The October Surprise

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


More and more it's appearing that Republicans cannot fairly win the 2018 elections. So will they try to win them by unfair means?

Submitted: February 02, 2018

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Submitted: February 02, 2018

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The October Surprise

My dad and I are originally from Santa Barbara, although we now both now hail from Colorado. My father from an upscale, modern home in Leadville and Molly and I from a drafty little hundred year old cabin in Twin Lakes. My dad is originally from Iceland and he likes cold weather. He also likes to Nordic ski even though he's 66 years old. But most of all, he likes to keep an eye on me, even though I recently turned forty-one. He's followed me around since I came to the United States. When he retired, he sold his California home and moved in 20 minutes away from us.

For three years I was terrified my father would discover my relation with Molly. Turns out, he figured it out from the start. He was just waiting for me to raise the issue, and, after three years passed without my doing so, he busted us. Mols had gone to cook him lunch and he told her he was glad that I had such a wonderful life partner. He said her jaw dropped to the floor. But it all worked out and the three of us make a nice family, even though some therapists might have a field day with the family dynamics.

It sounds odd, but the recent wild fires in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties kindled a sense nostalgia in my father and I. We would read about Montecito, Carpinteria and Summerland, places where we had both hung out. We decided to go back and show the place to Molly, who has never really been out of Colorado.

We arranged to stay with Vic Henderson and his wife Joanie in Motecito. Old friends who have a house near the beach with lots of extra room. Vic is a real inventor. Not some guy who sits in a bar or putters around the garage talking about the great things he will do someday, but the real thing.

He was a bicycle freak, living in a rented bedroom in Santa Barbara, when he realized how many of the events he entered required him to run while carrying his bicycle on his shoulder. And how this could sometimes get painful. He invented a little, lightweight strap that attacked near the seat to make this much more comfortable. He patented it, marketed it, made a bundle and then went back to being a bicycle freak. Later, he frosted the cake by inventing a bicycle rack that made it much easier to get a bike up onto the top of a compact sedan. He now rides bikes and hangs out at the beach all day. To my dad, he's the ultimate American.

In mid September 2018, we headed west to Santa Barbara. We stopped in Utah and bought a pint of whiskey, though none of us really drank. We wanted to see what it was like to buy it from a drug store, the only place you could get it in some of the Utah counties. When we asked a guy at a gas station where we could buy whiskey, he looked at us like we were monsters.

We spent the night is Las Vegas. A truly crass place. Whenever Emily and I were without my dad, we were instantly set upon by fat, sweaty, old, half drunk guys from Oklahoma. Or some other silly place. Guys who talked and talked about what big shots they were. We tried a quarter slot machine but got nothing. We were glad to leave the next morning. My dad is a Hunter Thomson fan and crossing the desert to LA he wished for a .357 magnum to shoot out the window like Hunter did in “Fear and Loathing”. Emily reminded him that he was going the wrong way for that. Still in Hunter Thomson mode, he said wanted some of the whiskey we bought in Utah, but it was in the trunk and I didn't want to stop. He drank a diet coke instead.

The trip was long and most of the time we listened to NPR and their tireless efforts to normalize Trump's latest outrage. The Republicans were trying to destroy Social Security, and they were attacking it the same way they had attacked the ACA. Multiple attempts at repeal with multiple inferior replacements. And they were getting the same massive outcries they got with their attempts at ACA repeal. And they were also trying to get an ACA repeal going again, but there was no real interest at all here.

“Seems like Republicans were hell bent on doing what they want and Americans be damned. 70% of Americans hate their tax plan, 73% support DACA, I think 64% support the ACA and nobody supports gutting Social Security.” My dad observed. “They don't even try to do what Americans want. You'd never guess that elections were coming up in a month or so.”

“I wonder if they just figure they're politically dead, so now they're stealing with both hands.” Mols answered.

An idea came to me. “Maybe they had some ace in the hole that negates the bad opinion people have of them. Something like they had with the Russians last election.”

“Now, that's scary”, said my day.

LA was the same. The Valley was hot and the 405 junction was crowded. But the trip up the coast was exhilarating. It hadn't changed much due to the open space requirements.

Pulling into Montecito on Friday night, we were welcomed by Joanie. Vic was taking his evening ride up past the bird sanctuary to the pier. I introduced Molly as my special friend and was immediately understood. We were shown to our rooms where we unpacked.

When Vic came in, Molly and I were helping Joanie prepare a quintessential Santa Barbara meal. Grilled chicken breast shish kabob, brown rice and a salad using diced, fresh avocado for the oil.

“Hi Doc”, said Vic, shaking my dad's hand. “And you, Merriam, you're all grown up. I remember when you used to sneak out of high school to hang out at Moore Mesa Beach.” (This was the local nude beach and I winced because I didn't think my dad ever caught on I went there.)

Vic continued, “And Molly, glad to welcome you to the family”.

Cold Chardonnay was served and Molly and I each broke down and had a glass, to the disapproval of my dad. The back patio was wonderful, the beach wasn't visible, but one could see the ocean over the roof tops with the sun setting on it, and a large flock of circling gulls. I hadn't smelled the sea breeze in years and felt I had come home.

We were all on the same page, so politics were discussed at dinner.

Vic began, “Have you been watching the Republicans try to tear down Social Security? The last Qunnipiac poll showed something like 79% opposition to what they are doing. I can't believe a political party acts like this. Opposing 80% of the country. And with the elections next month. What are they thinking?”

I responded, “We were talking about that, they either know they're dead past redemption, and going out with a bang, or they have some trick up their sleeve. Like they had with the Russians in the last election. Something that makes them not care what people think.”

My dad chimed in, “I'm thinking that almost has to be. The Republicans simply cannot let the Democrats have the subpoena power and powers of investigation they'll have if they win the House or the Senate. The Democrats will look into everything and it jolly well could be the end of the Republican Party and ideology. But the Republicans sure don't look like they're fighting for their lives.”

 

Saturday

The next day Vic configured a couple of bicycles for Mols and I from the hundreds stored in his triple car garage, I took Molly on my old morning ride. A ride through the back streets of Montecito, to the lovely ocean overlook at the Biltmore, up Butterfly Lane to the bird sanctuary and then on through Palm Park to the pier. We had coffee on the pier when the morning was still cool and crisp, with the slurp, slurp of the little waves against the pilings.

“This is paradise”, said Molly. “How could you ever leave here?”

“I wanted to go to Colorado, to Boulder”, I said. “I guess I wanted to sit by the window and watch it snow. Cold seems to be my genes. Dad and I both. I thought about going up to Tahoe, but there was nothing to do up there. I was afraid I'd just become a ski bum. Sort of like what I am now. So I went to CU.”

“And when you graduated?”

“I tried to come back, but there just aren't a lot of regular jobs here. The sort of things a new grad could get hired into. Those jobs are all in LA. Worse, they're in the Valley or the Inland Empire.” I pantomimed gagging myself with my finger.

“So you went to Breck and became a desk clerk in a hotel.”

“Yeah, just like you. And I joined the Breck ski team.” I reminded Mols.

“Wasted lives”, she replied.

“Fun lives”, I replied. She nodded.

That night, after another California style dinner on the patio, and another glass of Chardonnay, under the nose of my frowning father, we retired to the family room for a real treat. Watching TV. We didn't have one at home and only got to see it at my dad's house. And he had somewhat bizarre tastes in programming, e.g., he'd turn off a great movie to watch golf. And we humored him because it was his house.

But the programming this evening was interrupted with the weirdest news. A case of smallpox had just turned up in Santa Monica. And not in some off the boat type from the third world, but in an American software engineer, a guy who hadn't been anywhere except Laguna Beach. And even worse, it hadn't looked like your normal case of smallpox, i.e., a bunch of pox all over his body and such. Instead, the guy's skin had turned hard and black and started to detach. Not recognized for what it was, a whole bunch of people from the EMT crew and hospital were now exposed. It was a mess.

“That's the most serious type of smallpox”, said my dad. “It's basically one big pox that covers most of your body. Nobody survives that.”

“Are our shots good”, asked Joanie.

“What year were you born?” Asked my dad.

“1975”, replied Joanie.

“You've probably never been vaccinated”, said my dad. “Anyone born after the early '60's probably hasn't been. I don't know when they stopped, but I do know that people born in the late 1960's usually aren't immunized.”

“We've been immunized haven't we?” I asked my dad. “They were still doing that in France when we were there. Right?”

“Yeah, we're probably safer that someone who has nothing. But I wouldn't count on a thirty-five year old vaccination to keep you safe. You probably should have had a booster. But everyone believed smallpox was extinct.”

“Is it easy to catch. Like Ebola?” Vic asked.

“Yeah, lots easier”, my dad replied. “It's a true airborne virus. You can pick it up just by walking through a room where someone is sick. In the last US case, a guy three floors above on the same side of the building got it because the sick person's window was cracked open and so was his. With Ebola, someone has to actually sneeze on you.”

“Then let's all stay away from Santa Monica”, said Molly. “Merriam, you coming to bed?”

“Yeah”, I replied, and the night ended.

 

SUNDAY

The next morning, while Molly was in the shower, I opened my tablet and checked the Washington Post. I do this when she is occupied because there is a lot of friction about me always having my nose glued to a computer screen. What I saw shocked me. The lead article didn't just talk about one case of smallpox, but multiple cases over night in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. All the same ultra-deadly strain. There had already been several deaths.

I didn't wait for the shower and instead put on my robe and went to find my dad. He was in the kitchen watching a special report on the small television there.

“This is bad”, he said without preamble as I entered. “Have you seen this?”

“I just saw the Washington Post”, I answered. “That's all.”

“There are now 26 cases as far as I can tell”, my dad continued, “and there's something they seem to be missing in these broadcasts. Each of these cases has probably exposed ten or twenty people, and they will all be contagious before they're symptomatic. So a lot of those people will also expose people before they get sick. It's like cockroaches, if you see one, there's a hundred.”

“Can they do anything?” I asked. For some reason the cool terra cotta tiles of the kitchen floor were very apparent to my bare feet. Santa Barbara was cool and peaceful in the morning and somehow this felt wrong.

“They ring vaccinate”, my dad replied. “Where ever there is a case they vaccinate all of the people in the immediate area. That worked in India with the last known cases. But people there were a lot less mobile.”

“Larry Brilliant?”, I asked.

“Yes, you know about him?”

“I read 'Sometimes Brilliant'”, I replied. “Back when I lost my job and was trying to figure out what I'd do with my life.”

“You know what”, answered my dad, “I want you to stay out of public places today. Crowded places. I might be overreacting, but Santa Monica isn't that far away and I'd feel safer if we all avoided crowds. At least for now.”

Back in the room I accessed the Fox News website as it was always interesting to see how the hick hustling engines handled major stories like this. Sometimes they weren't reported at all, sometimes they were downplayed and sometimes the voice in the bubble screamed that this was the end of the world.

Mols came over to look and I was surprised as she usually had zero interest in the news stories presented on my tablet.

“So, are we all going to die?”, she asked.

A sarcastic thought of “How the Hell should I know” crossed my mind, but I contented myself with simply saying, “Probably”.

“Then I'm going to drink that wine tonight”, she said. “And fuck your dad.”

“He's seen us when we were kind of over the edge”, I reminded her. “And he's sort of an old mother hen.”

I had expected something different from Fox News than what we saw here in the real world, but I was still surprised to see the big headline screaming, “West Coast Terrorist” attack”. The article stated that terrorist, of an unknown nationality, had perpetrated a biological attack against three West Coast cities during the night: Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

“Look at this”, I said. “This is big stuff. Three cities. Not just LA.”

Mols read silently for a moment. Her lips moving as she read.

“Oh my God, this is scary. Just scary.” She made that weird fluttering motion with her hands that she makes when things genuinely bother her. Not a born poker player at all.

Further down the inverted pyramid was a discussion of how Hillary Clinton and other people under Obama had weakened the surveillance capabilities of the United States and allowed the terrorists to pull off their plot. No mention was made of what the Republicans had done to mend the situation in the time they had held complete power. I noticed the time of the posting, 10:18 PM, my birthday.

Mols and I returned to the kitchen, dressed and showered, prepared to cook breakfast for the team.

“It's in Santa Barbara”, said my dad as we entered.

“What?”, asked Mols.

“Smallpox”, I answered. “Where is it dad?”

“They just picked up a guy in Hope Ranch. Don't know what the relevant details are. News is pretty sketchy. Just lots of pictures of the Ambulance parked out in front of the guy's house. No details.”

“Details?” I asked.

My dad looked a little exasperated, like he preferred to think right now instead of talk, but he finally answered, “Yeah, I want to know where the guy has been. If he's been to Santa Monica, then we better go to the store and load up on supplies. If he hasn't, then it's all around us and we better just lock the door and stay inside.”

I saw Mols' fluttering hands as she moved off the the fridge to start breakfast.

Vic entered and said, “You guys watching that? I can't believe it, it's everywhere. Even in Hope Ranch.”

“Yeah, said my dad. Trying to figure out what to do.”

“I heard, we have lots of stuff here, but it wouldn't hurt to go to the store.”

“Let me make some calls”, said my dad, leaving the kitchen and pulling out his cell phone.

“Bad time to visit Cal”, Vic said as he moved to the coffee machine. His tone was casual, and he sounded relatively unconcerned. He'd been in tough situations before and he'd ended up better than on top. It was as if he was now certain that things always worked out for the best. At least for him.

I only nodded. Joanie came in to help with the breakfast. “Has anyone checked around the neighborhood?” She asked. “Is everyone OK?”

“Don't know if that's a good idea”, said Vic. “At least until we know what's going on.”

Joanie looked troubled, “People might need help”.

“Let's just give it some time”, Vic answered. “We'll have a better idea of what's going on in a couple of hours.”

My dad returned and said, “I got through to one of my old people at the med center. He says the guy was at a seminar in Century City for most of last week. So I think it's just a point infection now.”

Looking at me, he said, “Let's go to the store. Right now.”

“I'll go with you”, said Vic.

“No, you stay here. Merriam and I are vaccinated, you're not. I don't think it's all around, but you never know.”

“I'll stay here and guard the house”, said Mols from the back of the kitchen.

We were gone in five minutes, the Montecito Vons was only a few blocks away. We didn't shop carefully as my dad wanted to minimize our time in the store. We double timed down the aisles and filled the four carts we were pushing.

“Smallpox?” Asked the woman at the checkout.

“Yeah, can't be too careful”, answered my dad.

I noticed the store was crowded, but not like an East Coast snow day. This was a weird event and people probably hadn't yet figured out they might have to hunker down.

We entered the house carrying as many bags as we could. “Wash your hands”, said Mols. “That stuff is probably like the flu and you might have it on your hands.”

I put my hand out like I was going to stroke her arm and she shrank away. “Cut it out Merriam”, she barked. “Go wash your hands.”

“Not a bad idea”, said my dad, and we both did a sort of surgical scrub in the kitchen sink with the dish soap.

Mols, my dad, Vic and I then pitched in to carry in the rest of the food. We were lucky that Vic had spared no expense with the fridge, a big double door model that held most items. With a horizontal freezer in the garage for the rest.

When finished, we all returned to the kitchen for the TV and the early lunch Joanie had been preparing.

As we entered the kitchen, Joanie said: “There are nine more cases in town, and it's really bad in LA. I don't think they know how many they have down there now. They say the first DHS vaccine has arrived and they're getting people vaccinated around where the cases were.”

“Yeah, the ring vaccination”, my dad replied, “that should contain it”.

After lunch, Mols and I retired to the pool area. The morning had just been too weird and I needed to digest it. I found a shady spot where I could see my tablet screen, I accessed “Demon in the Freezer” by Richard Preston, purchased a Kindle copy and began reading. I'd read it years ago, when very young, after the 911 scares, but I'd forgotten most of it. I just recalled that it had been a very good source of information on smallpox.

“Hey Mols, it says here that there's a smallpox virus for almost every animal on earth. Snakes, bugs, everything.”

“I don't care, just keep the people kind far away.”

We re-entered the kitchen about 3:00 in the afternoon and my dad said, “It's bad, it jumps the vaccination rings before the vaccine can even take effect. People are just too mobile here.”

We moved to the TV and watched. There were now hundreds of cases surfacing in San Francisco, LA and San Diego. Other cities were now also affected, e.g., San Luis Obisbo, Orange County and, worst of all, a case had just turned up in Kansas City. In a man who had got off a plane from Los Angeles hours before. Authorities were desperately trying to track down the other passengers on the plane and quarantine them. We couldn't tell what was happening in Santa Barbara, as this was swamped by the other news.

During a commercial break, Joanie turned to Mols and I and said, “They said these aren't normal cases of smallpox, like they had back in the 1800's, that people would sometimes get over. These are all that black skin kind that everyone dies from.”

“They said something about a weaponized virus. Maybe. They don't really know.” Vic added.

My dad again left the room and made some calls. Returning, he said, “This is bad, and it probably is a weaponized version of the virus. The uncontained contagion usually follows a know curve. An exponential curve. This does too, but it's a much steeper curve than you usually see with this disease, or any diseases for that matter. The first recorded case was last night at 11;35 and there are now thousands of cases.”

“Did you say the first case showed up at 11:35 last night?” I asked.

“Yes”, my dad answered.

“But how reliable is that? Is that just an approximate time?”

“I was told that's when the Ambulance was called. Actually, 11:37 PM. Pretty exact. Why?”

“No other cases anywhere?” I asked.

“No, the teams were mobilized just before midnight. When the EMT people called in the weird report.”

“That is scary. This morning I saw an article on the Fox News website talking about bio attacks in all three cities, I mean LA, San Francisco and San Diego. But the time stamp on the story was 10:18, way before the first reported case. If that case was reported at 11:35. I remember that 10:18 because that's my birthday. It's nuts, but how did they know about this?”

We were all quiet, and Vic broke the silence with, “Turn it to Fox”.

Fox news is always free with the cable bundle, it's a propaganda outfit and not a business. Money be damned, it needs to reach as many people as possible.

The Fox cable network was in full blown rant mode. Not much useful information on the outbreak, just ranting propaganda from guest after guest on how this horrible outbreak was the fault of the Democrats, particularly Obama and Hillary Clinton, and how they could never keep us safe.

“They do seem focused”, my dad noted.

“Yes they do.” Vic snorted, and then continued, “Can't tell what cities have active cases, but I do now know what Hillary Clinton should have done back in 2014.” Vic Replied.

“Any of that Chardonnay left?” Mols asked Vic. “I think I need to calm down a little.”

“Yeah, that's not a bad idea”, and he rose to fetch a bottle. Dad frowned at me.

“Hey, I'm on vacation”, I answered back to the frown. “Hey Vic, bring another glass.” I found this very liberating for some reason. The little girl stepping out.

We moved to the living room and switched on the big screen. We then killed several bottles of Chardonnay watching the progression of the disease. The situation changed hour by hour.

Mols and I kind of reverted to our old ski town personas with the alcohol. The ones that my dad disapproved of. Mols talked too much and sort of made a fool of herself. The dumb sort of stuff you shudder about the next morning and wonder if you really said it.

 

MONDAY

As usual, while Mols was in the shower, I opened the tablet to the Washington Post and there were nothing but smallpox stories on the front page. I opened one talking about the effectiveness of the vaccine. Apparently, it wasn't very effective. DHS responders, some of whom had been vaccinated shortly after 911, were getting sick at about the same rate as everyone else.

After 911, the vaccines had been prepared for the more standard strains, the sort people caught in India, or in Europe during the 1850's. This weaponized strain, and it was now called a weaponized strain, just walked all over it. The disease jumped the ring vaccinations with ease.

I opened the comments to the story for some local information. During an emergency, like a fire or a hurricane, people would usually comment on what was happening in their local area. But I saw nothing but trolls and bots, blasting out one line comments that screamed about how this was all the fault of Hillary Clinton and Obama. It appeared the usual posters, who were actually pretty good at dealing with mindless trolls, had been driven away by the sheer number of trolls. I recognized some of the trolls, but many, probably hundreds, were new to me.

I checked other stories and threads with the same results. Hundreds and hundreds of trolls were swarming the Washington Post comment pages. The pages were being overwhelmed, locking up and not scrolling. It looked like the Russian troll farms had everyone, including the third string trolls, in the game and were now hauling in more warm bodies in off the street.

Twitter was the same. My Notifications were filled with snarling trolls responding to tweets I had made to threads on news sites and politicians over the past couple of weeks.

Mols emerged from the shower looking a little worse for wear.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Guess I blew it last night. Should have just stuck to getting drunk. No future in getting drunk and shooting off your mouth.”

“It always seems worse right when you get up. Let's see if it still bothers you this afternoon.”

“Oh, I don't want to think about it”, she replied.

The others were already gathered in the kitchen when we arrived.

We entered the kitchen and without preamble my dad said, “The medical center is overwhelmed. There's at least several hundred cases in town now. They're setting up emergency clinics in a couple of school gyms. Not much need for the victims to be in the hospital. No one has recovered as far as I know. Just keep them comfortable and give them fluids.”

“Yeah, and there was some real stupidity last night”, Vic continued. “The theater up on state street was open and full, with a couple of sick people inside. Half the theater has it now. Dumb jackasses.”

“Everyone needed a break from this”, Joanie objected. “You guys got drunk and they went to the movies. They're just have a healthier way of dealing with it than you guys.”

“No they don't”, Vic replied. “They all have smallpox and we don't.”

“Vic! That's awful.”

“Hey, I'm just an awful guy. Anyway, I guess there were some minor food riots over at Vons and at the Safeway this morning. Store were trying to close and let the help go home and people wanted supplies. Staff didn't want to stick around after they saw what happened in the theater last night. Don't know how that turned out. But glad we stocked up when we did.”

“Yeah, you got yours so screw those other people.” Joanie was still peeved.

“It's not the job of a nine dollar an hour clerk to risk her life because people with multi-million dollar homes can't keep their pantries stocked.” Vic noted. “None of the people around here live paycheck to paycheck and there's no reason for them not to have a week's supply of food. Hell, we get fires and earthquakes here. You should expect the store to get shut down once in a while.” Vic was now getting a little peeved in return.

My dad broke in. “The only way we're going to stay safe is to avoid contact with other people. There's no vaccination and this stuff spreads like wildfire. And just because someone isn't sick doesn't mean they're not a carrier. I vote we lock the doors and just stay inside. We have everything we need right here. Let's just ride this out.”

“I agree one hundred percent”, said Vic.

“Joanie, start with the windows upstairs. I'll get the doors and the ground floor windows.”

We could hear locks rattling and windows slamming when CNN came on with a special report. Apparently Scott Dvorkin had gotten wind of the time of the initial Fox New report (10:18 PM)

and the time of the first reported case of smallpox (11:37 PM). He was asking if Fox was clairvoyant or if there was a rat somewhere. He suspected a rat. The announcer noted that that this was probably not a natural outbreak because this did appear to be a weaponized strain. And, he noted it odd that no terrorist organization had come forward to claim the glory.

Later that afternoon, another bombshell broke. The weaponized strain that was now sweeping the nation had been sequenced and bore a strong similarity to the Russian strain. Long thought to the the only surviving strain on the planet. Only Russia and the United States had samples of this strain. Russia had given the United States the strain in a good faith effort to allow both sides to develop countermeasures. Or, as some argued, a sort of MAD situation with a virus instead of nukes. It wouldn't be something that a pack of mad bombers out in the middle East would have access to.

The reaction from Fox News and the internet trolls to the story was immediate. Calls were made for the arrest of Dvorkin and the CNN reporters working on the story. Several Republican Senators and Congressmen joined the chorus. The lab that had done the gene sequencing was labeled as fake and un-american and calls were made to close it down. Thousands of internet trolls mocked anyone mentioning the story as a tin hatter. The comment sections of Washington Post articles were swarmed so hard that the software was again locking up.

President Trump tweeted that this story should not be promoted as it posed a risk to our national security. The 10:18 PM Fox News article were classified and vanished from the public domain. The FBI was ordered to move on the matter, and the FBI, to their credit, fired back that there was nothing to move on. They added that they were not a political tool, whatever prompted that.

Shortly thereafter, we learned that Trump had declared martial law. Travel was now highly restricted. And that was probably a good thing. And news organizations were to be silenced. A very bad thing.

The major news outlets argued that reporting the latest news on the outbreak did nothing to spread the outbreak, and, as such, Trump's executive order was simply unconstitutional babbling. A unilateral cancellation of the First Amendment.

 

Tuesday

The Washington Post and CNN were still in operation the next day. Trump's order had devolved into a series of court challenges and by noon tentative orders had been granted allowing the news outlets to stay open, and to operate freely, unless good cause was shown to cease reporting a matter.

These court orders were labeled as ridiculous by a few Republican Senators who claimed that Trump's declaration of martial law gave him absolute power to shut down the press.

The story of the time of the Fox News story and the time of the first cases of smallpox was still developing, although the actual time of the Fox News story was now classified and could not be discussed. Arguments were being advanced that the fact that the Fox News story took place before the first reported cases was also classified and could not be discussed. But the news sources were ignoring that for now.

Entering the kitchen for our standard morning meeting Joanie said, “You guys better keep your devices charged up. After the fires the power was off for a week.”

I was about to remind them about the UBS port in our car when there was a loud knock on the side door and a muffled cry of, “Are you there?” Bang, bang, bang, “Anybody there?”

My dad stepped between the party and the door and said, in a very stern voice, “I'll go get that. Vic, come with me. The rest of you stay here.”

I heard my dad say to Vic as they headed for the alcove leading to the side door, “Don't open that damn door”.

“Yes, what do you need?” My dad shouted through the door.

We couldn't make out everything that was said in response, but apparently someone nearby was sick.

“You'll have to call the authorities”, said my dad.

Another indistinct response.

“Then you'll have to take them to one of the centers yourself”, my dad answered. “There's one at the high school.”

More indistinct shouting from the other side.

“No, there is nothing we can do. You need to take them to the facility.”

Joanie arrived at the door and said, “Let me talk to them”.

“No”, said Vic, “We're not opening that door.”

Joanie tried to slip past him and grab the knob. Vic intercepted her hand. He repeated, “No, we're not opening that door. Do you get it?”.

Joanie tried to twist her hand free, “The might need food or medicine or something. We have that.”

“Yeah, and we also don't smallpox, and someone out there does. And that means everyone out there does.”

“Hey”, my dad broke in, “If we open that door, we'll probably all die. And they'll die anyway. There's nothing we can do to help them. We can only hurt ourselves.”

Joanie backed away, but still seemed indecisive.

“Do you want us all to die so that you can be a good neighbor?” Vic asked. “Because that's what it comes down to.”

Joanie shook her head, but mostly just seemed confused at this new world.

Entering the kitchen my dad said, “That woman is going to keep banging on doors until someone opens, and then we'll have two infected families in the neighborhood.”

“Anyone you guys know?” Asked Mols.

“The woman down on the corner, in the yellow house,”, Vic replied, “says her husband is sick. Doc's right. We just can't get involved. Nothing we can do for him.”

The next morning, as we gathered in the kitchen, my dad said, “I think we need to have a meeting. We can't stand around arguing if something comes up. We need to decide what we're going to do in advance. This is getting really serious.”

“Let's go into the living room and sit down”, said Vic.

Once settled, my dad began. “It may be that the only reason we're still alive is because we cut off contact with the outside several days ago. This thing is way out of control now. At least here where we are. We need to keep this isolation.”

“Yeah”, Vic continued, “Nothing comes in. Not a dog, not a cat, not a box of food, nothing. And especially not people.”

“And no sneaking out for just a minute”, Mols interjected. “Everyone's going to want to do that. To go feed the neighbors dog or something. To just step out for a minute. I don't want to be around anyone who does that. If you go out, then stay out.”

“That's a good point”, said my dad. “Just don't go out at all. There is no excuse for it. We're safe right now and let's keep it that way.”

“And knocks on the door”, Vic said. “We don't care who it is or what they want, we tell them we can't help them. We don't open the door. And maybe we just hide and pretend we're not here.”

“No, that won't work”, I interrupted. “If they come looking for food, food or supplies, they'll just kick in the door if they think the place is empty. Best to let them know we're here and they're not welcome. And tell them why. We're not sick because we're isolated and we want to stay that way. Uh, no offense and all.”

Everyone except Joanie nodded.

“And I've got two rifles upstairs. Old Russian ones from World War One. But they work fine. And a there's a box of twenty shells. I'll load up the rifles in case we ask someone to leave and they don't.”

“Yeah, it could get ugly”, said my dad. “We need to be ready.”

A couple of days later, two people were seen sitting in a car directly across the street from us. When they didn't move for several hours we knew they were dead. Apparently they had been trying to drive themselves to one of the temporary clinics and didn't make it.

“I don't like having those active cases so close to us”, said my dad as well all peaked through the window.

“So what are you going to do about it”, asked Joanie.

“Not much we can do”, said my dad. “But maybe we can seal up this side of the house a little better said my dad. Tape the doors and windows.”

And that we did. First with duct tape from the garage, and when that ran out, strips of newspaper covered with paste made from flour and water.

Over the next few days smallpox appeared in every major city in the US. Other European and Canadian cities were also affected, but we didn't get a lot of reports on this. I read the UK version of the Guardian on line and it was pretty bad in both the UK and the few European cities reported on. But the Guardian wasn't being updated everyday anymore. I tried to get more info on Vic's little multi-band emergency radio, sort of a phone sized transistor radio of the 21st Century that could be charged on a USB port.

Vic had a problem that few have had to deal with. His house was just a little too big. While we were all asleep, it would be very easy for a person seeking food or shelter to come in through one of the living areas. We mounted patrols and I soon took one of the after dark watches. The lights were off because we didn't want to draw attention to ourselves. I only lasted about twenty minutes.

I returned to our room and shook Mols awake. “You come up with me”, I said, “it's just too creepy up there alone.”

After some minor protests, she complied and followed me back to the living room dragging her blanket. She slept on the couch while I patrolled the living room, the family room and the kitchen. And God I was glad she was there.

It was about three hours later that I heard people in the pool area. The knob on the door to the pool area rattled. I prodded Mols with the rifle butt.

“There's somebody out there”, I hissed. She quickly came fully awake upon hearing this. We watched in the darkness. The knob on the other door to the back area rattled. Then a tapping on a low window that grew stronger with each tap. Mols, standing slightly behind me, hit the window with the flashlight. There was a face there, which was incredibly startling even though I knew someone was out there tapping. We both screamed and I fired the rifle into the wall from my hip. The face vanished and our people came running from the bedrooms.

Looking from darkened windows, we determined the intruders were gone. Or at least now showing themselves.

“I think we're safe”, said Vic. “There are a lot of empty houses, why would they single out one full of people with guns?”

This made sense to Mols and I, but neither of us felt any safer. And we had no trouble staying up until dawn watching for a return of the intruders.

All of us feared facing down a large group of hungry people.

“If they come, we tell them that we're sorry, but we don't have any food, but we do have guns”, said Mols.

“We could leave food outside the door for them and they could pick it up”, said Joanie.

“No, because then we become a feeding station and the last thing we want is a bunch of contaminated people hanging around 24/7”, said Vic. “Besides, there are five of us, and we don't have as much food as you think. We could be here for months.”

But to our relief, this never happened. I think people were taken down so quickly by the disease that there was plenty food in public places for the few survivors to pillage. Santa Barbara is full of restaurants and neighborhood grocery stores, plus several large markets.

About the third week in October, we heard that the November elections had been suspended due to the health crises. This was about the last news we got from the outside and, at this point, and it almost seemed silly. Who would risk their life to go out to vote or even pick up their mail in ballot? And who would count the votes? The radio said that all representatives, i.e., Congressmen, Senators, Governors, City Councilmen, etc., would continue in their posts until further notice. And if replacements were needed, these would be appointed by Washington.

Elections were never held.

The internet went down and the radio and television stations went off the air.

The power went off in early November. We charged our devices off the USB port in the car and ran the living room TV and freezers off Vic's little camping generator in the cellar. One freezer on for four hours and then the next on for four hours. We used no lights as we wanted no knocks on the door. There was plenty of gas in the car tanks.

The water went off next. But this wasn't really a problem. We just boiled pool water. Everything tasted like chlorine, but it wasn't that bad. The gas never went off.

Our biggest problem now was boredom. We no longer had any media and Vic and Joanie weren't big readers, so we really had no books. Just a few of my Kindles and a few best sellers laying about the living room. I tried writing a book on our experiences but soon dropped it. The same thing happened everyday. Mols and I began an exercise program, the health benefits of which we countered with drinking in the evening. Vic had a large stockpile of alcohol. And, out of boredom, we supplemented this with some vile tasting home brew made from canned fruit and bakers yeast.

The winter that year was mild and sunny. January was beautiful and perfect for bike rides in Palm Park. We gathered around the kitchen table and held a meeting as to whether should leave the house.

“Is there any reason to leave the house?” My dad began. “There are some pretty good reasons for staying here a while longer, but if there's a real need to leave, we should address that.”

We all looked at each other to see who would go first.

“Well, I need to go because I'm dying of boredom”, said Vic. “I know that isn't much of an excuse, but what are the dangers? If they're very small, I say let's go.”

“We don't know”, my dad answered. “We've been here since September, that's four months. And these sort of outbreaks are almost always burned out in six months. I say we stay for six, until mid March. That's only eight weeks and we should then be safe by all standards.”

Vic gave a mock scream and slid down in his chair until we could only see his eyes over the top of the table. “I can't stand it”, he said.

I jumped in and said, “I vote for six”. Mols followed me. Jeanie said she would go with the majority. So six it was.

Cabin fever set in, I found myself getting really annoyed with people for very small things. The way they ate, or the way they interrupted when I spoke. Vic had a stock list of greetings such as “How ya doing” which I was getting very tired of. Jeanie's passivity could get really grating. Like trying to get responses from Jello. There was a lot of petty bickering by everyone.

This ended when the smoke arrived the first week of February. First, just wisps, to let us know there was a fire somewhere. But the density increased at an alarming rate. In fifteen minutes we were choking on it and couldn't see past the backyard fence.

“This is a wildfire coming at us”, I said. “Remember the Painted Cave fire? A column of smoke, then smoke like this and then the fire came roaring up the canyon. Ten minutes later.”

My dad and Vic nodded grimly.

“But there's not much wind to drive it”, said Vic. “The bad ones all had fifty mile per hour winds behind them.”

“But there's no one fighting this”, said Joanie, looking out across pool and trying to spot the flames through the smoke. “I don't hear the planes and sirens. God knows what's going to happen with this.”

We were getting some embers, but they were small and Vic had a Cal Shake roof. So no one was really concerned here.

“It could burn the whole town”, said Vic. “Let's get read to evacuate. And quick. It could be here in ten minutes. Get the food first. And then your most important stuff. We can load other stuff if we have time. Now go!”

And go we did. We focused on the grains and canned goods as our frozen meats wouldn't last two days if we were driven out of the house. I got my lap top, my tablet and some warm clothing. We grabbed blankets and a few cooking pots. The five of us managed to have the cars packed in about ten minutes.

We returned to the living area and again looked out across the pool. Nothing much had changed. Vic left and returned carrying an aluminum ladder through the living area and out to the pool. He sat it against the house and climbed to the first floor roof. Mols and I followed.

“There!”, Vic pointed to the North. We could see the yellow flames through the smoke.

“That's the Mesa”, Vic said. “The fire's in town. Thank God. It's not in the Chaparral. At least not yet.”

“Over by the Junior College?” I asked. I was somewhat disoriented, this not being my house.

“Yeah, couldn't be a better place for it. Right in the middle of town. Right next to the Ocean. Hopefully it doesn't get to the hills and Chaparral.”

We had good views in three directions and could take in most of he forth by peeking around the second story. We saw no fire anywhere else. We posted a 24 hour watch, but everyone enjoyed being up on the roof and watching the fire so this was no inconvenience. We actually had to send people down to sit in the house in case someone tried to break in.

We watched for several hours and the fire didn't seem to be getting any closer.

“It would have to cross the freeway and lower State where there are some pretty substantial buildings. Then Fess Parker's place with the big mowed lawns and the bird sanctuary. I just don't think it's coming this way.”

“Well let's watch it”, said my dad.

“Well yeah!”, said Vic somewhat sarcastically. I guess all the cabin fever hadn't worn off yet.

We spent a wonderful evening sitting on the roof, sipping wine and watching the yellow glow of the fire.

The fire had abated within four days and we had all had it. We made preparations to go out and explore. My dad and Joanie would stay in the house and Vic, Mols and I would take the suburban out and see what was going on. I tried to talk Mols into staying as Joanie would be pretty useless if there was a problem, but this was an impossible task. No way was she going to sit in the house after five and a half months of sitting there.

We took three bikes and packs with water and a little food in case we couldn't get the car back for some reason. We also took one of the old Russian rifles, leaving the other one for my dad. It sort of felt like the preparation for a moon landing.

“Don't get too close to anyone you might meet out there”, my dad said the night before. “Maybe stay back twenty feet or so. And this probably goes without saying, but stay far, far away from any corpses you might run across. We don't know how long this stuff is active.”

The trip out was, for the most part, aniticlimactic. Cruising along the beach, we saw that Palm Park was un-mowed and wild looking. Palm fronds were everywhere. Boats from the fools anchorage were on the beach and smashed by the waves. There were bodies on the beach which we assumed were from the town's sizable homeless population. It appeared that most people had died in their houses.

Further on, we saw the burned area. A huge section of the town on the mesa had gone up in flames. We couldn't see what had stopped the fire. We turned around and headed up state. The business district looked relatively undamaged, but there was a lot of trash in the street. A few restaurants and delis had their windows broken. Further on, the area turned residential and we saw some signs of life. Doors and walls of the houses had the location of their owners painted on them, e.g., “Gone to San Luis Obisbo” or “With Grandmother”. But we saw no people.

We drove around town for about two hours and saw no one. Vic would occasionally stop the car and honk the horn. We also fired a rifle shot up on the hill above town. But no one ever appeared. We finally returned to the house.

My dad greeted us in the garage.

“There is no one out there”, I said.

“No one at all?” He asked.

“No, no one”, Vic chimed in. “It's like 'Up From the Beach'. No one at all. It looks like their October surprise got away from them”.

 


© Copyright 2020 MissFedelm. All rights reserved.

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