With phone service and other types of communication so spotty in some areas telegrams are the only way to get important messages directly to those that are most important to you. They are expensive but when it is important they are one of the most reliable forms of communication.
Care of Pappas Winery
Hannah safe with me Stop Others evacuated Stop No injuries though stuck here Stop Don’t worry or try to come Stop Be there soonest baring more trouble Stop AJ.
Trouble. That’s a mild way to put it; seems like the only law left in this land is the law of gravity. AJ’s telegram couldn’t have been a bigger understatement if he had tried and it arrived right as Dino and Alec were about to take off to try and make a run to the nearest bridge to see if he needed help getting across or pay a toll or bribe if that is what it took. It seems instead of it being darkest before the dawn, this time it was the brightest before the fall.
Peace talks – real peace talks not those make believe things that had been in the news up to that point – began in Switzerland and was attended by a worldwide delegation of men and women, including from the super powers, that were dedicated to doing what it took to put the skids on this blasted war. As a result consumer confidence shot up all over the place, lots of hopefulness abounded, and in general people were feeling giddy with the idea of peace at last. After so many years it seemed like there was a real chance of things returning ot the normal that things used to be. The talks were even serious enough to spark talks of what to do with all the returning soldiers and CSP so that their unemployment wouldn’t crash the already fragile economy. Most every nation seemed to be walking away from the table with something, even if it was just their pride or honor, and that everyone was more than ready to put the toys of war away. They had announced a day to sign all of the treaties and there was much rejoicing.
Then something happened. We still don’t know for sure who set it off; no one is claiming credit. It was a planted bomb, not one that flew through the air. Geneva simply ceased to exist as a real city taking the souls of all of those peace-seekers with it. You’ve heard of the shot heard ‘round the world? Well that was the flash seen ‘round the world. Live feeds from numerous media outlets and the general public were all focused on that area of Switzerland when it happened. Most only lasted a few seconds but some like from the international space station caught all of the horrific details for posterity.
We don’t have a television signal as you can barely get the signal from an aerial in town much less as far out in the country as we are. But we heard it on the radio. All the men, Alec and Ajax included, had been over for breakfast and to hear the news before starting on some maintenance or other of the bottling equipment. It was hard to believe what we were hearing. Lots of important media personalities got vaporized right along with everyone and everything else. Every country that had delegates at the talks immediately started pointing fingers as soon as the shock had eased some. Then bombs started going off around the globe. Not too many nuclear warheads flew but enough that a few more places ceased to exist just like Geneva … but not one flew from the major, not even China with all of its posturing and bloodying screeching, and that was what told us there might be a chance left if we prayed for it hard enough.
It happened so quickly … three days of nerves and hell. Three days of not much but static or crazy talk from the radio. Three days of heavy work by every adult and child between our two households. It was the news that several bombs had exploded at the munitions factories not far from where Mrs. Bly’s brother had his compound and AJ kept his apartments that really made it hit home for all of us in the Pappas world. It only took an hour from the time Geneva died for them to break in with local emergency news of it happening so we knew it was something big and pre-planned going down all over the world.
We didn’t know at the time how it happened but we would eventually learn that an armored truck loaded with tons of explosives simply barreled through one of the factory gates and kept going until it was inside the factory itself before it was detonated setting off a chain reaction of such magnitude it is said that it melted steel beams.
I don’t know what started me off but I jumped up and started carting things down to the basement at a pony trot. Dino grabbed me and asked, “Riss! What are you doing?!”
I reckon he thought I’d lost it or something but I was as sane as I had ever been when I told him, “If my children have to live underground for a while they are not going to do it like some ol’ cave man. I can at least give them some civilization that will last a little while.”
All of the men that had been sitting listening to the radio got up and looked at each other, nodded and then in some weird accord went to start their own tasks. Mr. Chamberlin and his son left for home at a fast space and Josiah Calvert got on his horse and went lickety split himself to put the militia on notice that hadn’t already heard. By the second day the field hands’ trailers had been jacked up and split between Alec’s place and ours so that the men would have a place close to run if something did happen. Chester asked to come to us and we backed that trailer right into the tractor barn beside all of AJ’s mess.
I don’t know what all they did at Alec’s place and haven’t thought to ask but at ours we worked from before sun up to after sun down trying to do what we could to protect the animals and ourselves. I spent hours making the basement into something less like a dungeon while at the same time securing and covering the few windows that were in the closet sized storage rooms on the outside of the space down there so no light could find us nor be let out if we were down there at night. The shutters on the entire house were closed, locked, and braced and are that way still.
The military contract had been fulfilled just the week before so the wine cellar was emptier as was the tunnel between the basement and the grape shed and as soon as it got too dark to work outside I had the men help move things into all the nooks down there. The ice room was full to bursting of sausage and other types of fresh meat as well as what could be moved out of the smoke house and I put a quilt across the door to keep Kerry out of there looking for “ice cream” and other people stumbling in there just because they’d opened the wrong door.
I tried to think of ways to secure Chester’s place but he said, “No ma’am, no sense in it. Waste of time and resources. If something seems off I’ll run the boys over and if you’ll take ‘em down into the basement with you I’ll stay up top and keep an eye on things as long as I can.”
Suddenly and unreasonably turned inside out I said, “Oh no you won’t! You’re family! You’re coming down there with us if I have to pull you by your ears!!”
I was so upset at what he was willing to sacrifice that my voice was a lot louder than I meant it to be and Dino popped into the kitchen from the porch where he’d been unloading something, I forget what. He looked at Chester and then shook his head morosely though it was more to let the man know he felt the same as I did but played it different so that male pride wasn’t pinched. “Better give her what she wants Chester. You know how women can be.”
Chester’s ears turned as red as a sunset but there was a bashful smile on his face as he said, “If I don’t know, no one does.”
That was the third day and was as close to hysteria as we came except for the angina attack that Aunt Adona had on the same day and the fainting spell that Tina had due to standing up too quick when Aunt Adona stumbled into the kitchen looking like death warmed over worrying that she was having a heart attack.
For the first two days we waited with baited breath for news from the city but it was hard to have hope. Then came the telegram and I haven’t a clue how AJ got it out. It reached us by courier late but words were never more welcome. The young man wouldn’t stay for supper but he was more than grateful to accept what food I could put together for him at such short notice. I still wonder if that young man made it to all his stops and then to his home in time. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know but I’ll say a prayer for him often because not too many people would have done what he did for complete strangers, even if he was getting paid for it.
On the fourth day we woke up to find that there hadn’t been a true conflagration of the whole earth, and that thus far the world – or at least our corner of it – hasn’t been knocked back to the Stone Age; but we’re hurt … everyone is hurt. The world still teeters back and forth no matter how much most countries are trying to pull back. There are just some that keep stirring the pot.
For our country it was mostly the infrastructure that was targeted and more attacks were successful than they should have been. A few dirty bombs were mixed in there, some limited bioterrorism, but most of the damage has been conventional. The locations of the damage have mostly been kept out of the radio news but Alec still gets some news via his ham radio and we’ve paid a horrible price in some places that will take a generation or more to heal from.
Them folks that run DC these days however ain’t timid or half-hearted; when they entered the fray on that first day they fought to win. The damage they inflicted was enough for our country and our troops to be the first to be left alone with Canada a close second as we offered support to the country that had remained, thru it all, our ally. Fighting does remain harsh along our southern border and the Gulf Coast and it has sent all those that headed south for the winter back north as they try to escape being drafted by the militias and the CSP. News of people going AWOL and then being hung or shot after a quick trial has become almost normal. Evacuation and refugee camps are also common on the outskirts of the suburbs but people quickly stopped utilizing them – at least willingly – when they turned into drafting stations for the militias and work camps for anyone left behind.
The first couple of nights either Dino or I would fall asleep in the front room in case AJ and Hannah should arrive after night had fallen. As the days turned into a week we gave up our waiting. They’d come or they wouldn’t. Then one week was nearly two and a big rock hitting the shutter of our bedroom had Dino running down the stairs with shotgun in hand. It was AJ and Hannah.
They were both a terrible mess but there was a fierce light of success in their eyes. There was no time to talk that night as they were both shaking with exhaustion. Throwing the rock had taken the last bit that AJ had and Dino had to all but carry him and put him to bed. Hannah was little better and the light of the kerosene lamp made her look almost ghostly with big dark circles under her eyes and hollows where her plump cheeks used to be.
AJ still looked like he was ready for the coffin maker when he woke up after hearing me in the kitchen. He and Dino were leaving as soon as the sky turned pink. They were half way out the door when Hannah came stumbling down the stairs only three quarters put together demanding they wait.
“Don’t be pig headed Hannah. What would your mother and uncle say?” AJ asked trying to get her to see reason.
“Mom’s not here and I could care less what that ol’ bastard … stop glaring at me Riss, there’s no kids around … I could care less what Uncle Bill thinks, says, or does. He left me with a bottle of water, a worthless bus pass, and a lecture pinned to the front door. I helped push that monster as far as we got it and then hide it, now I’m going to finish the job.” She didn’t stomp her foot but she might as well have.
With one more look at her set face AJ mildly grumbled, “If you aren’t in the wagon when we pull out no amount of pouting is going to stop us leaving without you.”
I don’t know which of us were more surprised; Dino watching AJ slam a hat on his head and stalk off the porch or me watching Hannah fly back up the stairs to rebutton her callywhampus shirt and grab a jacket. I turned to Dino who shrugged and said, “Don’t ask me. It looks like they’ve both done some changing.”
Not thirty seconds had lapsed behind Dino shutting the door when Hannah clattered back down the stairs nearly falling.
“Don’t break your neck Hannah Banana, you just got here.”
She hugged me so hard my neck popped. “I want to meet Pita and talk and just everything else but Mr. Nichols really will leave me behind if I don’t get out there.” She flew out the door hopping on one foot trying to put her shoes on. It was like a summer wind devil had kissed the kitchen and then moved on.
Kerry suddenly stuck his head over the banister and asked in shock, “Who’s that?!”
Trying to remain calm and matter-of-fact I told him, “Hannah Bly.”
“Wow,” he said in awe. “She’s noisier than Pita is.” Miss Pita-pie picked that moment to try to beat her aunt’s noise level and my day returned to more familiar rhythms, at least until lunch time when I saw the wagon pulling in.
Kerry shot out the door before I could hold him back but he knew to stay out of the way until Dino put the break on the wagon. “Uncle AJ!! Uncle AJ!!”
“Down squirt,” I heard AJ moan tiredly. “Or Riss will have my head for encouraging you.”
“Naw … Momma Riss will say it is OK ‘cause we have all … been … worried … sick!” He sounded like a little old man scolding a reckless youngster and despite whatever was on their minds all three adults he faced smiled.
Pita was asleep in the cradle in the kitchen and I carried her up to the bedroom so that we could eat in peace without waking her. I set cold sliced ham, farmer’s cheese, dried tomatoes, a few condiments and sliced bread that I had baked the day before on the table. There were also a little bit of wild green salad and some dried fruit fried pies for dessert.
Hannah surprised the heck out of me. She was half way into her chair before she popped back up and asked what she could do to help. “You can sit down before you fall down is what you can do. And eat, you don’t look like you’ve had a proper meal in I don’t know how long.”
“Not because Mr. Nichols didn’t take care of me,” Hannah said coming to AJ’s defense even though I hadn’t meant to take him down any notches.
“AJ doesn’t shirk his duty of that I’ve no doubt. I mean neither of you look good and I don’t mean that unkindly.
“Oh,” she said blushing. “I … I guess … well anyway it took longer to get here than expected and we worried that a fire would draw too much attention.”
I turned to AJ after I had finally convinced Hannah to sit. “I want to know what’s been happening something awful but I need to see you two eat even more. Chester went to tell Alec that you’ve arrived and if I don’t miss my guess they’ll be here shortly. Relax if you can and then you only have to tell it once.”
Hannah was looking at AJ anxiously and I wondered at it. He finally nodded and said, “That’s probably a good idea. It isn’t a story I want to have to repeat too many times. Can we move the wagon load into the barn first?”
“Chester’s boys are doing it,” I told him as I looked out the window. “They’ll tend to the horses too. I’ve already made sure they ate so they’d stay outside in case it was Pappas family business involved. They’re good boys but still just boys all the same.”
AJ stood up and looking out the screen door then nodded and sat back down. “Always thinking Damaris … you’re always thinking ahead. And we might very well need that head of yours to make plans for what is coming.”