After a time you can sleep without the sound of B-52's constantly taking off and landing a few miles from your window. Not at first, though. You can't hear the trains, either, or the constant patter of a million insects smashing into screen doors up and down the block. It's all too silent. It's too much like you dreamt the end of the world would be.
Right before the planes quit flying and the trains quit running and the mosquitoes quit biting, I helped with the evacuations. We set up in a shopping center right across from the AFB, the same shopping center where I worked my first full-time job more than a decade ago now.
Have we really aged so much? I used to think the future would bring flying cars and meals-in-pills; two thousand still sounds like it ought to be far away. All the time in the world to realize our great human potential, but you can see how all that turned out, with the evacuations and the sterilized plains and such.
Point being, we had to get a lot of people away from the base and we weren't sure how much time we had to do it. I had the joy of driving one school bus after another from scattered lots across town to our evac point as the milling crowds grew on the asphalt. Then Greyhounds, SporTrans, stolen VW vans, anything that could move the masses.
I ran one of the SporTrans into a building. I do not anticipate being granted my CDL.
Eventually I ran out of vehicles to bring back and ways to get to them in the first place. They filled up and headed south as quickly as we could gather them. Soon everything was gone but the three buses commandeered by the Air Force. And the AF was more interested in transporting equipment and materials than people.
The sun was setting by the time a woman named Gloria made it to the evac. She was middle-aged, Hispanic, on foot and obviously panicked, but managed to be polite and business-like despite our imminent doom. She asked me when the next bus was leaving.
This wasn't the answer Gloria wanted. Wasn't the answer I wanted to give, either. I didn't exactly want to be standing there as the city detonated.
Gloria's husband and son were already in Natch. All she really wanted was to find them. To be with them when the lights went out.
"Until Monday, all we have is these three buses under AF. One is leaving tonight. It's the only ride out in the next 24 hours. But the things they're carrying, you could die of radiation sickness in a week."
Then again, we both thought, chances are we'll die instantly right here in this parking lot, waiting for a bus. And this is all I had to offer her. A slightly less certain death, one that might afford enough time to say goodbye.
I rode to Natch with her. I didn't mind the vomiting so much after watching the sun rise in the North just 3 days later. Monday's buses never made it, of course. Monday's buses were eaten by the sun and Gloria died of radiation and the skies and trails and tracks all went quiet. I feel like the merchant of death, hate that it hasn't killed me, too. But what's really keeping me up at night is that it's so goddamned peaceful.