The Gas Lands

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Only a few have survived the aftermath of the toxic nuclear war. Poisonous gases linger in the air and the further Olivia Tuller goes from her home the more danger there is to endure. Her one-year-old brother and newly made friend Alex are all the family she has left. In the wastelands are gangs composed of the remaining survivors of the nuclear war. A new world order, the Summit, is forming to maintain order among the gangs. Not all gangs are willing to join though and those that don't become labeled as factions. After seeing the cruel brutality of gangs, Olivia will have to decide for herself who to choose to live with. The Summit promises protection, but the gang she's in isn't so willing to let her go. The ever-present threat of scarcity guides all decisions in what was once known as the United States, but now it is nothing more than a wasteland known better as the gas lands by its few remaining inhabitants.

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Chapter 1 - Goodbye Home

Our land has been attacked, but it all happened so fast, too fast. My mother and father left to go on vacation, while I stayed home with Benjamin, my little one-year-old brother.

I call him Ben for short.

The shock of losing my parents overwhelmed me at first. I could only receive news for a day before my town lost power. Sometimes I wish I knew who attacked us, but I don’t. Like me, most people were out of the loop at the time.

Then it all happened at once.

The sirens going off, towns becoming vacant. Poisonous gases seeped into our homes – like mine. I heard on the news the state my parents were in had one of the highest levels of toxic chemicals in the air. They died quickly. So now, it is just Ben and I.

I have no idea if my town is safe anymore to live in, but I’m not going to risk Ben’s safety. For all I know, my town could have a high gas count already. I know that out west it is supposedly safer. The gas hasn’t crept its way over there, at least, since I last heard.

So that is where I’m going to take Ben.

The safest place I can get to. Most people in my town had driven their cars, but I don’t have a car. I need to find a train. Planes aren’t flying anymore. The government announced their shut down. I wish I could be more prepared for this, but I’m not.

Before I left, I grabbed a few necessities. I know some people have gas masks already. I’ve seen a few of them. I can’t afford one though, I don’t even know where to get one. I found a couple of my mom’s bandanas. Now I’ve got a bandana on to cover my nose and mouth from the fumes floating around in the air.

I felt a little ridiculous at first, this is no gas mask, but I have to try my best to be careful. I put one on Ben, I know it irritates him, but I feel like he’s more vulnerable to the air than I am. I put his on loose enough to make sure he can breathe fine.

I don’t think the bandannas will work much to protect us from the air, for now though, they’ll have to do.

I give my house a long look, from the crumbling stone stairs leading to the front door to the shiny metal roof. This is goodbye I guess. Hearing a faint noise, I look down to see Ben playing with his mini red toy car.

Quickly, I pick him up and give him a comforting hug.

“Wave goodbye to our house, Ben. We’re going to leave now. Okay?”

Ben turns his head from my shoulder and briefly glances back at the house, but he quickly resumes playing with the toy in his small hands.

I try to sound excited, “Let’s get going then.”

We’re going to a safe place. We can find a home out west, I’m sure something will work out.

The vacant streets do little to comfort the unnerving sensation growing in the pit of my stomach. Just a couple more blocks until the train station.

A few minutes pass, we pass a couple of people, most of which are not covering their faces from the toxic fumes in the air. Maybe they think they’re safe still.

Suddenly, I hear the sound of screeching metal and whip my head to the left. The screeching train comes to a halt. I hug Ben against my chest and quickly run up the stairs with him. An elderly man walks on the train in front of us, I quickly go inside too. Inside, there can’t be more than five people in the train section I’m in. Maybe most people are up front.

Finding a seat in the middle, I sit down and place Ben on my lap.

The train starts to speed up. “We’re on our way. Look at the pretty trees Ben.”

Relief slowly seeps into me. The farther away we can get from here, the better.

A man in navy blue and white attire slowly makes his way over to us.

The conductor smiles warmly at us. “Round trip, miss?”

“No, one way please.”

“Where you heading? Out west?”

“Yes sir,” I say shortly.

“The farthest spot we stop at is Carson City. A young lady like you shouldn’t go all the way out there. You should be fine in Missouri.”

We’re just leaving Virginia. Missouri isn’t far enough away from the chemicals in the air. We should try to get to the farthest state away as possible.

“Carson City will do,” I say with a tight-lipped smile.

The conductor’s eyes widen in disbelief. He probably thinks I can’t afford it, but I inherited my parents’ money after they passed away. I’m investing all our money on this trip.

He speaks gently, “Well, that would be one thousand two-hundred dollars – to pay for the both of you that is. You know miss, you’re going from the east coast all the way to the west coast. You sure about this?”

He has to know why I’m leaving though, I’m sure other people have boarded the trains and left their state’s border for the same reason.

“Yes, I’m sure. Here, thank you,” I say handing the man all the money I have.

I’m going to have to get a job as soon as Ben and I get there. Then the conductor hands me two one way tickets, I place them in my pocket. He gives me a quick thanks, then he continues giving tickets to the rest of the riders.

“Ben, guess where we’re going? Nevada!”

A cute laugh leaves him as he brushes his hand against the cold glass of the window.

“Ben, you’re going to smudge the window-” I pause feeling someone behind me tap my shoulder.

The brown-haired guy gives me a funny look. “Where are you going?” he instigates in a haughty tone. He has to be around my age. His dark blue eyes twinkle with mischief. “Let me guess, you’re running from home with your son. Aren’t you a little young?”

“His name is Ben, he’s my brother. I’m Olivia. We’re headed out west,” I answer carefully.

“Oh, don’t tell me you’re afraid the gas is going to spread around that quickly. Didn’t you hear the conductor? You’d be fine in Missouri. Why waste all your money?”

Why can’t he just mind his own business? I can’t help feeling uncertain about it all, but I do know that the farthest away we can get will keep us the safest.

“Th-that’s none of your business,” I stutter.

I turn my head around and look forward again. Ben starts to play with the armrest of my chair.

“Well, I suppose if you’re heading so far away, you’ll need more company...than that little kid,” the strange boy says with a smirk.

He scoots out of his seat and shuffles around it to sit next to me.

Great. I should have just ignored him.

“Name’s Alex. I, like you, am riding the train for the same reason. I’m leaving for the safety of myself. You see my family is already out there. I haven’t heard from them in a while thanks to the power outage.”

I learn fast that Alex is very talkative. I don’t see any harm in letting him sit by me though, he doesn’t smell or anything.

I watch him while he talks. He’s probably close to my height, maybe two inches or so taller than me. His funny stories make me forget about my own reality.

Alex shoves the sleeves of his shirt up and I catch a glimpse of his tanned skin. “...I mean check me out, Olivia. Look at these guns,” he says sarcastically.

“Do you play any sports Alex? I used to play soccer back in middle school.”

His voice grows quieter, “No, I used to run around a lot with my younger sister, but lately since the disaster, I haven’t been doing much of anything.”

Soon after, we both are silent, deep in our own thoughts. I look out the window while Ben sits on my lap. My neck starts getting cramped, the back of my seat isn’t very comfortable.

This is going to be a long ride.

Hours and hours pass. When we first entered the train, I had taken off Ben’s bandana and mine too. They were just too uncomfortable to wear. Alex isn’t wearing a gas mask or bandana. No one on the train is. I give Ben the granola bar I packed and I munch on my ham sandwich.

More and more people start boarding the train as we cross over Missouri. Most of them aren’t wearing anything to cover their mouth or nose.

Soon, we’re in Kansas.

The people boarding the Kansas stop, however, are all wearing things to protect their breathing. Some wear bandanas, some wear scarves, others are even wearing gas masks. Maybe they’re just more cautious out here and more prepared. A couple more hours pass and we cross through Denver. At the Denver stop, most people wear gas masks.

What if what I heard on the news was wrong? After all, I heard the news days ago and haven’t heard anything else since.

My heart starts to race.

Now that I think about it, there aren’t many others on the train now, but Ben, me and Alex. The others that are on the train are all wearing gas masks covering their entire faces. It irks me being the odd one out...perhaps uninformed. I must talk to them to find the truth.

First, however, I have to wake up Alex and tell him.

“Alex. Wake up. Wake up!” I whisper-yell while poking his arm.

He squints his eyes. “What? We there yet?”

“No, we’re almost there though. Look behind us,” I reply.

Alex slowly turns his head around and starts chuckling. Why is it funny to him? We should be wearing gas masks. Something isn’t right here.

“Bunch of nerds. They probably heard what happened back in the east coast. They just are overreacting. We’re safe here, Olivia. You shouldn’t be so paranoid,” he tells me with a sleepy smile.

Then he rests his head back on his seat and falls back to sleep again.

You’ve got to be kidding me. He was asleep through the other stops where most of the people had gas masks on too. I decide to not get out my seat, Alex’s long legs trap me in my spot as I am by the window. I don’t want to leave Ben by himself either.

We’ll be in Carson City, Nevada soon.

So I remain in my seat.

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