The valley of dry bones, p.1
The Valley of Dry Bones, p.1Jerry B. Jenkins
Copyright © 2016 by Jerry B. Jenkins
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TO RAY BENTLEY.
I THANK MY GOD UPON EVERY REMEMBRANCE OF YOU.
SEVEN YEARS INTO THE DROUGHT
KATASHI AKI BACKED the beastly sanitation truck through the same gate of the same parking lot of the same building of the same industrial park he and his partner had served for more than three years. But he was running half an hour late because Raoul was taking a sick day and couldn’t leap out to guide him to the bins or shoo away the kids who even now were scrambling over the chain-link fence to climb the truck.
Though he was on flat ground, Katashi set the emergency brake and took the keys when he went back to check his angle and distance. Half a dozen children, all clearly under ten, had formed a half circle behind the truck, eyes dancing.
“Keep your distance!” he barked, and noticing that a few looked like him, he repeated it in Japanese. They giggled. Who knew if they understood their native tongue, and if they did, which dialect?
“I have to come back another couple feet, so stay away,” he said as the building’s rear exit swung open and employees headed for their cars. He was in the way and had to hurry.
As soon as Katashi was again behind the wheel, he heard kids atop his truck. He started the engine, lowered his window, reached out, and banged on the door. “C’mon!” he bellowed, throwing the gearshift into Reverse to trigger the high-pitched beep. “Get off of there now!” Watching both mirrors as the kids leapt down, he gently pressed the accelerator, then remembered the emergency brake.
When he released it and the sixty-thousand-pound behemoth began to roll, Katashi immediately felt the dual tires on the opposite rear roll over something. He jumped on the brake pedal with both feet and slammed the shift into Park.
Screams, honks, bangs on the truck.
Strength drained from Katashi’s body. He managed to open the door but his knee buckled on the step and he slid to the asphalt in a heap. Tell me it was a ball, a rock, anything!
He forced himself to peer beneath the massive chassis where a tiny American boy lay on his back directly in front of the right rear duallys, his feet under the truck. The tires had caught him at his midsection.
Katashi dragged himself underneath and out the other side where a tall, slender woman of about fifty knelt cupping the boy’s face, his dark eyes wide. A crowd pressed behind her, most on their phones.
She cooed, “I’m Elaine and I used to be a nurse. What’s your name and how old are you?”
“Junior,” the boy whined. “I’m seven. Am I gonna die?”
“Do you mind if I touch you, Junior?”
He shook his head, grimacing.
Katashi struggled to his feet and squatted next to her as she gently laid her hand on the boy’s shirt at the waist. It was clear the truck had flattened him from below his rib cage to the tops of his thighs.
Katashi drew in a quavery breath and buried his head in his hands. Elaine put a hand on his shoulder and spoke quickly. “Nobody’s blaming you, sir. Let’s deal with him for now. Can you do that?”
Katashi wasn’t sure, but he nodded.
Elaine turned back to the boy. “Are you in pain, Junior?”
He shook his head again. “Just thirsty.”
Elaine turned to the crowd. “Anybody have any water?”
“You kiddin’?” a man said.
“When was the last time you saw a bottle of water?” another said.
“Come on,” she said. “Just a swallow for the boy.”
“It’d be wasted on him anyway,” a woman whispered.
“Maybe the EMTs’ll have a little.”
Katashi would have given Junior his last drop, but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d carried a bottle.
“Everything’s broke in there, isn’t it?” the boy said.
Elaine nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“So I am gonna die.”
“I’m afraid so, son,” she said. “Do you know you can go to heaven and be with God?”
“Yeah. Because of Jesus.” His breathing had become shallow. “But I’m scared. And my mom and dad are gonna be mad, ’cause I’m not s’pose to climb the truck.”
“It’s okay to be scared, Junior. But it won’t be for long. And let me tell you something. Mom and Dad aren’t going to be mad. They’ll just be sad because they’ll miss you. I’m a mom, so I know. Okay?”
His face was ashen now. Elaine pressed her fingers against his neck and glanced at Katashi. “What’s your real name, Junior? You’re named after your dad, right?”
He nodded, eyelids fluttering. “Zeke,” he said, sighing. “Ezeki—”
“Can you tell me your last name? We need to get hold of your—”
But he was gone.
FOUR YEARS LATER
AFTER A DEVASTATING SERIES of cataclysmic earthquakes that leveled the whole of Southern California, the president of the United States announced that with no end to the drought in sight, “Environmentalists have concluded that recovery is beyond the point of no return. My beloved home state, once one of the most beautiful and vibrant destinations on earth, now lies fallow, a cavernous wasteland bearing witness to eleven years of exposure to a pitiless sphere of roiling plasma ninety-three million miles away.
“More than two hundred twenty times the diameter of our planet, the sun could swallow more than one point three million earths. We learned as schoolchildren that it accounts for ninety-nine percent of the mass of our entire solar system. Astronomers tell me that because of its nearness, it is an astounding thirteen billion times brighter than the second brightest star in our galaxy. We depend on its power for our very existence, yet unabated by the normal balance of nature, see what it has wrought.
“It has become my sad duty to inform you that your federal government has finally, officially, been forced to declare the entire state of California a disaster area. Due to the impossibility of rebuilding her great cities on unstable ground under the unrelenting onslaught of the sun, we have sadly deemed it, ‘Uninhabitable, irreparable, and verboten to citizens.’”
He said the wildfires—many ablaze for years—would be fought only if they posed a threat to bordering states.
“From this day forward, we will maintain only a military presence in California to ensure that no one within its borders on other than official government business will be entitled to the benefits, privileges, or protection of the United States. American civilians, remain or enter at your own risk.
The eleven Pacific Ocean ports on the California coast had also been destroyed, resulting in the exodus of tens of thousands of personnel to Oregon and Washington, and the obliteration of the international airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego alone had changed the economic landscape of the entire airline industry. What little remained of the infrastructure of interstate highways lay in rubble, and routes that once led into the great state now ended at the border.
From the air, California looked like a vast abandoned sand box. What hadn’t been flattened and strewn by seismic activity and wildfire was either still ablaze or lay baking in the sun.
The president also announced the establishment of California memorials and museums in Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and the Mexican state of Baja, California, where treasured antiques and artifacts had already been moved.
SIX YEARS LATER
THE DROUGHT UNABATED, a new president, Derrick Scott, has inherited an entire West Coast in chaos. Class-action suits flood federal courts demanding that remains from cemeteries be moved out of California. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is overwhelmed with the demands of more than 115 Native American tribes, with most but not all relocating. Bordering states are trying to cope with nearly forty million former California residents.
But the otherwise abandoned California republic was sparsely dotted with fewer than four hundred thousand squatters, approximately 1 percent of the original population who chose to remain . . .
THE TORRANCE HOLDOUTS
Katashi Aki, 43
Rev. Robert Gill, 64
Genevieve (Jennie) Gill, 62
Raoul Gutierrez, 39
Benita Gutierrez, 36
Elaine Meeks, 60
Danley Muscadin, 24
Cristelle Muscadin, 25
Mahir Sy, 38
Ezekiel Thorppe Sr., 41
Alexis Thorppe, 40
Alexandra (Sasha) Thorppe, 13
Dr. Adam Xavier, 36
Gabrielle Xavier, 38
Caleb Xavier, 10
Kayla Xavier, 8
THE RAGGEDY BAND had shrunk to sixteen. Late on Sunday mornings they would break into clusters of no more than six or no fewer than three and ride separately eight miles west from their underground desert compound. Today they left three dirt bikes, a four-door pickup, a Jeep, and an SUV a quarter to a half mile from each other and walked the rest of the way to the basement of what had once been a tattoo parlor just off what had once been Ocean Boulevard, the main drag of Long Beach, California, south of Los Angeles. It had become, for an hour each week, their makeshift church.
Worshiping at their own complex would have been safer, of course. But Zeke Thorppe liked the idea of a separate sanctuary, just the prescription for cabin fever.
As always, just before the pastor and his wife arrived, Zeke peeled two inches of tar paper from an east-facing window, allowing a beam of sunlight to pierce the room. It would have to do. Though nearby LA had actually become the last capital after Sacramento had been lost to an 8.9 quake and forest fires eight years before, the power grid—like the state—was but a memory now.
All the group needed was enough light to make out the passages in the Bibles Zeke’s wife of twenty years had scavenged from their abandoned Torrance church. Their daughter, who had just turned thirteen, was handing them to the others as they arrived.
No one spoke above a whisper, and even their singing would rise to little more than humming. Young Sasha Thorppe would sound a plaintive note on an ancient chromatic pitch pipe, and the others would join her softly in a quiet worship song or an old hymn or two.
This morning, on the tenth anniversary of the ghastly tragedy that united roughly half their number, Zeke’s wife had a macabre chore. As he set out the dusty metal folding chairs, he kept an eye on Alexis and noticed his daughter Sasha doing the same. How sad that a young teen had to grow up so fast.
Not wanting Alexis to see how concerned he was about her, he settled in his usual spot facing the door, trying to look nonchalant with his Glock 21 .45 automatic tucked under his shirt in a holster at the small of his back. He still found it hard, a trained hydrologist, packing anything but an iPad. But it had been how many years?
He stretched his long legs and crossed his boots at the ankles, mentally taking the roll as the rest arrived. How he had become the de facto leader he still wasn’t sure. Being the one who knew the science behind the drought had somehow morphed into a sort of assumption of authority.
Zeke didn’t really have to watch the door. Knowing who was there and who wasn’t was intuitive. His attention was on Alexis, as it had been for two decades. He had never tired of looking at her. That she was only forty and looked perhaps fifty had not diminished her beauty in his eyes.
The hollowness in her cheeks was true of anyone who had—for whatever reason—stayed in California past when it had been declared uninhabitable. The vicious aridity robbed her skin and hair of luster, and bereavement had nearly suffocated her.
Yet resolve had carried her, infusing character and grace into every beautiful line in that face. Zeke believed those fathomless eyes glowed with a love for him and for Sasha that had never been snuffed out, regardless of the seemingly endless nights she endured.
Well-meaning friends repeated the old adage about how it wasn’t right for a parent to outlive a child, and Zeke saw her nod and try to smile. Later, when he would enfold her, sleepless in the wee hours, she could only whimper, “My arms ache for him, Zeke! I can’t breathe without him!” And all he could do was weep with her.
This morning she dug from her handmade burlap bag a framed picture of Junior, frozen in time at age seven, eyes afire, face aglow as if his whole being pulsed with “What’s next?”
Alexis placed the photo on the table next to where Pastor Bob Gill spoke each week and gently draped a scarf over the top corners of the frame. When she headed back for the chair between Zeke and Sasha, he stood as she reached him and they sat together.
“Why do you always do that, Dad?” Sasha said. “Nobody else does that.”
He shrugged. “You do the right thing because it’s the right thing.”
“It embarrasses me.”
“That’s my job, Sash.”
“Can we just think about Junior this morning?” Alexis said.
“Sorry, Mom. I wish I remembered him.”
“I love that picture,” Zeke said.
Katashi was last to arrive, and he surveyed the room, clearly being sure all were accounted for before he set a heavy two-by-four plank into brackets to secure the door. He moved straight toward Zeke, but Alexis stopped him. “You’ll still say a few words this morning?”
“Whatever you want, ma’am. It won’t be easy, but—”
“But you will?”
He nodded and slipped past her, leaning to whisper to Zeke, “Mongers on the road.”
“Two, one medium.”
“They see you?”
Katashi shook his head.
“How far from here?”
“Less than a mile.”
“You rode with—”
“Mrs. Meeks and the Gutierrezes.”
“And they didn’t see the Mongers?”
Katashi shook his head. “I hung back to avoid drawing attention.”
“What’re you carrying?”
Alexis touched Zeke’s leg and he noticed Pastor Bob peering at him from the table in front. The older man spoke quietly. “Any reason we can’t get started, gentlemen?”
“Give us a minute,” Zeke whispered, feeling all eyes on him now. He did his best to sound casual, but the others had to know he wouldn’t allow anything trivial to delay today’s service. Neither was it like him to hide from them any threat, especially this far from the safety of their base.
But he didn’t know yet h
The Mongers had a way of knowing that people meant water. Nobody remained in this environment without it. If they found one trace of these holdouts, they would comb every inch of the area until they found them. Then whatever storehouses of water—or technology that produced water, or humans with the ability to fabricate or find water—would become the sole property of these roving bands of marauders.
That’s why fourteen of the sixteen people in that tattoo parlor-cum-sanctuary were packing that morning—from the late-fifties pastor and his wife to Zeke’s thirteen-year-old daughter. Only the two youngest among them were unarmed, and even they knew how to shoot if it came to that.
It had come to that for more than half the adults, Zeke included. He wasn’t proud of it. He didn’t dwell on it. The trauma had cost him more than three weeks of sleep. But it had been kill or be killed. A Monger had drawn down on him. Any other outcome would have meant his life and also the lives of his wife and daughter and the location of the compound.
Ironically, that shooting had earned him respect among the Mongers when he later found himself out of alternatives and forced to transact business with them. He could tell they believed he and his tiny group were part of a massive organization—as the Mongers were. They crisscrossed the state in tricked-out tanker trucks, some with capacities of more than ten thousand gallons, painted black from wheel rims to bumpers. They referred to themselves as liquid capitalists, claiming they bought and sold water, but no one anywhere reported ever having sold them any.
Their victims referred to them as Hydro Mongers.
“Should I tape the window back over?” Katashi said.
Zeke shook his head. “Just stand where you can see out there.” He turned to the rest. “Mongers may be down the road. Nothing to be concerned about yet.”
The Valley of Dry Bones by Jerry B. Jenkins / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes