Jessie Carruthers was a broken man. It was ironic, given how he had dedicated this stage of his life to fixing people. To patching people up. But he had failed at fixing the one thing that truly mattered. His broken relationship with Joanna Jeffries.
His EMT work had proven a welcome distraction from the thoughts of her, but they inevitably crept in, on a daily basis.
He was haunted by the loss of the woman of his dreams, and what he knew was the biggest mistake of his life.
An exotically beautiful woman, Joanna had led a life of varied jobs and many destinations along life’s path. While she currently assistant managed a big box retail store, the time she most fondly recalled in her working life was her time spent in Alaska. She had been an Outward Bound instructor, working and bonding with at-risk kids and teens in some of the most beautiful outdoors in the world. Equally at home in a big city, a small town, or rugged wilderness, this street smart, tough young woman would be uniquely suited to brave the coming apocalypse.
“Look sharp, Jessie!” the hospital’s veteran helicopter pilot, Bill Jenkins shouted over the roar of the rotors. Jessie’s reflecting time was over. He had a new life to mend. “What have we got?” Jessie asked the paramedic kneeling over the patient as the copter landed in the field. “We’ve got severe facial trauma, tearing, loss of tissue.” The nasal cartilage was almost completely gone. Someone or something had ripped this poor woman’s nose almost completely off. He inspected it closer. “These look like bite marks.” Jessie noted. “Yup. They even extend down to her upper lip, or what’s left of it.” There wasn’t much lip at all. Mostly gums. The woman’s whole face was a mess. A ragged mess. “Get an IV started,” Bill called out, “She’s lost a lot of blood.”
As the copter soared overhead Jessie and Bill could see tableaus of the chaos below unfolding. People being hit. Cars colliding. Explosions. Fire. It was like the riots Bill had seen while living in Los Angeles, he recalled. No doubt the looting would follow.
As the helicopter landed, Jessie could see a doctor hurriedly approaching. It was however, not a trauma or ER surgeon, but rather Dr. Peter Rose, the hospital’s renowned plastic surgeon. What was he doing here on the helipad? He looked unusually pale and sweaty as he got closer. Dr. Rose vaulted into the copter, brandished his scalpel and placed it at the throat of the pilot. “Get me the fuck out of here. I don’t have to tell either of you what a sliced carotid artery will do. Don’t be a hero.”
Bill the pilot looked at Jessie with wide eyes. “Just get the patient inside. I’ll be fine.”
Dr. Rose pointed the scalpel at Jessie. “Screw the patient, move!”
Reluctantly, Jessie backed away as the helicopter lifted off. He had to pick his battles. It would mean many difficult choices. As he watched the rotors roar back to life, the patient began to struggle, violently breaking free of her restraints on the gurney. Up she rose, as the helicopter lifted off. She grabbed Dr. Rose, whose scalpel slipped at Bill the pilot’s throat–and the helicopter began to shake, careening and losing altitude. The copter exploded in a fireball onto the upper deck of the visitor parking lot. It then set off a series of smaller booms as the gas tanks of nearby cars began to ignite, like a chain of dominoes. The wreckage of the helicopter was jarred loose by the final explosion, sending the charred body of the helicopter hurtling to the street below, nearly crushing an ambulance and blocking traffic on the busy street. He’d have to leave on Newberry Avenue now.
Jessie had begun to put everything together. It was the dawning of a scenario that he been over in his head countless times.
He and Joanna had even had half serious/half tongue in cheek discussions playing “What if?” scenarios about the coming apocalypse.
He handed the gurney off to the waiting trauma team and made another one of those difficult decisions. He could either stay and try to stabilize as many patients as he could as they flooded the doors of Charles Regional Hospital. Or he could make his way to the woman he loved, risking everything. He chose Joanna, making the first of many attempts to call her on his cell phone. She either wasn’t answering, or the cell towers were already congested and dropping calls. Would she even still be alive when he got there? If he got there? He got mad for allowing himself to think the worst. Joanna was the most capable woman he knew. If anyone stood a chance of making it through this, it was her.
Jessie headed to the mini-ATM situated just outside of the hospital cafeteria. He emptied his account out, knowing it would be a major risk to carry his entire savings around in his wallet. But what was the alternative? Credit, checks, debit…all of that would be rendered useless in the coming days. It would be still be a cash economy in the short term. Until things got so bad that even cold hard cash would be viewed as worthless green paper without a government to support it. His plan was to pick up all the resources that he could on his way to her store.
He sprinted out the sliding doors of the emergency room toward the staff parking garage. He got into his car and backed out of the space as fast as he could. A car horn blared as it scraped his bumper sending up a shower of sparks, speeding past. The Mercedes’ license plate read NUM1DOC. Clearly, the docs were getting out of Dodge. Leaving the overworked nurses and med techs to fend for themselves in this unfolding crisis.
Jessie headed for the exit and noticed on the median just outside of the parking complex a old man in a Fez hat. It was a Shriner. He lumbered forward holding a donation bucket. The Shriner half lunged/half fell through the open window of Jessie’s car, spilling spare change and crumpled dollar bills over the windshield of the car. Blood streaked his wrinkled face and his eyes seemed to be covered by some milky white cataract. The Shriner’s arms blindly seized at him, forming a death grip around the seat belt. As the car sped along the side street, the man was not letting go. Jessie slammed on his brakes, sending the old man tumbling to the asphalt in front of the car. The old man began to rise. His left arm twisted behind his back and his right knee, now a splintered compound fracture. Jessie’s fears were confirmed. This man could not be saved. Jessie hit the accelerator and swerved around the wretched old man creature.
He took one of the rural back roads headed to his next stop. The Sav-a-Flea. The local flea market. He had dismissed the idea of trying to make it to a gun shop. The gravel drive and parking lot were filled with cars on this Saturday and this soon in the crisis, local enterprising merchants were already capitalizing on the moment. Spread out on nearly every concrete table
were arms of every sort. Guns, from hunting rifles to double barreled shotguns to German Lugers. Cheap Taiwanese switchblades to rusty meat cleavers, imposing butcher knives, lawn mower blades, axes, and Vietnam era machetes. Cash rapidly exchanged hands, inventories depleting. Items going from double to triple, to even ten times their normal asking price. A survivalist couple had two tables piled high with leftover Y2K supplies. Despite their age, these were going fast. So too were chainsaws, generators, sleeping bags, camo gear, tents, flashlights, binoculars, and batteries.
He briefly weighed the old Bush era standbys: duct tape and plastic sheeting. Was this an airborne threat? Something released from a dirty bomb or a chemical sprayer? Or a moving cloud of radioactive fallout? It was possible although, Jessie thought it was most likely viral. Blood to blood.
He grabbed an assortment of blades and barrels. Guns and ammo. He shoved the mini weapons cache into his purchased Army duffel bag and swung it over his shoulder. He thought about picking up a case of water and some MRE Army rations, but decided against it. The big box store would have food and drinks–gourmet snacks and sweets, a boatload of bottled water and a wide selection of alcoholic beverages, including fine wines and foreign beers. Even if they had to hole up inside there for a while, they’d be set. The indoor and outdoor furniture boxes and display models could be used to barricade the store doors and stockroom loading dock.
A police officer in his early forties and his rookie partner announced to the table Jessie was just leaving “No license, no permit. I’m gonna have to confiscate these firearms in the name of public safety.” “You’ve got no right, you’re stealing.” the vendor protested. The officer replied: “Yeah, try calling 911, old timer. I’m sure you’ll be at the top of the list, pal.” The officer held a stun gun up. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry, if you haven’t noticed.” He handed off the last of the arms to his partner who loaded them into the trunk of the squad car. Next came every remaining box of ammo on the table.
A squat, redheaded, heavily freckled boy decked out in camo and carrying a hunting rifle was approached by the lead police officer. The boy had a glazed look in his eyes as the officer took the gun to inspect. “That’s a nice gun. Just don’t shoot your eye out, kid.” Unlike the vendor’s guns, the cop returned it and patted the boy’s head, mussing his hair. “Just remember, we’re the good guys.” The boy’s eyes rolled back into his head, his mouth then opened wide, and he sunk his teeth into the officer’s forearm, ripping out a sizable chunk of flesh. The officer reeled back, mouth open in disbelief. He then pulled out his revolver and fired point blank into the skull of the boy with the blood soaked mouth. Brain matter and skull fragments splattered over his father’s faded Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt. The enraged father grabbed a camping hatchet off a nearby table and sunk it into the cop’s skull.
A redneck could be overhead shouting epithets at the produce stand of an Hispanic couple. “It’s the end times. So I’m gonna do what I’ve been wanting to do my whole life. Take as many of you Mexicans with me as I can.” He had a mini-arsenal of weapons himself and he fired a shotgun blast into the chest of the stand owner. Jessie raced toward the redneck as the guy aimed for the Hispanic man’s wife, sending up a spray of melon fruit pulp. Jessie slammed into the shooter who fell, cracking his eye socket on the hard concrete table.
A group of the undead were now surrounding and feasting upon a pregnant woman who had fallen trying to escape. It was too late to save her, her throat was ripped wide open. A wheelchair bound paraplegic was a few feet nearby in his motorized chair, thick mucus running out of his mouth. With no nurse around to suction him, the poor bastard had likely choked to death on his own phlegm. His eyelids began to blink rapidly, as if his neurons began to stir to life. His oxygen nose plugs dangled limply on his face. Jessie took careful aim and fired a single shot, which ripped through the shoulder of the man and hit its target–the oxygen tank on the back of the chair. The tank sent out a mini-fireball which engulfed the mob descending on the pregnant woman.
This wasn’t the fun, Left for Dead, zombie run and gun experience he’d imagined.  He dreaded what lay ahead of him and the strip mall where Joanna would be–alive, dead, or otherwise.
—-Cory Graham–@2010

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