Beside the Mississippi Sea, Part 4

Jerry brings Steve up to speed about the country splitting up the Mississippi River, along with all the other disasters, both natural and man-made. Meanwhile, the Omega dust slowly ebbs. A monster rain storm took care of the dust. When the weather clears, it appears their challenges have not ended.

A photo by Conrad Ziebland.

Steve nodded. He got the reporter part. Still, this was no interview, and they were both witnesses. “We went outside to look at the bridge. You let me use your binoculars. As I looked the far bank suddenly moved. The New Madrid earthquakes came soon after.”

Jerry simply took up the narrative. “After the last quake, the bridge was in the water and didn’t look like it could have ever spanned the river. Since then, the center support collapsed, and the far bank is barely visible on a clear day. North America has split in two, following the Mississippi River through the Great Lakes, up to Hudson Bay.”

“You got all this off your radio. I knew you were listening to it a lot. My little rental house across the river isn’t coming back.”

“Your home is running away. It may be underwater if the other side looks like here. We’re near flood stage.”

They eventually decided the dust wasn’t getting any closer to them. Jerry went back to monitoring his radio, wearing earphones. He could use it quite a while before having to crank up the battery. On his part, Steve decided he might as well jot down what he knew of the situation. There was plenty of paper for the task. Jerry informed him that in the old days, people would even use the same paper a second time, writing crosswise. Steve figured his fingers would fall off before that happened, but he kept that opinion to himself.

Most of the current problems began the same time he went to work for the paper. Disasters were suddenly coming one right after the other, sometimes going two or three at a time. There were earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods, and droughts. Even so, the man-made ones were the worst, even without the Omega bug. There were limited nuclear wars, civil wars, economic depression, and terrorist attacks among everything else. It included a nuclear device under Times Square last New Year’s Eve. So humanity was up against a tag team composed of his planet and those self-styled human creatures who had a community death wish.

It got to where everyone was sitting on the curb with a tin cup, waiting for the cosmos to come through with a positive outcome.  An answer to that cry for help came when the sun cut loose with a massive and long-lived series of solar flares, disabling a large number of satellites. Communications and navigation networks fried. The flares impacted Earth too, knocking out many electric distribution grids. Nobody would repair or replace them anytime soon, either orbital or terrestrial.

Maybe there was a bit of a rainbow after the flares. It only gave a morale boost to those still able to appreciate such things. Magnificent auroras were visible further south than anybody could recall. Also, Burlington continued to get electric power some of the time. Well, it had until earlier that day.

Steve made notes about each disaster, mentioning inadequate and wrong-headed government responses. Jerry reviewed what Steve had, and told him to create a page for each catastrophe. That way, he could add pages to a section as needed. Steve saw the point even if he couldn’t see the possibility. The writing went slowly, but there was no visible deadline. Steve had the unique luxury of being able to consider his word choice. It wasn’t as though there was a positive spin to any part of the story.

Each day, they estimated the dust dropped about a foot. After ten days, the next floor down appeared to be clear. At the same time, neither man was in any hurry to check it out. Jerry agreed with Steve’s estimate that it might be a couple of months before they dared to leave the grain elevator. Their water supply now became a larger concern than the rations.

An answer to their concern about water came the following day with a monster rain storm. There was something eerie about it. There was no lightning and almost no wind. At the same time, the rain fell in buckets. It was not like any storm either of them had ever seen. On top of it, the rain just kept on coming. They thought about drinking it, but couldn’t decide if the rain had the dust in it. They didn’t test it. The darkened sky made it nearly impossible for Steve to work, and he was no longer inclined to write in any case. At the same time, as Steve looked out the windows, it appeared the rain was doing one thing well. It was removing the dust.

There was little difference between day and night, but Steve counted fifteen periods of darkness before the steady drumming rain finally began to abate. Eventually, skies began to lighten, and the deafening rainfall fell silent. The downpour became a mist and then stopped altogether. The clouds dissipated rapidly, and the sun shone down on a bright morning.

Jerry suddenly called him over to the side of the grain elevator facing the river. Jerry just pointed downward. Steve saw the river now lapped against the building’s base. The car they came in was completely submerged. The split in the country continued to grow as the Illinois side was barely visible on the horizon, even viewed at this height.