Description for Devastation:
Imagine that you wake one
morning and everything you have come to know is gone. Your home and car, place
of business, even loved ones, are all gone. How would you survive?
On leave from the U.S. Marine Corps, Jason Black considered himself fortunate the morning an unnatural wind devastated Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite concerns for a distant fiancé, Jason holes up with other survivors in the ruins of a warehouse. Among the survivors, Kelly “Rocky” Cordova is an attractive, thirty something single mother determined to return to her Utah family.
With diminishing resources, the survivors send Jason and Rocky in search of civilization and the cause of the mysterious storm. Their dangerous trek leads across a demolished countryside, and into perilous encounters with other survivors. Scrounging daily for food, water, and shelter, they attempt to survive in a world where necessities are luxuries and conflicts might lead to understanding, romance, or death.
A suspenseful tale of love, survival, and the power of the human spirit to overcome “Devastation.”
June 7, 2009
This world seems surreal. It’s been three weeks since the wind came. Fortunately, the morning of the storm, I had thrown my overnight bag into the car since makeup and toiletries wouldn’t fit in the briefcase. I wish I’d tossed in a change of clothing but who would have expected this? While lugging meager possessions through city blocks of rubble, I wondered if possessions were indeed a blessing.
I’ve wandered from uptown Charlotte to the outskirts. Thus far, food, of a sort, has been easy to find; canned food, granola bars, and bits of beef jerky and crackers. The snickers bar I found Monday was a blessing despite flattening it with my shoe. I now realize that I have never truly appreciated chocolate. I spend daylight hours searching for water–at night I curl up in what shelter I find, praying for bits of safe undisturbed sleep.
Water must be a priority today, though I suspect water from canned fruit will suffice for a time. Three days ago, I found a full water bottle in the street. I’m sorry to say, it didn’t last long. My body needed it.
In the past I have taken simple luxuries for granted, like turning a tap for a glass of water–a safe place to sleep and hot meals. Above all, I miss the company of friends. And coffee. I’ve had no coffee for three weeks. Who would have guessed I could forego coffee for a single day? What I wouldn’t give for a latte.
Few survivors roam the ruins. Of those I’ve seen, I’ve decided avoidance is my safest tact–in the past friends have accused me of being too trusting. Misplaced trust in this place would be my undoing. Fortunately, survivors focus on searching for food and water. I hid on the street from the last survivor six days ago, a grizzled old man who looked as though he had been homeless before the destruction. I wonder if he had seen my threadbare outfit would he have thought the same of me? I find it ironic how nature can be the great equalizer.
I had hoped for rescue the day after the storm, two or three days at most. Where is the army during all of this? Following Hurricane Katrina, the National Guard swarmed New Orleans within days. Planes or helicopters–I’ve neither seen nor heard them. I’d think at least news crews would fly over the city. I must plan beyond wandering the streets–must find a way home. Home is so far away. My cell phone is useless and my daughters must be worried sick.
Three days ago, I wandered into a storefront where I now sit. So far, no one has discovered my hideaway but I imagine it’s only a matter of time before someone stumbles in here. The walls have survived better than most buildings; the rear wall stands ten feet above me. The floor is littered with camping and hiking gear, freeze-dried food, power bars and dried meat–but no water. Due to this fortunate find, I now own a backpack and a loaded pistol. Thank God, for small miracles.
Speaking of miracles, I could certainly use a big one. Heavenly Father, I know you are busy with all of this going on. I’m not sure how much longer I can endure. I must have water soon–and if You see fit, could You spare an angel to guide me from this place? I would certainly be grateful.
A figure huddled nervously behind a pile of rubble. The unshaven man dressed in dirty military fatigues scanned ruins for signs of movement. Then, he scurried from one mound to the next to hide from a dim, red flashing light moving slowly through a ravaged street.
Filtered sunlight cast a colorless blanket over the city, excluding the red light fading in the distance. A few sparse buildings remained intact. Within the structures, a handful of survivors congregated. For the others perhaps, an orderly structure provided a glimmer of a civilized past. On the other hand, shelter in building remnants or a hollowed refuge beneath the ruins suited the unshaven man.
He knew survivors who had migrated to an abandoned storehouse only by vocation, the police officer, the firefighter, the CEO–a delightful woman, the carpenter, the plumber, the bicycle messenger, and the stockbroker. He had been fourth to arrive, Jason Black, a marine trained in Special Operations and stationed at Camp Lejeune. Survivors simply called him, “Black.”
Since the wind had originated from the east, the group had decided the best hope to reach civilization would be west. Three days ago, the stockbroker had returned from a journey to evaluate the destruction. According to the broker, he had walked due west for seven days and had found only desolation.
Jason had been fortunate the day the wind blew. While on leave in Charlotte, he had driven twenty-minutes for an exercise run in the foothills below Mount Holly. After parking the Ford Explorer, he ran three miles up a lonely highway. Then, in an instant, the ground heaved and tossed him six feet in the air. Terrain rose and fell a half dozen times. He rode out the quake sprawled on his back.
Earthquakes were unusual in this part of the country but he supposed stranger things had happened. When the ground had settled, the wind howled greater than the force of a hurricane, though he had never experienced a hurricane first hand. He had scrambled into a deep ditch and huddled inside a concrete storm culvert to wait out the storm.
The culvert opening filled with debris ranging from trees to ragged scraps of buildings and farm equipment and then cleared again. He recalled a late model Isuzu Trooper crashing into the ditch. The driver, a wild-eyed middle-aged man, stared directly at him. Jason scrambled for the Isuzu but the wind had snatched it up. The memory haunted him during long dark nights before sleep.
Cause for the wind remained a mystery. The others were equally bewildered. The group had discussed possibilities, a massive hurricane, or a bomb, and a volcanic eruption, which is unlikely for North Carolina. His suspicion of a bomb resulted from Marine Operations Center training. Instinct attributed disasters of this magnitude to “unfriendlies.” Fortunately, he had trained under worse conditions. Unlike other survivors, training provided him an advantage; survival requires adaptation.
This reminded him that his leave had ended two weeks ago. He imagined Camp Lejeune had suffered equal damage. Military constructed barracks would withstand normal weather events but none this intense. He doubted base personnel would search for him. Still, given the opportunity, he would return to base. For now, survival was priority, survival for him and for the others.
He scurried across the street to a warehouse where the others routinely assembled to share spoils before nightfall. Survivors had bonded quickly over the past weeks. Everyone shared and shared alike to the best of his knowledge. Each day those healthy enough scavenged for useful items. Earlier in the day, Jason had secured a set of cutting knives complete with butcher-block holder, a cast iron skillet, and a bundle of climbing rope. Meager rewards for a day on the street. His sights had been set on a steel bathtub until the flashing red light had interrupted him. Perhaps he would retrieve it in the morning.
He entered the warehouse to see the stockbroker strip off his suit coat, roll up his sleeves, and address the group, “I’m telling you, you could walk west for a month and not find a city still standing.”
“Well we can’t stay here.” The carpenter argued, “Food is gettin’ scarce. Canned goods are still edible. Perishables rotted away weeks ago. I’d give my right arm for a nice thick steak about now.”
The bicycle messenger eyed his approach and said, “Hey, Jason’s back.”
The stockbroker examined Jason’s bounty. “What did you find, Black?”
The broker, always first to inventory items, pronounced his name like profanity. Jason suspected the man hoarded supplies somewhere outside. He displayed the paltry items.
“That’s all you brought, boy? Have you been napping all day?”
Few men irritated Jason Black as the stockbroker did. Yet, he couldn’t pinpoint exactly why, not that he had given the man much thought. “What’s your take for the day?”
The stockbroker brandished two liquor bottles. “I hit the mother lode! And more where these came from!”
“You’re the only one who’ll drink it.”
“Medicine fool! Antiseptic!”
Jason’s eyes flared. The bicycle messenger stepped close and reached for the butcher block. “These will be handy,” she muttered drawing the largest knife to study her reflection in the steel. After running a thumb along the edge, she leered toward the broker. “Sharp.” She took the cast iron skillet from Jason. “Thanks, Black. Good job.”
The broker unscrewed a liquor bottle cap, filled a cup, and drank.
“Anyway, Black,” the broker continued, “I told the others we could walk west for a month and not find civilization. It’s not worth the effort. Some of us might not make the walk.” He eyed the carpenter, a sixty-something, gray haired man.
Jason had first noticed the carpenter’s kind eyes when the man had arrived three weeks ago. The man reminded him of his grandfather who recently turned seventy-one, if he had survived. Like his grandfather, the carpenter’s hands showed strength from a lifetime of honest labor.
The CEO stepped to the center, “May I say something?” She crossed arms tightly across her chest and studied the floor. “I think we have to try, not all of us, but we need to know where we stand. For all we know, we’re the last survivors, or perhaps, civilization is only a hundred miles away.”
Jason interrupted, “While I hope you’re right about the hundred miles, we would have seen fighter planes over the city. I suspect the storm took out everything for at least a few hundred miles. I’m willing to travel as far as necessary.”
The plumber, a red haired plump man, voted. “No objection here. You’d make it quicker than the rest of us.” He looked to the firefighter, a strapping lad in his mid-twenties. “Jack?”
The firefighter nodded, “I’ll go along. I’m in fair shape.”
Jason liked the young firefighter. Quiet kid, hard-working, and from what Jason had observed, resourceful. “You’d be a great asset, you’re strong. They’ll need your strength here. I’m willing to go alone.”
The CEO shook her head. “I don’t like one man traveling alone, Black. It’s like putting all of our eggs in one basket, not that I don’t have faith in your ability.”
“I’m afraid I’d just hold you back.” The carpenter interjected. “I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“I’ll go.” The bike messenger volunteered. Jason had wondered about her, twentyish, still dressed in cyclist garb, tight shorts, and a form-fitting shirt. Thighs and calves were muscular. A pixyish face hinted she might be younger than he suspected.
Jason moved close to her. “I’m afraid I’d never keep up with you, little one.” He brushed her cheek. “You bring more supplies than anyone. They need you here too.”
“I wouldn’t be much use with this hand.” The police officer held up a bandaged right hand, the result of a recent injury while plundering a department store. He looked to the plumber.
“Trick knee.” The plumber said sheepishly. “I can’t walk a mile.”
When attention focused on the broker, the man fidgeted and sipped from the cup.
“Well,” the CEO said. “I guess that leaves me, Black. I haven’t run a mile in twenty years. I might make a hike of three or four, anything more and I’m afraid you’d have to carry me.”
“It’s okay,” Jason waved her off to study the stockbroker. “This group needs a strong leader, and you are, ma’am.”
The stockbroker opened his mouth to speak and then thought better of it.
The police officer spoke. “Black, you’ll need gear. I found a sporting goods store still partially standing.” The officer motioned with his good hand. “Go four blocks north, then east a block and a half. I went through it four days ago and found the water jugs. You should find what you’ll need.”
“Good, I can make it before dark.”
The bike messenger stepped forward, “I’ll give you a hand.”
“Appreciate it,” Black answered. “Anyone need anything?”
The carpenter motioned with his chin, “Still thinkin’ about that steak.”
Jason crossed to a barrel propped on a side table. After filling a plastic water bottle, he drank, refilled the container and slipped it into his pocket. With a wink toward the carpenter, he said, “If I run across any, the thickest one is yours.”
“Good man. Be careful out there.”
“Will do.” Jason stepped through the warehouse door.
As Jason and the bicycle messenger picked a path through the rubble, Jason asked, “So, you got a name?”
“Rachael, but my friends call me Ray; my dad always calls me Rach.” Her boots kicked up tiny dust clouds from the pavement.
“So where’s your dad?”
“He lived over on the Barrier Islands…chances for him aren’t good.”
“Well, you never know what people might survive. Look at all of us; we were in the right place at the right time.” Jason motioned as they approached a street corner. “It should be up this way.”
After rounding the corner, they walked the block and a half the carpenter had indicated. Jason examined an open doorway and stepped inside. The roof had fallen; bricks and debris littered the aisles. Still, the building appeared in better condition than most. “Be careful.” He said, “The walls may be unstable.”
Rachael followed inside, then picked through stacks of merchandise. She spied a mound of backpacks, lifted one, and announced, “This looks like a good start.”
“Good find.” Jason slipped the pack over his shoulders. “This will work; lots of compartments to store things in.” He removed the pack and explored deeper into the store, gathering four water bottles, a bundle of rope and a camp saw. A crash sounded from the rear.
“Jason…” Rachael lifted a hand. “Someone’s in back.”
“Nah, we probably startled a dog or cat. I don’t hear anything now.” He resumed picking inventory. “I need something to start a fire and a knife, I need a good knife.”
Rachael gathered foil packages. “Food, freeze dried food for backpackers. This is a treasure trove!” She filled the backpack, and retrieved another armload, cramming packets until the pack bulged.
“Whoa, hold on. I’m not packin’ those.”
“It’s for the others. This should shut the broker up.” She retrieved a second backpack and transferred packets from Jason’s pack into her own. As she swung the pack to her shoulder, her head swiveled toward the shadows. She whispered, “Black, someone is back there!”
Jason dropped a silverware kit into the pack. “You heard something?”
“Yeah, someone is sneaking around.”
Black rose and surveyed the front, then studied shadows at the far end. “I’ll check it out.”
Rachael dropped the pack and followed, “You’re not leaving me here alone.”
“Okay, stay close.” Jason crouched and crept toward the rear wall. As the pair reached the shadows, he paused to allow eyes to adjust to dim light. Rachael squatted alongside. A sound of clicking steel cut the silence.
“Not another step!” A female voice called from the darkness.
Rachael’s heart hammered in her chest, “This isn’t good.”
“Put your hands in the air and stand up slowly.” The voice commanded.
The pair raised hands and slowly stood. Black scanned shadows for the speaker. “We’re unarmed.”
“Well, I’m not. I have a nine millimeter Walther trained on your head.”
“We didn’t mean to startle you.” Rachael called.
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for supplies, just like you.” Jason glimpsed a pistol pointed squarely at his face. He focused on a female behind it. “We have no reason to harm you.”
“Then don’t give me reason to shoot. What’s your name?”
“Jason Black. People call me Black. I’m military.”
Rachael gulped, “My name’s Rachael. I’m a bicycle messenger. We’ve been holed up in a warehouse with some others, a few blocks from here.”
“There are others?”
“Yes, six others so far.”
Following the directed pistol, the woman stepped from behind a steel rack. “Do you have water?”
“We have some–more at the warehouse,” Rachael motioned with her thumb, “and food.”
The woman stepped closer. “I have food–those freeze dried packets you were going through. I need water–water is hard to find.”
Rachael examined the woman. Trim, grimy faced, about five feet four inches tall and appeared to be aged middle to late thirties. Tattered clothing resembled a business suit. White athletic shoes contrasted a dark skirt and sport coat. Red crimson liquid trickled from her calf. “You’re injured.” Rachael pointed hesitantly.
The woman glanced at her leg, “It’s nothing. I ran into a clothing rack,” then, lowered the gun. “You look harmless enough. Put your hands down.”
Jason lowered his arms and tossed the woman the water bottle. “Have you been hiding out here?”
“I wandered in three days ago.” The woman caught the bottle mid-air then slid the pistol into her belt. “You’ll find a lot of supplies here, except for the water.” She upended the bottle, drank, and stepped from the shadows.
Jason motioned. “We found a spring north of town, not far from the grain silos. I can take you.”
She studied him through large brown eyes. Behind the soiled face, she appeared to be Hispanic–and attractive. “Appreciate it.” She took another long draw, emptying the bottle. “I know where most everything is. What are you looking for?”
The woman tossed the bottle to Black; he slipped it into his pocket as they walked toward the front. “We’ve rounded up most of it. I’ll need a good knife, something to start a fire with and a water purifier.” Rachael and Jason lifted backpacks.
The woman motioned. “That’s a lot of stuff.”
“Yeah,” Jason rummaged merchandise. “We’re taking food back for the group, and I’m hiking west tomorrow, to look for others.”
The woman picked a package from the floor and offered it to him. “Here’s your water purifier. People call me Rocky.”
He examined the shrink-wrapped package. “This will work. Rocky is an unusual name.”
“Not the first time you’ve heard that, huh?”
“Nope, not even close.” She motioned, “Knives are over here.”
Jason followed through aisles, picked a survival knife and unscrewed a cap from the handle. He upended the knife, emptying tiny items into his palm. Contents consisted of a needle, a miniature roll of thread, a small circle of clear fishing line, six fishhooks of various sizes, a flint rod and three cotton balls.” He repacked the items and replaced the lid.
Rocky offered another package, “Flint, and steel.”
The trio toured the building acquiring pistols, ammunition, a compass, and several packages of beef jerky. As they fitted sturdy hiking boots, Rocky asked, “How far west are you going, Black?”
“Not sure,” he grunted pulling bootlaces, “until I find help.”
“Do you plan to hike all the way?”
“I don’t have a plan. I’ll take it as it comes, I guess.”
“Are you traveling alone?”
“Yeah, no one else is up for the trip. Rachael here is a good scavenger, so she’s opted to stay behind.”
Rachael laced a boot, and grumbled, “Under protest.”
Rocky stood to test the boots, then, asked, “You want company?” Black eyed her curiously. The woman shrugged, “I’m from Utah. I flew in to attend a business conference. I have… people. I need to get back. You’re the best option so far.”
“I don’t think so. It’ll be a rough trip. Best if you stay here. There’s safety in numbers.”
Rocky appeared annoyed, “I’ll need better clothes.”
“Me too,” Rachael agreed. “Let’s do some shopping.”
While the women crossed the store, Black gathered remaining items from a mental checklist. As daylight dimmed, women returned dressed in camouflage jump suits and hats. Rocky carried a fully loaded backpack.
Rachael spread arms for Black’s approval. “Better?”
Black muttered. “Um…yeah. They’re pink.”
Rachael displayed a leg, and giggled, “And Capris…stylish.”
“At least they’ll wear well.” He snickered and glanced at Rocky’s backpack. “Got everything you need?”
“Hope so. If not, I’ll make do.”
Jason shrugged the pack on. “We’d better head back. It’ll be dark soon.” He lifted three sleeping bag rolls, handing a fourth to Rachael. “We’ll send the others back for more.”
As Jason and Rachael stepped through the doorway, Rocky hesitated, “Would you give me just a minute? I forgot to do something.”
Jason glanced at his watch and ordered, “Make it quick. We shouldn’t be on the street after dark.”
Rocky slid the pack from her shoulders to the ground. “I’ll be two minutes, I promise.” Then, she disappeared into the building.
Rachael observed Jason scrutinizing the street and imagined him on guard duty in Iraq, defending the perimeter. His inspection appeared slow, methodical, and thorough. She startled from her daydream as Rocky approached.
“Done.” Rocky said. Rachael assisted her with the pack.
The soldier grunted, “Let’s move out.”
On the return, the trio rounded a corner when Rachael grasped Jason’s arm. “Hold up.” She peered up the street. “They’re back.”
Jason traced Rachael’s stare to the approaching red light. “That’s twice tonight.” He dropped sleeping bags and shrugged off the pack, “They’re bold,” then rummaged a side pocket, “Rocky, can you shoot?”
Rocky swung the pack from her shoulders and drew the Walther. “I hit what I aim at.”
Rachael slipped a small pistol under her belt.
“Stay hidden.” Jason crouched low. “When you hear me fire, unload on the car. Be careful–don’t hit anyone.”
Confused, Rocky crouched behind concrete slabs alongside Rachael. Jason ducked low and scurried across the street. Rocky asked, “He wants us to shoot at them, but not shoot them?”
“Who are they?”
“Renegades. They took refuge in the police station about a half mile up the street. They’re armed and roam the streets mostly at night, looking for lights.”
“Why would they look for lights?”
“Light means survivors. Survivors have supplies. They’ll steal everything we have and shoot anyone who tries to stop them.”
“How do you know they’re armed?”
“They have access to weapons in the police station, wouldn’t you be armed?” As the flashing light neared, Rachael’s heart pounded. She rubbed sweaty palms against her pant leg. The car engine rumbled softly as the vehicle rolled near. Rachael drew the pistol and aimed.
Rocky clutched the Walther with both hands and directed the sight to the driver’s side door.
The car screeched to a stop.
Rachael pulled the trigger sending a flurry of lead into the car. Rocky fired all eight shots in the clip.
Men screamed. The car reversed, careening up the street. Gunfire stopped.
Rocky listened to the fading engine hum, then, exhaled lowering her gun hand. The pistol quivered in her grip. Her knees trembled. She sat on a concrete slab, brushed hair from her eyes and gasped, “That was intense!”
Jason announced his approach. “They won’t be back.”
Rocky hissed. “What the hell is all this about?”
“They’re no more than bullies. They know we’ll fight back and won’t risk coming down here again.” Jason studied Rocky as she slid the pistol into the pack. “You okay?”
“Yes.” She shrugged. “I’ve just never pulled the trigger on anyone before.”
“Yeah. The first time’s tough. Wish I could tell you it gets easier.”
Under a fiery sunset, the trio shuffled along a dusty sidewalk toward the warehouse. Upon entering, Jason introduced Rocky to the survivors. Then, Rocky followed Rachael and dropped her backpack in an isolated corner.
After unrolling bedrolls, Rocky assisted the CEO by pouring half a dozen packets of freeze-dried spaghetti and meatballs into the cast iron skillet. She added water and heated the pan over a gas-cook stove, then cut off the heat allowing the meal to steam.
Throughout dinner, Black held a wary eye toward the stockbroker. He had noticed the man ogle Rocky when he had introduced her.
After dinner, Rocky, Rachael, and Black slid into sleeping bags. Across the room, the stockbroker lurked while sipping from the cup. Rachael glanced sternly, settled into her sleeping bag, and muttered, “Sleaze bag.”
Rocky asked, “Who?”
“The broker, the guy gives me the creeps.”
“Yes, I noticed too.”
“He knows I’d floor him. I picked up a skinning knife at the store. One stick and he’ll think better of messing with me.”
Rocky fluffed the backpack for use as a pillow. “I’ll help you keep an eye on him, Rachael.” Then, she laid her head down.
Rachael pulled the sleeping bag around her neck, and quietly said, “You can call me Ray.”