and be gone before you knew it.  Rick envied their speed and their shiny vehicles.  His old Toyota was neither fast nor shiny, but it got around well and kept him out of the fuel war.

Rick guessed that more looters died every day in fights for fuel – gasoline and diesel – than from any other cause.  The last non-U.N. Fuel deliveries had been more than four months ago.  Most of the gas stations and convenience store tanks had been emptied within a few weeks of their last delivery.  A few enterprising individuals located full fuel trucks and simply drove off with them, hiding them away.  Most looters, though, had fuel as their top priority.  In fact, Rick guessed, there were probably a lot of looters who traded most of their loot for enough fuel to go back out and loot the next day.

“Idiots!” Rick chuckled and then ducked below the crest of the hill from which he had been watching the action.

“These guys are new and they’re good,” Rick mumbled to himself.  “I need to keep an eye on them.”

Rick slithered back up to the top of the hill as the gunfire came to a halt.  The new paramilitary crew had exited their vehicles to check for survivors.  Rick watched as one of his rival looters struggled to one knee and took aim at one of the paramilitary crew.  Another member of the crew whipped his rifle to his shoulder and put a three-round burst through the looter’s throat.

“Whoa, these guys are good,” Rick whispered.

After the paramilitary group finished up with the looters, they turned their attention toward the houses up the hill to the north.  Rick watched eagerly to see if he could learn anything from their style.

As they approached one of the houses, a woman burst through what was left of the front door screaming at the top of her lungs.  The paramilitary gunners swung their machine guns in her direction but held their fire.  A man of about average height stepped out of one of the vehicles and carefully crossed through the wire strung across the front lawn.

Rick had cased that very house before.  He knew there were two families living there.  They had placed big signs warning off looters, as had a few of their neighbors.  Unlike some of their neighbors, Rick had seen them make good on their promise.  Just before the military vehicles drove onto the scene, Rick had watched through his binoculars as someone firing from the house shot the leader of the band of looters.  The looters had returned fire with rifles and then some sort of rocket launcher.  Rick thought the house would crumble on top of its inhabitants.

The man bent down to help the woman back to her feet.  She clawed at him at first and then buried her head in his chest.

Rick couldn’t quite figure out what was going on but the strange behavior only heightened his interest in these newcomers.  They were well-armed, organized and … compassionate.  It just didn’t make sense.  Any other self-respecting looter would have drug the woman into the back of his truck and either kept her for himself of traded her off at one of the local markets the next day.  These guys were giving her a hug instead.

Rick adjusted his binoculars trying to get a better view.  From his vantage point, it was nearly 500 yards to the house at the top of the hill.

“Maybe they’re relatives,” Rick mused.

That was about the only thing that made sense to Rick as the rest of the group exited their vehicles and joined the first guy inside the house.

“Very interesting, indeed,” Rick was smiling again.  “Maybe I can follow the gravy train back to the mother lode.”

It was a mixed metaphor but Rick didn’t care.

Rick watched for another hour as the group loaded the big military truck with supplies from the house.

“Impressive,” Rick would have loved to grab even a fraction of what came out of the house.

After the house was emptied, two more adults and three children joined the woman who had done all the screaming in the back of the big truck.  The crew fired up the big diesel engines and cut back overland toward a gravel road than ran south out of the neighborhood and under the interstate.

Rick scurried back to his Toyota and fired up the engine.  It purred like a kitten.  Nearly 300,000 miles on the odometer but the truck still ran like a Swiss watch.

“They’ll never hear me over those loud diesel engines,” Rick reassured himself.  “The trick will be staying close enough to follow, but keeping out of sight.”

The four-vehicle caravan set off to the south – three vehicles close together with a fourth following nearly a mile behind.

April 3, 2015: Omaha-Lincoln AAR

I feel compelled to document a more factual view of our mission to the cities.  Today’s entry will be free of whining, soul-searching and presupposition.

Mission

Our mission, as I suggested before we left, was two-fold.  The purpose of the primary mission was to gather intelligence on the movements of U.N. troops as well as on the conditions in the cities of Omaha and Lincoln.  The secondary mission was a search and rescue (SAR) mission to locate and extract family members assumed to be living in the greater Omaha-Lincoln metropolitan area.

Operational Objectives

Our primary operational objective was to traverse the distance between the Union Creek area and Lincoln, then proceed from Lincoln to Omaha and, finally, return to the Union Creek area without injury, loss of life or significant loss of material.

Our secondary operational objective was to maintain a low profile, while accomplishing the two-fold mission, in order to avoid detection and targeting by unfriendly forces such as United Nations troops or organized civilian or para-military groups.

Our tertiary operational objective was to ensure that we did not lead any unfriendly forces or needy individuals back to the Union Creek area.

Participants

Participating in the mission were Ariela, Joseph, Laura, Levi, Miriam, Sam, Terry and me.

We traveled in convoy with the armored HMMWV’s in the lead and tail positions and the deuce-and-a-half in the middle, protected position.  In order to achieve our operational objectives, nearly all of our travel was on unpaved roads.

Analysis & Observations

In general, our missions and operational objectives were achieved.  We were, however, unable to locate one of the families believed to be living in the metropolitan area.  As such, they were not retrieved, resulting in a failure of a portion of our secondary mission.

Additionally, we were forced to engage with a number of unfriendly forces along our route.  Engagements were as follows:

We encountered four hostile groups of survivors as we made our way over unpaved roads to the Lincoln area of operations (AO).  In each instance, we attempted to avoid engagement but were forced to defend ourselves.  All engagements were brief as the survivors succumbed to our superior firepower.  All engagements ended with apparent 100% casualty rates for the attacking forces and no casualties or injuries on the part of the Union Creek squad.  We did incur minor damage to our vehicles but all vehicles remained in operable condition.

These engagements were exclusively in rural areas and did not compromise our missions or operational objectives.

We encountered a group of apparent looters, numbering approximately twenty individuals, in our attempt to rescue our family members living in the Lincoln AO.  The unfriendly force was engaged in an ongoing firefight with our family members upon our arrival in the AO.  Upon ascertaining that the individuals were an unfriendly force and were firing upon the members of our family’s household, we engaged briefly with primary fire from the M2 machine guns and secondary small arms fire.  The engagement lasted approximately five minutes resulting in nineteen dead subversives and no injuries or casualties among the Union Creek squad.  Unfortunately, one male member of a neighboring household died as a result of wounds received prior to our arrival.

This engagement doubtless compromised our secondary operational objective.  However, we were not followed upon exfil.

Prior to our engagement with the unfriendly forces outside our family’s home, we were able to gather considerable intelligence relative to the local community and conditions.

Numerous homes and buildings have been burned to the ground.  We did not observe any of these fires first-hand.  Based on discussions with Mike, Jenny and Mandy, it seems that looters may be burning buildings once they have stripped them to destroy anything of value that remains.

A number of large public facilities such as schools and retail centers have been converted into communal shelters.  Each shelter is surrounded by tall chain-link/concertina wire fence and concrete barriers.  Entry is typically limited to a gate guarded by U.N. soldiers.  Each facility appears to have a ratio of approximately ten residents to each U.N. soldier.  U.N. troops appear to be armed with automatic rifles in NATO 7.62 caliber.  These troops all appear to be in relatively good health.

Few shelter residents leave their facilities.  The risk is significant.  Outside the fence, lawlessness is commonplace.  We observed numerous – more than twenty – armed groups numbering between two and twenty in our four hours of observation.  These groups seemed primarily intent on ransacking homes, occupied or not.  One such group was the one engaged outside Mike and Jenny’s home.  These groups are generally not well-armed – typically bolt-action rifles and pistols.  A few groups appeared to be armed with automatic or semi-automatic rifles in NATO calibers.  The group that we engaged had attacked Mike and Jenny’s home with some sort of rocket-propelled grenade or light anti-tank weapon.  We saw no evidence of any such armament among the other groups that we observed.

Food, water and supplies were delivered to the shelters by U.N.-labeled vehicles.  We were unable to ascertain the origin of these supplies.  We did note, however, that package markings appeared to be in Chinese.  Upon departure, the U.N. vehicles proceeded to the east on Interstate 80 from both Lincoln and Omaha.

Each shelter also appeared to have a market, possibly unsanctioned by the U.N. or FEMA, where residents of the shelter trade a variety of goods.  The sources of these goods were not immediately apparent.  We did, however, observe a small group of individuals driving two four-wheel drive pickups that appeared to be delivering goods from outside the wire.  Apparently, gasoline and/or diesel fuel is/are still available.  This was somewhat unexpected.  We were unable to identify the source of the fuel.

We observed that U.N. troops gathering at what had previously been Offutt Air Force base were in far worse condition than those guarding the various shelters.  Based upon our observations, we all agree that the troops recently arrived at Offutt have arrived largely on foot from significant distances.

Issues

We were unable to successfully retrieve Terry’s son Steve and his family.

We were unable to achieve Operational Objective #2.

We believe we were able to achieve Operational Objective #3.  However, it is possible that we were followed at a distance after making contact with the hostiles in the Lincoln AO.

Summary

We were able to achieve two of our three missions.  No discussion has taken place regarding any further attempts to locate Steve and his family.  We believe we were able to exfil the areas without leading anyone to our location.  However, this cannot be validated to absolute certainty.  Consequently, we need to maintain a higher level of alertness and preparedness.

A considerable number of U.N. troops are gathering at Offutt AFB but we were unable to determine the reason or establish a time line for coming events.  This is an additional reason to maintain a higher level of alertness and preparedness.

April 2, 2015: Fortune Favors

Things are starting to settle back into the new normal around here.  We’ve only been back a couple days, but we’re finding our rhythm again.  With the exception of Mandy, who is still mourning the loss of her husband, even the new additions are starting to fall in to the daily routine of chores, guard duty and self-subsistence farm living.

We also have a couple new projects.

As I mentioned, living space is pretty cramped with all the new “residents”.  We now need to house Mike and Jenny’s family of five as well as Ariela and Mandy.  After discussing it briefly yesterday, Ariela and Mandy are amenable to living as roommates.  That makes it relatively easy to accommodate their housing needs.  Mike and Jenny’s family is another matter.

Our plan is to build a third cabin for Mandy and Ariela, similar to the two smaller cabins we already have. We have a pretty good stockpile of frame lumber stored in the machine shed.  We also have several bags of concrete mix left over from the previous two small cabin projects.  If our estimates are correct, there is enough concrete for the footings and foundation of one more cabin.

D.J. suggested salvaging sheeting and insulation from the old house on the eastern half of our property but we may need to renovate that house for Mike and Jenny.  Right now, it’s the only thing large enough to contain all five of them … unless we start stacking people like cord wood.  If we hadn’t burned down the house to the northwest, where Marta and her gang were holed up, we could have salvaged some of what we need from that house.

The house to the south, where we found the Hernandez gang members that killed the Larsens, is still standing as is the Larsen place.  Both of those houses are quite a distance away, though.  As it stands, Terry and Laura aren’t too excited about letting their daughter and grandchildren out of their sight.

Another option that we discussed was for Terry, Laura, Mike, Jenny and their kids to move back to Terry and Laura’s place.  We haven’t been out to check on their farm since they left back in November.  It’s about six or seven miles away and there hadn’t been a need until now.  It’s entirely possible that squatters have moved in or that the house was destroyed by looters.  Any number of other things may have happened but it’s an option to consider, regardless.

There are a handful of other empty homes within a mile or two of our farm.  Most of them are uninhabitable.  It may be time to start making use of them – salvaging what we can.  I’m struggling a little bit with that and I think a few others are too.  In my mind, the houses represent a shared resource – a resource that belongs to the Union Creek community.  We have introduced new members into the community but does that mean that those resources belong to us … or the new members of the community?

We’ve survived this long without really having to salvage or scavenge anything – except what we brought back from the National Guard armory.  When we took what we found at the armory, it didn’t even occur to me that any survivors in the surrounding neighborhoods could also have benefited from what we took.  I don’t think it occurred to anyone else either.  It just seemed natural to take off with the spoils of war, so to speak.

If I put myself in the shoes of those living near the armory, I’m thankful that the scum has been scraped from the pond but I’d sure like a drink of the fresh water underneath, as it were.  Granted, we didn’t drain the pond entirely but we sure didn’t leave much behind either.  Have we reached a point where the rules of society in the new normal are simply “live and let live”?  Do civilized people now merely agree not to kill one another as they struggle to survive or do those with greater “wealth” have a responsibility to those who are less fortunate?

Prior to the crash, my family and I felt that we were blessed.  (Not that we aren’t still blessed.)  We felt that those, who through no fault of their own, found themselves in a position of need deserved a hand up.  We felt that, as fellow sojourners in this journey called Life, it rested on our shoulders – not the government’s – to help those in need.  It wasn’t always monetary assistance.  In fact, it was more often some other kind of help.  Should we still feel that way?  Frankly, I haven’t had a lot of time to stop and consider it.  Strange that it comes to mind now … just as we’ve taken in a handful of people who could be considered less fortunate.  Have we fulfilled our responsibility in so doing or do we have a greater duty still?

In addition to settling that question amongst ourselves, we also need to pull together a meeting of the community and discuss the information that we gathered on our mission to Omaha and Lincoln.  I think it’s critical that those living in the Union Creek area understand what we are up against now … and are likely to be up against in the not-too-distant future.

Everyone needs to understand that there are, perhaps, thousands of other survivors between here and the cities living subsistence lives just like we are.  Many of them are not nearly as well equipped or supplied.  Many have watched loved ones die of starvation, dehydration, illness and injury.  Quite a few of them are on the verge of losing their sanity much like we imagine Melody lost hers.  A number have probably gone past the edge of sanity but continue to survive, all the same.

The members of our community need to know what’s going on in the cities.  Quite a few probably have relatives living in Omaha or Lincoln, so the news will be difficult to digest.  We saw the squalor of FEMA camps as well as the desperation of those outside the camps trying to survive however they can.  We heard of people doing things that made us question their humanity.  We saw tons of evidence of the dark side of humanity and hardly an ounce of what is good and right.  Things in the rural areas are bad, but things in more densely populated areas are much, much worse.

The stench of rot … rotting food, rotting corpses, rotting civilization … permeates the urban areas.  We wore bandanas, Shemaghs or dust masks over our faces to filter out the horrible odor.  The urban and suburban landscapes look like landfills.  Refuse, waste and remains clog the streets.

By my estimate, the populations of Omaha and Lincoln have been reduced by 60% – maybe more.  It seems a miracle that as much as 40% of the people have survived.  The conditions are worse than can be imagined – even by those of us in rural areas who have also had to struggle to survive.

We were only slightly shocked to find that cannibalism is not all that uncommon.  Pushed beyond the limits of their capacity to care, people have resorted to pure, instinctive survival mode.  We heard rumors of “meat markets” where live, or recently dead, humans are sold … to be used as the highest bidder sees fit.  Apparently, as often as not, they are bought as “beef on the hoof”.

Only the boldest and most well-armed venture outside their shelters.  Packs of murderous looters aren’t the only risk.  There are also packs of feral dogs that can drag down a relatively healthy adult and consume them in minutes.  Other carnivorous animals have also come to the cities in search of prey.  Humans are no longer at the top of the food chain.

We should consider ourselves fortunate that our wildlife ecosystem has remained relatively stable here near the farm.  An influx of carnivores would not only pose a danger to us but also to our livestock.  This bears watching … and reporting to our neighbors.

Trade has replaced traditional monetary commerce.  Dollars are worth nothing more than the paper on which they are printed.  Precious metals continue to hold little value.  We visited a bazaar where the most in-demand items were water, food, toiletries and sanitary items, medications and medical supplies, guns and ammunition.

I watched as a man about my age tried to purchase toilet paper with a gold ingot that must have weighed nearly five ounces.  He was able to purchase what was probably fifteen or twenty feet of toilet paper that looked as if it had been fished out of a toilet bowl – although, I doubt there are many toilet bowls with water in them these days.

I also saw a guy, accompanied by a fairly significant “security force”, selling guns and ammunition.  People were mobbing around him making all sorts of offers.  He rarely traded.  When he did, it was usually for food, water or medications.  None of the firearms were particularly nice, either.  Most of them showed surface rust.  Nearly all of them had some sort of damage to the stocks or grips.  The ammunition, almost without exception, showed signs of corrosion.

We have been very fortunate, indeed.

How long do we have before we are caught up in a wave of humanity that is a part of a mass exodus from the cities?

Fortune favors the prepared.

April 1, 2015: Hope Springs Eternal

I think it’s worth telling Ariela’s story.  It’s a story of hope, despite some of the gruesome details.  We could use a little bit of hope around here these days.  Remember what I wrote about faith and hope and reason a few days ago?  After seeing what we’ve seen … I think all three are waning a bit.

Ariela’s story begins as a half-Hispanic girl with no father is born in a small Midwestern town.  Growing up without a father, regardless of any other circumstances, is certainly difficult.  In Ariela’s case, her “uncle” Fernando Hernandez stepped into the role.  For better or worse, Ariela grew up in Fernando’s shadow.

Fernando, as you may recall from my earlier entries, was the leader of a powerful gang of drug dealers, thugs and murderers.  Based on that “family”, one might expect the apple to fall very near to the base of the tree.  Quite the contrary, it seems that Ariela has fallen into another field entirely.

Rather than turning to her somewhat questionable roots, Ariela recalls enjoying school, making good grades, participating in athletics – volleyball, track and cross-country, specifically – and looking forward to attending college.  As it turns out, instead of attending college, Ariela enlisted in the Marines.  However, this is one of the gaps in her memory that she cannot fill.  For the life of her, Ariela cannot recall what prompted her to enlist in the Marines rather than attending college.  She assumes that Fernando would have helped her pay for college.  She recalls working summer jobs and saving money to pay for a fair share of her own schooling.  But, Ariela simply cannot piece together what happened to push her in the direction of the Marines and away from the university system.

As a Marine, Ariela excelled.  She recounted much of her career in the Marines as we drove to and from Omaha and Lincoln.  Every bit of her outstanding career was communicated with humility and considerable admiration for those around her who had supported her in her achievements.

Ariela survived two tours in Afghanistan.  She worked on a team that strayed well outside the wire, often in positions of forward observation feeding intelligence and analysis back to commanders.  I’m sure the analysis provided by Ariela and her teammates did much to support our successes in the Afghan War and prevent the loss of considerable life among U.S. troops.  Of course, Ariela would never admit to playing such a critical role but I know enough about the kind of work she did and the kind of troops that were on her team to be pretty confident in my assessment.

After those two tours, Ariela returned home to bury her mother.  Before her leave was over the crash hit.  She was stranded.  There were no communications from her unit.  No one answered the phone in her CO’s office.  Nothing.  It was as if the entire unit had disappeared from the face of the earth.

Ariela knew that several of her teammates had also been back on leave.  A few of them, she believed, weren’t that far away.  One was from Iowa.  Another had family in Kansas.  By the time she decided to reach out to them, cell phone service was done for.

Fernando’s son, Enrique, had recruited Ariela to help him run his father’s new business from the National Guard headquarters in Norfolk.  Ariela had reluctantly agreed thinking it was best to keep your friends close and your (potential) enemies closer.

Not long after Ariela began working with Enrique, we bombed the armory and she ended up at Fernando’s house torn between pity and suspicion.  Ultimately, Fernando lost it.  Ariela described in haunting terms his slide into insanity.  When we found her, Fernando was hunting her down to kill her … and had nearly succeeded.

I guess there isn’t much in there that sounds very hopeful as I read it back to myself.  A beautiful young woman is shot down in the prime of her life by a greedy, back-stabbing nut-job of a drug lord.  Yeah, that sounds pretty dismal.

The ray of hope that I see is a strong young woman who pulled herself up out of a quagmire of crime and questionable family ties to proudly serve her country and ultimately survive what could have very easily been a deadly attack.  That’s the silver lining that I see in the cloud of Ariela’s life.  My hope is that there is a similar thread that runs through the lives of those who’ve survived so far.  That they will reach deep inside themselves to find what is good.  That they will reach out to help those around them.  That they will embrace what little beauty and bounty is left in this cracked up world and seek to revitalize the human spirit through their actions.

Am I hoping for too much?  Are people inherently evil?  Are the cases like Ariela’s so few and far between that they will never counter-balance the Fernandos and Enriques of the world?  I’d like to think not.  After all, Ariela did overcome Fernando and Enrique … with a little help from us.

Perhaps that is the key.  Maybe if those who are willing to fight for good and do what must be done to thwart evil will band together … possibly through a shared vision and a combined strength we can accomplish what is necessary.

Hope springs eternal.

March 31, 2015: We’re Back

To quote the Grateful Dead, “What a long strange trip it’s been.”  We’re home and we’re alive and that’s all that really matters I suppose.  Secondarily, however, we learned a lot from our venture away from Union Creek.  I’m going to try to capture both the valuable lessons gleaned during our trip as well as document any events that may also prove valuable some day.  The combined volume of information will, likely, be considerable.  It may take me several days to complete the documentation – especially given the amount of work that needs to be done now that we’ve returned.

I’ve prepared myself for the inevitable writer’s cramp.

What did we learn?

We learned that it’s dangerous out there.  We assumed that before we left, but we now know to a greater extent how far the danger reaches – not just in terms of geography but also the extent to which the danger has almost completely permeated society.  It’s one thing to hear reports over the radio.  It’s another thing, entirely, to see first hand what has happened to our society.

Although we’ve certainly had our trials here at Union Creek, we have been largely sheltered, in my opinion, from the horrific face of the new normal.

We saw, first hand, what desperate people will do.  People, who were probably upstanding, law-abiding citizens before the crash, have resorted to unspeakable actions.  Seeing this was, perhaps, even more frightening than the physical risks we encountered.

We were buoyed by our ability to find and rescue Terry’s daughter’s family and one of their neighbors and then dragged below the surface by a deadly undertow of what seems to be a growing tide of painful experiences.

Will, the husband of Mike and Jenny’s neighbor, Mandy, died as we approached their home.  Mike and Jenny had tried to save him while taking heavy fire from a gang of looters.  In all likelihood, those looters were good citizens just months ago.  In the wake of the crash, they’ve been driven to committing murder and pillaging those weaker than themselves to survive.  I’m not making excuses for them.  We shot them down like rabid dogs.  I’m merely trying to wrap my own mind around their behavior … and our own.

We also discovered that Terry’s son, Steve, and his family are MIA.  There was no sign of them at their home.  The house had been stripped – before or after their departure, we couldn’t tell.  There was nothing to suggest where they might have gone … or if they had survived for some time after the crash.  Were they taken away forcibly?  No idea.  Where might they have gone, either of their own accord or under duress?  No clue.  They have disappeared without a trace.  It is possible that they retreated to one of the FEMA shelters that we saw, but, regrettably, we had neither the manpower nor the time to comb every shelter near their home.

Disheartening … to say the least.

Terry and Laura are, at once, joyful and saddened.  Fitting, it seems, for the new normal.

On a very practical note, we’re going to have to make some adjustments to the living quarters here on the farm.  With the addition of Ariela, Mike, Jenny and their kids and Mike and Jenny’s neighbor, Mandy … well, things are a bit tight.

I nearly forgot!  Much of Ariela’s (the woman we rescued from the Hernandez estate) memory has returned.  She still seems to have a few holes in the fabric of her recollection but, overall, both her mental and physical recovery have been exceptional.

Incidentally, we took Ariela with us on our trip.  No one was quite comfortable yet leaving her back here with a skeleton crew.  That has changed in the last several days.  I’m fairly confident now that she will become a trusted and highly productive member of our burgeoning group.  I suppose it’s possible that her entire persona is nothing but a smoke screen, but – based on recent events – highly doubtful.  That, however, probably deserves of a journal entry all its own.

We learned that there are times when there are no alternatives to extreme violence … even when you wish there were.  We were forced to open fire on a number of groups in order to defend ourselves.  Almost every time, the groups were armed only with handguns and rifles.  We were quite obviously traveling in military vehicles and armed with .50 caliber machine guns.

We were baffled each time this happened.  Why engage?  Why not hide and simply watch to ensure the vehicles passed by?  Why not create vehicle traps that would keep vehicles from infiltrating your AO without having to engage an enemy with superior firepower?  It made no sense.  It saddened us to no end to think that we were defending ourselves with deadly force against innocent individuals only seeking to remain alive.

In one such engagement, we were approaching an intersection that had been blockaded by disabled vehicles.  We approached with caution and rolled to a stop a little more than 100 yards from the blockade.  Ariela, with her one good eye, spotted movement at our two o’clock, near the blockade.  Several individuals were moving overland, nearly concealed by a small hill to the west of the vehicles.  We remained in place while the individuals set up behind the vehicles.  As I stepped out of the passenger seat of the lead HMMWV with my hands raised, one of the individuals took a shot at me.  We buttoned up and retreated in reverse another 100 yards but the small arms fire followed us.  Left with little choice due to the terrain and incoming fire, I had Terry open up with the .50 cal on the vehicles.  One of the incendiary rounds must have found a tank with a bit of gasoline still in it.

The vehicle exploded into a giant orange ball of flame.  The small arms fire came to an abrupt halt as the individuals behind the vehicles were shredded by hunks of metal propelled by the explosion at super-sonic speeds.

We estimated five dead as we passed by a few minutes later.  The carnage was sickening.

We found out quite a bit about the U.N. troops, their movements and their plans.  That was, of course, the original purpose of our mission.  Thankfully, the troops don’t seem to be concerned with concealing their movements or their plans – at least not their official plans.

Officially, the troops are sponsored by the United Nations and “they’re here to help”.

How many times have I heard that before?

Unofficially, it appears that a considerable number of troops are garrisoned at the former Offutt Air Force Base near Bellevue, a suburb of Omaha.  The number of troops at the base appears to far exceed the number that would be required to assist the residents of the Omaha area as outlined by official notices.  Additionally, more troops seem to be arriving on a fairly frequent basis.

We watched what appeared to be the remnants of a battalion arrive as we reconnoitered the area around Steve and Rhona’s home.  They were all clad in digital camouflage uniforms and U.N.-blue helmets.  Their packs were empty but they could barely remain upright.  As we watched them pass, two of the soldiers fell out of the formation and were left behind.  It would never occur to American troops to leave a man behind but these troops marched onward as if nothing had happened.  I suspect there is a trail of dead or dying U.N. soldiers from Bellevue to wherever these troops came from.

Most of the troops appeared to be starved and sick.  They were gaunt and we observed a good number of them coughing up blood.  Our biggest danger, unless these troops are rehabilitated and resupplied at Offutt, is most likely from disease.  It certainly isn’t without precedent for U.N. troops to kill off any number of the civilians they’re supposedly protecting with the diseases they carry to their shores.  The radio reports suggested Typhoid and Tuberculosis were common among the troops here on our shores.  Based on what we saw, I have no reason to doubt those reports.

It’s Midnight.  I’m beat and I’ll be up by 4:30 tomorrow morning back to the old grind.

More tomorrow.

Business Plan

It had been three days since Rick Milton had killed a woman with a spoon.  Not a bad three days as things go … these days.  Rick had eaten well.  He had drunk his fill of water and even a couple diet sodas.

“Gotta stay in shape for the post-apocalyptic world,” Rick reflected.  “No full-calorie sodas for me.”

Things had been fairly quiet outside Rick’s neighbors’ home where he had taken up residence of late.  There was nothing left in his own home to entice him to return other than a couple bags of Doritos.  He considered going back across the street for the Spicy Sweet Chili chips in the purple bag, but decided that could come later.  His neighbors had graciously left a couple bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos behind.

For the time-being, Rick was ensconced in his neighbor’s recliner.  Eating like a king from the food his neighbor had left behind as well as what he had found in the dead woman’s duffel bag.  If only the power grid was still up and the cable company was still operating, Rick would have enjoyed the time watching his neighbor’s near-new 3D TV.  The technology had really progressed in the last few years, despite the economic downturn.  Rick wondered why the television manufacturers had continued to advance their technology as consumer spending had tanked.

“Never mind,” Rick mused.  “You’ve got bigger problems now.”

Initially, the woman’s body had been one of Rick’s bigger problems.  He didn’t want the body inside the house where it would eventually bloat and begin to rot.  Rick figured the same would happen if he drug the body out into the yard, but decided to get it out of the house anyway.  The next morning when Rick woke up and checked the back yard, there was little left of the body.  Shards of skin and muscle clung to what was mostly a bare skeleton.  What appeared to be a couple neighborhood dogs tugged at what meat was left.

Rick let out a low whistle.  The two dogs turned to look at him through the glass of the patio door and then went quickly back to their meal.

Surprisingly, Rick felt no remorse.  After all, the woman had tried to kill him.  Life was tough all over.

Stretching, Rick strolled into the kitchen and located the instant coffee that he’d found in the cupboard two days before.  He poured water from a plastic bottle into a coffee cup and stirred the semi-stale grounds into the tepid liquid.  It tasted like the south end of a north-bound cat and carried no steamy aroma but it was coffee and Rick had loved coffee before the crash.

Nearly every day, on his way to work, Rick had gone through the drive-thru of a Scooter’s Coffee shop – a local chain with excellent roasts.  He only allowed himself one medium-sized cup because the caffeine heightened a few of his already borderline-annoying personality traits.  That one cup, however, had been Rick’s morning ritual for nearly fifteen years since the first Scooter’s had opened in Bellevue, a suburb of Omaha.

Now, as he sipped his room-temperature instant roast, Rick missed his Scooter’s more than ever.  He chuckled as he thought back to the first few days after the crash.  His addiction to caffeine, as small as it was, left him with a throbbing headache for the first few days.  As he looked at the muddy water in his coffee cup, Rick realized that he was on a slippery slope.  Addictions or dependencies of any type, no matter how minor in the old days, became real issues once you couldn’t just drive through the local Scooter’s and buy a cup of coffee … or trot down to the nearby convenience store to pick up a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of booze.  Prescription medications?  Difficult to find at best.  Diabetic test strips?  Good luck.

As Rick turned these thoughts over in his mind, the seedling of an idea began to sprout.  Surely, some of these items still existed.  Certainly, there were people who still needed or wanted them.  The first piece of the puzzle, Rick realized, was how to acquire the items without getting killed in the process.  The second and third pieces of the problem left Rick bewildered for the time being.  How could one find buyers for these necessities?  And, just as importantly, what would the potential buyers have to trade?

As Rick finished his lackluster coffee, he nurtured his emerging idea.  There were challenges, sure.  But there had always been challenges in business.  Today’s challenges were just a little different from the challenges of a few months ago … or a few years ago.  Present-day challenges were, perhaps, more significant than those of a few months ago, but they were still nothing more than challenges.

Business in the new economy operated on the same basic principles as business in the old economy, Rick reasoned.  A product, no matter how great the demand, still needed a distribution network.  A buyer, no matter how little disposable “income” they had, still would find a way to pay to meet either a real or perceived need.

Of course, the perceived needs of the populace, and their willingness to utilize credit to meet those needs, had been very near to the root of the issue that had caused the crash.  The irony was not lost on Rick.  He chuckled to himself as he blew on his already-cool coffee out of habit.

Rick set down his coffee and began to work out his plan.

Post Navigation