The first week of the quarantine was often peppered with random screams and shouts, occasional gunfire and tires squealing, lots of barking dogs and screeching cats late at night. Then silence. Seven days of utter silence, except the occasional noise from the neighbor. By then, Jay had tapped into the morse messaging system, translating the random signals. The southern border was probably now on par with the DMZ of the Korean Peninsula, although anyone who wanted out was allowed to leave. No reentry. Mexico had done surprisingly well through all the tsunamis, but the shoreline was now about 2 miles inland from before and that created a whole new set of problems. California was chaos, as anyone would have predicted. New fault lines appeared, and plumes of natural gas started spraying out. A virtual border between the states had formed. Occasionally one would catch fire and they were pretty to watch in the winter night sky. Jay didn’t tell Felicia about the termination raids, afraid she would go running from the apartment to check on neighbors. He did tell her they were spraying ahead for West Nile Virus. It didn’t make sense, really, but it was something that would seem plausible if she didn’t hold a candle to it.
“Jay?” Felicia called to the other room. She had a pile of knitting needles and yarn in front of her. She decided to pick a couple sets of needles, a sewing point, a scissor, and a few balls of yarn. These she set up this little knitting box, thinking she’d ask Neil when he arrived if maybe this could be included. At the last Felicia stuffed in the ball of fine cashmere silk yarn that she had been saving for years, a gift from her mother. It was something like $50 for just those few grams of superfine yarn, and could be knit into the most beautiful gossamer scarf. It’s not like that would be needed where they were going, but Felicia knew that soon they would all start yearning for the beauty of things left behind. It was also extremely soft. “Do you think Seth wants me to bring some of my special knives?” Christmas had still been celebrated between them, and Jay had presented her with a set of Japanese chef knives. Hardened steel, finely honed, and never used. She knew she’d end up on kitchen duty more often than not, and the thought of old clunkers for chopping and cooking brought a frown to her face. Felicia was not spoiled, she was just comfortable. Now they would have to sort out a whole new level of comfortable in a very rugged situation.
“Yes my dear, that sounds like a good idea. I’d hate to think they’d go to waste.” Jay, always practical, considered the bank statement that never arrived. He’d gone a little crazy with his bonus last year, and had upgraded most of the electronics that now lay useless around them. His hand patted his front right jean pocket, the ring he had planned to propose with on New Years. White gold with an emerald cut diamond, they had seen it at an antique shop while visiting San Diego last August. She had no idea he had gone back to buy it. He had returned with yet another Rolleiflex to add to the museum in their living room. She didn’t see the little leather box tucked into his jacket. The knives were a genuine gift, but planned to throw her off track. Christmas morning had been celebrated with some instant coffee packets and lighting a candle amid some ornaments. No tree, no lights, no music, no glitter. Just the two of them, Rhea and Izzy, and some beers their friend Shelly had brewed with her beer club. Pumpkin Spice Pale Ale, it had come out well. Neither of them had heard from Shelley since the solstice, when the telecoms stopped. They hadn’t heard from anyone they knew until the message three days ago from Seth, Leo and Neil.
Thwack thwack thwack. Neil’s knocking came quickly and authoritatively, though not very loud. Jay peered past the blinds to make sure it was Neil and not one of the random bogeymen that seemed to walk by the front door from time to time. Coast seemed clear, so he opened it up and Neil walked in quickly, sliding the taser back into its holster. The night sky behind him was pitch black, there were no longer streetlights. Jay couldn't remember a time in his life that Phoenix had had such a beautiful night sky. He paused for a moment, in reverie, at the sight of the Milky Way. He hadn't seen it since he had camped out in Durango when he was 15. Neil turned to push the door closed and caught the sadness of Jay's gaze. "Don't worry man, there's a lot more of these nights ahead. " Felicia looked at the two men in her living room, the light of one tealight illuminating them all in ghostly ways. None of them had ever thought they'd be here like this now.
“I knocked someone out downstairs in the carport, he’ll probably be up in about 20. Let’s get moving.” Neil was the image of his mother’s hair and face, red and freckled, tacked on his father’s German body. He stood about 6’2’’, lean but strong, and short clipped hair. Felicia couldn’t remember if he had a girlfriend or not, she met someone at the Thanksgiving weekend party. Girls were usually reluctant to spend time with someone who was out in the wilderness learning survival skills on the weekend, and talking government day and night. Even in the gaming crowd, most wanted to just kick back and play some video games all weekend, or do some of the CosPlay events that cropped up and around. Neil was pretty attractive though generally quiet. “Felicia, you can’t bring that” he said, pointing to her comforter. She clutched it closely to her.
“Oh, please? It’s just that it has been so cold this winter, I get so scratchy with wool.” Neil considered it a moment, then nodded dissent. He couldn't really see why his uncle was so particular about everything. He had had a crush on Felicia since he had been about 14, and that hadn’t really gone away altogether, so he knew he wouldn't stand a chance in disagreement with her. Felicia knew but she didn’t torture him about it anymore. It was nice to have the favor of a very sweet younger man.
“Okay, but if there are any problems with the others, out it goes, ” he added. Seth was concerned about everyone squabbling over material things. His ex wife had cleaned him out over everything when she left for California. He maintained a small, spare apartment not far from Felicia and Jay, devoting his hours and money to building his new fortress and not on the city space. Fine for him, the olives and drabs and sturdy yet practical clothes he now wore all the time. He even had acquired a little green field cap that reminded Jay of Castro, but no one said anything. Felicia had organized her clothes the past two days, into piles and bags, in case they got to come back for more. Once summer hit, there was no way she was going to be wearing curduroy and hiking boots. She had stuffed a pink scoop neck tee into her bag. Just in case she needed to see something soothing and pretty. Years of finetuning their abode into a stylish and understated den mixed of wood, leather, steel, glass and Italian designed lamps and chairs.... all would be left to dust. Her fingers rested on the back of the handcarved teak rocking chair, stroking its soft curves one last time.
“Can I bring some really good cooking knives, and some knitting gear?” she asked. Neil had seen the evidence of her handiwork around the house, big afghans and small throws. She was wearing a thick sweater she had knitted under her plaid jacket.
"Of course, but keep it small. We have two others to pick up in Chandler, and they have a baby as well. There isn't much room right now.”
“Neil, I’ve got the radio and the key, and our extra batteries. Anything else?” Jay asked. Seth and he had been working on a long distance messaging system with the Morse key already, which is how he stumbled upon the new signals. At first, he wasn't very good at the decoding, but by the time the solstice came he had become adept. And deeply alarmed. He had slipped out a few nights ago while Felicia slept, and scouted their apartment complex to see if anything he had overheard was true. Most of the units were empty now, just a few showed signs of very quiet habitation. Mrs. Lefevre downstairs was gone, though a rust colored stain could be seen on the carpet near her door. Jay had been using a flashlight to get a peek. She had lived alone with few visitors, but had befriended all the cat owners of the complex. Their tom Rio had spent more time with her than them until he just up and disappeared last year. Maybe it was coyote, maybe car. He peered through the window, the blinds were not completely drawn flat, and saw one of her cats was resting by the stain, asleep as if under a spell.
He suspected the raids had been planned for a long time before this event, as they had happened right under their feet without a sound. How could they have removed so many people so efficiently with so little notice? he wondered. He thought back to Lance's documentary, as he had done sound on a number of locations. The Arizona militia groups had been strong and steady for a long time, especially since the controversial illegal immigration bill passed a few years before. They seemed to mostly act like lone hunters or small packs, not organized. Their ramblings caught on news casts certainly couldn't attest to anything more sophisticated. He knew the huge Mormon settlements had been preparing for this kind of thing for a long time, but imagined they were busy creating their own new lives, instead of wiping out others. A few things were sure, Arizona had a lot of folks that were shit out of luck, and if they hadn't been targeted for elimination by whomever had set up this new provisional government, they would most likely have died by now. He'd make sure to find out more when Felicia wasn't around. For some reason, they had been allowed to live. Although Jay was a confirmed atheist, he found himself thanking whatever caused that to happen in their favor.
“No," Neil responded,"that's good for now. We may send down a scout team in about a month, see what’s left, after we’ve taken inventory. “ Neil swung one of the rucksacks onto his back, and lifted the two small carryon bags. Felicia had her knitting box stacked on top of the cat carry. She had piled a bag of assorted prescriptions and medicines together and put them in as well, and packed all the tampons she could find. She was pretty sure Seth hadn’t planned that well ahead. For a moment she had thought to bring some condoms and realized it really didn’t matter right now. She was 39 and hadn’t landed a pregnancy that lasted more than a month or two yet, it wasn’t going to happen this month or anytime soon.
They quietly closed the door behind them and turned the key in the lock. Neil took the keys and pocketed them, and waited behind them with a flashlight pointing the way, taser on ready. No one could see the spray painted markings on their door, or the doors of the others. A system of coding that was reminiscent of the Katrina retrieval effort years before in New Orleans. An x with number 2 on the top, 2 on the bottom and a few squiggles that weren't really letters or numbers. A streak of red was transposed across the black grid.
A sliver of crescent moon was rising in the East, the sun maybe an hour behind. The man Neil had tasered earlier had disappeared, and nothing else stirred in the complex. They loaded up quietly in the Highlander Hybrid and drove out. Whether any eyes were following, neither Jay nor Felicia knew. They were shivering from tired, from cold, from fear and uncertainty. Their eyes were immediately drawn up to the night sky, mesmerized by the return of the stars. This was their first trip in a car in almost a month and they had no idea what lay ahead.