Heavy aftershocks rocked Somerdale south to Bishop Hills, rattling windows, and cracking sidewalks. Red Olsburg prowled the streets in his heavy-duty, dually pickup using his city council ID to get him access to closed roads and highways. He was looking to claim his share of disaster spoils.
What the earthquake didn’t destroy, the residual tremors gave that last fatal push, leaving a swath of debris five miles wide and 15 miles long.
It wasn’t stealing, Red told himself. The quake made sorting out what belongings went where or to whom nearly impossible. It was more, “finders, keepers.” Those material possessions that could be identified, he would make a show of returning to the rightful owners, building on his reputation as a humanitarian and all-around good guy.
Other city leaders were already making plans to cut and run. Red knew being the Big Dog in a disaster area was an easy road to more power than he had as an also-ran in a burgeoning town. He could influence every aspect of rebuilding, recreating Somerdale in his own image.
As he made his way slowly down Pickens Street, Red counted what he thought were driveways. Without those landmarks, he couldn’t tell where the houses once were. Off Pickens, he turned left into Dulany Court cruising the cul-de-sac for any items of value.
The meticulously manicured lawns now resembled landfills. Bits and pieces of destroyed houses were dumped into haphazard piles, mangled cars laid at odd angles like a child left his toys scattered and forgotten in his playroom. Ragged clothing snagged on broken trees fluttered in the sour breeze.
Red parked his truck in the clearest spot on the street. He had to cover his nose and mouth as he exited his vehicle. The mélange of raw sewage, spilled gasoline, and rotting food assaulted his senses making his eyes water and his stomach rebel against the stench.
Taking cautious steps around the debris, Red wondered if the ground of Somerdale would ever be fertile again. Would green grass return, would the people return? HIs entire plan hinged on being the man who rebuilds the town, if no one is there, he won’t have anything to restore.
Climbing the highest pile, Red surveyed the destruction, his gaze coming to rest on the only structure that remained standing. A brick fireplace stood sentinel over the vast field of rubble. From the corner of his eye, a flash of something caught Red’s attention.
Careful to not slip down the pile, Red moved to investigate, hoping it would be a hidden treasure, some valuable pickings worth the trouble. Gingerly making his way over the precarious dreck, arms wide from his sides trying to keep his balance as he navigated the broken terrain, Red kept his eyes on the fireplace shell.
The sky was still thick with smoke blocking out the sun. A grey haze had blanketed Somerdale since the first eruption that sent ash and grit into the air. Red wondered if a good rain wouldn’t wash it way, or would it leave the town a muddy mess. He was thinking about how a rain might uncover more loot, when distracted, he tripped over the edge of broken house foundation.
He grabbed for the fireplace, cursing at his clumsiness. Another flash of something small skittered around the corner, and Red heard what he would later describe as high-pitched laughter. Still holding onto the brick facade, Red backed up against the wall, peering slowly around the side.
“At first I thought maybe someone in town had a little, pet monkey that escaped during the initial chaos, but when I got a better look at it, it definitely wasn’t an animal,” Red explained, patting his jacket pockets. “It had a wrinkled human face and it was dressed in old-fashioned clothes. It walked all hunched over like an old man, and it kept rubbing its hands together, cackling. Its pockets were bulging with jewelry, all sorts of gold and silver. I seem to have lost my watch.”
The EMTs exchanged glances and continued to set Red’s fractured arm. He told them he broke it when the creature attacked him and he fell over a pile of debris trying to get away. Red said he managed to make it back to his truck then drove himself to the makeshift medical center.
A slight nod from his fellow EMT, and the other medic went in search of Dr. Wagner. They had another one on the verge of a meltdown.
“He talked about a little man with pockets full of looted jewelry?” Wagner asked as he walked back to the hospital tent. “That’s odd. He’s the third person today telling the same story.”