August 29, 2005. To many, this day started like any other. But to I, Daniel Hayes, it was nothing short of a nightmare. I guess most of us never really find out just what the hell goes on behind the annals of television broadcasts and the gossip at dinner parties until we experience it ourselves, and that is exactly what this is about.
It was early in the morning, on August 28, and I was headed to work. First, I filed some paper work, argued briefly with a colleague about some insurance statistics, and got a coffee from the machine outside, and went back inside to organize some more files, then....I snapped out of my daze. To my surprise, I had been daydreaming about my daily work routine with the engine on, which felt even more pathetic than the horrible excuse for a job I had.
I managed to make it to work on time, but as soon as I arrived, I was greeting by the barking call of my boss, and a subsequent plop of a huge pile of paperwork. Denying insurance claims did make me feel like an asshole, but I knew that if I didn't deny enough, I would probably be fired. Nothing else happened that day, aside from a small lunch break. After what seemed like days, it was 4:30. Finally, I was free to waste my time at home, though I had to stop at the store because Janet had insisted that I stock up on some essentials, though I felt that we had more than enough. The light drizzle had turned to a downpour, but rainstorms were relatively common and nothing to be worried about.
All of the weather forecasters insisted that this was going to be a minor storm by the time it hit us, if it did at all, so naturally I remained a bit stubborn despite going along with it. I was more interested in satisfying her than really preparing, since what was bickering over twenty bucks worth anyway? The same scare mongering had happened in the past, and I had ignored it. Nobody in the store looked particularly concerned, which further helped me accept that absolutely nothing could go wrong. I pulled into the supermarket, picked out various foods and necessities, and brought the shopping cart to the cash register.
"That'll be 29.46" said the cashier dully, as I pulled out a small wad of bills. I had also bought a few cases of beer, since I knew I would be utterly bored without being able to drive anywhere. The day had been difficult, and I couldn't stand my boss. At least something had to go right.
"Thanks," I muttered after grabbing my receipt. I rushed through the pouring rain to my black BMW. Instead, I ended up wandering around for about a minute while becoming thoroughly drenched before finding it. Oddly enough, I didn't even remember what I was talking about. Driving home was slow with massive traffic, and I was relieved when I finally reached the Blockbuster near my home to pick up a few DVD's so that I wouldn't rot in my house. After all, what fun was getting drunk without having a good movie on?
Weary from a boring day at work, I picked out several films that looked interesting from the shelf. It seemed as though I was forgetting something. I paid the clerk and deposited the rest of the money into a children's cancer fund jar, then walked outside to find a boy, no more than eight years old clad in slicker and holding a large bucket.
"Excuse me mister, would you like to make a contribution to UNICEF?" the child asked innocently.
"Fuck..." I grumbled, but then turned around and gave the kid a twenty.
"Wow, thanks a lot!" the kid said, but by then I was already fifty feet away. My clothes were beginning to get wet and I didn't want to have to take time out of my relaxation to fix myself up all over again, but I managed to get back in time without being soaked, this time being more careful not to zone out in the middle of the rainstorm. The ride home from Blockbuster was quick, and I couldn't help wishing that I would get the day off from work tomorrow. It was tentatively canceled, but this was not a certainty given the possibility of a weakened storm. I pulled in rather quickly, eager to get into the house and avoid the rain, but instead was greeted with the screeching of tires and a loud bang.
"GOD DAMNIT" I yelled. "I just got this thing painted, rrrrrrgh...." I exited the car, and to my great dismay, there was a small but deep dent in the left bumper where it had made contact with the bird bath. The dent would cost me at least a thousand, or if the insurance would pay for it, I'd have to pay later. Janet was standing at the door with a rather upset look on her face, but before talking I backed the car up and parked it properly and brought everything in.
"Damn tires...this is the worst possible timing, it wasn't my fault..." I mumbled to her.
"Honey, the kids are upstairs. You know we shouldn't talk like that..." she said. I didn't react in the slightest.
"Oh, and about the car, I don't really care about that. I'm just glad you made it home fine, it's pouring pretty badly out there. And I'm glad that you picked up all that we needed"
Slightly more relieved, I opened a bottle of beer and chugged it in a few gulps.
"Did you get any movies?" she asked. "Anything for Dylan?"
"Ugh....oh crap, I forgot..." I grumbled. "Can we just let him watch what I got for us?"
"These are all rated R." Now they're going to be bored."
"We could always just let him watch..."
"Okay, I don't want to baby him, but you know that this is too much for an eight year old, honey."
"Whatever... Do you want me to go to the video store and pick up Monsters inc. or some other stupid crap?"
"Don't talk about it like that! He likes those movies. And no...it's getting really bad out."
"Can I at least park the car in the garage?"
"It's full. My friend wanted to park in case the storm got bad, because she doesn't have one of her own."
I found it to be ridiculous that I could not park my car in my own garage, but I decided that it would be better not to say anything. After all, if the weather really was going to be as the forecasters had said, it was unlikely that any damage was going to come of it. Things could not get much worse, anyway. I threw an empty bottle into the trash and opened another beer.
"Dan, are you sure you don't want to leave? Everyone has gone... It could get pretty dangerous..."
"No, I'm going to go lie down" I said, without a response from Janet. Within a few minutes, I was fast asleep, without even realizing it. No dreams came to me that night, and I lay completely still until a loud bang woke myself and Janet up at 3:30 in the morning.
"What the hell?" I yelled over what sounded like the roaring wind. It astonished me that I had slept through such a racket. My wife had also woken up upon my exclamation.
"I'm going to go check on the kids, alright?" I groaned.
"I'll come too" Janet said, and followed me downstairs. It was not long before I felt dampness on the steps, and I continued, hoping that this was all that was present. Unfortunately, with about two steps remaining, I hit water.
"Shit, the whole damn place is flooded." Janet did try to appear calm, but actually looked pissed off for the first time in awhile.
"We have to get to Dylan's room. How in the world are they asleep?" I said. My wife and I both knew that if the water level rose just a bit more, they could be in danger.
"Janet, you grab the food, and get my pistol in case things get really bad. I'll get the kids." It seemed strange, but I felt that I could get them out more quickly.
"Your pistol?" Janet said, confused. "What the fuck do you need that for?" I was slightly taken aback by her comment, as I had not heard her speak like that in months.
"I'm not going to shoot anyone, just bring it upstairs and I'll hide it. Besides, I don't want the damn thing getting waterlogged." We also agreed to get as many nonessentials as possible if we had the time to. The water level did not seem to be rising at any visible rate, at least for now. I opened the door to my son's room to find him indeed still asleep, and quickly roused him.
"What's going on, daddy?" he asked.
"It's the storm. The house is flooded, and we need to go upstairs now to wait for help" I explained patiently.
"Will we be okay?" He formed a scared look in his face as he looked around the room.
"Yeah, everything will be okay. We just have to get upstairs in case the water goes higher. Don't worry, we'll be safe there."
"Come on, give mom a big hug" Janet said to Dylan, as she walked past me. Suddenly, a big roar sounded, and before I knew it, they both were gone in a rushing torrent, followed by several distant, barely audible screams. I instinctively hurled myself backwards to get clear of the water. Trying to descend proved impossible, for the current was too strong and I knew that I would have no chance to look for them.
"JANET!!! DYLAN!!! DO YOU HEAR ME???" I called out. "CAN YOU HEAR ME?"
I repeated this several times before my voice became a whisper, and time froze. My life as I knew it was over. It was unlikely that I would ever see my family again, and my home now lay in ruins. The water rose to my legs, but I was so lost in anguish that I did not move back until a minute later, when it began to obscure my breathing. I had many times watched these survival shows in which people were enthusiastic about their ordeals, but this could not be further from the truth. I had realized that the toughest challenge was not to survive the torrents, but to survive the utter deficit of hope in which I had almost wished for the waves to wash me away. This was the struggle against system shock, against a loss of reality, and an abyssal reality of life which had never been realized previously in my entire existence.
I made it up to the bedpost and the shock finally began to dissipate, bringing with it the emotional onslaught which had been previously hidden. I began to weep, for the first time in years. It was not only of sadness and loss, but a complete release of energy that I did not quite understand at the time. Through this, I felt more alive than I had for a very long time, despite the utter misery that I had felt at what the waters had taken from me. And there I stayed for hours, trapped in doubt and anguish, in release and confusion, and in the middle of a beautiful, horrible new world.
Somehow, I fell asleep amidst the rushing water and horrible realizations. Perhaps it had just been too much for me. But this time, I did ream. I was paralyzed; paralyzed by something that was not visible, or tangible, as my life was slowly drained from my veins. And as I dissipated from the world, my greatest pain was not the physical thorn in my side, but the knowing that I could have averted such a fate....
"JANET? DYLAN? ARE YOU OKAY?" I yelled out. At the time, I had not been able to distinguish between the nightmare and what had transpired, partly because I had not known that I had fallen asleep in the first place. After several seconds, I rested my eyes on the dark water occupying the staircase, and it all came back to me. I stopped at the foot of stairs and sat, again overwhelmed with emotions, but this time a mixture of extreme anger and aggression. Perhaps this time I could stop something bigger, just as I had remembered in my dream. Even though I did not know what it was, I would certainly have to escape this hell. In a quick decision, I ruled out waiting for evacuation, packed my pistol, some food and water, and then headed outside through a skylight in the roof.. The downpour had somewhat eased, but the chaos had not. And somehow, amidst all the destruction and pain, I felt far more powerful than I ever had before.
Gas fires burned at the top of many houses, and widespread shouting and crashing could be heard over the rain. I readied my pistol and shoved it in my belt, not expecting to be shot at but not taking any chances. The roof was mostly intact and I was able to make my way to the edge, from which I carefully leapt, falling into about four feet of water. Everything that I had previously treasured was swept away, which now didn't matter because it all meant nothing. I was beginning to realize just how much I hated my previous existence, and knew that if I ever got over the shock of my losses I would have to completely rearrange my lifestyle. Well, of course this was not a guarantee, as it did not seem beyond imagination for rushing waters to yet again come.
The neighbors' cars were thoroughly damaged, some of them completely underwater. Instinctively, I looked towards the BMW to see only part of it submerged, but the areas I could see were heavily damaged. It felt strange to desire to look, but not to care in the slightest. I could have examined it further, but instead traveled through the neighborhood, looking for some survivors. I found some alright, who popped out from behind a bush with rifles drawn. My first instinct was to pull out my pistol and shoot, since I was completely on edge, but I suppressed it when I figured that they were just trying to defend themselves.
"Come on, I'm not here to kill you, I'm just from down the street" I said shakily.
"Sorry. We've been shot at several times already today. The damn looters have been raiding the wealthier area. We have to watch our backs or we'll end up getting killed" an older man grumbled.
"Yeah, Jake back here got it in the arm!" a voice came from inside the house. It was raised, and had avoided most of the flooding, but had still sustained some damage. The whole area resembled more of a war zone than the upscale area of town that it had been just a day ago.
I stayed for some time but did not talk much, even when the others did. They seemed to be doing okay despite all that had happened, and must have been from a variety of families since most of them didn't seem to be related at all.
"Everyone fucking left, so if we don't stick together, we're dead" one of them explained. "But we're doing alright so far"
I was allowed to go upstairs and rest some more, but I could not sleep. After about twenty minutes of staring at the wall while the others talked, I was snapped out of my trance by the sound of gunfire. Instantly I rushed downstairs, pistol in hand.
"Hey man, relax. It's probably a mile away. Maybe the National Guard or something. I think they're fighting with the looters. But be ready" I did stay ready, in fact vigilant. With my survival on overdrive and deep in confusion, the gun in my hand felt like my only form of control. For a fleeting second, I wonder what Janet would think of me being reduced to this state. For the matter of fact, what would Dylan think? Would they understand my complete shock, and what felt like a complete abandonment of the past? Would they think that I was abandoning them?
I was forced to shove these thoughts aside as some of the people started yelling and the gunshots sounded again, this time much closer. One man fell, and dragged himself behind the porch. Suddenly, I saw a ragged man with a gun, and instinct kicked in. I wouldn't have normally had the reflexes, but in a split second, I pulled out my pistol and shot him before he could even see me. I then ran back into the house and bolted from the scene before stopping to catch my breath, as the fight was intensifying. I was compelled to stay and fight and almost felt angry with myself for fleeing and not being able to adequately defend myself without fear, but I knew that if I was to live, I wouldn't stand a chance. Once I reached what seemed to be a safer place, I forgave myself what I had perceived as cowardice; after all, I had never fired a gun before. Perhaps this wasn't to be a complete change at once, but just the beginning.
As I waited for several minutes to affirm that the situation was truly safe, I felt a sharp pain in my ankle. I must have sprained it while running, but did not notice. I had also sustained a minor shrapnel wound which stung horribly and was leaking some blood, but did not appear critical. Nonetheless, I knew that I was in a vulnerable position to be hurt further, so I would have to be careful. There was a small river by what remained of my house. If I could find a boat, I could take what I could salvage, and float my way down the river. Why had I not thought of this before? The shock from my loss had clearly clouded my judgment, thus at that point I reasoned that it would not benefit me to act on something I did not completely understand. Without proper judgment, I could end up anywhere, and I would never get out of this place alive.
Time was of the essence, but for strength, I prayed to god for the first time in many months. If he was indeed there, then he would answer me in my greatest time of need. It indeed gave me strength, but I knew that this was just from myself, and was not sure if my prayer would be in vain. Staying in the same spot would surely get me killed. The idea of looking for help from authorities flashed through my mind briefly, but I almost felt like the whole system had betrayed me and taken away all that I had. The idea also completely removed me from the equation, and despite my fear, I felt compelled to survive. It was ugly, sure, but there indeed exists a silver lining to everything.
Not limping proved impossible without the burst of adrenaline, but I knew that I would probably just injure myself worse if I rushed. I almost felt heartless not grieving, but was still confused over the nature of the whole thing. I didn't really understand how to react to such a thing, because I had been so used to comfort and consistency, however much I despised it. I still had a hard time accepting this, because I had become so used to pleasing people and shutting up that I had forgotten about my own gripes with the system. It proved difficult to make it home, because most of the street signs had been washed away and the landscape was badly damaged, but I eventually reached my destination. I retrieved a ladder from the waterlogged garage and climbed back up to the room in which I had hidden. Returning to where I had laid and grieved started to take its toll on me, but in an effort to press on, I quickly exited once again.
The roof proved to be a good vantage point, and I only had to look around for a short time before spotting a boat, which had probably been left at its dock by a fleeing family. I traveled to it with bags in hand, avoiding the deeper areas of the water, but had to swim out to it because the dock was submerged. It had indeed been banged up, but did not seem to be damaged beyond functionality. As I got in, I remembered something important.
"Fuck....I'm going to have to get the key to this thing, or I'll never get out of here" I muttered, knowing well that there was a good chance that I would have to find another boat. I did not know how to hotwire any type of vehicle, and because I knew it to be deadly if I screwed up, I would not attempt it without being shot at first. The only rational thing to do was to break into the house. My conscience briefly scolded me, which I brushed away. I knew that in need, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, especially since I would not harm anyone. While I broke the glass in, I started to realize how much I had been socially conditioned, which infuriated me.
After noisily rummaging around through several drawers in the large home's study for several minutes, I then realized that I would be considered a looter if caught, and adopted a much more careful approach. Finally, after about half an hour, I came across a large ring of keys hanging on the wall of the storage room, which were presumably spares. This time ducking in the boat to avoid being seen, and tried more than half the keys before getting the right one. I stayed down for a bit but sat up later, as it seemed as though I was clear from danger. Though confused, I did know which way it was to the ocean, and from there I would presumably be able to find another city. The winds were not high now, and it was still drizzling at this time, but most of what was causing the destruction now was merely human desperation.
Up ahead, I noticed a group of people standing on a boat, and I was foolish enough to not turn around until I was in plain view. It turned out to be a military checkpoint. I stopped in hope that I could turn around, but they had spotted me and were now traveling over.
"Sir, do you have any weapons with you?" the older one asked, presumably the superior.
"Why does that matter to you?" I shot back, which turned out to be the wrong answer.
"Sir, we only ask that you cooperate" said the soldier irritably, while tension started to build in my body.
"Yes I do, now can I get out of here?"
"Don't move!" he yelled, and made a motion to the younger soldier. As they pointed their weapons at me and the older man approached, I reacted and gunned the motor. Within a second I was 50 feet away.
"SHOOT HIM, SHOOT HIM!" I heard the calls come. There was a pause in which time nearly stood still, and then I felt an excruciating pain in my back, as if a huge rock had slammed into me. I twisted around before falling into the water and howling in pain, and in that moment, I knew that the young man who had pulled the trigger would forever regret what he had done. In that instant, my beliefs in god ceased. Perhaps there was something, but it certainly was not analogous to any belief I had held before.
As I floated down the river, the sun poked out from behind the clouds, but this was no longer of any welcoming quality. I began to cry once again, this time not out of pain, but out of rage; rage that I was going to die. Rage that I was going to die, and would not be able to even put a mark on that which was of ultimate injustice. I now fully realized the futility of my previous efforts in life, and wished with all my strength that I could have come to these realizations sooner. Even my family was secondary to this, and now I fully appreciated it without guilt, but knew that my time had come. It was as if I was living a nightmare, but could not have been more real.
My new understanding also carried the realization that for every scarred young man such as the soldier who had ended my life, there were thousands more, plagued by the same radical evils in such subtle ways as not to be noticed, but plagued all the same. They would be those who would have to fight for and inspire the rest of us, unless our race was to be domesticated and oppressed at every convenience.
Despite my body having been thoroughly weakened from the blood loss, and though everything was becoming faint, my mind raced to work in an endeavor to find some shred of solace before I expired. It was an effort unparalleled by anything I had ever undertaken in my entire existence. Were my family alive, I would not have hoped for them to return to their lifestyles, but instead to learn from their experiences of the day. As I began to fall unconscious, I could only hope that those who underwent the same transformation would do so in a time in which they could succeed, and not during the last or worst of their hours.
The light at the end of the tunnel appeared before my eyes as had been spoken of before many times, and I waited. At last, I reached the end, and my sense of being began to dissipate. A strange feeling came over me, as if I was a part of something bigger. There was no heaven and hell, it was so much more. And with those last shreds of thought, I dissolved into the depths unknown.
well, is it?