The flame of a candle can be seen up to three miles away on a dark cloudy night. To take that idea further; a one megaton explosion will leave a two hundred foot deep crater and rise several hundred feet in the air. People would be injured from the heat of the blast and debris up to seven miles away from the center of the blast. The fallout would rise up into the stratosphere, and spread out over days and months.
These are the effects of conventional, known, nuclear weapons.
No one knew for sure what was launched and detonated on the air force base almost two hundred miles away from Ellensburg. They did not know how large it was, or what it contained. The explosion wasn’t exactly heard, but everyone felt it through their gut and in their head. It was like a long, loud base beat drumming in your chest.
It is more important to understand, people felt it. Many people ran outside, many more covered the ears in pain. Most assumed it was some sort of earthquake, unheard of in that area, but easy to understand.
The reality rapidly became more and more impossible.
It happened instantly. There was no soft hum that grew to a painful cacophony over any amount of time. Kelsey rolled back from her desk and clasped her hands over her ears; all of the work on her desk forgotten. She stood up and staggered into the back offices to find Shantell also standing with her hands over her ears. As the drumming continued Shantell tried to shout something, her lips moving but no sounds coming out. Her lips seemed to spell, ‘what the hell?’ Kelsey only shook her head in response. For a moment she felt like she was twenty years old again thick in a concert. The name of the band escaped her at the moment. She walked around the corner to find Allie also standing with her sweater pulled down over the top of her head, her hands also clamped against her ears. She looked pale and her eyes were clenched shut.
As the nauseating tremor continued to roar Kelsey decided it was much worse than any concert she had ever attended. She also realized the earth was not shaking as it should be for such an earthquake.
She thought about trying to yell something as well but instead turned away and moved her hands from her ears to pull at the blinds and look outside. There was nothing but the parking lot where tall trees were bending in the wind. Was that the wind? Was there wind this morning? She found her that hands over ears or not made little difference.
As the power went out her hands shot up to her ears anyway in a knee jerk response. The lights clicked off, and the monitors went black. If there was any sort of explosion or any other sound causing the power outage she couldn’t hear it. She turned around to see Allie standing by Shantell now in the unlit room, both cringing, their white teeth visible behind their tightly pulled lips. Their eyes were wide with fear and Kelsey knew, they didn’t know of any kind of earthquake like this either. Shantell was looking out her own window and Allie just looked at Kelsey, wanting to know what to do.
Kelsey reached with one hand and pulled Allie next to her and tapped on Shantell’s back to get her to follow as well. They moved in a straight line, Kelsey at the head of it. Everyone in the building was either lying down or making their way to the door. Through the main lobby, out of the crammed office space and once outside they joined a small crowd pouring through all of the doors. Nurses and residents and administrators all stood in a group together.
The vibrations almost felt like they were subsiding after a moment in the open light. It did more than fill her head and shake her ribs; it was so intense it physically hurt. Her body ached and as the vibrations subdued a tension headache immediately followed, her heart beating wildly and feeling irregular.
Everyone was suddenly talking at once, able to hear themselves, let alone each other. People were standing in the parking lot, talking over each other, and others stood in the middle of the street looking up and down for some indication, or explanation. Other people had evacuated their nearby homes and buildings and were also looking around expectantly.
The nurses were suddenly busy rolling the residents out in a more or less orderly fashion following emergency protocol for an earthquake. Electricity seemed to have kicked off all down the street.
Being the only person Allie knew at the Meridian, she followed Kelsey and stood close as people scrambled around talking far too loud yet barely heard. The two women walked into the street where a man was standing by his car.
“What do ya think of that?” he shouted, a strained smile on his face. “Earthquake must have knocked loose a terminal on my battery, won’t start.” He stood looking at his car, with his hands on his hips. Kelsey watched a moment as he started to open his hood but quickly made her way back to the parking lot. She needed to find Kevin.
Kelsey turned in a small circle, fully taking in the scene around her. Allie stood stiff and pale. Some residents were watching the trees swaying in the wind, pushing westward. That kind of wind was wrong. The wind blew east, off of the coast. She continued to turn, slowly. The nurses were in a frenzy now, moving from one wheeled bed to the next. Monitors, regulators, everything that should have been operating on batteries were dead. Allie staged backwards out of the way of a bed rolling across the asphalt by a nurse and she stepped into a bed deserted behind her.
Allie turned and looked down at an old man, lying with his eyes half open. His skin was pale from having lived on a bed in a room for so long. She looked longer and realized he wasn’t just pale, he almost looked grey. She tentatively reached down and took the old man’s withered hand and quickly dropped it again. She took a sharp step back and bumped into another resident who said something to her, but she did not hear it. She quickly moved back over to where Kelsey was standing and over her shoulder saw more beds being wheeled out, nurses frantic over motionless bodies.
The volume of the scene got even louder and people were yelling back, then there were a series of screams. Not busy nurses yelling about dead or dying residents; but shrill screams. The kind pulled out of a person by terror. Allie took hold of Kelsey’s rigid arm and looked to the East.
Both women stood motionless, staring, and Allie soon fell to her knees, still gripping Kelsey’s arm by the elbow.
Far to the east a large tubular cloud was rising like a large, grey, blooming flower. The head of the cloud fanned out and soon became mushroom shaped climbing higher into the clouds. The two women only stayed that way a moment before Kelsey was grabbing at Allie’s shoulder, pulling on her shirt.
“Get up, girl.” She said in a voice that did not sound human. Kelsey’s head was spinning with pain and confusion. She kept pulling on Allie’s shirt, finally grabbing her under her upper arm and pulling harder before Allie helped herself up to her feet. People were moving fast, back into the building, including residents who could move themselves. The drumming from the explosion was gone but the ringing in their ears made the screams of people feel distant and surreal.
“Come on everyone, we have a disaster plan! Put your heels to work! Shantell I need you over here! Now damn it!” Kevin was shouting. Kelsey turned and saw him standing by a woman in a wheel chair who had been left by a nurse, whom had probably run inside. Her foot kicked aside a dead cell phone that had been left on the ground. She pulled out her own and slowly let it fall from her hand as she walked towards where Kevin and Shantell were standing, Allie being towed behind her. She heard him telling Shantell to get able bodies back outside to help move everyone inside out of the parking lot. Shantell moved off with her natural authority over herself, and her surroundings.
Kelsey felt impressed for a moment at how Kevin was handling the situation. He was standing upright and though he had a wild look in his eyes, it was not necessarily one of despair or surrender. He was walking backwards, pulling the woman in a chair, his eyes fixed on the spreading clouds in the sky. They were approaching little Ellensburg, and by the sway of the trees, it was happening fast.
“Sarah, I need you to get to work on making sure every window is shut tight, and once everyone is inside, shut and lock all the doors but the main doors. In case other people run here for refuge we are letting anyone in. We need to make sure we seal everything, we don’t have a basement to move to.” He was barking orders to the nurse, Sarah, and other aids that were standing around him now.
“Why aren’t the generators turned on? We have residents whose lives depend on those!” Shantell was shouting from the main doorway on her way back outside. “Come on people, they’re gas powered, we need to get them turned on!”
“Kelsey?” Allie asked pulling on her hand. “What do we do?”
“I,” she paused, “Everything is done electronically, there’s no power until the generator is turned on.” she paused again. It seemed she needed ten seconds to process each thought, “they could use people here,” another pause and her fright heightened, “Let’s go get Dwayne.”
Allie looked at her uncertainly and then looked across the parking lot. Suddenly Kelsey was pulling on her hand. She probably would have dragged Allie if she’d not started jogging along. The two of them came up to Kevin who was giving Shantell more instructions. “Kevin, I need to go get my son,” She said in a flat tone.
His response was immediate, almost automated, “The high school has a disaster plan and we have ours. He’ll be fine. I need your help actually,” he said turning to face her. His face was red and sweating, dark patches under his armpits stood out on his light blue office shirt.
Kelsey shook her head almost violently. “He’s at home. He goes to the college and high school. He’s done with classes for the quarter. He is home and I need to go get him from there, bring him here, and we can both help here.” Her words came out fast but they were plain and concise. Kevin looked at her as if to argue. “We will be right back,” she finished as if the argument was already over.
“I can’t really stop you Kelsey.” He said in a relenting tone. “Go get your son and make sure you get back here fast,’ he paused, “You be right back Kelsey.” He gripped her arm tightly, then let go, “It’s going to be bad in town.”
Kelsey turned and led Allie out the front doors at a fast pace without a word to respond. She did not bother going to her jeep. She knew it was dead. They were going to have to make it on foot, and she had no idea how much time they had before those clouds reached them.