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Dystopian, Science Fiction
Clay started his day as normal, on the wide river in the fascinating city of New Orleans. By the time the owner of the paddle wheeler, Annie Belle, had returned the morning tour passengers to shore, it was apparent that something was very wrong. What disaster could have caused such chaos on the shore? His instinct sends him right back to the safety of the river he loves.
The captain’s long time friend and assistant, Louis, leaves on a desperate mission to gather his wife and son, with a promise to catch the big paddle wheeler up river. Clay’s newest crew member, the tour hostess, Angel and her small daughter have no option but to remain onboard.
In the days after, as the new and changed world is revealed, the four new friends and the two children will travel a perilous journey. Up two mighty rivers and nearly a thousand miles, they will work together to reach the haven of Clay’s brother’s farm. Will the river defeat them or be their savior?
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Muddy colored sheets of water spilled over, frothed into a creamy foam where the blades dipped into the churning current. The paddle wheel pushed the two-level boat along the big river. William Clay Allen, the owner and operator, guided the vessel with both hands on the polished wooden ship’s wheel, he smoothly navigated the waterway that he was so familiar with. Clay did not wear the suit of a captain; he wore his denim jeans, a long sleeve navy blue T-shirt and canvas boat shoes. His dark blue cap snugged down on a head of thick black hair and was lettered Annie Belle, the cap shaded a face that was pleasantly weathered and tanned. Dark brown eyes were hidden behind aviator style sunglasses and watched cautiously as the shoreline approached.
Graceful blue letters repeated the name Annie Belle on the sides of the long boat that was freshly painted white. Below the name, was New Orleans, La. This craft was not the huge commercial type that carried hundreds of visitors along the river for dining and touring, sometimes even over night excursions. This well-maintained riverboat never carried more than twenty five tourists, either on the three hour early trip that included a light brunch or the afternoon trip that offered sandwiches and snacks. The many windowed cabin area on the first deck was encircled with a walkway and rails. If you took the narrow stairs to the second level, you walked out onto a flat deck with a strong safety rail. The small wheel house, the control cabin, sat next to the stairway at the bow of the boat. A framework stretched from the boat’s bridge to the aft and a heavy canvas top could be rolled out to cover it. Mounted at the opposite end of the deck was a viewing scope that allowed observation of activity on and around the river. A long row of wooden benches, facing back to back, with ornate wrought iron backs and legs were bolted down in the center of the deck. Freshly painted black, they were not very comfortable but did give the passengers a place to sit and have a high perch view. The Annie Belle was not a fancy hulking cruise boat; it was Clay’s livelihood, his life and also his home.
For the last hour or so, as the morning tour came to an end and the boat glided back into the busier area along the river, Clay noticed that something was different. The day was bright and clear and the usual waterway traffic passed him by, on the land…what was it? It was very still, the heavy land traffic was not in motion. In the lulls between the noise of barges and tugs and towering freighters, he could hear occasional shouts and car horns that honked from the shore, but he saw no movement other than hazy figures that scurried around. He picked up the hand held walkie-talkie and spoke into it, “Louis, could you come up to the helm? Hey, bud, are you there…would you come forward please?”
The radio crackled and then a voice, “Gotcha’ boss. I’ll be up shortly.”
More and more folks stood upon the decks of the assorted boats that passed in both directions and looked out with curiosity at the shore. He was seeing some vessels that seemed to be stopped silent in the water. Clay maneuvered the paddle wheeler with skill, they would be at the long pier that allowed his passengers to disembark in about twenty minutes.
A short stocky man with cocoa colored skin, stepped into the small space that housed the ship’s wheel and controls and Clay. He wore jeans, a T-shirt and dark blue cap just like his friend and boss. “What’s up, you think? It looks like a power outage or something in the city. Weird thing though, I don’t see any vehicles moving.”
“Yeah-h,” said Clay. He took his sunglasses off and scanned the bright blue skies, “I don’t see any storm clouds. It’s clear as a bell today.” The sunglasses went back on, “Well, we will be at the dock shortly. Go ahead and help Angeline get the passengers off.”
“Okay, we will find out what’s happening when we get there, huh?” Louis smiled and moved towards the cabin area.
Elizabeth Angeline Babin Cook stood behind the bar and wiped vigorously at the polished top. Her auburn hair was piled up in a tousle of curls on her head, a circle of comb teeth secured the curls and made neat rows in her shiny tresses. Thick lashes covered her amber colored eyes as she looked down at the job she was intent on. Her slim figure looked pleasing in the same jeans as her boss and her co-worker and she wore the appropriate canvas boat shoes. No T-shirt however, a soft navy blue blouse was tucked neatly in her jeans. Gold hoops dangled from her ears, a small cross on a chain was at her neck, no wedding ring or any rings on her fingers and a Timex watch circled her wrist. Louis’s wide hand slapped the bar and made her jump.
“Angel, we are close to port. Let’s round ‘em up, girl.” Several of the morning tourists peered out the windows, and a few sat at tables and munched on cookies from a round tray of assorted sweets. A small girl with hair the beautiful color of her mother’s, popped up from a stool behind the bar. A tiny pair of glasses rested on her turned up nose, she removed them and laid them on top of the sketch pad where she had been engrossed in drawing.
“Louis!” she grabbed him around his knees.
He lifted the petite beauty and gave her a hug, “Hey there, Allie girl. How’s my baby today?”
Louis sat her down and announced in a smooth voice with just a touch of a cajun accent, “Okay, folks, we will soon be at the dock. Be sure to gather all of your belongings and prepare to disembark.”
Angel looked down at her daughter, “Put all your supplies in your backpack, honey. Do you need to make one last restroom visit?” The little girl skipped towards the bathroom on the opposite side of the cabin, her loose bright printed top flounced around. She didn’t like clothes that fit her body close; she would tolerate jeans with an elastic waist and she liked the slip-on canvas shoes.
The foghorn blared out as the Annie Belle slowly edged next to the long pier. The murky water lapped against the heavy pilings. The wooden pier would take the tourists all the way into their towering luxury hotel that had a view of the river from every room. The passengers looked around curiously, they noticed that something was not quite right, but they moved up the long pier towards the hotel. Louis and Angeline, now Clay stood and told them thanks for coming and have a nice day. It was just the normal thing, the routine. As the people walked away from the ship, they gazed around, questioning and confused.
Angel had been busy until they docked, she stood by the rail and scanned the shore. Now she noticed the chaos. No cars moved around and it was clear that many had slammed into others, steam and smoke spiraled up in dozens of places and she saw an actual fire or two that blazed. People ran in all directions, shouts and a few panicky screams could be heard rising above the sea of dead autos. She heard no sirens, where was the fire department…the police? Allie dashed out and tugged at her hand. Her daughter was only five but very precocious, “What is it, Mommy? Is there a bad car wreck?”
She pulled the little body up next to her. “Maybe,” she answered with a doubtful voice. She looked at Louis and over to Clay, the question in her eyes, “My god, what….”
Clay only hesitated for a moment, “Louis, I think we need to get back out into the bay, away from the shore.” He turned to move to the helm and Louis immediately turned to follow.
Angel said, “Hey, wait, we need to get home. We need to get off…” her voice trailed away as she looked back at the mass confusion on the shore and wondered, how would they get home to their tiny apartment.
Clay turned and said, “Angel, I don’t think that would be a good idea right now. Let’s get back out on the river and I can get you closer to home, by the waterway.” He hurried on towards the helm and Louis moved to pull up anchor and untie the moorings.
Angel stood in stunned silence until she felt the slight roll of the deck. She snapped to and led Allie into the cabin. What in the world could be happening? This was just crazy. She tried not to let her little girl see how frightened she was. Rather nonchalantly, Allie sat down on the carpeted floor, took off her backpack, pulled out her art pad and placed her glasses on her nose.
Clay eased the long vessel away from the land. He could not be one hundred percent certain, but he was not near as baffled as his pretty new bartender slash hostess about what might have happened. Angeline had just come to work on the boat a couple of weeks earlier. It was early and the season would get busier. He and Louis just could not do everything, especially the small hospitality and courtesy things that folks expected. She seemed to be smart and competent, not to mention nice to look at. He didn’t mind sweet Allie being on board, at all. If her mother didn’t have to pay child care, it made him feel not so guilty about her mother’s small paycheck,
The boat slipped ever so slowly along, he noticed no break or change in the havoc on the land. His mind recounted the many times his brother Daniel…old doomsday Dan, he called him…had lectured and raved about the various scenarios that would change the world or worse, end the world. Dan was absolutely sure that this below sea level, coastal city was not the place to be. He was sure that the ocean levels would rise and take out all the coastal cities in the world. Every apocalyptic event from the financial collapse of America to massive earthquakes filled the brother’s list of possible catastrophic happenings. Even though, Clay and Dan and their parents had always lived on or near the river in Louisiana, the paranoid brother had moved away from the Gulf Coast, about three years earlier.
A believer, a “Prepper”, Dan relocated to a small community in South Dakota that was very near the Missouri River. The Missouri flows right into the Mississippi River and Dan said, “When the S—hits-the-fan, you can navigate all the way to my place. That’s why I chose a place south of the locks and dams on both rivers.” A software developer, he worked from home, which was his several acre farm and built up his supplies and preparations for the doomsday event that he was confident would come. He never gave up and tried consistently to persuade Clay to leave the coast.
The expert hands barely moved the handles that extended from the wooden wheel. Just as Louis walked up beside him, he thought, Well, old Dan, I am afraid one of your nightmares has finally come true. The man didn’t say anything to his boss, just waited for him to speak.
Clay let his breath out in a long exhale and shook his head, “I think that crazy old Dan might have not been so crazy, my friend. Something way out of the norm has happened. When the vehicles go dead, it’s electrical…like the whole electric grid is down. Only certain things would affect the cars, anything computerized. It could have been natural, like a solar flare or it could have been man made, an EMP. It may have been deliberate, intended to do just what it did, knock out the electric grid, cripple the world.”
In amazement, Louis stared into the face of his friend, “You mean everywhere!”
“Maybe not everywhere, on the other hand, possibly not just America but the world. We won’t know for a while, something is very bad wrong. I do know that.” said Clay.
Louis took off his cap and slapped it on his leg. “I trust you, you know that. If this is possible, I have to get Penny and Jacob. I am going to take the dinghy and head back down river.”
Clay said, “It’s going to get more and more dangerous out there, Louis. You take plenty of fuel and get your wife and boy, catch back up with us. I will move as slow as I can and stop if I can, I will be watching for you.” They clasped hands in a tight shake. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a key to a padlock, “Take that .38 and ammo from the gun closet. You be careful and stay safe.”
“Clay, what about Angel and the girl?” said Louis.
“No way that I could put her on the shore, not until we see what the situation really is. She will have to stay on board for now,” he replied.
The friend smiled, “Good boy. You stay safe and I will see you upriver.”
About the Author:
J.Richardson was born in what she refers to as her beloved Texas. She has lived there all of her life and raised her family. Her children, grandchildren and one great-grandchild are scattered across the state. These days, she and her husband of 47 years, split their time between home and their summer cabin in Colorado.
Her first e-book was published this year. A life filled with rich experiences and small adventures has been the inspiration for her writing. Much of that experience derived from the partnership with her spouse in building four homes in four different locations, from scratch; from a log house in the woods of east Texas, to a lakehouse and a farmhouse, and finally, the cabin in Colorado. J. says that she is a fascinated observer of people and their endless diversity. She believes the internet is an amazing source of information and her favorite part of writing is the research.
A pen name claims ownership of her fiction writings because they are often close facsimiles of her friends and family. She admits, however, they are just as often, products of her imagination and characters she has known. The author’s favorite reads are mystery and humor, lately her passion and interest is in the fictional and real life details of prepping for disaster. She quotes, “I have strong political and patriotic views, but try to avoid them in my novels because anger is not my forte’. I always look forward to hearing from my readers.”
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