A World in Chaos
New 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
A World in Chaos
Tom watched the cascading sweat on Yasaitis' face as he put his weight to the final bolt. The upper hatch had been sprung and now stressed the bolts to the limit. Then it came open with a loud noise of metal against metal and a giant grunt from Yasaitis. The sudden lurch of the bolt sent Darrel flying. Grabbing for everything and everybody, he managed to break his fall in a dozen small ways. Scott had also reached for him, but ended up following Yasaitis.
Tom looked down to see the two of them in a pile with Ida Wirth and Monica Harvey. Yasaitis smiled up at him and then started rubbing his stretched and jerked muscles. Scott merely scowled good naturedly. Tom returned his attention to the hatch -- it was now part open. With Jim Wells, Leonard French and a crowbar, they quickly forced it the rest of the way and flung it open.
Tom smiled at the people below him -- they were ready to get out. Jim Wells, next to him, was fairly bursting to go. It seemed right, so Tom pulled himself through the hatch. The heat and confused wind currents hit him immediately. The ruddy fog momentarily confused him as he drug his feet out and sat on the enclave's outer skin.
Jim Wells joined him almost immediately and then was followed by Leonard French who was moving much slower. French was fully out before the bleakness of the scene reached him. Then he stopped, on his hands and knees, surveying the surroundings. He made no sound, but only stared.
Then the momentary silence was disturbed by Tom's oldest boy, Tim, who now rested on his arms on the hatch, his body half-way out. "It's so ... foggy!"
Tom turned to the boy. "It's a different world. Come on out and let the others see."
An exploding flash jerked his attention away from helping Tim through the hatch back to his view. "What was that?"
Jim Wells, his eyes ablaze, answered, "Some sort of explosion -- like maybe gas." Then he sniffed the air. After an abrupt cough, "Smells terrible, but not gas."
Thoughtfully Leonard mentioned, "You can't smell natural gas. Only the kind Public Service provides. They add something just so you can smell it. As the other two turned to look at him, he added, "Let's get back inside."
But the others in the enclave, impatient to see their new world, at first produced a clog. By the time it was clear and Tim was partway back down into the hatch, the gas exploded. An all-consuming raging inferno of hell enveloped the three men and a boy, searing their bodies, their breath, and their minds. Bursting apart, the gas blew three of them across the enclave into the surroundings, young Tim Griffith was blown into the enclave, his arms ripped off by the hatch. The screams in the interior of the enclave were muffled by the roar of wind and fire.
Jon had almost expected the lower hatch to be blocked by the debris surrounding the enclave. They had of course tried it, just to make sure. It was by far the easier hatch to use on a routine basis. But this one they would have to dig out. For the moment, the attention had to be on the upper hatch as their alternative hatch -- one that could be easily accessed.
Jon watched intently as Mike Sienstra and Ted Andrew began to unlatch the top hatch. Then, with an almost victorious yell, Mike flung aside the last bolt and reached for the spring latch. Ted Andrews instinctively ducked to the side as the hatch flung itself open. A red, turbulent, dusty whirlwind seemed to engulf the enclave. Then as it partially cleared and those inside adjusted to the diminished visibility, they looked through the open hatch at a reddish fog. Hesitating only a moment, Mike swung himself around to the hatch's rope ladder and started to crawl out.
"Mike!" Jon yelled. Belatedly he realized that Mike was already partially through the hatch. Sienstra would probably not hear him over the rush of wind and dust and Trippe's order of 'Wait!' would probably be ignored anyway. Purposely, Jon quickly hauled himself to the hatch and went through it right behind Sienstra.
Stretched out before them was another world. Wind and dust whirled about in an intense struggle to find a pattern of structure and pressure variations. Heat and noise competed to give an impression of hell while a putrid diesel smell offended the senses. Almost unconsciously, Jon continued to pull himself through the hatch and onto the top of the enclave as he tried to see through the turbulent fog. As he grasped for clues of distance and perspective, he realized that the enclave was partially buried in a pile of debris and dirt, extending almost halfway up the side of the enclave. Clearing the lower hatch was going to be something of an ordeal.
Then his mind was distracted by the noise. It was a low groan with infinite overtones, rising slowly and unevenly and encompassing all space. The world seemed to be grinding its teeth, writhing in agonizing pain, and bemoaning its fate simultaneously. A continuing low roar acted as a carrier wave for a multitude of sometimes violent, some times subdued screams of nature torn asunder. With crescendos and descrescendos of wind, accented explosions and tearing, shredding noises reaching the ears in random order, the low roar from deep within the earth continued a steady and lulling manner -- one calculated to unnerve the senses.
Jon's arm was then brushed by Dawn as she settled into place beside her husband. She watched the scene of turbulent confused winds as she tried to anchor her emotions to the foundation of her mate. Her hands gripped his arm, trying to hold onto something familiar.
Slowly Jon realized that most of the others were also coming out. The enclave top began to become crowded. Sienstra had also noticed it and decided to act. Moving confidently, he moved down the side of the enclave and jumped to the ground. Hitting the uneven debris, he stumbled but managed to stay on his feet. At that moment, with others watching him, it was very important to Mike not to fall or stumble.
Jon, watching Mike, yelled, "Stay close to the enclave. Don't wander off.
Mike snorted, "Don't sweat it babe! I don't get lost." Then, "Besides, the air is clearer near the ground. We can do a little exploring."
"Mike, stay close to the enclave. That's an order! When Jon did not hear a rebuttal, he turned to Frank Evans who rested with an arm braced on the rim of the hatch.
Frank, get the other rope ladder and we'll use it to get to the ground.
Frank waved an acknowledgement and stuck his head into the hatch. Within minutes the rope was rigged and the group began to accumulate on the ground. Mike, already twenty feet away at nearly the limit of visibility, walked casually back to the enclave. Sarcastically he said, "Glad to see you've made it down. Only there ain't much to see. Then Mike glanced at Jack Beckman, who was trying to ignore him. Hey, Jack, there's a dead cow or something over to the right. Why don't you go check on it? Maybe you can save it.
"That's enough, Mike. Just cool it." Jon knew that Mike was capable of demoralizing everyone but could not see how to control him and prevent him from doing so.
Then Ann Andrews, standing next to her husband, turned to Mike. "Mike, I don't think sarcasm is very appropriate right now. Let's try to work together, shall we?
Mike jerked around to Ann, angry at her attack. He glared at her but when her calmness refused to waver, he turned and announced, "I'm going to do a little exploring. If there is anyone here with any guts, you can go with me."
Suddenly Mary Sienstra recklessly yelled, "Oh shut up Mike! You're making everyone feel bad.
Mike was momentarily dumbfounded, it had never occurred to him that his meek wife would be even capable of talking back to her husband. As the moments of silence began to accumulate, his fury was fueled by her affront and his sense of embarrassment at being scolded by his wife.
But, before Mike could put his wife firmly back in her perception of her place, Frank Evans, who was still on the enclave, yelled down. "Jon, the wind seems to be picking up. You might want to get back inside.
Suddenly everyone noticed the increase as particles of debris began to fly about. Jon quickly ordered everyone back into the enclave.
But the torrent of wind hit too suddenly and with incredible fury. Only the children and Reena Beckman were inside when the tornado winds ripped into the group. Frank Evans near the hatch, trying to help others into the enclave, was ripped from his handhold and thrown from the enclave. Ann Andrews, partway up the rope ladder, felt the rope give and she fell backward and to the side, collapsing along with her husband into the debris at the base of the enclave. Others grabbed for parts of the enclave in an effort to hang on to something and to shield themselves from the fury of the wind. A high pitched whistle screamed as the wind blew across the open hatch.
Then, almost as quickly as it had come, the wind reverted to its previous restless but relatively calm state. Jon, raising up from where he had shielded his wife, looked about, the air momentarily clear, the visibility temporarily extended. Ted Andrews was kneeling over his wife, trying to somehow aid her. Sienstra was partially covered by debris, as he apparently tried to burrow into the ground to escape the wind. Then, just beyond him, Jon saw Mike's wife. Mary was laid out on a level patch of ground, her head bleeding profusely.
Jon ran over to Mary to discover a severe head injury and a nearby bloody rock just as Mike realized that the wind had passed and he had begun to crawl out of his burrow. Jon knew immediately that Mary Sienstra was dead. Looking at Mike, he yelled, She's dead, Mike. Then, hesitatingly, I'm sorry.
Jon stared at Mike, trying to read his reaction, but there seemed to be none. Mike just stood there in apparent shock. Slowly he began to walk toward Jon.
Then Georgina Evans screamed, "Frank!
Jon looked around and realized that Frank was missing. Georgina was clearly frantic. Almost instinctively, Jon moved toward her. Then he saw Dawn take Georgina by the arms and Trippe went instead to where the Andrews were. Ted looked up and answered the unspoken question, "She's alright, I think, but she's got a bad cut on the head and there is a bad scrape on her chest.
Trippe said simply, I'll get help.
The next hours were chaotic and later Trippe realized that, in those critical minutes, he had failed in his captaincy. The toll had been fearful. Ann Andrews had been severely hurt, with a possible concussion and several broken ribs. Ted was visibly shaken by his wife's injuries. Mary Sienstra was dead and had been laid under debris by her husband (the burial would have to come later). Frank Evans was also dead and even now lay where he had been carried by the wind, almost fifty feet from the enclave. But the one for whom Jon felt truly responsible was Georgina Evans. In the midst of getting Ann Andrews inside, Georgina had been left alone. Then, when they again looked around, she was gone. It seemed apparent that she had gone to find her husband and become lost herself. Now with the winds subsided, they must find her.
Carefully Jon staked a rope, which led to the enclave, next to Frank's body. If Georgina should find her husband's body, she would at least be able to find her way back. Then, with a second rope tied to his waist, he began to move further from the enclave.
Momentarily he considered Mike Sienstra, who would be looking for Georgina off to the right. Jon wondered if the apparent shock of his wife's death had somehow brought Mike to his senses. He had been totally cooperative and easily accepted Jon's instructions on how to search for Georgina. Mike's sudden quietness had been a welcome relief to Jon. Sienstra might be the only other able bodied man if Ted Andrews could not snap out of his worry for Ann. Sienstra might be an essential part of the group's survival.
Mike Brownson slowly worked his way around the base of the enclave, checking the exterior components. The wind generator had checked out okay, even though the wind was still too erratic to take a chance on setting up the machinery. There did seem to be a settling out of the weather as the extremes of wind and heat became diminished. The turbulent, blinding dust was still a threat, but Mike hoped that within several days they could begin to explore and, hopefully, link up with the other enclaves.
Disgustedly Mike looked at the mechanism which controlled the exterior antenna. It was destroyed completely with the antenna itself missing. They would have to rig the spare antenna manually but, again, that would have to wait until the winds afforded them the opportunity. Then, as he tried to secure the damaged compartment, he heard his name being called. Moving toward the sound of the voice, he came upon Lois Snapp (Lew's eldest), as she gently collided with him.
"Just what do you think you're doing out here?"
Lois' voice was subdued but determined. "I was looking for you.
"Why? What's wrong? " Mike was genuinely puzzled.
Lois, taking a deep breath, haltingly declared, "Nothing's wrong. l just want to be with you!
What? Mike almost choked on the word. "What are you talking about?
Lois could hardly find the words to answer. Her reasons had been crystal clear minutes earlier. She was of age in a world of very limited possibilities and was sensing an urgent need to attach herself to as firm a foundation as possible. Mike was their leader and, therefore, the most desirable. He was the alpha male, and if Lois could lay her claim early, her advantage might be considerable. It was only a matter of time before Linda Middleton might start thinking about another mate. And there was always Joanne Masters, who was obviously maneuvering for her own brand of authority. To Lois Snapp it seemed all too apparent that she must clearly align herself with a man.
But in the moments outside the enclave, the reasonable assurances of her actions seemed suddenly unclear. Reaching for Mike's arm, she declared, I want to be with you, Mike. And I want you with me. Struggling, she groped for a way to make him understand.
Mike was in turmoil. With a myriad of details traversing his mind, the thought of a young girl suddenly attaching herself to him seemed too incredible. It somehow didn't fit. Love or infatuation in the midst of worldwide disaster had to be out of place. But Mike realized that Lois was quite serious. And that he must respond in a reasonable and decent fashion.
We've all got to work together, Lois. I appreciate your feelings. It's just that everyone has to do whatever is necessary and work with whomever we have to.
"I know that, I'll do my part." Then moving closer to him, she insisted, We still have to live our lives. And I want to live mine with you.
Mike could no longer avoid her meaning. "Lois, it's too soon for this sort of thing.
No, it's not. Her voice was growing stronger. Then she reached for his hand and brought it up to her breast. Suddenly, in a passionate urgency, she said, I want you, Mike. Don't you want me?
Mike was silent, almost dumbfounded, as he sought to shift his hand from her soft tender breast to her shoulder. This could not be right. Not now, Lois, it's too soon, he whispered. We'll talk later.
Lois was in turmoil. This was not her way. It was not overriding passion, but unmitigated fear. She had to seal her claim, she had to consummate her need for security. Struggling, she whispered, Please, it's okay. Then she began to tremble. Mike slowly took her into his arms as her sobbing began to break from the confines of her heart.
As she trembled in his arms, Mike held her, all thought of passion gone. She was a young girl afraid. And they would all be afraid as time went on. He would have to bear their fears as well as his own. And he knew that, while he could take Lois, it would not be for love. Mike knew that he was not ready for sex on that basis. And he could not bring himself to consider that a form of royal protection/favor might become a fact of life. It was a decision that would better be left for the future.
Chapter Two -- Riding the Storm
Chapter Four -- You Win Some...
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