I buried my son at 8:30 in the morning.
It was still a little cool out on the lake, but I didn’t bother with a jacket. Minion and I sat on the forward deck of the boat long after the bubbles stopped and just stared at the water.
I’ll admit that I considered following him in. It sounded so simple. Just slip off the boat and sink. But Minion had whined just then, shoving his face under my arm. It was like he was trying to remind me that he was still there. And I still had to go get Hannah. I really had no idea what we’d do once I got to her. I hoped that by then we have a better idea of what had caused the deaths and of the scale of the loss.
I spent the rest of the morning making phone calls and trying to find more information online. I started with Kevin’s girlfriend, a sophomore named Ashley Ryan. I didn’t exactly leap for joy when she answered her phone, because I knew I was going to break her heart, but I was almost excited to make contact with another person. She was as upset about Kevin as I was — they had been dating for a year now and had been talking about the future. She and an older cousin were both safe, staying at the cousin’s house south of town. I let her know that I’d be heading to Philadelphia in a day or so to go get Hannah but that I was thinking about coming back to Jasper after that.
I tried Karen, Sarah, and Taylor again, and this time I was able to leave voicemails with all three of them. Then I tried my older sister Cece and my younger brother Gabe, reaching their voicemails as well. Cece was in the Miami area, where she’d been working for one of the cruise lines for about ten years. Gabe lived in Montana with his college sweetheart, running a dude ranch that doubled as a foster home. At one point, they’d had a dozen foster kids living with them, and I envied their love and passion for those kids.
I was not as concerned about missing Gabe as I was with Cece. Cell coverage on Gabe and Natalie’s ranch was spotty at best, and they had access to several thousand acres beyond their hundred. If they were out in the wilderness, it might be days before I heard back from him or Nat. I called the landline for the ranch and left a message there though, just to cover my bases. Sent them an email, too.
Cece was more troubling. She was a troubleshooter for the cruise line, so she was always on her phone. Really. She had half a dozen Bluetooth earpieces because she always had one on and could never keep them charged. Even if she was busy, she’d pass on my call with a text message, then call me back within fifteen minutes, tops. I sent her an email as well.
I took some time to work through Facebook again. Things weren’t much clearer than they had been yesterday. As far as I could tell, there were a couple of dozen survivors in the Jasper area. Nobody had any real idea what was going on, but there was lots of speculation, most of it pretty far-fetched, from aliens to a government conspiracy. More than a couple of people were joking about Thanos being real, or that now we were living in what would’ve happened after the last Avengers movie. The most common hashtags I was seeing were ThanosIsReal, and ThanosWasHere. I shook my head at the outlandishness of the idea but then I wondered if it was really that crazy. Nobody really seemed to have a better idea at this point.
Minion and I had lunch, then I set about inventorying my camping gear. I wasn’t really sure what kind of conditions I was going to find on my way to Philly, so I was going to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Kevin and Taylor and I would occasionally go camping around the lake or in one of the parks nearby so I had a decent-sized tent along with two good sleeping bags. What I didn’t have was the extra stuff that I’d need in a survival situation. We never really roughed it on any of our camping trips. The campgrounds always had grills and running water, and we’d just use a big cooler for food storage. I had one big cast-iron skillet and a Dutch oven, but I didn’t have water storage or a portable stove or anything like that. I didn’t even own a decent backpack because we’d just use plastic storage crates for our clothes.
I sighed and started making a list on my phone. I’d gotten as far as “duffle bag” when I realized what else I was going to have to do: steal a truck. There was no way my old Subaru or Kevin’s ragged Toyota would make it all the way to Philadelphia. I had doubts that Kevin’s car would make it to Houston. My car did okay for what I needed it to do, which wasn’t a whole lot. I could get to Beaumont or Houston or Shreveport well enough, but it would usually cost me a quart of oil each direction. I shook my head. Things were getting stranger by the minute.
There was another question bouncing around my skull as I considered what I need to pick up for my trip up to Philadelphia. What were we going to do after I got there? It was a sure bet we’d need to leave the city. I figured that with a couple of million people in the greater Philadelphia Metro area this…thing that had happened had left well over a million and a half corpses. There was no way that the survivors would be able to deal with that many dead bodies. Disease was going to run rampant very quickly, and I bet that was going to kill off a lot of the people who were staying in the city.
Hannah and I could come back to Jasper, but I wasn’t sure survival here would be all that much better. East Texas was a big lumber producer, and the farms in the area focused mainly on livestock. We might be able to scratch out a garden plot that would keep us going, and I could probably keep a cow or two on the land I had. But Jasper was kind of in the middle of nowhere. It was an hour to Beaumont, two hours to Houston, and two hours to Shreveport. There wasn’t much to do in a small town in East Texas, especially one that was getting smaller every year.
I also had to consider the weather, specifically hurricanes. Jasper was close enough to the coast that anything moving west on the Gulf tended to hammer us pretty good. The city had taken a lot of damage from Hurricane Rita in 2005, enough that people still talked about it, especially the ones who’d gone without power and water for several weeks.
I couldn’t see a good reason to come back here. But I didn’t know where we could go.