Carland, Massachusetts is a small hamlet located near the Vermont border, about 90 minutes west of Boston. With the nearest rail station 12 miles away from the tiny mountain community, I was linked up to a patrol of Massachusetts National Guardsmen heading north.
Master Sergeant Ben Williams leads his squad on a mid-day patrol, his voice crackling through a headset inside the Humvee.
“We’ve had to fortify gas stations the most, especially since the rationing rules were put into effect,” said the four tour combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Folks love their cars, they want to flee, head for the hills loaded down with gas and guns. I don’t blame them. But until the government gets a handle on this whole crisis, I think it’s smart to restrict gasoline usage. It’s making people crazy though.”
Driving the armored vehicle through the once tourist clogged mountain road was Specialist Martin Schwartz, ” I saw a woman sneak her 5 year old under a Humvee to get at an underground gas tank valve. She was going to try to siphon off gallons of it into an inflatable kiddy pool in her minivan. Crazy.”
Williams is a stout and likable soldier, his helmet concealing a salt and pepper receding hairline. His hands, those of a peace time mechanic, expertly handle his M-4 carbine. Several miles from Carland, Williams ordered his three vehicle convoy to dismount at the first check-point we’ve encountered.
“We’re going to walk you up to the CITGO check-point, you can make it to the town center in about 20 minutes.”
Each of the men in William’s Massachusetts National Guard unit mustered when called. Some units around the country weren’t so lucky, experiencing 70 percent absenteeism when the federal government declared nation-wide martial law. New England based Guard units had nearly 80 percent reportage, resulting in a more stable, calm, if dystopian environment.
“We’re mostly Berkshire guys in the unit, a few from Worcester and Springfield. When we got called up it made sense for us to report. It’s our duty.”
“You didn’t feel the need to stay by your families, protect them personally, and remain in your home towns?”
“This place,” Williams pointed around to the green hills knotted with dense pine, “this is home. Where else would we go?”
Asked about any problems with violence or looting, Williams halts the column, spreading his team out to form a defensive perimeter. He takes the opportunity to bring out a tourist map of the Berkshires.
“It’s not been too bad,” Williams combat gloves trace a few Guard positions, check points and observation posts. “We had a riot in Worcester two weeks ago when a rumor started that the government was confiscating guns. A dairy farm, out in Lee, was robbed of 40 head of cattle one night. Same for a chicken farm in Carlton. And a farm off the Miskatonic River had its entire 10 acres of corn plucked clean by a mob. Sure, there has been some looting here and there, but it feels weirdly calm. Y’know?”
Calm is the consistent term for life in New England after The Loss. The same cannot be said for other parts of this nation or the world. The Mexican border erupted into a 600 mile conflagration of riots and firefights after the central government fell and when hastily raised Texans militia started cross-border raids against the ruling narco-gangs. Chicago burned, again. The UK became a fortress trying to piece together some semblance of a future. India and Pakistan engaged in two days of tactical nuclear exchange, killing 15 million. China is crumbling amid revolt and Eastern Europe is drifting back to a state more like the late Middle Ages.
The world had come to an end, in slow motion, all because of the panic over loosing the moon and the realization that eventually the seas would die and so would we.
As Williams moved the patrol forward, Carland’s town limits come into view.
“Viking base, this is Thor Zero One, radio check. Over.” Williams took the radio handset from the young Specialist always by his side. The radio crackle began a quick exchange between the Guardsmen and the nearby patrol base. Their language is rapid, cryptic and seems fit more for a war-zone than the Berkshires. I mention this to Williams as he signs off.
“It’s SOP,” Williams pauses, “standard operating procedure. And while this may be home, its sure as hell not peacetime.”
A few rapid instructions to his senior soldiers and hand gestures got the column moving forward again.
“Besides,” Williams remarked, “things may be calm here, but stuff can get dangerous very, very fast.”
Anticipating my follow-up question to the statement, Williams slows his pace.
“You’re here to meet residents, talk about life after the moon. But you’re also here to see what this whole moon debris story is all about.”
After I nod, Williams continues, “There are some NASA nerds, Cambridge and California scientific types wandering around the hills looking for the rock. We just brought one in before your train arrived, a curator from some museum. Quiet woman.”
As I exchange handshakes with these Massachusetts men, citizen soldiers, I left behind modernity and stepped back in time. Crossing into Carland after The Loss was probably not unlike the town before the moon’s explosion, permanently suspended in the late 19th century.
Concluded in Part III…this Friday.
Here is the link to Spawn of the Lost Moon Pt. 1
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