28 Days Earlier
Those little green numbers taunt me. For the last hour, my alarm clock has been gradually creeping slowly towards five-thirty. I woke early, dry and thirsty, poured a glass of water from the pitcher on my nightstand, and have been unable to fall back to sleep since. Now, it is too late to consider going back to sleep, and my alarm clock refuses to move faster.
Of course, I could just get out of bed early, but my body is angered by the suggestion.
I wonder if this has ever been used as a form of torture in the past; just a person locked in a room with a clock and nothing else. Tiny red sparkles dance on the back of my eyelids as I close my eyes and try to get comfy. I try to relax, try to make time move faster by allowing my mind to wander.
Birthdays are coming up and plans need to be made. Both of the kids have their birthdays in April, just 2 days apart. Marcy has already done all of her shopping, having braved a March Madness sale to find some unbelievable deals. She bought Junior his game system and a bicycle for Mandy. The joy on their faces as I imagine them opening their gifts brings a smile to my face.
My shopping list is in my phone. I texted it to myself a few days ago. I plan on getting Junior a few games for his new system: I think he wants the Great Auto Theft thing? Marcy is going to get a whole new ecosystem for her beloved fish. I promised her if she kept them alive for 6 months I would buy her something more extravagant than what she has.
I pop open an eye and glance sideways at the clock.
Eh – fine.
Begrudgingly, I reach over and switch the alarm clock off and swing my feet off the side of the bed. My slippers are exactly where I left them, and my feet find them effortlessly and slip into their comforting warmth. I take the water from my nightstand and sip it as I stand and head for the bathroom. The shower takes a few minutes to warm but it’s well worth the wait. The first few minutes are spent waking up and enjoying the warmth washing over me before I go about scrubbing and cleaning, and I’m back out in under 10 minutes. I take my time shaving and grooming to ensure everything about me is as perfect as can be.
I dress in my black slacks and a light gray dress shirt. Today’s tie is a seasonal black featuring an array of colorful Easter eggs. The kids bought this for me three years ago and I’ve made an effort to ensure I wear it every April around the holiday. I peek at the clock as I head for the bedroom door.
6:00 AM, on the dot. I’m good.
The first door to the left is Mandy’s room, the youngest. At seven and eleven-twelfths, as she regularly reminds us, she is already expressing an impressive defiance of the stereotypes she has been forced into by being born a girl. She regularly pleads with her brother to use his skateboard r be allowed to play basketball with him and his friends. He rarely allows it; It’s not cool to hang out with your sister, he says. She wants to grow up and be the first female player in the NFL. I won’t allow either of my kids to play such a dangerous sport, but we bought her a skateboard and her own basketball and signed her up for the local youth basketball.
I check that her alarm clock is on, lean over and kiss her forehead. My little angel. There is no better way to start a day.
The next stop is James Junior’s room. At almost 13, Junior believes he knows everything, like what music is supposed to sound like. If Mandy is my Angel, then he would be my little Demon. He moved into a phase of black; even dyed his hair. His older friends did the same and I figure he’s just following suit. I can’t complain, though; at least his clothes match now. It’s a step up from the brown sweater/neon green pant combo he wore last year.
No matter his behavior, though, he still understands the importance of preparation for the future and is maintaining straight A’s. So long as he stays out of trouble with the law and keeps his room clean, I can let the rest slide.
Junior has asked me to stop sneaking into his room and giving him good-bye kisses. So, I give him a hello kiss on the forehead. I always sigh when I brush his hair aside; it hasn’t been as soft since he started dying it and straightening it. He used to have golden curls that bounced when he ran around, like a little Greek prince. It’s a sad change, but it seems to make him happy – I think.
The door closes silently as I exit, slipping out backward to prolong my exposure to my son. As I turn around to head back into my own room, I find Marcy, her arms outstretched and ready to pounce. She wraps herself around me, pressing her head into my chest.
“Good morning, my husband.” Twelve years of marriage and she has greeted me this way every single morning. If I was out of town, she would call me at exactly six twenty and her first words were always “good morning, my husband.”
I love it.
“Good mrrmrr, mff” I respond between our lips. It is still the cutest thing to see her pull herself onto her tiptoes and stretch up to kiss me. I’m almost a full foot taller than her.
“Good morning, my wife,” I repeat as she lowers herself back onto her heels. She smiles sweetly and turns, moving back into our bedroom. “I should be home no later than six today,” I inform her. “If traffic permits.”
“Dinner will be ready,” the sheets ruffle as she tucks herself back into bed. “I need to order out, I have an appointment at three for the Wellington place. Someone is actually interested.” She groans, a long, drawn out, satisfied groan as she settles comfortably back under the sheets.
“You’re the best, that’s why they gave it to you.” I blow her a kiss and tell her I love her. She returns the sentiment and I head back downstairs, through the kitchen, and into the garage, only stopping to grab my jacket from the coat closet.
Avoiding boxes and toys, I round the mini-van and climb into my SUV. Next to it is my ruby red Ferarri, a gift for myself the other year. I stare longingly.
This weekend – you and me. We’ll take Marcy someplace nice.
I start the engine, revving it up as the garage door opens. By six-thirty I am on the freeway, Northbound for the city; and by six-fifty, I am slowing to a stop behind a line of cars.
This… is unusual, I think as I pull to a stop behind a large pickup with “Don’t Tread on Me” printed above a “Make America Great Again” sticker. The morning rush doesn’t usually begin until seven-ten. I examine the clock to confirm with myself that it is, indeed, well before seven-ten.
The minutes tick by on the clock and I eventually put the SUV into Park. I push open the door and step out onto the freeway, as a number of others already have. The road bends around to the South-West a half mile away and the line of cars disappears around it. I realize I haven’t seen any vehicles pass in the East-Bound lane since before I caught up with the traffic. It must be a very big accident if they’ve closed both sides.
“Going to be one of those days is it?” I sigh as I return to my vehicle. “Hope everyone survived.” The chances of them closing the freeway for a non-fatal accident are pretty slim.
My assistant, Leonard Dispil, is number three on my speed dial. I call him and arrange to have all of my morning appointments pushed into the evening, and my evening appointments redistributed across tomorrow. I can work a few extra hours Friday and bring home some cheesecake to make up for my tardiness.
I guess I may as well settle in, I tell myself as I recline my seat and click on the current audiobook sitting in the disc player. The smooth voice of the reader fills the cab and I close my eyes. If things start moving, someone will politely honk and let me know.
It’s hard to say which one catches my attention – the noise, or the shockwave – but the explosion jars me away from my relaxed state of mind. Suddenly, my eyes go wide, watching a massive fireball rise from the ground several hundred yards ahead of me. My SUV rocks as the ground shakes. I think I see a car in the sky, falling from nowhere, but it disappears behind an overpass. A large plume of dust shoots up from the ground to the left of the explosion.
I hear screams as the people closest to the incident abandon their vehicles and flee from the explosion. A massive wave of chaos comes my way as they all clamber over parked vehicles trying to escape. One of the larger trucks forces its way through the parked vehicles and drives up the side of a hill, up to the road overhead. A few others follow it. Every family for itself, it seems.
The people int he vehicles around me are either gawking at the disaster ahead as they stand in the street, or are fleeing from the crowd charging at them. I notice a few select heroes running in the opposite direction, towards the chaos; likely the off-duty firemen, police, and soldiers.
I realize I’m not doing anything.
My God, what the hell are you doing?! I berate myself internally as I throw open my door. GO!
I lift the hatch on the back of the SUV and fish out my First Aid kit from under one of the floor panels, then weave through the crowd and cars to reach the inside shoulder of the road. With most of the crowd fleeing to the outside shoulder or running between the cars, the inside is faster.
I stop briefly to check on a few people who seem dazed. None of them seem severely injured. I warn them of head injuries and the possibility of serious injuries after the adrenaline wears off, then instruct them to get to safety and seek medical attention as soon as they can get themselves to a hospital.
The source of the explosion is readily apparent when it comes into view; the remains of a large big-rig truck is on its side, and well into the median. Pieces of the truck’s trailer are strewn about across the grass and the other side of the freeway. I recognize a few pieces enough to piece together that it was likely a fuel tanker. The fires and way the way the other vehicles around it are strewn about seem to suggest it exploded.
What the hell happened? I ask myself, and I find the answer a few moments later. Behind the truck, I find a long trench burrowed into the ground, running off from the median of the road and across four lanes on the other side. It descends into the ground deep enough to swallow a car. The sides of the trench are littered with jagged pieces of car and trailer… and more than just a few bodies. Some people are still alive, groping and digging into the dirt to drag themselves away from the wreckage. It seems futile since most of them seem to be missing limbs, or are too badly broken and burnt to move by their own power. Most of them are motionless.
My hand comes up to cover my mouth as I try to take in the scene. I feel useless as I try to figure out what I’m supposed to do here. I’m not an ER Doctor, I’ve never dealt with this. I help kids.
Help these people, I yell at myself. Help them… somehow.
My first aid kit is almost useless; the smallest injuries will require a lot more than a few band-aids and aspirin. My eyes settle on the nearest person still moving; a woman at the bottom of the trench trying to roll over in the dirt. One of the brave people from the road beat me to her and is trying to help. He settles his hand on a chunk of metal in her side.
“Don’t pull that!” I find myself yelling. The man freezes and looks up at me. I shake my head at him. “Don’t remove that. It could be the only thing keeping her from bleeding out.”
The young man nods. I slide down the side, jogging to keep myself from losing my footing and falling. I approach and lower myself beside them.
“Use your shirt. Press it here. Apply pressure, and wait for an ambulance.” I give him instructions. He follows them, and nods again, thank me as I stand again.
Instinct begins to take over and I find myself running more in auto-pilot than actually thinking. I don’t have the supplies I need, but I have the knowledge. A dozen or so others have joined in the effort and I offer them instruction as best I can. A lot of the people on the ground are bleeding profusely from multiple wounds, and those who aren’t already missing limbs likely will be later due to the severity of their burns and injuries. I have to put flames out on three people, one of which I’m certain is already dead.
The emergency responders arrive in record time; a whole swarm of them trickle in. I find myself off to the side, speaking to an officer and sharing what I know. I only half pay attention to him, as I watch the scene over his shoulder. The paramedics cart people off into ambulances; the firemen help carry and move people and bodies; a black delivery truck full of people in biohazard suits set up a tent at the deeper end of the trench; law officers are rounding up people who can move and escorting them to safety.
It clicks in my mind that something is unusual as I watch the scene. I’m drawn to the black van and the people in the biohazard suits. One of them is searching the bottom of the trench with some device in their hand.
“Sir?” The officer beside me repeats.
“Temecula,” I state. He had asked me where I lived. He nods, saying something about commendations and gratitude of the city. I barely hear him, as the person in the trench uncovers a red-hot glowing mass from under a pile of dirt.
“Thank you, sir,” a new voice says. A man a head taller than me, wearing a dark navy suit, steps in front of my view. “Thank you for your help here. You are a true hero.” Before I can reply, he’s taken me by the arm and escorting me away from the trench.
“The city is grateful for men and woman like yourself willing to throw themselves in harm’s way to assist those in need.” The man says. I notice several other individuals in my peripheral vision being escorted away as well.
“What’s going on?” I ask as he moves me around an ambulance and releases me.
“I am not at liberty to say at this time. We will be contacting you. The situation is as well in hand as it can be at this time, sir. This site is not safe for yourself or others. Please, find your way home.”
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