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A Change of Major (Chapter Eleven)

I stepped out and stretched trying to get the kinks out from driving combined with adreniline fueled stress. I was feeling pretty worn out and depressed from the enormity of the situation. When I walked out of the shelter this morning. I was certain I would be most of the way back to Dallas by now. I had no idea what would happen to Chuck or Curtis, I just assumed I would drive up 35 to Dallas, go my folks house and figure things out from there.

Secretly, I had wished I would drive up to the house and find my parents at home with my sister and this whole nuclear war thing was a mistake. I knew after looking at College Station and the area around Bryan, nothing could be further from the truth. My parents and my sister were probably dead and that was something I was going to have to deal with one day at a time.

We stood around in the fading light of the day made worse by the constant haze in the sky. When I asked Chuck about it he said it was theorized that nuclear detonations would cause so much debris to be thrown in the air and when mixed with the smoke of out of control, wide ranging fires, would make the skies hazy and darker for some time afterwards. When I asked for how long, he shrugged.

We pulled my tent out but decided to make some food first as we had not eaten (maybe we didn't want to after seeing town) since this morning. We planned on using the hot plate mounted on the tailgate of the truck and we would heat up some canned stew or chili. We still had a few sodas left over which we planned on enjoying before they were all gone when we heard someone coming on foot.

From behind some low bushes on the edge of the field, a young guy, around our age, walked out. He held up his hands and said,

"Hey, I'm not a bad guy I just need some help, please."

Curtis spoke up first, "It's cool dude. What's up?"

I kicked myself for not having my shotgun out of the car, but while Curtis was speaking, I made my way to the front seat and picked it up all while checking the area around to make sure this guy was alone. I had to remember to never leave my gun unattended and to never walk around unarmed.

"Um, you're not gonna use that thing, are you?" the stranger said pointing at my shotgun. "We don't have very much left and we aren't gonna do this anymore. We will fight back this time and we don't care what you do to us."

"Huh?" I said. "Dude, I don't know who you are but things are starting to get nasty out there and we don't want to get jacked up either. Who is "we" and what happened?"

I noticed then the guy was staring at the pot on the hotplate and our soda cans on the back of the truck. He looked like he was mentally trying to absorb the food straight from the pots and cans before I interrupted him.

"Are you like hungry or something? You look pretty bad. You want something?"

"Sure, um no, the others. Todd, he needs it worse than I do. He's in pretty bad shape, worse than me. That's what I need your help with" he answered.

"Where are the rest of your people? Where are you staying" Chuck asked.

"Just over there in the field away from the road. There is an old barn we are staying in for now. Todd could not keep walking and we couldn't carry him"

I looked at the scrub bushes and figured my truck could make the ride cross country a ways. Besides, I did not want to leave my truck so near the road unattended. I did not trust this guy and worried this might be some sort of ambush so I told came up with an alternative.

"Chuck, how about you are Curtis get the stuff back in the truck and I will walk over with... what's your name, guy?"

"Bill, but everyone calls me Billy at school". he answered.

"OK, Billy, why don't you show me where you are staying and then I will come back and get the truck and we will come over, deal?"

"Sure, if you have some clean water and some spare food, that would be great, but I don't want to be a bum or anything, we just don't have much and I wanted to ask." Billy said.

"We'll see," I replied.

We cut through the scrub and cross the field which looked like it had not been tended in some time or maybe was only used for grazing. There were a fair number of scrub bushes and an a good amount of live oak and mesquite dotting the landscape. The barn was easy to see once we walked down a short rise into a natural hollow.

It was an old barn with a rusty metal roof falling off in places. There was an ancient car body sitting off to the side along with a two metal watering troughs. A lone abandoned refrigerator, missing its door, stood sentry in the hard pan in front of the long ago used structure. As we approached, I could see smoke coming from inside the barn. Someone had made a fire to keep warm or to cook but did not do a very good job.

We entered through the open big door on the other side of the barn and I saw who Billy was talking about. There were three other young guys, half of who were wearing University of Texas sweatshirts, sitting around a badly laid fire. A fourth figure lay on the ground, covered in an old blanket, his head resting on a balled up shirt.

"Hey guys," said Billy, "I found this guy and his friends down by the road. They were driving the car we heard a little bit ago. They are getting their stuff together and are coming over in just a second."

"Is this everyone?" I asked.

Billy nodded and looked down, "Yeah, this is it."

I could tell there was a story there but that would have to wait for now. "I am going to get my truck and the others and be right back. Hold tight"

I quickly cut back across the field to the truck and found Chuck and Curtis ready to go. "What's up with them, Mike?" asked Chuck.

"There's four of them plus Billy, They look pretty bad. No food I could see, only a few things with them, One guy is laying down and looks like he is sick or something"

"I packed first aid supplies in my bag. Not much, but its sounds like its more than what they have" said Chuck.

"Where did they come from?" asked Curtis as we got into the truck.

"Two of them have UT shirts on so maybe Austin. I didn't ask" I replied.

We drove the truck into the field and worked our way over to the barn without a problem. As we pulled up, Billy and two others came outside the barn. One was limping.

Once we stopped, we got out and gathered our stuff together. We left the tent in the truck but brought the duffle with the food and the other containing water bottles, drinks and other stuff. I planned on getting that fire ship shape before we did anything though.

"Guys, I am Mike, this is Curtis and that's Chuck. We go to A&M, well we did. I don't know if that is gonna be in the plans for now. We got some stuff we can share with you. Not much, but I think we can manage"

Curtis handed each a bottle of water while Chuck pulled a protein bar out for each of them. I swear one guy tried to eat the paper along with the bar.

Chuck knelt down next to the guy on the ground and asked what was wrong with him. Billy spoke up,

"He got beat up pretty bad a few days ago. I think its his ribs, but I don't know."

Chuck's first aid training consisted of reading a first aid manual while were in the shelter so that made him the doctor. He asked some questions and then got a couple of ibuprofen for the kid, whose name was Todd.

"There's not much you can do for cracked ribs other than rest and take it easy. I think if he had a full break we would be dealing with some other symptoms and I don't think he has any internal injuries. I don't know, I am just working off what I read. He really needs to be in a hospital or at least at home in bed." said Chuck.

While Chuck was checking Todd, I dug a shallow hole in the dirt closer to the door and surrounded it with some loose rocks from outside. Then I carefully collected some dry wood from outside and built a more stable, less smoky fire. I scooped up the remains of the old fire with a piece of sheet metal and dumped it into one of the troughs out front.

Then I got my steel pot out and put water on to boil. As soon as we had a rolling boil, Chuck dumped a couple of packs of noodles into the pot with some salt. We opened one of our few cans of Spam and cut it into small cubes and added it to the drained noodles with a can of peas, some garlic and onion powder, salt and pepper. I think our five new friends inhaled it. I used the left over boiled water and made ramen noodles for Chuck, Curtis and myself. For Todd, we made some chicken stock with a bullion cube and gave him some hot tea as well.

After we ate, we shared two candy bars between all of us before I asked how these guys ended up here. It was a story all too common in those days.

Billy and his friends attended UT and the day before the attack, they along with two other guys and two girls they knew, loaded up into two cars with the plan of dropping everyone off in a round about path through the area. They dropped off one guy outside of Conroe that night. The plan was to head back up to Navasota in the morning. They ended up sleeping in next morning and then got on the road. The second guy lived in a rural area outside of Navasota and when they got there, the nuclear attack came.

The family had the group of kids hunker down in the tornado shelter outside while they would shelter in their basement. Billy's group had brought food but the mother of the family gave them a couple of boxes of canned goods and water to hold them. So for the next week or so, Billy's group of five guys and two girls were crammed in this outside shelter trying to make the best of it.

Around that time, they heard some shooting outside and Billy opened up the door to see what was going on which turned out to be a mistake. A group of convicts who escaped from a local jail had invaded the house and killed the family for their supplies. When they saw Billy, they wrenched open the storm shelter and dragged all seven kids into the house.

The boys were tied up which is how Todd ended up injured. He knew what was going to happen and two of the convicts worked him over pretty good after he fought back. Billy was also beaten as was the kid with the limp, Randy. Afterward, they were tied up at gun point and forced to watch as the two girls, Colleen and Taylor, were abused numerous times by the four convicts.

This went on for days until the convicts had run through all the alcohol and food in the house. They then took the two girls and loaded up into an old car they had and took off but not before setting fire to the house hoping to kill Billy and his friends in the process.

Randy managed to get his hands untied and through dumb bravery, dragged everyone out with their hands and feet still tied. The house burned down and they were left with whatever clothes they had on and what few things they were able to salvage from the storm shelter. After trying to get Todd in good enough shape, they started walking towards the home of whoever lived closest. Naturally, with hardly any food, injured and traveling on foot, they had not made it very far.

I can't imagine what these guys went through and I was sick thinking about those girls. It was probably like that everywhere with the collapse of society. For the first time, I hoped my sister had died right away so the same thing would not happen to her wherever she was.

As for us, I know we have to be more vigilant than we have been. Chuck and Curtis and I drove off campus like we were going to Padre for Spring Break. Around every corner, people like those convicts are waiting and are probably wining. We saw no sign of cops or any sort of authority back at college and I assume that is the way it is everywhere now.