Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad; whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
- John le Carre
- John le Carre
You still there?
Yes. I thought you were gone.
No, just keeping busy. Did you get the photos I sent you?
I'm looking at it right now. I'm not sure what you're gonna do with a gutted school bus parked in a hole on the ground.
It's a makeshift shelter. To defend my property
From whoever did this to everyone else.
You think a person did this?
No, a group of people maybe. This is too big to be carried out my an individual. So...what do you think?
I think you're wasting your time. I think you're being a bit paranoid. Let's say there's a malevolent force out there who did this. How can you possibly think you can defeat something that pulled this off overnight? People are dead. They died while we slept. We heard nothing, saw nothing. I don't know about you but I've lost count as to how many corpses I've seen. I'm tired. And the only person I've had contact with is you. I'm not sure how long the grid is going to be up and running. But what happens when it does power down? Our only means of communication will be taken away from us. I can't trust you enough to give you a location. And I'm sure you feel the same way. I sure as hell am not going to leave my home to seek out some unstable stranger that may or may not shoot me down on sight. Not to mention what's really out there. I'm not prepared for that. Not yet.
You don't think I've thought about that? I'm just trying to do what I think is right. What about you? What have you been doing this whole time? How do I know you're not one of them?
You don't. I can ask you the same thing. I don't need to tell you what I've been up to but I will. I've been stockpiling on necessities. Just trying to think one two steps ahead. I've got weapons, food and shelter. I've been going into people's homes to check if anyone's still alive. I've been burying the dead. I've been reading a lot. Trying to keep an alert mind. That's all I've got now. And if my time comes. Then I guess it's my time to go. But until then, I do what I can with what I have.
She/He is absolutely right. Like it or not, this is all I've got. I'm not really afraid of dying but I'd rather not. I don't have much choice but to keep going. I take my chances with the stranger and type the following words up on the screen:
You're absolutely right. I think we should start over. It's bad enough that we're just words on a screen to each other. A proper introduction might help. I'll even tell you my location. My name is Dekalb. Female, 25, Middle quadrant, third tier.
An uncomfortable pause as I stare at the screen awaiting for the stranger's response. Then the reply scrolled across right underneath mine:
This is Jefferson. Male, 30, Middle quadrant, second tier. Nice to meet you Dekalb.
Hello there, neighbor.
Last night, I had a dream for the first time since the world disappeared around me.
The land had shifted. Mountains turned and swallowed by the sea. Soon, the oceans themselves drained into the sweltering core and took with it all its little creatures. The rumble beneath was felt by those above. It burst through straight up into the atmosphere. Then the earth turned sideways and there we were, clinging on to the edge.
I did the one thing you asked me not to do.
I looked down.
There I saw the rest of them, floating, not falling, into the empty. A breeze picked them up and swirled them around like weightless leaves in autumn. I looked over just as you released your grip. I reached out but it was too late. You joined them in their dance and all I can do is watch you spin and turn and tumble towards the far side. I watched until you were a speck of glitter in the distance, then it was all gone. I pulled myself up the ledge and stood there. At the cusp of the end and nowhere. The angry earth mocked and taunted me for not going when I had the chance.
"Why do you stay?" it asked me.
And I wished I could've answered it. Maybe then it would've let me be. Instead I said nothing and kept on walking.
The rumble beneath was felt by those above.
This would be the first time I'm participating in the #SampleSunday party.
I chose an excerpt from the story "The Faster You Run" from my short story collection Bad Juju: Vol. 1
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or gazelle. When the sun comes up, you'd better be running. - Anonymous
Morris had been running with his old hound dog since before daylight broke through the skies. He looked up and around and gauged it to be late in the afternoon. The temperature dropped slightly which caused his joints to ache just enough to bother him. This wasn't part of his scheduled stop but even his old dog lagged behind and so they took temporary shelter just off the main road to rest their aging bodies, catch their breaths and get their bearings together. He took a swig from the water bottle and poured some into a collapsible bowl and set it down for his canine companion. About 15 minutes of deep breathing and stretching later, they were back on the main road for another hour of steady running. They've covered a tremendous distance since this morning and had slowed down to a walking pace when the old hound started barking the way she would when she'd caught a whiff of a stranger.
"Shhhh, now, Fang! Settle down girl," he grabbed her collar and tugged it enough to distract her. Fang ceased her barking but remained on alert as her master did the same.
He'd already pulled his pistol from his hip holster and had it pointed to the stranger ahead who was barely visible from where they stood. They approached cautiously as they reached midpoint. He saw that it was a man slumped with his back supported by an old rotten tree. His head was down to his chest and arms sprawled to the side. He walked closer, never moving the pistol away from its target. He poked the stranger on the leg with his walking stick.
Once. Twice. Not a movement.
He poked one more time right at his sternum, more forceful this time. The stranger came to, startled. The setting sun lit his face a flash of bright orange as he turned quickly to his side to spew vomit. He crouched, gagged and wiped his face with his sleeve. The stranger staggered up and shielded his face from the brightness. With the pistol still pointed to the stranger's chest, Morris knew that this was a straggler. Past his youthful unshaven face, unkempt hair, he can smell the scent of despair and alcohol. He secured the pistol back into its rightful place and extended his hand towards the straggler.
"Hello, my name is Morris. This here is my hound, Fang. Don't be afraid," he smiled. "I'm here to help."
The straggler scooped a second helping of stew from the pot into his plate. "Man, this shit is real good Milton. Real good."
"It's Morris, and thank you."
Hey, whatcha making there," the straggler asked from the corner of his full mouth and pointed to the wood burning kettle with flames blazing from underneath.
"Preparing water for tomorrow," Morris replied.
"You're taking this shit real serious aintcha? You're a pro at this. I mean, just lookit," the straggler gestured his spoon towards the tent, the fire pit, and the bug out bag.
Morris said nothing as he ate another spoonful then saved the last few bites on his plate for Fang.
The straggler licked his plate clean. "I've met people like you before." He lit a cigarette, took a long drag and offered it to Morris.
Morris refused politely. "People like me?"
"Yeah, runners. You know, people who think there's this magical place to the west that's gonna save and protect them from those things out there. So they keep going, usually traveling with friends, family, or whoever. And they run as fast as they can. Like it's some kinda race that you can win or something. Like in the end there's a ribbon and some fancy people giving out medals. Only it ain't medals. It's the keys to this shiny new fantasy land. Where people live amongst unicorns and gnomes." The straggler gulped down the rest of his water.
"Personally, I'm in it for the cheese at the end of the maze," Morris poured himself another cupful of water.
The straggler chuckled. "That's funny, man." His smile turned into a nervous smirk. "But what if a giant rat's waiting for you instead?"
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