Thursday, May 5, 2011

2014: The Way the World Ends (Chapter XV Fully Edited)

2014: The Way the World Ends: Prelude

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 gave a soft buzz and I am drifting 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 am 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 realized something else as my blood chilled.  The living room I was in was 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 is 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 starts to elude me.  Deep down I feel that I missed something vital but I can't place it.   It is 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.  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 a very large living room.  I quickly 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 that it is 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 so I quickly 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 the 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 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 10:30.  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 begins to cry.

“Damn, why is he doing this?” I respond. I instantly fear that this is going to affect the day in a bad way.  Instead of saying the right thing I blurt out, “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 quickly 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 gives a curse, “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.  At 9:43 AM 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 near Beijing.  Another half a million died due to floods in the eastern China due to aftershocks.

April concludes, “The Chinese government shot and executed the top officials who built the region.  They say that 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 Mc Donald’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 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 and after eating a few fries 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 are now passing 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 buildings 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.  There are a few Vietnam vets wandering and begging.

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 quickly adds in. “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.

“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 that Fred Smith is a good man and like all good men, deserving of a break in life.  The way things had been going for the past few years though showed Fred that the things we deserve often don’t come on time.

The dark blue Geo Prism rumbled as he roughly switched gears.  He was supposed to meet his son in Rockville but got lost in Gaithersburg.  Two days on the road had 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 work in the factory like him, but no, his Kyle believed he was too good for that.  Kyle had to be different and always liked wearing a tie.  Too much ambition complicated 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 gave a snort of a laugh and pushed 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 back in Minnesota and fishing 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, slowing down at the exit sign for Emory Grove, knowing from frustrated study of the atlas sitting on the front seat that he over shot his turn.

Fred believes there is only one thing worse than city slickers and that is a politician.  Both his grandpa and dad had 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 look on the news and you will see how politicians in Washington DC never keep their word.

One week ago, during his lunch break, he received an upset call from his son.  Kyle’s wife had decided she had enough of married life, and motherhood, leaving a heartbroken and unprepared Kyle to deal with their two month old son on his own. 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 that 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 worked at Coca Cola as a floor man.  Filled with friendly camaraderie and an honest day’s work, Fred loved working at the Crown Cork and Seal plant.  He loved his job so much he decided to be loyal and swore off all Pepsi products.  His family thought he was crazy in that regard 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 boasted that 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 played cribbage.  Occasionally he dreamed 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 surprised everyone and went to college after high school. After college Kyle got a job with the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and disappeared for a few years.  He did not call or visit on the holidays.  That was another problem with politicians and the people who work with them; they become disconnected with their family and community.  On the rare 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 fantasized what it would be like to die a hero.  His partner’s voice meant nothing and the CB was turned low, mostly static with a periodic voice coming from central dispatch.  In his fantasy he saw himself as a six foot dark haired cop who was meant to take down bad guys.  Getting the damsel in distress would be nice but it wasn’t important. Just as long as she's hot and easy.

In the real world Larry is 5’7 and built like an ox.  He hadn’t found true love but was convinced that someday the right girl will see him for the stud he was, or so he told himself every morning as he shook off the alcohol from the night before.  He frequently visited the gym but those girls acted snotty and usually had boyfriends.  The females at the police force didn’t like him but he hadn’t figured out why.  His mom told him to go to church or maybe find a nurse but he told her he would rather focus on his career.  He had too much pride to admit he was afraid of women.  He had a badge and gun, most of the time it was enough.  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 wanted to go back out West.  He ended up becoming a slight alcoholic and was always on edge.

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

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

Pixel was the ridicules name of the current German Sheppard he was training.  Larry looked back at the dog in the back seat of the police cruiser and absently answered an affirmative as he swished 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 were on Interstate 270.   It was just as good as place as any to look for bad guys and Pixel needed 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 flicked on the lights and siren as a Geo Prism sped past them.  The radar gun clocked the car going 92 mph. 

Larry beamed, “Show time!”  Pixel instantly became 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 that 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 and wished he was home in DC in his soft recliner.   The Chattanooga airport bustles with people.  He looked over to his wife, Jessica, and fondly recalled the last three days.  It wasn’t worth staying online when he couldn’t even get a page to download properly so he shifted his attention.

Jessica is deftly disentangling the sticky hand of their two year old toddler, Becky, from her short dark blonde hair.  Nearby, his nine year old son, Matt, pokes at his five year old sister, Elizabeth, with one hand as the other held 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.

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

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

Alex impatiently looks at his computers clock showing quarter past the hour.  He loved his computer but didn’t want to pay more money to stay online.  He closed the laptop and briefly thought 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 though, her attention caught by some cute but annoying noise Becky is making.  Other passengers comment how cute their toddler is while a teenage boy a few seats down roll 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 and it was a splendid family vacation!

They spent the weekend at Best Western and loved the local aquarium.  His son had 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 asked his wife to watch his computer and patted his daughter on the head affectionately as he rose.  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 instantly remembers his college course on power grids and connecting cable lines.  According to his professor new technology had to be created that will 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 answered the question why he wasn’t able to get online; at least the airport wasn’t scamming him on that service.  He also remembered solar flares generally only affect radios, phones and the internet.  He wonders if its 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 hoped 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 saw his plane making its way to the terminal suddenly turn sharply.  The two flight attendants behind the counter start to 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 took 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 goe 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 Mc Donald’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 stunk 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 then reaches for his friend Tom Verde.  Tom was thrashing in the water, spittle dribbled down his chin as he cussed his ill fortune.  A fishing line was tangled in his left fist and he was trying 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 1960’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 resigned himself to the fact that he needed help and grasps Harry’s outstretched hand.  He never understood how a one arm man could be so damn versatile with only one arm.  Tom gasps in pain as the wire from the fishing line dug into his other hand.  Blood appears on his palm.  Deciding its 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 was common to see birds and homeless people scavenge for food.

Harry is wearing old military fatigues that 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 Mc Donald’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 can 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 and look for 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 and steps in.

“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 is 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 some 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 her surroundings more closely.  She sees something that 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 are sharing what they are seeing 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 continued 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 is 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 stopped rolling and things were settling.  The ground under her feet was slightly tilted.  Before the earthquake the floor was flat.  The Burger King building was built in a small strip mall.  Subway and an Asian fast food restaurant hugged Burger King to the right and left.  The entrance faced 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 is moving forward.  He’s shining his light at the grills and is turning off all the gas valves he sees.
Juliet new the noise was coming from the gas valve near the fries.  There was a dead body near the fries.  She looked down and noticed the shoe.  It was Dawn’s shoe. 

Juliet starts to cry again.  She forces her arm out and 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 and doesn’t seem to be 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 that they were hurt.

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

Harry notes with a little satisfaction that the crowd in listening.  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 is now pointing 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.   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.  They have no meaning. 

In this what hell is like?

Harry is directing people with his light beam as he barks orders.  He quickly had 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 was trying to cajole one of the females.  A few homeless people disappear from the lingering crowd but nobody notices.

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

“I need you to gather all 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 regarding burns, cuts, and breaks.  Can you do that for me?”
Jack agrees.  Juliet directs them towards the hall and the back.  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 happened.  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 as he 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 as she softly accuses him without thought, “Those burgers are for the people who ordered take out!  Put it back!”

The two homeless men start laughing 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 was saying.

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

She looks at the homeless person with the sign and with much contempt says, “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 didn’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 instantly freezes as she feels his hands squeeze around her neck.

What should I do?

Her knees buckle as she can’t respond.  Her eyes falter as her vision starts to swim.  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 arm to the man who is choking Juliet.  His arm quickly darts underneath the bigger mans elbow and snaps the bone in one hit. Juliet feels the pressure ease from half her throat and 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 starts to cry 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, and you better watch your back.”

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 was a small fire extinguisher, a first aid kid and 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 remembered 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 remembered being attacked by the homeless man and decided to put a butcher knife, used to cut lettuce, in her pack.  She remembered seeing a bottle of whiskey in the manager’s office that Harry and the other homeless people over looked.  She went back and put that in her pack.  She didn’t want to get drunk but if she was 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 that night?

Juliet heads back to the lobby.  Harry is a natural leader; he seems to have shrugged off the image of being homeless even though he is still wearing the same clothes.  Everyone outside the one homeless person whose arm he broke seems to be appreciating his guidance.  He had the short wave radio on the floor but it wasn’t working.  Harry was confused and started to curse as he turned the box over and over.

One of the college females interrupted 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 managed to drag a few tables together.  Three people had broken arms and ribs, eight people were cut on the face, chest, and arms, and one person could not remember his name.  She was worried about the person who couldn’t remember anything.  The man had a cut on his forehead and one eye was sealed shut.  He kept on shaking like he was cold.

People were talking in hushed tones when things went bad to worse.  She was cleaning someone’s cuts when they heard a large boom.  A deep boom rattled the broken building. 

Harry says, “That sounds like it might have been a gas line in Subway.”  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 that wasn’t ordered for lunch.  56 cheeseburgers, 29 hamburgers, 14 chicken sandwiches, 29 salads, at least a hundred chicken nuggets, and 16 fish sandwiches.  They decided to not gather the fries from the fryer.  She even found her two onion free burgers but decided to put 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.

Chapter XIII: Anti Hero

The leash was becoming taunt in Larry’s left hand.  The leather’s course edges dug further as it began to lubricate his hand with his blood.

It didn’t hurt, but the pain can go away now.

His vision started to focus as his peripheral vision registered what was happening.  He was 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 somewhere on their route that 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 worked 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 was happening right now wasn’t part of Pixels training.  He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Is this real?

A moment ago he told his partner he was going to wait outside of the Capital Building as his partner was about to use the bathroom.  They were 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 they were there.  He just wanted to do his job.

He didn’t lose his balance but instead watched 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 was happening. 

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

He couldn’t find his voice.  Pixel continued to try to break free as a siren began its endless wail.  He couldn’t focus on his walkie-talkie.

He didn’t care about his hand or the blood that was congregating in his palm.  What he was seeing was 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 was swaying.  Chunks of marble and granite are falling on people who are dressed in suits.  He couldn’t help but watch as the cast iron dome was shifting to the right and then the left.  The sun was shining brightly behind it and there are no clouds.

Is the dome going to fall? 

Larry needed to watch, deep down he knew this was ground breaking.  This was history in the making.

His attention went to the steps.  The granite was heaving and splitting.  People were running towards the entrance.

Don’t go inside!  The dome is going to collapse!

Why couldn’t he say something, anything?

His partner was near the entrance.  He made eye contact.

There was a fierce determination in his partner’s eyes. 

Shit, NO!  

Larry knew what his partner wanted.  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 stated to scream at him not to.

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

His partner saw his stall.   His eyes went flat as he watched 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 is lifting from the ground and 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 barking but suddenly pushes with all her might.

Larry feels his body propel forward.  Pixel was on a mission and there was 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.

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 barking but suddenly pushes with all her might.

Larry feels his body propel forward.  Pixel was on a mission and there was 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 started to bark and he noticed 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 he was saying as she darted forward.  He still wasn’t going to let go.  He tried giving her a few commands but she wouldn’t listen.

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

Larry had his mind back and found 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 felts 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 that is collapsing.”  They have 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 were being stopped at the entrance and were being told they couldn’t enter.

A few highly armed groups were escorted more senators and congressman out.  One tourist who had a flower tourist shirt and khaki’s wasn’t going really wanted to get in the chambers.

The security personal allowed his partner in and told the civilian to stop.

The man in the flower shirt with the camera didn’t seem to hear him.  He kept on looking back at for his family and was yelling, “Sharon where are you?  Timmy, Amanda?”  He tried shrugging off the security guard while another guard dressed in a suit moved to his right.  The other civilians stopped and upholstered his side arm. 

Countless people were trying to ask the government workers questions.  It was evident that their security equipment and telecommunication gear wasn’t working.  They kept on pawing at the microphones in their ears but were only receiving static.  Larry could not see what was happening in the chamber and took a few steps back.  It took all his might to stop Pixel from running in the chamber.

The man with the flowery shirt continued as he tried to push past the security personal. 

His voice started to get more desperate as he yelled 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 echoed in the chaos.  Everyone stopped.

The man in the flowery tourist shirt put his hand to his chest and looked down in disbelief after twirling from the impact.  The civilians and Larry got a clear picture as they saw a red dot appear on his chest. 
The man falls to his knees and the civilians are quiet.  Within seconds the civilians moved as one mass and rushed past Larry.

Other civilians entered the hall not knowing what just occurred.

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

Larry directed Pixel to the crypt and paused only a moment as he looked around at his surroundings.

Murals from Constantino Brumidi were destroyed.  Cracks were appearing in the whole building but the ceiling was still intact.  Two pillars 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 was never more.

He didn’t think twice in going down the steps to the crypt.  Anything that would put him away from security personal shooting Americans.  He made it to the bottom of the steps and fished the small alcohol deep in his jacket.

Oh my God, this is really happening!

Larry ignored both the blood on his hand and Pixel as he quickly opened the bottle and drank the contents.
For a moment he drifted against the wall and tried to not listen to the screaming coming from the floor above.

Larry did not think that anyone knew what to do and it was pure chaos.

Pixel brought his attention back to the moment as she started to whine.  Shrugging, Larry decides that it was fine by him to not go back upstairs for a few minutes.

Larry let Pixel direct him.  He was a little worried about Pixel’s search and rescue skills.

Pixel briskly led Larry down the corridor and started barking towards some rubble.

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

Larry instantly recalled seeing a group of Asian students dressed in blue.  He felt a sick knot build in his stomach.  A large part of the wall crushed the group.

Pixel darted forward and started to paw at the rubble. 

Maybe there is someone alive?

Larry took out his light and shined in through the settling dust.  Sunlight was streaming from a few cracks in the wall.  He paused as he felt the ground under his feet settle.  The siren was still cycling.  He could hear someone sob as he briefly looked at the ceiling.

Not good.  Entire chunks of the ceiling were falling.  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 said it.  Of course the Asian was going to stay still.

Larry didn’t need his flash light and let go of Pixels collar.  Pixel instantly goes to the rubble and starts to dig as best as she can.

Larry told her to stay still and picked up a few blocks. 

It didn’t take long for him to find an Asian kid dressed in blue.  Blood caked the kids frame. This kid is lucky.  He must be blessed.  Outside of the blood and torn clothes he looked like a nerd.  Maybe he is one of those computer nerds.

The Asian teen kept on talking in gibberish and Larry could not understand him at all.

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

After wiping some blood from the kids eyes from a cut brow, Larry realizes he doesn’t English. 

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

Larry sighs as he walks back up the steps.  Everyone is still in the chambers.  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 tried to unravel the Asian kids’ arms from around his neck.  His hand was really hurting and wouldn’t stop bleeding.

When did that start hurting?

Suddenly the ground pitched to the right as an aftershock rocked Washington DC.  Larry felt this wasn’t a safe place and wanted to get out of the building.

Most of the politicians 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 is obediently following.

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

Minutes later Larry found himself at the entrance.  A whole bunch of first responders finally arrived and were pushing past both civilians and government workers.  The entrance to the Capital Building looked like it was bent sideways.  Larry uncontrollably shook as he thought to himself that he should be outside.

Apparently others felt the same way and the first responders started to evacuate the building.  Larry had to pause a few minutes 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.  He already knew the roof was teetering and that wasn’t a good sign.  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 was unstable!  Larry shook his head in disbelief as he continued this thought.

But this is impossible.  Places 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 were aftershocks from the Madrid Fault?  No, that was definitely an earthquake in DC? 

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

Maybe the Cascadia Subduction Zone got affected 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. 

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

Moments later and he is 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 dust.  Now various buildings were in rubble.  It was if every three buildings were left untouched.  Fire was coming from many.  A large boom could be felt from the distance.  A new smoke plume appeared 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 saw the man had a nametag, his name was Mark.  A white man appeared near Mark with two women.  The new man’s nametag read Mike. 

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

Suddenly there is a dark hair woman who he recognizes as an anchor woman for CNN and her camera man. 
She’s instantly 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 instantly starts filming the group and the carnage around them. 

Mark starts to usher the group and Larry doesn’t know what else to do but follow.  He finally got the Asian kid to let go and he is following behind everyone.  Larry laughs when he sees the redneck he pulled over earlier.  The redneck from Minnesota won’t make eye contact.  There are other staff people and civilians but Larry doesn’t look close.  He doesn’t even know where they are going but anything is better than where he was.  Pixel was quiet and his hand burned sharply and wouldn’t stop bleeding.  He didn’t want to clean it at the moment.  He just wanted to have another drink.  He didn’t feel like a hero and wished the CNN journalist would shut up.

They paused on the lawn and as a group looked up.  Metal on metal could be heard as the Statue Freedom began to sway.

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

Everyone was quiet.  Mark started to cry.   The CNN journalist was busy filming.

He knew his partner and everyone in there was now dead.

Chapter XIV:  Looking into Nothingness

Harry didn’t want to open his eyes for another second, in the darkness a second felt like ten minutes.  He washed down the last of his cheeseburger with some water from a Dasani plastic bottle. 

His mind is taking 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 are keeping 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.  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 is sitting away from the others.  His back is away from the light.  His friend isn’t around but that didn’t worry him.  A few homeless people were scavenging the floor for unwrapped food.  They are obviously still hungry.

Looking over at the three homeless men near the center group he says, “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.  They had no way to treat the old man’s hands if he got an infection.

He lost his hand when his unit blundered two 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 was 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 instantly 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 starts laughing hysterically.  Harry turns towards him but the homeless man does not have a light on and seems to be part of 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 are still in the pile.  The college students decide to keep to themselves.  The older gentlemen  gather the bodies in hushed tones.   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 didn’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 I need 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 help is coming.  He doesn’t think Juliet and the others will last more than three days under the present circumstances.   Water was 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 while watching the homeless men who are armed.

Chapter XV: Journey to the Smithsonian

As far as Fred was concerned he was in hell.  The earth was shaking and pillars of fire are rising 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.  He didn’t feel like he was going to hell, but it seems hell has come to him.  He instantly 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 was no longer a complete road.  The street was spilt in 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 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 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 that 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 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 and the military vehicles rambled to another location.  The street sign is 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 look unstable, almost as if water was 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.  A few 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 had to take 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 street.  Kyle and the other Smithsonian staff workers don’t acknowledge the other survivors as they quicken their pace and head of 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 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 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 abruptly leave.  Now they are only four.

A few minutes later

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 junky 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 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 was around it while it smoldered.  The windows were broke and the walls were 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 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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