TEOTWAWKI: The Long Walk Home, Ch.8 “Preparing To Depart”
After a long day of watching The End Of The World As We Know It, seeing 4 jetliners crashing to the ground within mere blocks of my place of business, watching two people die up close and personal, watching all but two of my co-workers walk away from work and head home on foot (except for two older cars that were still working) and wondering about my own wife’s and sons’ safety, I was physically drained, emotionally exhausted, and mentally going into overdrive. I tossed and turned on my sleep pad with my wool blanket and army poncho liner on the carpeted floor of a dark office in the front of the Data Center while my two co-workers, John and Liz, chatted in the lobby lit only with a chemlight. I finally dozed off.
When I lurched awake it was about 2330. I may have slept for about an hour at the most. I turned on my flashlight briefly to roll up my sleep pad and bed roll, tie them off and get my stuff together. As I came out of the office I shuddered in the now very cold air and dark of the very dead Data Center and entered the lobby. John looked up at me from his chair but Liz was asleep in the corner. I dropped my sleeping gear near my rucksack and went down the hall to the restroom with my Ruger and shoulder holster on, carrying my SKS rifle and bandolier. Walking around in the cold, darkened Data Center armed to the teeth felt weird, but I was not going to go anywhere unarmed for a long time I figured. If things were not already nuts out there, they soon would be.
Upon returning from the Men’s Room I asked John, “Get any rest?”
“Yeah, I actually did doze off for a bit here in the chair.”
“Everything quiet out there?” I asked.
“Haven’t heard anything at all. I looked outside a couple of times and Liz went out to smoke some, but we’ve seen nothing. She dozed off not that long ago.”
“I’m awake!” she said, sleepily.
“Well, its about midnight so we oughta eat something and then get ready to go,” I stated.
“What is there to eat?” asked Liz.
“I think we should cook these frozen dinners we found in the freezer. They have thawed out some by now, and we can build a small campfire to cook the stuff up in the pan.”
John replied, “That sounds better than eating them cold. It is freakin’ cold now.”
“Yeah, its gotta be below freezing at least,” shivered Liz. “What are you going to use to get a fire going?”
“Liz, you stay here and open up the three meals and pour everything into the pot while John and I go across the parking lot to the woods and pick up some small logs and branches to build a fire.”
“NO!” she replied suddenly. “I don’t wanna be left in here alone. I’m goin’ with you guys.”
“OK, that’s fine, calm down! We’ll all go together, it’s not that big of a deal.” I said.
I slung my rifle over my shoulder, pulled my hand axe from my butt pack, untied the parachute cord and then we all walked out the door, across the parking lot to the east side where the trees were. In the dark we had to use our flashlights to look for deadfall and soon had a small pile of twigs and sticks. I still needed some larger pieces of wood so I got my axe and started chopping at a branch. After cutting down three small branches and trimming them to the right size, we carried all of our firewood back to the Data Center.
We started the fire around from the front door where there was a little alcove that was protected from the breeze which was not much at all on this cold, still night, but more importantly I wanted the fire to not be seen. Of course that was a little paranoid because the fires from the crashed jets were still burning, and spreading all around us. What was our little campfire compared to the Gehenna that the whole region around DFW Airport had become?
Liz was mixing the food into the pot and stirring it around. We had selections of Lean Cuisine including Herb Roasted Chicken with potatoes, red pepper and broccoli, Baked Chicken Florentine with spinach, carrots and yellow peppers, and Chicken Parmesan with spaghetti and tomato sauce. She was cutting up the chicken breasts so that everything would mix better.
When the pot of stew was ready she brought it out to the fire and carefully set it down on the burning green branches I had cut up.
“Is that steady enough? It’s not gonna tip over is it?” she asked.
“That green wood isn’t going to burn very fast so it should be stable the way I have it set up. Let me go get a glove so I can grab the pot if it starts to tip over.”
I went back into the lobby by the light of the huge fire across the street and opened up my Army map case where I knew I had some Army wool glove inserts. I didn’t want to use my good GoreTex glove for this duty. I returned to the camp fire and watched the pot along with John and Liz.
“What do ya think is goin’ to happen to us?” Liz asked.
“Wellll…I’m not going to kid ya, I think we are looking at about as bad of a situation as you could ever come up with. We are, or were, a technological society that was absolutely dependent on electricity for everything. I wish I could tell you that we are going to be fine, but I can’t say that. I think that a lot of people are going to go nuts starting tonight or tomorrow. No electricity, transportation, or communication…people will get desperate very fast. The water will give out probably by tomorrow. After 2-3 days of that and people will start dying like flies.”
“Well thanks for the encouraging word Ryan!” Liz complained.
“I think we are really and totally screwed,” said John. “If we get water somehow, the next big thing is finding food. How long will the food last?”
“One good thing is that it is winter and it is cold. The things in our fridges and freezers will last a bit longer than if it were August in Texas! But still, the food for most people will run out after a week or two. Within a month we will have mass starvation happening. But before that, think of all the folks in hospitals and nursing homes. Those places will be charnal houses in a day or two. But what about those of us dependent on medicine? When my meds playout and there are no more pharmacies open, what do I do? By the end of the month many people will start to get very sick due to no medicines.”
“Liz, right now I am concerned about simply living long enough to get home and see my wife and sons. I am in my mid 50’s, fat, out of shape and about to hike 27 miles home carrying about 60 lbs of gear. The last time I did that on a regular basis was 30 years ago. In the last few years I have been doing some serious walking and training just for this kind of situation. But still, this kind of a hike is very stressful on the heart, the feet, ankles, knees, and back. Right now as we sit here around this fire, there are thousands of people struggling to get home in the cold, walking when they are not used to walking. I bet there are are scores, maybe hundreds of heart attacks happenning today and tonight. There will be lots of people freezing to death tonight.”
By this time Liz was tearing up as she stirred our Lean Cuisine stew. “I just want to get home and see my kids,” she said.
“Stick together as long as we can, and you have a good chance of doing just that,” I said.
“Is that stuff done yet?” asked John. “I’m starved!”
“Yeah, it’s steaming pretty good, let’s eat,” she said.
We took the pan into the lobby where we had some paper plates and napkins and plastic ware already set up. Liz scooped out the stew into three even portions on our plates.
“Ryan, could you say grace over this food?” she asked.
“Certainly. Lord, we thank you for providing us with this warm meal while others are out in the cold, and hungry. We ask that you guide us and protect us tonight as we begin our long walk home. Grant us the energy and health we need for the journey. We pray for John’s wife and kids that you protect and provide for them while John is away. We lift up Liz’s mom and daughter and son, that you protect them during this difficult time. I pray for my wife and sons that they got home safe and sound today and that you would proctet them. We pray that you would help our co-workers as they journey to their homes. God, grant our nation’s leaders wisdom with how to deal with this atrocity and we pray a swift and just retribution on the wicked people who attacked us without cause. Most of all Lord, I pray that this severe trial would lead America to repentance and to turn to your son Jesus for salvation. Amen.”
We then dug into what may be our last warm meal for a while. It was Lean Cuisine so there was not a whole lot of calories involved, and the mixing of three of their meals added a strangeness to the meal. But it was hot, and tasty. Exactly what we needed before heading out into the cold to walk all night.
John and I completely devoured our portion in about 5 minutes, but Liz ate more slowly. Finally we were done and Liz was about to take the dishes to the kitchen.
“What are you doing that for?” asked John. “I really don’t think we need to clean up.”
“Well it’s the right thing to do, “she said. “I’m not going to wash the pot out I will just put it in the sink and throw the plates and stuff in the trash.”
John and I laughed, but then I said, “Y’know, it’s little things like that that will preserve lives, keep us from getting sick and even sustain civilization. The world we are entering will be very dirty and unsanitary. We will need to practice cleanliness even more now than before.”
Liz said, “See! I know what I’m doing!”
When she returned from the kitchen I said,”OK, we need to pack up and distribute the loads.”
Liz had a backpack with just a few things in it including a change of shoes, a few canned goods, and her light jacket. I gave her a couple of MREs and stuffed in one of the bags of first aid supplies. With a piece of rope I tied the sleeping bag to her pack and gave her my 2-quart canteen. John had a pack that held his few MREs, bedroll and a few other supplies so I gave him one of the bags of medical supplies.
I took some of the medical supplies from my bag and poured them into my map case now that my pistol was out of the case it had more room. I took some of the Tylenol and some of the hand wipes and put those in my shirt pocket for easy access; I had a feeling my feet would need the Tylenol. I was also stuffing the shoulder rig back into the map case because my Ruger was going to go in my side holster on my web belt. I had to abandon my brief case and the books inside. I kept my Apologetics Study Bible; it was big and heavy, but I couldn’t bear to part with it. The other books included a couple of theology books, “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church” by DA Carson and “Answering Islam” by Geisler and Saleeb. On second thought I added the Geisler book to my ruck too. I had three commentaries on Isaiah in the briefcase, I left behind Motyer, but took Young’s vol.1 and Keil&Delitzsch since they were part of a series. The classic by Burkhardt “Greeks and Greek Civilization” I had to leave along with Bainton’s work on the Reformation. I secured my sleep pad and bed roll to my ruck and also took off my jacket and tied it onto the outside of the ruck. If I went on this road march with all this gear and wearing a coat, I would sweat way too much. I put my hand axe back in the buttpack and secure it with the parachute cord.
“OK, before we set out let’s go over our route and establish our order of march and some rules.”
We will cut through the east parking lot and go around the south side of the building to get onto Kendall where we will turn left. Then we will go to HWY 36 and turn right. I don’t think the fire will block our route there. It is one mile to the stadium on the left, I think at that point we should stop and tighten up our loads and relace our boots and shoes and get a bit of rest. Resting every mile might be good, we will just have to see how we do.
“If we stay on HWY 36 we will get to Precinct line road at about 7 and a 1/2 miles. At that point we will need to either turn left to get to HWY 183 or go straight to Interstate 820. Also at Precinct Line, Liz will need to decide if she wants to continue with us or turn to go her normal route home. What do you think Liz?”
“No, I’m going with you. I am not about to go by myself.”
“Good, that is the best plan. At that intersection here are the advantages. If we turn south onto Precinct Line that takes about a half mile off the total journey. But, our first night’s objective would be a patch of woods on 820 South by the Putt Putt on the west side of the highway. That will be a good place to bivouac tomorrow, I have already scoped this place out. That is about 10.5 miles from here. A long walk. If we stay on HWY36 we will get to a nice patch of woods at about the 9 mile mark. Again, though, it adds a half mile to the total trip.”
“Why don’t we wait to see how tired we are at Precinct Line and decide then?” asked John.
“I think that is the best idea, ” I agreed.
“That’s fine with me,” said Liz.
“Our order of march…John, if you don’t mind, I would like to take point and lead the way for several reasons. I am used to moving at night as I have done a lot of night hunting and my experience in the army. I still have great night vision. I am slow and old, and carrying the biggest load of weight, so I can set the pace. I have the rifle and bayonet which belongs up front too. Behind me should come Liz in the middle and then you can bring up the rear, keeping watch on our backs. The tough thing about that means you will need to keep looking back as well as watching where we are.”
“As we walk I will be looking forward, left and right. Liz, I want you to focus on looking right, and John, you need to look behind and to the left side. Our interval should be fairly tight, but I don’t want us to bunch up. Leave about 6-10 feet between us. It is going to be dark so we do not want to get separated. This is not going to be a stroll in the park, so we need to hold our conversations to a minimum. We do not want to draw attention to ourselves so do not use a flashlight, chemlight or, Liz, not even a cigarette. Noise and light discipline is a must.”
“On this trip we are going to see and meet a lot of people who need a lot of help. I hate this, but we are not able to help anybody on this trip. We have barely enough food to make it for three days. We don’t have a lot of water and will have to resupply somehow every day. We don’t have time to get involved in people’s lives nor try to be the hero. We are on a mission to get home because our families need us. Keep that in mind.”
“That being said, we do not know what kind of dangerous and tough situations we might come across. There will be a lot of tired, cold, hungry and armed people out there. Scared too. The criminal element may be already out there. Our goal is to avoid people, avoid trouble, and be as inconspicuous as possible.”
“If we get separated, the rally point will be the intersection with Precinct Line Road. After that, it will be the Putt Putt. You will see the woods on the south side of Putt Putt.”
“We are leaving an hour later than I wanted, it’s almost 1am, so I hope to be at our bivouac by dawn, around 7:30 am.”
I put on my web gear and fastened the belt and then I put my Chinese bandolier of SKS ammo over the top of that. Finally I squatted down, grabbed my ruck and threw it over my head, putting my arms through the straps.
“Ugh! This is gonna suck” I said.
With that little op order out of the way, we set out from the Data Center. Our little camp fire was still going but it was on concrete and would burn out safely. The fires around us illuminated our way for the first leg of our journey, but the moon was coming up now too. It was only about a quarter moon, but with no clouds, it would provide sufficient light once we were out of the glow from the fires.
As we headed out I kept my SKS on safe, but with a round chambered. My Ruger was in my side holster and I took it off safe. I put my watchcap on my head and the gloves on my hands. It felt like it was about 20 or 25 degrees. Liz took her final puffs from a cigarette and threw it down. I looked at John and he said, “Let’s roll.” I nodded, turned and set out at a slow 2-3 mile per hour pace. Our journey home was beginning.