The devastation was fast and sweeping. All at once from the Atlantic Ocean, The Pacific Ocean, and The Gulf of Mexico the Russians fired simultaneously from more than two hundred nuclear-powered subs with over three hundred nuclear non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Not a soul knew the attack was coming. The first explosions occurred on Long Island and in Los Angeles and Seattle. Within a few seconds, cities from Los Angeles to New York, Omaha, and Houston were ablaze. The initial explosions killed nearly fifty million people, and the resulting fallout killed another fifty million people. Survivors near ground zero had to don radioactive gear. This was World War 3; the war to end all wars.
The United States’ response was just as brutal. Because they did not know which enemy had attacked, they launched heavy retaliation against every country they had considered enemies. They shot more than fifty nuclear and non-nuclear missiles into China and more than one hundred into Russia and the Middle East. Most countries unleashed their entire arsenal during the attack. Nuclear or not, the results were devastating for everyone on the planet. Within days, the world joined the United States as a wasteland.
Josh and Whitney were enjoying the last few bites of their dinner while the kids were out in the backyard. They were playing on the elaborate play area Josh had built for them a couple of months back.
“Josh we have to figure out which middle school Jacqueline will be attending. We’ve got less than a month before school starts.” Whitney was explaining.
“I know honey, I know. She wants to go with her friends. I’d like it to be close by.” Josh said thoughtfully. “We need to go tour a couple of schools. I know a lot of her friends are going to Chemawa but that’s quite a drive when we have a middle school practically in our backyard.”
“Well I just know we need to get on top of…” Whitney trailed off as plates rattled on the walls and windows shattered.
Riverside was about fifty miles east of Los Angeles, but the simultaneous explosions were so powerful the couples conversation came to an abrupt end. The kids came running, screaming in sheer terror. Josh was already at the bottom of the steps leading into the backyard.
“Daddy, daddy what’s happening? Is it an earthquake?” Jacqueline, their oldest daughter, asked.
“I don’t know sweetie but I don’t think so. I’m not sure what it was but we’ll head inside and check the news.” Josh said as reassuringly as he could muster.
Josh and Whitney had no idea what was happening yet but hustled them towards the house nonetheless. As they reached the door, the ominous howl of the emergency siren began. Whitney and their three kids froze, Josh ran back into the house to turn on the TV, but the only broadcast was a message scrolling across the screen: please stand by. we are currently experiencing technical difficulties. Josh could feel his pulse in his forehead. Panic had set in, he suddenly felt stuck.
Whitney, bewildered as she was, was just outside the door trying to comfort her children. However, when she looked up at the skyline to the west, she lost control. She could not move. She motioned toward the house; silence had overcome her.
Back inside Josh was fiddling with the radio trying to pick up the local AM station. He was finally able to get a weak but audible signal from a station with which he was unfamiliar. The anonymous, deep-throated voice sounded distant but the news he was conveying hit close to home.
“We have received reports that numerous major cities have been hit with an array of weaponry including; nuclear, biochemical and conventional weapons. At this point, the enemy or enemy’s identities are still unknown. Nonetheless, America has retaliated with brutal and unforgiving force against any foe that may have had the capacity to pull off something of this nature. Our defense system was immediately set to strike Russia, North Korea, Iran, and China. Nevertheless, today, there can be no winner, folks. The entire world is on fire. I have the unfortunate task of bringing the stories of destruction to you from across the country and now, apparently, the world.”
Josh clicked the radio off and ran to the back door to find his wife and children. He flung the door open in a rush, almost knocking Whitney and the kids off the back steps. His wife’s face had never been so pale; it was almost ghostly. As he looked to the west, immediately, he understood. The skyline had turned a burnt-orange, blood-red hue, as if the entire coast were on fire. He grabbed her face and turned it so she was facing him. Even so, he could see the destructive reflection gleaming off her eyes.
Josh remained as calm as he could. “Whitney, do you remember that emergency kit we put together last year in case of a wildfire or major earthquake?”
“Y-y-yes” she said. She suddenly snapped to attention. “What’s happening, Josh? Wh-what the hell is happening?”
“I need you to stay calm right now. I need you to go to the shed and get that emergency kit while I go grab as much as we can take with us in the car.”
“I need to know what’s happening. I can’t stay calm! What were the explosions? Why is the sky on fire?” She was screaming.
Josh spoke hurriedly. “We’re under attack, and it’s bad. I don’t know who or why, but I do know we are. So, go get the kit, bring it to the car, and have the kids ready to go. We need to try to beat any fallout from the explosions. Now!”
She knew he was serious and out of patience, so she quickly ran to the shed to grab the emergency kit. Then, she got their three kids, Jacqueline, Lydia, and Jesse, in the car and waited, scared and crying.
Josh was back in the house gathering up some clothes, a lot of extra canned food, and as much clean water as he could. He clicked the radio back on while he was getting everything ready.
“I’ve been told by my producer we have some pictures from survivors. There will be a few seconds of dead air while I look at these.” Josh heard the host in the background say, “Oh…Oh, Christ, what? How am I supposed to go back on the air to explain what I’m seeing right now?” Josh also overheard the producer telling the host his mic was still on. The host came back on several seconds later. “I’m sorry, folks. I have just seen some pictures from New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Omaha. The destruction is horrific. It is indescribable. The brave souls who took these pictures have probably succumbed by now. I have never seen anything like it. There are no words to describe it. So, excuse me, but I will be blunt about this. Some of the tallest skyscrapers at ground zero are nothing but dust. Structures outside the immediate blast zone are a twisted wreck. Landmarks are gone. Bodies that did not turn to dust litter the now barren, ash covered, landscapes. It is complete destruction and…oh, man, the other cities are just as bad. There are reports of millions dead—”
Josh turned off the radio. He had heard enough.
Josh met his family in the car. Whitney sat motionless, eyes wide staring straight ahead. The children were shaking uncontrollably gasping in between sobs. He got behind the steering wheel and sped out of his driveway, down the block, around the corner, and toward Interstate 91. He hopped on the interstate a few minutes later and headed east, figuring the mountains might still be safe. The Rockies beckoned.
South Korea: Ulsan
Kyung Gwak loved the mornings. He had just gotten out of the shower but remained in his towel whistling his favorite American oldies hit, Surfin’ Safari. The Beach Boys always got him ready for his day. For the last three years, Kyung had been working at the same car manufacturer as his dad and brother. His dad had worked there going on thirty years; his brother had been there almost ten years. If you did not have family there, you were not getting a job. Kyung had been hesitant about taking the job but he had not regretted it for a minute since. He also loved living in Ulsan because it was right on the coast of South Korea. It had become an important industrial hub but not overpopulated as other important cities are. It was perfect for Kyung as he was never one for large, boisterous cities.
Finally dressed, he finished his last cup of coffee. From the fifth floor of his apartment building, he watched the bustling traffic flow through the Korea Strait. There were so many ships and boats it always looked like Seoul’s rush hour traffic jam, only on water. Knowing the products he helped manufacture would be on one of those ships after his shift was somewhat exciting. As he watched the bustling port, water exploded into the air shooting several streams fifty feet into the air. Leading the geysers were missiles. The roar was deafening; windows shattered up and down the port city of Ulsan. He had no idea what was happening but within seconds, emergency sirens were blaring across the city.
The sirens screamed at full volume as the streets filled with panic-stricken people. Up and down the port people poured out of their homes and workplaces. Kyung fled his apartment and made his way downstairs. As he shoved through the main doors, he heard several more explosions in the distance. The powerful explosions shook the ground under his feet.
With that, he scanned the horizon to the north and west. He could not believe what he was seeing. He froze at the sight of the fiery sky. The thousands of other people had their gaze transfixed in the same direction. What was that? Several people shoved by for a better view.
“Hey what happened? What was that?” Kyung shouted at someone running by.
“I don’t know but I’m not waiting to find out!” The stranger exclaimed.
Kyung sprinted to the edge of the harbor and glanced up and down the dock searching for an empty boat he could take. While everyone scurried around, obviously distracted by the sudden fear, speedboats were barreling toward the shore. Kyung seen them coming, he turned to run, lost his footing, and fell head first into the water. He narrowly escaped becoming a smear stain between a large boat trying to dock and the wall of the harbor. Kyung knew he was about to be crushed, thinking quickly he dove under the water. He was making his way to the other side of the boat when muffled sounds of heavy machine gun fire erupted.
He reached the other side of the boat, and cautiously poked his head up out of the water to get some air. With his head above water, the machine gun fire was much louder. He wanted to see what was happening so he swam alongside the boat until he came up to the hull. He peeked around to see the docks; quickly regretting it. There were hundreds of uniformed troops, not coming to the rescue, but slaughtering thousands of innocent people. Bodies were lying all over the ground covered in blood. Blood ran over the docks into the sea giving it a pinkish tint up and down the harbor. The troops gunned down anyone and everyone that were standing on the docks. Their murderous rampage continued as they scoured buildings, shooting dead anyone found still alive.
Kyung swam as far and as fast as he could, trying to put distance between himself and the massacre. He felt like a coward leaving his brother, Bo-Hee, and his father, Da-Ye, behind. He glanced back once more as he headed up the coast.
Kyung swam for a long time. He did not know how long he had been swimming but day turned into dusk fast. Eoil was the first city that did not have smoke snaking into its skyline. The lack of blood in the water also left him hopeful. He crawled out of the water and collapsed. After lying there for several minutes, Kyung rose cautiously optimistic. Still exhausted and staggering he made his way to the main gate where two stone-faced guards stood watch.
They raised their weapons “Stand back! Stand back!”
“I just need help! What has happened? Please!” Screamed Kyung, louder then he meant to.
“Where did you come from?”
Kyung responded quickly “I came from Ulsan. Rockets flew out of the water, there were explosions, and soldiers stormed the harbor, killing thousands of innocent people. I fell into the water and swam up the coast until I seen somewhere that looked safe. Don’t shoot me. I just need some help.”
“We’ll get General Hansol. Wait here please.”
General Hansol was short but solid. He was a very intimidating man. Kyung could tell he was battle hardened. General Hansol’s face was pocked full of scars, but one scar dominated his face. The scar ran from just above his eyebrow along the left side of his nose as if someone had tried to cut it off. The general allowed Kyung onto the base explaining there were hundreds of other civilians cordoned off inside the city. Eoil remained largely spared besides a few short gun battles with some unknown factions.
Kyung was devastated when he found out about America. He was horrified when he found out about Seoul. His ex-wife Da-Hui and his seven-year-old daughter Ga-Hui lived in Seoul. Kyung’s ex-wife left with Ga-Hui two years ago but they had remained friendly and in constant contact. He was still able to see his daughter just not as often as he liked. The thought of not seeing either of them again was nagging on him. His brother and father, his daughter and his ex-wife, could all be dead.
General Hansol was unsure if the strike in Seoul had been nuclear. Nevertheless, Seoul was now a barren city. Regardless, Kyung would not believe his only child was dead.
“General, can I talk to you for a moment?” asked Kyung standing in the doorway of General Hansol’s office tent.
“Sure, what can I do for you?” asked the general.
“I’d like to get to Seoul or outside of Seoul. I need to see it for myself. If there is any chance my daughter and ex-wife are still alive I need to get to them.”
“I understand but I have seen the destruction myself. With our remaining air force fleet, we’ve been able to gather some intelligence. It is deserted. If anyone did live and it was nuclear, they are dead by now. If they made it out of the city…” General Hansol hesitated then continued “…well let’s just say enemy troops poured in from North Korea and the western coast so it is surrounded in almost every direction. I won’t risk sending my men with you but if you want to go I can’t stop you. You’ll have no protection. Some locations are now radioactive. Roads are also pretty mangled especially as you near Seoul.”
“My daughter’s worth the risk sir.”
“Well then, all I can do is wish you luck. I guess I could send you with a weapon too. Other than that you’re on your own and probably outnumbered if you do encounter the enemy.”
General Hansol tried once more to talk some sense into Kyung but he was hell-bent on getting to Seoul. The troops were able to get another civilian inside the cordon to give Kyung their vehicle. Kyung had mapped out his trip giving special care to plan it around large cities and major highways.
“Thank you General. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me over the last day.” With that, Kyung was on his way to Seoul.
America: West of the Rockies
Josh and Whitney drove almost nonstop for twelve hours. Many roads were craters. Several times, they had to detour as they snaked their way through rural California into Utah. It was an ominous sight along the horizon. In every direction, smoke trailed into the sky trying to blot out the sunrise. The sun managed to burn through tinting the sky a dark-reddish hue. They avoided towns at all costs. When their tank ran empty, they were fortunate enough to find a gas station still stocked up. Josh was able to fill the tank, at triple the cost of course.
“Call me Red.” Spoke the clerk.
“Alright Red, what’ve you heard?” Josh replied. “What’s the news?”
“Well I’ll tell ya’ I ain’t heard nothin’ since about three o’clock this morning. It sounds like it was the Chinese and Russians; probably others too. I know we blew them to hell as much as they did us. Well that’s what they said on the radio anyways. It wasn’t all nukes though. Regions might face nuclear fallout but a lot of the strikes were just megaton bombs. They vaporized cities but no nuclear radiation there.” Red explained.
“Well which ones aren’t radioactive? What about east of the Rockies? Or in the Rockies?” Josh asked.
“Well I know Denver was hit. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t nuclear. Omaha was hit, again not nuclear. Other than that I couldn’t tell ya’.” Red answered.
“What about communications? Do you have a phone I could call family on to check on them?” Josh asked hopeful.
“Communications were cut. Satellites were shut down by what they called an EMP strike. Land lines get through on occasion.” Red explained.
“Thanks for the information. We got to get going. What about you? Are you staying?” Asked Josh genuinely concerned.
“Well I’m going to stay here and wait for America to win this thing. We’ll do it. We always win. No one’s better than us. Rebuilding will be a bitch but as long as we win the war. Yeah this is my life, I ain’t leavin’.” Red replied.
“Well best of luck and thank you again.” Josh responded on his way out.
Josh and his family were back on the road. With a final wave to Red, they fled further east.
Nearing Colorado Josh noticed the condition of the roads was improving. With the roads smoothing out, Whitney and the kids managed to get some sleep. Josh was on a straightaway imagining the dismal future his children now had.
Jaqueline was 12. She had so many friends in Riverside; she was excited about junior high hoping to attend Chemawa Middle School with her friends. She aspired to be on the cheerleading squad. Sweet little Lydia was 7 going on 30. She was so mature for her age; she could not wait to be old enough to run for president. She brought it up at least twenty times a day. Their youngest, Jesse, he was 4 years old. Jesse was your typical 4-year-old boy. He was rambunctious, full of love, and made everyone laugh. It hurt Josh very much knowing that his children would not be able to live life the way it should be.
With the highway deserted, Josh was lost in thought. During his nightmarish daydream Josh did not see the roadblock approaching. When he did, he slammed his brakes to the floor. Whitney sat up with a jolt. The kids woke with a start.
Stopped in the middle of the deserted highway, a half-block from the barricade, Josh first noticed the troops standing guard were not friendly. He was not a military expert but he knew enough to know that the uniformed soldiers must have been Russian. Josh also noticed what resembled a military base. Strangely, it seemed to have been there for some time because this was not a makeshift, hastily put together base. The structures were meant to withstand major damage. He didn’t know what to make of this.
He did know there wasn’t much time to think. The kids were petrified and Whitney seemed to be back in a state of shock.
One of the soldiers motioned waving several other soldiers in his direction. They gathered together in a line then, in unison, they lifted their weapons. Another one of the soldiers yelled something in Russian but Josh didn’t know any other languages besides English and a little Klingon. He was thinking now; he shouldn’t have spent so much time learning a made up language, but rather, another real language. Naturally, at that moment, he was wishing he had learned Russian. Whatever they were saying they meant business.
The soldier’s body language didn’t imply that surrender would be an option for Josh and his family so he did the only thing he could think of. With his children screaming and his wife still in a subdued shock he jerked the wheel left and put his foot down on the gas as hard as he could. He heard the gunshots then the consequent bullets bouncing off his car. He kept his foot welded to the gas pedal quickly reaching sixty miles per hour on the bumpy off-road route he had chosen. He could still hear the rapid-fire machine guns behind him, but just barely, over his family’s terrified screaming.
After setting enough distance between the soldier’s and his family, he pulled over hidden behind some brush to calm his nerves. They could be getting into vehicles right now for all he knew. It didn’t matter. At that moment he had to focus on finding a new route assuming they weren’t all blocked off. His kids were still screeching in the back seat so he pulled over behind a thicket of brush to try to calm them so he could focus. He looked back at his children, as he began speaking, only to see them all soaked in blood.
“Whitney you need to snap out of it! One of the kids has been shot! Whitney! God Dammit!” Josh finally got Whitney’s attention. This time she didn’t go back into shock. Whitney was an RN at a hospital in Riverside. She immediately jumped into action.
There was a lot of blood so it was hard to tell which one was shot especially since they were already screaming. She glanced quickly at the two older children but knew immediately it was Jesse. The way the blood had splattered on the two other kids she could tell it came from him. Her heart broke as she told Josh to run out to the trunk to grab the first aid kit.
“Jesse is the one who was shot. There is a lot of blood. Get the emergency kit…” Whitney let out a sob but continued “…grab anything we can pack wounds with.”
Josh said, “It can’t be. Why…why?”
Whitney had to snap him out of it this time. “Josh now! If he bleeds out we can’t do anything, we need to stop the bleeding fast!”
Josh jumped out running for the trunk. He grabbed the emergency kit plus many towels and anything else he could use to pack wounds. He didn’t know how bad it was so he grabbed anything he could use to plug any sized wound.
He came around to the backseat door. Whitney was struggling to keep it together now. “It’s really bad Josh. I…I don’t know if we can save him.”
“We need to, we’re going to!” said Josh.
He finally got a look at the gaping gunshot hole that tore through Jesse’s lowest rib and exited out the back of his rib cage. The blood was pouring out. Whitney thought of everything she could do. She remembered seeing an old classic movie called Rambo where the main character used fire to cauterize a similar wound. She also knew Rambo wasn’t a four year old boy. She had to try something and Jesse had passed out already so she told Josh what she was going to do. He argued at first relenting a bit when she said it may be the only way to stop the bleeding. She eased his mind further when she explained that doctor’s do it too; just not so primitively.
They had a lighter in the emergency kit and a gas can in the back. She knew her boy was passed out but she begged him to forgive her for this. She poured a little bit of gasoline on the hole than lit the lighter against it. There was a quick burst of fire, the bleeding slowed to an ooze. She hoped there was no internal bleeding but there was no way of knowing for sure unless they found a hospital. Jesse could be dead by then.
Jacqueline and Lydia were sitting just outside of the car. They were crying, waiting for one of their parents to tell them everything was going to be okay. Josh came over to their side of the car; he explained everything as best he could to the girls. They, of course, were still crying from their earlier encounter but were now hysterical. Josh told them they had to go so they could try to find a hospital. They were scared but knew what was important so they got back in next to Jesse and did their best to comfort him while he lay still passed out in the backseat.
Josh jumped into the driver’s seat. He accelerated quickly but as gently as possible. He wasn’t sure where to go but remembered seeing a sign a ways back for a town called Nephi, Utah. He turned his car so he was headed back west, hit a smooth patch of road, and was on his way. Hopefully, he thought to himself, Nephi isn’t occupied.
Anatoly was taking part in the pre-victory celebration in the Red Square but had to get to work. He worked about thirty minutes away so he had to end his celebrating early. What were they celebrating? What would be the greatest military victory in Russian, even world history, was set to take place. Within the next hour, in alliance with China and Iran, the largest military strike on western nations would commence. The countries were excited not only to reign supreme over the world but also to finally put the U.S. in its place.
Anatoly woke up in a dumpster in the mid-sized city of Tver. Of course, since the west retaliated most of the larger cities had been largely abandoned; if not turned to dust. He was pretty much alone besides a few stragglers. Most people figured anything near Moscow was going to be radioactive after the retaliatory strikes. The U.S. and other western countries had slimmed down there nuclear arsenal so they hadn’t been spending as much on newer technologies; their weapons hadn’t caused as much physical damage to the country Anatoly loved. That wasn’t to say the country had been spared but they were in better shape comparatively.
Mother Russia hadn’t expected the U.S. to be able to launch any counter strikes after the destruction that had been rained down upon them. Regardless, Moscow had been basically annihilated; the millions of people celebrating were vaporized. Shortly after, several other large cities were hit with either nukes or long range bunker buster style bombs.
Anatoly had been trying to make his way to sparsely populated areas of Russia to avoid any radioactive fallout. He’d made it a good distance but had to rest up so he could find a semi-permanent place to lay low until things got sorted out. The buildings in Tver were not safe so that was out of the question. He had to make it somewhere that had been largely spared. He was thinking Gortsy but it was still almost 400 miles away from where he was now. The terrain was probably shredded so the trip could end up lasting days. Gortsy would be a perfect spot because the population had been dwindling over the last several decades and there was nothing of strategic interest there. It was also just off the coast Lake Ilmen, a rather large lake, which as long as it hadn’t been contaminated, would be a great source of food while he stayed there.
The problem would be how to get there. He drove an electric car but everywhere he’d been so far the power had been cut. Since he had no way to charge the car he had to find an efficient means of travel. Some of the cars in Tver were burnt shells, most had been turned to ash. The odds of driving out of here were slim.
Anatoly finally decided to huff it. He had warm clothes on when he left Moscow since there was a bite in the air that morning. However, he didn’t have a coat and things could get bitter along the lake in Gortsy. Hopefully he would be able to find a store still standing along the way.
He headed out of town to the northwest hoping to make a straight line to Gortsy. He was thinking back to the pre-celebration. They were so sure no one would be able to retaliate.
Just a couple of miles outside of Tver, through a couple of stragglers he was able to get some information. They had planned it precisely but unbeknownst to the military experts of Russia, China, and Iran the U.S., while cutting funding to most military programs, had secretly retained funding for and developed an advanced auto strike defense system for just such an occasion. This in turn led to even more devastation. Apparently, Russia and China took the brunt of the attacks while several others, including Iran, were attacked but took significantly less damage. As the news became more sporadic the two strangers did say that they heard a mega base of sorts was going to be hosted in Iran. This base would host Chinese, Russian, and Iranian leaders as well as large chunks of their armies.
Anatoly was ten miles outside of Tver when he decided to change his itinerary. Instead of going to Gortsy he was going to try to get to Iran. Hopefully he could find shelter and food there. The problem was the length of the trip just multiplied. He needed to get some kind of survival kit put together whenever he could find a store still open for business. Looting was always an option in desperate situations too.
South Korea: Onward to Seoul
Kyung had made it about halfway to Seoul. He had decided not to take a straight line path to Seoul. Instead, he drifted further west before banking north. No matter where he went there was destruction. Bombs had exploded cities to oblivion, looting destroyed others. People were terror stricken and in shock. Rubble, ash and smoke filled thriving cities and lowly villages alike. He tried to get information from anyone he could while making his trek across the cratered country. Unfortunately, information had been scarce. He did find out that anyone in Seoul at the time of the attack had been vaporized. His heart broke at this news. Nearly ten million people lived there. It was hard to believe that everyone had been killed. This crushing news didn’t deter him. He vowed to make it to Seoul believing there was a chance his kids were still alive.
He arrived in Kunsan after two weeks of nonstop travel. He pulled over and took short naps every few hours but he had been driving for most of two weeks. Kunsan was home to an American Air Force base. He figured this would be a great spot to rest up for a couple of days while trying to get any new information. As he was pulling into the city he noticed immediately that it was largely unscathed. He also noticed the Chinese flag was flying over several of the city buildings. He stopped his car on the outskirts of the city to devise a plan. It was doubtful the Chinese would be friendly.
Kyung decided to skirt the city making his way to the coast. He was hoping to make it to what would, fingers crossed, still be the American Air Force base; assuming it hadn’t been overrun. Nearing the base the American flag was still standing but he could hear continuous machine gun fire. It sounded like a never ending bag of popping popcorn. He was within a half mile of the base when a deafening explosion muted out the popcorn like sound of machine gun fire. The resulting fireball launched hundreds of feet into the air. The heat from the blast could be felt through his windshield. He was sweating profusely.
The explosion had been just outside the gates of the base. It appeared the Americans were still in control. Warships flying the American flag surrounded the waters around the base. Thousands of troops streamed off of those ships into inflatable speedboats. Hundreds of those boats carrying thousands of troops gave Kyung some hope. The American flag would hopefully once again stand for victory and freedom. Kyung stood silently for a moment watching the Americans pour onto the shores of Kunsan. After taking it all in for a time he headed cautiously towards the base. If he was going to make it to Seoul still he had to find somewhere he could take shelter for a couple of days. Rest would be important for the last leg of his journey; especially if he found everyone had really been killed there.
Josh was driving frantically when Whitney told him Jesse had taken his last breath.
“No he didn’t, we still have to get him to the hospital. They can still do something”. Said Josh on the verge of a breakdown.
Between sobs Whitney said “The hospitals…they…they can’t do anything for him now Josh. T-t-the only thing we can do is give him a proper burial”.
“No not until we see a god damn doctor!” Josh screamed. “I need to hear it from them.”
“I’m sorry Josh, I’m sorry this is hard on all of us but the girls are already in shock. It’s not fair to keep making them see him like this.” Said Whitney.
Two hours later Josh finally relented. They pulled into a cemetery that hadn’t had any new burials since the early nineteen hundreds. Someone had kept it maintained. Even now it seemed someone had been keeping up on it.
They found a spot near the back of the cemetery to dig a hole. Jacqueline and Lydia were in such shock they were unable to move from the car. Josh dug the hole while Whitney held her son’s lifeless body weeping uncontrollably. Once the hole was finished neither Josh nor Whitney could force themselves to put Jesse’s body in the grave.
While they were huddled with their son someone started shouting, “Hey, hey!” They turned their heads to see a heavy middle aged man waddling his way to them.
“I’m sorry sir we weren’t causing trouble our little boy was shot on our way to the mountains. He…” she couldn’t finish but the stranger understood.
“No troubles ma’am. My name’s Beau. I take care of this old cemetery.” Said the stranger who had a name now. “I wasn’t sure who was up here and you’re the first people I’ve seen in several days.”
“We’d just like to bury our boy but can’t bring ourselves to do it.” Josh spoke mutedly.
“I understand. Just had to bury my wife last week. She was in Salt Lake when this shit storm stirred.” Beau said. “She was on her way back when she came across some roadblock or something. She stopped for them thinking they were there to help. Instead they shot her. Two times in the side. She had enough sense to drive away but barely made it back here before she died in my arms.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Whitney said.
“Don’t be. Don’t get me wrong it hurts but I know where she’s going. I’m a pastor at the church in town or was anyway. No town to speak of since everyone evacuated.” Beau told them. “I know I’m a stranger but I would be willing to help you bury him. If you’d like? That way you guys can grieve properly, after the funeral you can stay with me until you’re ready to move on.”
“We’d appreciate that. This is so hard. Our four year old…I just don’t understand.” Whitney said.
“…so with great sadness we ask you Lord to accept Jesse into the Kingdom with you. Amen.” Beau finished his sermon. Behind Beau the sky was a dark gray; flashes of red added the only color to the sky. The air was cold, bitter actually, for this time of year. It was a dark day for them. A day that wouldn’t be forgotten.
Josh and Whitney threw the first of the dirt over their son. Beau finished covering him up while Josh and his family huddled together in mourning.
A few days had passed; Jacqueline and Lydia had yet to speak again. Since Jesse had been shot they were a mess; since he died they were inconsolable. They wouldn’t speak, or couldn’t, they didn’t sleep or eat; all they could do was cry. The ominous sky, if possible, had become even more so. The temperatures were still bordering on bitter.
Josh and Whitney weren’t doing great but were holding it together. Their new friend Beau had become a wonderful support system for them. Unfortunately, even Beau couldn’t get through to the girls. He was getting through to them though. Over the last few days they had gotten to know Beau. They learned that Beau was a special operations commander during the second Gulf War. It was his plan that finally won the war after twenty two long years of fighting. When he returned from his last, victorious, tour he decided to become a pastor. After all the death he wanted to spread love. Since then he’d been living in the middle-of-nowhere Utah, about twenty miles east of Nephi, preaching to a dwindling congregation.
Shortly after his wife died his congregation left town in search of help. He’d been by himself for over a week. He refused to leave believing someone would eventually come to the rescue. Now, regardless of the situation, Beau was happy to have someone around again. He was also glad he was there to try to help Josh’s family through such a difficult time.
A couple more days passed but Jacqueline was finally starting to come around. She started eating first, and then slept for eighteen straight hours. When she woke up she was asking for her mom. Whitney came rushing, Josh wasn’t far behind.
As soon as they got to her room she asked about Lydia. They told her she still wasn’t talking or eating but had gotten some sleep. As she was taking a moment to digest the news she glanced out the window. She was struck with renewed horror when she seen the sky. It was almost like nighttime outside only it was late morning.
Frightened by the look on their daughters face Josh and Whitney glanced out the window too. They had all been so preoccupied with the girls they didn’t realize how dark it had become. It wasn’t quite pitch black but it was close. Without electricity there weren’t any street lights on so there was uninterrupted darkness.
It was a scary sight. They were worried Jacqueline would go back into shock. It seemed like she was doing okay for the time being but they needed a plan. There had to be a safe place somewhere. A place they could get medical attention and some answers.
Beau and Josh stayed up late devising a plan. They weren’t sure which direction to head. There had to be a safe place; the military planned for every possible scenario. They had two options as far as they could tell; Offutt Air Force base in Bellevue, Nebraska or Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. They didn’t have Intel regardless of which one they chose; they’d both be a gamble. Offutt may have been a primary target because it was a central hub for the air force. Being a central hub it’s possible they had defensive measures in place to prevent such disasters. Luke Air Force Base is smaller and not as strategic so it may not have even been a target. Either way they were taking a chance. Beau had been stationed at Offutt during his early career, disclosing to Josh the intense security measures in place at bases like Offutt. The thought of heading to Canada had crossed their mind but in the end the best bet seemed to be Bellevue, Nebraska. If they made it, if it hadn’t been destroyed or overrun, they might be able to get some protection and hopefully some good news.
The next morning Josh pulled Whitney aside to explain the plan. She didn’t like it one bit but she knew it may be their only chance. She also knew if they did make it, there may be doctors that could help Lydia. Plus, being in the dark twenty-four-seven lately had everybody on edge. No one knew what to expect if and when they got to the air force base. Looking at the maps they had a dangerous twelve hundred mile journey ahead of them. They were all thinking of the consequences of a wrong decision but staying in Utah, at least in the middle-of-nowhere, seemed to be suicidal.
After one more day of rest it was loading time. Josh and Beau gathered as much as they could fit from the church and Beau’s own home. They loaded up on first aid kits, flares, flashlights, and guns out of Beau’s collection. Once both vehicles were stocked they loaded Lydia up. Whitney and Jacqueline jumped in with Josh and Beau rode by himself. As they pulled on to the highway lightning lit up the landscape. The land had been covered with an inch or two of dark black ash. Rooftops, streets, and cars were all covered in it. Plants were starting to die off all around. Once the lightning finished the blackness was back. Both vehicles lit their brights and headed south on I-70. Later they would try to take I-80 east to Bellevue. Of course, both drivers knew their drive wasn’t going to be that straightforward but what was a little dream in a moment of chaos.
“Do you really think this is the right thing to do Josh?” Whitney asked.
“I don’t know but there has to be answers somewhere. There has to be somewhere safer then out on the road or in the middle-of-nowhere. We just need to find someone on our side and get some help. We have to do this; it’s either die in Utah or die trying to find a safe place.” Josh explained.
“I know but I’m scared. I want to make it. I want our kids to have some sort of life after this is all over…if it ever ends.” Whitney said.
Josh replied “I know babe, so do I.”
“…protection for my new friends and I as we take this long and most likely foolish and ill-conceived journey. Amen.” Beau prayed silently as he drove down the road.
Follow the tale of several key characters as they work their way through the mess of a global war. From South Korea, Russia to America no one is safe when a war on this scale breaks out, but are they able to survive?