It’s been 473 days since it happened. The day breaks. I wake up and shake the rust off my eyes. I don’t know how long I slept. It’s hard to tell most times. In fact, I’m not entirely sure exactly how long it’s been. But, my tallies say 473 days. I open my last pack of stale cigarettes and flip my lucky around. Hopefully, I get to smoke it today.
I think it’s summer. It’s warm, at least. I pull on the remains of my clothing and set out to town. The paintings on the sidewalk still tell stories of the ghosts of days gone by. I was happy once. With her. But, that’s over now. So I push on. I’m not sure why, but I do. Maybe it’s the romantic in me. Or maybe it’s the fear. Either way, I push on. I see the shadow of a child on the side of the house in which I was staying and I hold back the tears. I had a son. I don’t know what happened to him when it hit. No, I do. But, I can’t admit it to myself. So, I pretend I don’t. The husks of men haunt this road, as they do all of the others. Interspersed with the silhouettes are the remains of those who scavenged before the aftershock took them as well. I don’t know which is more haunting.
I pull out the flask I found in the remains of my parents’ house. It’s my father’s and it’s all I have left to remember our wayward relationship. It’s filled with whatever cheap whiskey I could find along the way. The end of the world and I’m still picky about my liquor. He raised me right. I take a long sip of the booze, hoping its spirit will somehow lift mine. But it never does. It just placates me temporarily. I see an overturned cart on the side of the road and approach it. It’s picked clean, so I move on. Towards the city. I believe it used to be called Decatur. I think I’m in Georgia. Either way, I’ve never visited this town, so I’m going.
There’s a drug store right at the entrance to the town, so I head in to stock up on some supplies I may need. I find some cigarettes hidden behind a flap and a few stray bandages left behind in the haste of other scavengers. I also find some lighter fluid. I load them into my backpack. The rest of the store looks picked clean, but I slowly walk the aisles anyway. Lifting up the bottoms of the shelving units, I’m hoping to find some sort of food. It looks like only perishables are lefts and they’ve, well, perished. Finally, I come across a can of green beans. I fucking hate green beans. I’m not as picky about my food as I am about my liquor, though, so it’ll work. I leave the store and wander down the street towards a thrift store. My legs are barely with me. Push on.
In the thrift store, I search for some jeans. There is one pair in my size, but they’re far too long, so I take out my pocket knife — the one dad always taught me to carry — and cut them down a little bit. They’ll work. The only shirts they have are two sizes too big, as usual in life and death. The one I’m wearing is full of holes and dreadfully caked with dirt, so I grab one and pull it on, anyway. I hit the shoes next, but find nothing that will work for this environment, so I move on. I find a few housewares to use in whatever fashion I may need them later and leave the store. I light up another cigarette when I hear a soft rustling. I look around and see a branch swaying. There is no wind. I slowly approach the tree and pull out my gun. In life, I was utterly abhorred by the use of guns after having been in the War. But, in death, the rules change. I approach quietly, gun trained just under the branch. I pull back the foliage. Nothing. I venture a little further into the shrubs, but decide to retreat in case it’s a trap. Evermore alert, I proceed.
In life, I was a vet who became a teacher after the War left me unable to cope with being home all the time. The reparations from the War had gotten me plenty of money to live a comfortable life. But, I couldn’t stand being home alone all day with my thoughts until my wife got back, so I went back to school and got my teaching degree. In death, I am an active soldier again. In death, I am the student.
The asphalt has a cushion of soot on top, so I remove my shoes in favor of discretion. I tie them to my bag and continue forward, gun in hand. Occasionally making a small rotation to scan my surroundings. There’s no time for my demons out here. Only survival.
After feeling I have put sufficient space between me and whatever follower I suspected, I rest in a clearing in some woods. I remove my bag. I place my thrift finds on the ground in front of me. I feel overwhelming relief as the weight of the bag and my paranoia have been lifted from my already exhausted body and mind. I found a blender there. I disassemble it. Somehow, many animals survived the Impact. I remove the blender’s blade. Using a small torch I had from my time in the War, I soften the center of it. I fold it in half. Into an arrowhead. I remove a small dowel from my bag and place it into the hole in the center of the blade. I tie it into place. Quite the sturdy arrow. I had wasted a lot of bullets on hunting. But, I’m too low for the time being. I set out into the woods to retrieve supplies to create a bow.
In life, I was a pacifist. But, I was drafted as a sniper in the War. I was trained to be an impersonal killing machine. Those weren’t people. They were just blips of oppression on the radar of our freedom. Small casualties so that my family and friends could feel safe. I was always removed from the act. Never up close. Never personal. I never saw the last moments of life in another human’s eyes as I sat posted a hundred meters from their humanity. It was easy. It was the only way I could cope with being drafted. I wasn’t a killer before. I denied that I became one. In death, I am a killer.
I find a flexible branch and and strip some meat off a bare trunk with my knife. I fashion them into a rather hefty bow. I draw back the arrow and release it from the bow. Without the fletching, it’s aimless. I reach for my bag to see if I had anything to make it, but I left it at my camp site. I don’t even have a quiver to carry this. I think I’m living life without a quiver right now. Not a quiver of fear or regret or anger. I no longer feel. I’m no longer a person. I just am. If even that. I’m in my head too much. No time for demons. I head back to camp.
In life, I was lost. After the War, I had no fletching. I was a teacher, but I never stayed at a school for more than a year. I had found myself in South Carolina during the Impact. I had intel that allowed me to survive. I hunkered down underground. My training had taught me that there was always an aftershock. That’s how I survived that. I lost my family after that. It was then that I fell back into my training. A stone cold killer. I have purpose. In death, I am found.
I light up another cigarette. I listen intently for any signs of animal life. My bare feet give me discretion in the woods. They are calloused from all of my silent excursions into towns. I can’t believe I left my bag at camp. I have never done that. I hasten my walk a little. I lose some of my discretion. I step in some animal shit. Great. I keep going until I see the clearing and return to my camp. Everything’s still there. I start to make some shelter for the night. I camouflage it so it looks like little more than a pile of branches downed by a storm. I hear a rustling in the woods. I whip around. I grab my bag and open the pocket I keep my gun in. It’s gone. I turn around again and there’s a man. He has my gun. Trained right at my head.