Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The End of the World, Part 3

"We're going to get in to the car and drive west?" Emily asked.

Jack nodded. "We've got a full tank of gas. We should be able to get to Iowa, at least."

"Before we run out?"

"Before the sun rises."

"So what's the point?"

"It buys us some time."

"How much?"

"I don't know. Twenty minutes, maybe. But maybe, if we're lucky, it will be enough for the scientists to figure something out." Jack shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. I can't just sit here. I need to do something and this is the best thing I can come up with."

Emily opened her mouth, seemingly ready to argue the point, then closed it. She nodded. "You're right. We can't fight this, but maybe we can run from it."

"Exactly."

"Wait," she held up a hand, "What if the President was wrong? What if it doesn't cross the Atlantic?"

"Then we turn around. But every minute we waste waiting to see if there's anything to worry about is two miles we could be down the road."

She nodded again. "Okay. Get the car seat out of the Prius. I'll make a snack."

Ten minutes later he brought the Maserati to life and backed it out of the driveway. Absolutely nothing was stirring in the neighborhood. Quietly, slowly, he brought the car up to speed, trying to avoid over revving the engines and keeping an eye out for police patrols.

"Uh, headlights?" Emily offered from the passenger seat.

"Not until we get on the highway," Jack replied. "I don't want anybody to see us until we're too far away to be caught."

"Oh."

The I-88 on ramp was a two minute drive from the house under normal conditions. He spent ten minutes snaking around to avoid the main roads and the higher likelihood of patrols and roadblocks, finally sneaking through an empty office complex and edging up between the bushes at the entryway to observe the ramp. His heart sank when he saw a police Tahoe was parked halfway across the road.

"Think we can beat it?" Jack asked.

"I don't think we have to worry," Emily pointed. "It's empty."

"Oh." With that he gunned the engine and screeched through a ninety-degree turn, fishtailing slightly but managing to keep all four wheels on the road and pointed in the right direction. He was doing forty by the time he hit the ramp--nearly clipping the police truck in the process--and shot through the I-Pass lane of the tollbooth at 85. The car was at 120 and climbing by the time he merged on to the empty expressway and realized he'd been holding his breath, expecting red and blue strobes from all directions.

Nothing happened. The car's acceleration and the sound of rubber on road were the only sounds other than breathing, beating hearts and a gurgle from Nate in the back seat. "I think we made it," Jack finally said, as much to break the silence as anything else.

"They didn't," Emily said.

An old Chevy was parked on the side of the road, its hood up. As they passed, Jack caught a flash of a desperate tableau illuminated in the stark light of a street lamp. A man stood at the front of the car, desperately hammering at something on the engine while a woman looked on, clutching two small children.

A quarter mile down the road they saw a Honda crumpled against a guard rail. A hundred yards past the car they passed a family running down the shoulder, the parents half carrying, half dragging their children behind them.

"Maybe we should stop," Emily said, "Try to help them."

"You know we can't," Jack said, nearly choking on the words, "There's nothing we could do." He pressed down a little harder on the gas.

As the car neared its top speed he couldn't help but chuckle.

"What?" Emily asked.

"My Maserati goes one eighty-five," Jack sang, "They took my license, now I don't drive."

"I've got a limo, ride in the back," Emily added in the next line.

"Roll up the windows in case I'm attacked," they finished together.

The car redlined and the image of that broken down Chevy suddenly sprang in to his mind. He backed the car down to 150 MPH, willing to trade some speed for the chance to get as far as possible. They were already nearly out of Chicagoland and would be in De Kalb in ten minutes, a trip that usually took a half hour. He turned the headlights on, ready to trade the risk of discovery for the risk of hitting something.

As he did, they passed a pair of school buses headed east. The words "First Baptist Church" were printed on the sides in reflective lettering.

"What the hell?" Emily asked. "Who would be going east right now?"

Jack shrugged. "Maybe they have kids in the city and they're trying to rescue them."

"They're a little late for that."

Emily reached over and turned on the radio, flipping it to an AM news channel. "The rioting in Atlanta seems to have slowed down," the news reader was saying, "Dawn is only a few minutes away and everyone seems to have paused, waiting to see what will happen." There was a pause. "We now have Professor Hintz from Northwestern University on the phone. Professor Hintz, there is a question that I don't think I've heard anyone else ask, and I don't know if it's possible to even answer it yet, but is this going to be an isolated event or will the sun continue to kill our children?"

"Well, Mike, we don't know," came the staticky response, obviously over a less than perfect cell phone connection, "And the frightening thing is, we probably won't know for several weeks or even months."

"Why?"

"Reports are coming out that this wave of disappearances isn't just effecting children. It's also taking the unborn."

"It's causing mass abortions?" came the confused response.

"Miscarriages would be a better description, but, yes." There was a pause. "Even that isn't quite the right way to describe it, though. There's actually a video from Moscow of a woman on the verge of giving birth who suddenly was not pregnant any more. We've had many reports of similar situations, many of which are double tragedies as the complications from the sudden disappearance of a fetus can be quite lethal."

"So, Professor, you're telling us that we will have to wait to see if women can even become pregnant again before we can find out if our sun is going to continue to be deadly to the children of the world."

"Exactly. And I'm sure you know that it can often take weeks or months for the confirmation of viable pregnancies."

"Thank you, Professor," the news reader said, "Now we're going to take you to New York City for a report on the conditions there."

Emily reached over and grasped Jack's hand, squeezing it tightly. He pushed the car to 160, trying to outrun the bad news. But even at that speed the car didn't have a prayer of outrunning the radio.

6 comments:

Nenya said...

More good stuff!

That would be another interesting twist, if they did stop and pick up a couple of the kids or something. Some people would have, but most people wouldn't... Sadly, we know how the story ends anyway.

SchrodingersDuck said...

I love the way all the stories have a sense of cohesiveness, like snapshots of the same event from different angles; the school buses heading towards the rapture line, the shared snippet of CNN in both "The Grandfather" and "Race to Dawn".

Perhaps all the Rapture Wave posts should be tagged "Rapture Wave" or similar, so they can be listed together in "Posts by Story".

Abelardus said...

Sadly, we know how the story ends anyway.

Actually, I was wondering: Is this "Rapture Wave" (in Geds's stories, at least) really supposed to be the work of the LH&J deity, or are the fundagelicals supposed to be deluding themselves about it being the Rapture?

Either way I think Geds will be able to wrap up the action well enough.

Geds said...

I think Geds will be able to wrap up the action well enough.

Why thank you for your vote of confidence.

I've known pretty much exactly where this one is going to end from the start, so I'd like to hope I'll wrap it up properly. And a clue as to the nature of the Wave is coming in the next installment.

I know. It's almost exciting as those Lost teasers...

Niner said...

The localization was kind of a surprise, after having no idea where the story took place. This might be because I lived in the western suburbs for a long time, and I'm used to things taking place "somewhere else". Otherwise, nice story - I am looking forward to seeing how the end goes. Will they figure out it's the rapture? Will anyone find a way to cheat God? Will it turn out to be a natural event that simply happens to look like the Rapture?

Stay tuned!

Geds said...

Well, I've driven 88 across Illinois about a million times. I figured I'd just write what I know. In case you're wondering, I'm pretty much visualizing Warrenville for where they live.