– I wrote this on a whim over the course of a few days in fall of 2010. It was more fun than anything and a departure from my normal style and subject matter when it comes to my writing…and it is not edited that much at all. Let me know what you think if you feel like it-
Hard Road North
By Michael Melville
Some people are under the belief that life cannot get any worse. That in those times in ones life when you hit the bottom that there is only one-way to go, and that is up. Those people are naïve though quite often. Things can always get worse and for Jake Hughes they had gotten much worse, even more than his “glass is half empty” mind ever thought they could. As he sat on a lonely stretch of beach on the Lake Michigan shoreline, he finally realized things had gotten worse especially for what he was used to and had been through in his 34 years. He reached over and petted his two dogs “Charlie” and “Bear”. Charlie was a Great Dane, Bear was a Mastiff, and now they were all he had left in the whole world. Moreover, Jake was all they had left in there world. There lives were at a turning point, jake was still trying to decide where to go, and how to leave Michigan and the pain and loss that was here behind.
The last 5 months had been a disaster and not just for Jake but for the entire United States and most of the world along with it. Despite all the long held beliefs that humans would destroy the world with war and pollution, the earth and nature nearly took out the humans instead. Some called it an act of god and others said it was a natural event of nature predicted long before modern man. Whatever caused it and for whatever reasons, the human population of the world had been decimated. In reality, it was not just one single event that nearly wiped out the human race. but a consistent string of deadly events. Governments, nations and cites around the world fell like a house of cards. This left the peoples of the world to fight, live and die in various means and ways. Fear, death, social chaos and disease began to creep into peoples lives all over the world.
It started with a solar flare larger than what had ever been recorded which destroyed satellites in space and wreaked havoc on the power grids of the world. Cell phones were mostly useless and people panicked at the loss of communication and electricity. No one is quite sure how, why or even if the flare somehow caused the earthquakes, but they came very soon after and frequently all over the world. They happened in places where they normally do and in places that had never had them before. People in cites, towns and villages around the world still without power from the flare were caught off guard when the quakes happened. Small towns in Wisconsin and the northern Midwest had been obliterated when a 7.9 earthquake roared through the area and a wholly unprepared population. Places such as Los Angeles and San Francisco that were relatively used too and more prepared for quakes, a 9.1 and 9.9 just days apart leveled these cities and the area. Apartments, houses, office buildings and schools crumbled down on the people that had taken refuge in them in the dark. In the span of 2 weeks, six volcanoes went off around the globe sending fire, ash and death into the air. In the United States Mt. Rainer near Seattle Washington blasted back to life in a violent way after several large preceding earthquakes that measured 6.1 to 8.5 in magnitude. When the eruption happened, people had not even begun to recover from the earthquakes and coastal flooding. Seattle and the surrounding areas were left destroyed and countless people were dead.
Giant Tsunamis and floods ravaged the coasts of the world on every continent, rivers flooded due to broken damns and some communities disappeared entirely under water. Governments tried to help each other and the people, but too many things happened too quickly and control failed to happen. Soon panic and looting became widespread even in the quietest towns and villages around the world. The power never came back on except in a few places and eventually even those went black again. Without electricity, factories closed, semi trucks and trains stopped moving and clean running water became a thing of memory. Food became scarce and human civility, decency nearly ended as the hoarding began…, and that was just in the first 2 months.
Eventually and scarily quickly, diseases popped up and ran rampant, things like the common cold killed people of all ages and races. Various types of the flu and other diseases broke out all over the world. Moreover, with out electricity to make mass quantities of drugs people died quickly and sometimes violently unless they were able to find some from before the flare. Fresh water, medicine and gas replaced dollars and coins as currency after most governments ceased to exist. In addition, those with guns and the willingness to use them had the edge in the new world for good or bad. In certain bigger cites around the globe typical street gangs became warlords and offered death, safety or both for those that would bow down to them or refused too.
No matter your situation, where you were from and how you lived before the flare; the world was now a different place, a different planet and a completely new society. To survive meant you had to protect yourself and your family by any means necessary. Moreover, staying in one place too long could get you killed. People went crazy with the loss of there husbands, wives, parents and children. Families were destroyed, wiped out and utterly shred to pieces.
Jakes own mother Beth, had died in the tsunamis and flooding on the Florida coast. His father Pete thankfully had passed away over a year ago at 63 of a heart attack. His sister Anna and his 8-year-old niece belle on the other hand were missing. Despite his vast efforts to find them Jake could not, his only hope was that they got away and were safe somewhere if that was even possible anymore. He silently hoped that someday he would see them again. In addition, behind Jake only ten feet away was another bleak reminder of the loss of family and the cause of even more of his own personal pain.
In the ground was a simple cross and a handmade sign around it which said, “Love hard, love forever, love always, -Marie S 1973-2011”…it was the grave of his fiancée Marie. Jake and Marie had been together for nearly 3 years. As fate would have it, Jake actually had the nerve to ask Marie to marry him…4 days before the flare. Marie was 5 years older than he was and had two kids of her own. Her 14-year-old daughter Becca who had a already weakened immune system before the flare, caught the flue when the diseases broke out and despite there efforts to find medicine they could not be located in time. Jake and Marie knew eventually it would happen and becca passed away peacefully in her sleep at there old safe house in the country outside of Grand Rapids nearly 2 months after the “flare”. Her oldest son Brandon who was 20 years old had been with them from the start. Brandon though had gone missing nearly 3 weeks ago while looking for supplies and it devastated Marie. She refused to eat, could not sleep and sat vigilant and silent at the window in there newest safe house on the lakeshore waiting for him. Jake spent days trying to find Brandon with at least one of the dogs with him at all times and blamed himself for allowing Brandon to go alone. Marie drank a little water but not enough and still refused to eat anything. Jake did all he could to try to make her smile or laugh and nothing worked, she began shutting down to him in almost everyway.
Jake had tried to get Marie to eat something, anything and at one point tried forcing her to eat and she broke his nose for it. Without eating and with lack of sleep due to her grief her body began shutting down, she caught some sort of bug and passed away in jakes arms 3 days before on September 28 2011. As Jake dug her grave overlooking Lake Michigan a light rain began coming down and there two dogs crouched silently on the ground until he was finished. The next afternoon he kissed her one last time then slowly and gently placed her body into the grave, covered her with dirt and wild flowers. He then sat and silently sobbed as his two dogs laid there large heads in his lap and cried with him.
As the weeks went on after the flare and all the other natural disasters, some supplies became easier to get. The dead had no use for food, water, guns, gasoline or anything else that might be useful to those still left alive. It was not unusual to see gunfights or fistfights break out over items that at one point would have been considered “forgettable” items such as canned food and cool-aid. Some people became crazy and insanely violent towards anyone strange. Although some people maintained there humanity, they were understandably more suspicious and protective. Those with children that were surviving were willing to trade for things there families needed but were cautious when doing so. As the weeks and months went on though, people, the living ones at least became fewer and harder to come by. All over the world, humans became knowledgeable on the ways to survive, scavenge and sometimes fight and kill for what they needed to live.
Jake was no different in many ways. His life before Marie had been what some would consider a violent one. He spent years as a bounty hunter and gunrunner among other things. He was an avid outdoorsmen and hunter and knew how to take care of himself in the woods. In the world after the “flare” as it was referred to by the living, the skills he learned came in handy. The world now was not too different from the woods and backcountry in the mountains of west where he spent several years. Marie was aware of portions of jakes past. However, she was horrified after she witnessed Jake cut a mans throat for the first time who tried to rob them while they were looking for food 3 weeks after the flare. She eventually had come to trust Jakes “abilities” and not question the decisions he made to keep them alive. Despite the world they were thrust into Jake never killed anyone purely for the sake of doing so.
For weeks and weeks, they discussed where to go after Becca passed away. At first, Jake had thought about going to the lakeshore near grand haven or Holland. However, they had heard that the south end of the lake was possibly polluted due to sewage and factory waste from the Chicago area. And Jake and Marie were worried the pollution would wrap south along the shore and come area near them. Therefore, they decided to head north for the time. They ended up at a secluded beach house on Lake Michigan near a place called Silver Lake. It was a place Jake had spent summers at when he was younger with his family. They had done there best when at all possible to stay out of bigger cites. Jake had once tried going into the metro area of Grand Rapids with Brandon and had been nearly killed both times. He learned his lesson and stayed in Southwesterly suburbs to scavenge for food and information. Eventually they stopped even going there as the area became infected with disease and the smell of death was always in the air. This was when they relocated to silver lake.
They had decided to try going on as far north as they could and possibly to Canada if they were able to get there. Jakes thinking behind this was that if they could get farther north the temperatures would be cooler and diseases would be less likely to happen. Moreover, because the population got less dense the farther north you went even before the flare. In jakes mind “the less people, the less problems” or so he had hoped. He and Brandon spent weeks searching for food and other supplies after they reached silver lake and trying to figure out the best route north. There were many conversations about whether to drive or take a boat up the coast as far as the Traverse City area and maybe even farther. Each way had there benefits but in the end he decided they would drive as far as the traverse city and Petoskey area and then go from there. One thing he still was not sure about was whether the mackinaw bridge was still there or even passable any more. In his mind Jake partially assumed they would have to take a boat across, he did not think finding one would be a problem but gas could be. However, all this was planned when Marie and Brandon were still alive.
After burying Marie, Jake and his two dogs took a slow walk on the secluded beach. Then as dark was nearing, he and the dogs went inside the house after setting the alarms outside he had made to alert them to intruders in the area. However, his best protection this far outside of his willingness to use a gun was his two dogs. Charlie and Bear could hear and see things Jake wasn’t not able too. In addition, they had saved his life along with Marie and her kids lives multiple times. They also let him know what water was clean and dirty since they could smell it better. He thanked his dogs with belly rubs, lots of attention and kept them well fed. Unless told otherwise the two giant dogs never let Jake out of there site, the three had developed there own sort of communication. As he laid there in bed on the third floor, surround by his two dogs and several guns he wondered what to do now. Sadness crept in around him and as he rubbed the two dog’s heads, he heard thunder in the distance. Fall was on its way and eventually winter so whatever we was going to do he had to decide soon. His gut had been telling him there were other reasons to leave Michigan and not just emotional ones.
When Jake woke up later the next morning it was still raining and windy. He normally enjoyed the rain but had found the rain made it hard to hear noises of possible intruders in the post flare world that. He made some coffee and breakfast of pancakes and venison for protein. Jake had learned that if he ate a big breakfast he could go with not eating the rest of the day. He mixed venison in with the dog food and poured it into two large plastic bowls. After eating, he went and checked all the windows. Then he left the dogs insides and crawled up onto the roof since the rain had let up for awhile. He glassed the area with binoculars for an hour while he had a few cigarettes and finished his coffee. It was one of the few things in world left Jake could still enjoy. As he sat on the roof and looked out over the lake and the tree line he missed Marie. They would do this together almost everyday since they got to this house, it was there quite time. In addition, this is where Marie would pray, she had grown up religious and the “flare” had brought bits of her faith back. After Brandon went missing, she stopped praying again. As Jake sipped his coffee, a tear rolled down his cheek. A large old lighthouse was a few hundred yards away and stood high above the sand dunes and trees, the old family memories made him smile. As he looked over the lake, he saw a boat out in the distance heading north it was a large yacht type boat; it had to be over 40 feet in length easily Jake thought silently. As he watched the boat and the wake it was making he wondered where it came from, who was on it, and where they got the gas for it at. He had heard that pirating had broken out on the great lakes and occasionally groups of raiders would come onto land and rob, kill, steal and occasionally rape. He was not worried about this boat though they were too far off shore and could not see him; or at least he assumed. He watched the boat until it was miles north then crawled back down into the house.
He spent the rest of the day getting ready to leave and making sure his supplies were ready. A few weeks prior he had went on a scouting trip up north and had gathered some supplies along the way and hid them in an old barn just south of traverse city where no one would find them. The military, police and National Guard were non-existent now with out people to lead them. He had heard that in some places of the country former military leaders had taken control and created “safe” zones. Jake wanted no part of them or there military states and had heard other rumors also about these places and led him to believe they were not safe at all. He always believed they would be better off on there own and even though it was now just him and his dogs he still thought that was best.
The house where they had been staying had a large pole barn behind it and that is where they stored there vehicles and many other supplies. Jake also kept the large portion of his guns and ammo in there. It was locked, secured, there was only one way in, and that was underground. After Jake and the dogs got inside the barn, he got prepared to leave later that evening. Jake preferred to travel at night and with the assistance of night vision goggles and only used lights when he had to. It was better to not be seen as much as possible. The vehicle he was driving north with was his newer Chevy Silverado pickup, it had four wheel drive a brush guard and an insane amount of added on lights. He had enough food and water for him and the dogs to last for a few weeks, not that he would have to worry too much about water around this area. He also had ten 14-gallon gas tanks for the truck and some to barter with. Jake also had more ammo and guns than what was most likely needed but better safe than sorry he thought. He had shotguns, handguns, rifles and military grade weapons. He knew at some point some of it would have to be ditched though but not anytime soon, he hoped.
He decided to drive north. The biggest reason for not taking a boat was having to find another reliable vehicle and the resupply all over again. Once he got traverse city he would revisit the boat idea from there.
After carrying several loads of supplies and a few personal items from the house he locked the barn up and went and took a nap. The rain had begun again and he wanted to get some sleep. If it was raining when he left he would have to use lights and would have to stay alert. He pulled the two handguns from there holsters on his side and laid in the bed, the two dogs joining him.
A few hours later Jake up and was surrounded by darkness and two growling dogs. He shot up out of bed and crouched on the floor. The rain had stopped and the moon was out and the dogs were starring out the window. He instantly regretted not leaving sooner in the day. He knew eventually someone might come this way looking for something but he hoped not until after he left. He patted the dogs heads to calm them down and looked out the window and saw two flashlights bobbing down the road towards him. He put on his night vision goggles and turned the power on. He grabbed his two handguns and put silencers on them grabbed a rifle and slowly walked down the stairs followed by Charlie and bear. Once into the kithchen he could see the figures of two men coming near the house as he looked through the window. He watched one head towards the pole barn then headed out the back door silently and staying in the shadows. Charlie and bear remained next to Jake and moved silently along with him. It was just him and the dogs now and Jake new it had to play this whole thing for keeps but by his own rules now. He had to survive and that meant he had to kill. The man near the pole barn did not appear to have a weapon and Jake could see the flashlight of the other man near the front of the house. As far as he knew there were only two men an no more than that. The dogs would not kill unless Jake told them to from what he has seen so far so he unleashed the dogs on the man near the barn.
The two large dogs shot off silently in the darkness across the yard and could see there target in front of them. Jake stood against the house and watched as the two dogs came out of nowhere and tackled the man to ground. The stranger began screaming for help form someone named “Dan” as he was getting bit and mauled by the dogs. Jake ran towards the dogs and called them off and then stuck sock in the mans mouth and tied his hands and knelt down on the mans back. He was bleeding but would live if Jake decided to let him live. Jake put a gun the back of the mans head and quietly said “if you move ill let the dogs finish the job”, the man nodded in compliance. A few seconds later Jake and the dogs were hidden next to the barn when the other man named Dan found his friend lying on the ground. “Dan” set his shotgun down and it was then that Jake fired a round grazing the mans calf on purpose and then yelling fetch. Charlie shot forward in the dark and grabbed the man shot gun and brought it back to Jake. With one mad tied up and the other man grabbing his leg in pain Jake walked out from the dark and shadows and pointed an over powering spotlight on the men lying on the ground and blinding them. Charlie and bear were standing a few feet from the man growling and teeth bore.
“You shot me you son of a bitch” the man named dad yelled to Jake.
“I could have killed you and your friend when you were down the road or let my dogs kill you both so don’t complain.” Jake said then adding, “What do you want”
“What do you think we want dumb ass, food and shit” the man said looking at his young friend who was laying silently on the ground then adding “your damn dogs bit my brother, I’m gunna kill your damn dogs Mr. and then I’m going to eat them how do you like that asshole. I love me some fresh dog meat”
“Oh yeah sure you are, says the guy shot in the leg. And your brother will be fine” Jake said coolly.
“We got friends stranger and there gunna come look for us and when they do their gunna kill you and your dogs,” the man named Dan said.
“Yeah well maybe you do but guess what buddy” jakes asked.
“what” the man said shaking eyes he looked in jakes eyes.
“there just gunna find your brother and they aren’t gunna kill me or my dogs” Jake said as he raised his silenced desert eagle up and calmly pressed the trigger twice. He sent two bullets into the mans head, killing him and causing the dead mans brother to start writhing on the ground. Jake walked over bent down and said, “The house is yours” then brought the butt of the rifle down onto the mans head knocking him unconscious.
Jake ran inside the house with the dogs and grabbed the few remaining things from inside. Then he headed back out to the barn, went inside, started the truck, and opened the barn door. His two dogs sat in the back seat and Jake pulled the truck out slowly. A few minutes later, he was going down the dirt road away from the house, his two handguns on seat next to him. He was driving black, wearing night vision goggles so he could see with no lights. After going around some curves, he saw four men walking down the road with guns who did not see him coming. Two men jumped in front of the truck to try to get him to slow down but Jake sped up and ran one man over and killing him. Behind him, Jake he could hear a few guns shots but jakes black truck was lost in the darkness as he sped down the road. As he drove away from the house and all the memories that he was leaving behind he felt alone again. Bear crawled into the front seat and laid down resting his head on jakes lap he drove, and Charlie was staring out the window into the black night. They went north to Ludington then headed east until they met up with a road called m37. After going through the seemingly deserted Ludington Jake decided to turn the headlights on as well as the kc lights on the roof for a little while. Jake had driven this road many times heading up to Traverse City and new it well. He also had supplies stashed farther north off this road. He pushed play on the trucks CD player and rolled the windows down and drove listening to jimmy Hendrix. He lit a cigarette and patted bears furry head, glanced down at the pistol on his left leg and smiled as he drove north.