Future Distorted - Cover

Future Distorted

Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard

Chapter 7: Exodus, Part II

I-66 West looked like one of the lower circles of Hell. There were burned out cars and mutated and unmutated bodies strewn about the freeway as if some giant, demented kid had thrown a tantrum and threw his toys down in a fit of temper. I spent a lot of time that morning driving on the shoulder or slowing enough to nudge fire-scorched wrecks out of the way. Town after town that we passed lay broken under a pall of black smoke, pillars of it rising from within the deserted streets and fire-gutted buildings; little or no movement visible under the hazy sun save flickering, dying flames. I was never sure whether it was simply fire smoke or something more, something worse that made the sky that hazy, greasy purple, but whatever it was it seemed to make things colder in an already freezing winter.

It was a quiet, slow drive west out of Washington, D. C. with my new friends in a UPS truck full of museum swag. The silent drive left me with my own thoughts, something I could have done without. My thoughts kept flickering to friends and family, wondering if they were alive and if they were, was that a good thing? There is something hope-draining in thinking it might actually be better if your brother and sister and their families were dead. Dead, rather than warped and twisted into some monstrous, cannibalistic savages with no thoughts beyond eating, protecting their territory, and fucking, and certainly no memories that you might matter to them and they might matter to you. I found even the thought of my little nieces and nephews being eaten more palatable than the idea of them turned into the types of bestial creatures that tried to eat Heather. For now, I would simply assume they were dead. For now, the people in this UPS truck were my family.

Because of the slow pace I had to drive at to avoid the detritus of our burned out civilization, it took a while to get to Fair Lakes. Fair Lakes isn't far from Washington, D. C. but the sun was well into the sky by the time I saw the signs for it. The mall was visible from the highway, causing me to shake Heather awake and point it out to her bleary-eyed scowl. She was turning the sleepy frown into a more alert smile when I also noticed a sign for a hospital. As I took the exit and drove the looping off-ramp, I wondered how far away the hospital was and was it worth the effort to get medical supplies out of a building that probably had several hundred, if not thousands, of people in it at the time of Armageddon's Coming. Medical supplies would be good, especially things like antibiotics and antiseptics, but not if we would have to fight our way in and then fight our way out again. The risk-reward would probably be more manageable simply trying to hit a Walgreens or even the pharmacy in Walmart, if they had one.

The pall of smoke over Fair Lakes was much less than it was over the other towns we passed. As I drove into the mall parking lot, I saw bodies aplenty, some fire damage and smoke, but not nearly the wholesale destruction of places closer to DC. Probably because those places were closer to DC. I guess the folks out here had more time to flee home, to try to get away from the cause of the Incident, than those in the more immediate surrounds of the capital. As for the mall itself, the Dick's was gutted by fire but the structure was intact, probably due to the sprinkler system or maybe even fire department response. There was an ambulance parked out front. Kohl's was scorched a little bit too but there was a frozen flow of water coming out of the front doors of that store, indicating the sprinkler system there had worked.

As I got closer to Whole Foods, I saw that it was probably a lost cause. The doors were smashed in, the façade smeared with blood and gore with bodies lying about the sidewalk, and there was every indication that over the last few days the store had been looted. Thoroughly. It might be worth a look in the freezers for meat and such, but I decided Walmart was probably a better bet for food that would last us a while. And while we were in there we might get some really big coolers to store stuff that needed to stay frozen. With the temperatures still struggling to make it above freezing and the sky not clearing, I figure we were in for something like a nuclear winter, meaning anything we left outside the truck would stay frozen.

Pulling up in front of Walmart showed remarkably little damage or signs of it having been raided. I had yet to see any signs of movement as I drove around the Fair Lakes Mall area. I did see a gas station and we would want to hit that after we got some big gas cans in Walmart. I parked right in front of the doors to Walmart and had Heather keep and eye on the doors and the still lit inside for movement while I did the same for the parking lot and beyond. After a full half-hour of observation, neither of us saw anything. Since the truck was getting chilly with the engine off, we tried to wake James and finally gave that up as futile.

"We will just lock the truck behind us. We didn't see anything moving out there, so he should be ok," I told her, smiling to get the worried look off her face. "Come on, we have a lot of stuff to get and he should be fine."

I opened the door and stepped out, noticing her put her cover over James before joining me. I reached in for the claymore and a short sword before locking the door. I shrugged into the scabbard of the huge sword and drew the short sword.

"This is for you. We are not going to split up, but I want you to be able to defend yourself if you need to," I informed her grimly, resheathing the sword and handing it to her. "Aim for the vitals if you do have to strike. Heart, throat, inner thighs, inner arms. Those places will have an opponent bleeding out within minutes. Try to avoid bones, especially the ribs and breastbone. Incapacitating blows like the eyes and hamstrings are good too. If you aim for the heart, come at it from the side, not straight in. Right about here angled upwards." I pointed two fingers a couple of inches below my left pectoral muscle.

Her eyes got wide as I pried open the closed automatic doors. "How do you know all of this?" she squeaked, suddenly giving off a wave of smell that I had to get safely inside, it smelled so good.

I grabbed her arm and started us into the store. "Truthfully, just a layman's knowledge of the human body and where the big arteries in said body are. There are two big blood vessels close to the surface in the neck, one each in the inside of the arms and legs, and the heart is a no-brainer. The same with the eyes and hamstrings. You can't hit what you can't see and you can't move very well without your hamstrings. That one is a favorite of wolves and other predators."

"Oh," she replied, her voice small and more than a little frightened.

The first thing we did was shop for clothes for ourselves. We got two cartloads of sweatpants and sweaters and coats as well as a couple of pairs of gloves and hats for each of us. We also got jeans, shirts, and a few packets of socks and undies each. We changed into more comfortable clothes and each nabbed a pair of hiking boots from the shoe section before moving on. Finding clothes that fit me was a little tough but I did manage to get a small wardrobe of stuff that sort of fit well. We also got some stuff for James, though as furry as he was, I don't know how comfortable clothes were going to be for him. I got mostly sweats for him. Anything else might get a little tight in places tight wasn't good.

We hauled all of it back out to the truck and crammed it in where we could before heading back into the store. We hit the medicine aisles first for first aid stuff and then the pharmacy. I grabbed all of the antibiotics I saw and then we went looking for painkillers and other useful stuff. James was healing well enough from his wounds, so maybe our new bodies did not need those things, but I do wish I had been doped up on some of the opiates we found when he had to set my limbs.

After a cartload of medicines and bandages, we hit the outdoor area for fishing and hunting gear, including the rifles and guns and knives they had displayed. We also got gun oil, cleaning kits, and all the bullets they had. Perhaps if we had the opportunity in the future we could hit an actual gun store for self-loading bullet supplies; for now, off-the-shelf would do. Heather and I hauled that load back to the truck and headed back for food. Instead of using a shopping cart for that trip, we went into the employee area and got a pallet mover and stacked it with coolers before hitting the freezers for the meat. Vacuum-packed beef, chickens, hams, turkeys, we loaded up. We also grabbed the few veggies and fruits that seemed appetizing to us along with a bunch of canned and dried stuff. I was beginning to worry about overloading the wheels of our truck. We might have to get rid of the Harley at this rate. We stacked several huge gas cans on top of the coolers on our way out.

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