Saturday, May 7, 2011

2014: Full Chapter Rough Draft Chapter XV

Chapter XV: Journey to the Smithsonian

As far as Fred was concerned he was in hell.  The earth was shaking and pillars of fire were rising to the heavens.  Buildings were crumbling and people were either getting killed or seriously hurt.  His subconscious kept on dredging up the song Highway to Hell from AC/DC but the constant siren stopped it as soon as it began.  It wasn’t that he felt like he was going to hell, but it seemed hell came to him.  He instantly recalled his life on the walk and wanted to make everything better.  His catholic priest’s voice starts to permeate his awareness and he takes comfort in knowing 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?

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

Broken buildings, death, fire, the only thing missing was Jesus and his 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 the 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 his wife and other children?  What about the coca cola factory?  Will he ever be able to fish again with his buddies?  Are they still alive?  Did Minnesota get hit?

Fred quickly 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 cared 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 a little 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 arrived, or at least a very small section of it.

The group was about to make it past the lawn 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 was no longer a complete road.  The street was spilt in the middle.  A large gap spanning nine feet divided the street as a broken water line spewed tons of water down a deep hole.

Mark stopped crying about the dome collapsing and was now laughing 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 and 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 the metal barriers and the large hole.  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 it part of a larger vehicle.  They don’t care that the building 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 was pale and his eyes kept on focusing beyond the group as he clinched 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 within minutes.  They are quick but aren’t communicating well.  The firemen direct both units to the deflated building and 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 they are seeing 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 government agencies.   Hurricane Katrina and the fall of New Orleans gave witness to the fact that government needed to fix the way she responds to 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 everyone who needs them.  This disaster is too large in scope, just as Katrina and New Orleans was too much.  Larry rambles about how FEMA training taught him Americas were 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 bigger picture.  He tells Susan that government needs to put long term goals in place and that too much time and resources are spent on spinning a solid public image which isn’t real outside.  Domestic disaster policies declare each State and City has to deplete local resources before the Federal government gets involved and what happens when the Federal government is removed from the equation?  Complete anarchy.  Some cities and states will respond positively and some 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 and the each State to assure any reasonable response time if any natural disaster occurs.  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 on the ground level.  In other words the policy was good but 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 the doing the best they can and they are all heroes.  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 their rescue efforts was giving credit to everything Larry declared for national television.  Susan and her camera man were very happy that someone with a uniform was telling them their opinion.  Most of the time public employees such as cops remain quiet.  They knew 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 tries asking Kyle to explain what Larry was saying.  Kyle doesn’t want to be bothered as he busily talks to a few of his co workers.  They were trying to get Kyle to go back to the Smithsonian because they were hoping it would be safer.

Fred understood why they wanted to go somewhere familiar as he thought 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 started.

He didn’t know how the EMS ambulance made it to the lawn but paramedics were now 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.  For reasons Fred did not understand their telecommunication equipment was not working.  A lot of people were 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 other groups of survivors 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 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 that were intact earlier that day.  Fire is coming 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 hoped to cross somewhere on First Street.   The fountain at the entrance was not working.  The military personal didn’t leave the makeshift bridge they used when they crossed the gap.  The street sign was still standing 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 looks unstable, almost as if water was destroying the soils composition.  The pavement continues to crack at an alarming rate.  Not many trees are standing.  He sees a few phone lines snaking on the road in the distance; they look like they may still be active.  A few fires start where the wires touch the ground and buildings.

Kyle and his coworkers become excited when they start to head in 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.  I guess they are not much different than the working class.

Fred would have preferred to have dropped everything to find his grandson.  He had to take comfort in the fact that his God would protect him and his family.  It didn’t seem that 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 that day and feels instant relief.  Dogs have a calming effect on him.

He fondly scratches her behind her ears. 

There’s a smaller hole in the middle of First Street.  Across the street must be thirty to forty people.

Kyle is getting 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 on the other way.  We need to stop by there 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 thirty to forty people from surrounding buildings are congregating at the intersection.  A few are trying to get the Capital Building but are getting redirected by the soldiers.
Fred is scared when he notes no one has a clear plan of action after a few more minutes.

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

He looks back and briefly sees the Washington Monument is still standing.

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.
Where did that come from?

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

Mark tries telling them that 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 street.  Kyle and the other Smithsonian staff workers don’t acknowledge the other survivors as they quicken their pace.  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 want to go the Library of Congress.

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

They are passing 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 the 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 are telling everyone to follow marked road signs that direct the people to safe zones.  Fred quickly gets the impression that 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 leave.  Now they were only four.


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

Kyle was acting peculiar and for the first time in Fred’s life as a parent 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!”

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 friend, “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.  He has been too wrapped up driving for the last week to clearly see how his son shaped in the last few years.  He didn’t like what he saw.  Kyle was always skinny but what he saw in front of him was 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 and looks straight into the eyes of Kyle as he says “Get out of your hippy haze and wake up.”

Kyle doesn’t seem to hear him as he blurts out, “What happened to the iron ore rock?  I always thought it was a large pebble for a sling shot.”

The fourth staff worker tries telling John not to continue and that they had better things to worry about but John doesn’t want to stop.

“Kyle, you’re a bad person and I hate working with you.  After the presentation you were going to get drug tested and you are going to lose your job.  I only wished they did it sooner.”  It is obvious that John wanted to say this for a long time.   Fred could almost swear he felt rage emanating from John.

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

Kyle continues to point to where the iron ore stone once stood and says, “Look Dad, someone laid siege to the Museum when 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.”  

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 all this.  His mission was 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 continues, “Dad, there was an iron ore stone from the Upper Peninsula here earlier.  It came from Michigan.”

Fred was afraid to look into the gaping hole at the front entrance.  He pauses as he watches his son nimbly enter the museum.  Kyle did not appear to be functioning right but Fred was at a loss on what to do.  

Fred lights his cigarette with his Bick and as he takes his first puff sees a sign standing to his right.  It shows a cigarette with a circle and a 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.  He sighs in resignation as he flicks the cigarette but.  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 cold encompass his.

“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 in the museum but reminds himself that life was never fair and he had 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 wanted 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 running around.  It was nice to see them be on the ball!  Fred feels pride towards the National Guard and secretly wished Kyle would have taken that direction.  On the way they past two buildings to the left called East and West.  To the right was Third and Fourth Street.  

The Air and Space Museum caught his attention which was 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 had ropes going down one of the holes created by the shuttle.  They were bringing up some children.  Fred felt pride as he watched them for a moment.  He then felt dread as he continued to look past them.  

In front of them the Smithsonian Castle looked like rubble.  The building reminded Fred of a smashed aluminum can that he sometimes finds stuck in the machines at the Coca Cola factory.  Something exploded inside the building.  No one was around it while it smoldered.  The windows were broke and the walls were caved inwards.  Fire leaped into the sky, enshrouding his vision in smoke making it impossible to see anything past the raging fire. 

A metro station was eerily quiet down the block; it’s the Federal Triangle Station.  Fred was surprised to see no one leave or enter it.  The side walk was torn up and the road was rubble.  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 it went.  In the near distance another building is burning out of control.  He briefly remembers his son told him it was the National Archives building when they were trekking to the Smithsonian.  

They crossed three blocks and it did not look good for Washington DC.  There were a lot of fires in the buildings they passed and many people were hurt.  There wasn’t any sense of order but there were a lot of people trying to help people stuck inside buildings.  As long as they didn’t get in the way of anyone no one bothered them.  Unlike the movies there were no riots or people hurting people on the streets.  Fred was impressed by the way the people of DC carried themselves and wished this was a bad dream.   The sculptured garden was completely not touched as they passed it.  A dozen people who looked like tourists were arguing what they should do.  Near the National Castle the Arts and Industries and Hirshhorn Museum are untouched.

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

What was Kyle talking about when he said there was a large iron ore stone from MI 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.


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