How did I survive as a teen without a BuzzFeed quiz to distract me?

Mercy had had no spare time as a teenager. Her parents kept her and her siblings in constant motion. On a farm there was always work to be done. Telling a parent she was bored would have resulted in hours of physical labor.

To combat Kaylie’s issue, they’d made a list of projects to tackle at the cabin. Interesting projects that caught Kaylie’s imagination. Although Kaylie wanted to manage a bakery or dessert shop, Mercy saw the brain of a natural engineer in her niece. She loved to solve problems. And there were many at the cabin.

At times Kaylie was overwhelmed by the thought of all the daily items that could disappear in an emergency. “What if we run out of baking soda?” she’d asked Mercy once. “It’s a basic item that I use every day.” Mercy urged her to research the problem, but the answer depressed her niece. “We’d have to mine it in Colorado. There are some substitutes, but it won’t be the same.”

“We’re not going to Colorado.”

Kaylie’s TEOTWAWKI concerns were smaller than Mercy’s big-ticket concerns about heat, water, and food.

During this trip Kaylie’s project was to create a laundry machine for clothes, along with her bars of soap. Mercy had never thought about laundry. Her cabin had a creek; she would have some sort of soap. Those two things were good enough for her. And somewhere in storage was an old-fashioned washboard. To Mercy the problem was minor. But Kaylie was determined, and Mercy saw it as a boon to keep her occupied.

Her niece had instructions from a website. On the last trip Kaylie had brought up the supplies and Mercy had washed her hands of the project. One look at the complicated step-by-step photos had convinced Mercy to be happy with the creek and washboard.

A big bucket, wood, plastic pipes, netting. The pictures showed a giant claw attached to a net full of clothing that dipped into a bucket and somehow squeezed out the soap and water with each dip.

Mercy had pointed out a similar system that worked solely with a toilet plunger and bucket. Kaylie had wrinkled her nose.

Kaylie and her supplies were out in the barn. The little A-frame cabin didn’t have the floor space for Kaylie to spread out her project. According to the website, it would take eight hours to assemble.

Perfect.

The two of them actually made a good team. Mercy looked at the big picture, and Kaylie considered the smaller details like laundry soap and deodorant. Mercy had never thought about needing deodorant after a disaster. How she smelled was not a priority. But if Kaylie was determined to try something, Mercy didn’t stand in her way.

Kaylie had used coconut oil, baking soda (hence part of the baking soda worry) and cornstarch to whip up a deodorant that they’d both agreed wasn’t bad.

Mercy had never purchased so much coconut oil in her life. Kaylie requested it for everything. Baking, cooking, deodorant, and even laundry soap, so Mercy had added large buckets of it to her stock.

Mom and Dad never stored coconut oil.

The thought that their daughter had become a millennial-thinking generation of prepper made her grin.

Her parents had also never considered a night vision camera security system. It was the main reason Mercy brought her laptop to the cabin. The system showed several views outside.

The noontime sun was bright, and she grew smug at the thought of her photovoltaic system sucking in its energy. Today was a day that the blue sky and sun pretended that no huge storm had rolled through yesterday afternoon and the ground wasn’t buried in snow. She bundled up and went out to the barn to grab a snow shovel. Kaylie sat on the floor, deep into plastic pipes and netting for her laundry machine.

“I’m going to hike around for a bit,” Mercy told her, eyeing the giant mess.

“Got your radio?” Kaylie asked, not looking up from knotting some cable through the net.

“Of course. Where’s yours?”

Kaylie slapped her jacket pocket.

When she had first brought Kaylie to the cabin, Mercy realized the two of them needed a source of communication. The two-way radios were reliable. When she’d been alone, Mercy hadn’t felt a need for communication. She hadn’t cared who couldn’t reach her. Now her priorities were different. Truman had suggested a satellite phone several times. But again, Mercy liked being disconnected from the world . . . but not from her niece.

The snow shovel over her shoulder, she pulled out her cell phone as she walked up the twisting drive to her cabin. No service.

No surprise.

She walked her acreage every time she visited the cabin, looking for problems or signs that someone had found her hideaway. A few summers earlier she had tried her hand at snares to catch small game, and she’d caught a chipmunk in one of her traps. Since she was a child, she’d watched the tiny striped creatures dart playfully around the woods. They definitely weren’t worth catching for food. She’d put away the snares, pleased that they’d worked, but unhappy that she’d caught something more like a pet than a meal.

Her tire tracks from yesterday were clear and made for easier walking at the moment, but in her eyes they announced her location to the world. Her plan was to smooth out the tracks that turned into her drive. She crossed her fingers that another vehicle had passed by, continuing tracks past her drive. Otherwise a set of tracks that simply stopped in the center of the road would definitely catch attention.

Fifteen minutes later she was delighted to see that a vehicle had continued past her turnoff. She filled and smoothed her Tahoe’s turn into her drive. She couldn’t match the perfect blanket of snow, but at least it was less eye-catching. She wasn’t concerned about the few neighbors who lived in the area; everyone minded their own business. What made her uncomfortable was the thought of a nosy passerby deciding to explore where the mystery tracks went.

She was working her way down her drive, intending to go just far enough not to be seen from the road, when she heard an engine. Mercy moved to the cover of the trees, picking a hiding spot that gave a clear view of the approaching vehicle. She caught her breath at the sight of the wide military-looking SUV.

Christian’s Hummer?

The vehicle moved slowly, as if its occupants were searching for something. Mercy spotted Christian’s handsome face behind the wheel. In the other seat was a woman with dark hair. Salome? Her heart sped up. Why is she with Christian?

Both adults kept turning to study the sides of the road.

There’s only one thing they could be looking for out here: me.

She stepped out from the concealment of the trees and waved her shovel as she moved toward the road. Salome spotted her first, pointing and grabbing Christian’s shoulder. The SUV drew even with her and stopped. As Salome lowered her window, Mercy spotted Morrigan’s delighted face in the back seat. The girl had recognized her.

Salome and Christian looked exhausted, but relieved.

The three adults stared at one another for a long second.

Twice Christian told me he didn’t know who Salome was. Annoyance rose in her chest. Where the hell has she been?

“You’re looking for me?” Mercy finally asked.

“We’ve stopped at two other places, trying to find your cabin,” answered Christian. Salome was silent, her dark eyes studying Mercy. Mercy stared right back.

“Why? And how did you know to look for my place?”

“The night you found Morrigan, we knew you’d recently left your place,” Salome stated. “We decided to give it a shot.”

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