Fountain Lady

He hesitated rounding the Confederate monument in Forsyth Park, leaned against the freezing iron picket fence in front of the bust of native son, Colonel Barstow. Looked it squarely in the eye. Pulled his pea-jacket collar up to cover the multicolored woolen scarf against a biting wind driving the foreign snow. Turned his back to the man who’d led his great-grandfather to his senseless death. Shoved his bare hands into his coat pockets in a vain attempt to keep them warm.

Every tourist he’d ever known came to this city to avoid this kind of snowstorm and they’d be snuggled deep in guest beds under their down comforters in uninsulated historic homes. Or, maybe they were closing the bars with his friends down on River Street. He stared down the empty, broad live-oak thoroughfare to the most iconic sight in Georgia.

He walked toward that fountain, his tread careful and fixed like a ceremonial death march. The mix of snow and fallen live oak leaves sandblasted against his threadbare jeans. He stopped to huddle against one of the massive 250-year-old oak trunks leaving him standing in a windless, and bare section of the dull gray concrete walkway. He took his hands out of his pockets, laced them as in prayer, put his mouth to them, smiled, they smelled like last night’s BBQ sauce, and blew between them. He shoved them back into his pockets.

The walkway toward the fountain was a kaleidoscope pattern of whipping green snow as the St. Patrick’s Day fountain lighting turned the powerful, storm-driven night into a tourist-driven travesty of Irish celebration. He decided he’d brook no weather interference, gave up the scant protection, and marched to the edge of the fountain.

With a million people in town for the celebration, there was no room for his memories or private thoughts. And no freak storm, no amount of snow creating a green slush on the fountain’s lower level would stop tomorrow’s party. Stood silently watching the slush deepen by the minute. Forgot how to be cold as the lights flickered as the whipping winds and snow patterns played their brief lives out in front of the lights.

He’d forgotten his time up north before the storms came to his beloved South and how the snow built quickly when unexpected storms raged.
Shivered as he remembered.

Felt like he was being watched. Shivered again.

Water still splashed out of the white-painted gargoyle’s mouths to land in the slush below. He followed one stream of water up the fountain and was fascinated as it splashed down to land with a slurp into the fountain reservoir.

He stopped cold. It wasn’t the temperature this time; it was the unblinking eye of the gargoyle as their eyes met. The gargoyle blinked.
“Holy shit!” All thoughts of being cold, of numbing toes, of white fingertips, disappeared as he scanned the other gargoyles and angels on the fountain. Their eyes were alive, and they were looking at him. Unblinkingly staring at him. He took three steps backward, tripped on a crack in the pavement, and thumped down on his ass. He put his hands behind him to brace himself but didn’t notice the freezing concrete as his hands splashed through the slush in a vain attempt to stop himself from falling on his back. Never taking his eyes off the gargoyles, he jumped back to his feet pounded his hands on the side of his pants and front of his jacket to clear the slush, and tucked his hands under his armpits.

He heard a woman’s voice talking to him, asking him questions, but he couldn’t focus on the words. They were too far away, too soft, and in a language, he didn’t understand. They bounced around inside his head looking for a place to land so they could make sense. He knew this was happening, and he wondered if he was drunk somewhere and about to pass out. The cold convinced him otherwise.

“Ah, I think this will work.”

It was a soft voice, with a lilt of Ireland around the edges. It belonged to a woman, and he knew that voice.

“Hello there,” the voice said. And stopped, expectantly.

He had a heard all the fables, the stories, the legends, and the warnings. But none had mentioned this park, this place, this night. He took two steps backward and looked up at the woman on top. Her flowing robes had been scoured by the driving snow and all traces of the green dye had been blasted off. She stood in her white-painted splendor but instead of looking out over the park, she was looking directly at him.

I’d rather be shot for a lion than a lamb, he decided. “Hello back.” He stood and waited, and wondered if it was the beer, or his sanity leaving, that made him hear this voice tonight.

“It’s none of the above,” said the voice in his head. “It’s an invitation.”

“You are probably going to tell me it’s the best one I get all week,” he said.

“I think it’s the best one you’ll get in your entire life,” she said.

He took another two steps back. Looked at the other gargoyles and cherubs around the fountain to see they continued looking at him. Every eye he could see was looking back at him. He took another three steps backward. Got ready to turn and run. A fleeting thought went through his head, his great-grandfather should’ve run instead of standing and fighting against a hail of lead from those Gatling guns. I should run too, he thought. His feet never moved.

“Good. I see you decided to listen and not run.”

He forced himself to nod, to agree. Neither broke the unblinking stare they had created.

“We have an offer for you, it’s a unique offer, and is only given to a person most in need of it,” said the concrete woman.

“I’m listening.” In his head, he was wondering what in hell he was doing talking to a concrete statue in the middle of St. Patrick’s day weekend.

“We have a very long life here in the in the fountain. But every now and again, one of us moves on. And when that person decides to move on, we need a replacement. It’s that simple, we’re asking you if you’d like to join us here on the fountain?” said the woman.

“So you want me to become a cherub or a gargoyle,” he said. It wasn’t a question.

“We can see year lifespan, and it’s shorter than you think you’d like,” said the woman.

“So if I understand correctly, you’re magical, and you can see that I’m not going to live as long as I’d like. And I’m not drunk,” he said. He never took his eyes off hers. He tried not to blink but had to. She never did.

“You understand,” she said.

“How long do I have?” he asked.

“That is not for mortals to know,” she said.

“Well, I see no upside to becoming a statue,” he said. His mind roiled with the thoughts that cascaded as fast as the water came down from the fountain. He looked at his options for life. He was healthy. There was nothing wrong with him, and he expected another 60 years of life. He surely didn’t want to spend it frozen on top of the fountain, only coming to life every now and again.

“I think you sincerely for the offer,” he said. He used his most courteous voice, there was no point in annoying something as powerfully magical as a living fountain. There was enough Irish blood left in him to understand this very basic point.

“I understand,” she said. “It’s a limited time offer and will expire very shortly. Should you change your mind, simply say the words, “Fountain Lady I accept.”

He bobbed his head in acknowledgment. Turned and hurried away towards River Street, the bars, and his friends. He didn’t look to see if the eyes followed him.

Crossed Monterey Square and noted that even tonight, the night for raging parties, the lineups to get into Mercer House were long. The dimmed lights in the mansion windows weren’t comforting or welcoming; it’s as if they expected a visitor back from an early grave.

Lost in an almost-terror thought of being entombed in a statue, he stumbled on a large crack in the pavement crossing Madison Square right beside the massive statue of Sergeant Jasper. Immortalized for saving the regimental flag in the Battle of Fort Moultrie, Jasper died trying to replicate the feat a few years later at the Battle of Savannah. He glanced sideways and up to the statue’s face, the eyes remained fixed in bronze and immobile.
He relaxed. Perhaps it had been the beer talking to him. Perhaps … hell, he didn’t know. But talking statues weren’t the strangest thing he’d ever seen in this haunted town.

Approaching Liberty Street, the sidewalk turned icy. He shortened his steps, watched where he placed his feet and extended his arms to balance himself. Concentrated on staying upright against the driving wind. Stepped off the curb like a true city resident knowing drivers would stop. Felt, rather than saw something coming at him and looked up to see a pickup truck sliding sideways down the road towards him.  The Southern driver, unused to the icy road, had obviously braked normally. The driver didn’t expect the truck to lock up its wheels on the ice and turn to skid uncontrollably down the street towards the intersection.

He knew he’d be hit. His eyes opened wide. Tried to backpedal to get out of the way of the truck. Slipped and did a 360-degree spin before crashing to the street. He felt time slow. Looked over his shoulder to see the truck was only twenty feet away. Tried to wriggle backward out of its way. He couldn’t get any traction. Heard a person on the sidewalk gasp, glanced that way and met her eyes. Stared into a pair of deep brown, almost black, large, warm eyes opening wider in anticipation and shock.

He knew this was why the statue talked to him. He knew deep in his soul the woman was sending him a message. “Lady, I accept,” he said out loud.
Two seconds later, he stared out over the park towards that hated statue of Colonel Barstow. He was riding a fish spitting water out of its mouth and he was cold, so cold. He couldn’t move anything except his eyes. He couldn’t even shiver. Turned his eyes as far as he could to the left and right. All he could see close to himself was green-frozen ice and slush blanketing everything around him.

“It also gets hot in the summer,” said the woman’s voice in his ear. “But you’ll get used to it.”

He couldn’t turn his head to see her, couldn’t speak, couldn’t move his hands or any other part of his body other than his eyes attached to this stupid fish. This is it, he thought. This is all we get?

“Welcome to the park,” she said. “Let me know when you want to leave and go on to the dark.”

#####

“Fred, your coroner’s report said there was no cause of death in James Eastwood’s death,” said the mayor.

“Yessir, that boy just picked up and died of shock and fright,” replied the Coroner. “Too bad too, that truck hit the dry pavement a few feet in front of him and whipped off to the left. Would’ve missed him. Bounced off the curb there at the historic plaque. That young man should still be alive and well; should have lived for another 60 years.”

“Pity. Well, he’s in a happier place now,” said the mayor. “I said I’d call that reporter back about it, so I’ll see you next week at our regular card night. I’ll meet you at the north end and we can walk together through the Park down to the Legion as usual.”

 

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We’ll Get Them All Sooner or Later

 “The sons of bitches took my son but they ain’t taking my mind or my guns,” said George Willems over and over to himself as he methodically packed his black, three-quarter ton pickup with all of the important things in his life.

“God damned if I’ll get chipped or let them bastards tell me what to do or not to do,” he said out loud carefully piling another box up in the truck bed.  Willems had lived in this small 2-bedroom, white, clapboard home on this same maple tree-lined street for over 40 years.
Mary, his wife, died last year, the insurance company called it a “pre-existing condition” and refused the expensive treatment. His lawyer told him what it would cost to sue them and pointed out his wife was over 60 so the payout wouldn’t be based on her income but rather her expected lifespan as a senior citizen. George couldn’t afford the lawyer so he swallowed his wife’s death and it sat in his chest like an undigested lump of gristle.  His only son, George Junior, never returned from the Middle East because there wasn’t enough left of him to pack after his position was hit by a large bomb.

On his own now, he decided he’d had quite enough of government and what they were doing. Damned if I’m getting some damn chip so the government can track me anywhere they want. Yeah, they say they’ll monitor my health for me but what the hell, monitoring wouldn’t have saved Louellen from that damned insurance company he groused to himself.

“Good morning, Mr. Willems,” said Elizabeth Jameson. “Going camping?”

George turned to her and smiled. Recently widowed, Elizabeth still cut a fine figure of a woman and had things turned out different, George might have found himself sharing her bed.

“No ma’am, I’m off to Utah in the morning,” he said. “Don’t trust the government and those damn chips. They’ll be making it mandatory to get those chips before long and the further I’m away from Washington and radio systems, the better.”  It was the longest sentence he’d uttered since Mary had died. “Don’t want any voices in my head.”

Elizabeth put a soft smile on her face while she considered this thought. “I’m told they can monitor your health and send alarms to the hospital if you get too ill to call. I also heard you can get rid of your telephone because you can talk to anybody you want just through thinking of them. I think I’d like that,” she said.

Which was why George had avoided any thought or action that may have brought them together. She is so trusting, he thought. Or, maybe too simple.  But my goodness, she’s an attractive woman he thought.  A few more thoughts rolled across his brain and he smiled in spite of himself. Damn, I may be old but I’m not dead he thought.

Elizabeth misread his smile as accepting her comment about the health alerts and smiled back. “Well, Mr. Gordon if you’re leaving, perhaps you’d like a home cooked meal tonight. We can celebrate together,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am I’d like that,” he said.

She smiled at him and said, “Six o’clock.”  It wasn’t a question.

He nodded and his smile grew larger, “Six o’clock it is.”

Five o’clock the next morning, George stole silently out of Elizabeth Jameson’s front door leaving her sleeping soundly. He paused for a second to stretch out his back. It was sore from the amount of accustomed exercise loading the truck and also from the unaccustomed exercise after dinner.  Two times he thought. Two times.

With a broad smile, he walked towards his own home. He noticed the realtor had placed for sale signs there last night as she’d promised. She had the keys and his forwarding email addresses for any file documents requiring a signature. All he had to do was turn off the water and do a few small chores. It was as if he were going on a holiday instead of a new life.

Ten days later, he pulled into the lane of a small farm. Some descriptions of the property described it as being in the Rocky Mountain foothills and some described it as a mountain retreat. George had bought it ten years ago when he’d inherited enough money to purchase it outright but usually only visited for a week a year during hunting season. It was far too small to be a working farm but it came with a small, wood barn to shelter an old tractor that would provide the snow clearing he’d be sure to require up here. The house itself was sound on the outside but the interior was going to take a lot of time to get right. With nobody living in an unheated building, there were cracks in plaster and peeling wallpaper. An entire nation of mice had moved in at some point in the last year and had ruined every mattress or piece of padded furniture in the place.

George made a note in the small notebook he carried in his pocket. “Rat and mouse bait”.  He’d unpack and see if there was any in the cupboards.

On the first trip to the truck, George pulled out his phone from its holder on the dash. It lit up when it recognized his thumbprint and George’s smile grew broader as he recognized the no-signal icon appear on the top of screen. No signal meant no chips and more importantly, no tracking.

Over the next eighteen months, George improved the house, laid in a garden, shot and stored enough meat or caught and cured enough fish to last two years. And he generally woke up with a smile. His blood pressure dropped twenty points and after one dizzy spell when it dropped too low, he stopped taking his medications.

He saw his neighbors once a week at church and that seemed to be fine for all of them. George recognized kindred spirits living along this ridge and a live and let live philosophy prevailed. He’d been asked to help out at a barn repair bee one weekend and he gladly volunteered.

He’d met most of the neighbors then and discovered how much of an attitude towards the government they all shared.  They’d either been born out here and stayed or accidentally discovered the region as George had.  However they found it, they wanted it to remain the same and not be invaded by electronics or the government to “help them.”

It was a bright sunny spring day, the daffodils had finished blooming and the old lilac planted by some long-forgotten farmer’s wife was in full, fragrant, bright purple bloom when George heard something foreign to this place. 

His cell phone started chirping. He kept the battery charged because he liked using it as a convenient memory reminder system. His paper notebook had long-ago been filled and burned as fire starting kindling and the phone was a simple solution.

George picked it up and looked at the face.  His phone showed five bars likely from the new satellite system reaching down into his community.

He swore a string of words that would have had a sailor blushing, whipped the phone across the room to shatter on the old, black, cast-iron cookstove.

He didn’t need a phone anyway, he decided. He knew he’d do almost anything to stay off the grid.

Back in Washington, in an anonymous office, two officials dressed in casual, almost identical grey slacks and white shirts with red ties, laughed softly. “We lost about half of all Utah cell phones in the last 8 hours. They all simply disappeared off the grid,” said the taller of the pair.

The shorter, a female, said, “It doesn’t matter, sooner or later we’ll chip them – maybe when they go to a hospital or something similar –  or they’ll die and we won’t have this problem.

“Yeah, we’ll get them all sooner or later.”

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WIP: Global Warming

Works In Progress: Global Warming Impact. 

This note is a rough draft in a larger project. It will change as the project progresses. FYI: this was in reaction to a BBC story about this happening  Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

15 miles from Irkutsk, Siberia a small rodent took advantage of the thawing permafrost to dig her burrow deeper into the ground. This Chinese striped hamster was only one pregnant female from the hundreds of thousands of this small creature that had proliferated because of the warming temperatures. She was burrowing deeper in a search for the safety of frozen ground that would deter predators from digging and finding her nest.

Encountering a broad flat bone, she decided to chew her way through rather than dig around it. Her sharp front teeth made the work quick and easy, but along the way, she inadvertently swallowed some of the dried marrow from the center of the old bone. In the warmth and moisture of her stomach, long dormant spores came alive.

The next day was overcast and windy. The small hamster emerged from her burrow and search of seeds and edible greenery. She could feel her belly starting to swell with the new litter of babies so she was very careful as she checked the sky and her surroundings on the ground for predators. The wind was her undoing as it masked the sound of a diving hawk’s wings cutting through the air.

She died quickly from the shock as the hawk’s talons pierced her and broke her back.

Back at the nest, the hawk fed the hamster to its three chicks. Had the spores been able to be grateful, they would have appreciated this ability to triple their numbers. But being insensitive to such details, they simply started multiplying within each of the chicks.
Four days later, the chicks died and the female hawk cleaned them out of the nest, dropping them to the ground under the tree. A cat from the nearby farm found the newly dead chicks, considered them a delicacy and ate them immediately. That cat died four days later.

Two days after the death of the old barn cat, the youngest daughter of the farmer found her favorite kitten lying sick in a pile of old grain sacks in a corner of the barn. She knelt down beside the cat, stroked its head in an attempt to make it feel better. All the cat could do in return was to lick her hand. That turned out to be enough.

Three days after the cat died, the young girl told her mother she felt sick to her stomach. The young girl’s pallor convinced the woman that she was telling the truth, and she left her stay home from school that day. But by the next morning, when her daughter wasn’t feeling better, in fact, she was feeling worse and was hallucinating, the woman wrapped her in a blanket and carried her to the old farm truck.

The elderly country doctor carefully examined the young girl. He told the mother he didn’t know what was wrong with her daughter, but that he would phone ahead to the hospital and arrange for some tests. He suggested that perhaps it was food poisoning, and he only shrugged his shoulders when the young mother explained that her daughter was the only one who was sick in their family.
The doctors at the hospital were particularly busy that day due to several car accidents after an ice storm had swept through the city. A young girl with an upset stomach simply wasn’t high on their triage list. In fact, after the young girl had thrown up, a doctor remarked that perhaps getting something out of her stomach would perhaps solve the problem.

An orderly came and cleaned up the floor, but as she was rising the young girl coughed and hacked directly onto her shoulder and neck.

A day later, the young girl was dead. The orderly was throwing up in her own bathroom in her apartment, and several of the doctors and nursing staff were feeling nauseous.

In this way, person by person in an ever spreading pyramid of infection the spores multiplied to suck the life out of their hosts.
Three days later, the first doctor died and the tests came back from the laboratory. But by this time, the spores were established in the city population and had spread across the country. And when the world heard the word “anthrax”, it seemed as if it shuddered on its axis. Vaccine stocks were in short supply, but the pharmaceutical companies quickly ramped up production. Politicians assured their constituents the vaccine would quickly control this bacterial problem.

What they didn’t know was that this variant would not be stopped by a vaccine because it constantly morphed to its new hosts and worked around whatever protection they had.

With the old variants of anthrax, the risk of death was relatively low for all forms except the intestinal which killed 25% of its victims. But this new form was particularly deadly. Instead of leaving 75% alive without treatment, it left 25% to survive. It also multiplied and spread faster than any known bacterial problem because it wasn’t discriminating about its host. It infected anything with warm blood.

By the time the pharmaceutical companies developed and tested a vaccine that would work with this bacteria, it had killed upwards of 50% of the world’s population. Those countries without adequate health care or the money to afford the expensive vaccines where left to their own devices by the multinational corporations and their populations plummeted.

####

Sgt. John Christie watched the talking heads on the television news as they explained how global warming had released this bacteria from the Siberian tundra where it had laid dormant for centuries and how modern transportation and communication systems had brought it to the United States.

He shook his head and wondered who in hell was  responsible for not stopping this plague before it got started. Probably the same nutcase politicians who decided global warming and climate change was fake, he thought. He shook his head at the thought of all those politicians.

The television picture then changed to grocery stores where people were filling baskets with every variety of food or canned good imaginable. The camera drone showed empty shelves where cases of water bottles used to be. He watched as several people got so impatient with the long lineups they skipped paying entirely and pushed their carts straight outside.

The example set by those few people create a stampede of people leaving the store as fast as possible. A lone security guard pulled his gun on a young woman pushing a cart full of diapers. He never saw the punch the husband threw but hit the ground unconscious. The news video showed the young man picking up the revolver, tucking it into his waistband, and walking out behind his wife.

Christie shook his head. When the going gets tough, everybody’s going to get tougher he thought. His phone chirped. He sighed and stood. Glanced at the phone to see the expected recall message. He clicked an acknowledgment and quickly walked to the bedroom, stripped off his socks and replaced them with a clean pair of expensive real wool socks. He slipped his feet back into his steel toed shoes, took his gun out of the safe, put it in its holster, slipped both arms into the holster straps pulling the weapon into place. He then buckled the straps that would hold the gun underneath his jacket but over his protective armor.

Three eighteen-hour shifts later, Christie developed a slight cough. It was towards the end of the third shift and he didn’t think anything of it. But by the next morning, the slight cough had turned into a hacking cough and Christie realized that he’d been infected. He considered himself lucky because he got the lung variation and not the more serious stomach infection.
He picked up his phone, speed-dialed the precinct and left a simple message, “Christie. Got it.”

Christie went to his bathroom, leaned on the sink and looked at himself in the mirror. A hacking cough shook him and after it was finished, he stood gasping for breath. He knew it would only get worse, and he confessed to himself that he was indeed scared. A thought flickered across his mind that it was okay to die with your buddies surrounding you in a firefight, but dying alone in an apartment by yourself was no way to go. There would be nobody to find him or mourn him, and who the hell would give a damn if I die, he thought.

He crawled into bed, pulled the covers up, but then hesitated as a thought that might save his life crystallized in his mind. He stood up, went to the cupboard and rummaged around at the back of the top shelf. His last wife had left her CPAP machine in a box and he simply stored it, waiting for her to discover its absence and ask for it. She never had.

He knew the CPAP machine would force air into his lungs, and while it was normally used to prevent snoring, he’d use it to ensure his body got the oxygen it needed. It took him a few minutes to assemble the machine and adjust the head straps so the nose piece would fit in the straps would not cut into his cheeks and ears. He laid back down, reached over and tapped the start button. The resulting air being pushed into his lungs surprised him and he fought the feeling for the first 30 seconds. Consciously relaxing, he allowed the machine to work and push air deep into his lungs. He knew the only way he was going to get through this at his age, was to use this machine.

Christie spent the next 48 hours hooked up to the machine and trying desperately to sleep. The first time he rolled over, he almost strangled himself on the hoses before waking and getting everything untangled. He remembered then that all three of his wives said he tossed and turned all night, every night, of their marriage. He shook his head slowly wondering how they’d put up with him at all. He took one of the pillows on the bed, put it behind himself and laid on his side facing the machine. He hoped the pillow would stop him from rolling.

He slept fitfully, on and off, waking up to hack and cough. He felt as if his lungs are going to come up and out of his mouth. The burning sensation was intense, and he understood why some people just wanted to die when this happened. There were times he just wanted to rip the machine from his face as he coughed over and over again. Through it all, CPAP machine continued to inflate his lungs and keep him alive.

The first morning, Christie woke himself up by coughing and decided he had to use the toilet. He carefully disengaged himself from the machine, tried to stand but the room started spinning around him and he collapsed back onto the bed. It was all he could do to get the CPAP machine hooked up properly again. He laid there for a few seconds, floating in and out of consciousness, trying to decide if he could make the bathroom and realized that wasn’t going to happen. He passed out.

Christie lay unconscious and unmoving for the next 48 hours while his body and the disease fought.

Forty-eight hours later, he woke in a badly-soiled bed, his bedroom reeked of urine and feces, He managed to get a shaking hand over to the CPAP machine’s off-button, slap it and the whirring noise and air pressure in his head disappeared. He ripped the face mask off, took a deep breath, and felt a deep sense of satisfaction that he was still alive. That satisfaction disappeared as he inhaled the stench of his room.

“Jesus!” He said aloud.

He staggered out of bed, wobbled to his bathroom. His legs weren’t fully under his control. He stared at three days worth of beard, sunken eyes, and the haunted look of a survivor. Leaning against the wall, he reached into the shower and turned on the water. The water didn’t start right away, and he wondered whether there would be any water pressure left or whether the city infrastructure still survived. His question was answered as the water flow started and slowly gained in pressure and temperature. Supporting himself with the handrail that was inside the tub, he stood in the steaming water allowing it to wash away the detritus of the last three days.
10 minutes later, feeling as if he might become human again, Christie staggered back out of the shower to face himself in the mirror. He leaned against the sink and decided he didn’t have the strength to control a razor. I probably slit my throat he thought, and watched a rueful grin appear in the mirror facing him.

Turning to the bedroom, he managed a slow but steady walk without staggering as he moved to the cupboard to get clean clothes. A few minutes of fumbling buttons and several attempts to thread a belt through the loops of his pants, he raised one foot off the ground to put on a sock and fell, thumping, to the floor. He took a deep breath, didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, but decided the best option was to lay there and put his socks on before trying to stand up.

Note to self, he thought. Sit on a chair while putting on shoes.

With his socks on, Christie struggled to his feet. Once again, the stench of the room made him gag. Walking with one hand on the wall for support, he got to his bedroom window and opened it as wide as possible. He returned two steps to the bed and pulled off the sheets, rolled them up into two tight balls. Set them on the floor next to the door. He looked at the mattress, and thought to himself, new mattress time.

He took the sheets with him as he left the apartment, and halfway to the stairs he opened the garbage chute and shoved them down.

Christie opened the door at the bottom of the stairs and walked into the apartment lobby. The lobby was silent and empty.
He pushed open the large glass security door and walked out onto the New York City street.

There were no honking cars, no crowds of busy pedestrians, no rumbling trains, there were only a few scattered people walking unsteadily along the concrete sidewalks. He took a deep breath, celebrated that he was still alive, and slowly but surely walked to the precinct building four blocks away.

That was really the beginning.

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An Excerpt From A Work In Progress: Two Out And Nobody On Base

This is an excerpt from a work in progress. It will contain errors and will certainly change before it goes to print.  
#####

It was just another political speech on an otherwise unremarkable day when the world tilted past the point of no return. Historians would, of course, argue about this in future centuries, but for the moment nobody realized what was about to happen.

To be sure, Sgt. John Christie of the Metropolitan Police Force understood that something had just happened. A powerful man, his last wife had compared him to a fire-hydrant – short, unnoticed until an emergency when he’d explode into a jet of irresistible energy – but unresponsive the rest of the time.

He currently stood in front of the president’s podium in the park, facing outward during the presidential speech as all good security people are trained to do when the unmistakable air-sucking whine of a bullet passing over his head caused him to flinch. His black eyes opened wide with the recognition of the sound and he drew his service pistol instinctively while scanning for the shooter.

This was not the first time the sergeant had heard passing bullets. His 10 years in the military before joining the police force had been one of constant active duty in Africa. He’d heard the passage of bullets more than once and watched as his fellow Marines sometimes paid the ultimate price for their country. Neither his marriages nor the relationship with his children survived those 10 years, and while he wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything, losing his family left a bitter spot in his mind.

He heard the bullet hit the glass shield protecting the president, he heard the bulletproof glass shatter and a part of his brain wondered what rifle and shell the sniper had used that would poke a hole through the unbreakable glass. His brain picked up the collective gasp of the president’s party and of the audience, but he never turned to look at the targeted man. The second bullet followed almost immediately after the first, and that whine was close enough he instinctively ducked. The time between the shots told him that either the shooter was very close or there were two snipers involved.

His eyes swiveled back and forth across the rows of buildings lined up down the avenues leading outwards and away from this presidential Park. He saw no flash, and other than a general direction caused by the whining bullet, he had no idea where the shooter was.

He heard the sirens begin, he heard the crowd screaming and a myriad of voices on the stage behind him shouting for command and control of the situation.

In swiveling his head, he saw his fellow security team members all focusing on the same direction he was looking. None of them were pointing at any particular spot and all were trying to identify the location of the shooter. He saw the crowd panicking. Some had taken refuge by lying down while others fought their way out of the park to hide in surrounding buildings or rushed down subway entrances searching for any spot away from the shooting.

He turned back to the stage for a quick look, watched as one of the president’s bodyguards picked him up, threw him over his shoulder and carried his limp body as quickly as possible to the ambulance that always accompanied the presidential party.

The security people also surrounded the Vice-President, and two burly officers, one on each arm, had picked him up  and were half carrying him, half running him, to his waiting vehicle. A stray thought appeared in the Sergeant’s mind about ridiculous looking politicians and he silently laughed to see the vice president’s toes popping off the stage as he was half-carried, half-run of the stage.

The only people he could see running towards the stage were the news videographers. Each was determined to get the best shot and the goriest pictures. They all knew the maximum “If it bleeds, it leads,” and every one of them knew their work today would be part of history. He targeted them with his service pistol. One couldn’t be too careful he knew and if one of them turned out to be a traitor, he’d stop them.

The third whine went over his head, and he ducked again. He didn’t turn to find the source as he watched it enter one side of the vice president’s head, blow out the other side to bury itself in the neck of the security agent. That agent went down spinning but didn’t release his grip on the now-dead vice president. The three of them wound up in a tangle on the stage.

“Shit,” he said. “We’re in it now.” For the second time, he turned to look, to search for the smallest sign of the shooter. There was nothing he could see.

For the next two weeks, every apartment or office that could possibly have been the shooting site was visited and examined carefully by trained investigators with the latest tools. But the shooters, the police had established there had to be two to get two bullets to the stage within the time frame established by the video evidence, had left no identifying evidence.

A month later, Christie wasn’t invited to be part of the largest political task force that would ever be assembled to investigate the death of a president began its work.

While the task force was able to identify the bullet and the probable make of rifle, no other clues emerged over the next six months. The shooters, whoever they were had done their job and had then disappeared into the city.

After that, things got interesting.