Future Distorted - Cover

Future Distorted

Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard

Chapter 5

Exodus, Part I

The arrival of Heather was actually a blessing. She was not only one more pair of eyes and hands, she was someone who could remain with James during the day so I could leave and run errands. We spent that night gathering stuff from the museum's displays and storage into one central pile in the lobby. I planned to take the weapons I was after along with guns James approved of, pre-Industrialization machinery, clothes (mostly for Heather), and all of the medical supplies from the first aid kits and nurse's station. Books and manuals also joined the pile, as did every tool we could find. It was a rather impressive pile. We were probably going to have to whittle it down and I was sure most of the whittling was going to be done to my newly acquired weapons collection.

We were all pretty tired by the time James told us the sun was up and his eyes began to droop. Heather found this amusing and grabbed his paw, tugging him toward the stairs. We stopped in the break room for food before heading to the fridge. James was once more snoring almost before he was horizontal, which sent Heather into giggle fits. After her welcomed bout of hilarity passed, she curled up on a make-shift pallet and was soon asleep. I joined them in my own semi-conscious doze, the closest I seemed to get to actual sleep without being knocked out by physical violence.

I started awake not long after my doze began. Shaking Heather out of her slumber, I explained that I was going to take a look around and I needed her to lock the fridge back up after I left so they would be secure while I was gone and James was dead to the world.

"But there are monsters out there!" she exclaimed in alarm, her amber eyes wide with fear.

I grinned and shrugged. "Can't be helped, sweetie. We can't stay here indefinitely. There isn't enough food for the three of us to last the week. We have to get out of the city and find a safe place in the country," I told her. She did not take my plan any better last night, either. Her instincts were telling her to hunker down and hide. And while I could agree with that in the short-term, it was not a long-term survival plan. "Anyone with their brains still functioning properly will be doing the same. We have to grab as much stuff as we can and get as far away from these new urban jungles as we can. Until someone reboots civilization and organizes more than a single fortified town out in the middle of nowhere, the cities belong to the savages. I am hoping to find some kind of large vehicle, an SUV or van, to carry our loot out of here. It is too dangerous to do that at night, when James is awake and, until you came, I could not leave him so vulnerable in the daytime. With you here to lock up after I leave, I can hopefully get us closer to getting out of here."

She still did not like it, but she did it.

Our loot pile was my first stop. I grabbed a claymore and its sheath and slung it on my back, the hilt poking above my right shoulder. I also grabbed a bottle of water, a fist full of power bars, and some WWII binoculars. The water and power bars went into a fanny pack I found in the desk of one of the secretaries and the binoculars went into a pocket of my coat. I was still walking around bare-chested under the leather coat and I was hoping to rectify that on our way into the countryside. Not wanting to increase the peril for James and Heather any more than absolutely necessary, I headed for the roof.

When Heather and I arrived, we came in by way of the ventilation system. When I hit the roof this time, it was using the normal roof access. There was no damn way I was going to put myself through that claustrophobic nightmare again unless absolutely necessary. I had found James' keys near where he began mutating and among them was a key to the roof. The sun was well up and I guessed it to be almost nine or ten a.m. Most of the fires had spent themselves into smoldering columns of inky blackness. The sky looked odd, almost as if the air was thick with fog, diffusing the sun's already weak winter light. And it was no longer achingly blue but more like a greasy purple. My first thought was it was simply all of the smoke in the air and I ignored it. I wasn't coughing or having trouble breathing, however, so a little voice in my head that liked to analyze things was gibbering that something more was going on with the sky.

The sky was not going to kill me, so I ignored it and set up my observation post on the Constitution Avenue side of the building. Most of the vehicles on Con Ave were crashed, trashed, or burned. Or all three. And the ones that weren't were of no use to us because they were all either sub-compacts or sports cars. I slowly scanned the other three sides and saw nothing helpful, though I did notice a little less activity than there was the other day. Predation or a settling of territorial boundaries between the savages were my two best guesses as to why.

While we had hoped there would be something useful nearby when we discussed "The Plan" last night, neither James nor I were realistically expecting it. That would be far too easy and one thing we were sure of in this brave new world of ours was that nothing would be easy. So Part II of Plan A involved James' motorcycle parked on a side street by the IRS building. Looking through the binoculars in that direction showed it unmolested in a nice slice of sunlight. I quickly scrambled down the façade of the building and sprinted across Con Ave to the motorcycle. While I had never owned one, I knew how to ride one thanks to a post-college graduation motorcycle trip with a friend of mine. His father was a senator and sat on several Boards of Directors, so he sprang for a nice two month trip across Europe on a pair of Ducatis. It was his father's gift to him for getting into law school and I got to go along because his dad loved me almost like a son. Thinking about the two of them in New York nearly brought me to tears. I was pretty sure they were either dead or unrecognizable.

James' bike was a custom Harley that made a horrible racket when I started it. Afraid I had stirred up trouble, I quickly sped off down Con Ave and began a grid search of the area around the museum for something in the way of a vehicle we could actually use for our exodus. After a couple hours of thundering through the streets of a very different DC, I found nothing useful.

A couple of observations during the trip made me think, though. The first was the fact that most of the gas stations I noticed were left alone. As an easy source of food, fuel, and various other items that could be useful, I would have thought they would have been wrecked or looted. I stopped at one whose attached convenience store walls were made of all glass with the light still on. There was a dead body lying by a car, but that was all that was out of the ordinary. With a careful look around first, I parked the Harley right outside the door to the store and made a mad dash through the place. I grabbed a backpack and a black, quadruple extra large Washington, D. C. memento t-shirt off of the racks and shoved various food items into the bag along with three two-liter bottles of water. Behind the counter I found a shotgun and some shells and added them to the bag, slinging the shotgun across my chest after pulling on the shirt. On my way out, I also grabbed all of the lighters and matches sitting on the counter. I figured they would come in handy.

The second thing I noticed as I wended my way through the city back to the museum was a noticeable lack of signs on the western side of the city that, yes, the Apocalypse had arrived. Downtown and the northern and eastern parts of the city were dotted with columns of smoke and littered with bodies and other signs of chaos. The view across the river in Alexandria was similar, with what looked like a fire raging out of control in the historical district of Alexandria. But the western section was quiet and almost peaceful-looking. There were a few crashed cars here and there, but no bodies, no fires, and no signs of any kind of mass mutation of the human race into savage monsters. Feeling I was pushing my luck in the gas station, I slipped the backpack onto my shoulders and hopped back onto the Harley.

Nearing noon, I had a brainstorm to look around the neighborhoods of Georgetown. The end of the year always meant change in the D. C. area. People leaving appointed positions, others taking their place, bureaucrats getting canned due to "budget cuts," and the student population at the universities in the city changing with the ending semester. People moving usually meant large vehicles to haul their shit, be it moving van, pick-up truck, SUV, or cargo van. Any of them would do for my new friends and me.

Alas, my brainstorm came to naught. I guess it was not close enough to the end of the year. Another hour later and I was beginning to think I was going to have to cross the river into Alexandria or drive out to Bethesda before I found anything suitable with keys in it. I saw a couple of small pick-ups and an only slightly damaged minivan but neither had keys in them and they didn't think to teach grand theft-auto at Rutgers or Texas A & M. At least not in the classes I attended.

It was as I was tooling by Georgetown University with more hope than optimism that I saw it in the distance: a UPS truck! It was parked in front of what looked like an admin building. Driving up, I saw a body sprawled a few feet from the truck dressed in a brown coat, hat, and pants. The first body I had seen on campus, oddly enough. Carefully sidling up next to the truck, making sure nobody was around, I pawed through the dead guy's clothes for the keys. I wound up heaving him over and finding them clipped on his belt, just below a gaping and fragrant hole in his lower abdomen leaking blood and other fluids. I opened the truck and shoved things around until there was a Harley-sized space free before pulling out the ramp, crossing my fingers that it would hold up under the weight of the bike, and driving James' motorcycle into the back of the truck. Glancing out the back, I noticed movement by the corner of the building just before seven savages of varying degrees of furriness came charging at the truck. I slammed the back door shut and ran around to the driver's door, hopping in and gunning the engine out of there.

I thought I made a clean get away when I felt the truck shift. Then there were footsteps on the roof of the truck. I slipped out of the backpack and the claymore's harness, pulling the blade free. As soon as the fanged, furred head poked down over the windshield, I put the sword through an eye socket. It was kind of distracting driving though D. C. with a dead body hanging off the front of my new truck, dripping blood onto the windshield. I kept expecting to hear sirens, some cop full of civic indignation pulling me over and arresting me for murder and grand theft-auto. This weird, more barbaric world would take getting used to.

Driving a big-assed truck through what was Washington, D. C. was a bit different than gliding a motorcycle through the same streets. I often found myself easing past burnt-out wrecks, driving over dead bodies, driving on the sidewalks, and even slowing to a crawl to use the truck to push abandoned cars out of the way.

It was nearing dusk by the time I maneuvered the truck to a stop in front of the rear walk of the museum. I quickly secured everything as best I could and rushed up to the building, scrambling up to the roof and unlocking the door. James was waiting with his shotgun on the second floor landing, impressive dentition on display in what I hoped was a smile.

"You get lucky?" he growled.

"I think so," I replied. "Found a UPS truck with the keys nearby at Georgetown U."

"You leave the bike there?"

"Not likely! It is too useful. I put it in the back of the truck," I told him. "I think we need to go through the packages in the back of the truck for anything useful before we leave."

"You think you and Heather could do that tomorrow and we leave tomorrow night?" he asked gravely. "Wake me early, say an hour or two before sundown, and I can help load the truck. That way we can be on our way out of the city before full dark."

"That sounds like a plan," I replied. "Is Heather up or-"

He snorted, amused. "That old woman? Of course she ain't; she stayed awake guardin' me and worryin' about you after you left. She was clutchin' my shotgun to her chest, watchin' the door with wide eyes when I woke up. Thought she was gonna blow her own head off when I moved to get up to go take a leak."

We chuckled at that as we descended to the basement. The fridge was open and we could see a tiny form curled up in a ball under a blanket on James' bed. My pillow (read: rolled up winter coat scrounged from an office) was clutched to her face as she slept.

"I'n't that just like a woman," Jimmy whispered with a smile. "The second we are gone they go appropriatin' our stuff for their own use. 'Course, that ain't always a bad thing. Had a girl one time that liked ta run around in my dress shirts and boxers. Damn if that wutn't sexy as all hell!"

Whoever she was she must have been something because Jimmy's eyes lost focus for a long minute before he shook himself and nodded for us to leave Sleeping Beauty to her rest. Jimmy spent the night on the roof on watch. That thick fur of his made him more comfortable in the cold than me in my borrowed clothes, awesomely warm leather and fur coat notwithstanding. I spent the night bundling our pile of loot into convenient packages for the move into the UPS truck in the morning. It was as I was tying the rifles together that I started thinking about bows and arrows and crossbows. In a world without gunsmiths and ammunition factories, bows and crossbows might turn out to be very useful. I had not run across any in the collections but a sports store or Walmart would have them. They would also have more guns, camping equipment, fishing poles, food, clothing, etc.

Aside from the motorcycle, the truck would most likely be empty when we started loading it. I doubted Heather and me would find anything useful in the packages the driver had not gotten around to delivering. That being said, we already had a lot of stuff to load, mostly in the weapons category but a lot of books and tools, too. Plus two oversized adults and a scrawny young woman. Jimmy and I took up a lot more space than we used to. There might come a point where one of us might need to ride the bike, but hoped not because that meant more fuel burned. Either that or find some way to bring it with us outside of the truck, a trailer of some sort or strapping it to the roof somehow. I really did not want to just abandon it. I could see too much future potential use in it just to trash the Harley.

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