Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
(Shakespeare - The Tempest)
"Daddy wake up, time for me to go to school," 8 year-old Kelly shook Gary Preston's shoulder. Gary did not wake up, but Kelly's mom, Colleen, did.
"Good morning honey," she said with a yawn and a stretch. "I'm afraid it takes a bit more work than that to get Daddy up. Oh my, is the power still out?" Colleen sat up and glanced around the dark bedroom.
"I think so mommy" said the little girl.
Colleen looked at her watch: 7:35 A.M. "Let's go, honey, you'll be late for your bus". She got her robe on as they walked out into the dark house.
"Where's your brother?", asked Colleen.
"Chad left for school already." Kelly had lit some candles in the dining room and had already eaten a bowl of cereal.
"Ok. Oh, I see you had some breakfast, good girl," said Colleen. She went to the refrigerator, opened it and felt inside. "It's still pretty cool in here but this food won't last much longer".
"The milk was still OK. I had some juice too" said Kelly.
"Good! That's what mommy and daddy 'll have for breakfast too," said Colleen. "But first we need to get you to ready for school. Go get your school backpack and your jacket; I'll get dressed and meet you at the front door."
Colleen went back into the bedroom and quickly dressed. She wrapped a scarf around her hair instead of the brushing she didn't have time for, dawned a overcoat, and slipped into some sneakers. Gary was stirring and was presently waking up.
Kelly was ready to go and Colleen met her at the door. They walked out into the cool morning. The school bus stop was several houses down the suburban cul-de-sac; close but not close enough that Kelly could wait for the bus inside the warmth and comfort of her house, a point she often lamented on cold mornings such as this.
But this morning she said nothing as mom and daughter walked to the school bus stop.
At the bus stop, there was a small group already waiting. Two boys, brothers Tim and Jason Walker along with Shannon Carleton and her mom Jeannie.
"Good morning Colleen," Jeannie smiled. "How about this power outage?"
"Incredible! I've never seen a power outage where even the cell phones are out." said Colleen. "Any idea what's going on and how widespread it is?"
"No, and I wish I did" Jeannie replied. "I can't even get a dial tone on the regular phone".
The two women chatted it up and before long, 20 minutes had gone by and there was still no bus.
"I don't think that bus is coming mommy" Kelly said finally.
"I'm beginning to think you're right, honey" Colleen said. "Let's go back home and see if Dad's up yet. Maybe we can get him to drive us."
When Colleen and Kelly returned to the house, they saw Gary out in the back yard with his handheld GPS. They went around through the side gate to join him.
"No bus today?" He asked.
"Doesn't look like it. We thought maybe we would drive today", Colleen said.
"Maybe ...but check this out," Gary showed Colleen the GPS. "No signal. I've been trying for 15 minutes. I always get a signal in this spot even on a cloudy day. Today there's only some light clouds today. I wonder if anything at all is working."
"Jeannie said she couldn't get a dial tone," Colleen remarked. The Prestons had lived with just cell phones for so long they didn't even had a regular phone line. "The only things that seem to be working are the wrist watches," she added. She looked at her watch - now 8:15am. It was about 12 hours ago that the power had gone out.
Just then they heard the bus coming down the street.
Gary was standing in a position where he could see the school bus whiz by. Although, it passed through his field of vision rather quickly, it was enough to register that something was not quite right. Instead of children being on the bus, the bus was full of uniformed men! Colleen started to lead Kelly back out to the front to meet the bus.
"Just a second - don't go," Gary said.
"What's wrong?" Colleen asked.
Before Gary had a chance to answer, the pandemonium began. First there were loud male voices, shouting. That was followed by a woman screaming, probably Jeannie Carleton, then gunfire. Rapid fire, gunfire like that of Uzis.
"We need to hide -- quick out in the alley!" Gary motioned his family out. Behind their back yard was a large wooded greenbelt which Gary referred to as the 'alley'. At one time, a railroad line ran through this area, but now it was an overgrown median forming a boundary between neighborhoods and providing a play area for dogs and kids. For now, the heavy shrubbery would provide them cover.
They went out through a back gate and Gary closed it behind him. As the family crouched down in the bushes to hide, they could suddenly hear the sounds of plate glass breaking. Gary surmised that the invaders, whoever they were, were going house to house breaking the front windows. Or perhaps breaking into the houses through the front windows.
The breaking of glass windows all seemed to happen within a 60 second time frame as though it were coordinated. One seemed very close and could have easily been the Preston house. There were more muted shouts and more gunfire.
Gary pressed his finger to his lips as if to say 'keep very quiet'. Colleen and Kelly looked terrified, but they understood the danger nearby.
Just then they heard their back patio door slide open.
The hushed and cowering Prestons could hear the sounds of footsteps on their wooden deck; heavy and clogging, like those made by someone wearing boots. The footsteps were slow and deliberate. They could hear the perpetrator walking slowing down the wooden steps, descending into the yard. Once on the lawn, they could no longer hear him except for an occasional shuffle or throat clearing.
Soon there was another set of footsteps on the wooden deck and then low voices. It was two men talking, but neither Gary or Colleen could understand the language they were speaking. Gary tried to listen for inferences or clues as to what they were saying, but could catch nothing.
Gary heard the back door to the garage open and the voices then seemed to drift into the garage. After a minute, the Prestons could hear their front garage door open; apparently the invaders had found the automatic door opener switch.
Gary could now hear louder voices coming from out in the street and someone shouting; perhaps shouting orders. There was unidentifiable activity out in the street for what seemed like the longest time but no more glass breaking, gunfire, or screaming.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Prestons heard the school bus start up again. Gary listened as the backup beeper sounded and loud diesel engine bus roared down the street. He could hear it reach the end of the street and turn right onto the main road.
The Prestons waited for a minute or two but didn't hear anything else. Gary was the first to speak.
"I'm going to check to make sure they're really gone", he whispered.
"Oh honey, please be careful," Colleen was shaken up and Kelly began to whimper quietly.
"I'll be right back - don't move until I come back OK?" he said.
With that, Gary got up and cautiously eased out of his hiding place in the bushes.
Gary Preston's biggest fear (at the moment) was that the invaders had a left a silent sentry behind. He guardedly peered over the fence to check the back yard; there was no one within view. Gary opened the gate, went back through it, and closed it as quietly as he could.
The unwanted visitors had left all doors open, including the back door to the garage and the front main garage door. Gary could see straight through to the street, but could see no visible movement. He crept through the garage and peeked around the corner of the main garage door, looking in both directions. He could see no movement or anyone about, so he eased out into the open.
Once out in the open, he could see the cause of the glass breaking. The front picture window in every home on the suburban cul-de-sac had been completely broken out. It was evidently how they entered the homes so quickly.
In the middle of the street at the end of the cul-de-sac was a pile of bodies. It was a neatly stacked, layered pile of bodies which Gary recognized as his neighbors.
Gary walked up to the pile in the middle of the street and looked at them with sadness. There was blood running from the pile of bodies and he could see that each had been shot multiple times.
He wondered if they were actually all dead. He decided to take the time to test the pulse on all them; he felt he owed it to his neighbors. But all of them were dead; there were 13 bodies total.
Gary try to keep himself composed as he looked away and noticed yet another body lying on the lawn of the Peterson's house a few houses down. Looking closer he realized this was one of their soldiers.
'At least one of my neighbors was able to fight back,' he thought to himself.
Gary Preston tried to clear his head and think through everything that had happened in the past 12 hours or so. A power outage that also included cell phones, land phones, and nearly every other communications device. Then a school bus full of soldiers. The dead soldier on the lawn looked to be Arab and Gary realized this was likely a terrorist act. How widespread it was, he could only imagine. But if they were able to sweep though this street so fast, it's likely that is was well planned and widespread. One hell of a Jihad.
He also realized that the pile of dead neighbors were all adults; there were no children. Certainly there had been children at the school bus stop and in their homes. What happened to them?
He thought about the video war games he had played with his son, Chad, over the years. There were war games where entire countries were taken over by relatively few people with just a few key strategic strikes. How many school buses or transport vehicles were stolen for this heinous act he could only wonder.
He checked his watch and was surprised so see that only about 25 minutes had elapsed since they had first ducked for cover. He looked at the bodies and wondered why they had bothered to stack them so neatly. Then something occured to Gary.
He realized that someone would probably come back to take care of them - perhaps to burn them. The middle of the street would be suitable for a cremation. With the thought that the terrorists would be back - perhaps even soon - he went back to his house to get his wife and daughter out of hiding.
"It's all clear" Gary said as he opened the back gate. "You can come out now.
Colleen and a weeping Kelly crawled out of the bushes. "Daddy, what's going on?" Kelly asked.
"I'm not sure sweetie, but you were a very good brave girl to be so quiet" he said as he knelt down and hugged his daughter.
"We're not safe here," Gary stood up and said after a moment. "Colleen, can you and Kelly go into the house and get all the non-perishable food you can find? Oh and get a change of clothes for all us too. Just bag them up. I'm going to get our camping gear down."
"Where will we go? Camping out?" Colleen asked.
"I guess you could say that. I don't think we should try to use the roads; we'll have to use the alley and trails as much as possible," Gary replied.
"What about Chad?" Colleen suddendly thought about her son.
"We can follow the alley; it runs along the back of the high school. We'll look for Chad there. Beyond that, well ... I haven't got that far yet." Gary replied.
Colleen and Kelly went into the house, while Gary went into the garage. The garage had a loft storage area where their camping equipment was kept. He got up on the ladder and after a few minutes, had two backpacks, three sleeping bags, a tent and some other camping gear ready to go.
Shortly afterward, Colleen and Kelly came back out of the house with several bags of food items and clothing. Gary and Colleen began packing everything into their two backpacks and some of it into Kelly's day pack.
"We might need these," Colleen handed Gary the guns.
Gary took the 2 twin Glocks, looked them over, slid one in his vest pocket and handed the other back to Colleen. "You still remember how to use that?" He asked.
"I think so," answered Colleen.
Before Kelly was born, Gary and Colleen frequented the pistol range and had become something of 'sharp-shooters'. But since then, their interest in the weapons had waned and Gary couldn't even remember the last time they'd been to the range.
"They might come in handy, but only in defense. I think those soldiers had assault weapons," Gary remarked. "We'd better get going".
They all put on their backpacks and headed back out into the alley. It was April and the days were beginning to feel warmer. Much of the foliage had turned green so there was more cover in the alley then there would have been just weeks before. In fact it would be a beautiful day were not for the events of the morning.
There was something of a trail in the alley that had been created by people doing just what the Prestons were doing now - going for a walk. The high school was about one-half mile from the house going by way of the alley. Gary knew this because he had walked it several times but had not been much further than the high school.
Not much was said as the family walked along toward the high school. Gary could see the worried look on Colleen's face - she was thinking about her son just as he was. At 17, Chad was beginning to act more and more like a man, but he was still their boy and Gary prayed that somehow Chad had escaped this terrorist act.
Just as they were about to reach the high school area, they saw someone moving several hundred feet head.
It was Chad! Never had two parents been so relieved to see their son as Gary and Colleen were right now. He waved and they rushed forward to meet him. Soon there was a happy family reunion with a 4-way group hug. Not much was said for a minute or two, but finally Chad spoke up.
"Wow, I am ever glad to see you're all OK!", he said. "How did you escape?"
"We ducked for cover in the alley when they attacked," Gary said. "We really didn't see much except the aftermath. What happened at the school?"
"Well I was in back of the tennis courts with Alyssa and we were smoking..."
"Chad!" said Colleen.
"Sorry mom, but in this particular case, smoking might've actually saved a life. We heard some shooting and we first thought maybe some kid was going off the deep end. So we ducked out in the shrubbery. Just a bit later the field was swarming with soldiers of some kind. We stayed hidden."
Colleen decided this was not a good time to lecture her son about the dangers of smoking, so she let it go, but asked, "what about Alyssa? Where is she?" Alyssa was Chad's girlfriend; they had been dating the entire school year.
"Lyssa's made her way to the military camp," Chad said. "I told her to get out of here ASAP. I said I'd stay and see about all you and then join her."
"That's great Chad, but what 'military camp' are you talking about?" Gary asked.
"It's our military. They've set up an encampment north of town - a refuge I guess you would call it," Chad answered. "It's about 10 miles from here and we can take the back trails. I know right where it is."
"How did you find out all this?" Colleen asked.
"Zack. His dad was called out last night by the Guard and Zack came down and explained a bit of what's going on."
"You mind sharing some of that with us?" Gary asked.
"Sure dad, but let's not stand here, let's get going," Chad looked around nervously. "We can talk along the way. I'll lead."
"Sounds sensible to me, let's go!" Gary said.
With that, the family followed Chad's lead up the trail back towards the high school.
The trail took the Preston family around the back of the high school and it was a grim sight. There were four neatly stacked piles of bodies lying on the football field, each containing a dozen or so bodies.
"Oh how horrible!" said Colleen, as she tried to shield Kelly's view of the scene.
"Why did they stack the bodies like that?" Kelly asked nonchalantly.
"I'm not sure" replied Gary relieved that his daughter was not upset with the grizzly scene. "But it's the same thing they did to our neighbors. They stacked the bodies in the street. I figure maybe they're coming back to take care of the bodies."
"Oh let's do hurry out of here!", Colleen beckoned them to hurry along the trail.
Chad apparently had no interest in seeing any more of the school yard; he was already well ahead of them. The 3 of them rushed to catch up with him.
When they were once again together well past the high school, Gary said "Ok Chad, what do you know about all this?"
"Well Zack's dad is in the National Guard," Chad began. "The military came to pick up Zack's whole family last night shortly after everything went out. They took them to this military camp we're headed to. According to Zack, terrorists did something to cripple all our systems. Then after all the systems were down, the terrorists that were living among us just took it from there. I'm not real clear on the details - maybe we can find out more when we get to the camp."
"Do they know how widespread this is?" Gary asked.
"Zack indicted it's pretty widespread - possibly the whole country," answered Chad.
The family was quiet for a moment as they tried to comprehend this.
"When did you see Zack?" Colleen asked.
"He came down this morning after they attacked the school. He said he tried to get here sooner but couldn't. He gave me this map," Chad produced a piece of paper from his pocket. On it was crude hand-drawn map of the immediate area showing where the military camp was located. "Here, you keep this dad" he said.
"Ok Chad," Gary took the map and studied it for a moment. "10 miles can be a lot of ground to cover and we'd better keep moving if we want to make it by night-fall. Chad go ahead and lead the way."
With that, the Preston family was on the move through the dense tree cover with Chad out in front.
The Prestons plodded along through the wooded area until about noon. The trail had given out earlier and now they were traveling by compass through heavy foliage. The compass was working sporadically at least. Chad was traveling so far ahead of the group that they had lost track of him.
"Where's Chad?" asked Colleen.
"He was walking too fast for us," remarked Gary. "He's probably already there".
"Yeah he probably can't wait to get to his little hottie Alyssa," Kelly giggled.
"Hottie? Where did you get that word?" said Colleen. "Oh never mind, let's keep walking"
"Good thing Chad left me the map," Gary remarked. "Hope he knows his way".
"How far do you think we've come?" Colleen asked.
"I think we might be about one third the way there - possibly further," Gary said.
Just ahead they noticed a clearing. They were glad to reach it, because the steady trudging through foliage was tiresome and they looked forward to an easier walk. Gary, who was leading the way, stopped the edge of the woods.
Opened up before them was the large pasture area they had seen many times before, but never like this. About a mile away was the interstate. Instead of the drone of vehicles speeding up and down it, there was just an eerie silence. There were no vehicles on the interstate except for a few abandoned ones along the side.
Gary took out the map and looked at it for a minute. "We need to go in the same general direction of the interstate for at least the next few miles," he said. "We may as well use it to walk on."
"Do you think that's safe?" Colleen asked.
Gary thought for a minute and said, "There's a frontage road over there. We can walk along that for now. It has cover we can duck into if we need to".
With that, the 3 Prestons headed toward the road.
The Prestons found their way to the frontage road and took it as a path. It was strange to be walking right beside Interstate 5 and having no traffic going by on it. There was no traffic anywhere in sight. On the other side was an orchard of some kind. Looking closer, Gary noticed it was an apple orchard.
They had not gone very far when Gary stopped suddenly.
"What's the matter?" Colleen asked.
Then they all heard it. The sound of an engine, a diesel powered vehicle of some kind.
"Quick, let's try to make it to those trees," Gary pointed ahead.
But just as he said that, a large military transport vehicle pulled out of the orchard and onto the frontage road just 100 feet behind them. The apple trees had muffled the noise of the approaching vehicle until it was too late. For a moment, the Prestons were terrified and frozen by the realization that they had nowhere to run.
Gary was contemplating reaching for his gun, when the transport vehicle stopped about 30 feet from them. Out of the vehicle driver compartment, two U.S. soldiers climbed down.
"Hey, you need a ride to the camp?" one of them asked.
Gary and Colleen breathed a huge sigh of relief that this was U.S. Military.
"Yes, please" Gary called back as the Prestons hurried toward the camouflaged vehicle.
"I'm Sergeant Miles," the one who had called out introduced himself. "Here, let me help you up."
He lifted off one of the gates of the transport vehicle and lifted Kelly onboard. It was quite high and Colleen needed a boost from the Sergeant. Gary was able to hoist himself up into the back of the truck.
When they were all onboard Sergeant Miles said, "just hold on to the rope handles on the side. We don't have that far to go".
He replaced the truck gate and the Prestons sat down on the hard surface of the truck bed. They were not the only refugees in the truck. Another group - two adults and 3 children - was situated in the back of the truck. They said nothing.
Gary realized he wanted to ask the Sergeant some questions, but both soldiers had already taken their place inside the truck's cab.
Gary looked at the family in the back as the truck took off again. Their faces and clothes were dirty and they looked like they had been lying in dirt. Gary looked at Colleen and Kelly, then his own clothing and realized that the Prestons probably didn't look much better.
The military transport vehicle churned and sputtered its way along the frontage road a bit further, then turned again. This time it turned onto a dusty dirt road which caused billowing clouds of dust to fly up from the rear wheels and into the cargo bed. The family in the back quickly placed clothing over their mouths and noses while the Prestons followed suite.
"I'm not sure this is any better than walking," Colleen said through her tee shirt that was pulled up over her lower face.
"I know," replied Gary as he coughed. "But at least it'll get us there faster"
"Gary, I'm worried. How're we going to find Chad? What if he's lost?", she asked.
Gary said, "I was thinking about that. I meant to ask those guys if they'd seen him, but didn't think of it in time."
Gary thought for a minute and said, "remember when Chad was about 10 and we went camping? We were hiking and he got ahead of us? We were so afraid he was lost and he was there waiting at camp when we arrived."
Colleen smiled and said, "Yeah, I remember him saying 'what took you guys so long'. He always goes at a pace faster than most people."
"I'm sure he's there waiting for us. We'll look for him as soon as we get there," Gary said.
The truck was now on a logging road with heavy forestation on either side. The road was barely wide enough for the truck to pass through; bushes, branches, and foliage brushed against the side as they rode along, sometimes poking their way through the trucks side gates.
Finally the truck swung into an open area and stopped. Gary and Colleen stood up and looked around. They had arrived at the survivor's camp.
The entire trip took no more than 20 minutes, but Kelly had fallen fast asleep. It took several shakes on the shoulder from Colleen to wake her up.
"Come on honey, wake up, we're here," Colleen repeated until finally sleepy Kelly woke up and stood up. Sergeant Miles was busy removing the side gates. Joining him was a female officer. After helping everyone down Sergeant Miles said, "They're all yours Captain" and saluted.
"Thanks Sergeant" she said and turned to the ragged group. "I'm Captain Barnes, but you can call me Lauren," she smiled and greeted everyone. She had a nice warm, friendly smile and it broke the ice immediately. She took the time to have everyone introduce themselves, even the children. From this the Prestons learned that the other group from the truck was the Garcia family - Manuel and Christina were the parents and the children were Michael, Vincent, and Kayla.
The camp itself was a makeshift affair of many tents, large and small. There were no permanent buildings that could be seen. There were military-style tents of various sizes and shapes. There was also a group of smaller camping-style tents set aside in a large group which appeared to be the guest area. Colleen and Gary could see many families milling around that part of the camp.
The camp was set in a clearing that looked as though it had been cleared very recently. Piles of freshly cut timber were neatly stacked on one edge of the compound. There were portable showers and toilets, both of which looking very inviting to the Prestons at the moment. After a bathroom break, the Prestons and Garcias followed Captain Barnes into one of the larger tents which she called the "Briefing Center". The group was instructed to leave their bags and packs at the door.
The Briefing Center was in a large frame-style tent with lots of screen windows. It was divided by flaps into several areas, one of which was a children's play area. A female soldier met them and took the children over into the play area.
"Come over here and I will explain what I can," Lauren said as she motioned them into another section of the tent. It was set up like a meeting room with a large conference table and a folding chairs all around. "Please have a seat. We've found this news to be upsetting to small children" she went on as she saw the concerned look on Colleen's face.
"I've already been separated from one my children today," Colleen said as she took out Chad's picture from her billfold. Have you seen my son by any chance?" she showed the picture to Lauren.
Lauren took the photo and studied it for a moment before handing it back. "I'm afraid I don't recognize him. But then I've seen a lot of people today and I was never very good at remembering faces"
"I'm not going to sugarcoat this for you," Lauren said as she looked around the table. She paused for a moment to make sure everyone was listening and then walked over to a make-shift flip chart.
"At approximatly 2100 hours yesterday the US, in fact most of North America sustained a nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse attack".
"I'll explain further" she said as she saw the frightened and confused looks on the Preston and Garcia faces. She opened the flip chart to expose a crude drawing of North America with a cone shape leading up to a bomb high above the continent.
"Electromagnetic Pulse or just EMP, is the result of a nuclear detonation high above the atmosphere," She pointed to the bomb. "It doesn't cause the direct destruction that nuclear weapons do when they're detonated on the ground. Instead the effect is an intensely fluctuating magnetic energy field which descends to the earth within a certain radius. The size of the radius depends on how high the detonation occurs. The effect is indirectly destructive.
"In this case, there were 3 simultaneous detonations. One above Utah, one above North Dakota and a third above Indiana. The effect of this type of energy field you've already seen. Integrated circuits are particularly vulnerable to it, which is why nearly every system you depended on - cellular service, television, phone service, power systems, and so on - failed simultaneously."
She paused to give her small audience time to digest her explanation. She had given this spiel dozens of times today and each time the reaction was pretty much the same. Terror and confusion. She couldn't blame them a bit and Lauren wished she had better news to go with this.
"This morning, beginning at approximately 0700 hours, there was a widespread ground attack which you were fortunate enough to survive," She continued. "The ground attack was a well coordinated attack conducted by terrorists who were living among us. As you probably know, they took over buses and other public ground transportation vehicles to carry out their attacks. These attacks occurred in nearly every city in North America."
Lauren stopped talking and waited for a moment. "I'm afraid that's about all the information I can give you at this time. Do you have any questions?"
No one said anything at first, but finally Gary spoke up. "Is the military going to counter-attack and if so, what's their strategy?"
"Well the answer to your first question is yes," Lauren answered. "As for the strategy, I'm afraid I can't discuss that."
"When can we return home?" Colleen asked.
"Right now, the only place we can look after your safety is here," Lauren answered. She had gotten this question dozens of times today. "Outside this base, we can't guarantee anything so we don't recommend leaving."
"Who's responsible for this?" Manuel Garcia asked.
"Information is pretty spotty right now and what little I have, I'm not at liberty to discuss," was the answer.
There were no more questions, so Lauren informed them they needed to get checked in. "Please follow me to the Check-in Center" she said as she walked out. The parents were reunited with their children and then left the tent to follow Lauren.
Gary and Colleen noticed their backpacks had been removed from the place where they had left them. But once they reached the Check-in Center a few tents away, they could see the packs had been moved there and were being gone through. The Check-in Center was a small open air tent with no sides and just two tables. Two soldiers were staffing the tables.
Check-in was a breeze for the Prestons. Once the Prestons produced their identification, Gary and Colleen were told they could go get settled. They were also allowed to keep their weapons even though Gary's license to carry was expired. They were given 3 government issued towels and instructed to set up their tent in the visitor camp. Check-in was not quite so simple for the Garcias who did not have adequate identification.
The Prestons left the Check-in Center and headed to the area designated at the Visitor Camp. The Camp was a sea of tents on a football field sized area. Most of the tents were issued by the military, but the Prestons had been encouraged to use their own as they were told the supply of military issued tents was running low.
Gary and Colleen picked out a spot on the edge of one row of tents. They made quick work of getting the tent set up; little was said as they worked. They were both still digesting the upsetting news they had just heard and were not certain how to talk about it in front of their little girl. When the last of the support poles was slipped into place and the dome shaped tent popped up into shape, Kelly crawled inside.
"Pew, it stinks in here," she remarked.
Gary couldn't remember the last time he had had the tent set up. It might have been last summer or it might have been the summer before. In either case, he knew it must be a bit musty from being stored in the garage attic all that time.
"Open all the window flaps to air it out, OK honey?" Gary said. "I'll put the rain-fly on later."
Kelly unzipped all the windows and rolled the flaps neatly up. The tent was just tall enough for her to stand up in the center, but Gary and Colleen had to crawl in. They put their packs and bags neatly in one corner of the end of the tent and got back out.
"I think we should go look for Chad," Colleen said.
"I agree completely," Gary answered. "Do we have any of that bottled water left?"
"It's almost all gone," Colleen said as she checked. "We might as well finish it and bring the bottle. Maybe we can fill it somewhere around here."
She took a swig and handed the bottle to Gary. He drank some and gave the bottle to Kelly to finish. Gary zipped the door of the tent up and the family left the visitor camp in search of Chad.
After wandering around for about 30 minutes, the Prestons discovered that the base was not very large at all - at least the part they had access to. A larger portion of the base was marked 'off limits'. They could see the off limits area was full of tanks and other armed vehicles with lots of armed military personnel hurrying around. They noticed that the people seemed to be a mix of Army and National Guard personnel.
Other than that, they covered everything there was to see on the entire base in a short time. They learned where the mess tent was and that two meals a day were served: 9am and 4pm.
They decided to walk through each of the rows of tents. All the tents were set close and it wasn't hard to peek inside each one. Colleen called Chad's name every so often as well.
"Oh look, there's Rena Boyd," Kelly said as she pointed. "She's in my class - can we go over and say hello?"
"Sure, let's go," said Colleen. "Maybe we'll learn something from them."
Colleen recognized Rena's mom Marsha from the Parent-Teacher group and they all chatted for a while. Marsha and Rena had been through a similarly harrowing experience and had escaped by hiding in their van. Marsha's husband Bruce had left for work before the attack happened but was missing.
Gary looked at his watch and realized it almost 4pm. "We should go see what this place offers to eat. I'm getting hungry."
"Would you two like to join us?" Colleen asked Marsha.
"No thank you," she said. "We have our own things"
With that, the Prestons said their goodbyes to Marsha and Rena and headed toward the Mess Tent.
The Mess Tent was a MASH-like setup with dozens of picnic tables arranged into 4 long rows. The Prestons waited in line and were served their meal on metal trays by a National Guard server. There weren't any choices: dinner consisted of stew, biscuits, and a serving of mixed vegetables. Portions were noticably tiny and the server told them apologetically to expect rationing.
"I'm glad we brought some of our own food," Colleen remarked as the family took their place at a table.
"This looks yucky," remarked Kelly.
"Sometimes you say that about my meals too, dear," chided Colleen. "Just eat - food may be hard to come by."
The family began to eat their meal. Gary finished his portion in a few minutes and began to look around. Suddenly he sat straight up, craning his neck.
"Do you see Chad somewhere?" Colleen asked hopefully.
"No, but I'm sure that's Bill Whittaker, Zack's dad, at that table third from the end," he pointed toward a group of Guard personnel.
"I think you're right," said Colleen as she looked.
"I'm going over and talking to him," Gary said, getting up. "Be right back."
Colleen and Kelly continued their meal. Colleen soon finished, but after several minutes Kelly was picking at her food and had barely eaten any of it.
"Honey you really don't have to finish that if you aren't hungry," Colleen said.
Kelly shoved her metal tray away and began to cry. "I wanna go home" she said as she whimpered softly.
Colleen said nothing. She hugged Kelly and held her to console her.
Gary finally returned to the table. He didn't bother to ask what was wrong with Kelly - he didn't have to. "Come on, let's get out of here," he said.
Colleen took their trays to the bus table and the family left the Mess Tent.
"I'm going off the base to look for Chad," Gary announced once they were outside.
"But it's going to be dark soon," said Colleen.
"I know, but I'm going to have some help," he said.
"What kind of help?" Colleen asked.
"Bill Whittaker." Gary said as soon as they were a safe distance from the Mess Tent. "Bill has patrol duty tonight and he's agreed to let me ride along and then drop me off near where we last saw Chad."
"And so you're going to just wander around in the dark looking for Chad?" Colleen looked concerned.
Gary grinned. "We have a plan. Bill is going to loan me a military grade assault rifle and a pair of night vision goggles."
"That's nice of him," Colleen said. "Isn't that kind of risky to lend equipment to civilians like us?"
"Bill has a personal stake in my finding Chad," Gary answered. "Zack is missing too."
"Didn't Chad say that Zack showed up at the school after the attack?" Colleen asked.
"Yes but he never returned," Gary said. "Bill has been looking for him ever since by volunteering for these rescue patrols. So I'll be looking for Zack too, but my main focus will be on finding Chad."
They reached the tent and stopped. Gary checked his watch.
"It's going to be a long night." he said. "I think I have some time for a few hours of good shut-eye."
"What time are you supposed to meet him?" Colleen asked.
"Nine PM or ... 2100 hours as they say in military time," Gary answered. "Will you wake me up about 8:30? Assuming I can get any sleep around here that is."
"Knowing you, you can sleep anywhere," Colleen smiled. "Of course, I will wake you around 8:30"
Gary got inside the tent and laid out his sleeping bag. Colleen grabbed a few things out of their packs and then zipped the tent shut.
"Um, how will you get back from this mission?" she said.
"Bill is on patrol duty tomorrow morning as well," Gary answered. "We'll establish a rendezvous point for the morning."
"Ok, well.. try to get some sleep," Colleen said reluctantly. She took Kelly and they left Gary alone to get some needed rest.
Colleen looked at her watch - it was 8:20pm. She was sitting in the tent with Gary snoring on one side and Kelly fast asleep on the other. She was putting the finishing touches on Gary's pack trying to think of everything he might need for the long night ahead. She was fumbling with the flashlight when Gary woke up suddenly.
"Wha.. What time is it?" he said as he sat up rubbing his eyes.
"Almost 8:30," she said. "I was getting ready to wake you up."
"We forgot fresh batteries," she said as she shined the dim light at the top of the tent. "I don't suppose you could score flashlight batteries while you're wandering about tonight?"
"I'll make a note of it," Gary said as he pretended to write on his hand. He got up and got out of the tent. Colleen followed him and dragged his pack out.
"I emptied your pack except for things you may need," she said. "Your raincoat, a jacket, some food, the first aid kit, spare socks, and a bottle of water. Can you think of anything else?"
"Not really - that should be enough." Gary said looking around. The visitors camp was pitch dark; only a few flashlights illuminated an occasional tent. Even the military area was poorly lit. He would have no trouble sneaking out to the rendezvous point.
After a long embrace and a tearful goodbye, Gary left for the 9 o'clock rendezvous point.
Minutes later, Gary was riding in the back seat of an open air Military Jeep along the road leading out from the base. Bill Whittaker was in the front passenger seat and a Private Gillis was driving. Gary was glad Colleen had packed his jacket; the early spring night air was crisp and in the open jeep it chilled him.
There was no talking allowed during their trip so Gary was left to play with the night vision goggles Bill had given him. He could look out and see life moving about in the woods as they drove along that he would not have ordinarily seen. Birds, Bats, small nocturnal mammals all showed up as they moved about in their nightly routine of existence. He tested the various settings and by the time the jeep reached its destination, he was proficient enough to feel comfortable with the device.
After driving for 30 minutes or so, the jeep pulled into a residential street not unlike the one the Prestons lived on and stopped at the end. The 2 guardsmen and Gary sat in the jeep for moment to make sure there was no danger about and then got out.
Bill Whittaker spread a map out on the hood of the jeep and pressed it flat.
"This is one area that I couldn't cover very well in the jeep", he said as he pointed to a drawn out area on the map. "A lot of it is in the Greenbelt so it needs to be covered on foot. See how much of it you can get covered tonight ok?"
Gary looked the map. Much of the assigned area he had already walked through once today. Now at night, it would be much different. "Looks pretty straightforward," he said. "Is this for me to take?"
"Yep, it's your copy," Bill said as he folded it neatly up with only the assigned area showing. "Now for the most important part," he said as took out the XM8 Assault Rifle.
Bill spent about 10 minutes explaining the weapon's features to Gary. When he was finished and he was certain Gary understood, he gave the weapon to Gary. Although it was lightweight, it was relatively bulky. Gary checked the safety and placed it on his shoulder securing the shoulder strap.
"How dangerous is it out here?" Gary asked as he looked around at the dark street.
"Well to be honest, I think the terrorists are running scared now," Bill replied. "There hasn't been any sightings of them since about noon. I think they've lost their surprise advantage and they're probably hiding out somewhere regrouping. That doesn't mean you shouldn't keep a sharp eye out."
Gary nodded. "Where and when do I meet you in the morning?" he asked.
"How about right here -- 0900 hours," replied Bill. "Be here a bit early and be ready to wait a bit if we're not here exactly at 9."
Bill shook Gary's hand and wished him luck. Then he returned to the jeep with Private Gillis. Gary watched as they started up, turned around, and drove away. The night was so eerily quiet and void of the normal everyday noises that he could hear the jeep long after it was out of sight.
He took a few moments to familiarize himself with the locale, noting the street name and finding it on the map. He would need to make certain he could get back to this spot in the morning. Then, with backpack and his shouldered weapon, he made his way slowly into the dark wooded area in back of the last house on the street.
It was a long night and the going was slow and deliberate for Gary. In the wooded areas, the night vision goggles turned out to be almost a hindrance. They didn't properly display low lying, inanimate objects like stumps, stones, and branches on the ground so he had to step very carefully to avoid stumbling. If he fell and hurt himself, he knew there would be no one to come get him.
Hour after hour he wandered. He wasn't even certain what he was looking for. He covered every square foot of the area where they had last seen Chad. But he had seen no one. He saw lots of nocturnal critters, several cats, and even the occasional dog wandering, looking longingly for its missing master.
But no people - - that is until now. Many hours into the night, he found himself on a hill overlooking the high school. Down on the field below, he could see a group a people moving about! He ducked behind a tree and stuck his head out to try and focus on them. They were too far away to pick up any detail in the goggles and if they were talking, he could not hear them up here.
He spotted a house nearby and moved toward it. He went in through the back gate and let himself in through the open back door. As with all the other houses he had visited this evening, it was deserted. He made his way upstairs and found a room with a bird's eye view of the schoolyard from its window.
He pulled up a recliner, settled down into it to watch the school yard. He could see the piles of bodies as dark mounds in the goggles. But he couldn't tell what the people down on the field were doing. They didn't appear to move except on occasion - as though they were standing around talking.
Perhaps the terrorists were using the school as a command center, Gary thought to himself. He regretted not having a way to reach the military. This would have to wait until he rendezvoused with Bill in the morning. In the meantime, he watched.. and wondered.
Gary woke up; it was daylight and the night vision device had turned itself off. He cursed himself for falling asleep. He yanked off the goggles and looked out the window. There was nothing in the schoolyard expect the grim piles of bodies. Whoever had been down there was gone now. Looking at his watch, he could see that it was 5:45 AM; just barely daybreak.
He jumped out of the recliner, and hurried out of the house heading down the hill for the schoolyard. Pausing on the edge of the schoolyard, he looked carefully and listened for a minute. Then he stepped onto the schoolyard.
He found Chad in the first pile of bodies he walked up to. He was lying with his girlfriend, Alyssa. Nearby, among the group of bodies was Bill's son Zack. Gary stared in disbelief for several minutes.
Then something behind him, a movement of some sort, made him turn around. But when he turned around, there was nothing there....or was there?
Reaching in his pack, he put the night vision goggles back on and adjusted them to daylight settings. Out on the field he could now see the 'group' he was watching earlier. One broke from the group and came toward Gary.
"I'm sorry Dad," Gary heard him say. "I love you. Tell mom and sis I love them. I can't ... can't stay... much longer".
A strange cold wind began to blow through the field. It was unlike any wind Gary had felt before. It swirled wildly and carried the group up, and whisked them away. Gary watched them as long as he could, until the night vision goggles filled with his tears and he could see no more.
Story Blook Home
Tags: Fiction, Short Fiction, Blook Fiction, Online Fiction, Short Stories, Short Story, Fiction Blook, Blook