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Chapter 7: Who rang the dinner bell?

There was one day that Josh and I were busy doing some work and had forgotten to put Jethro’s food out for him. We heard Jethro outside. He let out several of those eerie howls that sent a chill down my spine. Then he started banging on the door to the bunker. At one point we thought the door was going to give way, but it held. It would seem that Jethro had no patience when he was hungry. The girls had his plate prepared. Josh and I were very cautious putting his food out for him this time.

After he had eaten his food, Jethro let out another howl and then ran off into the field. Josh and I both agreed that we thought Jethro was becoming more aggressive. He had never banged on the door before.

“Maybe he can feel the weather changing; maybe it is starting to get warmer,” I said.

“I don’t know, but if he keeps this up, we will have to do something about it,” Josh said.

The next day we had Jethro’s food out waiting for him. When he showed up, he looked very nervous. He checked out the area before going to his plate of food. Then he let out a different sound. It wasn’t his usual howl. It was more like a barking sound. Then we found out why. Out from the field came another beast. This one was slightly smaller in stature than Jethro. We were sure this creature was a female. She came over to Jethro, and he allowed her to eat from his plate of food. She appeared more nervous than Jethro, but that was understandable.

Mrs. Jethro was less gruesome looking than her male counterpart. Her features were less pronounced than Jethro’s. In a lot of ways, she was a subtler version of the beast. She appeared quite feminine, compared to Jethro.

They ate the food we had put out and then retreated into the field and disappeared.

“Great, it looks like we have to put out more food now,” I said.

“That means it’s going to run out faster. Then what?” Josh said.

That evening Josh and I took another inventory of the canned food we had put aside for Jethro. At the new consumption rate, we had enough food for about sixty days. Our food was starting to dwindle as well. We still had enough food for nearly a year, but we would have to watch our food levels. If our food levels dropped unexpectedly, we would have to cut back on Jethro’s food. As it is, we would not be able to give Mr. and Mrs. Jethro more food. We would merely divide his present ration in two.

It was two months later, and we noticed that the outside temperatures were starting to rise. The nighttime temperatures were still twenty below zero Fahrenheit but the day temperatures were going up to around the zero mark. There was one day we actually could see the blue sky. We found it surprising how fast old Mother Nature can bounce back after a disaster.

The radio was reporting that China and the USA had come to an agreement and had signed a peace treaty. The world had realigned itself. Some countries were becoming more prominent, and others were disappearing. It would seem that peace had returned to the planet once again. This time it will take a hundred years to recover and rebuild from the damage done during this World War.

The world’s population had taken a drastic decline as well. On the radio, they were estimating the population had declined by as much as one billion people. Most of the deaths occurred in China and the USA.

Josh and I decided to start going out during the day. While outside we could fix the house up and get it ready for occupation again. We could also get the vans up and running again as well as the tractor.

“I can’t wait to take that first trip into town,” I said.

“Me too,” Trudy added.

“I wonder how long it will be before we can rebuy things, especially food?” Rhonda asked.

“It will probably take a while for the greenhouses to start producing again,” Josh said.

“Hopefully the game will return so we can have fresh meat,” I said.

The four of us talked about the need for a plan to replenish our food supply. It was clear that food would be a real concern in the near future. We decided that it was imperative for us to start growing vegetables at the earliest possible opportunity. We needed to build a greenhouse. If we made it directly above the bunker, a heat pipe could be fed into it to keep it warm.

Josh and I would have to start this as soon as possible. If meat ran out and there was no game around, we could live off vegetables. There wasn’t much in the way of glass for the greenhouse. We would have to take some of the windows from the house and use them. The girls had bought up as many packs of seeds that they could when we were preparing the bunker. These should be enough to start our vegetable production.

First thing in the morning Josh and I started work on the greenhouse. It was still freezing outside. It was nowhere near the thirty below zero it was just two months ago. Josh and I welcomed the heavy work. We’ve spent too long sitting around inside the bunker. We worked out together in the bunker, but it’s not the same as actually doing something constructive.

The first job was to shovel four or five feet of snow off the top of the bunker. That task alone took half the day. We spent the rest of the day scrounging for building materials. There was some wood, two by fours and planks, in the farms driving shed. When we needed more, we would take them from the house or where ever we could find them.

The next day we started construction. The greenhouse would be built on a floating pad. The ground was still frozen solid. There was no way we could dig a foundation. One of the biggest problems we had was a lack of nails. We would have to make do with what we could find.

By the end of the week, the frame was built. We had done the best we could with the materials that were available to us. The next step was to install the glass. We had used the doors from inside the house to create the walls that would hold up the glass. We started removing the basement casement windows and installing them.

The farmhouse was very old, luckily for us. The windows were all covered with storm windows. These were easy to remove and even easier to install on the greenhouse. When we removed the storm windows, we covered the windows of the house with plastic to help keep the cold out.

There it stood. In less than two weeks, working in the bitter cold, a greenhouse. The next thing to do was to get the dirt. Frozen dirt! We had to use a pickaxe to break it up so we could shovel it.

All during the two weeks of construction, we had an audience. Mr. and Mrs. Jethro would come by every day to get fed. Then they would sit in the snow and watch us work.

“Why don’t you guys help us?” I yelled at them.

“Yeah, grab a shovel Jethro, and get to work.” Josh yelled at them sarcastically

They must have got the gist of what we were saying because they seemed amused by it. Occasionally Mrs. Jethro would come over to us and make funny cooing noises at us. We started calling her “Lucy” because Mrs. Jethro was too long.

“I think she likes the name Lucy, Josh, she smiles when we say it,” I said.

“Your right Pete. She does smile, look at that.” Josh said.

It took a week to get enough dirt in the greenhouse. So now we have hundreds of chunks of frozen soil sitting in the greenhouse. There was not enough sunlight yet to get any heat at all to stay in the greenhouse. We would have to figure a way to pump some of the heat from the bunker into the greenhouse.

Josh and I had taken some of the dirt into the bunker. The girls could start planting the seeds in paper cups. Hopefully, they would grow in artificial light. The ladies could try a few at first as an experiment.

Outside it was getting warmer. Instead of the sun peeking through the clouds once a month, it was happening once a day now. Not exactly a heat wave, but better than thirty below zero!

Now that the greenhouse was more or less ready to go, all we could do is sit back and wait for the temperatures to get above freezing. Once that happened we could start breaking up the earth and getting it ready for planting. We had also started a small compost pile with scrapes from the kitchen.

It took about another month before the temperatures in the greenhouse started to stay above zero. Josh and I had moved a small pot-bellied stove from the house into the greenhouse. We had lots of firewood that Josh and I had chopped when we first got here. We tried to keep the stove going twenty-four hours every day.

The seeds posed a problem. We found they had a hard time getting started. The only light source that would provide the right conditions for growth was light produced by an incandescent bulb. We had very few of these bulbs. They used a lot of energy, which we could not afford.

While Josh and I were working outside, we heard what seemed like gunshots in the distance.

“I wonder if someone is hunting, Josh.” I said.

“It must be Pete, what else could it be?” Josh wondered.

“That will be great if the game is starting to come back, I wonder what they were shooting at Josh.” I said.

Little did we know there was a storm cloud on the horizon. The gunfire was coming from Chinese soldiers who had escaped from the battles that had taken place in the USA. As they traveled north, they were ransacking, raping and killing anyone they came across.

“That gunfire seems to be getting closer, Pete.” Said Josh.

“I agree, and I don’t think it’s coming from hunters.” I said.

“I think we had better take some precautions, Pete.” Josh said.

“I’ll dowse the fire in the greenhouse,” I said.

“I’ll let the girls know and get the rifles.” Josh said.

We had the girls lock themselves in the bunker. Josh and I took the rifles and one of the shortwave radios and headed for the house. If there was going to be a battle we had a better chance trying to hold our ground from the house.

Three hours later we saw them. At least twenty-five Chinese soldiers were walking down the road coming toward our house. We watched, hoping they would keep walking. That was not to be. Acting like an infantry unit in battle, they surrounded the house. It all happened so fast, the only thing to do was warn the girls. The next thing we knew, the soldiers were coming in every door of the house. We were overwhelmed in seconds without a shot fired.

The soldiers clubbed Josh and I with their rifle butts. As we lay bleeding on the floor, they started kicking us. My guess was they were taking out their frustration and hatred for Americans on us. They tied our hands behind our backs and continued to hit us. We could hear them yelling at the bunker

Come out, or you will die,” yelled one of the soldiers.

“Please, please don’t leave the bunker.” I whispered.

Come out, or we will kill your friends and burn this place out.” Yelled the soldier

I could hear Rhonda screaming into the radio:

“What do we do? Josh answer me, Josh!” Rhonda screamed.

The soldier kept yelling at the door to the bunker until one of the other soldiers brought up a flamethrower. As soon as I saw that I yelled at the bunker:

“Rhonda, Trudy give up they’re going to burn you out!”

The bunker door opened a few seconds later.

“Thank god,” Josh exclaimed.

As soon as the door started to open, the soldiers rushed inside. The girls were marched out. Rhonda was holding the baby. They were crying and screaming for the soldiers not to touch them.

We were all put in the living room of the house. The girls got tied up the same way we were, with their hands behind their backs. We could hear the soldiers going in the bunker. No doubt they were looking for food and anyone else that might be hiding there.

Other soldiers were firing their rifles at the two vans. I guess they thought there were others hiding inside. I tried talking to the soldier in charge. I told him that we had nothing of any value they could have. He ignored me.

These guys had been through a lot. Some were wounded, and they all had torn and bloody uniforms. They had lost most of their kit and were dirty looking. Some only had clubs or iron bars as weapons.

Several of the soldiers started hovering around the women. One of them was stroking Trudy’s hair. She was crying to the point of hysteria. That didn’t bother the soldier though. I could see where this was leading, but had to sit there powerless. Josh was begging with them not to hurt his wife or child.

Some of the soldiers that were searching the bunker had found our supply of canned meat. They rushed into the house with armfuls of canned meat. They opened the cans and began gorging themselves. It wasn’t long before empty cans lying all over the floor.

Two of the soldiers wanted to take the girls in another room. It was clear what their intentions were. I screamed at them to get their filthy hand off our women. I begged them to untie me. Come on I said let’s see how tough you are. Then I realized how stupid that was, but it was all I could do.

The soldier in charge started yelling at the other soldiers. He was pissed at something. The next thing I knew, the five of us were taken outside. We were put up against the wall of the house. The guy in charge came to me and in broken English asked me if there were any American soldiers in the area. Then he wanted to know if there was any other food. He seemed perturbed when I answered his questions. Then he said he was going to kill us, including the baby. I pleaded with him to spare our lives. He laughed at me.

The head soldier stepped back. He ordered four of his soldiers to form a line, and then gave orders that I couldn’t understand. The soldiers raised their rifles. He was about to give the fatal order to shoot us when I heard a very distinctive howl, a howl that could send a chill up your spine. It was Jethro and Lucy

The next thing I knew the four soldiers in the firing squad lay dead on the ground. Jethro and Lucy had torn them apart with their bear-like claws. The other soldiers came running and started firing at Jethro and Lucy. Before long all the soldiers lay dead in the same manner as the first four.

Both Jethro and Lucy were shot. We picked them up one at a time and took them in the house. Trudy and Rhonda tended to their wounds, but they were in serious condition. Jethro had been shot at least twice, Lucy once.

“Jethro, you saved our lives. We’ll try to make you well again, hang on big guy.” I said while stroking Jethro’s hair.

Jethro just started to murmur, his breathing was heavy and labored. Then the most amazing thing happened. Something I will never forget. Jethro opened his eyes wide and looked at me, and then smiled. His eyes closed, he exhaled one last time and then he was gone.

Josh and Trudy were taking care of Lucy. She was in bad shape.

“Lucy you’ll be ok, Lucy, please don’t go” Trudy pleaded.

But Lucy was hurt as bad as Jethro was. Trudy held her in her arms whispering to her, but it was too late. Lucy took one last breath and closed her eyes forever.

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