Natog left that morning to go to his mother’s house. He only made it as far as Route 140 before he saw the plumes of smoke. New Bedford was burning.
Thick, greasy clouds of smoke billowed from several areas of the city. As he stopped at the roadblock manned by a State Trooper it looked like the heaviest concentration was coming from the southern end of the city, where the old mills were concentrated.
A Trooper got out of his cruiser and walked up to Natog as he was gawking in the middle of the empty road. “Sir, please turn around.”
Natog came out of his trance. “Uh. Sure.”
The trooper looked a bit stern, “Right now, sir.”
“Uh… yeah. Hey, would you like some hot chocolate? I was on my way to Mom’s to help her cut some wood.”
There was a brief crack in the “Cop’s Mask” On the trooper. “Sir, if you’re not on your way back in 5 minutes I’m going to toss you in a cell, get it?”
“I get it, but you are out here freezing your beans off, and I’m not going to drink all this myself. Maybe it’s bribery, but I need to get to Mom’s to cut wood for her or she will freeze tonight.”
“Your Mother heats her house with wood?”
“Yeah, since ’72.”
“Ok out of the car, please keep your hands where I can see them.”
“Yeah, I am armed. My license is in my wallet.”
“Really. When were you going to tell me? “
“As soon as you asked me to step out of the car so you could frisk me before you had some hot chocolate.”
“Wait a minute, I’ve met you before. Your friends with Joe on the night shift.”
Keeping his hands visible, Natog nodded his head enthusiastically. “Yeah I met most of the Middleboro barracks, but I was doing Jägermeister Ice Luges that night. That was a good night.”
“Yeah you were pretty lit, At least you didn’t drive home. Ok, get on out.”Natog continued the conversation as he slowly got out of the car. “I never made it home, fell asleep on Joe’s porch.”
“That was a heck of a party. Sig P220, nice pistol.”
Natog handed over his license to carry. “Thanks, I went with the Sig after I shot Joe’s at the range, got the .45 for more pop.” Natog finally could read the nametag, ROSENCRANTZ. Somehow, the alcohol fueled memories managed to work while sober. “Roswell, right?”
“What you say?”
“Your name, you go by Roswell, right?”
“Well not really.”
“Hey, YOU were the one doing ice luges of Jägermeister with me. And that hawt cop from the Brockton Police…”
“Yeah, that was me.” Roswell replied as he tucked the Sig into his duty belt. “Anything else on you?”
“Nope. Didn’t buy a backup yet.”
Natog met “Roswell” at Joe’s memorial day party a last year. The other Troopers busted Roswell’s balls because he fervently believed in UFO’s and that ET’s existed. Other than that, he was a normal enough guy.
Natog pulled the thermos out of the back, and made sure Roswell could see everything he did. It wasn’t too cold out, it was in the high 20’s with only a light breeze. Roswell’s cruiser wasn’t running, so they must be low on fuel. Roswell got into his car and motioned Natog to the other side. Other than a battered copy of “Chariots of the Gods”, there wasn’t much mess on the passenger seat. Very unusual for a Troopers car.
After poring himself a cup of hot chocolate in the thermos top, and pouring Roswell some in a “recycled” coffee cup, Natog asked “So what’s going on in New Beige?”
“Well someone must have torched a few of the mills. Those things will go up, go up quick and hot from all the oil in the wood.” Roswell was referring to the practice of soaking down the wooden floors in the textile mills with oil to keep the dust down in those sweatshops in the early 20th century.
“Yeah, I used to rent some space in one with Joe. Was a lot of fun. After 75+ years you still would have anything directly on the floor soak up some oil.”
“Yeah at least five of the big ones are on fire now. The other fires are from homes, knocked over candles and kerosene stoves too close to drapes.”
“Jesus, how many blocks are on fire?”
“My God. What are they doing with the homeless?”
“Well, the Red Cross has a shelter set up at the high schools, but a lot of the people got out with nothing. Most figured the power would be back on.”
“I wouldn’t count on that, passed by a few transformer stations a few days ago and they all looked like they had a barbeque.”
“Yeah, and everyone with a generator is low on fuel. Even St. Luke’s Hospital is down to a few days of diesel.”
“Wow, that is not good. How are you guys holding out?”
“Doing well enough, we are all working double or triple shifts. I can’t wait for the overtime check.”
“Yeah the wife isn’t too happy, but we got a shitload of MRE’s delivered to us from the Guard. They suck, but it’s better than nothing.”
“That was nice of them.”
“Nice my ass, it’s some sort of contingency plan. They need us on the street to keep the peace, so they make sure our families are all set. Cathy and my daughter are staying with the sergeant’s fam along with a few others. They have a diesel genny, and they got extra fuel from the Guard too. They are setting up something at Otis AFB too.”
“Like in hummers and shit, you’re fucking with me.”
“Seriously. Full combat load. They were in Hanscom due to ship out for a tour when the shit hit the fan. Get this, they are from Nebraska or something.”
“Rednecks in New Bedford… Wonderbar.”
“Yeah, well, they will be taking over this checkpoint soon, and then I can hit the rack for a whole four hours or so before I go back on shift.”
“Waitaminute, full combat load, what the fuck’s up with that?”
“I don’t know. Guess the Guard’s worried shit will turn nasty. Last night, I had to bust up a pimp putting his girls out in this weather for food and jewelry.”
“What! Now you’re really fucking with me.”
“No way man, you could get your wick dipped for a fucking ham sandwich.”
“Hey, Gimmie that hot chocolate back, I got to head to Brockton!”
“Yeah yeah. Fuck you.”
“Other than the weird shit, nothing big going on?”
“Thankfully no. The LT thinks it’s because it’s cold. If this shit happened in July… Let’s just say it would be a lot more criminal.”
“Well, I’m supposed to get to Dartmouth, what’s the best way to get there without running across any more road blocks?”
Roswell gave Natog a sidelong glance. “Took you long enough to beat around the bush.”
“Well, you know…”
“Yeah well forget it. All major roads into and out of New Bedford are blockaded, and you can expect checkpoints at all major intersections, with patrols out in the city. They are not going to let you through, and if they do, they won’t let you back out.”
“What are they doing with troublemakers?”
“Jail. The courts are all shut down so don’t do anything stupid. Rumor has it they are putting tents up at Hanscom AFB to make a makeshift prison camp.”
“Seriously, it makes sense. What else we going to do with all the criminals when they start stealing food?”
“I dunno. I wondering if I should pack my shit up and head to mom’s.”
“If you have food, I’d stay put.”
“Yeah I have some left, I went grocery shopping the day before it happened.”
“Lucky bastard, my neighbor had nothing, had to give him a couple MRE’s.”
“What’s he going to do for more food?”
“I don’t know. FEMA or the Red Cross is at the high school.”
“Hmmm. Any way to get a message to my mom? She is going to be worried sick.”
“Not from here, this car was towed here, it’s fried.”
The two men chatted for another half hour, until a couple of humvees could be seen making their way up from New Bedford.
Roswell and Natog got out of the cruiser while the hummers were still a mile or so off.
Turning to Natog Roswell returned the pistol. “Put that away, they might be confiscating weapons.”
“Right. Thanks.” Natog quickly put the pistol back and pulled the fleece jacket over it.”
The Hummers pulled up, still painted with desert camouflage. Two men jumped out of the first hummer. The first wasn’t more than 25 years old, with a lieutenant’s bar on his collars. Both had Assault rifles, and web gear over their parkas. Natog distinctly noticed that they had grenades on their gear, and both hummers had M60’s. Although they were not manned, and no boxes of ammo was mounted.
“Trooper, you are relieved. The civilian will put his hands on the car and submit to a search.” The accent was definitely Midwestern.
Before Natog even started getting pissed off, Roswell looked the kid square in the eye, “He’s with me, he volunteered to run food to us out here from the barracks.”
The young lieutenant turned towards the trooper. “This is a guard operation, and therefore I am in charge here. If you have trouble with that, I can kick it up the chain of command, and we can see who’s boss has a bigger dick.”
“Now you listen here, this isn’t Afghanistan or Iraq, so you can that shit for when your in-country.”
The lieutenant eyed Natog up and down. “Very well. He will give you a ride back to the barracks so I can send my second squad out on patrol.”
After Natog and Roswell climbed into the Jeep, Roswell muttered “Little prick” under his breath.
The two men continued to chat on the ride back to the Middleboro barracks. The drive was uneventful, and the streets were empty of cars.
After pulling up to the barracks, Roswell got out of the car, laughing, and said, “Don’t get caught.”
Natog laughed “I won’t. Think they have orders to shoot?”
“Nah. You will be fine, just stay away from the main intersections, and take a lot of weird turns to outrun the radios.”
“Take it easy Roswell. Good luck with your famliy”
“You too, thanks for the hot chocolate.”
Natog turned his Jeep Grand Cherokee back towards New Bedford. The problem was that there was no way to get through to Dartmouth without either going through New Bedford, or cutting across the tip of Fall River and then through Westport. All of which were on main roads with obvious chokepoints.
Pulling over to the side of the road, he broke out a street map of the area, and plotted out a rough course. The eastern side of town was the “rougher” section of town, being close to the docks. So he would have to cut through the industrial section to the north, which might be patrolled. At least Natog was very familiar with the city after years of horsing around with his friends in a variety of shitboxes.
With a last glance at the map, he folded it up so the western side of the city was highlighted, and tucked it in-between the seats.
He ran into his first patrol in the industrial park. Spotting the hummer in the distance, Natog quickly started a series of turns, then pulled off into a parking lot. Pulling in behind the building, he turned off the jeep, and got out. With the freeze-thaw cycles of the last few days, the roads were pretty clear, so no tell-tale tracks were there to give him away.
He could hear the diesel engine on the hummer as it came slowly down the road. After it passed, Natog waited a few minutes before starting up the jeep and continuing on. He made it through the rest of the industrial park, and the North of the city without further incident.
As he made his way along the western edge of the city, He was shocked at the pall of sooty black smoke coming from numerous homes, stores, strip malls, etc. No firefighters could be seen. Wondering if they were all trying to keep the high schools safe from the flames, He continued, avoiding the burning blocks by weaving through the city. Once past the fire’s front lines, he saw many families frantically climbing into military trucks. Evidently they were being evacuated. There were a few working cars, all fully loaded with whatever precious belongings they could grab before the flames could claim them.
As Natog approached Dartmouth, he foolishly used a main road, and stumbled across a road block. Two humvees were blocking the street with soldiers inside to keep warm. As Natog approached two got out with weapons and motioned for him to stop.
The two soldiers trained their weapons on him and began to approach. Natog just about shit his pants. The last thing he wanted to have happen is get shot by a couple of nitwits trained to go to Iraq, who were stuck in America. Natog had stopped about 50 yards from the humvees, too close to try to drive past them. So without thinking, he dropped it into reverse, and floored it.
Cars were made to drive forward. This is what must have saved him. That, or pure blind luck. When you drive backwards really fast, the car tends to wobble a little. The soldier on the left raised his weapon and began firing, the first few rounds were hopelessly off target, but Natog heard several slap into the Jeep. Jacking on the brakes and cutting the wheel hard, he brought the Jeep up on two wheels in a half-assed J turn. Slamming it into drive, he glanced back at the roadblock where one soldier was obviously yelling at the other, with his muzzle held up in the air.
Gunning the engine, Natog roared back the way he came. Natog tried to remember the statistics of the HMMWV form Twilight:2000, a post-apocalyptic RPG he used to play. He remembered that they were not as fast as gasoline cars, but they were true off-road vehicles. His only hope was to outrun, or outfox, them.
Cutting across several rights and lefts, Natog made a roughly circular path until he was heading back south. The Humvee following him was in the distance, cutting across lawns and parking lots to keep up. Natog knew these streets like the back of his hand, having lived here most of his life. This knowledge is what enabled his escape. Cutting back and forth he pulled a screeching right across Mr. Kimble’s side yard, between two houses too close together for the wide humvee to get through. A quick left and right and another right and he was parallel to his original path. Another left and right, and he pulled onto the road sideways about a quarter mile farther south on Tucker Road.
A few minutes later, he pulled into his mother’s driveway. Turning off the Cherokee, he sat and shook for a few minutes as the adrenaline worked its way through his system. Calming himself down with slow steady breaths, he popped the hood and got out of the car. With his hands still shaking, he checked the radiator and engine.
Strangely, there was red fluid on top of the valve cover. He wiped his brow and saw where the fluid was coming from, a gash on his head was bleeding profusely.
Natog just about went into cardiac arrest, thinking he was shot in the head. Suddenly, the world was spinning, and the last thing he remembered was the taste of blood, and the crunch of snow as he fell into darkness.