Episode 3: Retreat
You can see the full series of this fictional story here.
With the woman he’d rescued from the accident on St. Route 43 carefully slung over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry, Jason Jones jogged steadily towards the ever-blackening plumes of smoke clouding over Huntsville, Illinois. His muscles ached and throbbed with each step, but the adrenaline pumping in his veins and his years as a trained combatant carried him forward. His family might be in danger, even with the preparations they’d made, and Jason was going to do whatever he could to save them.
The firemen who had been working to extinguish the blaze that now consumed most of Hunstvilles’ meager downtown area had set up a first aid station at the edge of town.
“Car Accident,” Jason said, panting from the seven mile run into town.
“Set her down here.” A firemen and an EMT helped Jason hoist the woman down off of his shoulders and onto a waiting stretcher. There were several occupied stretchers set up in haphazard rows all around, with dozens of EMTs and firemen scurrying about them.
“Things got bad here quick didn’t they?” Jason said looking at the scene around him.
“Bad? The whole damn town’s burnin’ down!” said the fireman. “We lost power in the trucks, the pumps, radios, everything.”
“Same in the ambulances, even the damn defibrillator’s!” added the EMT who was checking the woman’s vitals as he spoke. Both the men’s faces were sweaty and exhausted, and Jason could tell that they had been fighting hard all morning and had no idea what was going on or how big it was.
“Look fellas,” Jason said, “I just came from downtown and-”
“On foot?!” the firemen asked
“Yes,” Jason continued, “whatever is happening took out all the cars, all the power, everywhere. The city turned into a madhouse within minutes.”
The two men looked at Jason with disbelief.
“There’s gotta be something still working, what about the police or the hospitals or-”
“Nothing.” Jason looked the squarely in the face, “Everything just switched off. The police were just as confused and disorganized as the rest of us.” He paused while the news sunk in, “I’m assuming that’s what happened here right? Everything just suddenly… stopped?”
“Yea.” They both confirmed.
“Listen guys, whatever this is, it’s big. Help who you can here, but get home, and get bunkered in, this doesn’t look like it’s blowing over anytime soon.” A burst of thunder crashed overhead as Jason spoke.
“Finally, a bit of luck!” The firemen said, looking up at the gathering storm clouds.
“You got a spare jacket?” Jason asked the fireman.
“Yea, but why?” The fireman asked.
“My home is that way,” Jason pointed down a long street of burning houses.
“You can’t go down there man, the fire’s eating its way right through all the dry hedgerows and fields, everything that way is cooked!”
“My home is that way,” Jason said again, and added, “And so is my family.”
The fireman took his flame-resistant uniform jacket off and handed it to Jason.
“Thank you.” Jason began to leave.
“Here,” the fireman said, “take this too.” He handed him a fire helmet, and an axe.
Jason nodded, and took off down the street.
The air was thick with heat and smoke and desperately hard to breath. Burning embers rose like hellish fireflies in the wind of the gathering storm. Six hard-fought blocks of smoldering, smoke-thick air later, Jason stood at the foot of the long winding driveway that lead to his home two hundred yards back from the road in an open field surrounded by thick woods. To his horror, the woods that surrounded his house were already smoldering. He took off in a full sprint down his long dirt drive, and as he neared he saw his wife in the front doorway holding their five-year-old daughter in the house.
“Jason!” Patricia cried out. Jason could tell by the look of relief on her face that his wife was very happy to see him.
“Where are the boys!” he asked in panting breaths as he reached the bottom of the porch steps.
“Over there!” she pointed to the left of the house, where Jason’s two teenage songs Jim and Dale were tearing at the ground with shovels about 50 yards out. The woods, which lay another 50 yards past where they dug, were a blazing wall of fire. Jason was proud of his sons, they were digging a fire break to keep the fire from reaching the house.
“Grab the bug out bags!” Jason said turning back to his wife, “The fire’s too close, that break will never hold.” He saw the sadness in his wife’s eyes as she realized their home and all they’d built was going to be consumed by the flames, but he knew she was strong and that they were prepared for worse.
“We’re going to the retreat,” Jason said, and then took off running to where his boys dug furiously at the earth.
“Dad!” the youngest boy, Jim, shouted.
“Boys!” Jason said as he reached them.
“We started digging the break as soon as we saw the smoke, the school went dark and Jim and I got out of there quick, we got home and that’s when the fire started spre-“
“I know son, I know.” Jason stopped Dale who was rattling off in excited exhaustion, “I’m proud of you, both of you. You did exactly what we discussed in an emergency, and then some, coming out here and digging this break.” The boys were exhausted and their chests heaved from the digging, the hot air burning in their lungs.
“What’s going on dad?” Jim asked, trying to mask the fear in his voice.
“I don’t know what’s happening boys, but it’s big.” Both Jim and Dale’s eyes widened as they looked at their dad’s worried face. “I also know that we’re prepared,” Jason said, encouraging his boys, “And that I got two of the toughest sons a man could ask for.” The boys chests puffed out a little now, and Jason knew he’d said the right things. A loud crackling crunch came from the direction of the burning woods. All three of them watched as a great towering pine consumed in orange and yellow flames lurched forward and toppled to the ground. The dry grass and weeds around the fallen tree began to smolder instantly.
“Boys,” Jason said still staring at the toppled burning pine, “We’re going to the retreat.”
The rain began falling in slow, heavy drops when Jason and the boys had reached the house. Patricia had the bug-out bags laid out on the porch and was pulling a camouflage poncho over Cathy, their five year-old daughter’s, head.
“Do the same boys,” Patricia ordered. Jim, Dale and Jason pulled their ponchos from their bug-out packs, and after lifting the big bags onto their backs, began pulling the ponchos over their heads.
“Are we going in the car Daddy?” Cathy looked up at her daddy from beneath the oversized hood of the poncho. Her thin blond hair was matted against her forehead with sweat and drops of rain. Jason knelt down so that his face was in front of hers.
“No sweetie, the car is broken, we’re going for a walk,” he said.
“In the rain?” she furrowed her little eyebrows in confusion. Jason smiled at her and kissed her forehead.
“Yes darlin, in the rain, but that’s why you have this special jacket on.” She seemed satisfied with that, and Jason stood again, and looked around the property before disappearing into the house. The rain, which was coming down in sheets now, was certainly helping quell the fire, but the grass near the incomplete firebreak had already caught fire.
“Dale!” Jason called out from the back of the house, “Get the wagon out of the shed!” Dale did as he was told, and when Jason returned holding three high powered hunting rifles, the Patricia was already lifting Cathy into the wagon. With extra packs of freeze dried food securely packed into mylar bags accompanying Cathy in the wagon, the five members of the Jones family headed down the long winding driveway. With their ponchos, packs, and the three men carrying rifles, the family looked more like a squad of soldiers making their way through the rain and smoldering greenbelts.
They moved steadily along the main road. Even with the rain tamping out most of the flames, it was too risky leading his family into a flaming forest. He would have preferred to take their number one route, through the trails behind the house. They’d even widened the trail enough for the truck and the Gator, but alas, those couldn’t help him now. As they walked Jason regretted not buying the bug-out vehicle he’d had his eyes on for months. By now, Jason had pieced together that whatever had happened, some sort of EMP incident had occurred, and he knew there were a number of vehicles that would remain relatively unaffected by such an incident. Stop filling your mind with regrets, he told himself as he walked steadily on, taking the lead position, stay focused.
“Ok, hold here,” Jason ordered.
“What’s wrong dad?” Jim asked. After hiking for two miles down various roads, they had reached the the trail that would lead them back to their retreat.
“I want to scout it out before we send everyone in.”
“But we’ve been down this trail tons of times dad, Dale and I could practically hike it in our sleep.”
“That’s true,” Jason said, but the forest was never on fire before, and I’m not sending your mother and baby sister into a smoldering trap.”
Jim looked sheepishly down at the ground. “But it’s been pouring down rain for hours!” he protested.
“I’m not taking any chances,” Jason replied with finality.
“Let Jim and I do it,” Dale said, “You stay out here and look after Mom and sis.”
“I can look after myself just fine,” Patricia said to her son, “Your father knows what he’s doing.”
“Actually Patricia,” Jason cut in, “perhaps it’d be good to let the boys go on ahead.” Jason wasn’t crazy about the idea, but he hadn’t yet talked to his wife about everything that had gone down. He hadn’t told her how big this thing was yet, how the whole city had shut down, about the man who tried to rob him, the people gunned down in the street, the lady he saved from the wreck. He knew he’d have to tell the boys eventually, but wanted a chance to talk things over with Patricia first.
“Are you sure honey?” Patricia looked at him questioningly.
“They’ll be fine darling,” he assured her, “It’s just a precaution anyway.”
Jason turned to his eldest son Dale and gave him instructions. Walk carefully and deliberately, smell for smoke, keep an eye out for embers, or smoldering grass, and be on the lookout for animals driven out of their homes by the fire, they might be injured and dangerous. The boys assured their father they understood and prepared to hit the trail.
“Only go as far as the creek!” Jason shouted after them, “Then come back.” The creek was about half a mile in, and after that, the trail flattened out and the woods came to an abrupt end into the meadow that presided their retreat. Jason pulled the wagon, with Cathy and the freeze dried food sacks into the shelter of the overhanging trees along the side of the road. Cathy had dozed off in the shelter of her poncho and now Jason and his wife sat in the wet grass beneath the trees.
“Hi,” he said to his wife and smiled for the first time since he had found his family.
“Hi,” she sighed and kissed him. “I knew you’d make it back to us,” she whispered, but he could see the worry and stress in her eyes from the days events.
“It’s going to be okay darling, we’re prepared for this.” She leaned he head heavily onto his shoulder and he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her in tight.
“What is this?” she asked.
“I wish I knew,” he replied grimly, “I’ve been thinking about it all day, ever since the city went dark.”
“The whole city?!” she lifted her head from his shoulder and looked with fear into his eyes.
“Everything I could see, cars, buildings, every screen and phone in the office,” as he spoke he saw the color drop from Patricia’s face. He pulled her in close again.
“I know it’s a lot to take in Patty,” he kissed the top of her head, “but this is why we’ve prepared so well.” He decided not to tell her about the gunman or the car wreck just yet.
“What could make the whole city go dark?”
“The only thing I’ve ever heard of that can do anything like this is EMP, but those usually only happen in the wake of a nuclear attack.”
“Oh God, did someone…”
“No, at least not in Chicago,” Jason reassure her, “I was there when it happened, there was a loud low noise, and then it wall shut off. If it had been a nuke, I’d be-” Patty’s nails dug into him and he realized he was talking too much about the wrong things. Keeping high morale was as important as having enough clean water.
“Listen, when the boys get back, we’ll head down to the retreat, spend the night there, we’ve got plenty of food and water and supplies to last us an entire year if necessary. We’re off the beaten path, and we’re well prepared to deal with any encounter, it’s going to be okay.” He felt his wife relax a bit. “If this is an EMP thing, I may just know a man who has a working radio. After we get settled at the retreat, I’ll hike out to inquire about it, maybe it’s just a Chicago thing, some kind of cyber terrorism or something.”
“Who would have a working radio?” She asked suspiciously. Jason hesitated, then said, “Delmar.”
“Delmar?!” Patty shot up, “That guy’s a total nut job!” Jason sighed. “You think he’s the guy to turn to in a situation like this?”
“Look Patty,” Jason started, “I know Delmar isn’t the most, uh, conventional of people, but-“
“Sweetheart,” Patricia interrupted, “He actually lined his hats with tin foil, you had to let him go from the warehouse because he would miss a day or two every week to, as he put it, “keep the government spooks guessing about his patterns and routines.” Darling, that man is a whack job.”
“Okay, so Delmar isn’t exactly… stable,” Jason admitted, “but he would ramble non-stop about EMP attacks and how he had an entire EMP proof room in the basement of his house and that he’d be able to monitor the radio waves and protect himself even after the darkness came.” Patricia had no retort this time. “I know it seems a far fetched plan to rely on Delmar, but, he was saying this years ago, and in light of recent events, I think it might be worth a shot to go see if he knows anything.”
“I guess you’re right,” Patty said, and laid her head back on his shoulder.
“I’ll just head over there, and take Dale with me, just as soon as we’re settled in and secure in the retreat. It’s not but a few miles from here, and by then the fires should be long out if this rain holds.” He looked at his wife, and smiled, “What could possibly go wrong?”
Three consecutive rifle shots rang out from the direction where the boys had gone, splitting apart the quiet rhythm of the falling rain. Both of them turned with looks of fear plastered on their faces.
“Boys,” Patricia whispered. Jason jumped to his feet.
In the comments section below tell us what you is happening with the boys in the woods.
Check in next week for the exciting continuation, as Jason Jones battles a blazing inferno and other dangers to save his family and his homestead in the Aftermath!