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The road seems longer when you travel it in silence. It had been hours since Rain and I had last spoken. She wrapped in a towel on the edge of the tub, me sitting head down on a toilet.
I had explained to her my decent into madness, my schizophrenic record keeping on a cat food recall forum, my turn as internet oracle. She listened, sat silently and finally said,
“We have to go get them”
We arranged with Jason to give us a ride half way back to New York City, he could only get us half way because the truck ran on cooking grease, and if he ran out of fuel he would not be able to get the truck back to Watkins Glen.
With our bicycles in the back my mind ticked off the lonely miles. The sickly smell of fryer oil wafted in the open window, carried on wind that buffeted my slowly growing mop of shaggy hair.
Seeing Rain in such pure agony at the thought that her brother and friend could still be alive was unbearable. She had seen me do things; know things, that no one should know. Was she thinking in the back of her mind that this was another magical pronouncement from a prescient vision? I didn’t have the heart to tell her that this was nothing more than a posting on an internet forum.
“This is about as far as I can get you guys,” Jason tapped the fuel meter with the back of his fingernail the way bomber pilots did in bad World War 2 movies, “Hell I am going to have to push it the last couple miles home most likely.”
Jason was a good man, in an increasingly evil world; he drove off in a pale cloud of exhaust leaving the smell of fish sticks cloying to our clothing.
That’s when we began to pedal. Rain had always been in better shape than me, and now she was determined to prove it. We set out at twice our normal speed pushing many more miles into a day than I was used to.
“Stay close to me, get into my slip stream.” It was the first words she had spoken in hours. The familiar and comforting topic of cycling was a refuge for a mind filled with too many loose ends.
The message had simply said “We have Jake and Marla, go to New York City, or else.” Why are Jake and Marla in New York City? Who has taken them? How do they know about me? And most importantly, what do they want? In a world plunged into madness this was a whole new level of insanity.
“You are the weaker cyclist Q, but if you let me break the wind for you, we can both move faster as a team, move your front wheel just behind and to the left of my back wheel.”
“Good, now you feel that, you are in my slip stream, feel the little extra bit of energy you have now?” She was right, I had been getting strong over the last weeks, but there was no way I was going to be able to keep up, even with the aid of her breaking the wind for us both. But who could blame her, her entire family was at the end of this long road, how fast would you go to get to the ones that you loved?
And so we pedaled, two machines made out of meat and bone, our only purpose, move forward as fast as possible.
The thing about New York City is that it doesn’t really end. Instead it sort of bleeds out into New Jersey. In most of the east coast you can’t tell when you leave one city and enter another. They spread out into one another like amoebas, hungry for land. Was this humanities future? To spread out until every inch of the planet was covered in pavement and buildings?
In the mid-west you knew you had left the town when the corn started, and you knew you were in another town when the corn stopped. But even in that relatively rural setting, nature had been moved aside for human needs. Corn wasn’t a plant nature would abide. The corn grown by your average farmer in Ohio couldn’t even reproduce; it had to be planted anew each and every year. It was the largest mono-culture species on the planet.
A mono-culture is one in which everything but one kind of something has been pushed out. Think farmers field (corn), think golf course (grass), think major metropolitan city (pavement). Ten thousand acres of nothing but corn leaves little space left for trees, prairie grass, or any sort of complex eco system. It didn’t help that we sprayed the whole thing with toxins on a regular basis.
As we moved closer to the city the space between human settlements grew smaller and smaller and the amount of concrete and human habitation grew larger and larger.
It’s funny what will happen to your mind as you travel, with little else but the back of Rains bicycle to look at for hours your mind wanders. Sometimes I would think of Rain naked, the hot streaming water running down her taught body, sometimes about the earth and its slow heat induced death, but the issue that concerned me more than anything was something I had seen a long time ago.
When Rain had pressed the red hot end of a bent coat hanger into my arm, I had seen a vision of New York City, one drenched in the most horrific destruction, a vision that I had been trying to forget ever since.
Had Jason driven us fast enough to the half way point, were we moving fast enough? I had told Rain most of what I had seen that day, what I didn’t tell her, what I couldn’t bring myself to explain to her, was that we were now pedaling directly into the path of Ophelia. My best guess was that if we could keep up the speed we were going, we would have about ten hours to find Jake and Marla, and get out of New York City before it and everything in it are swept into the ocean.