Authors: Suzanne Jenkins
Burn District: Yuma
Burn District: A Short Story Prequel
can be read as an introduction to
Burn District: Yuma
Burn District: Yuma
by Suzanne Jenkins
Burn District: Yuma Copyright © 2014 by
Suzanne Jenkins. All rights reserved.
Created in digital format in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations in blog posts and articles and in reviews.
Burn District: Yuma
is a complete and total work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
For more information on the
Pam of Babylon
series, and author Suzanne Jenkins, please refer to the ‘Also by…’ section at the end of this novel.
October 29, 2012 BREAKING NEWS: Hurricane Sandy makes landfall along the coast of southern New Jersey. National Hurricane Center.
Watching the compelling newscasts with local and national weather reporters standing on the windswept beaches, families gathered around the television waiting for those comforting words,
We will keep you informed so you’ll be safe.
The mentality of the times meant trusting the news from television and the internet.
It wasn’t the worst storm to hit the eastern seaboard, but it would have lasting consequences and they occurred quickly. Once the authorities totaled the damages, reported to be in the billions of dollars, the controversy began. While homeowners froze in damaged homes during early November snows, the wealthy were the first in line to receive checks for beachfront vacation property repairs. News of the embattled homeowners was soon replaced by a scarier consequence of the storm; who cared about personal property if lives were at stake?
After the hurricane, reports of the first cases of a virus thought to replicate in the water-soaked wood from the storm, frightened citizens. Quarantines put into place did not contain the virus and the spread escalated. Virucides sprayed from above didn’t always work, either. The resultant hysteria led to the first
of an area. Relocated residents testified reimbursement for their lost property was fair, even generous. It appeared to be a win-win situation…until a neighborhood was bombed with a napalm like agent for a burn, but done at night, without relocating the residents. Contrite leaders explained it was a frightful mix up; the plane was supposed to be spraying the virucides and dropped the burn agent instead.
The rumors began.
My name is Laura Davis. I’m thirty-seven years old. My husband is Mike. Our marriage is a classic teenaged love story; we dated in high school, I got pregnant after graduation, he left college to marry me and we had our first baby when I was nineteen.
Here our story changes; our son has Down Syndrome. When he came out of my body, we both knew right away that he was
“Don’t say there’s
with him,” my mother had said. “The only thing
is that people will be ass-holes.” It was her attitude that made all the difference to us. Mike Junior was a joy from the beginning. We quickly aligned ourselves with like-thinkers, letting negative people fall by the wayside, sometimes divorcing friends for their sheer ignorance. It was freeing.
Mike Junior defined our marriage.
Nothing worth doing was easy
. Mike and I worked as a team, sometimes reluctantly but with passion. We trudged along, one foot in front of the other. Isn’t that the way everyone lives? We had three more children, careers, a lovely home, close friends and family. I was living a charmed life.
We are running from our own government. It is as if they have a grass-roots plan of destruction; the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.
Look how much your government is doing to save you, people!
The next night, a bomb fell on a neighborhood with the families still sleeping in their beds.
Reading forums on the internet provided the only real information; what came from government controlled television stations was propaganda. For days, I wasn’t sure what I should believe, and then our neighbor confirmed that we were in trouble and should prepare to flee at a moment’s notice.
When the time came, we quickly left our home with minutes to spare, bringing along Mike’s parents, Randy and Carol, and my co-worker, Kelly. Just seconds after getting onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the first blast hit. We could see the magnitude of the destruction fifteen miles away; the town had to be gone.
Our destination; my father’s two hundred acre ranch in Yuma County, Arizona.
A smoking campground in Saint Louis was the last time we saw a burn. Seeing death in person changed me. The deaths I read about on the rumor forums didn’t affect me the same way because I could pretend they didn’t exist. They were sad, but from a distance, horrifying but not personal. After viewing a body lying in a driveway outside of Saint Louis, reality set in. It wasn’t pretty. I could see skin scorched and blackened, the limbs twisted at odd angles to the body. I could imagine the families inside the burned out homes, picturing children in the same position. I silently prayed death had come quickly.
The atmosphere when we arrived in Oklahoma was different, as if we were going on vacation, not running for our lives. I was able to relax for a while. Campers were smiling, seemingly unaffected by what was going on back east.
Settling into the campground, Carol and my oldest daughter, Elise took the boys to the bathhouse for a much-needed scrub down while the rest of us set up camp. You could hear Junior and Ned, my-eight-year old, screaming echoes of laughter, the sound of water splashing. It felt good, knowing they were capable of having fun.
We had two tents, one for Mike, the boys and me, and one for Carol and Randy. Kelly and my girls were going to sleep in the van. Kelly’s ice cooler was full of thawing fried chicken and other good things she’d prepared in case we had to flee. The camp stove set up easily and I got dinner started. We’d all benefit from eating something other than sandwiches for a change, and Kelly’s food hit the spot.
The temperature was warmer than it had been at home and we sat around the picnic table talking about things that didn’t matter long after we finished eating. Randy told funny fishing tales, and Kelly shared stories about her family’s immigration from Ireland. But when the sun went down, it quickly grew chilly and we called it a night. Ned had fallen asleep leaning up against me.
“Come on, sweetie, we’re going to the tent now,” I whispered. He’d grown clingy over the last few hours, a combination of fear and tiredness. Mike picked Ned up and took him to the tent, helping him get into his sleeping bag.
“Junior, come on, buddy,” he called.
“Are we all sleeping together?” Junior asked, alarmed, sitting on the ground at my feet, pointing at the tent.
“You got it,” I said.
“But, Mom, you snore,” Junior replied. I could hear Mike laughing in the tent.
“Well, wake me up if I get too loud,” I told him. I looked back at the van, thinking the girls would be talking, but it appeared they had already gone to sleep, the shades drawn, lights out. It was only eight o’clock. When Kelly came out of the bathhouse wearing sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt, my relief was so obvious, Randy elbowed me.
“Stop it,” I said, frowning.
“I’m glad you’re worried,” he replied. I don’t know what I expected of Kelly. It was too cold for nudity, but maybe I was afraid she’d be wearing a sexy nightgown. I was being ridiculous, fighting pettiness, especially so early in the course of us being together.
Within minutes after crawling into sleeping bags, everyone had fallen asleep but me. I laid awake, listening to traffic noise on the interstate a few miles away that seemed never to let up. It was not a good sign. We’d noticed on the way to the campground that cars with license plates from eastern states outnumbered Oklahoma licenses.
The underground news wasn’t available to me without logging onto the internet, but we’d made the decision it would be too risky to do so. We didn’t know if authorities kept track of those who fled. Suffering from computer withdrawal, I kept thinking about emails gone unanswered, eBay auctions I was missing. Why did I care if eBay still existed? Had my friends survived? What about my job? Was anyone working? If so, were they worried about Kelly and I, thinking we perished in the burn? Would news about our town, in the middle of a famous historic area be broadcast here in Oklahoma? I thought of the buildings that had stood for two hundred years, now destroyed.
Trying to toss and turn but confined by my sleeping bag, I could feel the cold and damp seeping up from the ground, but I was too tired to do anything about it. I’d taken the time to make sure the rest of the family slept on tarps, but managed to find the one spot that was unprotected. I finally fell asleep right before daybreak and then a diesel truck started in the next camping space, the noise and fumes waking me.
“Are you kidding me?” Mike moaned.
“I can’t sleep anyway,” I said, groaning as I struggled to get out of my sleeping bag.
I found comfort in making coffee the old-fashioned way on the camp stove; the earthy smell waking the adults who hadn’t been disturbed by the truck. My daughters filed out of the van, expressionless. I knew they were trying to cope and not complain. It appeared I was the only one who’d had a bad night.
On the way back from the bathhouse, Randy talked to a young couple from New Jersey who had their computers out on the picnic table. He came back to our camp with news.
“They aren’t afraid of exposing their location, and said the idea that the government would come after everyone who fled was ridiculous.” Randy always stirred the pot and I decided to help him along.
“You must be reading my mind. I’ve got serious internet withdrawal.”
“Pop, is it worth the risk?” Mike argued, ignoring me. “I think we need to be firm about no phone or internet use.”
“Did they have any news?” I asked, changing the subject while pouring coffee into cardboard coffee cups.
“A famous garden in southeastern Pennsylvania was burned to the ground the same night we fled,” Randy replied softly, putting his arm around Carol. She was shocked.
Mike reached out and gave her arm a squeeze. “Hey sorry, Mom,” he said lovingly. The beautiful garden was in the center of our large farming community, so it made perfect sense to me that the decision makers would target it to burn,
seein’ how all those employed farmworkers were such a huge drain on resources
. Sarcasm aside, I thought of the adorable children walking single file along the road to the farm playground everyday, or the nurse in our pediatrician’s office who was married to an equipment operator at one of the bigger farms. Had they survived?
Carol’s father had managed the garden greenhouse; she’d worked there since high school, first as greenhouse help, working her way up to tour guide. Our house was only a few miles from the gardens; we’d ridden our bikes there so many times over the past ten years I’d lost count.
“Just think of all the rare plants destroyed,” she whispered angrily. “It just makes me sick.” I was thinking of more than
“Let’s get moving. I want to get to Yuma County and start our life,” Carol said. “I’ll get those boys going.” She put her cup down and went into our tent.
“I think I’ll walk over and talk to the couple,” I said. Mike nodded his head, watching me. I took my coffee cup and approached them, hunched over their computers, reading.