America the Dead: Survivors Stories One Episode 5
Copyright © 2018 W. G. Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
Cover Art © Copyright 2018 W. G. Sweet
Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 W. G. Sweet
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New York: Watertown
Joel and Haley
Joel Morrison awoke to the sounds of birds whistling in the early morning pre-dawn. Birds, he thought, usually the sounds from the mills drowned them out.
He had made it home around 6:00 PM the previous evening. He was working the midnight to eight shift and had stopped into the Rusty Nail after work to have a few drinks with some other guys from the paper mill.
He had wanted to leave before the bar began to fill up. The Rusty Nail had gotten more than a bit rowdy as of late. Two years before, one of Joel’s good friends, Moon Calloway, had been killed in the bar. That had seemed to turn the tide. After that point the bar had become much worse, a proving grounds of sorts for the young GI’s from the base. Joel often wondered why he even bothered to hang around there at all. Last night it had seemed as though the rowdy element was showing up even earlier than it usually did, when Johnny Barnes had offered the ride Joel had accepted.
The house on Linden Street wasn’t much, but it was paid for, and Joel knew a lot of guys at the mill who either rented or were damn close to losing their homes to the bank. Times were tough in the old U-S-of-A, and at least he had the place free and clear.
He had practically fallen into bed once he had gotten home. He hadn’t realized how tired he was.
He’d been working all the short shifts he could get, along with his normal evening shifts, saving the money after he’d paid off the house, and today would be the start of his first real vacation in over twelve years.
Joel had grown up in the small city of Watertown, and had never left. It suited him, he liked to think. Where else could you see the seasons change so vividly, or take a quiet stroll through the woods anytime you felt, he often wondered. The Adirondacks were close by. The southern tier, where he hoped to be in just a few hours, he reminded himself, stretched away for miles. Forever wild lands, Lake Ontario, wet lands. And if he wanted the big city it was just seventy miles away down route eighty-one.
This is going to be one great vacation, he thought, as he got out of bed. Despite the damn birds.
The vacation he had planned was a three week camp out in the State Forest Preserve that started only twenty miles to the east. The preserve was nestled up to the military reservation and stretched from there all the way into Central New York. Joel had no idea exactly where he would camp. He had decided to just hike until he found a spot that suited him.
As he headed for the bathroom he noticed that the clock on the dresser was off. Not blinking, but off, and he could vaguely recall dreaming of waking during the night to some loud noise.
It had seemed at first, when he had awakened within the dream, as though the entire house had been shaking. He had passed from that dream into another, but the noise and the shaking had seemed to accompany him into that dream as well. It had to have been the strangest dream he could ever recall having.
At first he had been in his bedroom; the walls shaking around him, and the next thing he knew he had been standing on a stone pathway that overlooked a wide and deep valley that stretched away for miles before it hooked to the right and disappeared. Its forward path blocked by even higher mountains, with others lifting even higher behind that. He turned to follow the ridge lines back to where he was and the scene had shifted to the bedroom once more. He had found himself sitting up in bed, breathing hard, frightened, the room silent, wondering if this was just more of the dream or an actual waking. As he began trying to figure it out, waiting for his head to clear, he had found himself sitting on a bar stool in the Rusty Nail, Moon Calloway beside him holding down the other stool.
He tried speaking to Moon, but he either couldn’t hear him, or he pretended not to. In his dream he had still known Moon was dead, so it made sense to him that he could not speak to him. He turned to Mort to order a beer and Moon had suddenly spoken.
“It was right here, Joel… Right here. Bad place to die… Used sawdust on the floor… Soaks up the beer… The blood…. You know….”
He tried to turn as soon as he heard the voice, but by the time he turned the scene had shifted again. Instantly the bar was gone and he found himself standing at the edge of what he took to be a lake at first. The water stretched away as far as he could see. There was a tang of salt on the air; red earth crumbled away as the waves came in, taking more land with it. He could remember the salt smell from a trip to Florida as a kid with his grandparents. The smell of the sea.
“This is the place,” Moon said from beside him.
He turned expecting Moon to be gone, but he was standing a few feet away staring out over the water. He turned and looked at Joel. “You see it?” Moon asked.
“Yeah,” Joel managed. The word was barely audible, lost in the sounds of the sea as it worked to take the red dirt away. “Where,” Joel asked. “Where is it? What place is it?” He turned when Moon didn’t answer, but Moon was gone. He blinked and he was back in his bedroom, in bed in his own house on Linden Street, talking to a priest that was sitting on the edge of the bed. He remembered telling the priest that he just wanted to go back to sleep. That had apparently satisfied the priest, as he had shaken his head and seemed to float away.
Joel shook his head, recalling the dream as he entered the bathroom. He picked up his toothbrush from the small plastic cup that held it, squinted into the mirror, and turned on the cold water tap.
Nothing happened. No rattle of the old pipes in the wall. Nothing.
“What the hell,” Joel said aloud, “frigging water out too?” He dropped the brush back into the cup and headed into the kitchen to start the coffee.
“Shit,” he said as he entered the kitchen and remembered the power was off, and that there was no water with which to make the coffee. “Now what?” He walked back into the bedroom and tugged on the pair of jeans and shirt he had worn the day before; he walked through the house to the front door, shoving his feet into his sneakers as he went, and opened it to retrieve the paper that he knew would be there. The ends of the untied laces clicked and bounced against the old hardwood floors as he walked. At least he could read the paper, maybe even find out what the hell was going on.
The sun was just beginning to climb into the sky as the door swung open. He bent down.
“No damn paper either?” he muttered as he stood back up and began to search the lawn.
His eyes rose from the lawn and fell on the Hubert house across the Street.
Something seemed oddly out of place, and he puzzled over it for a few seconds before his mind told him what it was. The entire house was leaning to one side. That wasn’t all though, the street in between dipped and rose in places, and the lawn over there had large patches of brown dirt. The snow that had been everywhere the night before was nearly gone. His eyes had skipped over it, lending an illusion of straight lines until he had looked closely. His eyes rose to the Hubert house once more and he realized what else was wrong, the lot looked too big: He could see more of the Hubert house because the houses on either side were gone. No trace. Jumbled dirt and clumps of grass filled those lots. A leaning Oak that had been in front of the Schuyler house for two hundred years: Uprooted and on the verge of toppling onto the fresh soil.
As he left his doorway and started across the street to get a better look, his eyes took in the devastation that had changed most of the street overnight.
Broken cobbles from the old streets poked through the pavement in places, and the broken pipes below street level bought him the sound of running water somewhere deep below. The reality of it hit him and he stopped and turned to look back at his own house. His mouth fell open wide as he stared. The entire house was leaning from foundation to roof, the gutters had detached and snaked down to meet the ground. Almost seeming as though they were holding the house upright. Small sparrows where pecking through the debris that had fallen from the gutters, and singing in the warming morning air. Joel’s mouth snapped shut as he stumbled back into the street and sat down hard.
“What the hell is this?” he asked aloud to the street.
“What the hell is going on?”
Joel believed in the tangible. If it could be touched it must be real, and so believing, he reached down to feel one of the cracks beside him in the road. The road tipped, tilted, had separated, and the other surface had dropped lower. His fingers came away with small chunks of asphalt.
“Feels real,” he declared aloud, as he stared at the road. He pulled at it and a small piece of the asphalt he held snapped off into his hand. He bought it up to his face to examine it closely; threw it back to the ground, and got up from the street.
He looked slowly off in both directions down the length of Linden Street. As far as he could see in either direction the roads and houses were similar. In fact, he thought, the street doesn’t even look like a street anymore. It was still a street because he thought of it as a street. His street. There was now more gravel, dirt and broken asphalt chunks than there was actual street. And in several places it was gone completely. No sign. Wide spots that were wholly devastated.
Joel closed his eyes and then reopened them. It was all still there. Nothing had changed. He stood and stared for a few minutes longer before he started to walk off down the street in the direction of the downtown area, three blocks to the south.
He looked over the houses he passed. Most were partly, and some were completely destroyed. He felt as though he were in a bad dream. He knew he wasn’t though, as he had closed his eyes to blink away the sights several times to no avail. He had also pinched his left cheek until his eye had begun to water. No good. It was still there. He had done acid once, but only once, back in the seventies, and he had heard about flashbacks, and this could maybe be one, and he had been drinking pretty damn heavily yesterday, and…
He spotted a young woman sitting on the curb three houses down and walked up to her. She tilted her tear streaked and puffy face up to him as he approached.
“Is this a dream?” he asked when he stopped.
“No, it’s no dream,” she replied as she slowly shook her head.
“Where have you been since last night? Didn’t you hear the noise? Didn’t you feel it?”
Joel recalled the noise that had awakened him during the night. The noise he had thought was only an extension of the strange dream.
“Well, I thought it was a dream, you know, but I did hear a storm, or something, but I didn’t think it was a big deal… you know, they can get loud sometimes, but… What happened?”
“Yellowstone blew up,” she said simply. “Didn’t you see the TV?”
Joel shook his head.
“Well,” the young woman continued, “anyhow that’s what happened. They cut in to the TV last night; I was watching… you know, and they cut in and said that the Yellowstone caldera was going to fracture because of how close the meteor came. I came outside to see, and, well there was nothing to see at first, and then the ground started shaking, so I ran to get back inside. But the whole bottom floor of the building was gone.” She shrugged.
The young woman broke into fresh tears, and buried her face back into her hands.
Joel sat down beside her and put his arm around her in an attempt to comfort her.
“Is your husband here?”
“Not married,” she said, “There was a guy… A few years back. He’s stationed somewhere in the Middle East,” she finished, as she looked at Joel.
“Sorry,” Joel said, “how long have you been out here?”
“I called this cop that had given me his card… He said the police would come so I came back out to wait, but they never showed up, so I just sat here. I didn’t know where else to go or what to do! I’ve been here ever since, just watching the street crack.”
Joel looked around at the street.
“It happened all at once?”
“I don’t know,” she replied, also staring at the street. “One second it was still whole, the next it wasn’t. But it’s still going on. Every little while a crack will just appear and then another section will tilt or drop a little. Sometimes there’s no noise, other times it’s this horrible groaning sound… Like it’s alive or something.”
“Is your power on?” Joel asked changing the subject.
“No,” she replied, “went off right after the ground started shaking.”
“Mine’s off too,” Joel replied.
“The power lines fell while I was out here, arcing all over the place. Scared the shit out of me too, and then they just quit… Went dead,” She said.
“Listen… I’m going to walk downtown… see if the police department is open, or see maybe if everyone is there somewhere. You’re the only person I’ve seen so far… do you want to come with me?”
“Sure,” she said, as she stood and brushed at her jeans, “no use sticking around here I guess, is there?”
“I don’t think so,” Joel said. “I think… you know that everyone else is probably downtown. Getting organized or something,” his eyes betrayed the worry he felt. He hoped that everyone was downtown as he had said, but he wasn’t convinced himself. We have to find someone though, he thought, don’t we?
He stood up and they both walked off down the street toward downtown Watertown.
“Joel,“ he told her. Talking to you for an hour and didn’t even know your name.”
She laughed, halfhearted, but it instantly lifted the mood. “More like fifteen minutes if that… Haley.” She told him.
They exchanged small talk as they walked and it seemed to help quell the fear they both felt.
They wondered about the rising temperature as they walked.
“I wonder if it’s some sort of fall out from the earthquakes? Can it be radiation, Joel?” Haley questioned.
“Maybe. I flunked science, so I really don’t know. I don’t think so though. I mean, if it was, wouldn’t we be sick? I think ash is a possibility, maybe if they triggered volcanoes? Makes me wish I had paid attention in science class, or physics, history, one of those.” Joel said.
She laughed again, this time a little more fully. “No,” she replied. “I don’t think so either… I mean the earth shook… like an earthquake. I didn’t know we could get an earthquake up here.”
“Oh yeah… Lived here all of my life. It’s more than possible, happens all the time… You from here?”
“No… Syracuse, before that Texas.”
“Ah, the big city… Well up here we don’t have a hell of a lot to do so they teach us about fault lines, earthquakes. We have a huge fault line that bisects this entire region and continues on south to the Gulf.”
“All the way to the Gulf?” Haley asked. She patted his arm. “Big city my ass,” She laughed. “ You should see Houston you want to see big city, buster.”
Joel laughed and nodded. “Seen Houston once… I mean, a long time ago. And then only the Greyhound station downtown.”
She stopped. “Get out, really?”
“Really.” Joel told her. “Very bad place too,” he seemed apologetic.
“Yeah.” her eyes had suddenly gone sad. “Very.” She started her feet moving again. She had come close to telling him just how well she knew that area of Houston, and had nearly bitten her tongue to stop the words. Emotional situations… You never knew the things that would just jump right out of your mouth, she thought. Leaving you all kinds of vulnerable too.
They talked back and forth as they continued down the street. When they reached Fourth Street they turned and walked the short block to Main, turned left this time, and headed into the downtown area.