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First North American rights 2,900 words
The Eris War
Volume II: The Dragon from the Isles
Book 1: Independence Day
Chapter 9: Back Into Hell
Sure enough, an announcer was saying, his voice taut with barely-contained, adrenaline-charged excitement, “— scene at The Dalles, Oregon, on the eastern bank of the Columbia River, where a massive rescue operation is now being mounted to save hundreds of refugees there who are now attempting to cross over the Columbia to Oregon from the devastated state of Washington! Members of our news-reporting teams now in that area are now on-site to bring you the latest news from The Dalles and other cities along the banks of the Columbia River, as well as from Coeur d’Alene and other locations along the WashingtonIdaho border, where rescue efforts by local citizens as well as United States military units – augmented now by Canadian military and police – are working non-stop to save victims of the literally world-shaking events in Washington State beginning early this morning. We now turn you over to Ken Hunter, chief of operations for CNN-News in The Dalles. Ken?” “ Yes, Warren! – Ladies and gentlemen, this is Ken Hunter of CNN news, now broadcasting to you live from The Dalles, Oregon, where a tremendous rescue operation is now in place as thousands of local citizens together with local and state police and members of the Canadian and United States military are doing everything possible to help survivors of the catastrophic events that have taken place in neighboring Washington State early this morning make it across the Columbia River to safety in Oregon.” The POV jumped much closer to the river. In the foreground was Ken Hunter, a tall, angular black man in his mid-forties or so, dressed in a heavy leather bomber jacket, dark pants, and high-topped hiking boots, standing so that his left profile was to the camera. Rapidly shifting his gaze back and forth between
the camera and the chaotic scene down by the river bank, he said, “Since early this morning, right after the catastrophic eruptions of several major volcanoes in Washington State and the subsequent disaster that has demolished the entire western portion of that state, in spite of the fact that since then, the citizens of this area have been hard-hit by several strong earthquakes themselves, nearly every able-bodied citizen of The Dalles is out here by the river, many trying to cross it by whatever means possible, in order to help bring survivors of the Washington State disaster back across the Columbia River to safety in The Dalles. In addition, countless units of the National Guard, the United States Army, the Red Cross, Canadian military personnel, and many others have arrived here over the last two hours to aid in this effort. As refugees are brought to safety on this bank of the Columbia, they are immediately evacuated by ambulance, helicopter, Army personnel carriers, airplanes, even civilian transport selflessly donated by local citizens, whatever is available, to refugee centers now being set up near Oregon’s borders with Idaho and California as well as places even further removed from the devastated Washington State. “And it isn’t only humans that are the objects of these rescue efforts. As you will shortly see, numerous animals, both domestic and wild, some brought by loving owners and others fleeing from Washington State of their own initiative, are also benefiting from these efforts. Those engaged in this massive rescue operation don’t seem to differentiate much between human and non-human refugees in their efforts to save all that they can . . .” Now the scene shifted to a POV about 100 feet from the bank of the river. Here, if anything, it was even more chaotic than in the area where Hunter stood. The only way that one could tell rescuer from refugee, if any, was that in general the refugees were facing toward the near bank of the rescuers, while the rescuers, moving to help the refugees across, were facing the far bank. The exceptions included weeping men, women, and children, their faces and other visible parts of their bodies streaked with soot, ash, dirt, and blood, their clothing begrimed, often scorched, blood-streaked, or in tatters, sitting in Zodiacs and other rescue boats crewed by those involved in the rescue operation, staring back at the wild, tumbled devastation that was all that was left of what had been their towns, their cities, their homes and livelihoods (the grimly determined pilots of those boats, intent solely on reaching the eastern bank of the river with themselves and their living cargo intact, of course faced forward, away from their passengers, toward the hope of safety). Helicopters and even light planes could be seen landing and taking off again from the western bank of the river, airlifting refugees out as fast as possible. And, in many cases, rather than waiting for boats or aircraft to take them across, deciding to take their chances with the river, the people and animals crowding the river’s western bank simply dove in and started swimming with all their strength toward the other shore. The vast numbers of people involved in the operation somehow managed to keep themselves in a semblance of order, leaving broad lanes of open ground over which refugees could walk, limp, or be carried from the river to the area where Red Cross, military, and medical personnel triage teams were stationed. Other sections of the riverbank seemed to be reserved as launching stages for the many boats that were being used in the rescue efforts. Even so, it was hard to understand how those huge, surging throngs of people, waving, shouting, screaming orders at one another and encouragement to the refugees who wailed and cried for help, did not end up crushing some of their members to death. The riverbanks on both sides of the river boiled wildly with human beings and animals of all kinds as well as various types of rescue vehicles, reminding me a little of the scenes of Hell painted by Hieronymus Bosch – a resemblance made even stronger by the rumbling, shaking ground and enormous plumes of black smoke and belching fire some distance to the west. Every so often the surface of the river would rise up in a vast ripple moving up the Columbia, a sign of yet another aftershock, frequently spilling refugees and rescuers alike out of Zodiacs into the water, or swamping a bravely swimming man or woman or dog or cat or deer, pulling him or her or it under without a trace, never to reappear save, perhaps, as a water-logged corpse on one or another bank of the river far downstream. The rescuers were as motley a crew as those they were trying to save. Throngs of yellow-gowned Buddhist monks worked side-by-side with ministers in white shirts, dark pants, and backward collars, skullcapped men who looked as if they had been preparing to go to synagogue when the disaster hit, crews of men and women wearing the uniforms of local, state, and national police, rescue, and military units, ordinary citizens in a variety of dress and undress, even several dogs and a couple of horses that had been pressed into service to help pull people out of the water and get them to safety. Now Hunter was saying, “— even several busloads of convicts who were on their way to fight brushfires in Idaho, Oregon, and Eastern Washington but were reassigned here when it became evident that their efforts were needed here more.
“Ladies and gentlemen, in spite of all the horror that this morning has brought us all, I can’t help but find this one of the most exalting scenes I have ever seen in my life! Truly, this is America at its finest – the America of neighbors and friends, the America that has made a home for every ethnic group and culture in the world! Here on the banks of the Columbia, there are members of the congregation of one of the many Islamic mosques in this area, two Jewish synagogues, the members of the First Presbyterian Church and those of St. Michael’s Cathedral here in The Dalles, and countless ordinary citizens, all working together selflessly along with National Guard units, the Red Cross, police, fire, and rescue personnel, and many others to help those fleeing from the terrifying events that have taken place this morning in Washington State! They are aided in this by members of Canada’s National Guard and Army units, and I understand that National Guard units from many other states will soon arrive here by helicopter and airlift to help out. “Nor do those involved in this colossal rescue operation make any distinctions among those they are working so hard and well to save. As you can see, the refugees from Washington State include not only human beings of every description, but also, in many cases, beloved household pets and even wild animals of all kinds . . .” Now the scene shifted rapidly from section to section of the river. We watched men in skullcaps struggling to help a group of about a dozen people, including three small children, onto the shore from the Zodiac that had brought them across, then two Buddhist monks and someone who might have been a Roman Catholic priest tenderly lifting an old, old woman up out of another and, gently placing her on a stretcher lying on the ground at their feet, and beginning to carry her toward a waiting ambulance. Some teenagers of both sexes were motoring up and down the river in a Zodiac, picking up the occasional dog or cat or other small animal that had begun the heart-breaking effort of trying to swim the river, carrying the animals they had rescued to the eastern bank of the river, there turning them over to those standing by on the shore to be cared for, then going back for more. A man of about thirty had taken yet another Zodiac and, by himself, was crossing and re-crossing the Columbia to rescue one refugee after another, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or species, battling the roaring surges of water thrown up by the recurring aftershocks with an élan like that of a kid on a holiday from school. As we watched, he brought over two women, then went back again and picked up three little boys and brought them over. Then, once more heading for the river’s west bank, he picked up two soot-streaked cats, a mastiff with a gigantic, gaping wound on its left flank and three parallel gouges made by something sharp and jagged scoring its neck, and a weasel with its right foreleg dangling uselessly as he weaved his way back and forth over the river. Upon reaching the river’s western bank, he collected an old black man dressed in scorched, tattered clothing soaked with blood from wounds on his torso and thighs who had somehow made his way down to the edge of the river, where he had fallen to his knees, crying his heart out. Finally the intrepid Zodiac captain brought all of them, cats, dog, weasel, and man, safely back to the eastern bank, where Red Cross workers and a PAWS truck were waiting to collect his salvage. Throughout the trip, the four non-human beings he had rescued lay slumped on the floor of the Zodiac, so traumatized by their terror they barely moved at all. Like animals huddled by a river where they had taken refuge from a great forest-fire, or those coming to the last remaining waterhole in a time of all-consuming drought, they never made the slightest attempt to harm one another, nor did any of them ever try to leave the boat, their only thought to stay in what had proved to be a place of safety in the midst of something that was destroying their whole world, regardless of who or what else shared it with them. On and on and on it went, the tides of living flesh pushing ever eastward across the river, some drowning or being pulled under by currents made treacherous due to aftershocks, but far more reaching the eastern bank and safety: men, women, children, black, white, Asian-American, Mexican-American, human beings of every age, from every walk of life; horses, dogs, and cats; a pet llama and a gigantic pet tortoise tenderly shepherded across by its owner and the men in a Zodiac who rescued them both; an iguana, numerous parrots and other pet birds, and a large boa constrictor, looped around the shoulders of a woman wearing a tattered housedress and nothing else (oh, how I’d love to know the story of that one!); and wild animals of all kinds, including numerous deer, several dazed bears (immediately shot with tranquilizer guns and trucked off via the US Forest Service), the occasional snake who somehow managed to make it across the river by itself, weasels, pine martins, wolverines, black-footed ferrets, raccoons, badgers, wolves, coyotes, and so on and on and on, a never-ending stream of Life doggedly making for safety any way it could. In the meantime, the skies above, already darkened with smoke both from the fires sweeping through much of the state and from the horror that had taken place earlier in Western Washington, became even darker with the endless clouds of birds of every description that filled them, flying west to east, north
to south: eagles, crows, ravens, owls, swallows, hundreds of species and seemingly hundreds of thousands of individual birds. More: clouds of insects surged through the air in purposeful movements always taking them east and south, east and south. From time to time great swarms of butterflies surged across the river at one point or another. Flies filled the air. Then we watched two older men standing at the riverbank gently lift up a little girl of about six from the Zodiac that had brought her and a couple who might or might not have been her parents across to the eastern shore. The little girl began to wail. One of the men put his ear to her mouth to hear what she was trying to say. Then, smiling, he leaned over the boat and carefully took the tiny, struggling body of a furious, terrified gray kitten out of the hands of the man who still sat in the boat. With grave care he bent down and gently laid the kitten in the girl’s outstretched hands. A radiant smile broke over her face. The kitten, reassured at the touch of its mistress, huddled in the girl’s cupped palms, which she brought close to her heart. The scene shifted upriver. The one-man rescue operation in the Zodiac was still gamely chugging all over the river in search of others to rescue. At the moment, his boat empty save for himself, he was headed toward the western bank – Suddenly a gigantic wall of water, the result of yet another aftershock, one far larger than any of the ones that had already hit, surged up the Columbia. Due to the ground-shock, people on the shore fell to their knees, grabbing whatever support they could reach, or sprawling on the ground. The man in the Zodiac, along with his little craft, taken by surprise in the middle of the river, was pulled under by it. So were two deer trying to swim the river, five other Zodiacs carrying passengers away from the western bank, and several lone swimmers who, in their panic, hadn’t bothered to wait for a boat or one of the gigantic Bell helicopters or other aircraft to ferry them across. None of them reappeared. Again the ground shimmied, and yet another wall of water even larger than the preceding one began racing up the Columbia. “Wait a minute, ladies and gentlemen, something seems to be happening –” Hunter began. And the screen became a rainbow snowstorm in a black, black night. For an endless instant, stunned and appalled, Cathy and I stared at the rushing, roaring screen. A moment later, the picture came back, this time showing us the CNN Los Angeles newsdesk and a badly shaken anchorman. “L-ladies and gentlemen . . . ” Tugging at the collar of his shirt, the man gulped and said. “— Uh, we seem to have lost connection with our crew at The Dalles, Oregon. I –” For a moment he stood there, wearing a thousand-yard stare, searching for words. Then he said, his face a chalky green, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mt. Hood . . . Mt. Hood seems to have . . . exploded. The . . . The Dalles is . . . gone. Completely . . . gone.” Suddenly the picture went out again. A moment later we were looking at a different, somewhat older man, who said, “Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately we have just lost contact with the CNN studio from which our anchorman, Abel Dennings, was reporting to you concerning events just now taking place near Mt. Hood, Oregon. As soon as the lines to that studio are open again, we will return you to Abel. In the meantime, I’m Luther Anderson of CNN, filling in for Abel Dennings . . . ” “Bullshit,” I muttered. “Betcha they were afraid Dennings was gonna lose it there, and put this mug on.” “No takers, Rich,” Kathy told me. Regardless, Anderson began to fill us in on what had apparently just happened at The Dalles.
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