Friday, May 20, 2011

2014: Full Version (Chapters I-XVII Edited)

Written and owned by Greg Miller 2011
2014: The Way the World Ends: 

This is a story about the end of times. The reader is about to embark on a wonderful journey into a post apocalyptic world. Eight Americans are forced to learn what it means to survive when our current way of life comes to an end. Solar flares, earthquakes and Tsunami are the ingredients of this natural disaster. The story parallels atrocities currently happening in cities in Japan, Chile, Haiti and New Zealand in 2010-2011. Join eight Americans as they survival while never forgetting what it means to be American. Is America truly ready for an epic natural disaster?

This is a story about the end of times.  There are multiple threads and stories within each of us.  Each time we use our free will to make a decision, we start a chain of events which is a story.  These events can be fantasized through the imagination which is a stories gateway.  Let us take a journey.

Many people believed the end of the world was coming in 2012 but it never came.  Don't get me wrong, there were earthquakes and life was hard for some.  But for others, life was no different than any other time.  People watched as third world countries such as Haiti and Ghana were destroyed, but it still wasn't in our backyard.  People have a tendency to not care if it is directly not affecting them.  The world paused when Venezuela and its oil fields disappeared in one multiple mudslides, but it didn’t affect much outside of increased gas prices.

The end of the world did not come with a bang.  Instead it came painfully slow as humanity watched cities fall one by one.  Not through war or genocide.  Nor was it biological or chemical.  Those who believed that population growth would deplete our resources were wrong.  Aliens never came from the sky or from the ocean.  Strangely, global warming might have had something to do with it.  You see, in the end what takes out the world is nature.

Many cultures and people since the dawn of time believe the earth gives us what we need.  But what happens when the world decides it no longer needs or wants us?  Or maybe a clearer question would be what happens to us when the world readjusts just as all places eventually do?  Furthermore, how will people react and is it possible for humanity to rebuild?

These questions came and went during 2012.  They were played out through movies, cable television channels and books.  I recall many times going to the local grocery store to hear and see people discuss supplies and resources in either hushed or jokingly voices.  Entire communities in the heartland of America emerged like mini fortresses that held militia ideologies.  Many spiritual extremists took their own lives and the lives of those around them.  Tensions created more tragedies such as school and factory shootings.  The world continued to experience racial and religious turmoil but this did not attribute to the mass floods and solar flares.

Two years before in 2010, the world watched many changes that would prelude the natural disasters to come.  Chile and Peru had earthquakes which knocked out entire cities; Japan and China started to experiences massive volcano activity that disrupted telecommunications. Europe experienced massive blackouts as the ash from Iceland's volcano stopped air travel for weeks and stranded thousands.  But for majority of us, life was no different.  These events did not pertain to us, for our minds could not fathom the depth of the situation unless it was happening to us.  Others took it as signs of revelations and the end.

2011 ushered billions of dollars in lost telecommunications around the world.  With this came more civil unrest.  The world watched as the Middle East was reformed as dictator after dictator was over thrown.  Environmentalists and scientists warned of issues concerning solar flares which we later found out created the big flood.  In the beginning the solar flares were light.  They started as mellow bursts that gave the earth’s atmosphere breathtaking auras but due to depleted resources in our ozone the earth began to experience what some would refer to as nature shifts.  To put it simply, solar flares started a chain of events that led to a change in our polarization.

In America we were having our own problems.  Current issues during 2011 were about New Orleans and the oil spill in the gulf.  Media and fanatics kept on talking about the end of the world in 2012 but others were quick to point out that they have been doing this since as early as people could remember and to put it simple, most Americans did not care.  Many remembered the Y2K scare and did not want to repeat it.  There were enough problems in the real world.  For most, dogmatic questions are not wanted.  Real issues are how to get to work on time, what’s for dinner, or what should I wear when I go out tonight.  All of this changed by 2014.

2011 saw some events that made the world think the end of days were coming.  February ushered in New Zealand and Australia having earthquakes and floods that literally reshaped their landscapes.  Each time these natural disasters occurred people would band together and communities showed their best.  People worked together and rebuilt what was broken.  The problem came from the fact that the earthquakes and natural disasters did not stop.  Instead, a place would get an earthquake and as soon as the people would rebuild another earthquake would follow.  Scientists said that it was all part of the original earthquake and everything that followed was aftershocks.  These aftershocks assured the destruction of some cities.  As soon as one country would send aid another country would get hit within weeks.  By the end of 2011 the world experienced a dozen countries that lost people and cities.  Many feared that Peninsulas were not safe to live on but most people decided to stay still and be tough.   In the beginning, coastal cities such as San Francisco and islands such as New Zealand and Japan got hit.  These disasters did not make many people fear for they were expected. 

So what does one do if the end of the world doesn't come in 2012?  We did NOTHING. In 2013 I moved to Washington DC with my wife, April.  We decided to put fears of the end of the world into their proper place and carried on with our lives.  I have a Masters degree in Public Administration and my wife is an illustrator.  Naturally, a city like Washington D.C. has much potential so we decided this was the place to start our new lives.  We have a 17 year old son and we came from the great Upper Peninsula in Michigan.  The UP is in the middle of the woods and has a strong Finnish culture.  We are tough and survive 4-5 months of winter a year.  I am a scholar and we are an educated couple.  On the other hand we lack more practical hands on skills and are clueless on how to survive off of the land.  My life centers around the computer and television screen.  Instead of living in the practical world I prefer to live in the abstract world.  My favorite place is not a bar but the library.  I prefer to have friends that are gamers then who are jocks.  My parents are professors and dinner conservations pertain to Shakespeare, quantum physics and religion.  My wife also lives in the abstract world.  She prefers to zone out in front of a canvas for the day and she is dualistic with talent.  She knows how to both paint and how to illustrate on the computer.  Every six months we travel around the world for three months.  This is our life and it is good.  At 31 years old I graduated and it was time to look for employment.  A few years ago I was an intern at the Library of Congress in D.C.  It made perfect sense to start my career there.  We never knew what was coming.  For that matter, no one knew what was coming.  We all thought that the danger had passed with 2012.

This is my story.

This is how the world ends.

Chapter I: First Day


The alarm clock gives a soft buzz as I drift in a dream.  I am in a house eating dinner with my wife.  She smells of lavender and her gentle eyes tear up as she talks about her son's recent love life.  She is 5’6; her dark eyes and hair remind me of the dew on grass at predawn in the summer.

I put my fork down as I listen to her.

"Mike! Do you understand what I’m saying?"  She tosses her silverware on the plate.
"Our son, Sam, refuses to get on the air plane!  He wants to stay one extra week to be with his boyfriend.  Why can't he ever care about what I want?"  She huffs and puffs as she jumps up and storms into the kitchen.  Dishes and pans rattle as she takes out her frustration on them.

I have a step son who is 17 years old.  His name is Sam and he is gay.  Deep down I believe its each person’s personal decision to be what they want to be but I worry that he isn’t mature enough to make such a decision. It seems such an adult thing.  I understand what my wife is feeling and decide to remain quiet.  It's hard to articulate the pain a child inflicts as they move toward leaving the nest.

I zone out her angry mutterings with some world news.  Remembering what a political science professor once said, "CNN is so damn censored it's referred to as Communist News Network by some," I laugh as I settle on CNN World News.  Stories of global warming and unrest in Israel and Egypt take my mind off my wife.  A most interesting segment catches my attention.  A star in the sky is burning out and is going to create two weeks of extra light.  Apparently by burning out, the star is going to create a black hole and burn bright for two weeks.  The reporter jokingly concludes that perhaps we are living at the end of times and shows a few clips of millions of people gathering in spiritual places around the world.  The phone rings and April drops whatever dish she is holding.

"I bet you its Sam."  She quickly shuffles back into the living room and picks up her cell phone.  I paused as two things simultaneously occur.  The first was on the flat screen TV, an emergency warning popped on screen and said to stay tuned.  The second was her phone.  It wasn't the regular phone she used, but instead it was old cell phone she threw out back in 2012.  My mom gave her that phone when she thought that solar flares were going to wipe out everyone.  This didn't make sense.  I then realize something else as my blood chills.  The living room I was in is from 2012 and we were back in Michigan.  This was 2014 and I lived and worked in Washington D.C.!

My wife starts to screech, "Oh my God, Sam! What's happening?"  Color drains from her face as she instantly looks thirty years older.  She looks me deep in the eyes and real tears come to her as her expression goes frantic.  She is about to tell me something.  Instead all I hear is a buzz.  It’s distant but persistent.  My awareness pulls as I feel myself lift up.  My spirit loses touch with the dream as I open my eyes.  My wife murmurs in her sleep "Turn that damn alarm off!"

Chapter II: Early Bird Catches the Worm

Its 2014 and I am home.  What a fucked up dream.  I try to remember it but it eludes me.  Deep down I feel I missed something vital but I can't place it.   It’s a fine Tuesday morning in September.  The alarm clock shows 7:15 A.M.  I have to get ready for work.  I file the dream away as a nightmare.

Light streams into the bathroom as I open the curtain and window; the sun feels warmer than usual but isn’t that to be expected with global warming?  Even though I am in our nation’s capital, I find myself sometimes missing nature and woods.  I want to feel a clean breeze; instead I am greeted with a police siren and cars honking.  Balancing with these disturbances is shaky so I shut the window.  I quickly feed our two cats.

I live in a spacious apartment in a tall building in Bethesda, Maryland.  It’s a three bedroom apartment and has a very large living room.  I turn on the news and make my wife a pot of coffee.  My mind drifts to the project of the day as I shrug off the last of the nightmare.  Usually my wife doesn’t wake up with me.  She is an illustrator and painter and works from home.

Today is different though.  My supervisor has decided it’s time for me to assist in my first public function.  He needs me to meet a journalist for CNN.  The Library of Congress is working in junction with the Smithsonian to reward a few people for their endeavors regarding education and peace.  One of the guests of honor is the vice president’s daughter.  I need to be there by 10:30 A.M.  I have one hour to get ready, I jump into the shower with excitement.

It takes one hour to travel the red line on the metro to get downtown so I have to make sure I don’t miss the 8:30 if we want to eat breakfast.  For the past six months I have worked at the Library of Congress.  As the assistant to the director I enjoy a very nice office in the ancient manuscript division within the Jefferson building.  There are three main buildings at the Library of Congress and countless workers that assist in the library’s primary function of helping both the private sector and public with knowledge.  I often consider the Library of Congress a modern day Library of Alexandria, lost so long ago to Roman destruction.  Thomas Jefferson donated his personal library after the British sacked the capital back in the day which started our modern library.  My wife loves the Jefferson building because congress used local artists and craftsman to build the magnificent structure.

I hear a rustle behind me as my wife plops down in front of the television set.  She sighs in satisfaction as she sips the Costa Rican coffee, “Mike, what exactly do we have to do today?”  This is a loaded question for she already knows it’s a special day.

I quickly respond with excitement, “We are to be at the capitol building across from the library at 11:30.  We are going to meet a whole bunch of important people!”  I’m very excited for the vice president’s daughter is to give an award to a few writers.  I worked long hours to make this happen.  This is going to be the first time my work blurred with a public function.

Sleep ebbs from April’s expression as she lovingly comments, “You deserve this today!  Who knows, maybe you will get a promotion or something!”  She looks at the television set and quietly murmurs, “I’m going to check my e-mail.  How long until we have to leave?  After the thingy we are doing for you we have to be at the airport at 2 P.M. to pick up Sam.” 

She leaves the living room and I turn on CNN.  In the back of my mind I get an impression of déjà-vu but I quickly write it off as anxiety.  I hear her call out, “Mike, make sure you take your blood pressure medication.  With events like today you don’t want to find yourself getting a stroke.”

I quickly get up and walk to the bathroom.  While listening to my wife’s’ advice I notice I only have one week of medication left.  I dryly comment, “Can you remind me to get my medications refilled at the end of the week?  I’m running low.  I also have to get some pain killers for my back” I take the blood pressure pill and wait patiently for my wife to finish up.  Sadly I have high blood pressure and have to take pain medications for my spine.  I have degenerative disk disease which makes moving around a little harder then it ought to be.

We still have 30 minutes before we have to go so I decide to go watch more news.  An interesting segment comes on CNN that is airing about earthquakes in the Pacific and Japan when all of a sudden I hear a gasp and crash.  For the second time I feel déjà-vu.

My wife storms in the living room, her expression completely changed. A half a broken coffee mug is in her left hand and coffee is dripping down her shirt and hand.  My wife has a glass face which makes it very easy to follow her emotions.

“Sam sent me an e-mail!” She rages, “He’s staying in Michigan for an extra week to be with his boyfriend and did not get on the plane!”  Her anger turns to ache as she cries.

“Damn, why is he doing this?” I respond. I instantly fear this is going to affect the day in a bad way.  Instead of saying the right thing I blurt, “What about the airplane ticket?”  I instantly regret this as April cries harder.

After a minute she gathers herself, “I don’t care about the money, anyways he said his boyfriend's dad will cover it.  I guess they have a concert they want to go to in Wisconsin.” I am reminded how much I love my wife as she pulls herself together.  April prides herself in being stoic, a Finnish trait of being strong and rolling with the punches.  My wife often jokes that I am a whiny German.

April looks at the coffee spill and curses, “I dropped my mug and have to clean it up.  It looks like we won’t have to go to the airport today.  I will be ready in 15 minutes; can we eat breakfast at Burger King?”  She gets up and kisses me on the forehead with a resigned sigh.

Chapter III: Metro

Washington D.C. has a very pleasant public transportation system called the Metro.  The metro has five train lines which are represented by colors.  We live on the red line, three stops from the end and have to cross two states to get downtown.  It roughly takes one hour.  I have to change trains once.  The Library of Congress is located on the blue and orange line, on the corner of First and Independence Street.  I often hear amazing stories from people before and after work on the train.  There is no reason to take our car unless we want to get stuck in rush hour.

The metro station is only eight minutes away from the apartment complex.  On the way we pass a small store and two ponds with many ducks and a few trees.  If the season is right there are sometimes migrating birds and frogs.

We briskly make our way down to the metro and hop on the train.  My wife buys a newspaper.  There are two basics that have to be mastered if you want to be successful is our nation’s capital.  The first one is obvious; networking is the life blood of any career orientated individual.  And the second, of course, is always stay informed. 

I chuckle as she instantly flip pages to the cartoon section, “April, I swear you would live your whole life in a drawing if you could.”  My wife looks more professional today than artist though.  She is wearing a dress suit and her hair is neatly drawn back, sable strands vibrant in the sunlight. The sun is warm on my shoulders as we pass a clearing before going back underground.  The train is making good time.  After 9 AM the crowd thins out because everyone is either at work or at school.  Two grandma’s chatter like chipmunks about their grandchildren a few seats down.  Near them is a homeless man who smells of piss and alcohol.  Across the aisle two teenagers flaunt matching world of war craft t-shirts.

Maybe they are going to a nerd convention, or a “nerding” event as my son would say.

Looking up I see two advertisements, the first is an air force pilot who is promoting the US military, to the right is second picture of a woman sneezing into her sleeve, followed by her washing her hands for preparation of not getting or spreading the flu.

After a few minutes my wife gives a slight laugh and finishes the comics, “Do you want this?”  I answer no.  One of the geeky teens pipes up that he loves cartoons so my wife gives him that section of the newspaper.

She gives a slight gasp when she starts to read the international news, “Michael, did you know Japan is still in a recession after they lost their nuclear plants?”  I shake my head as she continues to narrate the news article,

“Apparently over 600 people got radiation sickness since the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, they finally plan on helping the families that lost people.  Over 20,000 died.”  I feel sad for them but at the same time I am happy that natural disasters such as that one missed America.  We did have a few disasters in the last few years, but not like other nations. The biggest surprise, which wasn’t a surprise, was when the earthquake hit San Francisco and Los Angeles in July 2012.  Unlike Japan who only had a thirty minute warning, we had ample warning and there were minimum causalities.  We did however lose a third of the city when it gradually started to slide into the sea.  Government forced an evacuation and only the fanatics, the sick, and the old stayed.  There was no tsunami.  Much of California’s population migrated to Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Seattle.

I ask my wife, “Anything new happening in the world?”  After a few minutes of reiterating things I knew she finds something of interest.

“Yes, do you know what happened to China?”  I briefly recall that in 2012 they had a crisis.  An earthquake did some unexpected havoc in the western part of the country. 

April continues, “The disaster relief department of China's Civil Affairs Ministry says they were unprepared for the earthquake that occurred late in 2012!  It’s been one year and they finally released the reports.”  I perk up; information like this could really impress my coworkers if they didn’t read the paper this morning.

April continues, “The Chinese ministry finally admits that city planning happened too quickly.  A few city officials knew they were building in geological unsafe places.”

I quickly insert, “They should not have been greedy to outdo the world economically.  China could have been content when Japan got hit by the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor incident in 2011.  Instead they invested billions of dollars to enhance their economy and built entire cities on fault lines.  Caution was discarded.”

November of 2012 saw an end to China’s economic expansion.  Multiple earthquakes started in the Wenchuan, Sichuan Province.  The land split and streams became rivers and lakes.  Within 6 hours over 75,000 died and millions became refuges.  To make matters worse, aftershocks destroyed many of the countries dams and nuclear plants.  Another half a million died due to floods in the eastern China when the land liquidized.

April concludes, “The Chinese government shot and executed top officials who built the region.  They say the reason the cities were built at those locations had something to do with political corruption.”  I notice we are nearing our stop at Union Station.

“That’s cool honey, you ready for brunch at Burger King?  Good thing we don’t live in China.  Could you imagine our government shooting our own people because of a natural disaster?”  My mind starts to go back to the day ahead of me. 

I start shaking with excitement as we walk pass the liberty bell at the entrance of the metro station.  There is a homeless person who has a blue plastic beer cup in front of him.  There is a sign on his chest made out of card board.  I pause for a second and read his message, ‘The world ends today’, I toss a few dollars into his cup and mutter, “Today is just as good as any other day to die.” The rest of the crowd and my wife walk by without noticing.

Chapter IV: Burger King and the Last Supper

I tell April, “I don’t feel like Burger King.” There are over half a dozen homeless people sleeping in booths.  Half wrapped sandwiches give testimony that they once ordered food.

“I don’t suppose we could eat at McDonald’s, you know, Mac and Donald’s fine supper club?” She rolls her eyes and doesn’t bother to respond.  I shrug off my discomfort and ask her to order me two double cheeseburgers without onions and pickles.

The fast food establishment is packed with people.  There are no clean or open seats.  There is however one table that has only one individual eating by himself.  He is a middle aged white man wearing a blue flannel shirt and stained blue jeans.  A pro bass fishing hat fits loosely on his poorly combed hair.

“Pardon me, there isn’t any tables open.  Do you mind if we sit here?”  He looks up and blinks a few times; it’s obvious he isn’t a morning person.

He waves absently at the open seats.  Not knowing what to say I mutter, “My name is Mike.” He doesn’t seem interested. 

He continues to eat his burger and simply says, “Fred.”

I should have been quiet but sometimes I don’t know when to stop talking.  I look down at my watch and notice that I only had 15 minutes to eat.  The capital building is 5 blocks away and will take me roughly 8 minutes to walk.

“What do you do Fred?”

My wife comes to the table and gives me two cheeseburgers.  She doesn’t acknowledge Fred outside of a nod and makes a few noises of pleasure as she chows down her chicken sandwich.  I notice my cheeseburger has onions on it, instead of throwing it away I try to pick off the onions with a plastic fork.  There is a long line at the cashier which makes it pointless to try to fix it.

Fred rolls his eyes as he watches me pick off the onions, “I’m a machinist for Crown Cork and Seal.”  He doesn’t say anything more.

After a few seconds I ask, “Sorry, I don’t know who they are?”

It is obvious he doesn’t like conversing and I regret picking this table, “Does it matter?” 

He pauses, after eating a few fries he continues, “Sorry, I’m having a bad week.  I work for Coca Cola in Minnesota.  I fix machines at a factory.  If you don’t mind I have to be leaving because I have to help set up a stage.  I’m supposed to be on vacation but my son volunteered me to help with some big event.  I’m going to be late.”  He gets up and quickly leaves, half his food is still on the tray.

I look at my wife and dryly comment, “I don’t think he liked me.”  She happily continues to eat and shrugs.

Looking down at my two cheeseburgers, I feel queasy and anxious, my stomach starts to turn and I can’t finish eating.  A homeless guy picks the scraps off of Fred’s tray.  The staff at Burger King doesn’t care.  Instead of feeling disgusted I give a different homeless person who is a Vietnam vet my second cheeseburger that is loaded with onions.

My wife quizzically mentions, “You are going to get hungry before lunch!  Sorry they didn’t get the order right.”

Looking over my shoulder I whine and half jokingly answer, “Maybe I will eat at Mc Donald’s when we are done; they are cleaner and know how to make a burger!” The homeless war vet thanks me as we leave.  He immediately eats the sandwich in three bites. I briefly wonder if karma will ever pay me back for helping people like that.

Chapter V: The Players of DC

It is not far to our destination.   After Union station we have to walk five blocks.  All we have to do is stay on First Street.  Along the way is Senate State Park where if you’re lucky you can sometimes see a congressman or senator eating lunch.  Corridors of majestic buildings come and go us as we make our way to the Capital building.  Each Marble and granite block gives testament to America’s power and prestige. 

Pedestrians span from workers in business suits to groups of Asians who are obviously on vacation.  I try to pass one Asian group of teenagers but find myself walking behind them.  There are roughly twenty teenagers dressed identically in blue uniforms and taking a lot of pictures. They don’t say much but they seem to be on the same page.   The group maneuvers the street like a snake slithering smoothly through jungle.   They have little white masks on to keep germs out and on their backs are three foot rods with red flags at the end.

No chance of stragglers from that group. 

“Now there’s something you seldom see around this town,” I comment to my wife as I nod toward the Asian students, “A group consciousness.  Americans are way too independent for something like that.”

We pass The Hart Senate Office building and the Russell Senate House Building.  The next street is Constitution Avenue NE.    There are road barriers built on every street.  Heavy metal machines lift up from the ground, painted with streaks of red and white.  On each corner are guard posts but I rarely see them manned.  During high level political functions it is common to see military snipers on the roofs and special cops units with super dogs.

This doesn’t stop the poor from smoking marijuana in the open, nor does it hamper vacationers with cameras.  Today is not a high risk day so there are no snipers.  There are a lot of cops but this is normal.  A few Vietnam vets wander and beg.

As we pass the Supreme Court Building I get excited and quicken my pace.  I see a couple of my coworkers sipping coffee on the front steps of the Supreme Court.  Nearby are a few reporters, they have a hawkish air to them as they patiently wait for the next big story.

I yell out, “Are we ready, and is anyone at the Capital building?”  Mark and Irina look up as we approach.  I see Irina blush as Mark leans over slightly to whisper something in her ear.  Mark is the treasurer of our office; he is a medium black fellow with dark close cropped hair and a proud D.C. native.  Always dressed impeccably, Mark’s perfectionist tendencies extend far beyond financial expertise.

“Hello Mike and April, nice to see you show.”  Mark then asks, “Where were you?  You missed the drill. Director Maxwell is unhappy with you.” 

“I don’t think it matters.” Irina adds, “If your function goes without hitch we will get national coverage and all will be well.”  She too is dressed nice.  A graduate student from Russia, Irina spends most of her time researching through obscure tombs of the library like most fellowship recipients.  

They look good together; it is no surprise that Mark is courting her.

“Did I miss anything important?”  I notice the blue snake of Asian teenagers has made it to the Supreme Court Building.

“No,” Mark quickly answers, “Veronica signed your name to the check in sheet.  Homeland Security thinks you were there.  She’s annoyed at you though.”  Ever since 9-11 Homeland Security makes everyone do mandatory drills and exercises every month to be ready in case terrorists or nature attacks.  Even after America righteously eliminated Bin Laden in 2011 many Americans continued to live in fear and national security protocols never wavered.

“Shit, sorry.”  Veronica is one of the secretaries.  She might have seemed annoyed to Mark, but I know she probably isn’t.  She has a lot of sympathy for my back disability and usually is a good sport about covering for people for a good reason.  Our job is not hard, but rather there are hundreds of small tasks that make up the day and we are expected to do them with perfection. Everyone at the library seems to have a doctorate and is a specialist in some fashion.  We’re the cream of the crop and really don’t need every second of the work day to do our jobs well. 

“Well, let us not keep the public waiting.”  With a grand flourish Mark directs our attention towards the capital building.  He concludes, “This is a great day to be on television.  Who wants to bet the vice president’s daughter will be ten minutes late?  There is side game going down in the office, odds will be in your favor if you put your money that she will be 8 minutes fashionably late.”

As a group we continue our journey to the capital building.

Chapter VI: Fred

Most people would say Fred Smith is a good man and like all good men, deserving of a break in life.  The way things have been going for the past few years though have shown Fred the things we deserve often aren’t the things we get.

The dark blue Geo Prism rumbles as he roughly switches gears.  He was supposed to meet his son in Rockville but got lost in Gaithersburg.  Two days on the road has made him tired and plagued with a permanent headache.  He didn’t care much for the East Coast or its people who look like monkeys in suits. 
His son was supposed to have worked in the factory like him, but no, his Kyle believes he is too good for that
Kyle had to be different which began to came out in high school when he was always seen wearing a tie.  Too much ambition complicates things and Fred, like his father before him, preferred to keep things simple.  While Kyle’s brothers and sisters were playing with dolls and footballs, you could find Kyle at the museum.  Fred didn’t understand how someone could prefer the History and Discovery Channel over ESPN.

Fred snorts which sounds like a laugh and pushes those thoughts aside.
What’s the point, it is what it is.

But all the same he wasn’t impressed with a son who dragged him out of his comfortable life a week ago.  If it was up to him he would be have back in Minnesota, at his favorite fishing spot at White Bear Lake.  Life was good when he was fishing and had a twelve pack of beer. Instead he received a call from his son and just like that he was exactly where he didn’t want to be. 

“Damn,” Fred curses.  He tried slowing down at the exit sign for Emory Grove, knowing from frustrated study of the atlas sitting on the front seat he over shot his turn.

Fred believes there is only one thing worse than city slickers and that is politicians.  Both his grandpa and dad believed firmly in the fact that politics was a lying occupation and he had never seen anything to prove otherwise.  All you have to do is turn on the news and you will see how politicians in Washington DC never keep their word.
How else can one explain current budget issues and American soldiers dying overseas?  It’s the fault of the people who are in charge.  People in suits don’t relate to the working class.  Why did Kyle have to be one of them?

One week ago, during his lunch break, he received an upset call from his son.  Kyle’s wife decided she had enough of married life and motherhood, leaving a heartbroken and unprepared Kyle to deal with their two month old son.  She died from complications after child birth, and other reasons Fred did not understand.  The boyish panic in his son’s voice made it feel only natural to jump in his car and make the two day trek across country.  His boss was not happy he walked out without finishing his shift.

His stomach grumbles as he heads back up I-270 to catch his missed exit and he briefly pondered if he should eat something for breakfast. 

During a normal work week he would often eat breakfast at Burger King in Northfield, Minnesota.  Always good with his hands and tools, Fred works at Coca Cola as a floor man.  Filled with friendly camaraderie and an honest day’s work, Fred loves working at the Crown Cork and Seal plant.  He loves his job so much he decided to be loyal and swore off all Pepsi products.  His family thought he was crazy but he looked at it differently.  Why would anyone buy a product from the competition who is trying to put your employees out of business?  If everyone bought Pepsi then he would be out of a job.  During poker games he boasts his plant produces over two million aluminum cans every shift and back in 2003 he was voted machinist of the year.  Coco Cola even put his picture up in the break room where the union leaders play cribbage while everyone else works.  Occasionally he dreams that someday he would become a prominent union person who champions democratic principles but these thoughts seldom lasted long.  He left higher inspirations, and all the troubles that come with them, for people like his son.

Kyle didn’t surprise anyone when he went to college after high school.  After college Kyle got a job with the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., disappearing for a few years.  He never calls or visits on the holidays. 
That’s another problem with politicians and the people who work with them; they become disconnected with their family and community
On the rare time he did visit home, Kyle acted like he was better than everyone else. But even though Kyle had thought he had moved on to bigger and better things, he got a worthless woman knocked up and ended up married to her.
Just like the redneck boys back home
Of course his family was not invited to the sudden wedding because Kyle viewed them as ignorant red necks. 

Who did he think he was to tell his family they were not good enough?

It wasn’t worth holding a grudge.  His son and grandson need his help and a good Christian always forgives and forgets.  It had been two days of intense driving and his back hurt.  He wanted to sleep but Kyle asked one last thing of him last night after getting in.  His son didn’t care that he was tired and hungry, instead when he got into town his son had the tenacity to ask him to help set up a stage down town before he agreed to let him have his grandson. On the phone before he left, Kyle had agreed to Fred taking his grandson back to Minnesota, to Kyle’s stepmother, Sara. The child needed a proper family.  Since when did work come before family?  Fred grips the steering wheel tighter as he pondered how to drive some common sense and decency into his son.  He didn’t notice his foot press down on the pedal or his speed steadily increasing toward 90 mph. 

Sirens shattered his thoughts as red lights instantly engulfed his reality.  Fred’s head started to pound harder as he pulled over to a complete stop.  Ironically Burger King is advertised a few exits ahead.  At least he will have a full stomach before seeing his son.    

What else could possibly go wrong today?

Fred sighs as two cops started walking up to his car with a barking police dog.

Chapter VII: Larry and the K9

The day was going slow.  Larry Anderson sat in the passenger seat of the police cruiser and fantasizes what it would be like to die a hero.  His partner’s voice meant nothing and the CB is turned low, mostly static with a periodic voice coming from central dispatch.  In his fantasy he sees himself as a six foot dark haired cop who is meant to take down bad guys.  Getting the damsel in distress would be nice but it wasn’t important.
As long as she’s hot and easy.

In the real world Larry is 5’7 and built like an ox.  He never found true love but was convinced someday the right girl will see him for the stud he is, or so he tells himself every morning as he shakes off the alcohol from the night before.  He frequently visits the gym but those girls acted snotty and usually have boyfriends.  The females at the police force didn’t like him but he is has not figured out why.  His mom tells him to go to church or maybe find a nurse but he tells her he would rather focus on his career.  He had too much pride to admit he is afraid of women.  He has a badge and gun, most of the time it’s enough for his ego.  10 years ago he was given the opportunity to raise police dogs in California. With the destruction of San Francisco and Los Angeles, canine training shifted to the East Coast.  He was originally a native from California but with all the end of world issues his mom made him move to Maryland/Virginia.  She was lucky and found an old miser to shack up with.  Larry didn’t like being here though and wants to go back out West.  He ended up becoming a slight alcoholic and was always on edge.

It’s his job to train and work with K9’s to search for narcotics, explosives, and to teach them how to do regular patrols.  He lost count of how many dogs he trained; they all had started seeming the same. 

His partner’s voice rudely cuts into his reverie, “Larry, is Pixel ready?”

Pixel was the ridicules name of the current German Sheppard he’s currently training.  Larry looks back at the dog in the back seat of the police cruiser and absently answered an affirmative as he swishes his cheap coffee in an even cheaper coffee mug.  His partner didn’t know he mixed his coffee with Jack Daniels.  Larry did his best to keep the mug away from him.  He didn’t add much, not enough to smell alcohol on his breath, just enough to take the edge off.

The current dog was a nightmare from the start.  It marked low on all its testing but the police force did not want to take a complete loss.  The dog wasn’t ready and he hated having to bring her out.  They are on Interstate 270.   It’s just as good as place as any to look for bad guys and Pixel needs real world experience.  Some geek in computer crimes had given the dog the ridiculous name in passing, remarking on how the ticked color of the dog’s fur reminded him of pixilation.

“Shit, we got one!”  His partner excitedly flicks on the lights and a siren as a Geo Prism speeds past them.  The radar gun clocks the car going 92 mph. 

Larry beams, “Show time!”  Pixel instantly becomes alert in reaction to the police officer’s excitement.  To her the officers instantly turned from being quiet and docile to sharp predators who are going in for the kill.  She couldn’t help but bark and think its play time.

Chapter VIII: Alex the Technician

“You would think with all the money airports make they would invest in comfortable seating along with free WiFi that works!”  Alex shifts his weight on the uncomfortable chair, wishing he was home in DC in his soft recliner.   The Chattanooga airport bustles with people.  He looks over to his wife, Jessica, and fondly recalls the last three days.  It wasn’t worth staying online when he couldn’t get a page to download properly.

Jessica is deftly disentangling the sticky hand of their two year old toddler, Becky, from her short dark blond hair.  Nearby, his nine year old son, Matt, pokes at his five year old sister, Elizabeth, with one hand as the other holds a dripping fast food sandwich.  Alex watches as a gooey dollop of ketchup and mayonnaise drip down the boy’s favorite Metallica shirt.  Matt waves the drippy sandwich around her head.

“Matt, stop getting sauce on your sister and clean up,” Alex says with a lovingly sigh.  His son puts the sandwich down and leaves for the bathroom without complaint.  Elizabeth quickly picks up the sandwich and proceeds to systemically look for tomatoes.  She loves tomatoes.

Alex looks back down at his computer and grumbles at the single bar of a weak wireless connection and a new pop up window demanding another six dollars to continue service.

He asks his wife, “How much longer do you think we have until we leave this place, it’s been six hours since our plane was supposed to be here?”

Jennifer, bouncing the toddler on her left knee, softly responds, “I don’t know.”

Alex impatiently looks at his computers clock which shows quarter past the hour.  He loves his computer but doesn’t want to pay more money to stay online.  He closes the laptop and briefly thinks about the day he was going to miss.

“I love the family trip but I think my boss is going to chew me out for not showing.  I was supposed to help set a stage for the office.”  His wife doesn’t hear him; her attention is caught by some cute but annoying noise Becky makes.  Other passengers comment how cute their toddler is while a teenage boy a few seats down rolls his eyes.  Most of the passengers that had no patience for kids found new seats hours ago.

Matt comes bouncing back and flicks water at Elizabeth.  His sister pretends to not have touched his sandwich and starts to play with a toy train and doesn’t fall for his old trick of water being urine.

Alex worked mostly in the IT department of the Smithsonian but also helped out with setting up for presentations.  His family was supposed to be back in DC hours ago.  He was needed to help set up microphones and lightening for today’s guest presentations outside of the Capital building.  The staff needed his expertise but they were not going to get it today.  Instead he was stuck waiting endlessly at an airport in Tennessee.  

He was fortunate though, and found himself not minding missing work.  His director was an ass and he was happy to be with his family. They had spent the last three days enjoying Chattanooga; it was a splendid family vacation!

They spent the weekend at Best Western and loved the local aquarium.  His son bought a hat from the aquariums hands on exhibit where kids are able to touch sea critters.  Later that day they were able to see the IMAX.  Chattanooga is known for trains, Ruby Falls and its Rock City.  It was a wonderful family experience and he hoped to repeat it next year.

Alex asks his wife to watch his computer and pats his daughter on the head affectionately.  Heading towards the window overlooking his terminal he starts to do a few stretches.   He couldn’t help but hear one of the flight attendants whisper to another flight attendant, “They are having issues with the radio tower.  Apparently a solar flare is disrupting telecommunications which isn’t abnormal.   The plane is finally making ready to land.”

Alex remembers his college course on power grids and connecting cable lines.  According to his professor new technology had to be created that would reflect solar flares from disrupting communications if nations did not want to lose their energy grids in the future.  The problem comes from X-ray and UV radiation which fries much of the current technology being used.  This answers the question why he wasn’t able to get online; at least the airport wasn’t scamming him on that service.  He also remembers solar flares generally only affect radios, phones and the internet.  He wonders if it’s going to affect his family’s flight home.

Once again he was struck with anxiety for missing work.  Maybe he should call his director and tell him he was going to miss the entire day.

Feeling a sick knot build in his stomach he calls his director.  On the third ring he hears the voice he learned to hate.

“Kyle, can you hear me?”  The connection is weak but after some rusting he hears his boss tell someone to give him a minute.”  Alex reminded himself it is normal for any boss to be jerk and that Kyle was going through a rough time.  He tried his best to keep his contempt for his boss hidden.  It had been a little difficult lately because Kyle took to sleeping at the office.  No one has the heart to tell him to get his life fixed.

Kyle angrily comments, “You are not coming to work today are you?”

“No sorry, I’m still at the airport.  Our plane is finally coming to the terminal.  I can come later if you want?” 
Deep down he hopes Kyle would say no.  It would be nice to have another night with his family.  Maybe he could talk them into eating dinner at the Olive Garden when they get home.

Without much professionalism Kyle answers, “You are not important; I don’t care what you want.”
Feeling righteously annoyed Alex is about to respond when Kyle follows it up with, “Sorry, not you.  I’m talking to someone else.  Do whatever you want.  I will see you in the office tomorrow.”  He could hear Kyle arguing with someone in the background. 
Maybe Kyle had finally pissed off the director?  One could always hope. 
He was about to hang up when he sees his plane making its way to the terminal turn sharply.  The two flight attendants behind the counter get excited and one quickly picks up the phone when it rings.  They don’t notice the plane and how it has turned.

The female attendant looks up and loudly tells the other, “Something is wrong.  I was just told to have everyone leave the terminal.”  Color left her face as her voice takes on a higher pitch.

“They said an earthquake just hit.”  A couple of seconds later a few security guards show up.  A subtle wave of anxious energy goes through the crowd of passengers. Some start whispering to each other as others ask questions.  Like them, Alex felt a distinct unease.

The male flight attendant looks up and says, “This is ridiculous.  I don’t feel anything.  He must be high or drunk and is joking.”  Some people laughed uneasily but started to pack up their belongings as security starts to clear the terminal.  Alex forgets about the plane and starts back to his wife. Beck is crying and his wife looks close to tears as well.

“Sorry honey, but it looks like we have to leave the terminal.”  He takes another step forward and finds his foot slipping.

“What the hell…” He feels as if he is drunk suddenly and reaches out for something to grip.  There is nothing.  People around him shake like puppets and chairs slide on the floor.  Luggage is being tossed around.   His knees buckle and he lands on them with all his weight.  His left hand is still holding the cell phone.  He tries to keep it from hitting the ground like it’s made of glass.  He quickly registers it wasn’t the people shaking but rather the ground is moving left to right.  It feels like they are on a rough sea.

Screams echoed through the terminal.  He can’t see his wife or his kids.

What is happening? This isn’t his world!

Alex’s vision blurs and his eyes instantly water as something sharp lands on his head. He reaches up with his right hand and it comes away with something sticky and metallic smelling.  What is that?  Is that his blood?  His eyes clear and he somehow turns around.  He is facing the terminals window.  The plane his family was supposed to board is still coming.  A crack opens up on the runway. The ground simply splits, opening up into an earthen maw directly in the path of the jet. For a split second Alex remembers hearing about the New Madrid fault but then feels someone near him.

It’s his wife.  She is crying, but quietly.  Her eyes are wide and glossy with shock.  His kids are all there.  They are quiet, even the toddler.  Their stunned eyes focus out the terminal window.  He looks back to see what they are looking at.

The United Airway jet has finally reached its destination.  It came to collect its passengers on their last journey.

Alex knew he was going to die.  He drops his phone as he grabs his wife and kids, “I love you all.”   He didn’t have time to see their reaction. The plane’s front wheel buckles where the earth split open.  In one smooth motion the tail section was sent skyward only to tumble forward to crash into the terminal windows in a shower of glass and twisted metal.  The last thing Alex sees before the tail crashes through the terminal is the terror stricken passengers looking back at him through the plane’s windows.

Chapter IX: The Paladin

Juliet sighs in exasperation.  She is close to leveling.  She needs it, wants it.  Her pixilated elf icon showers a skeleton double its size into multiple colors as her sword hacked away at the monster’s hit points.  She was one level away from gaining the Holy Radiance power for her level 82 elf character. 

Her phone rings out a snippet of Lord of the Rings soundtrack breaking her concentration.  In a blink, Jasmine, her elf paladin has perished, its disembodied spirit reappearing in the grave yard near the starting point.  In World of Warcraft you get as many lives as you want.  Juliet ignored her cell phone and focused on applying buffs to her character instead.  She’d be damned if she was going to let work get in the way of leveling.  Her party quickly reappears near her and they run back to the dungeon.

Her phone rings again and begrudgingly she disconnects from the game server.  She didn’t want to listen to her friends chew her out. It’s bad to stop in the middle of a dungeon raid and without her in the group they will have a hard time beating the dungeon without a healer character.  But she knew it was her boss at the downtown Burger King on the phone and she was already late.

Juliet takes a five second look in the bathroom mirror and carelessly throws her long dark greasy hair into a pony tail.  Small and slender as a reed, the baggy boy’s clothes she preferred in her off hours made her seem almost genderless.  Under it all was a beautiful young African American woman, but sexuality scared her. Being a woman scared her. She wasn’t gay or bi.  But all the same, despite the romantic name given by her hopeful mother, at age twenty-two she had still never even kissed a boy.  With her only perfume being the grease from Burger King and her androgynous looks, it wasn’t a surprise that people initially thought Juliet was a boy.

She didn’t expect much out of life.  She had a small apartment in a part of D.C. tourists seldom visit, off of the Anacostia Metro, or the green line.  She had spent the weekend at her friend’s apartment in Maryland.  They had a LAN gaming party. Most of her friends had played until passing out; so it didn’t matter that she had continue playing the game with other people online.  Her friends didn’t do drugs and only indulged in alcohol occasionally. Most of the time lived on sugar and caffeine loaded energy drinks and junk food.

She was about to quietly leave when there was a knock at her door.  She is startled to see Matt's obese frame at the front door.

Without hesitation she whispers, “You are late by a few days.  Everyone crashed; want to keep me company as I go to work?”  She shrugged her backpack onto one shoulder.  Bringing along her work uniform and stuff along with her for the weekend gave her more time with her friends and the game.

Matt agrees, a slight pink brightening his cheeks.  It had been obvious to everyone he liked her but he wouldn’t act on it.  She was grateful for that. She didn’t want to deal with dating and though shy, still knew a chubby guy wasn’t what she wanted.  She believed someday she would find her companion when the world was ready for it to happen.

After they were a block away and half way to the Metro she found herself evaluating her Paladin’s performance the night before, “Matt, it’s too bad your hunter wasn’t in the group, we could have used him.”

“Sorry about that.  My mom and brother needed some help at the church.  Since I still live with them, I got to help.”  He then goes on a rant on how his stats need to be improved for his dwarf hunter character if the gaming guild they were both apart of was ever going to take him serious.  Juliet half listens as they walk, enjoying the warmth of the sun shining down from the pristine blue sky.

Matt’s rant continues as they board the Metro. Tired of it, she puts him on the spot and asks him about his relationship status.  She wasn’t interested in him but it would stop his ranting.  He just didn’t know how to play the game right in her opinion. Instead of playing strategically with the group, he played more like a mad man on a suicidal hack and slash mission.

“I don’t have anybody.”  He continues, “So the other day, I was trying to fight a mob after farming and this other player came and kept on killing me over and over!”

As he goes on, Juliet watches a nicely dressed couple board the train.  It's obviously to Juliet they are heading somewhere important.  The woman has a newspaper.  After a few minutes she looks up and asks the passengers if anyone wants the comics.  Not wanting to listen to Matt anymore, Juliet snags the offered paper and buries her-self in the world of grainy newsprint cartoons.

At Union Station Juliet says bye to Matt.  She is hungry and craves some McDonald’s.  After eating she changes into her work outfit in their bathroom.  Eight minutes later she arrives at Burger King.  Its near lunch time and the rush was starting to come in.  She is surprised to see the couple from the metro leave the lobby as she enters.  She tries to nod to them as the guy gives a cheeseburger to a homeless vet, and shrugs as they don't notice her.  How would they?  She was dressed differently.

Saying hi to her coworkers at the cashier counter, she goes to the back and clocks in.  As she straps on an apron, Juliet closes her eyes for a moment and sees herself as her paladin. 

Is it possible to ever live in a world of fantasy? 

She wishes she was the paladin in the game.  With a sigh, she picks up a spatula.  This was the real world, the real world of flipping burger patties, not killing monsters or healing her misfit band of friends. There are no heroes in the real world.

Chapter X: The Vet

The River stinks of things best not thought of.  Driftwood and garbage pile in heaps off of the far shore near a sewage drain.  Cars could be heard on the highway.

“Give me your hand, man!”  Harry Faust quickly tucks his tattered right sleeve under a pin and reaches for his friend Tom Verde.  Tom thrashes in the water, spittle dribbled down his chin as he cusses his ill fortune.  A fishing line is tangled in his left fist as he tries to desperately to catch the fish that broke his rod.

“I can’t believe I slipped.  The ground shifted!”  Tom wasn’t doing a great job keeping his balance and went under water again.

“You’re a poor miserable liar.  Now let me help and take my hand.”  Harry reaches out with his right hand, his only good hand.  He lost his left arm during the Korean War in the 1950’s.  He is a proud, if hungry and homeless, U.S. veteran.

Shifting his weight to his left side, Harry balances and extends further, “Take my hand if you want a chance in catching that fish!”

Tom resigns himself to the fact that he needs help and grasps Harry’s outstretched hand.  He never understood how a one arm man could be so damn versatile.  Tom gasps in pain as the wire from the fishing line digs into his other hand.  Blood appears on his palm.  Deciding it’s not worth losing a hand, he lets go of the line and his fish dinner.  They would have to scavenge in some dumpsters for food.  Not wanting Harry to get to mad for losing dinner, he pulls Harry into the water with him.  Nothing like a good water fight to ease hunger pains.

Ten minutes later they sit on the bank drying off as they go through discarded fast food wrappers.  Garbage is everywhere and large city buildings can be seen in the distance.  The area had been an old factory district, abandoned for a decade. People on the interstate often throw garbage out of their car windows while passing.  It’s common to see birds and homeless people scavenge for food.

Harry wears old military fatigues he bought at the Salvation Army.  He never wanted to let go of who he was.  A person with a fine eye would note that he wore an assortment of things that are all sewn and patched together.  His jacket boasted of wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq to name a few.  In the real world he was a Special Forces officer who was stationed in the 6-2-5 war or what others would know as the Korean War in 1950’s.

His job was to deliver sensitive data to the allied forces before they bombed a bridge on the Han River.  He succeeded but a crazy ROK Korean officer blew his left hand off.  He was now a 70 year vet who had medals and honors, one hand, no money, no home, and no food.  Where was the justice in life?  He did however have his health.  He was lean, hard and faster than most twenty year olds. Having one arm did not hamper him in the slightest.  It just embarrasses him.

Tom wraps a rag around his wounded palm and asked Harry, “Want to look at McDonald’s for some dinner?”  Tom was once a banker but lost his family and careers to the bottle.

After a minute on careful thinking, Harry decides it would be best to find dinner on his own. 

“Nope, I think Burger King is training new people in.  They won’t be paying attention to the lobby and I can get some grub when people leave their trays.”  He didn’t want to dig through garbage if he could have food served on a tray.

Tom looks up from his hand and mutters, “Maybe I will meet you there after I do my thing.  You want to meet at DuPont Circle and play some chess at 1p.m.?”  Homeless people play chess there to scam people who think they know how to play.  It was common for a person to lose ten dollars a game.  Of course if they won they would get their money back plus another ten dollars, but those people who wandered in thinking they could easily beat the grubby homeless guy never won.   How could someone beat a homeless person who has been playing for 40-50 years?  Harry smiles as he ponders what he could do if he made a few dollars.  Maybe he could rent a cheap motel room for a few hours and get a hot shower.

He gathers his stuff and heads towards Burger King.

Chapter XI: Presidential Limo

You never know what kind of turnout will occur during a public presentation.  There are roughly seventy people at the eastern end of the National Mall who are taking their seats.  Visitors and delegates often meet at the East Front of the Capital Building.  It is only natural to have our guest speakers situate themselves comfortably in such a fashion that would allow for easy transaction of speakers. 

The public was not allowed inside the Capital Building outside of designated tours, a few guards smartly stand at attention at the front doors.  When the President or foreign delegates are visiting it is customary to screen guests and have armed body guards keeping an eye on everyone.  Washington DC has a policy regarding people not entering the general proximity of world leaders, if you enter their bubble and are not invited their body guards and military personnel will simply shoot you.  We didn’t have anyone important like that supposed to show today.

The Capital Building is amazing.  American Neoclassicism architect spans the magnificent building that started in 1793.  It was not finished until 1819.  Modern architect have been combined with traditional craftsman skills to create the marvel that easily matched any building built in ancient Rome or Greece.  Known for its "Grandeur, Simplicity, and Beauty", it is prized for its wedding cake cast iron dome.  Fantastic artwork and statues such as the colossal statue Freedom greet visitors.  A recent addition to the building boasts of the Capital Visitor Center.

I introduce April to a few scholars.  Shaking my head in amazement I feel every particle in my body respond like it’s positively charged.  I always feel power and humbled in the National Mall in DC.  She instantly connects to a writer from England who is a visiting fellow.  April and her new friend, Mary Scarlet, instantly hits it off after I tell April that Mary was doing research on contemporary romanticism.  Mary has a PhD from Cambridge and could talk for hours.  She was working on a new fictional book that had a dark character she liked to talk about.  The story was about a modern day kid who is misunderstood by his community.  He becomes the next biggest artist even though he is a loner throughout his life.  Deep down I found myself wondering if she was the character in the book she was writing.

Sheepishly I tell my wife, “We’ve been here for six months and I never have been in the Capital Building.  Is that bad?”

She looks at me and answers, “Yes, let’s go in after this.  I would like to get some more coffee.”

I tell her to enjoy the show.  At the far end of the lawn there is a private table with refreshments under a beige tent.  Everyone important has gathered, there seems to be two groups at the table.  The first groups make up the staff and visiting scholars from Congress.  The second group had two staff workers from the Smithsonian.

I was expecting a few more.  I make my way past the podium with the microphone to their table.  Behind the microphone is a flat screen that the stage setters put up, right before the steps.  It is normal to have a lecturer give visual images with whatever they are discussing.  There are a few people I don’t recognize but my pace quickens as I recognize CNN journalist. 

This is truly going to be a great day.

I hear Mark joke with the CNN Journalist and the Russian visiting scholar Irina, “…And that’s why the French lost the bid on the original architect design for the capital building.”  Mark loves discussing DC’s history and you can see the passion pour from his eyes as he loses himself I his story.

“Michael, I would like you to meet some friends of mine, this is Susan Bishop.”  He introduces me to the CNN journalist.  For the second time today I find myself not knowing what to say outside of hi.  Deep down she stirs a slight memory and for a third time I feel déjà-vu. 

Susan Bishop is a striking woman.  She managed to get the image down of being a progressive independent female.  She is 5’6 and has a stylish short dark hair.  She knows how to get her way and her presence draws stories out of people and places.  To put it simply, Susan has an Amazon presence that demands respect from all classes and people around the world.

Her crystal blue eyes instantly scan me.  How could she do that?  I squirm and try to give a charming smile but it comes out more as a grimace.

“Hello, I’m Michael.”  I fidget as I look to Mark for support.  He rolls his eyes and nudges Marvin, another coworker from the adjacent office in the Jefferson building.

Susan smiles, her demure changes and I can see the expression she shows her audience on CNN every night.  Everyone quiets down to hear what she says.

“It’s nice to be here.  I only have thirty minutes.  There’s a conference occurring at John Hopkins University in a few hours, a panel will be discussing the current solar flare phenomena and its consequences on the global market.”

I instantly look to see if the vice president’s daughter has shown up, she hasn’t.  Everything seems to be in ready and the seats are quickly filling up.

Susan continues to captivate her us, “Did you guys know that there will be two suns tomorrow?”

We all say no and she continues, “The University will be addressing this through a panel discussion in which astrophysicists will give a full description of what’s going to likely happen.  To make it short, the star Betelgeuse is losing its mass.”

Mark gasps and blurts, “Isn’t that the ninth brightest star?  What are the implications of the gravitational collapse and earth?”  

Susan Bishop looks at him in slight surprise and jests, “I guess you congressman and staff are smart after all!  There isn’t supposed to be anything drastic.  There will be two suns for a few weeks, no darkness or night.  Maybe there will be a higher flux of solar flares and we will be able to see some pleasant atmosphere auras.
Some say it could disrupt telecommunications for awhile but it won’t be a big deal.” 

Getting a chuckle out of her audience she concludes, “Seriously, can you believe some people?  There a few who take events like this and profit of the fear it can generate?  It is not like the end of the world is coming.”

Susan excuses herself and heads to her camera man.   Media reporters and government staff set up the cameras and microphones in a spot in the shade near a granite wall.   There was only one large tent and the stage.  The audience was sitting on the lawn and it was sunny.  There was no breeze.  I notice there are two cops walking a young police dog near the back.  The Asians who I saw at the Supreme Court Building have reappeared.  As a group they snake into the Capital Building.  It is too bad they didn’t stay to see the presentation.   I look down at my cell phone and note that the event will start in five minutes.

Moments later Mark leaves our little group at the tent and goes to where the visitors are sitting.  He comes back with two people.  To my amazement one of them is the redneck I met at Burger King, I think his name was Fred?  He seems to be arguing with a younger man who is wearing a disheveled business suit.

Mark looks a little bothered as he introduces the two individuals, “Michael, this is Kyle.  Kyle works for the Smithsonian.”  Kyle ignores what Mark is saying and instantly walks to his coworkers.  The redneck says something thing that I can’t understand and Kyle responds by talking over Fred to his coworker.

This wasn’t cool.  I didn’t mind rednecks but this wasn’t the time or place for non professional attitude. 

What was going to happen if Susan Bishop caught wind?  Why wasn’t someone telling the man to go take a seat?

I’m about to say something when I hear the man in blue jeans and a flannel blurt out, “For Christ sake Kyle!
Let me have my grandson and I will leave you alone!”

Mark is at my side and I look at him with bewilderment.   He rolls his eyes and mutters, “This isn’t the time for family drama.  I would have expected more from the Smithsonian.”

Kyle’s phone rings and he answers as his father continues to belittle him in front of his peers.  I feel sorry for whoever is on the other end when Kyle angrily tells his dad, “You are not important; I don’t care what you want.”

Kyle gets his desired results as his father spurts a few curses.  Mark takes advantage of the moment.

“You folks obviously have some issues to resolve but this isn’t the place.  We are about to have national coverage and the vice president’s daughter is coming anytime.”  Mark reaches for the rednecks elbow and starts to direct him to where the audience is sitting.

Kyle apologizes profusely to whoever is on the phone and the people around him.  He is very embarrassed.  His attention keeps on going back to his cell phone and back to Fred. 

Susan Bishop is walking back to our table with her camera man.  She obviously missed everything and gives the redneck a peculiar look. 

We hear the crowd murmur and look out to First Street.  Mark stops directing Fred and quickly walks to the stage and microphone.

“It’s the vice president’s daughter.  It is show time!”  Mark starts to introduce the event while bringing people’s attention to the limo.  Everyone at the table takes their designated places.  Kyle is still looking at his phone and can’t stop shaking.

What‘s wrong with the guy?

The dark blue limousine is about to come to a stop.  I try to get my first glimpse of the vice president’s daughter but the car window is to dark to see past.  Outside of Kyle’s outburst and my son not getting on the airplane this was going to be a great day. 

The limousine did not stop.  Instead it picks up speed and drives forward.  Within seconds it’s gone.

Mark loses his professionalism as he blurts into the microphone, “What the hell?” 

The same can be felt from everyone.  Instantly I feel embarrassed and then mad. 

Why did they drive off?

I’m confused as I take a few steps forward. 

Who do I talk to when I am the person who is supposed to have the answers?

The guest speakers are asking why the limousine kept on driving; I don’t know who to focus on first.  The
guards at the entrance of the building have gone inside but no one notices.

Marks phone rings.  His voice cuts through the confusion.

I focus on his words, “Michael!  Director Maxwell wants us back at the office.  It sounds urgent!”  Mark looks down at his phone and curses a second time, “Shit, I can’t hear you Maxwell, there’s too much static on my phone!  If you can hear me we will be back there in five minutes.” 

Mark looks at me in confusion and doubt.  The audience is now standing and people are pointing to the roof tops of the surrounding government buildings.  Military snipers appear on top of the buildings but do not act menacing.  This isn’t abnormal but I start to feel a sick ball in my stomach.  I’m becoming more anxious as the sick ball in my stomach starts to feel like dread.  I start to think about 9-11 and terrorists.  The metal police barricades built in the road activate as they rise to attention.  It was not going to be possible for anyone to drive on the streets.

Looking at Mark I blurt, “Are terrorists attacking?”  I feel stupid as soon as I say it.  People around me instantly go frigid and I regret asking it.

“I don’t know.  This isn’t how Washington DC acted when 9-11 happened.”  He lost his phone connection and stops trying.  On the other hand Kyle did not lose his phone connection and is drawing attention as he starts to shriek at his phone.

Kyle sounds frantic.  I can’t help myself as I start to listen.  Deep down I’m beginning to feel that whoever he’s talking to is connected with what’s happening here. 

He screeches into his phone.  I’m about to ask what’s happening but as soon as I open my mouth I’m cut off by something I did not want to hear.

The natural disaster siren for DC could be heard and felt everywhere as it fills the city.  It sounds like a high pitch whine, almost as if an old world war two bomber was flying over head.  An electronic loop is built into the siren and it’s now louder than the people in the audience.  I feel scared.  It was obvious that no one knew what to do.  Simultaneously I could hear cell phones ringing.

April is at my side, she too is scared.  That’s when it starts to happen.

Mark swaggers on the steps.  A second later I watch him fall.  I didn’t understand what I as seeing.  I’m about to ask him if he alright and if we could bring my wife to the office when I see the stairs underneath him bubble up.  The stairs behind him looked like they are part of an escalator and start to move upwards a few inches.  Just as fast they moved downwards and then started to move back upwards.  The stage and microphone simply fell forward with Mark.  The screen from the monitor fell onto his head but it looks soft.

I feel a lack of space under my feet and find myself falling; the ground underneath me feels like a cushion is under the cement.  I reach out but can’t seem to grasp anything.  Everything instantly goes dark as the canvas from the tent encompasses us in its embrace.  People scream as the siren continues to send its message of doom.

Chapter XII: Lights out at Burger King

Juliet puts a smiley face on the cheeseburger she is preparing.  A couple of deft hand movements later and the cheeseburger is done.  If she was roll playing in Dungeon and Dragons she would have passed her dexterity roll perfectly!  A yellow smiley face is imprinted on the burger, she puts pickles were the eyes are supposed to be.  She made two burgers like this and puts special allergy stickers on them warning against onions.  With any luck she could eat them for lunch if no one ordered them.  Worst case scenario, some stranger who doesn’t like onions will find themselves with a couple of smiley burgers.

The lunch shift just started.  Her two bosses are out smoking a cigarette and will be back inside in a few minutes.  They told her to watch the newbie’s.  Only eight employees worked the undermanned shift and four of them were on their first week.  There were not many people in the lobby.  A few people on lunch break, a few college students, and a whole bunch of homeless people.  Most people arrived after twelve and it was still quarter to noon.

One of the homeless people freaked her out.  She sometimes wished they would leave.  There’s a bunch near the entrance that are eyeballing people’s trays.  She told two of the newbie’s to work in the lobby and to keep things in order.  They kept on slacking and were not in the lobby. 

The other two newbie’s are helping her prepare food.  Preparing sandwiches is not hard.  Everything being cooked has timers and bells.  The tricky part is to make sure sandwiches are made the same and that food was made fresh.  The two new employees are Sara and Dawn.  They are on a work study program from high school that allows them to work at Burger King for half the day.   

Behind the cash register is Tim.  Tim is a long term employee.  The other gentleman is Roger who is a retired professional who likes to work mornings.  She does not understand why someone would want to work at a place like this if they didn’t need money.  They had things under control.  She wasn’t sure where the other worker was.

Maybe he was smoking a cigarette with the boss or maybe he was goofing off in the freezer?

Juliet tries to have a conversation with Sara, “Do you roll play?”

Sara is startled, she can’t figure out how to put the lettuce on the chicken, “What’s that?”

Juliet instantly knows the conservation will not go anywhere and despairingly mutters, “It doesn’t matter.”
It’s obvious these teens prefer cooler activities.

She decides to ask something else.  She deftly wraps five burgers within ten seconds.  Dawn can’t wrap one burger in a minute.

“Dawn, can you salt the fries?”  She wonders why Burger King hires teens that don’t care about doing a good job.

Who knows, maybe other Burger Kings are better than hers?

She’s about to start working on another chicken sandwich when she notices the ketchup miss the burger patty.  She tries again and watches as it misses a second time.  The burger slides down the metal rail and falls to the floor. 

Dawn screams and she looks up.  Her vision tilts as she feels her whole body pitch to the left.  Sara falls into Dawn whose hands reach out to grasp for leverage.  Dawn’s hands miss the sides of the grease pit and fully emerge into the hot oil.  The fries are boiling in the pit and the timer rings as the metal crate holding the fries lift up.  Dawn screams louder.

Juliet feels her toes grip the hard tiles through her tennis shoes but it isn’t enough.  She falls where Sara stood moments before.  She feels food from the plastic containers fall on her as freshly made hamburger patties hit her in the face.

Over head lights flicker off and on.  She hears something that sounds like a crash coming from the entrance followed by a boom.  Windows instantly shatter as beams crash down around the entrance.  She tries to squint through the patties as briefly sees the light dissipate around two homeless people near the entrance as her vision completely goes dark.  One man has only one arm and the other has a card board sign saying the end of the world was coming. 

She briefly wonders if she is hearing a siren in the background or maybe the ringing is coming from her own ears.  She loses grip of her awareness as darkness comes crashing down.

A few minutes later

Juliet found herself somewhere else.  She is not Juliet, she is Jasmine.  She is a blood elf and was in the process of buffering her party.  They were on a quest.  There was a dragon up ahead.  Her hunter had a keen eye for traps while looking for treasure and was also a thief.  She needed some manna to cast a healing spell.

Where was her manna?  

She heard a rustle and felt something hot shoot by her.  The hunter is screaming and is on fire. 

The dragon wasn’t supposed to attack them at their camp!

Jasmine frantically scours her memory for a spell that could protect against fire. 

Wait, where was the priest?  Where was the tank? 

The rest of the party was running.  The dragon was eating the hunter.  Fire was everywhere.  She heard a feint noise that sounds like a siren.

Is that the smell of burned flesh?

The dragon turns its eyes towards her.  She looks deep into its amber pupils.  She could piss herself but doesn’t.  Teeth glimmer with blood while its tongue flickers in the air.  Its eyes won’t leave her.  She knows she has to strike or die.  Finding strength she doesn’t know she posses she passes her fortitude check and leaps at the dragon.  There’s no going back.

Right before her blade meets the dragon’s eye she hears a loud siren.  She isn’t Jasmine. 

Who is she?  She wants to be Jasmine.

Something oily is on her face.  She sneezes as she breathes in pepper from the beef patty.  She can’t see.

Why can’t she see?

Her ears are ringing but she hears the siren.  Her name is Juliet.  She hears sobbing.  She flings food off of her face and sits up.  She’s surrounded by something that smells like food.  She still can’t see but she can hear cell phones ring.

Juliet hears voices.

Is that Sara? She calls out, “Sara, are you there?”

She hears Sara’s young high school voice break the sirens repetitive loop.

“I’m alright,” and then more frantically, “What happened!  I can’t see!  I’m blind and I can’t see!” 

Sara’s screams are met by other yelling.  Suddenly there are over a dozen voices all trying to talk at once. She can hear others cry.  Juliet cannot pinpoint who or where they are.  She tries to get up but ends up falling again.  The ground hasn’t stopped rolling. 

Unlike the beginning the tremors were becoming slighter.  The ground was moving one way a few inches before it started to move the other direction.  As the ground shifted she could hear cooking utensils slide on and clatter.

The ground stopped moving a few minutes later.  It was very dark and she still couldn’t see.  Others had cell phones that shed very little light in the darkness.

What happened to Dawn?

“Dawn, are you there?”  Nothing but silence answers her question. 

A minute later she hears Sara shriek, “Oh my God, I think I found her.  She isn’t moving.  Do you think she is dead?”

Juliet couldn’t help herself and answers, “If she isn’t answering she’s probably dead.”  Sara didn’t try to be quiet as tears pour freely.

“Juliet, what do we do?”

Juliet did not know what to do.  She screams out for her boss but he does not answer.

After a few minutes of intense crying something good finally occurs as one of the homeless people takes out a flashlight from of his pockets.

The light instantly becomes a symbol of hope.  It came from the homeless vet who has one arm. 

He calls out to everyone, “People, we have an emergency.  We need to keep calm and get our wits together.”

Juliet instantly calls out to him; she is standing near the cash register.  There are a few Burger King Toys that have flashlights made in the plastic.  The toys come from a new Disney cartoon.  There were also matches and batteries near the toys.

The vet makes his way to her as he introduces himself, “I’m Harry, sorry to meet you under these circumstances.  How can I serve you?”  It’s obvious that Harry was once respected.  She instantly feels herself trusting him.

Juliet doesn’t want to be scared.  She decides the best course of action is to try to make things as best as it could possibly be.  She does not look in the direction of Dawn.  She knows the girl is dead but doesn’t know how to feel.

Better to feel nothing.
  The best thing is to keep busy and think of it later.  

The cashiers are not behind the register.  She doesn’t have time to find them.  She calls out their names and is relieved when Rodger answers.  He somehow made it the middle of the lobby. 

“Rodger, help us find more flashlights.”  He agrees and slowly makes his way back to them throughout the rubble.

Harry interrupts, “If you don’t mind, I have a plan after you hand out the lights.  By the looks of things we are blocked in and there was an earthquake.”  He turns the flashlight to the entrance.  Everyone around Juliet and Harry gasps as they see the carnage.

The front entrance caved in.  Unlike most Burger Kings the building was built in an old strip mall complex.  There were no windows outside the ones at the entrance.  The earthquake knocked out the supporting beams and completely blocked the entrance.  Light was not coming into the cracks and they could not see outside.

What was happening out there?

Harry reminds Juliet of a natural leader.  She agrees to let him take initiative and is relieved that she doesn’t have to make decisions.  She quickly shrugs off any responsibility of Burger King as she reminds herself she’s just an employee who makes minimum wage.

“The first thing we have to do is take inventory.”  Rodger and Sara are near them and agree to help.  The other homeless people and scared college students wait to be told what to do. 

Harry continues his insights, “We need to determine who is healthy and who got hurt.  How many people do we have and what are our resources?”

Juliet responds, “What do you mean by resources?”  She has a bruise on her right arm but outside of that she is fine.  Within seconds over half a dozen small light beams are turned on and people make noises of comfort and happiness as Rodger finishes handing them out.  People have stopped screaming but many are still crying.  For some reason people have a phone connection but can’t dial out.

Juliet shines her light at Sara and Rodger and asks them to help figure out the damage.  Three of the homeless people know Harry and volunteer to help.  The college students gather in a group and huddle away from the others as they urgently try to get their phones to work. 

She makes sure to give them extra flashlights and they thank her.  They however are using the lights from their phones and many of them pocket the toys for future use.

Juliet looks around at her surroundings more closely.  She sees something which looks like a shoe.  She shutters as she realizes it’s attached to a leg that isn’t moving. 

Was that one of the employees? 

She is about to walk forward when she feels something buzz in her pocket. 

She finds herself jumping and almost hits her head on a pipe from the ceiling that is hanging haphazardness.  Light beams from the cheap toys show only a few feet in front of the people using them.  She hears random gasps as people start to yell when their phones started began to function. 

Her heart settles and she pretends the dead body isn’t near her.   She puts Harry on hold as she frantically tries to call her mother.

The number does not connect.

At least her phone was showing a few bars! 

She only cares about her family and Burger King doesn’t exist.  She tries calling a second time when a message pops on her screen.


People share what they are see on their phones with people who do not have cell phones.  Gathering supplies did not seem important if she could contact the outside world.  Something new was entering her screen.


The message continues to repeat itself.  Juliet could feel her heart falter when she couldn’t connect online.  After a few minutes the college girls start to cry.  It’s dark and cold in Burger King.  Dust can be seen through her light beam making it hard to see details past two feet.

The ground stops rolling and things settle for a short time.  The ground under her feet slightly tilts on an angle.  Before the earthquake the floor was flat.  The Burger King building is built in a small strip mall.  Subway and an Asian fast food restaurant hug Burger King to its right and left.  The entrance faces outside towards the parking lot.

As if things weren’t bad enough something started to hiss like a snake to her left.  It sounded soothing but wrong.  Everyone went quiet.  The college students stopped pawing at their cell phones.

It took her a second until she realized it sounded like compressed air.  She is about to ask somebody for their opinion when she hears Harry yell.

“The gas is going to blow!  Turn off the gas!”

Of course nobody moved.  How could they? 

Juliet did not want to be here and closed her eyes.  Maybe if she closed them tight enough things would get better.  Maybe she could wake up. 

Nothing happened.

Harry moves forward.  He’s shining his light at the grills as he turns off all the gas valves he sees.  Juliet hears a new the noise coming from the gas valve near the fries.  There was a dead body near the fries.  She looks down and notices the shoe again.  It’s Dawn’s shoe. 

Juliet starts to cry again in more earnest.  She forces her arm out as she shines the light at the fryer.  The valve is to the right.  She sees Dawn slumped on her stomach; she can’t see her arms or face.  She doesn’t want to. 

I have to be tough.  I have to be like my paladin.

She reaches past the body and flicks off the switch.  The hissing instantly stops and people relax a little. Harry is at her side, he’s not bothered with the dead body.

“Good job.”  He briefly looks at what Juliet is looking at, “There is nothing you can do.  Don’t look.”

Everyone quiets down while he talks.  He looks at Juliet.

“Snap out of it.  We need to take inventory.  It might take first responders up to three days to rescue us.” Juliet feels strength in his voice and stops the tears.  She didn’t know if her parents were safe.  It would be stupid for her to assume they are hurt.

Maybe just because Burger King and the mall are destroyed it doesn’t mean others were hurt?

Harry notes with a little satisfaction the crowd in listening as he continues, “We need to make a pile of everything we need.  You girl, what is your name?”  He shines the light into Juliet’s face.

For some reason she freezes and then responds, “My name is Jasmine.”  She hears a snort from Rodger but he doesn’t refute her.  Harry doesn’t look at her name tag and points his light beam at the others.  Sara isn’t around at the moment.

Maybe she is trying to use the bathroom if it wasn’t destroyed?

She didn’t want to be Juliet anymore.  Juliet was weak and wasn’t special.  On the other hand the moment she said she was Jasmine she felt strength course through her.   Her paladin from World of War craft could handle any situation.  Her right hand slips over her name tag as she puts it in her pocket.

She feels surer of herself as she continues to turn off the rest of the gas lines.  She doesn’t remember who the other people are.  They are faces within the shadows that have no definition.  They have no meaning. 

In this what hell is like?

Harry directs people with his light beam as he barks orders.  He quickly has the college students, Juliet who was now known as Jasmine, and a few homeless people gather resources.

Within minutes they were able to admire their handy work.  9 small toy flash lights, 3 cases of bottled water, 9 small water bottles, 4 match books, 13 triple AAA batteries, 1 heavy duty flashlight, and some random assortment of things that people thought would be important.

“Harry, what do we need to take inventory on besides this?”  She hands a water bottle to each person.

The homeless man with the sign pipes, “The local emergency station WTOP 1500 am could help if we had a radio.”

Juliet has an idea, “Maybe there is something like a short wave radio in the manager’s office.”

Harry directs his light towards the way, “Lead.  We need more things.  Hey you, what’s your name?”  He points his flash light at one of the male college students who is trying to cajole one of the female students.  A few homeless people disappear from the lingering crowd but nobody notices or cares.

“I’m Jack, what’s up?”  He doesn’t seem to care about Harry.

“I need you to gather the wounded and by the time we come back let me know who has what injury.  I want three groups.  The groups are to be in burns, cuts, and breaks.  Can you do that for me?”

Jack agrees.  Juliet directs them towards the hall.  There is a lot of rubble, much of the food that was waiting to be put in wrappers are scattered in plastic containers all over the floor.  She almost trips and has a hard time seeing through the dust.

There is another body near the hallway.  Part of the ceiling fell onto someone who she couldn’t recognize. 

Was that one of the new employees who was slacking?

She tightly shuts her eyes and tells herself that a paladin would march right down the hallway and get the quest done.  She misses Harry’s soft voice when he calls out her name, “Jasmine, please slow down.”

After a second she realizes he is talking to her, “Oh sorry, I can’t believe this is happening.  How did this happen?”

They are at the end of the hallway and are passing the time clock she uses when she starts her shift.  She is terrified of the dark and can’t stop shaking.

She hears muffled voices up ahead, “Which one do you have?  I have chicken.  Oh this is so good.”  The voice is full of satisfaction.

Someone else answers, “I have a hamburger; I will give you two hamburgers for your chicken sandwich.” 

The second voice is shrill.  She recognizes it as the homeless person who had the message on his chest.  Deep down she falters and doesn’t want to deal with them. 

Harry passes her without hesitation and enters the room.

“Hey you guys, what are you doing?”  He sounds neutral as he points his light into the smaller man’s face.

The man squints and turns around as he shovels as much of the sandwich as he can into his mouth. The other homeless man smiles and tells Harry, “This is a great day!  Look at the free food!  Do you want a hamburger?”  He flourishes a bag filled with sandwiches from the timed out counter.

Juliet feels rage and softly accuses him without thought, “Those burgers are for the people who ordered take out!  Put it back!”

The two homeless men laugh hysterically and do not put the food down, “Girl, wake up and smell the coffee!  The end of the world came and they are all dead!”

Juliet couldn’t believe what he’s saying.

Who did he think he was?  Of course something happened but everybody on the outside is fine.  Within minutes fireman and police men were going to break through the rubble and safe them!

She looks at the homeless person with the sign and with much contempt declares, “You’re a looter and don’t deserve that food!”  She feels what her paladin must feel when slaying a monster.  Deep down she didn’t deserve to be here and she certainly doesn’t deserve to watch this evil man laugh at other people’s misery.

Without thinking of the consequences she tears the hamburger out of his hands, “Get out of this office!  Get back to the lobby and stop smiling!”

The homeless man with the sign on his chest shrieks, “Who do you think you are bitch?”  He lunges towards her.  Juliet freezes as she feels his hands squeeze around her neck.

What should I do?

Her knees buckle and she can’t respond.  Her eyes falter as her vision swims.  She drops her flashlight and desperately claws at his hands.  She feels him grip harder.

I can’t breathe!

Harry simply says, “Enough of this nonsense.” 

As fast as lightening he reaches out with his left and hits the man who is choking Juliet.  Juliet watches in awe as his arm darts underneath the bigger mans elbow and snaps the bone in one fluid motion. The pressure eases from half her throat and she is able to break free of the other hand by twisting towards her left. 

Harry continues to execute the combination he learned in Korea.  Stepping onto the homeless person’s right foot he kicks at the muscle above the knee cap.  Next he strikes at the inside of the leg.  The bigger man grunts in surprise as Harry finishes the combo by smashing his elbow into the guy’s temple.  The second homeless person drops his sandwich and instantly backs up.  The first man falls into a heap and cries while holding his arm.

Harry steps back from the fallen homeless person, “I don’t ever want to see you attack a woman again.  Now get your ass into the lobby and do not cause any more trouble.”

The man standing helps his friend and they head back towards the lobby.  Half way back they hear a shrill voice menacingly threaten, “This isn’t over.”

Harry laughs.  He starts to go through the manager’s office with Juliet.

It’s not a big office. The office has one desk for the manager, a black board for scheduling, ten lockers and a bench.  There wasn’t a place to smoke a cigarette or a fridge.  She quickly goes to her locker and takes out her bag.  She doesn’t want to wear her Burger King shirt anymore.  It’s too dark for Harry to see her nude so she quickly puts her casual shirt on.  She throws her name tag into the shadows.  She tells herself it’s not time for Juliet.

Harry draws in his breath as he makes a happy noise, “This is what I’m talking about.  I found a short wave radio.”  He quickly switched it on but all they hear is static. 

“Shit, well at least we have one.”  After looking around the desks Harry finds a few more things of interest.

There’s a small fire extinguisher, a first aid kid, some shipping plastic and tape.

Juliet is confused about the plastic and tape, “Why those things?” she points her flashlight at them to make it clear what she’s referring to.

Harry patiently explains, “We don’t know what happened.  If its biological or radiation we will need to put as much plastic up as we can.”

Juliet snorts and tries to make a joke, “Past that rubble?  I couldn’t even see the sunlight.”  She reminds herself to be like her Paladin. 

Harry looks at her back pack and tells her to come to him.  He unzips her pack while explaining, “I’m going to need you to carry the first aid kit and some other things.  You’re the official bag carrier and medic.  Can you handle the job?”

It’s not exactly how she viewed herself as a Paladin but she shrugs, “However I can help.”

On the way out of the office she comes up with another idea, “Should we gather the remaining food and hand it out when it’s needed?  I would hate a few people to eat all the food in one day.

He looks at Jasmine with a little respect, “That’s a good idea.  Let’s see what the physical damage is.”

She stops in the hallway and remembers there is another health kit in the employee bathroom, “I will meet you in the lobby.  I know where another medical kit is.” 

She isn’t afraid of the dark anymore and gets the kit.  She briefly looks into her back pack.  She has two health kits, her purse, pepper spray, and some extra clothes.  She remembers being attacked by the homeless man and puts a butcher knife, used to cut lettuce, in her pack.  She recalls seeing a bottle of whiskey in the manager’s office that Harry and the other homeless people over looked.  She goes back and puts it in her pack.  She didn’t want to get drunk but if she’s going to be carrying medical supplies she might as well have a disinfectant.

Or maybe someone would like it in the lobby if help didn’t come tonight?

Juliet heads back to the lobby.  Harry is a natural leader; he seems to have shrugged off the image of being homeless man even though he wears the same clothes.  He has the short wave radio on the floor but it doesn’t work.  Harry is confused and starts to curse as he turns the box over and over.

One of the college females interrupts him, “I heard there was a lot of solar flare activity this week.  Last year China lost millions of dollars in telecommunications due to solar flares, maybe it won’t work because of that?” 

Harry mutters, “Maybe.” 

He tells Juliet to help the injured.  There are only sixteen people in the lobby.  A whole bunch of lights face the center where everyone congregated.  They manage to drag a few tables together.  Three people have broken arms and ribs, eight people are cut on the face, chest, and arms, and one person could not remember his name.  She is worried about the person who couldn’t remember anything.  The man has a cut on his forehead and one eye is sealed shut.  He keeps on shaking like he is cold.

People talk in hushed tones when things go bad to worse.  She’s cleaning someone’s cuts when they hear a large boom.  A deep boom rattles the broken building. 

Harry says, “That sounds like it might have been a gas line in Asian fast food joint.”  No one knows what to do so nobody does anything.  After doing as much as she could for the injured she feels a little hungry and enlists the help of Rodger to scavenge for edible food.

Twenty minutes later they have a pile of food.  56 cheeseburgers, 29 hamburgers, 14 chicken sandwiches, 29 salads, at least a hundred chicken nuggets, and 16 fish sandwiches.  They decide to not gather the fries from the fryer.  She even finds two onion free burgers but puts them in her bag for later. 

There are seven dead bodies.  Harry is the only one who will touch them so he piles them away from the others.  He would have preferred putting the bodies in the cooler but they couldn’t reach it.  The ceiling caved in around it.  Hopefully they wouldn’t be in here that long.  The man who was seriously injured hemorages and dies within minutes.

Chapter XIII: Anti Hero

The leash becomes taunt in Larry’s left hand.  The leather’s course edge digs further as it lubricates his hand with his blood.

It doesn't hurt, but the pain can go away now.

His vision starts to focus as his peripheral vision registers what is happening.  He is downtown.  An hour earlier dispatch told them to take Pixel to the National Mall.  The canine did a splendid job in her highway patrol tests; of course they found no bad guys.  His partner was impressed by his ability in having Pixel behave properly during the searching procedures. 

They were having Pixel sniff out possible explosives and chemical agent’s downtown for her next assignment.  The office decided to have an agent with some fake explosives meet somewhere on their route.  The fake explosives had a slight mix of Ammonium Nitrate to trigger Pixels senses.  On the route they were more than likely find a crack dealer and no real explosives, but that’s just the way it is in the city.  They couldn’t afford to wait for a terrorist to attack so it was better to make a controlled environment to see how she works under pressure.  Of course they didn’t tell him or his partner where it was going to happen and she was long past the training grounds at the K9 police facility.

Officers and canines have a few tricks up their sleeves when fighting criminals.  Larry could direct Pixel by making the Tisk sound with his throat.  Other commands in his arsenal range from directing her to pursue and apprehend, release and guard, defend and the list goes and on.

But what's happening right now ian't part of Pixels training.  He couldn’t believe what he is seeing.

Is this real?

A moment ago he told his partner he was going to wait outside of the Capital Building as his partner needs to use the bathroom.  They are on the West Front Terrace and were outside.  Moments before they wrapped up a preliminary round by having Pixel sniff the crowd in front.  He didn’t know or care why everyone was here.  He just wanted to do his job.

He didn’t lose his balance but instead watches in disbelief as everyone began to roll like they were on a boat in the middle of a lake.  Pixel was going hysterical and she wouldn’t stop barking.  His mind was having a hard time registering what's happening. 

What was the command to make her stand still?  Oh yeah! Heel! 

He couldn’t find his voice.  Pixel continues to try to break free as a siren begins its endless wail.  He couldn’t focus on his walkies-talkie and it seemed like it wasn't working.

He didn’t care about his hand or the blood that's congregating in his palm.  What he is seeing is something out of a cheesy post apocalyptic movie. 

It’s almost as if I’m watching USA late all night and Mad Max came to DC…

The capital building is swaying.  Chunks of marble and granite fall on people who are dressed in suits.  He couldn’t help but watch as the cast iron dome shifts to the right and then the left.  The sun shines brightly behind it and there are no clouds in the sky.

Is the dome going to fall? 

Larry needed to watch, deep down he knew this is ground breaking.  History is in the making.

His attention goes to the steps.  Granite heaves and splits.  People run towards the entrance.

Don’t go inside!  The dome is going to collapse!  Why couldn’t he say something, anything?

His partner is near the entrance.  They make eye contact.  There's a fierce determination in his partner’s eyes. 

Shit, NO!  

Larry knew what his partner wants.  It was something Larry couldn’t be.  His partner was a hero.  He felt a slight urge deep down to run into the burning building but then his mind screams at him not to.

This is stupid.  They were going to die if they went in there.

His partner saw him stall.   His eyes goes flat as he watches his partner sneer back at him in contempt.

I don’t want to die today.

His partner flicks him off and disappears in the building.  Fifteen or twenty people follow him.

Where are the rest of the cops?

Pixel wants to go in the building.  She is fighting with him.  He doesn’t let go but instead keeps on looking at what’s happening around them.

It’s been about thirty seconds.  Larry finds his strength as the ground shifts slower.  He reaches for his walkies-talkie but only hears static.  He reaches for his cell phone and notes it’s turned on silent.  It’s not working but there is an emergency message.

No shit.  There’s something definitely happening that isn’t normal.

People are crying.  Dust lifts from the ground where the walls crumbled.  It’s getting harder to see what’s happening on eye level due to the debris and dust. 

He sees his partner reemerge with something big and bulky. 

Was it causality? 
No, he saw the body move.  His partner looks in his direction and makes eye contact a second time.  Pixel is no longer barks but suddenly pushes with all her might.

Larry feels his body propel forward.  Pixel is on a mission and there’s no stopping her.  He didn’t want to let go of the leash.  His partner went back inside.

Shit, I don’t want to go in there.

Pixel wouldn’t hear it as she continued to move forward.  This was her day. 

Larry knew Pixel wasn’t ready but it didn’t stop her.

He finally found his voice but it didn’t matter.  The K9 was leaping up the slowly rolling stairs and he was her puppet.  His life was wrapped up in these dogs and he wasn’t going to lose her to this.

They were at the entrance.  His partner was dragging something small.

They didn’t need to say anything.  His partner dropped the half conscious body and looked him in the eyes for a third time. 

“It’s better to be late than never show I suppose.”  Larry didn’t need to explain himself to his partner.  He didn’t care what he thought of him.  Larry was scared and did not want to be here.

Pixel barks and he notices a few security officers helping people to their feet.  It’s apparent that much of the building is standing but the ground underneath them still hasn’t stopped moving.

“I saw people run to the Rotunda.  We need to get them out.”

It was like Pixel knew what his partner was saying as she darts forward.  He still wasn’t going to let go.  He tries giving her a few commands but she wouldn’t listen.

They pass the entrance to the crypt.  He knew he was going to die if he went forward so for the first time he pulls at the leash.  Pixel instantly flies backwards and his partner curses.

Larry has his mind back and finds his voice.  “The dome is going to collapse.  I’m not going inside there.”

His partner turns on him with righteous fury, “Shut up and do your duty.  This is what we are here to do.  To serve and protect.”

Larry is frustrated and wants his partner to see his point of view, “There’s no difference of helping people here or in there.  Here has no roof about to collapse.”  They stopped in the Brumidi corridors, the pillars did not look safe to be under.

His partner sneers, “Larry, you are a coward.  Let me have Pixel then.  The congressman and politicians are going to be in there, or on the second floor.  They aren’t going to be in the crypt or in the old chambers.  Come with me and be a good cop.”

Larry never liked his partner, “No.  You can come with us and help others but we are not going in there.  Ordinary people are just as important as world leaders”

His partner snorts.  A few military personal quickly pass them and tell them to follow.  A few security officers come out of the center room helping a congressman from Ohio.  His partner doesn’t waste any time and runs into the chamber.  Civilians from the outside are being stopped at the entrance while being told they couldn’t enter.

A few highly armed groups escorted more senators and congressman out.  One tourist who has a flowery tourist shirt and khaki’s really wants to get in the chambers.

The security personal allows his partner in but not the civilian.

The man in the flowery shirt with the camera doesn't seem to hear him.  He is looking for his family and was yells, “Sharon where are you?  Timmy, Amanda?”  He shrugs off the security guard while another guard dressed in a suit moves to his right.  The other civilians stop as the guard upholsters his side arm. 

Countless people are trying to ask government workers questions.  Its evident security equipment and telecommunication gear isn't working.  Security personal keep pawing at their microphones in their ears but only receiving static.  Larry could not see what's happening in the chamber and takes a few steps backwards.  It took all his might to stop Pixel from running in the chamber after his partner.

The man with the flowery shirt continues to push past the security personal. 

His voice gets more desperate as he yells over the security guards, “Amanda is in there!  You need to let me in.  My family was touring in the chamber when this started!”

He kept on pushing past the guards and didn’t take no for an answer.


The shot could be heard over the siren and echoes in the chaos.  Everyone stops.

The man in the flowery tourist shirt puts his hand to his chest and looks down in disbelief after twirling from the impact.  The civilians and Larry get a clear picture as they see a red dot appear on his chest.

The man falls to his knees and the civilians go quiet.  Within seconds the civilians move as one mass and rush past Larry, going back the way they came in.

Other civilians enter the hall not knowing what just occurred.

Larry did not want to be here.  A sign points to the crypt.  He wants nothing more to have a drink.  He was still a cop and did not want anyone to see his weakness.  After having a drink he will try to help as best as he can.  The crypt is to the left of the dome and has a side hallway not open to the public which goes underground.  Security personal did not care if he goes down there because he is a cop.  He did not look twice for his partner.

Larry directs Pixel to the crypt and pauses only a moment as he looks around at his surroundings.

Murals from Constantino Brumidi are destroyed.  Cracks appear everywhere in the building but the ceiling is still intact.  Two pillars have already collapsed; which really scared Larry, in the adjacent hall way called the Hall of Columns, or so he heard a few guards mutter.   He briefly felt sad knowing the Italian’s work depicting the elements would be never more.

He didn’t think twice in going down the steps to the crypt.  Anything that puts him away from security personal shooting Americans would be nice.  He makes it to the bottom of the steps and fishes a small alcohol bottle from deep in his jacket.

Oh my God, this is really happening!

Larry ignores both the blood on his hand and Pixel as he opens the bottle and drinks the contents.  For a moment he drifts against the wall and tries to not listen to the screaming coming from the floor above.

Larry did not think anyone knew what to do and its pure chaos.

Pixel brings his attention back to the moment as she whines.  Shrugging, Larry decides its fine by him to not go back upstairs for a few more minutes.  Larry let Pixel direct him.  He’s a little worried about Pixel’s search and rescue skills.

Pixel briskly leads Larry down the corridor and barks at the some rubble.

Were those blue flags popping out of the rubble?  Oh shit, are those people in the rubble?

Larry instantly recalls seeing a group of Asian students dressed in blue.  He feels a sick knot build in his stomach.  A large part of the wall has fallen on the crushed group.

Pixel darts forward and paws at the debris. 

Maybe someone is alive?

Larry takes out his light and shines in through the settling dust.  Sunlight streams from a few cracks in the wall making it a mute gesture.  He pauses as the ground under his feet settles after the latest aftershock subsides.  The siren still cycles.  He could hear someone sob as he briefly looks at the ceiling.

Not good.
  Entire chunks of the ceiling fall around him.  It’s only a matter of time before the building collapses.  I need to get out of here!”

In very broken English Larry hears a boyish rasp, “Help me, please…”

Shit!  Someone is alive.

“OK, stay where you are, help is coming.”  Larry felt stupid as soon as he says this.  Of course the Asian was going to stay still.

Larry didn’t need his flash light and lets go of Pixels collar.  Pixel starts to dig as best as she can.

Larry tells her to stay still and picks up a few blocks. 

It didn’t take long for him to find an Asian kid dressed in blue.  Blood cakes the kids frame. This kid is lucky.  He must be blessed.  Outside of the blood and torn clothes he looks like an unscathed nerd.

The Asian teen talks in gibberish, annoying Larry in a way he could not understand.

“Do you speak English?  I don’t understand you.”

After wiping blood from the kid’s eyes from a cut brow, Larry realizes he doesn’t speak English and gives up. 

He reaches down and picks up the teen.  There doesn’t appear to be any broken bones but the kid doesn’t have the strength to walk.  The Asian looks back and howlers when he sees his classmates buried in the rubble.

“Shit kid, don’t look.”  He shoulders the kid who then reaches down and grabs a back pack in the rubble.  Pixel isn’t looking for anyone else.  The rest are dead.

Larry sighs as he walks back up the steps.  Everyone is still in the chamber.  Larry tries to drop the kid off but the Asian clings to him. 

“I don’t have time for this.  Get lost and be safe.”  He tries to unravel the Asian kids’ arms from around his neck.  His hand was really hurt and wouldn’t stop bleeding.

When did that start hurting?

Suddenly the ground pitches to the right as a new aftershock rocks Washington DC.  Larry knows this isn't a safe place and wants to get out of the building.
Most of the politicians have evacuated the premises.

Maybe they made it the underground railway.  Funny those politicians are allowed a private rail way the public can’t use.  Many of them must have fled underground.

He couldn’t get the Asian off of him and sighs.  He forgot to pick up Pixel’s leash but she obediently follows.

Might as well carry and drop him outside.  It’s safer out there then in here.

Minutes later Larry finds himself at the entrance.  A whole bunch of first responders finally arrived and are pushing past both civilians and government workers.  The entrance to the Capital Building looks like its bent sideways.  Larry uncontrollably shakes as he thinks to himself he should be outside.

Apparently others feel the same way as the first responders start to evacuate the building.  Larry has to pause for the crowd to thin out.  Larry knew from his disaster training seminars with FEMA that buildings get displaced from its shape, size, and stiffness when earthquakes hit.  He already knew the roof is teetering.  According to his courses at FEMA, the grounds underneath the buildings are becoming liquefaction.  In other words, the Pontiac River and Atlantic Ocean must have changed the properties in the soil and now the ground is unstable!  Larry shakes his head in disbelief as he continues this thought.

But this is impossiblePlaces that are prone to earthquakes are likely to have this occur.  Just like what happened in California and in Oregon a year before.  Maybe these aftershocks are from the Madrid Fault?  No, that was definitely an earthquake in DC. 

Larry did not believe it’s a terrorist attack.  It’s time to leave the lobby.

Maybe the Cascadia Subduction Zone shifted through the North America plate and the Juan de Fuca plate.  This would explain the connection between his home in California and what’s happening in British Columbia but it was a long shot.

Larry is glad his mother pushed him into getting A’s in the FEMA natural disaster courses for the police academy.  He briefly looks up at the twisted door frame before leaving.  He knew you were supposed to stay inside or get underneath something solid during an earthquake but he couldn’t wait to get out of the building.

Moments later he’s on the broken steps leading to the front entrance.  He blinks a few times and coughs.  Smoke is everywhere.  When he went inside it was dusty, now various buildings are in rubble.  It appears every three buildings are left untouched.  Fire comes from many.  A large boom could be felt in the distance.  A new smoke plume appears a couple blocks down.

Was that the Supreme Court Building? 

A black gentleman in a torn business suit comments near him, “That must have been a gas line.  There’s going to a lot of that.”  Larry sees the man has a name tag, his name is Mark.  A white man appears near Mark with two women.  The new man’s name tag reads Mike. 

“Mark we need to get out of here.  Let’s go and get to the office.” 

There is a dark hair woman who he recognizes as an anchor woman for CNN and her camera man.  She’s instantly is in his face asking questions and making statements, “Get the camera on this officer.  He is a hero!  Look!  He carried a child out of the building!  Do you know what’s happening?”

Larry can’t believe this.  Is this woman stupid or something?  People are dying and she’s being like this?

He manages to mutter, “I think we need to get of the stairs and on solid ground.  I don’t know what’s happening.”

As a group they pass the chaotically ruined stairs.  The CNN journalist films the carnage around them. 

Mark ushers the group to move and Larry doesn’t know what else to do but follow.  He finally gets the Asian kid to let go who proceeds to follow behind everyone.  Larry laughs when he sees the redneck he pulled over earlier.  The redneck from Minnesota refuses to make eye contact.  Other staff people and civilians are around but Larry doesn’t look to close.  He doesn’t even know where they are going but anything is better than where he currently is.  Pixel is quiet and his hand burns sharply and will not stop bleeding.  He didn’t want to clean it at the moment.  He just wants to have another drink.  He didn’t feel like a hero and wishes the CNN journalist would shut up.

They pause on the lawn and as a group look up.  Metal on metal could be heard as the Statue Freedom sways.

It couldn’t handle the aftershocks.  9 million pounds of cast iron collapse in one final metal groan.  The statue did not break, but rather the whole iron foundation and statue simply collapse.

Everyone is quiet.  Mark starts to cry.   The CNN journalist busily films.

He knew his partner and everyone in there was now dead or wished they were.

Chapter XIV:  Looking into Nothingness

Harry does not want to open his eyes for another second, in the darkness a second feels like ten minutes.  He washes down the last of his cheeseburger with some water from a Dasani plastic bottle. 

His mind is takes inventory after the initial shock wore off.

The best thing to do in an emergency such as this is to keep a cool mind.  The college girls were not calming down.

The four students’ keep to the light but are not communicating well with the others.  Harry ponders the situation further.

This isn’t good.  If the city is destroyed no one is going to come for us.  Leave it to fast food to have supplies such as water and food.  Too bad resources were not easy to come by when I was a soldier in Korea.  It’s best to keep a clear mind and help the civilians.

Harry looks to where the dude was sitting who received the broken elbow.  Deep down he knows he has to be cautious and made a enemy.  He didn’t want to break the man’s arm but he had no right choking a woman.  Harry is conservative and believes in tradition and respect.  If this was the war he would have broken the guy’s neck.

He wasn’t sure what to think of Samantha.  He didn’t understand why she lied about her name. 

Was she stupid to not think he wouldn’t notice her picture as an employee of the month for the last few months?   Then there’s the fact she through her name tag away.

If Harry didn’t know better he would have thought she was a spy, but he wasn’t paranoid. 

No, that’s my imagination.  How many times did a buddy of mine escape reality through lies or projecting themselves in a fantasy?  Many times, especially when they get shot or experience trauma.  She must be in denial.  What’s up with her hair being so short?  She seems brash but has a good character.  She is the closest thing to authority here.  I need her as an ally.

“Samantha, we need to do a second run and stock further.  The things we got are good but we need more supplies.  Jack, Rodger can you guys help?”  By directly talking to her he hoped to have the rest follow her as their leader.  Rodger and the other Burger King employee agree. 

He wasn’t expecting the college student’s answer when he asks Jack’s group.

Jack flippantly replies, “Why should I?  The girls need me.  Help is coming and we will be out of here within an hour.”  

The college girl with Jack does not stop crying and proceeds to dramatically run into the bathroom.  Jack and her friends follow like simple sheep.  Before Jack goes into the bathroom he looks back at Harry and politely says, “Please leave us alone.”

Harry shrugs while muttering, “Figures.  They are spoiled.  They will come around in a few hours after they are done crying.”

Harry walks towards the homeless group.  The man with broken arm sits away from the others but he seems to be talking to them in hushed tones.  His back is away from the light.  His friend isn’t around but that didn’t worry him.  A few homeless people scavenge the floor for unwrapped food.  They are obviously still hungry.

Looking over at the three homeless men near the center group he asks, “Can you guys bring some tables together?  We need to create a canopy of tables to prevent ourselves from getting hurt from falling debris.  There doesn’t seem to be any stable support beams.”  Aftershocks could be felt every other minute.  They shook everything for fifteen to thirty seconds.  It was not getting better.

One looks to him and says, “I think we can get a few.”

One of the old people who frequent Burger King despairingly mutters words that chill Harry.  The old gentleman is dressed nice and obviously is someone important.   His voice is raspy voice as he says the obvious, “We are going to die.”

Rodger quickly responds, “Mathew, don’t say that.  We will be fine.  Think of your wife and grandchildren.  They are waiting for us as soon as we get out of here.”

Mathew’s voice takes a hint of scorn, “How do you know?  I need to get out of here!”  Mathew bursts from the small circle of misshaped lights and runs to the entrance.   He trips once but quickly gets back up.  “Don’t you see?  Everyone in here is dead and we are all going to die!  We need to get out of here!”

People are trying to tell him to calm down.  Mathew is at the entrance and proceeds to claw at the rubble.  He keeps shrieking they are all going to die and that he needs to get out. 

Harry clinches his right hand.  He saw a soldier once freak out like this.  He couldn’t help but remember.

It was 1949.  A few years before, the Korean Peninsula was ruled by the Japanese.  Since 1945 the allied powers divided the Korean Peninsula at the 38th parallel but the Forgotten War did not officially start until 1950.  The northern territory had soviet troops; he was stationed in the South.  It wasn’t like the movies.  Both nations attacked each other like pirates; they called it ‘skirmishes’.

His unit was ordered to sabotage free elections by undermining local insurgents but in reality they hid in a hole for a few years.  Someone in Washington DC thought free elections were not possible as long as communists fed ideology to rural villages and the only way to stop them was through cloak and dagger espionage.  The public wasn’t ready for the war so they had to keep the mission quiet.  His unit had a twofold objective.  First, insert false documentations at specific locations to undermine soviet authority; second, patiently lay in ambush for any high level official near the Yalu River that may be carrying important military documents.  It wasn’t about the Chinese, Koreans, or the Japanese in the beginning.  It was about curtailing Soviet expansion.

Harry spent Christmas Eve in a poppy field his first year.  His Christmas meal consisted of cold soup in his sweaty helmet.  He was lucky and had a Hershey chocolate bar for dessert.  His days were spent sleeping in a hole in the ground, always waiting.  Intense training with the United Stated Military Academy didn’t prepare him for the armed conflict he was going to experience.  His prayer was the Cadit Maxem:

Risk more than others think is safe.

Care more than others think is wise.
Dream more than others think is practical.
Expect more than others think is possible.

Christmas Day sucked big time.  A Korean child near a small fishing village shot the captain.  His captain thought it would be safe to break protocol and wanted to get something special for the holidays.  He didn’t even make it to town.  While trying to be in the holiday spirit he got shot by a child who mistook his as an evil spirit.  Many Koreans didn’t know who the enemy was, many did not understand what was happening.  Everyone had to be considered hostile while contact with locals was supposed to be zilch.  He had to drag his Captain back to the hole in the ground and watched in horror as his Captain got an infection and died by New Years.

Back then he had two hands.  Harry reentered the moment as he watches the old gentleman bloody his hands on the rubble.  No matter how hard he tried he wasn’t going make progress.  His captain and war buddy couldn’t fix what happened either.
We have no way to treat the old man’s hands if he gets an infection.

He lost his hand when his unit blundered three years later.  He was hiding in a hole and he saw very little action outside of what happened to his Captain.  Periodically they would go on patrol and dig up land mines.   They were not allowed to have alcohol or prostitutes.  They were not allowed to go into the villages.  Most of the time they saw carnage after it happened or knew something was happening when they saw smoke in the distance.  Other times they would get shot at and would rarely see who was shooting at them.  They did a lot of shooting back but only hit trees. 

The Allied forces were tipped a convoy was entering their district and politicians in Washington DC wanted the convoys military documents.  They had a very short window to assassinate the convoy and retrieve the data.   The mission didn’t go as planned even though they succeeded in the mission’s objective.  His unit was eliminated and he lost his left arm.  He watched in horror as his war buddy tried to replace his guts in his stomach.  His intestines poured onto the road.  He never forgot the way his friend clawed at the air before he died.  He was rescued by a Buddhist monk who mended his arm.  The price to pay for freedom and democracy sometimes outweighs human life.  Needless to say the documents he gave Washington helped start the cold war.  Life is full of ironies.

“You need to stop.  Maybe we can get a team of diggers to work on that.  Please stop, you’re hurting yourself.”  Harry looks towards the ceiling as the latest aftershock shakes the broken structure.

“As I was saying, we need to get some tables together to protect our heads.  We need to make sure everything is turned off, and we need to stay calm.”

Juliet and the others agree.

“We also need to do something with the bodies more then what we did.  We can’t risk infection and rampant bacteria and viruses.  Let’s go back to the Managers office and check it one more time.  If someone can help me we can then put the bodies in there seeing as how we don’t have a freezer.  Samantha, come with me please.”

Juliet is having a hard time remembering to answer to the new name.  She’s beginning to think twice about her decision but doesn’t know how to fix the lie.

Time will fix it by the time I’m out of here.  I will never see any of these people again.

Juliet stumbles through the rubble and cleans the hands of the gentleman who freaked out moments before.  There was a lot of blood but it didn’t bother her, she felt disconnected to what was happening around her. 

“Give me a moment to clean his wounds.”  Harry agrees. 

Harry directs the remaining homeless and old people to gather the tables.  He then has them remove rubble from the entrance.  It was better to keep people doing things.

A few minutes later he’s back in the Managers office with Juliet.

“I need you to go through all the lockers and everyone’s pockets.  We need anything we can use.”  Harry goes to the desk and looks at it more critically.

He didn’t care about the papers or the notebooks.  Budget reports and utility bills no longer matter.

He mutters to Juliet, “If we weren’t locked inside here we could have shut off the main valves to the building.  Sadly they are often located outside.”

He finds another set of heavy duty batteries and a small sewing kit that must have been used to mend employee uniforms.

“Did you find anything of use?”  He’s pondering on asking her about her name discrepancy.

“I found a bottle of Aspirin and a nice leather jacket that belonged to Dawn.”  Juliet puts on the jacket.  It’s cold in the building and Harry thinks it’s more than likely going to get colder the later it gets.
That jacket is going to become a high end commodity.

“Good, keep looking.  Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”  Harry spies a Swiss army pocket knife at the bottom of the shelf of the desk.

So damn nice! 

Juliet feels dread and wonders if Harry is going to get perverted.  She likes him though and instantly relaxes when she comes to the conclusion he was like a big brother.

“Go ahead.”

Harry pauses for a second; he is done looking in here but doesn’t want Juliet to know.  He paws through the desk looking like he’s searching for something.

“I know this is a terrible experience but why lie about your name?  I saw the employee of the month picture with you in it, Juliet.”  He tries saying this in the most innocent non threatening voice he can muster, “Juliet is a nice name.  What’s up with you being Samantha?”

Juliet felt uneasy being put on the spot and blurts the first thing that comes to her mind, “It’s my middle name.  I like it more.  You can call me Juliet if you want.”  Its good Harry doesn’t see her face.  She blushes from embarrassment. 

“Om my God, you won’t believe what I just found!”  Juliet takes out a bat and a mitt, “Someone liked playing baseball.”

Harry smiles, “Nothing like some old fashioned baseball.  Sadly I don’t think we need those things.”

Juliet shrugs and tosses the equipment back in the locker.  She puts the baseball in her pack, “I always like baseball balls.”  She didn’t know what she could use it for in the future but it didn’t matter. 

Somebody is yelling in the lobby. 

Harry thinks the homeless man whose arm he broke must be up to mischief.   Jacks voice could be heard.  He is screaming at someone.  It sounds like a fight.  Harry reaches past Juliet and grabs the bat.  They quickly make their way back to Burger King’s lobby.

It’s not the homeless man who attacked Juliet earlier.

Jack is furiously pummeling a homeless man she never noticed.  The girls are behind him and his male friend is cowering in the shadows.

“How dare you touch her?  Who do you think you are?”  His fists continued to rise and fall as he takes out his frustration on the man huddled in a heap in front of him.

Harry rushes forward and slams the bat on one of the tables that was moved to the center of the lobby.

When they were gone the people in the lobby were able to put five tables four feet above the ground by using other tables to brace them in a western log cabin fashion.  By crisscrossing the tables they were able to be stacked, they were heavy enough to not move with the aftershocks. 

“Stop,” Jack stops after hitting the homeless person one more time.

“This dirt bag tried touching my girl friend.”  Jack is about to kick the man huddled in front of him but Harry stops him.

While shining the flashlight at the man’s face Harry asks, “Is this true?”

After a moment the man leaps up and runs across the lobby into the shadows while hollering, “No its not!  She has extra sweaters and I’m cold!  I hate you.”  It’s obvious he’s screaming at Jack and his friends, “You college students think you rule the world.  I hate you and everything you stand for!  How dare you hit me!  I was cold!” 

The crowd in the lobby mutters and Harry isn’t sure what to do.

Rodger curses from near the entrance as he shines his cheap Disney flashlight towards the center of the room where the supplies were, “What happened to the food?”

Harry spins towards where the supplies and sees that half of its gone!

Juliet yells not to happily, “Who took the food?  We need the food!”

The homeless man with the broken arm laughs hysterically.  Harry turns towards him but the homeless man does not have a light on and merges with the shadows.

His shrill voice permeates the silence, “We took it.  Come and get it if you want it.”

Harry is startled when he sees four homeless men band together where the shrill voice is coming from.

“Harry we are disappointed in you.  You are one of us.  Stop this child like game and join us.  It’s us against them.  It’s always been that way.  This is about survival of the fittest.”  The four homeless men pick up random pipes and sharp instruments, their persona turned menacing.

Harry didn’t think twice before responding, “Oh, I see how it’s going to be.  These people need me.  It doesn’t need to be like this.  Give us the food and we can talk about it.  We are all Americans.”

The man with the broken arm shrilly responds, “It needs to be like this.  We took half the supplies.  Leave us alone and we will all get along.”

Harry looks at them with contempt, “I was never like you.  Stay on your side then and don’t come asking me for help.”  The man who got beat up by Jack joins the armed group.  Now they are six.

The two other homeless men did not join them.  He had the majority. 

“Can you guys at least try to dig us out?”

The homeless man with the shrill voice answers, “Of course.  We want to get out of here just like you.  Just like you said, we are all Americans.  We are not giving back the resources and if you try to take them we will kill you.”

With resolution Harry and Juliet say at the same time, “Fine.”

Rodger and Sara help retrieve half of the supplies that remain in the pile.  The college students decide to keep to themselves and become creative as they take over one of the bathrooms.  The older gentlemen continue to gather bodies in hushed tones after they got over their initial shock.   Harry knew the bodies wouldn’t get contagious with bacteria for a few days but the psychological impact of corpses is going to be too much for the people in the lobby within half of a day.   Within minutes the lobby is clear.  Harry puts the rest of the food in a very large potato sack he finds near the fryer.  He doesn’t want the other homeless people to take it.

He doesn’t feel comfortable holding the bat so he gives it to Rodger and tells him to guard the supplies.  He only has one hand and needs it for other tasks. 

Not knowing what else to do he goes back to the short wave radio he found and turns the knobs.  Of course there is no response outside of static.

Maybe there is a chute or a different way out of the building?  How long has it been?

He spies the time by looking at Rodgers cheap imitation Rolex.  It’s quarter after one. 

It’s only been an hour in a half?

Harry shuts his eyes and prays for help to come.  He doesn’t think Juliet and the others will last more than three days under the present circumstances.  
Water is going to be a big issue.

His mind wanders back to the war, back to nothingness.  What else does one do when waiting for rescuers?

There was one last thing Harry learned in the war.  Victims from natural disasters often get hurt from outlier incidents such as being injured, drowning, or by fire.   The real threat was not going to come from the dead corpses or the rubble, but rather from fowl play regarding his fellow human beings.  The only threat the dead corpses will be giving stems from possible chronic blood infections as the corpses decompose.  A few days from now that won’t be the case.   In a few days if left untouched they could start to get dangerous when methane and other gases build around the decomposing flesh.  He keeps one eye open watching the homeless men who are armed.
Chapter XV: Journey to the Smithsonian

As far as Fred is concerned he’s in hell.  The earth is shaking and pillars of fire rise to the heavens.  Buildings crumble as many become either killed or seriously hurt.  His subconscious keeps dredging up the song Highway to Hell from AC/DC but the constant siren stops his mind from going too far down that path.  He doesn’t feel like he’s going to hell, but it seems hell has come to him.  He recalls his life on the walk and wants to make everything better.  His catholic priest’s voice permeates his awareness, reminding him of why he is a good Christian.

Fred ponders the significance of the event as he tries calling his wife for the hundredth time.

Why is the emergency screen on the phone but I can’t send a phone call? I’m dead aren’t I?
Why wouldn’t Fred think he was dead? 

Maybe I fell asleep at the wheel while driving on the intersection and this is a bad dream?

But Fred believes in God and went to church every Sunday.  That is, all long as he wasn’t working or fishing.  Dead people couldn’t feel what he was feeling.  He decides he isn’t dead or having a nightmare.

Broken buildings, death, fire, the only thing missing was Jesus and angels coming down to earth.

This has to be the end of times!  Oh sweet Jesus, please save me.

Fred looks over to his son and flinches.  He doesn’t like the way the situation unfolded.  Kyle never wanted him to help set a stage!  It was all a lie.  Kyle manipulated him into coming down town to see him shine.  Kyle never believed in Jesus.

He didn’t like his son, but he still loved him.  He didn’t know what to feel or how to make things right. 

It’s best to get my grandson and take Kyle back home.  Will Jesus save Kyle?  What about my wife and other children?  What about the Coca Cola factory?  Will I ever be able to fish again with my buddies?  Are they still alive?  Did Minnesota get hit?
Fred digs out his crucifix which is on a gold chain.  His wife gave it to him many years ago when they first met.  He never would have known about Jesus if it wasn’t for her.  He met her at church on Easter when he was 19 years old.

He no longer cares about Kyle’s manipulations; Fred figured all people who worked in government treated their parents like crap.

Or at least the parents who aren’t educated seem to be treated like crap.

“Kyle, I know we have our differences, but we need to get the baby and go home.”  Fred fidgets, deep down he prays Kyle won’t disagree.

Kyle looks at him tiredly, and with much distrust.  With very little acceptance he says, “Sure.  I didn’t know this was going to happen.  Sorry.  The baby is at the hospital.  I have a nanny who is looking after her.  They were supposed to be home around 6 pm.”

The military finally arrives, or at least a very small section of it.

The group is about to make it past the lawn off of the capital building when a most disturbing vintage catches Fred’s eye.  He points it out to the rest of the group.

First Street at the juncture of Independence Avenue is no longer a complete road.  The street splits down the middle.  A large gap spanning roughly nine feet divided the street as a broken water line spewed tons of water down a deep hole.

Mark stops crying about the dome collapsing and now laughs while pointing to the street, “What are the odds of this happening?  Why is this happening?  How are we getting past this?”  He kicks at the loose earth near the side of the road.  One of the visiting professors from England tries cajoling him.  The visiting Russian professor steps in and wraps her arms around him.

Mark doesn’t want to listen as he continues to step closer to the edge of the hole.  Pixel starts to bark until she gets Mark’s attention.  Mark walks away from the edge and pats her on the head as he stops crying and laughing.  Larry doesn’t seem to notice or care.

Military vehicles stop across the street near the Jefferson building at the Library of Congress.  They stall when they see metal barriers and the large hole in the road.  Within moments the soldiers have a makeshift metal bridge spanning the gap and are running towards the capital building.  The makeshift bridge was part of a heavy machine that looks like its part of a larger vehicle.  They don’t care the building just collapsed; it’s obvious they are on a mission.  None of the soldiers glance at the group.

Over head new noises encompasses Washington DC.  It’s the sound of military engines in helicopters.  A dozen choppers appear in between the pillars of smoke and fire.  Within seconds they land on the opposite side of the very large lawn.  Military jets could be heard overhead but he couldn’t see them.  The military snipers were no longer on the roofs or in the crowd. 

Larry could have accurately told them what unit and division the rescuers were part of but he wasn’t saying anything.  His face is pale and his eyes keep focusing beyond the group as he clinches and unclenched his left hand. 

Both military groups merge and stop. 

Fred looks in amazement as he hears one soldier yell to another, “Who has jurisdiction here?”  The other soldier yells back he doesn’t know.

A group of firefighters emerge from the rubble; both military groups quickly put together separate command centers.  They are quick but aren’t communicating well.  The firemen direct both units to the deflated building while they disappear back inside.

Susan Bishop breaks from the group and tries to intercept one of the soldiers but quickly gets told to leave the premises.  No one wants a journalist in the way.  She comes back looking a little depressed.  Larry snaps out of his reverie and attempts to explain what’s happening.  Fred doesn’t understand much of what he is saying outside of a few basic things.

Larry is telling Susan and the news camera the chaos of the rescuers is part of the National Response Framework.  The NRF is a new system of domestic policies geared towards fixing the communication gaps between state and federal agencies.   Hurricane Katrina and the fall of New Orleans gave witness to the fact that government needs to fix the way she responds in natural disasters.  The program is still being developed and apparently no one really has a clue where to start if things go majorly wrong.  Most rescue organizations are told to only focus on one block, building, or public official.  This makes it harder for first responders to get to everyone who needs them.  This disaster is too large in scope, just as Katrina and New Orleans was too much.  Larry rambles on about how FEMA training taught him America was not always prepared for disaster mitigation, especially when politicians and leaders only worry about being elected for short terms which means they don’t really care about what’s happening in the big picture.  Government needs to put long term goals in place and too much time and resources are spent on spinning public images which are not real.  Domestic disaster policies declare each State and City has to deplete local resources before the Federal government gets involved. Complete anarchy will often come about as some cities and states will respond positively and others will regress and act like their primitive ancestors.  In other words, when it comes to natural disasters, States and local communities will be the back bone of America and it’s up to proper city managers and administrators to work with service workers and the community to put things back in order.

Of course there are some exceptions.  Larry concludes with his personal opinion that there is too much friction and miscommunication between national agencies.  He concludes with, “What happens if the chain of command is destroyed at the top?  Who is going to give proper clearance and direction?  Current Domestic policies include nonprofit organizations banding together for the community when a natural disaster occurs but it does little for first responders.  In other words, the policy was good but it lacks real world practicality in that it did not prepare State and Local agencies for any epic natural disaster such as this.  In my opinion they are doing the best they can and they are all heroes, but may God bless and help us all.  I don’t think anyone is going to come and rescue us outside of what we are seeing.  We need to evacuate Washington DC.”

Watching various military units, fire men and police officers not coordinate rescue efforts was giving credit to everything Larry declared for national television.  Susan and her camera man are very happy someone with a uniform was telling them their opinion.  Most of the time public employees such as cops remain quiet and don’t believe in whistle blowing.  He was going to get in trouble for his thoughts and possibly fired but someone needed to tell the truth!

Fred looks down at his wrist watch and asks Kyle to explain what Larry just said.  Kyle doesn’t want to be bothered as he busily talks to a few of his co workers.  They are trying to get Kyle to go back to the Smithsonian because they were hoping it would be safer there.

Fred understands why they want to go somewhere familiar as he thinks to himself; people often go back where they are comfortable.  During most natural disasters people will go back and live with their families and friends.

New public workers arrive.  It’s been twenty minutes since the earthquake hit.

He didn’t know how the EMS ambulance made it to the lawn but paramedics are running towards the capital building.

Two soldiers break from the chaotic ordeal and pin point Larry as the group’s informal leader, “We need you to get these civilians out of here.  Take them to the nearest evacuation center or come and help us.  Get that camera off!”  One of the soldiers gestures towards the camera and Susan.  The soldier doesn’t have much patience and keeps looking back over his shoulder to see what’s happening with his unit.  For reasons Fred does not understand their telecommunication equipment was not working.  A lot of people are barking orders and not much was happening.

Larry tells the group to follow him and Pixel.  The soldiers tell them to hurry it up and proceed to tell others a similar message.  They itch to get back to their unit and look wild eyed as another building a block away crumbles into a heap after a significant boom is heard and felt by everyone.

Fred follows the group thirty feet down the broken street before they find themselves not being able to move forward.

Fred watches as a bunch of people exit a building that has the homeland security emblem still intact near the front door across from First Street.  The building looks like a solid grey block which isn’t too solid anymore.  Cracked windows give testimony to many darkly tinged windows which were intact earlier in the day.  Fire comes from the left wing towards the section overlooking the Capital Metro Station.  They couldn’t reach the Library of Congress due to the gaping hole in Independent Avenue and hope to cross somewhere on First Street.   The fountain at the entrance no longer works.  The military personal didn’t leave the makeshift bridge they used when crossing the gap, the military vehicles rambled to another location.  The street sign still stands but it’s bent near the base.  The gravel in the sidewalk rejects various metal pipes as the earth slowly shifts with more aftershocks.  The aftershocks are becoming less severe.  The ground making up the sides of the rift look unstable, almost as if water is destroying the soils composition.  Pavement continues to crack at an alarming rate and not many trees are left standing.  He sees a few phone lines snaking onto the road in the distance; they look like they may still be active.  Fires start where the wires touch the ground and buildings.

Kyle and his coworkers become excited when they start to head towards the direction of the Smithsonian.

Interesting, Kyle and the others are not communicating with the folk from the Library of Congress.   I would have thought all government workers would back their own.

Fred would have preferred to have dropped everything to find his grandson.  He takes comfort in the fact that his God would protect him and his family.  It didn’t seem anyone else was spiritual in the group.

His heart stops when something cold and wet touches his hand.  Looking down he sees the dog that searched his car earlier and feels instant relief.  Dogs have a calming effect on him.

He fondly scratches her behind the ears.    
There’s a smaller hole in the middle of First Street.  Across the street must be thirty to forty people.

Kyle gets excited and tells his father, “If we make it across the street we can follow the metro line at Union station to the hospital.  My office is the other way.  We need to stop by office for a second for I can get my keys.” 

Fred agrees to whatever he wants.

The people across the street have a large concentration of police officers and firefighters that are coordinating people and the injured into groups.  Another fifty to sixty people from surrounding buildings congregate at the intersection.  A few are trying to get the Capital Building but are get redirected by soldiers.  Fred notes no one has a clear plan of action.

Didn’t they know that the Capital Building is destroyed?  They have eyes! 

He looks back and briefly sees the Washington Monument standing proudly.

Maybe people are trying to get to the clearing in that direction.  Isn’t the White house over there?

People often flock to places of symbolic importance when things go wrong.

One police officer is carrying a ladder to the hole in First Street.  Another public worker who has a building engineer logo on his jacket carries a plank which he places over the ladder over the hole.

Where did that come from?

They quickly bridge the gap and cross over.  A dozen more cross to their side.

Mark tries telling them the soldiers told them to leave but no one listens.  It takes ten minutes as another dozen crosses over.  Half way people start to rush and a few people in suits fall into the hole.  People gasp but no one tries to help. 

A few minutes later they cross the plank and reach the other side of the street.  Kyle and the Smithsonian staff workers don’t acknowledge the other survivors as they quicken their pace and head a separate direction.  Fred pauses and thinks it would be better to stay with the police officer and dog but disregards the thought as soon as Kyle beckons him to follow.  He says bye to the people who are going to go the Library of Congress.

Man, my car was parked the other way.  Why is this happening when all I wanted was my family to be together?

They pass a few buildings that Kyle refers to as the National Mall.

There seems to be a lot of chaos, how many people died already?

Many public workers rush in between buildings.  Small areas are cleared out which appear to be stable.  Every block has its own ambulances, firemen, police officers, and public servants.  Public workers and solders tell everyone to follow marked road signs directing the masses too safe zones.  Fred gets the impression safe zones and buildings are located in designated public high schools.

The group doesn’t listen to the evacuation plans as they continue to move towards the Smithsonian.  Half the group decides to try to find their families and abruptly leave.  Now they are only four.

A few minutes later

For the first time in Fred’s life he’s going to walk into a museum.  He really wishes he could have experienced the National Museum of Natural History in better circumstances. 

Kyle acts peculiar and for the first time in Fred’s life he wonders if Kyle is on drugs.

They pause at the base of the steps as Kyle tells him, “I can’t believe you never came to visit.  This museum is great for we have over 500 million specimens of various natural and cultural artifacts.  Dad, you are going to love the people I work with!  Or at least you are crazy if you don’t for we get over seven million visitors a year who love the place!”

The two Smithsonian workers stop as the larger black man bursts out, “Are you nuts?  Don’t you see what’s happening?”

The other staff worker intakes his breath as he tries quieting his coworker, “This isn’t the time John.”  Fred can’t tell if he is American or a one of those visiting professors seeming to be everywhere.

What’s happening with my son? 

Fred looks closely at his son for the first time since seeing him in a few years.  He has been too wrapped up in driving for the last week to clearly see how his son shaped.  He didn’t like what he saw.  Kyle was always skinny but now he looks like a skeleton.

Sweet Jesus, don’t tell me he’s involved with drugs.

Sometimes a parent innately knows what’s wrong with their children.

John huffs while looking straight into Kyle's eyes “Get out of your hippy haze and wake up.”

Kyle doesn’t seem to hear him as he blurts, “What happened to the iron ore rock?  I always thought it was a large pebble for a sling shot.  There used to be a rock from the mines in Upper Michigan on the front steps.”

The fourth staff worker tries telling John not to continue as they had better a thing to worry about but John doesn’t want to stop, "Kyle, you’re a junky and I hate working with you.  After the presentation you were going to get drug tested.  I only wish they did it sooner.”  It is obvious John wanted to say this for a long time.   Fred swears he feels rage emanating from John towards his son.

When did my son start drugs?  Was it his wife who got him into it?  Oh my God, was that why she died?

Kyle continues to point to where the iron ore stone once stood as he tries to ignore John, “Look Dad, someone laid siege to the Museum while we were gone.  We need to get my keys.”  More sobering he continues, “No John.  I’m not nuts.  What do you want me to say?  Screw you for getting in my affairs.  I will have your job eliminated within a week once this is all done and you can kiss my ass.  I would rather pretend this is not happening.” 

John replies “Whatever”, and storms in another direction.  The other worker quickly follows him.

Fred looks towards where Kyle is pointing and decides to think of this new information about his son later.  He couldn’t handle this at the moment.  His mission is to save his family and get back to Minnesota. 

Jesus, please walk with me through the shadow of death.

Fred’s left hand grips his crucifix as he sees a massive hole in the front entrance.

Kyle doesn’t say anything about John as he repeats himself, “Dad, there was once an iron ore stone from the Upper Peninsula here earlier.  It came from Michigan.”

Fred is afraid to look into the gaping hole at the front entrance.  He pauses as he watches his son nimbly enter the museum.  Kyle does not appear to be functioning right but Fred is at a loss on how to fix it. 

Fred lights his cigarette with his Bick, as he takes his first puff he sees a sign standing to his right.  It shows a cigarette with a circle and an X through it.  Fred laughs uncontrollably as he thinks of the irony of the sign. 

Didn’t the people in monkey suits make a national law on banning smoking in public places? 

He doesn’t feel anarchic but he can’t control himself as he blows smoke at the sign.  Kyle bounces back through the door.

My God, why does he look like he’s a child getting ice cream? 

Kyle stops in front of him, “Dad, why haven’t you thrown out those cancer sticks yet?  You know mom doesn’t want to live alone if you die from those.”  Kyle always believed in saying no to drugs.

What happened to you son?

He couldn’t ask for real, at least not until nightfall and after he gets his grandson.  Fred sighs in resignation as he flicks the cigarette butt.  No one was going to ticket him at the present time.

Kyle reaches for his left hand and he flinches as he feels his son’s hand feel clammy and cold.

“Dad, come on.  You need to see where I work.  It’s just splendid and the people absolutely love me.”   As if it was more possible, Fred’s gut clinches as Kyle continues his madness, “After I will get my keys and we can meet my wife for dinner.  You haven’t met her, she’s amazing.”

Fred can’t take it anymore.  Why is he talking like this?  He told me earlier this week she died.  What’s going on?

Instead of shaking Kyle’s’ hand off, Fred grips it hard.  He isn’t going to let go of his son no matter what.

When we get back to Minnesota I will get him in a detoxification program.  Until then I better play along to make sure I don’t lose him.  I can’t afford if he goes into a fit of rage like they show on sitcoms.

He smiles and prays to Jesus yet again.  He never prayed so much in his life.  With as much strength and love he can muster he says, “Yes son, please show me your office and then your family.”

He didn’t want to go into the museum but reminds himself that life was never fair and he has no choice. 

Why couldn’t have they stayed with the other people they met?

Fred looks back one last time, he didn’t know if he was going to survive this excursion and wants to feel the sunlight one last time.

The first thing he sees is that they are still on Madison Drive.  There’s a color code near the name of the street which directs people to rescue centers.  People in small groups are stumbling towards the National Monument which is still standing proudly.  There seems to be hundreds of people and if he didn’t know better a lot of national guards are running around.  It was nice to see them be on the ball!  Fred feels pride towards the National Guard and secretly wishes Kyle would have taken that direction.  On the way they walked past two buildings to their left called East and West buildings.  To the right was Third and Fourth Street. 

The Air and Space Museum catch his attention which is across the street and to the left.   Half a space shuttle was jutting out of a section of the building he assumed would have been a cafeteria.  Various staff workers and civilians were being rescued by more national guards.  The National Guard unit has ropes going down one of the holes created by the shuttle.  They were bringing up children.  He then feels dread as he continues to look past the rescue operation. 

In front of them the Smithsonian Castle looks like rubble.  The building reminds Fred of a smashed aluminum can he sometimes finds stuck in the machines at the Coca Cola factory.  No one mills around the building as it smolders.  The windows are broken and the walls appear to have caved inwards.  Fire leaps into the sky, enshrouding his vision in smoke making it impossible to see anything past the raging fire.

A metro station is eerily quiet down the block; it’s the Federal Triangle Station.  Fred is surprised to see no one leave or enter it.  The side walk is torn up; the road looks as if a child got tired of playing with Lego’s, gray blocks of asphalt and gravel jet in all directions.  Fred didn’t understand why the roads had holes in them but after crossing the one he did he didn’t want to know how far down they goes.  In the near distance another building burns out of control.  He briefly remembers his son told him it was the National Archives building as they were trekking to the Smithsonian. 

The three blocks they crossed earlier told him it did not look good for Washington DC.  A lot of fires raged without control and many people are hurt.  There isn’t any sense of order but there a lot of people are trying to help others who are stuck inside buildings.  As long as they didn’t get in the way of anyone no one bothered them.  Unlike the movies there are no riots or people hurting people on the streets.  Fred was impressed by the way the people of DC carried themselves and wishes this was all a bad dream.   A dozen people who look like tourists argue what they should do in the sculpted garden.  Near the National Castle the Arts and Industries and Hirshhorn Museum are still untouched.

He turns around and follows his son into the crumbling building as he taps into his reserves.  His son whistles the Snow White song the dwarfs sing as they go to work in the mines. 

What was Kyle talking about when he said there was a large iron ore stone from Michigan that caused the hole?  What made the stone do that?

Fred thinks he sees some broken pipes jet from underneath where the ore stood but shrugs it off.

Chapter XVI: Library of Congress

This wasn’t going as planned.  But then again I didn’t have a plan.  My wife is by my side.  She is the best thing that happened to me and sometimes there isn’t much more you can ask for in a companion.  I look over to her, my chest clinches as my blood pressure easily becomes 180/140 since the ordeal started.  This is the problem with blood pressure.  When the body goes through any kind of stress it can go up.  It doesn’t matter if it’s good stress or bad.  If I win the lotto or get in a car accident my blood pressure will go up. 

So how do I save myself and my wife?  For that matter, how do I help whoever needs help?

I don’t know why I am like this.  Maybe it’s because I love the principle of democracy.  I’m not going to sound optimistic, why should I?  My life just went to hell.  I am worried about my wife.  I won’t let go of her hand unless I absolutely have to at the moment. 

There are two entrances I use at the Library of Congress.  Most visitors use the front entrance on First Street SE.  The front entrance has a fountain and thirty three ethnological head sculptures on top of the first story windows facing the street.  Each head represents a different ethic race.  I watch Mark flinch as one of the statue heads crumble as we walk up the stairs.  The second story usually has nine busts on a portico but they are destroyed.  Near our feet is the broken bust of Benjamin Franklin.

The CNN journalist is lagging behind as she films what’s left of the Neptune fountain at the base of the stairs.   King Neptune sits with his four sons who are blowing conch shells while brandishing tritons.  Near them is an assortment of turtles, frogs and serpents.  The water is not working.  No one tells her and the camera man to hurry.  To be honest I don’t think anyone really cares if she comes with or not.  During a situation like this if someone wants to follow they can, if they want to leave then there’s the door.  We can hear her professional voice follow us, “This is Susan Bishop reporting from the Jefferson Building across from the Capital Building.  It is strangely empty on this side of the street.  What we are looking at is the Neptune Fountain.  This was once King Neptune, the Roman god of the sea and brother of Minerva.  We are about to enter the Library of Congress.”  

She looks over at her camera man and tells him to turn off the camera and tells her camera man to follow her up the stairs.

We walk up to the entrance.  Mark sprints near the end and abruptly stops when he finds out its locked.  He doesn’t want to be outside and starts pounding at the door.  I let go of my wife’s hand and walk to his side.  Putting my hand on his shoulder I say, 

 “Mark, it’s locked.  We need to find another way in.”

Irina gives her opinion, “Maybe we can go in the side entrance off of Second Street.  There’s the researcher entrance.”

Mark resigns himself to the fact they weren’t going to get into the Library of Congress from this entrance.  We are about to leave when he thinks he sees something in the recess of the shadows near the far wall.

A lone security guard is staring up at the Capital Building, or rather what was once the Capital Building.

I can’t believe I didn’t see him earlier as I blurt, “Holy shit, you scared me.”  I recognize him, his name is Berry.  I think he has a family but I can’t remember.  I look down and see he doesn’t have a ring and come to the conclusion that I must be mixing him with someone else.

Not missing a beat I continue, “Can you get us in the building?”

Irina adds, “We would really appreciate it if you let us in.”  She obviously tries using her looks while flattering him, “I am so scared, please be a hero and let us in.”

He snaps out of his daze, looking at our group like we are crazy, “Why would you want to go in there?  It’s not any better in there then it is out here.”

Mark doesn’t seem to care and neither does Irina.  Mark whips out his identification card and says, “You see this ID?  I work here.  Let me in.  Our supervisor wants us inside now.”

The security guard shrugs, “Whatever you want.  I was told to keep the community out, not the staff.  The Asian kid can’t come in.”

He opens the front door and steps aside.  Mark and Irina rush in.  I retake April’s hand as I take a deep breath.  Mary decides to stay with the cop.

You only live once.  Maybe they have a plan to survive in here?

I squeeze April’s hand as I say, “I love you, honey.  Should we see what fate lies in wait for us?”

She doesn’t laugh at my sarcasm.  She simply responds, “I love you to.”

Together we walk in.  The first thing we encounter in the Jefferson building is a security check point that screens for things that bad guys have.  I’m not a bad guy so I never paid too much attention to what they do.  Normally I would have to take out my personal belongs and let them be scanned as I walked through a metal detector and get patted down.  There are often two to four security guards greeting visitors and staff but today there is zero.   Larry and Pixel decide to say outside with the security guard.  Thinking I won’t see him again I say bye and pat Pixel’s head.  We hear a click as the security guard locks the door behind us.

Mark comments, “It’s nice to know our security guards are not abandoning their posts, I would have felt better with the police K9 in our group.”

My wife retorts, “He probably doesn’t have a family.”

Mark looks at me and rolls his eyes, “I don’t know, our security personal has a strong sense of duty.  During Katrina in New 

Orleans the biggest issue with cops and firemen wasn’t them abandoning their posts but rather they couldn’t get to work because of the floods took out the roads.”

My wife doesn’t want to hear it as she responds, “I thought the police in New Orleans got in trouble for taking advantage of the situation.  Didn’t they steal a lot of things like TV’s and cars from car lots?”

Mark sputters, “I don’t know.  You’re always going to have a few bad seeds.  This is the Library of Congress and people don’t do that here.”

I further squeeze my wife’s hand while wishing she would stop arguing with Mark but she doesn’t.  She has to have the last say, 

“My husband told me the Library of Congress has a problem with people taking rare books by ripping off the book covers from the binding and selling them on e-bay when they get home.  Didn’t you say people here don’t act like the people in New Orleans?”

Mark doesn’t want to argue anymore and changes the topic, “Let’s go.  We need to get to our office.” 

The Jefferson building is a big building.  To our left is a corridor that leads to the Library shop and Graphic Arts Gallery.  We were going to the right.

Our office is in the Kluge Center.  The Kluge Center is on the right wing if you’re facing the Capital Building on the second floor.   We have the scholarly office and the copyright office on our wing. 

The Bob Hope exhibit is on the way along with the Whittal Pavilion but we quickly bypass these rooms without looking in.  

Near the Bob Hope Gallery we find the path blocked.  The earthquake took out the ceiling and there was no way to get to our offices from this direction due to the stairwell being past the Bob Hope Gallery.

Mark doesn’t want to admit defeat and counters the problem with a new idea, “If we go to the main chamber on the second floor we could use a side hallway to get to our offices.  But we need to get the second floor.

At this time I should have realized this was pointless.  There were no people around.  No visitors, no staff and no security.  We didn’t connect the dots. Staff would have evacuated.  But how could I know these things when I missed all the natural disaster drills?  The drills occurred to early in the morning when my back hurt.  This resulted in me always being fashionably late on a daily basis.  I always stayed later in the evening to make up for this short coming.

We are back at the entrance and now going up the steps that reach the Great Hall.  Statues of the Greek goddess Athena lie scattered on the floor in various broken chunks and fragments.  The Library of Congress had many of these statues but not many of them are left standing.  Mark quickly tells us that the path to the left has collapsed on this floor just as it did on the ground floor.  We can’t even get to the Meeting Room.  The only way is to go to through the Main Reading Room.

I stop and look around near the Bible’s Galleries which is located near the Main Reading Room.  Ancient bibles are protected in unbreakable cases; one of them is one of four original Gutenberg Bibles.  A few security guards are in the process of taking the national treasures somewhere else.  They don’t bother us and we don’t bother them.  One of them does tell us that we can’t go further due to falling debris.  Mark asks if they knew what happened to the staff but they say they don’t.  I am very happy they are taking away the treasures.

We decide we might find an open corridor on the second floor so we head towards the stairs.  There are many stairs and balconies.  Corinthian balconies once bedazzled visitors as they entered the chamber.  Large archways and sculptured marble give breathtaking visages that easily match any building found in both Italy and Greece.  The second story is held by two columns that support the roof.  I see that the columns are still intact and breathe a little easier.

The roof is torn and broken in many places.  Sunlight streams in the building seeing as all the windows were shattered.  Many pillars are still standing but six have fallen.  The left stair way has collapsed somewhere in the center.  It’s a smooth break, only two steps destroyed, but I don’t want to attempt it.  I didn’t want to look closer.  I always feel dizzy near edges and heights.

We walk up the right side which is still intact.  On the second floor I can’t help but feel despair as I look down to the floor below.  An aftershock rocks the building.  We all grip the smooth rails.

Tears come to my eyes as I take in the carnage and think what it means.  Embedded in the Italian marble of the first floor is an emblem that reminds me of a sun. It marks the exact center of the Library.  Mark once told me the marble came from Verona and Sienna.  A few of the twelve zodiac emblems can be seen from where I am standing.

My reality swims as I began to feel something stir deep down.  I let go of my wife’s hand; knowing she will be safe for a moment, and speed up the stairs.

Is the chamber still intact?  Does this destruction mean the end of America has come?

I had no way to tell if the end came.  As far as I knew what was happening here could be no different than what’s happening in cities that were destroyed in Japan, New Zealand, Haiti, Chili, and even California last year.  Each place that experienced an epic natural disaster still stood and life went on.  Sure, life got hard as countries went into deep recessions.  Resources did indeed become scarce but the fact is life went on.   It was cities that were destroyed, not countries.

There was one thing I did know.  I was going to protect my wife and I was going to do whatever it took to keep American principles alive in the future.  It wasn’t a mistake that the federal government had me as one of its employees.

My gaze drifts to the American flag which still stands near the entrance.  I feel pride course through my veins as I look upon the beautiful flag from above. 

I hope the security guards put the other national treasures away.  If looters get their hands on these artifacts then America might lose our national treasures forever.

April catches up and nudges me out of my silent ponderings.

I can’t do anything outside of trying to be my best for America when she needs me.  We are going to need to get back to Michigan to our family.  We’re going to have to trek home after this.

I knew we were not going to find anyone.  I didn’t want to make anyone panic so I keep my pessimism to myself.

I see the security guards remove the United States Constitution which was on display.  The security guard who talked to us earlier waves and yells to us they are done here.

I look down upon the chamber room one last time.  Not knowing how I know, I believed I am never going to see this place again.  Marble figures of Putti crumble under the stress of the newest aftershock.  Italian Renaissance art symbolizing American life and culture in the early 1900’s was coming to an end.  No longer did it represent the different occupations and skills that were once respected in America.  Nor could I see its message of literary anymore.  I only feel tragedy.  Now only dust and rubble give its silent message of what tomorrow was going to bring. 

I can’t handle it anymore and continue to walk up the stairs.

I hear Mark tell someone or maybe it was anyone who would listen, “This sucks.  All the beauty of the place is being destroyed!  

You see that over there?  It represents the different seasons.”  Without looking I know he’s talking about the panels above the doorway Seasons, “It was made by Frank Benson.  You see those sayings on the walls and ceilings?  They came from the Librarian of the Library.”  His voice chokes up as he starts to cry again.  I’m amazed he has so many tears as I hear him continue, “My favorite saying is by Sir Philip Sidney, ‘They Are Never Alone That Are Accompanied With Noble Thoughts’.”

Irina responds, “I always liked the ones by Cervantes.  My favorite is Sir Francis Bacon’s quote ‘knowledge is power.’  What are we going to do if we can’t make it to the others?”

We make it to the top of the stairs.  No one answers her so I decide to say something, “I guess if that happens we will need to go to our families.”

She mumbles barely audibly, “My family is in Russia.  How do I get to them?”

Mark adds after an uncomfortable minute of silence, “We can get you to the Russian Embassy if we can’t find anyone.”

Near the top of the stairs is one of the coolest murals I have ever seen.  It’s the Minerva Mosaic.  The majestic mosaic depicts a roman goddess of learning and wisdom.  I can’t help but lose myself in its intrinsic detail and craftsmanship.  I momentarily forget what happening as I appreciate the unbroken piece of art. 

Too many things have been breaking today. Thank God this is still intact. 

I spent most of my life traveling foreign countries and visiting beaches around the world.  I would often meditate on spiritual things.  Many times I would gaze out into the stars, dreaming of ancient times.  Mercury also represents wisdom.  To me, wisdom and spirituality are the pinnacles how I view the world. 

How come I just started working here and it had to get destroyed?  What am I suppose to do now?

I plead with my eyes, hoping Minerva would impart some of her wisdom onto me.  She doesn’t answer.  Instead she holds something that looks like a proclamation or a scroll.  She is the guardian of civilization.

Mark comments as everyone gazes at the mural, “Look at the owl.  It’s perched to the right.  The owl represents wisdom.  That’s why I decided to work here.  I love libraries and what this place stood for.”

I silently relate to what he’s saying.  The CNN journalist stops filming near the balcony and joins us.  She reads the inscription, 

“Nil invita Minerva, quae monumentum aere perennius exegit.”

Mark has a lot of longing in his voice as he responds, “Yes, it means she is always vigilant against her enemies.  See the Nike figure?  It’s a message about victory and peace.  Minerva is about all the different fields of learning.  I always loved coming here when I was a kid.”

April asks, “Do you think we will be ok?”

Looking at the mural I answer, “See the sun at the upper left corner?  The darkness is receding and the light is coming in.  We are going to have the same thing happen to us by the time this is all over.”

Right when I was saying this a piece of the ceiling falls and sunlight streaked in.  The light beam goes straight to the mural and engulfs it in radiance.  Colors shift on the mural and it looks like it’s coming to life, it literary glitters just as a diamond in light.

As a group we gasp, its kin to experiencing something holy.  Just as fast the light dissipates, leaving us in the light we were accustomed when a new aftershock reminds us why we are here.

“Let’s continue shall we?  There’s a side hall way that staff can use to get to our offices.  We have to pass the Visitors Gallery that overlooks the main reading room.” We were lucky that no one was is hurt.

The minute I walk onto the balcony I felt like I was entering one of Spielberg’s movie sets.  The chamber did not look like it did an hour before.  The floor imploded inwards leaving all the chairs and desks under rubble.  Nothing was standing.  Many people were screaming for help. 

My wife and Irina gasp.  April instantly turns around while begging me to do something. 

I can’t do anything.  I hate this.

Sunlight is streaming from the ceiling.  The frame of the ceiling is still intact but there were many gaps.  It was obvious that the ceiling shattered glass upon the people down below when the earthquake struck.  There were eight statues overlooking the chamber but none were intact.  Seals representing each state are still firmly embedded where they were supposed to be.  On the other hand, the statue of Moses still stood but Newton was nowhere to be seen.  Most of the painting were somewhere in the rubble. 

I did not want to look down but I couldn’t help myself. 

My first glance did not steady me for what I was seeing.  Thankfully the people down below did not see our group.  There really wasn’t anything we could do for them.  There is at least thirty feet between our balcony and the floor.  It didn’t look like there was any flat surface left.

We watch in horror as the ground floor shifts back and forth with the aftershocks.  Each time it did this the furniture would roll over the bodies, other furniture and books.  A few people were alive but are majorly hurt.  Their lamentations chill something I can’t put into clear words.

The center of the room where the librarians distribute books is missing.  A massive hole beckons the surrounding furniture to enter is private hell.  I couldn’t see a bottom from here.  It looks as if the earth was sliding into an abyss.  Much dust is picking up and I strangely think I smell burning wood and cinnamon.

Mark tells everyone to not look as we proceed to the private stairway staff use.  I watch him as he tries to use his electronic key card.  I feel bad for him and try to muster some patience as I say, “The electricity is shut off.  No one is here.  We have to leave.  I feel safer outside then in here.”

Everyone agrees.  I don’t think anyone wants to be in here anymore.

Irina asks, “How do we get out.”

I answer, “Maybe we can get out the way we came in.  These aftershocks scare the hell out of me.”

Everyone agrees so we back track the way we came in.  While at the front entrance Mark doesn’t give up on his desire to be with the missing staff.  The front doors are locked and the security guard doesn’t seem to be around, nor is Larry or Pixel.  He asks the group to try one more idea.

My wife makes a smart ass comment, “It looks like your super police are missing in action.  Maybe he got lost in his car on the way to work.”

I can’t help but laugh and so does the camera man.  I swear I smell cinnamon again.  We hear something that sounds like a musical instrument coming from the right. 

Mark tells us that if we take the corridor to the left we might be able to cross around the building and get to our office.  To be honest if the doors were unlocked I would have just left right there and then.  Instead I find myself trekking in a building which reminds me of a very large marble crypt and I don’t want to be buried alive.  I can tell my wife is beginning to think the same thing.  She’s doing great and I’m surprised she doesn’t bring up her son or the family we have in Michigan.

Mark and Irina are getting very excited that someone could still be here.  Irina runs ahead about twenty feet and reaches for the door to her right.  She’s heading into the Graphic Arts Galleries but she stops right before she enters.

Looking a little confused she tells us the door is hot.  The CNN journalist jolts and starts to tell her to not open the door but she doesn’t say it fast enough.  Irina reaches for the door handle and pushes in.

I hear a whoosh and watch in horror as flames reach for Irina.  Mark screams her name but she doesn’t have time to turn or answer.  Flames engulf her small body as the air around her dissipates as fire hungrily devours everything in its path. 

She didn’t have time to stop drop and roll.

My wife throws herself at me.  I poorly comfort her as Mark cries out.  It’s not the same cry as he gave when the Capital 

Building got destroyed.  This cry sounds more like a lover losing his significant other.

The CNN journalist works well under pressure.  She quickly directs the group into the Libraries Gift shop.  It’s not a big room.  The room is maybe about twenty to thirty square feet.  I quickly shut the door as I feel the air in the corridor shift with the fire.  As soon as I shut the door I could have sworn the fire already reached the spot we were standing moments before.

Mark is still crying but much lighter.  He instantly goes for the windows but they are sealed.  Seeing some handkerchiefs near the cash register he grabs a white one.  There are three windows.  Two are small and one is fairly large.  The large one won’t open but the small one’s do.  He thrusts his hand out with the white handkerchief and yells for help.

Not knowing what else to do I feel the door.  It is hot.  Smoke starts to come in from the bottom of the door.  I swear a lot.  

Quickly looking around I see some shirts marketing the Library of Congress and some water bottles.  I tell my wife to water down some shirts and I quickly put them at the bottom of the door.  The smoke from the fire will be kept at bay for the moment.

My head swims as I feel my blood pressure began to create a terrible pressure in my head.  My left hand feels like dead weight for a few seconds.  I look at my wife and tell her I love her.  She doesn’t know something is wrong and tells me she loves me too.

The CNN journalist says we should look around for something we could use.  Her cameraman is telling us we were stupid to come into the building and he wants to go home.  She tells him to remember what it means to be a journalist.  He quiets down.  

Mark won’t stop screaming for help.  My wife walks over to him and gives him a wooden rod that’s part of children’s game set.  

She tells him to attach the white handkerchief to the end and someone might see it better.  He agrees.  My breathing settles and my heart beat returns to a safer beat. 

We need to get home for I can get my medications. 

I feel fear in not having my medications with me.  The last thing I want is to die on my wife.

I need to be there for her!

Looking at the door with fear I step back.  I decide to take Susan’s advice and start looking around for things we can use.  

There are the basics; cards, journals, stationary.  Various knick knacks were on the ground that once showed the library of congress from different perspectives.  Nothing was broken outside of the glass knick knacks.  The room was very much untouched compared to the other rooms and buildings I have seen in the last few hours.

My wife is at another section of the store.  I can hear her tell the journalist the children’s clothes and accessories were pointless.  Susan concurs as she points out the board games and puzzles could not be used for anything practical.  I see an aisle that is still standing that shows a lot of home accessories and office supplies.  I call everyone over.

At first it doesn’t seem like we are going to find anything of value.  There are a lot of posters and prints but at closer look we notice that there are things underneath that might be of use.  I grab a tote bag with the Libraries image on it and start throwing in city and state maps.  Maybe it wasn’t practical but I ended up putting a set of documents called the Freedom documents into the back pack.  It has a dozen copies of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.  It didn’t matter they weren’t the real thing, the concept of democracy stirs deeply in my heart.  The camera man laughs behind the counter and tells us someone was reading some rare books behind the counter.

My wife finds some exotic coffee packs and half a dozen butane lighters.  She decides to throw into two mugs after the coffee packs while muttering we were going to need a way to drink our coffee.  I put two umbrellas that show some very cool classical art on the sleeves into the tote bag.   I decided to put some playing cards into the pack.  Not knowing what else to grab I take a notepad and a fancy golden fountain pen that has the LOC’s logo stamped on it. 

The camera man finds a fire extinguisher behind the desk.  He proceeds to stuff a whole bunch of cash into his pockets from the register and gives the fire extinguisher to April.  His camera takes two hands to carry.

Marks voice is growing hoarse but he doesn’t stop yelling for help.  He yells with a new fervor as Pixel suddenly appears at the window.  A minute later and Larry finds them.  He gestures for Mark to step back as he takes his 9 mm hand gun out of its holster.


The window shatters with the third bullet.  We scramble out the window and are greeted by an overzealous K9 barking in happiness.  A few minutes later my wife is holding my hand as we watch the Library of Congress burn in an inferno that would have made Dante Alighieri proud.   I’m reminded of the 14th century’s divine comedy, Inferno.  The nine spheres of suffering found a new reality to play in and the Library of Congress was its playground.  Larry reeks like alcohol and is humming's the end of the world as we know it.....and I feel...

Chapter XVII:  Smithsonian Goes Prehistoric

Fred looks in amazement as he enters the Smithsonian.  A large marble rotunda greets him with a life size elephant on top of a fake brown pedestal shaped like a rock with bushes.  The elephant’s snout reaches for the heavens.

Fred thinks to himself, it’s either saying hello or maybe it’s trying to reach a leave or whatever elephants eat. 

The rotunda is not destroyed but various balconies on the second floor are caving in.   Security check points near the entrance have been abandoned.  A dozen people are milling inside, dazed and confused.  Kyle does not seem to recognize any of them.  

There doesn’t appear to be any casualties in the lobby. 

Fred sees an Easter Island Head on the southeast wall among various totem poles and stone disks that are shattered in glass cases.

Kyle excitedly informs his father, “Most people don’t know, but the Smithsonian is a made up of a whole bunch of museums, nineteen to be exact.  We also have a zoo and about a dozen research centers.”  Fred notes in displeasure that Kyle was still not caring what was happening and was talking like it’s a normal day.

“It’s sad that no one back home wants to know what I’m doing.  I was looking forward to seeing you so much.  I work as a Human Resource Specialist or the OHR.”  Without pausing he continues, “We need to go to the West Wing on the first floor, follow me.” 

Fred is relieved they don’t have to go the second floor as he follows his son.  They find the way is blocked with rubble and have to take a side route in a corridor called Early Life.  A whole bunch of broken fossils are scattered on the ground.  A sign says one of them is supposed to be over 35 million years old.  Many rocks simply look like normal rocks with moss on them.  Fred would never have known it was so old for he would have expected nothing less from rocks he sat on while trout fishing.

The next room is dubbed Dinosaur Hall.  A fashionably designed billboard states they are entering a corridor called Blast from the Past.  He stops dead in his tracks when he encounters a 40 foot Tyrannosaurus rex staring down at him.  He almost pisses his pants as an aftershock jolts the dinosaur closer to where he is stands.  For a moment he thinks it’s coming to life and is going to eat him.  His son tells him the dinosaur is called "King of the Tyrant Lizards".  In the middle of this room is a shattered pterosaur.  A plate that is still standing firmly in place says it a Quetzalcoatlus.   Its eggs are broken and scattered among the debris.  Other dinosaur bones are around but he doesn’t know what they are and really doesn’t care. 

A television monitor is still playing something near the back.  Fred can’t feel but chilled as he watches a meteoroid collide into earth on the screen.  It’s digital and reminds Fred of a high tech cartoon. 

Is that what happened to us?  Oh no, I don’t remember seeing an asteroid. It’s too bad they didn’t make a cartoon with Bugs Bunny and a Asteroid. 

Kyle interrupts his thoughts, “Dad, can you stay right here for a minute?  I will be right back.”

Before Fred responds Kyle bounces off while repeating himself, “Stay right here or in this wing.  Give me five minutes.  I don’t want security to bother you and I will be right back.”

Kyle is gone and Fred is alone.  He takes out his cigarette and continues to walk down the corridor.   It scared him that Kyle just left.

Jesus, why did he leave?  What security is he talking about?  No one is here.

Fred can’t handle the television monitor telling him the earth was destroyed 65 million years ago when it seems to be happening right now.  He takes a few long drags on his cigarette and tells himself that he needs to get another pack before he runs out. 

A nice cold beer would be nice too.   Fred decides to continue walking down the corridor not knowing what else to do.  He saw a few gift stores but doubted they would have cigarettes.  He was also very much uncomfortable in stealing so that wasn’t an option.

Dinosaur Hall becomes Fossil Lab.  A lost child stumbles to him while crying for his mommy.  Fred thinks it’s a caveman attacking him through the dust but quickly realized it’s a normal child who is just scared.  The child screams and runs the other direction towards a section called Ancient Sea’s.  No security guards come to the child’s rescue.  There’s ample light to see and the walls are still intact, Fred goes towards the opposite direction the child ran.  He didn’t want to be accused of molesting a crazy kid when all he wished to do was help.  It’s really hard for his to fathom that this was really happening.  He kept hoping this was some elaborate trick.

A sign directs him to his left, the Fossil Mammals and a small snack shop.

Was that smoke in the air? 

Fred stops dead as he swears he smells something wrong coming from the direction of the cafeteria.  He wonders if it’s wise to be in the building.

Where is my son?

He is about to double back when he hears someone cry out to his right.  An elderly woman’s voice can be heard coming from the direction of the bathrooms.

“Someone please save us!  The door won’t open and we are scared!  Some help us!  I have my grand children with me!  What’s happening?  Can someone hear me?”

No one is around but Fred.  Fred was never a hero but it didn’t take him long to realize he needs to do something.

Fred runs towards the bathrooms while yelling, “I’m here.  I’m going to rescue you and your family!  Stay calm!” His voice is soon lost as smoke detectors finally catch what he smells. The still air grates the sound of fire alarm sirens as the sprinkler system finally activates.

He passes through an exhibit called Ice Age but doesn’t take the time to see what’s on show.  Human beings are more important to Fred then history and artifacts.

The elderly woman’s voice gratefully responds, “Oh thank you so much.  We are so scared.”  There are two bathrooms side by side.  The women’s bathroom is to the left.

Fred responds, “Hold still, I will have you out in a jip.” 

He first tries to open the door but it’s stuck.  For some reason it doesn’t want to budge.

Maybe the earthquake shifted it a few inches?  It’s possible it’s catching on the floor.

The door did not look like it had a lock mechanism.  He slams his body into it a few times but it doesn’t budge.  He hears children cry in the bathroom as the woman tries to cajole them in soothing tones.

Fred pauses as he realizes it’s not going to open.  He doesn’t want to break his shoulder but he isn’t about to give up. 

“I will be right back.  I need to find something to break the door down with.  Maybe I can find an axe or something.”  The elderly woman cries but says she understands.  She tells him to hurry back.

Fred looks around but can’t find where they keep the fire extinguisher and axes.  He runs back to the cafeteria while looking for anyone who can help.  He runs into a couple who stumble out of the cafeteria and is about to ask them for help.

The guy interrupts him, “You need to get out here.  A gas leak started a fire in the grill area in the restaurant.  This place is going to burn!”  They run past him and are out of his sight before he can say something.  He goes into the cafeteria.  He needed to know how bad it was.

A fire is raging near the far side where the food is prepared.  A maintenance worker appears to have gotten hit over the head by falling debris lies on the ground near the entrance.  He sees a utility belt with some really nice looking tools. 

Please Jesus, let it be alright for me to take these tools to safe the trapped people.

He reaches down and unbuckles the utility belt.  He tries to not look at the dead body and quickly gets the belt off the still corpse.  It’s a natural fit as he slides it around his waist.  It’s better to have it securely on him for he could have his hands free.  

Fred feels comfortable as he fondly rubs a Phillip screwdriver.   He loves his tools.  He looks down and sees the workers name was ironically Phillip and says, “Thanks Phillip.  You won’t need these anymore.”

He quickly returns to the bathroom.  While scanning the door he tells them he is back and to be patient. 

There are 16 screws facing my direction.  I can have the door off the frame within minutes.

Fred expertly unscrews the first screw.  He squints as smoke builds around him in a alarming rate.  He was beginning to get a little nervous that he didn’t have the time to get them out of the bathroom.  He doesn’t want them to panic so he asks, “What’s your name?  How many people are with you?”

She sounds old, maybe in her sixties or seventies, “I am Emily and I’m here with my three grandchildren.  Two are here with 
me.  The third I left with the dinosaurs.  Did you see him?  What’s happening out there?”

Fred started unscrewing the second screw.  He decided to start at the bottom of the door.  Within seconds it was out. 

There are 14 more.  At least I’m not the only one having a bad day.

He hears something that sounds like a snap and boom.  He looks back and sees that the fire has completely engulfed the cafeteria.  Various chemical bottles were exploding.  He looks back at the door and decides to ask about her grandchildren. 

He tried keeping fear out of his voice, “What are your grandchildren names?  I think I might have seen your other grandson earlier.  He is fine but is scared.”

There are only six screws left.  I can do this.

It wasn’t much different then fixing machines that get clogged from aluminum cans during his work shifts.  The factory paid him big bucks to keep things working nicely so he wasn’t a stranger to unscrewing screws.

The older woman talks about why she came to the Smithsonian with her grandchildren.  Kyle pauses and looks over his shoulder.  The fire was now in the fossil exhibit near the cafeteria. 

Shit, in a few minutes it’s going to reach us.

He was down to three screws.  Sweat pours from his brow and he needs to stop for a second to catch his breath.  While catching his breath he sees a side panel tucked near an exhibit on Africa a few feet away.  In the panel are a fire extinguisher and a water valve and hose.  But more importantly was a blanket that protects people from fire the children could use if he got them out in time. 

If I don’t get them out they will die.

Fred focuses on the task on hand and within 30 seconds gets the remaining screws out.

“I need you guys to step away from the door.”  They agree and Fred puts all his weight into slamming into the door with his left shoulder.  It falls backwards without any effort.  The elderly woman and two children burst happily out.  They thank him as they beg him to tell them what happened.  He tells them he doesn’t know.

“We need to get out of here now.  Here take this blanket and drape it over the children’s heads.”  Kyle takes the fire extinguisher as he gives the blanket to the children.  The water hose does not work.  Kyle knows the earthquakes must have destroyed the water lines.  The sprinklers were not working either.

Minutes later they are back in the rotunda.  He sees Kyle coming down from the second floor as the woman and children thank him.  The elderly woman is on a mission to find the third missing grandson and leaves Kyle and Fred.

Didn’t Kyle say his office was on the first floor?  Why is he coming from the second floor?

Kyle looks very flushed while he keeps looking over to where he came from.

“Dad, who were they?  Where did you get the tool belt from?”  Kyle didn’t seem to care about his Dad’s answer.  He appeared to be looking towards the second floor.  “We need to get out of here.  I got what I needed.”  He doesn’t make eye contact with Fred.

Shit, what did he do?  Maybe he got his drugs or something.  Now isn’t the time to ask. 

A new aftershock rocks the building.  Smoke is coming out from the area Fred just left.  Fred asks Kyle if it’s time to get his baby.

Kyle quickly points to where the iron ore rock from Ishpeming Michigan went.  Fred looks to where Kyle is pointing.  The iron ore rock exited the other side of the building leaving a second entrance.  Fred shrugs as they walk out the opposite direction they entered.  He sees Kyle is carrying a large back pack but doesn’t question what’s inside.


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