Excerpt for Surviving The Collapse: Book 0 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Surviving the Collapse: Book 0

By James Hunt


DBS Publishing LLC

Copyright 2017 by DBS Publishing LLC

Smashwords Edition




Chapter 1

Dozens of knobs, buttons and lights lined the roof of the Boeing 737 cockpit just inches above Captain Kate Hillman’s head. The view beyond the windshield was gloomy. The aircraft rumbled through the grey skies spitting patches of sleet, snow, and heavy winds.

“New York has a funny way of welcoming you home.” First Officer Dan Martin shook his head, keeping his hand steady on the flight stick. “My brother said it’s going to get down to ten degrees tonight.”

The headphones that both pilots wore crackled with air traffic control’s voice. “Bravo one-eight-five-six, this is tower, we’ve got a roadblock down here because of the weather.”

“Timeline for the delay?” Kate asked.

“Twenty minutes. Redirect heading to one-one-nine.”

“Copy that, tower,” Dan relayed. “Redirecting heading to one-one-nine.” The navigation screen tilted toward the new coordinates, the big bird turning slow and steady. Once adjusted, Dan looked over to Kate and raised his eyebrows. “Did you hear me? Less than—”

“Ten degrees,” Kate said, reaching for the flight plan that she had been given prior to takeoff. She flipped through the pages quickly, scanning the data. “We should have been ahead of this weather.” Kate flipped the “fasten your seatbelt” sign and then picked up the phone to address the passengers. “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in your seats. The weather has caused a slight delay, but we’ll land as soon as possible. Thank you.”

The inside of the cockpit rumbled, and the muscles along Dan’s forearms tensed. Kate hung up and noted Dan’s white knuckles. “First storm?”

“Yeah,” Dan answered.

“Easy on the stick. She’ll do most of the work. Just keep it steady. Radar has the storm passing in a few minutes.”

Another burst of icy sleet smacked the windshield, and the jet rumbled in discontent. Kate shook her head, clicking on her radio. “Tower, this is Bravo one-eight-five-six, requesting an ascent. We’re getting tossed around pretty bad up here.”

“Copy that, Bravo. Request granted. Ascend to thirty-five thousand feet.”

“Ascending to thirty-five thousand feet,” Dan replied, pulling back on the stick.

The jet climbed higher, the nose pointed up as it broke through the worst of the clouds. Kate watched the altimeter. “Twenty-five thousand.” It ticked upward. “Thirty thousand.”

The plane jolted and tossed both Kate and Dan in their seats. The notebook in Kate’s lap crashed to the floor, and the altimeter’s gauge dropped one hundred feet in the blink of an eye. The straps over Kate’s shoulders dug deep and tight into her flesh. When the inertia of the fall ended, the warning beacon on the port engine blinked.

Kate shook off the disorientation and checked the engine status. “One is rolling back.”

Dan looked at her sharply then at the display screen.

“Two is holding.” Kate flipped channels to the control tower. “Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is Bravo one-eight-five-six. We have lost thrust on our port engine, requesting immediate emergency landing.”

“Copy that, Bravo one-eight-five-six.”

Kate took control of her stick. “My aircraft.”

“Your aircraft,” Dan said, letting go of the controls.

“Get out the QRA,” Kate said, the stick stiff in her hands.

“Bravo one-eight-five-six,” tower said. “Redirect toward LaGuardia, heading two-two-zero. Runway one is clear.”

“Heading two-two-zero. Copy on runway one.” Kate placed her right hand on the ignition key. “Restarting engine.” A twist. Nothing.

The big 737 groaned as Kate steered through the clouds, the jet struggling to maintain altitude with only one engine.

Dan scanned the Quick Response Action checklist. “Master on or off?”

Kate glanced toward the display. “Off.” She tilted the stick to the left, adjusting the aircraft to the new heading toward LaGuardia. “Gears down.”

“Gears down.” Dan reached for the lever and pulled it down. The mechanical drone of the wheels descending from the plane’s belly ended with a clank.

Kate checked the heading, altimeter, and speed. The weather provided poor visibility on approach. But she trusted the instruments to do their job, along with the coordination from air traffic control.

“Bravo one-eight-five-six, you are on course,” tower said. “Watch your speed.”

“Give me flaps,” Kate said.

“Flaps extended,” Dan echoed.

The gears in the wings ground as Dan adjusted for the landing, helping to steady the big bird on its approach.

The 737 broke through the clouds and the worst of the storm, and Kate finally had a glimpse of runway lights, and the sprawling airport and surrounding borough of Queens.

The computer’s automated alert system kicked into gear once they cleared fifteen hundred feet, lights flashing in coordination with beeps and its robotic voice. “Warning, pull up. Obstruction. Warning, pull up.”

“Two hundred feet,” Dan said, his voice shaking from the steady rumble of the aircraft.

The big jet tilted left, then right, then back to left as Kate struggled to keep it steady. She knew the storm had slicked the runway with ice and rain, so she’d have to keep the plane as level as possible to avoid a spin. She measured all the inputs, all the variables, letting the instruments help guide her path.

“Fifty feet.” Dan extended his arm to brace for landing.

The computer’s warnings blared again, and after twenty feet, it recited the elevation countdown. Kate tilted the nose up slightly just before impact, and the hulking jet’s wheels squealed and screeched onto the runway. The plane started to spin, but Kate pulled back on the thrusters, and the aircraft slowed to a crawl.

Dan exhaled, leaning back into his chair. “Nice job, Captain.”

Kate’s muscles slowly relaxed as she leaned back into her seat. Beyond the cockpit’s door, the muffled excitement and relief of applause broke the cabin’s silence.

“Bravo one-eight-five-six, please taxi toward gate twenty-one. We will have emergency operations on standby.”

“Copy that, tower.”

Once docked at the gate, Kate and Dan stepped out of the cockpit and triggered another round of applause. Dan immediately pointed to Kate, and she smiled curtly but waved off the adoration. As the passengers were escorted from the plane, one by one, they offered their thanks and gratitude.

With the plane empty of passengers and crew, Kate grabbed her overnight bag, jacket, and flight cap and followed Dan through the gate.

“So what happens now?” Dan asked.

“We’ll be interviewed separately by the NTSB,” Kate answered, her pace brisk as she removed her phone and powered it on. “Then an investigation will review the cause of the engine failure. So long as there wasn’t any negligence on our part, we’ll be back in the air.”

Dan hurried ahead of her and then blocked her path. His cheeks were suddenly white. “There wasn’t any negligence, right? I-I mean, I followed protocols to the T.”

“We’ll be fine, Dan. We did everything right. So far as I could tell from the cockpit.” Kate stepped around him, and when they exited the tunnel, members of the NTSB were already there to greet them, along with a union rep and airport security.

The interview was quick, mechanical, and efficient. Kate answered the questions honestly and candidly. She offered no fault to her first officer, crew, or herself. The board members thanked her for her time, and once they were gone, the union rep pulled her aside.

“The review shouldn’t take longer than a few weeks, but until you’re cleared, you’re grounded,” he said. “I’ll contact you when we know more.”

Kate nodded and then sat in the quiet of the conference room. Alone, the moments replayed in her head. It had happened so fast, it almost felt like a dream. She’d only been through one engine failure scenario before, five years prior. It was a malfunction in the master computer caused by inclement weather. She assumed this was a similar error.

Still alone, Kate took a few slow breaths. She lifted her hand, keeping it level in midair. Despite the rush of adrenaline, it didn’t shake, steady as a rock. Repeated vibrations drummed against her thigh in her pocket, notifications of the texts and calls she missed while she was in the air.

The most recent call was from Mark, but the other ten were from her lawyer, who had also sent her a text marked urgent that simply read, “Call me.”

Kate’s stomach tightened, but she forced herself to dial. It rang twice before he answered.

“Kate, where the hell have you been? I’ve been trying to get ahold of you all morning.”

“I had a flight,” Kate answered. “What happened?”

Dave paused and then exhaled as though he were holding in his breath. “The parole hearing was moved up today. Can you make it?”

Kate hunched forward and rubbed her forehead in exasperation. “Shit. I don’t know. They still have my statement on file. Do I really have to be there?”

“It always makes a more formidable show of resolve when you’re there personally,” Dave said. “It sends a message to the parole board that he shouldn’t be let out. You—”

“All right,” Kate said. “I’ll find a way to make it up there.”

“Good. Meeting is scheduled for five. See you then.”

The call ended, and Kate collapsed backward in her chair, slouching. She glanced down at the wings still pinned on her uniform. She’d been flying for more than twenty years. She’d just managed to land a Boeing 737 with a port engine failure safely through a storm of sleet, snow, and wind. But when Kate lifted her hand again and brought it to eye level, she couldn’t keep it steady.

She grabbed her bag and left.

Terminal D was packed with tourists heading toward gates with flights to all over the world. Los Angeles, London, Miami, Toronto, Tokyo, Hawaii, Paris, Madrid, Moscow. To Kate, airports were the ultimate melting pots. Millions of people, all from different backgrounds and geographical locations, passed through them on a daily basis. And while her main route was from New York to Chicago, she’d done her fair share of travel to different parts of the world.

She missed those far-off places sometimes, but she had requested the new route personally. The fact that her family had moved eight times in the past seven years had taken its toll. An ultimatum was given, and Kate didn’t hesitate to choose her family over work. With her tenure at the airline and her excellence as a pilot, her bosses didn’t hesitate in their approval.

Just before the airport’s exit, Kate spotted the customer service desk. She weaved through the masses funneling outside and noticed the weather had cleared up. She flagged down one of the employees. A young girl came over, and when she noticed the wings on Kate’s shirt, her face lit up brightly.

“Captain! What can I do for you?”

“I normally fly into JFK, and I need to know the quickest way to get into Manhattan from here. My apartment is on the south end of Central Park.”

“Taxi will be the most comfortable, but with the weather and traffic, it’ll take you hours to get into the city.” She leaned over the counter and pointed past the doors and down the street. “So long as you don’t mind the cold, there’s a train station two blocks south. The N will get you to Grand Central. From there you can hop on an uptown train.”

Kate nodded her thanks, but before she got away, the girl called out to her.

“I’m in flight school,” she said proudly. “Got any tips?”

Kate kept walking but turned back toward the girl. “I’ll tell you what my flight instructor told me.” The electric doors opened, and cold blasted Kate’s body. “Don’t crash.” The girl laughed and flashed a thumbs-up. Kate waved back, and the electric doors closed.

Outside, Queens greeted Kate with a cold, dirty whoosh of city air. She skipped the line for taxis and zipped her coat up to her collar.

Tiny puddles of frigid water filled divots and potholes along the sidewalk and roads. Everywhere Kate looked, there were people. People walking, people driving, people running, people talking, people, people, people.

Horns blared in sporadic patterns and acted in coordination with the steady buzz of voices as the official New York City soundtrack. Up until six months ago, she never would have pictured herself living here permanently. But while the city was congested and dirty and overpopulated, there was always something to see and do.

Crates of fruit and vegetables sat out in front of a grocery, a few customers browsing the goods with skeptical eyes. Kate stopped in front of the fruit and wondered if they needed anything at home. She examined an apple and reached for her phone.

Kate scrolled through to Mark’s name when she suddenly remembered the voicemail he’d left her. She quickly pressed play.

“Hey, you’re probably still in the air, but I wanted to let you know that Holly came down with a fever this morning. Mrs. Dunny is going to keep an eye on her until you get home, but you might want to get her some cold medicine on the way. Love you and can’t wait to see you tonight.”

Kate immediately turned from the fruit, dropping the apple into the crate as she dialed her daughter. It rang five times and then went to voicemail. She redialed. Five more rings. Voicemail. She left a message.

“Hey, Holly, it’s Mom. I’m on my way home. Dad told me you were sick, and I just wanted to see if there was anything you wanted from the store. Text or call me. Love you.”

She hung up and pocketed the phone, confident that her daughter wouldn’t call her back. Over the past year, their interaction together had dropped significantly. She might as well have been invisible. Mark had chalked it up to preteen angst, but Holly didn’t act the same way with him.

And while the ultimatum for stability had come from her husband, Kate had really done it for her daughter. The constant moves, the days at a time away from home, had created a barrier between Kate and her little girl. A resentment had built up. And after six months of stability and the repeated promise that they would no longer have to move, Kate hadn’t made much progress. Mark reassured her that it would just take time, but as the days continued to roll past with their relationship unchanged, the resolve of that statement began to crack.

At the corner of the sidewalk, Kate broke away from the steady flow of pedestrians and climbed the stairs to one of the N train’s elevated platforms. She reached for her metro card and swiped it, making her way topside, shoulders brushing against the huddling masses trying to stay warm. She leaned against one of the posts and checked her phone again. Still no response.

She pocketed the device and flipped the collar of her jacket to guard herself against the stiff wind. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her of the skipped breakfast.

The thump of the train against the tracks triggered the eager eyes of passengers desperate to get warm. As the train slowed, everyone huddled near the platform’s edge, hands rubbing together vigorously and toes tapping impatiently.

The doors swooshed open, and a mash of people collided into one another, fighting for the warmth of the train car, as if this were the last train in existence into the city.

Once the bulk of the people had boarded, Kate wedged herself into a small space in the back corner of the train car between an old woman in a bright-pink sweater and a man in a black trench coat.

The doors whooshed shut, cutting out the cold air, and Kate’s cheeks warmed from the heat pumping in through the vents. Bodies swayed back and forth as the train jolted forward.

Kate closed her eyes and leaned against the corner wall, her right hand still wrapped around the pole to keep her steady and her left clutching the phone. She wasn’t sure how Mark would take the news of the parole hearing being moved up to today. He hated her going almost as much as she did.

The phone buzzed, and Kate smiled as she read the text.

Hey, mom, sorry I didn’t answer. Throat hurts bad. Could you get me some popsicles on the way home?

Kate typed a reply, but before she hit send, the train jerked to a stop and flung her into a cluster of bystanders. The wheels screeched loudly, the grinding metal matched only by the screams and gasps of fear, confusion, and pain as bodies were slammed into walls, the floor, and each other.

Kate let go of the phone and thrust her arms out to brace for the fall. Her palms struck the floor hard, and a sharp pain flashed in her elbows and shoulders. The same momentum hurled her luggage forward and slammed it against her back. Finally, the screeching of wheels ended, and the metro stopped.

Groans, heavy breaths, and screams pierced the air in random jabs. Kate lifted her head and saw that she lay on top of the legs of the man in the black trench coat she had stood next to, who quickly stood, heeling Kate in the chin. She gritted her teeth through the pain and rubbed it vigorously.

Dozens of other bodies slowly lifted their heads, looking up in confusion.

“What’s going on?” A voice filtered through the air. “Why did we stop?”

Another chimed in. “Did the power go out?”

Panic escaped worried lips, and once it caught the surrounding ears it spread like wildfire.

“What happened?”

“Is someone coming?”

“I have to get home!”

“I have to get to work!”

“Please… help.”

The last plea was nothing more than a whisper, and Kate turned around, still rubbing the red mark on her chin. The elderly woman in the pink sweater sat on the floor, her back flush against the wall and blood dripping down her forehead.

Kate rushed to the woman’s side, and the old woman lifted a shaky hand and grabbed Kate’s arm. Her grip was weak, her hand cold as ice. “I-I can’t get myself up.”

“It’s all right,” Kate said, trying to find the source of the gash beneath thick curls of grey and white. “You have a cut on your head. Does anything else hurt?”

“No,” the old woman answered, her voice shaking.

“Can you remember your name?” Kate removed her jacket and placed it around the old woman.

“Grace.” She closed her eyes and swallowed. “Grace Nettles.”

“Okay, Grace, I’m gonna try and sit you up. Is that all right?”

Grace nodded, and Kate turned and smacked the calf of the man who’d kicked her. “Hey, help me get her into the seat.”

Trench Coat spun around, his hair disheveled with tiny wisps of what looked like a toupee sprouting wildly into the air. He blinked in annoyance at Kate and Grace and reluctantly dropped a knee and grabbed Grace’s left arm.

“On three,” Kate said. “One, two, three!” The pair lifted Grace in coordination, and she clung to Kate’s shoulder as they guided her to an open seat. She collapsed into the chair, her frail hand immediately searching for the tender spot on her head, then grimaced when she found it.

Grace retracted her finger quickly and examined the blood on it. “Oh, my.”

“It’s okay,” Kate said, trying to see if the woman’s eyes were dilated. “We’re going to get you some help.” She grabbed Trench Coat’s attention. “Hey, look after her while I find the metro worker on board and see what’s going on.”

Trench Coat jerked his arm from Kate’s hold and stepped back. “Listen, lady, she’s not my responsibility. I’ve got my own problems.” He took one step before Kate pulled him back.

“There isn’t anywhere you can go right now.” Kate squeezed his arm tighter. “Stay with her. Make sure she doesn’t pass out, fall, and hurt herself again. Got it?”

The man lowered his eyes to the wings on Kate’s pilot uniform. When he lifted them, the tension in his body relaxed, but he still jerked his arm away in defiance. “Yeah, all right.”

When Kate turned to face the car, the majority of the crowd was already focused on her, watching what she’d done with the old woman. She glanced down at her appearance, wondering if she had blood on herself, but then slowly realized she was the only person on board with a uniform. She was a pilot, and despite the times, that still garnered respect.

Kate cleared her throat. “Do we have a nurse or doctor on board?”

A black hand rose above the heads in the very back, and it was followed by a high-pitched voice. “I’m a nurse.”

Kate waved her forward. “All right, everyone, let her through.”

With the old woman in better hands, Kate trudged toward the front of the train but then stopped after she instinctively reached for her phone, finding it missing out of her pocket. She spun on her heel, searching the ground for where she’d dropped it, and spotted it under one of the subway seats. She bent down to get it and pressed the home button, but the screen remained black.

Kate frowned in confusion and pressed it repeatedly, but nothing happened. The crowd around her began examining their own phones in the same frustration. All their devices showed the same black screen.

The back door to the train car was forced open, and a metro worker stepped through. His girth made him open the manual doors as wide as they could go, and even then he had to sidestep to get inside. “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm!” He huffed a labored breath. “Is anyone in need of immediate medical attention?”

“We have a woman with a concussion.” The nurse stood, a bloodied napkin in her hand. “She needs to be taken to the hospital.”

“I’m fine, really,” Grace said.

The metro worker eyed the blood, and a thick gleam of sweat broke out on his forehead. “God. Um, okay. Is there anyone on the train that’s a nurse or a doctor?”

“She is,” Kate said, pointing to the nurse in scrubs who had just addressed him. “Do you have any communication with the other trains?”

“Um.” The metro worker licked his lips, the beads of sweat on his face worsening, and then looked back to the eager crowd. “No.”

The crowd erupted in a series of gasps, groans, and curses. Hands were tossed in the air, and cheeks reddened from anger and the growing cold. The metro worker’s double chin wiggled as he struggled to find his voice among the angered crowd.

“HEY!” Kate shouted at the top of her lungs. “HEY! LISTEN UP!” The fervor died down, and Kate pushed her way next to the nearest chair where she lifted herself above the crowd. “There isn’t any reason to panic. They have procedures for things like this.” At least she hoped so.

“My phone isn’t working.” A young man lifted his device high above the heads of the crowd. “Like, it’s not even turning on, and it was working fine before the train stopped.”

A series of grunted agreements echoed back, and Kate raised her hands to quiet the growing panic. “Mine isn’t working either. I don’t know why, but—”

The train car rattled violently, and a bright burst of fire and light plumed into the northern sky. Gasps erupted in simultaneous spurts as heads turned toward the explosion. The blast rumbled in Kate’s chest worse than the turbulence in the jet. Kate knew the blast’s origin. It was around LaGuardia.


Chapter 2



The elevated tracks rumbled from the explosion. Every face on the train stared at the rising plume of smoke that blended into the grey clouds that had again begun to spit snow. Once the rumble from the blast subsided, the growing dissent of panic took its place.

Trench Coat was the first to step through the crowd. He shouldered people aside, his eyes fixated on the metro worker. “Let me off this train, now!” He thrust his gloved finger at the ground, his mouth tightening into a straight line.

The crowd on the train latched onto the man’s dissent, waving their broken phones in the air, demanding the same action. The hulking mob circled the metro worker and shoved Kate aside, squeezing her up against the walls with the old woman and the nurse who’d stepped up to help.

Kate pushed back against the hysteria. “Enough!” The attention turned from the metro worker and back toward her, and she noticed the puffs of icy air from her labored breaths. With the power off, the heat on the train had stopped as well. The cold was already biting through her coat and gloves. “He’s doing everything he can, and he knows just as much as we do.”

“So what?” Trench Coat flapped his arms at his sides in exasperation. “We’re just supposed to sit and wait for someone to come and get us off this thing?” He pointed toward the explosion. “That was at LaGuardia, which means it was a terrorist attack.”

The car drew in a simultaneous breath at the word.

“The power, our phones?” Trench Coat stepped toward Kate, the crowd parting in his path. “It’s all a part of the attack. They’re taking out transportation hubs.” He spread his arms and gestured around them. “What do you think they’re going to hit next?”

Affirmations of the man’s words rang on the train like bell peals, the tides of consciousness shifting toward madness. Fear brought people toward the edge, inching their toes off the side. It wouldn’t take anything more than a stiff wind to knock them over.

“You might be right,” Kate said, keeping her voice calm but her volume loud. “But panicking and bickering with each other isn’t going to get us off this train any quicker.”

Trench Coat stepped backward, and the crowd deflated. Kate pointed toward the window, the faces in the crowd following her finger. “There’s a platform with a railing. It looks wide enough to walk on, and we can follow it down to the station.” She looked to the metro worker for confirmation.

The big man nodded quickly. “Yeah.” He wiped the snot leaking onto his upper lip and gestured toward the narrow path. “We use it for maintenance. It should be safe.”

A woman peeled her face off the window, and she tapped the glass, stealing everyone’s attention. “All the cars are stopped. Nothing’s moving down there!”

The outburst triggered another series of teeth-chattering discord, but Kate clapped her hands together. “Hey! Let’s focus on what happens next, all right? And that’s getting off the metro.”

Kate stepped from the seat, and the crowd parted as she walked to the metro worker. She pulled him to the side and kept her voice low and the worker close. “Can we open the doors without the power on?”

“Yeah.” He nodded aggressively. “There are override latches on all the exits. And the electricity in the rails won’t be live since we’re not moving, so we shouldn’t have to worry about anyone getting hurt if they fall.”

“Except for a broken leg,” Kate muttered to herself and then turned back toward the crowd, their attention split between the scene outside and the back of Kate’s head. “All right, listen up, folks! There are emergency latches on the doors that—” She turned to the metro worker. “What’s your name?”

“Bud.”

Kate refaced the crowd. “That Bud is going to show us how to open. The rails won’t be live with electricity, but I still want everyone to act like they are. Anyone who’s sick or hurt is going out first.” She eyed Trench Coat, who had hidden himself back in the crowd. “And anyone healthy enough to assist those people should.”

Trench Coat rolled his eyes.

For the moment, the tension thawed. Bud started at the front of the train, letting people off, and then worked his way back. Once Bud had left, the Grace tugged at Kate’s hand.

“Good job, Captain.”

Kate smiled. “Thanks. How are you feeling?”

Grace sighed. “Wishing that I hadn’t lost my license.”

The pair laughed, and the nurse stepped close. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Yeah, sure.”

The nurse made sure to tuck them into a corner and kept her voice low as they huddled close. “We’ve got a problem.”

“What is it?” Kate asked.

“If the roads are blocked, that means emergency services are going to have a hell of a time trying to get anywhere, and that means anyone on board that’s hurt beyond minor cuts and scratches might be in real danger.”

Kate looked to Grace, who had rested her head back on the glass, gently holding the rag up to her head where she’d been hit. She bit her lip and then looked down to the streets below, which were clogged with stalled traffic. “All right. So what do we do?”

“If this is a terrorist attack, and from what it looks like, it’s a big one, then that means the National Guard and the Red Cross will be called to help assist. I volunteered for the Red Cross when I first got out of nursing school. Their protocol is to coordinate with emergency services to figure out where they’re needed most. If we can get any of the sick or injured to a police station, we’ll be able to track them down.”

“There’s a police station on 21st and 35th Ave.” A young man, earbuds still in even though the phone in his hand no longer produced any music, leaned into their conversation and then stepped back when Kate and the nurse glared at him. “Sorry.” He lifted his hands passively. “Didn’t mean to pry.”

“No, it’s fine,” Kate said, taking a step toward him. “How far of a walk is the station from here?”

The kid couldn’t have been older than twenty, but he had dark, puffy blotches beneath his eyes. It reminded Kate of scratches on a new car. “Less than a mile.”

“All right.” Kate turned to the nurse. “We need a count of everyone that needs hospital attention. We’ll make sure those folks have priority off the train and get them to the police station quickly.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“I can help.” The kid finally removed his earbuds and pocketed the phone in his jacket. “Just tell me what you need.”

“You run up and tell Bud to send anyone down with high-priority injuries or illnesses. Then collect any able-bodied people that can help. Tell them where we’re going. And try to get big guys. We might need the muscle to carry people.”

“Got it.” The young man darted off through the open car doors and wove his way through the crowded aisles. Kate smiled as he parted. The kid had a good heart. He reminded her of Luke.

The sudden thought of her son made her worry. Were the attacks isolated to just New York? Then she thought of Holly in the city, stuck in their apartment, alone with Mrs. Dunny. She needed to get home. She needed to make sure her family was safe.

“Captain!” The kid called her from the second car, slightly out of breath as he jogged to the door. “We’ve got a pregnant woman up front who thinks she might be going into labor and one diabetic that’ll need his insulin shot in about an hour. He doesn’t have any on him, but he has some at home.”

“Where does he live?”

The kid sighed. “New Jersey.”

Kate turned to the nurse. “Will the police station have any medical supplies like insulin?”

The nurse grimaced. “Maybe, but probably not. The Red Cross will.”

Kate returned to the kid. “Get the diabetic down here, and the pregnant lady if she can move.” She turned back to the nurse. “You go with the kid and see if she’s actually going into labor. If she is, we’ll need to find a wheelchair if the contractions worsen.”

“Can you watch her?” The nurse said, handing Kate the bandage she was using for Grace.

“Sure.” Kate sat next to the woman, who was concentrating very hard on the floor between her feet. She placed a hand on the old woman’s shoulder. “How are you?”

Grace closed her eyes. “A little dizzy is all.” She swallowed and then slowly leaned back. “Feels like I just went on a merry-go-round.” She chuckled. “Haven’t been on one of those since nineteen fifty-six.” She turned to Kate, still smiling. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

“I’m not from anywhere really.”

“I imagine you travel a lot,” Grace said, gesturing toward the pilot wings.

“I do.” It was one of the reasons Kate had become a pilot in the first place. As a young girl, she had dreamed of traveling around the world. Meeting new people, experiencing different cultures, living a life with nothing to her name but a backpack full of clothes and a map. But reality didn’t match up with those dreams.

The parole meeting suddenly penetrated her thoughts, and Kate shuddered. She pictured Dennis, sitting in that chair in the middle of the room, looking at her. He was always chained by the wrists and ankles, but that never stopped her skin from crawling. Youth had a way of making you pay dearly for your mistakes, and Kate had paid in spades.

“Dear, are you all right?” Grace asked.

“Huh?” Kate looked over, slack-jawed, then tried to hide it with a smile. “I’m fine.”

Grace took hold of Kate’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Thinking of your family? Well, don’t worry. By the time you get back to them, this will all be over.”

Bud returned from the other train, raising his hands to address the crowd. “We’ve already got people moving. The platform is two blocks to our south. Everyone keep in a single-file line, and move slowly and carefully. No pushing, no running, and make sure you give enough space for the person in front of you.” He walked to Kate and Grace, extending his hand to the elderly woman. “Okay, ma’am. Let’s get you some help.”

The nurse and the kid returned with the diabetic and the pregnant woman, who cradled her stomach as she waddled through the doors.

A foot of space separated the metro from the emergency railing, and when Kate brought Grace to the precipice, she wavered. “Sorry. Another dizzy spell.”

“I’ll go over first.” The kid jumped the gap with ease and held out his arm to help Grace cross. Kate handled her gently, but the kid practically lifted Grace on his own and landed her safely on the emergency walkway.

“Keep her steady,” Kate said then turned to the pregnant woman. “You’re next.”

The woman waddled forward, belly exposed, and her hand gripped Kate’s arm like a vise. She breathed in quick, short bursts, and despite the frigid air a sheen of sweat covered her face and neck. “God, it’s getting worse.”

“Just breathe,” Kate said, wincing from the grip on her arm. “Kid, a hand?”

The boy made sure Grace was safe on the railing before he reached out his arm. “Okay. Got her.”

“On three,” Kate said. “One, two, three!” Kate pushed and the kid pulled, and the pregnant woman landed breathlessly on the other side and winced from another contraction.

The diabetic got over without much help, and with the three of their sick and wounded across, Kate went next along with the nurse. Kate turned back and saw the line of people already on the railing from the other cars. They had all waited just as the metro worker had told them to. And Kate noticed that all of them were looking to her.

“Everybody keep a slow and steady pace.” Kate stole a glance to the long fall to the road below, and she quickly grabbed the railing for support. “No need to rush it.”

Kate shuffled forward, while the kid helped Grace and the nurse guided the pregnant lady right behind them.

The commotion below continued to pull Kate’s attention away from the emergency walkway. People had walked out of stores, and car doors stood open and abandoned. There were shouts of panic and fear. Most of the heads were turned north toward the pillar of smoke. Kate’s eyes were pulled toward it, and when she watched the column twist and then meld into the grey skies, another explosion erupted and rattled the train tracks.

Instinctively, everyone ducked. Kate turned to the east, toward the sound of the explosion. A few seconds of silence passed before another column of smoke rose into the sky, and the mood on the ground below transformed from mild anxiety to full-blown panic.

The same reaction spread to the crowd on the rails, and Kate watched the man in the black trench coat shove people aside and sprint up the railway, his feet teetering close to the edge. “Out of my way!” He waved his arms angrily and left a trail of dazed and confused bystanders in his wake.

“Stop!” Kate thrust her arms out, but the man continued his bulldoze down the platform. He swayed right a little, and the people he passed followed suit as the orderly line was wrinkled by chaos. “Stop!” But it was too late.

Kate yanked Grace and the kid forward, pulling them away from the stampede. When the old woman couldn’t keep pace the kid scooped her up in his arms. Kate kept an eye on the nurse, who pushed the pregnant woman forward as fast as the woman’s legs could waddle, but she couldn’t see the diabetic man.

A shriek pierced the air, and Kate turned in just enough time to watch a woman fall from the safety of the emergency walk. She screamed all the way down, her voice ripping into the air. A thump sounded, the scream ended, and Kate looked away, tears forming in her eyes.

Kate reached the platform first, and she spun around and pulled the old woman and the kid toward the wall, away from the structure’s edge. The nurse did the same for the pregnant woman, but the diabetic man led the charge down the steps and onto the street with the rest of the train passengers.

When the platform cleared, Kate hunched over and placed her hands on her knees, with her backside up against the wall on a poster for some band playing at a local bar. She stared at the tips of her shoes, and after a moment, and with a shaking hand, she wiped the snot from her upper lip and straightened herself out.

At first glance, everyone was still in one piece, though the pregnant woman looked one contraction away from spilling the baby right onto the dirty platform.

“How bad are the contractions?” Kate asked.

“Fucking bad! GAHHH!” The woman’s cheeks reddened, and her whole body spasmed as she shut her eyes tight and waited for the pain to pass.

“She has maybe another hour before the baby comes,” the nurse said. “But it’s hard to tell.”

“Another hour?” The woman slapped her hand onto the wall for support. “Mary, mother of Christ.”

Kate turned to the kid. “All right, hero. You lead the way to the police station. I’ll take care of your lovely lady.” She took Grace’s hand and followed the kid down the subway steps, past the turnstiles, and to the street level.

People sprinted and screamed in terror, unsure of where to run or what to do. The kid brought them out of the street and away from the worst of the maddening crowd. They clustered at the corner of a coffee shop, and the kid gestured down the street. “Two blocks that way.”

Kate followed, her eyes surveying the blank traffic signals overhead. A dog sprinted past her, causing both Grace and Kate to jump. The animal barked randomly on its run, then disappeared down an alleyway. They passed an apartment building, and Kate saw the pillar of smoke that belonged to the LaGuardia explosion still drifting up toward the sky.

A cold blast of wind knocked a stack of newspapers over the sidewalk in front of them like an accordion. One of them flattened against Kate’s shin, and she ripped it off.

“It’s just around here,” the kid said, separating himself from the group. “It’s right—” The kid turned the corner and stopped in his tracks.

Kate followed, her hand still gripped tightly in Grace’s, but when she saw the police station, she let go. “Oh my god.”

Hundreds of people poured off the front steps of the precinct, the sidewalk jammed with more pedestrians than it could hold. They clambered over one another, fighting to get inside, fighting for answers, fighting because they had no idea of what to do next.

A few people stood on the outskirts, blood dripping down their faces. One man lay on the concrete off to the side. He was motionless.

The nurse bumped into Kate with the pregnant woman, and all five of them stood in shock on the street corner. “What the hell is going on?”

Kate spun around, gripping the nurse by the shoulders. “Is there another hospital nearby? Another place where the Red Cross might show up?”

The nurse gawked at the hordes in front of the station. “I… I…” She shook her head, her eyes reddening. “I don’t know.” She let go of the pregnant woman’s hands and backed away. “I have to get out of here. I have to go home.”

Kate shook her head, following the nurse step for step as the pregnant woman leaned against the building for support. “No, we need you.” She pointed back to the woman. “She’s going into labor.”

“I can’t help her.” The nurse backed up more quickly now. “I’m sorry.” She spun around and sprinted away.

“Wait!” Kate took a handful of quick steps but ended the pursuit as the nurse vanished into the panicked masses. She held the sides of her head, the atmosphere too overwhelming. There were no sirens in the distance signaling help. She saw no police on the street, no signs of authority anywhere.

“Hey.” The touch of a hand on her shoulder accompanied the voice, and Kate spun around to find the kid standing there. His eyes were wide, his nose red from the cold. He gestured back to what was left of their group. “What do we do?”

The pregnant woman shut her eyes, both hands over her stomach, grimacing in pain between short, quick breaths. Grace was next to her, her weathered hand brushing the sweaty strands of hair off the pregnant woman’s forehead.

“Hospital,” Kate said. “I don’t know if anything will be working there when we show up, but it’s the best shot we have.” She looked to the kid. “Do you know one that’s close?”

“Ah, maybe?” He shut his eyes to think. “There might be a small one off 30th Ave.” He opened his eyes, nodding. “Yeah. That’s the closest one.”

“We need to hurry.” Kate relayed the plans to their two other companions and departed the chaotic scene of the police station. And just as they turned back down the street away from the precinct, gunshots fired.


Chapter 3



Broken-down ambulances and police cars dotted the roads leading to the hospital. Behind one of the emergency vehicles were two paramedics lifting a man out on a gurney. He was bloodied, the cold already causing the claret to crust and grow brittle. The paramedics wore the same bloody stains over the chest of their uniforms.

The hospital’s entrance wasn’t as hectic as the police station, but there were still dozens of people that passed in and out of the ER’s now permanently open sliding glass doors.

Inside, the cold stench of bleach and antiseptic blasted Kate’s senses, but it was a small price to pay for the relief from the cold. A faint glow of warmth still lingered, either from the number of bodies or from the heat still trapped inside from before the power failure.

Hospital staff scurried back and forth. Cries of pain and pleas for help echoed down the darkened halls. Two nurses sat behind the ER station, their bodies shaking with adrenaline as they searched for files in darkness. One of them held a lighter, examining a sheet with medication doses.

“Room twenty needs their antibiotics bag, and eighteen needs their pills.” The nurse, husky with short-cropped hair and a tattoo that crawled up the side of her neck and out of the collar of her scrubs, slapped the folder into the chest of another nurse.

“But all of the equipment is on the second floor, and the elevators aren’t working.” The second nurse was a mouse compared to the husky woman. “I can’t even see what I’m doing up there!”

The husky nurse opened the mousy woman’s hand, shoved the lighter into it, then closed her fist. “There. Now go.” The bark was accompanied by a shooing hand, and Ms. Mouse scurried away.

Kate rushed to the station, grabbing the husky woman’s shoulder just before she was out of arm’s reach. “Excuse me, I have a woman—”

“Little busy, sweetheart.” Husky Nurse easily removed Kate’s hand and flung it away, moving quickly toward the double doors that had a sign with the letters “ICU” etched over the top.

“Hey!” Kate sprinted after her, sliding in front of the woman and blocking her path. She thrust a finger into the nurse’s face, and the woman wrinkled her nose in annoyance. “I’ve got a pregnant woman in labor and an elderly woman with a possible concussion. They both need help.” She gestured to the kid, who had one arm out for each of their patients to grab onto.

Husky Nurse turned to look and then pinched her fingers in her mouth and whistled, high and loud. “I need a wheelchair and a doctor, now!”

An orderly brought the wheelchair and slid it under the pregnant woman’s backside then looked to the nurse for direction.

“Get her down to room seven. I’ll meet you there.” She clapped the orderly on the back, and the woman was whisked away, panting heavily.

Just before the pregnant woman passed through the double doors, she looked back at Kate, the kid, and Grace and smiled, her cheeks a bright cherry red and covered in sweat. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome!” Kate waved back, but the woman had already disappeared.

“Your mother can take a seat here, and we’ll get to her when we can,” the husky nurse said.

“Oh no, she’s not—” But the nurse was gone. Kate returned to the kid and took Grace’s hand. “She said someone will come out in a second.” But as Kate examined the ER’s lobby, she wasn’t sure how long that would take.

While they waited, more and more people poured inside. Some were bloodied, some were scared, most were both. Another twenty minutes of this steady influx, and it would be the police station all over again. “We should leave.”

“What? Why?” The kid asked. “This is probably the safest place to be right now.”

“No generators,” Kate said, talking to herself. She looked to the emergency exit signs. They should have been glowing, alerting people to their presence, but none of them worked. “Hospitals have generators as backups in case of power outages to keep the equipment running.” She shook her head. “None of them are working here.”

The kid let go of the old woman’s hand. “S-so what are you saying? Everyone here is going to die?” He shouted the last words, and Kate hushed him.

“I don’t know.” Kate pressed the back of her hand to her forehead. “I need to get home.”

“Go.” Grace’s voice was soft and weak. She shifted in the plastic chair, and folded both hands in her lap. “You’ve done enough.”

Kate joined her in the empty seat to her left. “Listen, it’s only going to get worse. You can’t—”

“I’m seventy-nine years old.” Grace smiled and gently patted Kate’s hand. The gesture was similar to the one that Kate’s grandmother had done whenever she had a story to tell. It was reassuring. It was safe. “I’ll be fine. It might look bad now, but things will turn around.” She leaned in close. “But we’ll need people like you out there.” Then she pointed to herself. “To help more people like me.” She looked to the kid. “They’ll need people like both of you.” She placed her weathered hand against Kate’s cheek. “Go. Be with your family. It won’t be long before I’ll be with mine.”

What was surely meant to be comforting instead filled Kate with a sadness that swelled in her chest. It was the way the old woman spoke and the double meaning of her words. But Grace was right. She needed to go home. She needed to be with her daughter and husband. And she needed to get in contact with her son. “All right. But if someone doesn’t come by to check on you in five minutes, then I want you to raise hell.”

Grace laughed. “Oh, I will.” She turned to the kid and extended her hand, which he took gently. “You know, I have a granddaughter about your age. She’s very pretty.” She leaned in close and raised her eyebrows with a coy smile. “I’ll put in a good word for you. She’s crazy about me.”

“Thanks.” The kid smiled, blushed, and then let the old woman’s hand go.

Grace returned Kate’s jacket, and then Kate and the kid walked toward the exit, and both turned back one last time once they reached the door. They each raised a hand to Grace, sitting in that plastic chair, bundled up in her pink sweater, and a kind smile over her face.

Grace waved back. They never saw her again.


Chapter 4



Around every corner, down every street, in every neighborhood they passed, the scene was all the same. People scurrying around, afraid, confused, panicked. Anything that sat on the sidewalk in front of stores was either broken or looted.

Kate shook her head, numb with disbelief. “I can’t believe people sometimes.” She looked to the columns of smoke that had faded somewhat against the greying sky. The clouds had darkened. It wouldn’t be long before they started spitting snow again.

“People do weird stuff when they’re scared,” the kid said, his eyes always looking, always scanning. “My uncle was an alcoholic, and he used to beat up my cousin when he was good and drunk. It went on like that for a long time. He’s a little older than me, and he still can’t be around drunk people. You try and get him close to a bar and he freezes up. Can’t speak, can’t move. He goes catatonic.” He stopped and gestured down a street. “If we turn here, we can make it to the Lincoln Tunnel to get back into the city.”

“Tunnel?” Kate raised her eyebrows. “No. We haven’t seen any traffic moving for the past six blocks. Everything’s dead in the water, including the tunnel. I’m not going into a concrete tube buried under the river with all of this happening.” She gestured ahead. “Let’s take the bridge.”

“The closest bridge to us right now is Williamsburg.” The kid glanced back down the street. “That’ll take me longer to get home.” He looked back to Kate. “My mom’s sick.” He tapped the side of his head. “Kind of a mental thing. Has a hard time keeping track of stuff. The longer it takes me to get home, the more she’s at risk of wandering out into all of this and getting herself hurt.”

Kate studied the worried lines on the kid’s face and was suddenly reminded of how young he was and that she didn’t even know his name. “Hey, listen—What’s your name?”

“Doug.”

“Doug, take it from a mother who has a son about your age. The only thing your mom would be concerned about is you getting home safe in one piece. The bridge is safer, and we’ll have better line of sight into the city. And trust me, when you’re heading into a storm, line of sight can save your life.”

Doug nodded but offered a final longing glance toward the direction of the tunnel. When he faced Kate again, that steady assurance had returned. “Yeah, that makes sense.” He pointed down the road they’d been traveling on. “But I need to hurry.”

Kate did her best to keep up with Doug’s jog. While she would have preferred to keep a steady speed walk, she didn’t want to hold the kid up any longer than she had to. And she didn’t want to lose him. Not because she didn’t think he couldn’t take care of himself or that she couldn’t find her own way into the city but because of something inexplicably simple. She didn’t want to be alone.

In the maddening storm that swirled around them, they were each other’s lifeboats, and they needed one another to stay afloat, lest someone else come along and try to drag them down into the dark abyss of the cold waters.

Intermittent screams and the crash of glass had replaced the city’s bustling motorists and honking horns. Destruction had replaced production, and Kate still hadn’t seen a single authority figure since they’d left the police station. Had they all gone home? Had they all been absorbed into the mob?

After fifteen minutes on the run Kate winced and clutched her side, slowing to a walk. “Doug!” She stretched out her hand and then leaned up against a storefront, the sign on its door flipped to “closed.” “It’s just a cramp. Give me a minute.”

Hesitantly, Doug slowed and then jogged back toward her. Kate lifted her arms into the air, doing her best to draw in long, deep breaths. The knives digging into her sides had lessened, and she paced in a tight circle. “Don’t get much cardio anymore.” She smiled, but Doug wasn’t paying attention. She was slowing him down.

“You sure you’re all right to keep going?” Doug asked.

“Yeah,” Kate answered, the tip of the knives still prodding her ribs. “I’m fine.” She turned away from Doug to hide the pain, and when she did she noticed the name of the storefront where she’d stopped. It was a pharmacy. She pressed her face against the dark glass, unable to see anything inside.

“What are you doing?” Doug asked.

“My daughter’s sick.” Kate peeled her face away from the cold glass. “And you said your mother needs medication, right? We should look inside. See what they have.”

Doug snickered. “I doubt they’re open.”

A bell at the top of the door chimed when Kate pushed it open. Inside, like the rest of the city, the power was out, and the only light provided was what shone through the tinted windows at the storefront. The back of the store and half the aisles were covered in darkness.

The pump of the shotgun froze both of them in their tracks.

“Who’s there?” The voice shouted from the darkness.

Kate lifted her hands, squinting into the darkness. “We need medicine.”

The man with the gun remained hidden in the shadows. “You some junkies looking for a high?”

“We’re not junkies,” Kate said, hands still raised and her eyes focused on the barrel of the shotgun. “My daughter’s sick.” She tried to swallow but couldn’t. “I just need some things for her. I can pay.”

The man grunted. “Pay? With what? Credit Card? Debit? There aren’t any machines working. No electricity.” He finally emerged from the shadows. Sunlight revealed a weathered face, cheeks wrinkling and sagging. Liver spots dotted his bald head, but his blue eyes were still vibrant as they stared down the shotgun’s sight. “Go.”

Doug tugged at Kate’s shoulder. “C’mon. It’s not worth it.”

But Kate stood her ground. “I’m not leaving until I have medicine for my little girl.”

The old man didn’t waver, didn’t move, didn’t flinch. “What’s she sick with?”

“Sore throat, fever,” Kate said. “I think she has the flu.”

The old man lowered the shotgun, and Kate and Doug exhaled. He walked past them toward the front door and flipped the lock. “Won’t be long before they start breaking glass to get in here. Damn animals. C’mon. Let’s get your little girl some medicine.”

A few candles glowed behind the counter of the pharmacy, where most of the prescription drugs were stored. “I’ll give you a few general antibiotics in case that flu turns out to be something bacterial.” He snagged a few bags off the aisle and then shoved them into Kate’s arms. “You can grab some over-the-counter pills on your way out. Aisle three.”

“Thank you,” Kate said, stuffing the pills inside her jacket. “Thank you so much.”

“Do you have any SSRI medications?” Doug asked, eyeing the rows of medicine.

The old man grunted. “Probably gonna be a lot of people down on their luck after all of this.” He stepped backward farther down the aisle. “A particular brand you’re looking for?”

“Celexa, if you have it,” Doug answered.

“Here.” The old man tossed a bag at Doug. “Now get out.”

They retreated down the aisles, and Kate stole a variety of cold medicines and throat lozenges and added them to her stash of antibiotics.

Once outside, Doug took a few steps then stopped. He stared at the medicine clutched in his hand. His expression glowered contempt, and the corner of his eye twitched. It could have been the cold, but his eyes reddened in the anticipation of tears.

“What’s SSRI stand for?” Kate asked.

“Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,” Doug answered. “It’s for depression.” He looked at her, almost as if he were waiting for her to make a joke at his mother’s expense. “That’s what’s wrong with my mom.”

“I’m sorry.” Kate gave a soft touch to his shoulder. “I can imagine that’s hard.”

“Harder when you’re alone with her.” The tears fell, and Doug turned his head away, wiping at the corner of his eyes quickly. “I’m fine.” He stuffed the medicine into his jacket pocket. “We need to get moving.” Without looking at her, he broke into another jog.


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