Archive for the ‘NATION BETRAYED’ Category

Chapter 1

Morning Light – Day 1

Annie rolled over and glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand, then squeezed her eyes shut in frustration. It was the first day of her forced vacation. She refused to crawl out of bed before nine o’clock. The glaring numbers said it was barely seven, and there was only a hint of light shining through the vertical blinds. Annie scrunched her pillow under her head and closed her eyes in a vain attempt to evoke sleep. She waited to hear the sound of the big blue monster trucks picking up Monday’s trash and recycling.

Suddenly a nearby siren shattered the quiet, and Annie realized she heard multiple emergency vehicles in the distance. Annie pulled the pillow over her head to escape the world, trying to recapture some sense of peace for her first day of doing nothing, but an uneasy feeling invaded. Why so many emergency vehicles? Was there an accident at the local water treatment plant?

The doorbell rang, and Annie’s Ring Doorbell App on her phone chimed, then the person pounded on her door. Irritation escalated as Annie mumbled. “The world hates me!” Annie reached for her Android and swiped the screen. “What the hell?” It was the neighbor from down the street that barely spoke to her when their paths crossed. “Now, what could she want this early?” Annie looked at the screen and was more than a little puzzled. Sandy, usually looked like she was having tea with the mayor’s wife. Not today. Today she looked like death warmed over.

Sandy pounded on the door again with the heels of both hands. “Annie! Annie! Please, someone has to help me!” Sandy pleaded.

Annie activated the intercom on the cell phone screen. “Sandy, give me a minute!” She climbed out of bed and jerked on a ratty terry-cloth robe over her pajamas.

“Help me!” Sandy wailed. “Gil’s dead! George, Gina, Mary, and Chris. All dead. Everyone is dead!”

Annie got to the door running her hand through her short, curly, blonde hair while Sandy continued to rattle off the names of neighbors. Annie closed the screen on her phone, dropped the device in her pocket, and jerked open the door to see a woman she barely recognized.

Still in her nightgown, Sandy had swollen red eyes with streaks of eye makeup running down her cheeks. Her face was strained and drawn with stress. Sandy appeared to have aged ten years overnight.

Sandy grabbed Annie’s arm as soon as the door opened, digging her nails into Annie’s bare skin. “My Gil is dead; they’re all dead,” Sandy’s voice trailed off as sobs stole her breath away.

“Stop it!” Annie jerked her arm free, leaving a trail of red welts across her arm. Annie stared at the four narrow red lines with beads of blood when she realized she was hearing an infant’s wail next door. Annie looked toward the neighbor’s house and saw both cars in the driveway. What was going on? The young couple had three kids, including an eighteen-month-old that had a good set of lungs. The day was turning into a shit show. “Why don’t the Burtons feed that kid? Christ!” Annie asked as she rubbed at her temples. “I can’t think with all this noise from sirens, screaming babies, and your howling.”

“They’re probably dead! Like everyone else….” Sandy looked horrified at the realization, and suddenly her knees buckled.

Annie reached out and caught Sandy just in time to make a clumsy effort to ease her to the floor. Annie grabbed a cushion from the couch to slide under Sandy’s head. Slowly Annie began to realize just how different the world sounded outside. There were noises that you never really noticed until they were no longer there; cars on the streets, trains in the distance, sirens, yard crews mowing, planes overhead, echoes of life all around. The emergency sirens that were once infrequent now were a constant assault on her hearing.

Suddenly there was the muffled sound of an explosion in the distance, then another. Annie walked to the back door and looked out. A dark spiral of smoke rose from a private airport a few miles away. She walked back to the front door and saw several dark columns of smoke rising from the metro area at the front of the subdivision.

“What in the hell did I sleep through?” Annie asked as she picked up the television remote and turned on the local news channel. Unfortunately, the station was replaying canned programming that should have ended hours ago. Annie scanned networks until she found a local station that looked to be a live broadcast.

Annie watched the screen in amazement. The picture on the screen was strange. Replacing the slick, professional newscaster who usually sat behind the desk was a frazzled-looking woman sitting in front of the station logo. The woman with tattooed arms, dressed in a white t-shirt, blew her nose and swiped at her red eyes impatiently as she read from her phone screen. Finally, she glanced up, held up a hand, and said. “Just a minute, folks, I need just a minute.”

She ran her hand through her messy spiked hair while her pale face, void of make-up, made it obvious she wasn’t used to being in front of a camera. She finished reading from the screen, looked up, and cleared her throat. “Look, folks, I’m not qualified to be in this chair, but I’m what you get right now. At 3:47 this morning, the staff at this station suddenly collapsed and died. What little information I have leaves little hope of anyone else coming in anytime soon. At this point, I have no answers to explain the deaths, but a few people are suggesting these deaths are linked to the third vaccine push across the country. This station pushed it, so; my guess it stands to reason. I didn’t get that poison injected into my ass. Let me continue. This administration rushed it, claiming it would include the variants; well, it’s just another failure just like all the other shit lately.” She drew a deep breath and struggled to control her emotions. “So draw your own conclusions. What little we do know is, deaths are greater in large cities where the heaviest concentrations of the vaccine were administered.” Again she paused to read her phone screen.

“Right now, I’m sure of one thing, this phenomenon has occurred across major cities, the country, and from the information I just received, foreign ships are docking in Galveston as we speak. What does that mean here in Houston? Are they here to help? How could they get here so quickly unless they knew ahead of time what was going to happen? Are ships docking in other port cities? So many unanswered questions. I’ll keep asking the questions as long as I can and share what I learn. Meanwhile, I know it has been devastating for this country since the national news is offline. Find the living, be strong, and work together.” 

While the young woman spoke, Annie stared at the flatscreen. “Well, that pretty well explains we’re screwed, and the government did it or allowed it to happen,” she whispered.

Annie turned down the volume and walked to the door, and looked out at the street. She listened for any hint of movement of people in the mortally wounded world. The baby began crying again with a new sense of urgency. Annie walked back to the bedroom and changed clothes. Time to put on her big girl pants.

Annie walked back into the living room. She leaned down and shook Sandy’s arm, “We have things to do if the world has gone to shit,” She announced. Sandy’s eyes fluttered as she frowned, and a tear slid from under her lashes. Annie continued. “You have to get up; we have to get that baby if she’s all alone.”

Sandy struggled to the couch. “We have to find someone to help.”

“We are someone! We’re going to do something,” Annie answered. “Come on, get to your feet, now.”

She stood, and Annie walked toward the door. She hesitated long enough to ensure Sandy followed before Annie continued out into the morning sun when she got there.

“Dogs are going to be a problem one of these days,” Anny commented as they heard the barking of dogs locked in houses down the street.

“We should let them out,” Sandy mused.

“Hell no. The dogs will be attacking people in packs before long. Better to leave as many as possible to die locked in houses,” Annie answered.

“Oh, God. I never considered that,” Sandy whispered.

It only took a couple of seconds to cross the yard to the Burtons’ house. Annie could hear the eighteen-month-old wailing inside the small track home. She looked at Sandy. “I don’t suppose you have a key?”

Sandy looked puzzled. “Why would I have a key to their house?”

“Never mind. Grab a brick from the flowerbed,” Annie ordered.

“What are you going to do?” Sandy asked.

Annie sighed, walked to the border of the flower bed, and picked up a stone. She examined the door and decided on the rectangle of glass closest to the doorknob to break. Annie tapped the windowpane, and it shattered. The crying from the baby grew even louder. Annie slid the brick around the edge to clear the shards before she stuck her hand in and turned the lock. She opened the door slowly and took a step inside.

Sandy hesitated. “I can’t,” Sandy whispered. “They’re dead.”

“Yes, you can. I’ll need your help. Go to the kitchen and find a box of trash bags or laundry basket to collect the baby stuff,” Annie ordered.

Annie pushed open the door and walked inside. After a brief hesitation, Sandy followed Annie into the house. The layout was similar to Annie’s house. Track homes were like that. She walked into the living room and turned toward a hallway to the left. Annie followed the sound of the sobbing child. She glanced at the doorway at the end of the hall but ignored it. Annie was sure she knew it held the dead parents.

She glanced into the first opened door and saw bunk beds. Annie sighed at the sight of the colorful quilt on the top bed and dark tuft of hair on a bright yellow pillow. A small boy of about five appeared to be sleeping on the bottom bunk. He looked so peaceful it was hard to imagine he would not jump up and race to the table for breakfast any minute. Annie pulled Billie and Jamie’s door closed for the last time and quickly moved to the open nursery door with Becky’s name hanging from a bright pink bow.

Annie walked to the nursery, and when the child saw her, she stopped crying and reached out. After hours of unanswered wailing, the infant would even settle for Annie. Annie picked her up, wrapped in a blanket. “Oh, poor baby girl, you’re a mess, aren’t you,” Annie crooned as she walked back into the hall with Becky in her arms. “Sandy, see if you can get a bottle for her. She’s dirty and has been a while, so I’ve got to clean her up in the bathtub,” Annie called out.

Annie carried the baby to the hall bathroom and turned on the bathwater. She pulled a towel off the rack, set the baby down, and peeled off her filthy sleeper and poopy diaper. Once put in the warm water, the infant stopped fussing for a few minutes. Annie quickly washed the crusty brown mess covering her from waist to ankles, wrapped little Becky in a towel, and carried her back to the nursery. By the time Annie laid the towel-wrapped baby on a daybed in the nursery, Becky had begun to whimper again.

“I got what she needs.” Sandy held out the bottle, and little Becky grabbed it greedily. “Her mother must have just gone to Sam’s; she has two cases of powdered formula in the cabinet. I put the cases by the front door. There was a couple of laundry baskets in the garage to put the other supplies in them.” Sandy looked around. “I saw a travel crib in the living room. We can take that for her, too.” Sandy pulled a bag from the closet and began gathering baby clothes, diapers, creams, and supplies. “The boys?” She asked.

“Saving grace is they didn’t suffer. Neither boy shows signs of distress,” Annie answered.

Sandy stood up. “Gil looked so peaceful,” Her voice caught. “I guess that’s something.” She sniffed as she leaned down and continued packing.

Annie grabbed a disposable diaper from the stack Sandy had set on the end of the day bed and a onesie from clothing she removed from drawers. “Get everything you can find. We’ll get plastic tubs at Walmart. More clothes too. We’ve got a few days; then we have to be out of here.”

Sandy stopped and turned to me. “What do you mean?”

“We can’t stay. We’ll see if we can find more people while gathering supplies, but we have to leave. We can’t stay this close to the city.”

“Leave?” Sandy stopped her collection and stared at Annie. “Why? We have everything we need. Supplies will never run out.”

“Do you know how awful this place will be? We have dead bodies up and down the street. This place will be beyond ripe within a week. Then the power will go out. Water will quit running, too. There will be lawlessness soon enough. By then, we need to be gone,” Annie commented.

“I can’t leave my husband like that,” Sandy protested.

Annie sighed. “Finish packing the baby clothes. We’ll discuss it later.”

“Hello? Is anyone there?” A trembling young male voice called out from the front of the house.

Annie handed Becky to Sandy. “Stay here. You hear shouting, take the baby, and hide.”

Annie walked out of the nursery and down the hall to the living room and saw a teenaged boy. He looked shell-shocked. “Hi. What’s your name? I’m Annie.”

“Josh. Josh Matthews,” He answered with a catch in his answer. “Can you help me? My family is dead. I don’t know what to do.” His face tightened as he fought the urge to cry.

He looked so lost, Annie reached out to embrace him, and he melted against her. He wrapped his arms around Annie and wept against her shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Josh,” Annie whispered as she patted his back. They stood together for several minutes until he finally straightened to swipe at his wet cheeks.

“Sorry, Ms. Annie,” Josh whispered.

“It’s alright, Josh. You can stay with us. My friend Sandy and I are trying to figure this out. If you’d like, you can join us.”

Josh nodded. “I’d like that.”

Josh followed Annie to the nursery, and after introductions, they made short work of loading up the baby clothes, diapers, and everything they needed. They stopped at the family minivan and retrieved the car seat.

Josh was a lot of help. He was a big kid and bore his sadness with a strength beyond his years after the initial release. Annie imagined he played sports when she noticed the faded football jersey. It saddened her to think about his family, mother, father, and siblings. She shifted the case of formula and car seat and pushed thoughts of his family aside.

When they got to the house and dropped all the baby supplies, she turned to Sandy. “Okay, we can go get you clothes now. You can’t keep stomping around in your nightgown.”

Sandy protested. “I can’t go home.”

“My clothes won’t fit you,” Annie answered. “I’m five foot two; you’re four inches taller than me. You have no choice.”

“Can’t you go get my clothes?” Sandy begged as she clutched Becky closer.

“No. You have to decide what you want. There will be things you won’t want to leave behind. Josh can watch Becky?” Annie looked at Josh for confirmation. “You don’t mind, do you, Josh?”

“No, ma’am,” Josh answered rather sadly. “I used to babysit my…” His voice trailed off.

Annie interrupted. “Great. You know what to do. If you feel up to it, there is a girl on the news. Would you listen to her? She says this thing is around the country. I’m not sure she’ll have any more news, but maybe she might say something else useful. She said ships were docking in Houston.”

“I don’t know,” Josh answered.

“Try to; it might be important,” Annie added.

Sandy slowly rose from the couch and passed Becky to him. Josh tried to smile as he reached out with open arms. “I just changed her, so she should be good for a while. Becky might finish that bottle and go to sleep. She was screaming for quite a while,” Annie added.

“No problem.” Josh looked near tears. “I’ve changed diapers before, so if I need to, I can do that, too.”

“I’m sorry about your family, Josh. We’ll try not to be too long. You have your cell?” When he pulled it from his pocket, Annie retrieved it and put in her number. “Now, just hit send if you have any problem at all.”

“Okay,” He answered. “Thank you.

“We have a lot to do in the next few days. If you get Becky laid down, do you think you can use the computer on the desk?” When he nodded, she continued. “I wrote the password on the notepaper. Start a list of books from the library on basic medicine, gardening, food canning, hunting, meat processing, and food preservation. We have a lot to do in a short amount of time. We have to plan for a more basic lifestyle, and that will give us a jump on it when I get back.”

“No problem,” Josh responded as he nestled Becky close, and the baby girl slid her thumb into her mouth while her eyes began to drift closed.