Authors: Mark Tufo,Armand Rosamilia
© 2016 by Mark Tufo/Armand Rosamilia
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
wish you would still
, always be here. Rest in peace dad.
edicated to Shelly
, always my inspiration
how the end started. Some will argue it began when Nixon annihilated the gold standard. Others will say that it was the growing trade deficit, or when we flooded the Chinese with the dollar; an easy scapegoat was our dependence on foreign oil. Some may even point to the destruction of the Twin Towers. Certainly, all of those events widened the cracks that began to appear as far back as the Race Riots of the sixties. But the United States could have perhaps limped on another fifty years, maybe even another century, if not for a conflagration of organized events that sought her demise. What those conspirators did not expect was that her fall would set into motion a much larger chain of events, which would ultimately bring the entire world to its knees.
The enemy that finally severed the artery had been completely unexpected, as was the international response. America had, for the last seventy years, actively developed a love—hate relationship with much of the world. She was generous to a fault, she was quick to fight, and just as quick to defend her allies. She was brutally effective at both. The world looked to America for her riches, her fashion, her artists and inventors. Some looked with a jealous eye, others with disdain for her excesses. When the more public attacks first began, much of the world watched in fascinated horror, happy that in some way the mighty had fallen.
Such is human nature; to watch those topple that are different, whether ideologically, politically, or religiously. It was an “I told you so,” of cultures. Old enemies publicly condemned the events while secretly welcoming them, even moving them along, in some cases. At last, the world’s public opinion turned, thanks to sympathetic media and independent broadcasters. Governments of the world were finally swayed and forced to lend active aid and assistance.
But their response was too slow, too costly, too philosophical. It was met with swift and atrocious retribution from the aggressors, and the aid diminished. In the end, the United States of America died much like she had lived. Alone in a world that was not quite ready to adopt the directions she sought. This is the story of a group of survivors during those initial dark days as they struggled to adjust to the new order of things. The war for global domination had been reduced to a struggle just to find enough food for the day, a safe place to stay, a warm place to sleep. While foreign countries fought for a redistribution of wealth in the trillions, many in the States would die for a bottle of water. The Federal Government, realizing it could not possibly handle a crisis of the magnitude presented to it, had completely reduced its scope of operation. Much like a hypothermia victim, she had pulled back into her shell, to the point of letting her extremities wither and die while she worked valiantly to keep the heart pumping. In the end? Well, it was all for nothing….
rent woke up
, dragged his hand through his thinning hair, stood, popped his back, and gave his balls an extra-heavy dose of scratching before heading to the shower.
“Last damn day,” he said as he stuck his hand under the tap, waiting for the water to turn from streaming icicles to something resembling heat. Brent loved his job as a park ranger, the vast majority of it stationed in Wyoming, across the beautiful Yellowstone. It was just that he loved the thought of fishing full time off the coast of Mexico more. By the time he stepped out, taking all the frigid water torture he could handle, his wife, MaryBeth, had entered.
“Did you warm it up for me?” she asked after giving him a small kiss.
“Yeah, sure, I think the ice has stopped flowing.”
“Remind me again why we haven’t got that thing fixed?”
“Because by this time next week, we’ll be sunning on a beach in Acapulco, baby, sipping those fruity umbrella drinks.”
“Right.” She winced as she popped her big toe into the shower to check the temperature.
Even at fifty-five, MaryBeth had kept her figure, and at that moment, it became evident just how much Brent appreciated that.
“Put that thing away; you’re going to poke your eye out.” She laughed. “If you get home at a reasonable time tonight and remember to bring home a good movie to watch, I just might take care of it.”
“Sounds like a deal.” He gave her another kiss. After drying off, he walked into the bedroom to dress. His quarters were in the national park. He’d had the option of receiving a stipend and staying in town, renting a place with adequate heat and amenities, but the raw beauty of the park had won out. In addition, there were far fewer people out here than in town. He figured he spent enough time with people during the day that he should at least have nights off. MaryBeth would grumble sometimes about their isolation. On those occasions, he would take her to see a movie or dinner, sometimes both, if they could pull off the timing.
He yelled a goodbye and hopped into his vehicle to begin the day. He had a few minutes until he got to the visitor center, and that gave his mind plenty of time to wander and think about his earlier encounter with his wife’s naked body. He’d drifted so far in his thoughts he’d barely had enough time to slam on his brakes. His drab brown park Jeep swerved to a halt, narrowly missing an elk that paid no heed to the painful death it had narrowly avoided. Something else had it spooked; it looked over its shoulder repeatedly, its eyes wide and its tongue lolling as if it had been running for some time.
Bear? Mountain lion, maybe?
Brent thought, though generally they would not come after an adult and surely not one as big as this particular beast.
Maybe it’s a yeti.
Brent smiled. There had been eight sightings since his tenure here had started. Three were by the same person, Jed “Wizzy” Gerber, the local drunk and Bigfoot expert. He’d even tried to start up a tour business for visitors looking for the infamous beast, and he might have been able to make it a success if he’d had the wherewithal to stay away from the bottom of the bottle—any bottle. Apparently, he had a huge fixation with sugary drinks as well, and those made him nearly as incoherent as the liquor.
Brent watched as the elk disappeared into the woods on the far side. He was about to chalk it up to just “one of those things” and go check in at the visitor center when he heard the far-off drone of an engine.
“What the hell?” he asked, stepping out of his Jeep. The park was open to visitors 24/7, though it was rare anyone would be here this early and certainly no one from his crew would be this far out in the morning. The murky dawn was just beginning to yield its fog to morning, when he spotted something in the distance.
“ATVs? Off trail? Stupid kids.” There were signs posted all over the park asking visitors, warning them, even, to respect the natural beauty of the area. This was about the only part of the job that really got his goat. He considered some tourists to be amongst the most vulgar of the animal kingdom. The vast majority came, spent their hard-earned dollars, took a thousand and one photos, and left with nary an issue. Still, there were always those malcontents that treated this place—or any place they visited, really—as their own personal shit can. They appeared through the trees. There were three of them, and one was towing something. Brent was going to have their asses in jail before the main gates were unlocked. It hadn’t occurred to him to grab his service revolver, which he’d left on the passenger seat when he’d walked to the side of the road.
He assumed they’d veer off once they saw him. He got a shiver up his spine when he realized they were coming right for him, but quickly dismissed it.
Stupid kids probably don’t even think they’re doing anything wrong.
“Get your asses over here!” he yelled, waving his arm.
He watched as the rider in the lead looked over his right shoulder to the one towing the long sled. There was a knowing nod between them. Again, a finger of ice ran up Brent’s spine.
“Those aren’t kids,” he said aloud. He absently put his hand to his empty holster. “Last damn day.” He had no idea just how prophetic his words were.
The lead ATV came onto the road some twenty feet away then stopped. The towing man and the third rider crossed the street and just kept going.
“Hey wait!” Brent called after them. When he turned back to the stopped driver, it was already too late. The barrel looked like a cannon from his angle. The first round punched into his stomach. The heat blistered through his belly and settled at the base of his spine, snapping it in two. He fell to the ground, not even able to clutch the agonizing wound. He thought the man was speaking Chinese as he walked up, but then his world slammed into black as a very American-looking Colt 1911 shattered his skull and scrambled his brain.
he phone vibrated
on the seat of the pickup truck next to her but Darlene ignored it. Whenever the phone rang lately it was only bad news, and she’d finally been in a good place the last few days. She didn’t need drama or people bringing her down.
Darlene turned up the radio and sang along to bad songs until the distance made the signal drop and she searched for another station to sing along to. Her voice was hoarse after the last ten hours of driving, but she wanted to get far away from Maine without thinking too long about what had happened back there. She didn’t know if she’d ever return to the place of her birth and everyone she’d known, like her father...
She wiped the thought of the funeral and the crying and all the pain from her mind and turned up the radio, even though it was a horrible song. Right now it didn’t matter. If she was singing, she wasn’t thinking, and it was all she wanted to do.
The right tires kicked up gravel and she realized she was nodding off at the wheel.
Better get someplace safe before I kill myself or someone else
, Darlene thought. She’d been driving through California for over an hour without seeing much more than sand and stunted trees. She’d traversed the country over the last few weeks, stopping for a few hours here and there—eating pizza in New York and Chicago, seeing landmarks in Cleveland and Minneapolis, and discovering what Montana and Idaho had to offer, which wasn’t much.
Her final destination wasn’t going to be California. Darlene didn’t really know where she would go once she hit the West Coast and the Pacific Ocean. She guessed she’d end up north of San Francisco and have to find a main road. From San Fran? Maybe head north and see what the fuss was for Seattle, or maybe Portland. Perhaps she’d keep driving and get lost in Alaska, although she’d already spent twenty-eight years in the snow, living in Maine.
Darlene had never been to Mexico, either. Maybe a trip out of the U.S. would do wonders for her delicate psyche. She just wanted out right now. Some fun drinking tequila and getting a tan on the beach would be nice. Lord knew she was too pale. Living in Maine will do that to you.
Her phone buzzed again and she looked at who was calling. It was her Aunt Mary, her mom’s sister on the Talbot side. Since her mom’s death a few years ago, Darlene barely talked to anyone in on that side of the family. She had cousins she hadn’t seen since she was little, and only Aunt Mary had been to her dad’s funeral.
What did she want? Darlene hovered her thumb over the answer button, keeping one eye on the road, as the phone buzzed again. Her aunt had told her to keep in touch and mentioned how she needed to head down to Boston for a few days and spend some time with the other half of the family. Her words had inadvertently gotten Darlene thinking about getting away instead of sitting in the empty home she’d shared with her dad.
And the life insurance policy had been cashed rather quickly, the house and car and everything else turned over to her within a few days. She felt guilty doing it but her dad had made her swear she would so the house would get paid off and she could stop stressing about bills and money.
Darlene worked at the makeup counter at the mall, and she’d never be rich because of it, but it had been near home and her dad, whom she’d been very close to.
My best friend is gone
, she thought. Growing up, when someone said one of their parents was their best friend, she would make fun of them. It made no sense. As she’d gotten into her twenties and saw her friends getting married and having kids and their priorities changing, she understood it better. After a string of bad boyfriends and breakups, she really got it.
Dad had been everything to her. She felt lost. She knew this trip was ridiculous and the miles wouldn’t help, but sitting in the living room staring at his now-empty recliner would have made her insane. What good could come of it? She wasn’t much of a drinker, so she couldn’t go that cliché route. She had nothing keeping her in Maine except his grave and a dead end job she really didn’t need anymore. Her dad wasn’t rich but his retirement from the gun and shoe plants had set them up comfortably, and the life insurance meant if she played her cards right, she could coast for the next ten to fifteen years without a worry. It wasn’t like she had any vices, anyway. Darlene didn’t really drink, she didn’t smoke, and had never done drugs. Even coffee and caffeine weren’t a big deal to her.
Shooting was her only vice, if you could call it that.
The Desert Eagle was strapped under her seat. She carried it everywhere. She had a permit for it but knew she was playing a dangerous game going state to state with the weapon. The last thing she needed was a cop to pull her over and ask too many questions. Everything was legal, but if they took it, she’d feel lost.
Her dad had actually made the gun on the assembly line when MRI had the plant in Saco, Maine. He’d given it to her for her eighteenth birthday after hiding it from her for years, a relic of the work he’d done. By then he was working at the Dexter footwear plant, which wasn’t as exciting to him. Darlene’s mom had disapproved at first but once she saw the bonding between them when the pair went out to the shooting range, and how cautious and respectful Darlene was of the weapon, she’d lightened up.
Two months before her death, her mom had even accompanied them to the range to witness the skill her daughter had with the weapon.
Not that Darlene had any illusions of being a cop or using the Desert Eagle for anything more than having some fun and blowing off some steam. And, it was good fun because her dad had been a hunter in his younger years. Darlene knew it made him proud to see how well she took to shooting the Desert Eagle, and her keen accuracy.
Darlene wasn’t interested in firing other weapons. She’d shot some of the many guns he owned, but the Desert Eagle felt right in her hands. It was her gun.
Over the last ten years, whenever she had a bad or boring first date, or the rare second date, which never work out, she would always hit the shooting range on her next day off. And since she was always having those kinds of dates, she got to be pretty good with the Desert Eagle.
Someday the man of your dreams will walk into your life and sweep you off your feet
, she thought.
But not likely
Darlene glanced at herself in the rearview mirror and sighed. She looked horrible. Her hair was a mess, she hadn’t put on makeup in a couple of days, and her t-shirt was too tight and uncomfortable. The shirt had fit her a couple of months ago but her sweet tooth had seen to stretching it to the point of bursting the fabric. She knew she was plain looking and overweight, but most times it didn’t bother her. Guys who were initially interested saw her pictures online. They’d check out her Facebook profile and see her standard three pictures on the dating sites, which were all recent and candid. It wasn’t like they didn’t know she was a chunky blonde.
In fact, her problem with quite a few guys was that she wasn’t big enough. One guy had gone so far, on the second date, to ask if she loved buffets, commenting that he’d like to put a little more meat on her bones, then she’d be perfect. He was a Chubby Chaser, which she thought was a horrible term. She was right in the middle for guys who wanted less meat on a woman and those who wanted more. Darlene could never seem to win.
“Keep eating like a pig and those Chubby Chaser guys will be circling,” she said to her reflection. Her eyes were getting tired and she needed to stop for gas at some point, even though she was enjoying the open road and the bad music.
And her stomach was growling, betraying her. All that inner nagging about getting fatter and not being attractive, and now she was hungry? Darlene couldn’t win. And a bag of M&M’s and a bottle of Coke sounded like the perfect meal right now.
So much for getting rid of these love handles
, she thought.
Darlene picked up her phone to turn on the GPS and find the nearest gas station, but there was no signal. She was in the middle of nowhere, with sand and mountains on either side. She smiled. At least with the signal gone she wouldn’t have to ignore the phone vibrating.
She decided she’d drive as far west as she could until she saw a place to stop or she ran out of gas. What did she care right now? Maybe her destiny was to die in the foothills of California.
Darlene imagined herself wandering the desert, sucking on cacti leaves and hunting scorpions and whatever else lived out there.
She knew she’d last two days, three tops. She might be from the cold, remote Maine, but she was still a city girl. She still needed clean clothes and hot food. She needed a shower and some perfume every day, and she didn’t think she’d last long without music, even bad tunes like what was on the radio now, fading in and out as she drove.
Her head dipped forward again, startling her. She pulled off to the side of the road and turned the engine off. Darlene got out and stretched. Standing outside the car, the sun was fierce. She’d be fried in ten minutes; the sweat was already rolling off her.
My luck, Mister Right will come driving up, see the chubby sweat-ball that I am, filthy and without any makeup on, and keep on driving
, she thought.
Darlene slapped her face a few times and climbed back in her vehicle. She started driving again, picking up speed. If there was a cop out here, at least she could ask for directions to the nearest gas station before he gave her a speeding ticket.
Three miles later, going ninety miles an hour, she finally found a radio station that came in semi-clear. But instead of music, it was talk radio, which she hated. Her dad would listen to his political programs in the morning before work, and she couldn’t stand them. So boring. It was one thing if he was listening to a local sports station; she could get the latest scoop on the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, or Bruins, but two idiots droning on and on about the state of the economy and how awful the president was didn’t interest her.
She kept trying to find another station, but the next one she found was also a lot of talking.
Right about now, even a Christian music station would suffice. Just give me something with a beat
, Darlene thought.
She was just about to continue her search when she heard the words “nuclear assault.” Was this a couple of alarmist jerks? Had she found a pirate radio station, with nutjobs talking about World War III and aliens abducting the locals?
Maybe they could entertain her for the next few miles.
“It has been confirmed. Yellowstone National Park seems to be the epicenter of the nuclear detonation,” one of the excited men on the radio said.
“This is over the top, guys,” Darlene said. She turned off the radio. She could see a small town in the distance as she crested a hill, plunging down into the valley below and hoping she had enough gas to get there.