Days ago, I got this idea for a great blog post, and I'm so excited to share it with you today! One of the things I'm thankful for during this time of isolation and uncertainty, is more time for writing! I'm still working away at the sequel to No Way but Through, and after hearing the lovely Melanie Dobson speak early last month, I have a few new writing schedule tricks I'm implementing.
I've also LOVED seeing everyone share more of their art and talents on social media. It's a beautiful thing. We, as humans, are doing an amazing job at being creative in how we connect and it's awesome to watch.
In that spirit, I want to offer up part of my book to share! Since we're all spending more leisure time at home, and hopefully devouring our TBR stacks, I'm sharing a big chunk of No Way but Through for all of you to read! So grab some coffee or tea, a cozy blanket, and settle in for a good read.
Emma dropped her purse on the bench inside the front door. A delicious smell wafted from the kitchen. She took a deep breath, trying to let all the darkness of the day melt away. Something still loomed ominous in the back of her mind. A strange tension.
Mom’s off-key hums met her ears.
“Hi mom!” Emma kicked her shoes off and stretched her sore toes as she walked to the kitchen. “Anything I can help with?”
An orange glow of late afternoon sunlight filled the room, shining on every sparkling surface.
“Hi sweetie. You can set the table.” Mom looked happy—her cheeks were rosy, and her eyes danced. It had been too long since the last family dinner.
Emma reached for the forks and released a sigh, absorbing the excitement in the air. Her eyes met Mom’s and they smiled. “I can show Claire my dress—"
A deafening boom filled the house and drowned Emma’s words. Every little part of her body shook from the inside out. An old picture of the family fell off the wall. It landed face down on the wood floor, the glass shattering to pieces.
Emma grabbed the counter to steady herself. “An earthquake?” She looked at her mom.
The light in her mom’s eyes had clouded over. “Let’s turn on the news and find out.”
Emma followed Mom through the dining room into the family room, her hands still full of silverware. Mom switched on the TV.
“Breaking news, Houston has been bombed. This is not a drill—Houston has been bombed. The Russians are suspected to be behind the attack—”
A loud clatter echoed through the silent house as forks and spoons rained out of Emma’s hands.
The TV filled with a live feed of a decimated city. “Washington DC has been leveled by nothing less than a nuclear bomb.” An announcer’s broken voice penetrated Emma’s disbelieving ears. “New York is obliterated too. The entire west coast is gone. Everyone is encouraged to flee. Go south. Get out. Now!”
Emma watched Mom move toward her as if a movie was playing out in slow motion. Was Mom running? Mom’s hand was around hers then, pulling her to the door.
Emma’s feet were like lead. A tingling numbness spread over her body. Shock made it impossible for her to gather a thought. Another thunderous boom rent the air. They staggered on their feet. Mom grabbed both their purses at the front door and called up the stairs to Matt, her voice was panicked.
Emma saw and heard all this as if through a long tunnel. The fear on Matt’s face as he raced down the stairs had a clearing effect on her mind. She grabbed her shoes. She put an arm around her brother as they hurried to the car.
Emma stopped and looked up at the clear blue sky above her. She squinted. There was no sign of anything unusual. Emma pivoted on her heel and saw a plane flying low, right toward them.
Hysterical tears choked her as Matt reached out and pulled her into the car. The cries coming from her lips sounded foreign. A bomb dropped just a few miles away. A blinding explosion. Emma covered her face. A scream came from the back seat. The car lurched out of the driveway.
“Where are we going?” Emma took a deep, shaky breath. Her voice came out high-pitched.
“To your dad.” Mom’s face was set and determined.
“Jack! What about Jack!” Emma couldn’t control her screaming as her chest tightened in fear. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. “No service. Mom, there’s no service.”
Mom didn’t answer. She was driving faster than Emma had ever seen, dodging around debris in the road.
Emma’s phone dropped into her lap as she peered out the window. Whole buildings were caved in on themselves. Rubble and glass lay everywhere, and still fell from the ruins. People ran around in sheer panic. Military vehicles rumbled over the streets, causing other drivers to jump the curbs. The ruined city flashed by.
Matt put a hand on Emma’s shoulder. Tears streamed over her cheeks, her heart pounding.
Mom swung into the parking lot at Dad’s work, which was lacking its usual guards. The parking lot was always full of Humvees.
“Those aren’t American vehicles.” Matt opened his door.
Emma blinked and looked at Mom. “What is happening?”
“Let’s go.” Mom jumped out of the car.
They all ran into the building.
“Joe! Joe!” Mom ran down hallway after hallway, deeper into the labyrinth of the compound.
Emma kept pace with her, dragging Matt along by the hand. The hallways were deserted. Tears continued to flow down Emma’s cheeks. As they rounded another corner, Mom ran into the back of a guard with a large gun.
“Where’s my husband, Joe Smith?” Mom didn’t wait for the man to turn around.
When he did, he looked down at them with a harsh frown. “Come with me.” He had a thick Russian accent.
Emma shook, and her sweaty hand almost slipped out of Matt’s.
I can’t believe this is happening. The Russians are here. What's going on?
“We need to find my husband, Joe Smith. He works here. Where is everybody?” Mom’s voice grew more shrill with each sentence.
The man didn’t say anything but continued down the hall. After several turns, the man stopped at a door and entered a code into a pin pad to unlock it. Dozens of people surrounded a large, oval table.
“Carol!” Across the room, Dad stood, eyes wide, face pale.
Mom gave into her tears as she ran to Dad. Emma pulled Matt along right behind her. She breathed in the comforting, familiar scent of Dad’s shirt as he wrapped his arms around all of them.
“I’ll do whatever you ask. Just keep my family safe.” Dad made eye contact with the man sitting at the head of the table.
He was thick and short and had no neck. Emma suspected he would also have a Russian accent when he spoke. His eyes narrowed at Dad. Emma tightened her grip around him.
The guard standing behind the man in charge raised his gun.
Friday 7:03PM //
Heat burned behind Jack’s eyes and a thick lump blocked his throat. Everyone in the office fled when the bombs hit. Jack had driven his car to work that morning, so he could get to family dinner on time, and now he sped to the Smith’s house. His only aim was to get to Emma, but his mom’s face intruded on his thoughts.
He rounded the last corner, into the cul-de-sac, and hit the brakes. Everything was destroyed. Only a few walls from the outlying houses stood.
A cry wrenched from deep inside him, sounding strange and far away. “No!”
Jack lowered his forehead against the steering wheel. He fought the bile rising in his throat. As though moving of its own accord, his body climbed out of the car. In a dark corner of his mind, Jack thought getting out of the car would expose him to death. That would surely be better than living.
He stumbled and leaned against the open door of the car, giving way to heaving sobs. In his back pocket, his cell phone vibrated. Jack reached for it, and his whole body shook when he saw Emma’s beautiful face staring up at him from the screen.
“Hello?” Jack could only manage the word around a grunt.
“Jack! Jack, you’re alive. Thank God. Oh my God.” Emma’s cries came through the phone.
Jack closed his eyes as tears fell down his cheeks. He cradled the phone against his ear as if it were Emma’s own hand. Her weeping was music to his ears. Several minutes passed.
“Where are you? I thought—” The sick feeling rose again, and Jack cleared his throat.
“I couldn’t call you. This is the first time I’ve had service since—We’re at Dad’s work. We came to find him and it’s full of Russians. They’ve taken over the oil plant.” Emma took a few shallow breaths. “They’re holding us hostage. I think because of the work Dad does. Come. Please, come.” Emma’s tears choked her words.
“I’m on my way.” Jack slid into the car again but didn’t want to hang up the call. “Are you all okay?” His silent tears continued to flow.
“We’re okay. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re in an empty office that Dad said his co-worker was using this morning. I think they want to keep us here. Mom’s trying to call Aaron right now.” Emma spoke fast and high.
“What do the Russians want?”
“Dad says they want control of the oil. Oil equals money, and money equals power. Jack, this is why they moved the president. They knew this would happen.” Emma’s tears evaporated as her tone grew angry.
Jack swerved and corrected. There was almost no one on the roads. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
A bomb fell, miles away, shaking the city.
Jack accelerated. “Emma, I keep thinking about my mom. She’s all by herself. She has no one.”
More cries came through the phone. “She’s so far away. You can’t leave me.”
Jack set the phone on his lap and let another sob escape. He took a deep breath and picked up the phone again. “I won’t. I won’t leave you, Em.”
He turned a corner and slammed on the brakes. Before him stood a blockade of military vehicles, including one that appeared to have rockets loaded on the back.
“Em, no matter what happens, I love you more than I could ever say.”
Friday 7:48PM //
Aaron clung to Claire’s hand as they walked the cratered streets. By this time, everything was quiet, except for the occasional plane flying low overhead, or the sighting of a Humvee.
Where is everyone?
Many houses and buildings in the center of Houston had been taken out by the bombs. Aaron and Claire had been home when they started to fall, getting ready to leave for his parents’ house.
Without a word, they had run to the basement of their apartment building, in a crowd of other tenets. It wouldn’t really have saved them from the kind of bombs being dropped, but instinct drove them all down.
When the worst seemed to be over, they crept out to find their street had been spared. Aaron’s first impulse was to walk his usual routes and check on his friends. As he and Claire set out, he didn’t have to explain anything to her, and his heart swelled with love for his wife.
His phone buzzed in his back pocket and Aaron reached for it. “Mom! Are you okay? Is everyone okay?”
“Oh honey, it’s so good to hear your voice. We’re alive.” Mom was crying. “Are you two okay? Where are you?”
“We’re fine. Our apartment didn’t get hit.” Aaron evaded her second question. “Where are you?”
“Well, we’re at your dad’s work, but the Russians have taken over. They’re holding us here. I don’t know for how long.”
“But they let you call me?” Aaron shared a glance with Claire.
“They don’t seem to care what we do as long as we don’t leave.”
Aaron rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, maybe that’s the safest place for you to be. I’ll try to come by and see you. Tell everyone hi for me. I love you, Mom.” Aaron hung up, his hands shaking.
Claire looked up at him, brows furrowed.
“Russians have taken over the oil plant.” Aaron swallowed. “Let’s go.”
A lump grew in his throat as they traversed the rubble littered over familiar sidewalks. He focused on what was around him, not letting his mind wander to the repercussions of the Russians infiltrating US oil.
Most of the nooks and crannies where his homeless friends once took up residence were gone. The first dead body they came on brought Aaron’s heart to his throat. He stared at the man for a long time, while Claire buried her face in his shoulder.
“This is a war. Our country hasn’t seen war on our turf since the Civil War. What does this mean for America?” Aaron wrapped his arms around his wife and kissed the top of her head. He steered them on.
Where the bombings had been worst, bodies were strewn around, always catching Aaron off guard. A lump burned in his throat.
Dull light from the setting sun filtered through the haze stirred up by the bombs. The air hung heavier than usual.
Claire lifted her head and put an arm around his waist. Tears pooled, ready to fall from her eyes. Aaron held her close to his side. They walked slower.
Aaron guided them through the streets, unaware of where he was going. They checked in on one family whose house was still standing.
“Miguel, is everyone okay?” Aaron grasped the man’s shoulder.
A little girl clung to Miguel’s leg.
“Yes, everyone is fine.” Miguel’s dark brown eyes were bloodshot. “Not everyone has been so lucky. Many are fleeing to Mexico. We’re leaving as soon as Alicia feeds the baby. We have connections at the border. You can come with us.”
Aaron shared a look with Claire and knew they understood each other. “Thanks man, but we’re staying.”
“Alright, well, thanks for everything you’ve done for us.” Miguel held out his hand.
Aaron shook it. “Take care.”
“Can we see Alicia?” Claire put a maternal hand on the little girl’s head.
Miguel stepped aside for them to enter.
They continued on their journey through the city after a tearful goodbye with Miguel and Alicia. Rounding another corner, Aaron drew a sharp breath. The place where Marie’s house full of kids once stood was now just a foundation.
He jumped away as Claire threw up. Looking at the ground in front of them, he understood why. A child’s hand lay dismembered and singed nearby.
Aaron put an arm around Claire’s shaking shoulders and turned back toward their apartment. “I think we’ve seen enough for today.”
Saturday, June 9th
A loud, metallic banging on the door woke Emma. She shot up, off the cold linoleum floor. Next to her, Matt raised his head. His eyes were puffy.
“Mr. Smith!” A voice boomed from the other side of the door.
Dad stood, moving as though every muscle hurt, just like he had after his first marathon. He opened the door a sliver.
The voice in the hallway spoke just as loud. “Breakfast is in the cafeteria. Report to the conference room in fifteen minutes. Bring your family.”
Dad turned back to Mom, Matt, and Emma, then dropped his head against the closed door. They all stood to leave.
Jack. What happened to him? A fresh lump formed in Emma’s throat and silent tears fell.
It was incomprehensible to not know when she might see him again, or if she ever would. Her mind blocked those thoughts. He had been such a staple in her daily life since high school.
And Kate? And Amy? What’s happened to everyone? Where is everyone? Emma closed her eyes and steadied her frantic breathing. I just can’t think of them. I have to focus on finding Jack again.
She had tried calling him right back, after they’d been cut off, but the signal was dead. Mom had reassured her that the call had probably just been cut off. Jack was fine. Emma lay awake most of the night wondering what had happened, where he might be.
Her stomach churned. She didn’t know when she had last eaten, but the idea of putting anything in her mouth made her feel sick. A few of Dad’s co-workers shuffled through a line in the cafeteria, loading bowls with cold cereal. There was no milk.
Emma slumped onto a bench at the nearest table.
“Sweetie, you need to eat something.” Mom leaned forward to look into Emma’s eyes.
Emma shook her head. “I can’t. I want Jack.” Her voice broke.
Mom smoothed a hand over Emma’s hair, then followed Matt to the food line. When they came back, Mom set a bowl of cereal in front of Emma. It was her favorite.
Fresh tears welled up in Emma’s eyes. “They have cinnamon toast squares? What the hell’s going on?” She looked from Mom to her dad.
Dad’s eyes were rimmed with red. He looked defeated.
Anger roiled in Emma’s gut. “How could the US let all this happen? Where are our defenses? Where’s the army or the National Guard?”
Dad looked around with furtive glances and kept his voice low. “They were bombed. We didn’t stand a chance against Russia’s underwater missiles. We never saw them coming. I’m sure there are military divisions out there trying to help, but who knows what the rest of the country is like.”
Emma stared straight ahead as they walked the stark white hallways to the conference room. Her cheeks burned, and her heart pounded as she thought of the Russians waiting for them. She met Matt’s eye and a flicker of a smile passed over his face. He took Emma’s hand. She squeezed his.
As Emma had anticipated, they were met with a group of large, Slavic men. A few of Dad’s co-workers also sat scattered around the conference table.
What happened to their families?
“Mr. Smith. I hear you are in charge.” The man who appeared to actually be in charge scrutinized Dad.
“Where’s Hooper?” Dad looked around at his coworkers.
Bobby’s slight shake of the head almost went unnoticed by Emma. He worked directly under Dad since the promotion, out in the oil field.
“Your family is still with us, I see.” The man at the head of the table gave a cursory glance over Mom, Emma, and Matt. “I will send them with a guard to get a few things from your home, then they must come back.” The man waved a guard forward without taking his eyes off Dad.
They drove home, crammed in the back seat of a Russian Humvee-looking vehicle. Theirs was sandwiched between two other Humvees, one leading the way and one bringing up the rear. Emma sat in the middle of Mom and Matt, fighting the lump in her throat.
So much of the city was gone. All the familiarity gone. They might as well be on a different planet. Emma’s skin crawled.
At least Aaron and Claire are okay. And Jack. Jack must be okay.
Matt took her hand again. He hadn’t said a word all day.
Things remained unfamiliar as they made their way toward the outer suburbs. She could barely tell which streets they were on as they followed the directions of the GPS. Matt gaped out the window as they spotted people loading dead bodies into trucks. Emma turned away.
There were Russians with guns everywhere. Three guarded a power pole where American linemen were working. Others watched over men working on a piping with water bursting from the sidewalk. Matt turned and looked at Emma with wide eyes. He shook his head.
The driver turned on the radio. A tense voice, with a Texan accent, came through the airwaves. “We’ve seen higher rates of unemployment and homelessness in recent years, and our own government has done almost nothing to change that. The new regime aims for a better America. We will soon see cleaner streets, lower crime rates, and more job opportunities—”
“Turn it off.” Matt startled everyone.
The driver glared back at him, then barked a sadistic laugh before facing the road again.
Emma shivered but had stopped crying. The cereal sat in an uncomfortable ball in her stomach.
When they entered their cul-de-sac, the cereal threatened to make another appearance.
The house was gone.
Mom let out a cry that chilled Emma to the core. Matt threw his arms around Emma and Mom. Tears fell, silent, down his cheeks.
Emma caught the guard’s eye in the mirror and thought she detected sympathy. Her heart pounded, and angry adrenaline surged through her whole body.
“Take us back.” The words came from Matt with force.
As the guard turned the Humvee around, Emma’s stomach lurched. One thought seared through her mind. She turned in her seat and reached back to the rubble that used to be their home.
“My dress. My wedding dress. Mom!”
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