Lib and Randy are married by Reverend Henry on Easter Sunday in the Braggs’ parlor. There is a slight problem with the legality of the wedding, as the courthouses are no longer operating, and no marriage license can be issued. Randy solves the problem by rewriting the law. He designates Florence and Alice to be in charge of collecting birth and marriage records at the library.
Randy learns that the night before, the bandits have struck again, killing a beekeeper and his wife. Randy puts into action his plan for catching the bandits. He will drive the grocery truck slowly around the outskirts of town while Admiral Hazzard, Bill McGovern, and Malachai Henry will hide in the back of the truck, ready to fire their weapons through gun ports drilled in the truck’s body. At the last moment, however, Malachai insists that he drive. The bandits, he points out, are more likely to see a black man as an easy target. Randy agrees, but warns Malachai not to reach too soon for his weapon.
While driving outside of Fort Repose, they detect a vehicle following them. Another vehicle is parked up ahead, and they are trapped. Four bandits approach the truck. Among them are the man with the submachine gun and the man with a bat. As Malachai exits the truck with pistol in hand, he is shot by the man with the machine gun. Randy shoots and kills the gunner, while the Admiral and Bill kill two other men. They seize the fourth man and bring him to town to be hanged. Dr. Gunn prepares an emergency surgical kit with household items such as Helen’s hairpins. However, he is unable to save Malachai, who dies a hero, and the surgical kit is kept for another time. On the day of the hanging, seven men volunteer to join Randy’s Fort Repose Provisional Company, or as it becomes known, “Bragg’s Troop.”
It is early in May, five months after The Day. The Admiral’s radio breaks down, leaving the friends without news from the outside world. In June, the Henrys’ crops of corn, yams, and sweet potatoes begin to be harvested and they make their first batch of whisky. In July, Alice Cooksey brings home books on hypnotism, thinking Dan might be able to use it as an anesthesia. Soon after, Ben develops appendicitis, and the doctor operates on the boy successfully after placing him in a deep trance.
In August, disaster strikes. There is a salt shortage, and the fish aren’t biting. Luckily, an entry in the old diaries of Randy’s ancestor, Lieutenant Randolph Rowzee Peyton, discloses the location of a salt pool. The next day, Randy and a group of men sail up the river in sailboats devised by the Admiral. They return loaded with salt and crabs from the saltwater pool. Meanwhile, Ben and Peyton use the library as a resource to learn how to hunt armadillos, but when the time comes for the actual hunt, Ben tells Peyton she can’t come; she’s a girl. Disgusted, Peyton looks for another way to be a hero instead of “only a girl” (237). After talking to Preacher Henry, Peyton discovers a way to catch bass in deep water by using Florence’s goldfish as bait. She brings home a load of fish for dinner, only to be spanked by her mother for taking Randy’s boat without permission.
In September, Lib and Helen begin teaching school to the Bragg children. Caleb Henry joins them—the first instance of a racially integrated school in the deep South. By October, ducks and turkeys are plentiful, as well as quail. All are hunted and eaten for breakfast. One evening, Dan Gunn returns from his clinic with the news that he has delivered his first live, full term baby since The Day. He now has hope that the human race will live on after the nuclear holocaust.
In November, the men fell a dead pine to use for winter fuel, and Peyton finds a hand-crank phonograph hidden in the attic, so they can play music again. Along with it, she discovers an old sewing machine and some straight-edge razors. Randy, who has been shaving with a knife since losing the use of his electric razor, is overjoyed.
In the final chapter, Dan confides to Randy that he and Helen are in love, but that Helen is reluctant to marry him because she still has hope that Mark is alive. Later that month, a survey plane flies low overhead, and the next month, a helicopter comes around, and lands at the Braggs’ home. The men inside, members of the Decontamination Command, stay for dinner and report on what is happening in the world outside Fort Repose. One of them is Paul Hart, a former friend of Mark Bragg, whom Randy met at Fort McCoy on the day before the war began. Hart tells the friends that they are living in the largest clear area in the whole C.Z., or Contaminated Zone. They have been very fortunate. He also reveals what Helen and the children have waited to know: Mark indeed was killed when the SAC Headquarters were bombed a year before. They take the news bravely.
Hart predicts that it will take a thousand years before the Contaminated Zones can be restored to normal. Gasoline will not be for sale to private citizens in his lifetime, and it will be a very, very long time before electricity can ever be restored. He offers to take the friends out of Florida, a Contaminated Zone, and into a clear area, but they all refuse. Their only request is that Hart return with medical supplies, including new glasses for Dan. He agrees. They have one last question for Hart: Who won the war? He laughs in disbelief that they do not know, and tells them that the United States has won. He adds sadly, “Not that it matters.”
Analysis of Chapters 11–13
The climax of the novel occurs as Randy and the other men confront the bandits, killing three of them and capturing the fourth to be hanged in the public square. This scene represents the triumph of justice over lawlessness, and again indicates Pat Frank’s hope that civilization will prevail even in the darkest of circumstances.
A message of hope is seen throughout the final chapters, as the characters continue to innovate and find new resources. Dan Gunn learns from library books how to anesthetize his patients through hypnosis; the group uses an old diary, written by Randy’s ancestor, to locate a natural source for salt; the library provides knowledge of how to capture armadillos; and Preacher Henry’s wisdom enables Peyton to catch fish when no fish are biting. These incidents show the importance of collective knowledge, captured in library books, historical records, and the memories of older citizens, to make collective survival of a society possible.
A theme of racial and gender equality, drawn throughout the book, is perhaps most fully developed in these final chapters, as racial and gender stereotypes are challenged. Malachai, an African-American man, is seen by the bandits as an easy target; a weak, stupid victim. Actually, he is the bravest of them all, as he sacrifices his life to defeat the bandits. The story of young Peyton is poignant, as she wishes to be seen as more than “only a girl, fit for sewing, sweeping, washing, and making beds” (237). When Peyton triumphs by bringing home fish for the family, it is a triumph for gender equality, although rather tempered by Randy’s sexist comment that “women . . . needed a man around” (241).
The final irony of the novel comes when the heroes learn that the United States actually won the war. Clearly, Frank wants us to see, this victory is meaningless. In nuclear war, nobody is the winner.