Edge of Valor: A Post-Apocalyptic EMP Survival Thriller(9)

Some parts were painful, but with every word she spoke, it became easier and easier. The act of telling her story was freeing—and powerful—in a way she hadn’t expected.

When she’d finished, Oliver was in tears. So was Dave.

“And Noah?” Oliver asked.

So, she told him about the militia and Noah’s death. It had been almost two months since Noah had died, three months since her return to Fall Creek. She still grieved for him, but in a different way.

She’d come to terms with his actions, both the bad and the good. He had spent his life protecting their son. Though they’d disagreed on the methods, she could forgive him for it.

She did forgive him.

And with that absolution, that small mercy, she could move on.

Next, it was Oliver’s turn. He explained how his fellow Yoopers, natives of the Upper Peninsula, had come together to survive the brutal winter. The EMP had affected the entire United States—sans Hawaii and Alaska—and the lower parts of Canada.

Like the residents of harsh, remote Alaska, Yoopers were tough, independent, and hardy. They had to be; the winters were long and cold, the towns small and scattered amid miles of rugged wilderness.

The Upper Peninsula, or the U.P. as Michiganders called it, hadn’t experienced the same level of anarchy and lawlessness ravaging the rest of the country.

Survival was difficult but possible.

“Things are tough, but I’m making do.” Oliver hesitated. She could almost feel him thinking through the radio, a little tentative; not daring to hope but hoping anyway.

“What is it?”

“There’s room for you here at Mom and Dad’s place. For you and the kids.”

Their parents had owned a farmhouse on thirty acres just outside of Brevort, a tiny town close to Mackinac Bridge separating the upper and lower peninsulas. The property was nestled at the tip of Lake Michigan, surrounded by the Sault Ste. Marie National Forest.

“We can make it here, Hannah. We can.”

Her heart squeezed at the hope in his voice, the eagerness and passion as he spun a vision of a tiny house deep in the woods, of gardens, a well, and prime hunting grounds. Remote and isolated. A safe place sheltered from the world.

“Would you consider coming here?” she asked instead. “To Fall Creek?”

Oliver didn’t answer right away. She could imagine him hunched over his desk, blond brows scrunched in a frown, his lank overgrown hair spilling into his brown eyes as he scratched at his goatee.

She didn’t know whether he still had a goatee—whether he was clean-shaven, or whether he’d given in and grown a mountain-man style beard like their father.

An ache opened deep in her chest. She missed him intensely. She missed her dead parents.

“Someday, maybe,” he said. “There are so few people up here. They know how to live off the land. You know how it is. It’s different. I belong here.”

Hannah bit her lower lip, pushing down her disappointment. “I know. I understand.”

“I’ll keep adding to the supplies, you know, in case you change your mind. You’ll always have a home here.”

“We’re in the same state, but it feels like we’re oceans apart.”

“Just for now. I promise, it won’t be forever. We’ll see each other again. I don’t have a ham radio, but Stanley Barnes does. Remember him?”

“Of course. Cranky old guy who lived at the end of the road since forever, always yelling at us to stay out of his woods or he’d tell Dad to give us a good whipping.”

Oliver laughed. “Yeah, that guy. He’s too old to yell anymore. I’ve been checking in on him. Stay in contact, little sister. I don’t want to lose you again.”

“Me either,” she said. “Me either.”

After she’d signed off, Dave handed her a clean handkerchief. She sniffed and wiped at her eyes as Charlotte batted at the white fabric.

“Sorry,” she said.

“Nothing to apologize for. Family means more than it ever has. And it always meant everything. We were just so busy and distracted, some of us forgot.”

She let Charlotte have the handkerchief and rested her hand on Dave’s arm. “And friendship. Yours is priceless. Thank you.”

“It was my pleasure.” Dave shrugged, his weathered cheeks reddening. “Anyway, I’ve got a scheduled radio call with Captain Hamilton. You got time to join in?”

Hannah glanced at her watch. “I promised Molly I’d help transfer some seedlings in her winter garden to the greenhouses, but I have a few minutes before I’ll need to feed and change Charlotte. Travis agreed to watch her. She and L.J. are hitting it off.”

Charlotte often shared a crib with L.J. They were becoming so attached to each other that they slept holding hands or curled into each other like kittens.

Dave tugged at Charlotte’s socks, and she let out a peal of laughter. “As only babies can.”

A few minutes later, Dave had contacted Charlie Hamilton, the captain in charge of the National Guard unit stationed at the Cook Nuclear Power Plant in Stevensville, about fourteen miles west of Fall Creek on Lake Michigan.

Hannah and Dave had organized a couple of food drops to keep the soldiers, the engineers, and their families fed after FEMA discontinued supply deliveries. The engineers kept the plant maintained, so once things got back online, they’d be ready.

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