We’re pleased to publish the first chapter of the latest installment of W.R. Flynn’s Shut Down series of novels, set in the Pacific Northwest after the collapse of the global economy. This excerpt comes from Flynn’s volume entitled First Journey: After the Shut Down, in which the post-collapse colony in Corbett decides to send a small crew on a mission to explore the ruins of Portland, Oregon. Enjoy.
In the brutal struggle for survival after the sudden collapse, they pulled through, not by waging war, but by defending themselves during the terrifying post-apocalyptic chaos. During the six months before the economic collapse a small group of close-knit Portland, Oregon, families prepared well, stocking up on weapons, ammunition and food. As the worldwide economic situation deteriorated, they accelerated their preparation efforts, selling vehicles and cashing in retirement accounts, using the proceeds to buy more non-perishable food and supplies.
Their neighborhood was old and well established. Most homes were built solid, many over a hundred years old. The dead end street they lived on bordered the southwest side of Forest Park. A wooded gentle slope rose to the northwest. A small year-round stream flowed nearby, although in late summer it slowed to a trickle. Small game was becoming plentiful and deer and elk were occasionally seen. It was an idyllic place to live and fairly easy to defend. When the economic collapse struck the neighbors believed they could last a year, but only if they could successfully defend their block-long street.
One of the long-time residents held a position as a high-level official with Oregon State Bank and another worked as an analyst with the Portland office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Both women knew the economy was in tatters and that the government would be hopelessly unable to deal with a severe fiscal crisis.
They often discussed politics and the economy, as neighbors typically do, and concluded that a historically unprecedented economic collapse was imminent. Worse, they believed a complete disintegration of the social, political and economic order was about to occur.
They convinced a few of their neighbors to join them in preparing for the worst. Then a few more joined. Within a few months, by the time of the disastrous New Year’s Day Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear and oil facilities nearly every family living in the twenty-four upscale homes on their dead end street was onboard to one degree or another. When the collapse occurred a few people were out of town, never to return. Some who had chosen not to join in the preparations panicked and fled Portland in the hours and days following the sudden shut down of the world’s economic structure.
In the initial days following the collapse this small cluster of feisty families faced wave after wave of desperate, starving men and women. They fought hard, protecting their urban encampment against the dwindling yet increasingly violent and cruel attackers.
Much like other survivor colonies the Forest Park community had suffered terrible losses. Initially with fifty-one members, deadly attacks and illness took many and the colony now numbered forty-six: twenty-two men, sixteen women and eight children under sixteen. This included two born since the crash. One teenage girl and six adults were adopted into their colony during the first summer. None had been added since then.
This small, tight group had front row seats to the destruction of the city. When the banks closed the debit and credit card systems failed as well. Truck drivers, unable to buy fuel, stopped rolling. Some abandoned their rigs along highways and others remained forever parked in long queues at isolated filling stations. Tens of thousands of big rigs were abandoned at truck stops, such as the sprawling truck service center in nearby Troutdale.
Food deliveries ceased. Within hours widespread looting unfolded from coast to coast and Portland wasn’t spared.
In the following days well organized street gangs and countless well-armed lone wolves swarmed throughout the Portland metropolitan area, some scavenging through abandoned buildings, others invading neighborhoods searching for food, alcohol, drugs, women and whatever else they could find. It was unimaginable mayhem, a horrifying feeding frenzy that devoured the very core of the rotting carcass of the previous civilization in a matter of weeks.
The police, their numbers already depleted due to harsh budget cuts, were unable to acquire fuel for their vehicles and were powerless to stop the carnage. Unable to respond, authorities surrendered civil power to well-organized groups of thugs, including hundreds of released county jail inmates freed by good intentioned guards days after their food deliveries ended. Most of the freed inmates were shot and killed by rival street gangs within two weeks. Nearly three hundred of them were slain while invading Corbett, a small rural community just east of Troutdale. Nearly all of the others were murdered or slowly starved to death in the weeks and months that followed.
One man, a slender, six-foot-tall forty-something schoolteacher by the name of Myron Jennings, was serving six months for assaulting a strike breaking substitute teacher who crossed their picket line during the spring strike. He fled from his fellow jailbirds and wandered around Portland, alone for months, scrounging for scraps of food by sifting through the remains of the dead civilization, competing more and more with the eagerly multiplying legions of rats. At night he hid from the gangs and bands of sadistic killers, finding safety in the battered ruins of the once-beautiful city.
He barely persevered, slowly starving to death, when fate finally came to his rescue. While cautiously searching for food through the Northwest District of Portland early one morning, Myron discovered one fifty-year-old colony member, Jeff Cowley, near death, suffering from a serious bullet wound to his right leg.
As a supervisory lineman for Portland General Electric and a Marine Jeff was in the very peak of health. He had twenty-twenty vision and the naturally tanned, unblemished complexion of a much younger man. He claimed it was due to eating six carrots each day, every day, year-round. After the collapse, he planted several hundred square feet of carrots and his bountiful annual harvest lasted all year. Each summer thereafter he harvested more, forever encouraging others to plant carrots and to chomp away at his secret to good health.
The muscular, hard-faced, bald and blue-eyed Marine, who preferred to patrol alone, was on a solo perimeter patrol along Northwest Twenty-Third Avenue when he was discovered by a small band of armed scavengers.
The six got the jump on Jeff while he was jogging across the intersection at Lovejoy. They opened fire at him, hoping to kill him and steal his rifle and small pack. Jeff dropped flat on the warming asphalt and returned fire, shooting four of them dead, but remained on the pavement, badly wounded by a bullet to his upper right thigh. The remaining two attackers, frightened out of their minds at the intensity and accuracy of the return fire and unaware of the severity of Jeff’s wound, fled toward downtown like mice.
Jeff crawled into a nearby alley leaving behind a zigzagging trail of blood on the street and across the crumbling sidewalk. He tied his leg with his belt, high up, near his crotch. He couldn’t walk. He knew that, without help, he would eventually bleed out so he sat against a brick building alongside a Dumpster and waited for his final moment, swatting away the ever-present flies and shooing away countless curious and hungry rodents.
A short time later, a sharp-nosed, narrow-faced stranger wandered by, alerted by the gunfire. He walked around the bodies, collections of which were commonplace. His eyes were drawn to fresh red stains in the road. He followed the trail of blood. Myron found Jeff sitting against the brick building, cradling his rifle. Blood soaked his new blue jeans from mid-thigh down. Myron stood a short distance away, partially blocked by the Dumpster in the cool late morning shade offered by the filthy alley.
“One more step and you’re dead,” Jeff warned, aiming the wobbling weapon in Myron’s general direction.
“Stand over there. I want to see you better.” Jeff pointed with the rifle toward the graffiti painted brick building on the other side of the narrow alley.
Myron moved where he was told. “I’m unarmed. I only want to help you. Without it you’ll soon bleed to death,” Myron replied.
“Yes, just fine. You’re bleeding badly, but it’s never too late as long as a breath remains.”
“For me, it is.”
Myron spoke a brief prayer, summoning divine help. Tears formed under his eyes.
“You’re wasting your breath,” Jeff said.
“Were you once a soldier?” Myron asked.
“No. I’m a Marine.”
“And you’re giving up? I thought Marines never gave up.”
“Screw you,” Jeff replied, as the rifle fell out of his hands and onto some glass shards littering the pavement. Jeff reached for it and wrapped his fingers around the stock, yet he was unable to pick it up.
Stepping closer, Myron took off his daypack and placed it on the ground near Jeff. He removed a water bottle and a small plastic bag filled with blackberries.
“C’mon, man. Drink some water, buddy. You’ll make it!”
Jeff’s eyes glazed. He accepted a sip. “My leg. I can’t feel it anymore.”
“I have a sharp knife. I need to cut your pant leg off, then set a proper tourniquet. It’s your only hope.”
“Leave me alone. I’ll take care of it.”
“Please. Let me help you.”
“Fine,” Jeff said, using what his friends knew to be his favorite word. “You do it.”
Myron treated his ugly bullet wound as best he could, cleaning it with his water, using torn strips of his soiled t-shirt as a crude tourniquet. The bleeding slowed to a wet seepage. The ruddy, freckle-faced Good Samaritan gave him the rest of his water and the last few handfuls of his blackberries.
“Thank you for stopping to help me,” Jeff said.
“Oh, anyone would do the same,” Myron replied.
Jeff managed a smile. “I don’t think so. Not anymore.”
“Maybe not anyone.”
“Fine, maybe no one, besides you.”
He kept the wounded man talking, discussing nothing in particular and everything in general, then shared a few words about Myron’s students. They spoke for a time of the dangerous men lurking about.
“We can’t stay here. It’s not safe. Are you alone?” Myron asked.
Jeff was fading fast and knew it. “No, I’m with others.”
For some reason he now trusted Myron and chanced telling the caring stranger where his community was before falling unconscious.
Myron carried Jeff to the well-protected street. He made the exhausting three-mile journey, stopping regularly for signs of danger and to rest. Once they hid in a looted, glass-shattered clothing store as a small band of tough-looking men passed, whispering Spanish back and forth, a pistol gripped in the hand of one, a rifle slung on the back of another.
They arrived mid-afternoon at their destination. Nervous men appeared out of nowhere. Some scattered down the street, taking up defensive positions behind protective barricades while others pointed rifles at Myron from upper floor windows. A man shouted for Myron to get face down on the ground, spread his arms and legs apart and to not move until told to do so. Two others then appeared, a stout older man and a very young black haired woman, and they whisked Jeff away without a word.
Others cautiously moved in and searched Myron. They forced him to spend nearly an hour face down on a shaded stretch of pavement while debating what to do with this seemingly helpful stranger.
Finally, the dark haired young woman approached and offered Myron water and fruit for his bravery and kindness. After Jeff came around and told the whole story he was invited to stay. Jeff healed fully, but never again patrolled alone. Joined by ties of gratitude and responsibility, Jeff and Myron became an inseparable team.
As the months passed, the small group of families near Forest Park learned to trust no one, taking a shoot first, ask questions later approach to all encounters with outsiders. If they had done otherwise they too would certainly have been decaying on the concrete like hundreds of thousands of others in and around Portland and every other city in North America. As it was they suffered dearly, with many of their bravest men and women killed defending the homes and families on their precious dead end street.
But the small Forest Park community persevered. Over time, the remaining core group adapted to the constant threat of danger. They hid signs of their presence, never burning firewood unless the insides of their homes fell below forty degrees. They grew food in scattered secret garden plots and harvested fruit from existing trees found growing here and there throughout their neighborhood. They collected rainwater from rooftops in makeshift containers and drew more from the nearby stream when it flowed adequately.
During the first winter deer and elk appeared, then a few bears, possibly from the nearby zoo. Being careful to not announce their presence with rifle shots or deplete their dwindling ammunition, they quietly hunted game with bows, gathering the first fresh meat in many months.
As the months passed a period of calm arrived. The countless dead bodies throughout the city began to decompose and the teeming rat population finally declined. The constant clouds of flies finally thinned. The small group of Forest Park children played unattended in the overgrown yards while their mothers foraged deeper into nearby neighborhoods gathering a more diverse diet from assorted fruit and nut trees.
By the time the first winter arrived, very few outsiders were encountered and the small surviving colony began patrolling an enlarged outer perimeter. It was an area that had expanded deep into Forest Park and all the way to the deserted downtown as the colony remained constantly on guard against strangers and the possibility of attack.
After the first three years had passed, strangers wandering by were few in number, but those they saw were nearly always armed and extremely dangerous to the Forest Park survivors. The men and women guarding the perimeter took no chances with anyone they encountered. Assuming the worst based on past experience they struck first, taking deadly preemptive action.
Much like their counterparts in Corbett, a much larger surviving colony twenty-five miles to the east, they were eager to rediscover the city. Over time the area they patrolled expanded until it included the broad swath of land south of the Columbia River and west of the Interstate Five freeway. The same freeway a Corbett expedition was planning to explore.
The once thriving city of Portland had become a ghost town, depopulated through starvation, disease and from hundreds of deadly skirmishes, fierce battles the Forest Park residents often heard but, because of their forested and remote location, rarely witnessed.
— W. R. Flynn, Transition Voice