Off the Grid in Desperate Times

Note: This is a story. Sparked by a dream I had. Enjoy 🙂

They were coming to get him. They made the announcement weeks ago, but everyone thought… No… not here in America. We have too many guns. We have the constitution. We are the land of the free.

But then they started showing up at front doors with the ‘paperwork’ giving them the right to take people away. It was for our own safety they said. And people didn’t grab their guns. They stepped aside. They ate the poisonous shit being shoved down their throat as their husband, daughter, son, wife, grandparent was taken away.

My dad was next. I knew it. My husband was heavily armed and he most likely wouldn’t step aside. I’m not sure which would end worse… them taking my dad, or my husband taking a stand.

So we left before they came.

We’d been quarantined for the last three weeks in our house. The kids were already miserable, how much worse could it be to be stuck in a 35-foot motor home?

We bought the house-on-wheels from a shady car dealership in town. Paid cash. Paid extra cash to make sure the sale was not reported correctly.

One of my customers was an off-the-grid kind of guy. He was an ex-government official of some sort. You never knew what he was talking about… Germany, government bonds, ex-wives, conspiracy this conspiracy that. We shared a distrust of the government and he’d been my customer long enough to share some secrets with me.

I prayed they were true.

We packed what we needed and headed west. The motorhome was actually pretty nice. If we were going to the coast on a family camping trip… we’d be stoked. But we weren’t. We were running from the government that was supposed to be protecting us. I didn’t think we were technically breaking any laws, but I wasn’t sure.

The sun was setting on the Pacific’s horizon as we pulled onto the sand. We drove along the surf, heading south for what seemed like an hour. Joe checked the coordinates. “We should be getting close”.

My dad was asleep on the couch. He’d lost so much weight since he got sick. The kids were listening to music on the Walmart Tracfones we got them. They were less than thrilled to give up their iPhones. Even though they complained, I knew they’d do anything to protect their grandpa.

I pulled out the blue sheet of paper and put it on the dash as directed.

Soon we saw another motorhome. And a travel trailer. The motorhome had a blue paper in the windshield. The travel trailer had a blue scarf in one window. An older man with a belly that could’ve housed a nine-month old preborn, stood outside the trailer, smoking a cigarette, nursing a beer. He nodded and watched us pass.

We drove a little further and parked. The kids had put down their phones. They were quiet. I could only imagine what was going thru their heads. Only a month ago, one kid was enjoying dorm life as a freshman in college, another getting ready to graduate high school, and another getting to know her new boyfriend. We went from a 2000 square foot, three-bath house to a temporary home on wheels with a bathroom smaller than any closet we’d ever seen. And just how temporary? Who knew.

The kids wanted to explore, so they each grabbed a gun and headed into the dunes. Now we were breaking laws. But since government kidnapping had become legal, I wasn’t sure how much I cared if we strayed from the law. I was grateful our kids knew how to shoot, how to protect themselves.

People had started to get sick months ago. But mostly old people. They thought it was the flu at first. The flu kills thousands every year and hits the older population the worst. But then the death tolls spiked. Young kids weren’t getting sick. The older you were, the faster you were dying. It became a pandemic.

Governors called state of emergencies across the country. They ordered self-quarantines, closed churches and businesses. The federal government started sending money to everyone. They touted it as a way to help people pay bills… maybe that was true… or maybe it was an easy way to placate people while the bigger plan was playing out.

Then the World Health Organization said it may need to start removing sick people from their homes to ‘isolate them, in a safe and dignified manner’. People started getting removed. You’d see a post on Facebook about someone not being able to contact a grandmother after she was taken. You’d hear rumors that posts about the situation were being removed from the internet.

I started thinking about every dystopian novel I’d ever read… The Handmaid’s Tale, Hunger Games, Divergent, 1984… Were we living in a real-life dystopian story?

Then my dad got sick.

Within days we decided we weren’t going to wait for them to show up.

And here we found ourselves… on the beautiful Washington coast, off the grid… barbecuing steaks… the sound of crashing waves echoing all around us, a light mist hovering in the air. Dad still asleep, the kids still out exploring.

That night, I lay in the dark, in the back room on the queen bed with Joe. I could hear the sporadic snores of my son, and the deep consistent snores of my dad. The girls were quiet… either sleeping peacefully, or whispering to each other trying to figure out how they were going to survive this.

I was perplexed. My dad was dying. We knew it was coming. What would my life be like without him? He was a huge part of who I was. How was this happening? Why was this happening? He seemed peaceful with it all.

I could tell by his breathing that Joe was still awake, “What if we’re wrong?” I whispered.

He took my hand, “Wrong about what exactly?” As if he didn’t know.

“What if we’re being crazy conspiracy theorists?” My voice started to rise above a whisper. “What if WHO is helping these people? We’ll get back home and they’ll be better, alive. And we’ve set out on this crazy journey and my dad is going to die”. Warm tears were pooling in the corners of my eyes.

“Babe,” Joe turned his body towards me, put his arm around my waist, “Your dad doesn’t want to chance that. He trusts the government just as much as he would if Mussolini was in charge. He knows how this ends for him. And I’m so sorry.” He reached up and held my face.

The tears began to stream down my cheeks.

He continued, “Your dad is taking charge. He’s deciding how he spends his last days. And he’s not going to be used in some kind of study or experiment. We’re making sure of that. Where else would he rather be than here at the beach with you and the kids? Nowhere. That’s where.”

He was right.

I lay awake, listening to Joe’s breathing get deeper and slower. The rhythm of his chest rising and falling was comforting. I fell asleep at the first sign of daylight.

I woke up to laughter and shushing. “Your mother is asleep, you guys need to be quiet” Joe said.

“It’s not us, it’s grandpa!” Phoebe said, “You know he doesn’t know how to whisper!”

“I know how to whisper!” my dad said, in a deep voice that was completely incapable of whispering.

I opened the bedroom door and found them playing Uno. All smiles… just like we were on our annual family camping trip.

That afternoon, we went for a hike into the thick woods behind the dunes. The kids wanted to show us an old building they found the day before. We stopped a few times to let my dad catch his breath and to sit down. Joe found him a good walking stick. Dad was dressed for snow even though it was an abnormally warm April day. He looked pale and thin. But he was still laughing and joking and being a complete goof.

The concrete block building was mostly hidden by trees and overgrown brush. It was about the size of a one car garage. The entrance was blocked by a few fallen trees and a rusty old door. Joe and Alex had a knack for breaking things so not 20 minutes later, they had the door open.

It was a bathroom. A stall with a toilet, a urinal, a sink, and a shower. Rays of skylight illuminated the area through several holes in the roof. Water must have been leaking in for years. There was standing water everywhere. Bright, almost tropical looking moss was growing all over the tile in the shower and in the corners. We must have been in an old campground.

“We’re going to try to find more old buildings today,” Allie said. She loved old run-down buildings.

“Please don’t go in them without an adult.” I said

“Phoebe and Alex are both adults,” She swiftly responded. It was crazy that I actually had adult children, but they were barely adults.

“Okay smarty pants…” I countered, “not without me, your dad, or Grandpa!”

The next day, the beer-drinking-cigarette-smoking man from down the way stopped by.

“There’s a little church up the hill in town. They don’t ask questions. You’re welcome to stop by. It’s a good place to be. 7pm. Thirty-minute walk, straight up that way,” He pointed. Before we could say a word, he headed back the way he came.

I hadn’t been to church for a while since the government shut down all services. I was excited to check it out; a little nervous that it could be some devil-worshipping-middle-of-nowhere kind of place I may never escape. But, willing to find out. Joe was less than thrilled that we were going.

Dad and the kids were going with me. Jesse would stay at the motorhome. He thought the man may be setting us up.

We finished up dinner and got ready to leave. Dad had a terrible coughing fit. It sapped his energy. He started to weez. He went to bed as the kids and I left.

It was weird trekking through the woods in near darkness, heading to an unknown church. But true to the directions… there sat a little old one-room church house on the top of the hill. It even had a bell tower. I wondered if they ever rang the bell.

There were maybe 20 people milling around. They seemed normal. I didn’t see any weird altars or animals for sacrifice, so that was promising. We entered the tall white doors. The room was filled with waxed wooden pews. There was a little white-hair lady playing the piano in the front… some old hymn I vaguely recognized. We were welcomed by the usher that I instantly recognized as our beer-drinking-cigarette-smoking neighbor. He smiled, “Glad you could make it!”.

“Thank you for inviting us!” I said

“The pews are reserved for the adults, but the kids are welcome to sit as long as there’s room. If not, they’ll need to stand in the back.” He said.

I looked around… The church was small, but could fit at least 50. I didn’t think space would be a problem. We made our way to the back pew where a mother and young child sat. I wondered if we smelled like campfire. I wondered who these people were. Were they all hiding from someone or something? Were they all living off the grid? Did they know about the motorhomes and trailers taking cover so near? Were they just regular folk from a little local town coming for a midweek sermon?

The service was short. It was about joy in the midst of suffering and that those who know Christ will spend an eternity in peace. The pastor reminded us that this life is but a flower that so quickly wilts, a sunrise that swiftly fades.

When we got back to the motorhome, Joe and Dad were sitting in camp chairs, drinking beer and watching the waves, surely talking about government conspiracy, the kids, the weather, anything but the gloominess of the situation.

“I thought you were going to bed Dad,” I said, as I grabbed a blanket and cuddled up near him.

“How could I sleep when you and the kids are out and about and there’s cold beer to drink, and a beautiful night calling to me?”

Joe and the kids went inside.

Dad and I talked about stuff. About real stuff. About dying. About living. Dad talked about how blessed he’d been and how much living he did with the life he was given. He randomly decided he’d like a Viking send off.

“Ok Dad,” I laughed. So like Dad.

“What?” He acted shocked, “We have Viking in us!”

We sat together in silence. The waves were so loud they sounded like they were on top of us. How many times had Dad and I listened to the waves together? Countless. How often had we sat underneath of vast blanket of stars together? Innumerable times.

“Look!” He suddenly shouted, pointing out to the waves.

“What? I can’t see anything!” I searched the waves.

“There are skunks swimming in the ocean!” He shouted

The kids came running out of the motorhome. Joe stuck his head out the door to see what was happening.

“I can’t believe that you guys can’t see them!” He was getting irritated just like he did when we played Taboo and no one could guess his word. “It looks like two adults, and wow… maybe a couple of babies!”

He was so excited. I wasn’t sure if I should play along. Hallucinations were one of the final symptoms.

“Here comes the mama skunk! No one move!”

We all obeyed his command and no one moved.

Next thing I knew, he was picking something up.

“It’s one of the babies!” He lowered his voice as to not alarm the mama skunk no doubt.

I turned to see what he was holding. It was Weiner-dog puppy. He was amazed with it; turning it upside down, and rubbing its belly. He put it down and it ran off towards someone with a flashlight walking along the surf.

“That was amazing you guys!” Dad was so excited. His eyes were dancing. I realized his face was flush too.

“That was amazing Dad!” I played along. “I think it’s getting late… time for bed?”

As we turned in, Dad said to me, “You are my guardian angel. Thank you. I wouldn’t have done anything different, and I hope you can say the same thing”. He gave me a big hug and kissed my forehead. I felt so loved in that moment, and so devastated.

The next morning, I woke up early and snuck out of the bedroom. My dad was there on the dining room table-turned bed… looking serene, his eyelids a tad open. He was gone. I sat with him and said my final goodbye. I cried quietly, and wondered how the tears would ever stop.

The next few days were a blur. I mostly stayed in the motorhome while Joe and the kids cut down trees, gathered rope and random things that had washed ashore. They were building my dad a boat.

When the boat was done it was a masterpiece. Joe never half-assed anything, and this viking funeral boat was no exception. My dad would’ve been proud. We all braved the chilly salt water, guiding the boat past the waves. Joe set fire to the four corners. I read a few of Dad’s favorite verses and with a shaky voice, said a prayer. Together, we sent him off into the great unknown.

How many laws had we broken in order to keep our family together? To protect my dad? What was becoming of our world and the laws that had been created by our founding fathers to preserve us from power-hungry governments? What would we be going home to? Should we tell the truth about what happened? Or pretend not to know where my dad was? Was this really just a fluke virus that was spreading like wildfire? Or was it all part of a government scheme? Do we push back against the violations of our freedom, or keep silent? Do we even go back? Can we hide forever?