By Bruce A. Smith
The Men of Honor if Unity House is a novel based upon my experiences as a therapist at a foster care facility for young men coping with sexual assault charges. In 2001, during the Anthrax scare that followed 9-11, my agency’s director and I mapped out a plan for how we would deal with our men, aged 12-18, if we had to go into lockdown in the event of a local terrorist attack. The following pages are based upon those discussions.
The plot so far: A 2-kiloton suitcase nuke has exploded in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the staff of Unity House form the Men of Honor Society for two purposes: One, to keep the twelve teen-aged boys of Unity House busy and not fighting each other, and two, to act as a rescue group to the local neighborhood. Due to the destruction and radiation, the police and army can not get into this section of Worcester. The people living on Marion Avenue and Plantation Street only have the Men of Honor aiding them.
To read more of the Men of Honor:
Chapter 22 – One of the Men of Honor falls
Day Five – 1 pm
I was in the kitchen fixing tuna sandwiches for lunch when a Gator pulled up with TT and Trey on it, both of them wearing rad suits. Through the window I saw TT put his arm around Trey’s waist, and help him walk into the main portal.
“What’s wrong?” I shouted, running to the door.
“Trey’s sick,” replied TT, pulling off his helmet. “Help me get Trey out of his rad suit and put him to bed. He’s really weak, and he’s having trouble walking.”
Trey was wobbly and semi-conscious, and said nothing as we escorted him down the south corridor to his room. We gently laid him down on his bed and pulled blankets over him. His eyes had a glazed look.
“What’s wrong, TT? Why is he here? He looks pretty sick. Why aren’t they taking care of him up at the high school… that’s where all the doctors are supposed to be?”
“They have hundreds of sick people there and more’s coming every minute. Everyone in the Eastside is sick and the situation at North High is a mess, and I felt we could take care of Trey better back here at the house. I brought back all the antibiotics, lung inhalers and anti-radiation stuff they are giving everyone at the high school. If he needs a transfusion, or skin grafts for surface burns we can take him back once their convoy gets through, or maybe our medical convoy can do that here, once they get here. But Dave, right now he’s better off here.”
“Okay,” I said. “Take care Trey.” I placed my palm on his sweaty brow. “I’ll be back in a few minutes to see if you need anything, or if I can get you anything.” I didn’t know if he heard me, but I knew his soul did. I left with TT.
“Tiny T,” I asked softly, “tell me what’s going on. This is radiation sickness isn’t it?”
“Yup, part of it. Like with Bill, nausea and stomach problems are the first symptoms, then the weakness in the legs. The docs up at the high school told us they think Trey and Bill, and lots like them got hit with gamma rays and then breathed in alpha rays. Trey must have been outdoors when the blast hit, or near a window. Lots of the folks up at the school are sick, sicker than Trey, and kids are already dying there, Dave.”
“Others have lots of skin burns from touching the dust or they’re coughing like crazy, even spitting up blood from radiation dust in the lungs. The docs are afraid that a lot of people are going to get secondary infections, like pneumonia. That’s what the antibiotics are for. The inhalers and other asthma stuff is for swelling in the lungs. There’s not too much we can do for the radiation itself. The body just has to ride it out, unless we have to go the blood transfusion route.”
“So, what are the docs doing that are up at the school?”
“Not sure, but there’s lots of injuries from the broken glass and flying debris. We were pretty sheltered here. All the windows on the west side of the high school are blown out and lots of kids got cut and dusted.”
“I didn’t see that when I was there.”
“Yeah, well, they’re there.”
“What did they need with a surgeon and an anesthesiologist? Adam and Deon went out to ferry two docs from a convoy. What’s the story there?”
“There’s lots of broken legs and things like that coming in from the community, so it’s probably for them. They’re also beginning to do some blood and bone marrow transfusions to reverse the radiation effects, primarily with the younger kids, especially between siblings. A lot of kids are pretty far gone and the transfusions are a last-ditch effort to save them. It’s is a tough procedure, but because their bodies are younger they have a better chance of surviving. But, I figure whatever they can do for radiation down at North High we’ll be able to get up here at Unity when our medical convoy gets here, today. So, I think Trey’s better off here. It’s still pretty rough down there. Besides, all they got to eat are MRE’s, and.…” Tiny hesitated, “Trey’s got his people here. This is where he belongs.”
I nodded in agreement.
“And I want to lay my hands on him tonight and pray. Do you know what I’m talking about, Dave?”
“Sure. You’re talking about laying healing hands on Trey, like therapeutic touch. Right?”
“You got it, brother. I thought we could do it as part of our prayer meeting tonight.”
“Prayer meeting, tonight? You want another one? We had one last night,” I said.
“Brother, we need one every night. Look at what is going on around here. We need it. You know what I’m saying to you?”
“We need some light-hearted times, too, Tiny T,” I said.
“We can have those after the prayer meeting and laying on hands. I want the boys to join me, too.”
“Of course,” I said. “I’d like to join you, too. I’ve learned some healing techniques at Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment. I have some suggestions that might help the boys focus on the healing.”
“I don’t know about that Ramtha stuff; it’s not voodoo or something is it? I’m praying to the Lord and let God do the work.”
“Well, I’m not talking about anything too different. My focus is a different kind of prayer. It’s just focusing on the divinity within us.”
“Hummnpf,” TT snorted.
“But you lead the group TT,” I said. “You have a clear idea of how you want the healing to be organized. Prayer is prayer. Our healings will get through, I’m sure of it. When it comes from the heart it doesn’t matter what the technique is.”
“You hungry?” I asked, wanting to change the subject knowing that our theological discussion was over. “I just made tuna sandwiches.”
“Ummf,” TT grunted, which sounded like a ‘yes’ to me.
We headed to the kitchen.
“Now that you and another Gator are back here, Tiny T,” I suggested through bites, “we can send another crew out in the neighborhood. We still have plenty of homes to check.”
“Good idea,” said TT. “I’m gonna have to leave this evening, too. I gotta get back to my people and see how they’re doing. After prayers, I’ll go. You wanna go out with Naleef or Ryan?”
“I’ll go with Naleef. Karen is teaching Ryan to be a radio operator. Besides, Ryan was out this morning; Naleef hasn’t been on a run.”
Naleef looked totally spiffy when we went out. I could smell his cologne through the rad suit.
Why do these guys always use so much cologne?
“Naleef, you’re looking good,” I said through my helmet, “even combed your hair.”
Naleef just smiled.
“Did your mother tell you to always look your best when you go out?” I asked.
Naleef still smiled, but not as radiantly as before. Maybe the thought of his mother took something away from the moment.
We drove down Shannon and then turned down Salford Street where Monica and Tracey lived. We stopped at the corner triple-decker where Trey had seen the little girls playing in the dust the day after the bomb. Even though there was no towel on the door we stopped and began looking around.
We didn’t see anything through the windows so I knocked on the door. Nothing. Sensing that someone should be home I tried the door to the ground floor apartment. It opened and we went inside.
A mess of magazines, clothes and dirty food plates were laying about haphazardly in the first room we came to, a small living room or what people in the old days called a parlor.
“These people are slobs,” Naleef said. I nodded.
Oddly, the first thing that caught my eye was the phone was off the hook. It was an old-fashioned corded phone and the handset was dangling off the table by its cord.
Naleef saw it too, and picked it up. Listening, he turned to me and said, “Nothing, Dave.”
“I wonder why it’s off the hook?” I asked.
Naleef put it back on the cradle and we continued into the house. The phone was like a talisman. We were entering into someone else’s life, interrupting it, like whatever interrupted the phone call.
Naleef went through the small living room and into the hallway that led to the back of the house. I followed.
Two small bedrooms branched off on the right. We paused at each one and looked in, but saw no one.
I slid back my visor.
“Hello,” I called out after pulling off my helmet. “Anybody home? We’re from FEMA. We’re checking out the neighborhood to see if anyone needs help.”
“Hello,” called out Naleef in a copycat version. “Hello, anybody home? My name is Naleef. Anybody here?”
Naleef continued down the hallway into the kitchen. He seemed quite comfortable being the lead explorer, and I was happy to let him go. It gave me a chance to look around a little closer and get a sense of what might be going on.
The kitchen was a disaster. Open cans of food lay all over the counter and little table, and dirty pots and pans were stacked in the sink. I worried about ripping a tear in our rad suits with all the junk lying about.
Naleef opened a side door into the bathroom.
I saw an old-fashioned tub; it even had legs.
“Dave,” Naleef called out, and waved me over with his hand.
I walked over and stood behind Naleef. On the floor was an obese elderly woman who didn’t look like she was breathing. She was on her side, motionless. I tried to get to her but Naleef was frozen in the doorway.
“Naleef, let me inside,” I said gently.
He melted enough to allow me to get past him.
I leaned over the woman and turned her on her back. I reached to feel her pulse but it was useless with my rad gloves on. I looked closely at her carotid artery in her neck to see if I could determine a pulse, but she had too much flesh to see an artery. I looked closely to see if her chest was rising or falling to see if she was breathing. I didn’t see anything. Then a thought from my first-aid merit badge came to mind.
“Naleef, get me a small mirror. Look in the medicine cabinet next to you. There might be a cosmetic thing or something.”
Naleef opened the cabinet door, but looked confused.
I propped the woman up against the wall. If she’s breathing, she’ll have an easier time in an upright position.
I looked in the medicine cabinet with Naleef. A black compact caught my eye and I reached for it, but with my gloved fingers all I could do was nudge it, spilling about forty plastic pill containers into the sink.
Naleef reached in. His junior-sized rad suit gave him the finger dexterity to pick up the compact.
“Open it. See if there’s a mirror inside.” There was, and Naleef handed it to me.
I placed it next to the woman’s nostrils. The mirror remained clear. There was no condensation on the mirror.
“I don’t think she’s breathing, Naleef. She may be dead. I think we’d better leave her. Let’s look for the kids Trey saw; maybe they’re upstairs.”
I wonder if she was the grandmother home taking care of the kids.
Off the back of the kitchen was a staircase to the second-story apartment. Narrow, creaky, and musty, the eighty-year old wooden stairs were party to yet one more human drama. We went up in single file.
We found nothing but mess in the second-floor apartment. The third-floor apartment, however, was locked from the outside.
“Kids can’t be there, Naleef.”
Where are they?
As we came down the stairs, we saw a narrow door at the back of the ground floor landing. Naleef tried the door knob and it turned. Pulling it open we saw it led to a small basement. We wouldn’t have found it if we hadn’t gone up the stairs.
Next to the boiler and water heater were the two small girls. Their skin was horribly red and bleeding. They were motionless and unresponsive when we nudged them.
Naleef asked for the compact.
“Let me try,” he said, “my fingers are smaller than yours so I can get it in closer than you can, Dave.”
I handed him the compact, but even with his dexterity his fingers smudged the glass. I looked around for a rag to wipe it clean.
“Here, Naleef,” I said, handing him a shop towel that had been hanging on a pipe.
Holding the compact in one hand with his fingertips, he gently dabbed the mirror with the rag and got it clean, mostly. Then he placed it next to the nostrils of the smallest girl. A faint cloud of condensate fogged near the edge of the mirror.
“She’s alive,” I shouted. Naleef tried the other girl as I positioned myself to pick up the breathing girl.
“I don’t see anything, Dave.”
I turned toward Naleef and saw him position the mirror back and forth across her nose, trying to catch any stream of nostril moisture. We didn’t see any.
“We’ll take her back to the house, too, but we’ll take the breathing one first. I’ll carry her up Naleef. You look for names on the papers scattered around, and put up a post-it on the phone so if anyone comes back, like their mother, they’ll know where their kids are.
Naleef nodded and headed up the stairs.
I picked up the kid like I was carrying a sleeping child out of a car’s back seat. She’s heavy, I thought, as I clutched her close to my torso. Then I had to throw her over my shoulder to get up the stairs. This is just like a fireman in the movies.
I put her on the Gator, and on the way back in Naleef showed me some credit card bills and junk mail. Cardoza was one name, Perez another.
“Look upstairs, Naleef, I bet the girls were from the second-story apartment and maybe their grandmother slept down here. I’ll get the second girl.”
Carrying the second child out, Naleef joined me and said, “One’s Carla and the other’s Natifia.” He beamed.
Why’s he so happy?
Then, I got it. “Natifia? That’s kinda like your name.”
“Nice to know someone has a name like yours, eh?”
“Okay, leave a message on the front door so the cops know we’ve been here. Use the orange sheets on the clip board, ya know the orange sheets I use in the medical charts for special notes. Also, write down on the yellow legal pad that we’ve checked Apartments 1 and 2, and that number 3 is locked. We’ll use that as our log book.”
Naleef ran off ahead of me and got the papers. He duct-tapped an orange sheet on the front door on the ground floor apartment and wrote with a black Sharpie: “Naleef and Dave were here today.” Racing off he put a similar note on the back doors of the second and third floor apartments. He met me on the street as I was bringing the second girl out.
“Now, you’re gonna have to ride in back with the bigger girl that’s not breathing and hold on to her so she doesn’t fall out. I’ll hold on to the other one as I drive.”
Naleef climbed in back like he had done search and rescue all of his twelve years. He hugged the younger girl to his torso and kneeled on the floor board of the Gator, wedging himself between the seats.
“Ready?” I shouted.
“Yup,” he hollered back.
“Here we go,” and headed toward Unity. When we pulled up Ryan was watching though the dining room window. I motioned him to meet us at the portal.
“Help us carry these girls in,” I shouted through the door as I got off the Gator. I carried the breathing one in first and laid her down on the portal floor. Ryan, and then TT came out, and TT carried her into the house. I went back out for the bigger child and handed her off to Ryan.
“She’s not breathing, Ryan, so use the bag like I did on the woman this morning. Get some oxygen into her.”
Tiny T and Ryan placed the girls on top of the soldiers’ pallets in the Commons room and Karen began washing them. It seemed like the logical place to turn into an infirmary.
“One’s named Carla and the other’s Natifia,” shouted Naleef.
“We’re going back out,” I called. “You got it from here, TT?”
TT waved, and Naleef and I turned and headed back down Shannon. Looking towards Dorchester we saw an Army convoy coming up the hill toward us.
“Yahoo,” I shouted. “Help is here at last.”
I gunned it and met the lead vehicle, a dual-piped Worcester County DPW Loadstar-6000 snowplow decked-out with a doubled-bladed snowplow slam-bamming junk out of its way like a Russian Navy ice breaker busting an Arctic icepack.
“Where’s Unity House?” screamed the driver through his rad suit helmet.
“Follow us, buddy,” I shouted, spun the Gator around, and waved for him to follow us.
The snowplow, eight ambulance Humvees, three deuce and a half cargo trucks, a flatbed generator truck with a tag-along fuel caddy, and a 16-wheel water tanker followed us into our soccer field.
I approached the first soldier to show him the portal.
“Welcome to Unity House,” I said.
“Glad to be here,” replied the soldier, saluting.
I returned the salute as best as a conscientious objector and ex-hippie could.
“I’m Captain Peter Montoya. We’re here to set up a triage unit.”
“I’m Dave Stein, and this here is Naleef Sa. We’ve been expecting you. You just got here in the nick of time, too, I might add. We’ve just begun receiving folks. We just brought in two badly burned girls, one not breathing.”
Hearing that, Montoya signaled two of his team to enter the house stat.
“One of our own is sick in bed, too. We’ve hardly gotten started going through the neighborhood, and there’s thousands out there.” Montoya nodded.
“I see you have a few portals set up,” said Captain Montoya looking around with a critical eye. “That’s good.”
“Yes, Specialist Mulhearn showed us how.”
“Mulhearn’s a good man. He’s got a good crew.”
“Yeah, he’s really helped us out.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know exactly. He and his crew went off first thing this morning to get the water and electricity going in this part of town. Then they were helping the police and fire departments on Grafton.”
“That’s the big street at the bottom of the hill?”
“Yup. Then, Mulhearn was going up to the high school to check communication with the advance medical team there. We just got word from one of our people that there are hundreds of severe causalities up there. We sent a couple of our staff and a bunch of our kids to help.”
“Are you the ones with the yellow scarves?” asked Captain Montoya.
“And red berets,” piped in Naleef.
“And red berets,” said Captain Montoya, giving Naleef a salute and a nod.
Naleef returned both.
“Yes,” I replied. “We’re the Men of Honor of Unity House and our yellow scarves and red berets are our, um, uniforms, you might say.”
“I’ve heard about you. It’s a pleasure to serve with you and the Men and Women of Honor.” Montoya gave us another salute.
God, we’re not gonna be saluting all day, are we? I thought as Naleef and I returned the acknowledgment.
“Pleasure to serve with you, too, Captain,” I replied. “What do you and your team need here from us? How can we help?”
“Well, we have the first load here with us. We’ll be able to do more good for more people if we set up right. We’ll back up the deuce and a half’s to the front door and off-load our equipment. Do you have any crew that can help us?”
“Yes, we’ve got one young man besides Naleef and two staff, besides me.”
“Good,” said the Captain. “We have all our medical supplies, cots, food, water, and more fuel for the generators. We’ll set up inside, and as conditions warrant, we’ll convoy more resources in.”
Unity House was about to get totally stacked and packed.