(ep 4)


Success, setback, success, setback, Alvin thought with particular bitterness as he received an answer to a question he had pushed to the back of his mind. He turned east onto the six lane boulevard and passed through a smoky haze wafting down from the burning cell antenna swaying in the wind. The tower was creased midway up, parts of a large tree still wedged in the impact point.

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A tear rolled down his cheek as he thought about his wife and daughter, who probably never had a chance. They’d certainly never reunite with him, even if they were alive. Or would they? His ever-present optimism allowed him to hope.

She’ll know to get the hell out of Dodge, right? She’s smart enough to drive away from the carnage, I’m sure. Where else would she go? She has family in West Texas, but there’s more of a support system in Batesville. 

Alvin tabled the internal discussion when a pair of luxury SUVs flew past in the opposite direction at insane speed. He watched them in the mirror, but something else caught his eye. He had turned away from the major north-south thoroughfare on purpose, believing that the smaller streets would fill up more slowly. His intuition had been correct. He watched in awe as the traffic backed up into the intersection. First one lane, then the next, then the one after. The speeding SUVs, encountering a partially blocked intersection, plowed over the median and cut northward into the southbound lanes. In a matter of moments, the road had become impassable. The nightmare had begun.

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Please. Please. Please. Please. “Please, please, please, please,” he chanted as he rounded the corner at the empty intersection and headed north, “Please! PLEASE! YES!” Alvin looked down an empty street that he knew only continued a couple hundred feet beyond the bend that obstructed his view. He glanced from side to side, taking in the scenes of devastation. He began to see movement and other signs of life in a way he hadn’t seen in the prior forty minutes. People digging through rubble. Piles of supplies next to neighborhood streets. Even a family strapping a tarp full of provisions to the top of their hatchback with what appeared to be speaker wire.

As he approached an intersection with entrances to the neighborhoods, he checked the speedometer. 75 was a bit excessive, even given the circumstances. He let off the gas pedal and slowed to a reasonable speed in case somebody was pulling out with less caution than he was exercising. Alvin’s foresight paid off as a maroon sedan flew around the corner, tires squealing, and screamed northward. Curiously, as Alvin made his way through the intersection, a green car pulled out from the other side of the intersection and headed southward.

“South? Why would you head toward the destruction?” He watched the car as it approached the major intersection to the south and made a perilous turn to the right. “They have to know that the main road is already choked and there’s no escape that way, right? Why go that way?”

He glanced in the mirror at the baby, who didn’t proffer an answer. Turning his attention forward, he was able to observe the speeding maroon car slow just enough to make a turn at the tee where the road ended.

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“And now he goes east,” Alvin whispered, watching the maroon car reach the decision point. “Hmm… interesting.”

The maroon car, rather than turning east away from the town center, turned west toward all of the congestion.

“First, the pickup was heading west. Then the SUVs. Then the green car. Now the maroon car. What am I missing? How do they think they can escape by driving into the maw of the beast?” His mind hardly regarded the road as he encountered the tee and turned eastward.

His thoughts trailed westward.

What’s west of here? Kroger, Aldi, Walmart, Whole Foods, and a bunch of restaurants.

“Ahhhh, the looting begins.”

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I wonder how many have decided to shelter in place, get food, or otherwise dilly dally rather than getting the hell out. Sticking around seems like a shit plan. This place is gonna be a hellscape within 12 hours. 

He drove past neighborhood after neighborhood, watching much the same human survival instinct play out like it must be for miles in either direction. Some were shell shocked, some were preparing to shelter in place, some were driving to loot the stores, and a few were preparing to drive somewhere. After a few minutes and for the first time since he started out, there were other cars moving in the same direction. Not many, certainly not enough to cause congestion, but it was clear that as he moved away from the epicenter, fewer were dead and more were getting on the road. A pang of fear settled in his gut.

Mopping the sweat and concentrated fear off his forehead, Alvin looked at the sign for the upcoming intersection.

Capital Road, not so big that people would flock there, but not so small that it’s likely to deadend before we get out of town.

He signaled his northward turn purely out of habit, shaking his head at the unnecessary gesture. The closest car was a quarter mile behind them.

We only have a couple miles until it opens up into prairie. Only a couple minutes until I can take a breath.

As he drove through the gentle curves in the road, he noticed that more and more cars seemed to be piling onto the road. More poured out of each neighborhood like flies from the mouth of a carcass. It wasn’t congested yet, but he had the feeling of being chased downhill by a snowball, and he could see its grim shadow cast over him.

Please God, let them all be getting onto the highway. You got me this far, now just a little further.

The last major obstacle was coming into view off in the distance. Highway 294, the final major east-west road before the metropolis thins out. Alvin squinted through his prescription sunglasses, trying to see any movement on the overpass. His heart sank when he saw the unmistakable sight of multiple 18 wheelers parked in traffic on the overpass. As he crested the hill and saw the rest of his path, he sighed. Gridlock.

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Worse than that, he saw people out of their cars milling about. The tail end of the parking lot was about a half mile ahead and closing quickly.

Turn now.

Alvin braked and turned into the neighborhood to his right, following the command. The voice in his head was not his own, and it had an authority to it that he was not used to. Obedience was his only option.

Okay, I can maybe cut through here and find a smaller crossroad or a way to get on the highway or…

He stopped mid thought as he rounded a corner onto a scene of crisis. There were ten, maybe fifteen people hacking at a tree that had fallen across the street with branch loppers, hatchets, and other wholly insufficient equipment. They were focused on  the canopy of the tree, where Alvin could see bits of a car poking out. He slammed on the brakes and shifted the car into reverse.

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Damn it to Hell! I don’t have time for…

You are here to help.

He froze for a moment, car creeping backwards with no pedal input. The chainsaw in the back seat caught his eye. Slamming the brakes yet again and shoving the car back into drive with a bit too much gusto, the car jolted forward and he pulled up near the tree, Alvin parked and flung the door open.

One of the men helping clear the brush turned and approached. “We need help! My sister is trapped in there and she’s hurt! I think she’s bleeding out!”

“I can help,” replied Alvin, pulling the chainsaw out of the back of his car, “can somebody watch my baby?”

The man nodded, turning to the chaos. “Jessica, come here!”

A teenaged girl, not more than 14, quickly tossed some brush aside and jogged over. She was covered in dirt and sweat, and a few spots of blood. “Uncle John! Mom is having a hard time staying awake, we need to…”

“I need you to take care of this man’s baby,” John interrupted, his tone of finality drawing a look of unveiled panic across her face.

“But, but… we can’t just give up…”

“He has a chainsaw. Watch his baby and he’s going to get Charlotte out faster than the rest of us could.” John turned to Alvin, “I hope to God that thing actually works.”

“I had it running 15 minutes ago, so we should be good.” Alvin tossed the case aside and quickly felt the carburetor for heat. Satisfied that the engine was still warm, he pulled on the cord.


The saw started without a hesitation and settled into the staccato purr of its idle.

“The biggest problem is that the branch pinning her in there is being held down by other branches. We need to clear them out before we can get that one.” John said, quickly walking Alvin around the tree to the front of the car.

Alvin winced as he came around the tree and could see what had happened. A foot-wide branch of a large oak had obliterated the dashboard of the car and likely smashed her feet with it. A smaller branch sliced through the driver’s compartment and rested in Charlotte’s lap like a restraint bar on a roller coaster. Alvin couldn’t tell if the branch was suspended there or whether it had smashed through her thighs. The fact that she was still alive indicated the former was more likely. There was blood spattered on the dutifully deployed airbags, but not much. Alvin couldn’t clearly see anything else with the door and leaves in the way.

He could, however, see what John meant about the other branches. A bough, with six major branches, had fallen on top of the car and sat across a portion of the branch pinning Charlotte, putting enough weight on the branch that it bowed substantially. Everybody had been gingerly removing what they could, avoiding putting any more weight on the pinning branch, but they had only made it partway through one five inch log with a hand saw.

“We had to stop going at the first one, the sawing motion was too agonizing for her.” John quietly spoke. “We were trying to clear some brush to get at the second one when you pulled up.”

He turned away from the others and his voice halted as he whispered , “I don’t want her last moments on the Earth to be searing agony.”

“I’ll go as quickly as I can. I’ll try to keep pressure off the branch. Can you get a couple people to grab the last two? They’re liable to fall into the car after I cut them.” Alvin responded, focused more on the task ahead than on John. By the time he processed what had been said and how he had responded, the moment had passed. Alvin could beat himself up for his lack of compassion later.

With a rev of the saw, he started in on the first branch. He could see the car between the leaves, but couldn’t see in to know how the trapped driver was doing. It didn’t really matter for his part of the job. He wasn’t stopping until it was done.

The first branch cut like butter, falling away and exposing the second branch. Alvin heard a yelp of pain over the idling saw as the first branch caught on the pinning branch during its tumble to the ground. The cut was already finished, the pain temporary.

On to the next one.

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