Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

I didn’t know whether to head out in the day time or the night time. The night time might have more people off the road and out of our way, or it might have the wrong kind of people on the road and getting in our way on purpose. The day time might mean more people but at least we would be able to see what was going on around us and in the end I suggested we take the day time because of this.

I’m not sure it would have mattered either way; it was a nightmare whichever way you looked at it. All along its length the interstate was a solid wall of misery. More than a few times people tried to force us to stop. Jonathon almost did at the first blockage until I slammed my foot over his that was luckily still on the accelerator rather than the brake. We zoomed past them at breakneck speed, Nana squawking in the backseat in alarm, clipping one of the cars in the way and pushing it into the crowd that was trying to keep us from getting through.

Jonathon started to light up at me as soon as he’d gotten passed his fear but I rounded on him and said, “Don’t … ever … stop. Not for people like that. Barrel through, go around, run them down if you have to. Anyone that will stand in front of a vehicle traveling as fast as we were doesn’t have anything to lose … and we sure as heck do. People like that are dangerous!”

“Rocky …”

“Do you know what could have happened back there Jonathon? They would maybe have just shot you but do you have any idea what they might have done to your grandmother and I? Or left us to be the victim of?”

He cleared his throat in denial. “No way Rocky. Look at you.”

“Man you are driving me crazy! There are people in this world that don’t care how big or how strong I am … all they see is girl meat. I’m not Super Girl or Wonder Woman or whoever you try and imagine me to be. I’m not Budicca or any of those Amazon warriors you are always talking about. I’m me Jonathon … just me. And if you think I’m somehow invincible then you are wrong. More than one or two people of any size and I’m going down, it is simple physics. What do you imagine will happen then?! This isn’t the movies Jonathon … this is a nightmare!”

I didn’t mean to yell at him, not exactly, but he’d scared me … scared me bad. Jonathon was always willing to imagine the good, I couldn’t afford to anymore, not if I was going to get us all safely to the farm.

Looking back I still don’t have any idea how I wound up in charge of that lunatic road trip we found ourselves on. I wish to God it had been someone else. Jonathon was smarter, plain fact. He may have been shorter and smaller than me but so were a lot of incredible leaders in history. Nana was older, had more experience, and she was the one that had outfitted us for the trip and had access to lots of money. If I had to guess I would say it was because at the time I was able to access the aggression we needed faster than they were. I wasn’t jumping up and down looking to be the leader but I wanted to stay alive; I wanted all of us to stay alive and in one piece. And I wasn’t willing to risk testing the charity and kindness of the crowds that lined the roads looking for a hand out or just to flat take what they had no right to.

As we wended our way east, jumping on and off the interstate to avoid complete blockages, I noticed that some stretches of the interstate were eerily silent despite all of the cars and trucks lining the sides of the road. I saw a few bodies here and there in these sections but that was about it. I checked on Nana and was going to ask her her thoughts but she seemed detached, like there was a barrier between her and what was going on. I imagine she’d had the same look on her face as she’d ridden in the back of endless numbers of limousines in her lifetime.

I took over from Jonathon along one of these ghost stretches. He was shaking like a leaf and I noticed the symptoms that were a prelude to an asthma attack, the kind brought on by stress. It got better after I took over and it was easier if I drove the rest of the nerve wracking day. It took us from dawn until right before sundown to get to the Soda Springs area; all day to travel 175 miles, something that in normal times would have taken three hours max. But as bad as that day had been the night was worse.

“They promised that it would be here. They promised,” Nana said in a shocked voice.

Whoever they were they’d broken their promise. Or come back for it later themselves. It made me worry about the farm but there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I wish she’d never told anyone where it was. We couldn’t even make a phone call to check on things because the cell phone lines weren’t working. All you could get was that stupid recording that all lines were busy, try back later. Texts weren’t even going through, even if you could find a signal. Nana’s phone was an expensive satellite phone but even that wasn’t letting any calls through.

I told her, “Maybe it was here but someone came along and … confiscated it or something. Several of these storage rooms look like someone has tampered with them.”

“Nice of you to try and comfort me dear but let’s face it, I’ve been swindled, and of no small amount of money. Luckily for us I’m not quite the batty old broad that I sometimes appear.” We drove a couple of rows over and to another storage garage. This one had been broken into as well and almost everything taken but all Nana and Jonathon seemed to care about was that there were a few of their pills scattered about from smashed pill bottles. They were upbeat over the find despite only being able to salvage a couple of day’s worth. To them it was better than nothing. I was feeling more like the glass was half empty instead.

I rolled the Gladiator into the largest storage garage at the back of the lot and we slept in the bed of the vehicle after rearranging some of our supplies. In the middle of the night Nana woke up gasping for air scaring the crap out of both Jonathon and I. After it was all over she looked a little gray in the face but by morning she was completely better.

“My goodness I haven’t had an attack like that in years. Now stop fussing children. We need to get on the road. Our next goal should be Laramie … yes Jonathon as in Laramie, Wyoming … and we have no time to waste.”

But we weren’t going anywhere. The jeep wouldn’t start, not even the lights or radio. I thought the battery was shot for some reason and had it in mind to go down the street to sweep a battery from an abandoned car. But then Jonathon and Nana noticed that their watches weren’t working. I hadn’t noticed because all I had was an old Timex wind up thing that was older than I was which I got at a our school’s white elephant sale. Jonathon got a funny look on his face but I didn’t get it.

“Rocky, see if the portable radio works.”

To my surprise it didn’t.

“Nana, what about .. about your phone, does it light up or anything?”

Nope.

He stuttered in a voice that was so raspy it almost hurt to listen to, “I … I think … I think we have bigger problems to think about.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t know what an EMP was, just that I didn’t really understand what it did in full. When Jonathon finished explaining I excused myself to go to the bathroom and spent a good five minutes puking my guts up. Suddenly my job of getting us home had gotten a lot harder and a lot more dangerous. I wasn’t sure if an 18 year old girl was up to it or not.

*******

Jonathon was waiting for me when I came out of the port-o-potty. “What are we going to do Rocky?”

I wished that he had waited just a little longer to ask that, given me time to gain some additional composure but he didn’t and I couldn’t hold it against him. “What we have to,” I answered him.

“What does that mean?”

“The truth is I’m not sure yet and the answer could change as we go along. First thing we are going to do is prepare the backpacks. It is going to take me all day probably to figure out what you two are capable of carrying and how much that is going to leave me to carry.”

The only thing I could put in Nana’s pack was her clothing and toiletries and the lightest of the freeze dried food then her sleeping back and sleeping pad. Jonathon could carry more but even after he was as loaded as he could stand that still left me carrying a pack that weighed nearly a hundred pounds. I couldn’t do it, there was just no way. I could have done it for a while, maybe even a few miles but no way could I do it for an extended period, day in and day out. I took it off and looked at Jonathon. “We are going to have to skip the three-man tent and take one of the smaller ones. I know they are only meant for one or two people but if it gets cold we’ll appreciate the closeness and if it gets hot I’ll sleep outside the tent in some mosquito netting. It’s the only way.”

Jonathon looked troubled and then said, “I’m sorry Rocky.”

“For what?” I asked him, confused.

“For … for not being able to carry more. For … everything … waiting so long to tell you that I like you … lots of stuff.”

Morale was slipping and Jonathon was going all “sensitive” and deep and we couldn’t afford it. What I told him wasn’t strictly the truth but it wasn’t exactly a lie either. “You carry more than you know Jonathon. You can’t carry any of this stuff and the stuff Nana can’t too. Helping her is a big load off my shoulders.”

I think he knew I was schmoozing him a bit but he let me and the moment passed. That night by the fire I looked at how far it was to Laramie and blanched. The most direct route was four hundred miles no matter how you cut it. It wasn’t the miles so much that worried me, although that was part of it, it was the terrain we would be going through. We were going to have to cross the Continental Divide on foot and that meant an altitude gain of almost 1800 feet in who knows what conditions.

I decided that instead of trying to think about the whole trip in one big bite I would start with the first leg which be to Montpelier, Idaho. It was just a little town of 3,000 souls at the intersection of Highways 30 and 89 and about its only claim to fame was that the Butch Cassidy gang robbed a bank there … or at least according to the AAA book. The problem was that it was 30 miles away from Soda Springs with nothing much between us and it. I had no idea how far Jonathon and Nana would be able to walk in a single day. I would have had trouble doing it in a single day, especially with the pack I was carrying, so I knew we were going to have to sleep on the road at least one night.

It took three. No matter what I did we were lucky to make ten miles a day and they were usually so exhausted by the end of the day that all they wanted to do was crawl in the tent and sleep. I let them because it gave me quiet time to think. There were cars here and there along Highway 30 but not many and they were all abandoned and most of them were stripped of anything useful as well. We saw the occasionally body, obviously a victim of violence, but none of us wanted to think about that too hard.

The first two-thirds of the leg was all uphill until we came to this little dot on the map called Georgetown. The town was dead and I mean that literally. Something or someone had come through and destroyed most everything there was to be seen of the town which wasn’t much. The sign on the highway said population 538 but I would not have thought a fifth of that from the look of things. It was eerily quiet and after finding a dozen dead bodies in one of the buildings on the side of the road I got us out of there rather than using any of the structures to hole up for the night. We pushed through Montpelier the same way. It felt like eyes were boring into my back for a long time after we put the town behind us.

That night Nana had another attack. It was a bad one. As I was helping her outside the tent to try and get some air I noticed the top of a bad scar. She noticed me noticing and when we got far enough away from Jonathon she explained.

“I have a pacemaker dear. Or should I say had. I don’t need it all the time, it was only to kick in when my heart was acting abnormal and needed a little help. I’m beginning to think that perhaps the EMP affected … well, you can imagine what I’m thinking. My medication should help but we must get to the next stash as soon as possible … or find some along the way … or I’ll become quite useless and a burden.”

All of the food we’d been eating had come out of her pack so it was as light as I could make it. I was also worried about Jonathon. He’d started wheezing. It was the elevation. We were at about 6000 feet give or take a few and none of us was used to it. The wind and lack of humidity sucked the fluids right out of us and I was having a hard time finding water that was clear enough to run through the Katadyne filter. I also had to keep reminding both of them to drink. Their excuse was that they were not hot or sweating; it was a running battle that I felt like I was losing.

After resting an extra day outside of Montpelier we took off for a dot on the map known as Harer, Idaho. There was supposed to be a town there but you could have fooled me; I saw nothing. I kept hoping against commonsense that I’d find some help but none materialized. The next town was called Cokeville, Wyoming and I was hanging my prayers that there would be something there.

Two days and twenty miles later I thought we were doing pretty well but Cokeville was a bust. Everything had been ransacked and there’d been a fire in this restaurant called Blondie’s. The two motels in town were trashed and no one was around. I locked Jonathon and Nana in one of the rooms at the Hideout Motel and went to see what I could find.

Basically a big, fat nothing. The BS Stop and the Flying J looked like they had been mobbed. I picked up a few things but nothing that would come close to replacing the medicines my two traveling companions so desperately needed. I did manage to pocket some energy pills and a couple of bottles of vitamins but everything else we already had or didn’t need. There wasn’t a scrap of food in any of the buildings I went into.

When I got back to the motel it was to find that Jonathon had had an asthma attack. He said he was OK but he didn’t look it. The next morning I suggested we stay another night since we had a roof over our heads but neither one could settle to the idea; they seemed too intent on going on and getting to this magic stash of medicine that I was beginning to wonder would even be there when we did finally make it to Fort Bridger which was apparently where the next one was supposed to be in some locker in the rest area there. I wish I had made them stay. It might not have made a difference but then again I’ll never know for certain. In the middle of that day I actually had to put him on my back and carry him a few miles. There was no place to camp safely.

A day out and we were in the middle of nowhere. We wouldn’t make another dot on the map until we reached this place called Fossil outside of Fossil Butte National Monument and that was still a hundred miles away. I prayed to God that Jonathon would pull it together and that the asthma would stay away and the next day it was like Jonathon didn’t even have asthma and all three of us slipped into a goofy mood, probably just to escape the fear that gnawed at us constantly.

That night I made camp well off the road and I’m glad I did. A party of about a hundred people came walking along the road. They stopped not too far from where we were camped and I heard a lot of talking as I hid in the bushes observing them.

They were a refugee party though I couldn’t tell from exactly where. They were being led but a small group of militia men, trying to get them to the same place we were ultimately heading which was outside of Laramie. They had one guy leading them that was just huge, nearly a head taller than I was but like me he wasn’t the tall and thin type but just plain big … not fat, just big. He didn’t look too happy or friendly. I heard a couple of the women saying that he’d beat a man for rape and left him for dead the previous day. Another woman said there were a couple of men in the group they wouldn’t mind if that happened to as they were very rough customers.

I was just thinking of asking if we could join them when this big guy starts talking and telling people that they were too slow … only fifteen miles per day would have them starving on the road and if they wanted to walk under the protection of …. I missed that part as the wind blew the sound away from me … then they had better get a move on and stop complaining. He was done with everyone’s belly aching, they could keep up or get left behind it didn’t matter to him one way or the other.

I knew that there was no way I could ask Jonathon and Nana to go faster. They barely made the ten miles per day that I pushed them to. The refugee party left and I watched them until they were beyond my line of sight. That night Jonathon had another asthma attack. I thought at first everything would be OK just like always but something went wrong. I held him and tried to help but … he just stopped breathing. Just like that. I gave him CPR and after a while he did start breathing again but he didn’t seem to want to wake up properly from that point forward.

I knew I needed to get him medical help and I kicked myself for letting that refugee party get away. I thought, if we can just catch up with them then there would be someone who knew what to do. I fixed a sling that helped me to carry Jonathon and my pack too. My muscles were coming back and desperation also gave me strength I didn’t know I had. For two days we travelled like this and the second day we even made a full twelve miles before I had to stop for Nana’s sake.

That night it happened. He just stopped breathing again, almost without notice. Nothing I did could make him start up again. I tried CPR, I tried cussing and swearing, I tried crying out to God to please help … I guess it was just his time. My best friend … I can’t put it into words; there aren’t words for it. And trying to deal with Nana … there will never be words for it. I wanted to howl like a wild animal but even that wouldn’t have bled off but a microportion of how badly I was hurting.

We buried Jonathon the best way we could. The ground didn’t want to cooperate. It was rocky and full of roots and my strength had deserted me. I got him three feet down and I was lucky to do that. I piled all the loose rock I could find over the top and asked God to please keep the animals away and if he wouldn’t do that to at least keep those thoughts out of my head and Nana’s.

We only walked a couple of miles in the remainder of that day because we’d barely survived a rockslide. I all but shook my fist at God asking Him what the big idea was, that the day had already been horrific enough without the special effects. Worse was to come.

I was setting up the tent when Nana had another attack. The next morning it was like she had given up. I broke camp and hefted her onto my back and carried her the same way that I’d carried Jonathon but she didn’t seem to want to be helped. She fought me with what little bit of strength she had. I sat up with her all night but she just slipped away without a single word, almost like she’d resented the last bit of help that I’d been trying to give her. Both of them had been right there, in my arms and they’d never said good bye.

So this morning I buried her. I could have carried her back to where Jonathon was laid but that slide made things too hazardous and I figured that though their physical bodies weren’t in the same location, their souls were and I needed to be satisfied with the bigger picture than concerned about my earthly heartbreak.

I’ve repacked my backpack. It isn’t as heavy as it was before. What little bit of food I added to my pack was offset by the fact that I got rid of the tent. I couldn’t use any of their clothes so I’m leaving that by the road with the tent and I really hope someone can use it; it’s quality stuff, just more of a burden for me than a blessing.

I’ve also come to a decision not everyone would understand or agree with. Amazon queens only exist in mythology. Budicca and all of those other heroines of ancient history are dust. And it is crazy for a female to try and travel alone. I’m going to try and catch up with that refugee party. There is safety in numbers. But I won’t be joining it as a girl.

I’ve already cut my braid off and trimmed the ragged sections up. I hate it, it looks so butch. I haven’t been wearing my earrings so my pierced ears don’t show too much. The one even looks like a freckle and the other … well lots of guys have one earring these days. My voice is fairly low and mellow for a girl and I figure I’ll just rough it up a little when I have to and not talk much at all unless forced to. If I keep my game face on I hope to be able to pass … or at least keep people too embarrassed to ask. It’ll be the same as it always has been only this time I’m going to play it up a bit.

The only trouble I’m having is my chest. I’m not well endowed in that department but I’m not exactly flat either. I tore one of Jonathon’s shirts and I pancaked myself the best I could. Multiple layers of shirts and a jacket should help for a while and hopefully by the time it warms up enough that the jacket is too much I’ll be in a place I can make the decision whether to move on or come out.

Since it is just me I’m going to see how hard and far I can push myself starting tomorrow. God help me and keep me safe but I just don’t see any other thing I can do right now. Home is looking farther and farther away every time I open the map.

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