After the End

Journal Entry: September 13, 20-.

There was an earthquake this morning. I slept through most of it, but Josiah was on watch and he said it felt much more intense than the last one. Three of the glass panels on the east greenhouse broke. We are running out of replacements.

According to the calendar, it has now been ten years since the event. Vlad says that we are now at the 'turning point' of the nuclear winter. All the debris that could be in the atmosphere, is. Apparently, that means that things will start warming up in five years or so, as the massive clouds of dust settle. All I know is that this is the darkest and coldest autumn of my life.

Three of the old goats died today. Nathan and I spent two hours butchering them. The meat is going to be lean and barely edible, but it will be meat. Already my stomach is growling. Greens are not enough to fill a man's appetite.

The scavenging party returned. They said that the road gangs are getting worse. Apparently, they saw a band of some 200 of them on the move, armed with all manner of weapons. Father is worried. He ordered everyone to get in a half hour of extra weapons practice. As such, I am now ridiculously busy replacing and repairing arrows and putting together strings. And forget about all the knives that suddenly need sharpened. At least our stocks of Dacron are holding out.

Back to work...

End Journal Entry

The September wind whipped and hummed across the ridgetops and the fallen timber that lay there. Overhead, the ashes and dust hurried along mixed with the real clouds of the dying world. It was bitterly cold, even in these mountains, and the sentries in their tree stands sat with their backs hunched against the bracing bite of it.

The compound was a squat conglomeration of buildings set against the side of a hill, well hidden from the old highway that snaked its way through and over the pass. A chain link fence topped with razor wire defined the perimeter of the makeshift colony. Seven large greenhouses huddled in the center, their windows blacked out to retain heat and conceal the light from the growlamps. Further up the hill was what had once been a ranch house built of brick and stone. Newer masonry marked where it had been 'hardened' into a truly formidable redoubt. A scattering of small workshops and houses at the foot of the hill formed the southernmost edge of the compound, while a massive steel barn cut into the easternmost flank of the hill. Numerous smaller buildings, outhouses, and pens were scattered inside the enclosed area. Periodically, a belch of smoke marked where a steam dynamo's chimney stood.

Sharid squinted and he stuck his tongue out, his face a mask of pure concentration as he ran the japanese water stone along the edges of the knife, putting the final, delicately lethal touches to the newly sharpened blade. Satisfied, he set the knife down and picked up another.

Just then, Stephen, his younger brother, came running down the stairs with a clatter of heavy hunting boots and an ungainly whirl of lanky, uncoordinated adolescent limbs. Sharid sighed internally. The workshop (he thought of it as his workshop) was usually quiet and peaceful. Except when Stephen was in it.

"Sharid! Come quick! Dad's calling an all-hands meeting!"

Playing the role of a slightly disinterested older brother, Sharid stood up slowly and brushed off his leather apron. "What about?"

Stephen practically exploded with nervous excitement, "The raiders! We're gonna fight! I just know it!"

Sharid patiently allowed his younger sibling to lead him up the stairs. The main level of the Keep had originally been the main story of the old ranch-style home that had stood on this parcel of land since long before the Event. Over the past ten years, the house had been gradually converted from a typical rural residence into a veritable fortress. The lower level windows had been blocked with masonry, the roof raised, another level added, and a small tower built on one corner. Now, what had been a two bedroom finished basement housed the armory and Sharid's workshop, the uppermost story served as additional living quarters and a dining hall for the compound's residents, and this, the main level, served as a site for meetings. Right now, the meeting place was crowded. Men and women milled about, finding places to sit, whether in folding chairs or on the floor. Sharid looked around, located an empty spot, and took a seat on the carpet. Stephen pranced around for a while, weaving between bodies, and eventually found a spot to sit. Right next to his brother.

The noise died down as people settled. Benaiah, Sharid's father and the boss of the compound, stood up. He was a very tall, imposing man who exuded strength, and people naturally listened to him and followed his lead. That would serve him well in theis meeting, Sharid thought, taking in all the worried faces at a glance.

"You're probably wondering why I've called you all here." Benaiah rumbled, "I think most of you know by now what our scavenging party found out East, but for those of you who have been deliberately ignoring reality"...some of those assemble chuckled at this... "I'll tell you. Better yet, I'll let Dominick tell you." Benaiah sat down in his favorite recliner, and a slender blond man took over.

" We found an army. More specifically, it nearly found us. We were rooting around in what's left of the downtown district in Denver, when suddenly Jarod, who was on lookout, comes running in all out of sorts and tells us to take cover. We hunker down, and lo and behold, here they come. Hundreds of them, armed with spears, clubs, rifles, crossbows, you name it, all tramping down I-70 like a river of orange. That's what they wore. Orange. Orange jumpsuits, orange scarves, anything orange. They had.." Dominick's voice caught in his throat with strong revulsion, "They had...women. In chains. And..." He looked around, noticing some of the younger faces in the assembly, "Other things. They're scum. And they are more powerful than any of the colonies of survivors we've been able to establish contact with. That's all I've got, Benaiah."

Benaiah stood up. "We need to send out a party to warn people and to gather more intelligence on these buggers. We really need to let the group in Colorado Springs know about this danger, if they don't already. Dominick, I think you're the most prepared to lead a group out. Why don't you select who you want to bring?"

Dominick paused for a second. "Benaiah, can I take Sharid? He's our best archer and hunter...or at least he was while there was still game."

Sharid's jaw dropped and his heart pounded