Even taken with a grain of salt, this story is worth a read.
Like the flu, a nightmare’s potential is fully
realized only when shared.
In that spirit, Remus has a story to tell you.
It was known to looters as the “miracle mile”, actually three miles of four-lane highway west of the city, jammed with vehicular junk, parallel lines of rust and glitter and human ruins. The horror and stench deterred looting at first, afterwards the difficulty and danger of travel, finally the diminished numbers of able foragers. Rumors of how it came to be were forgotten in successive waves of catastrophes. From time to time wandering refugees came upon it, took all they could carry and moved on. Thousands of vehicles made good pickings even after all this time. Nobody stayed. Even by the standards that had become normal, this place was an unspeakable horror. What really happened was even worse.
When the collapse happened, it happened with astonishing speed. All wealth in digital form disappeared in less than an hour: bonds, checking accounts, investments, credit, debt, savings—everything. The economy immediately contracted to cash-and-carry with a side of barter. There were “addresses to the nation” and summit meetings and announcements, with draconian and contradictory decrees from DC, state capitals, mayors and even sheriffs. Everybody was in charge and nobody was in charge. The permanent government soon revealed itself for the madhouse it had been all along. Federal and state agencies were arresting each other, expanding, disbanding, merging and going rogue. Coup de ‘tats and alliances and insurrections were reported and denounced and denied by turns until the tangled narrative became incomprehensible and, finally, irrelevant. Aside from the hobbyist preachers, the rumor mill took over short wave radio. Travelers from any distance were questioned closely. Only what they had seen with their own eyes was credited.
Distribution went from Just In Time to Pretty Much Never. The last freight train into the city was abandoned where it stood, there were no trucks for its burden. After the markets and warehouses were picked clean, foraging parties ranged into the more rural neighborhoods but they could barely support themselves much less the stay-at-homes. Worse, fewer returned than set out. Soon they didn’t set out at all. Serious marksmanship had been rediscovered, largely because no amount of cash would buy the barest handful of ammunition.
Fuel of all kinds ran out. Even the spindliest ornamental tree became firewood. The weakened populace was dying in large numbers from want and violence and disease. Communities held periodic funeral pyres for the unclaimed dead. Mass starvation was closing in. One afternoon the grid faltered for the last time and failed completely. Mass communications winked out. Municipal water trickled to an end and sewage overwhelmed the system. Medieval times had returned in little more than a fiscal quarter. It was worse in Europe, worse still in Asia.
Mike sat wearily on the sloping ground, the long arc of the ‘miracle mile’ before him. He thought back to that chilly, sunny day of long ago. He’d been there, seen it happen. Early in the crisis something calling itself the Homeland Security Urban Relief Initiative asked those who could to relieve the pressure on the city by resettling. Dozens of small communities were outfitted and supplied to receive them. They offered zero-interest loans, suitable employment and housing in small town America, fully stocked and furnished. 9/11 didn’t get more air time. This was a showpiece operation for the DHS, designed to overcome their reputation as arrogant, incompetent jerks. It was an attractive alternative. Conditions in the cities were scary-bad, worsening measurably and obviously unmanageable. Mike requested resettlement to a distant resort town and was immediately accepted. He had no intention of going there. All he wanted was safe passage out of this place. He’d take it from there.
All four lanes of the interstate west of the beltway were opened to outbound traffic only. Unlike the chaos of the movies and doomer novels, this would be a tightly run, convoy-style evacuation. A list of suggested supplies was provided. Tow trucks and emergency medical teams were prepositioned along the route. Troopers and volunteer auxiliaries would provide security and keep traffic moving. Once away from the city, food, facilities, fuel and assistance of all kinds were available at twenty-five mile intervals. Close-in access ramps were closed. DHS was determined nothing would impede their marquee operation of the decade.
The rules were simple. Current license for the driver, a vehicle in good condition and fuel enough for a hundred miles. No trailers. No commercial trucks. Combat veterans and former law enforcement were put in the rear of each convoy, families with children up front. Everybody else in between. Firearms must be unloaded and stored in a locked case separate from the ammunition. No knife with a blade longer than three inches on your person, no other weapons readily at hand, no flammable liquids in containers. Clearly label your excess baggage and put it on the trucks alongside the marshalling area, two hundred pounds, fifty cubic feet max. It will be delivered to you no more than two days after arrival. Show your receipt to claim it. Keep your radio tuned to the emergency station for updates. No stopping unless unavoidable. Disabled vehicles would be towed. DHS would tolerate no disorder. Everything was federalized. This would be no Katrina.
Mike took his place near the front as Vehicle 2-24. To their credit, DHS had gotten him to the four-lane without incident. He was impressed. He’d head south at the first open interchange, to somewhere in the Carolinas probably. He waited. A young woman in a TSA uniform knocked on the window of his van. He put a finger to his lips, shhh, the kids are sleeping, he lied. She smiled knowingly and spoke in a lowered voice. There were still some supplies available, was there anything he needed? No? Check. Did he have enough gas to reach the first refueling station? Yes? Check. Camping facilities had been set up a few of hours out, would he like a voucher? No? Check. You’re all set. She handed him a marked-up map. He put it on the seat beside him. If he had any questions she’d be close by. Thank you for volunteering. Please drive safely and good luck wherever you’re going. The SUV behind him had kids in it. She joked and clowned with them.
Mike had decent survival supplies, maybe not as much as he’d like, but enough. Tucked away in his sleeping bag were a 12 gauge over and under with a few dozen shells—he wished it were more but ammo was scarce, and a bolt action .22 with a so-so 4×30 scope and two bricks of hollow points. Not ideal, but it’s what he had. His fuel containers were out of sight under his other supplies, thirty gallons, thanks to some fancy trading. When it ran out he’d use his van as a stationary shelter unless things got dicey, then he’d do whatever he had to do. He checked the map. The first interchange marked “open” was seventy miles away. He’d take it. His CB radio told him the highways out that way were lightly used, all but empty in fact. Good to hear. Although he had an outside lane, being trapped in this amateur caravan made him uneasy.
The barrier came down at 9 AM and the first convoy stepped off smartly. Mike’s van was near the front of the second convoy. More convoys were forming up behind. The trucks in the parking lot alongside were filling up with baggage. Precisely at 9:30 his group was motioned forward. Almost simultaneously his cell phone service quit. Not unusual. He switched on his CB radio and got white noise punctuated with a shrill beep-beep-beep. Nothing seemed to work any more. The emergency radio station told him to expect a slowdown about a half hour out, otherwise clear sailing. A comically out of shape trooper urged them on with exaggerated traffic cop gestures. The convoy got up to speed. He was on his way and best wishes to the losers staying behind. He allowed himself to relax as the first few miles clicked past.
This was really going to work.
The man acted like a raving lunatic. Mike silently admitted he deserved it, stopping for a hitchhiker. Some in the passing convoy glared disapprovingly. The guy had looked fit and able, if desperate and disheveled. His name was Ray. He said he’d run a long way through the woods before waving him down. Mike was used to goofball weirdos. Everybody was used to them lately.
Ray choked out a fantastic story, going from tears to rage and back again. Worse, he wouldn’t quite get in, nor would he quite get out. He became incoherent and buried his face in his hands, jaws clenched.
Ray saved his life that day…