Clinging to Hope as the World Falters
08: Helping the Community

Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg

Everyone ran out into the yard where they danced around marveling at the quiet that surrounded them. There were still several meteors falling yet, so between that and the three-quarter moon, the visibility was fairly good. Which wasn’t to imply it was a clear night. As a result of the continuous meteor showers for the last several days, the sky was covered with a dirty haze and the ground outside was dusted with a thin layer of ash created by the incinerated extraterrestrial debris.

Even Bob joined them. Although he couldn’t see anything, he had a great time spinning in circles, safe in the knowledge that someone would grab him before he ran into something.

“Hey, everyone, I found a meteorite,” Erica called out. The other girls clustered around her to see it. “It’s smooth,” she marveled. “It’s heavy too.”

“That’s because it’s like smelt,” David explained, once again falling into his teacher mode. “It probably melted during reentry, so all the rough edges were smoothed over.”

“I found one too,” Caitlyn announced. “But this one apparently broke open during impact. The inside has all these tiny holes.” The girls all clustered around her to see how hers differed from Erica’s.

Meanwhile Ellen made sure to show David how much she appreciated him, but she was hardly the only one who felt that way, so she found her position beside him taken over time and again.

“Oh, David, thanks so much for taking care of us,” Linda gushed when she wrapped him in a tight embrace. “You have no idea how worried I was when I first I drove up here. I knew after only a couple of hours that it was a fool’s errand, but I also knew I couldn’t very well turn around. I was sure we would all be killed and it would be my fault. It was a miracle we didn’t suffer any more damage than we did. We saw other cars lying in the ditches or destroyed, and I knew I was risking everyone just because I remembered feeling safe with you.

“But when we finally arrived here it was even better than I imagined. Not only did you provide us with a safe haven, but it was gorgeous and you made everyone feel welcomed. You gave everyone something to do, and you kept us too busy to think about what was happening all around us.”

“Yeah, I thought that drive was a bit insane myself. I mean, I could see doing it when there isn’t any danger, and I understand you didn’t realize the storm was going to restart, but I just couldn’t imagine putting Alice’s friends in that much danger myself. Anyway, I’m glad I could help everyone adjust.”

“I agree,” Sara said as she joined in their hug, pressing herself against them. “I was terrified on the drive up, sure that we were going to die. After both Erica and Amy got injured I never thought we’d make it. And Linda admitted she’d never even been here before, so I didn’t have high hopes for how it would turn out.”

“Well, given the alternatives, I think it was the best choice available to us,” Betts added from behind them. “We knew it was dangerous everywhere, but Linda described how careful and methodical you were, so we figured you’d have a fairly safe place set up. But as you said, we were caught by surprise when the storm started up again. We’d assumed the storm had passed, instead of simply moving west with the setting sun. We were lucky no one was killed, but we have you to thank for their continued safety after that first trip.”

“Hey, make way for some other thankful people,” Flora said, as she edged Linda aside so she and Erica could hug David as well.

“Yeah, after I got injured I was really scared,” Erica said, as she tried to awkwardly hug her new hero with her bandaged side. They’d managed to clean and patch her wound quickly, and they’d found some fast acting cast material in the supplies that Maggie had brought with her for Amy’s broken arm. “I could see a piece of debris like the one that hurt me come smashing through the windshield and killing your wife. Then we’d be stuck out in the middle of nowhere, with no one driving by to help, no police available and no phone to call for help.”

No one felt it appropriate correcting Erica’s incorrect assignment of Linda’s relationship to her ex. Flora was just as exuberant in her praise of David as well. “Well, I don’t care how scared they felt they were, it just doesn’t compare to lying out in the open exposed to the elements, holding your dying sister while you’re surrounded by your destroyed house and your dead parents. I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to go. Then just as I was thinking of walking into town, you drove up and rescued me. You’ll never know just how relieved I felt. I literally owe you my life. There’s no way I can ever pay you back, although I wouldn’t mind doing it in a thousand little installments instead of all at once, if you don’t mind, that is,” she teased as she managed to squeeze his bum while grinding up against him. She had no idea if he was receptive to blatant flirting or not, but she was taking her lead from how the other women were treating him. She figured if he didn’t like it he wouldn’t allow it, so he must be fair game.

“That’s why Reggie and I decided to leave the supplies with you,” Maggie said as she waited her chance to show David just how thankful she was too. “The way you took charge with Flora proves you’re only interested in others, and we both knew the police didn’t have the means to preserve those supplies. I’ve always thought the world of you, even though we never got the chance to talk much in the past. But Reggie’s always thought the world of you, and now everyone else does as well.”

“Look, girls,” David said, carefully moving Flora’s exploring hands away from him, “I can understand how you feel, but you’re really giving me too much credit. Basically all I did was have a house that was facing the right direction. It’s purely an accident that I had a safe house or that I had electricity. For all any of you knew, I could have been killed on the road or buried in an avalanche.”

“I don’t think it’s as simple as that,” Ellen said, giving the other girls a chance to give her new boyfriend their own hugs. “You weren’t hurt on the street because you knew what to do. Alice and I weren’t hurt because you knew enough to get us off the street. If you hadn’t, I’m sure we wouldn’t have made it. Given what we saw, I’m amazed that the others made it.

“And it wasn’t an accident that your house is safe. Look at how you designed it. You can tell lot of thought and planning was put into it. Even if it was facing another direction your window is tilted away from any falling debris, and it’s sheltered by the overhanging cliff. And even if your generator had been damaged you know enough to fix it, plus you had plenty of battery backup. And even if you didn’t have either of those, your refrigerated cave would have kept your supplies cold for a long time without any power. So don’t expect any of us to believe you’re an innocent babe. You’re officially a hero to each of us.”

“I don’t know, I think he’s a bit of a babe, myself,” Caitlyn mumbled. Everyone heard it, but since no one was sure who’d said it no one objected to it. Everyone felt about the same way. Even if he wasn’t handsome, moderately well off and hard working, it was clear he was a caring man unafraid of taking care of others.

“Well, look, we should really be getting everyone inside. I’m sure Bobby is likely to injure himself when he accidently steps into a gopher hole or some little meteor divot. There’s still a lot we have to do tomorrow, so there’s no sense getting carried away tonight.”

“Oh, and what are your big plans for us tomorrow?” Julie asked, ready for whatever tasks he might have for them.

“I don’t know about the rest of you,” Betts interrupted, “but I’m thinking I’d like to return to the city. I want to see how everyone is doing, and I can bring out any of the other girls that need a safe place to stay. I can imagine how crazy it is trying to work at repairs with people running wild all around you.”

“Are you sure, Betts?” Maggie asked. “You realize the roads won’t be cleared. You may also run across closed roads or damaged bridges.”

“That may be, but I still want to try. I’m worrying about Sara’s brother, and I know everyone else has been exposed as well. If I can bring a few of them up here or help some of them recover, then I’d like to try.”

“How about we plan your trip for you?” David suggested. “I think I’ve got some roadmaps in the house. We can plan alternate routes so if you find the road closed you can always double back and take a different path.”

“Yeah, I think that both David and I know the roads between there and here pretty well,” Maggie said, “and I’m sure Bobby can talk to the sheriff about which roads are in the best condition.”

So they headed back into the house, ready to start the next task now that they had something to work towards. Everyone seemed anxious to do something productive. Games were fine if you were stuck, but you could only tease your hero if he stuck around, and they each realized he’d be easier to tease working on a specific task than while playing a game he was likely to walk out on.

David and Ellen were nestled in bed together, enjoying some time alone once more. David wasn’t quite as anxious to make love at the moment. After all, he’d gone through a lot today, and while he liked to be there for everyone else, he was hardly a ‘battle hardened’ soul, and he’d been exposed to a lot of things that he was just as green with as anyone else. But instead of just babbling about what was bothering him, he was trying to work up to it by discussing the day’s events with Ellen. However, they’d only gotten a little ways into it when they were interrupted by a quiet knocking on the door.

“It’s open,” David called out. Even though he and Ellen had been having an intimate discussion, neither one was currently naked, and David was well aware just how many things could go wrong with a house full of young girls.

The door opened and Linda poked her head in.

“Sorry to disturb you young lovebirds, but I managed to find a certain someone sitting outside your door waiting for you to finish whatever you were up to.” With this, Linda stepped aside to reveal a suddenly shy Alice standing behind her. “I didn’t want to ask what she was waiting for, but I thought you should know she was waiting.”

“Come on in, both of you,” David invited. “She did this to us the other night. Apparently she was so concerned with our getting together she didn’t want to interfere. But she’d been scared to be alone the other night. As a result she waited until we finished fooling around, listening to us the entire time. I’d kind of hoped this wouldn’t become a regular thing, but...”

“I wasn’t scared tonight,” Alice insisted, as her mother guided her into the room, “but I was upset by what happened today. I’d thought I could handle it, but now that it’s dark and everyone is settled it’s starting to bother me.”

“Oh, baby,” David said, moving the blankets aside so she could climb in, even as Ellen turned on the bedside light so Alice and Linda could see where everything was. Alice ran to the bed and climbed in, while Linda moved a bit more leisurely. However she also climbed into the bed, on the other side of Alice from her ex. But when Alice shifted over and climbed on top of David, she found herself sidling up to her ex so that he now found himself with a woman on either side of him and a young girl holding him tight on top of him.

“I was afraid this might happen,” David said.

“I’m sorry, Dad. I thought I was handling it OK. But when the lights go out and there aren’t any more distractions, my brain starts to think about what it hadn’t had a chance to before.”

“That’s OK, honey. Frankly, I was disturbed by what we experienced today myself, so I can easily see why it would bother you,” he answered.

“You and me both,” Ellen said, cuddling David’s side. “I’m glad you sheltered me from the worst of it, but I’d thought Alice was jumping into the deep end when she volunteered to work on the bodies by herself.”

“I guess it affected us all,” Linda commiserated. “I was initially freaked out when I saw that little girl dead in the kitchen. I guess David asked the rest of you to take over for me since it had unnerved me so much.”

“We’ve all been through a lot,” David reassured them, “and while we hadn’t had to deal with death on such an intimate basis till now, it was bound to happen sooner or later. As I told you the other night, Alice, you can’t get over anything if you don’t discuss it. That’s why so many people suffer for so long, because they don’t bother to discuss things when they happen, instead of waiting for personal problems to develop before they try to address the issue. And by then it’s often too late.”

As they discussed how they each felt about what they’d experienced, David considered just how much had changed so rapidly. Not only had their world been turned upside down with the widespread destruction, the loss of life, and the adjustments they’d had to make, but David’s own circumstances had changed radically. Previously he’d been on his own, only seeing his daughter for a short weekend every other week. Now he found himself with a beautiful woman hugging him from either side, and a beautiful young girl sitting in his lap. And that itself was strange. This morning Alice had been outraged that he’d slept with her mother, but now they were all lying here in the bed together and she didn’t object. Sure, they weren’t doing anything sexual, but it was still quite a change in everyone present. Until Friday he’d been on his own and now he had a house full of people depending on him. Until yesterday Linda had been an angry ex-wife, but now she was relying on her ex-husband again to get by each day. Ellen, while independent, had adopted not only David’s daughter into her life, but his ex-wife as well. No one’s life had survived the effects of the meteor shower intact.

“There’s just so much difference between burying a dead animal in the woods and caring for someone who’s died,” Alice was saying, her voice sounding tense and tenuous. “The family of someone we’ve just accepted into our lives, no less. I was doing it for her, for Dad, as well as for each of you. I knew you were depending on me to do my part, but when I had to physically close their eyes for them, and those unfocused eyes stared unseeing up at me, it just sent shivers through my soul.”

“I escaped those memories,” Linda said, “but when I came across that little girl curled up on the kitchen floor like she was cold, my heart just felt like it was bursting. She must have been so alone, lying there on the cold kitchen floor while her parents were lying dead only a few yards away in the next room.”

“Actually, I don’t think any of them suffered,” David suggested. “Carbon Monoxide poisoning is a very peaceful way to go. Chances are they each simply decided to close their eyes for a moment because they suddenly found themselves feeling sleepy. That’s why it’s such a dangerous thing, because there’s no clue you’re being poisoned. I doubt she knew she was in trouble, or even suspected anything had happened to her parents.”

“Well, when you announced that we were to stay outside while you went in, and that we weren’t to come after you if anything happened to you, you terrified me,” Ellen told him. “I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I didn’t like the idea of letting you face an uncertain danger on your own. I wasn’t about to leave you there to die if anything happened to you.”

“The idea was just that if I didn’t contact you, it meant the fumes were too strong,” David explained. “All you’d need to do is break the windows and I’d probably be OK. But if I didn’t make it, it’s likely you wouldn’t have, either.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t explain any of that,” Ellen reminded him. “Instead you left us waiting for you to not make it.”

“It wasn’t—” David started to say when there was another knock on the door, much more timid than Linda’s. David considered not answering, but reconsidered, as there were any number of things could have happened in a house full of people as stressed as they all were.

“Yeah, the door’s open,” he called out.

The door again opened revealing Amy’s concerned face, with Flora’s glancing in over her shoulder.

“We were concerned where Alice was,” Amy apologized.

“We looked downstairs but didn’t see her. We figured she might be here when we heard you talking from outside,” Flora answered.

“I’ve got to get that door soundproofed,” David teased.

“I was upset because of what I saw today,” Alice explained. “I wanted to talk it over with my dad, as I thought he’d understand.”

The girls looked at each other, not responding, so David assumed he knew what they were thinking.

“There’s not much room, but if you can find a space to sit...” He didn’t even get a chance to finish before they both ran into the room and climbed in on the either side of the bed.

“I never dreamed your father would invite me into his bed,” Amy said, smiling at Alice.

“As you can tell, his bed gets crowded sometimes,” Alice replied with a laugh.

“I thought you said he never dated?” Amy asked her.

“He didn’t. But I guess some things you just never forget, like riding a bike. I guess wooing girls is just in his DNA.”

“So what are we discussing?” Flora asked, peeking around Ellen.

“I was describing what I experienced seeing all those dead bodies today, and Dad was telling us why he didn’t want us to follow him,” Alice said.

They continued with the discussion, but David was worried Alice didn’t have the freedom to say what she needed to, and that she wasn’t getting to work out her demons. But the other girls seemed to have issues of their own, and were anxious to hear about what Alice was going through.

They talked for a long time, covering a lot of material. The discussion eventually turned from a discussion of what everyone had experienced to one about what happens after death, a natural enough transition. Linda led off, giving a fairly traditional recounting of the expected benefits of living as a carefree soul, freed from the cares and concerns of mortal life.

“Sorry, Mom, but I have trouble accepting such a simplistic view,” Alice answered, as she studiously avoided glancing at her mother, hoping to avoid any disappointed looks. “Life is all about struggles and how you adapt to them. Now I’ve got no problems with the idea of us passing into a new phase of life, perhaps one not associated with a physical body, but if you take away any changes, any concerns or problems to overcome, then there’s not much point, is there? You’d essentially stop living, so you’d be no better than being dead.”

David saw Linda’s frown at Alice’s deviating from what she’d been taught, so he stepped in, trying to get Alice to elucidate her thoughts a little more fully. “Just what do you mean?”

“Well, if everyone works their whole lives to be more loving, accepting and forgiving, and then you give them eternal life where they no longer have to care whether people are suffering, they have nothing to work towards. If you tell them they no longer have to give a damn, then God would really be sending the wrong message, wouldn’t he? Basically it would be a case of ‘thanks for being such a good Christian, now to reward you, you no longer need to worry about the basic principles of Christianity any longer’.”

“I don’t so much believe in souls as I do spirits,” Amy said. “I don’t see a bunch of people sitting around in heaven as much as I see their spirits leaving the earth to go somewhere else. I imagine where they’d go would be like Earth, but different. Thus they’d still have challenges and problems, but it would be on a whole new basis.”

“Sort of like Life v2.0?” Flora asked.

“Exactly. I’d hate to think that someone who suffered their entire life would have to return as a flea, like the Hindus would have you believe. I’d prefer to think that things would be better, but that most things would remain the same.”

“Well, I kind of take a middle road,” Flora said. “I’m halfway between those two positions. I think that when you’re dead you’re basically dead, but that your spirit just becomes excess energy and that it becomes absorbed into the universe, so that after death we become a part of everything. In essence, immortal, infinite and beyond death, but still no longer alive.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” Linda replied, perhaps a bit defensively, “but I’ve got to believe in a heaven and a hell, otherwise all the suffering everyone experiences here on Earth just doesn’t make sense. I need to believe that it’ll be better somewhere else. I’m not sure I could stand more of the same somewhere else.”

“That’s what reincarnation suggests,” David added. “That until you learn the lessons of this life that you’re doomed to repeat them. And that whatever you refused to learn here you’ll have to relearn by suffering even more in the next life.”

“Well, thank you very much, but I’ve got no desire to be a dung beetle in my afterlife,” she answered with a little shiver of disgust.

“What about you, David?” Ellen asked. “We’ve never discussed our religious views. What’s your opinion of the afterlife?”

“I’ve never really worried about it too much,” he answered. “Aside from a couple of people seeing a bright glow when they were near death, we have absolutely no evidence of an afterlife, so I take that to mean that we weren’t meant to understand it. I think that God wants us to focus on the here and now, rather than speculate on the unknowable. I also don’t think it does any good trying to be a good Christian simply to get into heaven. If you do, you’ll be disappointed if it’s not exactly what you imagined. Instead you need to do good simply for its own sake. You help others because you can, because it helps the other person, and because it makes you a better person. Anything else is immaterial.”

They continued the discussion, now getting into the areas of religion and forgiveness, but everyone was getting less attentive as time passed. The girls fell asleep one by one as the hours ticked by, until finally everyone finally drifted off, David and Ellen being the last as they slipped into unconsciousness while squeezing each other’s hands.

The next morning, while the women were busy getting things started, David wandered around outside reviewing the damage to all the outlying buildings, taking careful notes of what needed fixing. The girls followed him, assuming he’d be doing something more interesting than fixing breakfast. Besides, most of them were either just glad to be outside, or were looking to spend some time with him. It didn’t take him long to finish up.

“Bob, you, Flora and I are going to head off on our own today,” David announced when he came back in. “I’ll need some muscle so the two of us should be able to manage.” He handed Maggie his list as he continued. “Maggie, I want you to stop by the local builders’ supply and pick up these supplies. Take enough of the girls so you can carry everything you need to. I assume you know enough to know what everything is.”

“Wait a minute,” Alice and Ellen said at nearly the same time. Alice let Ellen finish the questions.

“What are you doing and why shouldn’t we be along to help? After all, if you need muscle then surely having several people helping would do better than you and Bob wearing yourselves out.”

“I was planning on burying Flora’s family,” David reluctantly admitted, “just so they won’t lie there and rot in a disgraceful heap. I figure the police won’t get around to checking them out, and even if they could they won’t be able to do anything about them. After the discussion last night I figured the rest of you wouldn’t want to come along.”

“Thanks, David,” Flora said as she rushed to give David a hug, a tear falling down her cheek. She was relieved that her family wasn’t just being forgotten or ignored. But the other women weren’t dissuaded.

“Dad, the problem was seeing everyone dead the first time. I’m sure seeing them again won’t have as much of an impact,” Alice said.

“Plus digging that many graves is going to be more than you can manage,” Ellen added. “You’ll need some help.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to get fancy. I was planning on a single grave with a simple wooden cross so the county can dig them up and rebury them if they insist on it.”

“Still, I’m not shy about doing a little work, but that much digging is likely to result in a lot of blisters if you aren’t used to doing it on a daily basis,” Bob commented.

“I’ve got gloves, but you’re right. All right, if you don’t think it will be a problem then you’re welcome to come along,” David told them.

“I already took care of the bodies, fixing them up, closing their eyes and covering them. So it shouldn’t be as dramatic as it was yesterday,” Alice suggested.

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