I met Tom Sawyer once. He was sitting on a porch in Lawrence, Kansas with Les Paul, smoking one of those cheap ass cigars that he liked. The smell was not unlike the one that came from under the hood of the car right before the big plumes of white smoke. I knew I shouldn’t have tried to drive this piece of shit all the way across the county, I thought, as I rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the highway.
The sun was starting to set, so setting out on foot wasn’t wise. This part of the country was not terribly safe to start with, let alone at night. Ever since things went all to hell, the countrysides were particularly perilous for travelers.
The old Sioux tribes thought it would be a good time to reclaim their ancestral lands from the white man’s government. They had quite a bit of success at first, ranging as far south as the Red River and well into what used to be Canada. That is until they started to run into the Lycans and the Zombies.
The Lycans were a strange phenomena indeed. At first it was thought that they were actual werewolves, right out of an old Hollywood horror film. Turns out they were actually a new species of wolf. It was almost as if they were a human-wolf crossbred of some kind. Stories of government experiments abounded, and might well be true. Like many things these days, the truth doesn’t really matter, what matters is steering clear of them. They travel in packs and mostly at night, so shelter at night was very much a necessity.
The Zombies, on the other hand, were nothing like what they appeared to be. When things went to shit, some people went completely off the deep end. Tribes formed and took whatever measures they had to to survive, including cannibalism. The Zombies were just that, tribes of cannibals. They would cover themselves in blood and entrails to terrorize other tribes and settlements. It was quite effective and their legend grew – more than just stories to scare the kiddies, they were bad news and their numbers were growing.
So night travel, especially alone was out of the question. Staying put was risky enough, but far safer than trying to cover open country after dark.
I waited until the last of the day’s light faded and crawled in the back seat of the car, covering up with an old Army blanket and leaving a window cracked so the glass didn’t fog up. That’s a dead give away!
I slept a fitful, dream filled sleep. I dreamt of her again, like every other night. The mind is a cruel thing sometimes. It would be a blessing to be able to forget.
I was awakened by a banging on the window. Holy Shit! I thought I was done for, but it turned out to be a cop? A cop, what the hell is a cop doing out here? I rolled the window down a bit and said, “um, yes officer?”
“Out of the car”, he shouted. I complied, seeing that he was armed and I wasn’t in any position to argue. He was part of something called the Nebraska Militia Marshall Service.
“What the hell are you doing out here, boy?” he wanted to know. Not really knowing myself, I just answered, “Car died.”
“Where are you headed?” “West” I said, stating what I thought was the obvious.
“Don’t get smart with me boy, I can see you’re headed west. Where west?”
“Just west, sir, just west. Until I find somewhere to stop.” Not wanting to tell him that I was hoping to get to the Utah Territory. I used to know someone out there and it was rumored to be fairly safe and stable.
This apparently satisfied his official curiosity. “Well, I can’t help you with that. But you’d better keep moving. Things aren’t safe for travelers and there’s not much in the way of Law these days.” The irony of his statement was not lost on me.
He offered me a couple of bottles of water, which I gladly accepted, and climbed into his pickup truck and drove away without even a wave. Serve and Protect, huh?
People have become pretty untrusting ever since the Fall, and I guess that’s to be expected. When everything you’ve come to believe turns out to be a fiction and the people who were supposed to hold civilization together either fled or hid it’s understandable that trust would be in short supply.
I often think about what happened. We always expected the end to come in some grand cataclysm. A war or a plague or maybe some huge natural disaster. But no, things just kind of deflated like a kiddie pool with the stopper pulled out. First the economies started to fail and that snowballed. They called it the Second Great Depression. Then companies started to shutdown, millions and millions suddenly without work. No work, no taxes to pay the government. No taxes, no safety net. It was really quite simple, the world’s wealth just seemed to vanish in to a void. The super wealthy held out a bit longer than most, but even they had to buy groceries and no one was stocking the stores out of the kindness of their hearts. Quite the opposite actually happened pretty fast. Looting was wide spread and short lived.
People then just started to retreat into survival mode. I was in Dallas when the grid finally went off line. The whole country went dark in about 48 hours. There were a couple of nuclear reactors that went critical. Heard tell that Atlanta is gone. Apparently the CDC lost containment and their countermeasures set the whole city aflame.
I was lucky at first, I ran into Sam Houston and Davy Crockett just north of Dallas. They were starting a settlement and were looking for workers. They had guns and farmland, so I stayed on for a couple of months, until Spring. No point in trying to travel during the winter, especially heading west across the Rockies.
I set out that morning determined to get as far as the next shelter. It wasn’t smart to go any farther. You just couldn’t know when you’d happen on upon the next one, daylight or not.
The road was starting to climb into the foothills. I would soon miss the flatness of the prairie.
I was reminded of Lewis and Clark’s westward expedition and wondered if it would be smarter to follow a river’s path west, but thought better of it. The road was easier to travel on and no telling what kind of beasties would be lurking about the river banks. That and rivers didn’t tend to travel in much of a straight line.
So, onward toward the mountains…