Spring: Black Blizzard


Part 6 - Black Blizzard 

"I can't see the road, Mama. We're going to have to stop." Lucas was driving into the early dawn. We had planned to find someplace to stop during the night but we were unsuccessful. We were trying to make it to Norfolk. There was a military base there and were hoping to drop the president there with a dedicated military contingent. She would safer there than with us.  

We stopped on the side of the road, closed the vents and activated the filtration system. A layered scrubbing filter system, it has both mechanical and human cleared sectioned filtration systems, which could be maintained internally. Thus allowing us to clean the air, as well as the filters and not depend entirely upon a non-renewable filter resource. Only the final layer of the filtration system needed a material which required replacement. We had enough of the fiber foam to last six months with careful use. One more reason to get out of this weather. 

The two defense robots were activated and their point defense systems would keep anything that could move in this weather, away. Despite the dangerous and inhospitable environment, dust storms were still a viable environment for the Arrivals. Those things seem to be able to live in just about any environment the Earth could throw at them. Some Arrivals traveled with the storms.

We turned off the solar array and activated the voltage induction units. The vehicle was capable of absorbing the electrical current that built up on its hull from the storm and but couldn't move under the charge generated. Depending on how hard the wind was blowing, it could generate upwards of one thousand volts of electricity per second. Unfortunate the electricity was only usable for charging secondary power systems and the defense bots.  

The sky was black with dust blowing in from the Midwest. A surprise storm, it did not show up on the satellite imaging. It covered the sky from edge to edge and darkened the day into night. Only a good watch could tell you the difference right now. But these were small dust storms compared to what we would see in a few weeks if we were still out here. The sky would blacken for days, maybe weeks. We could starve to death waiting for the weather to clear. The satellite images said this was a small storm, just a day or to long and we would be back on the road. As far as I was concerned this could not come soon enough. 

During the two days we sat with Elwood after his surgery, but before we detected the approaching storms, we explored the small town, Herrington, whose population was once over two thousand. We found not a single soul in the town. The Arrivals were there in small numbers. They were subsisting off the local animals or had rooted in the rich dark soil. Those that were mobile had moved on when they could no longer find human prey. 

We found a few starving vampire trees, whose leaves made a half-hearted attempt to chase us but could not move more than a few hundred feet before returning their host trees. They simply did not have the energy to follow us for long. This meant we would probably be able to scavenge the town, and see if anything was missed. Herrington was off the beaten path and might have been overlooked by large Mover bands who stuck to main roads. Our forays into basements and storm cellars netted some canned pickles, jellies and jams. Not much, but good for trade and it kept well.  

Elwood slept most of the time. He could be given a bit of fluid and helped to the bathroom but as soon as he was lying down, he went back to sleep. He muttered incoherently and kept a low grade fever. Everyone looked at me once he was sleeping. 

They did not realize how much I depended on his intuitive knowledge of road, weather and nature. His education on the Arrivals was positively encyclopedic and all first hand. I was a poor substitute. Yes, I was his wife and yes, I had been on the road for the same two decades he had, but I have to confess a certain reticence to learn as much about the Arrivals as he did. In those early years, all I wanted to do was burn every one of the damn things we came across.  

I sat down with him, everyone doing what ever they could do within the tight quarters of the Rhino. That mostly consisted of sleeping or resting. Marcus was checking our firearms and inventory. Lucas was trying to reach an uplink connection for more information on the storm. Sarah and her mother, talked up in the covered turret, not able to see much, but keeping an eye out anyway. The president and I sat in the main compartment with Elwood, but she was fresh with the fatigue of her ordeal, so she spent as much of her time sleeping as possible, trying to heal and cope with her losses.

As I sat with Elwood, fanning him to keep him cool, I remembered the Awakening.

Everyone remembers their first day differently. The first time we became aware of the Arrivals and their simultaneous attack on humanity, world-wide. I remember mine because of him... I remembered the horror personally, the first day we discovered they had been living among us for decades, mimicking trees and plants, growing next to our homes, in our parks, taking residence in all of our cities, on our farms, sitting on our paths, waiting until the day the meteor storm came. Weeks before the storms, they had begun abducting people off the street, some to eat, others to implant with seeds they would use to control those humans.  

There would be humans who would block roads, crash trains or otherwise make it impossible for people to escape cities. On the day of the Awakening, our cities were blockaded with wrecked vehicles, broken transit systems, burning hospitals, exploding gas mains, havoc on an epic scale. Under any other circumstance we might have been able to handle the catastrophe, but adding insult to injury were fast growing, hyper-aggressive plant attacking cities in waves. Some flew, some crawled, other rolled, some release gases. We died by the millions before we even knew what was happening. By the time we could coordinate anything, humanity was on the ropes. 

They struck our power stations with meteor bombardments, they struck our military bases, they struck our dams, they damaged infrastructure systems all over the world. Systems stretched so tight, just a few well placed strikes caused everything to fall, like dominoes. It was so perfectly timed, we were certain at the end of that week we would see our new alien masters standing over our broken cities. But they never came. Only the horror that was the Arrivals. 

On that last day of my real life, I was on the road coming from the office, after working a night shift installing the last parts of a new data system. It was five in the morning and I was just happy to be heading home. I had heard about the meteor shower, but we were nearly a quarter mile underground so I wasn't going to take the time to stop and look at some meteors. I figured I would see them on the news. I called Ken, my husband at the time, and left him a message, that I would be there to make breakfast for him and the kids before going to bed. I would never make breakfast for them again.

As I drove into my neighborhood, I noticed the streetlights were out. If I had been really paying attention, I would have realized all of the local trees had shadows that moved. I would have seen houses which were covered in vines, that were not before. I would have driven faster. I might have gotten there in time, if I had been really paying attention to what was going on around me. The road grew bumpier as I approached my house and I could see large cracks in the ground and what looked like roots bursting through.  

As I turned my high beams on, I noticed there was a tree in the road. A tree with moving roots! I assumed I was tired and hallucinating until I realized I was home and saw there were three or four of these trees surrounding my home. I got out of my car, in complete disbelief of what I was seeing. There was both silence and sound. As the trees moved, there was a strange stop action movement, flickering, sputtering, flashing movement. Both slow and fast, their roots moved with a slow and steady movement, while their leaves lashed about with whip-like speed. I don't know what I was thinking, I just wanted to reach my family. I could hear the sounds of wood crackling like in a fire under the assault of plants crushing homes looking for the tender flesh within. I could hear the screams and the flash of the occasional shotgun or pistol. Then it was silent again. 

I stopped for a moment and looked around at other houses and saw each one of them being covered in plants, some growing from within the houses themselves, spreading out of opened windows and doors. I was outside of myself at that moment. I experienced a clarity that probably saved my life. I could see my house collapsing inward under the weight of the deadly kudzu vines, whose tendrils are like corded steel and could cut cinder block apart in seconds. I hesitated. 

Three of the largest predator trees were already reaching into the house and pulling out my daughters and ripping them apart before my eyes. My husband, dangled in the trees grip, struggled and saw me approaching the house. He screamed, Run! Then the creature tore him in half. In shock, on autopilot, I did what he told me, I ran back in the car as a deadly acid-like venom splashed my car and where I was standing seconds ago. The trees had crept up behind me and were trying to box my car in. 

At that moment, I thought I had waited too long, the trees were already crushing down on the back wheels of my car. "Get out of that car, lady." A face peered in my passenger window, lighting a rag dangling from a bottle. I got out of the car as he threw the bottle. The fluid splash and burned and for a moment the trees halted their advance as the more flammable members caught fire. It did not burn long as natural fire retardants were secreted from ducts and portals from the creatures. "We need to keep moving. Cars and loud noises attract them. Move quick and quiet, they notice us less." 

I couldn't put the image of my house out of my mind. I went with him, unable to speak and barely able to breathe. 

"Don't worry miss, I'll keep you safe. Name's Elwood." We ran off into the night; into a whole new world. He's been keeping his word for me and his family for nearly twenty years. 

Wake up, old man. I need you, now, just one more time. 

The storm darkened the sky, reduced visibility and when night came, the stars were out. Along with the stars, came the predators. 

A convoy of lights could be seen coming up the road. Slow moving, careful. Likely Movers who either got lost or are scavenging off the main road. Either way, company is the last thing we needed right now. Parked off the main road, we are mostly covered by the black blizzard, so it's possible we could go unnoticed.  

Marcus starts passing out gunbelts and ammo clips, just in case. Despite the heat, we get our bullet-proof vests and keep them handy. Sarah checks the loads on the .50 but does not raise it into the firing chamber. 

"Lucas, turn off the drones, they should have some scouts coming along in a few minutes. Let's see if we get lucky." 

"I put them in standby. At the first sound of gunfire, they will activate and shoot everything within range. Make sure you are wearing your ID badges." 

The president looks at me and I tap the badge on the outside of her jacket. I gave her one an hour after she got here. 

"Mama, they are sweeping the area in a search pattern. They are looking for something." Marcus starts passing out M16 after Lucas's pronouncement. 

He looks at the president. She smiles, "Marine. I'll take one of those." 

We wait, hidden by the sand and passively scanning from a remote spy eye, released in the darkness. The convoy is a mix of civilian and lightly armed military. But the direction they came from indicated a northern route. No way they are from Norfolk. But they are looking for something. Eventually they find it. They slowly surround our vehicle despite being completely hidden. 

"Ho, the vehicle. We know you are there, President Marva Chang. You are hereby placed under arrest, by the Vice President of the Western United States. The charge is treason. Anyone in the vehicle with you, who does not force you to exit will be considered aiding and abetting a fugitive and will share your fate; death. You are completely surrounded." 

There was a pause. And a momentary static-filled whispering. Then a different voice came over the loudspeaker. "You have until sunrise."

Tales of a New Earth © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved [@ebonstorm]

The End

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