This story is by Calvin Lewandowski and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Years of the emergency management team and the Hams in the county had practiced a multitude of scenarios in preparation for possible emergency events. Joshua Norton, known as Hamaloid or WA7ZRH, participated in these exercises because he desired to help keep the people in the county safe.
The recently identified novel virus had spread to areas around the world, and it infected many individuals. It didn’t respond to current viral treatments and could be deadly to those infected. The emergency managers, along with the health department, expected it to reach the county, so they expanded their preparation. They gathered significantly more units of personal protection equipment for use by the county’s caretakers.
The emergency manager expected the county’s typical communication system would be overloaded. For that reason, he pressed the amateur radio operators into service to facilitate uninterrupted communication. The Emergency Manager briefed the amateur radio operators of what the county expected. The use of Hams prevented disruption of communication between the emergency command center, hospitals, and the health department.
Hamaloid went to the ham shack to get it organized but spent his time trying to make contacts with Hams in countries around the world already experiencing the viral outbreak. He heard them working others in their own country, but none of them came back to him.
The virus had spread much faster than predicted. No passengers were permitted to travel on inbound flights, and the aircrews spent time in quarantine, yet somehow the virus made it into the United States, and it spread outward from the major airports. The death toll had been less than expected, while the number infected had been exponentially higher. A hospital in Atlanta had the unfortunate distinction of reporting the first individual exhibiting the symptoms, and he was a member of the airport’s ground crew.
Emergency managers, in conjunction with their health departments, and the CDC, have recommended to their local governments, that the citizens in their jurisdictions should remain sheltered in place until there is an effective treatment, or the number of infections and deaths drop significantly.
Hamaloid thought to himself that luckily his ham shack was well stocked. He would have everything he needed for an extended stay since he would be living in it until things got better.
The Emergency Manager requested that ECS (Emergency Communication Services) notify the Hams of the county’s need for radio operators to provide emergency communication between the hospitals in the county and the health department. When Hamaloid had received the notification via his phone, he snatched up his handheld radio to check-in with the ECS Net Controller, so that he could receive his assignment.
Several Hams had already received calls to report to the EOC to provide net control services. They would need enough net controllers to provide around the clock coverage. They checked the Hams in as they called Net Control. When they had a list of available Hams, they called those on the list to give them their assignments.
Once Hamaloid had checked-in using his handheld radio, he decided to move to his ham shack to wait for his assignment. He knew that he would need more reliable communication than a handheld radio could provide, so he headed to his shack where his more powerful radios were installed and had much better antennas.
With his handheld radio in hand, he lumbered off to the shack to wait for the Net Controller to call him with his assignment. He would be more comfortable waiting there. If necessary, it would be excellent for sheltering in place, or at least he thought.
Hamaloid stepped out of the house onto the porch and headed to the cover over the entrance to the steps leading down to the Shack. He rolled it to the side, exposing the concrete steps that led down into the old bomb shelter built by one of the previous owners. He’d renovated it and made it into his Ham Shack. He’d put up a tower for his antennas, which gave him one of the best amateur radio communication sites around the world.
Hamaloid being an older, lanky, somewhat good looking man with scruffy white hair and beard, needed to duck down to keep from smacking his head when he went down the steps. He opened the door that blocked the entrance to the Shack before he turned to roll the cover back over the steps. He looked into the radio room and thought he should have taken some time to do a little cleaning before the virus made its way to America, but he hadn’t, so he would have to live with a few cobwebs and a little dust on the things in the room.
The lights came on the moment he entered the room because of the motion sensor he installed during the renovation. He headed straight to his radios and got them turned on before returning to close the door to the Ham Shack. The handheld radio no longer received a signal due to the Ham Shack being several feet underground.
He was glad that he always kept the Shack stocked with water and rations in case of an emergency, he would not need to leave to get provisions for several months. Having the Shack stocked with food, water, and sundry other supplies gave him a sense of security anytime he thought about his Shack.
He checked that the cot and sleeping bag were still where he had stored them. He listened to the Net Controller as he continued to take check-ins. As the check-ins stopped coming, the Net Controller announced that assignments would be forthcoming. Hamaloid had begun to sense something disconcerting about the room.
During the renovation of the bomb shelter into the radio room, Hamaloid had added a generator room and a battery room in case the electrical grid went down. Having multiple sources of power would prevent the room from ever losing electrical power during an emergency.
After a prolonged silence from the radio, the Net Controller said, “Attention, this is Net Control; we are about to make some assignments. Please standby.” The radio went silent for a time before the Net Controller continued. “We will start by assigning those we want to stay at their home QTH to pass traffic between the health department sites, their headquarters, and the hospitals. We will be using digital modes to pass traffic between the sites. WA7ZRH, Net Control.”
“WA7ZRH here, go ahead.”
“We want you to be one of our traffic relays.”
“I will set up my digital mode radio on the assigned frequency, and I will advise you when I’m ready. I will continue listening to this frequency as well. WA7ZRH clear.”
When he tried to sleep, Hamaloid felt even more disconcerted. He had become aware that it felt like he was being watched, which triggered him to start having paranoid reactions. He thought he wasn’t tired enough to go to sleep, but he continued to try. He was only able to get short amounts of rest to begin with, and as the days went by, it got worse. He would get up multiple times during his rest periods to turn on the lights, checking for someone or something in the room with him, but he never found anything or anyway, not even cameras. He disconnected his cameras, and it didn’t help.
Over the time that he was in the Shack, he felt more and more trapped with lots-and-lots of eyes watching. The paranoia was getting so bad that even with the lights on, he would still feel his skin crawling from time to time. He could barely continue to perform his duties. He was sure that he would go crazy if something didn’t change, and soon.
When the Net Controller informed Hamaloid of the all-clear and had released him from his duties and the need for him to remain in his Shack, he was elated that he would not be required to spend another night trying to sleep in the Shack.
As he headed to his radios and computer to turn them off, he realized to his surprise, that he had several Jumping Spiders sitting in a multitude of places on and around his equipment. When he looked carefully at the Shack, he found more than a dozen of them. He had to laugh at himself. He had been being watched by somewhere around one hundred plus eyes all these weeks, and at no time was he in danger. With that knowledge, he headed straight to bed.