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Julip swallowed a mouthful of food and said, “I’m Julip.” The man smiled. “Like a mint julep?” Julip shook her head. “No, Mom liked the name of the town I was born in.” “Where’s your family now?” Jeb asked, giving his bones to Tim who scarfed them down. “Lost them before the Arid. There was a big sand storm in the Utah, I lost my only picture of them. I looked and looked but nothing. Been trying to avoid the bigger settlements. Dangerous.” He nodded and rubbed his eyes. “I hear ya. Man wanted my generator, fact, a bunch did but I wanted those seeds. The man attacked me. That’s how I lost my eye.” Jeb pulled a tea kettle off the stove. “Coffee?” Coffee? How long has it been? Julip eagerly shook her head. “Thank you.” She took a drink, “So why’d you help us?” She thought it all had to be a ruse, it was too good to be true. “Well kiddo, I miss my own family. Had a boy your age. Lost him last year to infection. Moved out here,” he gently sighed, “to be safe. But it’s lonely. Duke don’t do much though he’s good company. Haven’t seen an- other person in six months. You didn’t look so good. You or him,” he said, motioning to Tim who was now in a food coma next to Duke. “I appreciate the coffee and the meal, really. We’ve been travelling for a week. It’s much greener this way. Much cooler. We’re headed to the mountains to the west. Bear Pass.” Jeb nodded. “Been up that way. Really steep. Good huntin’ though.” Julip grinned. “I miss hunting. In Utah and the corner of Idaho, there were jackrabbits but they were stringy and tough. Missed good food.” “Yup. It’s good eats up here. Much more rain. Brings people though.” The furrow on his brow deepened. “Not everyone is bad, Jeb. Look at you. Fed a complete stranger and her wolf. I’ve bumped into some people who’d rather eat me than him.” Jeb gave her an expression of mild shock. He took a drink of coffee. Some of the grounds caught in his teeth. For a while Julip and Jeb sat in silence, enjoying their coffee and the warmth the woodstove gave out. Both Duke and Timber used the yard. Jeb showed Julip his well and told her a story about when he was younger and fell in a well. “See? That’s why I dug stairs into my well. Just in case. Best to be prepared.” “Looks like it was hard work.” Julip surveyed the dark depths of the well. “It was. Didn’t have fingernails for months!” After the sun was devoured by the horizon, Julip and Tim took a walk around Jeb’s cabin. Julip was excit- ed to have had a full meal. She was so grateful for Jeb’s warmth and kindness that she felt she needed to pro- tect him. From what, she didn’t know. She remembered that Jeb had said more people were coming into the mountains to get away from the heat. Julip thought about the day things started to fall apart. The radio had been on all night and she had wok- en up to the sound of a public service announcement blaring in her ears. The man on the radio was repeating for everyone to stay indoors and if they had fire blankets to place them over the windows. He repeated to stay in- doors and that communications might be down after the first solar burst. Lately, there had been a lot of long- range radio interference from the sun’s solar flares. It had been getting worse, and Julip instantly knew that this was what the man was talking about. Suddenly she heard him say something about a geomagnetic storm hitting North and South America. Microwaves opened holes in the ozone. This concerned everyone but was the main reason to stay indoors despite the urge to flee from danger. Julip had been staying with her distant cousin, one she never grew up with, only knew by name. He had gone to work and hadn’t come back yet. Hopefully, he was okay and nothing serious had happened to him. Her phone hadn’t been working and neither was the Wi-Fi, so there was no way to get a hold of him. The man was warning people about a coming solar proton event caused by the geomagnetic storms. He warned of blackouts and ionization in the ionosphere which would affect the electric grids, leaving them without power for an extended period of time. Julip scavenged some flashlights, batteries, candles and supplies so she could wait it out in the basement until her cousin came home. 28
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