Judgment Day: Part 33

No…it never ends. I might start posting these on Saturday nights so you can get good and drunk before you read it.

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March 22nd

Bethesda

Martin had stocked the rear of their stolen Humvee with enough weapons to take over a small country.  All it took was the memory of those creatures at Molly’s neck and Daryl was glad for the firepower.   He sat in the back with her and shifted uncomfortably.  All these years looking lustfully at HumVees, he was shocked to learn how cramped and utilitarian they were.  This was one of the better models, but he had been hoping for that family station wagon feel.  No such luck.

“This thing’s a bear,” Daryl said, leaning forward as Martin drove the truck out and onto the country road, leaving Sugarloaf behind them.

“Yep!” Martin shouted back, “Been driving them for years.”

“What?”

“Test driving!”

“Test driving?”

“Yeah.  Put on an expensive suit and test drive luxury cars.  It’s a great way to spend a slow Saturday.  You’ve never done it?”

“No, Martin, I’m not a freak.”

“It’s great fun.  I’d recommend it but, of course, the world’s ended so it doesn’t matter.  Had to take a class to test drive ‘em.”

Daryl sat back and shook his head.  Molly smiled and patted his leg,  “At least your lunatic friends are resourceful.”

“At least.”

Just a few miles outside of Washington, Bethesda is a vibrant suburb that looks more like a city than DC.  It wasn’t always that way, though.  When Daryl was a kid, he went to high school along East West Highway, one of the main arteries through DC’s suburbs.  In those days, the subway was small and new and Bethesda was a town of diners, old brick apartment buildings and tumbledown commercial sites.  The old railroad tracks ran through the town and the high school had an open campus lunch policy.  It was white bred America, a suburb on the cusp of development.  A dozen years since graduation and the city was stacked with high-rises, the school had a glitzy makeover, the diners were  gone and the traffic snarled around wide roads throughout the day.  It was a frightening place to approach in these end days but, beyond the frozen rush hour and the dead, Daryl took a certain comfort in the once bustling streets.  It was a city that could hide them.  A city of office towers and alleys that could absorb four foolish survivors sticking their noses where they didn’t belong.

They headed along a network of two-lane byways, weaving through the country and dropping down onto River Road, heading out of the deep woods and into the outskirts of Bethesda – million dollar homes on one side and the suburban city on the other.

Molly hadn’t spoken since they left the Mountain, but her silence, and her eyes, spoke volumes.  She thought this was suicidal, and Daryl knew she was right.  As they crept closer to the choked streets of Bethesda, he was starting to fall in line with Martin.  These monsters had a plan, and it seemed he and his friends were part of it in some way.  At the very least, the creatures knew their every move.

Until that Metro train braked, life had been mindless.  Now, what?  The end of the world, blowing monsters apart, traveling into the city to see if the world of Man had become a world of monsters.  How would you behave if you were in one of those sci-fi action stories?  That was a question he had asked his friends since he was in grade school.   There you are, living after the end of the world, fighting aliens.  Would you fall apart or, like Sigourney Weaver, would you just duct tape two plasma rifles together, tell your buddy to keep the engine running, then leap into the pit of despair?  Or, like Mad Max, would you just relentlessly go on with your empty life in a world without civilized rules?   A normal person should be freaking out; kicking, screaming, tearing at their hair.  Daryl liked to think of himself as a normal person, so the fact that a bitter calm had settled over him was a pleasant surprise.  Survival of the fittest and, since he had survived, then he was going to damn well try and be fit.  That’s what he was thinking but, of course, he knew that he ain’t seen nothing yet, as they say.

“Maybe we should turn around.”  Martin said as he eased the car onto the crowded streets outside of Bethesda.  They’d driven for two hours without speaking and the sound of his voice made Daryl jump.  Ah, yes, so much for calm and collected.  Daryl felt the doubts creeping in.

The roads were packed with the dead rush hour, just like everywhere else.  Abandoned cars and the cars of the dead were lined up, frozen in time.  They were all silent now, the headlights faded and gone. The first to go.  Bodies littered the sidewalks, those who had been caught when the world ended and those who appeared to have survived a short time.  The closer they came to the city, though, the fewer bodies they saw.  By the time Martin pulled into the driveway of a ritzy home, about a mile away from the city center, the streets were clear.  Cars had been pushed aside to make an open lane down the road which led into the city proper.

They sat in the driveway, staring at the road and buildings until, finally, Azizi said, “Looks like the jellyheads are civic conscious.”

“I don’t want to go in there.” Molly whispered.

“We came this far,” Martin’s reply sounded haunted.

Daryl scanned the streets and the yards of the other houses.  “It’s damned quiet.”

Bethesda, bordering the District of Columbia,  had been a farming community with a population that numbered in the double digits.  The Confederates and the Federals had skirmished in the farms and fields, burning houses and razing crops.  Regardless, the town had supported the South and they refused to celebrate the nation’s centennial in 1876, calling it a Northern victory party.  The town  organized a celebration focusing on their own initiative, the coming of the Metropolitan Branch railway.  But progress would change the face of this farming community, which grew by leaps and bounds from the 1880’s onwards.  The farms gave way as Bethesda began a century of growth.  In the 1990’s, it took on yet another face as high-rises climbed into the sky and the shops and houses gave way to a densely packed city that grew higher and larger than DC and completely forgot that, at the crossroads in the city center, the community elders had once condemned July 4th as an insult to the freedom of the States.

Now the city was silent.  As motionless and forgotten as a summer night in 1860.  The farms and fields, in spirit, had risen up again and swallowed Bethesda.

The four survivors of an apocalyptic March night in 2001 stepped out of the car and stared at the buildings, lights still on, life still beating in the abandoned heart.

“Well,” Martin said,  “Shall we go a-wassailing?”

They stuck close together, moving in a tight group along the old rail bed.  The Metropolitan Railway, which had changed the face of Washington’s most dynamic suburb, had long ago vanished and been converted into a walking trail, leading right into the city and even passing under one of the tall office buildings.  They used to call it the “Air Rights” building, as the railroad still owned the ground and the tracks running beneath the busy offices.

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