Authors: Mary Griggs
~ In the Midst of Tribulation ~
by Mary Griggs
Rating: For adults only because of sexual situations and violence.
Disclaimers: This is an original story and the copyright belongs to me. The hymns and spirituals quoted at the beginning of each chapter belong to the attributed authors. Definitions at the beginning of the story are courtesy of Wikipedia (
). Bible verses are from the King James Version.
This tale takes place after a catastrophic war. There are scenes of violence, including one in which sexual violence is alluded. There are also graphic descriptions of two women loving one another. If any of this offends or distresses you, find something else to read.
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Summary: A small group of survivors attempt to create a community in the post-war world.
Explanation of Tribulation
Tribulation is the period of immense suffering and sacrifice, greater than anything before in history
that is generally thought to occur before the Second Coming of Jesus and the end of the world.
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
Mathew 24: 21-22
Chapter One - The Unclouded Day
O they tell me of a home far beyond the skies,
O they tell me of a home far away;
O they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise,
O they tell me of an unclouded day.
Words & Music: Josiah K. Alwood, circa 1880
Martha was developing a blister. The boots she had taken off the freshly dead body would have been perfect, if not for the uneven wearing on the bottom of her right heel. She had pulled them off the stiffening legs because they were in remarkably good condition, especially considering that most means of mass production and distribution had been destroyed when the bombs fell five years ago.
At 5'11" Martha had enough trouble finding shoes that fit her size 10 feet before the violent dissolution of the United States. Since the Christmas Cleansing of '04, she had been reduced to robbing the dead and even then, the shoes weren't comfortable.
She and the six others of her group had passed through Weaverville a week ago and they hadn't crossed paths with anyone until yesterday. They had begun to believe that the violence that plagued the ruins of the cities was far behind them. Coming across the body had been a surprise, both for them, the man and the gang of teenagers that had killed him.
In a twisted sort of good fortune for her band of refugees, the youths were timid enough to take off without a fight at their approach. They debated among themselves about going after the killers. In the end, however, they knew it wouldn't bring life back to the man and might just put them at risk for an ambush.
The dead man didn't have much on him that his killers hadn't already stripped away. Martha removed his footwear and Susan took his pants for Cody to wear when he grew into them. The youngster had not wanted anything to do with the clothing but Susan told her son that, if he did not take them, he would end up naked when his current growth spurt continued. The teenager was not happy but he stuffed the pants into his pack.
As a benefit for any travelers behind them, she had Piper help her push him off the crumbling black top roadway and into the gully. Continuing their journey north, the small group left the grizzly scene as quickly as they could. They had stayed hyper vigilant for the rest of the day. Fearful that the bunch of kids were girding themselves for an attack, they pushed on until dusk, trying to put in as many miles as possible.
As they journeyed farther from the gruesome scene, they couldn't help but to begin to relax their guard. The elevation continued to rise and their entire attention was focused on placing one foot before the other. Exhausted, they made a cold camp that night.
Dawn the next day was beautiful. Whether it seemed so as a result of their escape from death or due to the airborne toxins that lingered over the bombsites and cast a peculiar glow across the morning sky, the reason wasn't pertinent. Today was to be treasured because tomorrow they might be dead.
The group made an early start. Running low on supplies, the teenagers were given the last of the dried meat and the adults made do with ice-cold water from the nearby stream. Hardly any time passed between waking and the start of the day's march.
Lost in her thoughts, Martha started when her partner appeared at her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
"Are you okay? You're limping," Susan stated bluntly. During the past month of their travel, her skin had darkened to rich caramel while her hair had lightened enough for the auburn highlights to shine. A small, slightly built woman, the events of the past five years had stripped off the veneer of gentility with which she had been raised.
"It's these boots."
Susan nodded. "You want to stop?"
"Not really. I'll look at them tonight."
"Good. I think we're getting close. Maybe by tomorrow afternoon."
"I hope you're right." Martha peered back over her shoulder at the two other women and three teenagers that trailed. "The natives are getting restless."
"Part of it is our most recent brush with death."
"We didn't kill him."
"But we took advantage of his death anyway."
"I know it's hard reconciling who we once were to who we are now."
"You've got that right. In my wildest dreams, I never considered that I would be able to steal from the dead."
"He didn't need the clothes anymore."
"I know that, it's just what it represents." Susan kicked a rock in frustration. "I don't know how to explain how bad I feel at how easy it is to justify what we've had to do to survive."
"I think I understand."
"Does it bother you?"
"Not to your extent. I guess it's easier for me since I was trained as a cop."
"Yes, you were taught to have a limited set of responses to threats." Tapping her partner's shoulder holster, Susan mouthed. "Bang, bang."
"You never seemed to mind when it was your life in danger."
"I don't think I'm really complaining about it now. I'm just whining for my lost humanity."
"It's difficult for you to face that we are not only at the top of the food chain but that we're predators that weak people should fear."
"I don't like that violence is our only option."
Martha laughed. "It must be especially hard with you being a bleeding heart liberal."
"I haven't been a liberal since they killed Cheryl."
"I know, honey. I'm sorry I joked about it."
"No, I just spent my entire life trying to believe the best of people. To know that these last five years were not just a bad dream." Susan wiped her eyes. "I can understand self defense and I can understand protecting others. But I will never understand the rape and murder of. . .of…"
"Shh, sweetie. You'll make yourself sick." Martha tried to reach a supportive hand out for her lover but Susan pulled away.
Susan snatched up a fallen branch and used it to beat against the trees that lined the roadway. When the piece of wood disintegrated from the fury of her blows, she threw it down the embankment. "When will it stop hurting?"
"I don't think it will ever stop."
"Thanks, just what I needed to hear. I was expecting a platitude like time heals all wounds."
"Darling, time only dulls our memories. The best that you can hope for is that joy of her life outweighs the pain from her death."
"I hope you're right." She looked over her shoulder at the worried looks from her two surviving children. She gave them a thumbs up and tight smile. After walking for a while in silence she whispered, "All I've got left is hope."
Martha looked at her strangely. "Why do I get the feeling that we're not talking about the dead man anymore?"
"You always did know me too well."
"What are you thinking about?"
"I'm a little worried about our reception. I don't want to have come all this way for nothing."
"What exactly concerns you?"
Susan pushed her light brown hair away from her face. "I don't even know if she is still there."
"She'll be there."
"You probably right. Once she went back to the land and made her sanctuary, she never had a need to come back down the mountain." Susan hiked quietly for almost a mile, gazing curiously around her. "We don't know how bad it got up here."
"We haven't seen much bomb damage since we passed Sacramento. I don't think they had too hard a time of it."
"What about the roaming bands we've seen?"
"We haven't seen that many. And what there is hasn't been a danger to us." When Susan rolled her eyes, Martha said, "Seriously, that group of punks yesterday wouldn't have lasted ten minutes in the city."
"They were so young. What do you supposed happened?"
"I'm not sure. I do know that juvenile delinquents have been around since before this mess. It's just that without any official structure anymore, there are few opportunities for anyone to get anything without bloodshed. It's a vicious cycle."
"They're alone up on that mountain."
"You think Jay would have made an easy target?"
"Not intentionally but you know as well as I do that superior numbers can overwhelm a better fortified foe."
"True but Jay wouldn't have easily given up any advantage. She always struck me as someone who planned for every contingency."
"You've got that right. She can be down right obsessive in considering every possible outcome."
"Do you miss her?"
"Miss her? What kind of question is that?" Susan smiled at her lover. "Do I miss being with her? Sometimes. She was one of the most driven people I had ever met. The firm was in the process of merging and she really helped me stay on top and come out all right." She shook her head. "But afterwards, when everything calmed down, I wanted someone to make time for me and that wasn't her. Her life was far too compartmentalized for me and the kids to fit."
"I always liked her."
"Sometimes I thought you two had more in common with each other than either of you did with me."
"Oh, no? You both are athletic, like the outdoors, listen to jazz and read mysteries."
"Unfortunately, she pushed too many of my buttons."
"I thought that was what made a successful relationship?" Susan interlaced her fingers with the taller woman. "Seriously, though, she always did like to challenge people."
"And I never cared to be challenged." Lifting up the clasped hands for a kiss, Martha laughed, "I can't believe you two stayed friends."
"I knew that if I really needed her that she would always have my back. Even you have to admit that she never once gave my kids anything but her best." Sighing Susan added softly, "I just wasn't important enough on my own."
"You are to me."
"That's why you have me and she doesn't."
"I have you? You said I have you?" Her grin could light up a room. "You never let me say that before."
The two of them strolled along companionably, listening to the birdsongs from the surrounding forest. Finally, Martha asked the question that had been bothering her. "Is she going to have a problem with me?"
"She'd never begrudge me my happiness and you make me very happy. It also helps that she likes you."
Martha squeaked out, "Likes me?"
"Darling, you always did have more in common with her than I did."
"I still don't see it."
"You just don't want to see how alike you two are. My tough girls."
"Finally, you accept your attraction to butch women."
"You goof, I've never denied what drew me to you."
"Sometimes I get the feeling you resent it."
"The whole strong, silent type can be a little wearing at times," Susan said as she bumped hips with her lover. "But I wouldn't trade your strengths for anything. You fill my empty places."
"You just want me for my many skills."
"No, sweetheart, I love you unreservedly."
"Thank you. I love you too."
"Besides, I think Harmony keeps her on a pretty short leash."
"Would Jay play around on her?"
"Not on your life. She is very old fashioned and has always taken her commitments very seriously. Is anything else bothering you?"
"I don't want her to be jealous or act spiteful."
"Don't worry, love. Even if Harmony hadn't had her pretty well whipped, that ship has sailed." Susan glanced behind her at the others and then made significant eye contact with her lover. "Sounds like someone needs some reassurance."
Martha blushed. "I just want to make sure that we're doing the right thing. I don't want you getting a short shrift because of me."
"The best thing we ever did was getting out of that city. Even if, for some insane reason, we can't stay, we're safer out here away from there."
"You can say that even after yesterday?" The voice startled the two of them out of their private conversation.
Susan turned to face Martha's sister, Doris. "Since we left the main highway five days ago, that was the first hint of trouble."
The two sisters were both tall with dark hair and eyes and that is where the similarity ended. Martha constantly looked for solutions whereas Doris only saw more problems.
"That man was dead. They killed him." Doris' voice was high and thin.
"He was stupidly traveling alone. Even you know better than that. Besides, we must have seen more dead bodies a single week in Oakland than we've seen since leaving it."
"I'm worried, okay? Can't I be a little concerned about you dragging us up here when you aren't even sure that your friend is even alive or that we'll be welcomed."
"Jay knew the country was heading to hell when she built out here. I've never met anyone so well prepared for disaster."
"All the preparation in the world couldn't make her ready for a horde to invade."
Susan smiled tightly. "She made several offers for us to come up and join her before everything went down. I doubt that the offer has been rescinded."
"Even considering that you're bringing more than just you and the kids?"
"One of her greatest traits is her sense of generosity."
"Things have gotten worse all over. You can't expect that she'll be any different."
"Yes I can."
"How? Everyone wants something."
"You don't know Jay."
"What if she wants us to pay?"
"Then we'll work it out." Susan stopped, forcing the rest of the group to stop. Waving her son and daughter closer, she took their hands. "Look, we knew the risks when we left, but we all agreed that we couldn't stay any longer. After what happened to Cheryl, I wasn't willing to just let the mob take any more of my family."
"It's cool, Mom." Cody shifted the pack on his back and adjusted the sling of his shotgun. Freeing his hand, he patted his mother's back. With a voice that was just starting to crack, he said, "I like it out here."
"I agree with him. With winter coming it may be tough out here but anything is better than where we were."
Everyone looked in quiet amazement at the speaker. Piper rarely strung more than five words together in a day and she had more than tripled that in a single statement. The stocky woman shrugged off the attention and started walking again. "We're burning daylight."
Martha nodded. "Let's try to put in another couple of hours before we stop for the night."
The small band reordered itself with Martha on point and Cody bringing up the rear. The last several weeks had seen him shoot up another couple of inches, bringing him almost to the height of his mother's partner. With his longer legs, came an increased sense of responsibility as the only male of the group. The fact that most of the women of the group were better armed and experienced did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm. The older women tried not to laugh at his earnest attempt to define his nascent manhood.
The rest of the party took turns in pairs to pull the heavily laden cart. It wasn't much to be all their worldly possessions but, at each day's end, those that had taken their turn pulling wondered if everything on it was strictly necessary.