The Silence and The Bones
NOW AVAILABLE ONLY ON AMAZON.COM KINDLE
-Copyright 2000 Roan Carratu
Sample: Entries 1 - 16 (Book Rated PG-13)
Warning, this book talks and describes sexual encounters and subject matter in a frank way, hopefully somewhat tastefully. It describes polyamory relationships which some will consider gross and horrible. Fanatical religionists will not like it. Email me if you wish, pro or con. Writing suggestions or style comments are appreciated.Roan Carratu
Day 1 BD July 11, 2012
I'll start at the beginning... or maybe it should be called the End. I call it Big Death Day or BD.
I was in Utah when the world ended. I was in Ogden, Utah, at the local college, participating in an experiment for which I was to receive $600 for literally doing nothing but watching TV for three days. It was something to do with aging in white males, according to the newspaper ad I read, and I was perfect for the job, being 38 and at at the beginning of their research period. I had met the doctors, been tested, probed, and washed incredibly clean, then I entered a slightly silvered glass booth and had about 50 little sticky tabs put on shaved spots all over me, even one on the bottom of my foot. I sat in a chair that reminded me of a barber's chair, but this one, in which I sat naked, had a toilet built in, complete with a padded seat.
I was to sit there naked for three days, watching TV, while they monitored my body and brain waves. They wanted me to literally do nothing at all, and do it quite publicly, or it felt that way. The first few hours I was acutely aware of the young female interns who had unrestricted view of my naked genitals, but I got used to the nudity, and expected to watch most of the Star Trek's series, "The New Generation", "Deep Space Nine", and "Voyager", a little dream of mine. Sit and watch TV and get paid for it... I was sure happy the doctors had let me pick my own viewing.
Six hours into the experiment, on the first day, there was a shift change, and among the new scientists and, I guess, undergraduate and postgraduate students, there was one small red haired female experimenter, only five or six years younger than I, about 32 or 33, which really caught my eye. I had seen the episode anyway, so I was watching her as she watched a monitor which showed some part of my sensor readouts. I was thinking that she would be well worth asking out, even if she turned me down or was married, when she suddenly looked up at me with a surprised look in her green eyes.
She seemed to shiver, as if a wave of heat distorted her image, and went down like a sack of grain, just slumping with her green eyes wide open, and as I watched with horror, her skin, eyes, hair, everything, just crumbled, her flesh pouring off her bones as if it had suddenly turned to power. In just a few seconds, I was looking at pale white bones amid white coats and clothing, all filled with a pile of reddish dust where a living, vivacious, and very lovely woman had stood.
My mouth open, I looked around and found four skeletons laying in the outer room. My whole body was shaking, sweating, my heart pounding, my fingers gripping the chair arms so tightly they hurt, but my mind pegged it all as part of the test. If they wanted my reactions, they were getting them! Why else would they be paying me so much just to sit? However they were creating the illusion, it had to be a test! The silvered look to the thick transparent material they observed me through was the clue, I figured, thinking about it as I tried to stop shaking.
Reassuring myself that it was part of the experiment, I calmed down, figuring to beat them at their own game by just ignoring the strange images they had projected on the glass of the booth. I just sat watching the TV monitor, my whole body shivering, hoping, REALLY hoping it was just part of the experiment. When The videotape ended, and nobody came to change it, I sat there in a high state of anxiety, waiting for someone to come in through the door I could easily see, ...if that wasn't a projection also.
I could sip water, coffee, or warm soup from three straws near my mouth, and the food, a tasty thick bar that tasted different each time, sometimes sweet, sometimes salty, slid into the booth automatically every two hours. I just sat and waited, keeping my eyes off the little piles of dust and bones, the TV screen random gray static, and daydreamed of what I was going to do with the money I was supposed to get. It was outside my budget. Fun money! Or maybe I'd upgrade my computer!
The chair was comfortable, and I thought about setting up a computer station exactly like this. I wouldn't have to get up to do anything! I laughed at the thought... the perfect computer station! I could have pizza slide down the slot, instead of the food bars, although they were pretty good for snacking. Forget the warm soup... I would have coffee come from all three straws, and just sit, eat pizza, sip coffee, and work on the Internet.
The hours passed way too slow, and according to my watch, I was in there for all three days of the experiment, not daring to leave the booth in case it was just part of the experiment. They had me sign a contract, and it emphasized that if I interrupted the experiment before the time period expired, I forfeited the money. So I slept and sat and ate and knew the scientists were watching my every move, ...and the time seemed endless. The lights stayed on constantly, and while the chair laid flat for sleep, it was not very comfortable. I would have to change the design in my imaginary computer station. Maybe build inflatable cushions into the seat, so it would inflate into a better mattress.
For awhile, I sat and planned how to manufacture and sell my imaginary computer station. I wished I had some paper and a pen, so I could draw the whole plan out, but there was nothing like that in the glass cubical.
I spent some time examining the image projected on the wall screen. It looked real. It had a 3d look, discovered by leaning way over to one side and moving to the other side slowly, so the image changed with perspective. I had seen graphics that good before, although it was very expensive. Make any picture high resolution enough, it will look totally real. Put in microlenses and the right projection and it would look 3d. And a University certainly would have the money to spend to make the illusion real. I even thought I knew the projector equipment they had used... and even I could make someone melt into skulls and red power in an image. Anyone who knew computer graphics could.
Even the silence was oppressive, the only sound outside my own occasional whistling, singing, or speaking to the invisible scientists I assumed were out there, was the hiss from air coming in a vent and the dull thud as the food bars dropped into the tray. I felt like I was in a time warp, living the same moment over and over again, and wondered what their instruments showed them as I thought that!
I marveled at the way the green traces and numbers on the monitoring equipment out in the lab changed when I moved or stood up to stretch my legs. The immediate feedback to the image seemed pretty well done, and I spent a lot of time figuring out how the projected image would have that kind of changes, finally deciding more than one projector was used, one for the overall image and several for the small sections showing the monitor screens. I finally decided it was doable, and even I could set it up to achieve the illusion.
The gray static on the TV outside the booth was irritating, and I would have given anything for a book to read or for something to happen outside the booth... anything. The Army had gotten me used to sitting doing nothing for days, but that was a long time ago. The bars of processed concentrated food did not really take my hunger away, the soup apparently ran out late the second day, providing only hot water, and by the end of the third day, July 14, I was beginning to think they weren't paying me enough!
Day 4 BD July 14, 2012
By my watch, it was late afternoon of July 14, a few hours before the agreed upon time for ending the experiment, when the power went out. I was waiting for the experiment to be over, for the white coated scientists to come in and get me out, but suddenly I was plunged into a darkness that seemed to be as deep as a cave in the windowless lab room. I was a little pissed off, actually. This was going too far!
Of course, I should have known they would not do an experiment so easy as just sitting without putting me through some kind of trauma, but this seemed ridiculous.
After a few minutes, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness after three days of bright lights all day and night, I saw that emergency lights had come on, with enough illumination that I could dimly make out the room. It was either the best 3D holographic projection I had ever seen... or it was real. My hands shaking badly, I had to find out for myself, even if I blew the experiment and the money. I pulled the wires and sticky tabs off my body and climbed off the chair, my legs feeling shaky after so long sitting. I never felt so naked, standing there looking out at the dimly red lit room, but my whole being wanted this `experiment' over. I had to fumbled around for some way to open the glass door, finally finding a small emergency handle which released it, then pushed it open, hoping I would find myself in a bright room filled with young scientists and the bustle of activity.
Fear burned through my nerves when I found the outside just as I had seen in the inside. It was not a projection, and the young woman's skeleton was still there, in her white lab coat, the dark opening of her eye holes empty in the skull.
I stood there a long time. I don't know how long, but finally I left the glass booth, carefully stepping over a pile of clothing and bones just outside, feeling the reddish dust from the bodies stick to the bottom of my bare feet.
I had hoped to open the glass door and find the scientists there, alive and well, the images I had seen just an illusion projected on the slightly silvery glass of the booth, but what I had seen was real, and I stepped over several bundles of cloth and bones to reach the wall lockers I had seen them put my clothing in. In the back of my mind, I thought what I had seen was a projection, and while it was running, the scientists had set the room up with the skeletons and dust, to see what I would do when I thought it real. I just couldn't believe the four scientists had died, crumbled into dust right in front of my eyes.
I got dressed slowly, my shaking hands fumbling with fasteners, almost hyperventilating, coughing often with the dustiness of the air and an acrid smell that was really unpleasant. When I left the lab, stepping into a dim hallway, lit only from light shining through windows, I saw other bundles of cloth and skulls, and knew then, without a doubt, something really terrible had happened. Shaking badly, my mind seemed paralyzed, unable to think about it, my entire attention on what I was perceiving, my heart beating so hard and fast I could hear it in my ears.
I walked slowly down the hall towards the front entrance, knowing it was near sundown, the air in the hall also reeking with dust and that acrid smell. The absolute silence was un-nerving, not the slightest sound except for a dripping of water somewhere, coming from another lab. I smelled something burning, and in a lab I was passing, I saw a bluish flame and went in, stepping over a white coated bundle and turned off a Bunsen burner under a fragment of burnt flask, an experiment that had boiled away and shattered the container, probably days ago.
When I reached the sunlight coming in the front hall of the building, I had counted over fifty bundles of clothing, most wearing the white lab coats, but some in regular clothing, including small clothing and tiny white skulls, ...children. I stepped over a brown suited bundle by the entrance as I looked out the glass wall at the campus, immediately seeing a car smashed against a tree at the far end of the parking lot. As I looked around at the campus, I saw a scene of such horror, I thought for a moment I was just having a nightmare. It couldn't be real!
Funny thing... despite all the horror movies I had seen, I had no desire to scream. I felt very tiny and afraid, and felt like I wanted to hide somewhere and not make a single sound. It was the absolute Silence... even my breathing seemed like a roaring wind, and although I almost tiptoed through the hallway, the slightest sound echoed through the silence.
There were bundles everywhere, gaping white skulls, most with piles of books nearby. I walked out, past a pile of bones wearing a uniform, a security guard, who had his finger bones wrapped around the handle of his pistol, obviously having managed to pull it out in the seconds that he was dissolving into dust. I picked it up, irrationally feeling a little bit safer with it's heavy weight tucked in my belt. Then I pushed open the glass doors.
There was a few hours until sunset. I stepped out into the heat of the summer, noticing that the grass, trees, bushes, all the plant life seemed unaffected. The trees blew slightly in a very light wind over gaping skulls and human bones. I could barely feel the breeze, but it was enough to stir the reddish dust, and I noticed there was a low reddish haze low to the ground as it blew slowly away. I had expected to hear birds and the roar of cars on surrounding streets, but beyond my own loud breathing, and the rustle of my clothing, all I heard was a very tiny sliding sound, the sound of the slight breeze going through the shrubbery lining the sidewalk.
I picked up a notebook computer, and it came on easily, but when I tried to access the Internet, it was password protected. I closed it and carried it with me. I would try again later. I walked to the student union, finding it filled with bundles of bones also. A TV was on, watched by empty skulls, but showed only blank screen.
I could hear the sound of a small fan running somewhere in the building, but otherwise, the Silence prevailed, like a scraping absence along my nerves. The power must have gone off only in the lab building. I started to feel panicked, and ran through the building, almost hysterical, shouting the whole time, but nobody answered. When I nearly tripped over a bundle of bones on the stairs, I stopped, panting, realizing there couldn't be anyone left alive in the building. They were all dead. I wandered to the exit, wondering what to do next. I knew I was in shock, my mind feeling like it was encased in pillows. The feeling of unreality was intense, and I really wanted to wake up, sitting in the booth, with the scientists outside doing their research.
(Perhaps, I thought, they had me in some kind of mental illusion, a vivid dream, spinning an illusion in my mind as my body lay in the booth, my reactions carefully monitored. My anger flared for an instant before my normal self-control squashed the impulse, not letting it grow into a rage. I slammed the wall beside me, the pain in my fist sucking away what anger I had, rather than suppress it. I hadn't gotten mad in decades, and I idly wondered if the scientists had induced the anger, to get my reactions.)
As I emerged from the building again, I yearned to hear traffic. The silence was nerve racking, my ears straining to hear anything, even a birdcall. I had once stayed overnight in a cave, deep underground... the silence there was profound and this was similar. I wondered if they had somehow shut my hearing off, or perhaps put sound canceling headgear on me, since I could clearly hear my own breathing. Headgear would not affect that.
A moment later, I saw a small skeleton of a bird, and as I walked towards the main street across the grass of the campus, I saw a squirrel skeleton also. But the plants were untouched, still very alive, as if whatever had killed everyone had not affected plants. In a puddle I saw algae but nothing higher on the food chain, no tadpoles, no insects, nothing moving. I saw smoke boiling into the sky just over a steep grassy grade, and knowing a main street ran on top, I hurried towards it.
The street was a mess. Where I climbed up, I could see the city stretched out almost to the lake and behind me the mountains went up to the blue sky. From that vantage, I could see fires, several buildings blazing and a few smaller fires. One was just a few dozen feet down the nearby hill, a burnt car that had run into a ditch. Other cars had also burnt, sometime in the last three days, and some buildings had burnt down and now only smoldered. I could see a skull hanging half way out the burning car's window, obviously someone who had been driving when they died. Many or most of the fires were likely car crashes days ago, but many would result from stoves left on and electrical damage.
I went into a nearby convenience store, finding the bundles behind the counter wearing the corporate uniforms, and helped myself to a few hot dogs, throwing the old wrinkled dogs out and putting new dogs on the cooker rollers. I had a soda, glad that the electricity still worked. The hot dogs were unaffected, as far as I could tell. Meat in their little packages sat in their cooler displays in a most ordinary manner, unchanged by all the death around them.
I wondered if only living flesh had been consumed. The store was still air conditioned, so I dropped my money on the counter and stood looking out the window for any movement at all, eating a warm, if uncooked, hot dog slowly and sipping my drink, my mind a blank. I felt nothing, nothing at all. I wasn't even shaking anymore. Weird.
Stepping outside, I heard an engine running somewhere nearby. I found a car parked at the gas island still running, and pulled the bundle behind the wheel out, then brushed as much of the dust out as I could. I found the skull on the floor of the back seat, and picked it up, shivering as I tossed it out, then jumped at the loud hollow thud of it hitting the pavement. I watched it roll away down to the gutter, then drove over to the vacuum and vacuumed out the remaining dust, not wanting to sit in someone's remains. Irrational, really, since I stood and walked in a steady flowing stream of red dust everywhere, blown by the slightest drift of air.
After running in idle for two or three days, the car was running on fumes. I filled it up with gas, having to go in and authorize it before the machine would work. I waved at the store camera as I gathered up some food and filled a cooler with various cold sodas, then went out and filled up the tank. I sighed when I was done, glad to hear the normal sound of the engine starting up.
I drove slowly through the city, driving around smashed cars, looking for anyone still alive. I saw bundles of clothing and skeletons everywhere. Dogs, cats, birds, and people, all reduced to dust and bones. The electricity was still on everywhere, and I had to go around some places where poles were down and live wires sparked. I drove out to the freeway to Salt Lake City, and found incredible destruction there. All those cars and trucks, all going at 60 or 70mph, suddenly no longer controlled and smashing into each other. There were fires still burning everywhere, and I could not go far before I came to huge pileups that blocked the entire highway. I crossed over to the oncoming side and found the way blocked there just a short distance further on.
I found all the exits blocked also, and finally had to go back and exit on the same ramp I had entered on, the only unblocked ramp I saw. I drove up the old highway about 15 miles to Brigham City, and found it just as dead. I stopped there because it was too dark to make much headway around all the car wrecks, pulling into a motel next to a supermarket. Turning the car engine off opened me again to the Silence, and I sighed, feeling a little afraid of the growing darkness of dusk, wondering if the Silence would be even worse.
I ate in the restaurant across the street, fixing myself a great meal, and sat silently in the Silence, looking out as the automatic lights came on around me, watching the sun set through the large west facing windows, noticing that it was reddish tinged also, rather spectacularly. I tried a radio when making my meal in the kitchen, but there was literally nothing on FM, and just a tiny bit of static on the AM. I was grateful for the static. It was preferable to the Silence.
After eating, I went back to the motel room I had picked out, mainly because it had no bundles of bones in it or the reddish dust, and turned on the TV, finding it still blank, which was not a good sign since a satellite dish fed it's cable system. I took a shower and lay down naked on the bedspread, the gun in my hand, and went to sleep in the most absolute total silence I had ever experienced above ground. The Silence of the Dead.
Day 5 BD July 15, 2012
When I woke up, the sun was shining in, and I was sweating despite the coolness of the hotel room. I had been woken up by a terrible nightmare, although I couldn't remember it. The gun on the floor beside the bed and the sticky spots from the medical stickers all over me brought back the memory of the day before like a small explosion in my mind! I sat down and shook for ten minutes, remembering the hours of driving, the wrecks on the highway, and all the rest. For once, waking up was a far more horrible nightmare than anything I ever encountered in my sleep.
For a moment, sitting on the edge of that bed, I considered picking up the gun and ending it all. Being the only man alive was the essence of the shortest horror story of all time... The Last Man! I didn't have any purpose to remain alive, didn't want to live, and if I had felt lonely before, sitting in my small apartment, I was going to be much lonelier now... weeks, months, years... but I could join everyone else wherever they were... just with one bullet. There wouldn't even be anyone left to notice my death or mourn me.
But I didn't pick the gun up. In fact, I left the gun laying there, not daring to pick it up, and instead, I showered, finding the hot water plenty hot and wonderful, got dressed, and went out into the Silence of the day.
Nothing had changed much. The winds during the night had blown the dust around, and most of the outdoor bundles held only bones now. A gaping skull in the parking lot seemed to look at me with dark shadowed death as I walked towards the restaurant, wishing that there was some traffic to dodge or a barking dog to avoid... anything! But there was only a large fire a few blocks away, where a whole block must be burning. I heard an explosion from far off, a big one, the whomp of it's shock wave causing me to jump and turn around. Something big, very big, I thought.
I suddenly wondered about the planes and jets that were in the sky when the Big Death occurred... did the metal skins and inboard air pressure save the people within them? I looked up but saw no contrails... just a few high wispy clouds.
I ran over to a smaller car and tossed a bundle of woman's clothing and bones out, glad when it started up. I transfered the cooler and food from the other car, glad the windows had been open and only a couple of small drifts of reddish brown dust remained in the smaller car. I drove down the street, hoping the much smaller car would more easily drive between the wrecks. I decided I would go to Salt Lake City International Airport.
As I drove, I kept wondering what had killed everyone. Disease? Poisonous gas? Radiation? Everyone in the lab had dissolved at the same time. Gas would have missed as many as the winds missed, and since the booth I sat in was not sealed, taken me also, and disease, even if airborne, would not have worked so fast, and I would have died also... or so I guessed, anyway.
(Or did I lay in the booth, scientists monitoring the progress of the illusion they generated in my supine helpless body? I slammed my fist against the dash, then winced with the pain. Did a bruise appear on the hand of my body in the booth, causing some concern among the scientists? The dashboard and the pain certainly felt real.)
I stopped at a place where I could see the lake and the far island mountains, and prayed that I was just in an experiment, living an illusion. I didn't usually pray, being a Buddhist, but I wanted to somehow wake up in the booth, the experiment over... or have someone shout at me for stopping in the middle of the road... or anything but the obvious brought to me by my senses!
If this was real, and this disaster was not from gas or disease, that left some kind of radiation or something totally new to me. But what radiation effects only living tissue? That seemed far fetched also. But then again, the scope of the disaster was so big... alien weapons? I had only the event to figure from, and nothing I knew could do this, not even nuclear radiation.
Half way to Salt Lake City, I stopped in a fast food place and made myself a meal, making sure to turn off the friers and other equipment. There was certainly enough food around to last me a long life, if it didn't spoil or be lost to fire. Of course, I realized I wasn't really sane... if that fast food place burned down, there were thousands more throughout the Salt Lake Valley... if it was an illusion, then there was nothing to burn... but either way, I didn't really care. I felt like nothing I did made any difference at all... so why not?
When I finally worked my way through dozens of side streets, I found the alleys were the best route through the city. The streets were filled with wrecks, some of them tanker trucks leaking possibly toxic chemicals. The train yard was burning, as well as several whole neighborhoods up the side of the mountains. To the south of the Great Salt Lake and far to the west, huge billowing clouds of smoke showed where one explosion I had heard had occurred... probably oil processing plants. The other fires, at other oil plants, might have gone off while I slept the night before or the days in the booth. The smoke going up was massive, huge billowing clouds streaming up into the sky, looking more like a volcano than a fire.
I had to walk about a mile to the Airport itself, after driving on the grass for several miles, inching between wrecks. I tried not to drive over bones, but that was really impossible. The sound of crunching skulls under the tires would probably be in my nightmares for weeks to come. No... being alive would be a greater nightmare for the rest of my life! As the Silence ate at my soul, I didn't think the rest of my life would be very long.
I saw nobody, not one indication that anyone had survived but me. My spirits sank when I saw the crashed wreckage of a plane sticking out from the demolished and fire blackened multilevel parking garage, and a few minutes later, as I entered the terminal proper and rode up an escalator that still moved slowly up to a pile of clothing and bones at the top, I saw the wreckage of at least four more planes on the field itself.
I passed through metal detectors and bones in uniforms, through a `Authorized Personnel Only' stairwell, then out onto the field, my spirits sinking, as I saw that nobody was alive around me. Only bones in coveralls, skulls gapping everywhere... death and destruction. ...and the Silence.
As I stood looking at the field, cluttered with sitting and crashed planes, I suddenly realized I had never thought about the event being just local. I had assumed from the beginning that it was a global event, that everyone had died everywhere on the planet. Perhaps because of the strange way the scientists in the lab had died... I wonder how long the radiation or poisonous air or whatever had stayed around? If I had come right out of the booth, would I have died too? Perhaps the plane's metal and pressurized fuselages had protected the people within, but when the plane landed and they came out, or just opened the doors, they had died.
But how could I tell? If I walked around to all the planes I saw, how would I tell which had been flying and landed and which had not taken off yet, with the people still getting onboard? Even the waiting planes would have probably pulled back to the boarding area when the tower went silent, and opened their doors to let the people out, so if they had lived, there would be some indicator that people had been around, but there wasn't any at all. The terminal looked like everyone had died right where they stood or sat. Nothing had disturbed anything. After four days, even planes waiting to take off would have likely run out of fuel. I didn't hear any, anyway.
I climbed into a plane, bones in a stewardess's uniform at the top of the steps by the door. I walked through the ship, finding bones filling almost every seat. Certainly the metal body of the plane had not protected them. Which really made me wonder why I had lived.
I walked through the terminal, just in case, and found nothing to indicate that anyone had been through it since the Big Death. I headed down into the employee area and was going by large trolleys filled with luggage when I smelled it... corruption!
First I found a huge fridge with it's door open, and footprints in the red dust around it, and following the horrid smell, a few minutes later I found the body in a small office, in one corner, the reek of decay intense enough to make me vomit. The swollen corpse wore a stewardess uniform but I couldn't tell anything else about her. She held a pistol on one hand, still gripping it after using it to blow her brains out.
Whoever she was, she had no skin or hair at all, and the putrefaction swelling her was within her body organs. After I staggered out of the room and into fresh air, I sat a long time, thinking, and decided that the girl had come out of the cooler when the main effects of the radiation or whatever was declining, and just caught the end of it. In great pain, she had found a gun and killed herself. How did she find the gun with her eyes gone, I wondered, going back into the reeking hallways, searching the area around the food locker ...and found a security guard uniform on a bundle of bones only two doors down from the food locker, outside the booth with her body. She had obviously found her way by memory, driven by desperate agony.
Running back out into the open air, I sat down on the cement and cried for her, and everyone else, for at least an hour, with waves of grief pouring through me, gagging me, convulsing me... The horror seemed to blanket my mind, to fill my thoughts to the deepest level... even the sunlight seemed filled with blood...
Finally I lay on the ground for a long time. I couldn't find a single reason to get up. Then the thought occurred to me that others might live somewhere in the world. I remembered that I had heard rumors back in the last millennium of underground cities constantly filled with people in case of nuclear war... that was during the cold war, and I wondered if there were still people there, if such places had ever existed.
I had survived, after all! I should assume that others had survived. Perhaps, somewhere, someone else had been in a booth or something, with the same properties that had kept me alive.
(And always, in the back of my mind, I thought I felt hands moving my body, motion around me, non-understood words being spoken... was that reality, laying in the booth, being watched over and maintained by scientists? Or was that really gibbering insanity, waiting until I weakened enough to swamp my consciousness in a self-made illusion, an escape from this terrible reality?)
So I got up, ate something from an airport restaurant, and then headed out to the city, heading for the nearest TV studio. The fires on the mountainsides had grown, the clouds of smoke obscuring the smaller peaks. But the electricity was still on, which surprised me a little. I stopped at a stop light by habit, then laughed and drove on, heading for a skyscraper with CNN on the top in huge letters.
I had to drag out at least six bundles of bones from an elevator, and sweep out most of the dust in order to ride it, but the remains bothered me less and less. I was afraid the dust would choke me when the elevator moved. Some of it felt so incredibly powdery, like flour, and puffed into the air with each footstep I took. Some of it felt almost wet and heavy, like red sand. The unidentifiable acrid smell was fading however, and while in closed places the dust was still pretty thick, I could live with it, I figured.
Hair and fingernails were not really alive, nor was the outside few layers of skin... why did they dissolve when meat in a freezer didn't? I looked closely at the red powder, but saw no fingernails or hair... which likely meant something, but I could not figure out what.
I went through several bundles of clothing and a purse to find a keycard which opened the locked studio door. I left credit cards scattered all over the studio foyer, laughing when I thought about it. I had to laugh or I would go insane in the Silence, I thought, but I had some difficulty ceasing the laughter, which scared me a little.
Inside, I found the broadcast room and sat down at a computer obviously already logged on the Internet. I found the 'net up and going, although I could not access several of the biggest sites, like Google. I wrote a message telling who I am and where I could be found and spammed every elist I could find. I also searched a multitude of servers for any new accesses less than three days old, but found none.
I also checked all the equipment for any kind of signal, but I didn't know what did what. I couldn't even figure out how to send myself out on the feed. If I could broadcast to all the affiliates in the CNN system, I could show up on a huge number of turned on TV sets in America and possibly many other countries, but I couldn't figure it out.
After about six hours of trying things which didn't seem to do anything, thumbing through many volumes of manuals I didn't understand, I finally went down to the restaurant on the ground floor and ate something. I sat eating a sandwich, talking to a skull of a cook on the floor nearby, but it didn't reply. I was glad it didn't reply.
I turned on a radio and found a AM station on, playing music and ads, then, after a few moments of heart rending intense relief and excitement, I realized it was probably a repeating tape. The relief drained from my taut muscles, leaving a sour feeling in my stomach. I wanted to wake up in that booth SO BAD!
I wondered how long the power would stay on, then wondered if the building I was in had back up generators. Many large buildings did, I knew.
I watched the sunset from the top of the building, over forty floors above the city, watching a glorious color-filled natural pastel sunset made far more intense from the still burning oil refinery to the west. The wind forced me down to the lower floor hotel, and I sat in a bar there watching the automatic lights go on up and down the streets, wishing that a light in an office or apartment would also go on, to show someone was alive there... but the buildings stayed dark but for security lights in hallways.
Tired of the weight of the Silence, I turned a radio on, hearing the same music again, and considered making myself a drink... but I hadn't had any alcohol for a dozen years, and I didn't think I could handle the skulls and bones everywhere when even slightly drunk. I settled on a fresh pot of coffee and listened to the taped radio station, hearing the same commercials for a second time. Obviously at least a two hour tape replaying itself.
I started this autobiographical account after finding a small notebook computer I liked. I will keep it up, writing before going to bed or the next morning if I forget. Maybe someday someone will read it. Alien anthropologists from the stars, maybe, studying the end of a great civilization? Yeah, right!
I went up to bed at ten, early for me, just taking the nearest room without bones or dust in it, and brought this account up to date. I hope I sleep well. I am very tired, like I hauled 40 pound crates upstairs all day, or some other heavy work. Looking around the room, there is nothing but the Silence to show the emptiness of the outside... It's amazing how I miss the sounds we take for granted!
Day 6 BD Jul 16, 2012
I slept very deeply, apparently dreamlessly. Thank goodness!
(Or did the scientists decide I needed some uninterrupted sleep and give me a drug intravenously?)
I woke up before sunrise, and went back up to the roof with this little computer and a cup of coffee to get me going. The fire in the rich neighborhoods on the mountainside have died back almost completely, but several new small house fires are burning here and there. I wondered again how long the electricity would last, then how long the city would last before most of it had burned up. How many people had been cooking on gas stoves when they died, with the gas flames still burning a week later above their skulls?
It took quite a while for the sun to rise above the mountain that loomed over the city. I love the view, but it would be more interesting with the movement of people and cars up and down the streets. It's my third day out of the booth, sixth day since the Big Death. The date on my watch says Wednesday July 16, and I already miss talking to another person very badly. Thinking of living decades without talking to another person started my hands shaking again. I feel a dread that is just one notch less than panic, and I have to constantly relax to keep from throwing myself off the edge of the building. It's a horrible feeling.
(If I did throw myself off, would I die smashed on the ground, or would the scientists wake me up in the booth? ...or would I land on my feet and be totally unhurt? Should I find out? Wouldn't this show I was in a 'matrix' if I jumped? Or would I just die? The temptation was intense, the motivation compelling, and only my uncertainty held me in place.)
I checked the Internet, finding that more big sites down, and no message for me. I'm going swimming in the hotel swimming pool on the fifth floor. But I'm going to make sure there's no bones on the bottom of the pool.
I wonder if water blocked whatever had killed everyone, and what about submarines? Nuclear subs could stay down for months... It excited me, until I realized how far I was from the ocean.
Should I go to LA or San Diego or San Francisco or somewhere else?
I thought about it for a long time, sitting in the pool, watching the smoke rise above a neighborhood to the south. I was glad for the shade of an umbrella, knowing I would burn easily in the summer sun. I had seldom gone out in the sun over the last few years, preferring the glow from my computer screen instead.
At least I don't have to worry about getting mugged! I laughed just to hear my own voice, and frankly, it scared me.
No people, no mugging... but what if I got sick or injured? Being alone had it's own dangers. I remembered movies about this exact situation, post holocaust situations, and realized there must be other people in the world, people in deep mines, in subs, in bunkers, in sealed underground lockers doing scientific experiments... but I had the feeling they had to stay there several days before they were safe. For some reason, I thought if they had come out too soon, then they would have died. Shift miners would likely come out too soon.
I ate in the pool naked, ignoring the sign that specifically forbid being naked in the pool, and right under the sign that forbid eating in the pool. It's funny. Everything seems funny.
(Am I going insane? Am I in a coma, laying in a hospital, having had a stroke while in the booth?)
There is plenty of food, water until the water system shuts down, and lights until the electricity goes out. Water could be a problem since Salt Lake City was in a desert... but there are streams coming down the mountain and the freshwater lake near Ogden would be a permanent source of water if it isn't polluted by the fires or chemicals from smashed tanker trucks.
I just heard a phone beeping! Close!
False alarm! I erupted out of the water, running towards the sound, and ran right over it. It had rang four times before I found it in a bundle of cloth and bones, and was shouting into it before I realized it was a recorded telemarketer voice, probably on autodial. I listened to the recorded sales pitch for a cosmetic kit just to hear the human voice, and was sorry when it ended. Sheesh... I felt like my heart was going to explode!
I put on shoes and walked around the hotel naked, laughing as I walked into ladies rooms and even the woman's shower room off the gym. But it was an empty gesture, walking through rooms with skeletons a lot more naked than I was, and when I sat down here in the bar, thinking about it, I started to wonder again if I going crazy.
(Am I going crazy?)
The Silence doesn't answer.
I guess when it does, I will be.
Isolation could turn the most hardened person into a nut! I rode the cleaned out elevator to the bottom floor, a parking garage two levels underground, wondering if someone might have survived there, but found bones even in the deepest room under the skyscraper, a bundle of bones wearing coveralls, probably a maintenance man. As I climbed back up to the elevator, glad there were still lights on so deep in the ground, I wondered how to contact any survivors, if they were truly very few and very scattered?
I just realized the answer! Ham radio! Every post-holocaust movie I ever saw had people using short wave radios to find other survivors!
But where do I find a short wave radio?
Duh! Yellow pages!
Well, I drove around the city naked the rest of the day, stopping to shower occasionally when I felt grimy, and eating everywhere I went. The whole city is mine now, I figure. All the buildings, all the food, all the stuff... and I've found I really don't want anything but a short wave that works, that I won't have to spend a long time setting up. I drove to stores, Ham Radio clubs, which turned out to be private houses, and found ham sets and components but found no working ham systems, something ready to use. So I started driving around looking for the distinctive antennas which should stick up above the houses, and found one, finally, behind a house in the suburbs.
Reader! If you are reading this, if anyone is reading this, it's because of this short wave in front of me right now! It's in a shed behind a house, and it's an old set, with the small metal and plastic cards Ham operators used to send to each other, all nailed up all over the walls.
I turned it on and started going through the frequencies, hearing nothing but squeaking and beeping that sounded like automatic equipment. Then, finally, I heard a voice, calling way back in the shrill squeaking, and figured out that it was someone far away who spoke Spanish, but I couldn't tell anything else. I don't know Spanish!
Someone else is alive! SOMEONE ELSE IS ALIVE! SoMeOnEeLsEiSaLiVe!
I thought my heart would explode with relief! My thoughts seemed to pulse with my intense heartbeat, and it took some effort to unclench my hands from the chair arms and relax. My cheeks hurt I was smiling so hard. Someone else is alive. The most beautiful words in any language.
It got dark as I sat there, and after checking my email from the computer beside the ham set, I finally went into the house and cleaned out the several sets of bones I found there, grinning from ear to ear. From the pictures, knick knacks, and furnishings, I could tell the people had been elderly, and I spent an hour figuring out who lived there from the pictures, a kindly old man and woman. The man's picture was up next to the short wave, a picture of the man when he was much younger. They were probably the bones I had thrown out the back door, the dust I had swept up and tossed away. I am going to bed, and I feel a bit weird to be sleeping in those people's bed. But they don't need it, do they? At least I changed the sheets and pillowcases.
If one lives besides me, then others likely live also, maybe lots of others!
Well, I can't sleep. I'm going to take a walk.
Damn! I started to take a walk down the street, but it was too spooky. The dark shadows seemed to form into people, and the total lack of normal night sounds was un-nerving. The wind came up and the branches rustled above me, and they were almost voices, like the dead talking far away...
(Were the scientists trying to wake me up? Did I hear their voices?)
So I got in the car and drove around, not a speedy trip as I drove around wrecks in the empty city, finding it also rather spooky. I drove by house fires, and jumped several times as motion detectors switched on lights suddenly as I drove by. I went to the lit up Mormon Temple and drove around it, then I went up to the big university above the downtown area, and went to the science building.
I had the thought that I might be able to analyze the dust still heaped in buildings where the wind couldn't reach, and perhaps figure out what had turned living flesh into a powder so quickly. And why the living flesh but not the flesh in the food displays at the supermarkets... too many questions! But I found I had no idea of where to start, nor did I know how to use the equipment in the labs there. I played with a piece of equipment for awhile, making a computer screen display jiggling lines as I ran a sensor over everything it could reach. I found a radiation detector, but it didn't show anything much, just a little background radiation. I didn't even know if I calibrated it properly.
Under a microscope, some of the red material looked like very tiny pink crystals and some showed as large, almost transparent, red brown complex crystals. That told me almost nothing, but I found it interesting anyway.
I finally drove back to the short wave house. I had some trouble finding it, and when I got here, I lay for hours, my mind going over memories which seemed much more vivid than before. I relived whole conversations with friends from years before. I hope I can sleep despite the vast emptiness and the Silence. How big the world seems now that I am so incredibly alone! At least I know I am not the only survivor. I'll bet they feel exactly like I do. I'm going to try to sleep again. I'm even too tired to type anymore.
Day 7 BD Jul 17, 2012
When I woke up, it was late morning. Beautiful day, although the air smells smoky, a slight burning plastic smell drifting through.
I'm going out to the short wave shack and try to find someone closer that is alive, somewhere in the US. It's good to know that someone else is alive in the world. Really excellent! But I will spend the day listening to the short wave. I almost enjoy hearing the horrific noise of the short wave as I scan the bands... it's so much better than the Silence!
Well, reader, it's pretty late now. I made out another voice today, speaking some language that might have been Chinese. That is three people alive so far! There has to be more! I transmitted my location and data over and over on different bands, but heard no response. I hope someone heard me and felt encouraged, like I do hearing them. I wondered if there are any subs with living crews. Wouldn't they think of short waves and suchlike in their search for survivors?
I took a few breaks from listening to the signal. I walked through the neighboring houses and looked for home video tapes and movies, finding a few, and brought them back to the shed, where I set up a TV and VCR and watched the birthday parties and weddings and a few more colorful and intimate events in people's lives. It was good to see other faces and hear voices, even though I knew they were now dead.
I also watched some rented videos now never to be returned, and enjoyed the funny ones, laughing too loud, and missing someone to share the humor with... and when the movie ended, the incredible silence and vast emptiness seemed heavier than ever, an emptiness so overwhelming... I had no idea before the Big Death what comfort I had gotten with the knowledge of all the people living around me, even when alone in my tiny apartment...
And, I admit it. Sometimes I cried.
And before coming into the house, I stood in the front yard and screamed for awhile... hoping beyond hope that it would bother someone!
Day 8 BD Jul 18, 2005
Today, I drove to the nearest grocery store and loaded up a truck with food of various kinds, spent an hour picking out at least 50 videos from a video store, a few XXX rated and hidden in the store's back room, then drove back, parking in front and carrying in only what I needed for a day or so. I sat at that short wave and broadcast the same message over and over again as I watched the tapes... I heard the Chinese voice again, but no contact. Depressing to call for hours and not get through.
I wondered how far the short wave reached. I knew it could sometimes reach half way around the planet, but usually didn't go that far. I would have to look that up, probably at one of the libraries. One thing is for sure... nobody is 'walking on my signal'.
The movies almost made me forget the death around me, for hours at a time, but several times in every movie, I would realize this young star or that child star was now dead, simply a skeleton somewhere, and that would destroy the illusion of the movie for me... Hell of a Friday night!
I guess tomorrow night I will get an X-box and whatever other video games I can find and play video games. In a way, the sound of the games, like the movie's audio, fights the Silence. It is the hardest aspect of my existence, the total Silence.
Day 9 BD Jul 19, 2005
When I slept, I had no dreams at all. It was a refuge!
Spent the day just like yesterday, sending my message over the short wave and playing video games rather than watching tapes, but still, it was the same, really.
(Am I going crazy?)
I've been hearing noises from outside, from other rooms when I'm in the house, from down the street when I went out to the grocery truck.
I thought I heard a child crying, and ran through the neighborhood like a wild man, heart pounding, trying to find where the sound was coming from... but it stopped, and then I realized it was very likely from my own mind.
The Silence is like a weight on me, an intense blanket over me, smothering me!
(I also thought maybe the experiment went wrong, and I was in a catatonic state, and all this is just an illusion, a delusion, a virtual world I had sunk into... but somehow it doesn't make any difference. It seems real to me, and here I am. It scared me to think about it, because the only logical thing to do would be to kill myself, and then maybe I would come out of the illusion... I cannot do that. I won't take that route. I will not surrender to the Silence.)
I didn't hear anyone over the short wave today. The radio squeal is just not enough noise, so I played CD's at full volume until now, as well as the video game sounds turned up full blast. How can the Silence be so real to me even in a bedlam of sound?
It is, you know.
Oh, my ancestor, if you exist, the Silence is the worse of it, worse than the bones, the red crystals, the acrid smell which I now associate with death...
I am going to bed, and I'm going to leave some music going softly when I fall asleep, just to hear a human voice in my dreams.
Day 10 BD Jul 20, 2012
This evening at 10 pm, the 10th day after the Big Death, I heard a voice broadcasting in English! It's the biggest thrill I think I have ever had... better than my first kiss, or for that matter, my first sex with a real live girl!
It was a female voice, very young, only 15 years old, and she didn't seem to hear my excited sending to her. Her name was Meiko, and she lived in a small city in California called Bishop, in a high desert valley on the east side of the Sierras. I found a map and traced California highway 395 up to Bishop, excited to think that a girl lived there, a real living human female!
I tried and tried to get her to hear me, but when the voice faded after a few hours, she had still not heard me. I immediately started planning the trip to the town and lay in bed thinking, immensely excited. I realized the drive would be very long and slow, with so many cars smashed on the highways between here and there. Even on a motorcycle, the large amount of oil on the highways from wrecks would make that very dangerous.
Writing this, I just realized the map showed a landing field near Bishop, so I've decided to fly there. I'll start learning how tomorrow. I've always wanted to fly.
Day 11 BD Jul 21, 2012
I was too excited to sleep, thinking of the girl, Meiko, and the ramifications of contact with her... I eventually fell asleep for only a few hours as the sun came up over the mountains. Then I got up and drove to the airport, not in the car, but on a motorcycle, which could get though not only to the terminal but then across the field to the parking area of the small private planes. I really had a hard time avoiding the oil slicks which seemed everywhere, and carried a bag of sand on the back of the cycle, to spread over the worse places I had to pass over. The highway and many roads are covered in oil, leaking from all the smashed cars. I decided I would stay near the airport tonight, rather than fight my way through the walls of destruction on the freeways and roads.
I went through all the small planes carefully, not sure of what to look for, but looking for anything that might be wrong with them. I went through the offices there also, and found the flight logs of most of the planes. I'm spending the night in the nearest motel, trying to understand the flight and maintenance logs, along with some flight training books I found in one of the offices. I will pick the most recently serviced small plane tomorrow, and I will try to fly it.
Somehow, knowing that Meiko lives, even hundreds of miles away, diminishes the Silence more than anything else, even the music I had played constantly.
Day 12 BD Jul 22, 2012
When I woke up this morning, pre-dawn, I found the power out in most of the city. I could see lights in the south of the city, but mostly I saw complete darkness dotted with many fires. After finding a small plane owned before the Big Death by a doctor, I spent most of the rest of the day gathering up supplies to take in the plane with me, storing them carefully, some of them with the idea I might have to land in some desolate spot and go overland. I tried to remember everything I could about survival in a desert mountain area, and loaded up the plane appropriately.
After stowing everything, I sat in the cockpit for a few hours, studying the many dials and controls with the help of a book from the small library in a flying club's building. I tried to remember everything I had ever seen on TV about what was what, as well as the few flight simulators games I had played. ...and I finally thought I had the dials all figured out. Scared half to death, I figured I had little to lose.
I started up the plane and waited for the engine to warm up, then taxied slowly towards the only stretch of field which looked clear enough to take off on. I felt immense excitement, but also more than a little fear. Nobody would come to help me if I crashed, no emergency crews would come to dig me out of the wreckage and bind my injuries, and I had never done anything like this before. Even with instruction, nobody would let me in the pilot's chair immediately.
But, with my desire to meet Meiko so strong it overcame my good sense, I went for it. I started speeding up, faster and faster, and suddenly the plane took a sudden turn to the right, the wing scraped the ground, and in a shower of glass and a screech of metal, I suddenly found myself hanging from the harness staring at cement, pain flaring from a dozen bruises. In the first five minutes I had almost killed myself!
The engine totally wrecked, I felt very fortunate that nothing ignited the fuel dripping on the ground, and I crawled out much wiser. After an hour sitting on the ground, looking at the plane and shaking with aftershock, I got up and limped back to the motel. Frankly, I felt like an idiot!
After a hot bath, finding my legs bruised but nothing else damaged, I realized my ignorance. I really didn't know what I didn't know existed about flying, so I went to the city library and found flight training books. Then I went back to the motel to read them from cover to cover by candlelight. I'm sure glad I picked up extra batteries for this computer. The accident scared me half to death, and I have realized what a fool I am. But the Silence overwhelms me, and the bones drive me crazy. Being a fool may have survival value in this new empty world... and if it doesn't help me survive, then it leaves me with a way out... blessed death..., so either way, I cannot lose... I'm going to find another plane and try again tomorrow, if I feel I understand what I'm doing better.
Day 13 BD July 23, 2012
Well, reader, here I go. This might be the last entry, the last sentence, the last word for me in this world. I'm taking off.
Surprise! I survived! With my heart in my throat, I picked and loaded another small plane, almost identical to the first, climbed in again, taxied around the standing and smashed jets, and following what I had read plus the simulations I had run, I took off. The takeoff, other than a little wobbling as I got used to the sensitivity of the controls, seemed perfect. I survived it, I flew, I remained alive.
Remember the old saying... a perfect landing is any landing you walk away from? Well, it applies to takeoffs also.
I flew up to 4000 feet, my ears popping, and flew a slow circle around the airfield, feeling totally elated, then flew west over the Great Salt Lake, totally mind blown by the incredible beauty of the land around me.
The sky was a perfect blue, bruised by black clouds from burning oil refineries to the south, and I searched the horizon for clouds which might indicate a storm, but didn't see any. I flew entranced by the beauty, wishing I had done this years ago. During the first half hour of my flight, I could see the freeway to Wendover, on the Utah/Nevada border, and I was very glad I did not try to make my way through the smashed cars and trucks I could see far below me, in large clumps of twisted metal that often covered the entire highway for a hundred yards or more.
The Great Salt Lake shimmered with an oil slick for miles from several leaking tanker trucks on the devastated freeway. An amazing sight in itself.
I could not rest or know what weather I would run into. I had marked on the map all the fields between Salt Lake and Bishop, as well as forty more to the north and south in case I got blown off course.
The land was beautiful, flying glorious, and in what seemed like almost no time at all, I realized I would have to land for the night. I faced my first landing, without instruction except for books, and with no weather knowledge. The wind could flip or stall me if coming from the wrong direction, and I knew I had to do it right the first time. When I reached a small town in a valley with a small landing field, I flew over it twice, coming lower each time, checking the field's windsock carefully, until I felt I could land it, and came down almost perfectly, skipping twice but not nosing over as I feared.
When my heart had stopped beating in absolute terror, I climbed out and found that the terminal consisted of a repair shack and tanks of aviation fuel, no other planes or cars sat anywhere in sight, and I had to walk a half mile to the nearest house. I ate what I found here, mostly canned food, and will sleep in a child's bed, the room lit by a large candle, because the larger bedroom has a number of skeletons in it. Despite the absolute dark Silence of the night, I feel good. I had conquered flight, all by my self. Move over, Wright Brothers!
Day 14 BD Jul 24, 2012
Eating breakfast today, I wondered about bacteria.
Had it died also? I vowed to find out and drove an old pickup to a small college in the nearby town, finding it in a phone book. I looked at various materials under the microscope, and found bacteria in abundance. Certainly they seemed unaffected, but so much time passed since BD day, how could I tell if most had died on BD day? I know bacteria reproduce very fast, like 80 generations a day? I had looked at the red dust under a microscope at the Salt Lake university, but it had never occurred to me to look for bacteria. I know I saw none at the time, but I did not look for it. I could not tell anything about the dust from the microscope, and anyone who could likely died.
I drove back to the airfield and took off after refueling. The second takeoff seemed smoother and better than the first, mainly because the stronger wind allowed me to fly directly into it. I had to fly high to get over the mountains, flying in climbing spirals to the right altitude, my ears popping and the height seeming incredible, but besides some scary moments from up and down drafts, I made it over the mountain ranges, over Death Valley, and then the high passes of the White Mountains, and headed down into Owen's valley, flying north up towards Bishop.
When I flew over the small city, I saw only a few burnt out buildings, although a huge grass fire burnt further south, up against the mountainsides to the east. I circled the downtown area several times, looking for Meiko, for any movement, but didn't see anything alive.
When I landed at Bishop's small airfield, I nearly crashed this time. I bounced hard, and rocked back and forth, and for a moment, I thought I would die, but when the noise and shaking and being thrown back and forth ended, I sat on the ground with only a few bruises from the seat harness on my shoulders to add to the ache in my bruised thighs.
So excited and eager to meet another living person, I jumped out and ran to the nearest car, parked next to the small tower building, and impatiently hot wired it, the first time I ever tried that. After a half hour of frustration and fumbling, my heart beating fast and furiously, I drove at almost a dangerous speed to the town, shouting wildly as I drove, deliriously happy!
My jaw dropped in shock when I reached downtown Bishop. The main street, also highway 395, had one long six block pile of bones, human and horses all suffering the same fate. From the bright and colorful clothing and decorations on the horse bones, the Big Death had interrupted a parade, all dying amid the finery. After driving from one end of the town to the other and back, going up and down every street, looking for any sign of Meiko, I parked at a small restaurant. After tossing out a few sacks of bones, I fixed a meal and sat wondering, listening to the Silence, afraid for the young girl Meiko.
After reading the last issue of the town's small newspaper, now a chronicle of past happenings, I walked slowly over to a nearby motel room, aching too much to go walking or driving around looking for the girl in the dark. I hope she remained here. The thought she might have left terrifies me, to say the least.
The Silence seeps into my bones... I try not to think, to worry that Meiko hadn't stayed here, or had taken the easy way into the Silence... I cried some at that thought, my hands shaking with that thought. ...that horrible thought!
Meiko, where are you?
Day 15 BD Jul 25, 2012
I found a colorful silver encrusted horse blanket and saddle carefully laid out in a restaurant across from the courthouse this morning. The restaurant seemed cleaned up recently, swept out, no bones anywhere inside. Someone, Meiko I'm sure, piled dishes and rotting scraps in a pile to one side of the back door, obviously just tossing them out an open window in the back. The water runs in the taps, but as far as I can tell, no electricity flows here. I'm going to finish my cold instant coffee, really bad tasting stuff when made without hot water.
I walked through the city all day, until dusk, hurting from a multitude of bruises and resting often, panting with the high altitude, looking for the girl, shouting her name, but never received an answer or saw a single movement.
Just after the sun went down over the mountains to the West, an intense wind drove me into a motel, but the wind died down just as suddenly as it came, leaving a profound silence and more stars than I ever imagined. I remembered the evening wind from the night before, glad it didn't blow like that when I landed!
Even if Meiko left or died, I have to admit the beauty of this town will stick with me for a long time. Beautiful place to live!
I just heard a generator start up somewhere! I'm going to go find it. Meiko!
Reader, whoever you are, alien or descendant, I found it, and her.
I ran towards the sound, and after a few blocks I saw a light on in the police station in the city hall. So excited and scared I could hardly breathe, I walked slowly towards the lights. I walked in and down a hall to the sheriff's office, and before I opened the door, I heard Meiko's voice as she called on the short wave, saying much the same message I heard a week ago.
When I opened the door, Meiko screamed and jumped up, and I found myself looking down the barrel of a shotgun, held confidently by a tiny slender oriental girl, with long black hair and wide, scared, black eyes. She wore brown shorts and a tan shirt with many pockets, like a National Park field shirt, and large thick boots.
"Uh..." I said, then cleared my throat, having not spoken a conversational word in many days. I had shouted all the way to town, and called Meiko's name all day, and my voice sounded hoarse and raw. "Uh, my name is John, and I heard your call on short wave." I wanted to jump up and down, grab the girl and dance around with her, but the shotgun definitely put a damper on my celebration.
"Are you alone?" The girl asked, right off, her voice so sweet, if shaky, I shivered with the sound. After so long without a living voice to hear, it seemed almost divine.
I nodded, amazed at the question.
Meiko looked at me wide eyed, but didn't lower the shotgun. "I was hoping someone would come." She said, voice even and clear. "I didn't know how to use the short wave, but I kept trying, hoping someone would hear. My name is Meiko, and I am half oriental and half Hopi native. You got a problem with that?"
I looked at her, finding her incredibly beautiful. At that moment, she fit my ideal image of the most beautiful woman in the world... well, girl, anyway. "uh... not at all. I'm so happy to meet another living person... well... I don't know how to act!"
Meiko smiled slightly, and I realized her attitude showed wariness rather than fear. "Well, John, I just turned 15 years old and I plan to stay a virgin until I'm sixteen. Any problem with that?"
Taken aback for sure, I looked at her, another living person, I wanted to shout and jump up and down and hug her to me, but that shotgun never wavered, pointing at my chest with firm steadiness. "Uh... no expectations at all." I replied, shaking my head. "I... I was just so lonely and... how did you survive Big Death day?"
"Where did you come from and how did you get here?" Meiko asked, her voice steadying, sitting down but not lowering the gun. I felt on trial, and not sure Meiko saw my innocence. The girl had the steadiest sharp black eyes, and they never wavered. Totally serious!
"I was in Ogden, Utah, in a medical experiment... in a sealed booth of some kind, and when I saw what happened to the people in the lab, I... thought it was part of the experiment... and stayed in there for three days before coming out. I found nobody alive, and when I heard your broadcast, I tried to reach you but you didn't seem to receive. I flew here from Salt Lake City in a small plane to meet you."
For the first time, the girl lowered the shotgun, and motioned to a chair across the room. I sat down, and realized when I looked back at the chair, the small teen had switched from the shotgun to a small pistol, which now centered on my chest unerringly.
"Don't try anything, John, or I will kill you without hesitation." Meiko said, the only sign of her own nervousness a slight shaking of her hand holding the pistol. "I will be no man's sex slave, servant, or whipping post. I was aware that almost anyone might come here in response to my calls, and I figured out what might happen to every extreme. In my mouth, I have a capsule of poison which I will bite and which will kill me very quickly if I am overpowered. That's how serious I am about my freedom!" Meiko's lips wiggled, and I saw something small held between them for a moment, then she must have put it back between her cheek and her gums. She did not smile. If she thought I had bad intentions, she might well kill herself.
"Uh... I understand. Hurting you or forcing you to do anything was the farthest from my mind. But I can see how you have to be careful." I had not considered the danger to a young girl of meeting a strange person for the first time with nobody to protect her whatsoever.
"I was in a cave, sealed from the world, as a kind of ritual my family practiced since ancient times on our fifteenth birthday. I had no idea what had happened until my father did not come to get me, and I left the cave after five days within it." For the first time, I saw her face change, her eyes growing teary and her chin quiver as she suppressed a sob. "They were all dead. Everyone killed only hours after I entered the cave, on the day of the annual parade. My family was among the bones of those watching the parade." Her face grew even more quivering, threatening to break down into outright crying, her pain and grief showing in her whole body.
I wanted to hug her, to give her solace, but the unwavering gun held me tight to my chair. I didn't want to start off the wrong way with this girl, the only person I knew existed in possibly thousands of miles.
"Was there a sealed door on this cave?" I asked, wanting to divert her mind from her loss.
She frowned at me, wondering what I was getting at. "Yes. It was a bomb shelter in the fifties and sixties, and has several doors which were sealed. The air I breathed was from a recycler and tanks. My father was always afraid of a buildup of gases, especially radon gas from the rock around here."
"Then maybe there are others who survived in such places then. Just because we haven't found them doesn't mean they didn't survive." I said, smiling at her. My hope could become her hope!
Suddenly the girl got up and tucked the pistol in the waistband of the shorts she wore, and smiled at me, holding out her hand. "OK, I think you are cool, John."
I got up, almost tripping over my own feet, and took her small hand in mine, shaking it almost formally. Grip just tight enough, her small hand cool, she looked me right in the eye, appraisingly.
"Uh... I'm very glad to know you, Meiko!" I said, letting her hand go, not wanting to give the wrong impression. It passed through my mind that this slender beautiful girl might well mother my children someday, but I fought the thought away, thinking such thoughts more than a little premature. Also aware she had the little poison capsule in her cheek, I would not make any fast motions. I didn't want the only other person alive to die because of my stupidity.
"Thank you for coming so far to meet me, John. Are you thinking of settling down here, or moving on?" Meiko said, smiling friendly, although her eyes stayed on me warily, measuring me acutely.
Astonished, I hadn't thought about that. I assumed we would stay together, whatever the relationship we developed. "Uh... well, since there are only the two of us, I would like to hang around, if it's ok with you?"
"Well, I certainly invited you, didn't I?" the girl replied, smiling with some warmth. "I... I would like that also... if you behave yourself!"
I had just turned 38 years old, and Meiko had just turned 15, less than half my age. But somehow it didn't mean anything. I didn't see her as a child, and she didn't see me as an `adult'... our loneliness and the death all around us made us equal in a way I had never considered possible.
"Would you like some lemonade, John?" Meiko asked, breaking a silence that stretched on for some minutes. She waved at a pitcher, picking up a glass and sipping it, and I eagerly poured myself a glass, surprised to find it filled with ice.
"I thought the electricity was completely down?" I asked, as I dragged the chair slightly closer and sat down facing her. "You don't run the generator all the time, cause I heard it come on tonight." I sipped the cold drink, looking at Meiko's lovely young face.
"The local substation has electricity, but something in the equipment there broke. I don't know enough to even try to fix it. But there is a ice maker there." Meiko replied. "There was electricity throughout the town until just a few days ago, then something happened to shut it down. The generator came on automatically here, and I figured out how to turn it on and off. It runs on diesel fuel and has a huge tank almost completely full, but I turn it off during the day."
"What do you think happened?" I asked the girl the most burning question in my mind, not able to wait any longer.
"I... I don't know." Meiko replied, in a small voice. "You said... you said you saw them... die?" The tears had returned to her eyes, and I almost changed the subject, but she looked up with total interest, so I answered.
"Yes. They were fine one moment, and the next they just sort of... shimmered... and then they were dust." I said, shivering as I remembered the girl I had been looking at in the lab. "I don't think they felt anything but surprise. They were... gone so fast..."
"It wasn't... painful?" Meiko said, her voice strained. She stared at my shoes, a tear slowly dripping down her cheek. She looked up into my face, pleadingly.
"No, I don't think so." I replied softly, wondering what she felt like to have lost her whole family, all at once. I thought of the grief Meiko must feel, glad I had nobody when it happened. She suddenly scooped something out of her cheek, and I realized she had held the poison capsule in there the whole time since I had come in. "No need for this now, I think..." she looked at me pointedly... "I hope."
"Where... where did you get that?" I asked, looking amazed at the tiny plastic or glass capsule.
"I made it at my... my school." Meiko said, sliding it into a small leather pocket on her belt and fastening it carefully. "I had learned how to melt and mold lab tubing last semester, and found the poison in the storeroom. I would rather die than be raped. I always put it in when I come here, since this is where someone might find me, as you did."
The girl said it so flatly, tonelessly, that I realized she would guard herself with me until she learned to know me as harmless. Meiko had an inner strength I could feel in her, even in the short time I had known her. No flighty young girl... She had iron!
"Don't worry, Meiko." I said softly. "I am a Buddhist, and I have taken a vow to do no harm."
She frowned at me, but then dismissed the thought, sipping from her own glass of lemonade instead.
"Uh... Meiko... why couldn't you receive my return call on the short wave?" I asked, breaking another long silence.
She looked at me, then the short wave set. "It doesn't seem to work. I wasn't even sure until you told me that I was sending. The little light moves when I talk into the microphone, but when I switch to receive, nothing happens."
"May I look at it?" I asked, standing back up slowly.
Meiko got up warily, her hand on the handle of the gun, and moved back away from the table. She definitely didn't trust me yet. "Sure, John, please do." She replied, waving at the set in invitation. She wanted me to prove myself a good person so bad, she was quick to trust me a little... but only a little.
The Silence did that, I realized. I also wanted Meiko to prove herself a good person so bad, I would do anything, almost, to support that feeling.
I looked at the short wave, realizing the model as far more modern than the one I used in Salt Lake. It looked brand new, and very advanced. I switched it to receive, hearing nothing, then pushed a button marked `squelch'. Slowly the squealing sounds came into hearing, and turning up the volume, I realized that had prevented reception. She had the volume and squelch turned down too far.
"You made it work!" Meiko said, smiling big, almost jumping up and down. "Now we can hear anyone who might reply?" I winced at the squeal, never liking that sound, although I considered the Silence much worse. I pushed an `autoscan' toggle and on the small touch screen, small red lights appeared and flashed in sequence, at least a hundred of them. The squeal had gone off but as the small red lights flashed, one of them suddenly turned green, and a voice filled the room, very clear.
"...line! Are you there Caroline? Come in!" a male voice asked, almost frantically. It had a distinctive Spanish accent, and I wondered through my sudden excitement where it came from. I thought my heart would jump out of my chest, excited all at once.
"I'm here, Manual." A woman's voice replied, sounding much farther away. Almost grainy, low and tight, the voice faded in and out slightly. "Just a little fadeout, my friend. Go on with your story."
Meiko had let out a little squeak when the first voice came in, and she ran up beside me, our eyes locking as we looked at each other in incredible delight and excitement. Two more people! Two more survivors! I remembered to breath, then almost hyperventilated. The voices exceeded the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard, along with Meiko's little squeaks behind me.
"I was in the neutrino detector for five days before I figured out something was wrong. I usually stay down there seven days, and then I get out for fourteen days before going back down again. When the detector had pegged the meter for two days straight at the end of my shift, I had sent the data up to the Center, and had imagined the excitement up there when they saw the huge numbers, but then nobody came to relieve me, which made me suspicious."
"The elevator didn't work, so it took me a whole day to access and climb up the emergency ladder, and when I got to the top, I found... Daphine's bones blocking the elevator door. That's when I knew something terrible had happened. Over."
"So you think it was an unknown radiation from another... another Galaxy that killed everyone? Over." Caroline asked, her voice sounding tired.
"Yes, Caroline. Not another Galaxy but from the direction of our own galactic Center. The neutrinos flooded through for two days, two huge spikes, and the direction shifted perfectly for that source. I don't think the neutrinos caused the mass extinction event, but they were traveling with it, a by product of whatever radiation it was. I have gone through a number of recorded sensor readings from the scisats, and whatever kind of radiation it was, it had a lot of energy with it. A thick layer of rock apparently stopped it, and probably there were other possible ways to have been sheltered from it, but the duration was so long that most would have not stayed in a shelter until the radiation stopped. The second day of the event would catch them outside. Believe me, I have more questions than answers about it. Over"
"Well, it's good to know, Manual, although it doesn't help me much. I'm on my third day without food, and I've got maybe two days of water left. I'll have to hike out of here in a little while, and try to get to somewhere there is food and water. Over."
"Manual, Caroline, this is John. Do you read me, over?" I said, excitedly, keying the microphone. For a moment, I thought keying the mike had caused a problem, because the voices stopped for a long minute.
"John, this is Manual!" Merged with "This is Caroline. Read you high and wide!" in a tangled signal, both voices totally excited.
"This is John, using Meiko's short wave in Bishop, California!" I replied, hoping we would get some kind of rhythm in our sending. "Meiko is here beside me! uh... over!"
"Meiko!" Caroline's voice exclaimed. "Yes, I've been hearing her for several days but couldn't get through to her. Over."
"There are seven of us now!" Manual said, in his turn. "I am just outside San Diego, John, and Caroline is in Arizona, in the Grand Canyon. She is in trouble, John! She has run out of food and almost out of water and she's a long way from anyone by foot, although only a few miles as the crow flies. Can you help? Over."
"I flew here from Salt Lake City, Caroline. I might be able to get near you the same way. Where exactly are you? Over." I asked, suddenly unwilling to let a survivor die if I could help it. Meiko was jumping up and down behind me, saying `seven!' softly over and over again, deliriously happy. She seemed content to let me do the talking but I easily felt her intense attention behind me, hanging on every word.
"I am in the Grand Canyon, John. There is no place to land here, and even a helicopter would have real trouble reaching me here. It's all vertical. I plan to hike to the South Rim by an old trail I know of. I walked it before, a few years ago, but never with this small amount of supplies, especially water. There is a small airfield on the South Rim, and I have a Park Ranger friend who has a short wave, although he is probably dead, but I can used his set to call you when I get there. If I can make it to Phantom Ranch in the canyon bottom, I'll be OK. Over."
"How long will it take you, Caroline? Over?" I asked, thinking about the logistics. I wasn't sure the plane I came in was damaged or not from the hard landing.
"Three days... maybe four days, John, or not at all. Over." Caroline sounded so tired, I wondered if she could make it without food. "I am going to sign off now and get started. Water is the main consideration. I will have to carry all my water, and just hope it gets me to the river. I will call you immediately upon getting to my friends house, John. I would love to come and live with you and Meiko, or perhaps you might want to come to Flagstaff to live. The land is pretty fertile in some valleys around here, and the weather is pretty mild. Over."
"We'll talk about it, Caroline. I just got here an hour or so ago, so we need to figure out what we are going to do. Over."
"OK, John. It's wonderful to have talked with you, Manual, John, Meiko... I had no idea what had happened until Manual told me. I came out of the cave I was studying to find my two partners nothing but bones. I thought it was something weird here, so I hung around waiting for Michael to bring me some food and water. Now I know he isn't coming. I have to get going. See youall soon, I hope. Caroline out!"
"Suddenly everything is going fast again." Meiko said behind me, her voice tight and intense. "I was afraid nothing would change, that I would be here alone the rest of my life, watching the town fall apart."
"Manual, who are the others you mentioned. Over." I asked, feeling desperate, walking on his transmission. "Uh, sorry." I said, but I really wanted to know.
"There is one in South America, an engineer named Paolo, a girl in China whose name I cannot pronounce, and a young boy, Micky, in Kansas City, John. Over." Manual replied, his voice far clearer than Caroline's voice.
"Good to know, Manual." I replied, as Meiko sighed behind me. "Perhaps others will come on when they think of using short wave. I think we should pick you up also, Manual. With so few of us, we need each other a lot. Over." I stated the obvious, of course. Suddenly even complete strangers had infinite value.
"I wonder how many there really are in the world?" Meiko said, stepping up beside me. "If there are seven on short wave, there could be several hundred around the world who have not thought of short wave for connecting." She put one small hand on my forearm, and I almost shivered... the touch of a human hand became the greatest joy I could imagine, even a heartfelt but unassuming touch from a young girl.
"That's possible." I said, smiling at her. She smiled back, the suspicion seemingly gone now. "There are also submarines that might have living crews out there too. I also found a dead girl which had been in a food locker when it happened, although she came out too soon to survive. There could be thousands of people we don't know about."
"John, I think you are right, Amigo." Manual's voice said from the receiver. "I think we should come together somewhere. Flagstaff is fine with me. But you don't need to come and get me, I can drive there on a motorcycle. There should be enough food in Flagstaff for decades, even for a few thousand people, if that many survived, and then there is also Phoenix to raid for food if necessary. No rats or mice survived, as far as I can tell, so it should be undisturbed for centuries. It seems that bacteria survived, but insects didn't. At least I haven't seen any insects. I can be there in a week, I think. Will you be going there? Over."
Considering the wrecks on the highway, I thought him rather optimistic. "We have to talk about it, Manual." I replied, looking over at Meiko. Her expression only showed thoughtfulness, and I wondered if she wanted to stay in Bishop. "We will contact you with our decisions. By the way, how did Caroline survive? Over."
"She was in a deep cave for three days, John. She is an archaeologist and spelunker, and had found some Anazazi stuff deep in this cave chain under the North Rim. She mapped the whole cave with two other archaeologists, but they had gone to the entrance for more supplies on the second day of the radiation. She continued to excavate deep in the cave and when they didn't return she came out on the third day and found their bones. Over."
"Meiko also survived in a cave, Manual. I was in a booth during the Big Death, and apparently it protected me as well as a cave. I would think most of the survivors will have similar stories except those in submarines, if any such survived. Over."
"Submarines! Of course!" Manual almost shouted. "I hadn't thought of subs! If the crews of subs were protected, then there could be tens of thousands of people alive, ...but they will be mostly male. Over."
I suddenly realized Manual studied radiation! "The metal roof of the booth I was in couldn't have been more than a half inch thick, Manual, if that, and the walls were thick reflective glass. How could I have survived if people in the bottom floors and basements of skyscrapers died? It seems unreasonable, now that I think of it! Over."
There was a long silence, and for a moment I thought he had stopped broadcasting. "The booth might have had a magnetic field around it, or be made of some alloy that blocked the radiation. The glass walls does make the question more complex. I don't have an answer for you, John, but when we meet in person, you can tell me all the details and maybe we can figure it out. Over."
Meiko stepped up and took the microphone. "Manual, this is Meiko. Is there any chance that the radiation will come through again?"
"...Over." I added, knowing it was the only way the man could know we were finished.
"There is no way to know, Meiko." Manual replied, pretty much what I had figured also. "I hope to access the Hubble telescope from the Burnham Institute in Flagstaff and take a look at the Galactic Center. Maybe I can tell what happened. My first thought is that a large black hole collided with the giant black hole in the Galactic Center, and this radiation is the result... the question is, why didn't we detect it before, or perhaps we did and didn't know it. Perhaps that's why we haven't found any indication of other civilizations in the Galaxy. Hopefully the instruments at the Institute recorded it on some sensor, and we will know a little more about it. Anyway, that's why I want to go there, besides the fact that I want to meet Caroline. Over."
"But I thought you couldn't see the center of the Milky Way? Uh... Over." Meiko asked, looking into my eyes. "High school science class." She whispered to me, rolling her eyes as I looked at her, surprised.
"True, Meiko, from the surface of the Earth, you can't see the galactic center because of the huge clouds of carbon blocking the view," Manual replied, humor in his voice. "But the Hubble can using various sensors, and we can see if anything has changed in the images. A blast of radiation that strong must have left some detectable effect somewhere, it seems to me. And any new data is better than what we have now. I also don't understand how the radiation could kill almost everyone on the planet when, like light not curving around an object, the radiation should not have been able to reach the far north. But perhaps there is some lensing involved, by our planetary magnetic field or something like it... I have a lot of questions about it. Over."
"Thanks, Manual." Meiko said, shrugging. "I will be going to Flagstaff, myself, so I'll see you there, OK? Over."
I was surprised again. "Uh, if you are going, then I am going." I said to the teen. "I want to go, but I want to go with you. I need people, and you seem to be a real nice person."
Meiko smiled at me, a wry little smile, then shrugged. "I figured you were being cautious. You don't need to be. My father and mother were once hippies, and I was raised under the principle of being `up front', totally honest with other people. Just say what you want to say, and don't worry about saying something that will offend me. I don't offend very easily." She turned back to the microphone. "Thanks, Manual. We will be going to Flagstaff also. Over."
"Great, Meiko, John. I will be looking for you. Dios! We need to figure out a meeting place in Flagstaff. The Institute is out of the way, so maybe somewhere downtown?"
"We will get back to you about that, Manual." I replied, thinking hard. "I know there must be a Flagstaff city map somewhere here in Bishop, so we will find a place and call you back. We won't be leaving for at least a day, so we will be back at the short wave tomorrow night, I'm sure. I have some things to do before I leave here... some personal things. When will you be leaving, and can we stay in contact as we travel? Over."
"Is the telephone system working there? Over."
"Yes, Manual. But I don't know how long it will stay up. Over." Meiko replied, smiling at me excitedly.
I poured another glass of lemonade, thinking about the problem. But the communication system, the phones and the Internet were very complex, and would not work without continuous human maintenance. The power systems were already going down, and while much of the main phone and Internet systems had power backups, they would not last long either.
Meiko gave Manual the phone number of the police station, and several others around town, just in case. She also copied down a bunch of phone numbers Manual gave her, including a satellite linked phone he would be carrying with him on the trip. I wondered if there were any such phones in Bishop... something to ask Meiko.
As we sat there, the phone rang, and it was Manual, checking the system. We were all excited that the whole system still worked, at least from San Diego to Bishop. He didn't talk long though, surprisingly. He seemed to be in a hurry.
"As long as the power and communication systems stays working, we have a chance to find other people," I commented to Meiko, "but when they go down, we will have almost no chance. Someone could roam the world for a lifetime and never meet another person now."
"Except for short wave with generators!" Meiko reminded me. I nodded. Most police and fire stations had short wave sets and generators, but I wasn't sure about hospitals or other official buildings. There were certainly more short wave sets with generators in the world than people, now.
Manual signed off the short wave and hung up the phone, and Meiko and I sat talking for a couple of more hours, waiting for the fancy short wave scanning the frequencies to locate another voice, and once we heard a voice, just a couple of words, but it was incomprehensible and obviously speaking another language. We couldn't even tell if it was male or female.
Meiko told me about her family, her parents, an older sister, and younger brother. She had buried her parents and little brother's bones, but she hadn't found her sister's bones yet. The fancy saddle I had found was her mother's, who rode it in the parade. She found her mother's skeleton on top of the horse's skeleton where they had died, among a dozen others. Her father and brother had been on the sidewalk down the street, identifiable by their clothing. But Meiko didn't know what clothing her sister had worn that day, so finding her was more a matter of luck. She might not have been at the parade, but off with her boyfriend somewhere.
I told her of my life, living at my computer, not really going anywhere for years. I had been content to travel cyberspace, rather than real space, and I had made enough money to live so I could do that for a long time. The experiment was a lark, just to do something different. The scientist had promised to show me the results when it was done, and I had been curious. It seemed like easy money, just to sit naked and watch TV.
We also talked about the trip. I told her my experience of trying to drive on the highways with all the wrecks, and how flying had been easier but just as dangerous. Flying had been much faster, but driving was slower and no safer. Meiko thought we should fly, but agreed that there were too few of us to take the chance unless we were certain the plane was in excellent shape. We decided to go back out to the air strip the next morning and look at the small plane I had arrived in and figure it out then.
Instead of going to a motel or a local house, I slept in the small jail cell just off the sheriff's office, where I could hear the short wave as it endlessly cycled through the frequencies, looking for a carrier wave. Meiko slept in the next one, across the short hall, and not to my surprise, she locked herself in. A barred cell was certainly the most safe place to sleep, considering that there was no protection from anyone who might arrive suddenly and want to violate a young girl found sleeping deeply.
I didn't lock mine. Sleeping was difficult, with all sorts of thoughts going through my head. Planning for the trip, either by plane or motorcycle, where to find things we might need, how Meiko and I might get along, what kinds of problems would so few people face in trying to survive, and most of all, the question which had arisen when I first heard her voice on the short wave in Salt Lake... what about inbreeding in future generations? Yes, reader, I do have strange thoughts.
But I finally fell asleep, a busy jumbled sleep, waking up every little while at the slightest sound from the short wave...
Day 16 BD Jul 26, 2012
I woke up very early. I felt tired and dense, sitting on the edge of the bed with my head down, feeling exhausted. I walked slowly into the Sheriff's office and fixed a cup of coffee, then realized I should dress, rather than walking around in my bunhuggers.
When fully dressed, after a cup of hot coffee, I felt a little better. I looked into Meiko's cell, and found her gone, which surprised me. I walked over to the restaurant across the street, and found her there, to my surprise. The restaurant with the saddle and no bones or dust, of course. I had been so close to her the day before, but somehow missed her.
"Good morning!" Meiko exclaimed, as I walked slowly in, looking around at a restaurant that looked pre-BD. Meiko had changed clothes, and now wore a print dress that made her look older than her 15 years. "Kinda cool for late July this morning, isn't it?"
I nodded, still bleary, and sat down at the counter. I had noticed the chill to the air, surprising for the hottest time of the year... except for August, of course, always the hottest everywhere I had ever lived.
"Uh... Did you sleep well?" I asked, wanting to maintain the feeling of normalcy the clean restaurant gave me.
"Wonderful, actually!" Meiko replied, full of energy and youthful vigor. "Having you nearby made me feel so relaxed I slept like a boulder on the flatlands all night! But you don't look like you slept well?" To my surprise, the girl brought me a cup of coffee, like a waitress.
I chuckled, and shook my head. "I slept like... well, badly. All kinds of weird dreams. I only remember one... I was walking through Manhattan, New York City, and there were people so thick they were like... like a river or something... and I couldn't get through them, like I was always walking against the flow of traffic on the sidewalk..." I shook my head again, and sipped the coffee. Wincing, I spooned in some sugar and stirred it, watching the girl bustling around, cooking bacon and eggs. I suddenly realized she cooked far more than she could eat alone. Meiko fixed me breakfast!
...and the bacon smelled more delightful than anything I had ever considered possible. My mouth slobbered at the smell alone, the smell almost as delightful as the sight of her back standing at the grill.
"Uh... I'll cook lunch!" I said, and she looked over at me, smiling, her black eyes glittering.
"You sure will!" Meiko replied, definitely, with a little firm smile, tossing two eggs and bacon on a plate. "I used to work here, you know."
"You were a waitress?" I asked, as she put the plate down on the counter, smiling like an angel at me. Lively and petite, she seemed to glow with life force!
"Waitress, cook, dishwasher, everything!" Meiko replied, smiling at me again. Every time she smiled at me, I felt like singing or reading poetry! Like I had lived in two different worlds, the profound contrast of total aloneness and then... here with Meiko! "My mother owned this restaurant, and Kimmi, my sister, and James, my little brother, both worked here when we were not at school."
"Family business, eh?" I asked, conversationally, as I scooped the fried eggs onto the toast, feeling better every moment. "That must have been nice."
"Most of the time, anyway." Meiko replied, setting her breakfast down beside me. She walked around the end of the counter and sat down, still smiling at me. "We used to argue a lot in the back, but I would do anything to go back and grow up again exactly the same." For the first time this morning, her face looked sad for a moment.
Then she brightened up, suddenly. "Well, my father always said to make the most of every new moment, so I will not be freaked out anymore!"
I didn't say anything, but I felt the emotion she suppressed. I felt the same loss, and I didn't have a family to mourn.
We ate in silence after that, each in our own thoughts. The breakfast was really good, and afterwards, I felt much better. "Great breakfast!" I commented, sipping my coffee. "Great!"
"Thanks!" Meiko replied, smiling. "So, what are you going to do today?"
"Uh... I thought we were going out and look at the plane?" I said, surprised.
"Manual called this morning, right after first morning glow, and told me that he had an idea, that we shouldn't leave until he called us back. He wouldn't tell me what it was, but he definitely thought there was a better way to get to Flagstaff than either driving or flying."
I looked at her in total surprise. "He called? I didn't hear the phone ring!"
"You were sleeping pretty soundly then, because it woke me up. I am going to look for my sister's bones today. He said he would call back when he could. What are you going to do?"
Non-plussed, I hadn't believed I had slept deeply at all, but I guess I finally did. "Well, I could start gathering supplies we might need for any trip, or I could go with you to find your sister... would you like that?"
Meiko smiled again, and I realized she smiled a lot. "Yes... and we can do both, I think." She answered simply, and slipped off the counter stool.
I knew I wanted to be near her, not for some weird reason, but simply because now that I had found another person, I wanted to be around her. Since I had spent years alone in my small apartment, not wanting to hang out with anyone, the need felt new and different... and wonderful!
I climbed off the stool also, and picked up my plate, following Meiko's lead. She walked to a back window and tossed the dish and cup onto a pile just outside, laughing as she did so. I looked at the many dishes and cups and silverware piled there and realized at least 15 days worth of meals for one lay smashed there.
"Well, I guess we won't be needing these anyway, will we?" I said, also laughing, and tossed my plate on the pile, wincing at the smashing sound.
"No way!" Meiko said, heading back into the kitchen. "Especially if we are leaving soon. Nobody is going to wash dishes here again. And if we stayed for two more weeks, the supply of dishes would last easily. My mother always bought more, every year, even when we had trouble finding a place to store them."
We headed out, with Meiko looking at every pile of bones along the sidewalk. I had the feeling she had already looked at them several times before, but she didn't want to take the chance of missing her sister's remains.
"There is one way we might be able to identify her." Meiko said, as she reached down and pulled on a blouse enclosing someone's bones. "My sister usually wore her boyfriend's class ring on a metal necklace. If we find it, we may have her body. But several other girls did also, so I will bury all of them I find."
"You know what bothers me the most?" I said, standing and watching her check several more bundles of bones. "The lack of birds!" I looked at the smooth blue sky, uninterrupted from the mountains to the West to the mountains to the East, no birds, no insects zipping by, nothing alive at all. ...there were not even clouds.
"For me, it's the lizards." Meiko replied, wiping sweat off her forehead. The sun had just cleared the White Mountains to the east but already the heat caused sweat. "I used to love watching the lizards and skinks and snakes everywhere... also the ants and other insects. With the whole top of the food chain gone, a lot of plants will die out. I wonder if the earthworms were also killed off?"
"And the bats... they live in caves." I added, looking around a neck bone for a necklace. "Surely some would have lived."
"Doubtful." Meiko replied, walking on down the sidewalk, carefully stepping over the many remains. "They come out at night, and would have to stay in for at least two nights to survive. They would likely starve to death in that time, if they did that."
Impressive! Meiko's intelligence surprised me again. "True. But there are many creatures which never come out of the ground. I wonder how far the radiation penetrated?"
"It went through skyscrapers and into basements, right?" Meiko looked up at me, lifting one eyebrow.
"I found bones in subbasement parking under a skyscraper in Salt Lake." I agreed. "But something kept me alive. Some alloy or field in the booth. It may be that different materials block the radiation more than others. I wonder if we could find someplace and dig for earthworms?"
"Sure!" Meiko replied, suddenly excited. "One of the local natives has a large compost pile from the restaurant garbage. We can dig in it. He brought in new seed worms every few months." She suddenly walked away, then stopped and looked back at me. "Come on!"
I followed her, panting from the thin air and the heat, as she walked a block over and down the side street. She didn't seem much effected by the heat, although I found it hard to keep up with her. Walking beside her, however, was one of the most pleasant things I had done in my life!
She went only a few blocks, then walked through a gate to a house that seemed made mostly of corrugated tin. She went right in, of course, and stopped just inside, waiting for me.
"There is probably some beer or sodas in the fridge here." She said, as I climbed the steps and walked past her. I headed for the kitchen and found a pepsi. I stuck my head in the fridge, amazed at the small nagging reluctance to keep the door open that long despite the fact it had no power. My mother had always yelled at us when we kept the fridge door open for more than a moment or two, but now it meant nothing. Sipping a slightly cool soda and feeling the coolness inside the house made me feel much better, and after a few minutes, I went looking for Meiko.
I found her standing next to a bed containing bones. She looked up as I entered, and I realized she had tears dripping down her lovely cheeks.
"This was Coyote Walks, a friend of mine. He was an alcoholic and usually pretty sick, but he was always nice to me. He died happy, I think." She pointed at the bottle of whiskey beside the bones, the fingerbones laying around the still upright bottle.
I didn't know what to say so I backed out of the room, and headed for the back yard, looking for the compost pile. Meiko followed, still sobbing softly, and pointed to a bin next to a shed.
We dug around in the crumbly dark material for a half hour, but found no worms of any kind. I felt a distinct sense of loss at this. Without the slimy little creatures, somehow the world seemed even more empty. Then I laughed, silently, ...realizing mourning worms when most of the world's creatures, including nearly seven billion people, had died ...seemed irrational. I realized the edge of my own insanity in it, not deniable if I remained honest with myself. It came with survival in this new dead world, I think.
With Meiko there, being a little crazy didn't bother me much. She kept me sane, just by her existence.
We headed back towards the courthouse, to check the answering machine for any call from Manual. Half way there, as we crossed a parking lot of a small jewelry store, Meiko suddenly let out a little squeak, and ran over to a car.
She was crying when I caught up to her. "My sister Kimmi and her boyfriend." Meiko explained, tears dripping off her golden cheeks. Inside the car, two entangled skeletons... they must have hugged as they died. The skulls were on the floor in the back seat, but around a spine bone entangled in a blouse, I could see a silver necklace with a class ring on it. "This is his car and his leather jacket is distinctive. This has to be them."
I helped her take the bones out, touching them with reverence, knowing from Meiko's steady sobbing the importance of this. We placed every little bone of both the remains in a blanket from the back seat, getting even the small toe bones that had fallen under the front seat, then carried them to the town park. Meiko sobbed as we walked, and my heart sobbed with her, the heaviness dragging at my feet as it did hers.
There, Meiko had a hole already dug, and we lowered the bones into the ground. Meiko didn't say anything, just started shoveling dirt onto the blanket, sobbing, and I followed her lead, scooping the dirt in with my two hands.
"It... It isn't... necessary... to say anything." Meiko said, through sobs. "It's what is in my heart that... that counts."
Afterwards, we walked back to the courthouse, and I went in and took a shower, pulling on a police uniform I found in a locker that was clean and fit me pretty good. When I came out, wearing the shorts and brown shirt, even wearing the sand brown belt with the pistol in it's holster, Meiko whistled.
"You look pretty good in that uniform, John!" she exclaimed, walking around me, obviously teasing me. "I put my gun away, and you start wearing one... good! That's the way it should be!"
"I would never use it." I said, smiling. "Remember, I took a vow to do no harm to anyone. But the gun was a decoration that goes with the uniform." I took the gun belt off and tossed it into a corner, then poured a glass of what looked like tea. Freshly made and full of floating ice, I really appreciated the cold tart liquid in the heat. I already sweated again, even just after a cold shower.
We sat and talked until dusk, Meiko talking mostly about her sister and school, while I listened. She cried several times, but always softly and brightened right up when she finished. Meiko felt easy to get along with, and I really liked that. Her mourning made my heart heavy, but it also made me face my own mourning for a world of people now lost. I cried a little also, quietly.
When the hours passed with no call from Manual, we worried a little, but waited patiently. Finally Meiko called an automated system in LA which gave the exact time and we couldn't get through. No more phone system! ...which explained why Manual didn't call. Hungry, we turned the short wave on loud, opened a window, and left it on as we went to eat.
At the restaurant, we could hear the noise from the short wave even across the Court Yard lawn and the bone filled street, cutting through the Silence even when Meiko turned on a generator in the back for lights. I fixed dinner, nothing complex, but Meiko seemed impressed. Afterwards, I moved a TV and VCR into the Police Station and we watched movies from a video rental place, the weird sound of the short wave in the background. It helped against the Silence... any sound helped against the Silence, especially at night.
I found it hard to get into the two movies. With every town and city a ghost town or city, nobody did any of those things anymore. We turned the second one off before the ending, and went to bed, and to my surprise, Meiko hugged me briefly before going to her cell and locking it behind her. I stood mute and emotional as I heard her cell door close and lock, trying to hold onto the feeling of her living body against mine. Her touch, the first since the small hand gripping my arm while we talked to Manual and Caroline, seemed the most precious gift possible, something almost holy.
We had agreed not to worry about Manual or Caroline, but we both do, some.
I feel blessed by Meiko's presence, her Being something beyond just another survivor and human being. The depth to her personality beyond her years, her way of taking it all better than I can, I found her so endearing I could not believe my own feelings. I still feel, deep within me, a terror which lay in my heart, always with me. And I cannot forget it. ...the Silence reminds me, always.
Check out my other Sample Chapters:
Kathlane of Whirlwind Station 128 pgs 63613 words(Rated PG-13) Adventure SF
Magic Universe -The Story of Tempar 104 pgs 49566 words (Rated PG-13) Magic & Fantisy
Five Facets of the Sun 221 pgs 109950 words (Rated PG-13) Sociological SF
Frozen in Time 343 pages 156814 words (Rated PG-13) Sociological/Romance SF
All books are fully copyrighted.
The Journal of John
A story about a Dead Earth and the tiny handful of survivors trying to bring together a new civilization based upon a far smarter social 'common sense' in a far more dangerous world.