(If you’re reading this and you’re not part of my newsletter, why not click through to the main page of my website and join? You’ll get some cool free books and get to take part in neat experiments like this, where my readers help me decide which story idea they’d like to see written first.)
If you enjoyed this story more than Sample 2, please send me an email (email@example.com) and let me know! I’ll be collecting responses through the end of March (2017) and deciding which to write first after that!
The United States of America runs on tractor-trailers. Eighty percent of the country relies exclusively on trucks to deliver all of their essential supplies including food, medicine, clothing and other manufactured and raw goods. Trains and planes help to transport a decent portion of our goods as well, but if all tractor-trailers in the USA vanished overnight, our country would plunge into chaos.
Over the last few decades we’ve transitioned from a country that transports goods in regular, moderate intervals to one where every single business—grocery stores, hardware stores and even hospitals—depend on what’s known as “just in time” transit.
These businesses do not keep a large stock on hand, but instead rely on frequent deliveries to keep goods in stock “just in time” for when they need them. This helps reduce cost at the businesses since they don’t have to store large quantities of goods and enables them to respond to fluctuations in market demand faster than they otherwise could.
So what would happen if tractor-trailers did vanish overnight? What if a terrorist organization were to—with the snap of a finger—disrupt our shipping system? The results would be unimaginably disastrous.
Without constant deliveries, grocery stores would run out of food in a few hours or a day or two at the most. Hospitals would be unable to provide essential care. Families—most of whom have no more than a few days’ worth of food on hand at a time—would starve.
Our modern society operates on a razor’s edge. All it takes for us to fall into chaos, anarchy and total collapse is the smallest of nudges one way or another.
Only the most prepared can survive in such a world.
Only the most prepared can survive the long night.
Frank sipped his coffee and sighed. Twelve hours on the road had taken its toll on his eyes, and he had to rub them several times to keep from seeing double on the menu. The small greasy spoon he stopped at was quintessentially American. He sat at the long, wrap-around bar with a view into the kitchen with a few others like himself. A handful of couples and a trio of road workers were spread across the booths where waitresses with beehive hairdos took orders with a drawl and the frequent use of the word “hon.”
Twelve hours. Frank took another sip and shook his head. I’m not cut out for this. Having been behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler for less than a month, Frank wasn’t adjusting well. He started out life in a much different place by working as a computer administrator for a large technology company, where he had stayed on for his entire adult life. As the economy started to tank, though, he had lost his job, and there were few companies looking to hire forty year-olds when they could pick up a college graduate for a quarter of the cost.
“Any dessert, hon?” Frank looked up at a face caked with too much makeup smiling down at him.
“No thanks, just the check. And a coffee to go.”
The waitress smiled sympathetically at Frank. “New to this, are you?”
Frank nodded. “That obvious, is it?”
“Most of ‘em do speed to stay awake. Try to stay off of it as long as you can, okay hon?” She flipped through her order pad and tore out a page.
Frank looked the check over, glanced at his watch and sighed again. He had spent less than twenty minutes at the diner, but he knew based on experience that the computer inside his truck would be going haywire with alerts from dispatch. Mandatory maximums as defined by state and federal law meant nothing to dispatch, who pushed their drivers for up to eighteen hours a day, six days a week. Being as new as he was, Frank couldn’t risk any more long stops for another couple days, and was counting on the next gas stop to have some decent food to see him through.
Frank threw down a few crumpled bills and drained the last of his coffee. He met the waitress halfway to the door and took the cup from her and nodded in appreciation. “Thank you.”
“Stay safe out there, hon.”
As Frank pulled open the door of the diner, he glanced around the parking lot to locate his truck again. As he walked towards it, a far-off sounds caught his attention. It sounded—at first—like a gunshot, or a series of fireworks going off, before he discovered what it really was.
As Frank’s truck exploded in a fireball a few hundred feet in front of him, he was thrown back against the wall of the diner by the force of the explosion—both from his truck and every other 18-wheeler in the lot. Each of them erupted into a fireball, sending pieces of metal, glass and the contents of their trailers flying through the air.
Frank sat still for several seconds as he tried to catch his breath, stunned both by the impact with the wall and by the sight in front of him. As he watched the flaming wreckage and tried to process what had just happened, he heard more explosions from the highway in front of the diner. A passing truck was incinerated instantly, and the trailer behind it went flipped into the air before crashing back down.
Several cars and SUVs driving behind the truck smashed into both it and the trailer, while others further back careened off the road as they tried to avoid the crash. As much as Frank hoped that they would, the explosions didn’t stop with what he saw. Echoes of them continued to ring across the parking lot, eventually fading some minutes later until they sounded like so many gunshots and fireworks.
After what had felt like hours, Frank slowly stood to his feet, bracing himself against the wall behind him. His feet were unsteady, his vision blurry and his mind clouded. Inside the diner, people rushed out as they screamed and cried, running to their vehicles that had been destroyed or damaged by the blasts. Several drivers and passengers had been nearby in their cars when the large trucks exploded, and while a few managed to stumble out of their vehicles with minimal harm, others were killed almost instantly by the blasts.
Frank lurched forward, still dazed, as he started towards his truck. After a few steps he felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned around to see a concerned face look at him. “Are you okay?” The man had been sitting at the bar a few seats down from Frank just a few minutes ago, eating a chicken sandwich.
Frank nodded, then held a hand against his head in pain. “I—I think so.”
The man looked at Frank’s head and shook his own. “That’s a nasty wound you’ve got there. Get inside and sit down.”
Frank allowed himself to be guided back towards the door to the diner before the stranger ran off to try and help two other men pull open the door to a burning car. Smoke filled the air as Frank trudged up the steps to the diner, and all he could hear was endless screaming and shouting.
Frank slumped into one of the booths near the door and pulled out a wad of napkins from the dispenser and pressed them against his head. As the destruction raged outside, he looked up at the television, trying to get his eyes to focus.
The overly-chipper afternoon talk show host who was on while Frank had been eating was now replaced by the pale face of a well-dressed news reporter who was staring at pieces of paper he was being handed as he tried to compose himself.
“We’ve—uh… I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen. One moment please.” The reporter leaned off-screen and held a hurried, whispered conversation. “My apologies, we’re doing our best to get all the facts here. This is an active story right now and things may change. However, as we know it right now, there’s been a nationwide terrorist attack the likes of which we’ve never seen. We’re reporting that there have been dozens and perhaps even hundreds of explosions at key rail and air facilities across the country. We’re also receiving reports of thousands of smaller incidents that seem to involve 18-wheelersand—” The reporter stopped mid-sentence while someone wearing a headset came and whispered in his ear.
“What the hell is going on?” Frank mumbled to himself. He pulled the wad of blood-soaked napkins off of his head and tossed them on the table before getting a fresh handful.
The reporter nodded a few times to the person talking to him before turning back to the camera. “Folks, we’re going to be cutting to a live announcement from the White House at the moment. Before that, though, the Associated Press has received some disturbing claims from the radical terrorist organization—”
The television flickered and powered off, along with the lights in the diner. Frank looked around, then glanced outside. Several people who had been in the lot and survived the explosions were sitting on the grass nearby, talking on their phones when they all took them from their ears and glanced at the screens. Remembering his own phone, Frank reached into his pocket and pulled it out. The screen was cracked but it powered on. Small miracles, Frank thought.
Frank opened the dialer and punched in a number, then hit the green call button. On screen the words above a picture of his wife’s face read “Dialing…” but nothing changed. Frank waited for several seconds, then tried to dial again. The same thing happened a second time.
“What the hell is going on around here?” Frank felt like he was in a dream world, but no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t wake up from whatever nightmare he was having.
“Hey, buddy, can you help us out?” A voice from behind Frank drew his attention. He turned to see three men trying to carry in a woman on blanket that served as a makeshift stretcher. Frank stood up, fighting against a wave of dizziness, and took one corner of the blanket. He helped the men carry the woman around the bar of the diner before setting her gently on the floor.
Two of the men stood up and stepped back while the third began examining the woman as he spoke to her. “Honey?” The woman was still alive, but her eyes were closed and she groaned as her husband started checking her injuries.
As the other two men began to head back out the front door, Frank tugged on the sleeve of one. “Wh—what happened?”
“Whoa, buddy, you need to sit down.” The man guided Frank back to the booth and examined his head. “There you go, take it easy.” The man sat across from Frank and pulled out a handkerchief. “Here, wrap this around your head.”
Frank held the cloth against his wound and repeated his question. “What happened out there? The news said there was some sort of terrorist attack…here? In the middle of nowhere.”
The man stood up and looked out the front window. “I don’t know, buddy. I can’t get anyone on the radio. The phones are dead, too.” A shout from outside drew his attention and he patted Frank on the shoulder. “I gotta get back out there. Don’t stand up for a while, okay? You’ll be fine!”
As the man ran out the front door Frank picked his phone back up and tried calling his wife again. This time, after several seconds, the “Dialing…” text changed to “Calling…” Instead of hearing a ring and his wife’s voice, though, he heard quite the opposite.
“All circuits are busy. Please try your call again later.”
Maybe a web browser. I can at least read what’s going on. Or a text message! Frank’s head was starting to spin less and he was thinking more clearly. He opened the text message app on his phone and composed a message to his wife.
Are you ok? Something big and bad happening. Stay inside.
He hit the send button, then watched as a series of dots rose and fell under the message text for a moment before they disappeared and replaced with a small alert.
Message failed. Resend?
He tried to open the web browser next.
“Dammit!” Frank cursed loudly and threw the phone back in his pocket. His fingers fumbled with the handkerchief he had been given and he managed to tie it around his head to hold a wad of napkins up against the wound. The blood flow had slowed significantly and he stood up slowly to help keep the headache at bay. He passed by several people with large cuts and open wounds sitting in nearby booths who had come in while he wasn’t paying attention.
As Frank reached the door, the man who had helped him was coming up the steps, holding another woman’s arm on his shoulder. Her left pant leg was soaked in blood, and the sight was like slap in the face. The fogginess in his head cleared instantly and he reached for her other arm to help bring her inside.
After helping the woman to a seat and getting a dish towel wrapped around her leg, the man glanced at Frank. “Thanks for the help. You’re feeling better, are you?”
“Better than some.” Frank put out his hand. “Frank Richards.”
“Nice to meet you Artie, even under the circumstances.”
“You too. Can you help me out? We’ve got a lot more folks to bring inside and look after.”
Frank nodded and Artie turned to head out the front door. As Frank watched the people sitting in the diner clean their wounds, talk and begin to cry, he thought of home once again, and the family he had left there. He thought about his wife’s SUV with the booster seat in the back and his daughter who would be turning six in a few weeks. He thought about how they liked to drive to the park in the afternoons and how he hoped, dearly, that they hadn’t gone out that day. That somehow, some way, they were all right.
“I’ll be there soon.” Frank whispered the promise to himself and his family a thousand miles away, not realizing how much pain was wrapped up in those four simple words.
“I’ll be there soon.”