TEOTWAWKI: The Long Walk Home, Ch.10, “Departure”
With the orange flames of the downed jets lighting our way on the cold, clear night, we departed our Data Center at one in the morning, Wednesday, November 7th, 2012, just about 13 hours after the very high altitude EMP blast shut down everything electrical and electronic in the DFW metroplex, and maybe in the whole country. Without radio, TV, internet, cell phones, or transportation, we were literally and figuratively in the dark. There were three of us: John, a computer guy with the Data Center, Liz, my patrol officer, and myself, Ryan, the security supervisor at the Data Center. Our co-workers had all departed around 4:30 in the afternoon, on foot (except for the two older cars which still worked), but we had waited until night to avoid the crowded roads of desperate people.
John and I had been preppers for a while and our cars were equipped with survival kits containing food, water, shelter, weapons and ammunition for the long walk home. Liz always kept some extra food in her car, but was otherwise unprepared, scared and lonely, not wanting to travel the 35 miles home alone. After everyone had left the Data Center, we had scavenged some goods from the first aid boxes, three frozen Lean Cuisine dinners somebody had left behind in the freezer and a few other items.
We were leaving behind a co-worker who died after he was impaled by a piece of the jet that crashed across the street to our north and blew up. We were located on the final approach path to DFW International and planes routinely came in over our heads at about 1500′, wheels down. Jared had been placed inside his car instead of being buried. No one could think in those terms yet. In the parking lot of the company who had the south side of our building was another dead body, Takeisha, who had lived for a while as we tried to free her from her crushed car, but died after we could not extract her. A 747 had crashed on the highway just a few yards south and east of our building, and a large piece of the aircraft had landed on her Mini-Cooper.
We were also leaving behind, not just our own cars, but our jobs and our way of life. The world as we knew it ended at 1205pm, yesterday, Election Day, as somebody, probably Iran, maybe in conjunction with the North Koreans, attacked us with nuclear weapons. Our world had died in the silence of an EMP blast. Welcome to the 13th century; welcome to the Twilight Zone. I remembered reading Pat Frank’s apocalyptic novel, “Alas, Babylon” as a kid, and just a few years ago reading William Fortschen’s “One Second After”. Now I was living it.
I had about 27 miles to walk home, Liz had 35 and John 40. I was in my mid-fifties, not in the best of shape or health, but I had started a walking program about 3 years ago, after reading Fortschen’s book, so I was better than I had been. John was in his early 30’s and Liz in her mid 40’s. The only advantages I had at this point were that I had the right kind of weapons and survival gear with me, I had mentally prepared myself for this kind of situation, and I was not alone.
John and I both had 9mm pistols and about 135 rds of ammo between us; I also had my Norinco SKS carbine in 7.62X39mm, complete with a Russian bayonet. The bayonet was illegal, but under current conditions, that was no longer a concern. I had a couple of hundred rounds for the SKS in a bandolier across my chest. Liz was unarmed.
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”, quoting the hero of Flight 93, Todd Beamer. I nodded, turned, and set out at a slow 2-3 mile per hour pace, quite slow, but I was carrying my ruck sack and about 65 lbs of gear. Our journey home was beginning.
“Do you really expect there will be trouble out here tonight?” Liz asked. “Is it really going to be dangerous?”
“As long as we stay together, stay alert, and stay armed, we should be OK. But, yeah, I think things may get a little primitive very quickly,” I told her.
We walked along the east side of the building, by the creek and the trees, until we passed the car where Takeisha’s body was and we turned west in the light of the fire from the 747 crash on the highway right past the building. With no Fire Department response, the fire was still going and slowly spreading. We got to the entrance of the parking lot and turned onto Kendall, headed east, and then crossed the train tracks and prepared to turn south when we heard a cry.
There in the middle of the road was a person still alive, but obviously severely injured. Despite what I had told our small crew about our not being able to help anyone, and that our number one job was to get home to take care of our families, we all went over to the injured person.
She had on a coat but part of her coat, face, arms, and legs were badly burned. Liz squatted down and tried talking with her: “Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” faintly. “Can you help me?” she pleaded.
“What’s your name, honey,” asked Liz.
“What’s hurt? Can you walk? What happened?”
“I was…. driving when the….. jet crashed …….and blew up,” she stammered. “My car crashed….the fire started….somehow I got out. I can’t….walk….the burns….the burns hurt soo…sooo bad.”
In looking at her with a flashlight I could tell that she had third degree burns on her face, arms, and legs. As to why she could not walk, I did not know if her legs were broken, her spine was severed, or the burns were just too bad.
I asked her, “Do you know why you can’t walk? Are your legs broken? Does your back hurt?”
“I…can’t feel my legs at all….they don’t work …anymore. It’s like ….all numb. But my face and arms….the burns hurt…sooo much.”
She had a spinal injury. Great. Third degree burns, a spinal injury, sub-freezing weather, and no 911. I felt utterly and completely useless and helpless. And she was asking for help.
I dropped my heavy rucksack, laid my rifle down on the ruck, and joined Liz in squatting beside Sandy. “Let me give you something for the pain I said” as I started rummaging through my bag of goodies I took from the Data Center. I found some packets of Ibuprofen, opened them and got out my canteen.
“Liz, can you prop her up a bit so she can get a drink and take these pain pills? Here you go Sandy, take a few drinks first.”
She eagerly drank from my canteen, then I gave her the 4 Ibuprofen tablets, which she swallowed quickly. Then, Liz laid her back down.
I had several packages of burn ointment from the first aid kit as well; I started tearing those open and applying it to her face and hands. The coat seems to have melted to her arms, so I did not touch that.
“John, look in some of these cars for any blankets or coats, anything to cover her up with.”
“Yeah, OK,” then in a whisper, “I thought we weren’t going to play hero?”
I whispered back, “Let’s try to find something to cover her up with and then we will leave.”
John looked in about a half dozen cars before he found something that was like a seat cover, and he brought it over and gently laid it over Sandy.
“Sandy, nobody’s phone is working, so we can’t call 911. We are going to have to go get help. It may take a while, OK?” I stood up and heaved on my ruck with a groan.
“Please, don’t…leave me!”
“Sandy, it’s a very bad situation, it’s like a nuclear war or something,” Liz said. “We can’t stay right now, but we can send help when we find a cop. You just have to wait here honey.”
With that, Liz stood up and we started to walk away. We heard Sandy pleading with us to stay, as we walked slowly into the cold dark, with consciences in flames as bad as the buildings and cars behind us. Slowly her cries faded, but Liz was crying now. I had a lump in my throat. John said, “Well, that basically sucked.”
“There was nothing (sniff, sniff)…that we could do. Was there?” Liz asked.
“We did all we could do. We had to leave. There will be more bad situations ahead, Liz, there just isn’t anything we can do,” I told her.
We had traveled a half mile in 30 minutes and things were not getting off to a good start.
As we walked along the highway we passed empty car after empty car. It was surreal in the flickering orange glow of the fire behind us and our shadows before us. We did not see any more people during the next half mile, thankfully. But as we neared the fuel tank farm on the right, across from the High School’s parking lot, full of cars, we did see something ahead that didn’t look right on the railroad tracks. As we got closer we smelled diesel and saw that a train had derailed after hitting a fuel truck.
I guess the truck had likely stalled on the tracks entering the tank farm and the train ran into it. There was a jumbled up mess of train cars all up and down beside the highway and into the woods ahead. How nothing blew up or caught on fire I have no idea, and right beside the tank farm too. Though curious, I thought it best to not even go near it looking for the injured. How many more disasters would we find? In just our first mile I had seen enough death and destruction, but I figured it would get worse, a lot worse, before it got better. If it got better.
We were almost at the two mile mark (I had previously planned my route home in case of an emergency and I knew all the mile markers the whole way home) when a door of a car we had just passed suddenly opened. John whirled around and drew his pistol, Liz gasped and I slowly stopped and turned around.
“Hey! Don’t shoot! Jeeze guys, relax!” said the chubby man getting out of his car.
“Freeze! Don’t move!” said John.
“Ok, Ok, man, relax willya? Are you guys cops or military or something?” he asked as he looked at my rifle.
John lowered his pistol and I pointed my rifle away.
“Sorry man, we’re a bit jumpy. A lot of weirdness out here tonight,” said John.
“No, we aren’t military or cops,” I said. “We are just three friends trying to get home.”
“Do you know what happened? Like, is this the end of the world or something man?” the guy asked us.
“I am pretty sure it was a nuclear strike,” I told him. “Some of our co-workers saw the flash in the sky and then everything went dead. That’s called an EMP strike; it basically fries out all electronics, computers, phones, everything electrical.”
“Yeah man. Like all of a sudden all the cars just died. I saw some airplane crashes and then the train wrecked. It was like a bad trip man. So what’s going to happen? I mean, like, when are the cops going to get here?”
“Soon, yeah soon,” said John as he started to back away. “We gotta be going, if we run into a cop we’ll tell him you’re here, OK.”
“Cool man, yeah! I’ll just wait here till the cops come, I got a blanket in the car.”
“Yeah, OK, see ya!”
As we turned to go and started walking down the road again, John leaned over to me and said, “That guy reeked of weed. He was higher than a kite.”
“Strange,” said Liz.
“Yeah, weirdness is out and about tonight.”
I stopped a little past the two mile marker and took off my ruck, laying it on the hood of a Mercedes Benz.
“Why are we stopping?” Liz asked as she blazed up a cigarette.
“I need to re-lace my boots; they have loosened up a bit and are starting to rub my feet wrong” I said.
“And when you light up a cigarette, you need to shield it, and squat down here beside a car. You are giving our position away with that lighter.”
“What do you mean?”
“People can see that lighter and even the red glowing tip of the cigarette from a long ways away. I’d rather people not see us coming. Cup it in your hand when you light it and when you inhale. And no smoking unless we stop for a rest.”
“Oh, sure, OK.”
After re-lacing my boots, rucking-up, and making sure everyone took a drink from our canteens, we continued walking past the two mile marker and entered the next small city passing empty car after empty car. Businesses on either side, were dark. But were they empty? Did all these people just vanish? Did they make it home? No one was out walking on the road with us yet. Were they staying in the businesses for the night? Were the buildings locked up or open?
No more did the flames of the downed jets light our path with their hellish tint; only the moon was giving us light for the journey now, and softer, gentler was its light than the angry tongues of flame behind us. Now, it was just an orange glow on the horizon to our north and east. The road was dark, cold and seemingly abandoned.
******* To Be Continued*****