Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When the dead are no longer envied. Chapter one





The fire crackled in the night as the small pile of scavenged wood collapses offering the only man-made sounds in the mist of the discarded remains of the life before the sky burned. My traveling companions sit close to the flames, silent as the empty and dark buildings of the former Lancaster Medical Center we camp beside. I walk among them guarding the precious items stored in the makeshift horse-drawn wagons we use to transport goods these days.

Inside the wagons, once medium-sized flat bed trucks now heavily cut down and modified, are the summer crops, bushels of corn and other vegetables we will trade at the ruins of the state house in Columbia. It is the summation of all our hard work for the summer and when we return to our little enclave we will hunker down for another long winter. Survival now has been burned down to the basics of food, water, shelter, and clothes. Gone are the days of cell phones, the Internet, television, along with thousands of other things that people believed they could not live without.

Those in my group sitting around the fire are lost in their own thoughts and clutch the person next them or the tattered remains of the winter coats we wear in an effort to stay warm. Septembers are far colder now that the sun has become its placid and dependable self again, the spasms of charged plasma and electromagnetic radiation that assaulted the Earth six years ago are long over but the aftermath is something we struggle to understand each in our own way.

None of them to my knowledge have ever spoken about the end of the world and how they each lived through it, almost as if our existence started the second the killing and destruction became too difficult because there was too few of us left and nothing worth the effort to burn. In some ways you would think it would be the only topic of conversation among survivors since it all began a little over a month after the end of the Mayan calendar. Which for years had been the subject of countless television doomsday shows obsessively watched by those who wanted a vicarious taste of danger as they lounged in their comfortable homes. 

In the before time I was Jake Morgan, a husband and father living a comfortable suburban life when the early news reports about massive sunspot activity and flares were first mentioned between the usual stories of misbehaving Hollywood stars and corrupt politicians. The attractive television news reader, showing ample cleavage and a blinding white smile, said government scientists were expecting interruptions in satellite television and cell phone service but that everything should be okay after a few weeks.

Like good placid sheep we did just that, even as the brilliant auroras shimmered further south each night. The panic began when word slipped out that the new president and the rest of the Washington leadership had abandoned the capital for secure and secret locations. That was about the time the charged plasma flowing out from the sun started burning out transformers and power lines bringing down the entire global power grid.

The darkness itself did not end civilization; emergency radio broadcasts from the new president hiding in his secure hole spoke of prayer and supporting the troops engaged in the titanic relief efforts across the nation. Maybe it was just some sort of social inertia but his words did seem to keep the thin veneer of civilized behavior in place for a few extra days. It was when the food, water, and medicine confiscated from heavily guarded stores started to run out that the first major riots broke out.

That was when I was pressed back into service and separated from my family. My former National Guard platoon leader spotted me standing in line at the local Walmart with my family awaiting a small ration of food and water. Stressed out from days of unrelenting hell leading an under strength platoon he was grabbing anyone with even a hint of military experience in an effort to keep a lid on the growing chaos. Of course I refused at first but the business ends of seven assault rifles pointed at me, my family, and the other civilians changed my mind and that was the last time I saw my wife and kids.

“Jake!” My wife Sally screamed while clutching my sons as three soldiers and the lieutenant walked me away from my family.

I broke away for a moment and turned back towards Sally hearing the rattle of rifles being aimed back on me. “Sally, you and the kids to get your father’s place. I’ll find you all as soon as possible.” I said thinking I would desert the second I could slip away but things just did not work out that way.

At that moment the onslaught that had engulfed everyone was only beginning. As the situation went from the frying pan to the fire the gangs that had once been confined to the inner cities expanded out into the suburbs. Decades of mistrust, indifference, and ignorance had created conditions so bad that the two groups were about as alien as people could be with each other. The Gaza Strip, Balkans, or even Iraq had nothing on the rage and fear that burned in both groups as they struggled to survive.

In about three weeks I went from civilian to platoon sergeant then platoon leader after the lieutenant got himself shot up by one of the many militias that had formed. After that it was just a couple of guys and me driving around in a humvee listening to some fool of a colonel on the radio ordering around phantom units that did not exist. The simple act of turning off the radio was my acknowledgment that everything that mattered had ended.

I eventually made my way to my father-in-law’s house only to find it and every other burned to the ground with no sign of my family had ever made it there. From there I just wandered for months, living from meal to meal, often times with it being wild vegetation, or if I was lucky, a rat whose population had exploded with the implosion of human civilization. Truthfully I wasn’t far from becoming one of the wild, feral creatures that were once human but who now inhabit the ruins and forests. They bear no resemblance to the civilized people they must have been once.

What saved my sanity and my humanity was seeing a little girl walking down the middle of a deserted county road all alone. She was about four years-old and clutching a filthy blanket that matched the ragged remains of her clothes. Winter was rapidly approaching and all I could think of was that she must be cold, it was a strange thought mostly because after the fighting over food and water had died down the horsemen of famine and plague had visited the land leaving damn few of anyone left.

Much to my surprise as I approached her she did not run away, in fact she came straight to me and it was then I had a real reason to live again. Much to the contrary of all the doomsday movies I ever saw when it came to lost children she did speak telling me her name was Amber. She wasn’t able to tell me where her parents were or where she came from but I did not care, she was mine and I would protect her until the day I died.

Living off anything I could find Amber and I made it through the first winter, as spring began we emerged from the abandoned garage that we had taken shelter in beginning a search for a better home. With the arrival of spring others were also coming out of their winter hiding places and banding together, Amber and I ran across Tina, a thirty-nine year-old woman while searching through the remains of a storeroom inside a small county airport.

Trust and civilized behavior was as extinct as the dinosaurs and she and I leveled our respective weapons on each other with every intention to blow the other away. It was Amber who came into the room that diffused the situation.

“Daddy, who is the woman with the gun,” Amber asked nonchalantly as if it was a pre-Apocalypse school social function.

My M-4 rifle was aimed at the unknown woman’s chest while her shotgun was pointed at mine. She was blond and rail thin like Amber and myself but her face was still pretty A scar starting on her forehead above her right eye that ran all the down to her mouth before curving in towards her ear spoke volumes of the troubles she had seen.

“The name is Tina,” she said clearly taken with Amber who had started calling me daddy during the winter. “She your daughter,” she asked with some amazement.

“Adopted,” I said taking a chance that I instantly regretted as I raised the barrel of my weapon while removing my finger from the trigger. Something about her demeanor suggested she was not dangerous; my feeling was total instinct, something that all survivors had sharpened quickly in order to stay alive.

Tina raised her weapon as well with Amber walking over and handing her one of the priceless Snickers bars I had found the day before inside a gas station. I wish I could say the reason Tina and I hooked up soon after that was our mutual attraction but in truth Amber adopted her right then without saying word.

We began traveling together heading generally northward encountering few humans, the danger now were bands of wild dogs, former pets with a vicious pack mentality that preyed on anything they could take down.

Our finally journey ended when we were accepted into the new village of Calks Ferry, a collection of trailers and storage buildings centered on a working well. Before the sky burned it was a mobile home park that somehow had gone unmolested in the chaos afterward. Now it boasted a make-shift protective wall made of wood and chain link fencing. Its biggest advantage was being right beside a huge plot of abandoned farm land.

Since Tina was a nurse before the world ended she was the closest thing to a doctor the people of Calks Ferry could hope to find and was quickly welcomed along with Amber. I was a copier repair technician before it all ended so it took a little convincing to get me accepted but given the times anyone with a strong back who could both work and help supply protection to the new community would not be turned away. Life became a lot more steady after that but somehow it rings hollow and false as if we are all just playing a game waiting for the final shoe to drop washing away the ashes of the life before along with those living in them.

***

With the old world gone and electricity a growing fable told to mystified little children the nights now are scary dark and as I stand guard there is no moon hanging in the sky and our camp site is a lonely island of light in a dark sea. Still my eyes catch some sort of movement next the remains of the main hospital building. The chaos of the world ending had one side benefit of killing off most those who enjoyed violence as a form of entertainment and used the collapse of civilization as a pretext to see their wildest fantasies come true. They burned themselves up, along with far too many innocents, in flames of rage leaving those left behind numb and with a desire to be left in peace. Still violence in the name of survival is all too common.

Fearing a surprise I quietly tapped the man who would be my relief in guarding our crops to take my place early. This allowed me to creep along the wreckage and debris making my way towards what had been the emergency room entrance. Hiding behind the rusted hulk of an army cargo truck I allow my eyes to adapt to the light provided by the stars and scan the entrance where I thought I saw movement. Peering over the sights of my rifle I see a human shape crawling over the chunks of concrete that had fallen from the building after the collision of two army helicopters in the sky that then crashed into the upper hospital floors causing the entire complex to burn.

I can not see any real detail about the person, the stars do not provide enough light, but he appears to be alone and unarmed. Still, I need to make sure he is not some sacrificial lamb sent out to probe our defenses. I attempt to move closer but my old boots slip on some gravel alerting him to my presence sending him scurrying back inside the dark structure. Instinct controls me now and against my better judgment I turn on the small flashlight mounted on my rifle barrel and following him inside.


(Author's note: What the hell is this shit you might be wondering? No, I have no lost what few marbles I possess and began another delusional attempt at a novel. The first one, all 14,000 words, is still sitting on my hard drive and will probably stay that way. This is just something I started on a whim and may go further with or may not.)

14 comments:

Windsmoke. said...

The end of the world is predicted in 2012 by the Mayan Calendar. Your story of the aftermath is a very vivid account of what could come true next year :-).

David Barber said...

Beach, I really enjoyed that. Vivid with great imagery. I'd certainly read part 2 if you get round to it.

Apologies for my lack of comments and I hope you understand why. I'll try a bit harder. Keep up the great work, my friend!

Beach Bum said...

Windsmoke: Not long ago I saw a science show speaking about the sun was heading for its solar maximum early in 2013. The show also mentioned that something very similar that I wrote about could happen to the electric grids all around the planet. I threw in the Mayan calender thing as a half-hearted joke.

David: No worries my friend, things are crazy on my end as well. A part two depends on whether I find this particular muse again.

Ranch Chimp said...

Good Morning Bum!

Actually this I must say is my favourite so far of your fiction piece's ... however ... just when it was getting good .... ZAP (to be continued?) I reckon catch the other part later. I hardly ever view or read any fiction, and I dont read many bbok's at all, be lucky to read one or two a year these dayz, and even though I literally have piles of DVD's (it was part of my business as far as distribution, mainly all new releases) ... I cant even recall the last bloody movie I watched and never even go to a theatre these dayz ... imagine that! :(

But anywayz ... quite an apocalyptic type story, which I reckon caught my fictional interest.

Thanx Bum

Akelamalu said...

You really MUST continue with this Beach - it's fantastic and very believable!

Beach Bum said...

Ranch: I planned to write this story out longer but I figured it was going to be hard to get anyone to read it at 2100 words so I called it quits. I probably will write the second part but I will wait a while.

Akelamalu: Thank you, I meant on write this weeks flash fiction story as well but things here at home got in the way.

Pixel Peeper said...

Well, don't wait too long, OK?

Really liked this - something like I imagine a worldwide Chernobyl might be like. Yet amidst all the doom and despair, there is still the glimmer of hope and a future represented by the little girl.

Beach Bum said...

Pixel: Thanks, working on some ideas.

Cloudia said...

Warm Saturday Aloha from Waikiki


Comfort Spiral

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Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

The scary/sad part is just how plausible everything seemed. The end is near is right.

Beach Bum said...

Cloudia: Hey!

Will: The idea that solar flares could heavily disrupt power grids all over the planet does concern me greatly. Our civilization is very vulnerable on electricity and society has breed plenty of monsters that would take every advantage they could if things go wrong.

And as much as I hate to say it I do find it very curious that the Mayan calender ends around the time we will be expecting the next solar maximum.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

I remember all the hype leading up to Y2K. I basically filled up my closet with bottled water, batteries, and canned goods. I probably should do that again, huh? LOL

Oso said...

We've got to know,Beach!
Part 2 Part 2 Part 2 Part 2!!!!

Beach Bum said...

Will: Speaking of Y2K, the ex-wife of my youngest brother is a computer programmer and back then she worked for a private company, still does I believe, but her entire team was hired by some city in Pennsylvania to trouble shoot any issues with the city water that Y2k might cause.

From what I heard the entire New Year's Eve was completely uneventful but lots of important people around the country were worried.

Oso: Will work on it sometime soon.