Authors: Mike Whitworth
1500 MILES FROM HOME
© 2015 Mike Whitworth
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
book is dedicated to my wife, Diana. Without her encouragement, love, and support, it would never have been written. I would also like to thank Happy and Dusty, our cats, and Bear and Misha, our dogs, who often kept me company into the wee hours as I wrote.
My earlobe twitched and caught fire like a hornet sting as the bullet passed within a fraction of an inch of my ear. I ran faster. Sand filled my wingtips and jammed my toes while my water jug slammed me in the back with every step. The two guys kept shooting at me while they were chasing me.
They wanted my water. They already had everything else I had been carrying. It seemed to me they might succeed in getting my last water jug as well, especially if one of them was smart enough to stop and aim his pistol. I guessed it wouldn't be the end of the world if they did get my last water jug. After all, the world already ended two days ago.
I remembered what I was doing when the world ended. Well, maybe not ended, but it sure as hell changed drastically and instantly, and, as best I could tell, not for the better.
So what was I doing when the world ended? The fact of the matter is that I was just frittering away some time while I waited for a business meeting to start at a client's office. I hated these business trips because I didn't like being away from my family, but the money was needed to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.
This time I was in a little town called Socorro in central New Mexico. It wasn't a difficult place to find. I just flew into Albuquerque, rented a car, and followed the Rio Grande south about 60 miles.
As I drove south along the interstate there was a storm along the mountain ranges to my east. The number and intensity of lightning strikes fascinated me. At any given moment I could see at least five individual lightning strikes and sometimes more than fifty. It was eerie...eerie and macabre at the same time. The lightning was yellow, white, blue, and sometimes red. I was more than 20 miles away so the thunder was just a continuous low rumble that set the background for the single most impressive light show I have ever seen.
I decided I didn't want to be in those mountains during a simple thunderstorm, let alone a super-thunderstorm like the one I saw. I had never visited Socorro before, although I had previously been in other parts of New Mexico. Nowhere had I seen lightning like this though.
I looked up from writing notes on my pad when the lights went out. The receptionist, sitting only a few feet away, said, "Darn, not again!" She stood and looked out the window, "I wonder how long it will last this time?"
"Does the power go out often?" I asked.
"Every now and then. Most of the outages last a few minutes to a few hours."
Just then the guy I was supposed to meet walked into the reception area. He looked at the receptionist and shrugged his shoulders. He seemed like a nice guy when I talked to him on the phone, and he seemed like a nice guy when I saw him in person.
"You must be my 10:00 o’clock?" he said after glancing in my direction.
"I stood and shook his hand. "Hi, I am Wayne Zane. I spoke to you on the phone last week."
He laughed. "How could I forget a name like yours?" I laughed too, though I had heard it before. "Look," he said, "can you come in tomorrow instead. We never know when the power will come back on around here. It should be back on by this time tomorrow morning though. It is always back on by the next morning."
"You bet," I replied, "I'll see you then." He smiled, and I smiled, and we went our separate ways. I went to the parking lot while he disappeared deeper into the building.
I rented a 4WD Jeep at the airport in Albuquerque because I hoped to have an hour or two to explore some of the ghost towns west of Socorro. Now it looked like I would have plenty of time.
At least it seemed like it until I turned the key in the Jeep's ignition and nothing happened. I tried it a few more times and each time, nothing—not even a click. It was then I noticed the glow high in the clouds above the mountain to the east.
"No way," I blurted out loud. I got out of the car and walked to the top of a low knoll to see the red glow better. The mountain blocked most of my view to the east.
The village of Socorro sits in a narrow valley bounded on the east and west by mountains. The western mountains are lower in elevation than the eastern mountains, but an even taller mountain range rises a bit further west. The Rio Grande runs from north to south through the valley. The red glow I could see to the east almost filled the sky from somewhere below the mountaintop to a position about 50 degrees above the horizon.
I heard nothing, nor was there any evidence of a pressure wave. If it was what I thought it was, and was hoping it was not, it was far to the east. Was it as far east as Indiana where I lived with my wife and son? I hoped it was nowhere close to them.
I could see the parking lot from the knoll. A few people were trying to start their cars. None of the cars started—not one. Now I was getting nervous.
I went back to the Jeep and tried the radio. Zip, nada, nothing. It wouldn't make a sound, not even static. I tried my cell phone and got the same result. It was as fried as battered okra.
I thought about talking to some of the people in the parking lot, but I didn't know any of them. I didn't want to mention my suspicions to anyone. Doing that might cause a panic and prevent me from getting the equipment and supplies I needed to get home to my family. I was 1,500 miles from home, and I was determined to get home, even if I had to walk all of the way.
The game show announcer was just about to show the prize when the power went out. If that happened to some of my work friends, they would complain about it all day. To a girl who grew up on a ranch that never had electricity, it was no big deal. I sat down by the window with a book. It was a romance novel, after all, I am still a girl—or used to be a few years ago anyway.
Power outages are fairly common here and I was sure the electricity would be back on by morning at the latest.
I hoofed it the couple of miles back to my motel at the north end of town. I brought my briefcase along. It was typical late September day in New Mexico—over 80 degrees. The dry heat was enjoyable. I carried my suit coat folded over my briefcase.
When I got to the motel, I tried the key card in the door. Nothing happened. I tried the door handle. It was still locked. When the world ends, one has to be decisive, or so I read. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. No one was, so I slammed my shoulder into the door. I am a big guy and it gave way on the first try. So much for the sense of security I used to feel when locked inside a motel room.
Once more back in my room, I looked at my watch. It was only 10:30 in the morning. Other than the fact that the Jeep would not start, the electricity was off, and the eerie red glow to the east, everything seemed normal, just unusually quiet.
My watch is an old Timex wind-up that my dad left me. I wear it for sentimental reasons, and because the thing just keeps on ticking. Apparently, in the old days, ads were more truthful. My dad wore the watch when he served in Vietnam. He said it never quit on him. I had it worked on after he passed, and put on a larger band to fit my oversized wrist. My dad was nearly as tall as I am, but was smaller-boned.
I locked the door by jamming it with a chair and emptied my carry-on-bag on the bed. Looking through the stuff on the bed, I was shocked at how few useful items I had with me for what I had to do next. With all the hassles at the airports, I traveled very light. The less stuff the TSA had to dig through, the fewer delays I had. Well, except for the occasional suspicious question as to why I was traveling so light. The agents were usually so slow that I seldom had to give a logical answer, just a politically correct one.
I did have a Swiss Army Knife—a Super Tinker that I bought at the big box store in Belen on the way to Socorro yesterday. I am a fanatic about always having a knife on me, but the damn airline didn't allow knives on flights. When I left home I did have a small survival kit with an old stone arrowhead in my carry on bag, but the TSA confiscated the arrowhead along with my entire survival kit. The old stone arrowhead had been the only sharp object in the kit, and it wasn't very sharp, or very big.
At the big box store, I also bought several boxes of waterproof matches, and a cheap magnesium fire starter with a built in fire steel. I bought it for the fire steel since cheap imports like that one didn't have much magnesium in the block. Hell, you could toss the thing into a fire and it might not even burn unless the toads were singing Italian opera, or some such.
I also bought a pack of imitation paracord because the TSA took mine out of my carry on bag. I guess they thought I might strangle someone, or something.
In summary, I had a Swiss Army Knife, a small sharpening stone, three boxes of matches, the imitation fire starter in which only the fire steel worked, a kerchief—oversized to fit my melon-sized head—one pair of leather-soled shoes (size 16), my suit, and some spare underwear and socks, as well as the typical stuff in my shaving kit. Of course, I also had a small laptop boat anchor and an unusable cell phone.
Wasting no time, I packed my useable stuff into my small overnight bag, and slipped the knife, fire starter, and a box of matches into my pockets. I also removed the battery from the cell phone and dropped it into a pocket as well. It should still have a charge.
I have never been one to steal, but there is always a first time. I took the blanket and sheets off of the bed, put the two towels, two washcloths, the toilet paper, and two tiny bars of motel soap on top of them. Then I carefully rolled them into a bedroll and tied it with some of my fake paracord.
I needed to try shorting the battery of the jeep to the chassis to see if it might reset the Jeep's computer controller. If that worked, the little green bugger might actually start. I figured I might as well try that first, so I stashed my stuff in the best hideaway I could find, just in case I could not get any other gear, and headed back to the parking lot where I left the Jeep. I should have tried shorting to reset the controller first thing, but I wasn't thinking as clearly as I should have been.
From now on, I knew I would have to be much more careful of lapses like that one. My pa-in-law always told me that lapses in judgment could cost you your life. He should know. He was a retired Special Forces Captain who was now an expert survivalist. He was also a big-time prepper. I knew Lucy and Ben, my wife and son, were, or soon would be, at his retreat. He would make sure of that, and God help anyone who tried to hurt them.
Knowing my pa-in-law would have the situation back home under control eased my mind and let me focus on what I needed to do. My pa-in-law, Cap, and I discussed the situation I now seemed to be in on several occasions. His description of what I would see was right on the mark, almost scarily so.
As I pondered what to do next, there was a quiet flash high in the sky off to the west. This time I was positive it was an EMP. The most recent glow was most likely the end of the electric grid on the West Coast.
I assumed that someone had achieved pretty thorough EMP coverage over the North American Continent. Maybe it was China, or maybe it was Russia, or maybe just some well-funded asshole, or maybe even insane elements in our own government. We probably would never know.
I finished the book and the electricity was still off. What little food my small refrigerator should be fine as long as the power came back on by morning.
I checked my cell phone. I was hoping for a text message from my job interview last week. My cell phone was dead. That never happened to me before. Run the battery down? Sure, I had done that, but this was different. My cell phone was charged, but there was no signal, not even a single bar. My cell phone always worked during previous electricity outages. This time I assumed the cell phone towers were down as well.
This outage was starting to feel different to me. I got my pistol out of the nightstand drawer and dropped it into my apron pocket. Then I checked the shotgun to be sure it was loaded. That made me feel a little better as I wiped the kitchen counters, but not much.
My mom always said I had the gift, the gift of
she called it. My mom was part Apache, one eighth to be exact, and she had the gift too, so she should know. Mom even predicted her own death. That freaked my dad out, but I understood, even though I hoped she was wrong. That was ten years ago. Dad wasn't over losing her yet. I doubted I was either.
My mom had a really strong gift. Mine is only sporadic and I don't always trust it. But this time I was beginning to trust my feelings. All I could do was wait and see.
Back at the parking lot, I used the tire iron to short the hot terminal of the jeep battery to the chassis and then tried to start the Jeep. It didn't work that time, or any of the dozen times I tried it after that. Hell, I even tried shorting the neutral to the chassis. Of course, that didn't work either. I was worried but Cap always told me that action banishes worry. Shrugging my shoulders, I cut the seat belts in the Jeep. I rolled them up, sans buckles, and stuck one in each back pocket. Then, with the tire iron in my left hand, I set off for the grocery store.
The local grocery store was on the main drag, only a half-mile walk from the parking lot. It was only two hours since the electricity went off. I figured there was a good chance that the manager and most of the employees would still be in the store waiting for the lights to come back on.