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A peek at ‘The End’

I was ten when most of the human race was wiped from the planet. For a while it just Dad and me. Until winter came, and never went away. We shared the last can of beef stew for my eleventh birthday. Then left the southern shores of Washington, forever.

The frozen rain pounded our frail bodies, until we found a truck, and headed south. My voice turned into a howl as it was ravaged by the wind. Our powerful enemy, sleet, poured in through the window Dad broke. “How much farther?”

Dad turned to me. Ice coated his auburn beard. “We’re heading to Mexico.”

“Yeah, but how far is that?”

“Didn’t you learn that in school?”
I recalled school. My buddies and I would sit in the back of class shooting spitballs at the teacher and have pizza-eating contests at lunch. I didn’t remember what potato chips tasted like much less what a map of Mexico looked like before everyone died. “Maybe?”

“Well, we’re in Oregon. So…” His gloved hands gripped the steering wheel of the truck we’d stolen. Maybe it wasn’t really stealing, since the owner had died. Dad cast his dark irises on the lonely road ahead of us. It was a look I’d never seen until it was only the two of us. I didn’t have a word to define his expression. The endless search for a way to describe the sadness in his eyes made me wish I’d paid more attention in class.

According to Dad we were walking on top of Summer Lake when we met John. As time went on I found out how important grown-ups jobs were before everything went away. John promised to get us across the mountains; after all he was a sports medicine major and avid rock climber. We should’ve made sure he meant he’d get us both to Nevada alive.

Dad’s face had turned white as flour when we were halfway down. “How much longer, John?”

Our guide stopped and looked over his shoulder. “We’ll be there by nightfall, Hank.” His light eyes scanned Dad, “You need to take a break?”

“No. I can’t spend another night on this rock.”
John nodded and headed South East, but I held back with Dad.

“You O.K.?”

“Don’t worry about me. It’ll all be over soon.”
The few beams of light that came from the sky were extinguished, and we still had a few more hours.

“We gotta make camp,” John said.

“No, keep going.”

“But you can’t…”

Dad’s voice turned into a growl. “You have to keep going.” He turned to me. “Take this,” He unzipped his coat.

“No way, you need it.”

“No. I don’t.” He pulled what was once a bright yellow down coat over my own. “These too.” He opened up the knapsack that hung over his boney shoulder, and handed me three hardback novels that had been tied together with twine. They were all by George Orwell, my namesake. I could recall faintly my mothers sing song voice as she told me that only an English professor would name all his children after authors. I didn’t know what she meant. Maybe it’s because I never had the chance to read Ray Bradbury and Emily Brontë.

“Dad, you don’t have to…”

His bare hand glided along the side of my face. It is still the coldest thing I’ve ever felt. A gust of wind filled the space between us and he crumpled to the ground, and buried his face in his hands. “George…”

“What?” I bent my knees so our faces were level. His empty eyes were glassy and half closed. “Dad?” I shook him by his shoulders. “Dad!” A thin line of red dripped from his nose.

“We need to go,” John said.

“We’ll go when he wakes up.”

“It’s what he wanted. You to live.”

Dad’s face was blue, or at least the color of the Pacific Ocean that I remembered as a kid. Maybe he could still here me, and I’d never get to speak to him again, so I should take advantage of our last moments. I’d already said ‘goodbye’ to everyone I ever loved, I couldn’t do it again. My eyes were dry when I turned and walked away from Dad. We both knew it was the end.

‘The End’ published by Inklings Publishing-November 2015 in the anthology ‘Eclectically Vegas’.

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