Yellow and Chaos

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is part of a novel that I want, but never will. I guess it's political, but also scifi.

Submitted: December 01, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 01, 2011




I’m falling asleep, lulled by the dark and the sound of wet tires slicking down the highway at 70 miles an hour. That shouldn’t be soothing. It should make me terrified that my internal organs, my brain is moving so fast, could get crushed against the windshield at any given second. All it would take- a moment of unwatchful sleepiness, one other unwatchful driver, some slippery asphalt, and I’m gone forever. But all of my rationality is washed under by this crushing need to close my eyes. I do, and shift against my seatbelt so that I’m supported by the door, feet wedged on the side of my baby brother’s car seat. He was pulled under by syrupy darkness about an hour ago, which is short of a miracle, because at home he never sleeps at night.

I want to hear what Linda and Charlie are saying. They are my parents, and sitting in the front seats. Linda is driving because she is more alert. But I can hear fatigue in her voice; feel the car sway gently as she tries to stay in the lane. Charlie is trying to be quiet as to not wake ‘the kids’- he starts out in a sweet, lulling whisper, and gets louder and louder with each sentence, so after a few minutes, his voice fills the car and shakes me back to consciousness. Linda shushes him, and his voice sinks back to nearly inaudible. I like to listen to them.

I’m almost gone again when Charlie’s voice reaches its peak. He and Linda are debating. They do that a lot, because they are both professional philosophers. They’ve both published books, and Charlie has a secret torment that Linda’s On Judas and the Shared Subconscious sold two thousand more copies than his Annotated1500’s Humanist Essays. Linda is the better writer. They both know it. When they met in College, Linda was working on her first novel, A Foray into the Minds of Cannibals, which never got published, but I have the rough draft in my room at home, and have read cover to cover at least three times.

Right now, they’re debating about law enforcement. Linda has taken the side that its right to use violence when it is necessary to preserve life, and Charlie is fighting that any legal distribution of violence is wrong, that it is taken too far by people in positions of power- Linda agrees with him, but they say it’s vital to understand both sides of an issue before taking one. Sometimes they get unbelievably heated, yelling at each other across the kitchen, brandishing much worn copies of Plato and Socrates, quoting madly. Sometimes I take Baby to my room so he doesn’t have to hear. Still, it’s possible that the debating is what has kept their marriage together for so long. When the screaming dies down, they fold into each other’s arms and whisper sweet things. I want Baby to see that. I want him to be the whispering kind when he is older.

I sense it when the front seat voices change. Dad’s voice changes from deep and authoritative to squeaky. Mom swears, which is something she tries hard not to do. I’m awake in a second, slightly mad to be wrenched up again, but trying to smother dull, primitive panic. Baby stirs next to me. I tell him Hushhhhh and swing my legs back to the foot well.  Ahead of us on the road, something has caused the traffic to slow to a crawl. Linda hits the brakes, and we join the inching lines of vehicles. I don’t really want to see, but have to. I think about the psychology of rubbernecking, trying to downplay what I see. A column of thick, greasy smoke curls up to meet the darkness, and all the stars are gone. It is far ahead of us, but I can see red reflected off each shiny surface, off the road, off the solid bottom of smoke. Something is burning loud and hot, howling echoes of hell straining up to meet the stars. An explosion rocks the universe, and there is more smoke, more dancing red. It is eating another car, and another, and the drivers are trying to get away, but doors are fused shut and cars won’t start. I can’t see, but I know. This isn’t just an accident. This fire is too human, too greedy. It wants all of us. In a moment, I’m frozen inside of it, feeling thousands of creatures, conscious creatures. I scream to Mom and Dad,

“Get out get out GET OUT!!!” We’re blocked in on all sides, cars crushing in. Everybody is panicked.  Some people are trying to pull U-turns, and collide in screeching flurries of metal and rubber, new plumes of smoke are born, mature, spread. It looks like the zombie apocalypse out there, but I’d rather face the dead real fires than the thing belching ahead of us. I pull at Baby’s restraints, fumbling, swearing. He is awake now, but silent for once, eyes huge and gawking. Mom and Dad are out of the car now, slamming the doors shut behind them. I feel stranded for a second, fingers useless, but then Dad is pulling me out, and mom is unsnapping Baby. We run around the car to huddle together in the middle of the highway, afraid to step away from the safe island oasis that our car has become. But we know that the safety is an illusion, that we’re about to be flame and ash. A few other people have gotten the idea, and stand like us, scared into stillness. Next to us, one car rear-ends another and metal folds, screeching. Someone is dead. We inch to the other side of the car, but fire is spreading. I can hear it, I can feel it. Baby is silent and grey in Mom’s arms. I’d think he’d been frightened to death if it wasn’t for his big, demanding eyes. In a moment, there is a gap in the bedlam. A person next to us has gotten out of their car, looking for that space in time. Dad grabs my hand and Mom clutches Baby. Together, we dive through the opening, across four lanes of fire and churning metal and melted plastic. The roar of the monster fire is louder, stronger- the flames shoot fifty feet in the air and I swear I see bodies in it, twisting and leaping from one car to the next. They are lizard-ish, crouched, and vague in the smoke. I try to not see them. They are everywhere, shrieking, spitting, tearing into the hulls of vehicles. I glance up at Dad to check if he can see them too. I meet his eyes and there is real, archaic terror caught in the dilated pupils. He gives my hand a short squeeze, and we break through the bedlam, over a guardrail onto the clear-cut roadside. The air should be full of sweet, heady rain smell, but the only thing that we can sense is thick, black gasoline. Blacktop is slick with water, reflecting orange laughter. I sink into the wet grass.

We’re not the only people who’ve gotten the idea to usurp the fire and brimstone. Clusters of people have formed all along the highway, faces blotchy white, eyes wild, murmuring to each other. Do they see the creatures? I focus on the group to our left, two woman with a kid who looks about seven. One woman is clutching the child to her, and he is sobbing, getting snot and tears all down her front. The other woman is holding the first’s hand, stroking it with her thumb. But her eyes are glued to the flames. She is locked on the monsters. I want to go ask her what she sees, does she really see them, but Mom and Dad have locked me and Baby between them, saying Please, stand right here, it’s going to be ok. It has to be ok. Mom takes out her cell phone, ostensibly to call 9-11, but puts it back in her pocket so she has both arms free for hugging. The fire is getting closer to us. One of the creatures darts past me in a flurry of sparks, so close that I feel like I’ve been flash baked, a crème Brule gone horribly wrong. Looking at it eats my eyes, the body molten hot. Its angular head swings around, and it comes to a shivering halt atop a vehicle one lane across from me. Its eyes meet mine. It looks at me, through me, and leers. I can see people in that car, a driver and two passengers. The thing waits to make sure it has my full attention, and slithers down the windshield, under the hood. There is a moment of stillness, and then the car explodes. A wave of glass and noise splinters the night, and people finally find their voices. Screams are everywhere, everything, and I feel my own throat open and add to the noise. People are running. The women with the boy sweep him up between them and move through the tides of bodies, straining towards safety. Dad grabs my elbow, steadies me as people fly past, skidding on the wet grass, falling, disappearing. We move past them as a unit, speeding up to match the rate of the people all around us. Mom is holding Baby like he is a star or a ball made of glass. If she trips, he will be gone.

Harsh white light cuts across the swatch of side grass. Voices are added to our throatless screaming, and the voices are saying real things, deep and angry.

“Don’t move! Everybody, stand still! We’ll have the situation under control soon! JUST STAY WHERE YOU ARE!” I see them, bodies enchased in yellow has mat suits, oxygen masks pulled aside momentarily so that they can yell. A woman refuses to stop, and as she rushes by one of the yellow figures, it reaches out and hits her head with a short stick. I see her fall, and not stand up. I realize that this isn’t right, none of it is. I pull at Dad’s arm and yell over the noise:

“We have to get out of here!” He nods at me, and pulls Mom forward, but it’s too packed to go anywhere. All the people from further towards the fire are pushing in, crushing us despite the yellow orders. Another explosion tares through the world, and more wordless noise erupts. Then there are a pack of yellow people behind us, pushing us, and more on the sides making sure we don’t scatter. They all have short metal rods, and aren’t afraid to use them. They prod us and yell, saying that we need to move now, the fire is spreading, and we’ll be dead if we don’t listen. They are eyeless and vivid in the night, and for a moment I wonder if there are more fire creatures behind those masks. We move, but there must be more up front, because its slower now, controlled marching. I feel an aching need for sleep now, for our cottage and my room and clear, cold light. And I quash it. Not the time, I need to focus now. Mom is close behind me, and Dad is next to her; they switched off holding Baby. I can drag them away from this; make a run for the dark wet trees a few yards to our left. The only thing in the way is a single figure enchased in yellow. The moment doesn’t come. We keep marching, along the lines of cars, which must be backed up for miles. Now we can see faces in the cars, puzzled faces, watching the smoke rise. I wrench open a few cars doors and tell the occupants:

“You need to get out. There is a fire up head and it is spreading.” A few of them listen to me, get out and join the march. Other just stare blankly, and I’m forced to move on. After a few minutes of this, I start to fall behind and a female figure in a yellow suit pushes me hard in the spine with her metal rod. I glare at her reproachfully and push back towards my parents.

Walking becomes hypnotic. My focus is melting and I grab at it, but it slides through my fingers. Suddenly there are no more cars on the highway. They must’ve started re-directing people, because the highway is clotted with nothing but official looking vehicles. They look like tractor trailer trucks, but with emergency lights and sirens. Mom puts a hand on my shoulder and bends close to my ear. She whispers:

“Aislynn, get ready to run. We can’t get in those trucks.” She sounds utterly terrified, which terrifies me. Linda is about as gritty as they come. She can write detailed accounts of cannibalistic methods of preparing human flesh. She fractured a bone in her foot one time when we were hiking in the Adirondacks, and finished the walk. The X-rays were gruesome, and she loved them. We still have them magneted to the fridge. Mom isn’t scared. She just isn’t.

We push to the edge, keeping our heads down, and then we’re running. Dad and Baby are right behind us, and he is yelling:

“Linda, Aislynn, this way!” We dart across the wet highway and towards the dark silence of the woods. My feet slip on the pavement. The world freezes. There is another column of people on the other side, led by more yellow nightmare creatures. They see us running and yell. I feel a wave of consciousness meet us, recognition by the yellow people, and everyone who has apprehension about getting into those trucks. Necks snap towards us, and people push into our wake. People are running again, panic-stricken, and the yellows have forgone any illusion of holding back. They strike skulls with their batons, and people fall under the feet of more people. Both columns dissolve into mayhem. Faces are caught in the flashing light, still images from a horror comic. We dart around them, but yellow monsters are everywhere. They poured out of the trucks, and now there are as many of us as there are of them. I struggle to get through, and Mom forces her way after me, determined we not get separated. A rubbery hand grabs my wrist and I try to wrench free, but the man is easily three times my size. He hauls me to the cavernous mouth of a truck and tries to hurl me in. I cling to him, refusing to be thrown. He swears and tries to shake me off, but I’m strong, and so full of rage adrenaline that I could probably lift a car. And then Mom flies out of the darkness, face feral and savage, shrieking like something possessed. She slams both fists into his back, clawing, and the maternal message is crystal clear- mess with my baby and you’re a dead man. He turns around and hits her across the face with his baton. It’s my turn to scream. There is blood on her face, dribbling from her nose, and from a split over her cheekbone, but this man doesn’t know my mother. She lashes out with her feet, and her fists, bare-bone fury. He hits her again and she staggers away. I’m so stunned that I don’t fight him when he lifts me, shoves me deep into the truck. He throws Mom in after me, and she sags to the floor. I pull her into a corner, away from the herd of terrified feet that stumble after us. Florescent lights come on above us, flooding the place with gruesome, shadowless pallor. The trailer is being filled quicker than I’d thought possible. There are sounds of despair and disbelief everywhere- we are all bewildered and shocked. I hold Mom’s head on my knees and stroke her bloody hair. She is conscious, moaning gently. I wonder if Dad and Baby are alright.

We are moving now, the truck turns and everyone staggers to one side. The side that me and Mom inhabit. I try to make myself into a protective cage around her, but she still gets jostled. Then everybody slides the other way, and I can breathe again. I recognize some of the faces now, people who I told to get out of cars and that boy who I saw borne away with the two women. He is alone now.

I don’t know how long the ride is. It would probably have felt longer if I could feel hunger or thirst or anything but cold fury. A few of the yellow people are in here with us, sitting on protrusions in the side of the truck. They have guns resting across their knees, and stare straight ahead. They are still wearing oxygen filters and goggles, so utterly inhuman. My mom needs help. I don’t know if her skull is fractured, but at the very least she needs stiches and a huge dose of vicodine. I call to the nearest yellow one, who I guess is female judging by the swells under her suit. She pointedly ignores me. But another one responds, rising from his seat, still holding his gun. I hold my breath and try to have faith in humanity. He sinks to his knees next to me and holsters his gun, keeping a hand on it. I breathe again.

“She got it good, didn’t she?” His voice sounds muffled and strange through the mask, and I try to hear sympathy or regret in the garbled words. Maybe they were sarcastic, or approving. I’ll never know. But I nod. He glances over at the woman sitting near us, and she shakes her head. He turns back to us and pretends he didn’t see. “I’m a nurse. I have a kit with me, but I can’t do much for her here. I’ll just give you painkillers. That’ll have to be enough.” I’m still skeptical, but I nod again. He pulls a package from a zipper pocket of his suit, and tears it open. He hands me two of them, but I’m afraid to put them in my Mom’s mouth.

“Could I please see that package?” I ask him, and I can imagine his expression going sour behind that mask. But he hands me the torn wrapper, and I read the label carefully.

“It’s fine, Ai, give me the pills.” Mom sounds awful. I give them to her, and she swallows them dry. Then she glares up at the yellow man. “Who are you people? What just happened? This completely unconstitutional, and you are all subject to the law.” The man doesn’t answer, just moves back towards his seat. I see the yellow woman pull him over, exchange a few intense words with him, and then motion threateningly to a pager clipped to her belt. I see him bow his head in apology and sink back down on his seat. I wonder how he got here, became an oppressor. It doesn’t seem to be his forte.

Mom falls asleep, and I scan the car for a hint of Dad and Baby. I don’t see them, and I’m pretty sure that Baby would be wailing by now. He’d be hungry for his Gerber prune puree. Which he definitely won’t be getting anytime soon. The guns are the worst part. If it weren’t for those, this could just be a misguided, under informed attempt at evacuating the unsafe zone.

We hunch to a stop and everyone lurches and skids to the front of the truck, and with supreme satisfaction, I watch the yellow woman go under the tide, flailing to stay upright. We must be at a stoplight, because we roll forward again, and everyone jerks back. Yellow woman pulls the gun off her lap and points it at the front line of people. She doesn’t get jostled again.

When we finally come to a stop, Mom is awake and sitting up. Her cut looks awful, and there is a crazy, drugged sheen to her eyes. But she pulls herself up on the side of the trailer and gives the yellow people such an acidic glare that I’m surprised they don’t melt away into bad memories. Linda is a strong believer in the negative power of corporate government, and this experience will probably lead her to write that five hundred page essay on anarchy that she has always wanted to write.

The door opens onto misty daylight. It seems dim in comparison to the bitter florescent light that has been eating away my corneas all night. Yellow lady yells at us to get out. She has pulled off her mask and I see her face for the first time. It is a tight face, cold and white with a frizzy cloud of blonde framing her deeply brown eyes. I bet she chose this job just for the power thrill of it. I steady Linda and think about running. We can’t. Linda can barely walk, let alone make another sprint towards freedom. And the guns are a factor now. I wish we’d been able to find Dad and Baby.

We walk down the ramp, and I study all the people. It’s a disturbing thing, like a random point in time in a subway car got translated into an alien abduction. There is an older, corpulent lady gripping a pocketbook and tugging at a cat pin attached to the chest of her sweater. There is an teen girl looking as outraged as I feel in her ripped red stockings, combat boots, and hoodie. She is guiding another girl, this one with milky eyes, brown cropped hair and a long white cane. There is a bald man with a black scarf and glasses, and a boy who is shivering in his Spiderman T-shirt and athletic shorts. A girl who is probably my age is twirling a curl around an index finder like her life depends on it, and holding closed lapels of her jacket with the other hand. Mom is watching them too, and she stumbles a bit going down the ramp. A man behind us grabs her arm and helps her down, and I smile, appreciating that not every person in this place is completely self-absorbed.

We are standing in front of an official looking building with tinted windows and bullet-proof glass. It is probably eight or nine stories high, and has a barbed wire fence surrounding it. I shouldn’t be surprised. I really shouldn’t be. I think we are someplace urban- in the misty distance I see high-rise buildings and hear the bleating echo of car horns. The gate we came through is closed, and there are six other trucks opening with stunned people pouring out. I look for Dad and Baby, but it’s a losing battle. The rain has stopped, and the sky is left empty and grey.

We are formed into a solid plume, and official people start to stream out of the building. They aren’t dressed that differently from us, but the way they hold themselves is infinitely differentiating. I copy that stance- back straight, face blankly impersonal, averting myself from any human emotion. We are at the head of the line, and so the officials meet us first. It is a skinny old man that appraises me, and I keep holding myself like I’m better than him. I feel Mom’s hand rest on my shoulder, and I glance up. She is doing the same thing, except with a good deal more malice. The dried blood on her face and the drugged look adds something that I can’t replicate.

A woman steps out of the building walking like she is the empress of the universe. She looks Asian with her slanted eyes and dark hair pulled into a thick bun at the nape of her neck. She is carrying an ancient microphone, and lifts it to her lips as soon as she reaches the head of the line. Silence falls, and that is the moment I realize that there had been noise before. She savors the nervous expectation for a moment, and then speaks, her voice stronger than tempered steel even through the wavery amplifier. “I am sorry for all of this. I would like to formally apologize for what you’ve been through in the last ten hours, and the lack of explanation that you’ve received. Much of America is feeling for you right now, shocked by the accident that occurred last night. Lives were lost in numbers unheard of since 9/11.” Noise shot through the crowd, a stumbled murmuring. “Let me clarify- this was not a terrorist attack. It was an egregious accident involving a truck carrying several thousand gallons of crude oil, and a tractor trailer transporting children’s chemistry sets. There are scientists at this moment trying to explain the abnormally aggressive behavior of the fire, and we ask that you cooperate with us until further analysis is completed. We are afraid that there was a massive output of toxic matter, and many of you were exposed. We don’t know how dangerous these chemicals are, and the government wishes that you remain in isolation until we can pinpoint the toxins, make sure you are healthy, and not a danger to your loved ones.” She lowers the microphone, waiting a few seconds for a horrified susurrus to make it all the way around the crowd and grow into panic. Satisfied, she raises the bullhorn again. “Please remain calm. If you help us, we will be able to help you. There is nothing to be afraid of.” Mom’s hand on my shoulder clamps down like a vice. “We strongly recommend that you listen to our trained professionals- they will be moving through the crowd and giving you directions. If they tell your family to separate, it will only be for a short time, and in your family’s best interest. Thank you for your cooperation and we will try to make this a less painful experience from now on.”

She clicks the electronic off and turns on her heel, marching across the lawn and back into the building.

“That was utter bull-.” Mom mutters next to me, just as one of the ‘trained professionals’ starts speaking to the nearest group of us. He speaks big and smiley.

“Please, children under eighteen this way, over eighteen into the building.” Obediently, people step apart, children towards one corner of the courtyard, adults towards the institutional doors. Mom and I both glance down at the holster attached to this man’s hip.. Mom whispers in my ear again, quickly, before he gets to us:

“Aislynn, run as soon as you can. I’ll be fine. Just get out.” I nod even though that is the last thing I want to do. And then the smiley man is in front of us, ushering me one way, and Mom the other. She bends and hugs me so tight for one second that I think I’m going to break- either physically or mentally. “I love you, Ai.” She tells me, and doesn’t let go until the man coughs and makes a threatening motion. Then we step apart.

“We need somebody to take this baby!” And a moment later I find myself holding Baby and I’m being ushered towards a card table set up next to one of the empty trailers. Behind it sits a younger, heavy woman wearing too much mascara. She doesn’t look like a desk receptionist, though- again, she holds herself like we are supposed to know that she is important. I copy her, or at least try to- it’s a lot harder to do when holding a screaming almost-toddler.

The lady can’t look me in the eye. She looks somewhere to the left of my head, and addresses me coldly.

“Age? Of both you and the baby?” She pulls two documents from a stack, and starts filling them out before I can answer. I do anyways, in a lofty, formal voice.

“I am thirteen years of age, and this child is eighteen months.” I could suck up to her, but have too much pride. She meets my eyes for a moment, and then glances back over my shoulder. I keep acting superior. I probably am.

“Names? Relation to each other?” I tell her that he is my little brother, which gives me a moment to consider the names. How fast will fake names be discovered? She can’t ask us for social security numbers, I’m thirteen. I memorized it two years ago, but she can’t expect that.

“He is Robert L. Hetman, and I’m Lea M. Hetman. Do you need to know the full middle names?” I have to repeat myself twice, yelling over Baby. She shakes her head no, and I’m thinking that we got off awfully easy. She asks me more, and I make up answers as fast as I can.

“Birthdays? Height and weight? Place of birth? Names of parents? U.S citizenship?” She’s yelling too, and I try to do that soothing baby jostle that all mothers seem to know instinctively. He wails louder. A line of kids is forming behind me, and I want to tell them to make up the information. The woman takes a picture of me with a webcam. When she’s done with us, she tells us to get into the trailer she’s sitting next to. Baby is just whimpering now, and I know how badly he needs a diaper change and baby food. I ask one of the guards where I can get those things, and he ignores me. I ask one of the women, and she ignores me too. I go back to the desk lady and tell her that I’m not getting in the truck until the baby stops crying. She looks angry for a second, and then rolls her eyes. She uses her pager to call someone in the building, and they come out with period pads and a Tupperware full of mushy, overcooked green beans. I open my mouth to complain, but then think better of it.

I change Baby in a corner of the trailer, and give the saturated washable diaper to someone, because they haven’t even put trashcans out here. The pads are not a particularly sustainable solution, but he seems happier, and the sobs turn into gentle hiccups. I wonder how this will affect his long-term psyche.

Kids from the ages of Baby to eighteen stumble into the trailer after me, looking like they’ve been awake for a solid thirty hours, which they probably have been. They sink to the floor, and keep a shocked, glum silence. The girl with the curly hair sinks down the wall next to me, a ghost etched in her eyes. I can’t stand this silence. I touch her shoulder and say:

“It’s going to be ok. We’ll get out of here.” She doesn’t say anything, probably doesn’t believe me, or maybe didn’t hear me. She stays like that for a few seconds and then whispers:

“Can I use your shoulder as a pillow?” I say yes, and she collapses on me, asleep within moments.

© Copyright 2018 Tania Darkling. All rights reserved.

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