You can see all of the chapters (in descending order) here.
In front of her, Steve was still running full tilt toward the Durango, he was nearly to them but the strange man was going to reach her and the kids first. “Jeff! Get up here.” Jeff immediately climbed from the 3rd row seat, over the cat carrier and into the passenger’s seat.
“Sammy. Get Delia out of her carseat and down onto the floor with you. “I’m getting out to help Dad. Don’t open these doors unless Dad or I tell you to. Jeff, when I get out, slide over here, lock this door, and start the car. If Dad or I yell for you to go, you put this car in drive and go as far as you can straight down this road, you understand?” Jeff nodded.
Jess could tell he was terrified but he had his temporary permit and he had driven before. Even with a flat he could at least get the kids away from immediate danger. “Remember how to watch the mile markers, to tell what road and where you are?” Jeff nodded.
“I know, mom.” Jess handed him the key to the car.
“Sammy, take my phone. Call Grandma’s number, see it right here? If Jeff starts driving, call Grandma as soon as you have service. We’ll catch up if need be, but Jeff you just keep driving for as long as you can.”
Jess grabbed the door handle and steeled herself for what was to come. “I love you guys.” she said as she swung the door open. Almost in one motion, Jess closed the car door and brought the gun up toward the stranger walking towards them in the darkness.
“That’s close enough.” Jess growled. Her mama bear instincts had kicked in full force. This guy wasn’t getting to her kids without a fight.
“Whoa there little lady. It’s me, Ned.” the booming voice from the darkness slowly morphed into old Mr. Crankston. “Ned Crankston, from your neighborhood.” Jess cried out in relief and surprise. She lowered the gun. Mr. Crankston took a cautious step forward. She felt like the world was spinning. From behind her she could hear Steve calling her name.
“You okay there? I didn’t mean to startle you.” Mr. Crankston said. “I wasn’t going to stop but I thought I recognized the Durango and then I saw that school spirit decal you got on your back window there. Figured I better see if you needed a hand.” Steve came up behind Jess and slowly pulled the gun from her hand. He was short of breath from running.
“Ned Crankston, boy are we glad to see you.” Steve said.
“You sure did give me a fright thought. I was sure you were someone wanting to take our supplies. Sorry about the gun.” Jess said.
“Don’t worry about it. You were protecting your kids. If it’s any consolation, you did give me pause with that mama bear growl and that gun trained on me.” Mr. Crankston chuckled. “Now what seems to be the problem?”
“I sure could use a jack if you have one.” Ned nodded and the two men headed back toward Crankston’s truck to get the jack.
“Geez, the kids.” Jess opened the car door to let the kids know everything was okay for the moment. “Kids, it’s okay. It’s just Mr. Crankston.” Jess smiled through her tears as the kids cheered. Sammy and Delia climbed up off the floor and onto the back seat.
“If it’s okay Mommy, why are you crying?” Delia asked curiously.
“These are happy tears honey. I’m happy it’s someone we know and not a stranger.” Jess responded. Jeff slid over to the passenger’s seat and Jess slid back into the car with the kids. “Mr. Crankston is going to let us use his jack so Daddy can change that flat tire and then we’ll be on our way to the cabin.
It’s not far now.” Jess explained. Delia cheered at the thought of being almost to the cabin. “Do you kids want to stretch your legs a bit while Daddy and Mr. Crankston change the tire? We may not get to stop again till we get to the cabin.”
“That’s a good idea, mom.” Jeff responded. “Come on Sammy. You too Delia. We can walk a bit right there in that field.” Jeff pointed out the window to a small clearing. “Is that okay, mom? I’ll keep an eye on them.” Jeff said. Jess nodded.
“It should be okay, just for a little bit. But stay together.’ Jess said. “And don’t go too far from the car. Just in case. And if you see more headlights, you highstep it back to the car fast.” Jeff nodded.
“I’ll pay attention, Mom.” Jeff assured her. Jess watched from the car as the kids climbed out and headed out into the small clearing. Steve and Mr. Crankston were changing the tire, she turned the key and rolled down the window so she could hear them chatting as they worked.
“You headed somewhere specific?” Mr. Crankston asked Steve. Jess saw Steve nod.
“We have a cabin in Blairsville. Jess’s parents are near there too.” Steve told him. “It’s not fancy, but it will do us for a little while if needed.”
“Imagine that. My bug out place is near Blairsville too.” Mr. Crankston revealed. “You did good to get out when you did. Traffic was getting worse as I left.”
“Yeah, we saw you were packing as we drove by and figured if you were bugging out instead of hunkering down in your bunker, we were making the right decision.” Steve said.
“I guess my stash isn’t as secret as I thought.” he grinned at Steve.
“Well if it helps, no one really knows if it’s fact or rumor.” Steve said.
“Well, yes, I’ve got a bunker and I probably could have stayed and rode out the storm but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to use this as a practice run.” Mr. Crankston replied. Jess watched as they tugged off the old tire and then lifted the spare into place. “You just never know what’s coming these days. It pays to be prepared.”
“We’ve been trying to prepare better over the last couple years.” Steve said. “This hurricane is one thing but I’m not convinced that something worse isn’t looming.”
“You are right about that. I’ve been paying attention to the musings of different people in the groups I belong to. There’s a definite possibility for something major in the next year or so, maybe sooner.” Mr. Crankston said.
Just then Jess heard Delia cry out from the clearing. Jess glanced up and could see Sammy on the ground, Jeff leaning over her. Jess got out of the car and ran to see what had happened with the kids.
“Mom, Sammy tripped when we were playing tag.” Delia said as Jess came running up. “She hurt herself.”
“How bad is it, Sammy?” Jess asked. Jeff pulled Sammy to her feet, supporting her weight as best he could.
“It’s my ankle mom. Not bad, but it sure hurts. I twisted it when I fell.” Sammy tried to put weight on her right foot and grimaced.
“Okay, well let’s get you to the car so you can rest it. There’s a cold pack in the first aid kit, that will help it feel better.” Jess said. Jess got on Sammy’s other side and they started moving across the field toward the car.
“Delia go on ahead to Daddy and tell him we need the first aid kit from the back of the Durango. Don’t run, I don’t want you to fall but you can walk quicker than Jeff and I since we’re helping Sammy.”
“Okay mom, I can do it.” Delia said. She puffed out her chest a bit and started walking as quick as her little legs could move.” Jess winked at Jeff and he grinned.
“She’s got a mission.” Jess said. Sammy smiled and nodded. Delia reached the ditch near the car just a little ahead of them and started calling for her Dad. Steve lifted her over and set her on the ground near the car. He leaned down to listen to her tell him what was wrong and then headed for the back of the Durango.
By the time Jess and Jeff got to the ditch with Sammy between them, Steve was there waiting with the first aid kit. He helped her over the ditch and got her settled in the back seat.
Jess dug in the first aid kit and pulled out the cold pack. She cracked it per the instructions and applied it to Sammy’s ankle. “Let’s get this shoe off for now and then you can rest your heel up here on the cat carrier so it’s elevated a little bit.” Jess suggested.
She removed Sammy’s shoe and then took some ibuprofen from the first aid kit. “Here, Sammy, take one of these to help keep the swelling down and help with the pain.” Jess handed Sammy a bottle of water from the cooler on the floor by Delia’s car seat.
“The tire is on and we’re about ready to get back on the road. Mr Crankston’s place is in the area of Blairsville so he’s going to follow us most of the way, just to make sure this spare holds.” Steve explained to Jess. She nodded and smiled at Mr. Crankston.
“Thanks Ned, I truly appreciate your help.” Jess said.
“No problem at all little lady. I don’t mess much with people as you probably figured out. But I’ve watched these kids of yours grow up over the last few years.
You seem like decent folk. It never hurts to stay in touch with those who are like minded.” Mr. Crankston reached into his shoulder bag and pulled out a handheld walkie radio.
He handed the radio to Steve. “Take this Steve. It doesn’t have much range for most things but it’s tied to mine, so you’ll be able to get a message to me if needed. You got a Faraday cage setup, right? Make sure you keep that radio in it when not in use.”
“I do, yes. Thanks Ned. It’s much appreciated. And don’t hesitate to call on us if need be. We don’t have much but we’ll help if we’re able.” Steve said. The two men shook hands and Mr. Crankston headed back to his truck. Jeff and Steve repacked the back of the Durango and within a few minutes they were back on the road to Blairsville with Mr. Crankston following behind them.
“Can you believe of all the people to come along tonight, we were lucky enough to have it be Mr. Crankston? Jess grinned at Steve. “Don’t know that many people would consider seeing old man Crankston a lucky thing, huh?”
“Yeah most people probably wouldn’t be glad to see him but I sure am glad it was him. I can’t tell you how terrified I was when I saw those headlights and realized the danger you and the kids were in.” Steve said. “It was really stupid for me to leave you like that.”
“No, Steve, it wasn’t. You left the gun and I knew it was loaded because of the incident earlier today. It wasn’t ideal but we needed to find service and call for help. You did what you could. And you sure got back to the car fast. It’s nice to know you can still move that fast.” Jess grinned at Steve and reached to squeeze his hand.
“Oh I can still move well enough. Just wait till we get settled in the cabin and I’ll show you some of my moves.” Steve winked at Jess and grinned. She slapped at him playfully.
“Yeah, we’ll see. Something tells me after the day we’ve had today, the only thing we’re going to want to do is sleep when we get to the cabin.”
“Ewww Mom, Dad, TMI back here!” Jeff piped up from the 3rd row. Jess turned around and winked at Jeff.
“Alright, alright. Let’s everyone sit back and relax. We’ve had enough excitement for tonight. With a little more luck we’ll be at the cabin in no time at all.” Jess said.
(to be continued…)