The weather had changed world-wide, that much was certain. Of course the dickhead politicians, so-called leaders, and scientists of the lower 48 couldn’t agree on why. In central and north Alaska it was a just a matter of staying alive in some of the coldest temperatures on the planet. An article in a National Geographic mentioned another ice age and the old man was inclined to agree with this.
The lower 48 had their own problems. The southwest had pretty much turned back into desert, the water having run out to sustain what had been there before. The people who stayed had to adopt the old ways. Most of the socialists immigrated to the east coast, New York City being the preferred destination adding to serious problems already in the northeast. Some headed south into Mexico. New Orleans was wiped out by another hurricane, (with the exception of the port facilities) was not being rebuilt.
Texas had said fuck it and was trying to band with states to the north to become independent. It was a fucking mess. Washington was still technically in charge, but after the revolution lacked the power to force its will on much of the country. When they could, they tried to deport the rebels and dissidents to inhospitable parts of the country like the southwest and Alaska. Those Washington thought was salvageable were sent to “re-education centers” , mostly in the east but some were elsewhere. The others were deported to areas where they weren’t expected to survive. Such as Alaska….
What Washington didn’t expect was Alaska to survive, in some cases even flourish. What they didn’t realize was that the people they were deporting there were some of the most resilient and resourceful on the planet, mostly veterans, survivalists and such as that.
She had never really told him what had happened, only that she and the two girls were to be sent to a re-education center on the east coast and then she was to be given a teaching job. Brainwashing wasn’t her kind of life so she made a plan and headed north. The old man still wasn’t sure how she got on the overcrowded plane, but she had pulled it off. Even after kidnapping the little boy from a drunken ex of her daughter. The infant was from a dying girlfriend, she didn’t want the little girl in a state-run orphanage. The old man was gonna have his hands full with this family.
He had been given a part-time job with the Alaska State Troopers Auxiliary at the local shopping center as security of sorts. The indoor shopping area was a combination of mall with traditional stores, swap meet, gun show and garage sale. He mainly kept an eye on things, if a problem developed he called for help by radio or phone. While he was at work she stayed busy with getting their home organized and repaired, accomplishing an amazing amount of work done on the first day alone. Between that and the kids, Wendy and herself showed up at the various government entities, clinics and such registering her and the kids as refugees and in the school system; the school was mostly on-line with a bus picking the youngsters up once a week to spend a day at the schoolhouse weather permitting. Their life had started to fall into a routine. Gathering firewood from the surrounding snowy woods to supplement the inadequate furnace, a little hunting and such as that. She was trying to get a chicken coup started for the girls to take care of, he wasn’t sure how well that would work in the cold. She also was reconstructing the shredded greenhouse attached to the shop when the weather permitted. Wendy had scrounged up some fluorescent grow lights. Hell, they might make it work yet. The list of chores was almost endless, they just stayed on it. The old man worked in the shop some on his off days. Installing block heaters on the vehicles and tractor, catching up on services, tinkering with the generator and other small engines. Even bladed off some snow on the driveway of his place and Wendy’s. Evenings were the typical family affairs. He had been alone too long, at first not dealing well with the hustle and bustle of a large family. He spent time in the shop and garage area at first but soon got used to everything. Wendy and her husband spent their evening meal times with them most nights. Money was tight for Wendy and her spouse, the old man wanted to help them any way he could to repay all they had done for him. He sat back in the rocking chair this evening, getting his pipe fired up for a relaxing after dinner smoke in the upstairs living and dining room. She and Wendy worked on the after dinner clean up being assisted by the two girls. Wendy’s hubby was tinkering with a radio on the ham bench in the corner, infant was busy playing with a rattle in her basket and the little boy had fallen asleep on the rug in front of the television set, not that there was a hell of a lot to watch after the lower 48 had cut the satellite access.
She was wearing Muck boots with wool socks, carpenter jeans, heavy leather belt with a sheath knife and holstered 38 caliber Smith And Wesson revolver , a green wool shirt and olive drab Eddie Bauer down vest. He wasn’t sure wear her hunting cap was, it had been replaced with a soft white bridal veil. He looked more like a Russian from Doctor Zhivago, the tall black hobnailed boots actually fit quite well, he had even polished them. The girls with work clothing and little white veils, flower girls. Wendy as the maid of honor and a couple of musicians. The wedding wasn’t an option, they were going to deport her with the kids, possible jail time in the lower 48 for kidnapping. His sponsor had intervened, arranging a marriage that would take some heat off. Meanwhile the little boys father had been “caught” with a big bag of blow in the lower 48 and was in deep shit himself. His sponsor wouldn’t discuss the bag of dope, the old man didn’t press the issue.
The fire burned brightly in the big stone fireplace of the old V/A chapel. The thick stone mantel was decorated for Christmas even though it wasn’t Thanksgiving yet. The old man didn’t complain, thought the decorations set off the candle lit stone and rock chapel quite nicely. He held her cracked and calloused hand during the ceremony, preachers words droning on. He was handed a pair of heavy gold rings with large diamonds to put on her finger, really not wanting to know where those came from ( he found out later that the rings were misplaced swag from a big stick up in the last year….). He didn’t even remember saying “I do”. The two fellows played a quiet mellow tune on the fiddle and a guitar. He pulled her close in a slow wedding dance, others looking on approvingly.
Then the bottom fell out of the thermometer a few days later. There had been weather warnings, she had been stocking up on food, fuel and supplies. Gathering and cutting wood wasn’t easy with snow on the ground, they already had the tractor stuck twice. It a been bitter cold most days but they were about to find out what cold was. The old man was driving home from work early because of the weather warnings, stopping off at the truck stop to fill his four-wheel drive truck, gas and kerosene cans. He could feel the temperature drop and wind pick up while he was fueling the truck and various cans. Goddamn, it was already very cold, but was nearly dark with heavy dark clouds hanging low overhead. He knew this was gonna get ugly in a very short time.
The hard packed snow made the road home rough and slick. The 4 wheel drive truck was a lifesaver, spending most of its time in 4 high most days. The weather was turning to shit, sheet / snow in earnest and blowing like hell. Home wasn’t that far but he predicted low lock before he got there. The roads got progressively worse . He was already spinning when he pulled into his drive, or what he hoped was his drive. Windshield was icing up bad and he couldn’t see six foot in front of the truck. Heading toward where he thought the shop was, seeing bright light where the doors were being forced open at the far end of the shop building. He pulled into the shop, wheels spinning and parked the truck as she and girls closed the doors. As deep as the snow was, he wasn’t sure how the she and the girls got the doors open. He got out of the truck and helped them close and secure the wooden double doors. He brushed the snow off of the fuel cans and they got them unloaded, then headed up the steps into the house.
She made sure the batteries for the backup power supply were hooked up and charging as soon as the wind got really bad. The girls plugged in the laptop, phones, and other electronics without having to be told. The eldest took the old mans phone and plugged it in on the ham radio bench once he was inside and settled in for the evening. These two little girls were good, real self starters. They had lucked out that the power was still on. She mentioned while warming up dinner that she wanted everyone to grab a shower or bath that evening, she and the girls would then get the laundry all caught up. The wind was blowing increasingly harder, they had no way of knowing how long the power would remain on.
The old man could feel the temperature drop even more as he sat down to dinner, the wind moaning and rattling windows. He cold hear the frozen snow and bits of ice pelting the north side of the house adding even more of a chill inside. It was brutal killing cold outside, the wind was making it worse, and was only going to get colder. He got up after dinner, went out into the shop and stoked the big stove, checked the pipes in the basement, turned out the basement and garage lights and went back upstairs to load the fireplace stove with wood. The two girls and the boy were doing the dishes as his wife gave the infant a bath in the washtub on the table, then putting her to bed. She had started insulating windows with bubble wrap and plastic, the kids would help her finish that in the morning.
The old man didn’t sleep really well that night, shit that needed to be done running though his head. Once up and about in the morning he needed to get the generators set up in case they were needed. He had an old trailer that he had traded for with bows fashioned over it. He nailed blocks to the rough old wooden floor to hold the generators in place, he just needed to set them on and secure a tarp on the bows to keep as much snow and ice as possible off of the generator sets. He would leave the tarp rolled up on one side so the gennies could breathe. He felt that it was getting too cold in the house, got up about 0230 and stoked the fireplace stove with wood, he then went down the heavy wooden stairs into the basement, out into the garage and loaded the big stove there. It was bitter cold in the garage area, he then went back into the basement to check on the pipes. The furnace was running constantly, at least keeping the pipes from freezing and helping heat the house some. He then went back out and sat by the garage stove in and old folding steel chair, tossing in more wood. He had started to at least feel warm again sitting there in his flannel jammies and heavy slippers. He heard the floor creaking and a light came on upstairs, she and the eldest girl were up checking on the other three youngsters. The wind, bits of ice and snow beating hell out of the north side of the house, shop / garage, and the old green house attached to the building at the northeast garage door. She came down with both girls to wheel the portable chicken house in from the greenhouse into the corner of garage along with feed dishes, heated water can, power cords and such as that along with half a bale of straw to spread on the concrete garage floor under the coop. Damn things were still alive, light bulb had done a better job of warming them than he had thought. She and the girls got the chicken coop squared away, he secured the garage door and reloaded the stove, then they all headed up to bed shutting off the lights as they went.
His sponsor had called him had called him that morning and said no work for at least 3 days, maybe a week. He told the old man no going outside under any circumstances, to do so for any length of time would result in certain death. The airfield had recorded wind chills as low as 70 below zero the night before and it was predicted to get colder. He gave the old man the usual arctic survival instructions and asked about their supplies. He said he would try to drop by early afternoon before dark, the old man asking him to check on Wendy and the Pakistani man to the east. He told the old man he would. God, did his sponsor ever go home? Rest? Live any kind of somewhat normal life? He knew there were periods where he didn’t see the fellow, maybe his down time? Meanwhile it was getting colder, was getting harder to keep the house warm.The wind, ice and snow had backed off some but the temperature was dropping. This shit wasn’t gonna be good, especially if the wind picked back up. Television and radio carried weather warnings pretty much all day in between their regular programming, none of it sounded good. After she and the girls had finished insulating the windows, she had suggested closing off two of the bedrooms. The old man said it was food for thought, might not have any choice and might have shut off the water as well. He had set up his salamander in the middle of the shop pointing between the vehicles toward the basement through the doorway to the garage and topped it off with kerosene. He figured it would help warm the garage and basement with minimum carbon monoxide problems if he ran it intermittently. When he wasn’t running the salamander he could keep the basement door closed and let the furnace do the best it could. He already had his kerosene heater lit and set at the front of the shop between the doors.
The snow had stopped, the road in front of their place had been plowed, and they had gotten their wide drive as well as Wendy’s done. His wife went into the house to start dinner and tend house as the old man took the tractor down the road to help the Pakistani man with his drive. The two of them got a path bladed to where the little brown man could get his car out. The cold was so severe that the old man had to retreat back to his garage even with all the layers he was wearing. The tractor was loosing power as he pulled in the drive, he felt lucky to get the rig in the garage as the eldest girl opened one of the garage doors open for him. He was sure the carburetor and fuel lines were icing up in the severe cold, obviously more than a piece of cardboard in front of the radiator would be needed as a winterfront. He parked the tractor and dropped the blade as the girl closed the garage door. He fueled the salamander and then fueled the kerosene heater as the eldest girl got the salamander fired up. He then stoked the wood stove and set the damper before shutting down the salamander for the evening, turning out the lights, then retreating upstairs.
He had a new job, not working at the mall for now. The old man was going out with his sponsor a couple of days a week to the outlying areas to do rescues, check on people and in some cases haul away dead bodies. The frigid cold was taking its toll. He did score a couple of loads of wood from deserted small farms, his sponsor had a trailer and helped him haul it.
She came to him late that night after all were in bed. The old man had a rough day, couldn’t seem to warm up. He had stoked the fireplace insert and rolled out a buffalo hide in front of it, placing a pillow off of one of the chairs at one end. He stripped, laying his clothing on the nearest chair. He laid on his back, closing his eyes and soaking up the warmth. Almost too warm but it felt good after the day in the bitter cold. He opened his eyes, she was standing at his feet in her heavy flannel nighty. She stripped it off, tossing it on top of his clothing on the chair. She had nothing else on, he noticed she was slimming down from the long hard days but was still heavy on top. She knelt and straddled one of his legs, he could feel she was wet as she was she was sucking him hard. She then mounted him, guiding him into her. Riding him and running the fingers of both her hands through her hair, chewing on her lower lip. He noticed coarse dark patches of stubble under each arm, no time for niceties in these conditions, but he knew how she was so would dig out some razors for her. He didn’t last long but she didn’t seem to mind. Lifting herself off and laying along side of him, sharing a pillow and small talk.
Christmas or thereabouts, actually January 6 was coming up (one of the old mans quirks….) and the “good weather” was about to end. In fact, they were in for some record-breaking cold but had no way of knowing that…Yet….
The weather had indeed moderated for a bit. She and the eldest had used the time to make trips into town and stock up on food, supplies and fuel with the other girl babysitting. She had even come up with some insulation to put on the walls of the north and west end of the rooms on the west end of the house. The walls weren’t much more that rough cut 6 x 2 studs with heavy planking tightly fitted on the on the outside. The stuff looked more like heavy brown packing material. She and the girls got it stapled in between the studs to cover the insides of the outer wall between the studs working it around any exposed conduit, outlets and plumbing. The ceiling was pretty much open rafters with studded walls going to the roof between rooms and the underside of the roof already insulated. Hell, the old man thought what she had done on the walls looked pretty damn good and might even work. He was still working part-time with his sponsor to bring in some badly needed cash and had even scored some more firewood. Somewhere along the line he had found a small evergreen tree of some sort, cut it down and dragged it home setting it up in an old battered tree stand. The kids filled the stand with water and started decorating the tree. They had skipped Thanksgiving and had decided to combine it with Christmas.
They had been getting weather warnings with the local news, the old mans sponsor assured him it was the real deal, this was gonna be a bad one. She had gone into town again to grab some last-minute supplies and such. Otherwise, the family had done about all they could do to be ready for a winter storm of severity that was rough for even this part of the country.
The day before their Christmas, they moved Wendy and her husband into the spare bedroom in the back to ride out the bad weather coming. They had even gotten the Dodge mini van started and loaded with most of their stuff. The sewing machines were loaded on the old mans truck so Wendy could get some of her work done. Lastly they shut off the water and drained the pipes, not trusting the old furnace to keep things above freezing. The old man and Wendy’s hubby moved their possessions into the house while everyone else rearranged the back bedroom. Lastly the truck and van were pulled in the first bay of the shop; van to the front as they had planned on working and installing parts on it. The house and shop area were now freezing, the two men worked on getting the stoves loaded with wood and the salamander fired up. Wendy and the old mans wife were putting food away from the other house, getting dinner ready and already cooking for Christmas day. The girls had brought the chickens into the far end of the shop. Everyone knew the drill, all electronics and batteries plugged in. All showers, baths and laundry caught up that night. The girls had shut off the salamander, fueling it and the kerosene heater in the shop. They also topped off the stacks of wood in the shop area from outside. The little boy helped set the table, infant playing with a toy in her basket. Wind had already started picking up, the storm was expected to hit early the next day. It was gonna be a busy evening.
The family was up early, the youngsters anxious for the few gifts under the tree. They all had a light breakfast, the meal being cleaned up after by the girls. Wendy, her hubby and the old mans lady worked on the meal for that day. most of it was cooked but for some finishing touches and a couple of pies. The old man had run the salamander a bit and loaded the stoves with wood to chase away the morning cold. He then got a phone call from his sponsor, telling him to batten down the hatches, shit was about to get real. He told the old man that the winds were so strong that glass was being blown out of the windows and roofing being peeled off of some houses on the west side of town. His sponsor said to stay indoors and something about the Pakistani man before the phone went dead. They heard the wail of the civil defense sirens toward town, then they abruptly stopped. They heard a howling rumble of wind, and the last words of Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song”….
“Although its been said many times many ways, Merry Christmas to you….”