NaNoWriMo: Day 12

Day’s Verse:
Hearing that, [the religious leaders] walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

John 8:9-11

Friday, July 20, 11:29 am

Rachel

“You’re too old to do anything except order other people around, yeah, I’ve noticed.” I cannot believe that Daniel says this to Paul, who is older and more experienced than him. Of all the ungrateful, nasty things – when Paul has done so much to help free me from my car! It was his good advice that got the Hummer turned off, and his insight that showed the way to extract me.

Quite frankly, I don’t think much of Daniel, for all he says he’s a firefighter. His language is altogether too crude, and I don’t trust people who swear. It shows a lack of mental intelligence.

“Daniel!” I exclaim, before Paul can say anything. Paul shouldn’t have to defend his wisdom to an idiot like this guy. “I think you owe Paul an apology. Paul has been a real help, and you’re wronging him, and you should apologize. In fact, I completely agree with everything Paul has said, and that puts you in the minority.”

“This isn’t a democracy,” Daniel shoots back. “I know the hazards of this situation, and your stubbornness is going to get you killed and I refuse to let that happen, even if you don’t believe it will.”

“Nothing worse is going to happen, and we aren’t going anywhere. That’s final.” I cross my arms and set my face firmly, using the Don’t You Dare Argue With Me, Young Man body language that works so well on Michael. The effect is probably marred by the fact that Daniel can’t actually see much of my body through the darn dust, and my face is a smudgy mess, but he can certainly hear my tone. I ache all over, and I can’t imagine clambering over all the rubble and debris I can just barely make out looming all around us.

I’ve steadfastly refused a face covering, I already feel mostly-suffocated, and I couldn’t imagine trying to breathe through a cloth on top of everything else. Daniel tried to say that we could choke on the dust, but I’m sure I’ve coughed everything out, and now I have water to rinse my mouth, I’m much better.

We’re in a kind of clearing, an open space that Paul and Daniel created by heaving some cement blocks – part of the ceiling? – out of the way. My car is one wall, and there’s a kind of gap between the other cars around, so this seems like a pretty good space. I’m sitting on Paul’s jacket for some padding; we have water from the Hummer, and Paul has uncooked hot dogs. I don’t relish (har, har) eating raw hot dogs, but I think they’re actually pre-cooked and BBQing them actually just warms them up, so it’s probably okay. Paul checked the cars around us and all those people are beyond helping – he told me not to look, so I’ve avoided looking in the shattered windows. This is a good place, we can wait for help here about as comfortably as anywhere. More comfortably than if we try to move around, that’s for sure.

Daniel personifies all I dislike in younger people. I can’t tell how old he is, maybe in his early 30s, probably around 15 years younger than me. His casual approach to everything is dangerous, you can tell that just by hearing his voice, and he simply will not listen to reason – I suspect that he never actually learned to reason from the data at all, and just goes by his “gut feel,” whatever that means. Kids don’t learn reasoning skills in school these days, it’s why all those new grads who keep replacing the old guard at work are doing such a terrible job. They’re running the company into the ground, but management, of which I should be one even though I’ve been wrongfully passed over, keeps hiring young people to fill positions. Not that there are that many openings these days. Plenty of people were laid off not so long ago, and yet now they’re hiring again. What’s that about?

That’s when I remember my meeting. An indescribable feeling fills my stomach, a combination of dread, disappointment, sense of unfairness, and frustration, leavened with a little bit of hope and my innate optimism. I can’t help but think things will work out for the best, even though my entire life has been one slow downward slide. “What time is it?” I ask, which seems apropos of nothing to the guys, both of whom look at me questioningly – or so I assume, since they’re both wearing those ridiculous face masks made from ripped up fabric that obscure half their faces.

“What?” Daniel asks, while Paul glances instinctively at his wrist, then shakes his head ruefully.

“Sorry, my watch seems a bit worse for the wear,” he tells me, holding his wrist out so I can see the shattered LCD screen.

“My meeting – it was supposed to start at 9:00, and I’ve probably missed it by now,” I explain. “I hope those rescue guys come soon. I really need to get back to the office and start repairing the damage my missing this meeting caused. It was a big meeting, I was responsible for it, the client’s going to be wondering where I was. I’m sure Shane screwed up without me there.”

Daniel snorts, another indication of his general uncouthness. “I wouldn’t worry too much about Shane screwing up,” he says, drily. “He’s probably dealing with a mess the same as we are.”

“Well, no, I don’t think so,” I tell him. “I don’t know what caused this collapse—”

“Dammit, an EARTHQUAKE!” Daniel shouts. “A fucking HUMONGOUS EARTHQUAKE! How stupid are you? Haven’t you heard us talking about aftershocks? Do you think tunnels just collapse out of the blue?!” He makes this incredibly insulting, derogatory noise with his nose, a sort of exhalation of disgust.

I clench my jaw. His outburst has just about put me over the edge, I’m about to give him a piece of my mind.

Paul

Before Rachel can say anything rash, I hold out my hand. She defended me, and I can at least do as much for her. “Young man, you need to curb your temper, and stop insulting two older, wiser people than you.” Daniel is not making any friends here. He cannot control his temper, and he’s going to endanger us with his wild, poorly-informed, ill-thought-out plans for escape.

“Fine,” he says, standing up. “I’m going to try to find a means of egress to the west of here, and if you want to stay here, go ahead. I’ll come back and find you when I’ve found a way out.”

“Very well,” I agree, keeping the relief at his departure out of my voice as much as I can. “We’ll wait here. Be careful. It’s dangerous out there.” For all he’s a bad-tempered, rash, profane, and impulsive fellow, I still don’t want to see him hurt. A good commander cares for all his men, regardless of personal feelings.

As he leaves, I hear him mutter, “No shit, Sherlock.” He snatches a couple bottles of water and stalks away, flashlight beam playing over the rubble until it fades into a generally lighter nimbus of dust that marks his location. We hear scrambling and scuffing, muttered cursing, and his louder calls of, “Do you need any help?” as he checks cars for living occupants along the way. No other voices respond. We have to assume we’re the only survivors, certainly the only conscious survivors.

When his flashlight fades into the distance, I pull out my Maglight and turn it on, reflecting it against the white of Rachel’s car.

“I’m so glad he’s gone,” Rachel says in a low voice when he’s out of earshot. The dust does muffle conversational noise to some extent, but I’m still loath to say anything I’d not say in front of Daniel; after all, his ears are decades younger than mine, and he’ll be able to hear a lot more I can. I sign to Rachel that he can probably still hear us, and instead say, “Could you please pass me some water?”

“Sure, here.”

“Thank you.” Ahh, that feels so refreshing, the cool liquid sliding down my throat. I tend to get very thirsty, and this has been a particularly thirsty morning. Even with my face mask, I can feel grit coating my tongue and throat. It irritates my eyes horribly, too. I can’t easily wipe the dust away because my hands are so filthy even after rinsing them. If only I had hand wipes. I finish the bottle easily, look longingly at the flat of bottles. We’ve already used eight of the 24 bottles. I’m still very thirsty, but decide to wait a few hours. Diabetics need to be very careful about their food and fluid intake, but this is an exceptional circumstance and I cannot control what is available to me.

“Was this really an earthquake?” Rachel asks. She seems very reluctant to accept this premise, but I have to break it to her.

“Most definitely, and a good-sized one, too. I’ve lived through a few quakes in my time, when I was stationed in Japan and California, and I’d guess this was at least an 8 on the Richter scale.”

“I’m from the Midwest,” explains my companion, “I’ve never been in an earthquake, I had no idea this could happen. I didn’t even know Seattle was an earthquake zone.”

“Oh, yes, Seattle has been due for a big earthquake for many years. They’ve been predicting The Big One for longer than I’ve lived here, and trust me, that’s been a while. You see, there’s a subduction zone—”

Rachel interrupts: “I don’t really want to know. Science was never my strong point. An earthquake…That means this was bigger than just the tunnel.” I just nod, watching her dim features as she works through the implication of that. “But then, Michael, he’s my son…” I sit in silence, reach out and put my hand over hers. It’s dusty, cold, and clammy. I squeeze her hand reassuringly.

“I’m sure your son is all right. He will have done earthquake drills in school, so he’ll know what to do. Don’t worry. Everything will come out, one way or another.” I hate to lie to a nice woman like Rachel, but the fact is that worrying about her son won’t do him any good, and could do her a great deal of harm. Better to let her remain ignorant for a while. And who knows? Perhaps our loved ones have come through fine, and they’re even now worrying about us. I release her hand. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see a man about a horse.” I begin levering myself up, feeling self-conscious about how awkwardly I have to heave and groan just to get off the ground as this younger woman watches.

When I get back, Rachel says, “Thanks for standing up for me, back there. I couldn’t believe he—”

Again I hold up my hand. “I know. He’s under a great deal of stress; we all are. Situations like these bring out a man’s true character. I saw it time and again during my career, that a perfectly civil, courteous sailor would turn into a devil when situations deteriorated. Daniel simply cannot handle this kind of emergency as well as you or I, and we have to be as understanding as possible.”

“I suppose.” She sounds very doubtful, though. She opens another bottle and rinses her hands, then takes a deep drink. “I’m so dusty. My throat is so dry.”

“Yes, mine, too. Just tell yourself that Daniel can’t help himself,” I suggest. “He’s being driven by adrenaline, and his cognitive ability is degraded. He’s in a fight-or-flight mode that precludes reasoning.”

Rachel snorts, then shrugs. “I suppose you know more about it than I do, but I don’t understand why he’d be worse off than we are. He should be trained to deal with this kind of thing.”

I smile, realize that’s a useless gesture, and shake my head instead. “There’s no predicting how a person will respond in a disaster. You have a disaster personality completely different from your usual personality, and there’s no telling what it will be like. You and I are simply blessed with the ability to cope better than poor Daniel.”

Daniel

Even after what has to be half an hour of clambering over, under, and around debris, smashed cars and God only knows what else; moving aside rubble; and looking in cars for injured survivors, I can still hear the murmur of Rachel and Paul talking, low-voiced, in their cozy little redoubt. They think they’re safe, and nothing I say will change their minds.

I know better, and I refuse to allow their lassitude to endanger them or myself. During an emergency like this, their ability to reason can significantly decrease as the body shunts blood away from the brain to muscles that you need to have ready for responding to anything. I’ve seen people in a burning building who refuse to leave, I’ll get there and there they are, cool as a cucumber sitting at the dining room table with smoke coming through the doorway, and I’ll say, “You think maybe it’s time to leave?” and they say, “No, I’m all right.” That’s Rachel and Paul right now. They can’t process the reality that every minute we stay in this tunnel is another minute closer to some other additional disaster striking: A car will explode, something will shift and cause a spark that ignites all that gasoline, an aftershock or even just a loud noise will bring down the tenuously balance piles that I’m even now navigating.

I will find a way out, and I will bring them out with me. Every car I go by, I check, hoping to find somebody else, but so far there is nobody. It’s miraculous that the three of us have come through so unscathed, actually. The motor vehicle collisions alone should have killed us – that seems to have been what got most of the drivers I’ve seen so far, although some I didn’t need to check, if the car was flattened by cement or something. I’m increasingly anxious about fire. There’s not a damn thing I could do if something ignites. What I’d give for…

No use wishing for the impossible. Stick to the task at hand: Find a means of egress and help survivors along the way. I’ve made my way to the north wall and am clambering between the wall, which is mostly still intact, and the vehicles smashed into it and each other. I’m certain I will find an emergency egress door along here somewhere. The question is whether I’ll be able to open it, and what I’ll find when it’s opened. Those emergency escape tunnels are not likely to be in better shape than the main tunnel.

I bend down to look into an upside-down car and call, “Anybody here need help?” but I can tell that she won’t need my help. Her car spun around and then flipped, sliding until it smashed into the car ahead of her. There’s not much left. Next. “Anybody here need help?” This is the car ahead of the upside-down one, and it’s a big SUV. The front has slammed hard into the wall and crumpled and I can see the driver laying on the hood, partway through the windshield, an ocean of congealing blood/dust slurry flowing down the crevices and onto the ground. I detour around the rear of the vehicle, having to backtrack to go to the middle of the road, around the upside-down car, and from there continuing west. I’ll make my way back to the wall as soon as I can. Next.

Friday, July 20, 1:47 pm

Daniel

When I reach the end of the tunnel, I’m not particularly surprised. I’ve known all along that not being able to see daylight means that the end is blocked; I had hoped that I’d find that doorway somewhere between my car and the end. I take a swig of water and assess my situation.

From what I can see with my measly light – and I’m increasingly concerned about the batteries, but I can’t not use it; I have to see, and I have to get around – I’m standing at the foot of a long, sloping pile of soil and rubble that has filled the entire tunnel, apparently having slid from the hillside above.

There are a couple of cars partly buried, those unlucky souls who were driving through as the hillside gave way. The one closest to me was a fairly slick convertible not so long ago. The driver is buried chest-deep in soil. His face is filthy, his eyes closed, but I can make out some shiny stuff that looks like he was able to spit out dirt fairly recently. I walk over and shake his shoulder. “Hey, are you OK?” It’s a stupid thing to say, because he’s clearly not OK, but my CPR training has taken over for a moment.

I don’t expect a response. The poor bastard has been buried for almost five hours. So I’m startled when his slowly flutter open as I gently shake his shoulder.

“Oh, my god,” he croaks. Then he starts crying.

“Don’t talk.” I pull out a water bottle and rinse off his face and trickle water down his throat. At first he coughs and splutters, spitting it out along with even more dirt, but soon he’s able to swallow the water and he does, gladly. “Do you know where you are?”

“The I-90 tunnel,” he replies, sounding very faint but much less dry. I give him the rest of the water in the bottle anyway.

“What’s your name?”

“Jonathan.”

“What’s the date?”

“July 20th.”

“Who’s the President?”

“Obama.”

“Okay, Jonathan—”

“Everybody calls me Jon.”

“Jon, my name is Daniel. I’m going to get you out of here. Can you tell me anything about what you’re feeling?”

He gets a terrified look on his face. “Oh god, I can’t feel my legs.” I keep my face neutral, but my heart sinks. This has just gotten exponentially more complicated, and it was already looking bad.

“Anything else?”

“When I try to move, I get these shooting pains in my back. Like hot knives.” Talking is clearly difficult for him; he has to pause and breathe between every few words.

Shit. Under normal circumstances, I would never try to move him; he’d need to be immobilized to prevent additional spine damage. But I can’t leave him buried here. He’s already in danger of crush syndrome, and I can’t do a damn thing about that, either.

His eyes stare into mine, pleading in a way his words don’t: He’s terrified, thinks he’s going to die here. Frankly, I think the odds of him dying here are pretty good. But I have to do something or he will certainly die. “Jon, listen to me for a minute,” I say. What to tell him? Keep it simple for now, I can’t imagine he’d take the worst-case scenario very well at the moment. “I have to go find something to dig with. I’m going to have to leave, take the flashlight with me, find some kind of tools. But I’ll be back. Okay?”

His face is a study. I see the flash of anxiety as I say I’m going to leave, but then he masters his fear and nods. “Okay.” A flicker of humor. “I’ll be here.”

I smile, have to acknowledge his attempt, but as I turn away and start scanning for something to dig with, my heart is heavy.

Jon

At first I think I’m dreaming again when I feel somebody shaking me. It merges into my dream, or hallucination, or whatever it is I’m experiencing at this point. I was eighteen years old, dancing jammed into a crowd in a club, vibrating to the music, feeling it pulse through me and taking away all desire to think, let me just move, and that’s the moment I know I want to make music. The shaking resolves into a real, physical hand on my left shoulder, an actual person here, oh my god, it’s a person, and I’m overwhelmed and start weeping with relief when I see this man standing there shining a flashlight at me.

His name is Daniel. He gives me water, and at first it’s almost impossible to swallow, I have to spit and cough out even more dirt. Then I’m able to swallow, and I realize I’m incredibly thirsty. I guzzle the water greedily, and I immediately want more even though he’s given me the entire bottle.

Once my mouth is free of dust and dirt, he quizzes me on some basic facts and I am amazed to realize that it is still Friday, I’m still Jonathan, the country still exists around us the same as before. It feels like everything should be different, like we’ve entered some kind of parallel universe where we will come out and find everything entirely changed. Life cannot keep going on, after this. It’s too much to think that in six months or a year, life will have gone back to normal, like this never happened. I feel irreparably changed, and I cannot wrap my head around the possibility that other people remain unchanged after this.

Then he says he’s leaving. For a second I panic. Alone, in the dark, again? What if this isn’t real after all? What if I’ve just imagined him and I’m actually here alone all along, hallucinating everything as I die? Then I get a grip and close my eyes, center myself, and open them again. “Okay,” I tell him. He has been watching my face closely, and has probably read my entire internal struggle there, but I don’t care. I’m going to get out of here, that’s all that matters.

2 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: Day 12”

  1. Ian and I saw an improv play called Final Transmission on Friday night. It evolved into space zombies taking over the spaceship, and at one point the four remaining crew members say are planning what to do. One guy said, “OK, let’s all split up and go into different parts of the ship ALONE. Yeah, that’s a great idea!” and everybody else says, “Yeah!” and they do. It was very funny.

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