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Times of Trouble, Book 2 - In the Lean Times

Times of Trouble, Book 2 - In the Lean Times

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"Spring has finally arrived in Silverdale, and my garden is a testament to its beauty. The flowers have bloomed in every color imaginable, and the air is filled with their sweet fragrance. Some of them are cures, and some are killers. I've learned to distinguish between them, but others have not been so lucky.

When the news of the prisoner's death reached me, I was shocked. And when the Mayor himself came knocking on my door, accusing me of the murder, I was dumbfounded. I knew I had nothing to do with it, but the evidence pointed in my direction. I feel so alone but I'm determined to clear my name and find the real culprit..."

Read Chapter 1 - In the Lean Times

Irene loved springtime. Whoever named the season back when humans first began following the pattern of weather changes, named it appropriately because she always felt like she was somehow springing into a new life. The garden was already filled with color, new buds, and bumble bees were dipping in and out of pollen, and she wanted to spend as much time as possible outside again, even if she was still wearing one of Bill’s oversized sweaters. One thing about Mother nature—you couldn’t keep her down.

“Morning, Irene.” One of her neighbors greeted as he walked past with his dog, a scruffy, gray terrier of some kind, whose fur resembled his owner’s graying hair more each time she saw them. “Looking good.”

Irene assumed that he was talking about the garden, so she cupped a handful of coral-colored azaleas that were spilling over the top of her low fence and admired them too. “There’s nothing like a splash of color to put a smile on people’s faces, is there?” 

“I might come back later for some cuttings.” The neighbor waved at her over his shoulder as the dog pulled him away, eager to reach the park where he could chase his soggy ball contentedly around the field.

This wouldn’t happen during the winter months, Irene thought. People hibernate. She barely saw anyone walking past the garden, and she only saw her next-door neighbor Hilda Jo if she popped into Irene’s kitchen lured by the aroma of freshly baked muffins, or if Irene popped into hers when Hilda Jo had been baking bread. Much as Irene loved to wake up on a chilly winter morning and gaze out the window at a sparkling white world, it wasn’t the same as being able to come out here and feel the sun on her cheeks while she tidied up her flowerbeds.

Where to start? 

The daffodils were in full bloom. Her hydrangea bushes needed cutting back a little, and the clusters of lilies of the valley were looking immaculate in the corner between the perilla—which was threatening to smother the delicate white flowers—and a pretty, little Forest Flame whose leaves were just turning orange. The azaleas needed pruning back too before she lost them to the sidewalk. 

Today was going to be a good day. Irene had made a flask of chamomile tea which she’d brought outside with her, and some vanilla shortbread which she’d wrapped in brown paper and left on the porch. She felt like a child going on a picnic, and excitement gurgled in her chest.

Hilda Jo’s kitchen window opened, and her neighbor’s face appeared. “Were you just flirting with Mr. Dean?”

Irene turned around to face her friend, heat rising in her cheeks. “No, we were discussing my azaleas.”

“That’s what they call it now, is it? In my day we called it Netflix and chill.”

“In your day?” Irene arched her eyebrows ready to come back with a suitable quip, but Hilda Jo was already reaching out to close the window again. “Why don’t you join me? I made shortbread.”

“Have you seen this?” Hilda Jo tapped the tip of her nose with a well-manicured, pearly-pink fingernail. “Five minutes in your garden and you’ll be calling me Rudolph.”

Irene instinctively glanced around her flowerbeds. She knew that Hilda Jo had allergies, but having never suffered herself, she couldn’t imagine having to shut herself in the house on such a glorious day. “You should try putting Vaseline around your nostrils. It prevents the pollen from getting inside.”

Hilda Jo tilted her face towards the sky, pretending to think about it, then said, “I don’t think so.” She wriggled her fingers like spider legs. “That stuff is so … gooey.”

Irene laughed. “Eating honey is supposed to help. Honey made from bees in the local area anyway.”

“Oh, good, excuse me while I grab my overalls and helmet and collect some honey from the hive in my backyard.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Irene said.

“Grabbing my overalls and a helmet?”

“No, keeping a beehive in the backyard.” Irene waved her shears in the air while she crossed the garden to study the land between the two properties. “We could put it there, right at the back away from the houses.”


“Of course, we’ll keep it up high so that Mitch can’t reach it. Or…”—Irene pointed the shears at her friend— “we could ask Andrew to build a small shed to keep it in. That way, the bees won’t be able to escape, and we won’t have to worry about wild animals toppling it over.”

“Irene, you’re doing it again. You’ve created this entire scenario in your head and cured my allergy without even thinking through the logistics.”

“The logistics?” Irene felt herself coming back down to Earth, the way she did when she closed the pages of a particularly engrossing novel and had to reintroduce herself to reality. Hilda Jo was right—she’d even pictured the beehive in her head, shaped like a tiered pagoda. 

“One, you need a queen bee.” Hilda Jo raised her index finger. “Two, you need worker bees. Three…” she hesitated.

“You don’t have a three, do you?” Irene smiled at her neighbor. 

“I’m sure I’ll think of it by lunchtime.” Hilda Jo sneezed violently, five times in rapid succession, her face scrunching up comically, and making Irene giggle. “I’m glad you find it funny. Think yourself lucky it isn’t contagious.”

“I wish I could help,” Irene said. Hilda Jo’s nose was already turning pink, and now that she looked more closely, she saw that her neighbor’s eyes were puffy, tears streaming down her cheeks. “It’s not fair that you’re stuck inside when the weather’s starting to brighten up.”

Hilda Jo raised a hand to her forehead, palm facing outwards, and said dramatically, “I’ll suffer quietly while the rest of the town enjoys the sunshine.”

“I’ll go back to the library and find some books on herbal remedies,” Irene said. “There must be something that we can grow in the garden to help you.”

“Yes, come and find me when you have the remedy that medical scientists have spent decades searching for, Irene. But, for now, I’m going to shut myself in a darkened room with a cold compress on my swollen, itchy face.” Hilda Jo closed the window and disappeared inside the house.

Irene wandered back to her azaleas, deep in thought. Since the apocalypse, she’d developed a keen interest in cultivating her own herb garden and already grew chamomile, lemon balm, and lavender, all-natural remedies to help her sleep. She’d never been a heavy sleeper, not like her husband Bill who could close his eyes sitting up at the kitchen table and nod off in an instant. She’d always put it down to being a mom. Once you had a child, you were always alert, waiting for the sound of tears, or that word called out, “Mom!” Waiting to be needed. But now, it seemed that no matter how tired she was, or how heavy her eyelids became while she was reading in bed, the instant her head touched the pillow, her brain came to life, churning around everything she’d thought about during the day, or the past week, even dragging up trivial matters that hadn’t been resolved from years earlier.

There were natural cures for so many ailments and allergies that there must be something she could do to help Hilda Jo, and she thought she’d seen exactly the book she needed in the library. She’d been drawn to it by the title rather than the cover: Gardening in Your Pajamas. It seemed it had been written for people just like Irene, people who were interested in growing plants with medicinal properties in their own backyard, but plants that didn’t need a lot of backbreaking cultivation. Irene had never stopped wanting to learn, and this seemed like just the project she could get stuck into through the summer. Who knew, she might even start her own herbal remedy practice and teach the youngsters in the town too.

Filled with a renewed sense of purpose, Irene went around the flowerbeds, taking her kneepad with her, deadheading the decaying, drooping petals, which instantly brought the garden to life. She thought about Bill while she worked. He enjoyed gardening too. He worked such long hours as a detective and often came home weighed down with some of the dreadful cases that he handled, that turning the soil and pruning the shrubs was therapeutic for him. He would come back inside a different person as though all his problems had been buried with the roots of a new perennial. 

Next, Irene began pruning the azalea bushes that were overhanging the fence and would soon be scattering petals like confetti across the sidewalk. As she snipped, collecting straggly branches in a tidy pile at her feet, she considered hiking out to the backwoods one day, taking a gardening book with her so that she would know what to look for. A few cuttings were all that she needed to start developing the herb garden. She would’ve asked Hilda Jo to go with her, but her allergies would be even more unbearable in the woods; she could almost hear the complaints now: I told you this was a bad idea, Irene. I should never have listened to you.

Perhaps she could persuade Andrew to accompany her. If they took his truck, she’d be able to bring back even more cuttings.

Irene heard voices and looked up. Collum and Susan were walking towards her garden with their baby Ethan strapped to Susan’s chest. All babies were adorable, but Ethan was quite possibly the bonniest baby that Irene had ever seen with a fine sheen of golden hair, plump cheeks, and a wide gummy smile that lit up the world. 

“Ethan!” Irene exclaimed, setting her shears down on the grass beside the pile of foliage ready for composting. 

“I love how everyone says hello to the baby now and ignores us,” Collum said to his wife.

“That’s how it is when you have a baby.” Irene wiped her hands on the front of her sweater and waited for Susan to unwrap the wriggling baby so that she could have a cuddle.

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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