An American Refugee
When you're displaced in your own land, is it still your land?
She didn't want to leave. People don't choose to flee, or choose to be refugees. The choice isn't really a choice at all, it's a reaction to what has become an insoluble situation. Forced by nature, by governments, and by the acts of humanity itself, it is such a vicious cycle that never seems to stop repeating. She was not looking forward to the journey. It would be long and gas was so damn scarce and expensive, she might even end up walking. But there was no choice. The coastal cities had started flooding years ago, but she never thought it would be her family caught running from the chaos. Perhaps she did in the back of her mind and now that secret fear was reality.
The thing with a changing climate is that not just the temperatures change. Earth is composed of a network of ecosystems, all interacting with one another. The Earth itself, with its network of ocean currents and atmospheric interactions is the largest ecosystem of them all. When it is disrupted, the results are devastating. The oceans warm and become acidic and this alone can be enough to wipe out life as we know it. As the Earth warms, storms become more massive and are able to sustain themselves longer.
People laughed when predictions of hurricanes the size of Alaska came out. They weren't laughing after the first one happened. By that point though, it was too late. So, there she was, on the precipice of doom, just trying to survive. It was hot, then again it's always hot in Florida. What was new was the dryness that came along with it. The United States and the rest of the world had been on the receiving end of drought after drought, only to be battered by unruly storms afterwards. In fact it seemed as if the Earth liked to save all of its water for the massive storms. They pummeled the coast and penetrated further into the interior of the country on an increasing basis.
“Mommy,” a wide-eyed little boy said, “Are we going to be leaving?” His sandy hair swayed gently in the breeze. He was only five, but was already quite observant.
“Yeah, leaving without you.” responded a girl of ten years old.
The boy stuck his tongue out at her. The girl flipped her curly, dark brown hair around as a reactionary gesture of defiance. Bella was her oldest and she needed her to be strong. The children were her light and reason for being. They were both so bright and full of life, even with the sorry state that the past generations had left the planet in for them.
“Yes, Sunshine, we are leaving,” she said, “but never without you.”
She shot a knowing and stern glance at Bella. The girl was older and she knew better than to scare her little brother. The neighbors had left weeks ago and her family was some of the last in the small city, in what used to be a bustling neighborhood. As things dried out and resources became scarce, people left. Thieves and lawlessness were increasing as the prospects for a future in her area of the world grew dim. There was a hurricane approaching, the biggest yet. With no emergency services, or even a community, she knew they had to leave.
“Where are we going?”, the bright eyed boy asked.
“Well Teddy, we are going to visit your grandparents in Tennessee.” she said, “They have been missing us and I thought it was about time we paid them a visit.”
This was a lie of course. Not the grandparents part, that was true. At least she hoped it was true as she hadn't had cell service for about a month. Upon last contact, everything seemed to be tense but safe at her parents house. She would never leave the house that she had worked so hard to purchase unless hell itself was at the doorstep. They were leaving because they had too. It was something she had to keep telling herself. Years and years of scrimping and saving, working two or three jobs only to run away from it all. It stung, but there was no choice. The upcoming storm was not going to leave survivors, only devastation.
“How long will it take?” Bella asked.
“Well, I don't know sweetie,” she said, “Should be there overnight if all goes well.”
“Two days in a car with him?” Bella said. She made a mock gagging sound and grasped her throat in a most dramatic fashion.
“Bella, be helpful,” she replied sternly.
She knew the girl was just joking, but she was too nervous for levity. They had enough gas to get to the new border but there could be no mistakes. A wrong turn could make the difference between life and death. She would have to navigate off of a map now that cell service had retreated behind the newly constructed boarder wall. As the coast became flooded, the human flood that accompanies such things also washed inland. At first folks were helpful and tried to get along, but as supplies started to run short, patience did as well. She would have to pass through a border check and things were no longer cut and dry.
“All right, this is the last of it,” she said, zipping up a heavy duffle bag. “Let's get into the car.”
They both scampered off towards the car which was loaded to bear. The sky to the south was beginning to grow dark and ominous. The sort of sky that had an unnatural tinge of green coupled with a static stillness. It was time to go. She locked the door and walked away from the house. She breathed deeply, realizing it would be the last time she'd see their home. All the hard work and memories that had went into it, been absorbed by it. She wiped away tears and got into the car. She had to be strong now. It wasn't about her, it was about them.
She started the car and began driving. Her once thriving community was no more than a ghost town. A few of her more reliable neighbors were still outside, buttoning down the hatches and getting ready to wait it out. Most were just vacant houses and the people that had begun moving into them were not exactly friendly. She had more than one instance of someone trying to break in, but they found out pretty quickly that she was armed and willing to protect herself. She hated guns, but in this situation it was better than being robbed, murdered, or raped.
As she drove, the sun became hazy and began to dip low in the sky. It was not a long drive to the new border, but it was a treacherous one. Once the federal government realized that the coastal areas were going to be lost, they pulled inward and quarantined the coasts. That was before the cessations and the outages. Before the outbreaks and the breakdowns. That was just....before. She needed to focus now though. It was dark and the trek took them through terrain that had little in the way of formal law enforcement. They would be on their own. Problem is, when society breaks down, you lose all those services that were so commonplace and such a part of life, you didn't even notice them. Until they're gone of course.
Driving through the night had allowed them to cover a good distance and all without trouble. She had purposely picked a longer route that took a twisting, meandering path on craggy back roads. Bella could see that she was getting tired, that her eyelids were starting to sag with slumber.
“Are you OK, Mom?” Bella said.
“Yes, sweetie, of course.” she said.
It was time to pull over, and she knew it. Her drowsiness was becoming a liability, but she had come prepared. They pulled off to a secluded side road. It was risky to stop in this area as it was mostly lawless at this point. Towns and Cities tended to marshal their own forces, but cared little for the outskirts. How could they, with resources so short. The area they were in was far from federal, regional, or even local reach. Everything looked clear and serene. She unscrewed the cap to a dented, stainless steel thermos. Steam and the refreshing smell of coffee greeted her. That alone was enough to lift her spirits. Coffee had become hard to come by and she had been saving the last of her rations for this trip. She poured a cup.
“I can drive, if you want?” Bella offered.
Of course she offered, she was such a sweet heart and always willing to help. The thought of her baby driving through an increasingly mad world was more than she wanted to consider.
“Me too!” Ted offered.
That brought a smile to her weary face. They were the only reason she was taking this trip. Life at their old home was untenable. Somewhere there was a life for them and she had to find it. It was all that mattered.
“Alright, we will stretch for a little longer and then hit the road,” she said.
The miles stretched on, through forests and grasslands, to foothills and lakes. Signs of life were around, but she had yet to see anyone, just flashes of human existence. Rolling slowly through the lifeless streets of a small town, there was clutter all over the streets. Abandoned cars, papers, and shopping carts littered were now the only occupants. Nature had also began to reclaim it. Vines covered building facades, making them seem as giant hedges. All cracks had grass or weeds pushing their way through, bullying the pavement to their will. Her cellphone beeped. The little chirp told her that it had signal and that meant that they were getting close to civilization. Areas past the new boarder rarely had services like this, frequencies that used to be so commonplace.
Suddenly and violently, the car spun hard to the right. Tires screeched in unnatural fury and the windows shattered. She hit her head on the steering wheel and all went black to the sounds of her children screaming.
When she awoke, no one was shouting. Though it was no more than a minute, she was awake suddenly and violently. Her head hurt, but nothing was broken.
“Bella! Ted! Are you hurt?” she called
“No,” Bella groaned, “I don't think so, I can't see out of my left eye.”
She looked over at her little girl to see a nasty gash on her forehead. Upon further inspection, she saw that it was not too deep. The readily flowing crimson stream made it look worse than it was, but there was still no answer from Ted.
“Teddy?” she said as panic and fear began to seep into her voice.
She turned to look at her small son and caught a glimpse of his limp body in the car seat. She also began to wonder as to what caused the accident when she was violently pulled from the driver's side of the vehicle. She was thrown onto the ground and looked up to see the grinning faces of two men in camouflage gear. It dawned on her that her car was struck with intent.
“Whatta we have here?” a thin and ugly man with a scraggly beard said, “Fresh converts.”
She didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but it sounded batshit crazy.
“I get her first,” said the other man. He was handsome with dead eyes and an eel's grin. He stared at her as predator to prey.
“Of course,” said the ugly man, submissively. It was clear who the alpha was. The dead eyed man set his rifle down and walked towards her.
“There's others in the car,” the ugly man squeaked excitedly, “More converts.”
The handsome man grabbed her up roughly. It was then that she acted. A high pressure spray of bear mace sprayed from a canister she had been hiding. It doused the faces of both men and they howled in pain, clawing at their eyes. She kicked the handsome man in the genitals as hard as she could and pushed him backwards with them might of someone fighting for their very life. He tripped on rubble, falling backwards and hitting his head on a metal light pole with a sickening thud. He fell to the ground, motionless. Thin but strong fingers grabbed her by the neck. The other man could not see, but had managed to get his bearings and get ahold of her.
“Clint?” he shouted frantically, “Clint?! If he's hurt I'll kill you, you bitch!”
As he began to shout more, a large and jagged slab of asphalt struck his head from behind. It struck him again before he managed to react. He dropped to one knee, blood running down his face. A final time the asphalt struck him upon his face and sent him on the ground, never to rise again. Behind the crumpled figure stood Bella, wide-eyed with tears streaming down her face. Her Bella, her child, stood above the dead man, witness to things no child should have to see. She took Bella into her arms, trying to absorb the awfulness of the situation with her love. Surreality gave way to the real as she frantically turned to the car, so consumed by the situation that she had forgotten about Ted.
“Teddy,” she said meekly.
Looking in the back seat, the boy had not moved. Fearing the worst, she ran to him. There was a pulse, but it was faint and frail, like the form of her baby in her arms. She scanned the horizon and saw a guard tower in the distance. They were close but her car was totaled, along with the truck of the villains that caused this all. She began stumbling on foot toward the tower, toward salvation. Her young daughter trailed her, silent and dirty, her eyes looking forward with a haunted and hollow look. The memories would never leave her, they never do when burned upon the brain in such a manner at a young age.
As they drew closer, her heart began to race. A light shone upon them and then another.
“Halt!” a voice commanded. The speaker made it sound empty and cold, more mechanical than human. She stopped in her tracks.
“My baby..” she began to say.
“Stay there,” the voice commanded, “we will come to you.”
She stood in place, the cold steel of the gates offering no recompense. Her knees began to feel weak and she stumbled and knelt on the ground. Suddenly a gun shot ricocheted of the ground next to her.
“Move again and the next one is between your eyes,” the harsh voice warned. A squad of heavily armed men came out, guns raised.
“My boy,” she said with tears beginning to stream, “My boy...”
“More of the same,” said one of the soldiers coldly. He leered at her in a way that made her uncomfortable, even in a state of exhaustion. “Get 'em in and processed, I haven't taken lunch yet.”
Her mood started to grow heavy. There was no concern or care in these men, no compassion. They grabbed her son up and roughly began escorting her and Bella inside. They needed to be strict, she understood, as soon as she got inside it would all get cleared up. She was after all, one of them. An American, and a human at the same time. Once inside they were led down a concrete hallway that forked. Her children were taken to the left while while she was forced to the right. She frantically pushed against the armored arms of the soldiers.
“My children, I must go with them,” she cried, “Let me go!” The man continued pushing her and no one answered her cries. “No!” she yelled, bringing her fist down on the helmet of one of the men. She was weak and the blow had little effect, except to antagonize the man. He drew a gun and pulled the trigger. Barb tipped wires sunk into her body and electricity flowed through them. She collapsed to the ground, thrashing. She sobbed as she lost consciousness.
When she awoke, she was in a dark room with freezing concrete floors. All around her, packed to burst, stood other women and men. Some cried, and some just stared forward with no expression. She began to cry. She was worried for her children with whereabouts unknown. She imagined them afraid and wondering where their mother was and why she left them. It made her feel ill. She wondered if her son was alive. She wondered if they were cold or hungry. Above all, she wondered it this was all a mistake. She was a woman, a person, in need of compassion and the well seemed to have run dry. There she was with cold concrete floor, no hope, in a cell.
A living hell.