You can see all of the chapters (in descending order) here.
Jess glanced around as they drove through their neighborhood. Several people had their garage doors open and it was clear they were just starting to pack up their belongings to evacuate. They were definitely ahead of most of their neighbors.
As they passed by old man Crankston’s house, she saw his vehicle loaded to the gills but still in the driveway. Jess elbowed Steve to get his attention. “Hey look, we did pretty good, we’re on the road before Mr. Crankston!” Steve grinned at her.
Mr. Crankston was known in the neighborhood as an extreme prepper. He didn’t talk much about his plans but the gossip was he even had a bunker built beneath his garage.
“Well if Crankston is bugging out then we definitely made the right decision in leaving now.” Steve chuckled despite the worries he had about the trip ahead of them. They reached the outer edge of their neighborhood and Steve paused at the stop sign. “What do you think, Jess?”
Our green route takes us to Bell’s Highway but it goes under that bridge for I-95.” Should we stay that route or skirt around it and take the smaller underpass on Snider’s Highway and wind around to Doctor’s Creek Road and back up to Bell’s?” Jess spread the map out on her lap as Steve turned left onto Proctor Road.
“Doesn’t look like much traffic yet. I think we’re ahead of most folks. Let’s see what it looks like once we get onto South Jeffries?” Jess suggested. Steve nodded.
“Sounds good. A few minutes later he took a right. Other than signs that some people were packing up their cars, he hadn’t seen a lot of activity that traffic was going to be bad yet.
It was still early afternoon, so anyone who did go on ahead to work today wouldn’t be on the roads yet either. A short time later he paused at the intersection to South Jeffries Blvd. “Well, what do you think?” He glanced at Jess.
“Let’s give it a go with our green route. If we’re right about traffic, we can probably make better time going that way. We may run into trouble farther out in Augusta if we take the longer route now.” Steve nodded in agreement. “I’m going to call Mom and Dad and let them know we’re heading to the cabin. I’m sure they’ll want to see the kids for a bit.”
“Good idea. Maybe ask them to meet us at the cabin? We can call again when we get closer. I’d rather get there and make sure everything is kosher before it gets dark. But tell them not to go until we call, I don’t want them getting there before us just in case it’s compromised in some way.” Steve said as he made a right turn onto South Jeffries.
“Yeah, that makes sense.” Jess pulled out her cell and dialed her parents. “Hi mom, it’s Jess. Just wanted to let you know we’re evacuating and heading to the cabin. No, just leaving our neighborhood now.” They passed the Speedy Express gas station on the right and a short time later the Shell.
Although there were cars at all the pumps, lines weren’t forming yet. “Traffic isn’t too bad yet, looks like we’re taking our green route which is 64 the majority of the way.” Jess was still talking to her mom on the phone. “Stay home until we call though so we can arrive together. We’ll call again to check in when we get past Augusta. Okay. We’ll be safe. Love you too.”
Jess hung up with her mom and glanced at Steve. “Weather is okay near mom but she said Dad saw a couple Florida plates on his way into town this morning.” Steve nodded.
“We’re still ahead of most of the traffic, especially South Carolina folks. We’ll make it.” Steve reassured her.
Suddenly from the back seat, Delia yelled “Let’s go to Mickey D’s!” Steve glanced in the rearview mirror. Delia’s face was pressed as close to the glass as she could get it from her booster seat as they passed her favorite fast food place on the right.
“Not this time Delia. Maybe when we stop later on.” Steve chuckled softly at his daughter’s innocence. He was glad she wasn’t scared yet. Keeping everyone calm would go a long way toward getting them through the next several hours of the trip.
Steve turned left and continued driving. Jess reached out and turned on the car radio, tuning it to get a good channel and then turning it down low so whatever announcement might come through wouldn’t be heard by the kids. As they past the local gun shop on the right, Steve made note of the higher number of cars in the parking lot than usual.
“Save a lot is busier than it was this morning.” Jess mentioned casually. Steve nodded.
“I’m glad people are taking this hurricane seriously enough to stock up. I’m very thankful you went early this morning so you aren’t dealing with all those folks right now.”
“Definitely. There weren’t many people there at all this morning. I was pretty much in and out.” As they continued driving, Steve noticed more and more people were out and about. The auto parts store, Citgo gas station, and the hardware store were all packed with people.
As they came up to Hiers Corner, Steve could see the lines starting to form at the Shell station on the corner and he could see that there was a bit more traffic than usual but it didn’t seem too congested yet. As he glanced up though, he could see that I-95 itself was already packed with cars.
“Looks like we’re going to get under I-95 without too much problem.” Steve said out loud.
“Yeah but look at the freeway, Dad.” Jeff piped up from the 3rd row. It’s jammed with cars already. It’s a good thing we didn’t include I-95 in our evacuation plan!” He leaned forward from the 3rd row and stretched his arm out to high five with his mom. “Good thinking Mom and Dad.”
“Thanks Jeff. We tried to think of everything that could help us get out of town quickly. But we’re not out of the woods yet so to speak. Not by a long shot. We still have to get past Augusta.
That’s a pretty big town and could mean a lot of traffic. And we need to make good time now so all the folks getting ready to leave soon don’t catch up to us.”
“I trust you, Dad. We got this.” Jeff said confidently. “Since we’ll be on the road awhile, I’m going to snooze for a bit.”
“Sounds like a good idea son.” Steve winked at Jeff in the rearview mirror.
“Just wake me up if you need my help with anything, okay?” Jeff said.
“Don’t worry Jeff. We will. ” Jess smiled at him. “Thanks for being so willing to help. For now, get some rest.” Jeff grinned, nodded, and popped his earbuds into his ears and snuggled back into the 3rd row. Jess peered around at Delia who was already asleep, only halfway through the Boss Baby movie she had insisted on watching on her tablet. Sammy was still awake but zoned out listening to her music.
So far, so good. Jess wasn’t naive enough to think the entire trip would go this smoothly but for now she’d take the calm while she could get it. She glanced at the map in her lap. “We’re on 64 now for awhile. I’ll catch a nap so I can be ready to drive when you need a break, okay? Steve nodded.
“Yep, that’s fine, Jess. I’ll wake you if anything looks hokey. But I think we’re far enough ahead of most of the traffic, at least for now. We should be clear at least until we get close to Augusta.” Jess nodded. She rolled her lightweight jacket and used it as a pillow and closed her eyes.
As Steve drove down the South Carolina highway with most of his family sound asleep, he was thankful that things were going so smoothly thus far. Bells Highway was one of the main routes away from the South Carolina coastline.
That underpass at I-95 on Bell’s could have been a potential bottleneck point. It was one of the reasons that he and Jess had scouted other routes, including going down to Snider’s Highway which was a much less traveled road and also had an underpass bridge, but a much less congested one at I-95. Using that little detour, they could have looped around back to Bell’s Highway beyond that main underpass and avoided being trapped for hours by traffic.
Listening to the status updates on the radio, Steve knew that he’d made the right decision in evacuating early. They had made it out of town without too much trouble. The hurricane hadn’t weakened, it was a Cat 4 and was headed right for the South Carolina coast.
After about two and a half hours of driving, Steve could tell that traffic was heavier and he noticed more of the cars alongside him had various belongings on the roof racks.
The radio reported the South Carolina Governor had given the mandatory evacuation order, he knew that as long as they could keep moving fairly quickly, they would be ahead of all that traffic by several hours and would only be dealing with Florida evacuation traffic he was starting to see now.
He stopped in the parking lot of a McDonald’s and woke Jess. “We’re getting closer to Augusta. Traffic is heavier and more of the cars appear to be families evacuating from Florida. We need to check the map. Which route takes us around Augusta instead of through it?”
“If we want to go around, we should take this yellow route. Jess traced the route with her index finger. If you remember, we took that route once or twice on the way to the cabin. It takes us east around Augusta using back roads. I would imagine most of the evacuation traffic would be to the west side of town.” Steve nodded.
“I remember. That’s the one with the huge lake, right?” Jess nodded. “Okay, let’s wake the kids so they can take a bathroom break. We may not be able to stop as easily if we hit heavier traffic. I’ll run in real quick while you rouse the kids.” Jess turned and roused Sammy who had fallen asleep at some point, headphones still in her ears.
“Hey, come on Sammy, wake up. We’re taking a potty break. Wake your brother and sister for me.” Sammy stretched and pulled out her headphones and then woke Delia and Jeff.
“Oooh can we get chicken nuggets?” Delia exclaimed as she realized where they were.
“Yes, this time we can. Everyone go to the bathroom first. We may not get to stop again for awhile. And we’re eating in the car on the road, not here. We don’t want to stop again if we can help it till we get past Augusta.” Jess replied.
Delia nodded, content with getting her nuggets under any condition. She could see Steve coming back out after using the restroom. “Okay kids, Daddy’s back out, let’s go in.”
Approximately twenty minutes later, the family was back in the car loaded down with what could very well be their last meal of fast food for several days, possibly weeks. Jess was in the driver’s seat as she and Steve had agreed it would be beneficial for him to take a break, even if he didn’t actually sleep.
The gas station across the street was one that didn’t have long lines yet or at least at the moment, so they stopped there to top off the gas tank. They did have two five-gallon cans of gas just in case in a tool box Steve had modified which attached to the back bumper of the Durango.
They only carried the extra gas during this type of situation because it had to be put on once the back was closed and removed before you could open the back.
As they got back on the road and started driving, Jess suggested the kids start watching license plates and keep track of the ones they saw from the various states. They were seeing increasing numbers of Florida license plates as well as several from South Carolina.
It took nearly an hour to skirt around Augusta, traffic was much heavier than either of them had expected even though their route took them to the east side of the city. Just past Augusta, the traffic increased even more. Every hotel and motel they passed had no vacancy signs.
Every gas station had lines of cars waiting to get gas. They even saw a few families in cars pulled off the side of the road, either having run out of gas or needing to stop and not being able to find an open hotel room.
“Traffic is heavier than I thought it would be.” Steve said. He had dozed but hadn’t really been able to sleep for the last half hour. “If you see another station without any lines, lets top off again just in case we hit heavier traffic later.” Jess nodded. “You okay to keep driving?” Steve asked.
“I’m okay to drive. I’m just worried.” Jess said. “Those families on the side of the road back there, it’s just heartbreaking. I can’t imagine if that were us.” Jess said sadly.
“I know honey. It is sad that some people don’t have anywhere to go or weren’t able to prepare ahead like we did. You know I wish we could help more, but we just can’t. We have to take care of ours first.” Steve said matter of factly.
“I know. I do. But our neighbors, Steve? We couldn’t have let them know we were leaving? At least try to get them to wake up and get out before the storm hits?” Jess’ tone was heavy with frustration.
“I know it sucks. It does. But what would we have done if the Struhar’s next door asked to come with us when we told them we were getting out?” Steve asked.
“They don’t have a car right now.” Jess said.
“Exactly. They would have needed us to make room in here. The only way to do that would be to take less supplies. That puts our family at risk later if for some reason we can’t go home in a couple of days.”
Steve and Jess had this conversation often. Jess wanted to help everyone. Not that Steve didn’t but he knew his limitations and he was reluctant to help others and risk putting his family in a worse situation. “Would you have been able to turn them down if they asked to ride with us?”
Steve asked. “I know you wouldn’t. Trust me, it’s better not to have that confrontation. Especially because we have to go back and live next door to them in a few days.”
“I know. I hear you. I get it. But I don’t have to like it, right?” Jess asked.
“No, you don’t have to like it. And neither do I. But our family comes first in times like this. We do what we have to do to protect the kids” Jess nodded.