The following fictional account is a continuation of the ‘Aftermath’ series and has been generously contributed by The Prepper Project.
Click here to read Part 1: What Will Life Look Like When The Lights Go Out?
Episode 2: The Road Home
If you haven’t read part I Of Aftermath you can check it out here.
The cold, boxy barrel of the 9mm pistol pressed hard against the back of Jason Jones’ neck. His attacker had surprised him, which was not an easy thing to do, and now Jason was at his mercy, at least that’s what the attacker thought. It surely wasn’t the first time Jason had been at gunpoint, but from the looks of things on the streets beyond the alleyway, it wouldn’t be the last. Jason had to think quickly, the situation was tense and from the tremor in his attacker’s voice, it was clear the man was on edge, and probably not used to armed robbery. Jason knew his inexperience made the gunman more dangerous, but also easier to defeat. Anyone trained in combat knows that you only make contact with your enemy to strike; putting the gun directly on Jason’s neck was as good as putting it Jason’s hand. The neck was narrow and an easy target to miss, and giving your victim something to grab onto was basic combat mistakes 101. Jason thought about all of this as he raised his arms up beside his head, so that it looked like he was surrendering to the gunman.
“Hand over the bag and I won’t hurt you.” The man with the pistol threatened. You won’t be hurting anyone but yourself, Jason thought, and twisted around with lightning speed, his raised arms knocking the gun wide of his neck and torso. The gun fired without consequence, and the bullet smashed into the brick wall of the alleyway. The attacker was stunned. Jason grabbed the arm holding the gun tightly and twisted hard, forcing the elbow to point toward the sky, bending the man in half at the waist. The gun clattered to the concrete as the mugger cried out in pain. Jason pressed his forearm down on the awkwardly bent arm of the attacker; in a few blinding seconds the tables had turned and the gunman was now at the mercy of Jason Jones.
“I ought to break your damn arm,” Jason seethed.
“No man, please! Don’t do it man, don’t break my arm!” The man pleaded pathetically through a grimace of pain. Jason held him tight in the debilitating arm lock.
“No man, please don’t do it, I’m sorry, I’m not this kinda guy I swear, Ahhhh!”
Jason pressed harder on the man’s straining arm bone.
“Please! I swear! Just lemme go! I don’t know what got into me, shit’s gone crazy out there!”
In the heat of the moment, Jason had nearly forgotten why he was there in the alleyway in the first place. The sudden loss of electricity, the riots in the streets – the world around him had suddenly fallen apart. Perspective returned to Jason. He shoved the man down to the ground, and quickly drew his own pistol.
“Go.” Jason pointed the gun directly at the man’s chest, “Get the hell out of here.”
Without another word, the trembling man darted out of the alley and into the frenzy of the streets. Jason scooped up the attacker’s pistol from the ground and stuffed it into his G.H.B. and scoped out his surroundings. I’ve got to get out of the city, he thought, but before he went back out into the madness of the Chicago streets, he needed to do a little recon. A fire escape provided Jason with the vantage point he needed to make a plan. He’d, of course, prepared multiple bug-out routes, and had taken each of them, on his way home from work. Jason climbed the iron ladders until he was atop the squat, three-story building, and looked out over the chaos below.
Two bodies lay bleeding in the street in front of the store, gunned down in the ruckus that forced Jason into the alley to begin with. The looters and panicked masses trampled over them as if they weren’t even there. Jason pulled out his map and oriented himself with his position, the highlighted routes on the map that started with his office reached out like tentacles in all directions, but all ended in the same place, at his home, nearly 25 miles southwest of the city, reaching out just beyond the suburbs into rural Illinois. This won’t be an easy trek, Jason thought to himself, but the family is prepped, and they know I’ve planned for something like this as well, so that should keep them from worrying too much. It was true, but still, Jason longed to get home to his wife and kids as soon as possible. He also knew that he had to keep focused, if he got sloppy or careless, he might never see his family again.
The route Jason decided on was his 3rd favorite option, it took an extra 2 miles of urban hiking, but it avoided high-crime areas, and took him through the suburbs. The insanity that had sparked so quickly on the streets outside the alleyway was a bad sign, and Jason didn’t want to risk entering any neighborhoods that were already notorious for violence and mayhem. At the back of the alley, Jason used his pry bar to peel back the planks of a neglected wooden fence, allowing him to escape the area without reentering the main streets. He stuck to the alleys and backstreets along his pre-planned route until he reached the edge of the city. The neighborhoods flattened out into the first rows of suburbs surrounding Chicago.
The density of panicked people and chaos dissipated the further Jason trekked among the cookie cutter houses and well-manicured lawns of the suburban neighborhoods. It had taken him four hours to hike there, at the average walking speed of three miles per hour. He was tired, but not exhausted, and with the afternoon sun beating high over head, Jason decided to rest in the shade of an oak tree set behind the backstop of a small baseball diamond. The area seemed relatively secure – many of the driveways were occupied with fathers and brothers working with confusion on the family car, mothers hanging clothes to dry on freshly strung lines. Small groups of neighbors gathered on corners to causally discuss the power outage, but it was clear to Jason as he watched and drank his water, that no one in this neighborhood was aware of how bad things were in the city. How could they know? he thought to himself, No T.V. no phones, no radio, no cars… how could they have any idea of how big this thing really is, or how bad it’s gotten downtown. Jason stood and put the half-empty water bottle back into his pack, rechecked his position on the map, and headed in the direction of home.
After another hour of hiking, he found himself along a wide state route that stretched four or five miles between two suburbs. Thick trees and foliage lined the roads a few yards off, and intersections were few and far between. It was quiet, and as Jason walked he took a moment to appreciate the silence that the lack of machinery had left. He knew he and his family faced an uphill battle in what was to come, but they were prepared, and he took a moment there in the quiet of the long and empty state route to close his eyes and say a small prayer. “Thank you Lord for giving me the guidance, strength and wisdom to prepare for this life. Please watch over my family and our friends in our time of need. Thank you for providing us with all that we need to survive.” Jason thought about his garden at home as he said the words. “Please continue to give us the strength to carry on in our lives as good servants to you, and our fellow man, even when our faith and kindness are tested, Amen.”
Jason opened his eyes to see thick black smoke billowing in violent rolling clouds. Just out of site, at the intersection of the state route and an old farm road, two vehicles lay smashed and burning on the hot asphalt. The words of his own prayer repeated in his head, give us the strength to carry on in our lives as good servants to you and our fellow man… He quickened his pace. As he grew closer, the heat of giant blaze that consumed the old pick-up truck made Jason wince. He stopped and held his hand up against the heat, and tried to see if anyone was left alive. The roaring of the fire and crackling plastic was a hellish rip in the peaceful silence he was enjoying just seconds before. As Jason strained to see, it was becoming clear that no one had lived through the wreck or that they had already made off. Then he saw movement on the other side of the mini-van which had been t-boned by the large truck. Jason darted around to the far side of the van to see a middle-aged woman lying face up on the glass covered road. Small streams of crimson blood streaked across her legs and arms and stained the cream colored t-shirt and light blue denim jeans she wore.
Tiny shards of glass crunched under his hiking boots as Jason rushed to her side, the direct heat of the flames blocked slightly by the van’s smashed carcass.
“Hello?” Jason said over the crackling roar. There was no response.
“Hello, can you hear me?”
The woman moaned almost inaudibly and tried to turn over.
“Easy now, easy.” Jason gently put his hands on her shoulders,
“My name’s Jason Jones, and I’m an ex-marine, and I’m here to help you.”
The woman just moaned again. I’ve got to get her away from these flames, Jason thought, the van could go up any minute, and then we’re cooked. The best way to move the woman without a stretcher was a blanket pull, but with the flames roaring closer each second, Jason didn’t want to risk the time it would take to unpack his blanket, stretch it out next to her, move her carefully and then pull her away. “It’s going to have to be a shoulder pull,” he said out loud to himself. It was the only way to move her away while keeping her head and neck supported. He bent down and put his arms under each of her shoulders, keeping his arms along either side of her head so it wouldn’t roll out of alignment, and began dragging her. Small lines of blood trailed from underneath her onto the concrete, as they slowly put distance between themselves and the burning wreckage. When they were 50 yards away, Jason gently laid the woman back down on the ground and checked her vitals. She was still breathing, and her heart was beating, but there was a lot of blood loss, and if he didn’t clean and dress all the cuts, she would certainly bleed out.
Luckily, she stayed unconscious for most of the dressing, but as he worked on the long cuts on her legs from dragging across the glass shards, she suddenly woke up and screamed.
“Hey, calm down. It’s okay,” Jason reassured her in a calm and steady voice.
She winced in pain and her breathing became rapid.
“Easy now,” he said and tried to calm her.
Her eyes opened, and rapidly darted around in fear.
“Where am I?” she gasped.
“You’ve been in an accident. You’re on State Route 43 about 7 miles north of Huntsville Illinois.”
Huntsville was the name of the rural community where Jason and his family lived, he’d been on this road countless times before, and spoke with calm confidence.
“Huntsville,” the woman’s face grimaced in pain as Jason applied more antiseptic from his medical kit. She repeated again, groggily, “Huntsville…”
“That’s right, just down the road about seven-”
“The fire!” she shrieked, as her memory and awareness suddenly returned to her through the fog of the accident.
“The what?!” Jason asked.
“The fires… oh God!” The woman was trembling now, and her breath became short and full of effort again.
“There was a fire, at the grocery, a big blaze, really something to see,” she spoke in strained and broken phrases. Jason poured water into her mouth.
“I was on my way into the city, and talking to my husband. The news said the fire department had just called into Midcity to help control the blaze.” She coughed and asked for more water.
“I was talking, and driving along. Then all of the sudden the phone went dead, and so did the car, and… and…” As her memory caught up with her, so did her emotions and tears began falling down her bruised and blood stained cheeks. Jason told her it was okay as calmly as he could, but he could feel the panic rising inside him. If they had to call in Midcity’s ladder company, and then things went dark, there’s a good chance they never put out that fire, he thought. He pictured the small grocery, which was connected to a strip mall – the only set of shops in Huntsville proper, not counting the…
“Oh God,” Jason whispered aloud, as he realized what sat at the other end of the strip mall across from the grocery where the blaze had apparently started. He peered off into the distance toward Huntsville, and hanging over it was a thick black fog of smoke.
“If that things not out yet,” he said aloud in disbelief, “it’s gonna hit the-”
As he watched, a massive fireball mushroomed into the sky where the Hunstville gas station once sat, at the other end of the strip mall, from the grocery store, which that morning had caught on fire. It had been a dry summer, and the woodlands that weaved their way in thick bushels throughout the community of Huntsville and surrounded Jason’s homestead were prime targets for the blazing inferno. Jason watched with a rotten feeling sinking in his gut as the flames began to fan out from the initial fireball the gas station had created when it exploded. The thick black cloud above the distant town grew wider and more intense with each passing second…
Check in next week for the exciting continuation, as Jason Jones battles a blazing inferno and other dangers to save his family and his homestead in the Aftermath!
Michael Ulanski is a fiction writer and freelance journalist currently traveling and working in the Middle East. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he is working on a series of short stories entitled Maps of a Midwest Suburb, as well as maintaining a travel blog, and working on his first novel. He holds a masters degree in English Education and teaches writing to secondary students in the United Arab Emirates.