I pinched the vehicle perfectly into the squeeze, secured it, and we were off. Mayhem surrounded us as we dove into the nearest building. We made our way up the stairwell among a cacophony of popping, scraping, ripping noises.
As we climbed the endless stairway, I took in the sights. Discarded food, clothing, and what could only be described as shrapnel. What was that odor? I decided I didn't want to know as I chastised myself for forgetting the gas masks. We would have to work quickly to get out in one piece.
When we finally made it to the top, we emerged into a tight hallway of more noises, smells, and indeterminate matter. Moving quickly, we passed several small openings off of the main pathway. I glanced in a few of these chambers and saw various stages of disarray. I saw human forms in slumped positions, barely moving.
We entered a room at the end of the hall. I vaguely remembered being there before. Before the collapse.
We began grabbing anything we could carry. Anything that looked familiar and useful. Once our arms were full, we headed back out into the fray, pushing our way back to the stairwell. More popping sounds, more ripping, more scraping. A blur of bodies moved against us, issuing intermittent incoherent screams. And the smells, oh the smells.
We carefully but swiftly moved back down the littered, contaminated stairwell. I tried not to breathe... I tried...
How many trips did we make in total? I can't remember. The heat, the adrenaline, the chaos made the entire episode blend into one. We were halfway down the stairwell on our last trip.
"The burn! THE BURN!!" I shouted to him. "My left arm! It BURNS!!"
He urged me to just keep going, be tough. His load was heavier. But then, he wasn't a 48-year-old woman, I reminded him. The banter helped me make it all the way to the now stuffed vehicle. I checked my watch. The pilaging had taken us just about an hour. Now for the getaway!
Traffic back to the compound was thankfully light. I backed into the docking bay where some of the others came out to help retrieve the goods and secure them into the hideout. I pulled on the hideous vest and dashed to the crosswalk just in time, to keep up the suburban housewife deception.
Within a relatively short period, the Command Center was up and functioning.
Operation CHC (Chaco Home from College) accomplished..