Chapter 1

It was late in the day, about 3:30. An unbelievably bright flash of light in the sky dazzled my eyes, even though I was not looking in that direction. As lights failed, the computers went silent. All power failed. The battery backups failed without a whimper. Along with the instant headache I felt came the realization that we were dead. It was just a matter of time. Nuke.

I ran down the stairs as fast as I could. The overpressure and reverse waves would destroy this old building. There was nothing I could do about it. I shouldered my way thru the door beneath the HVAC plant, kicked it closed behind me and huddled next to the wall. Within minutes the temperature raised to over 400 degrees outside as the wind flashed over. Moments later it reversed. From the direction of the windstorm the center must have been South East of me, and fairly close by the power of the storm. Ahh-I knew. Somebody dropped a pony nuke on Fermilab—a big government physics research center. It was only five miles away or so. All two-or-more story structures were doomed. Any bomb bigger than that and I would not be there to know it. The concussion waves knocked me out.

When I woke I climbed out of my sanctuary. The door was scorched black and smoking. The building had come down around my ears. The concrete bunker supporting the HVAC system survived, and me with it.

Four blocks away was an Ace hardware. I knew they had a basement and they sold full five gallon water jugs. Nearby were food stores. I made my way to it as quickly as I could.

The silence was eerie. All I heard was the crackling of fires. The smell of smoke was everywhere. I bypassed the non-working automatic door and stepped thru the blown out window.

A woman lay dying near the register, her face peeling away from the savage light, her chest pierced by daggers of glass from the plate glass window. Her eye sockets were empty holes. I held her and rocked her in my arms until she stopped breathing. I found the basement entrance, and then dragged each 5 gallon water jug I could find to the shelter. I made myself a nest of material to rest in, then went out to find all the food I could scavenge using a grocery cart. I heard screams and whimpers as others suffered from their injuries. I lay beside the road to puke several times. I assumed that the radiation had destroyed any long term hopes I might have had. I tasted blood all the time. It didn't hurt to piss but I voided blood all the time. I knew that if the headaches got worse it probably meant I would die of kidney failure at the very least. There was a mini-mart around the corner. I raided it for canned goods, bread, whatever. I wasn't picky. I returned to the hardware store and dragged the cart down the stairs. I nested beneath the hardware store to sleep. I drank copious amounts of water whenever I awoke.

I was totally amazed that I awoke at all. Somehow I beat the radiation. I must assume that as I slept thru the worst of the effects of the radiation my kidneys pumped enough to compensate and survive. I was shaky and weak. I ate canned beans and stale bread followed by tepid water. It tasted like a veritable feast. It stayed down. I searched out others for several days and found no others.

Where could I go? What could I do? I refused to live in the Stone Age for however long I had left. All the cars were dead--their electronics fused to uselessness. The radios and televisions were the same. All cars and trucks made after about 1981 were useless to me, and earlier ones needed new condensers and voltage regulators. It was back to points and plugs for ignition. I needed to find an antique car, and quick. Its owner probably would keep his own supplies as they were out of production. A regulator was a regulator and I could grab one from any parts store. The theory was that the wiring of the car acted as an antenna and blew the components from EMP, while parts in a box were relatively immune. I found a phone book at the service desk and looked up antique car dealerships. Some were useless, selling only fancy toys such as "The Corvette Store". I needed something that could drive over concrete blocks and not hang up. I then recalled seeing a real oddity--a Ford truck in WW II German grey. It was at a show I'd seen that summer. It was from a Ford plant in Germany that got nationalized and the Germans kept it in production as they could throughout the war. It ran on gasoline, not diesel, and was set up nicely. Now to find it. I needed a car to find a truck. "Sounds like a bootstrap, to me." Now I'm talking to myself.

I found a 66 Chevy pickup for sale at an indoor storage site just north of town. It was advertised on the bulletin board of a high-end grocery store. We forget how long a mile is if we don't walk one now and again. I passed my home on the way, just to check it out. I lived in a ground-floor Apartment in a two-story complex. The side I lived on was sheltered from the blast. I was tired after a three mile walk and broke in to eat and sleep.

I used to car camp as a hobby, and like any packrat I never got rid of my toys. I fired up a gas stove and cooked dinner. The water was always bad in the place, so I had a few jugs of water stashed. This along with a sprayer of 409 got me a quick bath. I then changed clothes and put on boots. It was almost November so I dressed appropriately. I took a hammer and large screwdriver in case I had to break in.

I made my way up the street to the old beer distributorship that now held the indoor storage. I broke in thru the main office, raided the key box, strolled into the storage bay area and immediately stopped. It was dark as a pit in there. I saw the light defining where the garage door met the floor. I opened the human-sized door next to it for working light. There, twelve feet up, was the emergency pin I had to pull. All right, dammit, find a ladder. Careful. No need to die falling off a ladder after everyone else croaks by nuke.

I made it. The work bench had pliers and a ladder. My boots held well on the ladder rungs, as did the gripper pads on the ladder hold on the concrete floor. Once the door was free I propped it up with the ladder. Now THAT was work. I could have used two more people.

There it was. A gleaming fire-engine-red fully-restored 1966 Chevy 1/2 ton pickup. The service kit in the back had four pristine condensers new in the box. I replaced it, pumped the gas twice and turned the key. Ahh, the sweet sound of success. Now to get out of here before I emulated the last scene from On The Beach, where they gassed themselves in the garage with a race car.

I needed a regulator, fast, before the battery drained. And a manual fuel pump to steal gas from gas stations. I found an auto supply shop that filled my bill to a "Tee". Now that the vehicle was survivable I had better prospects. There was a blade sticking out of the rear bumper that used to have a hitch ball on it. I could tow a small trailer with this thing.

First, home. I wanted my camping kitchen and gear. November was coming fast and that meant cold rain. I used to enjoy tent camping in the winter for recreation. I was an idiot. I wanted comfort, hot water and a secure food supply. I also figured for the worst. If the winds brought radioactive dust I'd never know it. Did I want to know? No. There would be no way to prevent contamination once the area was dusted. If I drank bottled water and ate canned food I was pretty well off. I should shower once per day as well, and change clothes. I should cut my hair short, too. I needed clippers and a way to power them. This was getting complicated. Hmm. Eight amp clippers times 110 volts gives 880 watts. I could use an inverter off the truck. Good deal.

One haircut later I did a little shopping though the remains of a hunting/fishing store. Wait a minute. If the roof was down due to the firestorm then the winds probably carried the first burst of fallout with them. Forget it. No sense in putting on a glow-in-the-dark death sentence. The prevailing wind was from the North and West. I would travel into the wind.

I drove twenty miles west. The corn fields were pushed over and lightly burned. The barns were gone, as were the farmhouses. My bunker did me better than I thought. I found what I was looking for--a Farm and Fleet (That's Blaine's Fleet and Farm to you western folks). I latched on to a wheelbarrow, five huge deep cycle 12-volt batteries, a set of jumper cables and all the XL coveralls I could find. I couldn't resist a big oxygen-acetylene torch setup for the bed of the pickup.

Next stop, a drug store. Potassium Iodide, an old expectorant, was used in case of radiological exposure to stop the uptake of radioactive calcium, a known post-nuclear Contaminant. I also wanted to raid the pharmacy for autoimmune boosters and pain killers.

Hmm. look under analgesic. I found Tylenol 3 with codeine, Vicodin, Percodan, Morphine and Talwin in a locked cabinet. I knew that some barbiturates would suppress nausea, but I needed to do some research before I went that far. I didn't want to zombify myself. I took some to have them anyway. I also took masks, gloves and bandages. I also wanted some pot. It being a college town I figured that there had to be some Somewhere. The trick was to narrow my search. I'd start with the fraternity and sorority houses, then go on to the apartment buildings on the West side of town. Perhaps the clubs, but I'd have to search.

I was in pretty good shape. I wanted a safe place to sleep next. Just outside of town was a vacation trailer dealer called Holiday Rambler. The place always had a reputation as a rip-off. This time I was going to get a killer deal. I found a high-end one-ton trailer, put a ball on the pickup that matched the trailer and cranked it down with a cheater bar. I dug out the schematics for the heater, air conditioner and a generator they had in stock. I'd have to fix 'em before I could use 'em. The refrigerator and stove worked fine.

I wanted to climb into a hole for a while and think. I loaded up on water jugs, propane, canned food, salt, sugar, tea, rice, flour, yeast, bourbon, chocolate and dried fruit. I got smart and raided the police evidence room and reaped the bounty of several people's stashes. I let the cops do the searching for me. I found not only some good-looking weed but what looked like a full kilo of hash. No more nausea for me! I found some LSD in the evidence room too. I stashed it in a glass bottle and took it along. I also picked up a couple of pump shotguns, an M-16, two pistols and a butt load of ammo.

I drove a few miles south of town to a hunting club, read "Conservation Club" which I used to use and knew about. If you didn't know it was there you'd never guess. I took out the gate lock with my torch and drove in as if I owned the place. I took the road around past the rifle/pistol range, past the club house and shotgun range, past the lakes. There it was-- the most beautiful spreading oak tree I'd ever seen, beside a river. Uh oh, trouble. There were other people with the same idea. I shut off the truck and got out. I approached them.

When I saw them closer my heart fell thru my stomach. There were kids and they looked like hell. There was a little girl, pre-school and an older girl, maybe Junior High. Their hair was gone in patches, their eyes were red from burst vessels, and their eyes were ringed as if they had black eyes. Their arms had evidence of bruising. Shit.

I opened my arms and knelt down. I had two little girls snuffling under my arms. I gently--oh so gently-- stroked their backs. A woman came to the door of their trailer and watched me with dull eyes. She knew. Kids aren't stupid That meant that they knew too. Shit. Kids shouldn't be exposed to some lessons.

"Hi. I'm Mark. What's your names?" Their voices were raspy from destroyed tissue. The taller one spoke first. "I'm Janey." "I'm Jill." Their mother walked over to us. She was hugging herself. She spoke in a monotone. "I'm Laurie. We came here from Montgomery." That explained it. The wind probably carried the dust right over them.

"I'm afraid that there's not much we can do. I figure that Fermilab took a hit. With you downwind for any time at all the blast stole all your choices. Batavia, Aurora, Montgomery, Oswego, West Chicago, Naperville, Yorkville-- maybe even Joliet. You will just go quicker."

"Where were you?" "I was in downtown Geneva. I hid in a concrete cellar when I saw the flash." She nodded. She looked over my rig. "Nice truck." "Thanks. I got a killer deal on it."

She started to laugh, then broke into ragged coughing--the deep kind that tears up your lungs. She spit blood. As she brought herself together I apologized.


"Never mind. You didn't know."

"I raided a pharmacy. I've got some narcotics if you want."

"There's no hope." It was more of a comment than a question.

"No. Joints hurt?" She nodded. "Shitting black?" She nodded. "The tissues are necrotizing. Blindness soon, then screaming headaches when the kidneys fail. You're yellowing. The liver's about gone."

"Them?" She gestured towards the kids with her chin.

I looked down at the reddened, yellowing flesh beneath the thin brittle hair on their heads.

"Same." They held me harder a moment, then relaxed.

"I know you're in pain", I said into their ears. "You can't help but be in pain. You know that it will only get worse until the end. It will get very, very bad. If you want, I can help you. You will go to sleep and that will be it. You must each decide for yourselves. It's a very personal decision, when to go. I'm sorry that you have to make it, but there it is.

Laurie stood watching, crying, with one hand over her mouth, the other under her breasts. I slowly stood and held their hands.

"When you decide, whatever you decide, let me know."

I let go their hands and slowly turned to walk away. I moved my rig to beside the picnic shelter so that the steps would exit onto the concrete pad, protected by the roof. This far West should be all right, but the upper winds can be unpredictable. Without a news service or weather report we were at the mercy of the winds. No open windows. Dust every day, dust everything. No bare feet, keep away from the shoes when inside. Wear a cap and gloves when outside. Stay inside as much as possible.

I guessed the weight of the three of them and did the dosage calculations. My Physician's Desk Reference gave the effective dosages for the drugs in Milligrams of drug per Kilogram of person taking it. Some drugs that were known for critical overdose problems also listed, the LD-50 and antagonistic drugs used to counteract their effects. An LD-50 describes a lethal dose in fifty percent of the subject population tested. Five times that gives an ELD--effective lethal dose. The opiates have been abused throughout the years and the PDR gave me all I needed. No more calculators! I had to work longhand. No problem--I had all the time I needed. I found that I had syringes of adequate capacity. If they took a barbiturate tablet first they wouldn't even feel the Brompton's cocktail hitting their veins. Imagine that--me as a compassionate child murderer.

I heard a quiet knocking at the door that evening. Laurie stood there, shoulders back, stoic and calm. She asked for assistance that night. None could eat without vomiting, the coughing was getting much worse and none could sleep. I hung my head and said that I would help. I placed the pre-loaded syringes into a cigar box along with the pills and a piece of rubber hose for a ligature. I had some juice packs from the drug store and brought them along.

The girls were in bed together holding hands, waiting for me. They smiled as I bent to give them a kiss. I gave them each a pill and a juice bag. They settled down in each other's arms, breathing painfully. They whispered to each other for a while, then dropped off. I turned to the mother. "And you?" "I'll wait until they're gone. I want to be sure that they go easily." "All right." We waited ten more minutes to give the drug a chance to work. I pinched each one's ear and got no response. I then used the ligature to raise a vein, pressed in the needle and gently depressed the plunger first on one, then the other. Within five minutes they stopped breathing and their skeletal muscles relaxed. They were gone. Laurie sighed and cried. I hugged her as gently as I could. She rose and removed her clothes. I could see the deep bruising where her garments had constricted her. She lay down beneath the sheet and took them into her arms. I gave her the depressant tablet and juice. She took it while looking at me.

"I promise you'll feel nothing." She kept locked eye-to-eye with me and nodded. She then lay down, hugging each child for the last time and tried to relax.

In thirty minutes she was out. In five more I gave her the morphine. In ten more she was gone. God help me, I've snuffed another life.

I locked the door behind me. When I reached my camper I stripped and walked in. I sat with a glass of bourbon most of the night. Sleep seemed so far away. What is the punishment for mercy? Had I really done evil? What constitutes evil? Is it a taking away of choices? Some say that evil is treating a person as a thing. I sat and listened to the night.

I witnessed the sunrise alone.

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Story tagged with:
Post Apocalypse /