Sunday, October 17, 2010

No. 16: Abandoned, Texas

Eli Proctor exited the new Highway 77 onto Farm Road 1317. It had been over five years since he had last driven down this road. A sign noted that Vinland was four miles down the road and that the road was closed to through traffic.

Five years ago a hurricane swept through the Gulf Coast of Texas obliterating everything between Galveston and Brownsville. Vinland was wiped out and while a majority of the population was able to leave, a small handful stayed behind. Eli’s sister was one of them. He was returning to Vinland to identify and retrieve her body.

Eli pulled over at the Vinland city limit sign and looked at it. In bold, black spray painted letters, “ABANDONED” was printed over the town name. Eli wasn’t sure if it was intentional of graffiti and looked past the sign at the nearby warehouses standing nearly demolished and abandoned. What used to be a small industrial area was now quiet and desolate. A massive steel gate intersected the road a few feet from the sign. A man began approaching Eli from the gate.

“You lost?” the man asked. Eli noticed that the man was some form of law enforcement—either a sheriff’s deputy or state trooper.

“I’m Eli Proctor. I used to live here,” Eli looked past the officer and into the town. “I’m here to pick up my sister’s body.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” the officer said. “I’ll unlock the gate. You remember where the town grange is? That’s where the Hurricane Relief Center has been setup. That’s also where the morgue is.”

“Thank you,” Eli said and headed back to his car. The officer unlocked and opened the gate and Eli proceeded through. It looked as if every window in town was boarded up or broken. Some buildings were reduced to rubble leaving piles of bricks and wood between untouched neighbors. Tree branches and even trees lay criss-crossed in the street.

The grange was at the corner of Third and Arroyo on the east side of town but Eli turned west on Third. He slowly drove, meandering his way down the street, avoiding trees and down power lines. Houses sat away from the street, hidden partially damaged trees and standing completely devoid of life. Eli turned south on Navarro and slowly pulled into a driveway of what used to be a two-story house but was now a half-collapsed wreck. All of the windows were broken and half of second floor was torn off and possibly tossed all around the block. Eli parked his car and got out.

Eli spent the first 19 years of his life in this house and now it was all gone. Irreparable. Eli cautiously climbed the porch steps to the front door, whose screen door was hanging by only one hinge. He opened the screen door and pushed open the front door. Eli figured the house was either looted or opened by police resulting in the broken door.

The inside was a shambles. It smelled of musty water and everything was wet after five years of exposed to the elements. The carpet was faded and worn throughout the house, the walls were water-stained and, in some places, damaged exposing the studs, pipes and wires. Some pictures still hung on the wall showcasing a family that hadn’t lived in that house for five years. Eli was close to taking a couple pictures with him but decided against it. He left the house and got back in his car.

He went further south on Navarro to Fifth Street then headed back east to the old highway which was Main Street in town. The highway was closed south of Fifth, presumably because the Delgado Creek flooded and took out the old bridge which was not constructed to withstand massive floods in 1911.

Eli arrived at the old grange, a massive limestone structure with an aluminum roof. Eli thought it was ironic that a completely open and vulnerable structure built in 1888 still stood amid all the modern building rubble. Inside the grange, the massive meeting space on the first floor was full of bodies just laying on the ground wrapped in white sheets. It was freezing in the grange and Eli shivered from the cold.

A sign directed him up the nearby stairs to the second floor which had been converted into a makeshift offices. On a table, a bell sat with a note that read “Ring For Service”. Eli rang it and about thirty seconds later a doctor approached him.

“Yeah? How can I help?” the doctor was tired and was noticeably impatient in asking his question.

“I’m Eli Proctor and I’m here to claim my sister’s body.”

The doctor sighed and looked around the room. “What’s your sister’s name?”

“Angela. Angela Proctor,” Eli answered.

“Ah! She’s right over here,” the doctor motioned and led Eli to a body a couple of gurneys down. An arm was sticking out of the blanket, which was the case on all the gurneys on the floor. The doctor glanced at the arm. Angela’s name and social security was written on it in permanent marker, which FEMA suggested people who stayed should do. It was like a Holocaust tattoo. The doctor moved the blanket off the head and Eli saw his sister.

Eli stepped closer and started to cry. “Yeah. That’s her.”

“Okay,” the doctor grabbed a clipboard and handed it to Eli. “Fill this out and give it to the doctor on the third floor and we can get her shipped out.”

Eli thanked the doctor and went to sit down to fill out the form.