Grace Under Fire
An unlikely team with one goal…
Grace was fast. Grace was tough. Grace could fight with a knife or a gun. She had gear and she had a plan.
After a terror attack led to collapse and chaos she escaped her college town with one goal: get back to her family, even if she had to kill to do it.
Tom was a physically-challenged veteran using a tracked wheelchair outfitted with gun mounts. He was no stranger to pain, bad news, and hard times. Together, the two must brave their way across a hostile, dystopian landscape to find Grace’s family.
In the highly-anticipated sequel to Locker Nine, Franklin Horton takes us on a violent post-apocalyptic thrill ride packed with vivid, memorable characters.
Release date: October 31, 2017
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 238
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Grace Under Fire
Leslie Brown, a widow, lived off a meager disability check she received each month after the death of her husband.
The terror attack that brought the United States to its knees occurred several days before her latest check was due to arrive. This was the time of month when things always got lean around her house and they started to run out of the basics.
The timing of the terror attacks couldn’t have been any worse for her on a personal level. Her pantry was already empty.
The check that she received was barely enough for one person, but she stretched it for two. She had taken in her grandson to raise. Her daughter Debbie wasn’t anything to brag about.
She hadn’t finished high school, had never held a job for very long, and found herself with a successive string of useless boyfriends.
When Debbie and her current boyfriend were between places to stay it had torn at Leslie’s heart to see her grandson Dylan dragged from place to place. She asked Debbie if she would let him stay with her until they got settled.
The invitation was meant for a couple of days, a couple of weeks at the most, but it had been over a year and Dylan was still with her.
Her daughter made no mention of taking him back to live with her. Leslie loved Dylan. In some ways perhaps, she loved him more than she’d ever loved her daughter.
She was glad to have him, glad to be able to provide a stable home for him, but she did wish that the money would go a little further each month.
While Leslie knew her daughter received food stamps and assistance for Dylan, she had no idea where it went because she never saw any of it.
Leslie lived inside the town limits of Damascus, which rarely experienced power outages in her neighborhood. She didn’t keep much in the way of emergency supplies.
The day before, the water had quit running. Leslie and her grandson went to the creek that passed through town and filled buckets, bringing them to the house for flushing toilets.
A neighbor told her that she could put eight drops of household bleach in a gallon of the water and make it drinkable. Leslie didn’t know if that was dependable information or not, but it was from one of those outdoorsy kind of people.
The neighbor looked like the kind of person who would know how much bleach to add to a gallon of water so she believed the advice. She hadn’t tried it yet though.
She and Dylan spent the last day drinking all the oddball drinks that were still in the pantry, like juice boxes that had fallen behind other things, expired cans of orange juice, and stray bottles of Kool-Aid.
The odd assortment of food and drink was like a game to Dylan and he didn’t complain.When Robert Hardwick knocked at the door, Leslie took it as a positive sign.
The man had to have better resources than she had and hopefully whatever he wanted would benefit her and her grandson in some way.
She pushed open the screen door and smiled. “Hello, Robert. I’m surprised to see people out visiting.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Brown, but this isn’t a social call,” Robert said, a grim smile on his face. “I need something and I’m hoping you can help me out.”
“I don’t have much but I’ll help if I can.”
“You know my wife had surgery...”
“How’s she getting along with that? Is she okay?”
Robert nodded distractedly. “Oh yeah, she’s okay. The problem is Grace.” “Grace? Is she okay? ”Robert sighed. “I have no idea. I think she is. She’s on the road coming back from Oxford in all this mess. I have her going to a friend’s house along the way for safety but she’s not there yet. I need to go meet her at the friend’s house and help her get home.”
Leslie considered this, her brow furrowing. “Is your wife able to care for herself and Blake?”
Robert shook his head. “She’s not fully back on her feet yet. She’d probably be okay, but I’d feel much better if I had somebody there to help her out around the house.”
“So you’d like me to come stay and keep an eye on her?”“If it’s no trouble,” Robert said. “I hate to ask in all this…mess. I hate to ask you to leave your home in the middle of this disaster, but it’s an emergency. You could bring your grandson, of course. Do you think you can do it?”
Leslie’s heart raced. It was the best news she’d heard in days. She had seen the inside of the Hardwicks’ pantry. They had a lot more food than she did. She and Dylan were a few canned meals away from eating nine-year-old cans of sauerkraut.“Of course I’ll do it,” Leslie said. “I’d be glad to.”
“When can you come?”“I’d probably have to go back with you right now. My car is out of gas and people say you can’t get any more.”
“You can’t,” Robert confirmed. “I happened to have a little in this vehicle here and drove it down. I was even a little nervous about doing that, with people starting to act a little crazy out there.”
“Could you give me a few minutes then to get some stuff together for me and my grandson? ”Robert nodded. “Take your time. I’ll be waiting in the car.”
The screen door shut and Leslie backed into the dark house. She turned to Dylan, who had been listening from the couch, driving a toy car over the uneven terrain of the cushions.
“Dylan, we’re going to go stay at the Hardwicks’ house. It’ll be fun. You can play with Blake all day long. Let’s pack a couple of bags. Get any toys you need to take and set them by the door. Don’t forget to get your blanket and your pillow.”
Blake ran off and did as he was told. Leslie went to the spare bedroom, her daughter’s old bedroom, and retrieved her two battered suitcases from the closet.
She went to her room and tossed in what clean clothes she could find. She did the same in Dylan’s room while he gathered toys, aware that he didn’t have many clean clothes either.
When she received her check they were going to go to the laundromat in town and wash all of their clothes. If things didn’t get better, she’d soon be down at the river beating them between rocks.
As much as she hated to, she was forced to throw a few of his dirty shirts and shorts in the suitcase because she didn’t have enough clean clothes for him.
She picked up her purse and made another quick pass through the house, wanting to take a few things with her just in case. She went to her closet and retrieved the black metal lockbox with her husband’s .38 caliber pistol and box of shells. She took it, lockbox and all. There wasn’t much else in the house worth taking.
Leslie helped her grandson gather his toys, blanket, and his pillow, cramming them into thin plastic shopping bags from the local grocery store. They carried everything out onto the porch and she locked the door behind them. Robert came to the porch to help them carry their load to the vehicle.
As they drove out of the neighborhood she noticed that the town was overrun with hikers who’d come into town for the annual Hiker Days Festival. It was a big thing in the town and there was usually a parade that culminated in a town-wide water fight. That was her grandson’s favorite part and her least.
It took them thirty minutes on winding roads to reach Robert’s mountaintop home in Whitetop, Virginia.
The home was accessible only by a steep gravel road that was often impassable in bad weather. Robert and his family didn’t care. They preferred the rugged terrain and difficult to reach property.
When he parked the vehicle by the back door, the first thing that Leslie noticed was the muffled hum of an engine. She looked at Robert. “Is that a generator?”
Robert nodded. “The home has multiple sources for power. Part of it is solar, but my solar won’t run the heat pump, and since her surgery, sweating makes Mrs. Hardwick’s incision itch. She’s more comfortable when the house is cooler so I have the propane generator running.”
“Is that something I have to take care of while you’re gone? Changing the propane tanks?”
“No. The propane is connected to a one-thousand-gallon tank. It could run for weeks if we needed it to.”
Leslie wasn’t used to this level of preparation. It required more money than she and most of the people she knew had at their disposal. “Certainly it won’t be weeks before things are back to normal, will it?”
Robert didn’t want to get into his theories about collapsing systems failure and how long the grid could potentially be down. “Let’s hope not,” he said vaguely.
Blake came out the front door. “Dylan! Come play video games with me!” Dylan looked at his grandmother for approval and Leslie nodded with a smile. When he ran off to join Blake on the porch she said, “Robert, if you have video games, I’ll never get him to go back home.”
“Video games and electronics don’t draw much power. They run off the solar.” Leslie looked at the rustic cabin-style home with a new appreciation. “It’s a lot better than we had at our house.”
Robert cleared his throat. “Look, I appreciate what you’re doing for me, Mrs. Brown,” he said. “But please realize this is only a temporary arrangement. Neither you nor your grandson should get too comfortable with it. There will be a point when I have to take you back home. I’m sorry, but that’s how it will have to be.”
Leslie was a little taken aback by Robert’s bluntness. She had known the man for years and had helped their family on numerous occasions with shopping, canning, spring cleaning, housesitting, and various other tasks.
While she sometimes suspected that Robert did it more out of charity than need, she wasn’t in any position to object. Often the money he gave her for whatever task she performed made the difference between her family having or not having.
Perhaps sensing that he may have offended her, Robert clarified, “Of course, I’ll pay you for staying here with Teresa and Blake.”
“I do appreciate that,” she replied. “The food was starting to run out. I’m hoping I can use whatever money you give me to buy some food. I hear it’s mostly gone though. They say those hikers have about cleaned out the grocery stores.”
“I can pay you in food, Mrs. Brown. Understand, though, you can’t tell anyone where you got it. People are acting all crazy. If they think you have food they may hurt you or your grandson to get it. If I give you food, I need your word that you won’t tell anyone where it came from.”
“You have my word,” she said. “And of course you can eat well while you’re here too.” It seemed an awkward thing to say but Robert wanted her to be clear about it.
“The food we eat while I’m here doesn’t count against what you’re giving me, does it?” she asked. “No, Mrs. Brown. You help yourself to what you can eat while you’re here. When I pick you up and take you home, I’ll pay you with a month’s worth of food.”
“A month’s worth?” she said in shock. “Really? You can do that?” He nodded. “A month’s worth for two people. I promise.”
“Then we have a deal,” she said. “And you have my word that I will not tell a soul where it came from.”
The Hardwick Farm
Leslie was sitting on the back porch enjoying the morning view and drinking a cup of coffee. It was her second morning waking up at the Hardwicks’ house. The door opened behind her and Teresa Hardwick stepped out, a mug in her own hand.
Leslie smiled. “How are you feeling this morning? ”Teresa set her mug on a steel mesh end table and eased herself down into the padded outdoor chair. She smiled tiredly at Leslie. “Better now that I’m sitting. I’m pretty sore.”
Leslie nodded in understanding. “I had that done about twenty years ago. Awful surgery.”
“Yes, it completely sucks. I have no doubt that if men had to have this surgery they would have already developed an easier way to do it.”
Leslie laughed. “No doubt.” Robert’s wife, Teresa, had always been a relatively healthy woman, but one day before the terror attacks rocked the country, she had a hysterectomy.
While it was a common enough procedure and not particularly dangerous, there was a recovery period required. The procedure was invasive and the incision large enough that the recovery could be painful. It also limited one’s mobility.
Teresa could shuffle around between the bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom, but that was the extent of her travels.
The women sipped their coffee. Inside, they could hear the two boys laughing. They were watching a show on DVD.
“I’m going to have a hard time prying him out of here when it’s time to go home,” Leslie said with a sigh.
Although it wasn’t intended as an appeal for sympathy, Leslie was aware that it may sound that way. She simply saw it as the truth. After living with modern conveniences again—entertainment, running water—it was going to be hard to go back to her powerless house.
Teresa took a sip of her coffee and did not respond. She was fully aware of her husband’s attitude about these matters. You could help people but you couldn’t take everyone in.
Additional mouths eventually brought additional mouths with them, then the supplies ran out twice as fast. It had been hard for Teresa to grasp at first, but she fully understood the truth of what Robert said now. His primary obligation, and hers too, was to their family. She could not take food from their mouths to feed others. At least not for an indefinite period.
“Have you heard from Robert?” Leslie asked, breaking the awkward silence. Teresa set her mug down on the end table. “No, I haven’t. He said he might try to radio in but none of that amateur radio stuff makes any sense to me.”
“Yeah,” Leslie chuckled. “I’m still figuring out cell phones.” Leslie could see that the introduction of Robert into the conversation had reminded Teresa that her husband was gone. Worry spread over her face.
“I’m sure he’ll be okay,” Leslie said. “He seems to be all prepared for anything that might happen. Was he a Boy Scout?”
“He’s something like that.” Leslie looked confused. “Something like what? What do you mean?”
“Nothing really,” Teresa said. “He’s just, you know, always been interested in survival.”
“That why he has all this? The solar and stuff?”
“Have you ever read any of his books or know what they’re about?”
Leslie shook her head. “No. I know they’re about survival and fighting. He said there were lots of guns in them.”
“He’s really interested in that kind of thing. Plus the weather gets bad up here. Our attitude is if the weather’s too bad we’ll stay home, so we like to have the supplies to do that. We don’t want to be stuck up here with nothing.”
“I do like to read,” Leslie said. “Just not that kind of thing. I’m more of a Harlequin type. I like the spicy stuff. You know what I mean?” She gave Teresa a sly wink that made it clear what she meant.
Teresa burst out laughing. Leslie laughed too, but she had the feeling that the Hardwicks weren’t giving her the full story. There had been that show on TV about people that they called preppers, people who were getting ready for the end of the world.
Leslie suspected that the Hardwicks might be people like that but she was afraid to ask. What if she said something and they had to kill her to keep her quiet? The show made some of the people seem kind of scary.
“Do you mind if I do some laundry?” Leslie asked, trying to change the subject. “Not at all.”
“My grandson and I were planning to go to the laundromat, then all this mess happened before we got to go. I’m not sure either of us brought enough clean clothes with us, and you know how kids go through them.
Most of my clothes are still at the house.”“If you need more clothes you’re welcome to borrow my car and go get them. It doesn’t have a lot of gas but it probably has enough to get you to town and back. You can bring your clothes back here and wash them. At least you’ll go back home with a basket of clean clothes when Robert comes back.”
“I might do that. I appreciate the offer.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the two boys crashing through the door and onto the porch.
“We’re starving!” Dylan squealed, rubbing his belly.
Blake was nodding along. “Yeah. I’m hungry too.”
Leslie loved feeding children and she appreciated being in a home where there was enough food to feed them. That brought her back around to the thought of returning to her house. The idea of returning home, even with a month’s worth of food for the two of them, worried her. Would a month be enough? What would happen when the month ran out? Would the world be back to normal by then or could this go on longer?
Leslie rose from her seat, trying to break the negative spiral her thoughts were locked into. “I’ll fix you something.”
“Yeaaahhh!” the kids chorused.
“Thank you,” Teresa said. “I want to finish my coffee and then I’m going to lay back down. I can’t believe I still feel so weak.”
“Don’t worry about it, honey. It takes a while for that feeling to go away. All of your energy is going toward healing your body right now.”
Leslie left Teresa on the porch and went into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator, enjoying the small miracle of the light actually coming on when the door opened. Then there was the additional miracle of the cool, edible food inside. It was amazing how a few days without modern conveniences made her appreciate this convenience again.
“What do you boys want?” Leslie called from the fridge.
“Eggs,” Blake said.
“Yeah, eggs,” Dylan piped in.
Leslie shut the door and looked to the wire basket of eggs on the countertop. It was brimming, and she had not even checked the henhouse today. They had an overabundance of eggs. It made her wonder about her daughter. Was she getting enough to eat?
Leslie doubted it. Paul, the scumbag she lived with, would not have any provisions for feeding the two of them. It was likely they were more concerned with getting high than getting fed. Food had always been second to drugs with them, clearly demonstrated by their pallor and sallow cheeks.
Still, all of these eggs were surely going to go bad. No one would miss a dozen, would they?
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