CITY ON THE EDGE OF NOWHERE
PART 2 × DIASPORA
Desperation and fear dominated
in the days and weeks
following the Gothic Disaster.

Gothic evacuees temporarily sheltering in an empty warehouse in Fort Smith. FEMA/Andrea Booher.
A four-part series on the Gothic Disaster,
the Arkansans still living in its shadow,
and the wide impact we'll be witnessing for years to come.
City on the Edge of Nowhere is a fictional longform article written by the real-life Fiona van Dahl. It summarizes (and spoils) the events of her scifi/horror novel, Eden Green.

New parts will be released leading up to the premiere of Eden Green's scifi/thriller sequel, New Night. Click here for more info and to sign up for news.

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From the first residents who panicked and left the city on Monday to the last who were forcibly evacuated on Friday, a total of 80,000 civilians were displaced by the Gothic Disaster. The northwest Arkansas region, which had never before hosted a crisis of this scale, was caught utterly unprepared.

Those with the means booked motel rooms in nearby towns, quickly filling them to capacity and overtaxing local resources. By the end of the week, Fort Smith, Tulsa, and other regional cities were being flooded with refugees. Meanwhile, the area immediately surrounding Gothic became crowded with pedestrian evacuees who had lost everything but the clothes on their backs.

A coalition of governors from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri worked with FEMA to erect temporary shelters wherever possible. Churches, unused warehouses, and military bases filled with rows of numbered cots. Even home-rental services coordinated with FEMA to house evacuees. The Red Cross and other organizations worked tirelessly to deliver food and water, provide medical attention and prescriptions, and reunite families.

They also spread the word that refugees could keep track of shelter availability by texting ‘SHELTER’ and their zip code (e.g. 72727 for those in Shire) to 4FEMA (43362). Empty fields around the region, whether owned by the federal government or donated for use by private citizens, filled with Temporary Apartment Complexes (TACs), tent cities that could house hundreds.

Temporary Apartment Complex (TAC) just outside Shire, AR. FEMA/Mark Wolfe.

Temporary Apartment Complex (TAC) just outside Shire, AR. FEMA/Mark Wolfe.

Still, in the week following the Disaster, thousands of homeless evacuees were stranded in the fields and woods surrounding the city, awaiting registration and transportation to FEMA shelters. It was early August in Arkansas; though the nights were relatively pleasant, daytime temperatures ranged from mild to sweltering. Many were outside and unsheltered when the remnants of a tropical storm rolled through on Thursday-into-Friday.

Those who attempted to re-enter the city in search of loved ones, pets, belongings, or thrills were turned away by Army troops. Eyewitnesses reported that the National Guard was assisting in the construction of a tall, opaque fence at the city limits, topped with razor wire and constantly patrolled.

Thousands of hours of interviews were taped by local, national, and even visiting international media, as survivors began to speak about their harrowing experiences inside the city. In my desperation for answers and catharsis, I participated, recording several interviews of my own.

Survivor Story

Sara was twenty-seven at the time of the Disaster, and worked as a grocery store cashier on Gothic’s north side. She, like many, was still in denial on Monday evening, and went to her night shift hoping that the chaos mere blocks to the south would be resolved quickly.

I admit it, I should have gotten out like the smart people did. But we didn’t know how bad it was. The cops and National Guard were acting like this would get fixed up in no time. This was before the Army showed up.

Everything was fine for the first hour or two of my shift, although we didn’t get much work done. It was already dark out, and everyone — there were, like, six of us? — sort of stood near the front and gossiped. Some folks didn’t show up for work because they’d already left. The rest of us were kind of excited, like it was a big party. We didn’t get a single customer after ten. The store was a ghost town except for us.

Then our manager, Chelsea, called us all into her office, where she was playing a press conference on her laptop. The president was saying that the Army was coming, and that people should take shelter. So we were talking about closing up the store and going home, and a few of us started planning to leave the city.

Right then, there was this big crash out front, like the big plate glass windows were all getting broke. We looked at the security camera videos on the wall TV and saw that these big monsters were blasting through, like a big stampede. I remember thinking they were so shiny, like hippos that had been wrapped in VHS tape. Or maybe more like horses? But also rhinos?

Everybody was screaming, and someone slammed the office door and started barricading it. But these things were huge. We knew they’d break in if they wanted. So Chelsea calmed everybody down and said we’d run toward the back and escape through the loading bay.

The monsters were hanging around in the front, near the checkouts, knocking over displays and stomping big cracks in the floor. We almost made it to the back without a hitch, but something must have spooked them. They started charging down the aisles at us, and whenever one would bump into a shelf, it’d tumble over or collapse. We’d have all panicked and died if Chelsea hadn’t kept everyone running in a line, with her at the back.

… she was the only one who didn’t make it out. I was in front of her, and right as we made it into the loading bay, I looked back. She tripped or slipped or something, went down, and…

I think it was a time when people got to be heroes. And she was a hero. I want her family to know that I wouldn’t be alive if she hadn’t been there. If there’s ever a memorial, Chelsea should be on it.

In the chaos, few bodies were removed from the city. Only one small morgue was established (in nearby Shire), and it housed less than two hundred at its peak. The vast majority of the dead were still inside the city.

Through social media, mobile reporting apps, and volunteers, The Red Cross assembled a database of the missing. While this initially helped them reunite refugees with loved ones, thousands of open cases go unresolved and an accurate death toll will forever be unknown.

(In the ensuing months, rumors spread that the CDC had cleared the city of corpses but was storing them in a secret location without the permission of families. The CDC has denied this.)

At last, over a week after the city was closed to civilians, all refugees were sheltered, whether by FEMA, the Red Cross and other charities, local churches, or private citizens.

Around this time, the Army and National Guard began construction of a second fence half a mile outside the first, forcing the further evacuation and closure of two TACs. There was brief panic that the Gothic Quarantine Zone (GQZ) was spreading, but the CDC released a statement reassuring the public that this had always been the intended outer boundary of the GQZ, and that the conflicting TAC placement had resulted from miscommunication with FEMA.

The media demanded to know if the city was still overrun, or if the widely-reported ‘blue pulse’ had eradicated the invading monsters. The CDC would state only that they were still assessing the situation. No matter where refugees turned, no one could tell them whether they would be able to return to their homes. Up to two weeks later, tens of thousands were still waiting for answers.

SURVIVOR STORY

Jack Venture is an environmentalist and nature researcher whose hit show, Ventures Into The Wild, faced cancellation in the summer of 2015. When news of the Gothic Disaster first broke nationally on Monday, he and his crew rushed to the city to film the mysterious sharps. Joey, a local van driver, recalls helping them sneak past a National Guard blockade and into an infested area late on Tuesday.

At first, we didn’t see anything. I literally drove around for half an hour trying to find them some excitement, and they’re all in the back checking their cameras and planning promos. They thought this was going to save their show. Me, I had a thousand bucks burning a hole in my pocket, and the promise of a few thousand more for every hour I kept the Army from figuring out we were there. I gave them their money’s worth; not even fuckin’ CNN made it in, but I knew the back ways.

We get to this intersection, and there’s one of the big giraffe-looking fuckers down a side street, just tearing into a car. Must have had a dog inside or something. This sharp had a big body, size of a Buick, with four long stick-legs and this neck that ended in a mouth. Scary fuckin’ mouth.

This was the first time I’d seen one in person, and I was instantly like, ‘woah, maybe this isn’t such a hot idea!’ Meanwhile, these idiots are pouring out the back and aiming cameras at the thing. Venture was doing his whole David Attenborough schtick, making up all this shit about how it evolved and how it feeds and how its biology must work. It takes a special kind of insanity to meet that big a killing machine and start thinking about its DNA and shit. I, being sane, was trying to get them back into the van because I wanted to get out. No cash is worth this shit, right?

So I did a dumb thing and yelled at them to get back in the van. The thing looked up at us like ‘huh, what’s the noise’ and we all kind of froze. When one of those things looks at you, it’s like it reminds you where you are on the food chain, right? Now they’re coming back to the van, trying not to move too suddenly — Venture’s talking about not spooking it.

Right around the time they’re loading up and I’m fixing to pull out, the sharp bolts toward us, zero to sixty. Their necks kind of flop around when they run. I think they might be blind? No idea where eyes would even be on one. So it’s dashing toward us, and watching those legs move… Fuck, you know?

Everybody decides, fuck the equipment, and they pile into the van. It’s lucky nobody got left behind, because I was already driving. But I’m carrying five passengers and their equipment, so we’re barely gaining speed. The sharp blows out of the side street and starts to catch up. I’m dodging abandoned cars, fishtailing all over the place because the back is so heavy.

Dumbfucks couldn’t close the doors, so one of the cameras slid right out and into the road. That tripped up the sharp, but right then, another sharp comes tearing out of an alley, maybe five feet behind us. Next thing I know, it’s got that mouth latched onto the top rack and it won’t. let. go. So we’re losing speed!

Venture goes, ‘throw the other camera’, and that was the smartest thing he said that day. The camera went under the thing’s legs and dropped it, and it had to let go of the rack. I hit the gas and headed straight for the nearest National Guard barricade.

We all probably would have done time for trespassing or something, but an hour later, the barricade got overrun with sharps and we slipped away in the chaos. Last I heard, Venture’s show still got canceled. I’m just glad nobody got hurt. And hell, I got a story out of it, right?

During the week of the Disaster and in the days following, there was an outpouring of sympathy, prayer, and support. Churches, charities, and private citizens around the world raised funds and donated clothes and food to the Gothic refugees. Many American towns offered homes to those displaced.

Amid the good vibes, fear and doubt were growing. Once independent researchers concluded that the sharps were non-terrestrial, theories abounded. Some believed the monsters had been delivered to Earth as an attack or colonization attempt by aliens; others claimed they were failed government experiments run amok.

A spate of religious leaders called the Disaster a sign of the End Times. Worship service attendance skyrocketed globally, across all major religions. Survivalists scrambled to sharp-proof their shelters and stockpile ammunition should they be attacked. Rumors circulated online that extremists of many flavors were planning to bomb or otherwise disrupt the GQZ perimeter fences — either to take control of the zone, allow the sharps to escape, or prove that the sharps were gone or a hoax.

The 2016 American presidential election loomed, but though the GQZ dominated every ensuing debate, no candidate’s promises could satisfy the public. None were able to formulate a plan to deal with the sharps when the CDC staunchly refused to release more than tidbits of information. They, like the rest of the world, were in the dark.

A makeshift memorial on the steps of City Hall in Lublin, Poland. Wikimedia/Szater.

A memorial on the steps of New Town Hall in Lublin, Poland. Wikimedia/Szater.

But in the dark, hope still glowed. Flowers and candles were left at city centers and American embassies across the world. Hundreds of vigils were held over that first weekend, sending up prayers for the swift resolution of the situation and an end to the violence.

SURVIVOR STORY

You hear scattered stories of ordinary people managing great acts of courage and heroism during the Disaster. But a trio of friends stand out; their feat, as portrayed in a viral online video, was talked about for weeks afterward.

One of the most distinctive sharp species takes the form of a four- to six-foot-tall standing ‘X’ when at rest. Each of their legs hinges about one-third of the length from the end, forming a shape eerily similar to a swastika.

They move by rolling, wheel-like, at dizzying speed; when one of their spiky, thorn-covered limbs strikes prey, the force of the stab can pierce body armor. Though apparently blind, unintelligent, and relatively weak on their own, as a swarm they are overwhelming and inspire retreat in even hardened Army squads.

Before the Disaster, Edwin, Karen, and Bruce were warehouse workers in southern Gothic. Like many, they chose to remain in the city despite increasingly urgent evacuations, thinking the trouble would soon be contained by the military. Karen, a vlogger in her spare time, had brought her camera to work in the hopes of capturing footage of the monsters for her channel.

But on Tuesday night, after staying late to finish an important project, they found themselves trapped inside their warehouse. A swarm of swastikas had infested the street outside; each time the trio tried to escape, the sharps heard them and blocked their exit. The swarm moved with such speed that the trapped friends knew they wouldn’t be able to reach their vehicles or other shelter in time.

Worse still, the building wasn’t meant to block out intruders; due to confusion over safety regulations, there was a doorless entrance next to the back loading docks. It was only a matter of time before the swastikas discovered this wide entrance, and the three could not find anything mobile that was large and tough enough to barricade it. The only enclosed area inside the building was a locked upstairs office.

Working quickly, they devised a plan. Karen, who was selected to act as bait, insisted on filming the stunt; thus the video begins with her stepping out of the loading dock and into the back alley while muttering, “If I’m going to die, I’m at least going to get some new subscribers!” The sky was dark outside, but the area was well-lit by a floodlight above the docks.

When she aimed the camera at the end of the alley, a few scout swastikas were already rolling around the corner to investigate the sound of her footsteps. The moment they confirmed, in their own mysterious way, that prey was near, they whirred down the alley toward her, followed closely by their packmates.

Their speed and dizzying movements momentarily stunned Karen, but she recovered quickly and rushed back toward the open loading dock door. “Now!” she shouted once inside, aiming the camera over her shoulder to capture what happened next.

They had laid an old, rusted metal grate on the concrete floor just inside the door. With a loud grunt, Edwin and Bruce lifted one end and blocked the doorway with it. The floodlight outside had become a grid of white and black.

The swarm slammed into the grid in a wave, nearly knocking the two back. They leaned as hard as they could against the sides of the grate, trying to keep their arms and legs away from the piercing, wriggling limbs.

Karen set the camera down on a pallet and grabbed their secret weapon: The fireman’s axe from the ancient fire suppression kit in the broom closet. “Here I come!” she yelled, elbowing Bruce a few inches to the left.

Thirty swastikas of varying sizes were straining against the grid, each with one spiny leg stuck through and wiggling for prey. Karen raised the axe above her head and, with a warcry, brought it down. The monsters’ limbs were tougher than anticipated, like inch-thick tree branches — but the axe chopped through two and bruised another. The injured sharps withdrew immediately, only to topple into a wriggling heap when they tried to fall back on their injured legs.

The next four minutes of video consist of Karen hacking and swinging the axe with abandon, scattering chunks of needle-limbs on the concrete floor. One hit Edwin in the leg and he cried out, kicking it away; a minute later, blood was soaking through his white sock. Bruce looked ready to drop from fatigue and nerves, but instead leaned his weight against the grid, buying Karen a few more precious seconds.

At last, the entire swarm lay wriggling on the ground outside. The two men adjusted the grate so that it leaned against the doorway, and then Karen led them across the warehouse, toward the front doors — stopping only to grab her camera. In the video, she is giddy and flush with victory, nearly leaving her exhausted and injured companions behind as she gushes happily into the camera.

They made it out the front door and ran to their cars. “Where are you going?” she shouted to Edwin as they each climbed into their vehicles.

“Anywhere but here!” he called back, and peeled out of the parking lot with his door still hanging open.

Two weeks after the quarantine went into effect, the CDC, Army, FEMA, and White House announced a major joint press conference. Speculation increased to a fever pitch as refugees, Americans, and the world waited. Major news networks displayed countdowns and hosted an endless stream of guest experts and survivors.

When the press conference finally began — streamed live over the internet and shown on every major network — it set records for worldwide viewership. The president spoke first, praising the American people for their compassion for the Disaster’s survivors. Then he urged calm in the coming days; faint consternation swept through the gathered press even as online comment sections exploded with paranoid conjecture.

At last, the director of the CDC took the podium and announced, with heavy heart, that Gothic would remain quarantined for the next six months.

The press conference was suspended until the reporters present could be made quiet. Footage later emerged of Arkansas TACs and other refugee camps, where survivors screamed at the projected displays, wailed in despair, or sat in shell-shocked silence. There was a small riot in downtown Fort Smith, which local police quickly stopped.

When the CDC director was finally allowed to speak again, he outlined a vague list of reasons why the city could not be re-opened to civilians yet. The ‘blue pulse’, which he still did not elaborate on, had only temporarily cleared the city of monsters; more had emerged and still roamed the streets. In addition, much infrastructure had been disabled during the Disaster, and the city at large was still without power.

Without going into detail, he promised that the CDC staff inside the city were working around the clock to understand the alien threat.

He then handed the podium to the director of FEMA, who briefly enumerated the options available to refugees. The vast majority would benefit from being re-homed, and would be given the chance to apply for FEMA grants and assistance programs in the coming days.

Those who wished to remain near the city would be given opportunity to apply for shelter in as-yet-unbuilt Emergency Group Sites (EGSs), colloquially known as FEMA trailer camps. However, these trailers were small, cramped, limited in number, and unsuited to large families for extended periods. He again encouraged most survivors to apply for re-homing.

They then opened the floor to questions from the press.

Would the GQZ be opened to researchers from other government entities and/or independent organizations? Not at this time. The situation inside the city was too volatile.

Would the GQZ be opened to the press? Not at this time.

Were there plans to retrieve belongings, vehicles, other assets, and the bodies of loved ones from the city? This would be a logistical nightmare amid what amounted to a war zone, thus there were no such plans at this time.

What device was used to generate the ‘blue pulse’, and couldn’t it simply be used again to clear the city? The device’s properties and its effects on humans were not yet well understood, therefore it was not a viable solution at this time.

Would refugees be re-homed in distant states, as after Hurricane Katrina, where many had eventually been rejected by their new communities? The director of FEMA reiterated their policy to ‘put survivors first’, and that everything would be done to make sure they were on their feet and continuing their lives ‘as quickly as possible’.

What was the expected six-month outcome? They hoped to have conclusive answers about the origins of the sharps and how to stop them from re-emerging in the city. They would then work with the National Guard and other bureaus and organizations to re-establish power to the city, replace damaged bridges and demolish damaged buildings, and prepare the city for rehabitation. (However, this was a distant goal, and the FEMA director again stepped forward to encourage survivors to re-home.)

Were there plans to build a memorial to those who had died in the Disaster? Since no conclusive list of the dead had yet been compiled, and the city was still closed to civilians, there would be no memorial built at this time.

What of the two major highways that cut through Gothic, currently blockaded by the quarantine fences? The north-south Interstate 49 (previously connecting Joplin to Fort Smith) would be rerouted to the west of the quarantine using existing roads. The fate of the east-west US Route 412 (previously connecting Tulsa to Memphis) was still undecided, but it would probably dead-end on either side of the quarantine, with a major detour planned through Springfield to the north.

Was the CDC preparing to release more information about the sharps and their biology, behavior, et cetera? Not at this time.

Where should support be directed? The president asked that donations of cash, food, and clothing be directed to the Red Cross, and that those near the affected area volunteer their time through Americorp.

At this point, the president ended the press conference with a repeated plea for calm and compassion.

SURVIVOR STORY

Ahiazu Nnadi is a friend of the author, and worked as an online writer for Gothic’s television news station.

During the Disaster, news vans and choppers were banned from affected parts of the city, citing dangerous conditions. After making sure his family was safely evacuated from the city, Ahiazu accepted an offer from Tulsa’s biggest news station. They sent two helicopters to fly over the affected area and capture footage of military battling the sharps; Ahiazu met with a crew outside Gothic and flew with them over the city.

When I first climbed on board and got buckled in, everyone was very quiet and serious. As we took off and joined the other helicopter over the edge of the city, everyone (including me) was peering down through the doors and windows. The streets were empty, very eerie. Off to the north, we saw a fire burning, like an entire neighborhood was going up in smoke. The pilots radioed back and forth for a bit, then decided to head that way and see what was going on.

By the time we passed over the city center, we were very high up. The streets were barely lines below us, and any moving vehicles were specks. Using a camera hooked up to a monitor, we were able to zoom in and watch military Humvees patrolling. At one point, there was someone rushing around on a motorcycle, but we lost them.

The other helicopter headed for the burning area to the north, and radioed back that it was a shopping district. We were so close that the smoke was getting thick and blowing into the cockpit. The other helicopter was even further into the smoke, and their rotors beat at it, scattering it in all directions.

The pilot on the other helicopter started yelling over the radio, ‘what is that, it’s coming right at us’, and the head man from Tulsa, who was aboard that helicopter, said to pull back. We were already pulling back to get out of the smoke, and our pilot was yelling at them to get out. Our camera people were practically hanging out the doors, trying to film what they had spotted.

Up out of the smoke came a very large sharp, what people call a ‘dragon’. It looked like a helix spinning through the air, impossibly fast. We couldn’t tell how large it was until it reached the other helicopter, and we saw that they were about the same size, not counting the rotors. They were panicking, trying to pull away from it, but it swept around and around them, literally flying circles around them.

At first we thought they were being attacked, and all we could do was back away and watch. The monster seemed to be sniffing out the helicopter, trying to decide what it was. Then it came around the back and struck it on the tail very quickly, leaving a large scrape but missing the rotor. Then it went back to circling.

They were trying to gain altitude and get away from it, but it followed them away from the smoke, still circling it. Every now and then, it would strike them on the tail, almost playfully. That was when the other pilot said over the radio, ‘it is trying to mate with us!’ And we were all so scared, but some of us laughed, pointing and laughing at them. There was nothing else we could do.

Inevitably, the dragon rose a little too high, too quickly, and became tangled with the rotors. In a split second, the helicopter tilted, and the whole rotor structure bent to one side — the dragon was tremendously heavy. I shielded my eyes just in time, and heard a horrible crack-boom — under the strain, the helicopter’s engine had exploded. We could do nothing but film them as they plummeted to the ground below, as our pilot turned us around and hurried back to the edge of the city. Our cameraman was crying loudly — his best friends had been aboard.

… I remember thinking, ‘what else did we expect?’ We had been told not to enter this dangerous place, but we did it anyway, because we wanted to show the world what was happening. That is our responsibility as journalists, to make sure that the truth is known. Now we hear constant gunfire from the GQZ — they are probably slaughtering every dragon that appears, to keep them from leaving the city.

But they also threaten to shoot down helicopters and arrest those who try to enter the city, and they even destroy camera drones. I do not believe they are doing this only for safety, or else they would allow certain reporters in under heavy escort, or allow drones to film. No, they are hiding something, and this time, they are using safety as an excuse. That makes me sick, but there is nothing we can do.

The next few months were total chaos for refugees.

Tens of thousands opted to be permanently re-homed in nearby cities and states. FEMA caseworkers and Americorp volunteers coordinated between survivors — some of whom had special needs or had been penniless even before the Disaster — and property rental companies far and wide.

To help with apartment deposits and the first few months of rent, nearly the same amount was earmarked for relief as was following Hurricane Katrina. Though far fewer people had been affected this time, none were able to return to previous homes or jobs, hence the taxpayer cost.

Despite FEMA promises to make sure all survivors were properly resettled, stories quickly emerged of communities rejecting their new neighbors. Some thought that refugees might be ‘pod-people’-like invaders or carry mysterious alien diseases; others disliked the fact that they were receiving large amounts of government and charity assistance. There were several high-profile stories of Gothic refugees succumbing to drug addiction, having violent outbursts in public, attempting suicide, or falling in with gangs.

In the comment sections on news articles and message boards, many took issue with the high cost of re-homing the survivors. Even when interviews revealed faces of PTSD, loss, and alienation (and the Disaster Distress Helpline reported receiving record numbers of calls), commenters inevitably lashed out.

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Under ‘system justification theory‘, sociologists view these as responses to a threat to the social system. After Hurricane Katrina, a study found that “inadequate relief efforts exposed governmental shortcomings, called into question the legitimacy of agency leadership, and highlighted racial inequality in America. In response to such system threats, both victims and observers (e.g., the general public, commentators, policy makers) are known to engage in various forms of system justification, including direct defense of the status quo, victim blaming, stereotyping, and internalization of inequality. These processes can reduce emotional distress and restore perceived legitimacy to the system, but they may have a number of troubling consequences for the storm victims in their efforts to return to normalcy.”

A later study suggested that “observers’ responses to Katrina survivors were predominantly grounded in the disjoint model of agency—the most prevalent model in mainstream middle-class White contexts [which] assumes that agency emanates from within the individual and defines ‘‘good’’ actions as those that influence the environment according to individual motives, goals, and preferences. According to this model, a good Hurricane Katrina survivor should have influenced the situation, overcome situational constraints, and—through independence, choice, and control—found a way to evacuate.” Or in the case of Gothic Disaster survivors (predominantly destitute and 20% non-white), that they should have rehomed as soon as possible and ‘gotten over’ the trauma of losing their city to alien monsters.

As culture shifted around this new, uncomfortable reality, refugees settled in to wait the long six months for news. By the two-month mark, the TACs had been closed; all refugees had been either permanently re-homed in other cities or relocated to FEMA trailer camps (EGSs) and other temporary housing.

Despite their image as ungrateful layabouts, most were happy to no longer be living in tents, and eventually found work in Shire and other nearby small towns, or over the internet. Though they eventually slipped from the news, the refugees are still waiting, trapped in a limbo-like state until the CDC and Army release more information about their lost city.

SURVIVOR STORY

Natasha was an American Sign Language interpreter for Gothic’s elementary schools before the Disaster. She is almost completely deaf, able to hear only very loud sounds, but she can read lips. She speaks clearly and usually signs at the same time, especially when emphasizing a point.

On Monday morning, school was cancelled. I had a very bad feeling, and begged my husband to take our children out of the city. After he finally left with them, I got in my car and started driving around the city. Over the years, I have made many Deaf friends, especially through the children I interpreted for at school. Now I was texting them and visiting them, begging them to leave the city.

The Deaf are often left behind in disasters or are not alerted in time, because we cannot hear sirens or shouts. I also worried that if the rumors were true and there were monsters attacking the city, that my Deaf friends and their children would not hear them coming.

Thankfully, most of them listened to me and began preparing to leave the city. That first day, I tried to stay away from the north side, because the news was saying it was very dangerous. But I had Deaf friends there, many with children.

By Tuesday, it felt like everyone was leaving. There were people everywhere, getting gas and packing things. I prayed and prayed that my friends from the north side were among them, but I saw no familiar faces. The news said that the Army had arrived and was evacuating people from the affected areas, but I knew they might miss Deaf people.

On Wednesday morning, I lost internet and cell. Suddenly I was cut off from all my friends, inside and outside the city.

I decided to drive to the closed area and offer to help the Army find my friends. As I got closer, I could feel vibrations through my car, as if bombs were going off close by. I reached an Army checkpoint and was stopped. A soldier listened to my idea and then went to tell his superior, then came back and said they would not allow civilians inside the closed-off area. The best he could do was write down the addresses of my friends.

I pulled my car over to the side of the street, within sight of the checkpoint, and started copying the addresses from my phone. However, just as I was done, I felt my car begin to vibrate. I looked around and saw that the soldiers were rushing toward my car, pointing and yelling. When someone is yelling, I can’t read their lips, so I didn’t know what was happening. I started to open my door and step out, but they waved their arms and shook their heads, so I closed it again. I thought I was about to be shot.

My car heaved up into the air. I’d taken off my seatbelt, so I was thrown against the roof. The car came down on its side, pinning my door shut. My back seat was full of books and papers from work, and they were all tumbling down around me. I fought upward, trying to get to the passenger door.

I looked up at the window just as a big black mouth closed over it. Triangular yellow teeth the size of my hand were scraping at the glass and beginning to tear the door apart. At first I thought it was one of the ‘giraffe’-like monsters I had seen on the news, since their mouths look like lampreys — but this was much bigger, like a giant worm had knocked over my car and was trying to break into it.

I felt gunshots going off nearby, and saw the monster pull back. The car had come to rest on the driver’s side, so I climbed into the back seat and tried to kick out the back window. It had just started to crack when the worm attacked again, smashing the passenger window with its face. All I could do was lie still in the back seat, covered in broken glass, and pray it left me alone.

But as I stared up at it, it began to shove its face inside the car. It was following my scent trail from the driver’s seat to the back. I thought of being sucked down its black throat and slowly digested, and my entire body went limp and numb. I could not have moved if I had wanted to. There was nowhere for me to go.

The air inside the car stank with its breath, like sewage and blood. Then it shrieked only feet from my ear. I could only hear it dimly, but still, it was a horrible sound. I found that in my terror, I couldn’t even breathe.

At last, the worm’s face fell into the driver’s seat. The soldiers had decapitated it somehow. It took them several minutes to push the car upright, and then they opened the back seat door and dragged me out. I still could not move. I remember them putting me in a vehicle and driving me to the edge of the city, where people were being evacuated.

Now I am with my family, but I still see the dark throat of the worm. I think we all do. I think we are all inside it, still.

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