Written in 2022 inspired by the news
The fall of the United States always sounded like a fantasy. Almost as if someone took a world event from ancient history and superimposed it over the modern day. Most people assumed the actual fall of the United States would be a gradual event, something that took place over generations or centuries. They would one day not be the leaders of the world, but be in the conversation. As the years trudged on, they would lose influence, maybe their currency would weaken or their military might would be overshadowed. But that did not happen.
Betty was only three when the madness began. She had no recollection of it. She did not remember the cities burning, the lockdowns, the calls for people’s heads on national television. It was probably for the best. By the time she was eight they had left their home in Nashville. The violence and crime were so close that her mother and father decided they were better off fighting the wilderness than their neighbors.
They left and headed west. They initially found an abandoned homestead in northern Kansas. Betty’s father did what he could, but having been the third generation in his family to be raised in the city he had no idea how to survive. He learned a bit about hunting, he managed to repair some of the structural damage to the barn that was on the property, but the winter weather proved to be too much.
Geraldine, Betty’s mother, was forced to bury her husband that first winter. But the lessons were powerful. She respected the weather and understood the importance of planning. They lived most of their nights in the car instead of the barn, the smaller cabin was easier to keep warm and more windproof than the falling over barn. It was the heavy storms and tornados that drove Betty and Geraldine farther northwest.
The average American did not pay attention. The vast majority of the country rejected the news, rejected the politicians, rejected the special interest groups. Instead, they kept to themselves as long as they could. They went to their jobs and watched their television until there was no other option but to leave.
Those who stayed in the cities lived in a war zone. Police became ineffective and outnumbered. Every citizen had been reduced to their social group memberships. Skin color, sexual orientation, gender acceptance, political affiliation, ethnicity, nationality heritage, economic beliefs, religious beliefs, scientific views… People were slotted into a team based on these characteristics and fought all the others.
Those who disagreed, refused to be categorized and analyzed left the cities. They squatted on land and fought for no other reason than survival. Their only enemy was government agencies that looked to round up those who refused to be a part of society. They looked to create manpower for their armies which were fighting wars across the globe. If a family did not fight for their beliefs in the city they were forced to fight for their governments beliefs in other countries.
Learning to live off the land was a slow thing, but Betty and Geraldine were quick studies. After a couple of years, they had learned to live near a water source, they understood how hunt, fish, and forage. They managed to live with other roaming bands of urban runaways wearing hunted skins and spending most of their time preparing for the next big weather event.
By the time that nuclear weapons went off in the major cities’ life in the wilderness of America was nothing but survival. Betty had grown up without the knowledge of what entertainment was. She lived to live the next day and that was all. She knew what pain and loss was before she should have learned to read. They learned about the warfare coming to America by the gasoline drying up. Once the collapse of the dollar happened everything gave out. First the gas pumps, then the electrical grid, then any semblance of society.
The pair settled in Northern North Dakota. They had a water source, their car, although it had not run in six months was a shelter from animals and heavy winds. They could make fire, they could hunt their food, they even could host the random refugee that was just coming across the survival life that most survivors had been living for a few years.
It was the dead of winter. Betty was in her early teens and was working on building a smokehouse where her mom and her could brine their meats and dry them out once the winter passed. As she put the evergreens over the top of the little hut’s structure, she began to hear a rumble. It was a noise that she recognized, but could not place what it was. She ran back to the small sedan that now had weeds and vines that had overtaken the tires. She knocked on the window of the frozen cave catching the attention of her mother.
Geraldine opened the door to see what the problem was, but the moment the door swung open, she recognized the sound of an engine. Some type of very large truck was coming down the road. The old road now cracked and being overtaken by the Earth it scarred in the first place. Geraldine told Betty to get in the car and she shut her in while Geraldine stood out in the snowy white hills waiting for whoever it was that still had a working vehicle.
She gripped her shotgun hoping the image of it would make whoever approached think twice. Shotgun shells or ammunition of any type had long run out. The best bet for finding any ammo was to forage for it in the ruins of the big cities, hoping to not be hit by the nuclear fallout.
Betty watched with baited breath in the car trying to wipe away the condensation from her own breath to be able to see her mother. It was not the first time this played out. Occasionally, a group would wander through their little valley, the river and lake tended to attract those who were thirsty. The odd part was the time of year. The winter was normally a lonely time where everything was about survival and you did not work or worry about others.
Minutes passed, it seemed like hours. But eventually Betty saw the largest machine she could remember ever seeing. It came over the hill like a great warship arriving from across the ocean. Betty did not have any idea what the machine was. It was huge and black. It overtook any bush that stood in its way and left a trail of snowless brush in its wake. The sight of snowless grass in the middle of winter left Betty uneasy as any machine that was capable of that was capable of so much more.
Geraldine recognized the tank as it broke the ridge. She did not recognize it as American so her fears of someone raiding an abandoned military base subsided. She did not know what country the tank was representing, but it did not matter to her. Words were shouted in a language she did not understand. Then they came again in another language. It came again possibly in Spanish. Finally, over some kind of speaker system, “Drop your weapons.”
Geraldine looked down at her shotgun almost amused that a tank was asking her to disarm. She tossed the gun to the side and fell to her knees as she watched the massive machine approach the little hamlet she had been considering home for the last couple of years.
The tank was flanked by a dozen soldiers. Both men and women, mostly young, slowly walked next to the tank with large firearms that were pointed to the ground. The tank eventually stopped probably considering its path back out of the little river valley.
One of female soldiers approached Geraldine with both hands held up in front of her showing there was no danger. Geraldine noticed she had a series of flags on her uniform, she recognized China and something that she thought was European, but her lack of foreign affairs knowledge left her in the dark.
“Espanol? Francais? Russkiy? Zhongguo ren? English? Italiano? Deutsch?” The woman shouted as she approached.
Geraldine heard a word she recognized, “English! English! I speak English!”
The woman turned to her coworkers and waved someone forward. A young boy maybe in his early teens came jogging forward. He shouted as he passed the woman, “Are you armed?”
“No.” She responded without hesitation. If these people waned to do her harm they would be able to do as they pleased so she felt no need to hide things. “I have no ammunition.”
“Are you alone?”
“My daughter is in the car behind me.” She pointed back to Betty.
Betty saw the gesture and became concerned that her mother was being held up for their supplies. But she remained in the car.
“Do you know what has happened in your country?” The boy was now within feet of Geraldine. His face was flushed with windburn, but his determination hid any pain he felt from it.
“We have had no gasoline or electricity or anything of the sort for years, at least I think it is years.”
“How long have you been living like this?”
“We left Nashville in 2025.” She said it afraid of what the boy would say. How long had she been out there. How old was her daughter at this point.
“And what year do you think it is?”
“2029?” She started to break down in tears as the realization of what her life had been suddenly hit her. She had been in fight or flight for years and now with the return of someone from civilization she had everything come crashing down on her.
Betty saw her mom start to cry and kicked the car door open. She ran to her mother’s side hugging her and trying to help her keep things together.
The boy said to the both of them. “It will be ok. Do you want to come to a refugee camp or do you want to stay here?”
“We don’t own the land. We have been squatting, so we should probably…”
The boy cut Geraldine off, “Don’t worry about that. This land is national land now, you are welcome to live on it however you’d like. But I can take you to a refugee camp where you can get heat, shelter, be assessed for a job, a permanent residence, among other things.”
They agreed to go to the camp. The idea that they could get back to some sort of society warmed Geraldine’s heart. She wanted her daughter to talk to other kids, she wanted her to make a friend, she wanted her to know what it was to feel like they knew their next meal would be there.
The trip to the camp was long and sickening. They had not ridden in a vehicle in a couple years and the movement was nauseating. They rode in an open-air military truck that would go a few miles and stop to check for other survivors. By the time they reached the camp there were two dozen people on the truck. When they arrived, everyone was corralled into a big steel building where they given a presentation.
The presentation was designed to acclimate everyone to their new reality. It began with an explanation of the war. Most of it was ignored by the people in the room. The vast majority of them had fled the cities years ago and were not interested in foreign relations.
The presentation went to show that war devolved into two sides. America, the E.U., Japan, and much of America were attempting to stop the expansion of Russia, China, North Korea, and their unlikely allies in Italy, the U.K. and random other nations throughout the world.
The situation in America was explained by claiming the country had been torn in half by a civil war that raged in the major cities while the government tried to find citizens to draft into the global war. It was at this point where many in the room started to sob realizing what they had lost in those years.
When the video began to show images of Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago being eradicated by nuclear explosions the result became clear. They were informed that the top twenty major cities in America had been leveled by nuclear warfare. Their president finally surrendered after having gone through a dozen changes in the office through the succession as political figures became targets of the radical groups within the United States.
Betty watched the images as most people would watch a movie. She did not know the world that they were saying was gone. She had been raised in a post American world. Geraldine seemed to feel a sense of thankfulness. The society she knew as child had been torn apart. She had run from it and sought refuge in survival living. For the longest time she just wanted things to be stable.
The film seemed to suggest that they were being liberated from their tyrants. The were told that all their leaders had been tried in war courts and executed for their treatment of their citizens. The leaders of the activist’s groups had also been rounded up and tried for war crimes, most of who were imprisoned. The voices of dissent that managed to evade execution during the war were suddenly being touted as heroes and would have a major influence on the new society that was being built.
All the time Geraldine could only remember back to her childhood when she would recite the pledge of allegiance. When she felt that sense of pride that she was an American. When she constantly said prayers to her God thanking her for being born in America. She almost felt bad for that little girl. She now understood that she was not defined by her country, she was defined by her passion, her family, her ideals… After years of pain and suffering, if America had to fall to allow her some stability, then so be it.