AMERICA the DEAD: BOOK ONE
Based on the series by W. G. Sweet
AMERICA the DEAD: BOOK ONE
Copyright © 2019 by independAntwriters All Rights Reserved
Writers: W.W. Watson, Geo Dell, W.G. Sweet, G.D. Smitty
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
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AMERICA the DEAD: Free Excerpt
Joel and Haley
The Tug Hill Plateau
The camp was a makeshift place off an old logging trail. It was dry under the pines where they had set up camp, but the logging road had flooded over, the water had receded, and now the road was a quagmire of mud steaming in the early morning sun.
They had encountered no major obstacles on the way in. Joel knew the way. The road was cracked in a few places, flooded in a few others, but only a few inches of water. The major stuff had held off until they had arrived and settled in.
The last few days had bought rain, snow, and what felt like earthquakes or explosions far away. Heavy vibrations they could feel through the pine needle covered ground. No one was sure what they really were, but they were all worried about it.
They had made up their minds late last night, when the rains had stopped to get out of the woods, but the two new trucks they had driven in would not start. Joel's old truck turned over and started fine. They had spent most of the sunrise checking over the two trucks, but they found nothing wrong with them. The batteries were up, the starters turned over, but they would not fire. There was no spark at the plug. Scott and Glenn who were both mechanics were puzzled over what could be causing it.
“If we go, most of you will get stuck in the back of my truck... No other way for it,” Joel said.
They had spent a great deal of the last few days wondering what was going on in the world. Twice, slow moving cargo planes had overflown them. They had seen no markings on the wings, but they had both been painted the olive drab of army equipment. The battery powered radio they had listened to had stopped working. Their wristwatches, cell phones, the two trucks, all dead. They had wondered about a nuclear blast maybe that was what had happened to the electronics.
Scott nodded. “Maybe that is the deal though. Your truck is old, no electronic brain... Maybe we could find another like it... Or two.”
“If it was a nuke, would it knock out electronics like that? And wouldn't we all be sick right now?” Amber asked.
“Not necessarily... If it was it wasn't close, so it would just depend on which way the wind was blowing,” Haley said. “Electronics? I have heard that, but I don't know. Makes me wish I paid attention to all of that apocalypse stuff on the internet.”
“A dirty bomb... I think that's what they called it, but it could have been that meteor... I think I read once that a near miss could be as bad as a direct hit. Mess things up the same as a nuclear bomb.” Glenn shrugged.
“But they said that would miss us completely,” Ed threw in.
Dave nodded, “Maybe it didn't. Wouldn't be the first time they said something that turned out to be bullshit.”
“What? You don't trust your own government,” Amber asked in mock surprise.
“Yeah... Well, either way we're back to sticking it out here or going back to Watertown to see what's going on... Or somewhere else for that matter,” Joel threw out after a few moments of silence.
“I say we go back... Maybe the guard is there, or has been there.,” Amber said.
“Can't hide out up here forever,” Ed agreed.
“We'll run out of food... At the least we have to stock back up,” Scott added.
Glenn nodded. “With more too... We don't know how long this is going to be.”
“Or if it still is,” Haley added.
“There is that too,” Glenn agreed.
“At the least then we should go back and stock up. I mean if no one is there, we can stock up, come back here if it's bad and decide what to do... Get on with the old life if there is someone there,” Terry said.
“Who wants the front seat... Two,” Joel asked.
“Probably the girls,” Dave said.
“Why is that,” Haley asked.
“What?” Dave asked.
“Why the girls,” She shook her head before he answered. “Well, I'm not a girl. I'm a woman. It was a rough road to become a woman, and I don't want to be called a girl.”
“Hey... Peace. I didn't mean anything by it,” Dave said.
The silence held for a few minutes.
“Well, let's get this place picked up... I guess store everything in the other two trucks... Maybe we'll come back for them,” Joel said.
“Maybe not,” Glenn added. “So bring what you want to keep, only make it a small amount.”
A half hour later Joel drove the old truck down the logging road, sticking to four wheel drive and the sides of the road where he could. Twice he had had to make everyone get out and then take a run at a particularly bad section of road before they all climbed in once more. It was late morning before they found route 177. A short time later they found route 11 and headed back toward the small city of Watertown.
Watertown: Joel and Haley
The city was a mess. Buildings toppled, streets blocked off with debris, no power and no people out on the streets that they had seen. It had taken most of the early afternoon to work their way back to Jacob's Superette. They had all wondered more than once why they were bothering to go back there. A place to start, Joel had finally decided, and everyone had agreed. If they had not left that is probably where they would still be, riding out this disaster.
Joel had wheeled the truck up next to the closed doors and they had all climbed out of the truck. The doors were closed and reinforced from the inside. Twice they had seen movement behind the stacks and pallets that had been used to barricade the wide and tall front windows, but no one had opened the doors or answered their calls. They had finally decided that even if they did open the doors they didn't want to be there. There were plenty of other places in the city that could offer as much, maybe even more.
“We need better weapons,” Haley said as Joel drove. She had changed from the back to the front as they were leaving the market. She sat in the center, Glenn on the other side of her.
“Why?” Glenn asked.
“Because that place creeped me out. Who doesn't open up to let someone in? Why did they close it all off? What if they have weapons and decided that not answering us wasn't good enough? What if they had opened up on us? We wouldn't be discussing this now, that's for sure.”
“Jesus,” Glenn said.
“Yeah,” Haley said.
“Creeped me out too,” Glenn agreed. “Guess we can't pretend the whole thing's going to be fine any longer.”
“Guess not,” Joel agreed.
“Haley is right then... Better get ourselves to a place where we can stock up... Get some trucks, guns and get out of here.”
“What about that wholesale place out across from the mall,” Joel asked.
“Might be the same, but we can try it. Probably have what we need,” Haley agreed.
“Better let the others know,” Glenn told her. Haley turned, slide the rear window of Joel's truck open and Amber leaned near. A second later she closed the slider and watched as Joel slowly picked his way through the downtown streets and headed for the outskirts of the city.
The Outskirts of the city: The Mall
Against all odds the outskirts of the city seemed completely deserted. At least at first glance. The wholesale place was deserted, the doors barred, chained and locked. A little work with the tire iron from Joel's truck freed up the chains and a nudge from the nose of his truck shattered the heavy glass doors. Joel and Ed pulled the doors aside and Joel drove the truck in, crunching over the safety glass.
“Might be safer inside,” Glenn said as Joel turned the truck around, narrowly missing one check out aisle and faced back toward the doors.
“I think we're stuck here for the night,“ Joel said. Stock up, get whatever else we need in the morning and head out. Little gun shop across the street... Truck dealership over at the mall across the street... Should be easy to get what we need.” He levered the door handle and stepped down to the ground.
“Company,” Dave said as Joel turned toward the opening.
“Seven or eight... Came out of that strip mall entrance way across the street,” Terry added.
Joel turned to Haley. “Shotguns... Rifles in the sporting goods' area.” She nodded as she and Amber sprinted toward the middle of the store.
The small crowd of people was armed, Joel saw, long before they actually reached the wide street and crossed over into their parking lot. Behind him, in the store, he had heard the sound of breaking glass several times. Presumably Haley and Amber breaking open display cases.
“Think they can see us in here?” he asked.
“Probably too dark,” Glenn answered as Haley and Amber came back with their arms loaded down with high powered rifles and shotguns.
“Careful,” Haley said, her breath coming fast. “These are loaded.” A small line of blood ran away from one knuckle as she passed Joel a rifle that looked like it would be more at home in a war.
“You're hurt,” Joel said.
Haley laughed. “Just glass from a case... It's nothing.”
“Not a girl,” Joel said
“Or even close,” Haley agreed with a smile. She stepped close to the front of the entrance way, still deep in shadow, but just behind the shattered doors.
There were a dozen of them when they came to a stop just thirty feet away from the doors. Women and kids, the old man and a younger guy hanging toward the back. The two men and three of the women were armed.
“We know you're in there,” The lead man shouted out. He was an older man, short silver hair, thin, the ragged remains of a suit hanging from his shoulders. “We don't want trouble... Just company... Safety... The nights are pretty bad now. I guess you know.” He made to step forward again.
“No... Right there is fine,” Haley said.
The man stopped. “I told you, we come in peace.” The man said as she stepped from the shadows. Scott moved out with her and a second later Amber and Joel joined her. Joel motioned to the rest to stay inside.
“Every bad alien movie I ever saw started just exactly that way,” Haley said.
“Is that what you think?” The man asked. “Aliens? Well, I'm no alien... I don't know what happened but I don't think it was alien, or aliens, unless you count the meteor that might or might not have hit us. And I'm obviously not one of the gangs or I wouldn't be out here in the daylight talking to you.”
The silence held a long time.
“You hear me?” The older man said.
“I heard you,” Haley agreed. “What do you mean one of the gangs? Not one of the gangs?”
The man laughed. A short hard laugh that had nothing to do with amusement at all. “Are you serious?”
“If I wasn't serious I wouldn't have asked,” Haley told him.
“But... Okay... Why can't we do this in there? Look at what I have here... A handful of scared mothers with a few children. The young guy at the back is okay. Why don't we do this in there. I don't like being out in the open. It's just the gangs we have to worry about.” He looked off in all directions as he talked.
Haley looked over the group and then over at Joel. “Nothing we can't deal with,” Joel agreed. Her eye's met Amber's and then Scott's. They both nodded. “So you know, there are more of us inside. Don't be stupid.”
“Wouldn't think of it,” The old man agreed. “John,” he said.
Haley just nodded and motioned him forward.
They were all gathered around a small fire that Glenn had started for heat and light. The nights were still cold. Glenn had built the fire in an empty fifty five gallon drum they had rolled out from the back. It the smoke detectors had still been working they would have had trouble, but as it was the smoke just gathered high up in the steel rafters and found its way to the outside from there.
“What do you know,” John asked. “That might be a better place to start.”
“Practically nothing,” Glenn answered. “We all met downtown a few days back... Earth quake... Meteor. Everything wrecked and no answers.”
John nodded. “Okay,” He rested his head in his hands for a moment, and then looked up. His eyes were red; the bags under his eyes bruised and heavy. “The second. It happened overnight, the first, the end of the first. I don't know what it was, any more than you do, but I suspect the meteor they said would miss us didn't. Maybe that started a whole chain of events. So, aliens? No. I think our own government did us in though. I can see your view too, because there is something alien about it. About the way we would view it, the way you would view it. Yesterday the planes came over. Big Cargo planes. Sprayed blue stuff over the entire city. We thought for sure we were done right then, but whatever that was it didn't kill us, didn't seem to do anything to us... But I wonder, I really do...” He seemed to zone out for a second.
“John?” Glenn asked quietly.
He laughed. “Sorry. I need sleep. Sleep is what I need. Gangs,” he took a deep breath. “This city, most of the cities I've been hearing about on the CB are controlled by Gangs now. They're out all night rounding us up. The other survivors...” He frowned heavily. “I'll be straight, not much use for other men... 'Less they think like them. Not much use for the children either. Women, gas, cash,” he laughed again. “They seem to think a day will come when it will all be worth something again.”
“You don't?” Haley asked.
“I don't,” John agreed. “I think somebody mucked up badly... I can't believe it was all an accident. Washington? Dead. L.A.? Dead. New York? Dead as well. There have been reports of the President being killed. In the end the Secret Service deserted him. The few that remained fled. The whole thing fell apart. And it's no better in other countries from what I have heard on the CB. Some of it could be exaggerated... Could be fear talking... But I don't think so. I think most of it is absolute truth. I think it all failed and we're on our own. That's what I think.”
Haley looked over as Amber sprang to her feet and walked away into the darkness of the store. “I'll be back,” Haley said. She got up and followed.
“I appreciate the truth, John,” Joel said.
John nodded. “Upset us too. Nothing for it that I can see.”
“Where are you from,” Joel asked.
“Rochester... Haven't heard much from it except there is a glow to the west... Could be they still have power there.”
“Hey inside!” This from the parking lot that was now edging quickly toward twilight.
“Shit,” Scott said. “Forgot all about that.” He jumped to his feet and headed to the opening, Joel right behind him.
“Guess we'll have to post a guard or something,” Joel agreed. He stared out at two small groups that stood in the darkness looking around at the deepening shadows. Scott spoke.
“What is it you want?” Scott asked.
“What is it we want? Are you kidding me? We want in there, out of the cold, the night.” The guy was tall and dirty looking in the darkening light, but Scott supposed they all probably looked a little rough. “Talking like that ain't gonna get you in here,” Scott told him. “In fact it will get you an invitation to hit the road.”
A woman who was leading the second group, off to the right of the first group spoke up. “Look, man. We're all on edge right now. We just want to share your shelter. Manny is not so good with diplomacy.”
“Manny?” Scott asked.
She nodded to the other group, “Manuel... Manny.”
“These groups ain't bad,” John said from beyond the doorway, hidden in the shadows.
“You vouch for them?” Joel asked.
“No... I won't go that far. I will say I have seen them around... They are not part of the gangs that are all over the place at night in the city. Not these two.”
“Good enough for me... Ed? Scott? Anyone else have an objection?”
“We'll just watch them kind of close,” Dave said.”
“Okay... Well, somebody better go get Amber and Haley... Just to be safe.” He turned back to the parking lot and the two waiting groups. “Slow,” he called out. “Slow and keep those rifles pointed down.”
Watertown: The Mall
Joel and Haley
Amber had risen early to the smell of hot food. A few of the women had begun cooking sometime before dawn, and plates were filled with food. Eggs, sausages, toast made over the fire. Burgers, canned ham and more. The store was stocked with all sorts of food. Some of it was going bad, but much of it had stayed preserved in the freezers and coolers. No one had been inside so the cold air had lasted longer without doors opening and closing every two minutes. When would she have a chance to eat real eggs again, Amber asked herself as she devoured the food. She looked over at Haley who was eating as fast as she was.
“Pigs,” Haley agreed. She laughed. “I had no idea how hungry I was.”
“Man oh man. Me either,” Amber agreed.
“It is good,” Manny grinned from nearby. Amber gave him a smile and went back to eating. The conversation ebbed and swelled around them. What to do, where to go.
They had posted guards all night long, and although there were gunshots further away, and a few fires they could see burning back in the city, the night had passed uneventfully.
Their small group had finally decided to go towards Rochester, New York. Glenn had said that he felt that it may be their best bet, due to the fact that there were no large military bases very close to it, and the lake levels would be low for a while, so there should be no flooding.
“It's probably dead center of the two major fault lines, and it's further away from the Saint Lawrence,” he had ventured.
They had discussed Syracuse, which was much closer, but rejected it when Terry had pointed out that the finger lakes could easily flood the whole area.
Glenn had agreed, and recalled several articles that had been written about the supposed newly discovered fault lines that crisscrossed the finger lakes.
Haley had pointed out that Watertown had its own military base and reminded them of the new facility that had been under construction in the old caves under the city. More reason to wonder why the military wasn't here.
“That whole complex is probably under water by now,” Glenn opinioned.
“I agree,” Scott had thrown in. “I worked there last year. It's nowhere completely sealed up, couldn't be. There are parts that might be okay, but if there was anyone other than a small staff down there I would be surprised. I don't see how they could get out of there if they are there. Fort Drum would be a better bet for help.”
“And that didn't happen,” Joel reminded, bringing the conversation full circle.
Glenn said that he felt the facility was probably destroyed, and had gone on to explain his own belief that anyone in there was either dead or trapped permanently.
“The Black River runs through that entire series of caves, even under most of the city itself. I can't say for a fact, but I think what most likely would happen is that at least part of the cave system would collapse. They're done for, if they're there at all,” he had said.
In the end they had finally decided on Rochester, and they were now discussing how to get there. They had decided, at Terry's suggestion, to use four wheel drive vehicles of some sort, and Haley had suggested that she and Joel check out the Jeep dealership across the street at the mall to see what they had on the lot.
She had also pointed out that there were several other car dealers in the same area, and if they couldn't find what they wanted there, they would only have a short walk to another lot to find something suitable.
“If any of it runs,” Scott had added.
“Running as of yesterday,” Manny threw in. “I drove one back into the city to get my family.”
“Didn't run for us the other day,” Joel added.
“Didn't for me either,” Manny agreed. “CB said they thought some sort of nuclear bomb, or the meteor.”
“The meteor could have done it?” Amber asked.
“I don't know, but they seem to think so... CB, they all think they are gods of knowledge.”
They were now discussing how many vehicles they would need, and how many people Joel and Haley would need to drive them back.
“I'm sure,” Terry continued, “that I can get a couple of the others guys to go with us.”
Glenn spoke up. “I really think then, that we ought to approach everyone else and find out who wants to go. They may not want to. We have to accept that you know.”
“He's right,” Joel agreed, “they may not. How many of them do you know?” he asked of the small group.
“It's a fairly tight community,” Haley said. “I'm not from here. I mean, the city seems big, the locals not so much. Very small tight knit community.”
“She's right,” Glenn added. “I'll go... Terry?” He turned back to Joel. “You too. Let's go see who we got.“
“I don't know that they'll all want to go. I've already seen a few leave, and we lost a couple of people this morning,” Amber added.
“She's right about that,” Glenn agreed, “I saw a couple of people hanging back talking together and they ended up leaving. I guess they aren't convinced that we should leave. I can't say I blame them really, the whole thing probably hasn't even sunk in yet.”
“Well, let’s go see who's left, and who wants to go then,” Joel decided. “No sense deciding this until we know for sure.”
“You mean if they don't want to go, you're not going?” Terry asked.
“No,” Joel said calmly. “I'm going, period.”
“Maybe we should decide right now if all of us want to go,” Glenn said. He looked around at the small assembled group, letting his eyes stop on Ed Weston.
“Ed, Dave?” Glenn asked.
“I'm in,” Ed replied, “I can't see any reason to stay here, and I think you may be right, Glenn. I'm not so sure this is a safe place to be.” He seemed to be slightly out of sync, Glenn thought, but he answered quickly, and decisively nonetheless.
“I'm in too,” Dave said. “But what if we get to Rochester and it's the same as here?”
“That's a chance we'll have to take,” Glenn replied. “In fact, I wouldn't doubt that there is damage. My only argument is that it may be safer than here. It's built on higher ground. It's also a much larger city, and I think that would increase our chances of finding other people. Maybe it would allow us to get a little more insight, or information, on what happened. Who knows, they may still have power, or some form of police, hell, maybe the television stations there are still working. We don't know, and the only way we will know is to go and find out. One thing is for certain though, Rochester is definitely built on higher ground than Watertown is. If that lake does rise, I would rather be there than here.”
Glenn looked around at the small group, and then continued.
“So, if we're all in agreement, I guess we better go talk to the others and see how many of them are going with us, agreed” he asked turning to Haley. “You and Joel will have an idea of how many trucks we are going to need; get some drivers... How long you figure, an hour or so? I mean to get ready to go.”
“It will probably be a good three hours before we get what we need and get back,” Haley replied after a quick look at Joel who nodded.
“I think you better do the talking, Glenn,” Joel said, “They know you better than they know me, and if we're going to get out of here today we better get our asses in gear too.”
With that the small group walked to the front of the store, where the other people had congregated by the shattered doors.
“Folks,” Glenn said as he held his hands over his head to get them to quiet down, “I'd like to talk to you.”
Most of the people there either knew Glenn, or knew of him, and they had an idea of what was coming, as most of them had been standing around listening when the conversation had first turned to leaving. They turned expectantly towards Glenn now, and waited for him to begin to speak.
“As most of you know,” Glenn began, “I'm in favor of leaving Watertown. I think you've all heard my reasons so I won't go into them, but what I would like to let you know, is that if we're going to go, and the eight of us are,” Glenn lowered his hands and gestured to include the group of people that stood around and near him, “we need to know if any of you are going to come along.”
No one answered for a few seconds. Glenn was about to begin speaking, if only to break the oppressive silence, when someone finally did. It was not what he had expected however.
“Hey? Who died and left you the boss,” a young teenager in the small group yelled out.
The young man stepped forward. His long stringy, dirty hair hung into his eyes, and he pushed it away with the back of his hand as he glared at Glenn.
“I never said I was the boss of anything,” Glenn replied quietly. “At least I don't recall saying it.” Glenn stared calmly back at the young man.
“Well you're the ones been doing all the talking. Who are you to say what we should or shouldn't be doing? And how come I never heard about no fuckin' fault line, huh?”
“Maybe if you could read,” a young man said from behind him, as he also stepped out of the small group, “you would know. It was in the paper just a few weeks ago. And if you went to school you probably would have learned about it there too. I never heard him say anything about being in charge either, but they were the ones who decided to at least do something. We were all standing around out here with our fingers up our asses before they showed up. What is it; do you still think somebody is going to show up and save us?”
The two young men were now facing each other, and the small group around them seemed to be waiting to see what would happen next.
“Listen,” Joel said as he stepped towards them. “This isn't the time or place for this sort of crap: If you don't want to be here fine. Nobody said you had to go anywhere. Glenn simply asked you if you wanted to go.” Joel paused as he stared at the two young men. “Sounds more as if you've got some sort of problem with authority. If so, that's something you'll have to deal with on your own time. The fact is that we can't stay here, and we've decided we're going. It's an invitation for you to join us, but you can stay right here for all I care.”
“Oh yeah?” the kid glared at Joel.
“Look,” Joel replied, staring back, “If you have some real objections state them: Otherwise shut up, listen, or hit the road.”
“I'm outta here. Screw you people,” the young man said as he glared at Joel, and the others from the small group that had moved up beside him. “You guys do what you want, I'm leaving,” he finished. He pushed his dirty hair from his eyes once more as he turned and walked out of the store.
“Listen!” Joel said, raising his voice. “I don't think we all have to start acting like a bunch of morons. We're all in this together, why don't you just listen to what Glenn has to say, and then you can decide.”
The other young man lowered the hands he had raised, and turned back towards Glenn expectantly. The rest of the crowd, realizing that the confrontation was over, and they weren't going to see a fight, turned their attention back to Glenn. Glenn waited for them to quiet before he resumed talking.
“Let me make this clear,” Glenn said as he began to speak quietly. “I don't want to lead anyone. All I really care about is getting out of here, same as most of you.”
Haley watched as Glenn spoke, and thought, kind of late for that, Glenn. She had noticed that everyone had seemed to gravitate to Glenn earlier when he had begun to speak. He had that kind of personality, she supposed. They also seemed to be drawn to Joel, and more than a few had asked her what her feelings were about the situation. Are we leading? She asked herself, as she turned her attention back to Glenn.
“What we have to know,” Glenn was saying, “is who wants to come with us.”
“Where will we go?” an older man asked as Glenn paused. Glenn explained their choice, and why they had made it as the group listened.
“Now, there are eight of us, and we need to know how many cars we're going to need to get us all there. Joel and Haley are going over to the Jeep dealership and try to find us some four wheelers that will fit the bill. New if they will run, older ones if they won't.”
“Ain't that stealing?” someone asked.
“Not as I see it,” Glenn replied. “As I see it, they don't belong to anyone anymore. I mean... Anyone see any police? Or really, if you think of it, has anyone seen anybody at all in authority?” he waited briefly, before continuing, half expecting the young kid to pop back in the door and say, Nobody 'cept you, you old bastard. When he didn't Glenn was relieved, and once again began speaking.
“No, I think being arrested for car theft is the least of our problems. I ain't saying it wasn't a good thought to bring up, but I'm not too worried about that at all. What I am worried about... The main thing right now anyway, is to get this show on the road before it gets much later,” Glenn said, and paused. “So, if no one has any real objections, I'd like a show of hands so we can figure out who's going and who's staying.”
With no discussion, five members of the dwindling group, among them the young man who had been involved in the earlier argument, turned and walked to the far side of the wide double front doors, shaking their heads as they went. The remaining people began, slowly at first, with glances at their neighbors, to raise their hands.
“Don't just raise your hand if you're not sure, or just because the guy standing next to you did,” Glenn said. “You have to be sure, and you should know that we may not make it. We don't have the slightest idea what we're going to run into on the way, or even if we'll get there. So you better be sure, because once we go we ain't coming back. So who's positive?”
Several hands that had been up went down, and their owners quickly gravitated to the smaller group that had begun to form by the front doors.
Glenn looked at the young dark-haired kid he had been sure would end up with them, and then at Joel, who shrugged his shoulders and said, “Go figure.”
Four remained waiting.
“Okay then,” Joel said, “I guess we'll only need three cars. Who wants to go with Haley and me?” There were two women and the older man who had spoken earlier.
“I'll go,” one of the young women said, stepping forward. The older man stepped forward as well and volunteered.
“I don't think we need both of you,” Haley said. “Jan,” she said speaking to the woman who had stepped forward first, “if you want to come, let’s get going.”
The woman followed Haley and Joel out the front doors, as the older man walked over to Glenn.
“Let's go back to the rear” Glenn said in a low voice as he leaned closer to Scott. “I'm not so sure I want to stand up here and discuss our plans, if you catch my drift.”
“My thought exactly,” Scott said, as they walked towards the rear of the store.
Scott, Glenn, and Dave, rested up against a wide cooler at the back of the store as Glenn spoke. The two young women, Lilly and Gina, both of whom were in their late teens, stood nearby with the older man who Glenn knew as John Bolton, a retired city Councilman from the Rochester area. He had been leading one of the groups that had come in yesterday. Bolton had retired and moved to Watertown to escape the crime in Rochester. He would definitely be an asset, Glenn thought.
“Ed?” Glenn asked. “We're going to need some other things before we go. I think maybe a couple more rifles, some camping gear, you know, things like that. If I make up a quick list, I was thinking maybe you and Gina might not mind getting it together, would you?”
“Sure,” Ed replied, “you a little concerned about that group up front?”
Glenn leveled his eyes at Ed. “Them and any others like them. I'm not so sure they can be trusted. I saw Brad Saser in the crowd there, and he had a gun of some sort stuffed into his waist band.”
“I saw that too,” Dave said, and then went on. “Did you see the way he tensed up when it looked like those two kids were going to get into it?” Dave finished.
“Yes,” Glenn replied, “I did, and it's something I thought of earlier. I saw some others carrying guns, when we were down to the Square. I don't much like it, but I think we have to have our own, even if only to play it safe. I mean rifles and shotguns are fine, but it doesn't appear it's just the gangs we have to worry about. Looks like the good guys ain't all good guys.”
“I agree,” John said. “I spent a good deal of time in Rochester, and I took to carrying a gun with me wherever I went. I think, especially now, since we don't seem to have any police to protect us, it's the only smart thing to do.”
“I agree,” Scott said.
The others in the small group murmured their agreement along with him.
“Dave?” Glenn said, as he looked at him, “We’re also going to need some canned goods. Maybe some bottled water, soda, canned meats. How about you and Lilly start getting that together. Be sure to stick to the canned stuff, and toss in some basic medical stuff, you know aspirin, bandage, whatever you think we might need.” Dave nodded his head and left with Lilly. Glenn scrawled a quick list for Ed and Gina, and sent them on their way. The three remaining men watched them walk off, and then Glenn said,
“Scott? Did you see any state maps up front, at the checkouts?”
“I believe I did,” he replied, as he walked away to get one.
Scott glanced over at the group of people, who were still huddled by the front doors, as he picked up several maps and headed back to the rear of the store. They were all huddled together to one side of the front doors, talking in low whispers, and more than a few of them had turned his way as he picked up the maps.
Glenn and John were sitting on the rail of a long meat counter, talking, and drinking a couple of beers when Scott returned.
“They're still cold if you get 'em from the back,” Glenn said as Scott approached.
Scott reached into the cooler and snagged one of the beers from the back of the cooler, where ice had formed on the condenser unit. It hadn't completely melted in the cool interior of the store. He took a long drink of the cool liquid. Probably won't be drinking too many cold beers anymore, he thought. He reached into the cooler fished out a six pack from the back, and carried it over to the two men who were still talking. Glenn and John both helped themselves to another beer as Scott spoke.
“Group up front is still there, and they eyeballed me pretty good when I went up to get the maps.”
“It's probably a good thing we're leaving,” John said. John had been in the crowd at the front of the store earlier and hadn't liked the way the conversation had been going. “There's a couple of loony's in that crowd, and I'm just as glad they're not with us.”
“I feel about the same,” Glenn said.
Scott opened one of the maps, and spread it over the glass top of the meat case.
“John thinks the best way is probably Route 3,” Glenn said.
“It cuts around the lake,” John explained, picking up the conversation. “If it's true, what Glenn suspects about the fault line, it may be a tough way to go. But you've got to consider the other route, and I don't think that's a good choice at all. If we don't go 3, we're stuck with Route 81 to Syracuse, and the Thruway west from there. I think we all made up our minds to avoid Syracuse, so that leaves Route 3. That will take us into Route 104, and if we take that west it will bring us into Rochester. Of course there's still the lake to contend with.”
“I don't think the lake is a problem,” Glenn said, “the fault line runs across the basin of the Great lakes. If it did shift, it would be a problem we might have to face down the line, but that would only be if we try to go farther west.”
“If it shifted, let’s say it did for the sake of argument, there's no real way to know at this point anyway, we could have one hell of a big river splitting the whole eastern end of the continent, from Canada, all the way down to the Gulf coast somewhere. I know, I already been beatin' on that horse, but I think it's the most likely explanation. I read about it, what could happen if the fault were somehow triggered, in an article in the paper a few years back. It may seem a bit far-fetched, but there's a lot of fact to back it up. The lakes would drop at first, and then they would level out as the new river fills up, and begin to rise again. That's a basic way of putting it I guess, but that's the gist of it. Right now though, if that lake really is dropping, we shouldn't have too much trouble getting into Rochester.”
“You don't think the road will be busted up, or flooded?” Scott asked.
“I doubt it'll be flooded,” John replied, “if the lake is dropping, that should keep the road dry. I'm not so sure it won't be broken up some though, and we may run into some stalled traffic I suppose, but being as it was night time, the traffic shouldn't be too awful bad, and Four Wheel Drive should get us around the worst of it anyhow.”
“I'd say it's a much better bet than Route 81 and the Thruway,” Glenn said. “The traffic is pretty damn heavy there all the time.”
“Tell me about it.” Scott said, “I came down eighty-one on my way here the day I met you guys. I was out in Adams working that day, just happened to come in to the city. Nothing but Army trucks and traffic bumper to bumper.”
“Well then,” Glenn said, “that decides that. John, what do you think our chances are, when we get there, of finding it still standing?”
John shrugged his shoulders as he replied. “Good as any, I guess, there's no real way to tell. I don't think the damage here was caused by the meteor, I think we all agree it was most likely an earthquake, but that doesn't mean Rochester's still standing. And it says nothing about what's beyond Rochester.”
The other two men nodded in agreement. He was right, Scott realized, as he pulled another beer from the plastic collar that held it. They would simply have to get there before they knew. He sat beside them on the small rail drinking the semi-cold beer.
A short time later a loud commotion at the front of the store, caught their attention.
“Shit,” Scott said as the three of them hurried in the direction of the front of the store, “What the hell's up now?”
Haley was standing over the young man with the long greasy hair who had caused the earlier argument, with her fists clenched. Joel and Jan were standing in front of her trying to hold back the small group of people.
“What the hell's going on here?” Glenn shouted as he came up the aisle with Scott and John.
“This ass-hole,” Haley said, waving her hand to indicate the young man on the floor, “and his buddy over there,” she pointed towards Brad Saser, who was standing in the crowd. “Tried to jump us when we walked in the front door.”
Dave and Lilly emerged from one of the other aisles and stood next to Haley and Terry, as the kid picked himself up off the floor, and retreated to the safety of the other group. The two groups stared at each other across the small space for a few seconds, and then Brad Saser stepped out of the small group with a pistol gripped in one hand.
“Don't have to be nobody killed,” he said, as he waved the pistol in their direction. “We want them Jeep's, that's all.”
Joel returned the man’s icy stare. “If you want one, why don't you go get one? If I recall correctly, you didn't want to come along in the first place, and if you want to leave now there are plenty more cars just lying around waiting to be taken. Take one and go for Christ's sake.”
“Oh, I want to go. In fact we all do,” he replied, as he waved the gun around to include the group behind him. “We will too, but since you already got three good Four-Bys all gassed up and ready, it'll save us the trouble of bothering, and this gun says we'll be takin' em. Now give me the keys, Bitch,” he snarled, glaring at Haley.
“You want them?” she asked sweetly, “You come and get them.”
“I swear I'll blow your brains right out the back of your fuckin' head,” he said as he started towards her.
Joel took two steps, and placed himself between them.
“Buddy, I don't give a fuck about you at all,” Brad said, and pointed the gun at Joel's head, “I'd just as soon...”
Before Brad Saser could finish what he had been about to say, a voice from the front of the store broke in.
“You got two seconds to drop that gun, Brad, or I swear I'll put a bullet right through you.”
Ed was standing in the doorway with Gina, and both of them had high powered deer rifles pointed at Brad.
“I shit you not, Brad, I'll shoot you like a woodchuck and leave you laying there, Man,” Ed said, as Brad turned around.
Brad looked back at the group of people behind him for help, but no one moved. Joel reached out quickly and grabbed the gun from his grip, and with one meaty hand shoved the man to the floor.
“I believe we'll be leaving,” he said, first to Brad, and then lifting his eyes to include the group of people behind him. “And if you know what's good for you, you'll stay the hell out of our way.”
Dave retreated down one aisle, and returned within a few minutes pushing a large steel stocking cart.
“I'd watch them kind of close,” Glenn whispered, as he moved up to Joel's side, “that may not have been the only gun they had.”
Joel held the pistol in his hand, pointed towards the silent group of people as the others left the store through the wide front doors. Glenn waited with him.
“I'd like to say it's been nice, but it hasn't,” Joel said to the crowd of people.
“You really should give some thought to coming with us,” Glenn said, “I ain't so sure you picked yourselves a very good horse if you're counting on him,” Glenn finished, pointing at Brad, who was still on the floor. The small group of people remained silent.
“Suit yourselves,” Glenn finished. He followed Joel out the front doors and into the parking lot.
The two men paused outside, waiting in the drizzle falling from the rapidly darkening skies, as Dave and a couple of the others loaded the Jeeps. “You think,” Joel asked, “that there will be others like them?”
“I hate to say it, but yes.” Glenn replied as they slowly walked across the lot towards the three Cherokee's that sat idling, “I'd like to think a little better of the human race, but we are what we are. I expect we'll run in to a whole shit load of those types.”
“It's a good thing Ed and Gina picked up guns then,” Joel replied thoughtfully. “No telling what kind of animals we'll run into and I don't necessarily mean the furry kind.”
Once the vehicles were loaded, Joel and Glenn climbed into the open rear door of one of the Jeep's with John.
Haley was in the front driver’s seat with Amber beside her. The second Jeep, with Scott driving and Jan in the passenger seat, Lilly in the back, pulled in behind them. Ed drove the last Jeep, with Dave riding beside him, A shotgun was resting between his knees. Gina in the back seat with her own rifle, a wire stock model that looked wildly military to Joel when he had seen it. Terry on the other back window, a heavy shotgun resting between his legs, and two 45 caliber pistols on a wide belt at his waist. There were a few more of guns scattered among them, Joel knew: He, Haley, Scott, Amber, a few others, but a few had stuck to rifles or shotguns.
The rain that had been threatening began to fall hard as the small caravan pulled out of the parking lot, turned right on the crowded street, and began to weave through the stalled traffic heading out Route 3.
Mexico NY: Joel and Haley
“So, what do you think?” Joel asked Glenn.
Joel, as well as Haley, stood facing the road along with Glenn and John: They both shrugged.
The group had stopped just ten minutes before, when they had come to the turn off for Route 104 in the tiny town of Mexico, New York. The road was so bad in places that the Jeep vehicles bounced roughly over them no matter how slow they drove.
For nearly ten miles they had been reduced to a crawl as they crept slowly forward down the broken road, passing over the thick chunks of asphalt that tilted crazily into the air. In some places the drops from surface to surface was more than six inches. Nothing the vehicles couldn't handle, but the driving had turned into a slow crawl for long stretches.
They had spent the last two days bogged down just a few miles outside of Watertown. Torrential rains, thunder and lightning. They had spent two miserable nights in the Jeeps trying to get some sleep. They had started out early this morning with high hopes. In the last three days combined they had moved no more than forty miles tops. The rain had finally stopped. They were hopeful.
They had maps, but the roads and small villages were so torn up that it was hard to find landmarks that could tell them where they were. The occasional highway marker, Village Limits sign, even business signs that listed the name of the town or village, was nearly all they had to go by. By mid-morning the rain was back and their spirits had plummeted.
The trees had been winter brown three days ago when they left Watertown, but as they drove through the steady rain more and more green came into view. To the small group of people trying to negotiate the road it had sometimes felt like driving through a jungle. The road steamed where the asphalt had been warmed by the sun earlier in the morning before the rain had come back. The trees, seemingly bent on shedding their winter grays and browns and covering the landscape in green. They had finally stopped to move a fallen tree out of the roadway and then Glenn had wondered aloud if the road would get any worse. They had all stared at the overgrown landscape for a few moments longer, but there was no way to see what may lay ahead, and backtracking now was out of the question. After a short discussion they had returned to the Jeeps and once again set out on the cracked pavement toward the west.
Noon, or what they judged to be noon, found them parked under the tilted remains of a gas pump island: The rain was back, beating on the steel panels above them. The convenience store that had anchored the gas pumps was gone. Churned up earth marked the most likely spot. The air reeked of raw gasoline despite the rain.
Glenn was bent over a map which was spread across the hood of one of the Cherokees. The other two Jeeps were parked beside it, tailgates down as the rest of the group sat eating a lunch of cold, canned-meat sandwiches they had made. Joel and the others stood talking and studying the map. They sipped at warm sodas and ate, talking between mouthfuls.
“This,” Glenn said, “leads straight into Rochester.” He pointed with one finger down the roadway as he spoke. “Of course...” he said, pausing to swallow, “there's no real way to know what shape it's in, or how much traffic we'll run into.”
They had decided farther back not to take either of the turnoffs that could have shortened their trip, because of the traffic they contained. They seemed to have been more popular, and therefor much more heavily traveled.
Both of the turnoffs had been built after the main route, and had been designed to bypass the small towns, offering a more direct route, and both had been blocked with large tractor-trailers, several of which had been involved in accidents.
They had stopped momentarily to gaze at the scene, walking quietly through the twisted and blackened steel shells. They had expected to find bodies, but none of the trucks had any passengers, dead or alive. They seemed to have been driven by no one at all, wrecked, and then abandoned.
As far as they could see down the road they were now on, there was no traffic at all. The road on the other hand was buckled and twisted for as far as they could see so there would be little time that could be made up. A trip that would take three hours at the outside just a few days before looked as though it would now take three or four days.
In fact the entire small town seemed to be completely deserted. They had met no one as yet, and had begun to wonder aloud to one another whether they were completely alone.
It felt that way. It seemed as though everyone had simply decided to leave at the same time. Perhaps a mass exodus of some sort had occurred. Even so the feeling of being watched was pervasive. Creeping up on nearly everyone one, making them stop what they were doing, quickly lift their heads and look around, only to find no one there.
“It can't be any worse than the alternate routes we've stopped at,” Joel said, staring down the empty road.
“No,” Glenn said, and then continued after taking a deep drink from the warm can of soda he held. “This tastes horrible,” he said, making a grimace. “Anyway, I would bet that we're going to hit some of that truck traffic again before we get to Oswego. The last alternate we passed, 104 B, comes back into 104 just before we get there, at...” he paused as one finger traced the route on the map, “...New Haven. Have you been there, John?”
“It's the gas fumes,” Joel said. “Messes your taste buds up.”
“Wide place in the road is all it is,” John replied, looking at the map as well. “Problem I'm concerned about is Oswego. Mighty damn close to the lake.”
“True,” Glenn said, “but I don't think we have too much to worry about. It's a good twenty-seven feet above lake level, according to the map. I guess the big worry would be damage from the quake though. Road might be all busted to hell, maybe some buildings down, no way to tell 'till we get there, for sure anyway, but I think we ought to count on a tough time getting through there...”
“...All that truck traffic will be back, and they do a lot of container shipments from the Oswego docks, mostly by train, but a good portion by truck, so that'll add even more traffic. It's also a college town, and even though most of the kids there would've been gone on break, they do run classes’ year around.”
“There's another problem too,” John said. “Although the map doesn't show it, there are two bridges that we have to cross... dead downtown too. I think one's a canal of some sort, and the other spans the Oswego River. You think the quake took them out?” he finished, looking at Glenn.
“It's possible I suppose, but like I said, there's no real way to know till we get there,” Glenn replied, frowning.
“What about a boat?” Haley asked.
“No good,” John replied, “good idea, but the banks are too high. It might be something to keep in mind though. If we have to we can take to the lake and skim around the roads. There are quite a few marinas all along 104, so if we had to go a way before we could get back in, it would at least get us back somewhere down the line, even if the water's still down.”
“You think it is?” Joel asked, looking at Glenn.
“Well, it was farther back. A lot depends on whether the locks in the Sea Way held or not...”
“Hey!” Amber shouted. “Hey don't run off!”
Joel looked over to see what she had yelled about, but she was standing on the edge of the protected pump area staring back down the road. He caught Haley's eye, but she only shrugged as she walked over to her.
“Something?” Glenn asked.
“Don't think so,” Joel said... “Maybe a mutt or something... Go on, Glenn.”
“Okay, So... Oh yeah, the Locks, I don't imagine they could have all been down. I'm not positive, but I think it drops somewhere around twenty-two feet from the Atlantic to Ontario, and the levels of all the lakes are different too. Most people don't know that, unless you live up here of course. I'd bet though that they held, at least so far, or at least the ones that were closed: If not I think the lake level might have already started to rise again, unless... Well, could be like I said before. There could be a whole new river cutting through the middle of the country, and if so I wouldn't want to bet on anything.” Glenn drew a short breath and then continued after looking over to where Haley and Amber were talking.
“I got side tracked with that damn fault line right after I read the article about it. You know, one of those things that sort of grabs your attention. Hell, until I read it I wasn't even aware we had any fault lines up here. You hear earthquake, you think California, not northern New York.”
“But I thought you said you read about it in school?” Haley said as she walked back over.
“No... What I said was you could read about it in school. I checked it out at the library. You know, I just couldn't believe it, and I learned a long time ago not to always believe what you read in the paper, so I went to the library and asked,” Glenn said grinning. “Everything okay, Haley? With Amber?”
“Oh yeah... Thought she saw someone across the road in that wreck of a diner. Ran as soon as they saw her.” Haley shrugged.
“We could go check it out,” Joel said.
“If someone doesn't want to be found, goes through the trouble of avoiding us, maybe it's best to let them be,” John said.
“Library,” Joel prompted.
“I am sorry,“ John said and smiled heartily.
“Me too, Glenn,” Haley agreed.
“Library,” Joel prompted again.
Glenn laughed. “Okay, library; as it turned out I wasn't the only one interested in that fault line. I had to wait better than a week to get the book I wanted. It was worth the wait though. The book was written by a fellow name of Jack Frederick. Guess he was living somewhere up here at the time. I haven’t ever heard of him though. He told all about the fault line, and the locks. Got into a lot of boring shit, and used a lot of fancy words, but the gist of the whole thing was that he felt the thing was getting ready to go at any time. Course he wrote it back in the fifties, and I suppose when nothing happened right away people just forgot it. Till the article in the paper anyway...”
“...He thought it was more likely to go before the big one ever hit California, and I guess writing that book was his way to call attention to it. I'm running at the mouth here, but bear with me and I'll try to get to the point. See, he thought the whole damn continent would crack right down the middle, with a hard enough quake. The newspaper article was aimed at that side of it too. He also thought that it would eventually drift apart, course that goes back to the theory that the continents are not finished moving yet. But he thought it would move pretty quickly initially, leaving a huge gap more than three or four miles wide and running from north to south. If that's true then it'll probably be even worse through the middle states, as the land's all low to begin with.”
“So,” Glenn continued, after a brief pause, “you'd have one hell of a big river, and then almost an inland sea in the middle of the country. In effect it would pretty much cut the country in half, I guess. Of course, who knows? Science ain't based entirely on fact like most people think it is. It's just a bunch of theories, and whoever gets the most people to believe their particular theory comes out on top, I guess. Thing is a lot of people forget it's just theory and start to believe everything they say. I remember in school being taught about dinosaurs and people living at the same time. Hard science,” he laughed.
“This guy though, he did a lot of research on it, and I think the reason no one wanted to believe him was because it's a scary thing to think about. So, I guess that's it. It still boils down to the same thing. Maybe, maybe not. We'll never know till we get there, and we ain't going to get there if I keep running my mouth, are we?” Glenn smiled, as he finished.
“You do talk up a storm,” Joel agreed, “but at least it’s interesting stuff. I've read about it too, not to that extent, but I have to agree with a lot of what you said. Hell, I'm a skeptic. I rarely believe anything I read,” he laughed as he finished.
“I think that's everyone,” John said. “You get bamboozled a few times and that's it. You think it's all garbage. And,” He chuckled a little, “The sad thing is a lot of it still is junk.”
Haley nodded. Her eyes cut to Amber who was still watching the wrecked diner on the other side of the road. Shading her eyes to see better.
“Seriously though,” Joel continued, the smile leaving his face. “I still don't know what the hell was going on in those caves back in Watertown, not entirely anyway, and it bugs the hell out of me. Makes me wonder if that had anything to do with this.”
“Not likely,” John said. “If the damage was not so wide spread, say just localized, I would say hell yes, it probably did. But this thing is nationwide, so no. One secret whisper-the-name military base isn't gonna get my vote. I'd say this was a natural event. A meteor and a bad set of circumstances of where it hit at an active volcano site. We might find, once we get to Rochester that this thing is confined to the U.S. Maybe Canada and Mexico, parts of South America, but it doesn't seem it could have affected Europe... Australia. We may be able to expect help from those countries.”
“I would like to think that, John. I surely would, but I'll need to see it proved,” Glenn said.
They had talked a little about the base as they had driven. They had all known that something had been going on. The Army had kept Glenn's gravel pit running day and night, and he had sent so many truck loads to the base that he had lost his own personal count more than once. “The thing was,” he had said, “we off-loaded right into their trucks, and off they went right back into the city with it. It was pretty clear they didn't want us there, and when they ordered concrete mix they sent their own trucks out to get it.” Glenn had been forced to invest in a new computer system just to keep track of things, and had been hiring as much extra help as he could get just to keep up.
They all agreed that something was going on, but they had no idea what. “It makes no difference anymore,” Glenn had said. “The whole downtown section of Watertown is pretty much destroyed. Those caves are right under that. That river will probably keep rising, and that complex they built can't be far below, probably no more than eighty feet or so, it'll flood.”
“Here,” John said, walking back from the rear of the Jeep. He held a warm six-pack of beer in his hand. “Stole this for us, to wash down the taste of that orange soda.”
“Aren't you afraid we'll get pulled over for drinking and driving?” Joel said, smiling as he opened one of the cans.
“Hell no,” John said, smiling back. “Of course I ain't the one driving, you are. Don't worry though; we'll post bail if you get arrested.”
“Ha, Ha,” Joel said, as he climbed in behind the wheel of the Cherokee, “you'd probably let me sit there.”
Lightening forked across the sky and Haley jumped. Amber laughed and put one hand on her arm. “Easy, Haley,” she told her. “I thought I was spooked.”
“Why,” Haley asked. “The people that might be across the road?”
“Yeah... It was really weird though... I thought,” she laughed, “Don't laugh at me. Well, the person sort of lurched across the doorway, like a horror movie Frankenstein or something.” She screwed her face up, but she wore no smile at all.
“Yeah?” Haley asked. “Maybe it was just the rain... Or sniffing this gasoline, that will make you see things for sure.”
“Yeah... Yeah, what I told myself. Just the way they moved... Maybe they were injured.”
“Yeah... Probably were, Amber,” Haley agreed.
“Funny though that they would run away if they were hurt.” Amber finished. She climbed into the back seat.
Haley had also grabbed one of the warm beers and grimaced at the taste as she climbed in beside Joel, and said, “So, you going to keep this buggy? I mean this was supposed to be a short test drive, and I don't know how I'm going to explain the scratches to my boss.”
Joel reached over and picked up the factory sticker from the floor boards where he had tossed it, after tearing it off the rear window back in Watertown. They had been playing this little game most of the day. After what had happened they were all attempting to lighten one another's moods, and it seemed to be working, at least most of the time, except with Ed. Ed had simply withdrawn into himself, and no one seemed to be able to draw him out.
Joel let out a long whistle as he looked at the sticker price at the bottom. “I haven't made up my mind yet, lady, do you suppose your boss would mind if I kept it awhile longer?”
“No, I guess not,” she replied, “but you'll have to keep me along with it,” she finished, laughing.
“Oh,” Amber said from the backseat.
“Well, okay,” Joel said, playing along. “I guess that kind of makes the sticker price worth it. What did you say those payments would be?”
They joked back and forth as they drove along the road, and Glenn and John joined in from the back seat. It helped to take their minds off their situation a great deal of the time, and Joel was actually growing to like Haley. After she had decked the young kid back in Watertown, he had immediately liked her. Not because she hit the kid, although the kid had deserved it, but because she seemed to have her wits together, and wasn't afraid to do whatever she had to, to protect herself and stay alive. She had seemed pretty shaken at first, and he had wondered whether she would be able to get past it and go forward. She was trying to see past it. That was all any of them could do, Joel thought, just try to get past it to whatever was in front of them.
The whole group had begun to tighten up, he realized. The others had all gravitated towards Glenn, himself, John and Haley. They had discussed that. It had made Glenn especially nervous. While it was true he was used to taking charge, this was not the same thing as running a business, he had pointed out, and he wasn't so sure he liked it. He accepted it though, as did the others, although it was a reluctant acceptance.
Eventually the subject turned towards the more serious topic of Rochester, and what to expect when they got there.
“I can't tell you everything about it,” John said, and then continued. “Most of what I know about it is a couple of years out of date anyway,” he said pausing.
“Well, anything you know is more than we know now. For instance, when we get there what's the best way to get into the city? Or should we stay out of it?” Haley asked.
“Well, it's a big city. I think we should go in, but I think we'll probably have to give up the Jeeps, due to traffic. The best thing to do would be to get off 104 when we get to Fairport.”
“Fairport?” Glenn asked, looking at the map once more.
“It's a long way around, sort of, but I think it might be the best way in. I think we have to get down in the city, at least at first anyway, just to see what there is. Like Glenn said, who knows? Could be that the police are still there, or at least someone in authority.”
“Nice pipe dream,” Glenn returned.
“You're probably right,” John answered, “but I would bet that glow we could see across the lake last night was Rochester, and if it was, that means the power is at least still on. They just gave the okay last year to Rochester Gas and Electric to fire up that new nuclear plant out in Livingston County.”
“Where's that,” Joel asked.
“Well, Rochester is in Monroe county, Livingston county starts out past Henrietta, which is a small suburb of Rochester. It's maybe fifteen miles or so away from the city itself, I guess. There was a lott'a bitching when they first proposed it, but it ended up being built anyway. Anyway, I'm starting to sound like Glenn now, I guess. The whole thing's computerized from top to bottom. Oh they have people working there, but they're only there in case something goes wrong, not to run the place. Even if something does go wrong, the computer shuts the whole thing down, not people. They supply electric for the entire city with it, with some to spare. All the excess power that the place produces gets sold to New York City. They built a new plant to handle it downtown, on Broad Street. It's a way from the lake, so if that was Rochester we saw last night, the plant must still be up and running. That means there may still be some sort of control there, you know, police, or something, at least other people I would guess anyway...”
”...You know, I think I am becoming a Glenn clone. I guess I should get back to what I was saying before I started running at the mouth. Fairport looks like the best route in. We can get off at Webster and shoot across 250 straight into Fairport, and from there we have several routes to choose from. There are quite a few loops that surround the city, Can-of-Worms it's called. Most of the traffic would be there. They rebuilt the whole system just a few years back so it would be easier to get around the city. Almost all the old routes in and out were pretty much secondary after that, you know, really light traffic, but all of those routes in should be pretty well open.”
Glenn traced the route on the map as John spoke. “Looks good to me too,” he said. “Looks like we can get pretty much anywhere on the east side of the city from there.”
“We can,” John agreed, “but don't let that map fool you. It's not as straight forward as it appears. I think we'll head out on East Avenue from Fairport. Try that first, and see.” Glenn looked for East Avenue on the map, but couldn't find it.
“Thirty-one,” John said.
“Route 31?” Glenn asked.
“Yes, straight out of Fairport. It's really East Avenue still to me, but I think they list it as Route 31 on the map,” John said.
“Got it,” Glenn replied.
“It doesn't go straight in anymore like the map shows,” John warned, “They changed it, but it goes far enough to hit Winton road.”
“According to the map,” Glenn said, “it'll take us north or south, and that opens a lot of ways in to the city.”
“Sounds like a done deal,” Joel said, as he turned on the heater in the Jeep.
“Hey,” Glenn said, “don't you feel a little guilty driving around in a stolen Jeep?”
“Nope, If you're gonna steal something make it something nice, I always say,” Joel replied, with a smug look on his face. “Besides, it's getting colder out again, isn't it?” he asked, turning the conversation back to something more serious. “I mean I'm from Watertown of course, and you never know what it's going to be like there. Cold in the mornings, usually, this time of year. Summer doesn't last for long, and I guess I expected it to stay cooler here too.”
“It does stay cooler, or at least it did,” Glenn said. “It can get hot in the summers, maybe edge up to the eighties, even low nineties on very rare occasions, but not as high as it was earlier. I really gotta believe that there's another reason for it. It seems to be swinging back to cold again though. Of course it's right back to the friggin' scientists you know,” he continued, “only time will tell on that one, I guess. Remember that Japanese island that had the quake about thirty, thirty five years ago?”
Joel said. “Moved it, right?”
“About six feet,” John said, “and that was just a quake, not a meteor blast. Who's to say what a large blast like that, coupled with a super quake, or whatever it was, would have caused? Or several large quakes, volcanoes for that matter? I don't pretend to know.”
“I don't guess we'll be finding that out right away,” Haley said.
“No... More wait and see,” Glenn said. “I'd sure like to get my hands on a compass though, but who knows if a compass could tell us much? Probably not anymore, I'd guess. Shit, where the hell can you find a good scientist when you need one?” Everyone laughed, breaking the tension that had been building, as it always did, when the conversation turned serious.
“Hey,” Joel said, as he thrust his open hand over the seat back, towards the rear. “You guys hogging all the beer back there? No wonder you're both starting to sound like a couple of fifth grade scientists.” Glenn laughed as he passed Joel another beer. “Your license,” he said.
“Guy's?” Haley asked. She waited until they looked at her. “Well, I was wondering, if, well... When we get to Oswego, if we could stop and get some clean clothes? I've been in these for two days now, and if there's no one there, in Oswego I mean, I'd like to stop and get some clean ones.”
Joel looked down at his dirty shirt; he could use some clean clothes too. He had jumped into the same clothes he had been wearing the day before, everything started. That meant the same stuff for three days now, and he looked it. Come to think of it, he thought, we could all use some clean clothes. And a shower wouldn't be bad either. Aloud, he said, “I vote yes, does anyone know where there's a shopping center, a mall?”
“There are a couple just inside the city limits,” John said, “They should have just about anything you'd want.”
“It would probably be a good idea to stop,” Glenn said. “It would give us all a chance to clean up too. Of course that's if there's running water.”
“Even if there isn't,” Haley said, “there's the lake, right?”
“True enough,” Glenn replied, “but we may not be able to get close to it. I'll hope for running water myself.” A chorus of 'Me too' greeted Glenn's last statement.
Joel spread his fingers apart and looked from face to face. “Well, let's get this show on the road.”
Mexico NY: Joel and Haley
Joel had been able to pick up speed once they had left Mexico. The pavement was fairly even, but after the first three or four miles the traffic began to block the highway and they were down to a slow crawl. He could go no faster than ten miles per hour. There were several blind hills, and curves, and there were a lot of abandoned cars and trucks that seemed to be in the least likely places.
The four wheel drive had come in handy, as several times they had to go over the road and into a field, or someone's yard to get around it. As evening fell they drove partway up the side of a concrete bridge escarpment and set up a camp. They were protected by the trucks, yet high enough to see in all directions.
NYS Route 104: Joel and Haley
By the time they reached the outskirts of Oswego the next day, they were ready to stop and rest. John pointed out a large shopping center on their left, and Joel pulled into the mostly empty parking lot and rolled up to the front doors of a large department store. "Thrifty Deal?" he asked John.
“Chain store,” John replied. “You can find a little of everything.”
The other two Jeeps pulled in behind them as they were getting out. Joel walked up to the front doors and tried to open them. “Locked,” he said.
“That's okay,” Glenn smiled, reaching back into the Jeep. “I've got the key.” He handed the jack handle in his hand to Joel as he walked up to the glass doors.
“Well,” Joel said, “I guess here goes.” He swung the jack handle at the door and the glass shattered into millions of green-tinted crystals that skittered across the pavement.
“It's my first real crime,” Joel said, turning around with a large grin on his face.
Just then a loud alarm began to whoop from within the store, and a split second later an even louder alarm, mounted in a steel box above the doors, began to bray into the quiet afternoon air. Joel, along with almost everyone else, had turned and began to run back towards the Jeep when it went off. The jack handle clattered to the pavement.
“Holy shit,” he sputtered.
Haley was doubled over laughing, leaning up against the Jeep for support. Joel looked at her stupidly for a few seconds and then smiled. Most of the others began to laugh as well, breaking the tension the alarm had caused.
“Y-Y-You,” she tried to say, but couldn't stop laughing. “I thought you were going to have a heart attack, Joel,” she said, once she had gained some control. She held her stomach and began to laugh again. Joel began to laugh himself, along with everyone else.
“Well... it scared me at first,” he protested. He hadn't been the only one, he knew. Glenn's eyes had looked as though they were going to pop right out of his head, he recalled. He seemed to be all right now though.
Glenn walked forward and picked up the tire iron from the pavement. Standing on tip toe he pried the metal box open. He hit the large siren inside with the jack handle, until it finally screeched and then quit. The other alarm inside was still going off. He disappeared into the store, and a few seconds later that one stopped too. Glenn came back outside and peered sheepishly at the small crowd, most of whom had finally stopped laughing.
“If we're gonna do this on a regular basis,” he said, “we better pick up some real burglar tools while we're here.” Everyone laughed again, but the laughter died down quickly, and once it had they all crunched across the glass and into the store.
The power was off, it turned out. The alarm had been backed up by battery, and had apparently switched over automatically when the power went off. The mood changed once they had gotten into the store. Just the fact that no one did come when the alarm had gone off would have been enough, but the empty store had also contributed its share to their somber mood. It served as a reminder that they still had met no other people at all. They had traveled over seventy miles and seen no one, and it reinforced what had happened in all their minds. No cashiers at the empty checkouts, no police cars screaming into the parking lot to see who was breaking in, there was nobody, anywhere, it seemed.
Although the power was off, the water was not, and they availed themselves of the employee showers after they had quickly moved through the store and picked out what they needed. They had gone together through the deserted aisles of the store, unwilling, or unable, to split up.
Joel, his hair still wet from the cold shower; dressed in a faded pair of jeans and a blue chambray work shirt, leaned up against the wall outside the rest room with the other men, and waited for the women to come back out. They talked quietly among themselves as they waited.
“You think Rochester will be the same as here?” Dave asked. He had seemed especially shaken by the alarm in the parking lot, and still seemed shook up over it.
Terry stood silently next to Glenn, tapping the heel of one work boot against the cinder block wall. “It does sort of seem like everyone is gone,” he said, as he stopped tapping the boot heel and straightened up.
“Could be,” Glenn said, solemnly. “It really could be, but I don't think so. I think there are probably people right here in Oswego. They're scared, is all. I can't say as I blame them either, they don't know any more about what's going on than we do. Even if they saw us come in, I don't think they're about to come running up to say howdy. I wouldn't,” he paused, before continuing. “If I saw a bunch of people come driving in, I'd probably want to stay away. No police means there is no protection, and they don't know who we are, or even where we came from, or what we want for that matter. I think though, that there are people. Maybe it's just going to take some time before we all get back together. I just can't believe we're it, I guess.”
“I have to agree with you, Glenn,” John said. “If we were to stay here a while, I would bet we would probably see someone. The curiosity would bring them out, I think.”
“I agree,” Joel said. “I was none too keen on approaching you guy's back in Watertown either. I thought about avoiding you, as a matter of fact, just going in the other direction.”
“Glad you didn't, Joel,” Glenn said. The other men nodded agreement as he spoke. "I can see though where a body wouldn't want to. Especially since there was more than a few of us carrying guns, or rifles, at that point. I am glad you did though. I sure as hell wouldn't have wanted to end up with that Brad Saser trying to take charge. He was already pushing it pretty hard. Probably would have shot him myself if he had tried, who in hell knows what a guy like him would do."
“You don't think they'll follow us do you?” Terry asked.
“No telling,” Glenn said, “but I wouldn't doubt it. Guy's like him are all over though, and I suppose we'll run into a few just like him eventually. Not much we can do except to be careful, I guess.”
“Think we'll make Rochester tomorrow?” Dave, asked, as Gina and Jan came walking out of the rest room.
“It's not far, only about another sixty, maybe seventy miles,” John answered, “but I doubt it. We will probably get there tomorrow or the next day sometime, depending on the stalled traffic of course.” He seemed to consider for a second. “Maybe longer. The stalled traffic is even heavier and it might be ten times worse than this once we get closer. I mean they may have also taken to the secondary roads, so there may not be any real way to get there in one straight shot anymore.”
“That's about what I figure,” Glenn chipped in, “at least a few days.”
Haley and Lilly opened the door and walked out, and the small group prepared to make a meal and settle down for the night.
Everyone, at Glenn's suggestion, had changed into sneakers or boots in case they ended up walking. They had taken the time to pick up extra clothes, as well as some more canned goods to replace what they had eaten, and Joel had found some Quick Cold in one of the side aisles.
Quick Cold had only become popular in the last couple of years as a retail item. Before that it had only been used by the medical profession, to transport anything that needed to stay cold, or frozen. Organs for transplant, fresh blood, and countless other things. The plastic bags contained a small stick shaped tube. Joel had filled three large coolers with soda and beer, and tossed in several of the bags after snapping the small cylinder within, to activate the chemical the bags contained. They had instantly frosted up and began to cool the warm cans. A few minutes later they rolled the trucks inside the store and built a fire for the night. Joel took the first shift of guard duty with Scott. Just inside the main entrance.
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