You can see all of the chapters (in descending order) here.
Ned Crankston awoke on the couch the next morning to the smell of breakfast cooking. He sat up and ran a hand through his hair. “Good morning neighbor” Steve said from his seat at the table. “Breakfast is almost ready. You have just enough time to wash up if you like, first.”
“Thanks, I’ll just be a minute.” Ned headed into the bathroom as the kids started to gather around the table eager for breakfast.
“Sammy, set the table. Jeff grab that stool in the corner of the living room and bring it near the table for Mr. Crankston.” Jess said as she found the syrup among their supplies and put it out on the table.
“What can I do to help, mama?” Delia asked tugging at her mom’s apron. Jess looked down at her youngest child and grinned.
“Why don’t you run out back to the flower garden and pick some fresh flowers for the table. You choose the ones you want and Sammy can cut them for you.” Jess suggested. Jess reached into a drawer and pulled out a pair of shears which she handed to Sammy. “Do you mind, Sammy?” Jess asked.
“Sure thing, mom.” Sammy replied. The flower garden behind the cabin was partially Sammy’s project. She worked a little in the flower garden with her mom every time they came to the cabin.
The two girls headed out the back door of the cabin to get the flowers and returned in a few moments with a large bouquet that Jess arranged in a vase and set on the table as a centerpiece.
A few minutes later, Ned exited the bathroom and pulled up a stool at the table. “Wow, this all looks great, Jess. Breakfast at home hasn’t looked like this in a long time. I can’t believe you pulled it off here.” Ned said.
“Well, the pancakes are from a mix and the scrambled eggs are reconstituted from powdered. Part of our bug out supplies.” Jess set a heaping plate of food in front of Ned. “I did have some eggs coated in mineral oil stored here but whoever broke in must have found them.
“Mineral oil? How’s that work?” Ned asked.
“It works for fresh laid eggs to give them a longer shelf life. You coat each egg liberally in mineral oil and then store in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight. I’ve had eggs last more than nine months using the mineral oil. I always float them before I use them just to be safe.” Jess explained.
“Float?” Ned asked. “I’ve been prepping a long time, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of floating eggs.”
“It’s how you can tell if they’re still good. Fill a cup with cold water, drop the egg into it before you crack it. If it sinks it’s good. If it floats, throw it out.” Jess explained further. “We’ve always kept some stocked here.
The neighbor down the road has chickens and they give us eggs whenever we are here. Definitely better than the powdered, but whoever was here must have been hungry. They went through three dozen eggs I had stored that way.” Jess shook her head. “But hey, that’s what bug out supplies are for, right?”
“Well, yes, that’s how it’s supposed to work, I guess.” Ned took a bit of eggs. “I’ll have to check into getting some powdered eggs to add to my stockpile. And maybe I’ll try the mineral oil too. I’ve got a lot of rice and beans in my stockpile but these are pretty good.”
“They’re great when you’re hungry.” Steve said with a chuckle. “Hey, before you head on to your place, I was hoping I could get you to take a look at this project I’ve been wanting to get done. I’ve got everything I need to get this cabin on solar power. Since we’ll be here a couple days due to the hurricane, I’d really like to get it connected if I can.”
“Sure, I can take a look at what you’ve got. Shouldn’t take more than half a day to get everything connected if you’ve got what you need.” Ned said.
“Great. Much appreciated.” Steve helped himself to a second helping of eggs. “There’s plenty of food, Ned. Help yourself to more.”
“Don’t mind if I do.” Ned said and helped himself to a couple more pancakes and some more eggs. After breakfast, Steve took Ned to the locked garage behind the cabin, which had thankfully been untouched by the intruders. Inside, Steve had stockpiled several solar panels, a power inverter, charger, batteries, and wire to make a small solar panel system for the cabin.
The two spent several hours building a mount for the solar panels and configuring the battery block that would store the energy for when it was needed. They moved between the garage and the cabin, building components and then carrying them to the cabin to connect them.
Once the system was finished and connected, all Steve or Jess would have to do is to flip a switch to take the cabin from grid electricity to solar powered electricity.
“Thanks for your help with this system, Ned. I’ve been stockpiling components and researching solar power for what seems like forever. I guess I was just hesitant to get started without some help.” Steve admitted. They were on their way back to the garage to get the final solar panel for mounting.
“Oh, I see. You just wanted someone else to be the guinea pig when the switch is thrown, right?” Ned laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I got all those wires connected in the right places.”
“That’s good news. But really, thanks for the help. I feel even more ready to hunker down here if some other event happens in the near future. I’ve already got the well hooked up. And I’ve got Jess’ grandmother’s wood cookstove over in the corner there.”
Steve pointed to a slightly rusted antique cookstove in the corner of the garage. “I just have to sand it down and give it a fresh coat of high heat paint and it’ll be good to go if we need it.”
“That’s a fine stove. It’s a good option for cooking and heating if the grid goes down.” Ned said. They heard a car near the front of the house and a brief horn.
“That’s likely Jess’ parents. Let’s get this last solar panel mounted and then head back inside. Jess will probably have some lunch ready soon. I’m sure her parents will want to hear about the intruders last night.” Steve said.
“I should get a move on soon, but I’ve never been one to turn down a meal.” Ned said with a laugh.” He lifted his end of the solar panel and Steve took the other side. Once it was in place and mounted, the two men headed for the cabin.
“Do you follow what’s going on overseas?” Ned asked.
“Not every day but I try to pay attention when something major is going on. It’s kind of hard to tell when things are a real threat versus when the media is just trying to fan the flames of hysteria, ya know?” Steve said.
“I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s created to get crowds riled up.” Ned said. The two men entered the cabin through the back door and took turns washing up in the bathroom before heading for the kitchen. Jess was making lunch and her parents were already seated at the table. Ned could hear the sounds of video games on the television in the bedroom where the kids were busy playing. “I guess we’ll check that switch after lunch and avoid a riot, eh?” Ned said with a chuckle. Steve nodded and grinned.
“Meet my parents, Don and Sheryl.” Jess said as Need took a seat at the table. “Mom, Dad, this is our neighbor, Ned Crankston.” Ned shook hands with Jess’ dad over the table top.
“Nice to meet you folks.” Ned said. “Sorry it has to be under these circumstances.” he added.
“Jess said you rescued them when they got a flat tire last night. And that you stepped up to help Steve make sure the cabin was safe for my grandkids. Thanks for doing that.” Don said.
“No trouble at all. I don’t mind helping decent folk. And Jess and Steve and their youngsters are decent folk in my opinion.” Ned said.
“Thank goodness you were the one that stopped. What brings you this way?” Sheryl asked.
“I’ve got a small place about an hour from here. Was headed there to get out of the path of that hurricane.” Ned explained.
“Oh that hurricane is fierce.” Sheryl said. “We were watching reports on the news this morning. It’s just awful. They’re saying it’s one of the worst hurricanes on record in years.” she added.
“Really mom? The hurricane was supposed to downgrade. That’s not good. Could you see any video of our neighborhood?” Jess asked.
“I couldn’t tell. But that main road by you, Jeffries something? It’s is still underwater in a lot of places according to the report this morning.” Sheryl said.
“Steve? You said we’d head back tomorrow. Maybe we need to stay a few more days? We can’t take the kids back there and find out the house is flooded. Where would we stay?” Jess asked.
“Why don’t you let the kids stay with us a few days? You two can go on back tomorrow or the next day, check out the damage to the house, and then decide when the kids should come.” Don suggested.
“What do you think Steve? If it’s really that flooded, schools will be closed at least through Monday or Tuesday anyhow.” Jess said.
“It might be better for the kids. We don’t know what shape the house is in. Could be traumatic for them to see if it’s bad.” Steve said.
You can meet us halfway to get them in a few days or we can bring them to you if you want.” Don suggested. Steve nodded.
“I think that sounds like a good idea. You want to take the kids back with you when you go? That way Jess and I can just head out early in the morning.” Steve said.
“I’ll go tell the kids to pack their stuff.” Sheryl stood up and headed for the bedroom. A few minutes later, they could hear the kids cheering at the news that they were going to their grandparents’ home. Suddenly Steve turned to Ned.
“Hey if the kids go with Don and Sheryl, Jess and I could follow you to your place just to make sure you don’t run into any trouble. If you want, that is.” Steve suggested. Jess was nodding in agreement.
“Oh I don’t want to put you to any trouble.” Ned said. “I’m sure my place is fine.”
“Don’t be silly, Ned. You’ve no way of knowing what you’ll find at your place. The intruders that were here could be there or someone else. You helped us. Now let us return the favor.” Steve said.
“It’s not company ready, I don’t normally bring people to my place. But if you can overlook the clutter, then I agree.” Ned said.
“We’re not company anymore. We’re friends.” Jess said. Ned grinned at her and nodded.
“Ned, I was going to do some gun safety review and target practice with the kids while we were here at the cabin. I’d still like to get some of that in before the kids leave with Don and Sheryl, care to join us?” Steve asked.
“Sure thing. It’s good for kids to learn early. And especially in today’s world.” Ned said.
“Okay well for now, let’s eat!” Jess said as she started to pass out hearty bowls of meatless chilli along with some saltines. “There’s plenty so eat up.” Jess said. Sheryl came back to the table and Jess handed her a bowl of chilli too.
“I told the kids to pack their stuff up and then come and eat.” Sheryl said.
“Great, I’ll dish it up so it cools a bit for them by then.” Jess said. She dished three bowls of chilli and set them on the counter for the kids and then dished herself a bowl and joined the other adults at the table.
A short time later the kids came in, ready to eat. Ned and Steve headed for the back of the cabin to test the switch for the solar panel system. Jess and Sheryl started clearing the table and washing up dishes.
“Seems like a nice man.” Sheryl said to Jess as they worked in the kitchen.
“He surely is. He never hesitated to help, even when the gate was open and we thought there might be danger at the cabin. He just grabbed his gun and followed Steve up the drive without a second thought.” Jess said. “What with the rumors of his underground bunker and guns, lots of people in our neighborhood have misjudged him for many years, including us. ” Jess admitted.
“Well, I’ve always told you, it’s not good to judge a book by its cover.” Sheryl said.
“Right. He’s not crazy, he’s prepared.” Jess said.
(to be continued…)