The story begins one year after One Second After ends, two years since nuclear weapons were detonated above the United States and brought America to its knees. After months of suffering starvation, war, and countless deaths, the survivors of Black Mountain, North Carolina, are beginning to recover technology and supplies they had once taken for granted, like electricity, radio communications, and medications. When a “federal administrator” arrives in a nearby city, they dare to hope that a new national government is finally emerging.
That hope quickly diminishes when town administrator John Matherson learns that most of the young men and women in the community are to be drafted into the “Army of National Recovery” and sent to trouble spots hundreds of miles away. He and the people of Black Mountain protest vehemently. But “the New Regime” is already tyrannizing one nearby community.
Will Matherson’s friends and neighbors be next?
The John Matherson Series
#1 One Second After
#2 One Year After
#3 The Final Day
Pillar to the Sky
About the Author
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One Year After
By William R. Forstchen
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 William R. Forstchen
All rights reserved.
"Daddy, I've been drafted."
John Matherson, who had endured so many shocks in life, sighed, wearily sat back in his office chair, and looked up at his daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth's eyes revealed an aging far beyond her eighteen years, as did the eyes of nearly all of her generation. As a boy, John would gaze at the photo books about World War II; how hard it was to believe that the "old men" in the pictures really were just eighteen and nineteen ... their eyes, however, revealed the inner torment of all that they had endured, features haunted and remote. They were no longer kids that should still be in high school or freshmen in college ... they had aged a lifetime, often within a matter of days, and as one author described them, they were "forever aged far beyond their precious years of youth."
"Sit down, sweetheart." He sighed, motioning to the far side of his desk in the town hall of Black Mountain, North Carolina, of what he hoped was still the United States of America. His desk was piled high with all the paperwork he had to deal with as the town administrator, all of it handwritten or punched out on an old Underwood typewriter.
In the terrible months after the Day, he had finally taken on something of a dictatorial position under martial law. As some semblance of stability finally returned within the last year, he gladly surrendered those powers back to a town council. Regardless of the loss of electricity and a national infrastructure, one thing did appear to hang on — paperwork — and as town administrator, he was stuck with the job. He often looked longingly at the dead computer in the corner of his office, a relic of a bygone world that now simply gathered dust, just as the Underwood typewriter — half forgotten in a closet for years — had before their world was turned upside down.
His former hyperclean world of daily or twice-daily showers on hot summer days, starched white shirts with clean collars, and dress shoes instead of worn boots had been replaced by once-a-week baths in a kitchen basin on Saturday night with a once-weekly, slightly bloody shave using a straight razor scavenged from an antique store to prepare for church on Sunday. Clothes were washed by hand in the creek that trickled down behind his house, and the collars of all his shirts were beginning to fray and were permanently stained with grit and sweat.
John's brave new world had a grimy, battered edge to it. As a historian, he used to wonder what life 150 years earlier actually did smell like, look like, feel like. He was living it now, where a crowded room during a meeting on a warm spring evening had a distinctive musky, gamy smell to it, and folks who once wore jackets and ties or neatly pressed dresses now showed up in worn jeans and wrinkled, faded shirts. Sunday was the one day of the week when people did try to scrub up, though unless someone in the household was handy with an old-fashioned needle and thread, most wore suits and dresses several sizes too big. Their appearance made him think of the old daguerreotypes of a bygone era. It was rare to see someone overweight in those old photographs. Most had a lean, sinewy look, and their clothing, on close examination — except for the wealthy — a well-worn look.
His office in the town hall had that same worn feel to it. Gone were the scents of antiseptic scrubbing and buffing, brilliant fluorescent lights on day and night, fresh coffee from a machine that would take a dollar bill, air-conditioning in summer, and electric heat in winter. All of it gone ever since the Day.
Elizabeth still struggled to maintain some semblance of freshness with a semiclean college T-shirt and jeans and a red ribbon tied to her dark, nearly black ponytail. Her wiry frame was typical of everyone, her jeans belted in tightly around her narrow waist. What little extra weight she had put on when carrying Ben a year ago was long gone
She put a crumpled piece of paper onto his desk and pushed it across to him. He opened it up and spread it out, quietly rubbing his jaw.
He, like everyone else, had heard rumors about an impending draft to be issued by a remote and seldom-heard-from national government that had evacuated Washington, D.C., and now functioned out of an old Cold War bunker system in northern Virginia. The vague rumors had become true with this single sheet of paper his only surviving daughter placed on his desk.
He looked up at her again. She was eighteen, had seen war and starvation, and was already a mother, the father of her child killed in the fight against the invading Posse that had attacked their community a year and a half earlier. In so many ways, she did look like those long-ago photographs of eighteen-year-old veterans of Normandy and Iwo Jima, aged far beyond their years. But this was his daughter, his only child. He could still see the face of the newborn, the eyes of her long-deceased mother, the eyes that would well up with tears when she came for comfort for a skinned knee, the sparkling eyes of a laughing twelve-year-old, the knowing gaze of a sixteen-year-old who knew that with a glance and a smile she could still con her "daddy." Like all parents who across the years had gazed into the eyes of their children, whom the government suddenly declared were old enough to fight and to die, his heart was filled with fear. They were taking his child away, most likely never to return.
He gazed at the paper while motioning again for her to sit down.
As she settled into the chair by the side of the desk she offered a gesture a bit uncharacteristic since she had grown up — reaching out to take his hand while he gazed down at the letter.
"Greetings, Fellow Citizen, and by order of the President of the United States of America ..."
The president of the United States. He still thought at times of the one who was in office on the Day. No. Word was that the White House had received some forewarning of the attack, scrambled the president out of D.C. aboard Air Force One ... but amazingly, the plane was not sufficiently "hardened," against a high-level EMP and went down somewhere over West Virginia. The president now? There was actually some debate, a junior senator out west claiming he was the legitimate successor, but most, especially survivors in the East, acknowledging a junior cabinet member headquartered in Bluemont, Virginia. The letter was the standard formula, reminiscent of draft letters of long-ago conflicts, ending with the forceful statement that she was to report to the office of the "federal administrator" in the Buncombe County Courthouse within three days for induction into the Army of National Recovery — or face the full penalty of the law.
He finished it and then quickly reread it. He was tired after having sat through a night rotation of watch duty, and he rubbed his eyes as he looked at Elizabeth, who sat across from him. No tears on her face, no hysteria, no reaction.
The federal administrator in Asheville. That must be this new official, Dale Fredericks, who had moved into Asheville a month or so earlier to replace the full battalion of regular army troops, which had quartered there over the previous winter but were then ordered to move out and head for Texas.
John found the regular army unit to be of tremendous help with attempting to reorganize the region, opening up some lines of communication with radio gear brought back from overseas deployment, their technicians even helped local ham radio operators to fix their equipment and establish some semblance of a network. They had been helpful as well with at least containing some of the raider groups known collectively as reivers, an old Scot/Irish term for outlaws.
As the army pulled out, the replacements arrived with little fanfare, though word via helicopter from distant Charleston, South Carolina. A printed notice had arrived for John from the postal courier from Asheville, announcing their arrival and that in the near future he would be contacted along with other community leaders for a meeting to discuss reorganizing the communities of western North Carolina. This was again welcoming news given the continued trouble with border raiders from north of the Mount Mitchell range, who were calling themselves reivers, but after that notice, nothing else ... until today.
And now, this first notice of reestablishing the entity that all spoke of with pride and nostalgia — the United States of America — had come as a draft notice from some distant entity to take his Elizabeth away. I've lost one child, he thought. Dear God, not another.
His thoughts drifted to Jennifer, Elizabeth's younger sister who had died when the so-taken-for-granted medical supply system of America had collapsed and insulin was no longer available. For want of a few vials of insulin, his youngest had died in his arms. That was part of his life he blocked off to keep his sanity. No parent should ever have to bury his child, but he had. He kept his gaze on Elizabeth even as he hid his thoughts about Jennifer, attempting to maintain a calm, even exterior.
He looked at her, trying to collect his thoughts. I'm her father. This is my eighteen-year-old daughter who should still be a kid, not a young mother about to be drafted. He shook his head and then forced a reassuring smile and tossed the document back across the table.
"Ridiculous. You're a mother of a fourteen-month-old baby. That's always been a draft deferment."
"Not anymore, Daddy. You didn't read it carefully," she replied, taking the letter from his hand and turning it over. In this age of paper shortages, the document was printed on both sides, front and back. He had actually forgotten to turn the single sheet of paper over to read the addendum.
"By executive order during this national emergency," she read in a flat, emotionless monotone, "all prior grounds of deferment have, as of this date, been waived, except for demonstration of severe physical disability. Those mobilized with dependent children must find suitable placement for their dependents. Failure to do so will result in punishment as outlined in Emergency Executive Order 303."
He reread the line and it chilled him. He remembered hearing about Order 303. It gave a government official the right to invoke capital punishment. He had executed people in the months after the Day, starting with the two drug thieves, with no executive orders other than the decision of the town to support such draconian measures during a time when the survival of the town was at stake. He had wrestled with those decisions then; he still did in his nightmares. As he looked up at his daughter, though, the irony did strike him that she was subject to such, as well.
She handed the page back to him.
"This came in with the morning mail from Asheville?" he asked.
"Yup, and I'm not the only one. Mabel at the post office said there were notices for 113 with the overnight post from Asheville."
"You sure of that — 113?"
"Yes, Daddy." There was now a slight touch of a scared girl in her voice. "I ran up here to tell you. A crowd is already gathering at the post office, and they are definitely not happy."
He took that in, stood up, and went out the door to the next room where the town's telephone operator was on duty.
"Jim, would you patch me in to Mabel?" he asked, and then he returned to his office and picked up his old-style phone.
A retro 1930s telephone switchboard, taken from the local museum down on State Street, had been rigged up in the town hall. "Long distance," as it was once called, now meant a call to Asheville to the west and Old Fort to the east, though there was talk that Morganton, forty miles off, had managed to pull together enough copper wire to run a line to them. His phone jangled a ring familiar from his childhood, and he picked it up.
"United States Post Office. Mabel Parsons speaking."
He smiled. She held to the old rituals even though she was the only one who ever worked at the post office, which, beyond its old traditional service, had become something of the town center for news and gossip.
"John Matherson here. How you doing, Mabel? Your husband feeling better?"
"He stabilized out yesterday afternoon, John; thanks for pushing through that request for antibiotics. We really owe you one."
"Sure, Mabel. The kids at the college are starting to turn out a surplus in their chemistry lab, so no problem."
"So why are you calling, John? Certainly not to check on George's health."
He could sense the challenge in her voice. Mabel was not someone to mince words with.
"Okay, Mabel. My daughter Elizabeth just walked up here from your office with this draft notice thing. Said a whole bunch of them came in with the Asheville mail delivery. What the hell is going on?"
"I sorted through 113 of them, John. You know I'm not supposed to discuss other people's mail. Old post office pledge and all that. But, yup, I'm sticking them in the mailboxes right now. I think it's okay to tell you that it looks like half the notices are for kids still living up at the college; the rest are from town who are being called into this ANR thing."
"I'll be right down," John replied and hung up without waiting for a reply. Again he glanced toward his daughter. He was supposed to be the arbitrator and leader for the entire community, but at that moment, regardless of his overall responsibilities and long years of training and service in the military, the issue in his heart was about his daughter, his one remaining child, a mother herself. It was about his blood, his child, the way any parent would react.
He rubbed the stubble on his chin. It was Saturday morning. Tonight, his wife, Makala, would shave him with an old-fashioned straight razor, an art he had never mastered. Perhaps it was her years as a senior nurse in a cardiology unit that gave her confidence with a blade. Throw-away safety razors were indeed a thing of the past.
After a long night of watch duty, he felt grubby and unkempt, and beyond that, his jaw ached from the damned tooth that had started troubling him the month before. Makala had at last talked him into enduring a dreaded visit to the town dentist later and then a bath in the creek and a good shave afterward, followed by relaxation on his day off from duty. But all that had to wait as he looked at Elizabeth.
"Come on, kiddo, let's get going."
"Can I drive, Daddy?" Elizabeth asked as they left his office, holding out her hand and offering a smile, the sight of which warmed his heart. A touch of the old days of a teenage daughter conning a father with a smile as she requested the family car.
The 1958 Edsel, once the proud possession of his mother-in-law, had become the highly recognizable official car for John Matherson. It was increasingly a source of guilt, as well. Having moved to Montreat after his home was destroyed during the battle with the Posse, he now lived two and a half miles from the town office. At times, especially on beautiful spring and autumn days, he enjoyed the walk. After all, there was a time when for anything less than several miles, everyone walked until the advent of the auto. But more than once while he took his time walking to the town hall, taking an hour each way, something serious that needed his immediate attention had transpired. So after much official wrangling and arguing, the town council insisted he accept a ration of five gallons of gasoline a week, enough for seventy-five miles.
There was still a reserve of a couple thousand gallons in the underground tank for city vehicles, carefully doled out. As for gas taken from abandoned cars, it was increasingly useless, breaking down over time, though the town's Volkswagen man, Jim Bartlett, claimed he was developing a formula to make that fuel useable.
Having the Edsel strictly for business use was a luxury that still hit his guilt nerve, and whenever he did see someone walking in or out of town, he'd pull over to give a lift to assuage that guilt.
"We're walking, Elizabeth. It is exactly half a block from here to the post office." He set off with a long-legged stride befitting his six-foot-five frame, glad to breathe in the morning air after a long night's watch in the town hall. While heading out, he told Jim where he would be and asked him to tell Reverend Black, who was coming on duty, that the night had passed quietly for once.
Excerpted from One Year After by William R. Forstchen. Copyright © 2015 William R. Forstchen. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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