Wednesday, July 20, 2011

2014 The Way The World Ends Full Version

Written by Greg L. Miller
2014: The Way the World Ends: 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is my story. 

This is how the world ends. 

Chapter I: First Day 


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

I put my fork down as I listen to her. 

"Mike! Do you understand what I’m saying?" She tosses her silverware on the plate. 

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter II: Early Bird Catches the Worm 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter III: Metro 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter IV: Burger King and the Last Supper 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you do Fred?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter V: The Players of DC 

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

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

No chance of stragglers from that group. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter VI: Fred 

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

The dark blue Geo Prism rumbles as he roughly switches gears. He was supposed to meet his son in Rockville but got lost in Gaithersburg. Two days on the road has made him tired and plagued with a permanent headache. He didn’t care much for the East Coast or its people who look like monkeys in suits. 

His son was supposed to have worked in the factory like him, but no, his Kyle believes he is too good for that.

Kyle had to be different which began to came out in high school when he was always seen wearing a tie. Too much ambition complicates things and Fred, like his father before him, preferred to keep things simple. While Kyle’s brothers and sisters were playing with dolls and footballs, you could find Kyle at the museum. Fred didn’t understand how someone could prefer the History and Discovery Channel over ESPN.

Fred snorts which sounds like a laugh and pushes those thoughts aside. 

What’s the point, it is what it is.

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

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

Fred believes there is only one thing worse than city slickers and that is politicians. Both his grandpa and dad believed firmly in the fact that politics was a lying occupation and he had never seen anything to prove otherwise. All you have to do is turn on the news and you will see how politicians in Washington DC never keep their word. 

How else can one explain current budget issues and American soldiers dying overseas? It’s the fault of the people who are in charge. People in suits don’t relate to the working class. Why did Kyle have to be one of them?

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

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

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

Kyle didn’t surprise anyone when he went to college after high school. After college Kyle got a job with the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., disappearing for a few years. He never calls or visits on the holidays. 

That’s another problem with politicians and the people who work with them; they become disconnected with their family and community. 

On the rare time he did visit home, Kyle acted like he was better than everyone else. But even though Kyle had thought he had moved on to bigger and better things, he got a worthless woman knocked up and ended up married to her.

Just like the redneck boys back home. 

Of course his family was not invited to the sudden wedding because Kyle viewed them as ignorant red necks.

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

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

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

What else could possibly go wrong today? 

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

Chapter VII: Larry and the K9 

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

As long as she’s hot and easy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter VIII: Alex the Technician 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No sorry, I’m still at the airport. Our plane is finally coming to the terminal. I can come later if you want?” 

Deep down he hopes Kyle would say no. It would be nice to have another night with his family. Maybe he could talk them into eating dinner at the Olive Garden when they get home.

Without much professionalism Kyle answers, “You are not important; I don’t care what you want.” 

Feeling righteously annoyed Alex is about to respond when Kyle follows it up with, “Sorry, not you. I’m talking to someone else. Do whatever you want. I will see you in the office tomorrow.” He could hear Kyle arguing with someone in the background.

Maybe Kyle had finally pissed off the director? One could always hope. 

He was about to hang up when he sees his plane making its way to the terminal turn sharply. The two flight attendants behind the counter get excited and one quickly picks up the phone when it rings. They don’t notice the plane and how it has turned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is happening? This isn’t his world! 

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

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

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

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

Chapter IX: The Paladin 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter X: The Vet 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He gathers his stuff and heads towards Burger King. 

Chapter XI: Presidential Limo 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is truly going to be a great day. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some say it could disrupt telecommunications for awhile but it won’t be a big deal.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m about to say something when I hear the man in blue jeans and a flannel blurt out, “For Christ sake Kyle! 

Let me have my grandson and I will leave you alone!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What‘s wrong with the guy? 

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

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

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

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

Why did they drive off? 

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

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

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

Marks phone rings. His voice cuts through the confusion. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter XII: Lights out at Burger King 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juliet instantly knows the conservation will not go anywhere and despairingly mutters, “It doesn’t matter.” 

It’s obvious these teens prefer cooler activities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few minutes later...

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

Where was her manna? 

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

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

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

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

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

Is that the smell of burned flesh? 

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

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

Who is she? She wants to be Jasmine. 

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

Why can’t she see? 

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

Juliet hears voices. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened to Dawn? 

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

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

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

“Juliet, what do we do?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was happening out there? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that one of the employees? 

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

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

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

The number does not connect. 

At least her phone was showing a few bars! 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Of course nobody moved. How could they? 

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

Nothing happened. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this what hell is like? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that one of the new employees who was slacking? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry passes her without hesitation and enters the room. 

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

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

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

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

Juliet couldn’t believe what he’s saying. 

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

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

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

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

What should I do? 

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

I can’t breathe! 

Harry simply says, “Enough of this nonsense.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry mutters, “Maybe.” 

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter XIII: Anti Hero 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this real? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the dome going to fall? 

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

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

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

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

Shit, NO! 

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

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

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

I don’t want to die today. 

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

Where are the rest of the cops? 

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

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

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

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

He sees his partner reemerge with something big and bulky. 

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

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

Shit, I don’t want to go in there. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Other civilians enter the hall not knowing what just occurred. 

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

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

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

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

Oh my God, this is really happening! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pixel darts forward and paws at the debris. 

Maybe someone is alive? 

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

Not good. Entire chunks of the ceiling fall around him. It’s only a matter of time before the building collapses. 

I need to get out of here!

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

Shit! Someone is alive. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did that start hurting? 

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

Most of the politicians have evacuated the premises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that the Supreme Court Building? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter XIV: Looking into Nothingness 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risk more than others think is safe. 

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

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

Back then he had two hands. Harry reentered the moment as he watches the old gentleman bloody his hands on the rubble. No matter how hard he tried he wasn’t going make progress. His captain and war buddy couldn’t fix what happened either. 

We have no way to treat the old man’s hands if he gets an infection.

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

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

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

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

Juliet and the others agree. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That jacket is going to become a high end commodity. 

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

So damn nice! 

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

“Go ahead.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somebody is yelling in the lobby. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s only been an hour in a half? 

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

Water is going to be a big issue.

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

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

Chapter XV: Journey to the Smithsonian

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

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

Why is the emergency screen on the phone but I can’t send a phone call? I’m dead aren’t I? 

Why wouldn’t Fred think he was dead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s best to get my grandson and take Kyle back home. Will Jesus save Kyle? What about my wife and other children? What about the Coca Cola factory? Will I ever be able to fish again with my buddies?  Are they still alive? Did Minnesota get hit?

Fred digs out his crucifix which is on a gold chain. His wife gave it to him many years ago when they first met.  He never would have known about Jesus if it wasn’t for her. He met her at church on Easter when he was 19 years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both military groups merge and stop. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He fondly scratches her behind the ears. 

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

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

Fred agrees to whatever he wants. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where did that come from? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few minutes later...

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

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

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

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

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

What’s happening with my son? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened to you son? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter XVI: Library of Congress 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t do anything. I hate this. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irina asks, “How do we get out.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need to be there for her! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter XVII: Smithsonian Goes Prehistoric 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that smoke in the air? 

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

Where is my son? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Didn’t Kyle say his office was on the first floor? Why is he coming from the second floor? 

Kyle looks very flushed while he keeps looking over to where he came from. 

“Dad, who were they? Where did you get the tool belt from?” Kyle didn’t seem to care about his Dad’s answer. He appeared to be looking towards the second floor. “We need to get out of here. I got what I needed.” He doesn’t make eye contact with Fred. 

Shit, what did he do? Maybe he got his drugs or something. Now isn’t the time to ask. 

A new aftershock rocks the building. Smoke is coming out from the area Fred just left. Fred asks Kyle if it’s time to get his baby. 

Kyle quickly points to where the iron ore rock from Ishpeming Michigan went. Fred looks to where Kyle is pointing. The iron ore rock exited the other side of the building leaving a second entrance. Fred shrugs as they walk out the opposite direction they entered. He sees Kyle is carrying a large back pack but doesn’t question what’s inside.

Chapter XVIII:  The Brit and Jack

Twenty minutes before…

Larry didn’t think he was going to ever see the Congress folk again.  

Why is it that everyone wants to go into buildings that are falling apart?

It was time for him to be a hypocrite, he knew First Congressional Liquor Store on First Street catered to many Senators and Congressmen and had a wonderful selection of booze.

The Asian and the British fellow opted to stay with him.  

Rather the guard didn’t allow the Asian teen inside the building.   

The teen freaks him out, he keeps looking at Larry with adoring puppy eyes.  No matter how he tries shoeing the kid away he wasn’t making process.

Stupid kid, why don’t you go home?

The British woman is hot.  The security guard went back to watching the Capital Building in the shadows.  

“Hey, you want to get some alcohol with me and have a drink in memory of Congress?”  His joke is met with her blushing and brushing up to his side.  He smells her sweet flowery shampoo and finds himself wanting to know her a little better.  He doesn’t focus on the fact she is shaking and scared.  Or maybe he doesn’t care.  He reaches for her and feels her respond to his touch positively.  

With a thick British accent she says, “I would love to have a drink.  I can’t believe this is happening.  I just didn’t want to go in there.”  She continues to flatter his ego, “You look like a fine cop and you are so handsome.  Will you help protect me?”

Her soft eyes and clear voice reminds him of what he missed in high school.

He yanks Pixel’s leash and orders her to follow.  He doesn’t care about the Asian kid.

Maybe if I don’t look at him he will disappear?  

Pixel whines at the door.  It’s obvious she wants to go with the others.  He yanks the leash a second time and she becomes obedient.

“What’s your name?”  He tries not showing too much interest but fails miserably.  It doesn’t dawn on him to think it’s wrong to hit on a woman and not to try to find his mother.  He didn’t really like his mother and often blamed her for his own short comings.  He sometimes takes his frustrations out on her when he is drunk.

“Mary, my name is Mary; it’s nice to meet you.”  She feels warm.  Larry can’t believe how his fortune is turning in his favor.

“I like Jack Daniels.  What’s your poison?”  She mutters it doesn’t matter as long as gets her drunk.

He smiles and redirects her to the platform the cops and firemen made earlier on First Street.  The liquor store is across from Capital South and it doesn’t take long to get there.  They only have to cross D Street and it’s still intact.  A few homeless people are making a commotion in Subway but he doesn’t care.   Tortilla Coast is on fire but the rest of the block seems stable enough.

As long as they don’t bother me I won’t bother them.  

He flinches as he watches a homeless man kick a man in the head who is wearing a suit.  Laughing, the homeless man digs through the man’s attire and runs off with his wallet as the man cries.  No one helps him.  Other homeless people appear to be tearing up the fast food restaurant.  They quicken their pace and cross the street.  He lets go of Pixel who obediently follows him while he keeps on hand on his gun.  Pixel doesn’t want to get involved with what happening in Subway.  Another business is in the process of shutting their metal screens as a whole bunch of men who look they could be muscle builders wearily watch the homeless people in Subway.  One of the men brandishes a shotgun.  Larry hears him tell his crew, “If anyone tries to come in we kick their ass and save the building.  This is our families dream and NO ONE will touch it as long as we stand!”  

They are in front of a very small liquor store.  A tree once stood proudly near the front entrance lies sprawled on the road.  Branches from the roots brush upon the building as dirt smears the bricks.  Larry pauses as he sees two body guards near the front entrance.  A couple of dead homeless people lay at their feet.

Shit, someone important must be in there.

He calls out, “I’m a cop.  Can we come in?”  One body guard disappears for a moment.  Larry takes his gun out as a few homeless men in Subway start eying Mary.  One of them lewdly comments, “Hey honey, how about coming in here and I will show you a good time?”

Larry chambers a bullet and menacingly answers, “Come and get it tough guy.”

The homeless man laughs and responds, “Not today but maybe tomorrow.”  Three others join him.  Thankfully they aren’t armed outside of metal pipes and sticks.

The body guard reappears near his partner as a Deli sign falls to the ground, “Quick, come in.” 

All four enter the liqueur store.  The two body guards step back to their stations at the entrance.  The broken tree prevents the metal shutters to properly close.  It didn’t matter anymore because the electricity was not working.

It’s big inside.   Four isles give testimony to a very sweet wine and liquor selection as the walls are full of many racks.  Sadly many of the bottles are broken and Larry can very much smell the sweetness of the sugar in the wine going sour.  Other smells aren’t as bad but Mary comments on how pungent the beer is.  Pixel can’t handle the smell so he lets her take up post near the body guards at the entrance.  A staff employee comes down the stairs holding a flashlight and a bag full of food.  Sunlight streaks in from the entrance but only illuminates the first eight feet of the building.

It takes Larry’s eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dark.  The employee of the liquor store is very friendly as he says, “Senator, I have some munchies for you.”  The employee beams with happiness as Senator O’Neil from New York thanks him.

“You’re a good man and I love this fine establishment.  Isn’t that right Steve?  The sandwiches are the best in DC!” A third body guard comes out of the shadows and grabs a Twinkies and a ham sandwich from the bag.

“Yes sir.  This place is splendid.  We are going to need to leave as soon as you’re able.”  The body guard thanks the employee and grabs a coca cola from the ground.  Pop bubbles over when he opens the can but he doesn’t seem to mind.

One of the body guards fires a shot without notice at the entrance.  Everyone becomes quiet, after a moment the Senator replies to his body guard, “Have it your way.  The end of the world has come and you still refuse to have a drink.  Lighten up man!”

His body guard sobering answers, “Maybe tomorrow after we get you safely home.”

Senator O’Neil looks at Larry and introduces himself.  He has a fifth of Southern Comfort as he sits on an upside down crate, his left leg juts out looking like its broke.  He shares the bottle with the employee who thanks him.  Mary instantly goes for peach vodka.  It doesn’t take Larry long to spot an intact bottle of Jack Daniels.  His first few gulps has a third of the bottle gone.

The Asian kid pokes around the rubble and finds a few water bottles.  He puts three water bottles and a whole bunch of candy bars into his back pack.  Larry watches as the boy goes behind the front counter and grabs a whole bunch of fish tackle, wire and hooks.  For the first time Larry looks at the boy with a little respect.  

Maybe he isn’t going to be luggage after all.  It would still be better if he got lost though.

The State Senator reflects his life to the youthful employee, “So when I was your age I took a gamble and went to a community college.  It was the best decision of my life.  I learned I had a knack for politics so I enrolled at Washington State University.  It didn’t take long to land an internship which introduced me to the Senate.”

The youth is soaking up all the words and replies, “I am finishing high school.  I took my GRE.  My family is on vacation in Hawaii.”

The body guard in the shadows politely interrupts, “Sir, we need to get you to a hospital.  If you start hemorrhaging around the break in your leg you could die.  Can I least make a brace for your leg?”

Senator O’Neil answers, “You’re too good to me.  Go ahead and make the leg brace.  I will be able to leave in a few minutes.  Until then let me enjoy having a drink with my new friends.”

 The body guard begins to scavenge the first floor for anything that could make a brace.  The Asian kid who doesn’t speak English seems to understand what he’s doing and comes up with some heavy duty tape behind    the counter.  He gives the body guard one and puts the other in his back pack.  He then whistles as he finds some batteries.  Within a half a minute he has a portable game counsel making noises in his palms.  It sounds like Mario Party.  

Senator O’Neil continues his personal reflections, “When I was 21 I met my wife.  She makes me so happy.  We met at a wedding in July…”

Larry is beginning to feel tipsy and decides he should rinse out his mouth with some water.  He zero’s in on Mary who is silently crying.  Her cell phone isn’t working as she keeps pressing numbers in hopes to connect   with someone.

He steps nearer and feels ten feet tall and indivisible as he says, “You’re so hot.  Will you go out with me when this is done?” 

She smiles through the silent tears and says she likes her men built strong.

If only mom could see me now!  

Another shot is heard as Pixel barks.  

It would seem the homeless people really want to have alcohol.  It’s not going to be safe here when they leave.  Maybe I can take her home with me?

Larry feels fortunate she doesn’t have family in America.  It greatly increases his chances in being with her.

The liquor store employee tries being part of the Senators conversation, “I met my girl friend at lunchtime at school.  She gave me her brownie when I forgot my lunch money.”

Senator O’Neil responds, “What’s her name?”

The employee whose name Larry did not hear excitedly fishes out a picture from his wallet.  Shining his flashlight on the picture he shows it the Senator, “Her name is Emily Johnson.”

Senator O’Neil gives a warmth heart full laugh and tells the youth his girl friend has a beautiful name and face.  His body guard finds all the necessary materials for a leg brace and proceeds to work on the Senators leg.

Larry is almost finished with his bottle of Jack Daniels and decides to put a second bottle into the kids back pack.

He tells Mary, “You never know when we will need to disinfect cuts.”  She buys into his excuse.

He shoves a few pints of Vodka into his jacket.  His hand isn’t burning as much as it did earlier.  Nearby he spies a glass case all by itself.  In it is a Chateau Lafite 1787.  His heart skips a beat as he instantly recalls the moment he became a cop at the academy.  His friends in California, who all died during the earthquake in 2012, bought him a fake imitation wine that represented Chateau Lafite 1787.   It was the greatest day of his life. 
I want that bottle!  Is it real?

Larry walks through the rubble and marvels the bottle is still intact in the glass case.  As he’s reaching for it a new aftershock rocks the building.  His left hand is in the glass case when he watches in horror as the glass panel cracks.  Things went slow as he watched step by step the glass fell into his left hand which he didn’t pull  out of the case.

A dull sensation spreads up his palm.  He is too intoxicated to feel the glass.  Instead he sees three inches of glass firmly embed in his glove.  He pulls back his hand and curses his luck.  Everyone quiets down as he turns around and shares his new bloody trophy.

The Senator says, “That’s going to hurt.”  Mary rushes to his side.  Like a bimbo she reaches out and plucks the glass from his hand without thinking of the consequences.  Blood shoots out in an arc, he feels his vision swim and loses awareness.

A few minutes later

Something is poking into his back.  He’s lying flat on the ground.  Alcohol from broken bottles covers him in its stickiness.  His head swims and he felt as if a hot iron is coursing in his blood.  His mind takes comfort in the taste of Jack Daniels in his mouth.  The State Senator is drunkenly singing this is the End of the World as We Know It.  He attempts to sit up but can’t.  His left hand refuses to support his weight.  Pain shoots up his wrist and hand as his mind registers the moments before he went unconscious.

Shit, my hand!

Larry sees his hand is wrapped in bandages.  The body guard is helping the Senator to his feet.  Mary and the Asian kid are at the front entrance with Pixel and the other two body guards.  The store employee asks the Senator if he can go with him.  

One of the body guards says no.  He looks like he is about to cry.  Mary tells the teen he can go with them.  The teen isn’t interested and answers no and makes mention he should find his grandparents.  He walks out the store.  At the entrance he says he will wait for everyone to leave before he locks up.  He doesn’t see the futile gesture will be in vain for as soon as they leave the homeless people will flood the store for the alcohol and food.

Mary sees Larry is awake and helps him to his feet.  The Senator says bye as his body guards usher him out the building.  One of the body guards helps the senator by letting him lean against his left side.  Within moments they are gone.

Harry tries isolating the pain in his hand.  He tells his group they have to get out of here before the homeless people get the nerve to come in.  Within a minute they are on the street and the store in being locked up.  Half a dozen people watch in silence.  Larry doesn’t like the greedy look in their eyes.  He forgot to pick up the bottle of wine and mourns his loss of the fabled Chateau Lafite 1787.  He knows better to stay here though.

Pixel barks.  Larry isn’t holding her leash.  Before he can stop her she’s running back towards the library of congress.

Shit, you stupid dog, get back here!

He forgets about Mary and the Asian kid as he runs after Pixel.  He doesn’t see as soon as he’s a block away the homeless people began to pummel the windows of the liquor store.   Two to three run after the store clerk hoping to get his keys.  Luckily the kid went running the other direction.

He watches as Pixel darts as quickly as a bullet.  She’s over the board bridging First Street and is quickly at a side window in the Jefferson building.  Larry groans as he heads back in that direction.  He doesn’t bother to call out for Pixel.  Someone in the Library of Congress is waving a white cloth out a window.  

No one is helping.  

Doesn’t this shit ever end?  I should have been something else outside of a cop!

Larry angrily takes out his gun when he gets back to the Jefferson building.  He waves at someone he can’t see to step away from the window.  He has to look good for Mary who is following him.  If she thinks he is a hero then maybe he can hook up with her later.

His right hand still hurts from when Pixel made her leash taunt but it wasn’t anything compared to the pain in his left hand.  It takes him three bullets to shatter the window.  For some stupid reason the same people he left earlier come out.  The building is obviously on fire but the dome still stands.  He sees the Asian kid is still in the group.

Now what do we do?  Maybe one of these people will have a clue on what our next step should be.

Mark tells Mary that Irina is dead.   They watch in silence as the Library of Congress burns.  Mike says something about it reminding him of the Divine Comedy.  Mike takes control of the group but he doesn’t seem to have much of a back bone with Susan who knows how to get her way.  The camera man says he found a rare book behind the cashier counter and asks if anyone wants it.  April simply tells him to put in the back pack.

Mike says they should try the metro at Union Station.  He adds if things get worse they could always follow the metro tracks until they get out of DC.  His wife wants to get to their house which is in Maryland.  Mark says he will tag along until he can get home.  Apparently he too has family in Maryland but seems torn because his apartment overlooks the bay.  Mary wants to stay with them and he wants to stay with her.  The CNN journalist and her camera man talk about having a van near Union Station.   Larry’s partner had the cruiser keys so he decides the best course of action is to follow this group for a time.

Chapter XVIIII:  Final Showdown at Burger King

Juliet is at a loss and wants nothing more than to be home in front of her computer monitor.   She draws imaginary designs at her feet with her cheap source of light which was meant for kiddy meals.  Even though she isn’t cold, she can’t stop feeling chilled.  The air becomes staler as more hours pass; she never fathomed ventilation systems played such an important role in clean air.  Rodger keeps coughing.  At first she thought he was suffering from allergies but then she too started to get a little hoarse.  An hour ago Harry came up with an idea on wrapping a strip of clean cloth around his mouth.  She chose to listen but many did not.

No matter what they did, people were drinking and eating the food at an alarming rate.  She became alarmed with this development 45 minutes prior when the college girls kept on using full water bottles to clean up in the bathroom.   Some of the people in the lobby are very understanding of their plight but yet others are complete dicks or bitches.   The college girls were the bitches. 

I can’t believe that girl lied about the homeless man touching her. 

The preppy girl had two sweaters on for some reason.  One she was wearing and the other was wrapped around her shoulders, something to do with a sorority.

Could they be any more stereotypical?

Deep down she wishes she could have a figure like of one of those girls but it wasn’t in her cards.  Instead she gets teens, old people, and a one armed homeless man. 

On the other hand Dawn’s leather jacket is keeping me warm.  Thanks Dawn.

Not understanding her morbid fascination with death she briefly shines her light where Dawn died.  She freezes when the light illuminates feet with no shoes. 

“What the hell happened to Dawn’s shoes.”  She shines her light towards Harry and Rodger and gets their attention. 

Harry sputters, “Who took her shoes?”

One of the homeless men says he did.  He quickly rationalizations she didn’t need it anymore and he did.    

Juliet couldn’t argue due to the fact she is wearing the dead teens jacket.  At the same time she hated the way the homeless men talked and how they justified their actions.  Deep down she knew they would hurt her if they could.  She reaches for the knife in her backpack but thinks twice about taking it out.

Help is coming.  It needs to come!

Her gut clinches as she feels fear radiate deep inside. 

I could use a beer or something. 

Trying to keep her mind of her current problem she tries small talk with Harry.  Not knowing where to start she remembers the speed in which he broke the other homeless mans arm. 

“How did you learn to fight?  I can’t believe you broke that mans arm.  Thanks for saving me earlier.”

She could tell his mind was somewhere else as he answers, “In Korea.”

She doesn’t know what to say outside of, “That’s neat.  Is that near Vietnam?”

Harry chuckles, “No, it’s near China and Japan.  I was a soldier back in the 50’s.”

Juliet does the math, “That makes you near 70 or 80?”

Harry replies, “Something like that.”

Juliet needs to see something outside of a destroyed Burger King in her mind’s eye so she asks, “What was it like?”  She’s only been accustomed to Iraqi and Vietnam vets.  Even though she lives in a poor district she never had a reason to mesh with these types of people.  She had a cousin who is in the National Guard but he’s currently stationed in Maryland.  She never got along with him because he always wanted her to act more feminine. 

Harry obliges her curiosity, “I did a lot of hiding and sitting on my ass.”  He didn’t want to talk about his primary objectives during the war, but he had no problem in sharing the basics.  He continues, “We had a barrack made out of mud and bamboo when we weren’t searching for the enemy.”

Juliet gives a small noise of approval and deftly eats some very cold chicken nuggets.  Rodger found a twenty piece and split it with everyone.

Harry continues, “It wasn’t that nice.  We had to change our barracks once.   The South Koreans didn’t have plumbing like we do.  Back in the day they had wagons called Honey Wagons which collected people’s shit near the sides of their houses.  It was weird.  The South Koreans used both people and animals to push the carts.  They did this in all the villages.  What sucked is that we sometimes had to sit in rice fields surrounded by this because the villagers used it as fertilizer.”

Juliet is so disgusted she wants to puke, “Could it be worse then what it smells like in here?”

Harry replies, “Yes.  It wasn’t as bad as smelling dead soldiers that committed suicide though.”

Rodger decides to join the conversation, “What do you mean?”

Harry tells him, “The war was hard on us soldiers.  We lost over 40,000 Americans.   One of my duties was to help collect US soldiers who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge near Seoul.   Within hours the fish and river life would eat their faces off.  It was the worse smell ever.”  Trying to make the subject a little lighter he adds, “When I was on leave I met a nice Asian girl who had a stream in her back yard.  I ended up making a small irrigation sytem for her by redirecting the houses shit into a stream in the back yard.”

Juliet asks, “Did you ever kill anyone?”  She was done eating and thinks she should try to use the bathroom soon.   The homeless people were keeping to themselves and the college students disappeared into the female’s bathroom.

They must feel more secure in there.  I don’t want to use their bathroom though.  They creep me out thinking they are better than me because they go to college.  I’m just as smart as them.

She looks at Harry with amazement as she realizes he’s in better shape than her.   She becomes sad as he reminds her of her grandparents.  She looks at her cell phone and sees its 1:34 p.m.

That means we have been in here for only two hours?

It didn’t seem right.  She would have bet her soul it was more like a day.  She fondly remembers her families scheduled. 

Right now my dad is at work.  I wonder if he’s alright at the hospital. 

Her dad is a janitor at the hospital and she is very proud of what he does.  She knew her mom was taking care of her younger brother at the apartment complex they lived at.  They all lived near each other. 

Grandma would be napping after she takes her insulin. 

Her mind jolts as an aftershock rocks the tables around them.  They had time to secure the tables in place and they no longer poised a threat.  If anything else they took the brunt of the falling debris.  The homeless people gathered 4 tables and were stationed as far away as they could be.  That was fine by Juliet.  No one knew what the college students were doing in the bathroom.  She had a feeling they might have managed to take the bathroom stall doors of the hinges and did something with them.  They were not allowing anyone in their spot.
That leaves the homeless men and older gentleman who are still trying to dig us out.  She picks up a few sandwiches and water bottles and brings it to them. 

They need to keep their strength up.

Rodger asks Harry if he would ever go back to Korea.   Harry tells him only a crazy person would go back and he was happy living in America.”

Harry continues, “It was insane at the beginning of the war.  The North Koreans had a whole bunch of Soviet-T-34-85’s which were heavy duty tanks for that day.  They were kicking our ass.  Jerry, who was Gunnery, managed to chip some of the tanks down using bazookas. “

Rodger must be a history buff for he can’t seem to get enough of Harry’s personal account; he interrupts, “Is 
that how you lost your arm?”

Harry pauses and says, “No, that’s for another story.”  He continues without mentioning or moving his hand any further, “I was already Korea a few years before the war broke out.  I actually lied about my age when I enlisted into the military thinking it was duty.  I was always gifted with speed and good health, I rose through the ranks.”

Juliet tests her medic skills as she cleans out the cuts of the people’s hands that are digging.  She ends up getting frustrated and pours half the alcohol bottle in their cuts in hopes it will kill the germs.  She tries her best in applying ointment and a few Band-Aids but fails miserably.  She decides to not have a drink and to safe it for people who will need it.

Harry's narration continues, “The first day of the war really sucked.  I thought I was going to die for sure.  My unit was under quipped and we had to be resourceful when the tanks came in.” 

Rodger bustles like a child, “Please tell me.”

“Well, there we were, we had two M24 Chaffee’s;  which are light tanks if you don’t already know, the KPA tanks blew them apart within minutes.  Half the unit was shot to death as the Soviet’s superior tanks mercilessly mowed us down.”

Juliet can’t help herself, “Oh my God, how did you survive?  Was it the bazooka’s you made mention if earlier?”

“We used anti-tank guns.  We had to keep them at bay until the United Nations Command Reinforcement came.  It was classic.  I felt like the Texas Alamo but instead of ruins we had rice Pattie fields, the jungle and dirty villages everywhere.  I will never forget the bazookas.  I had to draw the attention away from enemy tanks as I hit their side armor.    It was up to others to execute the final blow at the end of the day.”

Rodger and Juliet are entranced in the historical narration of Harry.  Juliet loses attention for a brief moment, her current predicament drifts into nothingness as Harry paints a Korean landscape in the 1950’s.  She isn’t paying attention to the homeless people.

Harry continues, “To be honest with you, I liked working behind the scenes.  I never liked what I did but it had to be done.  The North Koreans were assassinating all the educated people in South Korea.  It was scary.  Entire cities were losing their religious, political and educated people because the Communists wanted to win.”  His voice becomes very husky and hushed, “I had to kill people who were going to destroy American principles of democracy.  These people often created illusions of being good Koreans but in the real world they were spies and ruthlessly killed their enemies.”

Juliet pipes in, “Sounds like a lot of cloak and dagger stuff, I will be back in a second.  I have to use the bathroom, or at least what’s left of it.”  She gathers her light but forgets to bring her backpack which she leaves with Harry and Rodger.  Sara is digging with the other men and they seem to be making little progress.
She can Harry drone on with his war experience, “But that was a year before the war started, where was I …”
She briskly makes it past a few skewed tables that couldn’t be unscrewed from the ground.  The aftershocks loosened many tables which made collecting them easy.

She hears the college students talking in hushed tones in the female bathroom but ignores them.  There are two stalls, both doors are firmly attached.  The first one doesn’t give; she assumes debris blocks it from opening.  The second stall is free.  I little amount of human feces is smeared on the seat.  She is happy she remembered a water bottle and instantly understands why the college students are using the water.  Trying to not use to much she does her best to clean the shit off of it.

This is so disgusting.  It smells like something my two year old nephew would do.

There’s some toilet paper still in the stall.  She doesn’t care if she leaves any of that for anyone.  She hopes there’s still some soap left.  Juliet places her light on top of the toilet paper roll and does her thing.

After a minute she is done but before she finishes a new aftershock rocks the bathroom.  She is sitting and is glad nothing falls on her head.  Her cheap Disney flashlight falls to the floor.

Shit, I need that to get back to the lobby.

Juliet reaches for the light, while trying to balance on the stall and not get messy from the stuff on the floor.  Her heart freezes as she thinks she sees something move in the other stall.

What is that?  Is it a rat?

It looks like a shoe. 

Is that Dawns shoe?  Isn’t she dead?

Dawn’s shoe moves a small fraction.  Juliet reels with the knowledge that someone is with her in the bathroom.

How can this be?  Who is it? 

Juliet is scared.  She finds her voice as she silently zips her pants, “Is somebody there?”

Nothing but silence greets her question.  The shoe moves another fraction of an inch.

Juliet reached for the handle of the stall and repeats her question, “Is somebody there?  I can see your shoe.”

The homeless man’s voice from earlier who took Dawn’s shoes cuts through the silence, “Why don’t you give me some sugar baby?”

That’s all she has to hear.  She bolts for the entrance, screaming for help.  She hears the man curse as he whips his stall door open.  He grabs her sleeve and proceeds to drag her into the stall. 

Juliet didn’t freeze like she did earlier when she was getting choked.  Just as her Paladin would do, she knees the homeless man in the groin with all her might.  He lets go as he screeches in pain.  Juliet runs out of the bathroom.

She hears the college students bar their bathroom door as Jack says, “Don’t let them in!”  Louder he screams, “Leave us alone!  We aren’t hurting anyone!”  The girls sob uncontrollably.

Juliet stops when she gets into the outer fringe of the lobby.  She screams, “A homeless guy tried to rape me, he is in the bathroom!”

Rodger and Harry scramble past the tables, Harry with much determination asks, “Are you sure?”
Juliet starts to cry as the implication of what almost occurred began to set in, “I’m sure.  I hit him in the nuts; it’s the homeless guy who took Dawn’s sneakers!”

The homeless with the broken arm interrupts their communication not to kindly.  His raspy voice chills Juliet more than the man she left crying in the stall.

“Don’t you see what they are doing?  She didn’t almost get raped.  They are trying to take us out one by one to get our supplies.  Did you try to rape the college girl Sam?”  Sam answers no.

The man with the sign on his chest continues, “No you didn’t, you were just cold and they beat you up.  They don’t want to share.  They broke my arm when I tried eating a cheeseburger.”

One of the homeless men with a metal pipe asks, “What should we do?  I don’t want to get hurt by them.”

The raspy voice answers, “We take them out first.”

Juliet can’t believe what she is seeing.  As a group they move like a small mob, weapons brandished to hurt her and the others.  She freezes and doesn’t know what to do.

Two men swarm Rodger who simply drops his bat and screams for them to stop.  They pummel his with the metal pipes.  The third or fourth hit she hears a something break that sounds like bones and Rodger collapses    like an inanimate object.  The homeless man who did the killing blow was the man with the sign on his chest. 

Two others tried taking on Harry, one of was Sam.   Like a viper Harry strikes with something small and sharp, a glimmer reflects what little light there is. 

It’s a knife!  Is that the knife I put into the back pack that cuts lettuce and tomatoes?

The knife connects with Sam’s throat.  Blood spurts into a large arc spraying the two other homeless men who just killed Rodger.  The second man doesn’t have time to respond as Harry kicks his knee cap.  Juliet hears a crack and knows the impact broke the man’s knee cap.  The second man drops to one knee and before he can mutter a word Harry jams the butcher knife into his heart.  The man falls as he clutches the knife in disbelief.

The other two homeless men that were in the group did not attack but kept their distance.  It’s obvious to Juliet that even though they are the bad guys they didn’t want to take it to an extreme.

The homeless men and the older gentleman at the front door stayed where they were.  They weren’t part of any of this and were confused on why this was happening.

She could hear Jack, “They are killing each other out there, try the cell phone’s again!”  She both heard and felt the bathroom she left open.  She twirls around as she seems someone slides in the darkness but she can’t place who it is.  She runs towards Harry who has two armed homeless men between her and them.  She turns in mid step and runs towards the men and Sara who were digging.  Sara clutches her close; her eyes are wide and scared.  Juliet turns around after she catches her bearings to see what’s happening.

The two men circle Harry.  The man with the raspy voice has Rodgers bat.  He tells his buddy to attack first.
The homeless man listens and lunges towards Harry with his metal pipe.  Harry blocks the pipe with his forearm which takes the blunt of the damage.  Twisting his arm around the pipe he disarms his enemy by throwing his weight counter to the momentum his opponent was going.  This results in the homeless man with the pipe crashing into the man with the raspy voice.  Before they could get to their feet Harry takes the pipe he just recently acquired and jams the far end into the face of the tripped man.  A plopping sound can be heard as blood gushes from the torn eye socket.

Harry drops the pipe and retreats towards the group at the front door.  The man with the raspy voice scrambles on all fours towards the other two homeless men who are armed.  They finally get their nerve while  shouting insults.  Suddenly another homeless man who was wearing Dawn’s shoes is with them.  None of them ask where he came from. 

Right when things couldn’t get worse they get better.  The rubble at the front entrance shifts as sunlight streaks in the lobby.  A K9 is barking and someone shouts in, “We are here to save you, we are the National Guard! Is the Congressman safe?”

Juliet blinks as her eyes accustom to the light.  For the first time she sees Burger King’s lobby illuminated since the earth quake struck.  It was a disaster.  She falls to her knees and can’t help but laugh and cry.  A police K9 licks her in the face as someone in a military uniform helps her out of the building.  The soldiers keep asking for a congressman but she has no idea what they want.  A CNN journalist asks her for her story and she sees for the first time the earthquake’s magnitude destruction of the surrounding blocks.

The homeless people outside of Harry quickly run down the street, no one stops them or asks them anything.

Chapter XX:  Fall of the Free Worlds Champion

There are a lot of hurt people near the street as Fred and Kyle leave the Smithsonian; the masses seem to be migrating towards the Presidential Park and the White house.  They follow the crowd, Fred silently muses it’s like being part of a slowly moving blob that lacks dimension and order.  Hundreds of injured adults and a few children cry from various emotional or physical trauma, they become thousands within minutes.  The ones who aren’t crying try to help others but its to no avail.  There isn’t any violence but a few individuals scream their frustrations to those who will listen, others redirect their anger to the National Guard and military personnel who don’t really know what to do.  The National Guards in turn tell people to not sit on the lawn and to keep moving.  Most people are in shock and look dazed.  He sees a lot of visitors and city workers.  Many of the visitors are children who are part of school groups, the children look like they want their parents.  The mass is  near the front gates of the white house.  

It’s smaller then what Fred thought it would look like.  A small black gate meets him.  Cast iron bars show sixteen stars, lamps once adorned the tips of the fences lay shattered in the inside lawn.  A road twines to a large white building, a tree is in the middle of the road.  Police officers are in the process of moving it.  The white house sits in the distance.  The front pillars have collapsed, Fred can’t distinguish where the entrance would have been.  There are dozens of military helicopters in the lawn.

People ask for the President but no one has any answers.  They need their symbolic leader.  Some tourists from Texas say they should knock on the front door but others do not take them serious.  One of the older men in the Texan group shakes as one of his wounds hemorrhage.   His son tries to stop the blood from pouring on the street but the wound is too deep or maybe it hit an artery.  Fred watches as the man gasps his final breaths.

Would Kyle hold and comfort me if I was dying?

Better to not ask questions if you don’t want the answers.  He tries to stop and help but the crowd pushes him along.

There’s nothing I can do.  Please Jesus, be with these people in our greatest time of need.

There is a large medical tent near the entrance of the Presidential Park.  A child mistakenly brushes shoulders with Kyle which disturbs the backpack on his back.  He twirls around and looks like he is about the hit the kid.  Fred wonders what kinds of drugs must be in that bag to make Kyle hold it so tightly.  No one cares about his sons bag, all they want is for the President to open the front gates and safe them.  

Kyle isn’t acting slowly, it can’t be a downer.  Maybe he is involved with cocaine?

Fred knows he has to deal with the subject later but it still wasn’t the time.  His son starts acting paranoid and beckons his dad to follow him as soldiers with K9’s open the front gates to the White House.  A limousine with Presidential flags roars down the street, many in the crowd murmur it’s the President.  Kyle directs Fred away from the White House which looks more like a mini fortress.   There are many soldiers dressed in battle gear, they look tough.  Military choppers are coming and going, but mostly going.  People are saying President Stephen J. Andrews is still inside but things don’t make sense as the limousine drops someone off and just as quickly leaves.  Whoever is in the limo is quickly ushered into a waiting military chopper which takes off, the man or woman has a jacket draped over their head.  It’s not air force one.

They are on a street right in front of the gates overlooking a very large semi empty lawn when a large congregation of staff workers and officials come out a side entrance.  They head towards the Air Force One helicopter.

Guards menacingly threaten civilians not to come any closer to the gate; many of them are on other side of the fence.  A lone helicopter appears to be dysfunctional as the inhabitants quickly board another.  Technicians are not having a good day as all electricity is cut off.  Fred doesn’t understand why back up generators are not running.

Someone asks why no one is saying anything in the White house but no one has any answers.  These guards and security personnel do not want to help the civilians; it's their job to protect the people in the White house.   For the first time Fred wonders if their government is going to do anything to help them?  It doesn’t take much effort from Kyle to get him moving towards the reflection pool.  Thousands of people push them back into the crowd but they are close to the medical tent.  Fred sees the International Red Cross logo boldly imprinted on the side of the large tent.  

It’s good to see nonprofit organizations on the ball!  Go Red Cross!

The limousine stalls at the front gates as a new aftershock tears the road apart. Hundreds of people fall but no one is hurt as the street takes on new cracks.  The front gate hinges creak and won’t budge any further.  A spot on the road buckles up, leaving the limo tires spinning in the air.  People in the luxury car get out of the vehicle and head back towards the white house by exiting through the roof.  None of the civilians are stupid enough to try to get past the guards.  A half a dozen cops take up posts and block civilians from entering the South Lawn.

Fred stops following Kyle as he sees something he didn’t want to see.  The president’s daughter runs to the Lawn and throws herself at a body bag which a few military officers are carrying to the waiting Air Force One   chopper.   Half a dozen soldiers salute the body bag.  A officer drags her kicking and screaming into the Air Force One’s helicopter.  Someone in the masses screams the president is dead.  None of the soldiers or cops refute the claim.  Within moments Fred feels a drain as he realizes he’s seeing the President’s body bag.  

NO, this can’t be happening!  

Tears threaten to run freely.  People near him howl like mad men.  People start pushing and punching each other without mercy, within a minute it subsides.  A man next to him laments, “Who is going to order an emergency declaration?”  Other hysterical American’s say America fell and the terrorists won.  Needless to say it appears his son is the only happy person.  Air Force One picks up from the ground and zips into the horizon.  Within minutes half the military personal and cops who are stationed on the South Lawn get into the waiting helicopters and leave.  There are two military units left and a couple of dozen officers.  Enough to make sure no civilians try to get to the white house.  One military unit packs up their guns and proceed to head towards the second to last chopper.

Fred can’t handle the implications, is there a point anymore?  Jesus I can’t do this alone.

Kyle takes his hand; Fred is directed towards the Park, his mind refuses to process anymore information but stops as someone screeches, “The president is dead and we are doomed!”  The masses begin a new frenzy based on desperation.

A man takes out a bullhorn and screeches insanely, “Repent before it’s too late, the president is dead!  God is coming to reclaim what is rightfully his!  Repent for your sins!”

Someone throws a rock which knocks the doomsayer senseless.  He drops the bullhorn; it doesn’t reach the street before someone else has it and booms, “DING DONG THE EVIL WITCH IS DEAD!”  The Americans around him turn on him like a pack of wild dogs; he disappears in a storm of punches and kicks.  

Fred and Kyle are near the edge of the crowd as people began to fight for the horn.  A liberal female who must have been in her early 20’s gets a hold of it and yells, “People, stop this insanity, we need order!  It’s all about peace!”

Someone can be heard yelling, “It doesn’t matter, the President is dead!”  

Others scream their heated opinions but Fred can’t tell what they are saying.  It looks as if thousands of people are jammed into one very small space.  The last of the military helicopters take off as a few soldiers gather near the entrance.  One of the soldiers whips out a military bull horn and breaks the civilians banter, “Cease and disperse.  This is an executive order.   
 Precede to your nearest evacuation center and await further information.  I repeat.  Cease and disperse.”

There‘s only a unit of soldiers left and a couple of dozen officers.  The masses are getting braver and feeling abandoned.  Fred finally is free of the congregation but remains in the outskirts.  He understood what his fellow American’s were feeling and wants to be protected.

The civilian who has the bullhorn strikes fear into the masses as he yells, “It was a magnitude 9 earthquake!  What are we going to do if a Tsunami comes?” 

Thousands of people begin to shake and yell uncontrollably, Fred sees a very large group of people react negatively to the suggestion of a possible Tsunami.  The civilian continues in righteous fury, “Even though we don’t live in a subduction zone we just got hit by magnitude 9!  What’s to stop a tsunami from coming and who is going to safe us now that the president is dead?  Where is the vice president?”

The military soldier with the bullhorn makes the mistake as he replies, “The vice-president is missing in action and the earthquake wiped out most of the people in command in the white house.  Please cease and disperse immediately.”  

The civilian will not ease up, “No, we have rights and we demand protection!  Do your job and protect us!  We are American citizens!”  Both groups continue to repeat themselves, Fred decides it’s time for a smoke break.

This is insane!  What are we going to do?  How could the President be dead?

Even though the sun glares down at him he doesn’t think it’s a good day.  He is very hot as he wipes sweat from his brow.  There is a breeze but its very warm. 

Damn it’s hot!

He only has three cigarettes left; his hands shake as he horridly drags on the cigarette.  He feels comfort with the weight on his hips with the new tool belt he found at the Smithsonian.

Whatever happened to the family I saved?

It wasn’t like he would ever get the answer he sought.  Tensions continue to rise between the civilians and the officers, a couple dozen cops exit the White house and join their peers.  They distribute rubber bullets swiftly. Large water tanks rolls up from behind the building.  It is tragically sad when the vehicles falter as the ground now has fissures in the lawn.  

The vehicles look like they are from the Atari Tank game back in the 80’s that shoots things.  What’s its name?  Funny how smoking a cigarette chills the mind.  

The officer with the bullhorn commands the civilians, “Disperse now.”

The civilian responds, “You have a responsibility to us, help us!”  Masses begin to push forward.  Psychologically it was if they sub consciously knew they were not going to get seriously hurt.   The officers load rubber bullets and the water cannons.

Fred believes he sees a shift in the way the masses behave as they feel the need to express themselves.  As a group they surge forward and rattle the gate between them and lawn.  They are not calling for murder or revenge, but as a whole they plead with their government for security.

It’s not just about property and liberty.  Today it’s about security and the right to exist!

Fred forgets his cigarette as he crushes it between his fingers.  There is a charge in the air and it radiates from the masses.  It pulls at Fred’s awareness.

Was this nationalism or the need to survive?  

His fellow Americans now has one heart, one pulse.  He doesn’t care about Kyle for the moment as his feet propel him forward.  He needs to be one with the masses.  His mind becomes irrational in his fervor as the civilian with the bullhorn screams, “Let us on the helicopter!  Take us with you!”

The other side of the lawn can put us in a helicopter and take us to the baby!  Maybe there are more helicopters on the other side of the building!  

The remaining soldiers and officers have no choice but to rain rubber bullets upon the American people.  Water follows, the velocity rips through large sections of the masses as people hit the rolling earth.  The road buckles from the aftershock but it’s a rubber bullet grazing Fred’s left shoulder that knocks him down.

Sharp pain stabs into his left upper arm leaving him feeling like he just got branded.

That stings!

His crucifix lifts upon his nose and he fears he is going to lose it as his body hits the pavement.  Nothing else matters as he grasps the cross with his left hand.  Pain continues to radiate down his arm but he chooses to pray instead of becoming its victim.  He stands back up.

Jesus, please stop this madness.  I promise if you save us I will go to church every Sunday and weekly readings on Wednesdays instead of fishing.  Please save us and stop this madness.

He feels something hit his right foot.  Looking down he sees the bullhorn the civilian used.  

He must have dropped it or maybe the water cannon took him out.

It felt as if Jesus answered him.  His crucifix has a passage from the Old Testament on the reverse side.  His mother is Jewish but his dad was raised a Christian.  He was raised Christian and converted as a catholic.  

If faith helps me then maybe it will help my fellow Americans.

He reaches for the bullhorn.  He doesn’t know how to use it but it seems simple enough.  He knew the man who had it previously would have not turned it off.

He says the only thing that comes to mind.  It’s what’s on the reverse side of his cross.

Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wide man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches.  But let him that glorieth in this, that he understandeth and kwoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.

His son snorts and laughs, Fred feels ridicules.

Why did I do that?  Oh my God, they think I’m crazy!

But nobody else laughs.  The sirens still wail but thousands of people have stopped the violence, the vibration in the air has changed.  Fred no longer feels a pull to rush to the fence and realizes it’s stupid to think there are more helicopters on the other side of the lawn.

What got into me?

The officer with the bullhorn orders his people to stop.  He doesn’t have to because they did on their own.  Everyone looks at Fred.


Fred says the next thing coming to his mind, “I’m scared.  Can we please stop fighting?”

It’s eerily quiet outside of the noises of Washington DC being destroyed.  The officer with the bullhorn responds, “We are sorry, we don’t know what to do.  We are on your side.  Shit, let them in.  No one is left and the President is gone.  Let them in.”  He lowers his bullhorn and the solders around him step aside.  Thousands of people remain quiet as hundreds flood the lawn.  The last helicopter does not work.

The officer says one last thing, “We are sorry.  Technically we are supposed to nuke and destroy ourselves before ever giving up the white house or any American soil.”

Fred can’t help but ask, “Why is that?”  

The officer sadly replies, “Because domestic policies declare it law that we would destroy our own buildings and kill our own people before giving anything to the enemy.”

Fred doesn’t think of the consequences as he replies, “Well, it’s a good thing that we are all Americans and not the enemy.”
The officer laughs, “True enough.  I give up.  Have free access to the White house and do whatever you want.  We want to go home and be with our families.  God bless.”  He drops the bullhorn, Fred does likewise.

He turns around and sees his Son look at him in bewilderment.  He grimaces as he takes out his third to last cigarette.  His hands can’t stop shaking as he asks his son, “Where is the hospital?”  His son points back in the direction they came.

Figures, I can’t believe that just happened.  Thanks Jesus.  I suppose I could have used a better biblical passage?

Kyle grips his back pack tightly as they begins to walk back the way they came.  They don’t make it ten feet before someone picks up the bullhorn Fred dropped.

The new person with the horn urgently informs everyone, “The River is gone and the bay is receding!”  A new urgency hits the people.  People start screaming a tsunami is coming.  To make things worse the wailing of the  earthquake siren changes its message.  Kyle’s face goes pale as he tells his dad, “That’s the tsunami warning.  I heard it during their yearly testings and drills at the Smithsonian.  We need to get out of Washington DC now!”  

Fred looks at him and says, “Not without my grandson.”

At this moment a chorus of cell phones could be heard.  Fred’s cell phone isn’t working but then he’s from Minnesota and has a different provider.

Kyle gasps as he reads the message.  He turns the phone around and in bold words Fred reads:


Kyle finally looks scared.  He tells his dad, “The hospital junior is at has over a dozen stories and a helicopter on the roof.  Let’s go.”  Thousands of people disperse in all directions urgently but very peacefully.

Chapter XX: Flooding of Union Station

Meanwhile, in front of the Jefferson building.

There isn’t much left to watch seeing as how it is not safe to stand in front of a burning building, and the Jefferson Building is definitely burning.  If I was a little gay I might have kissed the drunken cop, but big guys who smell of alcohol aren’t my cup of tea.  The stunning fellow from England, Mary, clings tightly to his side.   The police dog looks young and fierce.  

I didn’t know its normal for a police dog to be so friendly. 

The K9 smells my palms as we hurry down the street.  She or he is covered in dust, leaving the dog looking as if it’s a ghost coming deep from the Amazon.  Larry tells April the dogs name is Pixel and she is female.  The sidewalk underneath my feet is uneven.  My back jolts each time I land on a jilted fragment of pavement.  My work shoes lack traction.  I didn’t have the fortune of being able to wear my tennis shoes to work today seeing as how there was a public function.

Staff in Washington DC often keeps clean slacks and suits in their offices.  Those who are prudent find ways in working with soft shoes.  My disability allows me to have darker colored tennis shoes in the office but I felt I have to look the part when being seen by the public.  

Damn, my shoes are already cutting into my feet and I can feel a blister start to form on my right heel.

Whining I comment to no one in particular, “I haven’t made it a block and my back hurts.”  April and Mark sound apologetic for they understand my plight.  

Larry snorts, “How can you work in the Capital without being able to walk a block?”  

I feel like an idiot and decide to be quiet for a time.  The sidewalk lies fragmented for about thirty to forty feet.  I’m reminded of my child hood in Marquette Michigan.  Often I would go to Presque Isle and hop giant rocks to a lighthouse.   Each step was perilous as dark blue waves lap in ever twirling whirlpools near my feet.  One false step leads to a cold abyss at the bottom of Lake Superior.  Locals call Lake Superior an unforgiving bitch.

There is no water under my feet as my toes grip man made pavement chunks through my ill fitting work shoes.  Instead multiple layers of rock and gravel give testimony to once finely engineered city sidewalks.  Two people ahead appear to be heaps in burned clothes, a cable line dangles near them.

Mark yelps, “Not that way. How is the wire doing that?”

April dryly answers, “Look, there’s a rail.  The cable line must be touching the metal rail which electrocutes anyone who touches it.  Don’t touch the fences or rails.  Why is some cables life while other utilities aren’t operational?”

Larry sounds a little soberer as he comments, “Different utility companies equate to different lines.”  His voice carries a hint of dislike towards my wife.  I can’t believe the fellow from England as she swoons on his words, she reminds me of a bee going for honey.

Mark decides, “Let’s simply walk around them.  There’s really not much to E Capital Street, now is there?”  No one argues as his voice sounds like its strains to keep it together.  Without incident we pass the still corpses.  No signs of thousands of volts of electricity. 

It doesn’t matter, just because you can’t see electricity doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Up ahead the US Supreme Court is to the left.  The Asian teen makes an interesting sound, reminding me of a mix between oh and awe.  Pixel rubs his leg.  

Where did the rest of the teen’s group go?

Last he remembers, they were going into the Capital Building.  They must have died.  A whole bunch of reporters mingle on the front steps of the Supreme Court and hail Susan.  Susan says bye to us.  The building is still intact as another dozen workers mill in the front yard.   The side walk has many cracks but it’s not anything as bad as the block before.  Many spots are currently smooth.  Aftershocks are occurring every few minutes but last only twenty to thirty seconds.  The earth rolls gently, no longer abrupt shifts tumble buildings and blocks.  

We make it to Constitution Avenue NW; this street connects the capitals northeast and northwest region.  Hundreds of people stumble with dazed and confused expressions to our left.  Innately I understand they are heading towards the white house.  Mark comments people should be going to designated evacuation centers and he doesn’t understand why a declaration hasn’t been made.

My wife goads him by saying The President is probably watching television in a ranch in Texas.   Not knowing how to positively contribute to the conservation I add, “Did I make mention my feet and back hurt.”

The cop mutters I’m a sissy but doesn’t put any venom behind it, I shrug it off.  Any cop who wants to save me is a hero. 

Mark switches the conservation as he becomes the ever familiar historian I learned to love, “Did you guys know this street was originally named North B Street?  Back in 1931 Congress spent 75 million dollars and made it what you see today.  People used to throw garbage into a canal which was the foundation of the street.  Washington DC is build over many water ways.  You know, I’m soon going to have to go see if my dad and mom are in Lincoln Park. “

April reflects on our last Christmas, “I really loved the National Christmas Tree Lighting.”  Now the street is broken in many places.  Unlike earlier, there are no deep holes or splits.  None the less we all pass the street with a quickened pace.  Like a fool I find myself looking both ways before I cross the street.  

Larry doesn’t seem to want to stop being a jerk as he comments, “I think it’s safe to cross the road, if you haven’t noticed there has been an earthquake.”   We closely stick to 1st Street NE.  Union Station is a couple of more blocks down the street.

The next block goes by without incident.  Half a dozen people ask us where they should go or if we knew what’s happening.  We answer no and I tell them I am sorry.  We quickly come upon C Street.  Police officers seem to be having an issue at the police barricade.   Teenagers looking like they are in a gang lined up with their hands behind their heads, on their knees.  Four officers pat them down while a fifth tries desperately to get in communication with someone from dispatch.  The teenagers are becoming hostile but two of the officers are busy putting confiscated handguns in plastic bags.  All the teenagers had either handcuffs on or white plastic wires around their wrists.  

Strangely Larry quickens his pace and doesn’t acknowledge the cops.  We are now upon D Street NW.  I am a little nervous as I look upon the buildings to our left and right.  Once smooth polished walls are broken and risk falling on our heads.  Until this moment I never noticed how tall and solid the buildings in DC look.  I marvel as cold smooth marble loom over us.  Images of rock slides and perilous mountain valleys flood my vision.  April reaches for my hand and comforts me with the logic there isn’t another safer path.  

For the first time it dawns on me we are losing Washington DC as a whole.  A ball of remorse threatens to overwhelm my senses but I steel myself for the task ahead.  Not looking at the walls which loom to our sides we move forward.  


Something plops itself in the newspaper stand to my left,  a echo vibrates down the street.  I knew it was a bullet but I can’t seem to make my body respond.

Why is someone shooting at me?  What in the hell did I do?  I am confused.  The group scrambles for shelter as my wife screams at me to get down.  I stare at her in confusion.


A second bullet sends metal flying in all directions.  The hole is three inches closer to me, near the side of the newspaper stall.  A add in the paper shows the time and place of my public event.  Underneath it a caption saying two suns are going to be increasing temperatures in the week to come. 


A third bullet whizzes past my head.  It hits the cold marble of the building I am currently passing.  Rocks braze my back and one hits my ear.   I feel a sharp pain enter my awareness.  Looking up I see someone who looks like a gang member pointing a gun in my direction.  He doesn’t look rational.  I’m drawn to his amber eyes which are flat.  He points his gun at me and pulls the trigger.  I can’t do anything as I think I’m about to die.  The gun clicks.  It’s empty.

Pixel growls and leaps forward.  Within seconds she’s across the street and leaps at the armed man.  He shrieks and tries backing up but falls over broken asphalt.  The man reaches for something which looks like a knife as he begs for someone to get the dog off of him.  

Larry commands Pixil, “KILL!”

Pixel doesn’t hear as she continues to sound menacing while gripping the thugs arm tightly to the ground.

Larry repeats, “Kill!  Pixel, kill!”

Pixel stops growling but doesn’t ease up on the man’s arm.  A look of satisfaction crosses the doomed man’s eyes as his firmly grips his small rusty blade.  Pixel doesn’t see him lunge forward with deadly intent.  It’s obvious the thug is a junky.

Maybe he is friends with the ones with cops caught a block earlier?


Unlike the thug’s cheap Sunday Special pistol, a new bullet can be heard as its echo ricotta's a boom throughout the street.  The hand wielding the knife obliterates in a single plume of bone and blood.  


A second bullet is both felt and heard.  The thug doesn’t have time to respond to his hand being blown off as a second bullet takes out his surprised expression.  His body slams into the ground leaving a confused Pixel holding a limp arm.   Looking up and half way down the block I see a lone figure on a roof.  

Pointing I shout, “Look, a military sniper!  What the hell is he doing on the roof?  I thought they all evacuated?”  For some reason my blood pressure didn’t rise.  It was too surreal.  

My wife is at my side, “Oh my God, Mike are you alright?  You’re bleeding!”  I didn’t feeling anything, the sharp pain ebbs away.  My body simply feels nothing at the moment.  I note in disbelief the numbness in my back and feet.

I hear Mark, “His adrenaline must be running.  You will feel that tomorrow.”

I mutter, “Sure.”  My mind starts repeating what just happened but I don’t have time to further as more gun shots can be heard.


What the hell, is he crazy?  The thug is dead.”

This bullet echoes distant, it’s obvious the shooter is firing at something or someone else.  


Multiple gun shots can be heard.  Larry screams for the group to run as he loads a new clip.  The gang members who were caught earlier on Constitution Avenue appears to have overwhelmed the police officers and are heading towards us.  

Maybe their buddies came to the rescue?

It didn’t matter.  The military sniper on the roof makes quick work of them.  April, Mary, and I lose our cool.  I feel emotion again as I propel my feet forward.  No longer am I trying to safely hop rubble or miss cracks in the side walk.  I run with my wife.  

I don’t want to be here.  Why are teens in gangs shooting at military snipers in our Capital?

Fear courses through me.  Never once in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to be dodging bullets down town DC after an earthquake destroyed everything!  The sun is extremely warm; the heat in the breeze only makes me sweat heavier.  We make it to the Liberty Bell and I gasp for air.  My sides start to hurt from the exertion.  I struggle to find my balance.  April and Mary catch their wind quickly but Mary swears as she shows us a broken high heel.

I can’t believe I was complaining when Mary is in heels!

Mark looks fit and barely broke a sweat.  Larry reprimands Pixel for not killing the armed man and looks to see if anyone followed.  The Freedom Bell is on its side.  A new crack crisscrosses with the old.  A three to four foot marble wall blocks us from outside of the street as we huddle together, bushes are torn and no longer look impressive.  It doesn’t feel safe to be in the open or in a building.  I am at a loss of what to do.  My wife dabbles part of her sleeve on my ear.  It stings.  I can’t help but see a memorial on the ground which has the inscription, ‘…given by the American Legion…’ the rest is fragmented and broken.
We don’t hear any more shots.  The sniper must have met his mission objective.

April tries to find some humor in the situation, “At least it wasn’t a crazy shooter like in New Orleans during Katrina.  Thank God for people who don’t abandon their posts!  You were right Mark.  Sorry about my attitude earlier.”

Mark takes the moment to tell April a little about Union Station for he doesn’t hold grudges, “Did you know this station is a national treasure?  In 1981 Congress spent 180 million dollars on it; the task made it the biggest public/private restoration project America ever took.  Did you guys know there is a fallout shelter somewhere in here?  Back in the day there was a swimming pool and a steam room for privileged travelers.”

I ask, “Is the fallout shelter still functional?” 

Larry responds, “It is.  But it only can hold a few hundred for a long time or a few thousand for a very short span.  I know where it is.”

I flinch as I notice a homeless man buried underneath rubble near the entrance.  He was one of the homeless men I saw earlier, I think it might be the one I gave a few dollars to. 

It would appear it was a good day for him to die.  Not me though.  Today I live.

Looking up I see a gap in the roof, white granite from Vermont makes up Union Station.  I assume a large chunk fell on the hapless victim when the earthquake first hit. There used to be sayings inscribed in the marble on the roof but I can’t see it.
The Columbus Memorial Fountain is totally destroyed, granite no longer fits together but rather it appears the fountain could have been in the production stage, the plaza was simply in ruins.  Flags from around the world lie in heaps, dust bellow while warm wind creates an impressive visual of mini tornadoes that lack substance.

Red bricks are still intact; the road isn’t in as good as condition as the granite.  Looming in front of us is some very impressive Beaux-Art architecture.   No longer can I see gold leaf or other materials that once made this building breathtaking, at the moment it looks scary.  Knowing a little about Union Station I attempt to impress Mark and my wife while secretly hoping to quell my fear, “Augustus Saint-Gauens was the dude who inspired this place.  See that statue still standing?  It’s about the American Renaissance movement.  Back in the day it was all about fire, electricity, freedom, agriculture and a few other things.”  No one says anything; my narration isn’t as impressive as Mark’s.

The exterior spans 600 feet and has a waiting room of reaching hundreds of feet.  A very impressive gilded ceiling shows cracks allowing sun light to stream in.  The Grand Concourse parallels the Baths of Diocletian in Rome.  None of it matters as two children catch our attention.

Two nicely dressed kids need our help as they pinpoint us as their possible saviors.   One of them runs towards us with pleading eyes.  Before we could ask what’s happening her companion shouts, “Please help us!  Our family is stuck in a train on the AMTRAK; or I mean, we were supposed to be on the AMTRAK but they are stuck in the AMC movie theater and can’t get out!  Water is flooding the lower level and they are going to die!  Please help us!”  Pixel doesn’t growl at them, but immediately runs to help the best she can.  The children cry and look like pure as angels.  The girl grabs both Mary’s and Marks hands as she directs them to the lower levels.  I feel compelled to follow.

Larry says stop but not with much force.  He is drawn to Mary.  Mary responds, “They need our help!  What’s the big deal?  You’re a cop, this is what you do.”  Larry sighs and tells Pixel to follow him.  He doesn’t look to happy.

Mark looks at me and says, “They need our help.”  I don’t hesitate as I tell my wife it might be safer staying out here.  

She responds, “Like hell.  I’m coming.”  For my first time I look at Union Station and I’m surprised to see the   building looking like its withstanding the damage of the earthquake.  Sadly I see Burger King having its entrance full of rubble.  A small fire rages in Subway to its left, but it appears to be isolated.  Roughly twenty people are among the entrance but the children quickly explain they don’t want to help and are waiting for the National Guard or someone to come.  Many restaurants and retail shops have metal shutters firmly closed and their employees have long evacuated the premises.  A dozen homeless men peacefully scavenge pizza from Pizzeria Uno.  No one tells them to stop. 

I pause before going down, knowing this is a bad idea.  The Asian teen breaks from the group as he runs towards Verizon Wireless.  I’m not sure what he plans on getting in a world that currently doesn’t have communications working but I shrug him off, he isn’t my responsibility.  Nearby another store flaunting barber hair products is empty; no shutters keep the homeless away.  Ironically no one is in there.

The others who are wondering don’t bother us.  No one is in charge.  The escalator seems to be not to be broken as Pixel leaps three to four steps at a time but.  The rest of the group decides to use the stairs.  It’s dark down there.  The police officer takes his flash light out as everyone else uses our cell phones.  Two thirds of the way down mark sees a utility cabinet built within a compartment for a fire hose.  He curses as he finds it’s locked.  

At the bottom of the stairs we take the northwest corridor.  The children talk over each other while thanking us for our help.  I gather they came with their family from Boston and were either watching a movie or eating dinner when things went wrong.  I see large segments of the ceiling caving in but I am not too afraid when I see what’s underneath the granite.  The granite is built over a steel frame that has a brick core.  I don’t understand why other buildings were not standing as good but decide to not question those types of schematics.  

Sometimes it is what it is.

I freeze and gasp when I see the food court.  The floor above which I couldn’t see from the lobby is partially collapsed as a train lies in between two stories.  Hundreds of people are dead but there is enough light to illuminate the place.  A few people are hurt but many have evacuated.   The ones who are left do not want to be bothered.  An older woman wale’s as she holds her dead husband.  His body is limp as she softly murmurs and brushes his hair.  She doesn’t look at them as they pass.  Metal from the locomotive twists in all directions but the main body is still intact.  Smoke unfolds from the engine but there are no major fires.  It appears someone shut of the gas to the building when the earthquake hit.

Water gushes and builds in the far corner but it doesn’t look dangerous.   

This place might be under water in a few hours.

Deep down I hope the children’s family is still alive.  They direct us towards Union Station the Phoenix Theaters.  We don’t make it far.  Letting go of my friends hands, both children run ahead.

April yells, “It’s not safe to run, please slow down!”

Not listening they cross the entrance of the theater.  A new aftershock rocks the building.  The ceiling above the entrance gives as I watch as thousands of pounds of rubble tumble on the children.  They don’t have time to yell as they simply disappear.

I yell, “NO!”  Everyone stops.  No one knows what to say as we look at the entrance in confusion.  

This isn’t right!  Why did they just die in front of my eyes?  Why did I get shot at?  

My blood pressure rises as my reality swims.  I can’t handle it.  The cut in my ear does not alleviate the pressure I feel as my blood pressure skyrockets.  A deep vibration kin to thudding a drum hits my temples.  Reaching up I try to massage my left temple but feel something moist release from my nostrils.  

My nose bleeds as I lose my vision.  I don’t have time to tell my wife I love her as I lose awareness.

A few minutes later…

There’s a lot of ringing in my ears.  Something licks the cut in my ear and I can’t help but giggle.  I feel warm breath gush into ear drum.  The saliva has a calming effect on the persistent ache coming from my ear.

Oh that’s right.  I’m in hell.  

I don’t really believe I’m in hell but that’s the way it appears to be going.  I blink a few tears away and see my wife kneeling at my side.  She throws herself at me, saying she loves me and not to die on her.  Mark stands over her; I see compassion in his eyes as he too is happy I am alive.  The cop and Mary are sharing what looks to be a fifth of alcohol?  I sit up.  We are back on the first floor.  People I don’t recognize are around us.  They look on with curiosity but no one interferes.  

April tells me Mark dragged me back up the stairs and they were thinking of giving me mouth to mouth recitation when I came around.  The children are indeed dead.  I feel instant sadness and depression I couldn’t help them.

It’s not fair that they died and I didn’t.  Children are more important than adults and it’s not fair their lives were so rudely taken!

I can see similar thoughts haunting April and Mark’s eyes.  

How can we seriously make a difference under the present circumstances?

I feel nothing but bleakness and futility.  Mary says something to Larry which makes Larry respond sounding like an ass hole.  I only catch, “You don’t need these people.  They are weak and can’t take care of you.  Come home with me.”

She answers, “No, these are my friends.  I can’t leave them.  Give me another drink.”

Its obvious Larry doesn’t know how to communicate with Mary as he responds, “Get your own bottle then!  Or come with me and have however much you want.”  He downs the rest of whatever he’s drinking and throws the bottle at a far wall.  The glass shatters as the bottle explodes in an echo.  Mary stomps off, declaring Larry is a prick.  Larry doesn’t take long to rethink his strategy as he changes his tune and tries to make up with her.

She’s near the Pizza Uno restaurant when the ground under her feet caves in.  She and a half a dozen homeless people instantly disappear as booths and tables suddenly aren’t there.  Larry stops his tirade as he looks in disbelief.  Disbelief quickly becomes drunken rage as he bellows, “NO, we were supposed to have sex!  Mary!”  He doesn’t care about Mary, but through his drunken haze it becomes apparent she was a sexual object he was going to use.

April gasps while muttering, “Dirt bag.”

Larry continues to step forward, refusing to acknowledge the floor isn’t safe to cross.  Mark yells, “Stop, it’s not safe.”  Larry doesn’t listen.  Pixel barks but it doesn’t matter as Larry gets on his stomach.  He inches towards the hole while shining his light down in it.

He screams, “Mary!  Are you alive?”  The only thing that responds is silence.

Pixel stops barking and darts forward.  Larry insanely yells for Mary as he repeats in his drunken rage they were supposed to have been together.  I feel revulsion for the lack of respect he shows.  

He only cares about getting laid.  Did he know anything about Mary?  What did she see in this creep?

It didn’t matter he saved me earlier.  Larry wasn’t someone I want to know.  Pixel takes hold of his left leg and attempts to yank him back to safety by yanking on the cloth.  

Larry will not have anything to do with Pixels noble effort.  He kicks her.  Pixel yelps but won’t give up.  She drags Larry from the edge.  Pixel looks at him sheepishly and whines.   Larry gets to his feet and storms outside.  More flooring caves in.  Most of the people leave.  

I don’t know what to say to April and Mark.  The Asian teen reappears, he points towards Burger King.  It crosses my mind to tell him to get lost but something holds my tongue.  My head won’t stop pounding but my nose isn’t bleeding anymore.  My blood pressure isn’t doing well but I get the impression the bloody nose might have saved my life.

Pixel looks mentally hurt as she confusedly looks towards where the Asian boy points and then where Larry stormed off.   In very poor English the Asian teen says, “Help.”  I didn't see earlier he is deaf.  He gestures with his hands, he grunts while pointing towards Burger King.

I can’t handle my inability to not help people as the day progressively get worse.

Enough people have died.  I want to help.  I need to help.

I stand up.  Mark is on a similar page as we follow the Asian teen.  He directs us towards Burger King.  It doesn’t look good.  Much rubble lay at the entrance and it appears whoever is stuck inside is screwed.  Pixel darts pass us and paws at some rubble.  Not believing what I was sees, I see some rubble falls as if nothing was holding it up.

Mark tells me, “Perhaps the aftershock moved things around?”

Enough people have died today.

Something snaps from deep within me.  I don’t care if I bruise or cut my hands.  Enough people died today.  I’m at the entrance; my back doesn’t matter as I begin to heave slabs of granite and red bricks from the entrance.  

I feel a large rumble and look behind me expecting to see more destruction.  It startles me to see April running towards us with a large group of National Guard personnel.   I look at Mark in disbelief as I hear my wife shout, “Over here!  People need rescuing over here!”

One of the national guardsmen who look like a small guy responds, “Is there any high ranking official needing to be saved?”  

I am relieved when my wife lies, “Why yes.  There’s a congress man trapped in Burger King.  Can you safe him?”

The National Guard unit stops, they are more than willing to help our politicians.  I’m doubly surprised when I see Susan and her camera man crossing the broken street.  They too are heading towards us.  She tells her camera man to start filming.  

Unlike other national guards, this unit beams and is happy to be filmed as they become national heroes.  Within minutes I watch in amazement as they proceed to clean my wounds and clear an entrance to Burger King.

My wife is by my side.  It doesn’t take the National Guard more than fifteen minutes to rescue the people inside; thankfully they are not too annoyed when they find out my wife made a mistake about the congressman.  Larry comes back after he cools down but he’s much colder, Pixel forgives him for kicking her.  

The National Guard suggests we head towards the hospital to get proper medical attention.  If things couldn’t get bad to worse a new threat comes as soon as the people in Burger King are rescued.  One of the National Guard reports to his superior the basement has been flooded and the fallout shelter can’t be reached.  As soon as he says this a new a siren assures.  I look at my cell phones in disbelief as I see a Tsunami evacuation warning pop on the screen.

Chapter XXI:  Mark goes Home

Mark really enjoys helping Mike and the others but it was time to go home.  He looks down at his dirty hands; grimacing in discomfort he tries to clean them on his dark blue slacks.  It doesn’t work.  Now he looks like he’s been playing in the sand box.

This isn’t fair.  I’m so dirty.

The girl from Burger king stops laughing and crying.  She looks humble and passive; the leather jacket didn’t fit her to well.  She’s offering everyone Dasani water and cheeseburgers.  He takes water but doesn’t drink it.  He attempts to clean the crud off of his hands but it’s not working.

Mike comes up and pats him on the back, “Thanks for helping.  Are you ok?”  Mark never told Mike he was his best friend.  Mark was grateful when this Midwesterner came to the office.  At first he didn’t think he was  going to like Mike.  People from Michigan have a tendency of being brash, their communication isn’t suave.  Mark’s heart thawed when he watched Mike work hard.  Mike’s merit is sound and he has a good character.  Mark couldn’t help but grow fond of Mike and April.  But it was time for their story to end, to close the past chapter.

I need to get to my parents and family.

Mike repeats, “Is everything alright Mark? You look distant.  I know what’s happening sucks but I need you to keep it together.”  Tears start running freely from Mark.  The Dasani water is not cleaning his hands and it frustrates him.  

I need to get home and take a shower.  I need to get home to be with my family.

He couldn’t talk.  Sounds escape his throat but sounds jumbled, he’s afraid.  

My dad is home and is sick.  He needs me.  Maybe mom came home from work?

Mark’s dad was a retired police officer.  He lives as a disabled American who relies on crutches and a respirator.  Back in 2001 his dad was one of the first responders who answered when the Trade Center got destroyed.  Rubble and bad air gave him chronic lung disease.  As far as Mark is concerned his dad is a national hero.  

My dad needs my help.  I’m sorry Mike but I have to go.

He stops trying to clean his hands.  A police dog comes over and licks them.  He briefly remembers hearing somewhere that dogs have natural antibiotics in their saliva.  He shrugs and lets the dog finish.  He then uses the last of the water to clean his hands.

Looking at Mike he heart fetchingly declares, “I need to go and be with my family.”

Mike doesn’t look to tough as true compassion enters Mike’s persona.  This was going to be harder then he thought.

Fidgeting he continues, “I’m sorry bro.  I don’t want to go but I need to.”  Not knowing what else to say he adds, “You are from the great woods up North; seriously you don’t need my help.  Keep to the tracks and get out of Washington DC before nightfall comes.”

April is busy talking to the National Guard.  The only one listening is Juliet and the Asian boy.  They don’t matter to Mark.  He looks deeply into Mikes eyes, “You were a good friend.  I enjoyed working with you.”  Extending his right hand he firmly grasps Mike’s left hand.

Tears appear in Mike’s eyes.  He tightly grips Mark’s hand.  Mark grimaces in the vice like grip.

Mike says, “Thanks for everything Mark.  If you ever find yourself in Michigan you know where to find me.  We are going to have to go back for our son and family when things settle.”

Mark understands.  It’s the same reason why he has to part.  

“Do you remember your first day at the office?  You were scared of the politicians.”  Mike nods; he remembers all too well the stresses of starting the new job, “Well, I never told you but I thought you were a massive big Troll on your first week.  But you showed everyone, even when you accidentally spilled coffee on the Congress man from Ohio.  I thought for sure you were in over your head.  But look at you, six months later and you have become a success.  Take care of your wife and be safe.”  Mark can’t help but let the tears run freely.  Without notice Mike steps in gives Mark a gigantic Finnish bear hug.  Mark knew it was a custom from the mysterious people in the UP and let Mike have it his way.  Deep down he’s moved his friend cares.

April excuses herself from the National Guard and the news reporter, “Mike, be careful, your back can go out!”  Her statement reminds Mark why his best friend is lucky.  He instantly remembers the Russian fellow, his lover, burning.  He loved her and feels a new despair build deep within.  He was going to ask her to marry him.

He lets Mike go and quickly turns around.  The air in Union Station smells of burned rubber.  Sweat pours from his brow making him waver from heat exertion.  

Now isn’t the time to get weak.  I need to get going.  I can’t think about her at the moment.

Not knowing what else to say he leaves.  April asks him where he is going but he decides to let Mike explain.  He never minded April.  His mind goes to the current task.

I have to get home to the Onyx Apartments.  I then need to clean up and network with the entire family.  We need a solid game plan.

He currently lives with his parents in the South East section of DC, south of I-295.  He only has to walk a half mile to get to work; he prides himself of not having to take a car or the metro.  It didn’t only help the environment but it kept him in good shape.  He didn’t need to live with his parents but he preferred to be there for Marvin, his dad.  When he was in his early thirties his dad and mom moved back to Washington DC after living in New York.  Marvin was four years away from retirement when he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Dust from ground zero was toxic and his dad breathed too much of it in.

His dad didn’t get a chance to retire and lost most of his pension.  Mark believed his parents gave him a good childhood and put him through college.  It was only right they moved in together.  His dad kept on getting sicker.  They didn’t know what to do for his red blood cells are under constant attack.  Marvin has to go to chemotherapy every few weeks and lost all his hair.  His mom has him on a barrage of nutrients and amino acids but it was a losing battle.  The doctors labeled his dad as having “permanent respiratory disability”. His family wept with joy with the Bin Laden was eliminated by US Navy Seals in 2011.  All terrorists deserve to go to the guillotine and should go to hell.

We need to gather supplies from our home and evacuate DC!  We need to get to the rest of the family after I get home.

Mark’s extended family ranges all over the city and in New York.  Some are doing very well and others not so much.  He was doing well at the Library of Congress.  He makes roughly $78,000 after taxes.  His apartment only costs $1500 a month and came with a whole bunch of amenities.  More importantly, even though it was over sixteen stories, it was very handicap friendly.  

He passes the street without looking back.  Sometimes it’s better to not look back.  

He lives on 1100 First St. SE, it’s not far.  He quickly chides himself it might take many hours with all the destruction happening.   His apartment is on the tenth floor.  His dad never had a problem in taking the elevator.  He was afraid his dad wasn’t going to be alive in a few years; he was hoping to introduce them to Irina.

Irina, why did you have to leave me?

She filled a deep longing, when she was around he felt complete.  He spent thousands of dollars on an engagement ring and now this happens…

She burned within seconds.  My library is gone and the woman I love is dead!

Mark decides it might be safer to take 2nd Street NE and bypass the military sniper.  He was glad the dude was on his side but didn’t want to experience that again.  He crosses Massachusetts Avenue to get to the street.

Getting shot at once today is enough.  

His minds drifts back to Irina.  He remembers the first time they met.  She was scared and looked like a lost exotic bird.   Russian elegance and fine education made her into his goddess.  The first day he helped her get her Identification Card, she was wandering down corridors not knowing where to go.  The library of congress is made up of three buildings and many passages.  His heart went out to her and he showed her the ropes.  First thing he did was bring her down to the Adams building where anyone can get a library card.  Fellows and important visitors get a red star.  Stuff like that makes Mark ponder the significance of mixing Russian political ideology with western democratic symbols.  

Why do communists and democracies use similar symbols to represent power?  Especially when each country is supposed to represent something different, which in turn is supposed to reflect their different cultures and norms?  Hitler, America, Ancient Romans, Hindus all use the eagle.  Could you imagine something like a turtle or mouse as your countries symbol? 

Mark shrugs this thought off while concluding, Pop culture and American capitalism has definitely changed cultures and people around the world.  

Even though Mark is African American he’s 110% American.  Patriotism boils deep in his blood.  The only reason he didn’t become a cop like his Dad was because he is frail.  HE makes up for this in his smarts.  He finished his doctorate by the time he was twenty-four.  He always gets sick for the stupidest reasons and his allergies are terrible.  He looks down at his hands and grimaces.

It’s going to take forever to clean up!

He crosses onto 2nd Street without incident.  No longer does he hear gun fire close by, in the distance he could hear something sounding like firecrackers.  It doesn’t take him long to realize it hand gun fire coming from the rougher districts.

In front of his is Union Pub, which is barred up.  In the middle of the street is a white man wearing a purple Michael Jackson jacket.  He’s directing survivors down the road, there are about a hundred who are shuffling back and forth.  No one is being violent, they simply look lost.  Mark see’s the man who looks like Michel Jackson blow a whistle while pointing for a few people to cross the broken road.  There are no fissures.  In his left hand is a bottle appearing to be Orange Bacardi.  Most of it is gone.  He flashes a smile.  Mark can’t see his eyes due to some very dark shades.  

“Hold on bro, traffic you know?”  The man does the moon shuffle, flourishing into a bow he continues, “Your turn, the light is green.”

Mark says thanks and crosses the street.

The man looking like Michael Jackson smiles broader; Mark shudders, the man is missing most of his front teeth.

“You are very much welcome.  Have a nice day!”  Mark quickens his pace.  He doesn’t feel threatened but the dude seems a little to nuts for his taste.

The buildings on this block are not in bad condition, broken windows and glass crunch under dress shoes.  Many signs are still intact, clearly marking his location at D Street SE. Mark finds himself thinking it’s amazing there are no loiters.  The Tsunami alert scares the hell out of him.  Deep down he doesn’t think a tsunami is coming, but his expertise wasn’t into the environment.   

The last thing we need is to have is mass panic.  As soon as I get to my parents we can all leave safely.

The sun beats heavy on his brow.  Mark doesn’t remember it being so hot and for the first time in his life wonders if he’s going to get sun burned.  

This is a terrible day.  I wish this was a dream.  Why couldn’t I be back in undergraduate school at John Hopkins?  Why can’t someone in my frat have slipped me some acid for shit in giggles?

Mark never touched drugs but he did have one experience on liquid acid.  He joined a fraternity at his university but they took the hazing a little too far.  As a pledge he was told to drink a awful tasting beverage.  Later he found out it was laced with acid.  After brief flashes of bright colors and listless voices, his frat dropped him off the hospital.  He spent the next six hours reliving his child hood as the drug sent him on its journey.  

Drugs are not Mark’s cup of tea.  He told the fraternity to get lost and never looked back.   

Today he felt like he was on a acid trip.  He wishes he was on an acid trip.  The ramifications of what is occurring are too much for him to handle. 

It would be best to just focus on getting to my family.

He decides to throw caution to the wind when he sees a group of homeless men eye him menacing on Pennsylvania Avenue.  One has a cardboard sign on a string on his chest, he recognized him from earlier.  He doesn’t have anything they want but the second they start moving towards him he bolts like a rabbit.  It doesn’t take long to run three blocks, the homeless men aren’t following.  It doesn’t look good on when he gets to E St NE.  He stops, his sides hurt from the exertion and heat.  Breathing comes difficult, but not in an unhealthy way.  His allergies are not kicking in, even though there is a lot of dust.  Deep down it feels really good to run; now he wishes he kept the water.  He hears car alarms before seeing the cars.  To his right is a block looking not like the other blocks.  Large congregations of poor African Americans are systemically destroying the block.  There must be at least three to four dozen.  Most look young, many have pipes and crowbars.  They appear to be in frenzy as they flip a parked luxury van.  Within seconds they violently crush the windows and tear it apart.  They are not looking for stereos or money, they simply enjoy causing destruction.  

Oh my God, these aren’t my people.  Why are Americans acting like this?  They should be helping each other.

Many cars are destroyed, within minutes the crowd goes to another parked car.  Deep down Mark understands the poor have a need to express themselves but he doesn’t think this is the way.  Looking past them he sees more African Americans exit a building through a broken window.  They are carrying television sets and paintings.  He pauses as he notes large groups of woman exit a gift shop.  They head towards the males who are causing the destruction.  Near the end of the block he sees a large U-Haul with its doors open.  Walking back in forth are some very scary looking black men with guns.  One is particular looks like a fat cat, he directs the men with a cane and a cigar.  The U-haul appears to be filling with merchandise quickly.  A second U-haul is being directed towards the first one.

Shit, the people who hate are organized already?

One of the woman points in his direction, he wonders if they are prostitutes, not knowing where they came from.  He sees a few guys break from beating a parked Rolls-Royce. Mark decides it’s time to do some more running.

Where are the police and the military?  Why are they allowing this to happen?  They are a couple of blocks away from the Capital!

The side walk is back to being jagged and broken.  There are many fissures.  Mark pretends he is in track at gym as he’s continues to ignore his safety.  It is now an absolute necessity to get home. He hopes his Dad has enough common sense to shoot trespassers.   He is scared for their safety.  He manages to run a few blocks south and refuses to look towards the Library of Congress in the distance.  Military helicopters can be heard overhead.  He doesn’t look to see who they are, at the moment he doesn’t care.

He jumps over a broken Stop sign and is brought to a halt due to a fissure.  His thighs burn, he drops to his knees, tears run freely.  He didn’t know why he is crying.  

I’m tired.  I want to be clean and go to sleep.  This is all a nightmare!

He doesn’t wake up.  After minutes of sobbing he calms down.  Metal wires stick out of the middle of the road.  It looks like broken straws; the grey contrast very much shows wicked looking metal pipes.  There’s no color to the road.  Everything looks dark gray.  A capital city utility vehicle lies half in the fissure.  The driver long evacuated the vehicle.  For some reason its front lights shine back at the sun, he can tell due to a feint yellow shining around the edges.  Nearby are some broken trees.  One fell into the fissure and another into a building.  Looking around he sees he’s at the corner of D Street SE and 2nd NE; he crosses over to 1st  SE.  This street directly takes him to his apartment.  No more detours.   There are no making shift bridges like earlier.  The block is empty outside of a few people who wander aimlessly.  No one asks him for help.

He sees the fissure isn’t long.  It looks to be about four to five feet in width.  The fissure goes far, he doesn’t want to try another street.   He’s getting afraid of dangerous chaotic encounters.

Maybe I can jump the span if I use the utility van. 

Looking closer he sees he could possibly climb the front hood of the van and make a jump for it.  The van is a good four feet above the broken street.  He didn’t know what was keeping it from falling in the fissure; his love for his parents drives him forward.  The front end of the van burns into his palms as he crawls on the hood.  The van starts to shift.  Looking inside the front window Mark sees a city engineer sprawled on the front street.  Mark’s heart races when he sees a large black power cable dangling near the bumper.  He pauses for a second as a peculiar morbid fascination makes him look at the corpse.

Thank God there is no electricity working!  Do people feel things after they die, or do they simply not exist?

His victory is short won; the van begins to roll into the fissure.   Mark frantically gets to his knees, almost falling off of the van into the waiting abyss.   He’s thinking twice about his decision to jump the fissure but it’s too late to turn back.  The van starts sliding without resistance.  Mark begins to pitch forward, using the last of his strength he jumps.

He could have made it but he makes the mistake and tries to look down.  Two thirds of the way through the jump he loses his momentum.  His right foot connects to the broken pavement but his left foot misses.  The ground on the other side isn’t stable and crumbles under his weight.

Mark screams “Help me!”  His lower body falls into the fissure, he urgently tries to grab something but everything on the ground is loose.  Using both hands he tries digging his hands into the ground but a metal pipe  rudely cuts into his left palm.  Pain explodes up his arm as his hand instantly loses strength.  Any grip is lost.  

NO, I don’t want to die!

He shouts, “Please help me someone!”  He’s slipping quicker.  His right hand finds the other side of the black cable which was touching the utility van.  For some reason his mind didn’t register it being a possible route earlier.  Ignoring the pain in his left hand he grabs the cable and holds on for everything he is worth.  The cable comes lose, Mark finds himself pummeling into Sheol, his Ministers messages of heaven and hell flash forward as he recalls his life in less than a second.  He feels he is lived his life a good person.

His breath is knocked from him as broken earth meets him; solid earth greets his already bruised and abused body.  He didn’t drop more than three to four feet.  His heart rushes and his mind refuse to acknowledge the notion he’s alive, he laughs in grateful relief as a new appreciation for life courses through his being.  

Looking down he sees the fissure is not an abyss.   No demons lurk in the shadows, no claws tear him apart.  Unlike the road earlier this isn’t a massive hole.  Adrenaline continues to rush through him, he can’t stop shaking.  Letting go of the cable he sees he’s on top of a lot of turned over rubble and pavement.  A police cruiser lies mostly submerged near him.  Mark lets go of the cable and feels like a dumb ass.

Why didn’t I look into the fissure?  How stupid am I?  Is that a cop in the cruiser?

Looking around he’s instantly relieved when he sees the utility van has a small metal ladder which was once attached to its roof.  Now it lies in front of him, inviting him to become free of this hell.  It doesn’t take him long to get out of the fissure.  He leaves the ladder behind; not thinking it might be prudent to have for future use.  Mark isn’t in the mind set of scavenging; he just wants to get home.

 Within minutes he continues his journey.  His left hand is hurt, the pipe dug into his palm, leaving about an inch of skin looking like mesh and loose.  It’s not bleeding but it doesn’t look good.  The flesh is pale white, surrounded by bluish and purple coloring.  Minor blood seeped from the where the pipe dug in but it wasn’t bad.  It hurt more than anything.  The minute he gets to street level he falls to his knees and kisses the ground.  His head swims, his vision is cloudy.  New pain shoots up his hand which makes him howl for a few seconds.  

This is to stressful.  

Mark gives up on wanting to be clean.  Now all he wants is his bed and for everything to go back to the way it was when he woke up.  

Life was peachy earlier.  What did humanity do to deserve this treatment?  Who is to blame?  Is there an enemy?

His apartment is in Ward 6, in the Navy Yard.  Most people refer to the district as Southeast Washington DC.  It’s on the green line if one was to take the metro.  The district caters mainly to African Americans.  Hit apartment building overlooks the Anacostia River.  He never risked inviting Mike and April to his home.  Sadly their skin color would have got them in trouble.  He never told his girl friend where he lives.

Mark keeps trekking forward but fondly remembers the history of The Navy Yard.  The Navy Yard was originally a ship building complex but reverted to producing ammunition and fished pieces of ships.  Mark has fond memories of touring the facility with his Dad when he was a kid.  Today it’s one of the largest federal facilities in America.  Back in the day Anacostia used to be a great river and had many channels.  Pierre Charles L’Enfant remapped and built a new Washington DC in the 1790’s.  Commercialism was at its boom.

Mark snaps out of his reverie as he sees a sign directing to the Navy Museum if he goes to his left.  He didn’t need to take that direction; he just needs to move forward.  

I wish I could do something to make things better.  What is America going to do?  Another ten minutes and I should be home.

Walking to work only takes Mark 15 to 20 minutes on a normal day.  The distance is only .40 of a mile.

This is ridiculous.  

He’s nears the beginning of the residential neighborhood.  As far as he could see, there are cars and trucks abandoned along I-295.  Some doors are open and others are closed.  Cars and Trucks attempted to head west, not many cars face east.  It’s obvious the police tried enforcing Marshal Law.  The road is empty due to a police barricade, beyond are thousands of cars, many people fled on foot as soon as the Tsunami alert began.  Things didn’t look right, not even for an evacuation.

The cops tried stopping the poor from evacuating before the middle class?  What the FUCK!  

There are signs of a gun battle.  Dead police men lay scattered around a makeshift barricade.  Multiple strips of metal with sharp looking barbs kept vehicles from moving forward.  Many vehicles have their tires shredded.  The cops fired upon the civilians with real ammunition.

Oh my God… How many did they shoot down?  Why did they shoot?

He knew his district was poor but this is ridiculous.  Never in his wildest dreams did he think HIS people would be treated in such a fashion.  He couldn’t fathom any other reason for the barricade.

This isn’t why I am with government or why my Dad was a cop!  How could they do this?

Six fallen police officers lay in bloody pulps.  The dead bodies have been stripped of their body armor and all their equipment is gone.  He couldn’t recognize them even if he wanted, they looked like bloody pulps.  The heat from the sun bakes the corpses, he wants to puke.  

It smells like sweet rotten vegetation after my mom gardens.  The American people fought back, my people fought back.

A rage builds deep, threatening to rip through his awareness.  Mark feels a blood rage as his gaze takes a closer look at the damage the bad cops did.  African American children and women are riddled with bullets.  Countless husbands and boyfriends lay in various death poses, all shot in close range as they tried protecting their loved ones.  Half a dozen cars and trucks are destroyed as drivers forever blankly stare into nothingness.  Many of them still have their eyes open in shock and fear.  A dead child clings to her mom, a rag doll inches from her lifeless fingers.  Blood cakes the windshields, bullet holes can be seen in the cars behind.  Many cars are still idle.  Dozens of people are in the process of unloading their vehicles to move on foot.

Mark asks a real thin teen what happened.  He asks why the cops stopped the people.  He doesn’t expect the answer.

“Yo man, tis dig this shit and get out of here.  Them fuckin red necks killed the cops and mowed us niggers down using the cops gear.”  This kid is a normal teen who is trying to escape.  It takes Mark a few seconds to understand what he’s saying.

Mark is confused, “Pardon me, what happened bro?”  He didn’t want to talk like the man, after all he is educated.

The teen looks back at him quizzically, “Nigger listen! Crazy rednecks shot us, they pretended to be cops.  We taught them.”  He points back towards the police barricade.  His other hand rubs a police side arm stuck into his waist band of his trousers.

Looking down he sees tell tale signs of what the teen is trying to say.  The bodies at first glance appear to be cops but now he sees tatters of blue jeans and flannel.  He shakes uncontrollably.  A brass pro fishing hat lies near empty Budweiser beer bottles.  A pickup truck lies in flames in the far ditch.  Mark didn’t notice it before.  A few African Americans scavenge through backpacks taken from the police cruisers and the pickup truck.  Other peacefully rummages through vehicles abandoned by their owners.

Redneck hillbillies did this?  Not cops?  It’s only been two hours.  I don’t understand.  This is happening to fast.  Why are people hurting each other?  Didn’t other cities with natural disasters have their people band together?  Why do some people make it about skin color?  This is America, not Haiti!  It doesn’t matter what you look like, what matters is what type of person you are.  Didn’t African Americans suffer enough already?

He asks “Do you know whether or not the Onyx apartments are still intact?”  Mark feels dread as he ponders the new hostility threats.

“No man I don’t know, I need to go.”  The teen slings his pack over his shoulder and trots towards the metro tracks.  Mark knows the tracks are to be followed to get out of DC.  When 9-11 occurred the federal government shut down all public transportation systems.  People were advised to walk near the tracks; it took some 6-8 hours to get home to love ones.  

Mark doesn’t bother to ask others.  Everyone is scared.  A large group of African Americans are walking past the cars, there must be hundreds.  They seem to be large families; everyone is carrying as much personal  belongings as they can.   No one is being violent.  His home is less than eight blocks.

The natural disaster siren still blares; he wishes they would turn it off.  A pickup truck exudes its own alarm, the owner is long gone.  Somewhere in the distance he hears Gangsters Paradise but can’t pinpoint its location.

Trying to wipe the sweat from his brow Mark finds his sweat aggravating to the wound on his left hand.  His hand throbs from the wound he received earlier and his temples pound with a raging migraine.  He quickly makes his way past the lineup of stalled vehicles.  Now he is six blocks from his apartment building.

A few teenager girls pass him while looking at him like he’s stupid.  One flippantly treats him like a retard while trying to explain, “A tsunami is coming.  You’re going the wrong way.”

Mark doesn’t bother to explain his motive, he shrugs and says thanks.

One block later and he comes upon I Street SE which crosses his street.  The streets are built on diagonal pattern mirroring the German city Karlsruhe.  When Mark was fourteen years old his dad took him on a bus tour of Washington DC.  He loved the way his guide narrated the history of the city.  

Thomas Jefferson when visiting Europe fell in love with a few palace and city designs in Germany.  He quickly had Charles L’Enfant draw up city plans showing a similar design.  Washington DC was built on the grid system, many diagonally cut streets allow for impressive open spaces for parks and vistas.

The street he currently is on should have been J Street but the city planners didn’t want to create confusion.  Some conspiracy theorists argue it was a deliberate slight to John Jay.  Rows of brown condos greet him in furlong salience.  His stomach grumbles as the smell of burgers and hot dogs engulf his senses.  Around forty to fifty people stand in front of one the condos he is passing.  Everyone is scared but friendly.  It seems the block got together and decided to have a grill out.  Alcohol runs freely and as doe’s food.  Young children run in between groups of adults, they aren’t laughing or giggling like they often do, none the less they are playing tag.  The vestige reminds Mark of the 4th of July.  Large concentrations of African Americans have three grills side by side.  They distribute food and beverages as fast as it cooks.  A young couple comes bearing gifts.  

The man in proper English says, “Friend, rest for a moment.  We have food and drink!”

Mark steps trekking and inaudibly asks, “Why are you doing this?”  He shakes in fear, remembering the shot bodies a block away.

His companion answers, “Why not?  The end of the World came and all our food is going to go bad.  The fridges don’t work anymore.  The least we can do is sending people off with a full tummy.”

Mark plops on the ground out of exhaustion.  Panting he replies, “Please, I would love some food and beverage.  Do you have some water?”

The man responds, “No water, but we have some coca cola.  Liz, give the man some food!”  She hands him two hot dogs and apologizes that they just have ketchup.  Mark ignores his hurt hand as he hurriedly inhales the hot dogs.  He eats them so fast he doesn’t get a chance to appreciate the taste.

Liz says, “Would you like some more?”  He nods.  He’s never been so hungry in his life.  Closer inspection shows the people on the block are Catholics.    

Mark spills coca cola on his chin as he drinks the soda in one large gulp.  The man asks Mark if he knows Jesus.  Mark nods and the man looks a little saddened he won’t be able to go on a tangent.  Seeing new stragglers he beams and leaves Mark. 

That’s cool.  These people are helping people in need.  Good for these Catholics.

Mark feels better with a full stomach.  He waves at no one in particular and continues his journey after the girl gives him another hot dog.  He doesn’t ask for a second soda.  He knows there is some in his fridge when he gets home.

It doesn’t take him long to cross K Street and L Street SE.  Nothing out of the ordinary is happening outside of people packing their cars and abandoning their homes.  No violence or destruction.  A lot of teenagers are aimlessly wandering on drugs, but that’s not really anything new to see.  He is now three blocks away.  One more block and he will be able to see his 12 story apartment building.  He quickens his pace.  

I hope Dad got a survival pack together.  I wonder how much food we have.  I can’t remember if Mom went to the store like she said she was going to?

M Street SW appears, a few cars honk their horns as vehicles slowly snake around each other at a snail’s pace.  There are Four M Streets in Washington DC.  City planners drew out streets mimicking the Cartesian-coordinate-based system adopted in Europe.  Mark never understood the reasoning of allowing any east-west street twelve blocks from the capitol to be named in this fashion.  To be honest he understood but it’s a headache to explain, he often tells his friends to take a cab when in Washington DC.  To state it shortly, Washington DC has four quadrants; each M street is designated as either NW, NE, SW and SE.

Don’t they know they won’t be able to get on I-295?  Oh wait, how would they know?

People are getting frustrated and many swear and shout of their windows.  Entire families abandon cars as wives and mothers hysterically wail for the people in front of them to move.  Some don’t move fast enough which makes others panic.  Mark attempts to squeeze past a station wagon and a family minivan.  A woman screams into the ear of the man behind the wheel.   The man behind the wheel of the station wagon guns his car and hits the minivan in front of him.  Somehow the car pushes the mini-van aside, the man behind the wheel angrily drives on the curb, and he passes many.  Mark swears as he quickly dodges the stupid idiot.  Before anyone can fill the spot he runs across the street.  His inner thighs have rubbed raw from all the running.  A man gets out of the minivan swinging a golf club.  Within seconds he is at the station wagon, his golf club sends glass shattering.  Mark doesn’t wait to see what happens next.

Shit that stings, I’m going to need soothing cream after I shower!

Mark sighs in relief when he sees his apartment building is still intact.  The knowledge of his family being close gives him a new bout of energy.  Ignoring his discomfort and pain he sprints the last two blocks.  Cars and trucks blur by as he runs, people are all in grid lock, nothing different then M Street SW.  No one bothers him.  To his right and left are large apartment complexes.  Many look safe in the day time, but it’s not always wise to walk alone at night.  For some reason he was never mugged or bothered.  He always thought it must be his karma and good disposition.  Many others he knew could not brag such a fate.

His feet burn, he can feel his socks have worn out from all the running.  Multiple spots near his heels feel like will be blistering tomorrow.  Something squishy can be felt between his toes in his right shoe. 

A liquor store nearby lies open, its windows smashed by loiters.  Mark gets the feeling there is no more liquor.  Smashed bottles lay on the road.  Nearby he sees an apartment complex completely destroyed by the  earthquake.  People grieve near the rubble.  A boy and his dog beg passers to help find his parents.  Mark feels terrible when the child asks him for help.  His heart goes out but he doesn’t let it show.

There isn’t anything I can do.  Maybe I can come out later and help after I see my parents.

He pretends he doesn’t hear and continues to run.  He no longer has the endurance to call it running; it’s more a fast trot.  He sees the entrance of his building.

Almost there!

He looks to where his Dad’s car is supposed to be parked.  They were given special treatment due to his disability.  They were allowed to park their car near the front entrance.  It wasn’t there.  His apartment is located at the corner of the street.

Maybe Mom took the car or never came back?  Let my Dad be alright!  

Leaping over two to three stairs at a time he makes it to the front entrance.  A large slick looking logo greets renters and visitors with Welcome to Onyx on First Apartments!  The front doors are locked.  Mark surprises himself as he curses.  Fumbling for his keys he realized he left them in his office at the Jefferson Building.

Mark forgets about his injured left hand, and pounds on the front door.  He soon shifts to just using his right hand as the pain becomes unbearable.  He sees a shadow down the hall near the reception office.  With new fervor he pounds on the door while screaming, “I live here!  Please let me in!”

The shadow takes on depth.  He sees Steven the day security guard shuffle to the front doors.  He looks nervous as he unlocks them.

“Sorry sir, I thought you might have been a thief.  Most people evacuated half a hour ago.  You look disheveled sir, please step in and stop drawing attention!”  Mark feels better as he steps in.  His forehead and brow feel relieved to get out of the heat.  His shoulders felt like a furnace.  The security guard offers his a water bottle half full.

Mark sputters thanks and downs the water.  After a moment he burps and tastes the hot dog from earlier.  After catching his breath he urgently asks, “Is my dad here?”

It takes a moment for the security guard to understand what Mark is asking.  He is partially deaf and is easily in his fifties.   “Why yes he is, I remember your mom went out to find you.  That was hours ago.  No one came back who left.  The power is out.”

Mark runs past the security guard to the elevator.  He presses the button but it doesn’t work.  The security guard shuffles towards him while repeating, “The power doesn’t work.  You’re going to need to take the stairs.  Mark feels his gut wrench.  He didn’t want to take the stairs.  He didn’t know if he had the strength.

Steve tells him to hold on a minute and shuffles off.  He hears Steve tell him he’s going to give him a flashlight but he needs it back when Mark is done with it.  

Mark waits patiently while looking around he sees minimum damage from the earthquake.  Furniture is scattered and everything small is broken.  A book shelf and computer terminals for renters in the lobby lay broken.  Glass from mirrors and doors are shattered.  A couple of computer terminals are in no longer working as they lay on their sides, the corridor leading to the stair way looks very dark.  No one seems to be  around which creeps Mark out.

He hears shuffling, Steve is not crunching the broken glass, Mark meets Steve half way and quickly grabs the flashlight.  It’s a heavy duty mach light.  The black metal polishing feels smooth and cool to the touch.  

Steve asks, “What happened to your key?  It’s going to cost $35 dollars to replace.  Maybe management will be back later.   What’s happening out there?”  Fear creeps into Steve’s voice.  Mark tells him it was a earthquake and what they are feeling are tremors.  Steve dryly comments that it’s nice of God to ease up on the aftershocks.  Mark is surprised when he realizes it’s been awhile since the earth shook.  He sadly tells Steve a tsunami might be coming.

“Steve, don’t you think you should go home to your family?”  Mark doesn’t wait to hear a response.  He can’t wait to get to his Dad. 

He does hear Steve reply, “I don’t have any family.  This is it for me.  Remember to bring me back my flashlight.”

Mark enters the stairwell after turning on the flash light.  It works nicely as it illuminates a good five to six feet.  He sees himself in a reflection and shudders.  He looks like a zombie from Night of the Living Dead.  All he needs now is some blood on his chin and to mutter ‘brains, give me your brains’.  He quickly puts the childlike thoughts away and sprints up the steps.  He makes it up three stories.  Going up the fourth story he slips on something slippery but doesn’t get hurt. 

What was that?  This reminds me of a cheesy horror movie.  I can’t wait to I get home.

Mark shines his light at whatever made him slip and sees it’s a pool of blood.  Nearby, a man has blown his head off with a shotgun.  

There’s nothing I can do.  Who was that?

Another four stories pass without incident.  Now there are only three left.  He hears someone shouting.  A man is yelling at a woman.  He’s screaming at her that she is stupid and to shut up and do whatever he says.  He’s not threatening rape or anything sexual but he doesn’t seem to be kind.  

Why do girls go for rough bad boys? What’s wrong with good guys?

Mark is reminded of Irinia, which threatens to bring him to tears.  He is able to isolate the emotion and continues past the couple who are walking down.  No one says anything.  As soon as he’s past them he hears  the man belittle his companion further.  He continues on to his floor.  Red Exit signs eerily give their own soft glow.  Mark doesn’t understand why the glow doesn’t extend more than a few inches.  It would be nice the light illuminated the hallway.  Neither the steps nor the rails are broke. 

He finally makes it to his floor.  The door to the hallway is not locked but something feels wrong.  His apartment is unit 10C, 10A and 10B lie widely open, briefly looking in Mark sees someone went through his neighbors belongs.  He can’t help but yell, “Dad, are you ok?”  The front door handle is busted and the door swings freely.  Shining his light he sees something looking like a massive boot print.

Someone kicked the door down?  Please be safe dad…

Chapter XXII: Larry’s Psychosis 

Larry’s head wouldn’t stop pounding.  He needs to drink; he wants to keep drinking.  It didn’t matter if people see him drink anymore, just as long as it’s not caught on camera.  

These idiots need my help.  Without me they would all be dead.  How did they get more ahead in their professional careers?  I’m smarter, quicker and deadlier then any of them.

He looks to his left expecting to see Mary but she isn’t there.

I’m a dork, she is dead, remember?  She’s like in any other female.  She doesn’t care about me.  No one cares for me outside my dogs and my mom.

The National Guard keeps their distance from Larry.  One earlier tried cleaning his hands but he told the dude to get lost.   Pixel is being disobedient.  She isn’t like the other dogs in her pack.  The others are in the kennel.  He remade half his house to hold and train his dogs.  Larry refers to all the dogs he trains as his.  Deep down he thinks he connects with their spirit and loves molding to their behavior.  If he could have been a dog in this life he would have been in heaven.

Why did I have to get stuck with the lame dog today?  I wonder what’s happening to Zues and Apollo, they show promise. Shit, my dogs!  I need to get to my dogs.  Maybe if I stay with these people I will get home quicker.

Larry has seven dogs at home.  His mom was supposed to feed them at noon.  Nothing matters more to Larry then his dogs.  He loved them more than his mother; he often gets drunk with them and passes out in their company. 

I am the king of the pack.  They all do what I want as if they are a living extension connected to my will.  All of them expect Pixil. 
Looking over he sees Pixel licking the Asian lad.

Who is this kid and why doesn’t he get lost?

Larry’s head pounds as he tries to focus beyond the headache creeping behind his temples.  Crunching through the broken glass he asks the get the kid for his name.  The Asian boy says something while reaching for his back pack.  An African American woman in a leather jacket interrupts them with free burgers.  Larry is famished and takes three.  He forgets about getting the Asians name for the time being.  The white man in a business suit looks crest fallen as his colleague leaves.  Soon after the African American girl tells them her name is Juliet.  Larry watches in disdain as he learns the white man’s name is Mike.  Mike beams with excitement and pleasure when he finds out Juliet has two cheeseburgers without onions. 

Look how they act.  I don’t like them.  Only the strong survive during times like this.

Larry tells Pixel to follow him.  She doesn’t.  He curses while wanting to repeatedly hit his fifth of Jack Daniels.  His hand doesn’t hurt as long as he keeps drinking.  The pain is a distant throb.  The National Guard moves on.

Why didn’t Mary like me?  Why doesn’t anyone like me?  All I do is safe people and they act cold.  They are all tools used by the system.  I really should get my hand looked at.  Why don’t I go with the people to the hospital?  There’s safety in numbers.  As soon as I get my hand fixed up I will get to my dogs, my pack.  Maybe with some luck there will be a helicopter there.

Susan, who is not Larry’s version of hot for she is bold and direct, tells the group of a news helicopter three blocks from the hospital.  She says her coworker left it there and it’s less than a mile away, he gave her its keys at the Supreme Court Building and they could use it as a backup plan.  She adds, “I appreciate you saving us Larry, we can’t pick up any more people but I have enough room for all of us, especially if we do two trips to safety, one group will have to remain patient and wait half an hour.  It doesn’t take long to get to Maryland.  My identity can get us past what most others can’t.  Where do you need to go, I got the general gust people live on the red line?”  Everyone agrees while looking bewildered and grateful.  Juliet and a homeless person break from the group; Juliet says she needs to get home to her family.  She looks confused as she mentions her Dad works at the hospital and that she should go there first.  The homeless man with one arm suggests they stick with a larger group, she agrees.  Larry doesn’t care about them.  They are going to head west towards Washington Hospital Center which is located at 110 Irving ST SW.

I can finally get out of here!  The roads are to torn up to drive through making it pointless to hot wire a vehicle- good thing the academy teaches us cops how to combat bad guys by giving us their knowledge.  If the tsunami comes we all die.  This is turning out to be a shitty day.  What’s the story behind the homeless man?  Is that blood on his clothes?  He walks as if he is ex-military.

Larry forcefully draws Pixel to him while telling the weird group he has to urinate and to hold a moment.  He hears Michael ask how long it takes to walk to the hospital.  The monkey in the suit whines about his dress shoes and blisters.  Susan responds it’s not that far.  Larry doesn’t have to urinate; he just wants to have another drink before the dangerous trek and wants a moment in silence.  The sirens do not ease.  Hundreds of random people quickly pass their group, all look for safety.  Larry wants is to escape this shit hole and misses the West Coast.

Within minutes he is away from everyone, he steps back into Union Station.  Pixel looks at him and whines, he tells her to shut up and be obedient.  The earth has stopped shaking.  He doesn’t know what to think about the possible threat of a tsunami destroying everything.  His hands shake as he spills some of his precious alcohol over his vest as he slurps down the last of the bottle.  Moment’s later calmness settles over him as he savors the texture and aroma of the last of the Jack Daniels.  

This one is for you Mary from England; you could have been the one…

He throws the empty bottle against the ground, cursing his luck on Mary’s death.  He walks towards the hole.  Shining his light he gasps as he sees water.  Water fills the lower level, everything is submerged.  Something glitters, Larry looks closer.  It’s nothing but some unfortunate persons watch glittering in what little light is left.  Water quickly submerges the arm and watch.  

He tells himself Mary is long gone.

She was arguing with me because she liked the other dudes.  In the future I will be the one who gets the girl, not someone else!  What does April see in Mike?  She is curvy in a modest way, but nor really my type.

He doesn’t think logically as he unzips.  Urinating over the broken floor he laughs while pretending he is a common thug, Pixel looks at him in confusion and whines.   Not giving a damn about rationing his alcohol he whips out one of the pints of Vodka.  

Looking around he sees a wine store appearing to be empty.  It’s near a barber store.  Darkness radiates as his pupils customize to his surreal puerperal vision.  He zero’s in on his objective.  

Maybe with some luck there will be something.  Was that bottle of wine I saw earlier real in the wine store?  It doesn’t make sense they would have something like that on stock.

Sure enough it doesn’t take him long to find something underneath the rubble.  He manages to stuff three bottles of cheap wine into his jacket.

Moments later he’s back with the group.  His hands aren’t shaking anymore.  He thinks he hears someone whisper his name and immediately whips around.

Mother is that you? No, it almost sounded like Mary?  Spooky.

He feels something pull at his awareness.  Images of his dogs tearing his mother to pieces drifts into his conscious, he is Zues.  He leads his pack in for the kill as she calls out Larry’s name in terror.  The new random thought makes him hope she’s alright when she feeds his dogs. She better feed his dogs.

Pixel is near the Asian lad.  Larry has enough of this non sense and asks the boy for his identification.  He is startled when he finds out the lad is deaf.  Within moments he’s looking down at a Chinese passport, the lads name is Cheung Dingbang.  He is from Beijing.  He tosses the passport back at Cheung who deftly plucks it as it soars near him and places it into his back pack.  He tells everyone the boys name is Cheung.  

They start the journey to the hospital.  He feels calm but his hands and feet tingle.  He keeps thinking he smells fresh fruit and roses.  He puts it away from his mind, rationalizing heat exertion and dehydration mixed with alcohol is causing him to have minor delusions.  The damn siren won’t stop its endless wail.  His vision steadies as he decides it’s best to bring up the rear of the group.  He didn’t have a problem in letting others test unstable ground.

Pixel shakes off some dust from her fur, for the first time in hours he sees her brown fur.  She’s innocent in the eyes and sneezes.  He’s going to have to toughen her up in the next few weeks.  She’s definitely the weakest link in the pack.  He doesn’t want to carry her leash.  He lets her follow hoping she doesn’t run into a dangerous building trying to play hero again.  Larry briefly wonders if his partner is dead.  It doesn’t matter to him, he’s happy to have the man out of his hair.  He’s losing the desire to be discreet with drinking but still doesn’t want Susan to catch him on camera.  She seems to enjoy taking the lead so he doubts it will happen.  

It would suck if I lose the opportunity in getting another job, after all life went on after California was destroyed.

A young couple runs from a building a block ahead.  Larry feels a large boom followed by a wave of heat.  The top half of the building in front of them explodes in all directions, the bottom half collapses as multiple floors fall on top of each other.  Glass and debris knock the escaping couple as everything disappears in a new coat of dust.  His group rushes in to aid the best they can.  He doesn’t want to help but reluctantly follows.  His carries his side arm loosely in its holster.  He feels ten feet tall and invisible. 

A woman wears a purple sweater and blue jeans which fits tightly to her brunette frame.  She wears high heels.  She screams the name Steven as she holds her beloved man’s convulsing head.  He stutters his last breath before the group reaches them.  She screams his name over and over.  She received a few wounds from escaping the falling building.  A small glass shard protrudes from her arm but doesn’t appear to be deep.  Steven wasn’t as lucky.  Glass and random cuts protrude from his chest.  Burns wrap around his face and neck making him look like a burned out candle.

Juliet reaches for the woman and her glass shard as she takes out a small med kit.  The homeless man stops her.  Mike tries asking the woman her name but she looks back with confusion.  She starts talking to Steven like is he still alive.  Her eyes are soft brown, her hair bounces lightly around her shoulders.

Larry finds out the homeless dude is named Harry as Juliet asks him how to heal the woman.  

Isn’t heal an odd term to use?  This new girl is hot.  She looks like she goes to the gym.

Harry tells Juliet each wound in different which equates to different treatments.  Harry tells Juliet the woman has an incision wound.  Juliet asks the woman if she will hold still and if they can fix her.  She nods as she holds Stevens limp hand, she stops talking to him as if he is alive.  She doesn’t care what’s happening around her, she only cares for the dead man near her.  Larry notes a wedding ring and feels put off.  He smells lavender and can’t help but feel something stir.  He soon forgets about Mary.

Harry directs Juliet to first take inventory of the situation.  He tells her normally a person shouldn’t mess with other people’s injuries but seeing as how no help is coming they need to improvise.

Larry watches in disbelief as Harry patiently directs Juliet how to the handle the situation.  He tells her to first apply pressure on the puncture after they take the glass shard out of the girls arm.  It is roughly one inch long.  The injury appears to be smaller than his hand wound.   The woman tells them her name is Becky.  Becky and Steven are from New Hampshire.  They are law students. 

Harry shows Juliet how to clean the wound.  Larry is startled when he sees Juliet using a fifth of Vodka to clean off some tweezers.  She proceeds to use clean water from a water bottle to flush the wound.  Luckily there is no glass shard imbedded in the arm to dig around for.   Juliet's hand is steady.  Becky talks about how she is supposed to be at a law convention at the Holiday Inn.  Larry wishes he has Juliet's vodka.  He takes out one of his mini vodka pints and drinks some.  No one looks in his direction.  When its empty he tosses it into a garbage can that stills stands upright.  The garbage men did their job correctly as he hears the bottle break when it hits the bottom.  Everyone pauses while looking in his directions.

Harry asks Juliet if she has antibiotic cream.  She says yes while whipping out some Neosporin.  He shows her how to apply it with proper bandaging.  He then tells her some wounds heal better with open air but in Becky’s case she needs to keep the wound protected.  Larry briefly wonders if he made a mistake in not having someone outside of Mary bandage him up.  

Looking down he feels skittish as he sees his bandage and hand caked with dirt and grime.  He decides to make it a priority to get his hand fixed when he gets to the hospital.

April suggests Becky come with them.  Becky doesn’t want to leave her dead husband but it doesn’t take much effort to convince her as she too understands the situation. She takes off his ring, a cross on a chain and his wallet.  April doesn’t need to explain the importance of traveling with them.  Becky doesn’t stop crying.  Before leaving she takes his non working cell phone and thanks Juliet for doing a wonderful job.  

Harry concludes the lesson by telling Juliet if the puncture or wound spurts blood she would have to suture it up in the future.  As a group they move on.

Larry falls in step behind the weird shuffling entourage.  Susan takes the lead, followed by her cameraman and Mike.  April and Chuang try to have a conversation.  April obviously does not understand his hands gestures but remains polite.  Pixel walks near the lad, Larry doesn’t understand why his dog connects with the Chuang and not him.  He feels jealous.  

Larry thinks he hears someone mutter to his left, “Pixel doesn’t like you.  None of them like you.”  He jumps and yells while brandishing his gun with his right hand.  Everyone stops and looks back at him again.  There isn’t anyone there.  

He tells everyone, “I thought I saw a homeless person.”  He looks deeply into the shadows and is indeed startled when no one appears.  

Am I having hallucinations? Was that Mary?

Larry laughs at himself and mutters, “Your mind is playing tricks on you big boy.  I have to make sure to drink a lot of water when I get home.  It must be the alcohol and heat.”  Pixel looks back at him.  He can’t help but remember the voices message.

Is it possible she doesn’t like me?  Is she going to turn on me? 

Larry fantasizes what it will be like when he gets to his dogs.  He is going to feed them a lot of treats and spoil them rotten.  His left hand throbs and he briefly wonders why it’s not itching in a good way.  If it itches it means its healing. 

The current block is peaceful.  Dark windows of the buildings are still intact; Larry thinks they look warm and inviting.  Cars line the street as if the owners are busy working.  There are no birds, no people.  

Maybe nothing happened and I’m dreaming?

No, the sirens are still going.  The previous block was destroyed.  Looking in the distance he sees plumes of smoke.  Mike brings him back to the moment when he complains about having to piss.  

Larry can’t help but say loudly and with a little rudeness, “Did you ever take the moment to think we all have discomforts.  Toughen up.”

Mike sputters, “Yes I did.  I’m just saying this sucks.  This is America and I have the right to say what I want.”

Larry bites down his almost sarcastic remark, and I have the right to arrest you.

Susan interrupts, “The van is a couple blocks this way.  Let’s see if it’s still there.  Maybe we can take it to the hospital.  These blocks aren’t looking to bad.”  Juliet agrees while trying to telling her story of Burger King.  Her voice doesn’t sound bad, Larry thinks her image doesn’t fit her character, but as soon as he looks at her closely she loses any appeal.  He wasn’t into the tomboyish image. 

He doesn’t care what street he is on.  It’s a blur, a fast cold blur.  He misses California.  The counselors at the police department felt sorry for him when they found out he lost all his friends and home, they diagnosed him with post stress syndrome and looked the other way when he became an alcoholic. 

Who was going to mess with a cop?  We can drive police cruisers with the lights on and go 90 mph and no one will ever say no or get us in trouble.  I am the law. I want my Harley.  I need to give it new oil.  

Becky looks fragile, who was her husband?  

Larry quickens his pace.  No one is talking to Becky.

I wonder how females are going to fair in a post apocalyptic world.  They certainly were not strong in Mad Max.  Well, the one with the Mohac was, especially in the Thunder Dome.  I wonder if that’s going to happen to me.  My dogs will tear any one up who gets my way.  I’m going to have to get more bullets and my camping gear from the garage.  Maybe I can take the dogs and mom up North?

Larry examines Becky’s rear and comments not to quietly, “Hey gorgeous, you need some protection?”   It didn’t come out the way he was thinking, it doesn’t sound suave. 

Becky twirls around; her green eyes flash scorn and sorrow “Get away from me pig!”  Tears run freely, mascara streaks to her chin.  

Larry’s ego is hurt; he doesn’t see her pain.  Not having a good come back he sheepishly responds, “I was just joking.  This group needs some humor.”  

April walks to Becky and puts her arms around the slim law student.  Becky proceeds to cry.  Mike looks at Larry quizzically.
Larry looks back at him and without flinching says, “You should watch where you’re going.  All those blisters on your feet can lead to the death of you.”  He feels like an Alpha as Mike quickly turns around.  Susan and the camera man are out of hearing distance.

Not expecting and more drama he’s surprised when Juliet pipes, “Can’t you see the woman lost her husband?  What’s wrong with you?” 

Who does this girl think she is talking too? I just saved her life.  She should be throwing herself at me.

He tries to gaining her respect by looking menacing.  Harry is instantly by her side.  His gaze drills into Larry.  For the second time today he feels fear creep in.  Harries eye’s seem to scan Larry’s soul.  He can’t break eye contact.  Larry feels dirty and unworthy.  He wants to reach for his gun.

Chuang, darts in between them with Pixel.  The spell is broken and everything takes on real time.  Larry feels relief as he finds himself moving forward.  He reaches for Pixels collar and roughly reins her in.  His left hand still throbs.  His migraine is back full swing and he no longer feels the ambiance of the alcohol.  Not giving a damn what they think he takes out a bottle of wine.  He lets go of Pixels leash.  She happily runs back to Chuang.

I hate these people.  Why don’t they show respect and appreciation?  I need to get home as soon as I get my hand fixed at the hospital.  This is turning to be a poor day after all. 

Larry whistles it’s the end of the world as we know it…  Susan excitedly tells them the van in down the block.

They walked many blocks and saw many people in the last thirty minutes.  There wasn’t anyone threatening or shooting at them.  He knows most crime would be occurring near the green line.  The south eastern districts are a little more poor which makes them much more dangerous.  Surprisingly no one requests their help.

It’s the whisper again, “Why don’t you take what you want?  You are the strongest.”  Larry twirls around thinking someone is playing tricks with him.  No one is there.

“Who is there?  Who is talking to me?”  Everyone pauses a third time. 

Juliet answers, “No one is talking to you.  What are you talking about?”  

April rudely follows Juliet’s statement with, “Maybe you should lay off the alcohol.”  Larry huffs and puffs, he refuses to acknowledge their disrespect.  He gulps down the remaining bottle of wine and throws the bottle back down the block they walked.  The glass shatters on something, the echo sounds insanely loud.  Everyone is still looking at him.  Susan and the cameraman share a look; he feels anger as he realizes they think he is being ridiculous.  

Why are they treating me like this?  I saved them and now I am a creep?  

It doesn’t cross his mind to simply walk off.   He wants to go home.

His dogs are his gods, are maybe I am the god of dogs?

Larry laughs at the irony and takes comfort in the fact he has a badge and a gun.  Larry is Alpha.  Like the voice whispered, I can take what I want when I want.  I just have to make sure order is really gone before I do things my way.

He forgets what street he is on.  He doesn’t recognize any of the buildings.  He’s never been to this part of Washington DC and never had a reason to go to a hospital.  If the tsunami comes while they are in DC they all die.  The van looks like it can only hold up to six.  

Mike reflects his thoughts as he says, “Half of us can take the van and the others are going to have to walk on foot.  Juliet instantly says she doesn’t need a van and trots off.  Harry says bye and follows her.  Becky wants to go with them and says bye to April.  Larry decides he wants to follow Becky for a time. 

Becky has a nice ass and might need protecting.  If something happens to her and if I save her she will throw herself at me.
Chuang, like a lost puppy, follows Larry.  Larry doesn’t care.  That leaves Mike, April, Susan and the cameraman to try the van.  

Larry is happy to be done with Mike.  Looking towards Mike he quickens his pace and whispers for no one else to hear.  With as much scorn as he can muster he says, “You’re a sissy.  Toughen up and take care of your wife.”  Mike’s response reminds Larry of the nerdy kids he picked on in high school. 

What’s wrong with me?  I really love making people feel self conscious and inferior.

He hurriedly catches up with the other group.  He can’t but help check out Becky’s rear.  Harry steps in between them with Chuang and Pixel.  Larry takes out another bottle of wine; thankfully they have loose metal spin caps.  Juliet quickens the groups pace as she excitedly heads towards the hospital.  She tells everyone her Dad works there.

Why is a homeless man with us?  What’s his story and why is he not acting like the other homeless people I see?  Why am I labeling and stereotyping all homeless people?  Many are good people who are simply shit out of luck for the moment.  

It doesn’t matter what Larry’s conscience says, the alcohol does a wonderful job in dampening his compassion, he revels in being judgmental and critical.  He is out of patience.  

Julie’s voice cuts into his inner reflections; he doesn’t care what she says but still registers the information.  He picks up the last part of her conversation with Harry.

“My dad is a janitor.  Back in 1958 three specialty hospitals decided to become one big hospital.  My dad works for MedStar Health.  He’s supposed to be working a swing shift; he wants to buy a new car.”  Larry picks up a tone in her voice.  In front of him looms the city hospital, crowds of thousands of people swarm the front entrance, they easily span a block.  A group of officers regulate a line leading into the hospital.  Civilian vehicles block the entrance making it impossible to navigate.  Larry sees a few nurse aids evaluating injuries as they direct the more serious to the line.  A few orderly individuals try to get their attention but are ignored.  

The American flag stands near the entrance; it’s not blowing in the wind which annoys Larry.  He thinks it should be a still image of the flag drifting in the wind; he very much enjoys still shots such as that.  When he was in high school he paid extra money on the year book to get his picture taken in front of the American flag.  He really wanted to dress up as a major in the military but the high school said no to that.

Larry decided enough is enough.  The group stalls near the rear of the crowd.  Larry orders Pixel to follow him and proceeds to roughly pass through the idle crowd.

I am a cop and I have the right of way.

He catches the attention of a nurse aid.  Immediately the aid directs him to the entrance and the crowd parts.  Just like that he passes the masses.  He tells himself it’s time to get his hand fixed and then to go home to be 
with his mom and dogs.

Chapter XXIII: The Path to Baby Smith

Fred agates over the dilemma, not knowing where he is going outside of a hospital is not helping his raging headache.  Somewhere deep down he starts a conservation with something which simply feels right and light.  How would Fred express his faith if someone asks him?  What is faith? 

I’m not alone.  I feel a little light bubble within black chaos and disorder; it grows each time I connect with it.  Within the light bubble is everything right.  There is no gray, no dullness, and no blackness.  All decisions and choices have an individual strand which is part of the greater tapestry.  Destiny and free will coincide.  Without one the other does not exist. There are many variant light colors depicting all people’s faiths and beliefs; I chose to believe in this one.  We are all part of the greater conscience, the greater tapestry.

Fred’s headache subsides.  He reaches for the light vibration.  It doesn’t matter if it’s his imagination or if the vibration is a hallucination from lack of sleep.  He doesn’t care.  When he was at the gates of the white house he felt light energy coursing through his awareness when he prayed out loud into the bull horn.   Fred decides the light vibration and small voice is connected to his God, to Jesus.  The bubble is too rational and complex, he is simple.

Jesus thanks for being around.  Can you guide us?  I’m not having a good day.

He doesn’t hear a voice, but feels a vibration.  It tugs at his mind.  Fred’s mind threatens to overwhelm the little voice with its crud.  He closes his eyes and prays harder.  His mind shuts up.  He instantly sees a new landscape in his imagination.  He is a dark ball.  In his limited understanding Fred symbolizes the dark ball as earthly materialism and his selfish desires.  His priest refers to it as sin and temptation.  Telling his mind to again shut up he is able to see the light bubble more clearly.  The closer he gets to it the calmer he feels.

The moment ends as Kyle shatters the illusion, “Dad, we can cut cross through this block which will save us some time.  Fred’s headache rushes back, his reverie is shot.

I need a cigarette.  I need to learn to grasp those moments better.  It’s a lot like fishing.  Fishing sticks and beer!  Maybe when I get Kyle and the baby home I can take a few days off and go fishing.

Looking around he catches his bearings and decides to tell his son to hold a minute.  It’s time to smoke his last cigarette. They are on First Street NW.  This knowledge doesn’t mean anything to him.  Fred see’s star bucks.  The doors are open and the walls still stand, it looks intact.  

Do they sell cigarettes at Star bucks?  I know they sell them in bars.

Fred knows it’s wrong to steal.  He resigns himself to the notion that cigarettes are not going to be around after his last one.  He isn’t going to steal anything; he doesn’t consider the utility belt from the Smithsonian theft.  Fred’s hands shakes as he grips his last cancer stick.  He doesn’t know why he needs them, but they certainly sharpen his focus for a short time.  His son has an enough prudence to keep silent as he thinks of himself appearing regal.  Fred dramatically takes a few drags.  He decides to pray again.  

Jesus, I can’t do this alone.  Please protect and help those I love.  Give me the strength to go on and save as many as I can.  I know it’s wrong for to ask, and I know the Priests always says not to smoke, but if it’s alright with you, please don’t let me run out of cigarettes? I promise I will do whatever you want.

Fred softly swears as he ironically forgets to finish his last cigarette.  It burns as he prays.  The little light ball becomes a little bigger in his imagination.  Opening his eyes he sees Kyle ten to fifteen away.  His son pokes at the broken earth, his left foot kicks at a pay meter.  The meter moves a few inches.  Kyle kicks is a little harder while swearing the durability of the machine is child proof and will keep its quarters to the end of days.

Will Washington DC become the next sunken city of Atlantis?  Are those people in the History Channel going to someday find the money meters full of quarters while digging for lost treasures of DC?  Will they sell the American coins the same as how people buy Ancient Roman coins online?  Freaky.

His son uncanny picks up his thought as he mentions, “Do you remember when Cousin Becky flaunted her roman coins back in 1999 after Christmas Dinner?  I bet you the quarters in there will be worth something in the future if America gets destroyed.”  

Fred remembers Christmas of 1999.  His family hosted a large family convention at the Holiday Inn the same year his wife discovered online auctions.  She loved online auctions and thought she was going to get rich off of them. 

Without thinking Fred answers, “Your wrong smart boy.  I might not know much, but gold and silver will never lose its value.  Becky’s father, my brother Daniel, has a lot of gold saved up in case terrorists attack.  For that matter I think he has enough food and water for us to consider going to his home after we get back to our home.”

Someone screeches in the distance.  Fred sees a fairly large order Latino woman grabbing her purse back after a failed purse snatcher falls due to being clumsy.  The street kid poorly blocks the bigger woman as she unrelenting pounds him with her fists. 
His voice reminds Fred of the character named Screech from Saved by the Bell.  The youth is dressed in baggy jeans making him appear to be a gangster.  He rubs his right ankle as the woman grabs her purse back and hits with it.  Again and again the purse hits the target.  She alternately hits him with her left fist.

“Lady, please stop your hurting me!”  His begging does not ease the woman’s assault. 

She huffs and puffs, Fred can hear despair in her voice as she screams, “You son of a bitch!  How dare you rob me?”  Kyle walks pass them.  Fred is going to do the same thing when the little voice in him tells him to stop this.

The kid yells louder, “Lady, please stop!  Someone get her off of me!  She’s hurting me!”

Fred stops.  The teen covers his face as the woman escalates her violence.  Normally Fred would have saluted the woman for standing up for herself but he’s getting the impression the teen really is going to get hurt.  Fred closes his eyes.  His imagination reaches out and he sees them as two bubbles.  She appears to be radiant and yellow, her fury is righteousness.  But she’s going too far.  If this happens her bubble will turn a bad color.  Looking deeper Fred sees the teen’s aura is green and black.  

However the little voice tells him to look closer.  Within the chaos beats a small light.

Jesus, what do you want me to do?

Fred gets the impression Jesus might end the violence by saying something profound.  Opening his eyes he sees the woman is about to kick the crying lad.  Fred finds his voice, “Lady, I think he learned his lesson, you can stop.”

She doesn’t listen, immediately comes down her right foot.  Fred reaches for the woman as Kyle tells him to not get involved.  He isn’t God but the little vibration urges him to stop the violence.

The kid screeches, “I am sorry!  God please save me!  I will do anything you want!”

Fred reaches out and says, “Lady, have some mercy.  He’s begging God.  Do you want to hurt him for real?”  He reaches the ill fated dual as the woman is about to kick him again.  He quickly puts his arms around the bigger woman and whispers, “Too much violence today, please stop.  Jesus, please help these people.”

The woman stops assaulting her would be purse snatcher.  She crumbles into Fred’s arms and proceeds to cry.  She speaks quick Spanish, Fred can’t follow.  The kid cries while shielding his arms around his face.  The woman is not hurt but she smashed the boy’s nose really good. She gathers herself quickly and says something which sounds like it could have been something about her son or husband and trots off.  Fred hears her curse the lad. 

Fred looks at the lad and doesn’t really know what to say, “It wasn’t me who saved you, it was Jesus. I’m just trying to help people.”  He then walks off.  The kid yells after Fred if he can travel with them, him and his son say no at the same time. 
Kyle soon gets them on New York Avenue NW.  Fred grunts in response, he feels someone watch him and soon stops and looks back.  The street kid is following but doesn’t menace. 

The lad’s screechy voice drifts across the cluttered street as he quickly picks up his pace putting him ten to fifteen feet behind the Smiths.  Kyle yells they don’t want to be bothered.  The lad is less than a dozen feet away; his body is poised with a need to be accepted. 

The homeless kid yells back to Kyle, “I can help you, where are you going?”

Kyle responds, “You’re a piece of shit, leave us alone or I will call the cops!”  Fred and the lad look at Kyle in disbelief, Fred rolls his eyes at his sons bluff.  

The lad kicks at some loose earth but doesn’t stop following, “Where are you going?  There is a Tsunami coming and everyone is dying because the ground is shaking!  Can you blame me for trying to make a dollar, I owe you my life, let me help you?”  Kyle looks as if he wants to get violent. Fred steps in.  

Fred closes his eyes and looks with his imagination.  He is startled when he sees a small light radiate from the lads’ direction grow a little brighter.  On the other hand his son appears to be a sick emerald green twined with dark blue.  This vision shocks him and he opens his eyes.

Fred says, “Shit, I need a cigarette.  Can you two stop arguing?  We are going to the Washington Hospital Center.  Do you have any advice?”  He doesn’t feel threatened.

Kyle puffs as he responds like a child and not an adult, “I can’t believe you’re talking to someone like that!  I know what I am doing, follow me!”

He looks at his son and rolls his eyes.  “Kyle, listen to your dad.  This stranger is a bad dude but sometimes you have to look at the best in people.”

For a moment Kyle holds his ground, so does Fred.

I can’t believe I’m arguing with my son over a street kid who tried snatching a purse from a woman.  What’s wrong with me? 
He is about to let Kyle have the victory but the small voice adds its two sense.

The lad represents the poor and needy.  Don’t walk away, he sincerely asked for Gods help.

Not knowing why he mirrors his priest’s voice he says, “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses."

He wins as Kyle flinches and looks away.  He never lost his authority as Dad.  Fred adds, “It’s from the Book of Proverbs 28:27.”  

Kyle bitterly responds, “Why did you have to tell this person my name?  Don’t you have any common sense Fred?”  

Kyle slumps his shoulders forward and continues to walk.  Fred briefly wonders what the back pack has in it but before he can ask the homeless lad steps forward.  “I heard you want a cigarette?  Would you like a Marlboro?”  The lad takes out a carton from his own beat up back pack.  He tosses it to Fred who completely misses catching it.  

CIGERRETES!  I can’t believe he is giving me cigarettes!

Fred rushes for the carton, it has mud over it but he doesn’t care.  He doesn’t ask where the lad received the booty.  This is a gift and isn’t theft.  The homeless kid chuckles as he wipes the last of the blood trickling from his nose and says his name is Colon.  

Kyle answers, “Whatever.  We need to go dad.”  He continues to walk East on New York Street NW.  

Colon flippantly cries out loud, “You are going the wrong way.  Military units are a half a mile up the street and they aren’t allowing people in or out.  They stalled all traffic and people are getting frustrated.  To the South I heard a lot of gun fire and traffic isn’t coming out.  It has to be Martial Law, but I don’t really know.”

Without wanting too Kyle hesitantly asks, “What if we cut north from here?  We will only have to go right a few blocks.  Come on Dad.”  

Colon answers, “The tsunami is coming.  Something weird happened to Bryant St. NW.  It’s flooded under water.  You can’t go that way.”

Kyle fluttery replies, “I don’t believe you.  That’s impossible!”  Fred rips out a pack of cigarettes.  He shoves half the boxes into his trousers and the others in to the utility belt.  Five packs don’t want to stay down.  He asks his son to put them in his back pack.  

Kyle instantly becomes guarded but doesn’t know how to say no.  After a moment of not being able to find a logical excuse he says sure.  He adds he doesn’t want his Dad to go into his private belongings and to ask him to get the cigarettes when he wants them.  Fred decides to put all the cigarettes in the back pack outside of two packs.  He doesn’t want to know what’s in the pack until he has his grandson.

Colon tells them, “You guys are weird.  Thanks for helping me; I will tag along for a time.  I can show you how to get to the hospital.  Follow me.”

Kyle doesn’t want to follow as he replies, “What’s to stop you from robbing or hurting us?  Why are you doing this?”

Colon looks at him in disbelief, “Man, you saved my life.  I asked God to help me and here you guys came.  I owe you a debt.  You have nothing to lose in letting me help and everything to gain.”

Fate gives credit to Colons point as two military choppers speed ahead.  Soldiers can be seen in the distance, they direct people out of their vehicles.  Deep down Fred doesn’t want to be stopped or bothered by police or military when he’s so close to reaching his grandson.  The vibration in his imagination urges him to follow Colon.  He finishes the new cigarette with a few drags and prays.

Jesus, please protect us from any ill doers and from any curses.  I pray for you to direct me. Thank you for allowing me to have my smokes.  I will do whatever you want.

The Smiths enter U.S. Route 29.  The vibration reminds him of a passage from Ecclesiastes 5:18.  Even though he knows it applies to drink and food he thinks it relates to his situation.  He quotes the passage to Colon and his son as he finishes the cigarette, “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot."  Laughing he adds, “I think smoking is my reward.  You know what?  I think each time I smoke a cigarette in the future I will pray to Jesus.  Maybe someday he can help me get off of them.”

Kyle replies, “Whatever Dad.  You’re going to get cancer from them if the Tsunami or earthquake doesn’t kill us first.”  
Colon innocently answers, “No man, you have it all wrong.  Aliens are coming and they are going to suck our brains out.”
Kyle sounds like a broken record, “Whatever.  Shut up and leave me alone.  Dad, when did you become so religious?  Why are you talking about Jesus nonstop?”

Fred ponders the significance of the question for a moment and then replies, “Because it feels right.  Your mom has been telling me to go to church more often.  I think Jesus will see us through to the end if I keep praying.”

Kyle tells his dad he doesn’t believe in God and ends the conservation with the all familiar ‘whatever’ when he asks why not.
Colon doesn’t pay attention to Kyle as he tells Fred, “The Francis Scott Key Bridge has been destroyed.  The river surged up and then emptied to God knows where when the earthquake struck.  Hundreds of cars with people inside went into the water and were washed away.  I was walking nearby when it started.

Kyle interrupts, “Is that where you got the Marlboro thief?  Did you rob a different old lady?”

Colon doesn’t fall for the bait, “I watched people drown in their cars.  It sucked.  I found two cartons at the side of the road; I don’t know who owned them.  It’s not wrong to take something like that.”  

Kyle answers, “Is that why it’s illegal to pick up a wallet?  Even if you have intentions in giving it back, it’s illegal!  You are a thief.”

After walking a block Colon continues, “Did you guys know I-29 used to be historical?  There used to be a road running through Manassas National Battlefield Park.  It was famous during the civil war.  I love to camp there.”

Kyle responds, “Dude, I don’t want you around, can you please shut up?”

Colon sullenly replies, “Fine, but one more point before I shut up.  I-29 used to be called U.S. Route 170.  I’m done.  Follow me if you can.”  Colon darts ahead.  Without thinking both Smiths pick up their speed as they crisscross through cars.  The side lanes of the four ways are somewhat clear outside of a few random vehicles.  Many vehicles still have people listening to music.  Everyone ignores them.  Many head towards the military and police.   Some passerby’s tell them whatever gossip they know.  Word of mouth is the strongest link of communication when telecommunications are down. After sprinting many blocks they come to Bryant Street.  Colon kindly slows down when Fred needs a breather.  He manages to not need another cigarette.  

It’s weird; when I have a lot of tobacco I don’t need it as much.  Thanks for giving me the bounty Jesus.  Someday please help me get off of them.  I don’t want to get cancer.

He looks a little closer at Colon.  Colon is skinny, he doesn’t eat enough.  Fred feels a little sad for the lad.  Colon has blondish hair.  Colon could have been handsome if raised under the right circumstances.  His expressions and demur are very boyish.   Fred wonders why the lad doesn’t go to high school.  A block away they see Colon sprint.  Kyle swears and stops but Fred walks faster.  

Kyle says, “Hold on dad, it could be a trap or maybe he is finally ditching us.”

Colon reappears, he waves Fred over.  Colon frantically explains, “Hurry help, I know this person, he needs our help!”

At the juncture of I-29 and Bryant Street is a eight car pileup.  Someone hit their breaks at the wrong moment which resulted in many cars becoming a big metal carnage.  In the midst are many dead and a few wounded.  Fred hurries.  A group of people are near a minivan.  The minivan is crushed between a Chevrolet pickup and a station wagon.  Among the group are teenagers and a catholic priest.  Fred can tell because the priest is still in formal dress.  He is dressed in black with a white stripe collar.  Everyone is mourning.  This small crowd is quiet as the priest draws in his last breaths.  Colon is on his knees, he holds the priests right hand and kisses it.  

“Father, what happened?  I was coming back, I am so sorry for leaving this morning!”  Tears run freely.  Another street kid tells of the accident.  The earthquake destroyed the church.  They were heading off to another parish when the cars in front of them did what they see.  They don’t know how it started.

The priest is still alive.  His voice is full of love, but it comes out not strong.  Earlier in the day the priest’s voice would have been full of splendor and a pleasing to hear.  The voice rasps, “Colon, praise God.  I was thinking and praying about you.  Is Max or Sam here, I’m having a hard time seeing of late, what’s going on?”

The teens dragged his body out of the wrecked van hours before.  They were at a loss of what to do.  They were happy Colon showed when he did.  Colon looks towards Fred for guidance.  Fred is at a loss, he doesn’t even know where they are.  The priest sounds rational as he tells everyone to come closer.  Fred hears him ask, “Colon where is Sister Margaret and or Brother Schaefer?”

Colon looks around, one of the street kid replies, “Father, they didn’t make it.  The earthquake got them.  Colon, what do we do?” Kyle tells Fred they need to move on.  Kyle doesn’t move, the vibration deep inside him which is full of light tells him to wait.

The priest looks deep within Colons eyes, “Colon my son, you can accept Jesus into your life, you’re not like the rest.  You can be special.”  Colon won’t let go.  He tells the priest he is not going to die and he accepts Jesus into his life.  The priest tells him to listen to his last words.  His breath comes in quicker and is shallower, every other three breaths he coughs spittle mixed with blood.  “Colon, I had a dream.  We don’t have much time.  Listen…”  His eyes shut, for a moment Fred thinks he passed on.
His eyes reopen, the priest appears to be somewhere else, and his expression is distant.  “I dreamed of this.  I knew I was going to die today.  The Holy Spirit came to me.  Tomorrow you will see two suns, but I will see none.  I have a mission for you, for all of you.”

Colon and the others huddle around the priest, they are devoted, and they are of one mind.  Fred closes his eyes and sees with his imagination.  The landscape is like the sky at night; it’s dark and goes on forever.  Within the darkness he sees silver threads connecting various light bubbles which look like islands.  He knows these islands are people, there is a large light surrounded by smaller lights close at hand.  He knows it is the priest.  He follows the thread.  A white light is around the priest, it surrounds the group in a radiant light which instantly humbles Fred.  He opens his eyes; he sees the priest as a holy leader and doesn’t doubt the words he hears.  

The priest holy voice can be both felt and heard, “The era of false hood and misconception is coming to a end.  Our lord Jehovah has commissioned you all with a mission.  Do you accept?”  No one wants to live in the world that is coming; they all focus on what the man says.  All but Kyle, he doesn’t know where Kyle is at the moment. 

This is important.  Please Jesus, give me your direction.

The priest rasps, “I was trying to sleep and was distressed about how the church has been and was asking God to direct me.  Then it happened.  I saw it all in my head in one flash.  I saw all of this.  Colon, God has a reason for you.  Two men are coming.  One is bad and another is good.  The good man is good with tool belt, I am sorry; I don’t know who he is.  There are others with the man with the tools, but I couldn’t see them clearly.”  Colon leans closer.

The priest continues, “The Seraphim came to me.  They showed me you would come before I died.  I saw a great water flood the land after the earth shook.  The great eagles feathers are plucked, and the lion comes again!”  Colon beseeches the holy leader on what his mission is to be, he swears to follow it.

The priest continues, “Man has been judged ill fitted for God’s grace.  There will be three in half cycles of death and misery.  You will wish to be dead.  But don’t give up, things will get better.  A new beginning will come and your souls will be saved.”

Colon startles and looks up to Fred, pointing he declares, “Father, is this the man you want me to help?”

The priest can’t see past the group, he continues without answering, “The rapture isn’t what people think, you have to be strong.  Real change comes from within.  A little of God is with all of you, it’s your duty to bring a better world.  Help those who will bring in a new beginning.  Your mission is to help the good guys and fight evil.”

Fred closes his eyes.  He sees a brilliant light ball come to the group.  It’s not the same light as the previous; this light has a different texture.  It is pure.  He wants to weep and sing in joy.  His imagination sees it reach for the priests mellow light.  The priest radiates a mellow orange and happily accepts the larger light.  Just as fast the light shoots off into the distance with the priests mellow light.  Fred opens his eyes.  The priest is dead.  

Fred’s inner voice quietly fills his awareness as the light vibration picks up intensity.  He says out loud, “Heaven and hell is a state of existence.  I saw angels come for him.  He is saved.  The proverb comes to mind that we don’t just get judged once though.  If we are living at the end of times we all need to be saved according to Hebrews 9:27.  Christ died for our sins, I think his words rings true, but we need to now ask how are we going to give back to the world?”  Fred never in his life talked like this, the words simply flow.

Colon reaches for the King James Bible in the dead priests hands.  Looking at his friends he says, “Look, the man has a tool belt and he saved my life.  He is the one Father talked about!”  The street kids murmur and look upon Fred with respect and a purpose.  The little voice deep inside tells him to accept the bible.  Without hesitating Fred takes the bible.  He feels a jolt pass between where his hands and the old book meet.  He feels his headache go away.  Colon hands him the priests cross.  Its heavy.  Fred accepts.  The lifeless object does not look lifeless.  Fred doesn’t need to close his eyes to see a soft glow come from the simple wooden cross.

Kyle pops up screaming at Fred, “Are you crazy?  What are doing now?  You’re not holy in any way!”

Fred looks at his son who appears to not have any light and says, “Oh be quiet!  We need to get to the hospital!”  A new feeling of dread sweeps Fred, not knowing how he knows; he believes he needs to get them to higher ground.  The threat of the tsunami feels too real.  He slips the bible into his belt underneath his shirt.  The leather binding is smooth and feels cool against his skin.  The small light bubble in him is now a raging torrent.  

Colin and the others swear their allegiance to Fred, they all ignore Kyle.  Fred tells them they need to get to the hospital ASAP and it is Jesus they need to swear to.  They all say they have and they will follow him to the end of the world.  Kyle says this is simply ridicules and storms ahead of the group.  Deep down Fred feels comforted knowing God is around.  Whatever God wants he wants.  He feels responsible for the teens that now walk with them.

Fred quickens his pace as he listens to Colon tell them if they stay on the current path they can get to the hospital in ten minutes.  He says something weird happened with the lake ahead and they need to bypass it.  One of the other street kids agrees with him.  No one argues.

Chapter XXIV: I’m A Reporter!

I’m not feeling well; whenever I try to balance my world starts spinning.  As I finish eating the second double cheeseburger, which of course has no onions, I feel more balanced.  I couldn’t belief my fortune as the people we rescued from Burger King had cheeseburgers the way I like.  It’s hard to not eat the second right after the first but I want to appreciate the taste.  Naturally I couldn’t help myself as I walk to the waiting news van, the second cheeseburger is gone within seconds.

What am I supposed to do once I get to the van?  Maybe we should have made the journey on foot.  

It didn’t really matter; we are less than a block away.  My feet really hurt, I’m not sure what got into the cop but I am relieved Larry is gone.  I get the impression the stress is too much for him, I am not mad he treated me like a nerd, but come on?

Did he have to make a jibe at my expense?  Isn’t there enough bad shit happening already?  I can’t believe I’m not going to wake up and go to work tomorrow.  What is tomorrow going to bring?

I couldn’t blame the cop for drinking, but it would have been nicer to see him fill the image of a national hero.  My mind goes to parallels in history in which cowards became heroes such as Robert Ford and J Bruce Ismay.  I don’t know why Larry reminds me of those guys but he just does.  When the people of the small town of Texas heard there founder was a poor character they changed their name.  You know about the Titanic right?  Everyone knows about the Titanic but not many know the characters names.

I couldn’t handle the way he looked at Mary and Becky.

My conscience briefly wonders what’s happening to the people we parted with.  I wonder about Mark and my heart tightens as grief threatens to run freely.  Not understanding why Larry’s comment bothers me so much I decide to choke down my next complaint. My wife doesn’t need to hear me whine, I still don’t agree with Larry’s version of how a man is to treat a woman.

That creep will never find a decent woman as long as he treats them the way he does.

I decide to put these thoughts into a box and put it away.  Now is the time of action, not thought.  I wish I had my tennis shoes, my feet don’t feel too great.  To make matters worse the cheeseburgers, even though they tasted good, especially with the charbroiled taste, I have to shit.  At least I think I have to shit.  Maybe its stress building, but whatever, my digestive system feels queasy.  I decide to man up and not complain.

Wiping my brow I wish the journey was over.  I really want to feel air condition.  Instead I have one foot going in front of another, in the heat, in the city.  Even though I frequented Costa Rica in the summers, I find myself panting and squinting towards the sun.  It’s very bright.  Sweat pours freely, the heat doesn’t give me a moment of respite, and stitches are in my side when I slow down.  Breathing comes in hard, I’m thinking of telling everyone to wait.

But if I stop I become a sissy.  No one likes a sissy.  We are almost there.

I really don’t know if we are almost there.  I’m tired.  I’m thirsty.  My blood pressure is not under control and I wish I had one of my pain medicines.  I am not having fun.  The desire in me to share my discomfort is too great.  I break the silence.  Not really talking to anyone I mutter, “I think Larry is a jerk.  I always thought the person who would save me would be a something like a knight in shining white armor.”

April and Susan concur.  April adds, “He is most certainly is a creep.  Most females don’t get their knight in shining armor, most woman accept who ever simply notices them.  Did you see how he kept looking at Becky?”

Susan dryly responds, “Well, at least we know our police force is busy at work protecting the innocent, even if they are drunk.  Look at the bright side; no one could have rescued us.”

I can’t argue with that.  There are always two sides to an issue.  I can be proactive or reactive.  

Earlier in my life I was spiritual, not religious but spiritual.  Growing up in the deep woods of the Upper Peninsula I was collective in my attitude.  All religions and faiths lead a person to the truth; some get you there quicker then others.   At the end of the day, it’s all about a person’s intent.  I evaluate a situation as right or wrong, black or white.  There are no neutral areas, I am not Switzerland.  Did a person do their best to help others and the community or did a person hurt themselves or others?  What is the best course for the greater good.

If only the world could have more of me’s! 

Sometimes my ego gets the best of me.  I believe in being both light and dark.  I find myself always being the good guy, but I wish I was big and bad!  I guess that’s why I am hurt by Larry’s judgment.

I find my voice, “That officer was rude and should not have been drunk.  People need his focus and to be on the ball.  I am reminded of Robert Ford and Jesse James.  I feel bad for whoever is Larry’s friend.  Why can’t people like that get a clue?  It’s a new century.  People who are nerds, geeks and weirdos are the ones who rule the world.  We are the ones who become the President of both our country and computer companies!  Cool people like that deserve to go back to the 1950’s and 1960’s!  People like are the ones who make females not have rights!”

My last comment hits a chord with April and Susan, they both chirp about female liberal movements and how woman are just as capable as men. In their opinion females are more capable.  I don’t mind getting my sex trashed; I won their vote against Larry and his crude behavior.  I beam for the first time since the earthquake started.

Take that Larry the dumb super cop!  I hope you sober up and do your job.

Susan rushes forward as she startles me out of my reverie.  “It’s over here!  Come on Berry, we have wheels!”  I am amazed at his obedience as he trots to her side.  It’s like he is her pet dog.

April catches my hand and squeezes it.  She asks me if I am doing well.  I simply nod in approval; deep down I don’t feel strong.  She hasn’t complained once.  I briefly wonder if there is something I can do for her.  I wish I had some chocolate or a rose.  My heart aches as I long for a different day.  I wish I was in Costa Rica with my wife.  Each summer we go to a coastal town called Tamarindo.  Tamarindo is a beach town on the Pacific.  We found ourselves becoming regulars at a retreat/hotel called Gardenia.  It’s been my wish to make enough money to buy the property down there and make the town into our home.  I say, “Te amo.” It means I love you.

I bring her in close.  April smells of flowers, her soap lingers in her hair.  I whisper a second time, “Te amo.”  Her eyes tear up as she responds, “Te amo.”  For a moment all fades, the destruction around us no longer matters.  In front of me is my hope, my desire.  My wife is my love, without her I am nothing.  Susan yells for us to come over.  The van works!  The moment is over.  My wife tells me it’s wickedly hot, hotter than usual.  I don’t know what to say.

I can’t fathom what’s in front of me!  What’s parked is not a van I see in movies but it’s the CNN Express Bus.  It’s a large bus painted blue with America and her States clearly stenciled in with red and white.  Stars cover the West Coast.  The camera man swings the side door open, it effortlessly slides on its track.  On top of the van is very large white radar reminding me of a journalist vans from the movies.  I wonder if it’s connected to a satellite and if it works.  On the rear of the bus is CNN in bold red, a white back drop covers the exit. My wife squeaks in excitement and I’m happy to soon get off of my feet.  I very much hope air condition and a bathroom await us.  Like a dumb ass I trip on my way to the van, looking down I see stuff animals.  I see a small recreation/newspaper stand turned upside down.  Magazines, sun glasses and trinkets scatter the road.  The owner is long gone.  Reaching down I see a small bear with a sign saying I love Washington DC!  I take it for my wife.  I brush it off and try to give it to her, she doesn’t see the kind gesture and sprints for the idling bus.  She shouts, “Hot water, look honey it’s the CNN EXPRESS!”

I stop dead in my tracks as I hear someone from my right yell, “Help me!  I can’t move. I broke my leg!”  A person yells from the direction I picked up the stuff animal.  I walk back and drop the animal into the mess.

I perceive my wife will be safe on the CNN Express bus with Susan and her cameraman.  The street is not experiencing any major conflict. We are on the outskirts of Howard Playground.  A woman in a business suits leads three others who are dressed like her.  I hear them ask Susan if they can get on the bus, she says yes.  Before everyone enters the bus they have to empty out many boxes full of questionnaires.   From people’s reactions it appears the bus is full of boxes.

And here I was thinking it was going to be a small news mini-van.  I wonder who needs help.

I try to pinpoint the dude who is in distress, “Where are you?”  I yell out a few times.  I hear a rustle and a muffled yell come from deep in the upside down newsstand.  I quicken my search and ask, “Are you in the newspaper stand?  Can you move and let me know where you are?”  I see many newspapers and magazines.  A Fashion magazine showing the recent super model for Victoria Secret shifts near the center.  I conclude the canvas of the newsstand with its low grade two by four timbers used for construction must have pinned the man inside.  Looking up I see a lamp post crushing much of stand which tells me why this happened.  I hope the man isn’t hurt too bad and I’m glad the loose cables are not active with power.

I tell the man I can’t see, “I see where you are, please be patient.  How long have you been in there?”  Looking around I try to find something to maybe lift the canvas.

Perhaps I can drag the man out if he isn’t hurt to bad?  

I sometimes miss the simple things; I could have asked the camera man or my wife for help.  But no, I have to do it the hard way.  If I was in the libraries archive or at some foreign air port I would have navigated the situation clearly.  Instead like a dumb ass I pick up one of the wooden poles used to keep the side of the newsstand erect and poke around.  The first thing I feel is a minor sharp pain as a splinter jabs my fingers.

“Ouch!” I toss the poll away.  A few drops of blood emerge but it’s nothing serious.

I look to see if I can grab the canvas, it doesn’t budge.  The man yells out, “Are you still there? I can’t see or feel my legs.  Please someone help me!”  I reassure him I’m still here and he quiets down.

“Sorry, I am scared.  My name is Vincent.” He sounds like he is hyperventilating.

I wonder if I sound reassuring, “Things will be alright, be patient.  Can you see anything?”

Vincent fatalistically answers, “No.  The canvas is holding me down.  I pooped myself.  What’s happening out there?”  I tell him as much as I know which isn’t much at all.  I decide to not tell him a tsunami might be coming.  There isn’t much heavy rubble; the best thing to do is pick things up one by one.

My plan formulates, “Hey Vincent, I’m going to remove objects one by one, it might take me a few minutes.”

“Cool.”  Vincent sounds grateful.  He really sounds like he is from California.  I step in the middle of the mess and start throwing things off.  My back hurts but I refuse to listen to the pains message.

Sometime pain is relative to the situation.  Pain pain, go away, come back another day.  Wait what am I saying?  How about Pain pain, go away, don’t come back another day?

I reach the canvas.  Three wooden posts bend unevenly towards the middle.  Individually they are not tough obstacles, just annoying.  I am left with a few more splinters which make me sour.  Looking back at the bus I see my wife.  She is making good time on removing the boxes.  She and the others do not notice what I am doing.

“Where are you from, you sound like a beach kid?”  I never really liked small talk but I don’t know what else to say.
A surfer’s voice answers, “San Diego.”

“Why are you in DC Vincent?”  I make sure my footing is balanced.

It takes me a moment to catch his response, “I’m a peace activist doing some volunteer work with Amnesty USA.  I was getting a newspaper when the earthquake hit.  Everything went dark very quick.  What time is it?”

I pause and look at my cell phone.  A new message declares the same old message of evacuation, “…its quarter after three.  I forgot to ask, what’s your full name?”  I don’t know what else to ask.  I’m getting very tired.

“Vincent Robinson.  I can’t believe it’s only been three hours, I would thought it’s been a day or something.  Gee bro, I haven’t had a smoke for a time.  I’m doing well, my buddies would be impressed!  I could have smoked the canvas has me tight.  At first I didn’t think I was going to breath but then it just came naturally, do you know what I mean bro?”

Vincent talks a lot.  I wonder what he looks like? 

My mind pieces together a sandy blond young man who has crystal blue eyes.  If he is from San Diego he must be a tall surfer.  That means he is going to be around six feet and have taunt muscles.  I don’t know why I care.  Part of me wants to save as many as I can; a deeper part always wants to be a surfer dude.  My spine issues prevent that passion from manifesting.  Instead in surfer communities, such as in Tamarindo in Costa Rica and Christchurch New Zealand, I watch surfers as I walk or snorkel the beach.

If I could have one wish, it would be to have no medical handicaps.

I’m frustrated.  I stop during the second post.  I’m tired and need a break.  My muscles and back do not feel good.  I Squinting, I look to the sun.  I know I’m not supposed to look directly at it but something catches my attention.  It appears the sun is blurry.  I see something looking like one sun splitting into two.  I forgot what I am doing.  Looking closer I see it’s not one sun, but two.  Sweat pours freely into my eyes which cut off my vision.

What is happening?  Why is there two suns’ in the sky?  

I remember my dream of CNN.  Déjà vu crashes into my awareness.  I remember Susan in my dream.  I knew what was coming today.

It wasn’t a nightmare?  What’s going on?  I’m such a nerd, isn’t there better things to think about at the moment?

I pick and discard random ideas as I catch my breath.  I think of veils and perceptions.  In my imagination I see myself at Northern Michigan University.  Its 1999, it’s hot from summer and our campus is conserving energy by turning off the air conditions.  A hip new associate professor has much to show.  Countless hours are spent listening to how cognitive and empirical experiences are dually important in shaping a human being.  Dogmatic questions regarding the essence of God and creation are made into math equations which are somehow part of the bigger picture, or maybe it’s all part of some cause and affect scenario.   For every action there is a reaction, which in turn becomes the action.

There is a lot of dust covering Washington DC from the earthquake.  Could this be an atmospheric disturbance?

Vincent yells out to me, “DUDE, are you still there?  I can’t wait to I get to smoke a fatty!”

“Be patient Vincent, it’s hot up here.”  I don’t ever remember my wife referring to her cigarettes as a fatty.  I look back at the two suns.

I’m breathing better.  My headache is under control.  Using meditative techniques taught to control my blood pressure helps immensely.  In and out I breathe.  Out through the mouth and in through the nose.  Descarte taught the cognitive mind is not directly aware of the environment but it registers separate proxies.  Whenever I experience déjà-vu I’m breaking through different levels of both my conscience and my sub conscience.  I can get a better grip on the environment and come up with solid ideas if I take the time to look around calmly.  The last wooden pole is too heavy.   It appears to be the support beam.  I get a sinking feeling it’s the culprit to why Vincent it stuck.  I’m still registering the implications of two suns’ and the secret meanings behind déjà-vu as I ponder how to free Vincent.

But to counter Descartes is my beloved Plato.  I can’t help but believe in architects and God.  That feels right while the other feels logical but empty.  

I can use one of the smaller wooden polls as leverage to raise the main beam.  The weight should shift to the center which I can use to pivot the beam underneath.

My mind breathed life into this existence before I woke.  My dreams were part of the universal conscience.  My Déjà-vu was a chain of images; these images are taken from the bigger picture.  I do believe divinity plays a role but I don’t know how.

Vincent grunts but not from pain.  He too feels the weight shift.  It’s a good sign he can feel his limbs.

“I’m making a lot of progress getting the rubble off of you, be patient.” I tell him what I’m doing.  I think as I work.  Real knowledge supersedes but is not superior to the phenomenal world.  I try to find a balance between the two worlds.  My actions become timed, my mind is balanced.  The beam moves more freely.  My senses are in harmony with the environment.  My heart beats slowly even though I lift the log but it settles back in place a moment later.

What’s with the two suns?  

I become chill as I remember Nostradamus.  Somewhere deep in the archives in the Library of Congress I read his words when I was bored and had some down time, ‘the cloud will make two suns appear…’ it was in relation to the end of times.

Shit, wasn’t there something in NASA about a star burning up and making there appear to be two suns?  Wasn’t that in my dream from earlier?

Now I really want to ask Susan about the two suns.  Deep down I’m wondering if the two suns are the reasons the earthquakes occurred.  I wonder if Nostradamus was right.  I’m almost done saving Vincent.  Leaning all my weight into the poll I manage to move it clear.

I hear a grunt of satisfaction come from beneath the canvas, “Man, you did it!”  Vincent is now helping in his own rescue; I still can’t see what he looks like.

Didn’t the Mayans have an end of world prophecy talking about two suns or something?  But when I talked to a few Mayans in Central America they said their people believed a shift was coming, not total destruction.  A rebirth and a end of a cycle or era.

I decide it’s not the best time to be thinking of these things. It didn’t seem like a super nova, or nebula.  I didn’t see a rapture occurring or a New Jerusalem coming.  It’s just hot and there is a very warm wind.

Vincent asks, “Hey man, what’s the name of the righteous dude who is saving me?”  The canvas sticks on a nail or something, I try pulling at it but it only makes it more stubborn and resistant.

“It’s Mike.  Hey, can you lift with your legs.  I can see you move but this canvas ceiling is big and I can use some help.”  I wipe sweat from my brow by rubbing my head on my shirt of my right shoulder.

“Oh man, I can’t dude.  My leg doesn’t work.  But I can try with my left.”  I see a small lump appear near the center.  I’m beginning to wonder if the beam broke something vital in him.  After lifting the edge of the canvas a few inches, I maneuver the nail under the rip.  Vincent is free of the canvas.

A middle aged over weight man looks back at me.  He places his hand over his eyes as the sun streaks into his hole.  He is Caucasian and doesn’t have a tan.  His hair is messy.  Vincent wears tan khaki shorts and a solid black t-shirt.

Shit, he’s a stoner from San Diego California?

Vincent whips out a joint and fires it up.  Tears run freely, I notice he has crutches.

“Mike, thank you so much, I thought I was going to die.”  Puff puff puff…, “Do you want to hit this man, it’s some fine bud.   I told myself I was going to smoke a joint if I survived this one…”  Puff puff puff…, “My bros back home aren’t going to believe this, I was walking to Starbucks and wanted something to read...” Puff puff puff…, “Then the earth shook man and all went dark.”  Puff puff cough…, “Holy shit this is some good bud.  It’s a cross between Northern Lights and Train Wreck.” Cough cough puff cough. “Damn, you sure you don’t want some killer bud?  I need to save the rest for later, oh wait, one last hit.”

 Vincent looks happy in his little high bubble.

Wow, he is not what I was expecting.  But it works.  He feels like a good person.

April and two of the newbie’s come over.  My wife calls out if I am alright.  Looking over at Vincent I can’t believe the tenacity of some people to smoke pot so freely.  I remind myself most States in America are pro medical cannabis.  I smile as I watch my fellow American enjoy a moment while hell is happening all around.  Deep down I wish I could take a break but I don’t believe in that type of thing.  To make matters worse my back feels ten times worse.  Muscles cramp, my low back feels like a sore tooth before going to the dentist.

As soon as she hears what happened she forgets about moving the boxes and I tell Vincent, “It’s nice to meet you.  No, I don’t believe in drugs.  I need to go; will you be fine on your own?”  I patiently wait for my wife to reach me as I tell her loudly what just occurred.  I’m a little proud of myself.

Vincent flinches as he looks around, “My God, what happened after the lights went out?  I was expecting the fire department or the police to come to my rescue.  How much got destroyed and why did the siren change its tone? I’m not from here, I’m volunteering with Amnesty USA.  Can I please come with you?”

I’m not sure what to think, my wife is at my side and I introduce her to Vincent.  Vincent tells her I am a hero.  Susan comes over with Berry.  The CNN Express idles in the back ground, I want to warn them to not leave the vehicle unlocked but the gesture feels pointless after the day we have had.  I don’t know why I’m worry about car thieves at a time like this.

Vincent pleads, “Hey Mike and April, can I please come with?  I am scared.”  My wife instantly thaws to him, she doesn’t smell the pot, and I doubt she cares if she did.  I help Vincent up and ask about his crutches.

He tells us he has a rare spine deformity, something similar to multiple sclerosis of the spine but a little different.  Apparently he was born with the condition and has to have crutches his whole life.

Sarcastically Vincent adds, “I’m lucky because others are constrained to wheelchairs.”  I feel bad for him.  No matter how hard I think I have it I see people like this.  I decide as long as he travels with us I will not give him grief over smoking pot.

There are a lot worse things in life to be addicted to.  A couple social work courses taught alcohol is much worse.  The moment booze touches the lips it breaks down the human body.  On the other hand the medical cannabis elevates the mood and dulls physical pain.  I can’t blame him one moment.  Have you ever seen a violent pot head?   

We make it back to the bus.  I go for the bathroom.  The lock for the small washer closet is open; others have left it a mess.  I turn on the water and make sounds of satisfaction.  It works and its cold!  My hands quickly become numb.  I flip the toilet cover and squeeze off a load.

A few minutes later…

I am refreshed.  I feel like Mario Brother who just hit a mushroom head.  I smile to April as I get back to the group.  She is talking to Susan and one of the business men.  The new groups are bankers from Wells Fargo.  They consist of two men and an older woman.  They are dressed in blue suits with gold trim.  Susan is busy trying to get the satellite feed to work but it kicks back static.  As soon as the new group gets on one of the older females talk about Jesus non stop.

I grow quiet as the new business woman tells the cameraman the end of the world is happening and she’s read all about in 6:12 in Revelations.  She didn’t take Jesus or religion serious but after today she was going to get baptized.  She’s adamant she’s going to baptize all of her family, if they like it or not, “It’s all spoken for in the book of revelations!  When I was at church my pastor told us last Sunday, ‘And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.  God have mercy on our souls…”

A few minutes of listening to this and Vincent cuts her off, “Lady your killing my buzz!  Live and let live!  We all know the end is here, but why talk about it nonstop? I believe in God but please don’t go overboard.”  She sputters and goes quiet.  Her companions ignore her ranting for they seem to be accustomed to her antics.  They introduce themselves as bankers.

I’m glad I saved Vincent.  His brashness quiets the woman down.  She isn’t annoyed but we are all scared.  The last thing people need at the moment is to fear God.  When it’s about survival its innate God is part of each and every one of us.  It doesn’t matter your size or skin color.  All that matters is one’s intentions and actions.  God is here to protect and direct.

The CNN bus smoothly backs up, no vehicles block the way.  The bus squashes the boxes.  A couple of people pass without commenting on foot.  They appear to be dazed and confused.  They remind me of people in Berlin after the Allies bombed the capital when I watched the History Channel and its war documentaries. Many are following the Metro tracks out of Washington DC.

One of the quiet bankers asks, “Can we get dropped off in Virginia?  Anywhere in Virginia would be fine…?”

Susan is losing her cool but politely replies, “Sorry but we are heading to Maryland.  My son and daughter are at school and I need to get to them.”

The bankers argue with each other and come to the conclusion they made a mistake getting on the bus.  They thank us for the bathroom privileges and have Susan stop the bus as they politely remove themselves.  I wave as they trot off, none wave back.  A pleasant looking homely woman rushes to the bus with a stroller and a baby before we leave, she gets exits a family station wagon that is stalled in the traffic.  Tears run down her face, she urgently taps on the door.  We let her and the baby on.  They immediately disappear in the bathroom.

Vincent takes out a second joint and fires it up.  Susan stops the bus and screams like a witch being burned at the stake, “What are you doing?”  She sounds mad.  Vincent asks if she has a problem against medical cannabis and talks about his medical condition.  She tells Vincent with much venom, “Get of my bus buddy!”

Before he gets up the camera man says something, its profound for he usually doesn’t say anything, “Susan, I like him.  I smoke medical pot too.  Do you want me to get off the bus?”

Susan is speechless.  I decide to add my opinion, “I have disability and need pain killers.  Have mercy on him, he has crutches.”

She stops the bus and declares, “Fine, but smoke outside.  Never smoke that crap around me.  I won’t let my children do it and I don’t agree with it.  Good thing you’re in America where its legal!”  Vincent and the camera man say fine.  They both get out and finish his joint while the woman and baby strap themselves in a seat near April and I.  My wife laughs at the tediousness of the situation, I laugh with her.  Within moments Susan also laughs and the stress is released from the bus.

Susan tries sounding young, “I’m too old for this shit.”

Berry and Vincent get back on the bus.  Vincent giggles.  They look passive and happy, my back hurts.  Working at the Library of Congress didn’t give me much cool points and I never touched that stuff.  I am the king of the geeks.  I sigh in dramatic despair.  They think I disapprove.  At least I have true love.   The bus pitch forwards.  We are in need of crossing our first obstacle.

Vincent blurts, “I’m a reporter!”  Everyone laughs.  We need humor.  Vincent says he needs Scooby snacks and life would be perfect.  We all laugh again.  The baby cries, the woman sits near us and April starts a conversation with her.  I don’t listen.  I watch the road slowly pass bye.  We are making very slow progress.  The bus slowly inches forward but there is always a new reason to stop, always a new dilemma.

The slowness frustrates Susan who proceeds to put the pedal to the medal.  She realizes the futility of her gestures in keeping the bus out of harm’s way.  It’s more important to get us to safety then worry about scratches and dings.  In front of us is the juncture leading to U.S. 29, she tells us we need to get on it, but it’s more to her.  Many cars are piled up on top of each other ahead.

Berry gets an idea, “Go fast and we could nudge the last car and squeeze through.” No one wants to leave the air condition, we agree to his plan.  Susan rubs the engine and launches us forward. Impact isn’t bad, I barely move a few inches.  Metal on metal crunch and we are soon free of the obstacle.  The left side of the bus is left with a few deep scratches.  I see a dead priest near a church minivan.  I am tired of seeing destruction but it is what it is.

Various cars and trucks speed from the reverse lane, the drivers and passengers blink their headlights while honking.  There is no traffic going into DC.  Deep down I know they are trying to warn us of an unforeseen danger but I chose to ignore their gestures for I hope they are being dramatic.  I couldn’t see anything.  April is pressing buttons on her phone but nothing works.  She does however manage to take pictures.  I ask her long she has been taking pictures and she tells me since the beginning.  I respond with my flippant “…that’s cool.” A station wagon passes in the reverse lane; the family is directing us to turn around.  Susan says the bus is built like a tank and can take a beating.

There are many vehicles coming from V St NW.  The street sign for N Capital Street NW appears.  Low and behold my expectations are crushed.  Thousands of vehicles are stuck in deadlock when we get a clear view.  It looks like rush hour going home after a long Monday.

I can’t believe this!  What was I thinking?  I could have walked with the others and made it to the hospital.  Sometimes I’m really stupid.  

Susan curses and pounds the wheel.  We manage to go a few feet before we are brought to a stop.  Many people are still in their vehicles but no one is making any scenes.  Many honk their horns.  A hundred people have left their vehicles and move on foot.  The other lanes do not tell the same story.  Going into Washington DC is clear of most traffic.  Drivers still wave for us to turn around but none of them stop to tell why.  Thousands of vehicles patiently wait their turn to inch forward.

Vincent curses, “People who leave their vehicles are going to make it impossible for those who stay in theirs to pass with their cars.  A bus this size will not be able to squeeze through.”

Berry comes from far left field, “I need to get high again.”

Susan jumps his ship with no patience, “Berry, if I hear you talk about getting high again I’m going to report you regardless if you have a medical condition.  Please stop talking about it, it makes me uncomfortable.”  He sheepishly apologizes and changes the topic.

After a minute of nothing happening Berry ads, “We should turn around and find another way.”  He tells Susan if we take W Street NW we could merge with First St NW which would take us to the hospital.  Susan tells him she would rather stay on the highway, adding even if it takes a few extra minutes it’s worth it.

April dreamily questions to no one in particular, “If the tsunami comes or if another earthquake hits are we safe being in the bus?”  The new woman is too busy hushing her baby to add to reply.  I am tired and appreciate being off of my feet and don’t know what to say.  Susan mutters something I don’t catch and Vincent shuts his eyes.

The bus snails forward a couple hundred feet.  April talks with much optimism to the new girl and Vincent, she tells them the destruction is more than likely isolated to the city.  She tells them about our son from Michigan.  I see something up ahead appearing to be a smoke, the sky is dark.  Vincent curses while interrupting my wife.

“Shit, dude, I think something happened up yonder.  Is that smoke?”  Vincent sounds boyish, his voice sounds as if he is making a statement and asking a question at the same time.  Susan doesn’t care; she is focused on trying to move the bus further ahead.

Berry alarming says something isn’t right, “Hey look, it’s like Jurassic Park!  My water is moving and it’s not from the bus.”  I leave my seat to see what he’s talking about.  He tosses me a second water bottle.  I luckily catch it.  I can’t still my hands; my wife puts the bottle on a passenger seat in front of us.  The water shimmers but I don’t know what it means.  Susan hasn’t moved the bus forward for a minute and stops the engine.  We open the windows and allow the heat to enter, Vincent suggests we use our senses and listen.  In the distance smoke has covered the highway; I can’t see up ahead, the darkness speeds towards our position.  The air in the bus is stifling as the heat wins ground over the air condition.  A few of the windows begin to fog up.  I look ahead.  We all see the water shimmer.

Berry says, “An oil refinery or gas dispensary might have caught flame?”  His guess is as good as mine.

Vincent counters, “Maybe it was a gas station or something.  I hear they can hold a lot of gas.”  My mind takes a morbid turn.  I wonder if a plane going to an airport fell from the sky but I didn’t want to sound like a dumb ass in case I’m wrong.  The cloud of smoke completely covers the highway.  It feels ominous.  I really don’t want to lose a visual of the city in the afternoon.

My wife apologizes about going religious, “Sorry for sounding all superstitious, but wasn’t there something in the bible about the sky going dark at the end of times?”

Vincent answers, “It’s not like that.  It’s from the Book of Mathew, ‘But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky’…” He adds, “It’s from 24:29.  I went to biblical school at Moody Biblical Institute in Chicago when I was younger.  Funny story, I found myself wanting to become a spiritual leader before I joined Amnesty USA.  When I was a kid my parents did a lot of missionary work in Asia…”  On and on Vincent talks, I quickly drone him out.  I hear sirens and people.  I shut the windows.  Susan starts the bus and I breathe in comfort as the air condition instantly gets rid of humidity.

We drive another few feet.  Now the cloud completely covers everything.  It doesn’t look clean.  Susan makes sure the windows are up.  The baby continues to cry, her mother tries humming but it doesn’t do anything.  Susan tries the radio again but it continues to give back static.  She flips on the head lights.  We are able to drive another few feet before we stop.

It’s like this for another twenty minutes.  A warm wind picks up and dissipates the cloud which reminds me of very bad smog.  Berry shrieks at us to look ahead when the darkness recedes to sunlight.  I hear a deep rumble.  I look back at the water bottle and see the water shimmer with more force.  The rumble is louder; in the distance a dark blue gray tide can be seen rushing from our left to our right.  It’s comes from McMillan Reservoir.  I see a wall of water sweeping vehicles a mile ahead of us on the highway off the road.  A dark gray blue churning mass of destruction takes everything in its path.  Even with the windows up I hear the rumble build into a roar.  Within moments the water engulfs the vehicles a half a mile ahead.

April screams, “No, this isn’t possible!  Isn’t the ocean to the right, not the left?”  She unbuckles her seat belt and runs to the bathroom.  I hear her puke.  I’m not sure if I should follow or sit.  I can’t help but watch the mini tidal wave.

Vincent whips out a joint and lights it.  Susan doesn’t say anything.  She pounds the steering wheel and starts to cry.  The woman with the baby leans forward; she whispers things I can’t hear.  Berry quickly unbuckles his seat belt and joins Vincent.  I watch.  Vincent tells Berry he never was into Jesus but he does believe in God.  Berry says he understands and to each our own.  Vincent makes sure his seat belt is in place.

The water is dark and doesn’t look blue.  It looks brown and gray.  At first I thought it looked gray but the closer it gets the more clearly I see.  Many people run out of their vehicles.  A couple gesture for us to run as they point to high story buildings.  They make sense.  I look past them.  The water looks like a wall.  It blocks out my vision from where it’s already hit.  It looks like it’s coming towards us on a diagonal.  Susan apologizes as she unbuckles and bolts from the bus.   There is nothing but a dark cloud of dust and crap over the wave, the sky goes dark again.

Cars and trucks are lifted as the ground buckles everything upwards at once with water being the culprit.  Vehicles, people and buildings disappear fast.  Cars and trucks are swept away; light posts and buildings offer little resistance.  The water is a few blocks away.  I unbuckle my seat belt and run to the bathroom.

Its half open, my wife has been vomiting into the toilet and is cleaning off her face.  Without thinking I dart into the small enclosed room and slam the door shut.  She’s in the process of turning around while saying, “What the fuck…”

I hug her and tell her I love her.  There is no reason for me to believe we are going to survive this.  She howls she isn’t ready to die.  The bus lifts as water hits. I hear Vincent and Berry scream one last yell in defiance.  They die the way they lived their life or so I assume.

I hold my wife close as I feel the fragility and shortness of our existence.  At this moment I appreciate her more than anything.  My life flashes before me.  The bus flops around.   My upper body crashes into the ceiling.  For the first time in my life I piss myself and everything fades into nothingness.  



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