From the diary of Ben Cho, winter 2011–2012, condensed:
The first post-Truckalypse winter was rough on all of us, and it was fairly mild weather-wise. There was plenty of food — Johnny was right, we had to eat a lot of venison just to keep our gardens from getting overrun by the deer — and that was one complaint, those who were predisposed to be vegetarians were SOL. There were dry spells and wet spells, but mostly we had enough water to go around.
The big problem was heat: even with a mild winter we couldn’t cut enough firewood to keep up. We found a few kerosene heaters and passed them around, but the kerosene was getting stale just like whatever gasoline we hadn’t treated. Rita had to treat several cases of carbon monoxide poisoning because people didn’t know (or think) to leave a window open, and after that, a lot of people decided they would rather be cold. Jason got the sewage digester working, but we use the gas for cooking rather than heating. We moved the cooking facilities into the clubhouse and let the waste heat warm up the Laurel Room, which helps some. Our outdoor kitchen won’t go to waste though, we covered it for the winter and we’ll use it when things warm up again.
Rita was busy through the winter, and not just with bad kerosene. The flu went around, and everyone got some kind of bug at least once. People scoured the houses, in and out of Laurel, for liquor…
Worst of all, some unfinished business came back to haunt us.
January 1, 2012
“Happy New Year, Sondra… hey, you okay?”
“Yeah. Drank a little too much, maybe. I feel a bit queasy.”
“Tell me about it. I should’ve stuck with beer, that whiskey knocked me on my ass and smacked me over the head just to make sure.”
Sondra rolled out of bed and ducked into the bathroom — nearly everyone had converted their bathrooms to composting toilets, both for emergencies and to avoid that trip outdoors on especially cold nights — and stood eyeing the toilet, hugging her robe tight to her. “Hey… if I puke, is it gonna mess up the fertilizer?”
“Um… I don’t think so. But if you gotta do it, you gotta do it.”
A pause. “I think it passed… thank God. Maybe some water will make me feel better… can you get me a glass?”
The Bobs insisted on calling their group “The Magnificent Seven,” which annoyed Frank for no reason he could understand; their whistling the theme song all the way down I-75 was an annoyance he understood well enough. The survivors of that ill-fated gay-bashing weekend after the Devil’s Rapture — Frank, Jared, the Bobs, Ray-Ban, Steven, and Will — spent their New Year’s Eve in the smelly remains of a luxury hotel near one of the US41 exits, drinking the liquor they had looted and hoarded for this night and playing poker for huge amounts of worthless dollars. Frank paced his drinking, and was able to snuff the lanterns and find a soft bed after the others passed out at the poker table or in moldering lounge chairs.
Bleary, stiff, and hungover, Frank got them moving around mid-morning — “Happy New Year, assholes” — and marching down the I-75 breakdown lane once again. The pickups seemed to slow as they passed the men — one began to pull over ahead of them before seeming to think better of it and moving on — and all of them whispered their siren song as they went by: No more pain. No more weariness. Come to us. All were grateful for the clouds, keeping the sun from pounding their heads even more.
They spotted Worleigh, standing on the overpass, long before they reached him. He stood motionless, watching them approach, the gigantic Bible tucked under his left arm as before. He wore what appeared to be a genuine trenchcoat, buttoned against the biting New Year’s breeze.
“Well met,” he greeted them as they mounted the overpass. “Faithful to Gowd-a, faithful to the task He has set before you.”
“What task?” Frank said.
“The eradication of those who have spit in the face of Gowd-a by their abominations, and of those whom He hath marked of old as unworthy of His grace,” Worleigh replied. “If you would take up His sword and smite the evildoer this day, kneel now in prayer.”
They knelt — Frank and one of the Bobs a little more slowly than the others — and Worleigh began: “Our Father in Heaven, we present ourselves to you this day, a living sacrifice, pure and holy —”
Ray-Ban stifled a snicker, thinking Alcohol kills germs… I guess that makes us pure.
“— ready to stand as your army in these days of Tribulation. Strengthen our hand as we do Your will. Amen.”
Several others repeated the Amen, and Worleigh continued: “Now lift your faces to Heaven, and be anointed with oil. This day, you are to be marked and sealed to Gowd-a’s holy purpose.” They looked up, and Worleigh removed a small bottle from a pocket of his trenchcoat. He dipped a finger in the oil and flicked three hurried crosses onto each of their foreheads, repeating, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost-a,” for each of them.
“Arise, soldiers of Gowd-a,” Worleigh said, and they stood. “I charge you this day: do not waver in your purpose, do not turn back from the task set before you. For it is written: He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of Gowd-a. Seven years shall we labor, and do the work of Gowd-a, then shall we be taken up to sit at His mighty right hand in the Eternal Sabbath.”
“Sure,” Jared said. “But how do we find out who we’re going after? And how do we tell the good guys from the bad guys?”
“All of Gomorrah is dedicated to destruction,” Worleigh said. “As it was with Noah in the days of the Flood, and Lot in Sodom, Gowd-a has surely brought out His faithful few.”
“Yeah,” Ray-Ban said, “but how do we find ’em? This Gomorrah is an awful big place, and there ain’t that many people left in it.”
“Look,” Worleigh said, pointing south. “What do you see?”
“Lots of buildings,” Jared said.
“And… smoke,” said Frank. He grinned.
“Verily,” Worleigh smiled. “The smoke of the evildoers precedes their journey to Hell.”