By Bruce A. Smith
The Men of Honor of Unity House is a novel based upon my experiences as a therapist at a residential 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 seven 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 have only the Men of Honor for assistance.
To read more of the Men of Honor:
Chapter 16 – North High
Day Four – 8:30 am
By the time I got to the dining room, Deon had already spilled a pitcher of juice and tracked it all over the dining area looking for paper towels to mop it up. We called it juice, but it was a Kool-Aid-esque powder mix. Cherry was best and the lemonade sucked. Deon had spilled the cherry. I headed for more coffee.
Karen had things under control, kind of. The kitchen scene was a controlled chaos of the Rolling Thunder type: six teenage boys all trying to be helpful at the same time while insisting that they were the best cook, the smartest cook or the best-looking cook. It made my head spin.
Karen must have had more than one brother. She probably grew up with 10.
After eating breakfast, Terry and I had a quiet conference and then I stood to address our worsening situation.
“Men and Women of Honor, may I have your attention.”
The guys settled down quickly for a change.
“We need to talk frankly about our situation. Losing electricity is a major setback to our welfare.”
The guys looked at me with a new, matured concern look in their eyes. I took heart.
“With the electricity out, that probably means the city’s water pumps are down, so we have to conserve our water. We have some residual pressure in our plumbing, but it’s gonna run out. I want everyone to get a pitcher or a glass jar. Fill ‘em with water right after we finish cleanup. It will be your personal drinking water. A couple of hours from now we might not be able to get any more water from the taps and I don’t want to take a chance of the Abbey’s pump holding up, or having to spend a lot of our radiation-time hauling water if we can avoid it. So, new rule in the bathrooms. In order to conserve water, I propose a new policy: If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
“Yew,” said Willy.
“Enough, Willy,” I barked. “And another thing. Showers. We will have to cut down on showers. To de-dust yourself, turn on your shower, get wet and then turn it off. Soap up, turn the water back on, and wash it off. We gotta save water.”
“Good idea,” confirmed Adam.
“We also have to induct Ryan into the Men of Honor Society,” Karen said.
“Yes,” I said, and Ryan’s eyes got wide.
“Then, we’ll go to Karen’s, and start our rounds in the neighborhood.” That seemed like the end of the meeting since the guys stood up and in a clamor of voices began an excited preparation to re-enter the World of Heroes.
TT organized clean up, and then we moved right into our initiation.
Ryan spoke every word with a thick deliberation. It almost seemed like he was trying to make it the biggest deal in the world, like trumping it up instead of being simply proud and emotionally present.
But it could be the biggest deal in the world to him, I said to myself, swallowing my impatience.
After filling water bottles and suiting up, we were ready to go.
Karen and Trey went on foot to her house for smokes and a couple of gallon jugs of water she had in her basement.
Adam went in the Nuke Mobile with TT, the two K’s Willy, Deon and Naleef to take another load of food up to St. Vincent’s and see if they had any suggestions for our Bill, and then they continued the canvas of the neighborhoods off Heywood and Houghton Streets. On the way back they would stop at the Abbey and pump some water.
Using TT’s muddy pathway through the Abbey, I took Ryan on the BMW down to the high school to see how things were. It wasn’t pretty. The doors were unlocked, unlike Unity House or normal policy for a Worcester school. The hallways were untidy; papers and odd bits of clothing lay scattered here and there. No one seemed to be around.
“Where is everyone, Ryan?”
“The teachers are in the teacher’s room, and the kids are in the cafeteria.”
“Show me the way.”
“To whichever is closer, we only have another ten-minutes here.”
“Okay, down this hallway is the teachers’ room.” When we entered, I found several teachers laying on couches, asleep or in a daze. In the adjacent office, I found the core of the teachers – ten men and six women. They didn’t look too surprised to see me. I took off my respirator. Ryan unwrapped his scarf.
“Hi, everyone,” I said. “My name is Dave Stein. I’m from the Unity House on Marion Ave. We’re in contact with the Army and I wanted you to know they are sending in rescue teams today. How are things here?” Everyone was lethargic. No one spoke. From a darkened corner, Mr. D stood.
“Hi, Dave,” Mr. D said, stretching out his hand as I walked over to him.
“Hey, Don,” I said shaking his hand. “Thanks for the ride on your bike. I’d give it back to ya, but I need a ride home, too.”
He chuckled gamely, but it was an effort for him.
“Things look rough here, Don,” I said. “I only have a few minutes left before I have to go back to the house. Wait. I’m indoors, there’s no radiation inside here.” Whew
“Things aren’t too good here, Dave. We’re out of food. We lost electricity this morning. On a personal note, I think I have some radiation poisoning. I’m nauseous, weak, and light-headed, and many of the staff are, too.”
“We’ve got a lot of sick kids, too,” he continued. “We’re taking turns supervising the kids, doing what we can. C’mon, I’ll show you.”
We shuffled down the hallway to the cafeteria.
“You say you’re in touch with the Army? How? We have no radio, TV phone, or anything. It’s like the world has cut us off.”
“We have underground utilities at Unity,” I told him. “Plus, I had a computer on before the bomb exploded. I guess because I have the local phone service and the switching office is just down the road on Plantation Street, we were able to stay connected. We lost it this morning, though, when the electricity went off. Plus, we had a visitor join us from New Hampshire night before last, an Adam Peronski, who brought us a lot of news.”
“I remember Adam when he was a social worker. I was just starting out in teaching.”
“No kidding? Well, Adam joined us last night. He’s been in touch with the Army and they’re sending in help real soon, as soon as the terrorist threat is secured.”
“Great. But, the big thing for me, Dave,” Don explained, “is, I don’t know what’s best for the kids. Should we hang tough here or try to make a run for it? Most of the kids are only a mile or so from home.”
“Adam said that the cops and FEMA teams were on stand-down until the Army could assess the terrorist threat. They don’t have a lot of equipment like radiation suits. But Adam said they were coming into our area today. We were supposed to talk to Gen. Mayfield’s office at 8:00am this morning, but our power went out just before that. Adam said they were preparing contingencies, but they really don’t know what’s happening here, just like we don’t really know how things are anywhere else.”
“How are things out there? What can you tell me?”
“Well, a two-kiloton nuke went off in the western section of town. Everything downtown is toast. The fallout went north and east to Boston and up the coast, and then it just dispersed everywhere after that. It’s still in the air and is blocking all the radio and TV signals.”
“Wow, I had no idea,” said Don.
Then, a stale, stinky smell hit my nostrils. In two more steps we were at the cafeteria. It looked horrible.
Chairs and tables were stacked on one side of the room, and in the open floor space kids lay on gym mats. Thirty or so looked very ill. For blankets they used the remnants of what looked like auditorium curtains. Empty packages of torn-open ketchup, mayonnaise, pop-tarts, and crackers were strewn everywhere. Must have been dinner, I thought.
“Everyone,” said Don in a command voice, “May I have everyone’s attention.” Kids gathered close. They could see Ryan and I were from the outside.
“This is Mr. Dave Stein, and most of you know Ryan Knolls. Mr. Stein is from the Unity House on Marion Ave. He’s come to see how we are, and tell us the news of what’s happening outside.”
“Did we really get hit by a nuclear bomb?” asked one of the kids.
“Yes, we did.”
“Oh, my God! …Jesus, please save us…. Oh, my God…”
Tears and weeping gushed out from many. Hearing the confirmation of what they suspected unleashed a shock wave of emotions.
“When is help coming? …Where is Mass-Fire and Rescue? …Where is the Army? …What’s happening to our country? …It’s been four fuckin’ days! …When is help gonna get here?” The reactions cascaded, deepened, and got primal.
“Listen,” I called out, “let me tell you what I know, and then you can ask questions.”
“A two-kiloton nuke went off somewhere on Newton Hill, probably in Elm Park. There is about a mile of total destruction in any direction from there. The downtown is all gone, in fact most of the city north of us is, too, and a pretty good way south. We are right on the edge of the destruction zone. We are the closest survivors to the blast, and everything east of us is covered in heavy fallout and debris, which is what is keeping help from getting to us. Apparently, the blast was deflected by the surrounding hills, so we at Unity House escaped in pretty good shape because we’re on the back side of Dorchester Hill.
“You guys here at North High School were hit harder since I see that a lot of you are sick. You probably have radiation poisoning. There are several kinds of radiation and my guess is that somehow those who are sick now either got a direct blast of gamma radiation, which is the worst, or lingering radiation from the dust. We have one individual at Unity who was outdoors when the blast went off and he is every ill right now, as I can see many of you are, too.
“Everything west of us is totally gone, out to the airport. On my computer I saw some destruction as far away as Holy Cross College in the south and Burncoat to the north.”
Gasps and sobbing filled the room. Some girls were doubled over with anguish while others tried to console them. Burncoat was home to many.
“The Dorchester Hill District between you and Unity is okay for the most part, except for St. Vincent’s at the top of the hill. We‘ve had power, lights, and water for most of the time, but we have a lot of radioactive dust like what you see outside here. This fallout dust has alpha and beta radiation in it, which is very dangerous if you let it stay on you. Don’t go outside unless you have to, and if you get dust on yourself wash it off as soon as you can. That’s why Ryan and I have protective gear on. And that’s why rescue teams aren’t here yet, but they’re gearing up to handle the radiation.
“From today on you can go outside for fifteen-minutes a day with no ill effects. Just don’t track dust inside when you come back in. But we’re not going to be totally okay for another four weeks.”
“Oh, no…No way… We’re gonna die if we don’t get help…God save us…..” a chorus of voices said.
“Wait a minute; don’t panic,” I responded. “I don’t think we will have to live exactly like this for another month because help is coming, but we will definitely be restricted for a while.
“To the best of my knowledge, advance medical units will be arriving today, tonight at the latest, so, hang in there.
“We know that Unity House will be a forward staging area for emergency work. Exactly what kind, I don’t know. When they come to us, I will tell them to come here as well. How many should I tell them are here, Don?”
Don shrugged. “A couple hundred?”
I was barraged with questions.
“Is Franklin Street okay?”
“I don’t know, I think so, being it’s on this side of the hill.”
“What about Rice Square?”
“Yes. One of my staff just came in from there.”
“Listen everybody, North High School is the furthest I’ve been since this all happened. I really don’t know how things are out there, but I know that everything south to Millbury is probably in good shape if folks have food and water, and have stayed out of the dust.
“Don, you can come back in TT’s super-dooper SUV with chains and a plow that we’ve nick-named the Nuke Mobile. You can get a load of food from us and whatever water we can spare.”
We arrived back at Unity House moments after TT and the Nuke Mobile pulled in. Knowing the shape that North High was in, we all volunteered a few more minutes of dust time to load food in the Nuke Mobile. Karen and Trey even loaded the four gallons of water that they had brought back from Karen’s house. We even gave them a pack of smokes. There was a primal reluctance to see our food stash get cleaned out, but we all knew that help was coming soon, and heck, our neighbors and their kids were dying out there. We had to do whatever we could.
In five minutes, we had the “Nukester,” Willy’s secondary term for TT’s Ford Expedition, packed with ten cases of applesauce, five cases of tuna, twenty cases of French-cut green beans, and lots of spinach.
“No one’s gonna complain about eating their veggies today,” I joked as we shoved the doors closed on the Nuke Mobile.
With lots of waves and smiles we sent TT off on his run to North High. Then Unity settled down to Sloppy Joes and cherry drink. It felt like a banquet.