FICTION, MARCH 2008
by Susan Pomeroy
[This is a piece of pure fiction begun
in August, long before the fires that ravaged Southern
California last autumn. Although Daykeeper hasn't featured fiction
before, given our global and environmental concerns, it seems
appropriate to run this piece now. The story is written in installments,
which we'll publish regularly.]
Josh's face looked through the window at me. I practically fell out the door in my hurry to get out.
"Dad?" I heard Ben's sleepy voice.
"He's fine, go back to sleep, son," I whispered as I softly shut the van door.
One of the department Jeeps was parked off the road behind the van.
"Josh, how did you—?"
I could feel his body, thin, muscular, and very tense, as his arms wrapped around and squeezed me tight. For a moment the world consisted of the two of us, our bodies, the warm dark air. But just for a moment.
"Fine. Raymie and Marie are with us too."
"I figured. Anyone see you coming up here?"
"I don't think so. No one stopped us, and there was no traffic on Hwy. 22."
"Do you have food? Water?"
"Just enough for today."
"OK, I'll have to go back in."
"Josh, what's going on?"
There was a long silence, so long that I went and sat down on a log a few feet away.
Hi sighed, the biggest, deepest sign I'd ever heard. Finally he spoke.
"Remember Katrina, back in '05? How they evacuated folks to the Superdome? And how there wasn't enough food, or water, or medical services? And how some people wouldn't go, point-blank refused to leave their homes, and then there was looting?"
"Right. Well, ever since then the counties and states and even the federal government tried to set things up so that everyone would be evacuated, no matter what. That way there's no looting. No riots, no armed gangs, nobody shooting at cops. And if cops go off duty to be with their families, like they did during Katrina, the whole situation can still be contained with relatively few personnel, just like it was down in San Diego with the fires last summer."
I waited in the dark. I knew that couldn't be all of it, or my level-headed husband wouldn't be so upset.
"The thing is," he said, "The thing I didn't know..."
I could hear his throat tighten around the words.
"The thing I didn't know is that basically, they're writing off all of coastal Northern California. It's too hilly, too wooded, not enough population or agriculture. They're diverting personnel to the cities, and to the Valley, to protect the crops. But everything else? It's as good as gone. Either it burns, or it dies.
"Why did they ship the kids off to the stadium? Because they knew the adults would follow wherever their kids were sent. And everyone else would go too, because no one would believe that anyone would deliberately send children into danger. So it had to be safe, it had to be OK, because they took the kids first. The kids were the bait.
"But once everybody's all there? There won't be enough food. Sarah, there won't be enough food, or enough water, or enough medicine, anything. With the whole western half of the U.S. fighting for its life, do you think anyone's going to spare a thought for a few thousand people stuck in a sports arena? No way. That's why I called you. What Hollister told me today. They want to get them all—get us all—out of the way, where we can't loot, riot, or cause any trouble. They'll leave just enough personnel so we can't get out; leave just enough food and water so that we trust our captors until we're too hungry and thirsty and weak and worn down to fight. And that's it."
"You mean... it's a death trap?"
I could hear Josh's voice, and the sounds of the night, and feel the dry warm air against my face. All of these things were normal. Concrete. Tangible. Present. What Josh was saying felt like it was coming from another world, another universe. And yet it made a terrible kind of sense.
What had happened to all those people down in San Diego? I didn't know. No news report had ever said whether they went home or not. But if I were governor—well, not me, but if I were the venal, egotistical, greedy man who was governor of our state now—
I could see where this kind of... my mind balked at the word I wanted to use, but I had to say it, even just to myself—genocide, it was genocide—might seem like the only option. And not even a desperate, last-ditch option, but a desirable one. Hoped for. Sought after. You could free up firefighters and law enforcement to keep order where the stakes were higher and get rid of hungry, thirsty potential troublemakers in the same stroke. Streamline. Brilliant.
I couldn't even argue with Josh because it felt right. True. And yet what could it mean for us? Were we suddenly a tiny band of refugees in the equivalent of a war zone? An old song refrain bounced through my mind, "It's the end of the world as we know it..."
Suddenly I heard a voice out of the darkness. "Dad, what are we going to do?" Ben asked.
To be continued...