Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse (7 page)

BOOK: Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse
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Chapter 16

T
here had been talk of voting people onto what was quickly becoming known as the Willow Creek committee, but with everyone scrambling to create the barricades and gather what water they could, it was left to John to decide.

Gregory had joined the group at the corner of Willow Creek and Pine Grove while
Emma had disappeared into the house. News of the attack on Brandon and his family had been hard on her.

“I don’t like having this much power,”
John told Al and Diane, who had followed him back to the house.

“I know
, honey, but it won’t be for long.”

John wasn’t convinced of that.

“You tried to back out and they wouldn’t let you,” Al told him. “It’s not like you were vying for it.”

“That’s the problem. When people are frightened, they have a tendency
to hand over all their power to the first person who stands up.”

Al put his hands on his hips. “Well, we better get to work figuring out who’s on this committee before they elect you king.”

All three of them laughed uneasily.


I don’t want anyone with a political background,” John said.

“Is that why you didn’t want me talking to Dan Foster when I mentioned him during the block party?”

“That was one reason. I know he worked in the mayor’s office once, but the last thing we need is anyone who’ll be inclined to game the system for their own advantage.”

“Well, that’s rather cynical,” Diane said.

“I’m not saying Dan’s corrupt,” John clarified. “Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, politics nowadays has become a game. Doesn’t really matter if you’re working for the local mayor or the president. I simply want to avoid anyone who’ll be inclined to play politics when what we really need in the next few days is solid action.”

“I see your point,” Al said and Diane nodded too. “We also don’t want people who’ve never had to make a hard decision in their entire lives.”

“Good point,” John said. “Opinionated is all right too, so long as they can provide a solution to the problem they bring up. I don’t want a dysfunctional group of people complaining to one another. I think we need to break this down into sectors and recommend someone who has experience in that given area.”

Diane seemed to think that was a great idea. “Food
management, clean water.”

“Those
are two big ones,” John said. “We also need security, health.”

“What about someone to liais
e with other communities and local authorities?” Al added.

“And information,” Diane said. “People want to know what’s going on in other parts of the city, maybe even the country. We should have a group dedicated to gathering info and keeping the rest of us updated.”

John nodded. “Yeah, and I hate to say it, but that information they collect will need to be vetted first.”

“Real
ly, John?” Al said, recoiling. “That sounds an awful lot like censorship to me.”

“I think
the First Amendment’s important, believe me, but with so many rumors flying about, it doesn’t do us any good to spread anything that we can’t substantiate. I don’t want these people believing the National Guard’s about to swoop in and save us if most of the troops have gone home to protect their own families.”

“We’ll be heading down a slippery slope,” Al said, looking at both of them.

Al was right and John knew it. “I’m afraid we’re a lot further down than we’re willing to concede just yet, Al. The attack last night was likely little more than a probe. Whoever was behind it believes they’ve found a nice soft target and we need to make sure they’re thoroughly disappointed when they return.”

“So who do you think
should fill each of those positions?” Al asked.

John looked down at the folded envelope he was using to take notes. “Let’s start with health since we likely already have issues to deal with
there. Do we know of anyone who’s a doctor?”

“Dr. Wilson, but he’s gone,” Al said.

John nodded.

“Edward Long’s wife Patty is a nurse,” Diane said
, waving a finger. “She taught me how to tie a tourniquet last year.”

“Okay,” John said, marking her down. “That could work. Her
first responsibilities would be to chart and document the list of residents with special medical needs. She can also start training a handful of people under her to help the sick and wounded and bring medicine to the elderly and infirm.”

Diane looked suddenly grim
. “You know the sick and the elderly will probably be the first to go, given the state of things.”

Stark as it was, Diane did have a point.
“It’ll be unavoidable unless we can get the medicine we need.”

“You heard
Sally Wright, the grocery store shelves were already picked clean,” Al said in despair. “I can only imagine what the pharmacies must look like.”

“That’s where
security and liaison come in,” John told them with a sly grin.

Diane threw him a quizzical look.

“One security detachment will be responsible for going out to pharmacies to procure what we need.”

“And what if they’re empty
?” Al asked.

But John had an answer for that. “Then the
liaison office will use their connections within the surrounding communities to identify who has the meds we need and set up a way to barter for it.”

Diane laughed. “Willow Creek is
quickly becoming its own little country.”

“For now,” John said. “I
’ll take over security and handpick a half-dozen men and teenage boys that I can deputize. As for the liaison officer, you’re one of the most likeable guys on the block, Al. Maybe that’s a role you could fill.”

Al blushed and clapped John on the back. “With all the time I spent watering my garden, I was sure you woulda made me the groundskeeper.” His belly shook as he rattled off a
phlegmy laugh. “I sold fertilizer for forty years, so slinging crap won’t be anything new for me.”

“So that leaves f
ood, water and information,” John said, glancing at his notes.

Diane
shook her head. “Here’s the thing. Some of us will have more food than others do. John, I hope you’re not suggesting we put all our food together and have it doled out by the committee.”

“There’s a
nother slippery slope,” Al said, “that’ll lead straight to Communist Russia. People will wonder why they should push themselves when the state provides everything they need.”

The comparison frustrated
John. “That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. Food management will keep track of what families have less than a week’s worth of food left. We can then have that family provide items we can use to barter with another community or see if anyone on the street is willing to help them out.”


What about water?” Diane asked.

“T
hat group will need to set up collection and filtration stations, possibly connected to eavestroughs to gather overflow. Worst-case scenario they’ll need to sort out heading down to the Tennessee River and getting it that way.”

“Any candidates come to mind?” Al said.

“Sure, one comes right to mind for food management. Arnold Payne imported and exported dried fruits and nuts, so he should know something about keeping inventory lists and keeping track of what’s coming and going. As for water, doesn’t Susan Wheeler work for Knoxville sanitation?”

“I believe she did,” Al said. “Guess all that leaves i
s information.”

“That’s a tricky one. Just like Dan Foster and the mayor’s office, I don’t want anyone who’s ever worked for a newspaper.”

“Really?” Diane said. “Someone like that would be perfect. In fact, Patty Long’s daughter is studying journalism.”

“Which makes her a double whammy,” John shot back. “First off, I don’t want two members of the same family on the committee. Second, someone who’s studying journalism will feel bound by the journalistic princip
le to inform the people, no matter how damaging that information might be. I know censorship is a touchy subject, but we’re already facing an uphill battle. It won’t help anyone’s morale to hear that the government’s been dissolved or that half the population is dead.”

“Curtis Watkins worked for the Census Bureau,” Al said.

John snapped his fingers and jotted Curtis’ name down. “He’ll be perfect. We want someone who’ll gather and record the information they find without zealously trying to spread the word.”

“At least not until the committee’s voted on it,” Diane said.

Both men nodded and John glanced down at his list again, not sure yet whether this experiment in self-governance would work or end in complete disaster.

Chapter 17

M
ost of the neighborhood was still moving stalled cars into position at both ends of the street and reinforcing the barricade with whatever they could find. John now had a committee list he would present, but before he did he wanted to make sure Emma was all right.

He found her in her bedroom, little more than a mound underneath her blankets. John
settled at the end of her bed and nudged her.

Emma
’s head came out. Her eyes were ringed with red puffy circles. She sniffled and brought a tissue to her nose.

“Your mother said you wouldn’t talk to anyone.”

“What is there to say?”

“I know it doesn’t look good for
Brandon and his family, but I wouldn’t expect the worst just yet.”

Emma
sat up and scrunched her hands together. “I can’t help it, Dad, I’m just so worried. His house was ransacked. Mr. Hector and his family were nearly murdered.”


I know. I spent most of the morning going through both scenes. We searched Brandon’s house top to bottom, honey, and didn’t find a soul. But that isn’t a bad thing. It means we also didn’t find any signs that something bad happened to them.”

“What if they were kidnapped?

That was a distinct possibility and one that had
occurred to John. It was a tactic Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden often used. Except here, instead of demanding ransom from a shipping company, these pirates would demand it from the residents of Willow Creek in food and resources.

“I doubt that very much,” he l
ied. “I’m sure they fled to a safe zone somewhere. Brandon’s father did have one of the few cars on the street that still worked.”

“Can we use
Betsy to search for them?”

John frowned.
“Honey, I know he’s important to you, but what would that accomplish besides opening us to unnecessary harm? I’d be willing to bet they’re heading for some sort of government rendezvous point. Maybe they caught wind of a special FEMA camp. You know, like the Superdome in New Orleans after Katrina?”

She didn’t seem convinced and he couldn’t blame he
r. With so much of the country’s infrastructure knocked out, it was hard to be optimistic about any sort of rescue. “Right now there’s nothing we can do about Brandon or his family. I can’t promise you he’s okay, but I can promise that if we don’t all pitch in here and now, then we’ll all be at risk. Those bad men who came by last night will probably come again.”

Emma
was scraping the polish off her nails, just like her mother did when she got nervous. “You’re starting to scare me,” she said.

“Your brother
’s out there now, helping to build barricades.”

T
he front door opened and closed, then footsteps ran up toward them. It was Peter Warden. “Sorry to barge in, John. We’ve moved some vehicles into blocking positions by Pine Grove and near the park.”

“Okay, good,” John said. “Anything else?”

“Everyone’s assembled outside, ready to go over your suggestions for the committee.” Peter seemed to sense the unease within John. “None of us on Willow Creek have any military experience. That’s why they look up to you. It’s not a bad thing.”

“I know
. I just don’t want to get used to it, that’s all.”

•••

The people assembled outside John’s house represented all the residents of Willow Creek. They ranged in age from Claire and Tom Hodges’ six-month-old daughter to Dorothy Klein, who had recently celebrated her eighty-second birthday. In all, he guessed there was close to a hundred of his neighbors gathered before him.

The
ladder he’d used earlier outside Paul Hector’s place had already been set up. He climbed up the first few rungs until he could see everyone and reached into his back pocket for the envelope where he’d written the names.

“The Willow Creek committee will consist of six members. I’ve made recommendations for each position based on skillsets and experience in each given area. If any of you would prefer not to have a role on the committee let me know and I’ll scratch you off.” John peered down at the jumble of pen marks and scratched
-off names and began to read. “For food management I recommend Arnold Payne.” John stopped and searched the crowd to find Arnold, who raised his hand and nodded. “You up for the challenge?” John asked.

“Anything I can do to help,” he replied.

“Good to hear. For water management I recommend Susan Wheeler. I’ll temporarily take charge of security until we can find someone else. Patty Long will be responsible for health. Al Thomson will be our liaison officer and Curtis Watkins will be in charge of gathering and disseminating information to the residents of Willow Creek.”

John searched the crowd, eyeing each person he named. “If any of you don’t feel up to performing your duties
let me know as soon as possible so we can find a replacement.”

Bill Kelsaw raised his hand.

“Yeah, Bill, what is it?”

“Al’s our new
liaison guy, but I’ll be damned if I know what that means.”

Others were nodding as well.

“Think of the liaison officer as a kind of diplomat. He’ll be in charge of talking to any other local groups that have begun to organize like us. He can help negotiate mutual security, medical or food items to be bartered. He can also arrange borrowing certain skilled laborers we don’t have. Welders, carpenters. That sort of thing.”

John then quickly went through and explained the other roles and what their responsibilities would be.

When he was done, Arnold spoke up. “So what do we do now?”

“Now,” John said
, “we have our first meeting and figure out how to keep everyone on Willow Creek safe.”

•••

The first meeting was held in Patty Long’s house. All six members of the new committee sat around her antique dining-room table. The chairs weren’t terribly comfortable, but that might encourage them to keep the socializing to a minimum.

All eyes turned to John and once again that wave of
discomfort washed over him. He should have known the minute he’d first climbed that ladder in front of Paul Hector’s place this morning that he was setting a dangerous precedent.

“We have a lot to do in a very narrow window of time,” John told them. “So I suggest we get started.
Generally speaking, all of you know your roles, but there are some specifics we need to cover. First things first, we’ll need to create lists of the resources at our disposal. I suggest each of you get a good old-fashioned notepad and pen before we begin. Computers and tablets are gone now, so we might as well start getting used to it.”

Nervous laughter
sputtered from Susan and Curtis.


Arnold, since you’re in charge of food, you’ll need to find out what families on the block are getting low on groceries. As I’ve mentioned before, the average household will be running out of food soon.” John turned to Susan. “Water’s even more crucial. I know you worked for the sanitation department, so none of this should be news to you. You’ll need to get a team of five young people to help you collect and purify water. Set up a central reservoir somewhere so anyone on the street can get what they need.” He then looked at Susan. “For you, a list of the street’s most at-risk residents is a must. The elderly, diabetics, anyone taking medication. Those are the ones likely to go first if we can’t get them the help they need. Once we know, we can start looking at ways to find pharmacies that haven’t been looted already.”

“Good luck,” Curtis said. “I walked to the
convenience store over on Harvard and it was boarded up. Peeked through to see if anyone was inside and all the shelves were empty.”

“We’ll think of something,” John told them. “Al, you and I spoke earlier about your role as
liaison. Once I’ve selected my security team, I’ll assign one member to stay with you on your rounds of the local neighborhoods. Start by looking for any sign of organization and if you find one, make sure to speak with the person in charge.”

Al flashed his impossibly white teeth. “Will do
.”

“Am I forgetting anyone?”

“Uh, me,” Curtis said, smiling. “Who am I gonna be, Robin Williams from
Good Morning, Vietnam
?”

They all burst out laughing, including John. “That would be nice, if we all had radios that worked. No, I think for now you should head out with Al and ask around t
o see what you can find out. Afterward, come to us with whatever you’ve discovered and we can all vote on which bits of information to pass along.”

Curtis, Patty and Arnold were visibly uncomfortable with this.

“I think it’s better to put it all out there,” Patty said, “and let people decide for themselves what’s important.”

“I’d have to agree,”
Arnold added. “We don’t want to start treating people like children, do we?”

“And what about unsubstantiated rumors?” John asked
. He’d already started sketching out the neighborhood’s defenses. “Surely those might lower morale.”

“Or increase it,” Curtis said. “I think we should take a vote on that right now.”

The others seemed to be in agreement, except for Al.

“By show of hands it’s four to
two,” Curtis said. “Besides, rumors are swirling around anyway, a few more can’t hurt.”

John knew otherwise, but kept his mouth shut. Much as he hated to admit it, there was often a valid reason why
certain bits of information were withheld from the general public. The problem was everyone wanted to be in the know, so finding a place to draw that line was difficult. He hoped for the sake of Willow Creek and its inhabitants that Curtis and the others were right.

•••

After the meeting broke up and each member went to attend to the items they’d discussed, Al stopped John on his way out. “I’d say overall that went pretty well.”

“Better than I expected,” John replied. “I can’t say I was all that surprised with their reaction toward the end.”

“I had a similar one,” Al said frankly. “Even though it might be the right thing to do, decisions like that take time.”

“They take mistakes.”

“How so?”

John frowned. “Protocol in the military wasn’t built u
pon successes so much as they were built on mistakes. Usually those mistakes meant lives were lost.”

“You think it could be that serious.”

“I can’t say just yet, Al. Depends what kind of information is floating around out there. What if word spreads that there’s a relief camp with plenty of food and water set up a day’s walk from here? How many might leave and never come back? Now suppose that camp doesn’t exist, it’s only a rumor put out there by someone with their head in the clouds and nothing better to do than fabricate stories out of thin air. Then we’ve lost valuable people over nothing.”

“Why didn’t you say that during the meeting
?” Al asked.

“There wasn’t any point. If I start looking like the heavy, coming down on the personal liberties everyone is still used to, then we might not get anything done. I don’t have to be here
, Al. I’ve got another place that’s far away and safe and could likely see me through this mess. I’m here ’cause I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving behind so many people in need.”

“We appreciate that
, John, we really do. But it’s like you said. No one’s really sure what’s going on and none of them, including myself, are prepared just yet to give up the old ways of doing things.”

“Trust me,” John told him. “I get it. I’d been sending out feelers from the start about getting everyone on the street together for a meeting and none of them would have anything to do with it. They were more interested in eating hot dogs and drinking beer. It was only after we were attacked that they finally listened. That’s human nature, I understand that. And it’s precisely why I kept my mouth shut. You ever have kids
, Al?”

There was suddenly a look of sadness in Al’s eyes. “
No, only a younger brother. Eight or nine years between us. But we don’t talk anymore.”

John laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure you remember talking to him as a teenager, warning him to be careful, not drive too fast. How did that go?”

“They don’t listen,” Al admitted. “They don’t ever think anything bad’s going to happen, not to them at least.”

“There you go. The sad truth is most of us don’t really change.
‘It’ll never happen to me’ soon becomes shock and horror when the men with guns show up. Which is precisely why I need to find the men and women who are going to man the barricades and keep us from being slaughtered like sheep.”

“There’s a visual,” Al said, half smiling.
“I’ll go find Curtis and see where he wants to start reaching out to the other neighborhoods.”

BOOK: Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse
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