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Times of Trouble, Book 1 - In the Meantime

Times of Trouble, Book 1 - In the Meantime

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"I'd be the last person to want Hilda Jo by my side if I was stuck living during the apocalypse.

But here we are, two silver-haired ladies trying to figure out how to survive with our near-bare pantries.

Which is why I'm thankful that I planted a garden last spring—the community desperately needs all the food it can get for winter.

But then, someone starts stealing from our stores and nobody will take action.
Now it's up to my neighbor and me to uncover the culprit before anyone starves.

If only Hilda Jo and I could put aside our differences long enough to restore justice."

Read Chapter 1 - In the Meantime

Irene lowered the back of the pickup truck and caught one of the smaller pumpkins as it tried to roll over the edge. The whole load shifted slightly, as if the escapee had triggered a domino effect amongst the cargo of ripe, fleshy fruit, and, despite her petite frame, Irene spread her arms like a scarecrow ready to catch any others that threatened to fall.

“Will you be making your pumpkin pie again?” Sylvia asked. The younger woman hung back, rubbing her hands together and blowing into them to keep them warm.

“It wouldn’t be a feast without it.” When she was certain the load was stable, Irene gestured to Sylvia to help her start unloading the pumpkins into the barn. “We’ll can and pickle the rest to see us through the winter.”

Irene was unsure how it had happened—it had been a gradual evolution, she supposed, a role she’d gravitated towards as one of the older members of the community—but she secretly liked it when the younger folks looked to her for guidance or expected her to provide all the answers. 

When she was younger, if anyone had suggested that this might be where she ended up, in her hometown of Silverdale, Washington, harvesting fruit for the winter and discussing her famous pumpkin pie with the end-of-fall feast in mind, she’d have dismissed it without a second thought. Irene learned all her traditional skills from her grandma, who maybe envisaged more than she ever let on. Baking. Sewing. Knitting. Young Irene had the patience to learn such hobbies, because while she was sitting quietly with Grandma inside the cozy house, she didn’t have to worry about friendship groups that she was always too intimidated to wriggle her way into. Jigsaw puzzles: another pastime high on the older woman’s list of favorites. She loved to read too, and it scared the life out of her to think that once she exhausted the supply of books in the local library, she’d never again experience the joy of reading the first page of a new story.

Sylvia glanced at the Olympic Mountains with their snowy hats in the distance and shivered as she reached for one of the larger pumpkins. “There’s a bite in the air already,” she said, eyes lowered. “I don’t remember it being this cold this early last fall.”

“Well, I recall adding a little extra spice to the soup when I prepared the first batch.” Maybe this was why Irene was a natural matriarch—she didn’t pander to the whims and worries of the youngsters. “Whatever comes our way, we’ll deal with it together, same as we always do.”

She nudged open the barn door with the heel of her boot and inhaled deeply as she stepped inside. Irene loved it when the barn was filled with the food they’d cultivated during the summer. Even if she closed her eyes, the smell of earthy potatoes, bulbous rutabagas, crunchy carrots, and parsnips, and all the other vegetables and fruit they’d already stored in here ready for winter preparations, filled her with warmth and satisfaction. She’d felt the same way when her son David was a little boy and she watched him devour his favorite meal. Providing food for others was the most gratifying feeling ever.

“I remember mild winters from when I was a little girl. It confused the animals that were supposed to be hibernating, so they didn’t know whether to cozy up or stay awake. Nature has its seasons for a reason.” Irene lowered the pumpkins gently onto the barn floor beside a heap of fat sweet potatoes. “Why do you think all this food harvested in the summer is perfect for winter fare?”

“I guess.” Sylvia shrugged. “I look forward to winter food more. Pies. Soups. Broths.”

Irene straightened and smiled. “That’s just your body’s way of dealing with the lower temperatures. Comfort food. There’ll be plenty of that with this lot.”

They stepped back outside to collect more pumpkins from the truck. The truck’s paintwork was starting to rust in places she noticed, the red over the wheel arches corroding and turning mottled, fiery orange and dank green. Winter colors. 

It was peaceful. The sky was solid blue like a child’s painting, the fir trees tall and majestic, the water smooth as glass. Irene loved the peace, wore it around her shoulders like a fur-lined cloak, buried her head in it sometimes. Like now. She hadn’t been entirely honest with Sylvia. The winters were harsher now, last winter the coldest so far, and she sensed the chill in the air too. But it was all about perspective. They had a barn full of food—well they would have once they finished unloading the pumpkins—a couple of the men were out there now chopping logs for firewood, the whump-whump of their axes as comforting as the peace they were disturbing, so they’d have warmth too. What more could they possibly want?

Sylvia’s face was turned toward the sky. Her nose was pink. She wore a sweater beneath a flannel shirt, but Irene noticed the way her collarbones protruded above the neckline of the sweater, the way her bony fingers twitched in the cold. She couldn’t help herself. She felt responsible for keeping the younger members of the community happy. She still had wool. When she was done preparing food for the end-of-fall feast, she would start knitting a scarf for Sylvia and maybe some mittens. Her patterns were so old that she could barely read the words on some of the pages, or maybe that was because she needed new prescription spectacles, and she’d felt the first twinges of arthritis in her swollen thumbs last winter, but she’d take her time. She might even ask her next-door neighbor Hilda Jo if she could tease a few strands of glitter from some of the cocktail dresses she still clung to in the hopes that, one day, she’d be invited to another party where she could out-sparkle the other guests. Sylvia would appreciate that, she hoped anyway.

They worked up a sweat shifting the cargo from the back of the truck, Irene secretly squeezing the fattest pumpkins and setting some aside to make pie. 

“I remember carving faces out of pumpkins when I was a little girl,” Sylvia said. “Mom would put tealight candles inside and we’d place them all around the house. The scarier the faces, the better. We’d give them fangs and bat wings and everything.” The younger woman’s face lit up with the memories. “I remember she made special spooky suppers. She made me put my hand on a slice of bread so she could cut around it, and then she’d chop off the ends of the bread fingers and trail ketchup from them like blood.”

Irene laughed. “I remember adding red food coloring to soup and floating plastic eyeballs in the bowls to scare David. One time, he must’ve been around six or seven, he dressed up as a zombie to go trick-or-treating, and he refused to take that costume off for a week after.” 

Did that make her son sound precocious? She hoped not. At the time, she’d battled with him to get the tattered costume off and get him into some decent, clean clothes for school, but her memories were rose-tinted now, and all she could see was his chubby face and his perfect smile and how she’d pretended to be scared when he gave her his best zombie impression. 

Sylvia picked up on the older woman’s reminiscing. “My mom dressed me up like Wednesday Addams one time,” she said. “Bought a black wig with long black pigtails and dressed me all in black, then she made me promise not to speak or smile or react to anything. I just had to stand dead straight when I knocked on folks’ doors and stare them out until they got spooked and handed over some candy.”

Irene faced her, adding a tiny pumpkin to the pile in the other woman’s arms. “Did it work?”

“I think so. I remember my mom laughing all the way around town and telling me that I was destined for the stage.” Sylvia waited for Irene to gather a pile of pumpkins into the pouch that she’d made from her jacket, before heading back inside the barn.

Maybe that’s what they were missing, Irene thought. Why couldn’t they combine the feast with a Halloween celebration? They could spare some of the smallest pumpkins for decorations, and she was certain Hilda Jo would want to jump on the bandwagon and provide the costumes and makeup if it gave her a chance to shine. Sure, things had changed, but it didn’t mean they had to give up on whatever made them happy. Life was still for living, right? Or else, what was the point?

She didn’t say anything to Sylvia in case the others dismissed the idea without a debate, but she could picture it already, the feast alive with flickering candlelight, the table heavy with hot food, and flowers, and even some of the mayor’s wine. She might even carve hand shapes from toasted bread, like Sylvia said her mom used to do, just to put a smile on the young woman’s face.

Smiling to herself, she finished unloading the truck.

What are Cozy Apocalypse Books?

  • No gratuitous violence or sex scenes
  • No foul language
  • No weaponry lists or zombie gore

Main Tropes

  • Survival After the Fall
  • Forming New Family Bonds
  • Thriving After the End
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