Point Lobos - Chapter One

Maureen Cadman was already in Grenville when the Reaper hit; that had made her special for a while, for the year the people of Grenville had spent playing with the notion of utopia. Core people, the Inrunners called them, the fifty or so who survived in Grenville and began almost immediately to reconstruct the town and, in small, civilization. Maureen was not one of the inner circle, the people like Leonard Carson and Angela Vigil toward whom power, decision-making, seemed to gravitate. She had voted; she had sat on the medical committee for a while; she had retired soon after the first Salinas Inrunners arrived.
One Grenville doctor had survived, Timothy Clauson. For a while, the two of them were the entire medical contingent for the town. The first Inrunners, the group from Salinas, included a surgeon and two RNs; they had had the foresight to empty the Salinas pharmacies into a refrigerated semi, and Grenville was suddenly a medical nexus for the valley. Others arrived, from Salinas again, from Soledad, from little towns a hundred miles away, even from Fresno.
Maureen was lucky. Her daughter Alee survived with her. Timothy and she theorized that there was some minute genetic protection against the Reaper, immunities that had made some survivals less than chance. Maureen was twenty-four, Alee five, the day the old world ended. When the bombing of Washington and New York was announced on the radio, Maureen had left work to get Alee. It took her less than five minutes to gather her things and run to the hospital parking lot; it was already jammed with fleeing cars--Fleeing where? Maureen thought. They had destinations as crucial as hers, she muttered to herself reproachfully: family to be with, places, she thought grimly, where they would prefer to die.
When Maureen was fifteen, her older brother, whom she had admired, worshiped, and been a little contemptuous of for his glib fatalism, told her he had picked out a south-facing slope in the Sandias, the mountains above their home in Albuquerque, where he would go to lie out naked in the sun and watch the fireworks, if the bombs ever fell. "You can see Kirtland across the valley," he had explained, in case she didn't get it. Kirtland Air Base had one of the larger stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the country, part of the legacy of Los Alamos; it would be a primary target. Dylan Cadman had missed out though; a year after he had made that remark, he rolled his TR7 in Tijeras Canyon, coming back from an all-night graduation party in Cedar Crest. He died in the fire. Getting in her car, she wondered if Albuquerque was gone already.
The horseshoe drive in front of Sterling Elementary was an impossible gridlock of honking cars with angry drivers, parked, empty cars that had been abandoned by frantic parents, scattered bicycles. The lawn was full of hysterical children and terrified adults. Maureen parked in the street two blocks away and ran back to the school. "Alee! Meredith!" she shouted over the chaos, pushing her way through the crowd. The school was pink cinderblock. Kindergarten was toward the back. Would she be back there, near her classroom, or up front, expecting her mother?
"I'm looking for--" she began to say to a teacher she recognized from the hallways; she didn't know his name. The man ignored her. Maureen touched his arm, and the man wrenched away with a frantic glance at Maureen's face.
"No!" he cried, as if to a mugger. He turned and ran into the press of parents, dodging other hands. Maureen reached the double doors at the front of the building and saw, with an ecstatic burst of relief, her daughter crouched in the junipers, warily observing her approach. When their eyes met, Alee stood up gravely.
"I waited like I'm 'sposed to," she said. She was holding her lunchbox. Maureen had drilled her to stay here, by the junipers, if Mama was ever late picking her up. She scooped her from the ground and inched along the wall away from the crowd blocking the entrance to the school.
"Are they gonna bomb on us?" Alee murmured into her mother's neck.
"I don't think so."
"Mrs. Thurman said not to be scared,"
"That's right. It doesn't help to be scared."
"You're scared," Alee said, lifting her head to look back at the crowd.
"That's right, honey. But it doesn't help."