Chapter 14

Ithaca, NY

Mike’s Journey

               Mike began to walk south. The ground was wet and muddy and most of the snow had disappeared. He was unsure if it had melted, or mixed with the churning ground, or simply vanished. He raised the jacket’s hood over his head to keep warm against the gnawing cold and bitter wind. Not a single building remained standing that he could see, and most trees had also fallen. His view was interrupted by mounds of dirt and the remains of buildings and forests. He understood that he needed shelter, supplies and a plan, but he could only manage to put one foot in front of the next, getting up when he stumbled, stomping his feet when they got too cold.                

For miles he did not see a single living soul, just destruction and devastation. Every so often he would check on a body in a crumpled car, or next to a standing wall. All dead. Bodies were clumped together in pockets here and there, most clearly killed by a falling building or cracks that had formed in the ground. Some had been killed by trees or splattered against a rock by the wind. Yet others had died in fires and these bodies he left alone.                

Ithaca had been a relatively small town and most building were under four stories in height, and Mike did not think their fall alone could cause all the deaths; something else had added to the killing, but whatever it had been had left no trace that Mike could discern.                

His immediate goal was to reach a major thoroughfare, possibly Route 81, the north-south highway that led down to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and met Route 80 south to Washington, D.C. He hoped those roads were still passable and he could reach help or transport. That those roads may also be impassable was a thought he was unwilling to entertain yet.  As he walked he scrounged for things he thought he may need. He found a canvas backpack in East Ithaca and began to fill it with cans of food and bottles of water, two blankets from a destroyed home that he shook out and rolled, then tied to the top of the pack, and flashlights and matches he found at a hardware convenience store.               

By the time he reached Slaterville Springs his pack was heavy and he was exhausted. Running along the road are fallow fields, the homes resting in neat piles. He sees the red roof of a rundown barn and a silo tower still and sharp against the brilliant sky and his heart skips a beat; could something have survived? He looks to where the shadow of the roof hits the ground and realizes that the roof sits still on the ground, the barn walls swallowed or destroyed, in any case no longer there, but the silo is nearly undamaged. Dead and dying trees litter the sides and form a dam between the roof and the leaning silo.The trees are bare and broken, the bark shorn and cut and stripped bare. The violence and force that have hit his little slice of Earth are nearly incomprehensible, but this devastation too he sets aside in his heart, his mind now fixed on survival and finding help, so he walks in the direction of the roof and prays for shelter on this third night.

He enters the roof through the hayloft opening and lallows his eyes to get accustomed to the dark. He could smell pigs and chickens and wet hay, but he could hear no noise. The barn was empty with the exception of splintered wood and muddy hay strewn about. Mike started gathering some of the drier hay and set in on the outside near the opening, and then broke some branches from the dead trees and brought those over as well. He started a pyre and then lit it without much difficulty. He gauged the direction of the wind with the fire and entered the barn and grabbed some of the clapboard pieces and used them to create a windbreak to protect the fire. As he waited for the fire to catch in earnest he looked over at the standing silo and walked over to investigate why it was still standing. He banged on the sides of the galvanized aluminum structure and heard a solid sound. The silo was full of something (not grain in New York, right? So what was it?) and that had made the structure solid enough to withstand the earthquake and the wind.  

Mike suddenly felt the weight of the day and his circumstances fully on his shoulders and leaned against the silo with his back, letting out a sigh and then a sob. He put his head in his hands and slid down the curved wall onto his haunches, his thoughts having turned to his brother and parents and the horror he had seen this day. The wind picked up and prickled his cold fingers and stung his ear. He turned his head to look at the fire as the wind picked up in intensity and he saw his recently built protective wall of wood shudder against its invincible foe. As he got up to protect it a strong gust knocked him on his side and pinned him down. The howling noise increased and he felt he would be lifted off the ground in any second. He scrambled for protection on the other side of the silo as pieces of wood and branches and lit embers flew over him. He pulled himself along the ground, his fingers digging deep into the mud and finding purchase on the frozen ground beneath it, reaching the safety and protection of the silo’s leeward side just as the barn roof elevated and flipped and struck the windward side and broke in two, its halves immediately torn to pieces and carried away as if dandelion seeds blown riven and asunder, the noise captured by the wind and taken too.

Mike raised his eyes and saw in the sky directly above him a thing, a craft of some sort, if a craft could have no defined shape or color, if the size could not me measured, and if this craft could pound cold terror into your chest. This thing was, if anything has ever been, evil, as clearly as your heart knows a new-born is good. It was moving at what appeared to be a slow speed, but Mike knew that its size would affect the appearance of speed, that it might be moving at the speed of sound or standing still and he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The vessel was so dark mike could not see any structure to its belly.  Mike thought that it resembled what a shadow in the dark, or the emptiness of a hole would look like, if they could be seen.

From the pulsing side of the ship a smaller shadow separated, this one a tiny shade, and the tiny shade grew as it descended. Michael tried to get up and run for he instantly had no doubt that shade was meant for him, that it would engulf him and erase him from light forever. He tried to run with the wind, but the shredding force knocked him down as soon as he left the refuge of the silo and pinned him down once again. He looked up and saw the black spot come closer as he frenetically tried a combination of getting up, crawling and dragging himself along the ground.

The spot over-flew him and came to rest twenty meters from where he lay. He tried to turn and head back to the silo, but the wind filled his mouth and stole his breath and blinded his eyes, and he found himself immobilized by its force, his face now planted into the mud so he could breathe. He began to wish he had died with all the other unfortunates he had seen that day, his heart beating impossibly quick, and he began to pray for himself and his brother, and his parents, for the world and for God, for surely he too was dead.

Suddenly the wind stopped, as violently as it had begun, and he dared to raise his face. He noticed that shadows no longer covered the landscape and he could feel the warmth of the sun at his back. He had a second to think about miracles and god and his luck and life before he felt something grab his legs and pull him, screaming damnations and cursing god, into a very dark shadow.


Chapter Fifteen