He wanted to run, but which direction to go? He stood staring out at a world gone mad. Buildings crumbled in on themselves. Shrieks and screams of the frightened were everywhere. Flames and hot lava flowed from huge open chasms in the earth, adding to both the destruction and terror. He reached out trying to stop those falling into those chasms, men, women and children. His heart was pounding, a cacophony of the screams of the dying blended with screeching of the grinding earth as it split and turned over. He looked down on it all, unable to move. He could do nothing but breathe as the tears cascaded down his face. Above the symphony of noise rose a lone mournful cry…up in the mountains, a wolf howled at the dying of the world. He couldn’t turn away from that sound, it wasn’t fear…it called to him. He needed to find her…
Gary woke suddenly, “What the h-h-hell?” he stammered into the night.
He scrubbed his hand down his face, the thin beard still felt unfamiliar on his face. His shirt was cold and wet. He looked around, the light from the campfire was a dim glow through the walls of the tent. Soft snores let him know at least one of the other men was still sleeping. He stretched his arms and legs out and quietly stood, walking carefully not to step on anyone. Within a few steps he stooped to move out of the tent flap, the dream beginning to fade.
He stood, stretched again, placed his hands on his lower back as he yawned widely, then perused the site of the camp before him. There were about twenty tents, some holding supplies, most were people. Not a massive group of people, but sadly all that he knew of that had survived the last few weeks. There was one large tent, where the sick and injured were kept. Could it really have only been only weeks ago? It seemed like a lifetime since that first small quake. In his mind, he recalled how that day had begun. He was watching the news as he got ready for work,
“This just in, a 2.0 magnitude earthquake struck South Carolina’s low country late last night. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake was centered three miles west-northwest of Summerville. That’s about 188 miles southeast of Charlotte and about twenty-five miles northwest of Charleston. We will feature a news update on the quake in the noon report.
“On a similar topic, NASA’s over three-billion-dollar plan for releasing energy from the Yellowstone caldera has been debated heavily in Congress. Members are not quite ready to invest that amount of taxpayer money in the venture. Even the dire warnings of the scientists of what a global catastrophe this eruption would cause, haven’t been enough to sway lawmakers into quick action.
“NASA claims the project would release much of the energy buildup of the magma dome and reduce the chance of eruption, while producing vast amounts of electricity from the steam that would result by venting water through the lava channels. We go now to Chuck Walston, in Washington, D.C.
“Congress ended the day with animated discussions on this Yellowstone project. Senate Minority Leader, Cheryl Sherwood, of California, debated that a lack of proof related to the eminent eruption made NASA’s Yellowstone Venting Project one that should be further investigated.
“She and colleagues suggested a committee be formed to study the feasibility of this project. On the other side of the project debate, scientists from the geological branch of NASA cited the recent rash of earthquakes over the globe as indication of building tectonic movement. They warned that waiting could end in catastrophe.
“So far, no decisions look forthcoming from Congress. Back to you, Stewart.”
“On Wall Street, stocks climbed to a new high for the third straight day.”
Sounds of people talking around the camp grew louder and brought Gary’s mind back to the present. Gary looked over and saw Rusty Hobart, his ginger hair standing out among the other people beginning to mill around. Just weeks ago, Rusty was a doctor on his team. He remembered that morning so clearly…
His shift didn’t start for another hour and a half, so he opted to stop for a bacon and egg croissant. The little diner near the hospital was a go-to place for the medical staff. He’d eaten there often since his arrival in Charleston. Thinking about food, his stomach gave a rumble that rivaled his Harley.
Distracted by thoughts of food and his shift starting, he didn’t see the truck run the red light, right away. His quick reaction brought him sideways and his breaks squealing as he barely managed to keep upright with the bike trying to slide out from under him.
Horns honked, breaks squealed, shouts screamed into the early morning air.
“Holy fucking hell!” He screamed at the truck’s tailgate, the driver didn’t even slow down. He took a couple of deep breaths as he steadied both the bike and himself.
“Ya alright there, buddy? That asshole didn’t even try to stop.” Gary looked up and into the window of a gold toned Toyota.
“Yeah. Thanks. I’m good.” Gary said nodding his head and giving a quick hand wave at the driver who’d stopped to inquire about him. He looked back down and restarted his bike. Looking around at those who’d stopped to see what was happening, he carefully pulled back into traffic.
He was still a little jazzed from his near miss when he parked and entered the diner.
“Morning Doc.” The cheery southern drawl was almost irritating after his rocky start this morning.
“The usual?” Her eyes twinkled as she smiled.
“Yes. Thanks, Susie.” He nodded as he sat at his usual table. It was a short wait and Susie brought him coffee.
“Your order will be up in just a minute. Hey, you hear about the earthquake in Summerville?”
“Yeah. That’s close, right?” Gary looked at her, his head tilted in question.
“Yeah, just up US 26, then get off on 17A? It’s not far at all. My sister lives there.” Susie’s southern drawl was sweet and natural.
“Right. Heard about that this morning. Did it do any damage?” He asked as he sipped his coffee. “Lord I love coffee,” went quickly through his mind.
“Oh, my goodness, no. It was just a little thing. Kathy said she hardly felt it at all.” Susie said as she turned to go check on his order.
He noticed the door opening and other commuters coming in for their morning starters.
A red-headed man in a hooded-sweatshirt nodded at him.
Gary tried to recall his name, “I know this guy. He’s on my staff…Rusty…Rusty Hobart…yeah, that’s his name.”
“Mind if I join?” Rusty looked down at him. His southern accent said he was a native.
“No, not at all. Glad to have the company. Have a seat.” Gary slipped his coffee cup back to the table.
“Just couldn’t face another muffin today.” Rusty said scooting onto the seat opposite Gary.
“I’m not much of a morning cook.” Gary said as Susie walked up with his sandwich.
“Hey, Rusty. Coffee?” Susie smiled familiarly.
“Love some, Darlin’, and I’ll have one of those.” Rusty nodded at Gary’s sandwich.
“Sure thing. Be right back.” Susie scurried off to get his coffee and put his order in.
“So. How ya like it so far?” Rusty said stretching his long legs out a little. His bright blue eyes sparkled with amusement.
Gary’s dark brown eyes studied Rusty’s face searching out his meaning, then he swallowed his coffee and lowered his cup.
“Which ‘it’ are you asking about? The job, the city, the weather, the coffee?” His amusement began to match Rusty’s.
Rusty laughed, a deep male chuckle.
“Yeah, I guess it’s all pretty new to you. I forgot you haven’t lived here long. I meant the job. Is it all you thought it would be?” Susie returned with a cup and the carafe of coffee. She quickly filled his cup and sat down a bowl of little plastic cream containers.
“Your order will be up in just a minute.” She said as she turned and hurried away.
Rusty watched her leave then turned back to Gary, clearly waiting for an answer.
“It’s really just business as usual. The equipment at Duke was a little better. The staff’s been good so far. I have no complaints, just suggestions.” Gary was non-committal. He was still evaluating everything.
“I agree. We could use some upgrades to the equipment. Emergency medicine needs the fastest and the best, in my opinion.” Rusty added sugar and cream, into his cup. Stirred the mixture a few times, then lifted it and sipped his coffee. His shoulders relaxed, and he closed his eyes as he enjoyed his first taste of the morning.
Gary made short work of his bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, while he chatted. He liked getting to know more people. It didn’t feel like home yet, but he thought he’d adjust. They chatted a little more as Rusty delved into his breakfast. When they’d finished, Gary picked up both checks and took them to the cashier, said thanks to Susie and left her a generous tip. He and Rusty started for the door.
“Man, I didn’t mean for you to buy my breakfast.” Rusty said as they walked out.
“No prob. You can get the next one.” Gary said with a smile.
“You got it. See ya on the floor.” Rusty quipped as he started walking to his car.
Just as they got out the door it began, shaking. If you had good cushioned shoes and were walking, you might not have noticed. However, car alarms began to sound, all down the street. Looking around, leaves on the saplings near the street shook with the vibrations. Gary and Rusty stared at each other for just a few seconds.
“What the hell…” Rusty began.
“It’s a quake. Do you get many earthquakes around here?” Gary asked.
“No, and I’ve lived around here most of my life.” Rusty answered both puzzled and shocked.
Looking back, into the diner, they noticed everyone looked around and gasped or held onto tables, not that it was necessary, the shaking wasn’t more that slight and didn’t last long.
Brakes squealed, and the crunching of metal was quick and loud as cars collided because the drivers were distracted. Gary and Rusty walked to those who’d collided to see if anyone needed help. It was just a fender-bender, and no one was hurt, but everyone was still upset, not used to earthquakes. People were gathering out on the sidewalks to see what was happening.
“I better get to work. See you later.” Gary said as he left Rusty and moved to his bike.
Rusty nodded and hurried away.
Gary shook his head slightly as he realized he’d been lost in thoughts of that day. The day it’d all begun. Since that time, nightmares haunted his dreams, making sleep not nearly as restful as he needed. The first small quakes were just a warning of the disaster that followed quickly. Just a few feet away someone was talking getting his attention over the hated memories.
“We need someone to head up to the northeast, there might be more places still standing. We need to increase our food supply and see if we can find more tents and useful items. Maybe find information on where it’s safe to go.” Harold Jefferies was talking to two of the other men. Gary had only known Jefferies for a couple of weeks and so much had happened, but he concentrated on the here and now.
“Why don’t you head up this group?” Jefferies said looking directly at Gary, “Try going east of here. There might still be a few towns standing and see if you can get some word on what’s going on. Try to bring back as much food and supplies as you can pack in the truck.”
“I thought I’d be seeing to the patients today?” Gary asked, his head tilting slightly in question. He stared at the man he’d know for only a few weeks. Jefferies was of medium height, a strong build, but he’d lost a lot of weight in the last few weeks. His dark hair had more streaks of white along the sides, Gary thought.
“We seem to have an abundance of doctors and staff. You know what medicines to look for as well as the usual things we’ll need. Pick a few people to help and see if you can find us some help.” Jefferies nodded and threw Gary a set of keys to a large crew-cab pickup.
Gary shrugged, caught the keys and started looking at who was around. He quickly found that same familiar face that had sparked earlier memories.
“Hey Rusty! You up for a trip?” Gary called out to the ginger-haired man.
Rusty just raised his eyebrows in a ‘why not’ and moved toward him.
“Okay, but I need a few more. The more people we have the more we can search.” Gary added.
“I’ll come along.” A large man, near some trees spoke and raised his hand. His voice was deep with a slightly southern accent.
Gary couldn’t remember if they’d met before. He seemed used to authority as he looked around to help select more men. Three men said they’d come and one woman spoke up.
“I may not be as strong as these men, but I’m strong enough. I have family back that way and I want to see if I can find any of them. I know the area and I can guide us.” She walked toward them, her head held high and her eyes defied them to argue. They all watched as she gathered her backpack and headed for the truck.
“Everyone. Grab your stuff and get back to the truck. I’m Dan, by the way.” He picked up a rifle and a canteen, walked straight to the truck and climbed into the driver’s seat.
Gary looked at Rusty with a smirk, “I think Dan wants to drive…”
Seeing the dab would be full, Rusty shrugged his shoulders and climbed into the back of the truck bed, settling himself under the rear window so he could spread out his long legs. Gary went around the truck and climbed into the passenger’s seat. The others settled themselves into the backseat.
They headed out of the camp, it could not be called a town anymore. The going was slow, most roads were intact, but many had large cracks, and some had large holes. There wasn’t much to see, it wasn’t a heavily populated area, even before the last quake and tsunami hit the country below them. Gary cleared his throat slightly and introduced himself.
“I’m Gary. Gary McBrady. I was a doctor in Emergency Medicine, down in Charleston.”
“Dan Monroe. I had a construction company before all this. Now I guess I don’t have much of anything.” His deep southern accent was strong, his tanned hands held tightly to the steering wheel. It wasn’t fast, but they made progress going around stopped cars and cracked and caved in pavement.
The others in the back listened and began to introduce themselves.
“I’m Bill Newton. My wife and I are from Charleston, she’s a patient in the hospital, they sent us here.” He nodded to those around him.
Her southern voice twangy and a little loud, “I’m Carol Ann Shenk. I live in Asheville, or I did…but I have family up in Spruce Pine. It’s up that way…” She pointed way up into the mountains.
“I’m Marvin, Marvin Kirk, I live in Asheville, or I did. My home was destroyed in the quakes.” The man was tall and just past middle age Gary assumed.
“I’m Ted Atherton. I lived in Fletcher, but our town is gone now. My kids are up north in Atlanta. I haven’t heard if they’re safe. Sure would like to find them.”
“Name’s Lee Jackson. I’m from Cherokee. Came here to pick up some supplies for the tribe.” Lee was at least part Cherokee, from what Gary could see.
“Do you know much about this area, Lee?” Gary asked.
“Been down here many times but never stayed long. I’ve been down the rivers on trips and such. I work for the tribe and lead fishing and rafting trips.” His voice was steady, a mixture of the southern drawl and more, but Gary couldn’t quite place what else.
“Now that sounds like a fun job.” Dan remarked.
Lee quipped back with a shrug. “It’s a living. Or it was, anyway…we’ll see. I need to get back to the tribe.”
“He’s not here to introduce himself, so I’ll do it for him. The guy in the back is Rusty Hobart. We were doctors n Charleston when all this started.” Carol Ann and Lee both turned to look out the back window at Rusty, who simply smiled back, not knowing why they were looking at him.
As they drove along, things grew quiet as everyone surveyed the country that had been devastated by quakes and floods.
“Any family, Dan?” Gary said lowly to the man next to him.
He shook his head slowly, “Not here. Mom and dad were living around Marietta. I found work and started building my own construction company down in Savannah. I have someone I was dating, but I haven’t heard from her. Tried calling, but never got an answer. I keep trying, just in case. Got through to my dad once, just after the tsunami warning was announced. They’re still okay, as far as I know, they’re probably worrying about me. I need to get up there first chance I get.”
“I got grandparents up in Montana. Didn’t have a chance to get through to them when all this happened. Now, even when I can find a phone, service is so bad I haven’t been able to get through.” Gary shifted his back against the seat.
“Yeah, phones are undependable. Hell, ya can’t even find a TV with a channel that works, at least not around here.” Dan watched the road as they bumped over cracks and holes.
“Damn, just static, as usual.” Gary said as he switched on the radio and tried several channels.
“Not much on these days. Even the military and police channels are gone for the most part.” Dan added.
“Yeah. Jefferies gets a few messages now and then, but even his radio isn’t getting much lately. I guess this is happening everywhere, but I’d have thought there would be more information.” Gary turned off the static.
“What do you think we’ll find up this way?” Dan squinted a bit as he talked.
Gary shrugged his shoulders and slowly shook his head, “I have no idea. Looking for food and medicine is the priority. Maybe some people and information on what’s going on in the rest of the country?”
“I know it was widespread, before the communications got so bad.” Dan gripped the wheel harder as he headed slightly into the grass to avoid a large hole.
“Yeah. I guess it’s bad almost everywhere, but exactly how bad is the question?”
“Well, just look at the condition of the road. We’re not far from camp and there’s been a lot of quakes and movement here. So many whole towns were destroyed. Just look over that way.” Dan pointed to the right. The remains of a large town were scattered. Huge cracks in the earth, most buildings only partially standing. No people could be seen anywhere.
“I know. The south’s been hit hard, especially the costal areas. Some slipped into the ocean and ones I thought would be safe are underwater. I just wonder how much of the country has experienced this.” There were grunts of affirmation and murmurings from those in the backseat.
“Let’s go that way.” Carol Ann said putting her hand on the armrest between the front seats. “It’s Weaverville. It might have some of the supplies we need, it’s a pretty big town for around here, or it was.”
They traveled slowly, but faster than walking, avoiding holes and places where the ground had buckled upward. Sometimes leaving the road but returning to is as much as possible.
“Looks like that over there is mostly residential, with a few things. It’s been pretty much flattened or overturned everywhere. We can’t have come much more than ten miles and it’s so bad.” Gary spoke lowly to them all.
Bill spoke up as they came to an exit, “That exit to the right looks bad, but look.” He leaned forward pointing further up to the left. “That left exit looks like it’s still intact. We could just drive through the grass to that side.”
“It looks more solid up there. Let’s give it a shot.” Dan replied, everyone agreeing. They went into the tall grass and across to the exit. Bill opened the back window and told Rusty to hold on tight. Dan carefully drove onto the downward ramp, it held. There was a collective sigh of breath as they all let out what they were holding.
“Look. That used to be a Walmart. It’s pretty caved in, but it might have some food and stuff.” Carol Ann said with her usual twang.
Jim broke into the conversation, “There’s a liquor store over this way. I don’t know about you all, but a good drink could help my mood.”
“Okay. Let’s check out the Walmart first, then we’ll head to the others around here. We just need to be careful, these building have already collapsed. The rest of them could go at any time.” Gary said to everyone.
After hours of careful searching Gary and his team were ready to leave the area with the many useful items they had gathered. They’d even picked up a small panel truck to haul their finds. Marvin and Ted volunteered to drive the panel truck, leaving room for Rusty to move into the cab of the pickup. They were disappointed but not surprised at not finding any people yet.
Carol Ann pointed back toward the road they’d come from, “I think we should head on up to Mars Hill, it’s not too far. It’s a small town but it’s on the way to where my family is in Spruce Pine.”
“Okay. We can try to get there.” Gary answered. Then turned to Dan, “Let’s get back to the road and see if we can reach it.”
Dan looked at Gary, “Are we going to head back to camp today?”
“Probably not. We have a long way to go and we have a lot of places to search. Jefferies knew we’d be gone awhile. Is that a problem for anyone?” He looked at those in the back.
Everyone mumbled and shook their heads, affirming they thought searching was more important.
There were large cracks and holes in the pavement, but they went carefully around and even into the grassy sides to make progress. It wasn’t fast, but it was manageable. Many cars and trucks had been abandoned, they stopped to search some to see if there were useful items.
The truck stopped abruptly as Dan cussed. “Damn, the whole road’s gone. The overpass and ramps have collapsed.”
“There it is. Mars Hill.” Carol Ann leaned forward pointing out the window to the left.
“That little group of buildings over there? They’re all collapsed.” Dan replied.
“Well, that’s part of it, but the rest is gone. There’s a university and lots of houses and businesses here. Not a big city, but there’s nothing here now.”
“Looks like the quakes buried most everything. It might be still be unstable, it doesn’t look like there’s much to find here.” Gary suggested.
Lee tapped the back of Gary’s seat, “Look to the right. There’s a little service road that goes to that other one to the right. Looks like we can get around the damage.”
“Yeah, it looks possible. Let’s give it a try. Carol Ann, do you know where that road goes?” Gary asked.
“I’ve never used it, but I think it goes beside the expressway. It should have a place to get back on, but maybe out of town? I think.” She shrugged.
Dan stopped the engine and walked to the other truck to let them know what they were doing. As they started up toward the service road, they heard noises that sounded like shouting.
Looking around, they spotted three people waving and jumping around. They waved back and started down the service road toward the survivors.