Broken Roads: A Tale of Survival in a Powerless World (Broken Lines Book 2)

BOOK: Broken Roads: A Tale of Survival in a Powerless World (Broken Lines Book 2)
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Broken Roads

 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means without prior written permission, except for brief excerpts in reviews or analysis.

 

Day 7 (Katie)

 

             
The smell in the room was unbearable. The number of people in the relief center, combined with no showers, no A/C, and the summer heat beating down on the building made the air thick with human stench.

 

              Katie’s hands were dried with dirt and grime. The white paint on her fingernails flaked off in chips. The only jewelry still on her was the wedding band around her left finger. The diamond ring was stolen, but she  managed to keep the gold band.

 

              Katie watched the bodies shuffle in between the cots spread out on the floor. The dark circles forming from the sleepless nights weighed heavy under her eyes. All she could think about was her family. She had no way of contacting them, no way of knowing if they were alright, no way of telling them that she was alive.

 

              It had been almost two days without a fight breaking out, but people were getting edgy again. She knew it was just a matter of time before the fuse ran out. The food rations had decreased dramatically, along with access to the water tanks.

 

              Guards armed with automatic rifles kept watch on them. They patrolled the border of the room and two were stationed at the food and water counter.

 

              An elderly man with hunched shoulders and liver spots dotting the top of his bald head, approached the guards barricading the food rations. He looked two steps from death. He pointed toward the counter, his finger trembling in the air.

 

              “Sir, dinner rations will be served at 6pm. We will notify the group when it’s time to approach. Please return to your space.”

 

              The old man didn’t walk back. He inched a few steps forward, still pointing at the counter behind the guards. Each of the guards was a good foot taller and one hundred pounds heavier than the old man.

 

              The same guard that spoke to him let out a sigh. Keeping his rifle in one hand he grabbed the old man with the other and walked him across the room. Everyone stared at them. The guard wasn’t forceful, and the old man didn’t resist, but the sight made everyone feel uncomfortable, some more than others.

 

              “Hey, dick, just give him something to eat.”

 

              The comment came from a young man in his twenties. His shirt was stained with sweat rings. His hair was untamed and his face was smudged with a week’s worth of dirt.

 

              The guard ignored him. He continued escorting the old man across the room.

 

              “He’s hungry!” the young man said.

 

              The guard released his grip of the old man and brought both hands to his rifle. He brought the gun to his shoulder, aiming the barrel at the young man’s head.

 

              “We’re all hungry, and all of us will eat, but not until 6pm. Understand?” the guard asked.

 

              The young man didn’t back down. A few others gathered around him. The other guards converged on them, their rifles aimed and ready to shoot.

 

              Katie gripped the edge of her cot. Her knuckles turned white against the faded blue padding clutched in her hands.

 

              Katie slowly rose from her cot and backed away from the center of the room. She inched her way to the back wall. A few people followed her lead, but most of the room gathered in the center, either out of defiance or wanting to see what would happen.

 

              “Everyone disperse and return to your beds,” the guard said.

 

              “You think you have the right to tell us what to do?” the young man said.

 

              “I’m warning you.”

 

              Katie’s back bumped against the wall. She felt herself trying to push her way through the concrete. Her heart beat faster. She wanted to leave. She had to get out.

 

              The crowd around the young man grew, and with it the young man’s boldness. He stepped closer to the guard. The rifle still aimed at his head.

 

              “You’re warning me?” the young man said.

 

              “Stand down.”

 

              “You gonna shoot us?”

 

              “Stay where you are and stand down!”

 

              Katie jumped as a hand wrapped around her wrist.

 

              “Mrs. Miller, we need to leave,” Sam said.

 

              Sam’s jacket was off, exposing his shoulder holster, his pistol sitting in it. The top button to his collar was undone and his tie hung loosely around his neck. Sweat collected on his forehead.

 

              The young man continued to move toward the guard. Each step was slow, deliberate, testing the waters before moving forward.

 

              “You have enough bullets for all of us?” the young man asked.

 

              The young man reached his hand into his pocket, slowly.

 

              “Put your hands up!” the guard ordered.

 

              Katie felt Sam pulling her along the edge of the wall. She could tell that he was heading for the door. Her eyes kept glancing to the center of the room.

 

              The young man’s hand lingered in his pocket. The crowd around him had grown to fifty plus people. All six guards fingers itched over their rifle’s triggers.

 

              The moment the young man jerked his hand out of his pocket the guards open fired. A spray of bullets sent him hurtling backwards to the floor. Everyone outside the circle of guards ducked to the ground, while everyone inside the circle sprinted toward the closest guard to them.

 

              The gunshots echoed through the room. The massive flood of people rushing to grab the guards’ guns, or raid the food and water, sent the room into a frenzy.

 

              Katie’s arm almost pulled out of her socket once Sam started running. The two sprinted out the door with screams and gunfire exploding behind them.

 

              The two of them ran through the herd of people fleeing the relief center. Outside people scattered everywhere. They put as much distance between themselves and the Red Cross relief center as they could.

 

              The streets of downtown Pittsburgh were dead. Abandoned cars filled the streets. Broken windows lined the storefronts, their shelves completely looted. Trash littered the sidewalk and overflowed.

 

              After running a few blocks Katie ripped her arm from Sam and stopped. She bent over trying to catch her breath. She hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday and was severely dehydrated. Bits of white crust formed at the corners of her mouth.

 

              “Wait… Sam… I need… a break.”

 

              Sam pulled a half-full bottle of water from his pant pocket. He held it out to her. The water was warm, but she gulped it down. She let a mouthful linger for a moment, letting the water splash around her arid mouth. She handed the bottle back to Sam who screwed the cap back on and returned the bottle to his pocket.

 

              “How’d you get your gun back?” Katie asked.

 

              “All of the guards disappeared except for the ones in the food hall. I rummaged through the weapons they confiscated and found my side arm. I figured it was just a matter of time before the other guards took off or the place became overrun.”

 

              “What do we do now?”

 

              “We need to keep moving.”

 

              “And go where, Sam? That place was supposed to be safe. Those people were supposed to help us!”

 

              She threw her hands up in exhaustion, pointing at her surroundings.

 

              “There isn’t anything left, Sam.”

 

              Katie leaned against the vehicle behind her. Her purple blouse was torn and dirty, her pinstriped pants stained with the three-day-old blood she wiped from her hands.

 

              “I’ll get you back to your family, Mrs. Miller. I promise,” Sam said.

 

Day 7 (Mike)

 

A trail of boot prints lay behind Mike. He stopped to kneel in the burnt wreckage of his home. He dug his hands into the grey ash and let it sift through his fingers. The particles formed tiny mounds under his hands, like an hourglass running out of time.

 

The roof sagged. The stairs were charred and splintered leading to a second floor stained in shades of black. Pictures were burnt. His son’s toys ruined from the heat. His daughter’s clothes destroyed. The house was dead.

 

Tears hit the dusty floor, turning the grey ash into black. Mike wiped his eyes, causing a smudge to smear across his cheek. He retraced his steps the way he came, afraid of disturbing the burnt shrine that was his home.

 

The rest of the neighborhood wasn’t in much better shape. Smashed windows and broken doors lined the street. Bullet holes peppered the fronts of homes. A breeze blew trash littered on the ground, piling it in different spots.

 

Mike glanced at the Beachum’s house and the two crude grave marker set up in the front yard. He thought about leaving Bessie’s body where she fell, but when he saw the cold, stiff corpse across the lawn, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. No matter what she’d done she wasn’t always bad, just at the end. He buried her in the front yard, along with her husband’s scorched body.

 

Mike pawed the bandage on his arm as he walked back to Nelson’s house. He could still feel the heat from the fire burning through. He looked at the once well-kept lawns and houses now in shambles. The neighborhood he came home to from the steel mill for the past twenty-five years lost to despair and betrayal.

 

“What happened to us?” Mike asked.

 

The question was quiet, meant only for him, in the graveyard of 24
th
Street. It had only been a week since the EMP blast. Everything from simple modern conveniences like phones, laptops, and tablets to life sustaining utilities like water and power, were gone. They were back in the Stone Age.

 

The front door to Nelson’s house was open. Nelson’s home remained fairly unscathed after the neighborhood turned on Mike and his family. If it weren’t for Nelson, he would have burned along with his house.

 

Two backpacks sat next to the front door when Mike entered. They’d gathered what they could from the abandoned houses. There wasn’t much left, but they had enough to make it Mike’s cabin in Ohio.

 

The pounding upstairs grabbed Mike’s attention. He walked up the stairs, looking at the family portraits on the wall: first days of school, vacations, holidays. The last picture Mike saw before watching Nelson bang his fist on his son’s door was a family portrait of Nelson, Sean, and Katie, who never made it back from downtown Pittsburgh the day of the blast.

 

“Sean, we have to go,” Nelson said.

 

Nelson jiggled the handle.

 

“Sean, open this door.”

 

“No!” Sean said.

 

“We talked about this, Sean,” Nelson said.

 

“We can’t leave without her,” Sean said.

 

Mike noticed the dark circles under Nelson’s eyes, the stubble thickening to a beard on his face. It took Mike all of last night to convince Nelson they had to leave.               There wasn’t anything left for them here and if he wanted to him and Sean to survive they had to leave.

 

Nelson pressed his left palm to the door, the contrast of the gold band around his finger against the blue paint.

 

“Mom would want us to go.”

 

The door flung open. Tears ran down Sean’s cheeks. The room behind him was messy. There were toys on the hardwood floors, his bed unmade, and piles of dirty clothes.

 

“She wouldn’t want us to go. She’d want us to stay here and wait for her to come home,” Sean said.

 

Nelson knelt down and scooped his son up in his arms. Sean threw his arms around his father’s neck, burying his face in Nelson’s shirt.

 

“It’s okay. Shhhh. It’s okay,” Nelson said.

 

Nelson’s voice cracked, a tear rolled down his own cheek. Nelson set his son back down and brushed the hair off of his forehead.

 

“Mom loves you so much, and the thing she would want the most is to make sure you’re safe. It’s not safe here anymore. That’s why we’re going with Mike. Okay?” Nelson said.

 

“But if she comes back how will she find us?”

 

“We’re going to leave really good directions for her. Right, Mike?”

 

Mike looked Sean’s tear soaked face. What he was asking the two of them to do was hard. He was asking them to leave their home, to leave their mother and wife, to leave all they knew on a chance to survive.

 

“Yes,” Mike said.

 

“Now, get the rest of your stuff ready. We need to leave soon,” Nelson said.

 

Nelson kissed Sean’s cheek and set him back down on the ground. Sean disappeared back into his room, gathering a few more toys. He patted Mike on the shoulder.

 

“I appreciate you taking us with you,” Nelson said.

 

“Of course.”

 

“It’s just hard on him, you know?”

 

“What about you?” Mike asked.

 

Nelson’s voice dropped to a whisper.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

Once Sean had finished packing his bag, Nelson and Sean moved all of the furniture in the living room into a circle. They placed a few rations of food and water in the center, hoping that if Katie were to come back to the house the formation of the living room would catch her attention. Mike wrote down the coordinates of the cabin and left a map tucked under the supplies.

 

“Let’s go,” Mike said.

 

They’d packed their rations. They’d said their goodbyes. Now they walked down 24
th
Street toward the highway. It was a three-day walk from Pittsburgh to Mike’s cabin in Ohio.

 

Mike’s fingers reached for the pistol on his right side. He felt the outline of the gun, making sure it was still there. The fire had destroyed all of his weapons and supplies, but he’d found the 9mm pistol tucked away in a closet of one of the abandoned houses they ransacked yesterday in preparation for their journey.

 

Every time Mike busted through a locked door, pulled open a drawer, or opened up a cabinet that wasn’t his he felt a stab of guilt shoot through his conscious. This wasn’t his house. These weren’t his things. He hated every minute of it. He had no right.

 

No right?
This neighborhood that turned on him and his family had no right to threaten them. They had no right to try and take what was his. Mike closed his eyes, wrapping his mind around the one solid thought propelling him forward.
He had to get to his family.

 

“Dad, you think mom will be able to find us?” Sean asked.

 

“Absolutely,” Nelson answered.

 

Mike watched the Nelson and Sean walk together, holding onto each other. If it hadn’t been for Nelson he’d be dead. Nelson pulled him from the flames, risking his life and never seeing his family again. Would he be able to do that? If the choice between saving Nelson or being with his family was presented to him, which path would he go down?

 

When they turned onto highway 60, the sun peaked over the Pittsburgh skyline behind them. A breeze swirled trash and dust across their feet. They weaved in and out of the abandoned vehicles along the road. It was an endless parking lot.

 

“Look at all of them,” Nelson said.

 

“Keep an eye out for any older models, prior to 1980. They won’t have any microprocessors in them and wouldn’t have been affected by the EMP.”

 

“That’s how your family got out? Because of the Jeep?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Mike thought about the once a month weekend trip where he and his family would go to get away from the city, enjoy the outdoors, and prepare for what was happening now. He reached into his pocket and felt the outline of the pocket watch that belonged to his father. His dad gave it to him when he was a boy. It was the only piece of technology he owned that still worked. It was as steady and reliable as the man who gave it to him.

BOOK: Broken Roads: A Tale of Survival in a Powerless World (Broken Lines Book 2)
5.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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