TEOTWAWKI: The Long Walk Home, Ch. 11, “Food & Lodging”
As the three wary travelers marched silently down the deserted highway, and got closer to the three mile mark, the businesses became more numerous alongside the road. We had left the Data Center about an hour and a quarter ago, so it was around 2:15 am. It was so strange to not see anyone out on the road, even though that was the reason for our leaving in the middle of the night. With the exceptions of the dying woman, Sandy, back at the 747 crash site, and the stoner in his car by the two mile marker, we had seen no one.That was about to change.
Up ahead and to my right I saw the flash of a lighter or match as a cigarette was lit in front of a store. I briefly paused, turned around to look at Liz and John, pointed to my eyes, then held up one finger, and pointed to the store, and brought my hand back to my mouth as if I was smoking. John nodded his head.
We crouched down behind a car and conferred.
“There is at least one person who came out of that store up ahead and lit up. We could just keep on walking and scoot to the south side of the road, or we could go over there and talk with them to see what’s going on” I whispered.
Liz said, “Well I don’t see what’s wrong with going over there and talking with them. They might know some things that we don’t. I would kind of like to see other people; people who aren’t injured and dying, that is.”
“Yeah, we could get some good intel from them, at least” John said.
“OK, I guess I am just being a little bit paranoid. Some intel and human contact would be good. But we need to be on our guard. If they see us with all our gear and guns, they might try something. And we might frighten them too. I mean, I am carrying this rifle. Let’s go talk with them but John, you lead, then Liz. I will be in the back and sling my rifle.”
With that conversation done, we stood up and walked toward the store where that someone was still standing by the door smoking.
As we got closer, the guy at the front of the furniture store turned and looked at us approaching. John called out, “Hey! You doin’ OK in all this mess?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” the man replied, “And it is a big mess.”
“Y’all are out walking late tonight. The crowd pretty much stopped around midnight. Why’re you guys still out?”
“Well, we got off to a late start. We work up the road there where all the planes decided to crash. A lot of people died, buildings are on fire and stuff” I stated.
“You guys military or cops?” he asked as he saw my camouflage uniform, rifle, and Liz’s badge.
“Naw. I just had these hunting clothes in my car. We are, or were, security for a place though. We haven’t really seen anybody along the road except for a couple of casualties and one guy sittin’ in his car gettin’ stoned,” I said. “We were just interested in finding out if there was any news, where everybody is.”
“Well, we have quite a few people in here. There are lots of sofas, beds and recliners in here so people are spending the night. There’s no heat so it is cold. We have a few more open spots if you want to stay. That big gun might scare a few folks though,” the man said.
“Thanks, but we aren’t going to stay. We’re gonna keep on walking tonight. But if you don’t mind, we would like to talk to anybody still awake to hear their take on what happened,” I said. “My name is Ryan, by the way. This is Liz and this is John.”
He extended his hand and I took it, “My name is Armando. I work here. I live quite a ways away from here so I thought I would spend the night and see if things are better in the morning. My boss walked on home and left me in charge of the store. After dark I started getting a lot of people coming by asking if they could come in to rest. I figured it was a messed up situation so I just opened the door to whoever, you know.”
“Come on in and rest for a bit,” Armando said.
There were some nice chairs and love seats right by the front door, so we took off our packs, I laid my rifle down on my ruck, within easy reach, and sat down for a bit. John and Liz sat down across from me and Armando.
“So what happened where you were at,” asked Armando.
I proceeded to tell him about the lights going out and then the jets crashing down around us. I told him how we divided up the food and had a talk about what likely caused all this and then everyone left but us.
“Why didn’t you three leave with everybody else,” he asked.
“I knew there would be a lot of people on the road, so I thought it best to travel at night, with less people around. I don’t like crowds; especially scared crowds.”
“You got that right, mister. All kinds of people came by. A lot of women and kids crying and stuff. A lot of very upset, nervous people.”
Right then, a big man walked up and said, “Yeah, upset and nervous! That describes most of us. Where you folks from? Where are you headed?”
John replied, “We are from just about three miles or so north and we are all headed west. A long ways west!”
The big guy said, “I live in North Richland Hills, but I walked all the way from Northpool. I think it was about 8-9 miles. By that time it was dark and I saw this store and Armando said I could spend the night. I’ll get home tomorrow for sure.”
“Did you see the jets crash?” asked Liz.
“Oh yeah! That was horrible! Just a couple of minutes after the lights went out in the restaurant we all heard the crash. I went outside to see what was going on and about a mile or two away I saw the smoke and flames. Then another one crashed, closer to us. I think I saw at least 5 or 6 planes crash. I didn’t know what to think. But when I realized all the cars were dead…that’s when I got really worried. After a while though, I went back inside to finish eating. I began to think I might not see anymore food for a while.”
Armando broke in, “I would offer you some snacks but our vending machines are all out. With the power off they wouldn’t take any money, so after a while I broke them open to feed these people.”
John broke in, “That’s what we did where we work. We just opened up all the machines and divied up the food amongst everyone. And we got lucky, someone left some frozen dinners in the freezer, so we got a bite to eat before we left.”
“How did you heat them up?” asked the big guy.
“We got a pan out of the kitchen and made a campfire and cooked them all together in a stew,” said Liz.
“Well that’s smart thinkin” said Armando.
At this point a young guy in his twenties came over to join us. “Hey, do you guys know what exactly is happening? What is going on around here?! Nothing works anymore. Not my cell phone, my laptop, nothing. I can’t get any news.”
I told him what I thought: “I am positive that we are in a nuclear war. A couple of our co-workers were outside when the blast hit. It looked like a very high altitude nuclear blast; it blinded one of the guys. Right after the blast all the electrical stuff died, cars, everything. That is from an EMP wave. What we don’t know is if this is just local for DFW or if this is all across the nation. Our suspicions are that it was launched by Iran or the North Koreans, or both. Basically this shuts down all power, everything electronic and electrical. This will be like this for weeks, at least, months or even years probably. Sorry for the bad news.”
The young guy started cursing. Armando muttered some things in Spanish. The big guy just kind of sobbed.
“Anybody here coming from the west, the Fort Worth area?” I asked.
The young guy responded, “Yeah, I was coming back from Fort Worth. I live in Lewisville. My car died on 121 by the Precinct Line Road exit, so I walked all this way before stopping here for the night.”
“So what was the highway like?” asked John.
“It was scary, that’s for sure. Cars and trucks dying left and right. Just in my little piece of it I saw 3 wrecks involving big rigs that just ran over some stalled cars. It was bad. A lot of people waited around but the police never came, the fire department didn’t respond. I guess because no one had a working phone. Several people were hurt and a couple were killed. One wreck started a fire. After a while though, people just started walking; going back to where they came from or going on to where they were headed. It was chaos. I tried getting on my wireless internet..nothing. Everything is gone. It’s all gone.”
“Then, on Precinct Line and HWY 36, it was still messed up but not as bad. I didn’t see any wrecks at least. But lots of scared, confused people. I stopped off at the Hurst Fire Station on Precinct Line, but they were just as clueless as everyone else. A couple of them talked about nuclear war too. There were a couple of people who got blinded by the flash along the way . I guess that’s what it is. Nuclear war.”
“Well guys, we need to get up and get back out there on the road. We have a long way to go” I said to John and Liz. We had been in the store for about 20 minutes and had rested up some, but now I was quite chilled from sitting still. We had only gone about 3 miles from the data center and had about 7 more miles to do tonight.
“Where y’all headed” asked Armando.
“I am not real sure but I know we have to make it about 9-10 miles to space out our trip. We all live too far away to cover it in one night. We’ll find somewhere to sleep. Do you have a restroom that is working?”
“Oh yeah, we still have running water, no hot water though.”
Each of us took our turn in going to the restroom and we also topped off our canteens in the kitchen. Then we rucked up and headed out, thanking Armando for his hospitality. It was getting close to 3 am as we hit the deserted road again.
From this point on the roadside would be crowded with businesses so I anticipated seeing more people. At about 3 1/2 miles we passed a cemetery; that kind of creeped out Liz. At the 4 mile mark there was a big shopping center on the left. I could see some movement over there, even in the dark, but we needed to make up some time so we kept on marching.
At the 5 mile mark though we came across some fast food places and I got an idea. It could have been because I was getting hungry. That Lean Cuisine meal had evaporated. There was an Arby’s just at the 5 mile line so I halted our troop and crouched behind a car. Liz took the opportunity to light a cigarette.
“I am thinking of checking out this Arby’s up ahead, seeing if they have any food.”
“I don’t think they are a 24 hour place, do you think they are still open?” Liz asked.
“Well, I’m thinking it might be like the furniture place, there may be some people holed up in there, maybe an employee left. But we need some food and all these fast food places will either be looted or the food will go to waste in a couple of days. Let’s check it out at least.”
“Heck yeah, I’m starvin’ ‘” agreed John.
We stood up and walked across the road and cautiously approached the Arby’s. I saw no movement inside the dark windows and stepped up to the door. It was unlocked. I pushed it open and entered muzzle first with my rifle.
“Who’s there?” a worried sounding woman asked.
“Just some travelers looking for some food, ma’am. Who is in here?” I added.
A man answered, “We have a couple of families in here resting for the night. We have our kids with us.”
“OK, there are 3 of us and we were just interested in buying some food. Anybody work here, or are y’all stranded?” I said.
“There’s a teenager over here who works here but I think she’s asleep. They still have some food left I think. They were just giving it away so it wouldn’t be wasted.”
A sleepy, scared voice, mumbled, “Yeah, go ahead Mister, take what you need.”
I shone the flashlight on the voice and it showed a small teenage girl in an Arby’s uniform.
With that the three of us came on in. I turned my flashlight around and saw about 5 adults and 6-7 kids sprawled out on the floor. The one woman gasped when she saw my rifle.
“David, he has a gun!”
“Hey now! We don’t want no trouble,” the presumed David said.
“We’re not robbers, you don’t have to worry. Relax. Let us just get some food and we will leave.”
“OK. Yeah, sure, it’s right over there” he said nervously.
Liz walked over to behind the counter and found several cold, wrapped Arby’s sandwiches. She got out a bag and filled it with 5 sandwiches and some cold, almost frozen fries. Then we left.
“Thank you! Y’all take care now!” I cheerfully said as we left. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. Obviously people were afraid of us since we looked well armed. “We can eat while we walk,” I told my two friends.
Liz passed out two sandwiches each to John and me while she started eating the one she got for herself. The roast beef sandwiches were dry, we didn’t get any sauce, and cold, but not yet frozen. The fries were disgusting, cold and limp, but we ate them anyway. It wasn’t time to get picky.
I did feel bad about taking the sandwiches without paying. But, given the situation, what the other customers and the Arby’s teenager had said, and just the common sense reality that by tomorrow those sandwiches may not be good to anyone, I think it was acceptable. Was it looting? I don’t think so. It was orderly, there was an agent of the store who authorized it, and it prevented waste. Looting would probably start tomorrow, or, I mean later on today when the sun came up. But the sandwiches were like the vending machines back at the data center, and the furniture at the furniture store. We were experiencing a disaster of Noahic proportions, and people were trying to help others.
It was close to 4 am, just another 3 hours of darkness and a little over 5 miles to go to where I wanted to camp. But it was also the coldest part of the night. From now til 8am it would be frigid. Hopefully the cold sandwiches would provide the needed fuel to warm us up as we trudged on towards home. Finished with the cold Arby’s I pulled out my canteen and took several swallows. Even in cold weather like this, it was easy to get dehydrated on a road march. I motioned to Liz and John to drink too.
Coming up after mile 6 was a part of the road that could prove different: a residential housing area and a large grocery store.