I am working hard to get it finished and am hoping for a January release. Now, the second thing I am showing you is the first chapter of Blizzard Warning. It hasn't gone through ANY edits, so just a warning that it is a very rough draft, but a preview for those who are sticking with the series and are awaiting the third book's release.
Hope you enjoy!
Blizzard Warning Chapter One:
“Does it look like rain?”
Ryan glanced to his right, shaking his head toward Steve. “No. Just virga showers again. Nature’s slap in the face.” He stood on the shovel, forcing it into the parched ground, putting as much weight on the metal as he could. It only sunk in a few inches before he hit the hard dirt just beneath the topsoil.
“Virga showers,” Steve repeated, clicking his tongue. “If only we could figure out a way to get something up that high to pull that moisture down.”
“It’s next to impossible but sure would be helpful,” Ryan replied. “How’s the corn look? We need to make a run down to the river to get some water?”
“It couldn’t hurt to do a little. It’s growing tall considering that it’s not getting as much water as it normally requires.”
Ryan grabbed the wheelbarrow and pushed it through the rows of vegetation that were faring a tad better than he had anticipated. The cotton, though a very small crop, was popping out of the ground nicely, and the tomatoes, corn, and other vegetables were proving strong in the midst of the high temperatures, wind-burn, and dust storms that had continued to plague the area. None of the plants had produced blossoms yet, and with temperatures not getting below the nineties at night, it might be too hot for them to mature enough to make anything.
Striding down the hill, Ryan stopped at the bank of the river and cringed at the sight in front of him. With days without precipitation reaching a record, the water supply was definitely feeling the strain. He noticed a line where the water once was, the land above it yellow and brown from drought, below green from recent moisture. Soon it would transition to the ugly desert colors. The water still flowed and was deep, though not near as plentiful as it usually was this time of year. The lake it flowed into was in decent shape but in some areas stagnant, which meant a greater chance of catching something they might not be able to fix.
They filled the two wheelbarrows with water. Getting them back up to the pasture was challenging and Ryan tried hard not slosh any off the side. When they got to the top of the hill, both he and Steve took cupfuls and poured them down the rows of the corn – the ground sucked up the water like a sponge that had been sitting under a sink for years.
“Are you still working on an irrigation system?” Steve asked as he patted some water on his neck.
Ryan had a good plan for a drip irrigation system powered by gravity. The hard part was gathering the materials to get it finished. He needed old piping, which he could find in wreckage around houses and near the fire station. He also needed something strong enough to make holes in the thick metal. If he could come across some PVC pipe that hadn’t been destroyed, it’d be perfect.
“I’ve got it going but I need some pipe. I’m going to put holes in the sides and put the water through, running it downhill. It won’t evaporate as fast as pouring it directly on the ground and plants. I’m almost done. Just delayed due to lack of supplies. Chief Rayburn said he might have some stuff that was salvaged from the firehouse but there’s no rushing that man. There’s no sense of urgency with him lately.”
Steve didn’t reply and Ryan followed his gaze toward the mountains, his stomach sinking at the sight in the distance. It had been several weeks since they had been bothered by the group of looters and though Ryan knew they weren’t finished, he hoped he was wrong and they would be gone for good.
“This can’t be happening,” Steve whispered.
“They’re not going to let it go. They want revenge for killing one of their men.” Ryan dumped the rest of the water down the rows of plants. If they left it sitting, it’d evaporate and be a waste. “Let’s get back to the shelter. Maybe if they don’t see us, they won’t come. They might have something else on their mind.” It was wishful thinking but the only thinking Ryan would allow.
Running back to the cellar, Ryan motioned for everyone to gather. He noticed Ty and Cecilia playing on some old fire equipment that a few of the guys had made into a playground. Cecilia’s eyebrow arched and her shoulders slumped – she knew exactly what was happening. Picking up Ty, she joined the small group that had formed at the cellar door. There weren’t many survivors left but the people there were priceless. Ryan made note that Chief Rayburn wasn’t there, nor were a few of the other firefighters.
They had cut down on the rescue teams going out to find people – it had been months since the initial tornadoes had come through. Anyone missing was now deemed a casualty and they could no longer exhaust resources on trying to find them. Now they turned their focus to salvage missions in hopes to bring back beneficial supplies to help Harper Springs. Hopefully they would all make it back before the looters cornered them, wherever the men might be.
“What is it, Ryan?” Cecilia scooted close to him. “I know that look. You’re worried about something.”
“We saw them. The looters. They’re back in the area.” Ryan took a deep breath to try and gain composure. The short jog from the pasture felt like he had ran a marathon, the heat heavy on his shoulders as if he were carrying another person.
“Are they coming this way?” Mindy chimed in, her small frame almost covered by people standing in front of her.
“It’s hard to say. They were near the mountain range in the west. We didn’t give them a chance to spot us before we came back here.”
“The fact that they have taken this long to come back and attack is a mystery,” someone yelled and Ryan agreed.
“How are we on ammunition?” Ryan asked Steve.
“With lack of gunpowder, we are unable to recycle a lot of the shell casings, but we do still have them gathered up.”
“If we’re running low, the looters are bound to be running low too. Where would we be able to find gunpowder?” Ryan thought for a second, glancing out at the group of people who were waiting for a plan that Ryan didn’t have. “Didn’t Farmer Johnson keep his gun-making stuff in his cellar?” He turned to his father, hoping he’d know.
Darryl didn’t answer and Mindy interrupted. “We don’t have time for that, Ryan. If they’re on their way, they’ll be here within the hour. What are we gonna do?”
“Everyone get down in the cellar. Gather up all of the guns and weapons you have. Even if it’s not really a weapon but can be used, get it. Don’t come up to ground-level unless we say. They know this is where we are living but if enough of us meet them with gunfire, they might think twice.” He opened the door and everyone went down inside. When had he become the leader? Chief Rayburn had seemed to step into that void, but he was missing in action.
Cecilia stopped at the edge of the stairs, clutching Ty close to her chest. “Where are you going? You’re not coming down there with us?”
“No. I need to go scout. I need to make sure they’re coming this way before we completely panic.”
“Didn’t we agree that we aren’t going to split up anymore?” She didn’t even attempt to prevent Ty from hearing. The child’s expression was blank – he was becoming numb to their new way of life. That was both good and bad.
“We did but there’s no one else around to do this.” Ryan didn’t have time to argue. It was apparent by her creased brow and hard set glare that her patience was gone. He couldn’t fault her for that. This was no way to live.
“Just make sure that while you’re off playing hero for everyone that you don’t forget that you have a son who needs his father. I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove but your luck will eventually run out, Ryan.” She took her mom’s arm and guided her down the stairs.
Her words stung and Ryan ducked his head. She didn’t mean it. Emotions were running high and he couldn’t take it to heart. He watched her go down the stairs until he couldn’t see her anymore. Darryl was next to go in and he clapped his hand against Ryan’s shoulder, shaking his head. He didn’t have to say anything – he spoke so much with just his body language. Everyone was tired, hungry, and ready for this to be over.
“I won’t be gone long, Dad,” Ryan said. “I hope she doesn’t stay mad at me for this.”
“She won’t. Get going. I’ll make sure she understands.”
Ryan hugged him and jogged to where they were keeping the horses. They had made corrals out of rope to keep the animals from running off. With the shifts in weather it was nothing short of a miracle that the horses hadn’t been lost in the middle of it all.
Steve was behind him and they rode north. There was an open valley where they could hide low to watch and hopefully not be spotted. The sweat fell down Ryan’s face, stinging his eyes. When he licked his lips, he could taste the salt on his skin. The sun beat down on them, baking them as they rode across the thirsty land.
Ryan’s mind raced with everything – Cecilia was frustrated. He tried to have empathy for her. How would he feel if it was her going off in every direction with no way of checking in on her safety? He would be less than amused at it so he couldn’t fault her for acting the way she was. But he also couldn’t just sit around when there was imminent danger all around them.
Steve waved toward him, pointing to the area where they planned to hide to spy on the group of misfits. There was an uprooted tree that was still big enough to tie the horses to. Crouching, Ryan squinted as he watched the group of looters on the horizon. It was the perfect location to spy but he still feared they could see them. With so many trees ripped up or dying from the drought, the view wasn’t hindered by them, making the visibility miles ahead.
“Well, they’re not moving anymore. Which doesn’t mean anything.” Ryan observed, lying flat on his stomach, shielding his eyes. “They could just be resting their horses or setting up camp for the night. Or they could be playing mind games with us. They’re not stupid. They know we’re watching.”
“Do you want to stay here all night to watch?”
“I can’t do that. Cecilia would send out a search party and kill me herself if I did.”
“Yeah, Mindy would probably do the same thing to me,” Steve replied, sipping from a canteen that he offered to Ryan.
Taking it, he gulped it, the cool water refreshing. “That’s getting serious, huh?” Ryan wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and gave the canteen back to Steve.
“As serious as it could be considering the pile of shit we’re in right now. Not exactly under conditions where I can romanticize with a lady.”
Ryan kept his eyes on the looters but the small talk was refreshing, like they weren’t scouting out a possible threat to their lives. Like he and Steve were just out on a camping trip for the weekend.
“Well, we do need to replenish the population.” Ryan winked and arched his eyebrow, laughing. It felt good. It was an emotion he hadn’t felt in a long time.
“I should kick your ass for that, Ryan.”
Steve’s cheeks reddened and Ryan left it alone after that. He didn’t want to let his guard down and he had done his job of embarrassing the man. His mind quickly switched back to the current situation – two men in the group were on horses, both angled down the hill. Ryan was having a hard time seeing everything but they were riding away, a cloud of dust billowing up behind the horses, which meant they were traveling fast.
Propping himself up on his elbows, Ryan sat up and checked the revolver in his pocket. It was just a six shooter. Along with the large Bowie knife he was carrying, those were the only two decent weapons he had on him.
“Steve, you happen to grab anything that might help us back at base camp?”
He slid a nine-milimeter handgun from the homemade holster on his hip. “Magazine is full – sixteen shots ready to go.”
“Good. We’re gonna need them. Two men are on the move and I want to follow them, see where they’re going.”
Saddling up, they made a wide circle around the valley. They had to take the long way to avoid being spotted by the rest of the looters. It was tricky, keeping the two riders in their sights and steer clear of the large group. It would be convenient to have eyes in the backs of their heads. As conspicuous as Ryan felt they were being, it was probably not as incognito as he was hoping it’d be. He had to think about the chance that they would trap them. After all, he was involved in killing one of their head men, two if he wanted to get technical and consider Doug’s brother as an important member of their gang.
Ryan slowed his horse when he realized they had turned south. Harper Springs was east of their location. Holding his hand up, he halted Steve’s horse and the dust around them settled.
“Something tells me we shouldn’t follow them just yet. They’re going away from town. The main band of them are staying west up near the mountains. And it’s getting dark. I don’t want to get cornered and I sure as hell don’t want to stay out here after the sun goes down. We didn’t bring any lanterns or flashlights. We could stumble right up on them and then what?”
“We’ll just have to set up watch like we’ve been doing. Everyone should be back for the evening and we can all run short shifts so we can get some rest.”
Ryan checked all four directions one last time to make sure. Everything was quiet – almost too quiet, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. They were vulnerable and not prepared. Directing the horse east, they trotted back to town. There was no doubt in his mind that they had been spotted, which might not be such a bad thing. He wanted them to know he was watching, that they wouldn’t catch them off guard, and that they were preparing for whatever might come. He could at least fake it, even if they were in no way ready for an all out battle.
Cecilia met him at the top of the stairs, her eyes red and swollen. If she attempted to hide the fact that she had been crying, she wasn’t doing a good job. Reaching out, Ryan caressed her hand and to his surprise, she allowed it.
“I figured I was the last person you’d want to talk to right now,” Ryan said, following her down the stairs to their far corner in the back of the cellar. Lanterns lit up the darkness and even their surplus of propane and lamp oil was running low. Soon, if they were down in the shelter, it’d be complete darkness, used only to sleep in. They’d have to find other ways above ground to shower and cook, and an area for medical to be able to perform surgeries and well-checks.
Cecilia sat on the edge of her cot, the springs squeaking from her weight. Glancing over at Ty, she pulled up the blanket around him and heaved a deep sigh.
“Ryan, I’m sorry I blew up earlier. You didn’t deserve that.”
“I kinda did, Cecilia.”
“No, you’re doing what you need to do. I trust you. I lost my father. I don’t want to lose you too.”
Sitting beside her on the cot, Ryan pulled her in for a side hug, resting his chin on the top of her head. By the way her body quivered, he could tell she was crying, and when she buried her face in his chest, he felt the warmth of her tears soak through the thin fabric of his t-shirt. How could this be their reality now? It was the twenty-first century and they were having to live like cavemen.
“I’m sorry if I keep making you worry. I just… I can’t sit around and wait for them to attack. I have to make sure we’re protected.”
She looked up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I know. Which is why I’m apologizing. It’s who you are and it’s why I love you. You’ve always taken care of us. I can’t expect you to not do it now.” Adjusting her weight, she turned to face him, intertwining her fingers in his. “What did y’all see? Are they coming?”
“I don’t know,” Ryan replied. On the cot beside Ty, Cecilia’s mother was sound asleep. It was good to see her getting rest. For the first few nights back in Harper Springs, she cried all the time and hardly said anything.
“You don’t know?” Cecilia cocked her head to the side.
“A couple of guys split off from the group. Went south. It could be a diversion. They could be scoping out another place to loot. Hell, I don’t know. But we have to keep a watch on them. They know what we have. They know what they can come rip from us.” He rubbed his eyes and they burned under his lids. What he’d give for a hot shower, a cold beer, and a complete night’s rest. Those things would probably never happen again.
“Do they outnumber us?”
“Hard to say. I think we have more if you include the women and children. We just have to stay together.”
“What’s the plan right now?”
Ryan leaned back against the dirt wall, his body sinking into it. If he could get his mind to shut down for two seconds, he’d be asleep as soon as he closed his eyes.
“Steve is taking first watch. We’ll just have someone up there keeping an eye on things. Not sure how beneficial it’ll be, considering they can attack from any direction they want. It’s about the only thing we can do at the moment. I guess it’s for peace of mind.”
“Right. It’s basically out of your hands, so how about you lay back and get some sleep? I’m sure if something goes down, you won’t sleep through it anyway.”
Ryan didn’t refute her idea and slid in behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist. It was the only time they got to be alone and he nuzzled her neck, kissing a trail up to her hair. As predicted, his physical exhaustion trumped his mental worry and he dozed off into a deep sleep.