Bolt

Josh Fleischmann was asleep.  It was ten o’clock in the morning but his alarm hadn’t gone off.

Lots of people who should have been downtown just hadn’t made it in. Some people called in sick. Some people got into a car accident on the way into work. Some people had taken the day off to go on a trip or on their honeymoon or to a doctor’s appointment or a parent/teacher conference. Some people’s alarms didn’t go off. Two million people were at work.

Josh lived across the river in Jersey. A lot of people lived in the city. Students, children, retirees, the very rich, the homeless, the unemployed. They didn’t have work, or if they did and they stayed home it didn’t matter.

Josh lived right on the river; he had a great view of the New York skyline. Paid an extra two hundred bucks a month just for that view. But that meant apartment faced east, so he had to close his blinds before bed or he’d wake up with the dawn. If he hadn’t closed his blinds he would have woken up and gone into work.

Josh had nightmares from time to time. Nothing really troubling, once every few months he’d shoot up in bed with his heart pounding and wild images fading from his eyes. When he jumped up to a noise so loud that it filled the world and the bed was shaking and the building was shaking, Josh was terrified at an animal level. In a moment he got his breathing under control. He thought he’d had a nightmare.

The noise was fading away. It wasn’t going away, just fading. He thought for a second that he’d left the fan on. Or maybe they were out in the halls vacuuming. But that didn’t seem right. The building wasn’t shaking. But it didn’t feel stable; it felt like it really had been shaking. He got up and went to his window, raised his hands to pry a gap in his Venetian blinds.

He pulled his hands away. The window was hot.

He looked at his hands. He remembered that; he looked at his hands. Then he held them back up to the window. Hot. Fire? Outside? He reached for the pull-chord and in one pull he drew his blinds up.

A mushroom cloud rose over Manhattan, growing, burning black and red.

He could feel the warmth on his face. He instinctively turned, then turned back. He slapped his face, rubbed his eyes. It was still there. Most of midtown was covered in a rising mist of gray.

Josh looked at his two nightsands. His phone was on the one on the other side of the bed. He lunged across the bed to pick it up. Held his finger on the fingerprint reader. Looked for service. Zero bars.

Josh looked for his laptop. It was under his comforter, he’d fallen asleep with it again. He opened it. Signed in. Squeezed his hands open and shut waiting an eternity for it to look for wifi. It connected. He thought about checking the news, didn’t, didn’t need the confirmation, he had his eyes. Instead he checked the weather.

Winds 14 miles per hour, arrow pointing south and east. Getting a little lighter by the end of the day.

He pulled open his drawers, pulled on clothing, exercise clothing, lightweight wool. He looked around the room. Took his laptop and charger, his phone. Went into his little living-room and put them on the floor. Pulled his phone charger out of a wall socket, added it to the pile.Saw he was already wearing his watch. Went back into the bedroom and looked around. A quick look, ten seconds, felt like an hour. Nothing else.

Went into the bathroom. Saw his glasses on the sink, put them on. Grabbed his toothbrush. Grabbed toothpaste, then dropped it, didn’t matter. Opened his medicine cabinet and grabbed sunscreen. Saw bug spray, grabbed it. Brought it to the living room, put it on the pile.

In the living-room. Went into the tiny foyer where he lay his bike. Rolled it into the living room, leaned it against his little futon sofa. Still had front and rear rack mounted. He put on all four of his panniers, his handlebar bag, his trunk bag. Took about fifteen seconds. Checked his front lights and his rear light and they all had charge. Checked both tires with his thumb; good pressure, or good enough.

He opened his one little closet. His hiking gear was not too neatly scattered on the closet floor. He started adding things to the pile. Tent. Hiking poles. Hiking shoes. Cooking gear. Little inflatable sleeping pad. His sleeping bag was hanging up to breathe, he took it down and forced it into a compression sack, then compressed it more. Same with a light down jacket and rain gear. His backpack he folded up and stuffed right into a pannier.

Into the kitchen. Took out a half-full bottle of coldbrew and shotgunned it. Took two big bites from a brick of cheddar. Only other thing in his fridge was a cabbage and some condiments. Grabbed the cabbage. Stuck it in the freezer. Also in the kitchen he found eight granola bars, six just-add-water camp meals, and five of these little pouch meals full of very spicy Indian food. It all fit in his handlebar bag.

Went back to the pile. Everything fit in his panniers. With room to spare – which isn’t the worst thing. He went back to his bedroom and added a change of clothing. Then grabbed his three favorite neckties, his headphones, and a bottle of Scotch that he’d gotten for Hannukah. It fit without trouble. Last thing he did was throw in his hiking boots, which were pretty dirty but who really cared. Filled up his water bottle, added some ice. Pulled on his cycling shoes. Went out the door.

Unlocked the door. Went back inside. Got his helmted. Left for good.

The elevators were working. Went downstairs. The doorman was gone. Could be in the bathroom, could have split. Josh rolled his bike outside and rode away.

He had been awake for eleven minutes.

Everything smelled like burning. All the leaves were off the trees. There were little flakes of ash on the ground. More in the air. He heard sirens and noises but all very distant, all blended together. They were miles away. And there were so many of them they lost their form.

He biked up Grand Street. Passed a few cars, driving in either direction. A few were speeding. He stopped, leaned back, and turned on his rear light. Set it to its most annoying blink. Hoped the cars would see him.

Heard more sirens. Kept riding. Turned onto Communipaw. Fire trucks and ambulances started passing him. Helicopters in the sky, low overhead. Some going towards Manhattan, some flying away.

On to the bridge. A terrifying ride – but Josh always felt that way on bridges. A few cars passed him. Traffic was very light. He crossed another bridge, safe on a separated bike path. He was in Newark. He looked behind him and there was a black cloud over New York, but if he hadn’t known better he would have said it was a thunderstorm.

He pulled out his phone. Texted his mother, “I’m alive, 10 miles away and biking very fast, more later, love you.” Posted to Facebook: “Not dead. Biking away.” Turned off his phone so nobody would bother him.

He went up Market. Stopped at red lights. Kept his eyes open because there were a lot of emergency vehicles – anything that could have a flash was out on the street. Turned up Bloomfield and put Newark behind him. He’d gone ten miles. It had been about forty minutes.

He turned north on 23. He was in the burbs. Things were dead quiet. He didn’t know that every television was telling people to shelter in place. The occasional car passed. They all looked like they were speeding but a lone car always kind of looks like that. He crossed into New York at Mahwah. Got on 17. The highway was nearby, he heard the rush of cars. Seventeen was deserted. He was thirty miles from Manhattan and it was noon.

He passed a convenience store. It was open. There was bad music playing and the clerk looked really bored. Josh bought two large sports drinks and two slices of pizza that looked pretty good, actually. Not that a guy who’s just biked for two hours really cares what anything tastes like.

He took 32 north and that became 9 West. Fire trucks and emergency vehicles kept passing him going the other way. Then tanks. Or things that looked like tanks at least. A cop car dropped to the side of the road and blocked his way. The cop told him to go home and shelter in place. Josh said he was going home, he’d be there soon. Three miles, Josh said. The cop drove off.

He crossed the Hudson on a long low bridge over a little island. His watch said six o’clock. He was getting pretty tired. He stopped on the shoulder, dug out his spork, ate some Indian food out of the pouch. Forced himself to stretch. Was feeling pretty tired – he’d gone a hundred miles. Forced himself to keep riding. Turned east. He was in the middle of nowhere, old houses very far apart. He passed a sign saying Welcome To Massachusetts. Two minutes later he found a spot of woods that looks nice and desolate. Dragged his bike in. Found a little spot and cleared away the bigger sticks. Pitched his tent. Hung his bear bag. Called his mother, but couldn’t talk long because he was so damn tired and also nobody had anything to say.

Took him two more days to get home to New Hampshire. The second day he didn’t really push himself. The third day he did because he knew he could make it if he tried. Sixty kilotons they were saying. Midtown was leveled, the Village was a rubble field, the FiDi buildings were still standing but everything was radioactive, might be for years. Estimates were two million dead – it would be three million within a year, mostly because of fallout hitting Brooklyn and Staten Island. It would be nineteen months before Josh could go back to clear out his apartment.

 

 

 

 

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~ by davekov on 16 October 2017.

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