In Writers Note: The following post is part three and four of a twelve part series adapted from an original novelette by BGN Contributor, Angélique Roché, The Devastation of Fires. This novelette is part of a larger project called Anna’s Journal, after the main character Anna Joseph. Stay tuned each week for a new part to the series!
The truck was a rusted orange and in as good of condition as any truck could be after the end of the world. I looked at the Pennsylvania plates again and cringed. It forced my mind to think about things I shouldn’t. Forced me to think back to the beginning of our journey, back to Allentown; to the people we’d lost.
No, I need to focus on something else. I searched for anything, and focused on the hideous racing stripe on the side of the truck and the worn down poop brown leather seats. They were peeling from the heat and old age but looked like the most comfortable thing I had seen in weeks. I climbed in and threw my bag on the floor. I was happy to find that the seats felt exactly like they looked. I’d never been so glad to be right. I let myself sink into something soft for the first time in days and accept the fact that I didn’t have to do this crazy, illogical thing alone.
The gang was all here. Michael was behind the wheel and Kevin was in the back seat. I sat down next him and waited for Susana to hop in.
What had it taken for them to leave Columbus? What had happened that convinced Michael and Susana to throw away the stability they thought they had in Columbus? Where in the hell had they gotten this truck? I didn’t dare ask and I frankly didn’t care. I just cared that there was truck, I was in it, and for the first time in days I wasn’t alone.
I settled in and adjusted the grubby Yankees baseball cap I’d been wearing since Brooklyn. Kevin smiled at me and grabbed my elbow gently pulling me into him in an awkward sideways hug. I’d missed how awkward Kevin could be, it was endearing.
In the before, Kevin was my next-door neighbor. He was that guy. You know, “that guy”, the smart, single, very gainfully employed, handsome guy you always see in the elevator in his gym clothes at 5 am in the morning. Cause you know, fitness. He had just started his own start-up tech firm to give him more freedom to work on his first novel before the end of the world. Subsequently, he’d broken up with his very expensive, I mean very low ROI girlfriend. Let’s be real, there was no nice way to talk about Cynthia. She was a horrible person and awful to everyone she met. If it is not clear by my description, I was not a fan of her. Her or red bottoms clicking down my hallway before the after.
“It is good to see you Anna,” Michael nodded his head in my direction as he started the engine and made a quick u-turn on the empty highway back towards Cincinnati; towards St. Louis. Count on Michael to keep it concise but considerate.
“You too Michael,” I let out another deep breath, I was starting to sound like a woman practicing lamaze at this point. At the very end of the exhale my eyes started to well up. I suddenly began to cry uncontrollably. Kevin tried his best to lift my face. He wanted to talk, talk me down, figure out why I was crying but I am an ugly crier and I am sure there was snot pouring out of my nose. Classy Anna, keep it classy.
Before the end of the world, I had a crush on him, the Kevin in the before. Now in the after, that crush was somehow making me self-conscious. Fuck not taking a shower for days, having run out of toothpaste and not washing my underwear to preserve water; don’t let him see you ugly cry. That a girl Anna, keep your priorities in check.
Once I managed to contain myself and casually wipe away any potential snot on my face, I looked up noticing the clock on the truck’s dashboard. If it was correct, I’d only been walking for a couple hours before they’d found me, if you subtracted the last fifteen minutes of ugly crying, that is.
They must have left before the camp woke up to gain ground on me. If we were lucky, we’d be able to make it past Dayton and out of Ohio on to Indiana today. I suddenly had a new perspective.
By now I had the atlas memorized. Without books or cellphones, learning the roads was the only thing I could do at night minus staring into space; and talking to myself. Now I knew just by the road markers, barring any unforeseen circumstances, we’d make it past Richmond and could rest outside Indianapolis tonight. Indianapolis was the last major city before St. Louis.
No one seemed particularly talkative but it was still early, the care didn’t smell like fresh weed and without the aid of Starbucks and the power of the espresso, mornings just weren’t the same in the after.
Without any chatter, it was only a few minutes before I started to drift to sleep. Between the paranoid sleeping on the ground the last few nights and the gentle hum of the road and the truck’s engines, the world sung me the perfect lullaby. Thankfully, Kevin’s arms, as much as I hated to admit it, were the perfect cradle. I was, at this moment, as safe as I was ever going to be in the after.
When I woke, it was dark and I was still lying in Kevin’s lap. My hat was cocked to the side and he was slowly brushing my brow. I caught him staring as I opened my eyes. I smiled. He looked so concerned, as if I wasn’t going to ever wake up. How long had I been out? Eight hours, twelve hours? From what I could tell, there were more trees outside, the landscape had changed. We were out of the flat grassy land of never-ending field that was Ohio. Hooray!
“Hi there,” my voice was raspy as I tried to maintain my smile.
“Hey…” it was gentle. By the look in his eyes, I could tell who had done the convincing to get the group on the road to find me. What had happened when they woke up and I was gone. I hadn’t left a note, it just so dramatic, so cliche. Then again, so was leaving before dawn to walk hundreds of miles to St. Louis as society broke down around you. I did always have a flare for the dramatic.
I nestled closer into Kevin, “I must look like death. “ I pulled my hat back over my eyes, hoping to hide my face.
“I mean, you ain’t exactly ready for primetime Annie,” he smiled, “but you are the nicest looking death I’ve ever seen,” he smiled and tapped the brim of my baseball cap playfully.
Kevin’s attempt to be funny and sweet actually made my laugh out loud. On no, too soon. The laugh made me cough, my lungs obviously were not ready. Somehow between the laughter and the cough pain’s floodgates opened. My body finally allowed itself to feel everything, not just ache. I stiffened abruptly trying to brace myself as best I could for the onslaught of reality on my nervous system. All at once I was sore, hungry, thirsty, and tired; so very very tired. Every cut, bruise, scrape, scratch, blister, and sprain came to life in a inordinate symphony. Dear God. Even my brain hurt.
“Are you ok?” Kevin looked down concerned. I’d closed my eyes and slowly began moving uncomfortably in his lap. The pain was everywhere. It was even in places I didn’t know could hurt. He took his hand off me trying to figure out what to do.
“No, nope… not ok. Not really, but I am going to be.” I opened my eyes taking quick breaths, thankful that the sun had gone down so my eyes didn’t join in in the chorus of pain. “Does anyone mind if I smoke?”
Susana laughed, she was in the driver’s seat now. Michael was in the passenger seat knocked out. When had we stopped? Had we stopped? I got a vision of Susana and Michael doing some daring, double jointed style seat switch at 60 mph to save time and gas. And for our next trick ladies and gentlemen… Anna! I needed to stop making myself laugh at this point. Clearly I was not learning my lesson.
“Well, since we have burned three blunts since you passed out twelve hours ago, I will venture to say that one more won’t hurt.”
Thank gawd for weed heads in the apocalypse; it truly is making this end of the world shit a lot more mellow. I laughed again and immediately regretted that I found myself so damn funny. Well, you know what they say, if you can’t laugh at yourself… yeah, fuck that saying. I am crying at the sheer painfulness of holding in the how amazingly humorous I believe I am. Oh, the irony.
“Great, cause everything hurts and I am pretty sure all the drug stores are closed for business these days. Buuut if you see a Walgreens with the light on, let a sister know.” Look at me having a consistent sense of humor outside my own head. Susana laughed again and it was nice to hear it.
Part I, Silence
Part II, Truck Stopped
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.