Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2014: The Way the World Ends: Chapter XIV: Rough Draft

Chapter XIV:  Looking Into Nothingness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry walks towards the homeless group.  The man with broken arm is sitting away from the others.  His back is away from the light.  His friend isn’t around but that didn’t worry him.  A few homeless people were scavenging the floor for unwrapped food.  They are obviously still hungry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry clinches his right hand.  He saw a soldier once freak out like this.  He couldn’t help but remember.
It was 1949.  A few years before, the Korean Peninsula was ruled by the Japanese.  Since 1945 the allied powers divided the Korean Peninsula at the 38th parallel but the Forgotten War did not officially start until 1950.  The northern territory had soviet troops; he was stationed in the South.  It wasn’t like the movies.   Both nations attacked each other like pirates; they called it ‘skirmishes’.

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

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

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

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

Back then he had two hands.  Harry reentered the moment as he watches the old gentleman bloody his hands on the rubble.  No matter how hard he tried he wasn’t going make progress.  His captain and war buddy couldn’t fix what happened either.  They had no way to treat the old man’s hands if he got an infection.
He lost his hand when his unit blundered two years later.  He was hiding in a hole and he saw very little action outside of what happened to his Captain.  Periodically they would go on patrol and dig up land mines.   They were not allowed to have alcohol or prostitutes.  They were not allowed to go into the villages.  Most of the time they saw carnage after it happened or knew something was happening when they saw smoke in the distance.  Other times they would get shot at and would rarely see who was shooting at them.  They did a lot of shooting back but only hit trees.  

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

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

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

Juliet and the others agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He didn’t care about the papers or the notebooks.  Budget reports and utility bills no longer matter.
He mutters to Juliet, “If we weren’t locked inside here we could have shut off the main valves to the building.  Sadly they are often located outside.”

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

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

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

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

So damn nice! 

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

“Go ahead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somebody is yelling in the lobby.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The homeless man with the broken arm starts laughing hysterically.  Harry turns towards him but the homeless man does not have a light on and seems to be part of the shadows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He didn’t feel comfortable holding the bat so he gives it to Rodger and tells him to guard the supplies. 

He only has one hand and I need it for other tasks.  

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

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

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

It’s only been an hour in a half?

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

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

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