Leaving the Light

Bonnie sat on the bottom step of the spiral staircase and craned her neck to stare up, up, up to the unlit beacon.

Belle was asleep. Bonnie never felt more alone than at naptime. Belle kept up a litany of nonsensical chatter all day; it was too quiet when she was asleep.

“We’re leaving,” Bonnie whispered. She’d taken to talking to herself in the past year or so.

Well…she was talking to Joseph, really.

He’d sailed off just before Belle was born and never returned. A freak lightning storm had taken the ship and all aboard it; it seemed unbelievable to her still that such a thing could still happen in modern times, but nature was a force no one could tame.

What was happening in the here and now, though—it wasn’t nature, exactly. It happened in the same way as a sudden lightning strike, or so it seemed to Bonnie. But it had to have been people who did it.

The town, seven miles away, was nearly empty. The people who remained were not alive. They lay where they’d fallen, unattended.

Bonnie had been shocked on the day she drove into town from the lighthouse to get supplies. She was afraid of plague, but none of the dead looked like they’d been sick. If anything, they looked like they’d recently just fallen asleep—albeit on the floor, against the cash register, behind the wheels of cars in the parking lot, and one old man bent over into a shopping cart.

What could have caused such a thing?

Where did everyone else go, and how did they escape the fates of the dead?

Bonnie leaned against the wall, still looking up the staircase.

She remembered the day she’d gone into labor.

Joseph had been gone for several days, and she’d only learned the fate of his ship the morning before. She was alone in the lighthouse, sitting near the beacon, watching the light sweep its warning arc across the rocky shoreline. Once in awhile she would sound the bellowing horn. “Weeeeeehonk! Weeeeeehonk!” As it groaned out its alarm, Bonnie screamed.

And the pains of labor began, causing her to voice a different scream, one that contained physical pain as well as the anguished pain of her loss.

It occurred to her now that she’d been feeling the pains all along, but in her grief she’d been oblivious until the tide turned and urgency reared its head.

Her water broke.

Alone, high in the lighthouse tower, Bonnie brought forth her child. Alone. She wrapped the infant in her shirt and slowly made her way down the spiral staircase. Then she re-wrapped her, and fed her, dressed herself and called an ambulance to take them both to the nearest hospital to make sure they were okay.

“We’re leaving this place,” she whispered again.

How could she leave the birthplace of her only child?

Their food was almost gone. There was no power, except for the generator. Fuel was going to be a problem.

Besides that, there were no more ships. It had been weeks since she’d seen anything in the harbor.

Everything was packed into the truck and onto the flatbed trailer attached.

Almost everything. She’d load the last of it right before they left.

Yes. They were leaving this place.

What good is a lighthouse when you light the way for nothing and no one?

If they stayed for the winter, they’d freeze. Or starve. They had to go.

Bonnie sighed. Belle would be awake soon, and she’d cook their last meal. They would climb the tower for the last time and she would fasten the safety gate. She had spread out a big sleeping bag so they could watch a Disney movie on the little portable DVD player while waiting for the sun to go down.

And for the final time, she would light the beacon. They would watch the sweeping arcs of light reveal the shoreline far below them. Belle would sing words only she could understand in her perfect pitch, and Bonnie would sigh, thinking for the thousandth time that it was a damn shame no one else could hear her.

It seemed fitting to sleep beneath the light of the beacon on their final night.

In the morning they’d be leaving the lighthouse behind forever.

Love Letters

“Hi, Dad.”

“Hey, Penny. What’s up?” Dad was draped across his bed like a throw-blanket, with his new puppy, Stub, snuggled in the small of his back. He was reading something—like me, if he found any books while salvaging, he brought them back.

Stub opened one eye, looked me over and closed it again. Clearly, I was no threat to his bed. I grinned. “You’re going to be sorry for that when he’s grown and still wants to sleep like that,” I said.

Dad chuckled. “I think there might be some Golden Retriever in this guy,” he remarked. “I’m just glad we came across the litter so soon after his mama…well…”

A few days before, Dad and a couple of his friends had returned to camp with a litter of pups, seven in all. They had found the mother—what was left of her—while picking apples in a small orchard they’d discovered. She’d clearly been attacked and killed by something, probably a big cat, and it was obvious that she’d recently given birth, so they’d gone on a search for the puppies.

“You ‘came across’, yeah,” I said. Beyond that, neither of us really wanted to talk about it. The puppies were alive, they were here now and being cared for, and nothing else mattered. I crossed to the bed and gave the pup a pat, then leaned down to nuzzle his little face when he looked up expectantly. “Cutie pie.”

Dad started to move, and I told him to stay put. “You’re fine, you look so comfortable.”

“My legs are asleep,” he informed me. “If I tried to stand up, I would fall on my face.”

I giggled, and lifted Stub off his back so he could roll over and sit up.  

“Ahhhh.” It was half groan, half sigh. “Penny, I think I’m getting old.”


“Ouch!” He gave me a rueful smile. He pointed to the book. “You might want to read this one when I finish,” he said. “It’s pretty good.”

I looked at the cover. “Stephen King? I’m down.”

He didn’t tell me I was too young for it. Some of the parents here do that, but that’s not Dad’s style. His style is, “If there’s something you don’t understand, come and find me and I’ll try to explain it.” Emphasis on try—even Dads don’t know everything.

I like it when I like my Dad. Today I’m feeling really good about him, and I appreciate that.

Some days, I am irrationally angry with him, even after all the time that has passed since Mamma died. I don’t know why I’m so awful; I just am.

But not today.

“I still have the photo album,” I told him. “We really like looking at the pictures.”

“You’re welcome to keep it with your things,” he told me. He smiled rather shyly. “I’ve been looking for a picture frame out there,” he admitted. “There’s a photo of us I’d like to hang on the wall…”

“Oh, Dad, I bet I know the one!”

“I bet you do, too.”

“I’ll keep my eyes open when we go out,” I promised. Surely a picture frame could be found somewhere.


“Anyway, I wanted to ask if I could look through the other boxes sometime. The ones I didn’t look in once I found what I was looking for the other day.”

“Of course you can. Do you know what you’re looking for this time?”

“Not even a clue,” I admitted. “I just…it just makes me feel good, looking. And we really needed these,” I added, gesturing to the combs I’d woven into my unruly curls. I’d found a lot of hair accessories the last time I’d gotten into the boxes, and Dad had turned those over to us, admitting that he’d barely looked at Mamma’s things.

“That looks very nice.”


Stub was starting to squirm, and Daddy stood up and took him from me. “Someone needs a trip outside, I think,” he said. “Have fun, Penny. And—”

“Please put things away when you’re done,” I finished. We both chuckled, and Dad hurried away with his new little buddy.

Alone, I surveyed the stack of boxes in the corner. The last time I’d been looking for a locket, and I quit going through things when I found it in the third box.

This time, I was just…looking.


I did have some hopes of finding other photographs, since Mae and Dawn had really enjoyed the wedding album.

I moved the first two boxes aside. The third we had pretty much emptied, adding to our hair-care stash. I had put Mamma’s jewelry box on Daddy’s nightstand. It looked nice there, and he hadn’t objected or moved it. I regarded the empty wall space above it and made a mental note to tell anyone going out to salvage to keep an eye open for picture frames.

The next box in line yielded nothing of use. Old tax forms, medical records, immunization records and all our birth certificates and social security cards were in a metal file box. Just seeing that sort of thing made me realize how much hope my mother had had that the future would hold some normalcy.

It was sort of depressing. I took my old marker out of my pocket and wrote “Old World Paperwork” on the box. Nothing meant anything anymore, really, but I would leave any decision making up to Daddy.

A little curious, I did examine all the birth certificates. I suppose it can’t hurt anything to know how old we are. Mae likes knowing what time it is, and what the date is, so I knew this would be something she’d be interested in.

Time goes by—this I know; and beyond that, I’m not all that fussed about whether it’s Tuesday or Saturday. Maybe someday it will matter to me, but not now. Let Mae be the timekeeper.

The next box was more to my liking. It was actually a very large sized Rubbermaid storage chest, and inside there were stacks of photo albums, loose photographs and—oh, wow! Our baby books!

I was surprised to see those, and more surprised to discover that there were also baby books for Mamma and Daddy. She must have been saving those for years, and it made me wonder about my paternal grandparents. They were both gone before I was even born.

I decided it wouldn’t be fair for me to look through all this alone. We should look as a family. But when I was putting the books back, I discovered a stack of letters at the bottom of the box. I lifted them out, replaced the books, and went to sit on the bed.

Without consideration, I opened the first letter.

“My Love,

“From the first day I met you, my heart no longer resided inside my own body. You carry it with you now, and I can only hope you keep it guarded closely next to your own.”

Oh. I should stop reading, I thought.

I didn’t.

There followed a bit more mushy stuff, and then this curious phrase: “I now believe I should go bald. It is getting hot.”

My Daddy? Bald? What did that mean?

Next, he wrote, “My C.O. has promised I will be home in plenty of time to greet our newest miracle.”

(So this was before Dawn was born!)

“I cannot wait to see you all and hold you in my arms again.

“Kiss my Copper and Belle.”

(That would be me and Mae. He called us Copper Penny and Mae Belle. Pet names; it’s a Dad thing.)

I shook my head as I searched through the stack of letters, slipping first one and then another in and out of the twine-tied bundle. I made up my mind not to read any more—they were private love letters, after all.

Then I saw the envelope marked “To My Copper Penny”.

Well. It’s addressed to me! I can certainly read this one.

Suddenly, a huge lump rose in my throat, and I was nearly overcome with tears. I blinked them back, and chided myself for being silly.

I just didn’t remember ever getting a letter from my father.

“Hello, my good-luck Penny!

“Even though I’m pretty sure you are a genius, your Mamma tells me you haven’t learned to read yet. I guess we will have to let her help you read this, and trust that she won’t let it go to her head when I tell you, in secret, that I think your mother is beautiful.

“I am writing today to thank you for the beautiful picture you drew for me. I have hung it on my wall, and everyone here agrees it is the best piece of artwork in this whole place. I sent you a picture!”

I looked inside the envelope, and sure enough, there was a photograph of Daddy, showing off what was a childish—but recognizable—rendition of a barn owl. His smile was huge and proud. Hot tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t have stopped them if I’d tried.

“I am so proud of you, Penny, for being such a good helper for Mamma and such a great big sister to Mae. And the new baby will be blessed with you, too. I want you to know that I worry less about everyone, knowing you are there. You have a great heart. I hope no one ever breaks it.

“I love you very much.


I remembered the drawing. For a little while, when I was really little, I was enamoured with the messenger owls in the old Harry Potter movies Mamma had collected. When we got our mail, I would ask where the owls were. So, when Mamma said she was sending a letter to Daddy, of course I had to send an owl.

Of course! Mail should come with owls.

Memories are hard; even the good ones are hard.

I put the letter and the photo back into the envelope, and tucked it into the front of my shirt. I was sure no one would mind if I kept my own letter.

I brushed tears away and then I returned the rest of the letters to their original place, underneath the baby books. I pushed to container over to sit next to the doorway until Daddy came back.

The rest of the boxes could wait until the next time I felt up to looking. There weren’t many left.

I heard Daddy coming. He was whistling some unfamiliar tune. “Hey, Lucky Penny!” he said. “Find anything good?”

“Lots of pictures. And baby books!”

“Really?” Daddy sighed. “I suppose I should have opened those boxes before now, but…well, I just…”

“I know, Daddy. But I want to look at all the pictures. Can we do it all together? Just the family?”

“Absolutely.” He reached to pat my head. Hesitated, because he never could tell with me; I can be kind of mean.

I hugged him. He hugged me back, and I could feel the love he has. The love he always has, even when I am being mean.

“Do you want Grandma and Gramps, too?”

“Not yet. Just you and me, and Mae Belle and Light of Dawn.”

I was still clinging to him, and felt him chuckle. “You have a weird Daddy, don’t you?”

“Just a little weird,” I agreed.

Stub wiggled over to us, lifted a little leg and peed on Dad’s foot.

So much for a serious moment—we didn’t stop laughing for a while after that.

I do need to ask him about going bald, though. That was a weird phrase…


The lake had frozen over last month, and Jules was happy to see it—now he could cross instead of taking a two-day trek around it.

Walking was a drag, but it had been over a year since the truck had been usable. No one was making fuel anymore—that industry had died when the world ended. No one knew how to do it, and even if they could, there was no way to power up the refineries. Solar and wind power only went so far.

Dad had laughed at the irony: you need oil to get oil, and oil to use oil.

It didn’t matter. In the summer Jules could row the boat across, and in the winter, he could skate. But during those blustery days of autumn and the rainy days of spring, the boat was dangerous and skating wasn’t an option.

That was when Jules would have to pack up his tent and start walking, backpack on his back.

He didn’t like it, not because he minded the walk, but because he didn’t like leaving his parents alone for so long.

The world was all wrong now.

This side of the lake, many houses were now unoccupied, the residents having decided to move on for one reason or other. Jules couldn’t imagine leaving his home in the little village. He’d been born there, and fully expected to die there someday.

Possibly today, if things went wrong on his trip to the city.

He strapped a shoulder holster across his chest. He made sure no bullet was in the chamber and double checked the safety before settling his pistol into its nest and snapping it securely. He put a flannel shirt on over his thermal undergarment, added a down vest and then donned his parka.

It seemed stupid, on the whole. He’d have to undress to get to the gun if he needed it before he got across the lake. But his father insisted he be armed with something besides the crossbow.

“This bow will be plenty, Dad,” he’d said. But arguing with Nathan Graham about anything was a fool’s errand, and Jules knew there was no time to waste. He packed ammunition in the backpack and adjusted his quiver to fit in the most efficient manner. The crossbow was locked and loaded, but sometimes more than one arrow was needed for the job.

Jules had several reasons for preferring the crossbow, but the main reason was the fact that it was quiet. He didn’t care to draw attention to himself.

Vivian Graham gave him her list—medications were the most important items, of course, but any sort of canned food he could bring back would be more than welcome.

Jules planned to visit the pharmacy first and anything extra would be catch as catch can. They weren’t starving, as many people in this new world were. The village people had always maintained their own gardens and were seasoned hunters. A surplus was always nice, but he had necessities on his mind today.

Missy was diabetic. Insulin was the first item on the list. There were folks needing rescue inhalers for asthma and COPD. Vivian needed her blood pressure medication and Nathan had gout.

The doctor who had taken care of them all for years had died recently, but Vivian had been his nurse, and her list was meticulously drawn from their records. “I just hope you can find everything,” she told Jules as he carefully folded the paper and slipped it into his inside pocket. “I’m very worried about the insulin…”

Jules was worried, too. Insulin didn’t have an indefinite shelf life, and needed to be stored cold. He didn’t know what the power situation was over there.

Missy was the love of his life. He didn’t want to fail her.

She joined him at the lake’s edge as he sat on the park bench lacing his skates. “You don’t have to do this,” she told him. “God knows what’s going on over there.” She looked across the lake, industrial buildings dominant on the shoreline within their sight.

“I do have to do this,” Jules replied. He leaned toward her and captured her lips with his own for a lingering kiss. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“Oh, Jules!” Missy threw her arms around him and held him tight. “You come home to me, do you hear?”

“I hear very well.”

Missy pulled the hood of his parka up over his ears and tied the laces. “Can you hear me now?”

“What? What?”

They shared a laugh and a last sweet kiss.

Jules made use of his speed-skating skills and headed for the city. He hurried away, not wanting to hear the sobs of his love as he started his trek.

When one went to the city, it was never a certainty that one would be returning.

The world had gone wrong…

His skates made an ominous sound as he skated away.



Spaghetti Face

A rite of passage in our family is when a child is old enough to feed himself that first spaghetti dinner. Generally speaking, this happens around the time of a child’s first birthday; in fact, spaghetti was, and still remains, the most requested birthday dinner for the children in the family, regardless of age.

For some reason, this was one of my father’s favorite things to do. He’d get the camera ready, knowing a baby was going to be fed the wonder food of the ages. He’d encourage the chaos of eating those long, tomato sauce drenched noodles.

Once said child was covered from head to toe with spaghetti sauce and stray noodles, the “Spaghetti Face” portrait was taken. Giggles were had by all witnesses, and Dad could hardly wait to get the pictures developed.

We children had our pictures taken, and continued the tradition with our own kids. It was always fun to look back at the first spaghetti dinner experience.

As I said: a rite of passage.

I loved the fact that several of the photos of my own kids were taken by my father. He got such a kick out of it.

Recently, I realized that somehow, the tradition has been lost. I have grandchildren now, and don’t have a single spaghetti-faced pose of any of them.

This is unacceptable!

I spent a few days going through old photographs, scanning the spaghetti faces and sending them to my kids with little notes: “Remember this? Why don’t you take some of your kids and send them to me?”

One daughter shot back this note: “My kid is twenty-one. Do you think I can get her to pose NOW?”


I love a challenge.

This morning I scanned spaghetti-faced photos of myself, my siblings and my kids. I sent them in messages to all the grandchildren. My note: “Your parents have neglected you. Spaghetti face photos are mandatory in this family. Please recreate the photos they should have taken of you at this age and send them to me. It will be the perfect Christmas present!”

And now, I wait…

Hidden Places (Part 13) Tunnel

That damned granddaughter of mine has certainly gotten us into a predicament this time.

You know, I try to stay out of Vance’s business where the girls are concerned. Ariela adored him for a reason—he’s a good man with a stout heart and plenty of love to give. He worshiped the ground my daughter walked on, and the pain of her loss is always with him.

I wish Penny could see it when she looks in his eyes, but she…well, she doesn’t look. Mae and Dawn bask in his affection, but Penny keeps her distance—the little shit.

Her anger hurts him. And it does her absolutely no good at all. She exasperates me, but Patty won’t let me kick her ass.

It’s going to happen sooner or later. I don’t think I’ve ever held my tongue so long. I see her looking at him sometimes, her eyes blazing. Oh, the grudge that girl clings to!

I’ve also seen her look at him with a speculative expression, and sometimes with admiration. She loves him. She needs to stop blaming him.

The government that should have protected us all betrayed us and killed my daughter. I saw it coming. Vance didn’t want to believe it—he was a career military man, and believed in being patriotic. But he’d been coming around, opening his eyes and his mind, and had gotten very involved with our plans to go into hiding.

We knew it was coming—but we were all late to the game. None of us expected things to fall apart so soon, or so completely.


This is neither here nor there. I really want to comment on this mess Penny has gotten us into.

I had this whole area surveyed when we bought up land years ago, but I had no idea any of this was here. This little man camp town, the picturesque church, the warehouse—and certainly not the oilfield.

How did we miss it?

A better question might be: Why did any of us have to find it at all?

There’s a question to be posed soon, and that is whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Yes, it would be beneficial to be able to produce our own fuel, but at what cost?

That valley is…spooky.

Superstition is something I’ve come to expect from Vance. It’s not so much his heritage, although that has a little to do with it. It’s not his upbringing, either, although his father and grandfather diligently taught him about the ways of his people and other indigenous peoples from this general area as a matter of course. No, it’s something deeper—he senses things. He feels them.

So do his daughters.

Now, mind you, I have never discounted these feelings. I’m an open-minded man. But until today, I had no idea what those feelings could be like.

The best word I can come up with is “unpleasant”. A close second would be “disconcerting”.

Honestly, I don’t know how they can stand it if it’s something that happens to them often. I wanted to jump on my ATV and go right back to the compound.

Penny calls it the whim-whams. Patty—my wife—would call it the heebie-jeebies. I don’t care what you call it. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t like it.

You know what makes it worse? Mort refusing to go down there—that’s the thing! That guy has been running into situations since he was a kid, and he’s got a knack for making everything work out. He found my granddaughters, after all.

When Ariana didn’t show up with the girls for our Fourth of July barbeque, he was the first to volunteer to go to the base and check on things. He snuck in there alone. He discovered the situation and he planned the rescue.

Vance and I were pretty much along for the ride. No wonder Penny idolizes him. No wonder Sid and Ash chose him to be their “Da” instead of staying with one of the married couples who wanted to take them in.

If Mort is scared—well, I think we all need to pay attention.

But, no. Here I was tooling up the road on an old ATV, leading some kids into God-alone-knows-what. Deliberately!

I am a foolish old man.

When the road turned into a fairytale nightmare, though, I decided we’d seen enough.

I stopped in the middle of the road.

The kids with me stopped, too. Randall looked relieved, and I noticed that Natalie seemed close to tears. If I felt scared—an old guy like me—imagine how these young people must have felt!

“There’s no refinery at the end of this road,” I announced. “It’s too narrow. The oil trucks could never get through those trees.”

The trees were growing closer to the sides of the road, and the road itself appeared to be getting narrower. It was almost like it was forming a tunnel ahead of us.

The leaves rustled. The fronds in the fir trees rattled. I swear, it was like they were beckoning to us, whispering,  “Come on in.”

Entering a tunnel definitely seemed like a bad idea.

Natalie shuddered. “Are we going back?” she asked hopefully.

I stared down the road, watching as tree branches waved like arms. My skin prickled with gooseflesh. “Oh, yeah, we’re leaving.”


“Yay, indeed.” As a group, we turned our rides and headed back the way we’d come.

Randall said, “Whatever’s back there, I don’t think we need it.”

Judy pulled her bike alongside mine and added, “It might lead down to the river, but if we need to get there, we can find another way, can’t we Gramps?”

“I have no doubt,” I agreed.

She was probably right, although we’d been going uphill. I could imagine that tunnel of trees opening up on the far side to a vista of the valley down below the mountainside and the river meandering through it. The road would start to descend and wind down…

I could see it. In my mind, it was an appealing vision.

In reality, it meant going through that tunnel of trees; that tunnel called to me, but the feelings it inspired were those of impending doom. That tunnel made me feel that we’d never make it through to the far side, and never see what lay beyond.

Nope. Not going that way!

When we got back to the fork in the road where we’d parted company with Vance’s group, I was alarmed to see the dirt bikes and the hand-made signs suggesting we refrain from going up that road.

“Are we going to investigate?” Darren asked. I felt my jaw drop as I turned to stare at him.

Judy reached over and slugged him in the arm. “No!”

“We most certainly are NOT going to investigate,” I growled. I took another look at Darren.

Ah! He’s the one Mae has repeatedly referred to as “The Dumb Blonde”. I have scolded her for it, of course. But—now I get it.

I shook my head, a little disgusted with myself. He’s a kid; kids are curious.

Randall pointed at the tracks in the dirt road. “They ran off on foot,” he told us. “Something…”

“Something scared them,” I finished, when his voice just trailed off. “They’ll head back to the church. So will we.”

“What about the bikes?” Darren asked.

“Think you can ride two at a time?”I asked, my voice dripping with sarcasm.

The boy looked doubtful. “Uh…”

I sighed. “We’ll come back for them, don’t worry. Let’s go.”

It didn’t take long to get back to the church. Vance was there with his group, plus Penny and Ash. Mort was there, too, and Barry. They’d all been working in the village, salvaging, but I didn’t think twice about their presence.

Sid had been with Vance on that road. Whatever had transpired, Penny felt called to come and join them at the church. Simple.

I know, to any outsiders it might not seem to be so simple. But it’s like I told you—they feel things.

And me? I am starting to get it.

I’m not crazy about that.

After the woods and those crazy roads, the church felt damn near normal, even though there’s not much left in the building. For the first time all day, my stomach settled. “What set you scrambling without your bikes?” I asked.

Vance looked reluctant to speak, but the girl who’d gone with him jumped right in. “It was me,” she said. “I think the fairy circle was trying to pull me in.”

“Fairy circle?” Oh, my God, what fresh hell was this?

Vance gave me a rather defiant glare and said, “I don’t know about fairies, but there’s a circle of trees up there that has a distinctly evil aura,” he said.

I sighed. “I know what you mean. Road we took narrows into some sort of crowded tree tunnel, and evil is as good as any word to describe how it made me feel.”

“Me, too.” Natalie agreed. “I—I think they could have reached out and grabbed us.”

“That’s just—” Ash began.

“Stupid?” Natalie shot back defensively.

Ash’s face flushed, and for a moment I was afraid he might lose his temper. “Not at all what I was going to say,” he assured her.

“I—I’m sorry.” Natalie looked crestfallen. “I’m still shaking.”

I slapped my hands on my thighs. “Okay, folks,” I said. “I think we’re done here.”

“What about the—?”

“What, Darren?” I snapped.

“Oil…sir.” The boy’s face let me know I’d spoken harshly. I hadn’t meant to.

Instead of apologizing, I looked at Mort. “How’d the salvaging go?”

“There’s a lot of good stuff, Dale.”

“Let’s just deal with that for now, then,” I said. “I feel like…”

“I’ve had it, too,” Vance agreed, even though I hadn’t given voice to my thought.

I looked at Penny. She had the grace to look contrite. “I didn’t mean for this to…be like this,” she told me. “I mean—”

“Hey, sometimes we find, even when we don’t seek.” Sid shrugged.

I shrugged back. “I don’t know how this was missed when I had the area surveyed. But I do know this—I don’t like it. We should get going.”

“We’ve got to go back for the bikes,” Sid protested.

“You kids get back to the warehouse,” I ordered. “The grownups will get the bikes.”

“Sir?” Darren spoke up. “Are you walking up there?”


“Four bikes up there; four grownups. Can you ride two at a time?”

Smart ass kid might not be a dumb blonde after all.

Ash said, “I’m going, Sid. You walk the girls back to town.”

Sid started to protest, but Penny grabbed his hand.

“I just need to see a little,” Ash told his brother.

Sid joined Penny, Natalie, Judy and Mary in their walk back to the warehouse.

It didn’t take the rest of us long to join them there. Together, we finished packing up the things we’d be able to move to the compound on this trip and locked everything else into the warehouse.

I already knew the debates ahead of me.

George and Buck were already making plans for the oil.

Ticky Tacky Houses

They weren’t really houses. They were storage sheds-slash-garages. Garishly painted in pastel colors, they stood out like sore thumbs in the alleyway.

The first time I saw them, this silly song jumped into my head, that old tome “Little Boxes”. Of course, if you really listen to it, it isn’t silly at all. It shares a truth people might like to ignore.

But those sheds—the words “ticky tacky” just fit. They look like someone threw them together from scraps and tried to disguise their essential junk funk with pretty pastels.

They are not pretty. They’re hideous.

I think that’s what drew me to them, honestly. The tacky paint jobs, now seriously in need of fresh coats, made them singularly unappealing. You looked, and then you looked away, appalled.

It lent them an air of invisibility.

Invisibility was exactly what I needed.

I’d done my research and knew that they had been deserted a few years back. The owner had been renting them out to folks in a nearby projects housing development for cheap. The housing had been torn down and everyone collected their cars and their junk and moved on.

I hear tell that some folks left their stuff and the owner had a shed sale to get rid of it all. I don’t really know the whole story, and it doesn’t even matter.

What matters is I needed someplace to lay low while Barry was still on his rampage, hunting me down.

He always swore I would never have the nerve to leave him. “I take care of you, babe,” he said. “I pay the bills around here—you’re nothing but the freeloader I allowed to use me. So buckle up, Buttercup!”

I hate those words. “Buckle up, Buttercup” basically meant one of two things. Either I was going to spend an hour or so pretending he was making love to me, or I was going to spend about the same amount of time protecting my face so I could go out in public without anyone staring at me.

The worst part of it? He was right. I didn’t dare leave. I didn’t have a job, or any marketable skills. Where would I go? What would I do? I was nothing.

But that changed. The little plus-sign on the stick I peed on changed everything.

I had been nothing, but now I would be something. Now I would be a mother. And my baby was not going to grow up in that environment.

No way.

If I could get to Mallory, I would be fine. But she’d be the first person he checked with. And he’d keep checking.

So I didn’t call her.

I made a get-away plan. I had to do it quickly, before Barry realized what was happening inside my body. The last time I’d dared to get pregnant, he’d fixed that situation quick.


I wasn’t stupid enough to tell him this time.

I pulled money out of the checking account I wasn’t supposed to use for anything but grocery shopping. At first it was ten dollars here, twenty dollars there—it was easy to hit that cash-back button when I scanned the card, but I didn’t want amounts that would draw attention. Not right away.

I had a little stash of my own that I had been building on since…since the last pregnancy. “Change” from the washing machine. Barry notoriously refused to clean out his pockets before throwing them on the bathroom floor, and sometimes I was able to net as much as fifty bucks on laundry day.

If he asked if any money was there, I’d give it to him. I’m not crazy. “Oh, yeah, honey, it’s in the laundry room, let me run and get it for you.” But basically, it meant nothing to him. He usually returned his cash to his wallet, and the bills he occasionally stuffed in a front pocket generally amounted to only a dollar or two. But I did get lucky sometimes and found a ten or a twenty.

Hey, it adds up over a couple of years.

I walked one day to a used car lot to look around. I bought this little car that looks like it is being held together with toothpaste and duct tape and chicken wire, but runs like a dream. They guy who sold it to me said his son used it as a motor shop project at school, but he dropped out before doing the body work.

“Knocked up his girlfriend.” The guy looked disgusted and disappointed and proud all in one second—it was uncanny. “Got his GED, though. He’s working.”

He didn’t want to deal with the body work, and I didn’t care what it looked like as long as it would run, so we made a good deal.

Go, me!

I took some clothes and the few personal items I care about and I checked out of hotel Barry for good.

Fine, upstanding citizen Barry was not going to come looking for me on the far side of town where even the projects won’t live anymore. He would expect me to look for help among our moneyed friends and neighbors, and he’d have some wonderful stories to tell about how crazy and messed up I am.

That wouldn’t be a lie, exactly. I’m pretty messed up. But now I believe there were a lot of our friends who suspected the problem was not me.

I left my big house and my nice car. I left my books and my cell phone. I copied all the phone numbers I might want later into a tiny address book and kept that on me at all times.

I set my sights on the blue ticky-tacky box because the door looked big enough to drive the car inside.

It was nothing but a space, that shed. When the car was inside, I didn’t have much room. But I cleaned it up and made a home out of it. I got some old fruit pallets from the ship yard and put an air mattress on top and made myself a decent bed. I found an old card table at the dump and cleaned it up and got myself a folding chair. I spent some ill-gotten money on a hibachi so I could cook.  

I became queen of second-hand. The trunk of my car was my closet. I dressed in rags and went to the soup kitchens. I kept my head down.

I kept my eye on the news—Barry didn’t report me missing right away.

When he finally did call the police, the speculations started. People we knew started speaking out about how they suspected I was being abused.

It was so weird to hear an acquaintance of ours talking to news reporters about how she failed to reach out to me and find out if I was okay, and then starting to cry. I felt like I barely knew her. All the friends were Barry’s, you know?

I used a free clinic to keep tabs on my baby. I didn’t use my real name, and they specialized in “no ask, no tell”. But this morning my appointment went a bit off the rails.

“I know who you are,” Dr. Morgan said. “You don’t have to keep this up, you know.”

“If you know who I am,” I retorted, “they you must understand that I certainly do have to keep this up.” I started to cry—big, sloppy sobs, the kind people call “ugly crying”. What else could I do?

“There must be—”

“You don’t understand.” I pulled up my stupid paper hospital Johnny and used it to wipe my face. “This baby—I have to keep him safe.”

“Lila,” she said—using my false name, bless her heart. “Don’t you have someone you can call for help?” She rolled her little stool closer to where I sat on the cold metal examining table. “I know from the news that you were a foster child, so you don’t have family, but—”

“I sometimes think,” I whispered, “that it was one of the things that made me appealing to him.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it for an instant.” Dr. Morgan looked grim. “I’ve seen that sort of co-dependency before.”

“I have a friend. A good friend. But I don’t want…him…to bother her. I mean—he’s probably already been bothering her.” I shrugged. “That’s why I haven’t called her.”

“Where is this friend? Close?”

“No. She’s in Chicago.”

“Look. I’m not going to ask you where you’re staying, or how you’re getting around. I have to assume you’re somewhere close by. You’re certainly nowhere near your…um…neighborhood.”

I laughed at that. “No, I’m sure not,” I agreed.

“I can send you to someone who can help you get to Chicago,” she offered. “And get you a safe place to stay in the meantime.”

“I’m safe where I am,” I told her. “I just have some things to figure out.”

“But we could—”

“I don’t want to go to the shelter,” I cried. “They’ll be obligated to tell the police where I am, and then Ba—” I stopped, horrified that his name had almost slipped out of my mouth. “They’ll tell him. I know they will.”

Dr. Morgan shrugged. “Right now they think he killed you,” she stated flatly.

“They do?” That was interesting. I hadn’t heard that on the news.

“It’s in their demeanor. The things they say when they appeal to the public for information.”

“Oh?” I had a sudden thought. “And has…has he made any appeals?” I slammed my hands over my mouth. “No—don’t answer that. I’m not falling for any more of his shit.”

“It so happens that he has—big press conference and everything.” Dr. Morgan folded her arms. “I wasn’t all that impressed, frankly.”

“Who else here know?” I demanded. “Everyone?”

The doctor looked surprised. “Not that I know of,” she assured me.

I was not assured.

“Am I done here? I have to go.”

What had I been thinking? A short haircut and a change of color and oversized sunglasses apparently didn’t do enough to change my appearance.

“Lila, don’t. Don’t go. Let me help you get away.”

“Why?” I demanded. “Why would you do that?”

She looked uncomfortable. It made me suspicious.


“Let’s just say…I am paying it forward.”


She took a deep breath and tightened her lips. “Okay,” she said. “I don’t talk about this—ever. But I have been where you are. Oh—” She held up her hands to stop my protests. “Not exactly where you are; but close enough.” She shrugged. “Someone helped me. Now I want to help you.”

And she did.

That would be a whole book worth of story, and I may tell it someday.

For now, I just want to tell you that no one ever looked in that ticky-tacky house. Mallory and Susan—Dr. Morgan, that is—came here with me today. I showed baby Mickey my beat up old heap of a car and my stash of throw-away furniture and my hibachi. He grinned and drooled and was absolutely unimpressed.

“You should show more consideration, Mickey,” I said. “Mommy got out of the box.”

We loaded the car onto a trailer and hauled it back to Chicago. I’m taking an auto shop class, and I’m going to give it the body it deserves.

It still runs like a dream.

No Ferry Today, Part 6

A group of islanders had gathered on the beach in front of The Beach Bar. They weren’t right up close to the water, out of experienced respect of the tide. They had dragged the abandoned beach chairs up closer to the front of the little restaurant/bar, added several others, and sat together, staring out to sea.

They were trying, in the waning light, to get a glimpse of the mainland.


As the day had moved inexorably toward dusk, they became more anxious, and now sat hoping for the return of Devin’s little skiff and a reunion with their companions.

“That’s not fog,” Vivian declared.

A few people jumped at the sound of her voice. They had been silent for quite some time—probably since the twins had drifted off to sleep on big beach towels in front of their parents’ feet.

“What do you—” Monique began.

“I can hardly see a lick, and even I know that’s not fog,” Vivian continued.

“It’s smoke.” Elvin said this with complete conviction.

“Yes,” Vivian agreed. “Something terrible has happened on the mainland.”

“Like what?” Monique demanded.

“Like…an explosion. A fire.”

“A bombing.” Elvin, emphatic once more; and yet, his voice was incredibly steady and calm.

“How do you—?”

“Know? I don’t. But…that’s smoke, okay? And it covers the whole horizon. We can’t see the mainland at all. What else would be that big? One fire? Or several?”

“Jesus,” Barnaby groaned.

Vivian’s face was a pale mask. Behind thick lenses, her eyes were red and puffy. She wasn’t crying—at least not yet. But it was a near thing.

Bill watched her with some concern—she was no spring chicken, and her light and love had sailed off in a skiff, headed for the mainland, hours ago.

Jessica slipped an arm around her. “What can we do?” she asked.

“I’d like to go to the docks,” Vivian replied. “Will you walk with me?”

“Of course.”

“I’ll go, too,” Bill offered.

Barnaby looked at Lou Ann and at Paul and Pam, sleeping at their feet. He couldn’t imagine how his wife would feel if he’d been one of the people who’d left the island.


When he and Elvin had returned to The Beach Bar earlier in the day, Lou Ann and Monique had joined Vivian, Bill and Jessica’s quest to check on the others who lived on the island.

They busied themselves hauling beach chairs and setting them up in front of the little building.

When everyone had made their way back, they sat staring out at the water. Lou Ann told them about speaking with her father.

“I asked Daddy if there had ever been a time when the ferry didn’t make the regular run. He said the only time he could remember was when Pearl Harbor was bombed.” Lou Ann raised a hand and bit her fingernail. “That was years before I was born, and Dad was just a little boy—I can’t believe he even remembers, but he said his father was upset so it stuck in his mind.”

“That’s all the way on the other side of the country!” Barnaby protested.

“Upset about the ferry, or about Pearl Harbor?” Vivian asked dryly.

Lou Ann gaped, then burst out laughing. “I would imagine Pearl Harbor,” she said, “but what do I know?”

Vivian turned to Barnaby. “As to where Pearl Harbor is in relation to us, I suppose all water-based vessels were told to stay put.”

Barnaby shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense,” he reasoned. “Look at the time difference.”

“Maybe it was the next day,” Lou Ann argued impatiently. “Dad wasn’t much older than the twins when it happened. It’s not like we can ask Grandpa.”

“Not without a medium.” Elvin spoke in an offhand manner. It was absolute truth, and silenced everyone for a while.

Finally, Monique turned to Lou Ann and said, “Your Dad’s that old? Aren’t you, like, my age? My Grandpa was barely old enough for World War II!”

Lou Ann shrugged. “I’m the only child of his second marriage, after his first wife died. Mom’s a lot younger—I think I was a big surprise, though.”

“Well, for a guy in his—what? Eighties?—he looks fantastic.”

Lou Ann grinned. “Yeah, he does.”

It spoke volumes that the last time anyone remembered the ferry missing its trip was the end of 1941.

Something terrible had happened.


Barnaby smiled at his wife. “You mind if I go along to the dock, too?”

“No, go ahead.” Lou Ann nodded her head at the twins. “You wore them out—they’ll sleep all night, if we let them.”

Elvin said, “I’ll be here with the ladies, kicking back with a beer. If you need me, holler. I’ll hear you.”

“You know,” Bill said, “I’m surprised more people haven’t come down here to the beach. Everyone we talked to this afternoon said they’d rather stay home.”

“I’m not surprised,” Monique replied. “I’d be home, too, if I hadn’t already been out when all this started.”

“Would you?”

She stared at the ground, thoughtful. Finally, she raised her eyes to meet his. “If Margo wasn’t out there—yeah. I’d be home.”

It wasn’t a long walk to the docks, but the sun was getting low in the west and they made their way slowly. Vivian’s vision wasn’t great in daylight; in low light it was terrible. They led her carefully.

As they got near, Bill snapped his fingers. “We need lights,” he said. “I’m going to run back and get some lanterns or flashlights or something.”

“What for?” Jessica demanded. “The power’s still on.”

“Just in case.” Bill shrugged. “I don’t feel good about this. I don’t want to be standing there in the dark.”

Barnaby muttered, “I’m not so sure I want to be putting myself in the spotlight.”

Vivian turned to Bill. “Go, Bill. Get your lights. Flashlights, so we can look out at the water. I think they’re coming. I feel it.”

Bill turned and sprinted back up the beach.

When he returned he had two large torches with lights as big as Barnaby’s twins’ heads.

The tide came in as the sun went down, and across the reach clouds had gathered in the sky above the smoke banks. Suddenly, there was a crackling flash, and then another, of lightning. It cut through the smoke and gave them a quick glimpse of the opposite shore.

There were no lights on over there.

Thunder crashed; crashed again. The storm was close enough to shake the dock under their feet.

The next flash of lightning lit the water in front of them. They could see the skiff moving toward them. Bill and Barnaby switched the torches on and shone them across the water.

“Oh, thank God! Thank God!”

It was Margo—Bill would know that voice anywhere.

“Melvin!” Vivian called.

“”We’re coming, honey!”

Boom! Thunder followed close on the heels of the last lighting flash.

“We’re in for it now,” Jessica said, and sure enough, the rain started pouring down.

“Jesus, that moved in fast!” Barnaby cried.

Now that they could see their goal, Melvin, Devin and Margo rowed faster, and soon enough Bill and Barnaby were hauling them in and tying the skiff to the dock.

They all hurried up the dock to the beach and made their way quickly back to The Beach Bar.

Monique and Lou Ann had gotten the toddlers inside just in time to stay dry. Everyone else was drenched.

Table cloths were fetched to use as towels, and the group sat down together after a few moments of chaotic cussing.

“Well?” Elvin asked, once everyone had settled down. “What happened?”

Margo, Melvin and Devin exchanged glances and Margo burst into tears.

“Oh, shit,” Bill sighed.

Melvin said. “Yup. You got that right.”

To be continued….

No Ferry Today (Part 5)

The little skiff bumped something, turned slightly to the left and bumped something else. Margo leaned over the side and looked down into the water. She screamed.

Bodies floated all around them.

Junior, who’d had very little to say since leaving the island, slipped easily into the seat next to Margo and covered her mouth with a large hand. “Shh, girl,” he whispered. “You keep still now. You keep quiet.”

Margo nodded vigorously. She’d felt the tension the minute she let loose with that wail—shut up, shut up, what if someone hears you?

“You good?” Junior asked.

Margo nodded again, and Junior removed his hand.

“We’re turning around,” Devin announced.

“But my—”

“Take a good look, Margo!” Melvin cried. “Your cat is not fine.”

Margo started to cry. “I wasn’t going to say anything about my cat! I was going to say ‘my mother’!”

Melvin’s mouth dropped open and his face flushed bright red. “Shit. I’m sorry, Margo. I didn’t think…”

Junior pulled her into an awkward hug.

The smoke was thick and cloying, and made it hard to either breathe or see. But what they could make out was not a sight that made them the least bit hopeful.

Boats were listing or sunken in the harbor around the dock. The dock itself was battered and broken.

There were more bodies in the water—no one dared to count.

“Oh, crap,” Devin cried. “Welp…there’s the damn ferry.” He pointed.

The ferry was listing to one side. Truly, it was closer to upside down, with very little left to leave its bottom completely exposed to the sky.

“Bet that’s where the bodies came from,” Junior mused.

“But…it’s not that far between the ferry and the dock,” Margo argued. “I could swim that far—why didn’t they swim?”

No one answered. There wasn’t any way they could know how the vessel had ended up in its current position.

“That thing’s gonna go down any time now.” Melvin said. His voice was flat, implacable. He was terrified, but no one could tell that from his voice.

Margo, though, could see it in his eyes.

“It’ll take us with it,” Devin added. His voice was shrill, more what Margo would expect from a frightened person. He swung the little skiff around and cranked up the speed of the outboard motor. He was headed for open water as fast as he could go.

“What do you mean, it’ll take us with it?” Margo asked, raising her voice to be heard.

“Suction,” Melvin stated flatly. “Ever watch water in the tub go down the drain? Seen how it pulls the soap bubbles and anything floating down toward it?”

Margo gasped, recalling how her little boats would drift rapidly toward the drain, spinning and capsizing, even when they were on the far side of the tub when she pulled the plug. “Oh, God. Hurry, Devin!”

“We’re not that close,” Junior told her soothingly. “But better safe than sorry.”

Once they’d put some distance between themselves and the harbor and dock, Devin swung the skiff around so they could watch.

Margo looked around, and saw people further up the beach, also watching. As a group, they suddenly lunged out of the water and headed away from the shoreline.

Devin remarked, “Someone must have mentioned the surge.”


“Ayuh. Ferry’ll go down, and suck water and anything else close by with it. Then things will pop back to the surface and the water will gush out all over, and—”

“Are we far enough away?” Margo cried.

“Who knows?” Melvin grinned. “We’re likely to get wet, that’s certain.”

“Let’s get out of here!”

Devin obliged by moving further out and over in the direction of the people on the shoreline.

“Shit,” Junior muttered. “Fires.” He pointed inland.

Through thickening plumes of smoke, flames could be seen in several locations.

Margo, who had been leaking from the eyes for some time and telling herself it was the effects of the smoke in the air, finally let go and began to sob in earnest. She pointed in a generally northwest direction, where fire could be observed, massively high flames dancing in the breeze coming off the water. “My mother lives over there!”

Junior, struck stupid with shock, asked, “Where do you live?” He had visions of roasted kitty and felt like he might vomit at any time.


The ferry groaned and screamed, and the suctioning water boiled around it as it upended and went under.

The back surge sent wild waves to crash into the skiff, soaking them all and the little boat skittered backward across the water.

“Not far enough,” Devin mused, working to keep them upright.

As the boat settled, still intact and surprisingly not as full of water as one might expect, Junior gave up his battle, leaned over the side and expelled his excellent lunch.

“Ah, shit,” Melvin muttered. He swallowed his rising gorge and just managed not to follow suit.

“Sorry.” Junior looked miserably embarrassed. Margo hugged him.

More bodies could be seen now, bobbing to the surface and floating on the water. Margo suppressed the screams that demanded to be released, but sobbed harder than before. She couldn’t stop watching as the waves drove the bodies to the shore.

Someone on shore screamed. The people began to run further away from the shoreline.

“Take us home, boy,” Melvin told Devin. “There’s nothing to see here.”

“There’s plenty to see,” Devin argued. “But I don’t want to see it.”

The little outboard engine had died when the waters surged over it. Junior moved to the back to help Devin tip it and attempt to get it dry enough to start again.

“Damn it!”


“Damn it!”


“God damn it!”

“Never mind,” Melvin said. He bent and fished oars from underneath the seats. “It’s not that far—”

“I don’t want to land here!” Margo squealed.

“No, no.” Melvin reached out and patted her leg reassuringly. “It’s not that far back to the island.”

Margo took an oar. “I’m not very good at this,” she warned.

“No matter,” Devin said. He and Junior took places on the seats and took oars in hand. “We’ll all do our best.”

Swinging the skiff around again, they put their backs to the mainland. Margo thought she couldn’t bear to look any longer. Even from here, the destruction was obvious. Her mother was probably dead; with that thought foremost in her musings, her cat was no longer on her mind at all.

As she worked to match the rhythm of the men, she wondered about the people on shore. She lifted the oar and slid it smoothly into the water again, and decided not to care about anything but getting back to the island.

No one said a word.

This is part of a continuing series. This episode was previously published on Vocal Media:

Part 6 is coming soon!

No Ferry Today Part 4

They were strangers, drawn together on the shore by a force they didn’t understand.

Although it was midday, the horizon had taken on the hues of sunset. They could smell the heavy scent of smoke in the air.

Further up the beach, close to the docks, many of the boats had been capsized or sunk. The ferry, which made daily runs between here and the scattering of islands offshore, lay on its side in the water.

“It’ll go down,” an old man remarked to no one in particular. “Just hasn’t taken on enough water to send it down yet.”

No one answered.

A couple of empty boats bobbed on the surface.

Karen stood knee-deep in the water, staring across the reach toward the nearest island–not that she could see it through all the residual smoke. She just couldn’t bear to look at the docks any longer. “God is punishing us,” she whispered.

“For what?” This came from an elderly woman who was also standing in the water.


Karly, Karen’s sister, gave her a nudge. “Don’t be a Karen, Karen,” she whispered urgently. “This is bad enough.”

“T’ain’t God,” the old woman said. “People did this.”

“What people?” Karen asked.

“Is it a war?” The little boy who asked this was standing apart from a young woman who may or may not have been his mother. She was beckoning him to come to her, but he ignored that. “Do the so-jers come now?”

“Benny,” the young woman hissed, barely above a whisper. “Come here!”

“It’s a war, Billie,” he replied. “I think so-jers are coming.”

The young woman–Billie–shook her head. “Soldiers aren’t coming, Benny.”

The old woman spoke up again: “Someone is bound to come.”

“Who?” Karen asked.

The old man kept his eyes on the ferry. As it settled deeper in the water, a platoon of hissing bubbles arose around it, gurgling and sputtering. “We need to get out of the water, folks,” he announced, his voice oddly calm in the face of upcoming calamity.

“”Why?” Benny demanded.

“There’ll be suction when she goes down.” The old man turned and looked the boy in the eye. “It’ll knock us on our asses, maybe drag us in.”

“How do you–?”

“And then there will be a back-surge.”

“It’s not even deep–” Benny began, and then Billie had him by the arm. “Hey!”

Billie said, “For once, just do as you’re told!” She started dragging him to shore.

Karen and her sister didn’t hesitate. Karly took her hand and they pulled each other back up to the beach.

The old man waded to the elderly woman and offered his arm. She let him lead her out of the water.

The ferry started to groan in protest as water sucked it down.

Benny, finally realizing it wasn’t unlikely to send water rushing up the shoreline, started pulling Billie away from the shoreline, and the others followed.

“Who did this?” Karly asked.

No one answered.

Well away from the water, they stood together and watched to boat go under. It was surprisingly noisy, the sinking process. Groaning timbers, squealing steel, the slurp, slurp of suctioning waters and the roar of bursting bubbles were a cacophenous symphony, with background singers made up of screeching seagulls.

It went down with a mighty splash, and then the seas rose in an impressive succession of waves that battered the beach and soaked the onlookers in spite of the distance they’d backed up.

“Jesus Christ!” Benny cried.

“Who did this?” Karly repeated.

Karen screamed when the first body was slapped up out of the water and onto the beach. She and Karly turned and ran.

Benny yelled, “Jesus Christ!”

Billie slapped the back of his head. “Stop saying that!” she shouted.

“You bitch, Billie,” Benny growled, vigorously rubbing his injury.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God!”

“Never you mind, Ellen.” The old man patted his elderly companion’s hand.

“How many people were on that ferry?”

“Never mind, never mind.” He turned her away when the next body slammed into the sand. “We have to get back and check on the others.”

“Oh, Marty!” Ellen began to sob. “Everything’s burning!” Even so, when he began to walk, she went along with him.

“Come on, Benny,” Billie said. “We have to see if Mom’s okay.”

Benny stood staring, horrified fascination on his face. Suddenly, he thrust his face toward the sea. “Look, Billie!”


“It’s a skiff! I think someone is coming!”

Billie grabbed his arm and started pulling. “Let’s get out of here!”

Benny used both hands to shade his eyes. “I think it’s someone from the island,” he argued.

“I don’t care! Let’s go!”

Reluctantly, Benny let himself be led off the sand and up to the parking area.

Karen and Karly were there. Marty and Ellen stood, arms wrapped around each other. Billie stared. Benny cried for the third time, “Jesus Christ!”

The cars in the lot were smashed flat and smoking.

Karen turned to the group and asked, “Are we alive?”

No one answered.