Authors: Joe Nobody
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Dystopian, #Action & Adventure, #Literature & Fiction
Holding Their Own XI
Hearts and Minds
Copyright © 2015-2016
Kemah Bay Marketing, LLC
All rights reserved.
E. T. Ivester
This is a work of fiction. Characters and events are products of the author’s imagination, and no relationship to any living person is implied. The locations, facilities, and geographical references are set in a fictional environment.
Other Books by Joe Nobody:
For the last three weeks, José had been watching the trucks. He spotted them in the mornings, standing on the deck as the shrimper headed out to Corpus Christi Bay. Most days, they were still there on the return trip to port, the deckhand often sitting exhausted on the main hatch after 12 back-breaking hours of working the nets and clearing the catch.
The small fleet of pickups, panel vans, and two semis was never parked in the same place. Every day, scores of workers carted in gallons of paint in an attempt to return the resort to its original luster. More than a few times, he’d noticed crews in hard hats lugging rolls of electrical wire, bundles of lumber, and other construction materials inside the mid-rise condo building. Someone was trying to reopen Ocean Towers… someone with access to labor, equipment, and money.
A lifetime ago, before the collapse, he’d been one of the hundreds of construction workers contracted to create Texas’s newest, most luxurious seaside address. And what a structure it had been.
José could recall with exacting detail the soaring foyer, opulent décor, and spacious flats. The pools, both indoor and out, reminded him of brochures he’d seen of waterparks. The golf course was said to be the highest rated in the state. The list of amenities and facilities was second to none.
Billed as a retreat for the Lone Star State’s newest generation of millionaires, Ocean Towers offered everything the ultra-wealthy could ask for. The full-service marina sported 75 slips for the most discerning captains of yachts as well as sailboats. No expense was spared in outfitting the onsite health club, spa and salon either. Award-winning restaurants offered a variety of selections for social climbers, while others elected private meals prepared by on-staff personal chefs. For those who preferred to soar above gridlock traffic, a private airfield was available. Residents could sip champagne and nibble on caviar while getting an anti-aging seaweed wrap, set sail on a gulf excursion or buzz the tower at the landing field.
José had never been the envious type, content with his well-paying construction job and his ability to feed, clothe, and shelter his growing family. He’d even made enough money to have his parents, two brothers, and sister smuggled across the border from Mexico to the United States. He’d become a hero in his clan – an important, respected man.
Then came the collapse.
It had never crossed the immigrant’s mind to ponder how Ocean Towers had fared after society vanished. He’d moved on since its completion, landing countless other projects. His resume had expanded as well, and demand for his time was high. He mastered skills quickly… everything from bricklaying to building custom cabinetry. Even when the economy had fallen into recession, he’d still been able to find employment. Sometimes the hourly rate wasn’t so rewarding, but even the worst wages here were far better than anything available in his childhood village.
Then practically overnight, there was no work. Nothing. Nada.
His father had saved the family from starvation. Fishing from shore with a second-hand rod and reel, the seafood and other saltwater fare had kept them alive. Barely. The women worked a humble, backyard garden. José and his brothers foraged anything they could find.
Night terrors plagued his sleep – memories of his family huddling in fear as the food riots raged across Corpus. Like it was yesterday, he recalled wrapping an arm around his shivering wife as they watched a downtown skyscraper burn in the distance, columns of black smoke and eerie, red flames visible for miles.
Only a few days later, José and his brothers battled roving packs of desperate, starving men who pillaged the neighborhoods, scavenging for canned goods and ammunition… hell-bent on capturing and enslaving local women. The family relied on the strength of its numbers, working together to overcome threat after threat. But sometimes, that just was not enough.
For one of José’s brothers, the end came via a street gang’s ambush and the blast of a shotgun. Even more sickening was the demise of his beloved, younger sister who had fallen victim to a gang rape. While José survived the skirmish that followed, his heart was irreparably broken. Both body and soul seemed to be in constant peril from the barrage of attacks, and often José marveled that he still walked this earth.
The months had turned into years, every day a struggle for food and survival. Then the fire had nearly accomplished what malnutrition, sickness, and armed raiders had failed to do – slaughter them all.
José had no idea how it had started. Candles and oil pots were common in his modest home, the only source of light now that electricity was a bitter memory. Perhaps a child had knocked something over, or maybe a curtain had stirred too close to an open flame.
Whatever the source, he remembered dreaming of a hellhound sitting on his chest, the demon’s weight and hot breath making it nearly impossible for his lungs to draw air.
The nightmare had saved them. Rising sharply to find his residence consumed with thick, choking smoke, José had managed to wake his family to the inferno’s horror. They had escaped with their lives, but that was it. The children were still wearing their nightclothes as they stood in the front yard, mesmerized by the sight of the hungry flames consuming the place they called “home.”
Utterly dejected and hopeless, the family had begun their trek at dawn with only the clothes on their backs and a few items salvaged from the yard. It had been the bottom of a pitiful existence. José remembered a strong desire to slash his wrists, but he didn’t have a knife.
Nearing the end of her term, his expectant wife fairly wobbled away from their little piece of the American dream. José assisted his childhood sweetheart as much as he could, his attention further divided among their three little ones and his fragile mother who hadn’t stopped coughing since her son had pulled her from the flames. They walked. No destination, no path, no plan. They merely placed one foot in front of the other and kept the sun at their backs.
By chance, the ragtag parade of refugees wandered into a neighborhood that hadn’t been ravaged by fire or completely plundered by looters. Out of desperation, he approached a small bungalow, hoping the occupants would show mercy to his children and provide a drink of water or morsel of bread.
There was no answer when he knocked on the door, so he decided to check the backyard. Perhaps there was a rain barrel or pump that could provide the desperately needed hydration. He found nothing there but a vigorous crop of weeds.
Anger swelled inside him, an internal rage and desperation that spawned recklessness. In a fit of temper, he returned to the front door and kicked with all his might. He would demand water and food, take it if necessary.
The home, however, was unoccupied.
He found a few canned goods in the cupboard, along with closets full of clothing. The interior was appointed with dusty furniture, threadbare curtains, a healthy maze of cobwebs, and what appeared to be a lifetime of memories. From the scattered pictures dotting the walls, he deduced that the occupants had been an elderly couple, not unlike his own parents.
The interlopers moved inside the abandoned building, the extra space and security a blessing for the imminently expanding family. A few days later, his wife gave birth to their fourth child. José’s mother died shortly after her newest grandbaby entered the post-apocalyptic world… her lungs damaged from the poisonous smoke and eventually, after weeks of coughing and struggling, unable to draw oxygen into her body.
Life was hard after the crash. Absence of medical care left the surviving population vulnerable to rampant disease and epidemics that only a few years before would have been controlled via a round of antibiotics. Survivors’ numbers continued to dwindle. Eventually, there weren’t enough people left alive to form gangs. Those still above ground didn’t seem to have enough energy or the ammunition to fight. José and his family fell into work patterns defined by one overriding goal; putting food on the table.
The occupied home became their own after a time. Routine, the never-ending struggle to find calories, and the constant need to watch out for each other led to a sense of belonging. Still, the residence was cramped, the two bedrooms and single bath a tight fit for his family. Regardless, it was shelter.
Ultimately, word of the Alliance and her recovery started spreading by word of mouth. A man from Galveston had been the first to speak of the movement, his claims dismissed as wishful thinking and exaggeration by anyone who took the time to listen. Maybe they were true, but from where José stood, his family had lost everything…. What good would a recovery do them anyway? They had nothing to go back to. Nothing to call their own.
Food and fuel began arriving, as well as the military. Suddenly, there were men in uniforms passing out rations and organizing labor. José had signed up to work on a shrimp boat because it was the only option that wouldn’t require relocating his family to some distant farm or ranch. He could walk to the piers, so he became a fisherman.
It was brutal work, much of the equipment aboard the aging fleet in disrepair. The hydraulic winches used to haul in the catch had broken long ago, spare parts nearly impossible to find. The nets were now brought in the old-fashioned way – via manual, spine-crushing labor.
It seemed like everything on the old dinghy was broken. Today, he’d spent four hours in the sweltering hull, working a manual bilge pump in the 120-degree air. The original electric units had failed months ago.
For his toil, José received 2-3 pounds of shrimp per day and ten dollars. It was better than starvation… but just barely. Still, things could be worse. They had been not so long before.
His wife would take half of today’s wages to the market and barter for vegetables, rice, oranges, and occasionally a beer or two. There was a military medical clinic just under a mile from his home. Gossip was going around that a school would open soon for his children. Things were definitely looking up.
His first reaction at seeing the trucks and construction crews was another fleeting flash of hope. Was returning to the building trades in his future? Would life eventually revert to the way it was before everything had gone to hell?
That feeling dwindled as the grueling weeks aboard the shrimper began to wear him down. José would stare at the trucks, a deep-seated injustice simmering, eventually generating a core of hot anger that commandeered his soul.