Earth’s Survivors is copyright © 2016 Dell Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
Cover Art © Copyright 2016 Wendell Sweet
Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet
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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 persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
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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.
Joel and Haley
They both stopped short as they topped the small hill at the crest of Main Street, and stared down at the downtown area on the other side of the river.
It appeared to be more of a war zone than a city. The buildings that were still standing leaned crazily to the left or right, and only the tallest seemed to have been, as yet, untouched. Haley wondered aloud at that.
“The taller ones are not that old. Built with federal monies. Earthquake proof…. To an extent: When I was a kid the tallest building was the Baptist church tower.” He pointed to a gray stone spire that reached into the air.
There was a small crowd of people milling around in the center of what had been the Public Square.
“It looks bad to me” Joel said softly. He pointed. “City police building?” He met her eyes with his own. “Gone… There should be thousands of people down there…”
Haley shook her head. “Ought to go down.” She looked up to see what he thought about it.
Tiny people walked aimlessly around the square or stood, seemingly transfixed, by the huge gray spire of rock that capped the State street end of the square. The sight of the people broke the spell. Joel nodded once and they began the walk down the hill.
They stopped and looked over the bridge that crossed the Black River. It seemed fine, almost untouched. It was so strange a sight that Joel laughed.
“What?” Haley asked.
“Doesn’t it seem strange to you? Everything destroyed and the bridge sitting here untouched?” He looked from side to side before he stepped out on the steel decking and began to walk. As they neared the other side they could see that there was a crack that ran from side to side and the road dropped down more than a foot. They leapt easily down.
“That makes me feel better. It just seemed too weird that it had no damage at all.”
Haley nodded and they continued to walk into the downtown area.
The walked up a small rise that had once been the bank of the river just a few hundred years ago, before the dams, mills, and reservoir projects had changed the water flow, Joel thought. The Public Square spread out before them.
“At least there are other people,” Haley said aloud. “Last night when I was sitting there all alone I was wondering whether there were.” She breathed a sigh of relief which was echoed by Joel.
When they reached the first people at the bottom of the hill, they could tell that many of them were in shock. An older woman wandered by completely naked. Blood ran down one calf from an ugly looking wound, and she was covered with dirt and grime. When Joel attempted to talk to her, she tried to hit him with a baseball bat she had been holding at her side.
“Leave me alone, you bastard,” she screamed into his face. And then she had run off towards one of the still standing buildings.
Joel was shaken by the experience and jumped when Haley touched his arm.
“…think,” he caught as he turned around to face her.
“I was saying, I don’t think she knew what she was doing,” Haley repeated. “Hey? Are you okay?”
“Fine,” he answered, in a small voice.
He was still a little shook up when an older man began to approach them, and he found himself wishing he would turn and head in the other direction. He didn’t even recognize him until he was nearly upon them.
“Glenn,” he asked, “is that you?”
Joel had worked for Glenn driving truck at the gravel pit two summers before, when things had slowed down at the mill. Glenn Dove owned the gravel pit, and most considered him a hard guy to work for.
Joel had liked him though. He seemed to be honest; always paid on time, and he always bought Joel a beer when he ran into him. He was forever trying to talk Joel into leaving the mill, and going to work for him full-time. Today he seemed old and tired. Joel supposed he didn’t look much better.
“How are you, Joel,” Glenn asked, “some vacation, huh?”
Joel had run into Glenn just the week before down at the Rusty Nail, and had told him he’d be leaving, but he hadn’t given the vacation a second thought since he’d gotten out of bed this morning.
It seemed odd to think of it now. Wonder what the rest of the world woke up to this morning? He thought. It had only been a short time since he had awakened this morning, but it felt like years had gone by.
“I guess my vacation got canceled,” he said, trying a grin on his face. “Hell, looks like a lot of vacations got canceled,” he continued, as the grin slipped from his face. “Did you see any of this happen, Glenn?”
“No,” he replied solemnly. “I was out at the pit, and I didn’t come into town until this morning. But I saw plenty out there, thank you just the same.”
“As bad as this?” Joel asked, waving his hands at the damage that surrounded them.
Glenn paused and looked around at the destruction.
“Pretty damn bad,” Glenn said, as he shook his head in agreement. “I was moving the trucks down to the loading area, down the bottom there, and the ground started to shake and the shaking threw me right out of the cab. I jumped down and got the hell out of that pit in a quick hurry, let me tell you. Good damn thing I did too, as about ten minutes after I did the bottom just cracked open and she started to fill. Spent the night in the woods and when I walked out this morning the water was up the top of the pit. Never seen nothing like it.” He paused and looked around the small town square. “So I came down here, but I’ve been over to city hall, nobody’s there. The police department, you know,” he gestured helplessly with his hands.
“Gone,” Joel agreed.
“Seen you coming across here and figured to see what you might know,” Glenn finished, nodding.
Joel shook his head. “You can ask Haley,” he said pointing to the young woman beside him, “she saw it on the television last night.”
Glenn looked expectantly towards her.
“Well… not like I know it all, but I was watching the TV last night, and they said…”
Joel turned to stare out at the people who stood nearby in small groups, as Haley spoke to Glenn.
“Shit, don’t that figure,” Glenn exclaimed, when she finished, “So another politician lied to us. All last week they said that meteor would be no problem. Yesterday morning there was some yak attributed to the web about Yellowstone being closed down and already in a bad way and they denied that too,” He swore under his breath. “Figures. Seen any sign of the Guard around, or the Army?”
“We just got down here ourselves,” Joel answered, “but I expect they’ll be here soon, don’t you?”
“That’s right!” Haley exclaimed, “They should be coming, shouldn’t they? I mean, we’re alive, hell of a lot of people are alive, they’ve got to come, right?”
“Maybe,” Glenn said slowly, looking from one to the other, “but it seems as though they should have been here already, doesn’t it? I mean, if they were coming, it ain’t that far to the base… Eight miles? I mean, well, hell, it ain’t a long way for them to come.”
Joel nodded his head. “Well, if they aren’t here by noon… Anybody got a watch?”
Haley nodded and held up one hand so he could see the slim silver dial on her wrist, 9:32 he noted.
“Well, if they ain’t here by noon, I vote we go look for them.”
“Sounds good to me,” Glenn said, as Haley nodded her head in agreement.
They spent the morning wandering between the few remaining buildings and talking to the small groups of people that had formed around the huge church spire in the middle of what was left of the city’s downtown.
Haley found several other people with similar tales of the destruction they had witnessed the through the night. A few had slightly different takes on what had happened. One woman was convinced the end times had come and spent most of an hour trying to convince Haley to repent of her sins and join her. She had been polite and firm as she told her thanks, but no thanks. She had also stuck closer to Joel after that. Joel was disheveled. He probably hadn’t realized he’d forgotten to even comb his hair when he had walked out of his house this morning and witnessed all the destruction. His eyes were a little wild looking. People tended to shy away from him when they saw him.
She sat at the bus stop bench overlooking the square and wondered what had happened to some of the people. Joel sat quietly beside her, lost in his own thoughts.
One woman had stopped by the bench and tried to convince them that flying saucers were to blame, and she actually had several people convinced of it. They formed a small protective group around their leader. Haley supposed that with the way things were this morning, that it wasn’t as far-fetched as it may have been just yesterday. She listened cautiously, courteously, and they both breathed a sigh of relief when she became distracted by a small after shock and then moved on, her group hovering protectively.
“Jesus please us,” Joel said.
“Amen,” Haley agreed.
They had discovered earlier that though none of their cell phones worked, some phone lines were still working. Well, sort of, Haley amended as she thought about it now. You could call out, but all you got was static or a busy signal. There was a bank of old style pay phones in the Arcade Mall. Joel had tried for over twenty minutes, calling every emergency number in the telephone book. He had finally given up about ten minutes ago, and had ambled back over to sit beside her on the bench.
“You still want to go out to the base?” he asked now.
“No.” she replied, as she released a deep sigh. “I really don’t see a reason for it… I mean, if they were there, and everything was up and running, they would be here by now. So I just don’t see a reason for it. We were fooling ourselves to think that they would come. Let’s face it, they’re probably at least in as bad shape as we are.”
Joel, who had been feeling the same, nodded agreement.
“So what do we do then?”
“I don’t know, Joel. I don’t know what we can do.”
The conversation ended, and they once again sat staring out over the square, neither knowing what to say.
Glenn wandered back over from a small group of people he had been talking with, and sat down next to them.
“What did you find out?” Joel asked.
“Well,” Glenn began, “mainly a lot of strange stuff. For instance, you know Lilly Roberts over there?” he pointed at a tall woman, standing with the group he had just left.
Joel and Haley both nodded.
“I know of her,” Joel said, “she ran that little diner out on River Road, didn’t she?”
“Yes,” Haley confirmed, “I worked out there last summer, part-time.”
“Well,” Glenn continued, “she said she was at home with her husband and, well… You guys know him?”
They both nodded their heads to indicate that they did, and Haley said, “Kind of hard not to know him, or at least to know of him.”
Earl Roberts, Lilly’s husband, had established his own church three years before. The local paper had published numerous stories about him, and the church itself. He had obtained his license through a mail order ministry, and the church was based on the book of revelations; specifically on the principal that the planet Earth was in the last years. Jesus was on his way back, and not the easy going Jesus of the New Testament, a darker, angry Jesus.
“He’s the guy who had the church out in Fort Drum, right?” Joel asked.
“The same wacko,” Glenn said. “Well, anyway, they were at home last night, having an argument about that church of his; she says they were awful close to divorcing over it. So they’re arguing and she’s telling him how she doesn’t feel as she knows him anymore, and bang the first quake hits… She says there were three, at least three,” Glenn said and paused.
“Maybe five,” Haley said… “At least I felt five.”
Glenn nodded. “Better number. That’s what I felt, but I didn’t correct her. … So, he just turns away from her and stares at the front door for a few moments and then leaves. She’s chasing him down the street, but he’s making for the river fast… Snapped.”
“There’s plenty more here that have slipped over the edge,” Haley said.
Glenn nodded. “Well, he did just that. Slipped over the edge. Walked right to the river, and starts talking like there’s somebody there. She said at first, she thought maybe he had just gone clean over the edge, you know? A second later he just jumped in. Nothing she could do the water was high, churning. Bad … She never saw him come back up again.”
“Sometimes Happens,” Joel said as Haley nodded her head.
“I’ve heard of that too,” she said.
“Well there’s a couple of others who swear the same sort of thing happened to people they knew. A few others are talking about end times.” Glenn paused and looked out over the lake wringing his hands restlessly in his lap.
“I don’t know,” Glenn continued. “I guess it makes about as much sense to them as anything else.”
“You mean they think it is the end times? That it was real?” Haley asked.
Glenn shook his head. “I ain’t saying I believe it at all,” he replied. “I’m simply telling you we’re going to have to be really goddamn careful who we deal with.” He arched his eyebrows. “Strange winds blowing.”
“Seen it while we sat here. I can’t believe something like this can throw someone that far off. But we’ve heard a few similar things this morning.” Joel said.
“And that was strange stuff while we weren’t seeking it out… Just sitting here minding our own business.” Haley added.
“Well,” Glenn began, “let’s say that this is the beginning of the end of the world. I ain’t saying it is, but for the sake of argument let’s say it is.”
“All right,” Haley replied, “let’s say it is.”
“Well, so let’s say it’s the end of the world. What does that really mean?”
“I can’t say I follow you.” Joel replied calmly. “I think it’s self explanatory, right?”
“That’s about how I feel about it too,” Haley said when Joel had finished speaking.
“You went too deep,” Glenn said, as she finished speaking. He laughed lightly. “I meant, what is the end of the Earth? It’s obviously not the end of the Earth right now or we wouldn’t be here. What it really means to these people, I think.” He raised his hands to gesture at the people milling around everywhere. “Is the end of their way of life. They can’t call a cab. Take the train into New York and see a play, fly to the Bahamas for vacation. That is their end. They can’t see anything past that, and so when that ceases to exist it is the end of everything for them. They snap… Jump in the river… Sit down in the road and wait for God… Or Moses, or Muhammad to show up. The mother ship… I don’t know.” He sighed, leaned forward, cupped his face in his hands and looked out at the devastation. He straightened up, rubbed at the small of his back with both hands. “It’s too soon in my life to be the end of anything. I need some more time. And, anyway, when something ends something else begins.”
Joel was surprised into laughter. “The Mother Ship?”
“Hey, I talked to that lady earlier… She’s pretty much doing just that,” Haley said.
“I don’t know what I believe myself. It’s a question that I never felt a need to answer. I mean, I’ve had a few Bible-thumpers come knocking on my door from time to time. I ain’t mean about it, I just listen politely is all, and when they ask me if I want to be saved, or get to their point, I just pass. I just always figured to each his own, you know? I mean they ain’t hurting me,” Glenn continued, “and if they want to go around knocking on doors, hell, let ’em do it.”
“I just don’t answer the door anymore,” Haley said.
“Me either,” Joel added, and continued. “I kind of got into the habit of looking through the peephole lately anyway, on account of the crime being what it is, and if it’s a Jehovah, or some other Bible people, I just don’t answer the door.”
They all three shook their heads in agreement.
“I’ve done that too,” Glenn said and then went back to his original argument. “But suppose it is their end? Then what?”
“Well,” Joel started, “I suppose that you could have a lot of people just waiting for God… Or maybe even the mother ship. Right?”
Haley just sat quietly, listening to the conversation, as it went back and forth.
“So you would, but,” Glenn continued, “what if there really is a God and a Devil? How does that change things? What if the people that believed in God were taken up?”
“I’ve thought of that,” Joel said, “I guess probably it was the first thing that jumped into my head this morning. It seems pretty far-fetched to me. I mean… Would God have a need to be this dramatic? And doesn’t God just do things and then, I don’t know, after ten thousand years or so the people fall in line and things are okay again?”
“Yes… God is not known to be really easy on his believers.,” Glenn agreed.
Joel continued. “Take Joanne Hamilton over there for instance,” he said as he waved his hand at a group of people. “I worked with her husband down at the mill, and he’s one of the meanest bastards I ever knew. Everybody knows he used to beat the shit out of her, and there was that business a few years back where he got himself caught with a young girl out on Jefferson Road, parked to the side there where the kids hang out. That kind of blows their theory doesn’t it? I mean if there was ever a meaner son-of-a-bitch I don’t know him, and I can’t see what good side there could be to him, do you?”
Glenn seemed to think a second before he shook his head. “I don’t see anything good about him either,” he stated flatly. “I knew him myself, and I couldn’t stand him, but hear me out a second, Joel.”
Joel nodded his head, and Haley leaned closer to Glenn to listen.
“I think those people are dead as dead. Swallowed up by the Earth, drowned in the rivers. They’re gone and that’s that. But what about these others? All I’m saying is, it doesn’t matter to us whether we don’t think that’s what happened, it only matters that they think that’s what happened.”
“Then I guess they try to bring us into their psychosis,” Joel said. He looked around at the crowd.
“But that doesn’t make it so,” Haley said.
Glenn Laughed wryly. “I wasn’t looking for truth,” he said softly, “I’m just trying to make sure I live… Both of you too. We have got to be careful with some of these. I have been in war, seen how easy it is for people to turn into primitives just like that.” He snapped his fingers. “I say, we need to think about leaving here. It’s only going to get worse.”
Joel turned from looking over the crowd and nodded. “Makes sense. You have a long way of getting to the point, Glenn, but logical… Thought out.”
“I spent a whole six months in college before I had to leave to help my mother run the gravel pit after my dad died,” Glenn continued. “This makes me wish I’d spent a little longer. Maybe I’d know more about it. Whatever it is though, it’s natural. Something that just happens. I don’t want to get tangled up in someones ideal.” He paused and then began to speak once again, changing the subject slightly.
“The other thing that’s been bothering me is something we can all agree on.”
“What’s that,” Joel asked.
Haley answered the question for him.
“I think I know,” she said, “it’s the Earthquakes. I mean if we really were hit by that meteor, shouldn’t we all be dead by now? What I mean is, when I was outside last night, I didn’t see any fall out, but I did feel the earth shaking, it felt like an earthquake too, a big one, but that couldn’t have been the Yellowstone one, that’s, what, a few thousand miles away anyway, we wouldn’t have felt it like that, would we? And still have aftershocks?”
She stopped and drew a deep breath inward and then continued.
“The television said that the meteor was sighted inbound, and I could have sworn that, for just a few seconds, there seemed to be a huge glow from the west in the sky. I remember thinking it was where it landed, but when I looked again it was gone. If it was though, why are we still alive?”
“That wasn’t my exact concern,” Glenn said, “but it runs along the same lines. I felt the shaking too, and it felt more like a heavy thuds the first couple of times I felt it, something close… Not far away.”
“…I’ll tell you what though, I was talking to Jasper Morrison, he fishes Lake Ontario for a living, you know, and he was just docking when it started. He had a pretty good view from there, out across the lake, I mean, and he said he could clearly see a white streak running across the western edge of the sky. He said he was expecting to see a mushroom cloud or something, but the sky glowed for a split-second or two, then the glow just disappeared. But a mans line of sight is only about 3 miles or so, after that the curve of the Earth drops off. So you are looking at something fairly close, or further away but high up in the air.”
“He also felt the ground shaking after the hit,” Glenn continued. “But that’s not hard to explain. You may not know this, but there is a fault line that runs all across the Great Lakes basin. Ontario included. The fault line runs all the way across the continent to the gulf coast. Could be that the impact did trigger some sort of earthquake. My point though, is that if that meteor did hit in the west, close enough for Jasper to see, we should be dead.”
“Joel was telling me about the fault,” Haley said.
“What else did he say?” Joel asked.
Haley nodded her head slightly as if to voice the question herself.
“Well, like I said, he had just brought the boat into the dock and tied it off. That ain’t a little boat, I’ve seen it, forty-five-footer, and the water where he ties it off is damn deep too. Well,” he continued. “He tied it off, and he’s standing there and the waves are starting to really build so he hot foots it off the dock. Just as he gets off the whole damn thing just sinks. It took his boat and a couple others with it too. That ain’t the end though. As he’s standing there, this is the weird part, the lake just drops about five feet, real fast. He knows that lake, and it could be, if that fault line opened up, it could have dropped. If so I’ll bet we have one hell of a new river running from here down to the Gulf a Mexico, or at least one hell of a lot of damage.”
“Jesus,” Joel whistled softly.
“I don’t know… Food for thought though,” Glenn concluded and leaned back into the bench.
Joel recalled the dream of the night before and quickly related it to Haley and Glenn. When he finished, Glenn turned to Haley.
“Did you see anything? Maybe dream about anything?”
“No,” she replied, “nothing at all, except for what I told you. But I was up all night after it happened”
“I haven’t had any myself,” Glenn said quietly, “Of course; I was awake all night too in the woods.”
All three sat back into the bench and stared out over the square, lost in thought.
“So what does it all mean?” Joel asked to no one in particular, as he continued to stare at the lake.
“I wish the hell I knew,” Haley said, as she turned her gaze away from the Square and back to the two men on the bench beside her.
Besides a few guy’s from the mill that he would have an occasional drink with, or maybe shoot a game of pool with, Joel was a loner, and he had never married. It was not something he had chosen to be, it was just the way the world was. You really couldn’t trust people, he thought, you could never really know what they were like. It was a thing that had bothered him for as long as he could remember.
He had known men who seemed to be perfect fathers and husbands, but when they were at the bar, and the kids were home with the wife, they were completely different. It was something he had always hated, and something he had constantly fought with whenever he had noticed the same sort of inconsistencies in himself. It was a battle though that he had always won, and would continue to fight. It was one of the main things that had decided him against religion when he was a kid, that and his father.
His father had been a strict Catholic, and had fought with Joel’s mother to get her to agree to let him take Joel to attend the local Catholic Church. Joel had hated it. His father, who was normally drunken, or at least drinking, would sit calmly through mass with all his other drinking buddies every Sunday, then when he got home it was, “Bring me a fucking cold one, woman.”
He had actually been glad when his father had died, he had never said it aloud, but he had been. He had only wished he had died a lot sooner so that his mother could have had more than the one year she had lived past him, to enjoy life. He pulled his mind reluctantly back to the conversation, when he heard Glenn speak his name.
“Sorry,” he said. “I was just thinking.”
“That’s okay,” Glenn smiled, “we all are.”
Glenn continued. “What I think is that the world has changed… That simple. We just need to get on with this different life. I know that’s over simplistic, but it beats staying around here waiting for the mother ship to show up. What I was wondering is what you’re going to do. Hell, what all of us are going to do now?” He paused as most of the silent crowd that had gravitated to them turned their eyes towards him.
“Maybe it’s time to sacrifice an animal… Pray,” an older woman in the crowd said.
Glenn continued when no one else answered. “I don’t think, or maybe I’m just not convinced,” he offered the woman who had just been speaking a small smile, and then continued, “That praying, or a sacrifice, will do us much good. Maybe what we should be doing is trying to figure out what we should be doing. Catch my drift? We can’t just stay here and wait for someone to come, it ain’t going to happen, and I think we can all agree on that.” He looked around at the faces that surrounded him, and stopped at Joel’s.
“Did any of you notice the temperature?” Glenn asked.
Several people looked expectantly to one corner of the Public Square, where the Watertown Trust Bank had sat with its digital clock, which alternately flashed the time and temperature. They turned quickly back when they realized it was no longer there.
Many of them had noticed the difference in temperature though. Northern New York, even in the summer months, rarely reached the high seventies, low eighties, on the hottest days. The surrounding air was much hotter and humid.
They looked back at Glenn.
“Haley and I noticed it this morning,” Joel said.
“I picked this up when I went in Samson’s Five and Dime earlier,” Glenn said, holding up a small plastic thermometer. The red line on the thermometer hovered just short of one hundred degrees.
As he looked at the thermometer, Joel recalled how warm it had seemed this morning. When he had first opened the front door he had felt it, but then forgotten it as he had gazed out into the street. As he looked around now he noticed that several people in the small crowd were sweating profusely. In fact, he realized, he was sweating a great deal himself.
“Anyway, my point is this,” Glenn said as he began to speak again, “there may be something to that earthquake theory some of you have been kicking around. It could be that the fault line may have been triggered,” Glenn was saying. “If it was, we really ought to be thinking about finding a safer place to be. I remember reading about that fault line, and it seems to me the book I read, said that if the fault were somehow triggered, it could, and probably would, crack the entire Great Lakes Basin. That means that Ontario, along with all the other lakes in the chain, probably would drop. At least a small amount at first, but after they recover from the initial drop, they’re probably going to rise… They’re probably going to rise, a lot. I don’t know what most of you know about this city, but I’ll tell you what I know. Got it from the same book,” he paused. “…It’s built on pretty low ground. Now… that river,” he said indicating the bridge that spanned the Black river on the opposite side of the Public Square, “has surely been rising.”
With that the discussion went back to where they should go, and what they should do once they got there.
“You’re right,” Joel said at last, “We do need to make some decisions,” he paused for a moment and then continued. “When was the last time anyone here ate? I know that sounds a little stupid at a time like this, but if we’re going anywhere we should also think about food, and in this heat dehydration could become a factor as well, couldn’t it, Glenn?” he finished, looking toward him.
“I should have thought of that myself,” Glenn said, “how many of us are there?”
Haley quickly counted heads and replied. “Twenty-seven, Glenn.”
Glenn nodded his head. “Okay… Let’s do this. We do have to eat, so let’s head up Maple Street to Jacobs Superette, get something to eat, and finish this discussion there.”
Everyone agreed, and the small group left the public square and walked the three blocks to Jacob’s Superette in a light rain that had begun to fall.
Joel, Haley, Glenn and several others were standing by the rear doors that led to the stockroom in Jacob’s Superette.
They had been discussing where they should go. A few others from the small group, were there with them.
Joel looked around at them as the conversation went back and forth. They seemed solid enough. Terry Jacobs who had worked for Glenn, Amber Johnson who was married to a GI from the base who was now stationed overseas, and Scott Vincent, a carpenter working on one of the many housing developments in the area. There were others but many of those others that had followed them to Jacobs Superette did not really seem to be doing anything other than following. The ones that had gathered at the back of the store seemed to be on the same page, leaving Watertown.
Ed Weston and Dave Jackson had joined the small group earlier. Ed had worked for Glenn at the gravel pit for over ten years. He was tall with dirty-blonde hair and a slim muscular build, and Joel liked him. He’d grown up right here in Watertown on Fig Street, down by Jackson’s Lumber. A piss poor family, but Ed himself was a damn good man. He seemed a little rattled today, but weren’t they all? He was a hard worker and would be an asset to the group if he chose to come along.
Glenn and Haley both knew Dave. He owned one of the local lumber mills: A small family mill. He had also driven truck for Glenn once or twice when things were slow. Joel had never met him, but he had seen him around: Watertown was a small city. Neither of the men had voiced their opinions, but had been standing quietly as the other three had talked. Dave was younger than Ed, but just as tall, and his dark black hair was tied in a small ponytail that hung down his back.
The conversation at the market never really got going. The crowd that followed had spread out into the store, taking what they wanted to eat and then split up into smaller groups, discussing their own plans. A few had congregated near the beer coolers. That discussion was sometimes heated, and more than once Joel had caught some nasty looks directed at them from that crowd.
“I guess not everyone is on the same page,” Joel said now.
“It was a good idea,” Glenn said. “You can’t make people see a good idea. Look at cigarettes. People knew for years what they were doing to them and they still smoked. Some of these people haven’t hit the wall yet. They still believe the system will save them.”
“Yeah, except there is no system,” Scott said.
“Listen,” Joel started. He paused until they were all looking at him, not sure if he really wanted to proceed. “Might sound stupid,” he said after a few moments of silence.
“I don’t think anything would sound stupid right now… We’re trying to figure this out,” Haley said.
Joel frowned. “Okay.” He frowned deeply, and then nodded decisively. “So it’s this. I was leaving this morning for the Southern Tier. I’m thinking, the truck is all packed, what are we,” he paused and counted heads, “Eight? I have enough food packed to keep us all fed for a few days… We could head out to the Tug Hill Plateau. Close by. We could pick up some stuff here to take with us too…” He paused again, but no one spoke. “I say let’s get another truck or two and get away from the city for a few days. Maybe the Tug Hill Plateau wouldn’t be a bad place to be right now. Let things calm down, especially the hot heads.” He paused, his face grim. “We can come back in a few days… Maybe the Guard will be here by then, maybe not, but it would give us a few days to think this out, if it… Well, if it really is as bad as it seems to be…” He looked from face to face as he stopped speaking.
“Smart,” Scott said.
“Probably for the best,” Glenn agreed. He had all been listening to the nearby conversations, some loud and argumentative, and the beer cooler was emptying quickly: That certainly wasn’t going to help the problem.
“Yeah… These guys seem bent on getting drunk and figuring it all out,” Amber said.
“I’ve seen that sort of thinking before,” Haley agreed. “I vote go.”
“I’m on that,” Scott agreed.
Dave Jackson and Ed Weston agreed.
“I make that all eight?” Joel asked.
“Only, let’s get some trucks and get what we need here before we go. This place is going to get picked over fast,” Haley said.
“Who do you want to go with you?” Joel asked.
“I’m open,” Haley replied.
“I’ll go,” Amber said.
“Me too,” Scott added.
“That’s enough… I guess we’ll get stuff ready here… Wait on you,” Joel said. He held Haley’s eyes until she nodded. A second later she and the others left and the rest of them began to put together some bags of supplies.
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