Excerpt for Go Bag by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Go Bag

A Short Story by Frank Severino


May 2018 ~ V1.01 ~ Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2018 Frank Severino

All rights reserved.

Go Bag

Gene scrambled to the sewer, crowbar in one hand and cooler in the other, go-bag draped over his shoulder. The radio said missiles were inbound. His heart and temples were beating rapidly. He felt like a penguin, waddling as fast as he could go. He wished he’d gotten into better shape; had been wishing that for a decade, mournfully so.

He listed to one side, dropping the gig-bag to the ground and laying the cooler near it. Frantically, he tried to wedge the crowbar meaningfully into a hole in the manhole cover. He leaned all his weight on it; it didn’t budge. He gave it everything he had, and the cover groaned and lifted a centimeter. Fucking heavy.

Sweat beaded on his domed forehead. He could smell his own stink of perspiration and it reeked of hot bologny. He flipped the crowbar over and used the hook end to pry it up further, then he succeeded in pulling the manhole cover askew, completely removing it in stages. Removing a small flashlight from his pocket he beamed light into the hole.

It was dry. He had picked this sewer entrance because it usually was dry for some reason, probably elevation or something. He could hear the clock ticking inside his head. There was a metal-rung ladder leading to the bottom about 15 feet below. Leaves and dirt lined the bottom. Gene dropped the crowbar into the hole and it clanged energetically, singing angry notes against the concrete. Quickly, he hoisted his go-bag and cooler, awkwardly trying to descend the ladder with all his supplies in one attempt.

He wedged to a halt trying to get into the hole. He conceded the cooler to the ground above and brought the bag around below his hips and climbed down. Dropping the bag, he could feel panic behind his eyes. He ascended the ladder and grabbed his cooler, repeating the process. Come on, come on. Once more he went up and managed to drag the manhole cover half way over the hole with his bare hands. With a second effort, it slammed heavily into place.

At the bottom of the shaft, standing in spotted sunlight, Gene collected his things and surveyed the tunnel to his left and right with his flashlight. Crunching leaves beneath his feet were the only sounds. A hint of mold, like old cardboard, permeated the air, but it was fairly clean, all things considered. One way was completely capped and sealed only 10 feet from where he stood. The other way seemed to have a bend he couldn’t see beyond, a similar distance. He readjusted his shoulder bag and headed toward the pipe elbow.

Around the bend was a length of tunnel which stretched beyond the reach of his flashlight. Darkness spotted with shafts of light from other manholes repeated as far as he could see. This is it. No time to find a better spot. I thought I’d have more warning. He settled into the corner of the bend and turned on his radio. The announcer mentioned two missiles had been successfully intercepted, but Los Angeles had been obliterated by a third. It was estimated to be an 80-megtaton blast. Russians. An overwhelming response had been launched before more missiles entered U.S. airspace. The announcer listed foreign cities confirmed hit by retaliating fire…Moscow, St. Petersburg, Minsk, and some other targets he didn’t recognize. He could not confirm if more missiles were inbound and would update as soon as more details became available. Of course, there would be more. Are you joking?

As gene was opening a water bottle, all shafts of light in the sewer intensified in unison making the tunnel as bright as broad daylight for a second. His pupils strained to adjust. The earth shook like it had been pounded by an enormous hammer and time stood still. A deafening roar filled the sewer. Above, a howling wind fluted eerie notes across all the manhole covers. Every window within listening distance shattered. The groan of twisting beams and clack of snapping trees were like sick bowing of ugly stringed instruments accompanying bricks of firecrackers.

Gene huddled in the corner clamming his hands against his ears to no avail. His very bones shook with the cacophony rattling above. An intense heat filled his hiding space. Not enough to kill him, but it felt like a sauna. His breath rasped, and dry hot air filled his lungs.

Living only 20 miles from one of the world’s largest airports, he had always assumed it was a target. To feel what he felt, and to hear the damage above, he could guestimate the blast radius and approximate warhead size. Yes, I’ve been to that website a few times…that was probably a 60.

Down the long tunnel, he could see dark wriggling specks of others desperately descending into the sewer. Too late. They’d be badly burned and irradiated, unless they were lucky to be behind thick concrete during the blast. Maybe some were alright, at this distance from the blast, the immediate casualty ring would “only” be 30%. Another 30% would probably die, slowly, over the next few weeks, from radiation and untreated wounds. If you survived a month, you’d probably be okay.

He reached into his bag and took out his black Glock-9, checking the chamber and safety. No one was approaching his corner, yet, but he’d take no chances when they did. One bag of supplies wasn’t going to last very long, and there was nothing he could do for someone badly burned or irradiated, though he did have extra bandages and analgesics he could share.

Gene automatically assumed everyone within a 10-mile radius of the airport, except a few walking miracles and deep basement dwellers, was toast. There wasn’t any way in hell first responders could do anything inside the inner concentric damage rings, and the blast wave…he shuddered. He hoped he was far enough out to qualify for a rescue effort; about a million people wouldn’t. Too many fires would be raging above. Imagine 20-square miles simply ablaze. Responders would likely try to contain from the periphery and let deeper fires burn out of their own accord. They’d also be dealing with a few hundred thousand moderately damaged people migrating outward over the next few days. Overwhelming chaos was about to ensue. If past hurricane response was any measure…he decided not to go there. This is why we prep!

His radio received only vicious static. He’d anticipated this. It would be a few days before the air cleared. How was his phone still getting 3 bars? It was probably pointless to call anyone, but he tried, anyway. The signal bars meant nothing. Perhaps an antenna had somehow survived. There was no service. He silently enumerated everyone he knew who lived within the 100% casualty zone. Unless they were lucky enough to be somewhere else, they were toast. A bomb that size would leave 2 million dead by the end of the month, easily. Didn’t need to be accurate with population density as it was. More could be on the way, too.

A shadowy figure approached. Gene stood up, pointed the gun in its direction and barked, “That’s far enough!” The man halted twenty yards from Gene’s corner and said nothing. Gene shined his flashlight on him. His face, neck, arms and clothing were all scorched. Blood oozed from several locations on his charred skin. “I got nothing for you but some pain killers—here!” Gene threw a small bottle of pills at the man’s feet.

The burnt man murmured something laden with pain as he slowly lowered himself and picked up the pills. Standing again, he just stared at Gene, who said, “Take’em back with you down there—and tell them not to bother me. I don’t have anything else for ya.” The man half raised his hand as a gesture of thanks, let his arm fall limply to his side, then turned and shuffled away from Gene.

That guy’s toast. Won’t last the night. He’s running on adrenaline and in shock. He watched the man’s frame recede into the tunnel. He had not anticipated others using the same sewer to shelter in. Great minds think alike. A couple hours later, another figure approached. It was a child by the size of it. Sure enough, a little boy cautiously trudged toward him. Kid didn’t look too worse for wear; seemed unscathed. Walking miracle.

The boy said, “My mom’s hurt real bad. Can we have some aspirin like you gave the other guy?”

Gene answered, “What happened to the bottle I gave him?”

“Dunno,” said the boy, “He walked off with it and we haven’t seen him around.”

Gene asked, “What’s your name? I’m Gene.” He put his gun down to reassure the kid. “I’m Brian. I live on Brackton Lane. Our house got knocked down pretty good by the wind. I was hiding in the concrete storage area, but I managed to crawl out. My mom was at the store. Somebody helped her back here. She’s blind now, I think…and some other things are wrong with her,” the kid looked away.

Gene said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Listen,” he hesitated, “I can’t just give everybody all my stuff—people are going to see me as a grocery store and things are going to get rough.” Gene looked at his gun lying on the bag next to him.

“I understand, sir,” the boy said, “But if you could just give me a couple pills, it would help a lot.”

Gene nodded. He’d been listening to groans of pain echoing through the tunnel for the last couple hours. If it shut that up, it’d be worth it. “Now Brian, I’m going to give you ONE bottle of Tylenols—AND ONE BOTTLE OF WATER—and some energy bars, BUT THAT IS IT. I swear to god if anybody else comes down here begging, you tell them all they’re going to get is a bullet, and that includes you—understand me?”

The boy grimaced solemnly and nodded, “I understand, sir. God bless you for helping my mom.”

Gene shot back, “Ain’t no god, Brian, but here you go, anyway.” He handed two water bottles, a few energy bars, one bottle of Tylenol to Brian. “One ain’t enough for both of you, so I gave you two bottles. If I were you, I’d hide this stuff. Don’t tell anybody you have it or where you got it—don’t share it with anybody, understand? And don’t go outside for at least 3 days unless there’s somebody from the government is here to relocate us—the rads will kill you.”

“Yes, sir. I won’t.”

“Now get the hell out of my area.” The boy accepted the items, shoved them in his pockets and ran off with the water bottles in his hands. Gene hoped the kid hadn’t taken too many rads, but you can’t see a sunburn in the dark. He knew it was a mistake sharing his supplies, and if they kept asking politely, he was going to keep giving. He didn’t have enough for everybody, but the only way he’d really shoot somebody was if some dude got gruff with him or someone seemed dangerous. All talk, no action.

Seemed like he had prepared in advance for something which could not be prepared for. All the prepper mythology of “self-reliance and bugging out” ground to a halt once the shit really did hit the fan. It was all fantasy and nonsense. Survival meant living long enough for real authorities to arrive. If one had an ounce of empathy for others, no matter how many supplies you stockpiled, no one could prepare for the shear tragedy of it. Seeing a half-burned man, eyes wide as silver dollars, shocked out of his mind, or meeting a kid begging to ease his mother’s pain, is not something anyone can truly prep for. Not unless you’re trained for war; which he was not, unless you count reading prepper blogs.

The water is better in you, than outside you. Gene remembered some desert survival advice. Carrying around a bottle of water and sipping from it, gradually, is not as efficient as drinking the whole thing, at once. Better hydration; you’ll last longer. Gene drank a whole bottle of water and ate two energy bars. If somebody robs me, at least I’ll last another day or two…it’s in me.

National Guard would be arriving, shortly, he imagined. That’s the truth I’m choosing. If he looked at it that way, it’d be better to go to where other people were huddled and try to help them the best he could; maybe save a few lives. If they weren’t coming, a month of food and water for one, and some medical items weren’t going to make a huge difference to him, or anybody, long-term. The prepper in him scoffed at the idea of sharing, but what was that, really, but an unhealthy obsession, scouring Amazon for survival items—a way to spend his lonely evenings and free time at work—a place to throw his discretionary income and make him feel like he was preparing for a survivable future, instead of ignoring the obvious: there is no future without other people in it. Plus, if the rads drop, I’ve still got my hidden stash. He laughed to himself. Three, to be precise.

Gene gathered his supplies, shouldered his bag, took a deep breath, and made his way toward the unmistakable sounds of pain and anguish.


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