Take a ping pong ball and cut it in half, tape each half over your eyes, add some headphones playing white noise and lean back onto a nice soft bed. In only a couple of minutes most people begin to see shapes and lights and some even feel or smell things. The human mind is so used to processing inputs that when you block out the major sensory inputs your brain fills in its own bells and whistles.
Some people find this experience very pleasant. Me, not so much. After months of being fed nothing but drugs and high bandwidth sensory input, not being hooked up to the machines was kind of like being in a dark room. I felt like a three dimensional being smashed violently into a two dimensional world.
Faint ghosts charts kept showing up transposed over the landscape around me. Shapes and colors, figures, faintly related to the objects around me, but like a word on the tip of your tongue they maddeningly refused to coalesce into anything meaningful. I shook my head hard and rubbed my eyes with the palms of my hands, now was no time to figure out what was wrong with my head, we had to get out of here.
The world outside the compound was a moonscape. Everything higher than a couple inches had been swept away by repeated passes of Ophelia. The rest had been scooped out and polished leaving smooth divots that would catch the blowing dust and propel it up into our eyes. A wall of clouds was to our right, lightning cracking loose in such rapid intervals that the thunder was a constant sound pounding at our senses.
At least one thing was working in our favor; Ophelia was late. She was taking her sweet time enveloping New York City, although calling the small smoothed lump of sand and gravel a city would be a creative use of that word.
Silently we mounted our bikes and pedaled westward, our legs aching from months of inactivity, running from the storm, running from what had happened deep underground. When we came to the river we saw where most of the city had ended up, we walked our bikes across, leaving long island behind.
“What are we going to do now Q?”
It had been days and we were still working are way westward, fleeing from the coast and its many memories of death. Jersey had bled into Pennsylvania, we would hide on the side of the road whenever we came across anyone else, too paranoid to trust anyone.
“We run, I guess, Watkins Glen is a couple hundred miles north of here we could see Jason again.” It was the only place I could think of with someone we could trust.
While Rain returned to cycling like a robot that had finally gotten its legs reattached, Marla and I were returning to the cycling lifestyle with a bit more trepidation. Our bodies ached deeply at the end of each days travel. At night we slept cuddled together. The nights were much warmer than they used to be, but sticking together made us feel safer.
It had been months since we had been above ground. The mad world we had left had only gotten worse. The already rapid pace of change had accelerated. In many places the once dead or dying trees were now replaced with acres of char. Forest fires had swept through northern Pennsylvania, and southern New York clearing out everything and everyone.
People had moved on, leaving the black wasteland to packs of feral dogs, and crows. Great murders of crows darkened the sky, these clever birds had someone found a way to thrive in this new arid wasteland. They would stare at us ominously when we would stop to rest. Bobbing their heads while patiently waiting for us to drop something edible, or die and become food.
Food was mostly cans of crème corn, and string beans found in old gas stations and abandoned houses. Water was harder to find, the land was drying up here, but some farm wells still had water. With less people around to draw from the aquifers the wells would eventually fill again.
Cars didn’t run anymore, oil was just too important, with the Atlantic and the Gulf permanently off limits, what little oil was still imported had to go the long way around. What few people we did see were on bicycle, or walking. They never seemed to wonder why we didn’t want to talk. Humanity hadn’t gone Mad Max yet, but after the horror of the New York City evacuation, people had lost a lot of trust in one another.
“Guys I am fucking beat, I got to rest.” Marla had not lost her penchant for swearing, but over the weeks of traveling she had spoken less and less. In a barren world, you found yourself spending a lot of time in your own head. We found an abandoned farm and made camp.
“Is there really any point to all this?” Rain ran her fingers through my hair tracing patterns around the scars on my head as the three of us lay in a pile under a shed in some long abandoned field.
“I mean those fuckers are going to hunt us down and force us back to that horrible lab. Even if they don’t, look around, what can we do to fix this?”
“I say fuck all this shit, lets get as far away from those fuckers as possible, find some place and live the best life we can till this shit hole of a planet sheds us like a bad parasite.” Marla’s dreads slinked snake-like into my face as she got worked up.
Marla and Rain went back and forth. The problem seemed so large and we seemed so small. I was so lost in thought that I barely noticed when a pair of lips gently locked itself on my ear.
“I love you.” Rain whispered in my ear.
The troubles of our world were put on hold. Rain began to gently kiss me, slowly removing my shirt. It was impossible to hide our actions from Marla, and we didn’t try. When Marla leaned in to gently kiss Rain I didn’t make any moves to stop her. A bond had been formed between the three of us, and in this harsh world concerns about traditional social norms seemed stupid.
The three of us found comfort in knowing that we were alive and together. We slept well that night in each others arms, a small drop of comfort and love in a giant ocean of desperation and destruction.
The next morning we scrounged up what little food was available and headed north. It would be good to get to Watkins Glen, see Jason, and most importantly take one of those fine solar heated showers. This thought kept my legs turning for the next two days. I was good to be going back to the only place that had shown us any sanctuary in the last year.