Not only are the lights out, nobody’s card works. The credit card machines are all down.
There are eight people in line. I am sure they all want to pay with cards. Everybody pays with card.
I’m the only clerk this afternoon. Tina’s out. Again.
Didn’t even call in. Just a no-show. If this isn’t the end of the world, I’m gonna put in the paperwork to get her fired tomorrow.
Checking the other registers again. Everything is dead and dark. My phone? Nope. Same. Still dead. Won’t even come on.
One lady in the back of the line’s crying and her mom is yelling at her. I hate people.
This guy in front of me right now is a problem. Can’t use his card. He’s got his two shopping carts piled high with food. He’s about to get nasty, I can tell.
He reaches up to his shirt pocket. He’s pulling out a crumpled wad of bills.
“Here ya go,” he says to me.
Slams his money down on the conveyor belt that isn’t moving anymore.
“That’s four hundred and ninety two dollars,” he‘s saying to me.
I tell him I’m not sure that’s what his total is. I try to begin to tell him I am gonna have to total it up by hand.
“No, buddy, that’s for everybody standing here in line,” the man is saying to me now.
I scoff. There are a lotta people in line and that’s a lot of groceries. Way more.
“That’s way more than four hundred and ninety two,” I say.
I gesture to the other carts to make my point.
The guy picks up the wad of bills with one hand and grabs me by the collar with the other.
I really do not want any trouble even though I’m getting ticked off that he grabbed me. I put my hands up like this is a robbery.
“Hey, dude, I don’t want any trouble,” I’m saying.
His other hand is trying to stuff the crumpled wad of bills in my shirt pocket.
The pin holding my name tag in place is getting in the way.
This guy drops the cash, rips off my name tag and throws it towards the front door.
He picks the cash back up and shoves it in my shirt pocket.
“Take the paper while it’s still worth something,” he says to me. He gives my shirt collar another yank. Uncomfortable. His breath is hitting my chin. Not cool.
I can feel the wad of bills in my shirt pocket next to my chest.
Now he’s saying, “You know what? If this really isn’t the apocalypse or the world ending or nothing like that, you can bill me for everything, in all these carts.” He’s waving his free hand at all the people in line and their carts.
“Double,” he’s saying now, “My name is Dan Stowe. Got it? Dan Stowe. I’m head of the water department here in town. I’m easy to find. If this turns out to be nothing, I’ll pay you, or your boss, or your owner, or whoever, double for all the food in these carts.”
He gives me a little shove backwards. At least he let go of my shirt. Dick.
He says to me, “Now, go get some food for your own family while you still got time.”
He’s pushing his cart out through the front doors.
He’s gotta stop to shove them the rest of the way open.
People in line are shouting after him. They are thanking him. Oh, like I’m the big turd and this Dan guy’s the big hero for basically robbing the place.
The doors are stuck open now. Everybody pushes their carts out.
One lady’s saying to me, “Give it an hour before looters show up, young man.”
She pushes her cart out the door.
They’ve all left. Place is quiet except for the ticking sound the freezers make thawing out over in the Frozen Foods aisle.
None of these people showed up in cars. Everyone’s rolling their carts through the parking lot.
Half the town is going to see these folks rolling down the street with carts full of food.
There’s nobody I can call. I don’t like what that lady said to me. This rotten job isn’t worth fending off looters, if that’s what is about to start happening.
I walk to the front doors.
I pull them shut and lock them.
My shift ends in two hours. No telling if someone will actually show up for the evening shift. At this point with all this weird stuff going on, I highly doubt it.
The sun is still up but not for long. If the power doesn’t come back on, this place is going to get real cold and real dark.
I check my phone. Dead
All the ice cream is gonna melt.
I check my phone again. Won’t even turn on.
I look down at my phone. Push the buttons. Nothing.
I can hear the tick-tick-tick of the freezers getting close to room temperature.
I walk over to one of the freezers and pull out a box of ice cream sandwiches.
I rip the box open and eat one. Guess I’m the looter now.
I walk over and flick the light switches next to the soda machines. Nothing.
This place is silent as a tomb.
At least I don’t have to listen to that dumb music they play over the stupid loudspeakers anymore.
I ‘m heading to the back. Now it is starting to get kind of hard to see since the only light in the place is what’s coming in through the glass windows in the front. This place has no other windows to the outside.
The back of the building is colder than the front. There’s a draft in this crummy old place, and there’s no heat working at the moment to keep things warm.
I use the bathroom and flush. Good to see there is still water pressure.
OK, yeah, I’m starting to get scared. Can’t remember the last time we had a blackout that took this long. It also never took out the phones like this. And the cars. Weird.
Wait,the office phone! I haven’t tried it yet. It’s not a regular phone. It’s one of those old ones that has a chord that goes into the wall.
I go over to the office door and unlock it.
Totally dark inside.
I feel my way over to the desk and find the old landline phone.
I pick it up.
It’s not making any noise when I hold it to my ear. Don’t these things make a noise when you pick them up?
Is there some button I’m supposed to press to make the noise.
Nope, shaking it doesn’t work. None of these buttons do anything either.
I’m clicking the receiver a bunch of times like I’ve seen people do on TV. Still nothing.
There is banging on the front door.
Gotta go let whoever this is in, I guess.
I don’t move. Something’s making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
There is more banging on the glass on the front door. That’s more than one person, I can tell.
I take a step towards the noise. There is a loud buzzing in my ears. Man, I’m completely terrified for some reason.
Oh, damn, that’s glass getting smashed. Men’s voices. Heavy footsteps over shards of glass.
Bolt to the back.
It is too dark to see anything in the back storage room, but I can feel the storage room door and I shut it and lock it. This is the only thing now between me and where I can hear those guys coming in now..
I can hear guys moving around the store. Sounds like groups of twos and threes. There’s, like, ten of them.
I’m staying as quiet as I can. Slowly unlatch the back door that leads to the rear parking lot and peer out real quick, ready to slam it back shut if I have to.
The lot is empty except for my now dead car.
There is a loud crash back in the store, like something just got toppled over. Are they trying to bust open soda machines?
Oh, that’s right. The beer case always stays locked. They’re probably busting that open.
I open the door all the way. Thank you, whoever is up there, for hinges that do not squeak.
I grab the edge of the shopping cart I loaded up earlier with my own giant pile of groceries, and slowly, slowly, slowly pull it towards the back door.
I still hear the voices of the men who broke in. More sounds of crashing, and things being forced open, and guys yelling to each other.
I roll my cart out as gently as I can, then close the door behind me. Can’t hear the commotion inside so that means they can’t hear me. Time to roll.
Hustling as fast as I can through this parking lot pushing this heavy-ass cart. Gotta get over to the side street that heads back into the neighborhood.
The sun is getting low behind all the tree tops and roofs.
It is too hard to keep this thing upright on the sidewalk. There’re not gonna be any cars. I’ll just push this thing into the middle of the road and keep going.
There’s some guy who just came out of his house. He’s looking at me. I don’t make eye contact.
Five blocks to go.
Everything is totally silent, just the breeze in the treetops. There are no birds. That’s weird.
Crap, there’s a group of people. They see me. They’ll take my…
Oh, wait, they are looking at something in the totally opposite direction.
Oh, crap, how did I not notice that before? Is that a mushroom cloud? It’s huge and, against the sky like that it’s like completely black.
“Airplane,” I can make out someone from the group of people saying.
Keep going. Three blocks to go. Dang, this thing is heavy.
Is Macy home? Did she work today? Oh, yeah, she worked today. Did she get her girl from daycare? Was Kenna being babysat by her grandma?
Heck if I know. I can never keep track of Macy’s schedule. I think she’s home.
Two blocks to go. Curtains move in a window. Someone has me in the beam of a flashlight.
I guess batteries must still work.
Curtain just closed. I gotta push harder. I don’t want anybody running out and asking for my food.
Damn, this stuff is heavy. I wish my car still worked.
OK, there’s the house. Where’s Macy’s car? Oh, wait. She’d have had to walk back home too.
Macy and Kenna. There they are. They’ve seen me. Here they come.
“We have to get this around back,” Macy is saying. She’s grabbing the front of the cart and tugging it to move it around to the back door.
“What’s happening?” I ask her, “My phone’s dead!”
“I dunno. I dunno,” Macy is saying, “Come on.”
“Roy,” Kenna wails up at me, “I saw a plane fall outta the sky. Did people die?”
I don’t know what to say. I don’t say anything back. I am starting to get real scared.
“You could’ve cut the grass. This’d be easier!” Macy is griping at me.
I’m feeling angry at her and … wait, hold on, I wonder if the lawnmower still works. I mean, all you have to do is give it some gas and pull on it. I got some gas for it.
“You could pull a little harder,” I say back, “I mean, I did just push this thing all the way home.”
Gotta make sure she knows what I just did for her and her kid.
Tiny little Kenna tries to shove the cart with one hand and has the other arm wrapped around her stuffed animal. It’s the yellow octopus I got her last week at the fair.
“Kenna, I got it!” I yell. She’s kind of getting between me and this cart I am trying to shove over the grass.
“Don’t yell at her!” Macy barks at me, “Four years old, Roy! She’s just trying to help.”
Well, I’m just trying to damn near kill myself to get this load of food home for them.
Kenna keeps pushing anyway. One handed, other arm around her yellow octopus.
We get the back door open and start hauling food inside, just stacking it on the kitchen table. Back at the store on my break, I filled the whole cart. Mostly I grabbed cans and stuff we wouldn’t have to cook.
We finish with the top and start pulling stuff from the bottom.
“Oh, you grabbed yourself beer and you didn’t grab any toilet paper??” Macy is yelling at me about that now.
“Did you get anything but canned ravioli and beer?” she is yelling, “Do you ever think of anyone but yourself?”
“I had another cart,” I yell back. That’s a lie, but I hate it when I try to do things and Macy just makes me feel stupid for the way I do them.
“Looters showed up, Macy. This is all I got.” Well, that part is true.
Wow, that made Macy shut up about toilet paper and beer.
“What?” she is saying. Oh, boy. Here comes her million-questions-a-minute.
“What do you mean, ‘looters’?” “How do you know they were looters?” “Are you sure they were looters?” “Did you get a look at them?” “How many were there?” “What makes you think they were looters?” “Are you sure they were looters?” “Did they say anything?” “Did you ask them?” “Did you recognize any of them?” “What were they doing?” “Did they say anything to you?” “Tell me exactly what they were doing?” “Who else was there?” “Did they have guns?” “Why did you let them in the store?” “Did they have a truck?”
I just keep saying “I dunno.” Because I don’t for the most part. I don’t know. Ten or twelve guys broke in, bashed their way through the locked front doors, came in, and started helping themselves to the place. I got the hell out of there. End of story.
“Do we have any batteries?” I ask.
“No,” Macy replies, “Did you grab any?”
“No,” I’m saying back and now I am feeling really dumb.
“Well, that was dumb,” Macy is saying.
Kenna has gone and hidden herself somewhere in her room upstairs.
Macy is fishing around for something in the kitchen drawers.
“Do we have a flashlight?” I hear her ask me from the kitchen. I am digging through the small heap of crap at the bottom of the front hall closet.
“No,” I say back, “Maybe. No. No, we don’t.”
“Baby, it’s getting dark,” Macy’s voice is starting to quaver.
“Well, I don’t have any flashlights!” I yell back at her.
Macy stops what she is doing.
“I am going up with Kenna,” she says to me, “Put the rest of this away.”
“Yeah, ya better go,” I say back.
Macy gets halfway up the stairs.
“Roy, get all the doors and windows locked.”
That’s a useful idea, finally.
“Yeah, I will,” I say back to her.
I head into the basement, hoping the last of the daylight can help me see.
I look for batteries. Nothing readily evident in all the crap down here.
I get the basement door locked.
I pick my way back up to the ground floor up the rickety, smelly steps.
The house is getting cold. I hope they have enough blankets upstairs.
I hear a toilet flush in the bathroom above me .
I lock the back door. Check all the windows. Lock the front door. Check the windows again.
Reach for my phone and… Dammit to all hell, I left it at the store.
I’ll bet those guys must’ve grabbed it while they were grabbing everything else for themselves.
Wish I had a gun.
I wish the stupid TV would turn on.
I grab a beer from the pile on the kitchen table…
I wake up on the couch. The house is totally dark. It’s freezing.
I sit and shiver for an hour.
Light starts to come in through the east windows.
Bless that sunlight, but damn I’m thirsty. Should have grabbed water bottles before everybody else did.
The place smells cold. I wonder how Macy and Kenna are doing.
I stumble over to the kitchen sink. I turn the handle but no water comes out. This is bad. I go over to the fridge and open it. Hot damn, there is a jug of milk! I grab it.
Macy and Kenna.
I do not open the jug.
I go upstairs with the milk.
Macy and Kenna are in Kenna’s room under a pile of blankets. They are looking at me warily from under their covers.
I hold up the jug of milk. I say we better drink this before it goes bad.
Macy asks me is the power still out? She asks me if the TV came back on? She asks me did I check my phone and is it on?
I start to try to answer the part about the phone but she is ignoring me and checking her phone now. Kenna asks if she can have her milk with cereal.
“Hey, the water’s out,” I say, “If you gotta use the bathroom, don’t flush, at least for now.”
Macy looks horrified at this.
“Well, we have to get water,” she says.
I know that. Doesn’t she think I know that? I know that. But I don’t say anything.
Instead I ask for a couple sips of the milk.
“Yeah, but let Kenna have the rest,” Macy says.
I ask Macy if isn’t she going to have any. She just says “I’m fine.”
Someone is knocking on the back door. We all freeze.
Macy moves as if she is going to go answer it.
“Don’t move!” I hiss. I realize I grabbed Macy’s shoulders while I was talking, and now Kenna is looking up at me and I can tell that now she is getting really scared.
“Look, it’s OK,” I whisper, “Just let me go do it.”
I go down the stairs as quiet as I can. There’s more knocking and someone calling out.
I breathe. It’s Macy’s mom. It’s Bev.
She is standing on the back stoop shivering in her jeans and plaid shirt. I let her in and lock the back door again.
Macy and Kenna come down the stairs. Kenna squeals happily and hugs her grandma, then makes herself cereal with the milk.
The women are talking. Bev has brought over what looks like a radio.
“Roy, do you know how to work this thing?” Bev asks. It’s her late husband’s wonky old cb radio.
“What? No, I have no idea,” I say.
We set the thing on the table. It is all knobs and buttons. This thing looks like it is from the nineteen eighties.
HF-tranceiver. Mode. TS. AF – RF/SQL. RIT-Shift. NB. Comp. Att.
I got absolutely no idea what any of this means.
“Isn’t there supposed to be an antenna?” Macy asks.
“Yeah, that and some batteries,” her mom answers, “I hid them in the bush next to the door.”
We bring the antenna and the batteries. Macy figures out how to connect everything. Of course.
“Do you know how to work this thing?” I ask her.
“Not really,” Macy answers, “I just know you’re supposed to listen to these things called repeaters.”
I thought this thing was to talk to other radios.
“Don’t you mean radios?” I ask her.
Macy shakes her head. “No, actually everybody patches into these things called repeaters. That’s how they all talk to each other.”
“Who talks to each other?” I ask.
“Hams” Macy says, “My dad was a ham.”
“This isn’t a cb radio?” I ask.
“No, it’s a ham radio,” she says.
“What’s different about a ham radio?” I ask but Macy is ignoring me now and fiddling with the knobs.
This thing makes a lot of squealing, squelching, popping noises. It’s the first artificial noise I have heard since early yesterday morning. I run and try to turn on the TV.
“This thing picks up radio waves, Roy,” I hear Bev say to me from the kitchen.
How is the TV not working but the radio is? Oooooh, the radio has batteries. That must be it.
“Well, do you hear anything?” I want to know from them.
“Baby, hush one second,” Macy is saying. Kenna is at the sink, realizing there is no water to wash her bowl out with. I cannot tell if Macy is talking to me or to Kenna.
I know where there’s some water.
I run upstairs to Kenna’s room. The last time Macy tried to organize the place, she bought some big plastic bins from one of the big-box stores out by the highway. Now they were all full of Kenna’s toys and other junk.
I grab one of the bigger ones. I just turn it over and dump all its contents on top of a pile of other junk that is already in the corner by her window.
I lug it downstairs. The women are still hunched over the radio at the kitchen table next to the pile of cans.
I make my way back down the smelly, creaking, cobweb encrusted basement stairs.
There’s enough morning light coming in through the one tiny window that I can see.
The water heater is in the back, by the basement door.
I tip the plastic container over just enough to catch some water in one of its corners.
I open up the drain valve.
Water sloshes out. It smells a little bit like rust but we can drink this.
I close the valve, and lift the plastic bin. I drink it all down, straight from the bin.
I set the bin down. I need a siphon.
I unlock the back basement door and go outside. It is freezing outside but I need the hose I left hanging up on the back of the house.
I climb up the cement stairs.
There’s the rumble of a very old truck engine.
I don’t want anyone to see me but I gotta poke my head up above the top of the steps to get a look.
There’s the neighbor’s house. There’s the street. Blur of white. Truck appears.
There is a beat-up old pickup truck rumbling slowly past the houses on my street.
I can see more of it now. It’s white and splotched with rust around the tire wells.
Someone’s spray-painted “Police” on the side of the truck in black spray paint.
The bed of the truck has six or seven guys sitting in it. Hunting jackets. Hunting rifles.
None of these guys look like police.
I duck down and let the sound of the truck fade away in the distance.
I climb the rest of the way out of the stairs and go over to the hose hanging there on its hook.
Most of it is wrapped around the hook. The rest of it is snarled up in some overgrown bushes near the corner of the house.
I untangle the heavy, cold hose from the bush. I heave the whole thing back down into the basement .
This thing cost forty dollars. If I cut it, Macy will be really mad at me. But there is nothing else to make a siphon with. The hose itself is way too long.
Something tells me that watering my lawn is just not going to be a concern in the future. So I’m cutting this thing. I need to cut it to get a small, manageable section.
Where are the tin snips? I can barely see what is in all these piles of junk. Dammit, where is something I can cut the hose with?
Ok, here they are. I just spilled the whole mildewed box of tools and parts they were in so I could find anything, but who cares at this point?
There, I cut a four-foot long length of hose.
OK, I siphoned about two gallons of water from the drain valve into the plastic bin.
I lug the heavy bin of water up the stairs. Geeze, this is like trying to carry three Kennas up these stairs.
The women are practically overjoyed to see the bin of water.
I get a kiss from Macy. Kenna sees her mom hug me, so Kenna hugs my legs. Wow, Kenna’s never hugged me before. That’s a first.
“Nice, is it clean? Can we drink it?” Macy is asking.
“Yeah,” I say, “It’s the same water we get out of our taps and showers. It’s all just stuck in the water heater for now. There’s some more when this runs out.”
Kenna says she is going to fill a water bottle and runs upstairs to get it.
“It’s not going to drain out, is it?” Macy asks.
“No,” Bev says, “It’ll stay there.”
“We got something on the radio,” Macy says, “C’mere and listen.”
But, wait, now I’m scared. Maybe the water will drain out. I say “hold on” and run back down into the basement.
I get to the water heater, bend down, and check the faucet with my finger.
Dry, no leaks.
I head back upstairs.
I sit at the table next to Bev who is fiddling with the radio.
“Did you lose it?” Macy asks. I realize she is talking to Bev.
“No,” Bev says. Then, “Here, listen.”
“Dead lights…” the tiny, crackling voice is saying, “Green smog… dying… toxic green smog…”
Well, that shut them both up.
“Where’s this coming from?” Macy asks her mom in a whisper.
“I think that’s the Brookfield repeater,” Bev whispers back, “That’s south of here, past Masterton. Twenty eight miles?”
Green smog? Toxic? People dying? Maybe it’s a train derailment? But how’s a train derailment knocking planes out of the sky? Why don’t the phones work?
Macy hits a button on the radio. I can tell what she is doing is scanning through channels. There is nothing but static.
“Roy!” OK, Macy is talking to me now, “Roy, are the mopeds working?”
Mopeds? Oh yeah, the mopeds! Forgot about those.
“Well, they’re in the shed,” I answer.
“No,” she says, “ I know they’re in the shed, Roy. Are they working?”
“I dunno,” I say back, “One might be working. But everything’s dead.”
“Roy,” Macy says, “They run on gasoline. They don’t have electronics. They’ll still work. Can you get us all on the one that still works?”
Well, that is a most naive question, I must say.
“No,” I scoff, “You kidding? For the four of us, you need both of them.”
“Well, Roy,” it is Bev talking to me this time, “Do you think maybe since we are stuck here with nothing else to do for the time being, you could maybe go get the other one working?”
I say yeah sure I guess.
I am getting hungry and I am getting angry and I have been feeling scared since I got home after seeing that plume of smoke from the plane. I need to go out back and just go do something anyway, before I yell at someone and Macy gives me the cold shoulder for another week.
I grab a can of tuna from the pile.
“You gonna eat that all yourself?” Macy asks.
Bev tells Macy to just let me eat it.
It is one of the larger tuna cans. I set it back. I grab out one of the smaller tuna cans. Dang, this one needs a can opener to get open. The bigger ones have pop-tops.
“Where’s the can opener?” I ask.
“It’s in the drawer,” Macy says.
I grab the can opener and a fork. I go out the back door. It’s cold. I look around for those guys and that truck. Can’t hear them or see them. There’s no sign of movement at the neighbors’ house behind us. We still have no idea who lives there.
There’s a fire on the next block. I smelled it before I saw it. I can’t tell which house is on fire. I wonder if Macy and Bev have noticed it yet. Good grief, that is a lot of smoke.
No sound of fire trucks. I guess there won’t be any.
The shed door is stuck. Why does nothing work around here? There, OK, I got it open. Where are the mopeds? Dammit, who stacked these boxes on top of them? Wow, all four tires are flat. That is the first order of business. Where is the pump? Actually, that won’t work. Nothing that plugs in is gonna work. OK well here’s the bike pump but that’s not gonna do it either. OK, here we go, here’s the Campbell Hausfeld foot pump Macey got for me…
Good grief, my hands are cold. Been working out here two hours now. Got the tires filled. Got the other moped aaaalmost working.
The house across the street is still burning. I can smell it. Gotta wonder what I am breathing in from it. Still no other sounds. No sirens. Nobody yelling. Haven’t heard that truck come back around. No cars. No airplanes. Still no birds.
Geeze, if I can just find where I put that pin, I just might be able to…
Footsteps in the grass. It’s Bev.
“Roy, how’s it going?” Bev sounds like she is really scared but trying not to show it.
“It’s going,” I say, “The one is running fine. I’m going to try to start the other one up in a sec and see-”
OK, bye, Bev. She just turned around and headed back into the house.
Now, where’s that stupid pin I need for the gasket?
Arright. There. Done. Can’t feel my fingers. Wait, is that a second plume of smoke? Where’s that coming from?
Footsteps. Running. It’s Macy. She is crying.
She grabs me like that guy grabbed me back at the grocery store.
“Roy!” she yells at me, “Roy!”
“What? What?” I am yelling back.
“Roy!” she yells again, then buries her face in the front of my sweatshirt and sobs and gets mucus on me.
“Is Kenna OK? What the hell is it?” I am trying to ask her.
Macy looks up at me, still holding the front of my sweat shirt in a two-fisted death grip.
“Roy, you gotta promise me!” she yells in my face through clenched teeth. Her face is wet.
“Wut? Promise wut?” I’ve never seen Macy get hysterical like this before.
“No matter what happens!” Macy implores, one hand now thumping me on the chest as hard as she can. Kinda hurts.
“No matter what happens,” she cries again, “No matter what happens to me or my mom or to you or to anybody, Roy you gotta promise me you will get Kenna on one of those buses!”
More mucus on the front of my sweatshirt. More sobbing.
“Yeah,” I say, “I promise. Wait. What buses?”
Bev is coming out of the house now. She has Kenna with her, holding her hand.
“Macy,” I say, “Kenna’s coming.”
Macy pulls away immediately. She is quickly wiping her face on her sleeves. No more crying.
“Macy, take Kenna back inside,” Bev says.
“No, I wanna see the mopeds we’re gonna ride!” Kenna pleads.
“Baby, we’ll see the mopeds,” Macy says, taking Kenna’s hand, “Just not right now. Grownups gotta talk.”
Bev waits for them to disappear back into the house.
“Bev, what the hell is going on?”
Bev is staring at the plume of smoke coming up over the houses that are across the street.
She turns to me.
“Roy,” she says to me, “Roy, there is something really serious going on.”
“Like what?” I ask. I know there’s something bad going on, obviously.
“Roy, there are a lot of people dying. There’s a gigantic cloud of some kind of green smoke coming up from the south and nobody knows what it is and it’s killing everything it touches. Right now this is all happening about ten miles south of here and they think it started further down near the city. But it is headed this way and we gotta get out of here. Right now.”
“Green smoke? Why are the phones off then?”
“Roy, this is happening all over the country. It’s wrecking everything. Nothing is working anymore.”
“All over the country?”
“Roy, there’s an evacuation happening up in Holly.”
“Yes, Roy, an evacuation. They’re evacuating people. There are a bunch of buses taking people north and we gotta get on one of those before they leave. They are leaving soon if they haven’t left already. We gotta get over to Holly right now.”
Then Bev asks, “Are those mopeds working?”
I go over to the moped I’ve been working on. Mount it. Switch the key, coax the choke, and hit the kick starter.
The thing fires right up.
I can feel Bev’s hand on my arm.
“OK, turn it off,” she says. Very urgent tone of voice. I guess she doesn’t want anybody hearing that we got transportation.
I kill the engine.
Macy has Kenna in one hand and a bundle of stuff under her other arm and they are running out of the house. Macy doesn’t stop to lock the door.
“Does it work?” Kenna asks. Nervous, scared, confused, but excited by all this. Sweet kid.
“Helmets,” Macy yells. I guess she is asking me for helmets.
“I can only find one,” I have to reply back. Actually, I think I sold the other one and never told Macy.
I can tell Macy is going to start yelling about that but Bev grabs her arm.
“Roy, put that helmet on Kenna and let’s get going.”
I get the helmet on Kenna. No complaining. Good girl.
Macy kneels down in front of Kenna. She puts her hands on either side of the helmet and holds Kenna’s face to hers.
“Baby, you’re gonna ride with Roy. Momma and grandma are gonna be on the other one and we’re gonna be right behind you the whole time. I love you. We’re gonna be right behind you.”
Kenna starts asking questions, but Macy has hoisted her up onto one of the mopeds.
Macy hands me my gloves. She found them! I am kind of overjoyed to see these gloves. I had no idea where I had left them in that house and hands are the first thing to freeze off if you go riding in cold weather.
“Roy,” Macy says, “Get to the Walmart in Holly. Right now. Go.”
I notice neither she nor Bev are wearing gloves or any gear for that matter. That’s gonna be a rough ride for them. Holly is twenty minutes up the road. I guess they’re going to just tough it out?
“Go!” Macy yells.
Bev climbs on behind Macy, buries her face between Macy’s shoulder blades and hugs Macy around her stomach. Bev has to let go for a second to let Macy lurch up and down to kick then starter, then grabs back hold of Macy again.
I get on in front of Kenna.
I kick the moped to life.
I reach back and grab Kenna’s arms and wrap them around my stomach. I press them extra hard to indicate to Kenna that she is to not let go. I can feel the front of her helmet pressing into my spine.
I tear out of the yard, wheels skidding a bit on the wet grass.
We roll down the embankment and now I got both tires on the road. I can see Macy and Bev doing likewise behind me.
I hear Macy yell “Go!” and I gun it.
Heading north on East Main. Nobody around. Got the road to ourselves.
Left on Leopold to get out to the highway exits.
There’s a stopped truck. Going around it.
There’s nobody in the truck and it is not running.
Another truck. Bunch of cars. All dead. All abandoned.
Whole road is clogged with dead vehicles. I just gotta keep finding spaces between them.
Wait, how bad is the interstate gonna be? Will it be blocked by abandoned vehicles?
OK. there’s the ramp. Yup, it’s just about completely blocked by empty cars. Good thing we are on mopeds. No way a car could get through there.
Kenna is hanging on tight, not making a peep.
Wheel and swerve around and between empty cars and empty trucks.
OK, we’re on the highway. This place is like a gigantic parking lot. It’s empty! There’s nobody and there’s nothing but a few empty vehicles.
I am looking down now and seeing that the skin on Kenna’s hands and wrists are beet-red from the cold.
I stop. I am yanking up the front of my sweatshirt then yanking it down over to protect Kenna’s hands. Macey’s moped pulls up beside me, She’s gonna yell at me for stopping.
She screams. Bev yells something. I look up.
From up this high on the overpass, I see a sickly green cloud that looks to be a mile high and stretches across the entire southern horizon. It’s a roiling, smoky mass and clinging to the ground and moving in our direction, fast.
The wind is whipping through my hair. Hold on, the wind is heading towards that green cloud.
There’s a low rumble. There’s a rumble of the engine beneath me. But there’s this other louder rumble off in the distance too.
I can feel my gut tighten.
That cloud casts its own light. It casts a hue over the landscape around it
The bridge beneath me is giving out a loud creak and a groan.
Macy’s hand slaps my shoulder.
“Go! Go! Go!”
I twist for gas. We lurch forward.
Dodging dead cars. Dodging stalled trucks. I want to look back but can’t. What were those things hovering over the cloud? They looked like giant eyes. Government drones? Was that lightning I saw in the cloud? Where was that dead, green light coming from?
That thing is basically chasing us north now. That’s what this is. A race.
I look down at the speedometer. How fast was that cloud moving? Maybe twenty five an hour? Maybe faster? Dodging all these cars I don’t think we are averaging that much higher. Maybe thirty if that.
Holly. Gotta get to Holly. Gotta get Kenna to Holly. I can still feel where Macy thumped her fist against my chest and made me promise.
Is that the exit? No, that’s not Holly yet. That’s the one that leads to the truck stop. Next exit is for Holly.
Damn there’s oil. Big slick of it, all the way across the road. I raise my arm to warn Macy then I hit my brakes.
I turn my head to look for Macy. No sign of her or Bev or their moped.
Now I can’t hear anything but the rumbling of the green cloud. I see it now, even though we are lower down. It’s huge. It is like watching a tsunami roll in.
I carefully roll across the oil slick, then hit the gas a bit.
Still no sign of Macy. Did she go around it? Did she get off at the other exit?
The road ahead of me looks clear. Right over the next rise I see the green of the top of a highway exit sign.
I rev up the moped as far as it can go.
I scream “hold on!” to Kenna. She digs in tighter with her little arms.
I lean forward. Never been this cold in my life. Can’t feel my hands anymore.
There’s the exit for Holly. Ramp is empty for some reason. Good thing.
At the top of the ramp now. Hang a hard right. I can feel my heart pounding. I can hear the roar of the cloud getting nearer. The Walmart is right up here, just a couple football field lengths to go.
There’s the parking lot. There’s a bus. It’s a school bus. There’s a line of people trying to get on. The parking lot is littered with bags and suitcases and other crap it looks like people just dropped.
That’s gotta be the last bus. Don’t see any others.
No sign of Macy or her mom.
I just let the moped tip over when I pull Kenna off.
There is green smoke pouring into the parking lot. Right now it is just around our ankles. It’s like tendrils or smoky tentacles. The front of the cloud is looming over. Everything is cast in sickly green light.
The bus is starting to move. People both inside and out of it are screaming. There are still people on the outside of it. THey are banging on the bus with their hands and screaming.
I pull off Kenna’s helmet and drop it and grab Kenna’s hand and run for the front of the bus.
We are on the driver’s side. Maybe if I can get the driver’s attention.
“We’re here!” I hear Macy scream above me.
It’s Macy. Macy and Bev are leaning part of the way out one of the rear windows of the moving bus.
“Gimme Kenna!” Bev yells.
I grab Kenna by the belt. I kiss the sweaty mass of hair plastered to her forehead.
“I love you, Macy!” I say to her then I tug as hard as I can to get Kenna up to the window.
A pair of Mom hands and a pair of Grandma hands are grabbing and clawing and pulling Kenna up into the window. I see Kenna’s shirt pulled up to her jaw and then I see the soles of Kenna’s shoes disappearing in through the window.
My butt is is struck hard by the hood of a car I didn’t see coming.
My head smacks against the car’s windshield and then I am in the air for a second and now I am on the ground and my cheek is grinding into the gravel of the parking lot and the bus is pulling away.
I called her Macy. I meant to say Kenna.
The green tendrils swarm all around me and the sun is blotted from the sky.
I love you, Ma-