After the Apocalypse
Chapter 119: Midnight Rider

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

Mark Bollman had been on the porch for the late-night strategy session, but he was quiet through most of the discussion and had skipped the follow-up meeting completely as additional information, and a new problem, clouded his picture of things. Emily had finally been forced to tell someone about her heart condition and her waning supply of digoxin, and once again she'd taken her problems to him. After a sleep-deprived short night spent weighing assorted options - and lamenting the unavoidable fact that this problem didn't admit a permanent solution - he came to a final conclusion. While the Lapeer hospital was now even less of an option than before, there were two possible sources of Emily's drugs in Metamora: at the IGA supermarket on M-24, which he was pretty sure had a pharmacy, and at the medical clinic just across the street from it. Both were within easy reach of D-A; he could get there and back by car in an hour, or on horseback in a day.

Or a night, he decided. "Nighttime," he thought. "That's the best time. Emily doesn't want anyone to know about this, so it has to be done under as much cover as possible." On the other hand, complete secrecy was neither desirable nor, he suspected, possible. "It's got to be secret, of course, but Ron probably should knowBat least so someone knows I'm out of camp."

Once the decision had been made and the target identified, the time to act was a foregone conclusion. "Tonight I ride," he thought, with more confidence than he felt.

Getting the idea past Ron was no problemBhe understood the magnitude of the medical issue and was agreeable to Mark's plan. "Just don't trip the alarms," he said. "OhBand be careful out there. We think Metamora's safe, but of course that could change on an hourly basis."

Those words rang in Mark's ears as he saddled a horse from the herd stabled outside Rand Acres and traced a path up the Beaver Lake dam. The snow muffled the horse's hooves, so the chance of internal detection was minimal. External detection had the potential to be a different matter entirely, but he hoped to minimize that risk as well by traveling out through Gate 13 and along the less-developed - of course, he knew that that probably meant - less passable roads into town before he was forced to ride along Dryden Road toward a quarry that he wasn't sure even existed.

While Mark had been privately apprehensive about people leaving camp after the double murder on his birthday, the rush of excitement through his body and brain as the horse passed through the gateway proved that his spirit of adventure lived on beneath the surface. The trip was slow going, but he appreciated the solitude and the time to think about the past monthBbesides, excepting the post-nuclear world, it had been 20 years since he'd last been on a horse, and thus a fast gallop wouldn't have been a good idea.

"A strange month it's been," he said to himself, immediately adding, ABbut that is an award-winning understatement. Nth in a series of them, of course."

He tried to sort through what had recently happened in camp. He knew that people were preparing a team to return to Lapeer and try a direct confrontation with the mysterious ADeacon", and while he supposed he approved of that plan, his mind was looking much farther forward. "When does it end?" he thought. AIs it ever going to get easier here? It seems like just as soon as we've got one complication solved, another one - a bigger one - comes along. If this keeps up, then sooner or later, we're going to come up against something that breaks us up. Or breaks us."

Even though writing while riding wasn't a practical option, Mark wished that he was logging his thoughts on paper instead of letting them float free. The record he was keepingBan effort to impose some order on the utterly unordered worldBwas proving to be good therapy for him. As the disorder got closer and closer to Winter Camp, threatening the safe haven that the event had been for him so many times over the years, there was no telling how long the camp would hold together.

That continuing uncertainty, he realized, was why he was riding a horse through deep snow after midnight in late January, a month after a nuclear war. When he put it that way, he couldn't help laughing at the incongruity of it allBbut the point was clear. For Emily, he was on a drug run, but for himself, he was coping with the stress of the new world by burying himself in decisive action designed to bring order to a small part of it under his control.

The light bulb went on. "That's what we're all doing, in our own ways," he thought. "It all comes down to a way to get a grip on a piece of the unimaginable reality we're now living." Mentally, he began checking off names and what they were doing, as again he wished he was writing things down.

"Jeff, of course, is planning for the new world that he wants to build from Winter Camp. Ron, he's focused on the safety of BC subcampBonce again, a small piece of the big puzzle. John and the Hunts, they're focused on the new invaders. Same with Lou, but with the other guy. Milon - he seems like he's just looking for more adventure in Lapeer, but he wants the thing with the Flock settled" - and the list went on. Indeed, based on what information had come through to them from Lapeer, that could even explain what Deacon Whateley was trying to do with the Flock, and why the Night Razers were so intent on silencing his radio.

He paused, however, when his list reached the women. What was their niche? Where were they seeking to impose some order? Katie was easyBshe had her future child to look out for. (Sometime soon, they needed to think about how they were going to deliver a baby if they were still at D-A when that time came...) But the rest of the Tundra Stomp women were a different matter, less obviousBand suddenly everything that Carrie and Allison, in particular, had been doing and saying made sense to him.

It was ultimately all about control, he thought. Why this hadn't occurred to him much earlier baffled himBa lot of the decisions he had made throughout his life were directed toward maintaining personal control over one thing or another. Nonetheless, the world looked much clearer now. Carrie was trying to get the women involved in decision-making, but perhaps it wasn't a quest for power. In light of the pattern he had just deduced, it was simpler to ascribe her actions to a desire for some order in what was even more alien to them than to the Winter Campers. Allison had had it easier with the water projectBthere was another small place where a victory over chaos had been achieved, and she had some knowledge that made her a good fit there.

He looked skyward, at the full moon. "In the movie version of this, there'll be a total lunar eclipse right about now, to highlight this new revelation," he said. But what good was it all? Now that he had this insight, how could it best be put to use for the good of the groupBor at least for the good of some of the group members whose needs were newly apparent?

Fortunately, those needs overlapped considerably. They didn't obviously overlap with Emily's need for heart pills, though, and since he was arriving at the IGA, the time for abstract thought was past and the time for decisive action was at hand.

Mark rode around as much of the building as he could. The Winter Campers hadn't done much scavenging in Metamora and, it appeared, neither had anyone else. A look at the damaged building made that clear. Most of the back half of the supermarket had fallen in, so while there were surely resources beneath the rubble, they wouldn't be easily retrieved.

But it wasn't foodstuffs he was after this night, and if the pharmacy existed, it might be toward the front and in the undamaged part of the store. At any rate, he'd come this far, and to leave without investigating as fully as possible would just be wrong. After tying the horse to a light pole, he worked his way around the rubble in the parking lot and entered the store through a broken window. His flashlight pointed up an elevated pharmacy counter in the store's northwest corner, and he grinned in vindication.

ABingo," he said. "Now to inventory their stock."

And for that, he was fortunate that he'd brought the flashlight. While the ground tremors hadn't affected the pharmacy to the point of structural danger, there were still medicines scattered across the floor. He had to step carefully; he didn't know for sure where the digoxin was, and a false step could crush what he'd come for.

The pharmacy's careful organization had been, not unexpectedly, seriously disrupted. There was enough semblance of the original alphabetization left that Mark was able to find where digoxin should have been, but it was nowhere nearby.

"Not a complete shock. Bottles roll."

That meant crawling around the floor with the flashlight in his mouth as he searched for the medicine. Once again, he thought, he was trying to impose some order on a small messy situation. As he searched each bottle for a label, he briefly regretted not having more information about the camp's medical needs, but quickly dismissed his idea as having the potential to cause more problems than it might solve.

ANo point in messing around semi-randomly with prescription drugs. None of us are even remotely qualified to do that intelligently." So while the thought crossed his mind, as he examined a bottle of Valium, that its contents could be useful back at camp, he set it aside and continued the quest he'd come on.

Twenty minutes later, Mark found what he was looking forBa large bottle of digoxin tablets that had inconveniently rolled into a distant corner. A quick comparison of the pills inside the bottle with the sample that Emily had given him confirmed that he had the right medicine, and a long-term supply of it at that.

AMission accomplished. Time to get out of here. There's more work to be done back there fighting chaos and disorder." With a firm commitment to this new idea, he left the store.

As he untied his horse and headed back to camp, Mark's mind was racing with ideas. There was enough missing order that surely everyone who wanted to serve Winter Camp as they served themselves (he couldn't resist that phrase) could find some place to contribute. The challenge, of course, was that not all disorder was equal. One possible project was the salvage that might be done in the supermarket he was leavingBit seemed as though no one had touched its contents. Whether that was because potential looters were scared off by the structural damage or because the survivors in Lapeer didn't need to venture as far as Metamora in search of supplies, he couldn't be sure, but either way, it presented everyone with an opportunity for useful action.

Which just brought up another question: Why hadn't they come looking for supplies here?

That was a question easily answered: Part of the reason why they'd concentrated on Lapeer early on was to investigate the town, because they had checked out Metamora when they brought the Tundra Stomp women up to D-A. After the investigation was over, the fallout from the shooting in town, and everything else they had learned since then, made Lapeer the more important of the two cities. That had certainly been correct at the time, but perhaps the time had come to change things. Certainly there was no clear evidence that anyone would be in any more danger in Metamora than they were in back at camp, and that made this an attractive opportunityBone not to be missed.

Mark deliberately chose a different route for his ride back to camp, one which traced the four-lane fire road from where it emerged from D-A up to the Pedro Trail. For safety's sake, he resisted the temptation to take the horse up the familiar path which led to the Last Ceremony site and the CHR Memorial - the trail downhill from those landmarks was uncertain under most winter conditions, and he was pretty sure that it wasn't safe for a horse, or for a horse's rider. It meant a more convoluted path, but once again, he welcomed the solitude and the opportunity to think.

As he emerged from the woods just north of Hilltop, he paused briefly and stared down toward South Cove. There was, of course, no electricity in the cabin, but he thought he could see faint candlelight from down below. The definite sign of human presence jarred his mind back to the reality that Winter Camp was facing and preparing to confront head-on. Suddenly, he shivered with an intense need to get back to BC and get back up to speed on everything that was going on. He spurred the horse forward more quickly, knowing that a clear Ranch Road was all that stood between him and the new security that the familiar Winter Camp buildings represented. One thing was certain: he'd had enough out-of-camp adventure for quite some time, if the choice was left to him.

Of course, he was just as certain that the choice wasn't going to be entirely his. The call to serve might come without his prior approvalBand if he was needed for a mission in either town, he would go without question.

Mark returned the horse to Rand Acres and walked quickly back to Clearwater. It was just after 3 A.M., but there was no way he would sleep until he was done recording his thoughts from the evening on paper. By 4:30, that was doneBbut it meant another short night.

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