Word has gotten around Amity. Casey Stoner is a prepper. Pretty much the whole island now knows that Casey has gathered up a mess of resources to use in just such a SHTF situation as they now face. All his neighbors are sitting in their homes, staring at their empty kitchen shelves, imagining what foods Casey is feasting on. And their imaginations have carried them away. They suppose that Casey has vast stores of delicious foods: steak, chicken, cheese, milk — as if his house were a well-stocked grocery store. But in reality, like any prepper, Casey Stoner has stored mostly non-perishable foods: oil, rice, pasta, beans, and some nuts and seeds. So now Casey is a target for those desperate islanders, who don’t mind getting a little blood on their hands.
Along the west side of the island, early in the morning, Casey is walking and talking with Reed Solomon and Tori, Reed’s longtime girlfriend. Reed and Casey are walking ahead. Tori is lagging behind, taking photographs with her Leica M10 camera and a telephoto lens. Ordinarily, she takes pictures of landscapes, lonely scenes with nary a human being or animal in sight. After looking over her photos at a showing a couple years back, Casey became convinced there’s something wrong with her. But she’s nice enough. Just way more artsy than Casey likes in a gal.
There’s still some smoke rising from the mainland, due to the oil and gas plant fires the other day.
Reed stops and stares across the water. “Case, maybe we should get a group together, and take a trip off-island. For supplies.”
“It’s getting more dangerous on the mainland. Our isolation here is a strategic advantage.”
“Yeah, well, the stores are mostly closed. And most of us didn’t prepare as well as you did.”
Casey looks pensive. “I’m happy to help you out. We can also barter, if you like.”
“What would I barter with?”
Tori catches up with them. She’s looking pretty sweet in her ripped jeans and tight racer-back tee.
Reed and Casey exchange a glance. Then a laugh.
“Hey, what’s so funny?”
The guys shake their heads and say nothing.
Casey glances her way. Growing up on the island, Tori has been swimming and boating since before she could walk. And it always seemed to Casey that she knew nearly everyone: longtime islanders and regular summer vacationers. Connections like that can come in handy in the current SHTF situation.
Tori notices the smile and playfully bumps into Casey from the side. “What goes on in that devious little mind of yours?”
Casey says nothing.
Reed wraps an arm around her shoulder. “Dark thoughts, babe. Scary, dark, and twisted.”
She smiles. “That’s what I like.”
They continue walking.
Reed has an idea. “So what do you say, we hit the stores today, see if any new supplies are in?”
Casey shakes his head. “Waste of time. Anything worth buying goes right to the black market.”
“Will they take a check?” Reed chuckles a little at his own joke.
Casey frowns. “I bought a few things a couple of weeks back. But it’s getting too dangerous.”
“Since the explosion?” Tori asks.
Reed nods. “Yeah, people are desperate.”
“And you heard about James Terra, right?” she adds.
Casey frowns. “He owns the appliance store in town.”
“And he’s part owner of the marina,” Reed says. “I’ve done some business with him.”
Tori has a serious look on her face. “He’s disappeared. No one knows what happened to him.”
Reed kisses her on the head. “He could be okay. Maybe he’s off-island on business.”
“No. Friends and family haven’t heard from him. And someone stripped his home and store bare. They took everything.”
“Shit. The more desperate people get, the less human life is worth.”
Casey reaches behind his back, to check the gun in his small-of-the-back holster. He stops walking and stares at Reed. “If you’re up for it…”
“…we hit the black market tonight, and see if any of his stuff shows up there.”
“Fine by me.”
On the mainland, in a quiet little corner of North Carolina, Bett Sallows and her stocky hubby Champ are getting ready for a daytrip to Amity. She’s finishing loading the SUV, while Champ has a chat with his neighbor, Evan.
Champ frowns, hands on his hips. “You up for this task, or not?”
Evan is anxious to please. “Of course. You can trust me.”
“It’s not a question of trust.”
“I’ll keep careful watch over your property.”
“I come back and find any problems, you’re responsible.”
“And if everything’s cool?”
“The list of supplies we agreed on. All yours.”
“Anyone breaks into my place, you know what to do.”
“I grab my 12-gauge, and fire a warning shot.”
“Right into his very surprised face.”
Bett calls over to Champ. “All set, sweetie.”
Champ calls to Evan over his shoulder. “Back in two days, maybe three.”
Bett has a very sweet frown. It’s almost like a smile. “Are you sure we’ll be safe, staying with Casey?”
“Trust me. He’s the most prepared person on that isle.”
“Well, he doesn’t hold a candle to you.”
Champ just smiles and enjoys the compliment. Bett has an even temperament and a kind nature. He’s been impressed with the way she’s handled this recent SHTF situation. She’s a rock, and he’s grateful.
They get in the car and start their drive to Virginia, where there is a ferry to Amity.
On Amity, Casey and Aura are walking along a narrow field. There’s an old but sturdy wooden table set up, basically in the middle of nowhere. And about 50 yards away, there’s a hill, which has been cut away to make a backstop for gun targets. It’s a makeshift shooting range, used by Casey and his buddies for many years now. No neighbors nearby, except for a small farm, and that has been shut down for a few months now.
You would think that farming would boom in any disaster which causes food prices to rise, and the food supply to fall. Well, you’d be wrong about that. Farming is a business, and it relies on a healthy economy, fair priced products, a reliable labor force, and an effective transportation system. But when the SHTF, prices rose rapidly on all goods, including seed and fertilizer. That means a farmer has to layout more money in advance to plant a crop. And the banks weren’t willing to loan money, due to the uncertainties of the situation. So farmers were making due with less seed, planting crops more sparsely, and less fertilizer. And that means the crop yield will be lower. Even if the crop commands a higher selling price, transportation costs and the lower yields meant that farmers were losing money.
Fear had struck the populace hard. Suddenly, many jobs didn’t pay enough to live on. Some people quit their jobs, and turned to stealing. Some fled to other parts of the country, hoping for a better situation. Farm work does not pay well, and it’s difficult. So the farm labor force was failing, and so were the crops.
Occasionally, Casey, Reed, and Dusty would raid the local small farm, just to see if anything new had grown, on its own, which they could harvest. At one time, they tried planting a small garden there. But it was raided by others with the same idea. The place was a wasteland, when it should have been a source of food for the locals.
At the shooting table, Casey sets up for Aura’s first lesson. He’s got a Ruger 10/22, the nice takedown model. Modestly priced and easy to upgrade.
She’s standing behind him, leaning with her chin on his shoulder. “Is that an assault rifle?”
“Nope. It’s a .22″
“It’s not too loud, it is?”
He hands her a pair of ear plugs. He has his in the ears already. “This will help.” He shows her how to put them in her ears.
“Hey, don’t push it in too far. Okay, good. Feels nice, but kind of tight.”
Casey squelches a laugh.
She hits him playfully. “Don’t say it.”
“Don’t need to.”
She picks up the rifle. “It’s heavy!”
“As rifles go, this one’s a little on the light side.”
“How do I hold it?”
Casey helps her position the rifle. “Push the butt of the rifle firmly into your shoulder.”
“Press your cheek on the stock and look down through the scope.”
“Oh, I see!”
“It’s a one to four X scope, set to four.”
“So it magnifies four times?”
“Don’t put your finger on the trigger till you’re ready to shoot.”
“Oh, I’m ready alright.”
Aura fires a single shot at the target. Bullseye!
Casey smiles. “Nice shot.”
She eyes him, lines up the next shot, and then lets loose a string of five rounds, rapid fire. It’s not a tight grouping, but all the rounds are on target.
Casey is impressed. “You’re a natural, Sunshine.”
She hands him the rifle. “Huh. I used to hate guns. But now….”
He nods. “It’s fun, right?”
“Aura, I’ll make a prepper out of you in no time.”