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Authors: Chris Dietzel

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A Different Alchemy

BOOK: A Different Alchemy
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A Different Alchemy



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidence.


A DIFFERENT ALCHEMY. Copyright 2014 by Chris Dietzel.

All rights reserved.


ished in the United States by Chris Dietzel.


ISBN-13: 978-1493792160


ISBN-10: 1493792164


Cover Design: Truenotdreams Design

Author Photo: Jodie McFadden


A Different Alchemy



Chris Dietzel



“It set him free,” said Lee. “It gave him the right to be a man, separate from every other man.”

“That’s lonely.”

“All great and precious things are lonely.”

- John Steinbeck

East of Eden



Chapter 1

A stream of black clouds swirled skyward from the stadium, hovering above it like the stormy portal to another world. The smoke was so great, so immense, that even from miles away Jeffrey expected to be able to hear the roar of flames. Instead, it was eerily quiet; the silence of being within the eye of a hurricane, the visible proof of destruction that came from being outside it. Not even the traffic, swarming all around him, seemed to make noise at that moment.

It was as if the entire world had gone silent.

The quiet was interrupted by his car radio. The staticky voice said the fire had quickly grown out of control until the blaze could be seen arcing over the top row of seats. Expecting to see flames spitting into the air, Jeffrey looked toward the stadium. All he could see, though, was the smoke.

“There are thousands of people gathered around the stadium,” the voice said. “It looks like some of the people were having another Block protest and others were celebrating the upcoming relocation to Washington. Some people are still holding up protest signs. Others are drinking beer and cheering.”

Protesting the Blocks was nothing new. From the moment it became clear that the only children who could be born would look just like other kids, but would be motionless, quiet, and unable to have children of their own, there were parts of society that resented having to accommodate the silent masses. This rally, though, had seemed different even before the fire started.

It had only taken Jeffrey a minute to leave the base and get back out to the main road. Once on the freeway, however, traffic had immediately slowed.

The voice came from the radio: “The fire is out of control now! There were thousands of Blocks in that stadium.”

Dear God
, Jeffrey thought,
please don’t let my boy be in there

He dialed Katherine at home. The phone kept ringing until it finally went to the answering machine. He tried her cell phone. That also rang and rang. He called home again, then her cell again.

The entire time he couldn’t help but stare at the giant cloud of smoke. Everyone in the cars around him stared at it too. He turned the volume back up on the radio in the hope that the background noise would let him stop worrying about his wife and son. But everything the man said only made things worse: “The stadium was filled with thousands of Blocks… I don’t know what’s happening… the fire is everywhere now… oh my God… there’s fire everywhere.”

There was nothing but silence then, and Jeffrey wondered if the helicopter hadn’t landed to try and help save at least a few of the motionless bodies. Helicopter pilots had become a rare commodity. It was possible the helicopter had crashed into the ground at the hands of a rookie pilot. To his disappointment, the man’s voice came back on the air a minute later, saying the chopper was moving further away from the stadium because the smoke and fumes were overwhelming. The sound of the helicopter flicked in and out between the man’s words to make it seem like a war must be going on and gunfire would soon breakout.

A woman in the car next to him cried hysterically while she stared at the fire. Her eyes closed then and her hands tore at her scalp. Strands of dark hair covered her fists. Her car, only barely moving because of the traffic, drifted slowly toward the guardrail until sparks began to fly. Even as the car scraped, metal against metal, she screamed and cried, all the while flecks of beautiful light flying in every direction. She was still sobbing, eyes still closed, as Jeffrey’s car distanced itself from hers. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what she must be thinking:
If I can only close my eyes hard enough I can wake from this awful nightmare… Why aren’t I waking up?

He tried Katherine’s cell phone again and again. Each time, it rang until her recorded voice came on.

“There’s no reason for something like this to happen,” the man on the radio said. “No reason. How could someone do this? They weren’t hurting anyone.”

A driver to Jeffrey’s left was screaming as he repeatedly punched the steering wheel. Finally, the man swerved his car off the road and accelerated as fast as he could. The embankment must have been steeper than the driver thought because the car disappeared from sight and did not return.

He tried Katherine again. Once more, there was no answer.

The sound came back on the radio in mid-yell: “Everything is on fire! The entire stadium is on fire! Everyone outside is leaving the area. The police are just walking away. The entire stadium is burning to the ground.”

He turned the radio off. At that moment it seemed like a decent idea to rip the god damn thing out of the console and throw it out the window so it broke into tiny bits and pieces.

Lord knows, he had enough time; it wouldn’t slow him down at all. The road was four lanes wide in both directions. Eight lanes of highway designed to get people wherever they needed to go. Ordinarily, that would be plenty of space for the remaining population. But two of the lanes were blocked with abandoned cars left by those who had already decided to head south. The vagrant cars weren’t parked in empty mall parking lots. Of course they weren’t. They were ditched in the same spot where they got flat tires on the rough roads. Without the city’s transportation workers, the cars simply sat there, a haven for birds and whatever else found them. Every once in a while a group of volunteers would spend a Saturday bulldozing discarded automobiles off to either side of the road. The work was futile: a month later the lanes would once again be clogged with a makeshift junkyard.

Now, the two open lanes were blocked by drivers staring at the smoke. The woman who had been driving next to Jeffrey, crying hysterically, was now five car-lengths behind him, still dragging against the guardrail without any thought to where she was going or what she was doing. Probably, she had a son or daughter in that fire. Maybe everyone she loved was being burned alive.

Jeffrey blared his horn, but the driver in front of him could only raise his hands in the air and shrug. A line of cars was ahead of them, all avoiding abandoned vehicles, all swerving around giant potholes randomly scattered across the highway. Hitting just one would mean a lost tire, maybe a lost wheel or axle. And then the traffic jam would become a parking lot.

It wasn’t until his car drifted over the next hill, still fifteen miles outside the city, that the extent of the horror could be appreciated. The smoke was black and thick. It had spread across the sky as if sent from an angry god intent on drowning the masses in death. Through it, flames spat out from the sides of the stadium walls. The championship flags lining its top perimeter were replaced by a dark fog. The stadium resembled an outrageously large, albeit stubby, Bunsen burner. On a normal summer’s day, the field was said to be twenty or thirty degrees hotter than the actual temperature in the parks and streets. He couldn’t imagine how hot the field must be now. Already, the giant scoreboards were probably nothing more than a pile of liquid metal and plastic, the seats melting into the concrete. The motionless bodies that had filled each seat would become sets of charred bones and teeth mixed amongst the boiling plastic.

Please, please don’t let Galen be in there

Each time there was a gap of abandoned cars, the vehicles heading back into the city would break away from their single-file lines and race ahead of each other for a couple of seconds. But each time they had to re-form into a single line, the entire mass of cars was forced to slow down to a crawl, even slower than they had been going before, as each car forced its way back into formation. Horns were blaring. People were yelling at each other.

No one wanted to let other cars back in line. Some of the drivers, realizing their vehicle was one of hundreds available to them on the road—they could get out anytime they wanted and hop into an abandoned sedan or hatchback on the side of the highway—began playing bumper cars with the other drivers. When a car wasn’t going fast enough, another driver nudged it forward with his SUV. There would be no insurance claim to file, no police report to fill out. The insurance companies had closed shortly before the banks. The police stations were still open, but they no longer bothered themselves with traffic accidents.

When a car wasn’t allowed back in the line of traffic after having raced ahead, it took the bumper off another car and forced its way in. Further up the road, a car sideswiped a minivan, forced it off the road, and took its spot in the line.

As Jeffrey’s car finally reached 295, the stadium came into sight once more. What he saw was worse than anything he had ever seen in the military. The stadium was still there where it had always been, but only its outline could be seen anymore. Everything else was smoke or flame. He didn’t know fires could be so immense. The sky looked like it might never be blue again. With so much smog in the air, how could it? A miniature sun was sitting in the middle of their city, sending black smoke in the air to blot out the sky as far as anyone could see.

No flashing lights or red trucks gathered around the structure to put the flames out. What could a handful of police or volunteer firemen do against a fire that large? It would be left to burn until the entire thing was gone, as if it had never existed, as though the Blocks inside had never existed, as if one day some men said, “Let’s put a pile of rubble and scrap metal in the middle of the city,” and that was all that had ever been there. Gone was the stadium in which the Phillies had won the World Series. Gone was the stadium where only the biggest bands stopped by during their world tours.

Please don’t let my boy be in there

Traffic was barely moving at all now. The cars in front of him, just as eager to get back to the city as he was, were all mesmerized by the fireball attached to the ballpark. One man got out of his car to start on foot, but a car behind him, oblivious to the road, ran him over. And still the cars made their way back toward the city.

Jeffrey hesitated as he thought about his next move. It was important to be sure he was thinking clearly. His car drifted to the shoulder of the road as far as he could get it—the traffic behind him could still continue toward the city—and then started making his way toward the fire by foot. He was walking faster than the cars were driving. He walked past drivers who were screaming or wailing. Only every once in a while did he spot a driver who did not appear distraught but looked completely hypnotized or stunned by what they saw.

Other drivers noticed him walking past their cars and began doing the same thing. One of these people didn’t bother to pull his car over before abandoning it and a driver in one of the cars further back got out of his vehicle, chased the man down, and began beating him with his fists, the violence suddenly taking precedence over more rational concerns.

Jeffrey took out his cell phone again. Still walking, he dialed Katherine’s number. He was surprised when she answered.

“Where are you?” he asked before she could say anything. “Are you at home?”


“Where are you?” he said again. “Tell me.” When she didn’t say anything, he said, “Tell me you aren’t near the stadium.”

He passed a Mercedes with two flat tires, the old woman behind the wheel still trying to make her car move forward along the busted highway, even though it had given her all it could.

Katherine’s silence was the worst part. It made him take heavy breaths, made him grip the phone as tightly as he could so it didn’t get away.

“Where are you? Are you at the stadium?” And then, to himself,
Please tell me Galen isn’t there

Finally she spoke: “The guy on TV said everyone should bring their Blocks to the stadium. He said there was a humane solution to the problem of getting all of them down to Washington. He said—“ but she stopped talking.

He thought about yelling at her, screaming that he didn’t care what a man on TV said or why she would entrust her son’s safety to him or anyone else that she didn’t know. He thought about yelling, “Where’s Galen?” over and over.

He didn’t, though, because he already knew. The smoke told him exactly where his boy was. His wife not answering her phone told him the same thing. The long line of cars rushing to get back to the city provided yet another confirmation.

Behind him, a car horn started blaring. He couldn’t be sure if Katherine had said something else or not.

“He was my son,” he said above the car horn’s moaning.

“I’m sorry, Jeffrey.”

He stopped walking. His hand fell to his side. Cars were still honking at one another. Two men were fighting in the middle of the highway. A car was in flames, as if jealous of the great fireball miles ahead. A woman ran past him, headed in the direction of the stadium.

“Stop running,” Jeffrey wanted to tell the woman. “There’s nothing left to run to. They’re all dead.” As bad as he felt for the woman, though, he remained silent. She would have to get there and handle the situation however she knew how.

The stadium was still covered in flames. Black smoke was spreading out so that, from outer space, it must look like the entire east coast was slowly disappearing behind a layer of darkness.

When he put the phone back to his ear, Katherine was saying something, but he didn’t hear what it was.

“Please tell me our son wasn’t in that stadium.”

“Jeffrey, I—“

“Please. Please just tell me he wasn’t there, not my boy.”

BOOK: A Different Alchemy
6.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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