The bullet entered the front of his left shoulder. When it hit a bone the hollow point bullet exploded like a tiny bomb, tearing through flesh and muscle. Roger spun around and fell to the ground in agony. Gunfire rang through the air and he could hear the bullets zipping over him. It was dark and in the confusion and pain of his shoulder he had lost track of the cabin. As he put his right hand over the wound Roger could hear his friends yelling for him but he couldn't make out what they were saying. Another volley of gunfire echoed through the woods. The sight of blood had always made him feel woozy. He lifted his hand from his shoulder and it looked like it was just dipped into a bucket of red paint. Blood dripped from his fingertips. The tree tops began to spin around as someone yelled his name in the distance. Was he really going to die here, on the cold ground, all alone? All of this for a fucking can of green beans. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he saw one last muzzle flash from a gun right above him.
Hal couldn’t believe what he was watching on the news. The explosion at The Grain Company had taken out not only the plant but ten square blocks of the south side of the city of Muscatine. Only ten years ago Hal had worked there as a laboratory technician and analyst. The company processed corn into its base ingredient, starch and used that to make food grade and pharmaceutical grade ingredients, including alcohol. Hal had decided to leave the position due to a conflict of scheduling. The drive from the Quad Cities and the hours involved were just too much. Working a different shift every week was having a toll on his life outside of work as well as his health. He was promised a day shift position by his supervisor, which was denied, so he left. Ten years later, the plant in which he spent two years of his life was now a crater in the ground surrounded by smoke filled residential streets. Since leaving he had agonized over his decision because he had made really good money. If he had stayed for the money he might have been there during the explosion. The news feed didn’t know the exact cause of the explosion It was suspected that with all the tanks, pipeline and railroad cars filled with alcohol one of them caught a spark and caused an uncontrollable chain reaction. He remembered how every shift he walked the path that took him under those very alcohol tanks in order to grab his samples.
He looked down at his watch. Shit, he was going to be late for work. After turning off the television he threw the remote onto the couch, grabbed his jacket and headed to his truck. For the past several years he was the maintenance man for an assisted living facility for the elderly and several apartment buildings. It was a good job as he worked as a contractor so he could choose his projects and schedule. He hopped into the F-250 extended crew cab and backed out of the driveway. Hal gunned the gas a bit down the alleyway as he turned on the radio to hear some more news. The dark green truck was turning left onto Avenue of the Cities when a deep boom vibrated through the air and into the vehicle. He looked out of the window for the cause of the sound as he slowed the truck to a stop at the red light. Just south of him he could see smoke rising over the trees in the distance.
Ten minutes earlier across the Mississippi Roger was standing at the gas pump filling up his car. Just looking at the pump while gas was flowing, felt like money was jumping out of his wallet. At $3.50/gallon it cost nearly $50 to fill up his 2006 Chrysler Pacifica. It really didn’t seem that long ago that gas was only $1/gallon, but then again he was also getting older than he wanted to admit. He turned his gaze from the pump to the view over his car. The Centennial Bridge always looked beautiful to him in the early morning. Watching all the vehicles shuttle across to the Illinois side for work made him shutter a bit because he would be joining them in a few minutes, and he didn’t feel like going to work today. Crossing the bridges in the Quad Cities could be a pain in the ass sometimes if there was an accident or road work. There were days when he would have to wait in traffic for an hour just to cross the river, which prompted his recent job search to stay on the Iowa side. With the current state of the economy however, companies were not advertising like they used to.
The sharp snap of the shut off valve for the gas pump shook Roger from his thoughts. He hit the nozzle a few times to get the last few drops of gas they he paid for into his car. Turning to put the nozzle back onto the pump an explosion behind him caused Roger to drop to the ground. After a few seconds the ringing in his ears began to dissipate. He put his palms on the gritty pavement and pushed himself up. Roger turned towards the river where the sound came from and his heart jumped into his throat. Dust, debris and smoke surrounded the Centennial Bridge. A huge section of the Iowa and Illinois bound lanes was missing. Large chunks of concrete were hanging down like a broken tooth hanging from its root. The thin rebar was the only thing keeping the pieces held to the bridge. There was a small car teetering over the edge of the missing lane. He couldn’t see how many people were in the car but what he could see made his heart jump into his throat. Two pairs of little hands in the backseat were pressed up against the window. Roger took a step forward as if to take a super human leap up to the bridge and save the passengers of the car. In movies they always portray moments like this happening in slow motion, total bullshit. Without notice the hanging pieces of concrete fell from the bridge followed by the car. The vehicle flipped upside down as it fell from the bridge. Within seconds it landed on its roof on a small island in the middle of the river. Roger closed his eyes and whispered, “my God.”
Five minutes had passed before emergency crews on both sides of the river arrived. They ordered everyone in the immediate are to clear out. Roger got into his vehicle and raced up the hill on Gaines Street. He was traveling well over the speed limit but the police had more pressing matters at the moment. Slamming on the brakes at a stop sign, he quickly looked both ways before making a right onto Locust Street. Five blocks down and he was sitting in the driveway of his house. The house wasn’t really his, just renting it for the time being. It wasn’t much, a one bedroom, but it served his purposes until he could afford something better. It wasn’t until a fire engine raced past on the street behind him that he realized he was still white knuckling the steering wheel. A loud ringtone made him jump in his seat as he said “Goddamnit” In frustration. After fumbling in his pockets for a minute he produced his cell phone from his back pocket. The caller ID showed a goofy picture of him and his long- time friend, Hal.
Roger and Hal had met freshmen year at the University of Iowa. They were paired together to be roommates and the pairing could not have been better. They were both strong headed in their studies and had little time for distractions. Hal was studying biology so that we could work with the Department of Natural Resources as a conservationist. Completely opposite of that Roger was studying business and finance so that he could make his million dollar mark. After graduation Hal moved to the Quad Cities and Roger moved to Chicago. Two years in Chicago produced little for Roger other than late nights, little pay and a lot of frustration. So he moved back to the Quad Cities and took a job with a major farming equipment manufacturer. A few years working eighty hour weeks paid off as he was moved to the “Glass Palace,” that’s what the locals called it anyway. The Glass Palace was were all the big wigs worked, Roger was not one of them. He just worked for one, but someday he would get that promotion.
“Roger, Roger, are you there??!” Hal screamed into the phone.
“Yeah, I’m here,” he slowly responded.
“Jesus, thank God! I thought you might have been on the bridge going to work.”
“I almost was.”
“Are you ok, are you hurt,” Hal asked with concern.
“I was at the Circle K Gas Station when it happened. Hal, I think a truck or something blew up on the bridge.”
“Roger.” Hal Stated.
“And there was this car, oh God this car. It had…it fell into the river Hal. I watched it just fall off the bridge.” Tears started to roll down Roger’s face.
“Roger!” Hal said very firmly.
“Where are you right now?” Hal asked.
“I’m,” he sighed deeply allowing the tears to drain away. “I’m in my driveway sitting in my car.”
“Good. Don’t go anywhere. Have you seen or listened to the news?”
“News, what are you talking about Hal?”
“Just answer me.”
“No, I drove here straight from the gas station.”
“Ok, just don’t go to work today, call in sick or something. In fact you probably shouldn’t go in for a few days.”
“Hal, what the hell are you talking about? I don’t understand.”
“You’re not going to understand until later. Just do what I’m asking and don’t go anywhere today.”
Roger sat on the edge of his bed with a damp towel wrapped around his waist. Water from his brown hair dripped onto the bed sheet. He starred in disbelief at the television. Headline after headline, picture after picture of what happened earlier that day. What Roger had experienced with the bridge was just one part of the day’s events. He couldn’t get the image of that car just hanging there over the edge. He had never seen anyone die before, it almost didn’t seem real. In his mind the event played in slow motion, intensifying his anguish. Three bridges and two factories had blown up. He had thought the Centennial Bridge was an accident. But five explosions all on the same day and within one hundred miles of each other, this was no accident.
In his basement Hal was taking inventory of items on his shelves and checking it against what he had written down in his notebook. He never felt comfortable relying on others for help, so in the last five years he had been doing everything possible to become more self- reliant; with the goal of becoming totally self-reliant. Extra food, water, tools, books, first aid supplies, camping and hiking gear were just some of the things he had stocked. As he had gotten older he really became more aware of the world around him. While he loved using technology the convenience and advancement was going to be the civilized world’s downfall. People had forgotten their roots and how to live a certain way. Just two generations ago it was more common for people to know how to grow and preserve their own food, make clothing, collect water, fix what was broken instead of throwing it away and buying new. Something happened a few years ago at a gas station that he will never forget. He was filling up his truck when this Ferrari pulled up to the tank next to him with California plates. A middle aged guy got out of the car leaving some young bimbo in the passenger seat who was giggling at every little thing he said. The man walked up to the pump, swiped his card and began furiously hitting the keypad. Hal walked over and asked him if he could help. The man told him he had never had to pump his own fucking gas. Hal very nicely helped the guy put gas into his car, who didn’t even thank but handed him a five dollar bill before driving off. During the drive home Hal was stunned. He couldn’t comprehend how someone had never had to pump their own gas before, it really did seem unreal to him. That encounter encouraged him to become more self-reliant in other aspects of his life. He didn’t want to become the man who didn’t know how to pump his own gas. In the corner of the basement he had mounted a flat screen television. The news channel was playing and a new video was being played. It was a video clip of the explosion on the Centennial Bridge. It was taken from one of the bridge traffic cameras. About five years back the Cities decided to put traffic cameras up on the bridge to help alleviate grid locks in the event of car accidents or break downs. The cameras were located on either side of the bridge. They must have purchased cheap cameras as the definition was not that great. It was morning traffic so it was a little heavy but the vehicles were still moving steady over the bridge. The middle of the bridge is where the explosion appeared to have happened. There was a large explosion which shook the camera wildly, pulling the bridge slightly out of view. Pieces of concrete, metal and dust flew in every direction. As the dust was settling a car could be made out that was hanging over the edge of the hole in the bridge. The video clip suddenly cut away back to the newscaster. She explained due to the graphic nature of what happened next, they were not going to show the rest of the video until all family members involved had been notified. There was something on the video that didn’t seem right to him. The video was disturbing but he wished he could see it again so that he could figure out what was bothering him. He still couldn’t believe what had transpired in the last twelve hours. He sat down on the small couch in the middle of the room. The news went back to looping all the information he had already heard a dozen times. He stared into the distance of the television screen. He needed coffee and he needed it to be like mud. He walked upstairs to make a pot as he went back into the dark recesses of his mind. About a year after he started stocking supplies and learning new skills, there was something else he thought about that he never discussed with anyone. It was a bit dark and he didn’t want to set off any red flags with anyone. One thing that everybody like him did was plan ways to get out of their region in the event of a disaster or attack. This was referred to as “bugging out” a term that originated from the United States Military. They also evaluated the risks in their region in order to decide how best to prepare. This could be from natural events like tornados, ice storms, earthquakes, wildfires, floods or risks based on if they lived close to “high value”/ dangerous targets. Military bases, nuclear power plants, power stations, etc. Hal took this thought process one step further.
In terms of the “targets” in his area he would walk through a variety of scenarios in his mind as to how one might attack them. This would help him to better understand the process of events and how to plan for the side effects if that particular event ever happened. Potential targets in his area included, the Rock Island Arsenal, the I-74 Bridge, I-80 Bridge, Centennial Bridge, Rock Island Arsenal Bridge, I-280 Bridge and of course the nuclear power plant that was just forty miles northwest of town. The I-280 and I-80 bridges were arteries for local and nationwide traffic across the Mississippi River. If those two bridges were taken out and the traffic was to be diverted to the remaining bridges closer to the Quad Cities, they wouldn’t last long. The three local bridges and not been updated since the 1960’s and were only two lanes. Adding that kind of traffic to them would not only cause major gridlock but also compromise their structural integrity. This would be a fairly easy way for anyone wanting to disrupt the economy and lives in the Midwest. The Rock Island Arsenal built and supplied some very important military equipment. Hal knew for sure that they built A1 Abrams but everything else was kept pretty hush. There was rumor of some next generation laser systems in development, but of course that was just local rumor. The nuclear power plant was the scenario he didn’t like to think about. There was not much he could do if the plant ever became compromised except have an exit plan in every direction and got the hell out of the region as fast as possible. His thought process was interrupted by the last of the water steaming into the pot. He poured a cup and took a long drink. The dark liquid was so thick he could almost chew it. He refilled the cup and headed back downstairs.
“This just in, the attacks here in the Quad Cities are not an isolated incident. There are now reports coming in from all over the country of similar attacks. Explosions are being reported at bridges, agricultural and pharmaceutical companies, railroads and some power stations. So far as many as twenty states have been hit but reports and details are still coming in.”
“Fuck me,” he whispered. Walking over to the gun safe in the basement he set the coffee cup on top of the safe. He turned the large, gold colored combination dial on the door to the safe. The clicks of the dial were loud in the silence of the basement. He landed on the last number of the dial and pulled the door handle up. Reaching into the safe Hal pulled out his pistol. The gun was an all-black Springfield Armory XDM in .45 caliber, this was his sidearm of choice. He popped in a loaded magazine and chambered a round. After placing the gun into a concealed carry holster and clipping it to the inside of his belt, he grabbed two more loaded magazines. This is just a precaution. He didn’t believe he was in any real danger for the moment. In the next few days and week when there was a run on the stores, well things might get a bit more interesting. Just then his cell phone started ringing. It was Roger.
“Hello?” answered Hal.
“What the fuck is going on?” An eerie calmness came from his voice.
“I’m not entirely sure but I have a few thoughts.”
“What do you mean you have a few thoughts? Why the hell did you tell me call to not go into work and what the hell is going on?!” Roger was now screaming into the phone, the day’s stress and frustration finally coming out. Hal looked down at the floor letting his friend vent. “I mean what the fuck Hal? Why did I have to witness a…” Roger trailed off as his eyes welled up with tears. Hal could hear him taking a few deep breaths over the phone. After a few moments he had collected himself and continued.
“Ok, I’m sorry about that. I just don’t know what is going on and what to do.”
“How is your food and water situation at home?”
“Um, I have food and a case of bottled water in the kitchen.”
“How much?” Hal repeated calmly.
“I don’t know, I don’t take inventory of my canned goods Hal.”
“Well maybe you should.”
“Fuck me, really? Are we going to get into this right now?!” Their friendship was always being stretched to its boundaries in the past few years as Hal had become a prepper. He was always taking the opportunity to remind his friend to have extra stuff on hand and to be mindful of his situation. Roger thought it was a bit over the top and too “apocalyptic.”
“Yeah, ok. I’m sorry. If you had to stay in your house, how long would your food last?”
“I don’t know, a week, maybe two.”
“That is not good enough.”
“Then what should I do?” Roger asked. Hal could hear that his friend was feeling lost.
“Alright this is what you need to do. You need to go out and get some supplies. First go to the gas station and fill up your car, also fill up the gas can that you use for your mower. Swing through the ATM and take out as much cash as you can. Then go to the grocery store and buy as much bottled water and food that you can fit into your car. Pay for everything with plastic. If you can get cash back at the store do so, as much as you can and ask for bills smaller than a twenty.”
“Why do I need so much cash? I feel like I’m going to get mugged,” Roger asked.
“Cash is king and you are not going to be mugged, this is not Chicago. Just don’t go around showing it. Now listen closely. After you have done all that you need to start packing two bags. In one bag you need to have clothes, a coat, shoes and boots and all your hygiene items. In the other bag I want you pack all the sealed food, canned food and water you can.”
“What, why?” Roger sighed heavily on the other end of the phone. He had watched Hal become a prepper over the last few years and was careful not to become apart it. The few times he had called him a prepper it really pissed Hal off, to the point that it became a joke for Roger to call him that. After a few moments Roger replied.
“Because you need enough to ride out the storm.”
“Why can’t I just come over there? You have enough stuff for the both of us don’t you?”
“Yeah I do but that isn’t the point.”
“Then what is the fucking point!?” Roger yelled into the phone.
“The point is that I don’t think it is safe for you to try and cross the river tonight.”
“Alright fine. I will pack tonight and be over in the morning. I have no idea when I will be there. It’s probably going to take hours to get across the I-74 Bridge and I have no idea about the Arsenal Bridge.”
“No, you need to stay off the bridges.” Hal said sternly. Roger thought about this for a minute. It would be a nerve racking as hell crosses the bridges but what are the chances that something would happen again. But how the hell else was he supposed to get across the river. He certainly wasn’t going to swim across
“So, how am I getting to you then?”
“You don’t need to worry about that yet, we will figure that out later if we need to.”
“For the record, I think this is a bit much, but ok. I never thought I was going to hop on the prepper bandwagon.”
“Do you want my help or not dickhead?” Hal was starting to become red in the face, he hated the “p” word.
“Oh Christ, what now? You pissed off that I called you a prepper?” Roger asked.
“You know that I hate that and that is not what I am, it’s an insult.” Hal said this through gritted teeth.
“Fine I won’t use the “p-word. So what are you going to be doing tonight?”
“The exact same thing you are.”