After the Apocalypse
Chapter 65: Council Of Elders (Plus One)

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

Few words were spoken as Doug, Jeff, Roger, and Allison picked their way through the woods and out to Ranch Road. Jeff led everyone back into the forest and down to the Jack Lord Nature Center. As they paused to catch their breath after slogging through the deep snow, Jeff found himself staring out across Lockwood Lake toward the barely visible cabin at Johnstone campsite.

"You know," he said to no one in particular, "looking around like this, I can almost understand Steve's need to get away from everything. Look out there-there's no real indication that anything bad has happened in the world. It's all so peaceful and quiet. Really appealing."

"Aside from the stress of a double murder, that is. That might have something to do with Steve's running away," said Doug.

"Okay, right. Aside from that."

"Thinking of camping out for the night?" asked Roger. Jeff was noted in Winter Camp history for being the first to move out of the cabins and spend a night outside. While Steve had topped him in frequency by spending all four nights of Winter Camp XIX in a Viking tent, he couldn't take away Jeff's claim to the first night out.

"No, no, nothing like that. At least not now," said Jeff. "But someday it might be nice if we could spread out a little more. When we've got warmer weather, that is. In the meantime, we've got to stick together, of course. There's still too much danger for everyone."

"Who ever thought that we'd wind up with Winter Camp representing all of our world?" asked Doug. "Great times, good friends-for five days a year. Certainly nothing we ever thought we might be living for months, to say nothing of having our wives and kids along."

"Yeah, that's a lot to take in," said Jeff quietly. "But you know, looking at life, if you'd ever asked me who I'd want to face Armageddon with, it'd have been Winter Camp. It's been about three weeks, and look at what we've been able to accomplish in light of what's happened and with the limited resources we have. We've essentially launched a community of about 100 people, in many ways a self-supporting community, under frighteningly adverse conditions. Who'd have thought we could do that? And more importantly, who else have you known who could pull that off?"

It had slowly dawned on Allison, who was still trying to make complete sense of the whole Winter Camp enterprise, that she was in the presence of three of the oldest veteran campers and thus had a unique opportunity to gather insight. "But you thought Winter Camp could do that?" she asked, hoping to provoke further conversation.

"No, no-I don't think anyone would have considered that we'd have been able to do this; I doubt that it ever really entered anyone's mind that it'd ever happen this way. All I mean is that of any group of people I've ever known or been involved with, I think Winter Camp had the best chance of surviving. Not succeeding-surviving. There's a big difference there."

"And yet we have succeeded," said Doug. "We've managed to engineer reasonable heat, and soon we'll have better running water. We're eating-not as well as we'd like, certainly, but pretty well considering the circumstances. We've even gotten to the point where we can spend some time playing, arranging some down time for pure entertainment-we no longer have to spend every second scrambling for survival."

"Of course, this could hardly be described as 'out of the woods'," said Roger. "No telling how much longer this improvised food situation will hold out, for example. And the other survivors the guys saw in town-how will we react if there's an unfriendly encounter? Three weeks isn't enough to declare victory, not by a long shot."

"But we've brought ourselves to a point where we can begin to consider those questions-", began Jeff.

"Truth be known, I'm pretty sure that some of the guys have already given that some good thought," said Doug. "That may be part of why Dave and Joe headed for Lapeer. I think that when we actually bring that up in the Future Society, we'll find that there's a lot of progress already made on perimeter defense."

"Which still leaves long-term food arrangements," said Allison. "Any thoughts on that yet?"

"That is probably the next big challenge," said Jeff, "and I can't claim any special insight just yet. We might want to start kicking around some ideas, but I don't doubt that we'll be able to come up with something workable. We've got good minds here, and we'll have another one when Steve comes back No cause for alarm just yet."

"And remember, Allison, you're talking to the guy who's got the power to cut all our food rations if he sees fit," joked Doug. "That card hasn't been played yet."

Allison remained incredulous. "You guys sound almost exhilarated."

"In a way, I guess I am," said Jeff. "Not that I would have wished that anything even close to this would happen-but now that it has, it's an incredible opportunity for adventure. A chance to see what we're really made of, if you will."

"Yeah-a literal life-or-death test. I don't know that I was missing anything, being deprived of that," grumbled Roger.

Doug switched his tone. "Right-I know I personally could have gone through my life without the knowledge that I had the ability to rebuild society after a nuclear disaster."

Jeff's curious excitement began to build. "You're missing the point! The nuclear disaster has happened. No one wanted it to, but it did. That's a given. But in light of that little development, we've been given a chance to excel as people. What an opportunity! Think of what we might be able to do once the winter breaks! Move out to other cabins, set up a series of interdependent communities-we could have some people working on agriculture, another group devoted to engineering, other people fishing, and so on. To rebuild our own private world on a better model, with everyone pitching in for the common good-that's a chance for an adventure that no one-no one-in history has ever had."

It was clear to Allison that Jeff was off on his own wavelength and that nothing his long-time friends said would change that. "I don't think most of the others will buy that line of argument, Jeff. Myself, I'd trade this opportunity in a minute for a hot shower," she said, in an effort to bring him back to reality.

"Maybe we can get that," said Doug. "I mean, if we can get the plumbing working at BC, we can probably rig something up at the shower house. I don't know about hot-haven't checked the water heater there yet-but we could probably manage lukewarm, at least. It's an ambitious project, but none of us are going anywhere in the near future."

"Or the far future," said Jeff. "Face it-this is home now. Perhaps for good."

No one would be able to shake Jeff from what they hoped would be a temporary euphoria; this was clear now. He took the lead and began to trace a familiar path through the woods toward the Winter Camp grounds, humming to himself the whole while. Doug, Roger, and Allison each silently wondered what could be done about his apparently slipping hold on reality.

Roger's chief concern was for the ongoing kitchen operations. His was the largest of the Winter Camp families, and he didn't want to see their health or anyone else's threatened unnecessarily by Jeff's actions. He wasn't yet sure what Jeff might do, or even if there was any great risk, but he took a private vow to try and help out in the kitchen as much as he could and to see that some of the others took a shift. "Maybe by rotating different people through there," he thought, "we could keep things from getting too far out of hand."

Doug's attention was largely centered on the upcoming water project, which was the sort of technical challenge he ordinarily reveled in. Turning to the new development, he realized that the success of that mission would probably do little to cool Jeff's fresh enthusiasm-indeed, another challenge dealt to Winter Camp and successfully handled would probably enhance it. Nonetheless, he thought, the work detail had to go forward-too many people would benefit from better running water, and denying them that vital resource would be unthinkably cruel.

Allison speculated on a different plane. "This is another job for Melissa," she thought. "She's really gonna have her hands full trying to treat some of these head cases. I suppose it's understandable that a disaster of this magnitude would set people off, but I can't believe that there were no real signs of this sort of bizarre behavior before now."

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