Victims of Circumstance


As the summer rolled on Sonia and the others continued their work in the Evacuation Centers. True to form the Admins marked the six week anniversary of the opening of the ECs with another All Hands meeting, this time the results of the Administrative Comprehensive Review. Also true to form, Director Boswell served as MC for the event which, again true to form, was identified by an acronym, ACR and, yet again true to form, was centered around a Power Point presentation.

The presentation was possibly the most depressing thing Sonia/Gabrielle had experienced in her time with FEMA, even worse than working in the cesspool like conditions at the Silverdome or Palace. First there was the simple passage of time – six weeks, she lamented, despair welling up inside her – with any suggestion of an end date now dangling out of reach as a taunting memory.

The passage of time was only the beginning of the disillusionment, the tip of an iceberg of shit floating in a vast toilet bowl of misery as it were. Director Boswell began with the launching of a new ‘Initiative’, an ‘Outreach Program’. Based on a reevaluation of resources and needs, she told them, FEMA decided that the time had finally arrived to venture into the larger area, in search of those whose circumstances left them unable to seek out ‘relief’ during the initial opening of the Evacuation Centers.

With the portion of the plan which Director Boswell now referred to, ominously enough, as ‘Phase One’ concluded, the soon-to-commence ‘Phase Two’ would consist of units selected from Security – so-called ‘Outreach Teams’ – tasked to conduct searches for what she referred to as ‘displaced residents’. Sonia was puzzling over the odd term – how could someone be ‘displaced’ in their own home? she wondered – when over a dozen hands went up in unison.

“Yes,” Director Boswell averred, pointing at one of the hands in the front row.

“Does this mean you’ll be able to rescue survivors?” a female voice asked, “Many of us have family and friends still out there and haven’t heard anything from them…”

“Well yes, in regards to displaced residents – that’s the preferred terminology, by the way,” Director Boswell,” answered, correcting the question archly.

Oh my God, that’s it, Sonia realized suddenly as the unctuous functionary droned on, they’re avoiding the word ‘survivor’. She shook her head in amazement. Do they really think they’re fooling anybody?

The notification was, as Director Boswell went on explaining ‘informational’; the Outreach Teams had already started the process of determining the grid squares for their searches. “Not that we’re not desirous of helping,” she assured with a smile, “But this discussion is more intended to fulfill the requirements for transparency and not a deep-drill session.”

Sonia shook her head again; it struck her as odd how a so-called relief network which saw a attrition rate of 30% could consider a resettlement program – it seemed that if people had managed to make it this far, they were certainly better off declining said offer of ‘relief’ and fending for themselves – but apparently the die had already been cast. Director Boswell even dropped hints of ongoing ‘Reviews’ introducing the specter of future ‘Initiatives’, a prospect Sonia found alarming since it left the door open for still more ‘Phases’.

Director Boswell segued briskly on to the next slide, no doubt eager to change the subject. Considering the importance of ‘maximizing potentialities’, she informed them that they were finally kicking off the new Personnel Evaluation System or PES. She denied, immediately and without prompting, that this was a demerit system, instead referring to it as yet another ‘opportunity’, this time to ‘identify areas for improvement’ in their continuing work areas; “You are the experts, after all,” she blandished breezily before countering questions regarding possible penalties with a an obviously rehearsed ‘case-by-case determination’ deflection.

In order to ‘effectuate’ these changes Director Boswell also announced the establishment of what they called ‘Site Based Decision Making’, or SBDM Teams. These would be made up of people from a cross-section of disciplines and concern themselves with the issues specific to each site. At that point a veritable forest of hands sprang forth, everyone anxious to know if the creation of such teams meant the end of the current rotation schedule.

Director Boswell deflected the question with a practiced dexterity, instead moving to the next slide. “One of the things we’re going to introduce with the SBDM teams is evacuee representation,” she continued. Plan was for some portion of the team – one-third was the number on the slide – to be selected from among the ranks of the Evacuees. Most of the issues at the Evac Centers could be traced to responsibility, Director Boswell explained, and the best way to foster responsibility was to encourage a sense of ownership; “That’s basic social dynamics,” she announced with boundless confidence, “Every educator knows that much.”

Shift lengths were also increased, each beginning an hour earlier and ending an hour later with the overlap to be used as what Director Boswell referred to as ‘All Hands’ time, either serving the Evacuees or cleaning and catching up on their paperwork and not socializing. And in case the shift length increase and PES ‘opportunity’ wasn’t enough, she also hinted at plans for a ‘rationalization’ of the staff which, as Director Boswell described it, would involve a ‘reconsideration’ of ‘go forward’ needs and possible ‘redeployment’ of certain staffers to yet unspecified but no doubt more ‘impactful’ positions.

At that point the questions dwindled to nothing, the audience regarding the officious woman in sullen silence, not wishing to prolong the ordeal any more than was completely necessary.

+++

William crinkled his nose, shooting a questioning glance towards AJ.

They started climbing the stairs, passing two matching black leather Corbusier style couches in the living room. The smell – that smell- got stronger as they climbed. They went into the first bedroom, obviously a child’s room. On the bed, holding the blanket wrapped body of a two or three year old child was what William assumed was the mother. She had gauze bandages wrapped around her forearms, no doubt covering defensive wounds from some struggle with an infected. There was a single gunshot wound in the center of her breastbone and her face was covered with a pillowcase.

William lifted the pillow case; it was difficult to tell the age for certain since the remains had begun to desiccate. The mother had apparently taken an overdose of pills or fed the pills to the child; there was an empty bottle of Dalmane on the floor next to the bed, dried vomit on the pillow next to her head.

Someone must have taken things into their own hands once the overdose didn’t prove to be the quiet peaceful affair they imagined, William thought, but still couldn’t bear to shoot her in the head. “Let’s go,” he said, covering her face again and crossing himself.

They went next to the master bedroom suite. As they both already expected, the father was lying on the bed, an exit wound in the top of his head from where he shot himself in the mouth, dried blood spattering the wall behind the bed, Smith Model 29 in his hand, Omega Seamaster on his wrist.

“I know what you’re thinking,” AJ said, “You take it.” William crossed himself again and pulled the revolver from his hand he opened the cylinder. Just as he thought, there were four rounds left. He snapped the cylinder shut.

William gestured towards a shotgun leaning against the wall, a Beretta Autoloader. AJ picked it up and set it on the bed while William took a t-shirt out of the dresser and placed it over the distorted face, crossing himself again. “Come on,” he reminded William, “We still have to clear the rest of the house.”

Next they came to another child’s room, this one obviously older due to the television, books and video games. They paused, both hearing it, the rustling sounds coming from the closet.

“What do you want to do?” AJ whispered.

“I don’t know” William whispered back. He paused. “We can’t really leave it like that,” he said. He paused again. AJ looked at him questioningly. “I mean, it’s not safe for us,” he finished.

“OK,” AJ agreed, “I’ll get the door.”

“Why do you get the door?” William asked frowning.

“You have a suppressed pistol,” AJ replied, pointing at William’s hand.

“Well, you have one too,” William retorted, gesturing at AJ’s web gear.

“Hey, you’re getting the watch,” AJ retorted, shaking his head.

William nodded slowly. “Good answer,” he murmured as he stepped forward, taking the pistol in both hands, holding it at low ready.

The rustling stop as they moved towards the closet. AJ rapped on the door and immediately heard the sounds of something beating on the opposite side. William stepped back from the door, toward the side. “Open it only halfway, so it comes straight at me” he told AJ, gesturing with the pistol, “On three.”

AJ advanced towards the door and placed his hand on the knob. He looked at William. William counted, “One, two, three.”

At that AJ opened the door, halfway, just as they planned. The smell hit William instantly, shocking him for a moment. An emaciated boy, approximately six or seven years old wearing torn and soiled pajamas exploded out of the door and straight for William. William immediately kicked the boy square in the chest knocking him back. Before the boy could jump back up, William stepped forward and stood on his chest with all his weight. The infected boy struggled beneath him with a surprising strength, William feeling the ribcage cracking beneath his boot.

William hesitated for a moment then shot the boy in the head. He paused for a moment, lifting his boot tentatively while keeping his pistol trained on the now bleeding face.

“Well, that’s that,” AJ remarked, the body motionless save for a weak heaving twitch in one of the legs.

“Yeah,” William murmured as he stepped out of the stinking closet. He kicked the boy’s legs back in, careful not use his hands on account of the half dry feces caked on his feet, then shut the door.