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Run Like Hell: Chapter 1 – Drowned



   It all started during a full moon in October. Hurricane Sandy hit my hometown like one, truly unstoppable force of nature. I was twenty years old and I lived in the small town of Union Beach, New Jersey— considered just another district, a lower one perhaps, of the bordering town, Keyport, right on the water across from New York City. This town was so small that most people who’d lived in Jersey most of their lives hadn’t even heard of it before this tragedy— you’d not have even realized it existed driving down Highway 36 if you ignored the signs as you passed. Just about everyone you’d talked to figured it really was Keyport, considering the only actual contents of the town were the homes, a little barber shop run by a little old man and a liquor store. You could make the case that we also had a McDonald’s, Italian Ice place, Bank of America, Hess station and a few other assorted businesses, but that was by circumstance of them having been built on our side of the highway. Past that, there’d not really been any other reason for passers-by to enter any further. That changed after Sandy.
They had talked up this storm for a month or so, more intensely for the last few weeks before its estimated time of arrival. I lived almost a mile inland, on the outskirt of town on Heckleman Street in one of the most developed areas right down the road from the municipal building: terribly modest sized police station, almost a smudge on the map of this place, if anyone ever felt the urge to draw one up. This part of town especially didn’t even believe we’d get hit—at least not nearly as hard as everyone else closer to the water. We should have been more prepared.
I remember it like it was yesterday. What an overused statement. “—Like it was yesterday.” Shit, still feels like it now. My mother Karen was getting dinner prepared. She’d decided to make every box of pasta we had in the house because, even though we severely doubted we’d see so much as a drop of water on our end, we still thought there might be a small possibility. What if? Plus it gave us the excuse to overeat. That would be the last enjoyable home-cooked meal we’d eat for months.
I had just finished off a medium sized bottle of low-proof coconut rum my stepfather Trey had bought me a week or so prior. I figured what the hell? Could be our last night here! I ate those fucking words along with the rest of the mediocre meals we’d come to face down the road. My brother Harvey and I were standing around in the combination kitchen/dining room with Trey and my mother bullshitting, sharing laughs.
It was 5:30 PM and we knew the town had planned to manually shut down the power by 7:00. Didn’t think that’d be a problem considering we’d dealt with having no power countless times in the past. Then suddenly, without warning, there it went. Somewhere around 6:15, about forty-five minutes ahead of schedule, the power blew. At this point we’d seen a small bit of water around the storm drains in the street but nothing to scare us to the point of dread. We shrugged it off like usual, lit over a dozen candles and had my mother cooking by candle light. She managed, as we still had gas, and the meal she was preparing wasn’t anything extensive anyway.
I had turned on my iPod—wretched thing. I started it on shuffle, to get a wide variety of music. As we awaited our meal, a dozen or so songs of various rhythm and tempo played. This went on for a solid thirty minutes until dinner was placed before us on the oval, wooden table, draped in a deep red cloth with flower pattern lining. At this point I’d kept the volume at a decent level—never lowering it because we’d not ever really been the kind of family who’d talked over dinner or even ever sat down and ate together in general. We had our chit-chat, but nothing that’d keep you on the edge of your seat.
I’d just finished my first plate, feeling good, and every five or ten minutes one of us would check, out the door, through the glass, to see how high the water was getting. To our surprise, at this point, it’d climbed up almost past the sidewalk into the yards, but only a small bit. We’d had this kind of flooding before, but that had been almost ten years prior, before they presumably fixed the storm drains. Our worries began to inflate very slowly, but still nothing to grow nervous about.
I remember being on Facebook earlier that day around 3:00 PM. How I’d hated that website and most of its contents. I’d used it for some various things, artistic or even more personal—sometimes as parody or satire in the form of rambling or ranting, sometimes pure copy-cat behavior, things most of the other folks on there didn’t seem to grasp. Maybe my humor was too dry. Maybe I’d taken it too far to be considered a real satirist or even a lowly jokester.
All that aside, I’d been seeing photos uploaded by the youth of the town. I say “youth” because these kids were almost five or six years younger than me, trotting out in the puddles like I’d have done when I was their age, and at this point I was already legally an adult, I feel in more respects than just age—if only everyone else could have seen that in me.
I’d seen photos of areas ten streets in from the water already flooded up to the knees of the folks who’d lived down there, entire trees uprooted, etc. That didn’t worry me like it should have, though my mother had a terrible feeling, she said, ever since she’d woken up that morning. Then again, I can’t remember a time in the history of my existence when the woman ever felt whole and with even moderate comfort.
As we sat there, waiting to see what would happen next, if maybe we would have to leave, as again we’d heavily doubted, more music played and I felt fairly comfortable as I’d just polished off another plate of this pasta-concoction that lay before me.
A song by an infant band of only a few years began to play—one from their sophomore album—a folksy tune, very adventurous with an epic backbone. It was my favorite song off the album, for it was the most intense sounding with the feeling of a sort of long, winding journey. The lyrics, admittedly, were about a relationship crumbling to pieces, but that itself can be quite a journey—something I was no stranger to.
As it played, the four of us, Trey, my mother, Harvey and I sat there finishing up what was left on our plates—myself being ahead of the curve, even having eaten twice as much as the rest of them. The song cascaded and eventually descended into its climax of clarinets being played wildly out of key, out of order—such a mess, but with a purpose. Harvey didn’t like it.
“This is some real hippy shit.”
Mom agreed as she tapped her finger to her phone.
“Yeah. That’s a little too much for me.”
Idiots, I thought to myself. They didn’t understand such music. It wasn’t just a lot of noise as most music today would portray. It had a real, true purpose. The instruments had a place. They’d coincide with the feeling, the raw emotion behind the songs themselves. It showed in how they were played, doubly so. Those clarinets were meant to represent the latter part of the song, an argument—weeping if you will.
What break up– what truly tumultuous situation in a relationship ends with violins and pianos? I don’t feel a single one. Sobbing clarinets; all of them, no matter the place, no matter the age—always a broken or currently breaking instrument. It’s not what you hear—it’s what you feel; what you are at the time. I’d had my fair share of heartbreak over the last few years, during situations not even meant for such an emotion. That song in particular though, it’d ring true more so than I would ever really come to have thought. That, of course, is entirely unrelated to this point in time. I skipped to the next song—a friendly, easy 60’s pop song. It was probably for the best, considering the situation.
More time passed, more songs played, and now it was almost 8:00 PM when we finally saw the water was halfway up our walkway. Now we felt the tension. Trey went outside to check the trucks. Mom’s little Nissan Jeep was parked the farthest up in the carport with his hulking Yukon right behind being closest to the street. The water was already up to the back bumper. I followed him out to help. I knew he’d needed a hand.
The only real flashlight in the house was an almost decade old children’s Halloween flashlight that made stupid noises. Why this was the case I’d questioned for years, but now it was the only saving grace, if it offered even only the smallest bit of help.
I stood there in my black shorts and t-shirt, holding this thing for him as he climbed over the wood railing off the side of the front porch onto the step of his truck to get in and check it out in ninety mile-an-hour winds, surprisingly without a single drop of rain as had been predicted.
As I continued to stand there pointing this light for him, I’d noticed we were the only of maybe three homes which hadn’t moved their vehicles to the abandoned Bradley’s parking lot separated from us by a small corn field.
One man two houses over trudged out into the water, put his truck in reverse and backed it up onto the porch of his home—smaller than ours and without railings or an awning but raised up about the same height.
I then saw people who I could barely make out in the darkness from across the street wearing ponchos, following one another through the chest high water down the street like a group of nomads, toward the inner part of town, where a white van flashing its hazards had been sitting for over thirty minutes. I had assumed they were a family. Maybe they were seeking my old middle school right down the road as refuge, seeing as the town had specifically told the patrons they could use the place as such. And what about that white van? Who’s in there? Are they alright? I didn’t wonder any deeper than that.
As I stared in awe of the apparent devastation unfolding, I witnessed a wild sight I’ll not soon forget in my lifetime. The sky lit up green and blue like a fourth of July firework show gone wrong as transformers shorted and exploded sporadically and without pattern in the distance. It made me recall all of the videos I’d watched online of air battles and ground-warfare with tracer rounds from our boys overseas. I’d become mostly desensitized to that sort of thing by then, but witnessing a similar sight before me which made me recall such events flipped a switch inside my brain.
I turned away from the spectacle to make sure I was still being of assistance to see that now the water was already up in the cabin—to the front seats, presumably engulfing the engine, yet Trey still made the attempt to start it and move it even further up. He succeeded, if only moving it five inches, now kissing the jeep ahead, bumper to bumper, bending the front license plate of the Yukon.
As this had all transpired, mom had been frequently sticking her head out of the door shouting to us to come in quickly. I shooed her off every time so that we could finish, but now that the truck had been moved she came out shouting one last time—a time I’ll also never forget.
“Get inside—the house is flooding!”
I felt a spike of what felt like lightning strike through my nerves as I turned to Trey without hesitation, pulling the hair out of my face from the absurd wind.
“Oh, shit. The house is flooding! Come on!”
He shut the door to the Yukon and as quickly as he could, climbed back over and followed me inside. As we entered the darkness of the house lit only by those few candles we’d scattered, mom was already hysterical.
“We heard it in the vents and it just started rushing in down there!”
There were no lights in the living room, and it was a sunken level, like all the other homes in our development. At a fast pace I ran down the two steps it took to reach the floor and quickly felt the cold, filthy water splash just halfway up my calves. Now the gravity hit me. This is immediate, and I don’t know what to do. I had to make a decision, whatever it may be—something productive had to be done.
My instincts kicked in and told me to start grabbing everything not wired down and which hadn’t already been submerged in water. I grabbed the stereo, a guitar stand and some other assorted tchotchkes while Trey grabbed whatever he could find in the pitch blackness of their bedroom: his 1978 Gibson The Paul, three-week-old amplifier and more things I can’t even seem to remember due to the emerging chaos, though I know it wasn’t much.
As I made each step through the living room I’d felt the Pergo rising up below my feet, like the floor boards of a lazily built sinking ship. Now I’d felt fright like I hadn’t ever felt before in my life, maybe not since I’d been a small child or even recently had the most terrible dream which could rival the feelings I felt in this instance. Each moment added yet another strain of urgency.
Now the water was almost past the first step up toward the kitchen/dining room.
Mom stared at Trey, frozen.
“What do we do?! Do we stay and wait– do we try to leave?!”
Maintaining a level of calm I’d only ever seen him achieve, Trey lifted up his phone and began dialing.
“I’m calling 9-1-1. It’s obvious we won’t be staying here tonight.”
Harvey, obviously perturbed by the statement, joined my mother in the swirling hysterics.
“We can’t leave! It’ll be fine– let’s just go upstairs– we can stay in my room.”
I looked at him without any real semblance of planning but hounding to come to reason.
“We can’t be here, Harvey. What if the house collapses? What if we’re trapped up there?!”
“No!” He cried out. “We can’t leave! Don’t make me leave—please, god, don’t make me leave!”
Everyone tried to calm him, to mostly no avail, as mom walked upstairs to defuse his excitement.
Harvey wasn’t a stupid person. He was my older brother, by only seventeen months but still older and admittedly more knowledgeable in most aspects of the scholastic world. However, Harvey was a conflicted human. He has Asperger’s syndrome: a social disorder which is quite common, especially in this day and age. No matter how many fairly reasonable thoughts he had stored in his head, along with some of the most brilliant ones I’d ever heard, he still battled with his spiking emotions in every situation, during every day of the week. He needed his routine, which involved anything he used or that surrounded him on a daily basis. Even if the whole house was destroyed, he could still have his room intact and feel fine enough. He couldn’t bring himself to part with it on the possibility that it might not be here when we came back.
Trey closed his phone and let out a quick breath.
“We have to evacuate ourselves. They told me that we need to get to the police station as fast as possible.”
This was it. Reality set in tightly with no wiggle room. We’d have to get out or risk any number of possible negative outcomes. My heart was racing from the intense anxiety coursing through me like high-voltage electricity flowing through my ventricles akin to an internal flood of emotion—though I know for certain I wasn’t the only one feeling it.
I made a mad dash for my bedroom on the second floor with a candle in my left hand. As I entered, I quickly grabbed an old shirt from the floor to dry my feet and legs with. As I went to gather clothing to change into, my mind was racing. I was trying to figure out what else to take, what to leave—the nervousness of what I might lose, the safety of all my worldly possessions that I’d worked fairly hard to obtain. My paintings, I remembered, what if they’re destroyed? Countless hours spent on these giant expressions of myself painted directly on the walls. I couldn’t afford to lose them. What will I do? Where do I go from here? They’d have to stay behind, as was the only option, for even if I could somehow mobilize them—how would I put them in transport?
With every passing second, the water was growing higher and higher. There was no more time for my normal way of thinking. I had to stay on my toes, and there I would remain.
In retrospect I now see it as having been pointless, but I had thrown on all clean clothes in the rush of the tension. I wasn’t even thinking about having to possibly get wet. We were foolish, I thought. Why did we wait? Why didn’t we listen? Most of us didn’t. I barely felt any sympathy for my own family. We should have thought this through. There’d been plenty of time, but we still remained naive. I stopped myself again and pushed on.
I turned to the wicker baskets on the floor which contained all of my clothing for lack of having any kind of dresser. Black socks, black jeans, standard leather belt, red plaid button-up, old black work boots on the side, and lastly my pea coat hanging up, also black. I took one last look around for anything else I might need. My phone, a black flip-phone, I shoved in my right pocket, my black and blue Batman house key in my left and my black leather wallet in an inner pocket of my coat. I knew there’d be no point in trying to take any more with me. So I made my peace with the situation, unplugged everything I could see, exited my room and closed the door behind me, taking nothing else other than the candle.
As I’d entered the five and half foot long hallway to head downstairs, I saw Harvey standing on the landing, dressed and ready, holding a few bags of his personal items. He was wearing older but still fairly nice dress boots, black slacks, a tucked in white button-up shirt, black overcoat and lastly, one of his most defining pieces of wardrobe, his black fedora with a little red feather in the band—bought nice and new only a few weeks prior. I looked at him as he looked at me, and we said nothing. He knew he was doing what he’d have to do, overcoming, or at least attempting to overcome his fears and weaknesses, even if it was still actively affecting him. I was proud.
I’d walked downstairs, pulled my phone out and quickly called Jane: a good friend of mine and an ex I’d held a considerably large amount of love for, for almost ten years. She had lived in this town longer than I, but she and her family had left on a move to another almost unheard-of town in the mountains of Pennsylvania a few months to a year back. They got out just in time.
No answer. Damn, I thought. I’d just wanted to alert her to the ever-growing realism of this situation because we’d been joking about it earlier in the day. Stupid.
Now I’d call Regina, also a friend—only of over a year but a friend nonetheless. This was another girl I eventually began to love, due to the amount of personal information we’d shared in our most intimate of times in the past, finding solace in knowing the two of us were not alone in some of our mutual feelings on the world and the almost infinite things which comprised it.
Like Jane she’d lived in this town longer than I, but unlike her, she was still here, closer to the water and in her home. After it rang for a bit, she answered.
There was a moment of inaudible background noise before I heard the sound of her voice.
“—Hello?”
I began with a tinge of uncomfortable shakiness in my words.
“Yeah—uh—hey… I just wanted to call and see if you were alright.”
She responded hesitantly; seeming caught off-guard.
“Oh… Yeah, we’re alright. The water’s only gotten up to the stoop but not in the house.”
“Oh, that’s great news.” I’d said in relief, remembering that her home is on a raised-up inner corner of the area she’d lived in.
“What about you guys—?” she asked, “Are you okay?”
I attempted to cohesively place my thoughts.
“No, uh… Yeah, we’re alright, but there’s almost six feet of water in the street, and my house is flooding. We have to evacuate.”
I’d worried her.
“Oh my gosh. How?”
“Well…” I explained, “Trey called 9-1-1 and they told us to get our shit and head for the police station.”
There was a moment of silence as her words were trapped in confusion.
“Well… Wait… How are you gonna get there?”
“Jump in the water and walk.” I said bluntly.
She hesitated.
“Oh gosh… Are you sure you’ll be alright? Can’t you wait?”
“No,” I said, “We’ll be alright, hopefully. It’s just water. We can’t stay though. We don’t know what’ll happen next.”
As much as it scared her, she accepted my words as final.
“Okay. Well please, please, please be safe—and let me know what happens?”
I felt that warmth you feel when you know someone who cares about you is truly concerned, yet I couldn’t bring myself to even crack a smirk given the circumstance.
“I promise I will, and you do the same.”
“I will.” She said, right as I went to end the call—but not before waiting to let her hang up first.
Knowing Regina was dry and without harm alleviated some of the anxiousness I’d been feeling. I’d just hoped it would stay that way.
It was about 8:30 now, and mom had just blown out the last candle.
Trey stood there next to the table in his old blue jeans and black JETS jacket.
“Alright. Let’s go.”
He opened the front door, and the four of us fell out in line to the pitch blackness, the chill of hurricane winds, the blaring sounds of sirens and blinding strobe of police cruiser and fire truck lights spinning up the street to the right, adding only a mild source of visibility. I stepped up to the edge of the top step to our porch. The water was now almost half an inch from climbing up to the front door. Trash, garbage cans, clothing and unidentifiable toys of all sorts floated by in the deep, dark, frigid water as I’d noticed it was almost to the end of our street up to Stone Road, where we had to make way.
“Where do we have to go?” Trey asked, to my surprise.
I’d always thought he’d have known how to get to the police station from here considering it was only around the corner and down the road. I chalked it up to the overcoming stress of a homeowner not looking forward to what the future would now hold for him and his bank account.
“Here,” I said, “Just follow me. I know where to go.”
As those last words left my mouth, a large gust of wind blew through, taking Harvey’s hat over the railing to the right and onto a smaller bush, a few inches above the water.
“No! My hat!”
“We have to leave it!” Mom shouted. “We’ll get you another one!”
He let out a breath in hesitation.
“Uh—Ah—alright…”
That’s when I made the decision to take charge. I jumped in the water, feeling it splash up to my thighs, climbed around the right side of the porch and nabbed his hat for him.
“Hold it tight.” I demanded as I handed it to him. “If it flies off again, that’s it.”
He grabbed and clenched it in one of his hands.
I turned back around to face the flood again. It was time to leave. I lead the charge around the tall, thick bushes in front of our bay window, into the chest-high water as Harvey held onto me from behind, clenching his bags under his arms and mom to Trey following close– Trey having to hold her up almost completely as she was a fairly short woman terrified near the point of immobility.
As we waded up through the yards, against the houses, trying to stay as high up out of the mucky coldness as possible, another surreal sight caught my eye; National Guard trucks with tires almost as tall as me rolling down the street through the six foot deep water, at a lumbering pace. We waved to them frantically, thinking they might snatch us up for the rescue. We were draped in search lights.
“THE POLICE STATION!” They bellowed as they pointed toward Stone Road. “GO TO THE POLICE STATION.”
Acknowledging their command, knowing for certain now that was the place to be, we continued through the water, attempting to cover as much ground as possible to escape the numbing cold.
“This isn’t so bad.” Harvey said in a self-assuring tone.
Harvey had lived a life of self-preservation, constantly reaffirming his own feelings, reassuring himself of how he’d make it through. I was glad he’d been handling it better than expected thus far, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever, as does nothing else.
We pressed on up the block, feeling the water gradually becoming easier to walk in as it was much shallower at the top of the street. Water to our waists, then down to our thighs, now our knees, calves, ankles and lastly the sidewalk. As my feet hit the solid ground, untouched by the flood, lit up by those strobing emergency lights—feeling as though I’d had weights tied to my boots due to being filled with this salt and waste water, I felt and heard the mushy, squishing sounds of the dense moisture squeezing its way out from within them with each step. I knew there’d be no salvaging them come this fiasco’s end, but given they were old and worn to a point past scuff marks and tearing laces, I didn’t even give it a second thought.
I turned around to make sure the others were still with me. Harvey was attempting to stamp the water from his boots on the ground to alleviate some of the weighted feeling. Mom and Trey had just pulled their last foot out. We were all seemingly unscathed—wet and filthy but without any apparent physical injury, so we gathered ourselves and walked about ten feet to the corner, seeing not one light in the distance other than those of the emergency vehicles scattered all down Stone Road and occasionally zipping down the dark and vacant highway 36.
While walking, noticing everything slowly being overtaken by shadow as we drew further from those lights, we’d still catch glimpses of the devastation. To the right, just before Donnelly Street; the last street before the soccer field, an uprooted tree lay bent over a chain link fence in a neighboring yard—to the left, a thick, long downed power line entrapped by caution tape. We’d have to step over it to get to our goal. Luckily, because there’d been no power, it’d been dead for some time, though the fear of it suddenly snapping back into action was still a thought awakened from dormancy in our minds. We took wide steps to overcome it and moved on toward the field where, right across, up the road, was our destination.
We were getting closer, halfway past the soccer field where a wooden electrical pole was snapped completely in two, dangling over the road beside us to the left, lines still attached. We then caught that the water had already reached to about the center area of the green as we’d seen the station lights powered by the backup generator glistening off of it, like a vast mirror of hope. Trying to keep our attention directly on that hope, we would ignore the water for now, but while entering the building’s parking lot up ahead, we’d noticed it too was flooded as far up as to the doors to get in. We were already soaking wet from the chest down, so what would a little more water hurt?
Back in we trudged, swinging a right through the back parking area and eventually left around the corner, seeing our salvation; the side door, lit up quite brightly, surrounded by random town folk, also mostly wet, some smoking a cigarette to burn away just a bit of stress, children and pets by their sides dazed and confused by the ensuing nightmare. We moved past everyone as they stared. Just another few shit-covered pigs in a burning barn, we were.
Entering the building I saw the floor covered in water and a mixture of mud and other small debris. Most notably, toward the end of the hallway, past the counter where a dispatcher sits was a row of grey metal folding chairs against the blue-painted concrete wall with a bolted down bench on the opposite side next to two vending machines. We sauntered over and plopped ourselves down—my mother, Trey and Harvey in the chairs and myself on the bench across.
I pulled off my coat and laid it over the backrest as Harvey removed his boots one by one, turning them over in his hands and letting the built up water run out onto the floor.
“Ah… That’s better…”
I followed suit, emptying my boots and then leaving them on the floor to dry out. I pulled out my phone and checked to see if it still worked, as I had forgotten I placed it in my pocket. It was fine, remarkably.
I thought about trying to call my uncles Maron and Phil, who’d also lived in town much closer to the water than us—Phil especially, being only a street’s distance from the bay. I hesitated and made the decision to wait a few minutes. I wanted to sit and relax myself before jumping back into worry mode.
Mom rifled through her handbag, finding everything drenched: matches, loose change, cash, candy—all sorts of random things a woman might keep in there. She then tried to call my uncles so I wouldn’t have to. They didn’t answer.
“My phone isn’t working right.”
I looked up at her.
“What do you mean?”
She began tapping her finger to the screen in quick succession.
“It turns on and I can get on Facebook, but the volume thing is stuck on the screen, covering everything.”
“Let me see it.” I commanded.
She handed it to me, though I wasn’t sure what the problem could be because I wasn’t necessarily tech savvy. I assumed, logically, that it had to have been water which seeped in somehow. I made a lackluster attempt to figure it out but nothing worked, so I gave up and handed it back. A broken volume display was the least of our problems right now.
Her phone then vibrated. Someone was calling. She answered, hearing nothing on the other end.
“Hello? …Hello?”
I began to become restless.
“What’s wrong now? Who is it?”
Again she tapped her finger to her phone in frustration.
“It’s Aunt Gabby, but there’s no sound. I can’t hear anything.”
She hung up and tried calling her back. Gabby answered, but still there was no sound.
Harvey broke out in half a smile as he finished rifling through his bags in relief.
“And funny enough, all of my stuff is fine.”
I ignored his comment and solely directed my attention to mom.
“Here. Give it back.”
Once again I fiddled with it, finding that she’d have to use it on speaker from now on if she’d wanted to stay in contact with others.
“You’re gonna have to use it this way.”
“Okay.” She replied. “Thank you. I’ll call Gabby back outside.”
I wasn’t too worried about my aunt considering she’d lived in a closed community for people around her age in Barnegat, New Jersey—near the water as well but far enough inland that she’d be fine. Then again, we’d said the same thing about ourselves this whole time. Now look at us.
As we sat there feeling like soggy old sponges left out to dry, more people came walking in seeking refuge. I saw an elderly woman being wheeled in who appeared to be in her late seventies. She had wild white hair, wearing little reading glasses and an old black shawl draped over her shoulders.
The family who’d brought her in piled into seats near the door next to her. The leader of this group, possibly the father, looked like an old overweight biker who listened to too much Southern Rock. He had a long, light brown beard with a ponytail in the back to match, wrapped with a red bandana and what looked like a midnight blue band tee of which I couldn’t make out from a distance, nor did I really care. The woman with them was wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt over a white shirt underneath. She appeared cleaner cut than the man sitting next to her: blonde hair wrapped up, studs in her ears—nothing out of the ordinary for a house mom around here. The children, well, they were standard children I guess—nothing seemingly interesting about them.
I looked at my phone and saw the time: 9:05 PM. I thought to call my friends. First I attempted calling my cousin Vera: Maron’s daughter. No answer. Instead of calling, I sent Regina a text message, even though I hated doing such things.
“At the police station now. We’re all okay, just soaking wet. This is crazy.”
I chose not to call her because I’ve always been neurotic about bothering those who I admire, even in these kinds of situations.
Who would I call next? Seymour—my cousin, Gabby’s son, in Texas. I pulled the phone to my right ear and dialed. He answered.
“—Hey, dude.”
I plugged my left ear with my index finger in an attempt to isolate the sound getting in.
“Hey, man.”
“Everything alright?” He asked.
I let out a short breath.
“No actually. Our house was flooded and we had to evacuate ourselves through the water. We just got to the police station.”
“Holy shit.” He said in shock. “Are you serious?”
I let out another breath.
“Yeah, yeah…”
He struggled to gather his words.
“This is… I mean… You mean like flooded-flooded?”
“Yes,” I explained, “Like five or so feet of water on our block.”
He was silent for a moment as he attempted to understand.
“…But the house is okay?”
“I mean, I don’t know…” I explained. “Maybe it’ll be alright, but water was literally spilling into the living room and our cars are swamped. We had to get out.”
Seymour paused, searching for words which had taken a back seat to his reaction.
“…I’m so sorry, dude. That’s fuckin’ horrible.”
“I know.” I replied. “It’s hard to swallow. We just weren’t ready.”
A moment passed without either of us saying anything until Seymour broke the tension.
“Shit, man. I’ll let you go. I’m sure you have more to worry about.”
Without much else to say, I agreed.
“Yeah, I have more people to call, so–…”
“Alright.” He said. “Call me if you need anything. And be safe.”
“Will do. Talk to you later.”
I hung up with him and saw another family come in—a tired looking lot. I knew these people. They lived right up the street on the opposite side of us, one house over from Stone Road. I used to spend a lot of time there as a kid after I first moved to Union Beach from Keansburg around the age of eight. Used to be good friends with their kids, too. Eventually that faded due to sorted circumstances, mostly through my own decision to cut that tie.
Looking back, things hadn’t been so bad, and a part of me had really missed all of the blissful fun we’d had. All the memories came flooding back: traveling the town during the late afternoons, walking the bike trails by early evening and playing man hunt at night. All of those hot summer nights watching movies, playing games, drinking gallons of lemonade—the cold winters building igloos, drinking hot chocolate, watching more movies. What I’d give to be a child again. Not now though, not in this situation. I already had a sense of fright in me, even now at the age of twenty. I can’t imagine dealing with this at the age of eight or nine, even younger. The terror these kids must feel during all of this. I don’t envy them.
They sat down, looking as they always had. The father looked like he was taking it in stride—mom as well, even cracking jokes here and there. The girl I’d met and become friends with, the daughter and oldest of two kids—she wasn’t there. I knew, through Facebook, that she’d moved out some time ago—another person who got out.
The son, two years younger than his sister and I, was with them though. I didn’t speak to him at all. It felt too strange now. We hadn’t been friends in over five or six years. That’s a lot of time to account for. We weren’t kids anymore. There’s almost no going back to that for me.
They eventually found more chairs in another room and placed them near ours to sit and commiserate. It was nice to see friendly faces, but I just couldn’t talk right now. I let Trey do that as always—no situation stopped him from speaking in abundance about whatever he’d had to say.
I put my boots back on, still wet but at least not dripping. I didn’t tie my laces considering I might want or need to take them back off soon. Wasn’t sure what would happen. I made my way to the bathroom in the inner building around the corner to the right with a small LED Snap-On light Harvey had shoved in his bag, because even though the rest of the building had power, the bathrooms somehow didn’t.
I stepped inside the darkness of the room, feeling the splat of water below my feet. Was it just water? Was it urine? Maybe a combination? I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to do my business and leave.
I walked back out into the hallway hearing whimpers and barking. A family had hauled in a four foot wide, five foot tall kennel, against the opposite wall of the other family near the door, with two fairly large and one medium sized dog stuffed inside with a large throw blanket over the top, presumably to keep them docile. One appeared to be a brown boxer and the smallest a terrier. The other I couldn’t make out due to the draping darkness. Most of their stay comprised of the owners attempting to keep them calm and quiet.
I looked over at mom after sitting down on the bench again. She appeared visibly shaken and holding back tears. She’d always been an emotional person, but she didn’t cry very often, at least not in public. I’d wished there’d been something I could have done to make her feel better in that instance.
It was a quarter to ten and my phone vibrated. It was Regina replying to my earlier text.
“Gosh. That’s good though. Keep me updated.”
I closed my phone without responding. I wanted to save contact for when it was notably important.
Trey had just hung up with his sister Jeanette who lived in Hazlet.
“She said she’d come pick us up to stay there, but I told her they’re not letting any unofficial vehicles into town, otherwise I’d be like ‘Yeah, let’s go!'”
I wasn’t sure what we’d do for the night—if we really would get the chance to get the hell out of this terrible place and sleep. I could only hope. None of us wanted to be trapped here for the night, but so far that was the only truth we could see before us.
It’d been about 10:15 PM when I saw more refugees scatter inside through the door, down the hall toward the bathrooms, rounding the corner and disappearing. Several groups had done this over the course of an hour and I’d wondered where they were going. I hadn’t felt like standing up to go investigate though. I found some weird comfort finally after sitting in these wet clothes for so long. I wished I could get dry though. I was starting to chafe something terrible down between my legs.
With nothing else to do I’d remembered I’d wanted to call my other good friend Wayne and his girl Francesca. I knew they’d been hunkering down in the attic of Wayne’s parents’ one-level house with his brother Benny, and they’d lived on 6th street; quite close to where most of the devastation had been unfolding.
Right as I’d flipped open my phone, a few officers hastily entered the room from the outside wearing reflector tape ponchos over their usual uniform. They were talking to another man who’d been waiting here this whole time, alone. I hadn’t caught everything, but I managed to catch a few small snippets:
“…As of now, eleven residents reported dead… Elderly who couldn’t get out… Pets found floating… Water too deep… As far as past 36… Cruisers submerged… Morning Side engulfed… Memorial School flooded and evacuated… Can’t get past Scholar Park… Rescue boats to be deployed by priority… Six kids rescued from a white van on Heckleman… Patience…”
Every detail formed this strange series of events from this harrowing story in my head. The horror, I thought. At most, we’d lost a house, but these people lost family. Living things are now dead and gone, and it all happened within a three hour period. Even the evacuees are being re-evacuated from their promise of safety.
I grew even more concerned for my family in town now. We still couldn’t get in contact with them. I could only hope for the best. In all honesty, I was more worried about Wayne and Fran at the moment because of how much closer they were to the bay.
A police woman from down the hall walked by, as I stood up and stopped her.
“Is there any word on the area around 6th street?”
She shook her head.
“It’s flooded so bad that we can’t get down there.”
I grew nervous.
“Okay. I have friends down there hiding in the attic. I’m sure they’re wondering what’s going on.”
She retorted in a less-than-friendly manner.
“Everyone has friends somewhere right now. We’re doing the best we can.”
I bit my tongue, though I’d wanted to let her have it.
“Yeah…”
She pulled her hood on before walking away.
“Just tell them to get up as high as possible and stay there. It’s all going by priority right now.”
This woman didn’t know anything, I thought. I understand it’s hectic and everyone must be doing the best they can—they’d have to be, but she’s not even speaking in a knowledgeable manner. Tell them to stay up high? How do you know whether or not I can contact them or that their home is even still standing? Priority? The whole fucking town is drowning, woman! People are dying! Homes are collapsing! It’s all a priority! I should slap you!
I felt the anxiety and anger filling me like a balloon. Maybe I was being too harsh. I know it can’t be easy, but how could we be this unprepared? Not only had we been warned about this “storm of the century” for weeks, but I’d remembered folks talking about it as far back as when I was about ten years old. This town had been flooded just as bad one hundred years ago—what made them think they could skate by on such thin ice and come out without so much as a scrape? I couldn’t fathom the lunacy. Sure, we weren’t assuming it’d be this bad, but that was our circumstance. We don’t live that close to the water. We’re not officials. We don’t have as much access to information as these people should. Why the incompetence? I blame everyone!
It was almost 10:35 PM now, and I dialed Wayne. Fran picked up, and I reiterated what I’d been telling everyone else.
“Oh my god.” She said. “But you’re okay?”
“Yeah,” I assured her, “Just a little wet and tired. Been here since around 8:50.”
She’d sounded shocked.
“My god… I never would have expected the water to reach your side of town.”
“Neither did we.” I admitted.
“Have you heard anything else?” She asked.
“Apparently there’s been somewhere around eleven reported deaths already,” I said, “Most likely elderly.”
She became audibly upset.
“…Oh my god.”
“The National Guard is here too.” I added. “As we walked through the water, there was a truck full of soldiers coming down my street looking for people.”
Each sentence I’d uttered had her growing more and more frightened.
“Seriously? Oh god.”
“Yeah,” I said, “It’s a nightmare right now. There’re families with children and pets sitting in here with us. Even Memorial was evacuated.”
Now she’d seemed mildly panicked.
“Fucking Christ… Well, what should we do then? We’re up in the attic, and we don’t know if we should try to get the fuck out or should we wait to be rescued?”
“I asked them about 6th street.” I said. “They said it’s too flooded to get to. Your best option is to stay up high and wait. They’re deploying boats soon.”
She groaned.
“Ugh… Alright. Well keep us informed, please.”
I attempted to reassure her.
“I will. If anything new comes to light, I’ll call you.”
“Alright.” She said. “Be safe.”
After hanging up, I sat back down next to Harvey as there’d been open seats on that side because that family I knew had followed some of those refugees around that corner into the other part of the municipal building. Still I didn’t have a clue where it went but still didn’t really want to know.
Trey and mom were in the bathroom so I made sure to keep an eye on their things. I wouldn’t take the chance of dealing with some scum-sucking slug deciding to rob us in this time. I’d seen it on the news—and even if I hadn’t, I was smart enough to know those people had existed, especially in Union Beach, so I kept my guard up.
As we sat there, a volunteer fireman came stomping through handing out waters from a large case to everyone. I grabbed a few for all of us. Then I remembered the vending machines. I wasn’t really hungry, but I’d needed something to settle my stomach from the knot in there which had balled up so large I could swear I was going into labor if I believed in immaculate conception in males. I put a dollar-fifty in and bought a pack of vanilla wafers. I stood for a second and decided to buy another pack. I walked back to my seat and handed one to Harvey.
He looked up at me holding out my hand.
“Oh, thank you.”
While I sat and munched on these delicious little milestones of man, a few more people came walking in from the cold—young guys, only two of them not being volunteer fireman. Some of the faces were familiar.
One of the volunteers was Wayne’s cousin Mike—a tall guy, pale and lanky with a big nose. He’d walked by slowly and then walked back. He was pacing, trying to figure out what to do with himself, possibly attempting to take in this whole catastrophe. He’d had a blank look on his face, almost staring through the walls and out into space like he’d been searching for the answers.
I’d never liked Mike. Always felt he was an overly-indulgent, selfish, dolt. But it looked like this incident broke him. That persona he’d put on for so long—it’d cracked in two as all the real bits which make us human flowed out into the open air for everyone to see. Eventually he’d left to go do whatever it is he’d been doing prior to that moment—hopefully something productive.
I placed the wafers down on the recycling can behind me and checked the time: 11:00 PM. As I turned back around, facing the vending machines, a kid I’d gone to school with was standing there with a shaved head, shivering, dripping wet and wearing nothing but a white t-shirt, black basketball shorts and ankle socks. He noticed me, smiled and walked over.
“You remember me?”
I chuckled for the first time in hours.
“Of course I do.”
He went on to quote something I’d put in for my yearbook picture quote during my last days at Memorial during the 8th grade, even though I’d misquoted it at the time but still retained the exact structure of the idea.
School is practice for life, and practice makes perfect. But nobody’s perfect, so why practice?” – Billie Joe Armstrong
I just smirked, nodding my head.
“You surprised I still remember that?” He added, with a smile.
I laughed.
“No, actually. Makes perfect sense to me.”
“Yeah man,” He began, “So how’re things goin’?”
I figured that was just a slip of the tongue—something we’re all trained to say in social settings. How does he think it’s going? Has he looked around?
I sighed.
“Fine, I guess, until now.”
He shook his head.
“Yeah, I know, man. How’d you do?”
“House was flooded.” I explained. “Had to escape in the water. Been here ever since.”
He shook his head again, this time with a severe look of melancholy.
“Tell me about it, man. Sucks.”
I nodded as he went on to rant.
“I had’ta literally swim out my house with my phone in my mouth. And this is the iPhone 5! Just got this shit!”
I laughed, awkwardly, as he turned to his friend continuing with a grin.
“You can take my house—just leave my damn phone alone!”
I chuckled and said nothing else for the duration until he walked off somewhere distracted, still talking about his phone.
Looking back, it was a funny moment, though I found it offensive at the time. This kid, I thought, he doesn’t grasp what’s happening. There’s people dying and he’s crying about a fucking phone made by a company who couldn’t give a shit less about him—about any of us! Then again, maybe that’s why. Maybe the reality of this storm and everything which came with it hit him hard enough that he had to do whatever he could to alleviate the pressure. Considering the kind of person I am, I did hold a fair bit of respect for people like that, but mostly disdain. Maybe it was jealousy. I’d always wished I could be that kind of person instead—act on that kind of mindset: participatory ignorance; bliss. No, I was always too emotional and aware for my own good, and it always bit me in the ass.
During that conversation, mom and Trey had come back and sat down. After that old school mate left, Trey was talking about trying to go back to the house and see if one of the trucks would start so he could get us out of here. Delusions of grandeur, I thought, but wouldn’t that be great? There was at least something to look forward to, even though we didn’t want him leaving and going back to the house this late, in this mess.
Trey wasn’t very emotional, which is what enabled him to be brave. He wasn’t a big man—quite thin actually, at least an inch or two shorter than me, and I’m about 5’10. That didn’t stop him though. When he had a plan, even if one or all of us found it stupid, he followed through with that plan and stuck it out. Usually when it came to the important stuff like this, he always came through. He always delivered.
I cracked the seal on my water bottle and sucked down a big gulp. Harvey was tapping his feet on the floor, shaking his left leg, feeling impatient. Trey had laid his head back against the wall with his eyes shut. We were all tired, but I’d assumed he’d been thinking more about his escape plan rather than resting. Mom was still fiddling with her phone, posting on Facebook, with my permission, that if anyone needed to contact us, they could call my phone, attaching my number as well. I began to feel the restlessness growing inside me, so I stood up and went to the bathroom again.
As I entered the darkened room I’d seen what appeared to be two elderly men attempting to enter the handicap stall—one in a wheelchair and the other behind him, wheeling him around. I tried not to acknowledge them or let them acknowledge me in avoidance of possible awkward conversation, so I quickly stepped into the stall closest to the door.
While doing my business I’d heard small tidbits of a conversation between the two in the form of an Irish whisper as they attempted to be as quiet as possible for men of their age:
“…I’m goin’, I’m goin’!… Not yet yer not… Ahhh shut up ya-… I’m all wet!… D’oh now look what ya’ve gone’n done!… Don’t blame me!… Okay… Okay… Now zip… Now zip!… I know how’ta do it!…”
I chuckled to myself. Dammit, I thought. Were these men put here to entertain me? What was their story? Were they brothers? Cousins? Old friends? Maybe they just met? I couldn’t help but be amused by it, even with everything which had transpired. Then I thought, what am I doing? Why am I analyzing this? What the hell is wrong with me? I shouldn’t even find this funny! I finished up, flushed, stepped out to wash my hands and then exited into the lit hallway again.
Walking out, I noticed there’d been more people out there than before. One of which was an older woman wearing a first-responders sweatshirt. She was a pistol, this one. She’d been complaining about the sergeant not talking with her, among other things.
“He knows who I am!” She shouted in a somewhat high voice to the dispatcher behind the desk. “I’m Florence O’Halloran! Ask ’em… ASK ‘EM!”
The dispatcher reasoned with her.
“Flo… We’re all doing our best right now. The sergeant’s a little bus—”
Flo cut her off.
“D’AH, don’t give me that shit! ‘Doing our best’… Are ya KIDDING?”
I already liked this lady. She’d wanted answers, and dammit, she was going to get them!
“Bah, forget it!” She shouted. “What do you know?”
She came walking past me at a quick pace, stopped and turned to me quickly.
“You like chocolate?” She asked abruptly.
I responded hesitantly.
“Uh, Y-yes, I do, I guess.”
“Well HERE!” She shouted as she threw her arm out and handed me a mini Hershey bar. “Take this! I don’t want it now! I’m diabetic anyway.”
I chuckled and accepted her gift as she quickly walked down the hall toward those back rooms I’d still not explored. A few moments later she’d come back with a big bag of that candy, handing them out to everyone.
“Here!” She exclaimed. “Everyone enjoy what I no longer can! At least some of us can be happy!”
What a funny little woman. What was happening? Was everyone cracking up already? It’d been like something had suddenly polluted the air, giving everyone a fit of silliness. Though I will say, it had been a good occupier of the mind. I didn’t want to think about everything going on, and she, along with those men in the bathroom, had helped to distract me, even if only for a few minutes.
It was now about 11:50 and Trey had decided he was going to go back to the house. Mom didn’t like it, but a part of her wanted to believe something good would come of it, so she didn’t try to stop him.
“Well do you want to sit here all night?” He asked rhetorically.
She sighed.
“No…”
“Then I’m going.” He said sternly. “You can’t stop me. And it’ll be fine. It’s just down the block, and all I wanna do is check the truck.”
Trey then threw on his coat and gloves and walked outside; being stopped by two men he’d known through his auto-mechanic business. This gave me enough time to decide whether or not I’d go with him. I’ll be honest—it was more so the curiosity that drew me to going back over the thought of getting out, though I did still want to, I just didn’t see it as a likely outcome anymore.
I grabbed my coat off of the chair where mom had placed it while I was in the bathroom and pulled it on. I then sat down and tied my boots as tight as I could, feeling more moisture squeeze out onto my fingers and palms.
“You’re gonna go with him?” Mom asked.
I looked at her straightly.
“He can’t just go alone.”
Harvey butted in.
“Why don’t we just go with you?”
“Don’t.” I commanded. “If we get there and see we can’t use the truck, we’ll just have wasted more time leaving our spot here.”
He shifted his eyes forward, toward the wall.
“I guess so.”
I stood up quickly.
“Stay here. I’ll call you guys if anything changes.”
I then walked out to where Trey had been talking with the two men he knew. He turned around, seeing me ready to go and appearing surprised.
“You’re gonna come with me?
“Of course.” I assured him. “You can’t go alone.”
He nodded, seeming glad I’d made the decision to join him.
We walked off back around the station through the water once again. As we made our way down Stone Road, passing the soccer field, the winds felt colder and sharper than ever. Having still been soaked, our bodies reacted to it as though it’d been made up of razor blades and broken glass. I’d wanted to stop every few feet, but I knew we had to press on if we intended to meet our goal. To lessen the pain I began turning away from the gusts periodically, walking backward. This only helped a small bit, but at the time it was enough to get me through the venture.
We came upon Donnelly, seeing school buses lined up down the street, facing Stone. There’d been no apparent human activity to see around us as we continued, nor any lights. All the emergency vehicles had moved away. Now we relied completely on five feet of visibility with only the moon as a source of guiding light.
When we reached Heckleman, we just stopped and stared down toward our house. The darkness. So much darkness. A flash light would do no good. On we went.
We walked down the sidewalk for almost a quarter of the block, seeing that the water had receded a good bit, but we could already tell it hadn’t left our yard being that we’d lived in the center of the street; a sunken center right where the main storm drains sat. It felt nice to not have to climb through the yards the whole way, but the inevitability of doing it again wasn’t distant.
We came upon the house right before ours. A small brown pickup truck in the driveway had its lights on and fogged up windows. We attempted to check and see if someone was in there, but that didn’t appear to be the case, so we moved past, against the garage door and up through the bushes to our porch. We’d made it.
“You have the keys?” Trey asked.
I pulled them out of my pocket.
“Yeah.”
Trey turned to the carport, still filled with water.
“I’m gonna check the Yukon.”
I followed him to the end and held up the Snap-On light I’d shoved in my pocket before we departed. He climbed over the railing once again and onto the side of the truck. As he did this I looked around quickly, feeling a sense of déjà vu. It all looked the same except for the fact that now there was no sign of life anywhere. Just silent darkness; a disturbing stillness. It truly felt like the apocalypse had come upon us.
Trey had climbed inside, sitting himself down on the damp seat which reacted to the weight of his body like a pile of doused pillows. He attempted to turn the engine. It wouldn’t turn. He just sighed.
“Yeah. I knew it. It’s not gonna start.”
“Come on.” I said. “Let’s get inside.”
He climbed back out, shutting the door behind him and locking it, then over the railing as I pulled open the collapsing storm door and unlocked the main one.
I pushed the door open, hearing it creak as I stepped inside. It was pitch black, quiet, the air was moist and a smell of oxidized shit, piss, salt and god only knows what else hit me like a fire hose to the nose.
Trey stepped in behind me.
“Guess we should light some candles.”
I nodded, looking around.
“You have the lighter?”
He grabbed it off the dinner table.
“Right here.”
As he began lighting each one, the living room lit up brighter and brighter yet still staying dim enough to hide all the details. As he lit the remaining set, I pulled off my coat and tossed it over the banister. I turned back to see the living room in complete disarray.
There were very few words which came to my mind, and I spoke them.
“Oh god.”
We stood there surveying the horror of the sight which lay before us. Trey couldn’t form a full sentence. Just words in a whisper.
“I—wow…”
There’d only been about an inch of water left, but the damage was apparent. The couch had drifted from the left side of the room, against the wall, to the middle, blocking the French doors in the back; our big brass chest containing old vinyl records still sitting where it had been but now filled to the brim with muck. Everything else which was light enough to move, did—now toppled and dripping. The one thing which sticks out in my mind was seeing my mother and Trey’s wedding album open and face down in the filth. I tried lifting it, but, being so waterlogged, it instantly tore in my hands—pictures falling out and everything. I left it.
Trey had gone into their bedroom with a candle in hopes of finding anything salvageable. No such luck. I heard his voice echo from the other room.
“This is bad.”
I walked in and looked around. Everything but his guitar lying on the bed was destroyed. Dressers turned over; clothes and other things, mostly paperwork, scattered. It looked as though we’d been robbed. Nothing in there had a height of more than three or four feet, which is exactly the amount of water we got, enough to even get up the steps and into the kitchen and dining room. Looking back, I’d rather we’d been robbed of everything, even at gunpoint. Then at least we’d have been able to move on after only a short time of refurnishing. This though—this was truly horrendous.
I made my way back out of the room, up the stairs and toward my own. I was frightened of what I might find. Please, I thought, don’t let anything have happened up here. At least only have taken half from us—that’s all I ask.
Thinking about it now, I don’t know who I was talking to. I’m not a believer. God has no home in me. I’d always maintained that there’s just humans and nature. This situation solidified that for me.
I turned the knob and pushed the door open. I walked inside and turned on the light I’d brought with me. I looked around, nervous. Everything seemed in order; dark but dry. No broken windows, no fires, nothing. I immediately felt some weight lift off of my shoulders.
I set the light down on my desk facing the ceiling, along with my keys, wallet and phone and began to undress. I pulled my feet out of my boots, piled all of my wet clothing together away from everything else on the floor and just stood naked, letting the air, as moist as it was, dry me, also using that t-shirt from earlier on my legs.
As I started to pull on clean underwear and socks, my phone rang. It was Rodney; a good friend of mine from Detroit. I answered, eager to regale him with our tale, mostly just going through the same motions I’d gone through explaining it to everyone else I’d talked to that night.
“—Wow.” He said in shock.
I pulled on pants as I set the phone to speaker.
“Yeah. I’m currently getting dressed, and Trey is downstairs in salvation mode.”
He’d been watching the news and grew worried about me.
“I just wanted to make sure you were alright after seeing all this shit ’cause I saw your mom posting on Facebook too and I was like ‘Damn’.”
I pulled on a black shirt which read “GOONIES” in white text over a skull and crossbones.
“Yeah, all in all we’re fine.”
“Alright.” He said. “I’ll talk to you later then. Try not to drown or whatever you white folks do in these situations.”
I laughed as I looped a fresh belt around my waste.
“Alright.”
Rodney was a funny sort. He was a largely compassionate guy, same age as me, but he liked to play up this character of being very discontent and uncaring. I knew it to be a farce though. It was just his way of joking, and I took it as such. To be honest, someone like him making such a harsh joke in a time like this actually made me feel better. He was honest down to his core, even if he’d shown it in strange ways, and I appreciated that about him.
Moments after I closed my phone, tucked in my shirt and began pulling my belt out of that other wet pair of pants, the phone rang again. This time it was an unknown number. I’d remembered that mom had told people to call me for contact, so I answered, putting the phone on speaker again.
“—Hello?”
The voice which replied was southern.
“Hi, this is Rachelle.”
I instantly went into friendly mode, as I didn’t want to slip and say anything which might offend this woman, knowing my mother’s friend circle and clientele base.
“Oh, hello.”
“Yeah,” She began, “Yer mom put yer number on Facebook because her phone isn’t working I guess?”
“Yes.” I said. “I told her to do that so that no one would be worried.”
“Of course.” She said. “We’re all worried anyway—I mean we’re glad y’all’re safe’n’all, but still, this is horrible.”
I laughed softly without realizing because her accent amused me.
“Well thank you. We’re fine now though. Just wet.”
“That’s great.” She said.”I mean, that’s not great, but it’s good that y’all’re okay.”
Without knowing what else to say, and feeling awkward talking to a complete stranger in this circumstance, I just said what I’d normally have said.
“Yeah.”
About five seconds of silence passed.
“So is yer mom there?”
I pulled on a black and white plaid button-up.
“No, actually Trey and I are back here at the house in the dark trying to gather whatever we can.”
She was quick to reply.
“Oh, okay. So yer mom and yer brother are at the police station?”
“Yes.” I said. “We came back to see if the truck would start, but it won’t. So we’re gonna grab whatever we can and head back in a bit.”
“Well that’s good, sweetheart.” She said. “Just know that I lived through Katrina, and I know exactly how y’all’re feelin’ right now and me and my family’re prayin’ for ya’ll.”
I smiled, taking this woman’s words for genuine, though prayer was never something I’d believed in.
“Thank you. Really.”
“No problem, sweetheart.” She said. “Y’all need it. Be safe out there.”
I hung up and finished getting dressed. My boots were still wet so I grabbed some plastic shopping bags I’d had laying on the floor near my bed, wrapped my feet and stuffed them back inside. They wouldn’t last for long, but it’d have to do for now.
I grabbed my things, headed out into the hallway and into Harvey’s room. I knew he’d needed a few things if we were going to be staying at the station overnight.
I shouted down to Trey for garbage bags and duct tape. He tossed them up, I grabbed them, walked to the back of Harvey’s room where he slept and began stuffing his bedding, pillows included, down inside and then balled the bag up inside another and wrapped it in tape. I grabbed a few more things; Zippo lighter fluid, batteries, whatever else could help in a pinch and then made my way back downstairs.
I stopped at the bottom of the steps and Trey was sitting at the table zipping up bags of whatever clothes they’d had which didn’t get washed out—which wasn’t much.
He looked up at me.
“You ready?”
I let out an exhausted breath as sweat dripped down my forehead.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Don’t worry,” He assured me, “We’ll come back tomorrow.”
Before setting back out into the fray, I grabbed my iPod and ear buds off of the table and called Harvey to let him and mom know what was going on. After that, we blew out all the candles, packed up, locked up, and left.
Once we’d gotten back to the station, we set everything down next to the chairs mom and Harvey had been sitting on. I pointed to Harvey’s things.
“Your stuff’s in there.”
He looked over, examining the bag quickly.
“Thanks.”
Trey and I sat as the officers started shutting down the lights to conserve power and help everyone rest their eyes from the fluorescence above. I checked my phone. 12:55 A.M. Dammit, I thought. When will this end? I don’t want to be here, but I don’t want to go home. I just want something soft to lie on.
We all sat with our heads back, trying to gain some rest. Myself using my coat as a makeshift blanket for warmth; my legs propped up on a chair I’d set up in front of me to relieve some stress. As a cop walked by, he took notice of my doings.
“Move that chair, please. We need to walk through here.”
Bastard, I thought. It’s this late, we’re all tired and I just want to rest my legs. Now you’re telling me to move them? Fuck you!
Instead of arguing, I just did it without uttering a word, though I’d have liked to let him have it. What would he do? Arrest me? Half the town is in this building!
Just as I inched the chair over a few, a heavy brunette girl wearing a purple sweatshirt and gray sweatpants walked in with her dad and dog. As far as I could tell, the dog was an ash colored mutt. Not that it mattered. I’d always had a soft spot for animals though, dogs especially. This one was seemingly young and in good health and spirits. She wandered around the seating area in jubilance sniffing and wagging her tail.
“Come here, Reba!” The girl commanded.
I smirked.
“It’s alright. I like dogs.”
She rolled her eyes and smiled.
“She’s just a pain.”
I chuckled.
“After all this? There’s nothing this dog could do.”
Reba sat down by me and Harvey began to pet her.
The girl looked up at me.
“So what’s your name?”
I took a swig of my water and thought for a brief moment. That’s the first time someone’s outright asked me my name before bullshitting about inanities.
I obliged.
“Jimmy Vale.”
Her father then put down his phone and tapped her shoulder.
“Let’s go.”
“See you later.” She said, waving. “Good luck… Come on, Reba!”
After they’d taken their leave, we sat until around 2:30 A.M. None of us were getting comfortable and Trey was growing more and more restless.
“That’s it. We’re not doing this. This is bad. I won’t.”
Mom argued with him.
“You can’t just leave.”
Trey rolled his eyes.
“Why not? Someone’s gonna arrest me?”
Mom shifted in her seat.
“Well, no, but you can’t just go walking down the highway. It’s pitch black!”
He shook his head.
“It’ll be fine, trust me. I know what I’m doing. I wouldn’t have decided to do this without a plan.”
Harvey interjected.
“Just make sure you call us.”
Minutes after Trey left, a first responder, an older male, walked in from those back rooms and saw us.
“You guys know you can come back here and rest, right?”
Mom looked at me and then back at him.
“Oh. We weren’t sure.”
The man grabbed Harvey’s bags and began walking quickly back the way he’d come from.
“Come on, I’ll help you.”
We grabbed our stuff and followed him around the corner. As we entered this smaller lobby we noticed two bigger rooms with the lights out on the right and left filled with people; some sleeping head-down on the tables, some just relaxing and playing with their phones. At this point we’d realized this was the front of the building. You’d think we’d have known that kind of thing by now having lived here for over ten years. It didn’t matter much though, considering it’d been over-crowded.
We walked into the larger room on the left and sat down at an almost-filled table with our things. The chairs we sat in were plastic instead of metal. While not completely comfortable, they were at least better than what we’d been dealing with before.
Scanning the room, I’d noticed all kinds of people: children, women alone with infants, loners with dogs. In a short amount of time I’d managed to overhear pieces of conversations scattered around.
“…Snow’s one thing—at least you can shovel it away… Melt eventually… Fire’s bad, but I’d take it over water… Give me a goddamn boat…”
We sat in the darkness for over forty minutes until Harvey called Trey, confirming he’d gotten a car. Harvey couldn’t have been happier.
“Dynamite.”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Trey got a car.”
He got a car? Did he steal it?
“Where’d he get it?”
“Where do you think?” Harvey quipped. “The shop.”
Well hot damn, I thought.
“He ran all the way there?”
Harvey nodded.
About five minutes passed and Trey pulled up outside. Our salvation arrived in the form of a brown four-door Sedan. Even if we’d have to sleep in it, anything would be better than here. We gathered our things, hauled them out, piled them in the trunk and got in.
Still curious, I began to question as we pulled off toward 36.
“Whose car is this?”
Trey remained straight-faced.
“A customer’s. I just filled it with gas the other day, so I know we can use it for a while.”
I smirked. Not a very good business practice, but in this circumstance, this might as well be our golden chariot.
“So where’re we headed?”
Trey scratched his head.
“Jeannette’s. I called her. We can stay there a few nights.”
And that was that. I sat back, enjoying the vibration of the car as we drove off down the empty roads to Hazlet where Jeanette lived, making it there within ten minutes, having ignored the blacked-out surroundings as we passed them by.
We parked at the bottom of the driveway which sloped at a forty degree angle. As we climbed up toward the house, she answered the door, holding a candle, in a red t-shirt and black pajama pants, her voice sounding raspy from having woken up from a deep sleep.
“Hey guys, come in. Everything’s set up down there.”
We walked down into the basement which had been converted into an apartment many years ago and refurbished only a few back. I set my bag down on the right side of the candle-covered, square coffee table in front of the sectional couch and Harvey set his things on the other side. Mom and Trey had the master room.
Jeannette poked her head in and grabbed the door knob.
“Just let me know if you guys need anything.”
She shut the door and headed back upstairs.
Harvey removed his boots but slept in the rest of his clothes because he’d claimed they were dry. I was prone to believe him. No matter the situation, he’d never sleep in wet clothing.
I kicked off my boots and pushed them next to the Elliptical which sat at the end of the couch I was sleeping on in the soft glow of the candle light. I removed my button-up, my belt and my socks. I then laid down, pulled a blanket over me and continued to remove my pants underneath, then tossing them to the floor. The feeling of the soft cushions on my back was numbing.
Then there was silence.
The culmination of this night was right here, right now. I laid on my back in the quiet, on that couch, feeling the warmth I’d yearned for all night; the cloud-like feeling of the pillows supporting my head; the thick, toasty blanket protecting me from the elements of the room. I got what I’d wanted. Even so, I found myself restless still. I just couldn’t fall asleep.
I shifted to my left a bit and stared at the wall; through it perhaps, as Wayne’s cousin Mike had done. I stared for a good sixty seconds. Just then, every moment of the night imploded and expanded like a galaxy within an instant in my mind; like every important moment from a film played one-hundred times faster all at once, orchestrated with nothing but the sound of blaring static—then came to a sudden halt. That’s when it hit me. My eyes welled up, and I sobbed to myself alone in the dark until I’d eventually succumbed to a lack of energy and passed out.
The worst of this terrible dream-like event was over.

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About Matthew Gullstrand

I'm a young man in love with his own creative passion whom half the people may describe as usual and the other half insane. I don't deny that I'm weird, for what is life without a little fun? I'm not frightened of happiness nor am I afraid of anger. You will get nothing but the best of me, including the good times and the bad. If you find honesty scary, you need not linger, for the world is my soapbox, and I'm not afraid to sink my teeth into the darkest depths of hell the people attempt to hide and spit out what most are afraid to see.

5 responses to “Run Like Hell: Chapter 1 – Drowned

  1. smashbravo ⋅

    This is pretty much just straight our of a nightmare or a Hollywood film. It’s so hard to imagine people actually having to go through this sort of horror. Thank you for sharing with us and lots of luck on the rest.

  2. Amazing, just amazing. What an awful experience.

    • Much appreciated. Even with all I’ve written, I still don’t feel I’ve accurately conveyed that entire night and the feelings which came with it.

      ..Then again, this is only the first chapter. Look forward to the rest of my book when it’s finally finished. It’s a journey.

  3. Nancy L. ⋅

    Very well written. Even though I never lived through anything like this, I was feeling the fear and so many other emotions. Unimaginable.
    If I can be brutally honest (keeping in mind I’m MUCH older than you), I would change one word… “ate those frickin’ words”. It could be a turn off for some to read further. Now, with that said, even though I don’t swear, I know I would be using the “f” word when disaster actually strikes and feel the “f” word fits well in the rest of the story!

    • I appreciate your kind words, honestly, but if I may be frank, my target audience is those with open minds and hearts. I write how I hear myself in my own head, which is always entirely based on how I feel and how I’m trying to convey it. Inner voice versus outer voice is something we all attempt to reconcile with in our lifetime, regardless of age. Consider my writing a window into my own mind, as it is with just about any writer.

      That being said, thank you for your comments.

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